01 New WorldsNew Worlds/Nouveaux Mondes; Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra; Alexander Shelley (Analekta AN 2 8873 analekta.com). It took a while to identify what sounded familiar in Ana Sokolović’s Golden slumbers kiss your eyes…, but eventually I realized it reminded me of that mid-20th century pillar of choral/orchestral repertoire, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Reading the program notes revealed another parallel to that great work – this too is based on secular, vernacular texts, in this case primarily folk songs in French, English, Italian, German, Ladino and the composer’s native Serbian. The likeness to Carmina Burana is mostly one of scale – vocal soloist, multiple choirs, orchestral forces with prominent percussion – but there are a couple of movements that are particularly Orffian, including Mie mama mata mata with its alternating lines between the choirs, and later an anguished countertenor solo reminiscent of the dying swan of Orff’s masterpiece.

Conceived as a tribute to NACO (now CNACO)’s founding conductor and later, music director Mario Bernardi, it is a celebration of Canada’s multiculturalism and pays tribute to Bernardi’s Italian heritage in two of the seven movements. Although the texts are from folk songs they are surprisingly transformed in this presentation, sometimes to the point of non-recognition. À la claire fontaine begins with a haunting solo by countertenor David DQ Lee, eventually joined by dark chanting from the chorus more reminiscent of a satanic ritual than the coureur de bois chanson learned at French immersion camp. I was also reminded of some of the more dramatic scenes from Harry Somers’ Louis Riel and the movement Durme, durme, a Serbian lullaby, reminded me of that opera’s Kuyas. I don’t mean to say that this is in any way a derivative work. Sokolović has a unique voice and it is more a reflection of my own way of relating to new things, always happy to find touchstones.

Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra, better known for “viewing the past through rose coloured glasses” in recent decades, is marching bravely into the 21st century under Alexander Shelley, who succeeded Pinchas Zukerman as music director in 2015. I’m pleased to note that their last three CDs have all featured new Canadian compositions commissioned by the orchestra. In this most recent addition, Sokolović’s stunning work is paired with Dvořák’s New World Symphony. I think it is very effective programming, and any questions I had about whether this classical-size orchestra numbering 60-some players would be sufficient to do justice to this staple of the Romantic repertoire were allayed by listening to the performance on this beautifully recorded disc.

02 Juliet PalmerI believe several disclaimers are in order here for the sake of full disclosure. New Zealand-born Canadian composer Juliet Palmer’s music has been presented on several occasions by New Music Concerts (my “day” job), most recently last month on our program “The Lioness of Iran,” featuring settings of the poetry of Simin Behbahani. In addition, Palmer and her husband James Rolfe (another composer whose work we have presented), are frequent attendees at parties at my musical neighbour Gail’s house, where I’m often heard jamming with guitars and, on the best nights, mandolins and fiddles. But if I recused myself from writing about all the composers I have had the pleasure to meet over the past several decades, there wouldn’t be many left to mention. A further disclosure is that for the most part I don’t enjoy contemporary vocal music. So when Palmer’s new mostly a cappella disc Rivers (BR0343 barnyardrecords.com) arrived, I fully expected to be assigning the review to someone more at arm’s length and more appreciative of the genre. My curiousity got the best of me however and I decided to give it a listen. I must say I was smitten! The six tracks span a decade, with Simple Death from 2006 (from SLIP, a site-specific multimedia collaboration with lyricist Anna Chatterton which took place in Harrison Baths as part of that year’s X Avant Festival), to two selections first performed as part of another site-specific project, Singing River, on the Pan Am Path, Lower Don Trail in 2015.

