- Written by David Olds
- Category: Editors Corner
Let me start with a disclaimer: I don’t get opera; I don’t like tango; and cabaret is not my cup of tea. That being said, imagine my surprise to find that the disc which has been getting the most play on my system this month is a cabaret-style “tango opera” by Denis Plante. La Bibliothèque-Interdite (ATMA ACD2 2752) features actor-singer Sébastian Ricard and Plante’s ensemble Tango Boréal in a tale set in the dark days of mid-20th-century Argentina.
“The odyssey began,” Plante tells us, “with a concert […] by Les Violons du Roy, the Tango Boréal Trio and actor Sébastian Ricard. Its theme: Jorge Luis Borges. I had been commissioned to write tangos to accompany the poetry of Argentina’s great literary figure for the production. Sébastian Ricard captivated the audience as, pacing like a caged tiger, he played several roles […] One year later I suggested to Sébastian that we continue the experiment in musical theater by creating an original show, La Bibliothèque-Interdite [The Forbidden Library]. I wanted to present an impressionistic portrait of tango at the end of that Infamous Decade [which began in 1930 with the military coup that overthrew President Hipólito Yrigoyen and lasted until 1943 when another coup resulted in the rise of Juan Perón]. I have long been fascinated by this period – and by the fact that, sometimes risking their lives, it was the gaucho minstrels and tango enthusiasts, the payadores and the tangueros, who first denounced the rise of the fascists…”
Plante has created a libretto that is “a confession, a life story and ideological speech” sung by a fictional poet. Although this character sprung from the composer’s imagination, it is also based on stories told by his father-in-law Alfredo Monetta, “an Argentinian exile who barely escaped the genocide of the dirty war of 1976.” He goes on to say “Other memories are my own. I discovered the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires in dramatic and violent circumstances: blinded by tear gas during the crisis of the pot-banging protests of December 2001.”
So what does this all sound like? It begins with Eden, a languidly nostalgic song – I often dreamed of a library with secret doors…it was my childhood and my destiny: I became a poet – that gives way to Inspecteur Barracuda, a harder-edged portrait of the prince of the renegades, the nabob of tango. [Translations mine.] There are 16 contrasting movements, each with their own story from Icarus’ Descent and a Bestiary to ruminations on departures, memory, silence and life. The instrumentation is simple and clean, featuring bandonéon (Plante), nylon-string guitar and charango (David Jacques) and acoustic bass (Ian Simpson), with occasional added percussion and small chorus. Stylistically it is a pastiche, as freely admitted by Plante, with moods that vary from ballad to narrative to dance-like, including of course more than a fair share of tango.
What struck me most however was the clarity of Ricard’s vocals. I studied French throughout public and high school plus several post-secondary summer immersions, and although I cannot carry on a fluid conversation in la belle langue, I am able to read fairly sophisticated texts en français (my summers always include reading a least one French novel in the original). But listening to art songs or popular music in French I often have trouble following the lyrics. So I was immediately hooked when I realized that I could understand la plupart of what Ricard was singing, thanks to his clear diction and to Plante’s careful setting of the texts. I was reminded of the vocal writing of John Weinzweig, oh not in the musical language, but in the careful selection of words that could be clearly understood when sung.
The booklet notes include a dedication paragraph and, as quoted in part above, a “Diary of Creation” by Denis Plante, a foreword by Sébastien Ricard, a poem by Brigitte Haentjens and artists’ biographies, all in both official languages. Strangely the libretto only appears in French, leaving me glad of all those years I put in building my vocabulaire. Highly recommended.
My next selection takes us All Over the Map with Steve Kirby’s Oceanic Jazz Orchestra (stevekirbymusic.com). Winnipeg-based composer and bassist Kirby has himself been “all over the map” having worked with such luminaries as Elvin Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Cyrus Chestnut, Abbey Lincoln and Joe Lovano, to name but a few, before re-locating from New York City in 2003. He currently serves as Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Manitoba, director of the U of M Summer Jazz Camp, artistic director of the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances and editor of dig! magazine. The disc’s production is also a well-travelled affair, having been recorded at Toronto’s Canterbury Sound and Winnipeg’s Paintbox and Musirex studios, and mixed in New York.
