Correction: In a review in our previous issue (Volume 29 No 5) the bass player on John Herberman’s album Spring Comes Early was incorrectly identified as Jim Vivian. In actuality the “sinuous, emotive bass” playing referred to was that of Paul Novotny. The WholeNote apologizes for the error. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke’s review of Novotny’s own latest album Summertime in Leith, which features duets with Robi Botos, leads off the Jazz and Improvised review section further on in these pages. 

I enjoy connections, and excuses to revisit my vinyl collection, and in this issue I found several. While editing Yoshi Maclear Wall’s review of Disaster Pony in the Jazz and Improvised Section below, I was struck by his comments about the interplay between cello and saxophone. It put me in mind of the first time I encountered saxophone in a classical context in a 1965 recording of Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto No.2 featuring its dedicatee Daniil Shafran with the Leningrad Philharmonic. About halfway through the work there is a cello cadenza followed by a phrenetic orchestral tutti in which a saxophone takes up the cello’s theme. On first listening, it took several seconds to assimilate what I was hearing. When the cello takes back the theme a minute later, I was amazed to realize just how alike the two seemingly disparate instruments could sound. It was a revelation. So, Yoshi’s review sent me rooting around my vinyl collection to come up with the old Melodyia/Angel LP. What a joy to revisit that seminal recording. 

01 Sinta BeethovenThe next excuse for a deep dive came as a result of a CD which I didn’t at first think I would be reviewing, Sinta Quartet Plays Beethoven (Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0196 Now Sinta is a saxophone quartet, and I must say my initial skepticism was not allayed by the opening movement of Beethoven’s “Serioso” String Quartet No.11 in F Minor, Op.95. It was as if I was hearing the soundtrack of a Roadrunner cartoon, or maybe the Keystone Kops. I decided to withhold judgement, however, and skipped ahead to the centrepiece of the disc, the prayer-like third movement of String Quartet No.15 in A Minor, Op.132. From there I was drawn into the fugal opening of String Quartet No.14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op.131 and sat transfixed throughout its seven movements. I was immediately taken by the effectiveness of Dan Graser’s transcriptions, although I found the upper range of the soprano saxophone at times a bit shrill. To contrast that, the rich fullness of the baritone sax, far exceeding the depths of a cello, was captivating. I was surprised to find myself spending more time with this disc than any other in recent memory. Over the period of a month, I pulled out half a dozen versions of the string quartets, from my first vinyl recordings with the Yale String Quartet on the Vanguard Cardinal label and the Guarneri on RCA, through Orford and Italiano quartet LPs, to CDs featuring the Alban Berg, Tokyo (with Peter Oundjian) and Alcan quartets, all juxtaposed with repeated listenings to the saxophone versions. I’m not suggesting that saxophone arrangements will replace the originals in my heart, and pride of place for Op.132 still goes to the Orford Quartet’s digital recording on a Delos CD, but I’m pleased have this alternate take in my collection, much in the way that I appreciate Marion Verbruggen’s performance of Bach Cello Suites on the recorder – an interesting and enchanting new perspective.

02 Kinds of Nois coverI had no qualms whatsoever about Kinds of ~Nois, a recording of original works for saxophone quartet written by the members of the composers collective Kinds of Kings for the Chicago-based quartet ~Nois (Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0197 Presented in reverse chronology, the disc is bookended by two works by Gemma Peacocke, the recent Hazel, inspired by a poem by Pablo Neruda, and Dwalm, which represents the first collaboration between the two groups back in 2018. Shelley Washington’s Eternal Present is in two movements: I. Now and II. Always. The first features gently moving cloud-like clusters; the second is more playful and percussive, with echoes and games of tag. Maria Kaoutzani’s Count Me In is an “exploration of rhythm and drive inspired by Afro-Cuban bata traditions, made up of interlocking rhythmic patterns” which at times give way to drone-like stasis. Washington returns to narrate her poem BIG TALK and then to perform one of the two baritone sax parts in the duet of the same name, “an outcry against rape culture designed to be an endurance piece for the performers in solidarity with women forced to endure a daily barrage of physical abuse.” An “intentionally confrontational” work, BIG TALK exploits fully the range and power of the baritone instrument in a wild and varied ride lasting 11 minutes, with driving minimalist low ostinati and occasional hints of Harlem Nocturne on speed. Kaoutzani’s Shore to Shore provides respite with its quiet tribute to the sea, “with echoes of a Cypriot lullaby the composer’s grandmother used to sing to her.” Dwalm is an old Scottish word meaning both stupor or daydream and to faint or fall ill. “The composer pursues that idea by contrasting lullabies with cries of sorrow […] in the context of the same underlying darkness of oblivion,” although the density of layers and accelerated tempi keep despair at bay.  

