01 MessiaenCanadian soprano Jane Archibald’s international career continues to flourish with recent and upcoming performances in leading roles at the Met, Opéra national de Paris, La Scala, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and opera houses in Düsseldorf, Munich, Zürich, Santa Fe and Madrid, plus a tour with the English Concert as Armida in Handel’s Rinaldo. Here at home, Archibald is the Canadian Opera Company’s Artist in Residence for the coming season, featured in Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, Stravinsky’s The Nightingale and Other Short Fables and as Zdenka in the COC’s premiere production of Strauss’ Arabella, which opens at the Four Seasons Centre on October 5.

Primarily known for her interest in the Baroque and classical eras – her discography includes music of Charpentier, Vivaldi, Haydn and Mozart – Archibald has also been known to venture bravely into the 20th century, as witnessed by the latest release from the Seattle Symphony. Continuing its own commitment to the music of our time, and in particular modern French repertoire, following three recordings of works by Henri Dutilleux, Ludovic Morlot leads the orchestra in seminal pieces by Olivier Messiaen (SSM1016 seattlesymphony.org). A relatively early work, Poèmes pour Mi, dates from 1936. Originally written for soprano and piano, the work appeared in an orchestral version the following year and was Messiaen’s first vocal work to be orchestrated. It was dedicated to his first wife, violinist Claire Delbos; “Mi” (as in “do, re, mi”), corresponding to the highest string, E, on the violin, was his nickname for her. As with all of his vocal settings, the texts are by the composer. Archibald’s clear, pure soprano voice is particularly well suited to this deeply personal work that explores the spiritual aspects of marriage. It is rarely heard in its orchestral version, and in fact this recording is a first for my own extensive Messiaen collection.

The song cycle is nicely complemented by another pivotal vocal work, Trois Petites Liturgies de la Présence Divine from 1944, following Messiaen’s release from a German prison camp in Silesia where he composed the Quatuor pour la fin du temps. The Liturgies were written for high male voices (the Northwest Boychoir in this recording) and an orchestra featuring Messiaen’s signature sounds of obbligato ondes Martenot and piano, played here by Cynthia Millar and Michael Brown respectively. All involved perform with distinction under Morlot’s direction in this significant addition to both the orchestra’s and Messiaen’s discography.

02 Herald TribuneHaving just mentioned Messiaen’s Quatuor, I will use it to segué to the next disc that caught my attention over the summer, Composer-Critics of the New York Herald Tribune (Other Minds OM 1024-2
otherminds.org)
. The outer Chorale movements of Lou Harrison’s Suite for Cello and Harp (1949) put me in mind of the Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus for solo cello and piano in Messiaen’s iconic work, not in a derivative sense, but rather in their meditative sensibility. Harrison (1917-2003) is one of five composers featured on this intriguing disc, which includes program notes and an extensive essay by another pioneering figure of American art music, Charles Amirkhanian, and two articles by the Herald Tribune’s chief critic Virgil Thomson. The more-than-50-page booklet is an important artifact in its own right, not only giving context to the music, but painting an intriguing picture of a time quite unlike our own, when art music was treated seriously, and prominently, by mainstream media.

Thomson’s own witty Capital Capitals, on a text by the inimitable Gertrude Stein, is included along with works by novelist/composer Paul Bowles, Australian-born Peggy Glanville-Hicks and a man who arguably had the biggest influence on our basic understanding of the very nature of what constitutes music, John Cage. Thomson’s 1927 setting of the tongue-twisting text, which riffs on CAPITAL LETTERS and Capital Cities, is scored for four alternating male voices and piano. It is the earliest work presented, with Glanville-Hicks’ craggy Sonata for Piano and Percussion (1951-52) with its, perhaps inevitable, echoes of Bartók, the most recent. Bowles is represented by the tongue-in-cheek Music for a Farce (1938) for clarinet, trumpet, percussion and piano, and Cage by the quietly haunting, and now iconic, String Quartet in Four Parts (1949-50) performed by the New Music String Quartet.

Upon first listening I did not realize the recordings were historic, as the sound is convincingly pristine. But they are all monophonic and were originally issued by Columbia Records between 1953 and 1955 on the Modern American Music Series. Reproduced under license from Sony, this Other Minds release is a welcome addition to my understanding of mid-century American music and culture. The booklet also includes the strikingly modern cover art from the four original LPs.