The ten tracks, all penned by Kirby, explore a plethora of styles and geographies but never stray from jazz’s mainstream. Assiniboine traverses the complexity of Manitoba’s famous winding river using a relatively small but lively sampling of the orchestra’s instrumentation, just eight players, with Curtis Nowosad’s drums, Warren Wolf’s vibraphone and Jon Gordon’s soprano saxophone particularly prominent. Boissevain, another Manitoba landmark, is a ballad with alto flute (Shannon Kristjanson) added to the mix and Mike Eckert’s pedal steel and Will Bonness’ piano featured in the “celestial” finale. Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster Gwen Hoebig exercises her fiddle chops in Duende’s Dance, a lively swing with high vocalise from Anna-Lisa Kirby and Heitha Forsyth.
Each of the tracks has full musician credits and a program note by Kirby, but I don’t know what to make of the title Health Sciences Hypertension Clinic which he says is part of his Winnipeg Suite. Although busy with what could perhaps be construed as hyperactivity, I don’t hear the “frenzied pressure” mentioned in the note. Be that as it may, A Change of Plans adds a mellow change of pace, nylon-string guitar and gentle lyric by Anna-Lisa Kirby over a bossa-nova rhythm. Electronic textures provided by Örjan Sandred with pedal steel, violin, soprano sax and piccolo contribute to the glacial timbres featured in Qallupilluit, which depicts an Inuit tale “in which parents terrify their children with threats of mystical sea creatures that live under the ice..” Peter Lutek’s bassoon intro to Dance of the Carapace sets the stage for a lilting rollick that includes an extended vibraphone solo and a star turn for trumpeter Derrick Gardner.
The most strident piece is the one that provides social commentary and protest, both timely and historical. Tulsa is a collage of black voices decrying the abuses and atrocities committed against African-Americans throughout history. I don’t feel it is my place to comment, but the power of the piece speaks for itself. There is a good clip on YouTube where Kirby discusses the background and context of Tusla; well worth viewing.
The disc does not end in anger, but rather with an optimistic anthem. A Speck of Dust “was inspired by Carl Sagan, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and my dream of a peace festival” says Kirby. With its lyric A speck of dust out in space/became the home for this whole human race/ […] On the surface we are different there are many of us/Deep within our hearts we are all the same “it’s an invitation to lose imaginary boundaries.” A valuable message indeed.
I have the one sheet (press release) and program notes for Unfamiliar Surroundings by the Joe Sullivan Big Band (Perry Lake Records joesullivan.ca) but I can’t figure out why it’s called that. Trumpeter/composer/arranger Sullivan is obviously totally at home in the context of both the band and the music, and titles of the three original suites that comprise the 2-CD set don’t suggest anything exotic. This is mainstream jazz in top form, and the dozen and a half players involved, including such journeymen as Rémi Bolduc, Al McLean, André Leroux, André White and Lorne Lofsky, all seem totally comfortable in their ensemble and solo roles.
Sullivan, a Franco-Ontarian who hails from Timmins, studied classical trumpet at the University of Ottawa before pursuing jazz studies at Berklee and the New England Conservatory. Since then (1987) he has made his home in Montreal where he teaches jazz composition, arranging and trumpet at McGill University and directs the McGill Jazz Orchestra. In addition to his own activities (which include seven previous CDs) he has served as conductor and arranger with the Kirk MacDonald Jazz Orchestra, has been a member of the Vic Vogel Big Band for some 25 years and has appeared as a trumpet soloist with the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal.