03 Leah PlaveLeah Plave is a cellist currently based in The Netherlands who holds degrees from universities in Cincinnati, Montreal, Budapest and Den Haag. While studying at McGill she served as artistic director and cellist for the Montreal Music Collective. Tong Wang is a Canadian pianist and collaborative artist active in performance, research and community engagement. The Canada Council-funded Black Sea, Orange Tree (Leaf Music features the two in works for cello and piano by Turkish composer Fazil Say and Canadian Alice Ping Yee Ho. Each four-movement work depicts specific places in colourful aural portraits of the Republic of Türkiye and the People’s Republic of China respectively, and in each, the cello is called upon to replicate sounds of traditional instruments. Say’s Dört Şehir (Four Cities) is a journey through culturally diverse regions of Anatolia (Asia Minor) with stops at Sivas (a conservative city in Eastern Anatolia), Hopa (represented by a traditional wedding dance), Ankara (the capital city of Turkey under Atatürk in 1923), and finally Bodrum (known as the “St. Tropez of Turkey”). This last is a boisterous, jazz-inspired romp with “an abrupt and absurd conclusion in its depiction of a pub brawl as frequently experienced in this city.” Ho’s Four Impressions of China portray Hunan, Tibet, Heilongjiang and her birthplace, Hong Kong. The composer tells us that the music of Hunan takes a Chinese folk song as its point of departure. Tibet is an “imaginary train ride through the Himalayas to the city of Lhasa.” The Black Dragon River, one of China’s four great rivers, is the inspiration for Heilongjiang as the composer imagines a dance of the Black Dragon to symbolize the province’s fierce winters and dormant volcanoes. Hong Kong captures night scenes where locals “...gather at the harbour and lively night markets. Music unfolds the magical view of the Victoria Harbor glittering with city lights; there are the sounds of street performers singing and playing traditional instruments.” In these diverse portraits both performers have shown consummate command of their western instruments while adapting them admirably to create convincing Asian soundscapes.

04 David CrowellDavid Crowell is a New York-based composer and instrumentalist who is active in the fields of contemporary classical composition, improvisation, jazz and experimental rock and pop. His latest release Point / Cloud (Better Company Records features four compositions performed by Sandbox Percussion, guitarists Dan Lippel and Mak Grgić, and the duo eco|tonal. The percussion work Verses for a Liminal Space is a gentle piece full of bell sounds, vibraphone and marimba ostinati underscored by subtle drum kit beats. The title work is a response to Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint from 1987. Like that iconic work, Point / Cloud is in three movements in which the solo guitarist plays against tracks they have previously recorded. Lippel, who consulted with Reich for his own recording of Electric Counterpoint, is the guitarist here and gives a nuanced and well-balanced performance of this effective tribute, which, while acknowledging its forebear, avoids being derivative. For Pacific Coast Highway Lippel is joined by Grgić in a classical guitar duet version of a work Crowell originally composed for electric guitar and electric bass. It’s a wild ride “via dancelike passages that bend and wind after their namesake.” The most intriguing work is the final one, 2 Hours in Zadar featuring the meditative duo eco|tonal consisting of Crowell and cellist/singer/improviser Iva Casián-Lakoš. The text is drawn from a poem by Casián-Lakoš’ mother Nela Lakoš. “Subtle utterances of Casián-Lakoš speaking Croatian are blended with organ-like electronics, which are derived from manipulations of [her] voice. […] Eventually, samples of a sound unique to the city of Zadar makes its presence known: The Sea Organ. A symbiosis of human architecture and the unpredictability of nature, this ‘organ’ is a marble stair in the Croatian coastal city that contains an assortment of pipes in its steps, which are ‘played’ by the ebb and flow of waves.” The sounds are haunting and captivating, as is the entire disc. 