03 Arion EnsembleAlthough recorded in 2014, Rebelles Baroques (EMCCD7777, early-music.com) is the most recent recording of Montreal’s Arion Orchestre Baroque to come my way. Featuring music of Quantz and Telemann, it focuses on two composers who developed and perfected the goûts réunis style of the early-to-mid 18th century, integrating French and Italian approaches into German music. While simply referred to as rebels in the disc’s title, the booklet essay calls Georg Philipp Telemann and Johann Joachim (J.J.) Quantz “Delightful Rebels” (“Charmants Rebelles” in Jacques-André Houle’s original French) which seems to incorporate both the elegance of the music and the fact that Quantz and Telemann had to fight against family prejudices to follow their chosen musical paths. Telemann was expected to become a clergyman like his father, while Quantz’s family trade was blacksmithing. Both overcame the odds to follow their own dreams and to our benefit the rest, as they say, is history.

Telemann (1681-1767) is the senior of the two, and his output spans virtually all musical genres. It seems most of his instrumental music dates from before 1740 and in the case of the three concertos included here, likely before 1721 for presentation in Frankfurt by the collegium musicum of the Frauenstein society of which he was the director. The first is a concerto grosso for strings and continuo featuring the whole group, with Alexander Weimann directing from the harpsichord. The second has the distinction of being the first concerto written for viola, and Jean-Louis Blouin shines in a surprisingly busy and ornately ornamented solo part. The third is a lovely flute concerto with an opening reminiscent of birds awakening at first light. Like all of the Telemann concertos included here, it is in four movements as in the earlier sonata di chiesa form, rather than the Italian-style three movements. All of the movements, including the stately Largo, are flowing and dancelike.

Quantz (1697-1773) was, like Telemann, a multi-instrumentalist, but most prized for his flute playing. He was flute tutor and composer to Frederik the Great of Prussia, as of 1741 composing exclusively for the musical king (for whom Bach wrote the famed Musical Offering). He is represented by two (three-movement) concertos which bookend the disc, one for solo flute and one for two flutists, Arion stalwart Claire Guimond who is joined Alexa Raine-Wright, a renowned soloist and regular member of Infusion Baroque and Flûte Alors. The two trade lines seamlessly and work in perfect harmony throughout, especially in the Presto finale which brings this engaging disc to a rousing close.

04 Songs ShanitesThe next disc also comes out of Quebec, but that’s about where any resemblance ends. I first thought that Sea Songs & Shanties (ATMA ACD2 2749) was a departure for La Nef (la-nef.com) but I now realize that in their more-than-two-and-a-half-decade history La Nef has encompassed a wealth of styles from “early music, the music of oral traditions, world music, experimental and contemporary approaches to musical creation.”

This current project is under the direction of eclectic singer Seán Dagher, himself as at home in an Irish pub as in many musical traditions from Medieval and Baroque through contemporary folk. Dagher tells us: “These songs did not start out as music to be heard. These were songs to sing, songs to help with the work, songs to pass the time. Their original functions influenced the way they are built […] as call and response songs: a whole crew can learn a song from one man in the first instants he’s singing it. They are sung rhythmically, so the hauling is most efficient. Or they are sung freely, as if to fill the long days and evenings spent together. These songs are spread by oral trading, creating many variants and variations.”

This tradition was brought home to me earlier this summer when I came upon a version of the song I had grown up believing was called Sloop John B. As I found out from Tom Lewis’ rendition of the original Nassau Bound, the Beach Boys “left out the [most interesting] parts.” That, in combination with re-visiting a disc I wrote about last year, by Chaim Tannenbaum, which includes a duet with Loudon Wainwright on the traditional tune Paddy Doyle, primed the pump for my appreciation of this Irish-tinged maritime journey with La Nef.

The disc opens gently with Leave Her, Johnny, with sparse cittern accompaniment that gradually adds more voices, bass and flute and grows to a full finish replete with bosun’s whistle, wave sounds and seagull cries. As the disc progresses through drinking songs and laments, cautionary tales of press gangs and ship wrecks, welcoming tunes like Over the Hills and Far Away and Haul on the Bowline, we are drawn into the myriad moods of the seafarer. It’s at times randy and rugged, so strap yourself to the mast and prepare for adventure. But be forewarned, like shades of the John B: “I hate to sail on this rotten tub; No grog allowed and rotten grub,” so pack a lunch!