October Suite, which opens the first disc, begins with a Prelude that starts quietly before a rousing chorus from the whole ensemble that leads to extended solos by pianist White and guitarist Lofsky. Off Kilter begins with unison brass figures giving way to a tenor solo from McLean and bass solo from Alec Walkington. In Let’s Go, drummer Dave Laing gets his turn to come to the fore in a solo that swells and breaks like waves upon the shore eventually ebbing behind ebullient brass that in turn give way to the trombone of Jean-Nicolas Trottier in a virtuoso display of dexterity. After more rousing tutti choruses the trombone eventually returns to gradually calm things down and bring the suite full circle to a peaceful end.
Suite Laurentides is another three-movement work: The Grackle, featuring a delightful flugelhorn solo from Sullivan, surprisingly lyrical for a bird that is known mostly for its croak, followed by a growly tenor outing from Mclean; Nightfall, expectedly dark with musing baritone from Jean Fréchette and contemplative piano from White; and the concluding movement which gives the album its title and I suppose answers my initial question, although the upbeat closer still doesn’t break new ground. In Sullivan’s defense I will concede that “unfamiliar surroundings” does not necessarily imply uncharted territory.
The second disc contains the five movement Suite Montage: The Waiting Game; A Lullaby; Montage #3; The Captain’s Log; and Refuge. This latter features another solo by Sullivan and Lofsky’s mellow guitar over a sparse rhythm section before the orchestra enters for the quiet conclusion of a gorgeous set. I just wish there were some descriptive notes to give a clue to the intriguing titles.
The final disc this month sounds like vintage guitar-based R&B, although Duffmusiq’s Soulleash (duffmusiq.com) consists of 11 original tracks of (presumably) recent vintage. Damir Demirovic, a.k.a. Duffmusiq, was born and educated (classical violin, piano and theory, and later guitar and saxophone) in Serbia before moving to Toronto in 2002 to study music production and studio engineering at the Harris Institute. Since that time he has worked as a producer and studio musician and has developed a successful career composing for film and television.
Soulleash is his first solo album and on it he displays a multitude of talents, composing both the music and lyrics, producing and mixing the recording and playing a host of instruments. Most prominent is his distinctively smooth guitar style, reminiscent of George Benson and Wes Montgomery. He is joined by some fine musicians including Alexis Baro (trumpet), Anthony Brancati (keyboards), Alex Sekulovski (drums) and Sam Heineman (Hammond organ). Of special note however are the vocalists who are featured on several tracks, a vocalise by Vania Margani on the opening Interlude Solitude, Christine Hamilton on After Midnight, Wade O. Brown on My Only Love and Party People where he is joined by Quisha Wint and Gyles, Lisa Michelle on the title track, plus Jeff Eagar and rapper Jin Brown on Solace. It’s kind of a retro offering, but I mean that in a good way. It takes me back to my clubbing days in the 1970s grooving to Billy Reed and the Street People, Dollars (Mary Margaret O’Hara’s band) and Rough Trade. Nice memories. Thanks Duffmusiq!
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
- Written by David Olds
- Category: Editors Corner
Composers In My Lens/Compositeurs dans mon objectif (Canadian Music Centre ISBN 978-1-77136-056-2) presents a photographic journey through the world of Canadian music as documented by André Leduc over the past three decades. I might be considered too close to the subject to write about this book, but on the other hand that is exactly why I need to tell the story. I first met my good friend André in 1986 at an Esprit Orchestra concert at Jane Mallett Theatre. One of the most outgoing people I have ever encountered, he just wandered up and started talking about the concert, the music, life and himself. At that point I had been producing and hosting Transfigured Night at CKLN-FM, a program focusing on contemporary music, for a couple of years and it was a treat to meet someone who shared my love of that esoteric medium. We became fast friends and for the next five years while the show ran its course, he was my number one fan. So there is my full disclosure/due diligence done.