The disc opens with the sounds of a babbling brook, or so it seems. It turns out to be blood flow, ultrasound recordings from the Sunnybrook Research Institute which, complemented by quiet chattering and disturbing interpolations from a chorus, provide a kind of ostinato under the anguished solo vocal by Laura Swankey on a text from Emily Dickinson’s The Heart has narrow Banks. Dreaming of Trees is a slow lyrical piece that begins with a very simple pattern on a metallophone which continues throughout under the solo voice of Alex Samaras and gentle, flowing tonal harmonies from a small mixed chorus. The text is by Nicholas Power. Dusk of Tears from Palmer’s opera Shelter is an unaccompanied duet – Felicity Williams and Samaras – with lyrics by Julie Salverson, which employs some close harmonies and clever counterpoint. This leads to the onomatopoeic and at times abrasive Burble, a lament for the Don River featuring Swankey with chorus. Litany (After the End) features post-apocalyptic lyrics of Christine Duncan recited in sprechstimme by the author with electronic treatments by Palmer. The closing track, Simple Death, uses a traditional Japanese folksong as its point of departure, with Aki Takahashi sounding hauntingly muezzin-like, juxtaposing an English lyric interwoven by Duncan over droning vocalise. It is an effective conclusion to a very satisfying recording.

03 Shostakovich violin sonataDmitri Shostakovich composed his Violin Sonata, Op.134 in 1968 and it was premiered by its dedicatee David Oistrakh with Sviatoslav Richter in the spring of the following year. In 1975, the year of the composer’s death, a Melodiya/Angel LP recording of that performance and the premiere of the String Quartet No.13, Op.138 was released in North America, and for some months held pride of place in this avid young collector’s library. So it was with great interest that I received a new recording of the sonata featuring two young Russians, Sergei Dogadin and Nikolai Tokarev (Naxos 8.573753 naxos.com). Dogadin has won ten international violin competitions including the Tchaikovsky (2011) and the Joseph Joachim International (2015), so his credentials are impeccable. While his colleague’s accolades are perhaps not quite so prestigious, Tokarev nevertheless has been recognized with awards in Switzerland and Germany since completing his piano studies in 2007. Together they capture the essence of Shostakovich’s late sonata in a riveting performance. The disc also features the first complete recording of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes, Op.34 in transcription for violin and piano: 19 by Dmitry Tsyganov (some from 1937 and some from 1963) praised by Shostakovich as sounding more idiomatic in this guise than even the piano originals; and five by composer/pianist Lera Auerbach to complete the set in 2000. These youthful and sometimes exuberant short pieces – 35 minutes in all – provide a welcome contrast to the darkness of the sonata, which is not to say that they are all bright and sunny. The preludes, which date from 1932-33, run the gamut of emotion and at times hint at the hard times to come in the composer’s troubled life. While not supplanting the Oistrakh/Richter, this new recording will also occupy a treasured spot in my library.

04 WinterreiseHaving taken the plunge into art song above, I will say that one of my favourite vocal cycles is Winterreise, that classic of the genre by Franz Schubert. One of the discs to cross my desk recently is a new version with the piano part transcribed for string quartet by cellist Richard King of the Copenhagen Quartet which is featured with bass-baritone Johan Reuter (Danacord DACOCD 759 danacord.dk). Reuter, who has been a soloist with the Royal Danish Opera for the past two decades, is touted as “one of the most in-demand classical singers of his generation” in the booklet notes, and with this recording as evidence I can see why. His rendering is powerfully dramatic and tenderly sensitive as required, and his tone is superb. I find the transcription to be quite convincing, although definitely a different sensibility from the piano original. King captures the different moods of the piece, and the playing is nuanced and well balanced. While this will not supplant my other recordings of the cycle – if you are interested in different transcriptions I encourage you to seek out Hans Zender’s rendering for a 30-piece contemporary chamber orchestra – it is a welcome addition to my collection. One reason for not suggesting this be your only recording of Winterreise is the booklet. This Danish production features English-only liner notes, but the texts are only given in German. I had to pull out my Fischer-Dieskau/Brendel performance (Philips 464 739-2), which has English and French translations of Wilhelm Müller’s poems, to be able to follow along.