05 MAE TrioI have written on several occasions in these pages about “my favourite band,” the newgrass-flavoured Joy Kills Sorrow, and lamented their demise. Since they disbanded a couple of years ago I have been on the lookout for a successor to comfort me. Although not as instrumentally virtuosic, over the summer I had the pleasure of hearing a group from Australia that went a long way towards filling that void: The MAE Trio, three young women the initials of whose given names (Maggie, Anita and Elsie) provide the acronym of their trio’s name. When my wife and I saw them at the Burdock, they played violin, mandolin, guitar, banjo and cello between them, and produced some sweet high harmonies on mostly original material. One of the songs, Haul Away, is a quasi-sea shanty, but I don’t think that alone explains my infatuation – I left the gig humming the title track of their latest release Take Care, Take Cover (Creative Victoria Records) and am very glad to have taken a copy home with me.

Evidently this was their second trip to Canada (and second Burdock appearance) and although it may be a while before they return – throughout September and October these world travellers have shows in Ireland and various places in the UK – you can sample material, and buy the CD, on their website (themaetrio.com).

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website thewholenote.com, where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples, upcoming performance details and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

04a Mariposa BookI recently read The Mariposa Folk Festival: A History by current artistic director Michael Hill, and Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing. The first brought back memories of my own visits to the iconic festival in the Toronto Island years of the early 1970s. One of the lasting memories I have from that time is seeing Taj Mahal performing with his acoustic resonator guitar and a quartet of tubas (!) that included the iconic Howard Johnson. I believe that was the first time I heard Fishin’ Blues, which remains one of my favourite songs of the genre. Or a tuba at a folk festival for that matter.

04b Taj MahalIt seemed fortuitous then when one of the last discs that found its way to me before I sat down to write this column was TajMo, the latest from Taj Mahal and Keb Mo’ (Concord Records CRE00431). It’s a little over-produced for my taste, but there is a great horn section (no tubas though) and a host of fine musicians including a cameo guitar solo by Joe Walsh. Highlights for me are the one all-acoustic track, John Estes’ Diving Duck Blues with just the two headliners trading verses and licks, and Pete Townsend’s Squeeze Box with a rockin’ band that includes both lead and rhythm accordions. It’s also nice to hear Toronto get a shout-out in the rollcall of TajMo’s calypso-flavoured anthem Soul.

Concert note: The 57th annual Mariposa Folk Festival runs from July 7 through 9 at Tudhope Park in Orillia. Although Mahal will not be there this year I see that the calypso band Kobo Town, whose album Where the Galleon Sank was reviewed in the Pot Pourri section of June’s The WholeNote, will be (July 8 at 11:45 AM at the 150+ Stage and July 9 at 4:45 at the Mariposa Pub Stage).

04c Thien Do Not SayI often re-read books that have spoken to me in a special way, but rarely just a few months after my first exposure. An exception to this practice will be this summer when I return to Thien’s multiple award-winning novel depicting life in pre- and post- Cultural Revolution China and the days surrounding the Tiananmen Square protest and massacre. Much of the book is concerned with two generations of musicians involved with the Central Conservatory of Music and I was surprised by the music that was mentioned throughout the book. Upon next reading I plan to take the time to revisit these masterpieces which are so important to the storyline, including Bach’s Violin Sonatas, Partitas and Double Concerto, Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto and Pastoral Symphony, Handel’s Xerxes Overture, Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata, Ravel’s Tzigane and Shostakovich’s Symphonies Four, Five and Ten. Seems like a good use of my summer!

As always, we welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website “thewholenote.com” where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples, upcoming performance details and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

01 Adams Chamber ConcertosThis month’s adventure began with a hybrid, a melding of two honoured institutions in the new music world: WQXR-FM’s Q2 podcast Meet the Composer and New York’s renowned ensemble Alarm Will Sound. The two have come together to produce a CD entitled Splitting Adams (Cantaloupe Music CA21128 cantaloupemusic.com) which presents two works by John Adams Chamber Symphony and Son of Chamber Symphony – prefaced by extended interviews with the composer, host (and Alarm Will Sound violist) Nadia Sirota, artistic director Alan Pierson and members of the ensemble.

Alarm Will Sound (AWS) was established in 2001. It is a large ensemble comprising the instrumentation required for Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony Op.9 (1906), full winds and brass, percussion, piano and string quintet, which Adams also chose for his own foray into the genre in 1992. The podcast discusses the importance of Schoenberg in the history of contemporary music and his move to Los Angeles after the rise of Nazism in his native Austria. Regarding the relationship between Schoenberg’s influential Chamber Symphony and Adams’ own somewhat larger than life and at times parodic work, the composer states “I enjoy that kind of delicious irony of crass American commercialism cheek by jowl with very profound serious European high culture.” The 17-minute documentary is skillfully produced and cleverly edited with audio clips of historical examples and previews, establishing a context for the recorded performance that follows.