05 Exponential EnsembleFounded in 2011 by clarinetist Pascal Archer, Exponential Ensemble is a mixed chamber music collective (flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and piano, supplemented with horn, trumpet and an additional violin here), whose unusual mission includes commissioning and premiering works that are inspired by math, science and literacy. Matters of Time (American Modern Recordings AMR1055 features four quite different works that approach this mandate in varying ways. Amy Brandon says “Crown of the Sun is a reflection on the physical nature of the sun’s corona contrasted with the deep emptiness of space. NASA recently sonified the radiation patterns that the sun emits, and I found a particular connection between this sound and the complex and beautiful sound of oboe multiphonics, which is why they are referenced throughout this piece, to essentially sonify the varying states of the sun’s corona in sound.” A Dark Matter by Gilead Cohen “explores the notion that our mind also sometimes circles around an […] indefinable worry, regret, or fear [that] can occupy us for a long time and color everything else in dark shades. At the core of this piece is such musical ‘dark matter.’” The Bright Exuberant Silence by Jared Miller gives us a curiously positive glimpse at the lockdowns of 2020, inspired by that “fleeting and eerie moment in modern history when the world was put on pause due to COVID-19 [and] nature began to heal. Pollution started to clear in the air as fewer people drove cars to work every day. Birdsong was audible in silent metropolises [and] you could even see the stars in the sky in the middle of Manhattan on some nights. Nature began to overtake cities quietly and holistically – and for a moment, urban dwellers learned what it was like to peacefully coexist with the natural world.” Both Miller’s and Brandon’s work were commissioned with the support of the Canada Council. The disc is completed by a surprisingly lyrical, playful and somewhat anachronistic work, to my ear reminiscent of the music of Francis Poulenc, by Robert Paterson. Relative Theory is in four movements that reference physicists and mathematicians Blaise Pascal, Emmy Noether, Albert Einstein and Pythagoras. Paterson says he was inspired by how much the Exponential Ensemble enjoy performing programs for children that relate math to music. “In a fun, yet hopefully meaningful way, the movements of my piece are designed to draw parallels between these two distinct, but interrelated worlds.” It certainly is fun, especially Einstein’s Daydream with its quotations from Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, and the rollicking finale The Hammers of Pythagoras

Listen to 'Matters of Time' Now in the Listening Room

06 Ryan Truesdell SynthesisI began this column writing about string quartet transcriptions for saxophones, and this latest arrival seems, in a way, to bring me full circle. Russell Truesdell Presents SYNTHESIS – The String Quartet Sessions ( is a mammoth project for which Truesdell invited 15 large ensemble jazz composers to write for the iconic classical string formation. Truesdell says the project grew out of the isolation of the pandemic. “I wanted to find a way to inspire and challenge large ensemble composers – myself included – at a time when we were feeling hopeless for the future of our artform [...] The idea for SYNTHESIS came from the knowledge that many jazz composers derive inspiration from the string quartet writing of composers like Bartok, Brahms, and Ravel, and the necessity of finding a realistic, yet inspiring way to create music together, safely, in person. [...] I wanted to hear my peers, whom I respect and whose music I love so much, create something new in this idiom.” The 3CD set has kept me enthralled throughout my first listening – it arrived as I was putting the finishing touches on this column, so I haven’t had time to properly immerse myself in it yet – and although there is simply too much material to deal with in detail, I wanted to share my enthusiasm with you. Truesdell gave the composers very few parameters in terms of length or style to guide them, and I was particularly taken with the range of approaches taken. While most of the works were composed specifically for this project, also included are a previously unrecorded work for string trio from 1990 by Bob Brookmeyer and a reworking of John Hollenbeck’s Grey Cottage, originally for solo violin, for quartet with the composer adding drums, marimba and piano. Most of the composers have chosen to stick within the traditional quartet formation of two violins, viola and cello, but several feature soloists within this context, including Christine Jensen whose lovely Tilting World features violin soloist Sara Caswell. Truesdell, who himself contributed three titles, adds Israeli-born clarinetist Anat Cohen for Suite for Clarinet and String Quartet and bassist Jay Anderson to the quartet in Heart of Gold (for Jody) which is a showcase for cellist Jody Redhage Ferber. To quote the press release: “SYNTHESIS challenges old perceptions of the traditional string quartet [...] exploring a new genre of music cultivated at the intersection of jazz, classical, world, and contemporary music.” It does so admirably. 