05 Schumann quartetsBy all rights I should have sent the next disc (along with the Shostakovich) to Terry Robbins for his Strings Attached column, but once again I could not resist it. As a cellist I have played Schumann’s Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet, as well as works for piano trio and cello and piano, but have never had the opportunity to explore his string quartets in depth. So when Schumann Quartets Nos. 2 & 3 featuring the Elias Quartet (ALPHA 280 alpha-classics.com) arrived I decided to hold on tight. Written in 1842 when the composer was 32, his three quartets of Op.41 were presented to his wife Clara in celebration of her 23rd birthday and their second wedding anniversary. I particularly like the personal style of the introductory program note in this tri-lingual booklet by violinist Sara Bitlloch. In it she describes how the Elias approached the charming Quartet No.3 in A Major, one of the first works they played together, and how different it was to encounter the Quartet No.2 in F Major sometime later. “The enthusiasm of the first movement can easily turn into anxiety if you push it a bit too far. In the slow movement the texture is sometimes so bare that to convey its tenderness you have to sustain it with great fervour. The capacious Scherzo is bristling with rhythmic pitfalls […] while the Finale is an endless explosion of joy!” Hard to resist such a description and even harder to ignore the music it describes. The performance was recorded live at Potton Hall, UK in May 2016 and the excitement is palpable.

06 Selcuk SunaFurther on in these pages you will read reviews of new discs from David Buchbinder’s OdessaHavana and KUNÉ, Canada’s Global Orchestra, noting that both groups are featured in performance at Koerner Hall on April 7. I have also received – from restaurateur Oğuz Koloğlu, proprietor of Café 808 – a CD by Toronto-based Turkish clarinetist and saxophonist Selcuk Suna (selcuksuna.com), who will be performing with KUNÉ. The disc, Turkish Standards//Non Standard, is quite eclectic. From the lush but breakneck moto perpetuo opening track Hicaz Mandira it progresses through some smooth jazz (but still with busy, virtuosic melody lines), touches of funk and evocations of Turkish clubs replete with belly dance rhythms. The core band consists of familiars Eric St. Laurent, Tyler Emond, Todd Pentney and Max Senitt and is complemented by a number of guest artists from the Turkish community. I’m a bit frustrated by the lack of detailed information on the disc or on Suna’s website – for instance I tried to find out about the vocalist Dia, but the only hits I got online were for a South Korean Kpop girl group whom I’m pretty sure this is not. Nevertheless the disc kept me grooving in my chair.

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07 Food ForagersThe last disc I will mention takes me even further afield and I don’t even know what section I would have put it in – Contemporary? Improvised? Pot Pourri? – if I wasn’t covering it here. Food Foragers came to us from Unit Records in Switzerland (unitrecords.com). The press release says this is the first Duo release of Mark Lotz (flutes and effects) and squeakologist Alan Purves. “Music that sparkles with imagination and is free from conventions.” It certainly is that. One might ask what exactly a squeakologist is. A partial answer is in the list of the instruments Purves employs: toy accordion; DADA bells; balaphon, sruti boxes; toy horns; klaxon; tin whistle; brim bram; and one of my favourites, toy pigs. Although Lotz’s arsenal is more traditional, he also pushes the envelope, focusing on the extreme end of the flute family: bass flute headjoint; bass flute tongue slaps; concert flute body; prepared flute; bamboo flute; piccolo and even PVC contrabass flute. As for the music, I simply don’t know how to describe it. From melodic flute lines floating over kalimba-like ostinati in Abu in the Sky, to rhythminc grunting in Hog Time, deep heartbeat-like pulsations in the meditative Echoes Of A Life Hereafter and the playful piccolo/toy accordion duet Piepkuiken, to mention just the first four tracks, there’s never a dull moment. Some of the influences listed include traditional songs from Mali, Chick Corea’s Children’s Songs and Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition (1914-17). After a truly wondrous journey a final highlight is the concluding I’m So Sorry Blues, a standard 12-bar riff pairing the contrabass with tin whistles. Intriguing!