A commercial photographer by trade, André is also a hobbyist with a passion for taking portraits and, more to the point, action shots of the composers whose music, he says, changed his life. With no formal training in music he simply follows his ears. For years he has told me that I was his inspiration but, as we have delved back into the depths of memory, it seems his road to Damascus moment actually predated our meeting by quite some time. While listening to Radio Canada one day he heard a piece by François Dompierre that struck him like a bolt of lightning and he was amazed to learn that it was written by a Canadian composer and, not only that, by someone who was still alive! Thus began his love of contemporary music and lifelong quest of “stalking the wild composer” in his lair, which proves what I’ve told him time and time again: “It’s not MY fault!” Although I do admit to being his fellow traveller over the past three decades, introducing him to composers featured on my radio program and later bringing him on as the photographer for New Music Concerts when I started there in 1999. But even there André had made his own inroads and had taken photographs for NMC for several years until a change of administration had brought that to an end long before my tenure. We also took road trips together, to Montreal, on one occasion for the founding of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community where we met a number of composers that are featured in the book – notably Francis Dhomont and Robert Normandeau – and another time to meet with Jean Papineau-Couture, and to Ottawa where we spent an enchanting afternoon with Violet Archer, but most of our adventures took place right here in Toronto.
André built a bond with many of the new music societies in town and the fruits of these relationships are on display in his marvellous book. The scope of the project spans generations – from composers born before the First World War: Murray Adaskin, Otto Joachim, John Weinzweig and Violet Archer; through the 1920s and 1930s: Harry Freedman, Harry Somers, John Beckwith, Gilles Tremblay, R. Murray Schafer, Norma Beecroft and Ann Southam; the 1940s and 1950s: John Rea, Alex Pauk, Alexina Louie, Gary Kulesha and Linda Bouchard; to those born in the 1960s and 1970s: Omar Daniel, James Rolfe, Allison Cameron, Chris Paul Harman, Brian Current and André Ristic – to name literally just a few. Each composer is presented in two frames, on facing pages, some candid and some obviously posed. Highlights for me include the iconic shot of Jean Papineau-Couture seated in front of an open orchestral score wearing a cravat and dress jacket adorned with his Order of Canada pin; Robert Aitken looking ferocious with his white mane, flute to his mouth and wearing the small, thick-framed glasses that were his trademark for so many years; Larry Lake lounging, drink in hand, with a big smile on his face wearing an embroidered shirt and swanky cowboy boots; and Lori Freedman caught in action with bass clarinet in hand (and mouth) and contrabass clarinet draped over her shoulder. As the saying goes, “every picture tells a story” and here we are presented with some intriguing tales of our musical heritage. The book is available from the CMC website at musiccentre.ca.
Other than two years of piano lessons begun when I was five which I was allowed to abandon after kicking and screaming during daily practise sessions throughout that period, my classical music studies did not begin until after high school. I mentioned in the last issue that I attended the somewhat experimental Thornlea Secondary School in its initial years and the music teacher there, Charles Lapointe, has had a lasting influence on me. Although we didn’t have any formal classical music in the curriculum – the school bands were a folk club, a mariachi band, a rock group and an electronic music studio – we were exposed to a broad spectrum of music, from Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul to Honegger’s Pacific 231. “Charlie” was a cellist and in my effort to emulate him in the sabbatical year following graduation (at least that’s what my mom called it, I thought I was finished with schooling at that point) I decided to take up that lowest member of the violin family myself. I did this with cello lessons from Wolfgang Grunsky and music theory studies through the Royal Conservatory. I rapidly found that to even partially grasp the basic tenets of composition I would need to add keyboard to my skill set. I was fortunate that Thistletown where I grew up was home to a very accomplished piano teacher, Elska Albarda, who was sympathetic to my desire to ignore the syllabus and concentrate on Bach and Bartók, whose music had become central to my development. Incidentally, her husband, retired architect Jan Albarda, was an amateur harpsichord maker and when for a term-end recital one of my pieces was a Bach two-part invention I had the privilege of performing on an “original” instrument. While I pursued these formal studies for only a couple of years after high school, I did find myself going back to Mrs. Albarda some years later for a bit of remedial study. By this time she had relocated to idyllic Elora for her final decades – her legacy of a 1913 Rosler grand piano adorns the Elora Centre for the Arts – and I was living for the summer in a coach house in Guelph from which I commuted by bicycle for lessons. To my shame I never returned her copy of Arthur Alexander’s edition of those two-part inventions published by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, but every time I see her handwriting on the cover I have fond memories of our times together.