Adams’ Son of Chamber Symphony was written specifically for AWS in 2007. The extreme difficulty of the work is explored in the podcast, as are some of the musical references, including the distinctive rhythms of the Scherzo from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The musicians discuss the pit- and pratfalls of having the composer present from the first day of rehearsal. My own experience with New Music Concerts has ingrained in me the importance of the input of the composer, but members of AWS talk of how daunting it is when the composer is there before they have had a chance to familiarize themselves properly with the music. In this instance Adams wanted to conduct the first rehearsal, just a few days after the music had been delivered, and commenced to make changes to the score based on the musicians’ first stumbling attempts with some extreme passages. While one might think this would be a relief to the musicians, in a sense they felt cheated by not having the opportunity to master the more difficult original score. In one instance, with the composer’s permission, in subsequent performances the flutist has reverted to the initial version rather than switching to piccolo for an extremely high passage as suggested in Adams’ revision. Again, from my experience with New Music Concerts I know just how much effort is involved in preparing a new work for performance, especially when faced with the complexity of serious contemporary music. It has been a decade since AWS premiered Son of Chamber Symphony and only now after dozens of performances have they felt comfortable enough with the music to record it for posterity. It is a stunning work, made more memorable by the “Illuminating Introduction” (to borrow a phrase from New Music Concerts) provided in this excellent collaboration. While I will not be listening to the podcast as a preamble each time I put on the disc, I’m very pleased to have been exposed to the insights it provided.

02b Raging Against the MachineVancouver’s Redshift Music Society, like Alarm Will Sound, was founded in 2001, with “a focus on bringing the music of contemporary Canadian composers to the general public through unique musical events, mostly in public venues.” In 2007 Redshift Records (redshiftrecords.org) was established and for the past decade has been producing some of the most significant recordings of contemporary music in the country. Two such titles arrived at my desk recently: New Wave (TK448) featuring one of Vancouver’s senior ensembles Standing Wave (founded 1991) and Raging Against the Machine (TK449), a collaborative project between Montreal’s Ensemble Paramirabo (founded 2008) and Toronto’s relative newcomer Thin Edge New Music Collective (founded 2011). Both releases are diverse in their offerings, with New Wave featuring five Canadian works composed (or revised) in past four years and Raging Against the Machine with three recent works by young Canadians bookended by established words by senior international composers.

02a Standing WaveNew Wave begins with Nicole Lizée’s Sculptress, a tribute to Delia Derbyshire that incorporates sounds of her pioneering electronic compositions from the ’60s and ’70s with live ensemble performance and modern technology. Marcus Goddard’s Raven Tales is based on the work of Indigenous artist Mike Dangeli, with rhythmic marimba passages and sprightly flute and clarinet melodies giving way to a sombre second movement called Ancestral Voice before returning to a lively and playful finale. Goddard is a composer I had not previously heard of, as are Justin Christensen and Edward Top, who are also represented on this disc. As an aside, I will note here I find it frustrating that although the tripartite cardboard CD case includes program notes by the composers (not a very helpful one in the case of Christensen, I’m afraid) there is no information about the composers, the ensemble or its members. Googling Goddard took me to several long-out-of-date biographies (including one at the Canadian Music Centre) before I found the composer’s own website, and it took four or five searches to confirm that the Dutch-born Siemen Edward Top, sometime composer-in-residence with the Vancouver Symphony it seems, was indeed the Top included here. Michael Oesterle, however, is a composer whose work I have known for almost two decades. The Quebec-based, German-born (1968) composer is among the stronger voices of his generation and his music has been performed in Toronto with some regularity. Emmy Noether pays tribute to the author of Noether’s (first) theorem which states that every differentiable symmetry of the action of a physical system has a corresponding conservation law. The theorem was proven by mathematician Emmy Noether in 1915 and published in 1918. According to Oesterle’s program note this “leant proof to Einstein’s theory of general relativity and remains a cornerstone in the equations of physicists today.” I must confess that I don’t get the correlation between the theory and his composition, but I’m willing to take his word that “symmetry, conservation of energy [and] momentum” play their part. It’s a charming work at any rate with bell-like sounds from the piano and vibraphone overlaid with pointillist flute and motivic string lines.