01 de Raaff Jaap van ZwedenIn recent months I’ve written about Elliott Carter and George Crumb, two giants of 20th-century composition whom I had the opportunity to meet through my position as general manager of New Music Concerts and my association with founding director Robert Aitken. Over the past two decades, I’ve also had the opportunity to meet innumerable outstanding mid-career and emerging composers. Further on in these pages you will find Michael Schulman’s review of two new releases by a Dutch composer recently featured by New Music Concerts, Robin de Raaff, who celebrated his 49th birthday while in Toronto. De Raaff’s star is definitely on the rise, with numerous significant commissions in recent years in both Europe and North America, including the upcoming premiere of a chamber version of his Second Violin Concerto “North Atlantic Light” at Carnegie Hall in June. It is rare enough for any composer to have two recordings released in a single year, but in fact de Raaff has had three. The one I kept for myself is the latest of four etcetera discs devoted to orchestral and operatic works of this outstanding composer. Jaap van Zweden conducts Robin de Raaff (KTC 1593 etcetera-records.com) – includes his Violin Concerto and Symphony No.1 “Tanglewood Tales” performed by the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest. The violin soloist is Tasmin Little, for whom the concerto was intended.

Reclassified as Violin Concerto No.1 “Angelic Echoes” to reflect the fact that de Raaff is currently at work on a second concerto, I am actually pleased that this recording did not include the subtitle because I like my first listenings to be unencumbered by programmatic references or musicological explanations. So I was listening blind, so to speak, when I first encountered this work. Right from its opening notes I had the distinct impression that I was hearing an homage to one of the great concertos of the past century, and one of my favourite works, Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto – “To the Memory of an Angel.” Reading the comprehensive notes (from two different recordings) later confirmed this for me, and further explained how de Raaff had accomplished this by mirroring Berg’s composition without directly referencing his melodic material. Where Berg had used a Bach chorale, de Raaff composed one of his own and then treated it in a similar fashion. In both works the notes of the open strings of the violin – a cycle of fifths – play an important role, and by stacking these (G-D-A-E) de Raaff takes the interval of a sixth thus created (G to E) to derive much of the material for his piece. Open strings also play another important role in that he has the second violin section of the orchestra tune a semitone below the pitch of the first violins (F-sharp-C-sharp-G-sharp-D-sharp), giving eight (instead of the usual four open pitches) and increasing the overtone possibilities accordingly. Inspired by techniques from Gregorian Chant, de Raaff uses these overtones to create “angelic” countermelodies which seem to arise out of the orchestral textures. In another parallel to Berg’s iconic work – dedicated to the memory of Manon Gropius, daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius – de Raaff uses his work to eulogize a close friend who died during its composition. Saxophonist William Raaijman is immortalized with the unexpected entry of two alto saxes towards the end of the concerto. Like its forebear, this is a gorgeous work, and beautifully played.

De Raaff has had an ongoing relationship with Tanglewood – the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra – since his first residency there in 2000. There have been five subsequent visits, most recently in 2015. Symphony No.1 began as a single-movement work titled Entangled Tales, premiered by the BSO at Koussevitsky Shed, Tanglewood’s premier venue, in 2007. He later added an introductory prequel Untangled Tales in 2011 and ultimately a brief coda was added in 2016. The title refers to a book by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys, which he wrote while living in a cottage near Tanglewood in 1853. Hawthorne retells several Greek myths but de Raaff’s tales are more topical, depicting the site of the summer music festival before and during public performances. The quiet opening portrays the landscape of the estate during which we hear fragments from various rehearsal studios, providing a preview and in a sense an “untangling” of the material which will be developed in the second movement. The subsequent “tangled tales” are livelier, more energetic and complex. The coda returns to the overall sensibility of the first movement, but with a somewhat heightened sense of colour and light.