All this is by way of a long-winded introduction to my first CD selection for the month. At the time I was working on my RCM Grade 7 piano, my slightly younger brother Kevin, who was still in high school and had taken up the French horn, was working on one of the Mozart concertos and asked me to accompany him. Although I was simply not up to the challenge, it was an enlightening introduction to these great pieces. I remember my brother going to see Barry Tuckwell performing with the Toronto Symphony and explaining that, with an instrument comprised of 12 feet of coiled tubing, even the best horn players never really know for sure what note will come out. I don’t know if this was a commentary on Tuckwell’s performance or just a general statement. Be that as it may, if the new recording of the Mozart Horn Concertos with Les Violons du Roy (ATMA ADC2 2743) is any indication, Louis-Philippe Marsolais can be fairly confident of his ability to produce the right notes. Touted as Canada’s most active horn soloist, Marsolais is a multiple award-winner with an international solo and chamber career. Since 2009 he has also been principal horn in Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s Orchestre Metropolitain and is a frequent collaborator with Les Violons du Roy. As alluded to above, his intonation is impeccable and his tone is exemplary. This recording includes the three familiar concertos that Mozart completed, all in E-flat (Nos.2-4), plus the two-movement D-Major concerto known as No.1, here in Mozart’s original version completed by modern-day musicologist Robert D. Levin (as opposed to the version by Mozart’s coeval Franz Xaver Süssmayr). Also included is Levin’s edition of the lesser known Rondo K371 in E-flat Major. Marsolais provides his own convincing cadenzas in all five works. The disc is completed by the Concerto for Bassoon in B-flat Major K191 featuring the dulcet tone and impressive agility of Mathieu Lussier, who also serves as conductor for the entire project.
I had initially offered this disc to Alison Melville but found myself reneging when I gave it a listen. In the words of my apology to her: It’s a dandy! (She graciously responded that it was all right because the recording I had given her to review of these concertos several years ago with Pip Eastop and the Hanover Band was also a dandy.)
Another piece that harkens back to my formative years is Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker although my exposure, like that of so many others I’m sure, was just to the eight-movement Suite Op.71a. My introduction was on a 3-LP Seraphim set of suites from the ballets Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Efrem Kurtz. No wonder then that so many of the 24 tracks on Stewart Goodyear’s transcription for solo piano of the entire ballet (Steinway & Sons 30040) seem unfamiliar. Somehow we missed this disc, recorded in February 2015, when it came out. Since then two Christmases, the traditional Nutcracker time, have come and gone. Rather than wait another year I want to tell you about this new approach to what is indeed a timeless classic.
In the words of the performer/arranger “You can look at The Nutcracker as the Walt Disney of music. It enchants on the same levels as Disney does: there’s the humour; for some, there’s the love story; for some, adventure. All those aspects are there: it’s like listening to Technicolor, listening to animation.” You would be forgiven for thinking that Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous orchestration which incorporates so many colours into its palette might suffer in translation to a single instrument, and for that matter a single performer. But I’m here to tell you that Goodyear’s thoughtful treatment and virtuosic flamboyance give the lie to this. “I’m just trying to create as faithful an arrangement as possible” says Goodyear, “with all of the orchestral elements there – the woodwinds, the brass, so it doesn’t feel like the audience is missing anything – it’s all there.” I would have to say that he succeeds. And when I said just a single instrument, I will note that there is one exception to this: At the outset of the pitched battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King we are momentarily startled by the sharp crack of a slapstick which announces the Keystone Kops-like action sequence. All in all, this is an outstanding and exhilarating achievement and I’m sorry it took so long to come to my attention. Insider’s note: Goodyear’s next recording features works by Maurice Ravel (Jeux d’eau; Sonatine; Miroirs, Gaspard de la nuit and Pavane pour une enfant defunte) and will be released by Orchid Classics in May.