Listen to 'SYNTHESIS: The String Quartet Sessions' Now in the Listening Room

We invite submissions. CDs, DVDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, The WholeNote c/o Music Alive, The Centre for Social Innovation, 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4 or to

Although you will not be reading this until April, or even May, as I write it is not yet March. While I try to keep on top of the many, many releases that have come in for consideration since our last issue, I am also having to consider a number of discs that we overlooked in the past year. While we will not know the results of the Juno Awards before we go to press, the nominations have been recently announced and although we have covered most of discs in the categories most relevant to The WholeNote, there are a few we overlooked. You’ll find a couple of these – Caity Gyorgy/Marc Limacher and Nick Maclean Quartet featuring Brownman Ali – in our Jazz and Improvised section, and two from the Classical Album of the Year (soloist) category right here. 

01 Haimowitz de HartmannMatt Haimowitz is the soloist in the digital-only release Thomas de Hartmann – Cello Concerto Op.57 (Pentatone PTC 5187159 Dennis Russell Davies conducts the MDR Leipzig RSO in the first commercial recording of this work by one of the significant Ukrainian composers of the first half of the 20th century. De Hartmann (1885-1956) was an important compositional voice during his lifetime, but since then his colourful and compelling music has been largely ignored. This recording is part of a larger undertaking aimed to remedy that situation, and Haimowitz’s stunning performance bodes well for the success of the venture ( The concerto, which reflects the anxiety of the times, was composed in 1935 and first performed three years later by Paul Tortelier and the Boston Symphony under Serge Koussevitzky. Although not himself a Jew, de Hartmann was troubled by the acute antisemitism of the rising Nazi regime in Germany and the work incorporates Jewish musical folklore and other Eastern European folk traditions. Indeed the playful third movement, with its moto-perpetuo cello line, opens with a (presumably Hungarian) theme that Bartók would use in sketches for a viola concerto a decade later. The at times cinematic, 36-minute concerto is an excellent introduction to this often-overlooked composer, and with the current horrific situation in Ukraine its rediscovery is a timely reminder of the glorious musical heritage of that nation.

02 Ehnes NielsenJames Ehnes is the soloist for Carl Nielsen – Violin Concerto with the Bergen Philharmonic under Edward Gardner (Chandos CHSA 5311 An extended slow introduction – likened by Paul Griffiths in the excellent booklet notes to a folk fiddler playing with “classical elegance,” gently fades away before an abrupt orchestral explosion into the Allegro cavallerésco, a “chivalric” episode evoking knights on horseback. The Poco Adagio begins gently with winds before morphing into a contemplative violin solo. The final movement is also gentle but quite mischievous where, in Griffiths’ words “comedy is overplayed […] making riot of its ebullience. [But] the cadenza goes another way, back to a moment of drone-accompanied melody, as if this had all been the dream of a wandering fiddler.” Nielsen began the work in Norway and Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang has said “I think every violinist should play this concerto, because you get challenged not only technically, but also structure-wise. You have to take a bird’s eye view of this concerto, you need this kind of perspective.” Ehnes seems to have had no problem attaining this vantage point. He rises to all the challenges and there are passages that shine like jewels. It’s easy to see why this performance was short-listed for a Juno. 