I treasure the time that I spent with Robin de Raaff during his recent visit to Toronto, especially an evening of socializing at which I got to share some of my own music-making. It was also enlightening to experience the extensive preparations involved in advance of the performance of de Raaff’s extremely complex Percussion Concerto with soloist Ryan Scott and the New Music Concerts Ensemble under Aitken’s direction. This work has had numerous previous performances and has entered the canon of contemporary repertoire, but de Raaff assured us that the Toronto performance was the best yet. Having had the opportunity to get to know one of his more recent pieces so intimately, it was a great pleasure to get to know some of his earlier work on this very fine CD.

02 UTS RemembersI Remember, featuring University of Toronto Schools Alumni Musicians and Friends (Cambia CD-1247 cambriamus.com), showcases performers, composers and teachers associated with the independent secondary school (Grades 7 through 12) affiliated with the University of Toronto. The music is a range of chestnuts by the likes of Scriabin, Brahms, Dukas and Dvořák, along with premiere recordings of original music by Canadian composers Alexander Rapoport (composer-in-residence at UTS), Ronald Royer (alumnus and UTS music teacher), Sarah Shugarman (UTS music teacher), Alex Eddington (UTS alumnus and TDSB teacher) and Billy Bao (who graduated UTS in 2014 and is now doing a major in Music Performance and a minor in Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University). Bao is featured as both composer and performer. Other performers include outstanding current UTS students and recent graduates, plus two of Canada’s most distinguished musicians, alumni James Sommerville (horn) and David Fallis (singer, conductor, and in this case, narrator).

I Remember is a charming mix of music new and old, performed with precision, passion and aplomb by these fine (mostly) young musicians. Of course the classical selections are beyond reproach, but the highlights for me are the new works: Shugarman’s Carousel, a canon-like piece for three violins, two cellos and bass; Rapoport’s dark but lush Walberauscht for horn and piano, which he says means “intoxicated by the forest;” Danzon by Royer, a movement from the larger suite Dances with Time in an arrangement for two violins, cello and piano; Eddington’s playful Bubblegum Delicious (on poetry by another UTS alumnus, Dennis Lee) for soprano and small ensemble with narrator; and Billy Bao’s virtuosic Dance, a brief but thrilling duet for violin and cello. Although there is nothing here that would be considered cutting edge or challenging new music, it is important that the curriculum at UTS is emphasizing to the students that “classical” composers are alive and well, and living in Canada!

I Remember provides not only a “reminder” but also ample evidence of the importance of inspiring and nurturing young performers and the efficacy of doing so within the school curriculum. Bravo to UTS. Let them be an example for us all, especially for the powers that be who make decisions about arts and education. I hope copies will be sent to all the MPPs at Queen’s Park.

As the editor of DISCoveries, I see all of the CDs and DVDs received here at The WholeNote – and believe me, that is quite a number, far more than we can cover each month. For instance, there are more than 75 discs covered in this edition, and that is only about half of the number under consideration. I have noticed in recent months an exceptional rise in the number of local and Canadian, mostly independent, jazz releases. In our last issue we covered 24 jazz titles and further on in these pages you’ll find another 17. And I still find a backlog of local content waiting for attention. With this in mind, and take it as a disclaimer if you like, as is occasionally the case I am about to venture outside my comfort zone and report on (an important distinction from reviewing) a few of these neglected titles. So with that caveat, here are some discs that I found of interest this month.

03 Jody ProznickYou will find Raul da Gama’s take on Laila Biali’s excellent eponymous disc in the Pot Pourri section of this issue, but she is also present on a very strong jazz release from stalwart Vancouver acoustic bass player Jodi Proznick, Sun Songs (Cellar Live CL010118 cellarlive.com). Biali’s vocals are supported by Proznick’s usual quartet, rhythm section partners pianist Tilden Webb and drummer Jesse Cahill, complemented by the melodic alto and soprano sax lines of Steve Kaldestad. The album features eight original Proznick songs, three with co-writers, and her arrangement of Stephin Merritt’s The Book of Love. The overall feel of this disc is gentle and melodic and with its emphasis on lyrical songs could be construed as an amalgam of jazz and pop, but to my ear this falls firmly in the jazz camp with no compromise to the world of popular music. Highly recommended.