Unlike New Wave, Raging Against the Machine comes with a bilingual booklet replete with program notes, composer biographies (although I am tired of being told that Steve Reich is “America’s greatest living composer”) and ensemble blurbs. The recording was made in the Glenn Gould Studio in January 2016, as a follow-up to a cross country tour by Paramirabo and Thin Edge the previous spring. It begins with Reich’s dynamic, if somewhat predictable, Double Sextet (2007), a work which provided the context for the project with its scoring for two ensembles of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion. Patrick Giguère’s Le sel de la terre (2015) was commissioned and is performed by Thin Edge. In his note Giguère explains his identification of the “machine” in the context of the project as consumer-oriented society and dedicates his thoughtful and somewhat lyrical piece to those individuals who choose to rage against it through their life choices. Toronto composer Brian Harman was commissioned to create a work for the double ensemble and he says Hum presents “two different types of materials – machine sounds (from gently undulating to brash) and music associated with human rituals (from harvest songs to intimate shower singing). I am interested in the inherent physicality of these two musical worlds, and finding similarities between them.” The result is mostly contemplative, with occasional ventures into dense textures and a gradual building of intensity, but nothing I would identify as rage. Anna Höstman, also currently based in Toronto, created Fog at the request of Paramirabo with the support of both the Canada and Toronto Arts Councils. “Some of the most beautiful and haunting landscapes are those enshrouded in fog, a natural phenomenon where mystery is made visible.” Her sparse and somewhat blurry landscape is indeed a beauty to behold. The disc ends as it began, in a flurry of activity, with Dutch composer Louis Andriessen’s iconic Workers Union. Once again the forces of both ensembles are employed to realize a work that is scored for “any loud-sounding group of instruments.” While the rhythms are strictly notated, pitches are only approximately specified. Andriessen states that “it is difficult to play in an ensemble and to remain in step, similar to organizing and carrying out political actions.” This is an exuberant performance in which a good time is obviously had by all, in spite of the built-in challenges.

Review

03 CartographyRaging Against the Machine may be the title of the last CD discussed, but the phrase could apply equally, or perhaps even more appropriately, to Eric Wubbels’ composition gretchen am spinnrade which opens Mariel Roberts’ latest CD Cartography (New Focus Recordings fcr185 marielroberts.com). As a matter of fact I had to go online to watch a video of a live performance (at icareifyoulisten.com) to see whether or not any machine-like technology was in use. With the composer at the piano and Roberts on cello it is amazing to realize that the excruciating intensity is being generated in real time by two mere mortals. It is truly a sight, and sound, to behold, with what Wubbels describes as “alternating relentless motoric circuits with plateaus of regular ‘idling’ motion.” After repeated listening and viewing it is still not clear to me whether the microtonality in the piano part as the piece progresses is a result of the frantic banging on the keys, or if some of the notes have been specially (de)tuned in advance. Whatever the case, Gretchen is definitely pictured at a particularly post-industrial spinning wheel in this reinterpretation of Schubert’s original.

By way of respite, Aman by Cenk Ergün is a much quieter offering, but one that does involve live electronics by the composer along with Roberts’ solo cello. While it was the intensity and sheer volume of Wubbels’ scoring that made the sounds seem mechanical in gretchen, here it is the sparseness that makes them unfamiliar and somewhat otherworldly. It is as if we are “listening” through a microscope to the very structure of the sounds. It’s often hard to distinguish between the manufactured sounds and those created by extended techniques on the cello. I look forward to seeing a video of this one or, better yet, the chance to see Roberts in live performance.

George Lewis’ Spinner for solo cello veritably bursts forth after the quietude of Aman. Lewis, Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University, is also a renowned trombonist who has worked with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music for more than four and a half decades. Spinner is set in a more traditional mode for a virtuosic solo instrumental work, at least in the sense of the post-war avant-garde. It is a compendium of sounds available to the cellist using bow and fingers on the strings of the instrument, without venturing into the various extra-musical extensions sometimes called for in the context. It is a thoroughly musical work, which effectively integrates some aspects of modern jazz without compromising its status as a concert piece.

The disc concludes with The Cartography of Time by New York-based composer Davíð Brynjar Franzson. The program note includes a definition of cartography (map-making) and time (the indefinite continued progress of existence…) and a quotation from Wittgenstein, none of which sheds much light on the piece, but I do find its progress glacial and textures reminiscent of an Icelandic landscape or, in my wife’s ears, Northern Lights, perhaps linked to the composer’s birthplace, Akureyri, on the north coast of Iceland just south of the Arctic Circle.

All in all, Roberts’ disc is an incredible journey. Fasten your seatbelt and pack your parka, but be forewarned, although it begins with a bang!, it ends with a whisper…

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website, thewholenote.com, where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples, upcoming performance details and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

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