Gardner also leads the orchestra in a magnificent performance of Nielsen’s Symphony No.4 “The Inextinguishable” recreating the same pairing of works that Nielsen conducted in a program in London in 1923, 100 years before this recording was made. 

03 Ravel Daphnis et ChloeAnother one that slipped through the cracks last year is a fabulous new recording of Ravel – Daphnis et Chloé complete ballet (Chandos CHSA 5327 5327) featuring the Sinfonia of London Chorus and Sinfonia of London. Director John Wilson used the COVID-19 lockdown period to prepare a new performing edition of the ballet that we are more familiar with from the two suites that the composer extracted from the near-hourlong original. It was conceived in 1909, the year Serge Diaghilev brought his Ballet Russe to Paris, as a collaboration between Ravel, Diaghilev and dancer/choreographer Michel Folkine. Although there were myriad complications and disagreements along the way, the project was eventually brought to fruition culminating in, much to Ravel’s chagrin, only two performances at the end of the 1912 season. Although Diaghilev did mount three more performances at the end of the following year, he never thereafter presented it in Paris. This new recording is accompanied by extensive notes by Wilson detailing the history of the ballet’s creation and his own challenges in recreating what he feels is an authentic version of the historic ballet. There is also a detailed libretto/mis en scene by Folkine, making a very impressive booklet in three languages totaling 42 pages. The performance is stunning and the recording itself is immaculate, with a dynamic range that has to be heard to be believed. 

04 New StoriesOne more disc lost in the shuffle before we move on. New Stories features saxophonist Joseph Lulloff and pianist Yu-Lien The performing works by colleagues from Michigan State University, Canadian Dorothy Chang and Americans David Biedenbender, Stacy Garrop and Carter Pann (Blue Griffin Records BGR607 Chang’s lyrical title work is the earliest on the disc, dating from 2013. The composer says the commission “was the perfect opportunity to explore the combination of Eastern and Western influences in my music, a composition puzzle I was grappling with at the time.” Biedenbender’s one-movement Detroit Steel is an unaccompanied work intended to honour “the grit, strength and resolve of the people of the city.” Garrop’s Wrath is a follow up to her earlier Tantrum for alto sax and piano, and its three movement titles – Menace, Shock and Amok – aptly describe the moods of the piece. At 25 minutes, Pann’s Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano is the most extended and developed work on the disc, comprising six tracks of varied aspect from the opening This Black Cat to the closing Lacrimosa in memory of Joel Hastings. Throughout the disc Lulloff and The rise to every challenge and nuance pitched by the four composers, from languid and emotive melodies to brash, abrasive and sometimes jocular outbursts. 

05 ConvergenceAnd on to more recent arrivals… Another saxophone disc CONVERGENCE – Music for Saxophone and Mixed Media (Navona Records nv6608 features Heidi Radtke in works for soprano, alto and tenor saxes in a variety of settings. The eight compositions – each by a different contemporary composer – span a plethora of moods and emotions, from raucous and playful, to morose and meditative. The disc opens with a lush reimagining by Jenni Watson of Debussy’s first Arabesque in which the sax is surrounded by a gorgeous wash of pre-recorded sounds, primarily those of violin and piano. Two particularly moving works are Andy Scott’s Wind Telephone, inspired by the 2011 tsunami in Otsuki, Japan and Rahsaan Barber’s Breonna Taylor (How Many More?), a gentle lament for a Black woman killed by police in Louisville, KY in 2020. It uses field recordings from Iroquois Park close to Taylor’s home in which calls of red-winged blackbirds are prominent. British-born Canadian composer Peter Meecham’s contemplative 3 Pieces for Solo Saxophone depict “A lonely man, on the New York subway, playing his saxophone, not for money, but for himself.” The title work is a 2011 collaboration between Radtke and Sang Mi Ahn in which the solo saxophone interacts with an electronic soundtrack generated from sounds made by Radtke’s sax. I might have expected an hour’s worth of solo” saxophone to be a bit “much of a muchness,” but to the contrary, Radtke’s compelling playing, the varying compositional palettes and diverse accompaniments made for an engaging listening experience throughout.  