04 Bethany ProjectThe Bethany Project (iliosjazz.ca) is the brainchild of Toronto-based drummer and composer Ilios Steryannis, who spent his formative years in Bethany, ON “where it snowed a lot, we had a big old fashioned radio, and I loved to gaze up at the stars in the beautiful night sky…” There are 11 original tunes which each have a particular focus and personal link for Steryannis. From the opening The Group of 7 which turns out not to have anything to do with the art collective of that name, but rather refers to the Afro-Cuban groove in 7/4 time over which its melodies soar, through to the closing Soledad, inspired by the Gabriel García Márquez novel 100 Years of Solitude, there are many moods and tributes along the way. The one thing that is consistent throughout is the funky sensibility. And consummate musicianship from contributors Sundar Viswanathan (alto and soprano saxophones), Kenny Kirkwood (baritone sax), Connor Walsh (acoustic and electric bass), Joel Visentin (Hammond organ), Scott Neary (guitar) and Adam Hay and Larry Graves on sundry percussion. While primarily Latin in feel, other influences include John Coltrane, John Scofield and Joe Henderson, music of Steryannis’ Greek heritage and African beats from Kenya and Cameroon. Hard to sit still while this CD is on the player!

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05 Terrry Gomes Tropical DreamAnother disc that lifted my spirits and kept me grooving through the bitterly cold days of early January was The Tropical Dream, a concept album from Ottawa guitarist Terry Gomes (terrygomes.com). With a degree in classical guitar and composition, Gomes is quite an eclectic musician, having worked in rock bands, a classical guitar/flute duo and as a singer/songwriter. On this outing he has surrounded himself with a host of diverse musicians playing a range of percussion instruments, horns, piano, Paraguayan harp, basses, cello, steel pan and vocalizations to complement his own guitars and keyboards. Gomes says “If you live all or part of the year in a cold climate, chances are that you have some sort of tropical dream. This one is mine.” This is music that keeps you moving, although not always at a frenetic pace – there are occasional respites and a beautiful bossa ballad. The Tropical Dream would be a perfect accompaniment to a pitcher of margaritas or your favourite umbrella drink. I for one was happy to be on board with Gomes on this island cruise.

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 George CrumbLast month a CD of late works by Elliott Carter gave me occasion to muse about the brushes with greatness I have been privileged with, thanks to my relationship with New Music Concerts. A new CD – Complete George Crumb Edition Volume 18 (BRIDGE 9476 bridgerecords.com) – gives me that opportunity once again. Although it seems more recent, I realize it has been more than a dozen years since George Crumb was last in Toronto as the guest of NMC. For several decades after NMC’s founding in 1971, a tradition developed that Crumb’s new works would receive their second performances in Toronto; in the case of the celebrated Idyll for the Misbegotten for amplified flute and three percussionists, dedicated to Robert Aitken, this city was the location of its world premiere. That tradition continued in 2003 when the composer’s daughter Ann Crumb sang the Canadian premiere of the recently composed …Unto the Hills, Songs of Sadness, Yearning and Innocence, with the New Music Concerts ensemble.