Elsewhere in these pages you will find Bruce Surtees’ appreciation of the Berlin Philharmonic’s production of the St. Matthew Passion directed by Peter Sellars. I kept the companion set, Johann Sebastian Bach: Johannes-Passion (Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings BPHR 140031, 2 DVDs and 1 Blu-ray disc) for myself and I will echo Bruce’s opinion that one should start with the bonus features. In Andy King-Dabbs’ interview with conductor Sir Simon Rattle and stage director Peter Sellars, he asks each about their first encounters with the work. My own was a sort of epiphany. As an aspiring cellist, in my middle years I joined CAMMAC (Canadian Amateur Musicians) one summer and headed off to music camp in Quebec for an intensive week of music making with about 100 other amateurs under the supervision of some very accomplished professionals. (As a matter of fact, one of my chamber music coaches was violinist Michelle Seto who, I see from the personnel list on the Mozart disc mentioned above, is still a core member of Les Violons du Roy.) Check-in at the camp – a rustic lodge on the edge of Lake MacDonald – was on a Sunday afternoon and our first musical gathering took place that evening. It was my first experience of playing in a large ensemble and I approached it with equal amounts of excitement and trepidation. The music set before us was the opening chorale from the St. John Passion. Although the repeated note that constitutes most of the cello line is quite straightforward, I was concentrating on it with all my energy to the exclusion of my surroundings. When from behind the orchestra the choir suddenly burst forth with Herr, Herr, Herr, Herr unser Herrscher it was a truly glorious moment and I found myself thinking “Wow, this is amazing!” I’ve been hooked on making music with others ever since.
The Berlin production is semi-staged, but as Rattle explains it is more of an elaboration of the text, a ritualization rather than a theatrical presentation of the story. Although written by Bach for church performance on Good Friday, the St. John Passion goes far beyond the bounds of the usual church service and caused, if not scandal, at least disgruntlement among the conservative congregations of Bach’s time, so it is a work which has no natural forum in church due to its theatrical aspects nor the opera house where its liturgical nature is forbidden. This is well explained in the interview and also in the enlightening introduction provided by Simon Halsey, director of the Berlin Radio Choir, who puts not only the original but also this somewhat contemporary interpretation of the work into context. Frequently judged for its anti-Semitic sentiments placing all the blame for Christ’s death on the Jews, this presentation of the Passion takes a more universal approach in which the blame is shared with everyone. Halsey points out that the onus is on each of us to take a stand and speak out against injustice when we see it and likens the situation to the events that led to the First and Second World Wars. (Sellars goes farther, comparing it to the current affairs of his American homeland.)
The Berlin Philharmonie where the performance takes place provides a theatre-in-the-round and Sellars has used this to good advantage. The orchestra – playing on modern instruments, but well informed by historical practices – is divided in two and the instrumentalists move to prominent spots when used as soloists. The continuo consists of cello, organ, lute, contrabass, bassoon and contrabassoon, and this is supplemented with viola da gamba and two violas d’amore as the score requires. The choir, 90 voices strong, is dressed in black and called upon to make some dramatic movements, including writhing on the floor and a making hand gestures. Although off-putting at first, the effects gradually draw us in and become an inherent part of the drama as it unfolds. All of the vocal soloists are outstanding, but particular mention must be made of Mark Padmore (Evangelist), Christian Gerhaher (Pilate) and Roderick Williams (Jesus) who is blindfolded and in uncomfortable positions through much of the action. It is worthy of note that all the vocalists, soloists and choristers (!) alike sing for the entire two hours from memory, and Rattle conducts without a score. This is a stunning production and I highly recommend it.
Concert note: On April 1 the Guelph Chamber Choir presents the St. John Passion with James McLean (Evangelist), Daniel Lichti (Jesus), Gordon Burnett (Pilate) and Orchestra Viva under Gerald Neufeld’s direction at the River Run Centre in Guelph. On April 2 it will be presented in Toronto by the Choir of St. Peter and St. Simon-the-Apostle Anglican Church with Lenard Whiting (Evangelist) and members of the Canadian Sinfonietta, Robin Davis conducting.