06 Emily Carr PortraitsThe Emily Carr String Quartet ( released its second album in January. Portraits, a digital release on Leaf Music “is inspired by the work of Emily Carr. […] It is through music, one of the most abstract of art forms, that we can connect ourselves to her. The rhythm of a piece can be likened to the movement of brush strokes. The musical notes can be described as the pigments of colour chosen to convey the deep, dark and wild nuances of B.C.’s coastal rainforest. Musical phrases can begin to suggest Emily’s connection with the land and the First Nations she was friends with.” Four Canadians – Tobin Stokes, Jocelyn Morlock, Jared Miller and Iman Habibi – have written works that reflect their feelings about or inspired by the iconic artist. Stokes’ Feathers is a nine-movement work with each brief sketch, with such titles as Nesting, Nightingale and Hummingbirds, prefaced by a short quotation from the writings of Carr. Morlock’s Big Raven evocatively reflects Carr’s desire to “bring loneliness to this canvas and haunting broodiness, quiet and powerful.” Miller was inspired by another of Carr canvas, Strangled by Growth, which juxtaposes a human construction (totem pole) with the natural world (forest). Habibi’s Beloved of the Sky pays homage to the painting of the same name in the second movement, with impressions of Carr’s depictions of Forest, her pet monkey Woo and an introspective Self Portrait completing the work. The disc concludes with Stoke’s suite Klee Wyck, interpretations of five stories from the book of the same name. Each of the composers bring their own frame of reference and personal language to the project and the ensemble successfully bridges the divides effectively and convincingly, make for a truly enjoyable disc. 

Listen to 'Portraits' Now in the Listening Room

07 DvorakThe Fine Arts Quartet was founded in Chicago in 1946 so of course there have been personnel changes over the decades. The current violinists, Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, have been members since 1982 and 1983 respectively, with violist Gil Sharon and cellist Niklas Schmidt joining in 2018. The ensemble is still going strong and has just released the tenth and final volume of the complete string quartets (plus other related works) of Antonin Dvořák, Dvořák – String Quartet No.2; Bagatelles; Rondo (Naxos 8.574513 String Quartet No.2 in B-flat Major was one of three quartets written in 1869 during a period when Dvořák was markedly influenced by Wagner. He later destroyed the scores and the quartets were thought to have been lost until sets of parts were discovered after his death. According to the website, although there had been a private performance in Prague back in 1932, the first public performance of Quartet No.2 was not until September 2021 in that same city by the Zemlinsky Quartet. This recording of the 50-minute work took place just over a year later in Marienmunster, Germany. It is hard to tell why it languished so long without acceptance, or for that matter why it was rejected by the composer. It’s a lovely and fully developed work, if, according to Paul Griffiths, a bit “prolix.” [I had to look that up.] The disc is completed by the humourous Bagatelles of 1878 for two violins, cello and harmonium (Ryoko Morooka) and the rollicking Rondo in G Minor from 1891 for cello and piano (Stepan Simonian). With Dvořák in its rear-view mirror and a discography of some 200 other works spanning the history of the string quartet genre, I look forward to seeing what the future holds for this fine (arts) quartet. 