On that occasion it was my great pleasure to spend several days in the company of the 74-year-old composer and his family. In the intervening years Crumb has not slowed down much, as this disc attests, with a new work from 2012 – The Yellow Moon of Andalusia, Spanish Songbook III for Mezzo-Soprano and Amplified Piano – and recently revised versions of 1979’s Celestial Mechanics, Cosmic Dances for Amplified Piano, Four Hands and Yesteryear, A Vocalise for Mezzo-Soprano, Amplified Piano and Percussion originally written in 2005. Central to the disc is a 2001 composition, Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik, A Little Midnight Music, Ruminations on ‘Round Midnight by Thelonious Monk for Amplified Piano, a nine-movement tribute to both Monk and Mozart performed by Marcantonio Barone. Amplification is one of the key elements of Crumb’s music, not to make it louder per se, but to make audible some of the subtle effects that the performers are called upon to execute, be it whistle tones on a flute or plucked notes or pedalled washes of harmonics inside the piano. This is very much a part of the Mitternachtmusik, along with other Crumb signature sounds and techniques, from dramatic knocks on the piano’s frame to shimmering glissandi on the strings, gentle melodies juxtaposed with brash interjections – veritable explosions of sound – and vocalizations from the pianist. Crumb’s characteristically descriptive movement titles include Cobweb and Peaseblossom; Incantation; Golliwog Revisited (with a nod to Debussy) and Cadenza with Tolling Bells.

There is another personal connection for me on this recording. The soprano in the two vocal works is Tony Arnold, who performed a stunning rendition of György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments with violinist Movses Pogossian for New Music Concerts at Gallery 345 last season. Arnold is no stranger to Crumb’s music – she received a Grammy nomination for her performance of Ancient Voices of Children – and is in fact the dedicatee of Yesteryear. That title was inspired by a line from François Villon, “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan,” rendered most famously into English by Dante Gabriel Rosetti as “But where are the snows of yesteryear?,” a line declaimed and later whispered in the original archaic French toward the end of the 11-minute work. As the composer’s preface tells us, “the singer is vainly searching for her lost youth and beauty and laments their inevitable erosion by the relentless passage of time.” There is some ritual involved in the performance, as is often the case in Crumb’s music. In this instance, over the duration of the piece the singer moves between nine stations – spread around the concert hall in the original version but restricted to the stage in the 2013 revision.

Both Yesteryear and The Yellow Moon of Andalusia are first recordings. In the latter, Crumb returns to the poetry of Federico García Lorca, which has been the inspiration for many of his works since the 1960s, including the above-mentioned Ancient Voices of Children. While the earlier works used the original Spanish, here Crumb sets English translations of the poems. The comprehensive booklet includes both the originals and the translations. We have to thank Bridge Records for their thoroughness, not only in the preparation of this recording, which also includes the piano duo Quattro Mani and percussionists David Nelson and William Kerrigan, but for undertaking such an exhaustive catalogue of works by one of the unique voices of our time.

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02 Jordan PalI am pleased to note that this month we have reviews of four Analekta discs, and that they all feature contemporary (or at least 20th-century in the case of André Mathieu) composers. I point this out because although this Quebec label is highly respected for its releases, for the most part they stick to more conventionally classical repertoire, even though some of their artists are renowned for their commitment to contemporary music. The Gryphon Trio has been a major “exception to this rule.” The Gryphon’s 19-title discography includes half a dozen Analekta releases of contemporary music, so kudos to them. The most recent of these is Into the Wonder (AN 2 9521 analekta.com), on which they join the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arthur Post to perform the music of Jordan Pal. Described by Ludwig van Toronto as “the country’s current it-boy composer,” at 34, Pal is currently the RBC affiliate composer of the Toronto Symphony and his music has been performed by every significant orchestra across Canada.

Starling – Triple concerto for violin, cello, piano and orchestra was commissioned by the Gryphon Trio and the Thunder Bay Symphony in 2013. It is a scintillating work in three movements, opening with an orchestral flourish that develops into a 15-minute flight, a “murmuration” with only brief moments of respite, mostly in the form of lyrical cadenzas from the solo trio. It is exhilarating how Pal sustains the momentum throughout. The Largo second movement begins in dark brass timbres that once again give way to gorgeously lyrical passages from the soloists, especially in the cello lines. But one word of caution, or at least a cautionary tale for me. Many years ago I discovered how close the sound of a cello can be to that of a saxophone when I first heard Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto No.2. About midway through, the solo cello gives way to an alto saxophone cadenza so seamlessly that it takes several seconds for the ear to recognize what has just gone on. I had a similar experience when I first listened to Starling, which I did on small computer speakers. I was convinced I was hearing saxophone at several points in the recording and emailed Pal to ask if this was the case because I did not see any saxophonists credited in the list of orchestra members. He assured me that he had not included saxophone in the instrumentation and subsequent listening on proper speakers has confirmed this. That’s why I make a point of listening on my stereo system before passing judgement on discs – basic computer systems simply don’t provide accurate sound. The finale, Presto – Electric and Wild is simply that, a moto perpetuo once again reminiscent of a thousand starlings soaring and swirling together in the sky.