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 and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.
David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
- Written by David Olds
- Category: Editors Corner
All of the tracks are exceptional, but there are two real standouts for me. Borealis for orchestra (TSO) and a (heavenly) host of choirs (Danish National Radio Choir, Elmer Iseler Singers, Swedish Radio Choir and Toronto Children’s Chorus) was written for and performed in the towering Barbara Frum Atrium in the CBC Broadcast Centre as part of Soundstreams’ Northern Encounters Festival of the Arts in 1997 with the orchestra and choirs surrounding the ground floor audience from the balconies above. Images predates Borealis by almost four decades (1960) and is heard here in a 1979 performance with Sir Andrew Davis at the helm of the TSO. It is a three-movement work inspired by Canadian artists Lawren Harris, Kazuo Nakamura and Jean-Pierre Riopelle which in the words of the composer is “not so much concerned with the content of the paintings as with their design…in effect, a translation into musical terms of the artists’ styles.”
As a reflection of that aspect of the CMC’s mandate to preserve and promote the history of our musical heritage, I feel this is one of the most significant releases from Centrediscs’ in recent years and as we enter Canada’s sesquicentennial an important reminder of our artistic heritage.
The other disc in the shipment from the CMC has left me scratching my head. I understand that an important part of the CMC’s mandate is to promote the music of our emerging composers and to reflect changing concerns and aesthetics, but I would still expect that to be done within the context of art music. Ravens (CMCCD 23217) features the music of Yellowknife-based composer Carmen Braden and it is a truly eclectic recording that would, I feel, be most at home in The WholeNote’s Pot Pourri section. Please don’t get me wrong, I like the disc very much and there are indeed some “classical” compositions included – a brief excerpt from Candle Ice for piano trio and field recordings of melting ice; Magnetic North for violin and piano; and Waltz of Wing and Claw “a string quartet of ravens playing in the wind” which turns out to be another excerpt from a larger work The Raven Conspiracy – but the bulk of the album consists of quirky and clever pop songs with occasional nods to jazz (à la Joni Mitchell) and even a twangy ode – Small Town Song – explained in the composer’s notes with the statement “The banjo is wonderful, but it scares me a little.” Braden seems to have overcome her fear of this predominantly southern instrument and this rousing sing-along brings an intriguing northern journey to a satisfying end. I just wish we could have heard the instrumental compositions in their entirety.
Another truly eclectic disc has come to my attention in the context of an upcoming Toronto performance. Vocalist and songwriter Simrit was born in Athens, Greece, but adopted and brought up in South Carolina by Greek immigrants. Her music draws on the Greek Orthodox chants of her heritage and on the pulse and melodic sensibilities of West African traditions which she has studied intensely. Add to this such influences as Mazzy Star, Jeff Buckley, Loreena McKennitt, roots reggae and world music from the Mediterranean to the Subcontinent and I’m not sure quite what you get, but I’ve been captivated by its compelling ambience for several weeks now.
As well as her haunting vocals, on Songs of Resilience (simritkaurmusic.com) Simrit plays harmonium and mellotron and is accompanied by a septet who between them play kora, pueblo log drums, congas, cello, electronics, electric and acoustic guitars, drum kit and miscellaneous percussion. Simrit says “This music changes consciousness, and that is where we can start. For the world to shift into a potentially peaceful place, we must start with ourselves first.” But as the press release assures us “the central message is not sappy or facile. It’s about finding the sounds to aid change, to expand what you can see and embrace.”
Concert note: You can find out what Simrit’s music and message is all about at St. George’s Lutheran Church at 410 College St. in Toronto on March 29 at 7:30.
Sticking with my Pot Pourri theme, I had the pleasure of meeting up with a friend from my early childhood at Winterfolk on the Family Day Weekend. David Storey and I knew each other back in our pre-school days, attending the same Anglican church and each other’s birthday parties. Somewhere around our teenage years we lost track of each other as he went off to choir school and I attended York County’s experiment with open plan education in the early years of Thornlea Secondary School. Evidently Storey spent some years as a singer-songwriter before taking a 25-year hiatus to direct television and film productions, including the iconic Corner Gas. When this last had run its course, Storey returned to his first love, playing the guitar and turning some wonderful stories into song.
He recently released his first full-length CD Coming Home (davidstoreymusic.com) and the name is particularly apt. The songs tell tales (tall and otherwise) of his life and adventures and although they are complete in themselves it was a treat to hear some of their background in intros and asides during his performance at the Black Swan on the Danforth, the central venue of Winterfolk. Performing with Lawrie Ingles (keyboard), Henry Lees (harmony vocals) and Bob Cohen (bass and something that seemed to be an eight-string ukulele, a new one on me) Storey was able to recreate a bare-bones version of the arrangements from the album, with Ingles providing some convincing fiddle lines on his electronic keyboard and adding a third voice to some tight harmonies. Cohen shone with fluid solos on two cover tunes, Little Feat’s Willin’ and Van Morrison’s Crazy Love but the rest of the hour-long set was devoted to original material from the CD.
All in all it was a lovely outing with my mother, who was once Storey’s Sunday-school teacher, and if you missed it – there was a good crowd, but I didn’t see you there – you should check out the album. Highlights for me include Saint Adelaide (Who knew there was a Catholic saint of abuse victims; brides; empresses; exiles; in-law problems; parenthood; parents of large families; princesses; prisoners; second marriages; step-parents; and widows? She must be very busy!); the cancer survivor’s anthem Crusty – “I’m crusty and I’m chuff [look it up if you need to, this is a great word!], and I refuse to die, I’m gonna stare this crazy world straight in the eye…” and Last Loon on the Lake where Storey is joined by the bluegrass band Traditionally Wound. You really owe it to yourself to visit the website to hear this track (and then buy the CD or download).
Lest it seem that I have spent most of my time this month awash in Pot Pourri, I’ll mention that I have been practising my cello diligently for the upcoming term-end recital at University Settlement Music and Arts School (March 3 at 7pm at the Church of St. George the Martyr). This time around I am playing in two string trios and immersing myself in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. My regular group will play selected movements of Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s arrangement of the Goldberg Variations and I managed to talk my way into another which will be doing a trio arrangement of the Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor BWV1043. So it’s been quite a challenging couple of months preparing and “I’m playing as fast as I can!” An initial frustration as I sought out recordings to study was that current day period orchestras tune substantially lower than the modern concert pitch of A440 making playing along impractical unless I want to retune my cello each time. Fortunately I found that my old trusty Columbia LP recording with Isaac Stern and Itzhak Perlman and the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta was indeed at modern pitch and so all I had to do was aspire to their tempos…
Elsewhere in these pages you can read Bruce Surtees’ impressions of The David Oistrakh Edition which includes among a host of other recordings David and son Igor playing works for two violins by Bach and Vivaldi. It was a great pleasure to find in my inbox just two days before I sat down to write this, a new Berlin Classics reissue of the Bach Concerto for Two Violins BWV 1043 and the Vivaldi Concerto Grosso Op.3 No.8 with David and Igor Oistrach [sic] (010084BC) remastered from 1957 Eterna mono recordings. So now I have two fabulous models to work from (both at A440) and the Berlin Classics recording comes with the added bonus of one of my very favourite violin pieces, the Franck Violin Sonata in A Major featuring David Oistrakh and Anton Ginsburg (piano) from 1958. I must admit that it was a relief to find that without losing any of the bright and lively feel of the outer movements, the Oistrakhs take slightly more relaxed tempos than Stern and Perlman, leaving me with the hope that in the next two weeks I can actually get up to speed after all. On both recordings the gorgeous Largo middle movement is to die for.
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David Olds, DISCoveries Editor