I think I will let the composer speak for himself about the title piece, also commissioned by the TBSO, which at half an hour comprises just under half of the disc. “Into the Wonder celebrates the creative will of our universe. Evoking birth and death, creation and destruction, universal interconnectedness and the rapture of love, this piece seeks to capture the mystery, awe and wonder of life. Nature’s own great works of art are reminders that we are a part of this magnificent range of possibilities, that we are part of something much greater. This symphony celebrates all that is beautiful.” Is this simply the naïve vision of a young man couched in slick orchestral finery? This is certainly not “new music” in the sense of Carter or Crumb, but it is genuinely attractive, well-crafted and brilliantly executed. Does it succeed in its aspirations? I welcome you to judge for yourselves.

Listen to 'Into the Wonder' Now in the Listening Room

03 Margaret MariaI’m not normally drawn to so-called new age music, and I think that’s the category cellist Margaret Maria’s Carried by an Angel would most naturally fall into, yet I find myself drawn to it. In 2011 Margaret Maria Tobolowska left the position she held with the National Arts Centre Orchestra for a dozen years to pursue a solo career as cellist and chamber musician, composer and producer. I must confess that I was a little off-put by the statement on the cover of the promotional copy of the disc I received: “The beauty of the Archangel Raffaele, the bringer of healing, comfort and compassion has been brought to me. The music is full of energy that heals, sings, dances on the edge of winged spirits and brings such indescribable beauty in colours that shimmer and are full of love.” I am not a believer in angels, nor spiritual healing and at first did not think I should be the one to comment on the disc. But as a cellist, and lover of many diverse sorts of music, I gave it a try, and then another. It is ostensibly a solo cello disc, but more accurately, a solo cellist disc. There are many layerings of lines that together produce dense and lush melodic textures, a lovely wash of sound that is warm and immersive. The overall effect is orchestral, but in a unique way since all of the sounds are made by cello, with some computer processing, so there is a welcoming homophony. To me it is reminiscent of the music of Arvo Pärt if you imagine a piece like Spiegel im Spiegel on an orchestral scale. If you are curious, you can check our Margaret Maria’s website (enchanten.com) and her Enchanten channel on YouTube.

04 George LiAnd a quick final note. 2015 Silver Medalist in the International Tchaikovsky Competition George Li has just released his inaugural CD, Live at the Mariinsky (Warner Classics 0190295812942). It was recorded in St. Petersburg one year ago and it features exactly the same repertoire the young superstar performed in Vancouver in October and will perform again in Toronto in February: piano sonatas by Haydn (Hob.XVI:32) and Chopin (Op.35), Rachmaninov’s Variations on a theme of Corelli, and Liszt’s Consolation No.3 and Hungarian Rhapsody No.2. I am a little surprised that the CD booklet, which includes an extended article about the repertoire by Jed Distler in three languages, contains not a word about this fabulous young performer. There is lots of information available on his own website however – georgelipianist.com – including such tidbits as he made his first public performance at the age of ten (2005) at Boston’s Steinway Hall, and in 2011 performed for president Obama at the White House in an evening honouring Chancellor Angela Merkel. If the disc is any indication, the concert will be a barnburner not to be missed by the cognoscenti. Now, if he could just find time to learn some new repertoire!

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David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

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