08 Neave Trio A Room of Her Own Cover Art CHAN 20238 3000pxThe Neave Trio is back again – five reviews in these pages since 2017 – and their latest, A Room of Her Own (Chandos CHAN 20238, features four turn-of-the-20th century composers Lili Boulanger, Cécille Chaminade, Dame Ethyl Smyth and Germaine Tailleferre. It’s a bit of misnomer to designate Tailleferre as turn-of-the-century however as she lived and remained active as a composer until 1983. As a matter of fact, although her Trio originated in 1917, she reworked the version included here in 1978, replacing the middle movement and adding a fourth. These new, ebullient movements add a sunny quality to the work while still maintaining the characteristic voice she had established some six decades earlier. Boulanger completed her Deux piéces en trio in 1918, the year of her untimely death at the age of 24. The first of these is a cheerful, brief depiction of a spring morning. The second is a sombre, more extended exploration of a sad evening. The other two trios date from almost 40 years earlier, both composed in 1880. Chaminade’s Trio No.1, Op.11 in G Minor is a fetching work in four movements, with a particularly charming Presto leggiero featuring waterfall-like textures in the piano. British composer Smyth is the only non-French national included here and her formative studies took place in Leipzig, grounding her firmly in the Austro-German romantic tradition. She was born one year later than Chaminade, in 1858, and both died in 1944. Her Trio, at 31 minutes the longest offering here, like her coeval’s is also in a minor key, in this case G Minor. In spite of this there are many bright moments, especially in the scherzando section of the second movement and throughout the Scherzo. Presto con brio third. The Neave Trio in, as always, in top form and is to be commended for bringing these rarely heard gems to light is such stellar performances.   

09 Robert Priest People Like You and MePoet and author Robert Priest has been active on the Toronto scene as long as I can remember, going back to the early 80s when we were both denizens of Ye Olde Brunswick House open mic nights. I’ve often thought of him over the years, fondly remembering a line (with a tip of the hat to Allen Ginsberg) “I saw the best minds of my generation falling off streetcars” or something to that effect. [Priest tells me the phrase may have actually been “the best mimes of my generation.”] He’s obviously been active in the years since, with half a dozen albums, myriad poetry collections and novels to his credit, as well as co-writing Alannah Myles’ hit Song Instead of a Kiss. I was disappointed to miss his recent album launch at Hugh’s Room – I was asleep at the wheel I guess – but am glad to have received a copy of People Like You and Me ( It’s a combination of spoken word and song, all accompanied by some fine players from Toronto’s jazz community including Kevin Breit, Alison Young, Great Bob Scott and George Koller, who also share writing credits with Priest. The music is diverse, running a gamut of styles. Most surprising to me is the jazzy torch song You and I and Faraway co-written with Allen Booth and featuring Young’s honey-dripping sax, in which Priest turns in a convincing Brian Ferry-esque performance. Some of the clever turns of phrase I particularly enjoyed were “In my country we don’t have free speech, but the speech we do have is really, really cheap” and “I’m so prophetic I get pre-traumatic stress disorder!” from [I strive for] Outer Peace and “Love is a many gendered thing” from a tune of the same name. I wish I hadn’t missed the show! 

Listen to 'People Like You and Me' Now in the Listening Room

Concert note: I do intend to be at Priest’s next performance at the Great Sunday Night Folk Off at the Tranzac on April 21 (5pm start). 

We invite submissions. CDs, DVDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, The WholeNote c/o Music Alive, The Centre for Social Innovation, 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4 or to

04 Claude ChampagneAs I write this in the early days of January it is fitting that I speak about my New Year’s resolution to be a better friend to my cello this year. With this in mind I’m getting together with my friends Anne (violin) and Adam (piano) for trio sessions after a lengthy hiatus. Having previously played music by Mendelssohn and Mozart, this year we have embarked upon Beethoven’s Piano Trio Op.1, No.2. It’s a piece that I worked on extensively some 20 years ago and have been inspired to revisit by a new release, Beethoven Complete Piano Trios performed by the Weiss Kaplan Stumpf Trio (Bridge Records 9505A/C Yael Weiss (piano), Mark Kaplan (violin) and Peter Stumpf (cello) all have notable solo careers and have been playing together as a trio for more than two decades. What I particularly like about this 3CD package – in addition to the fabulous performances – is that in lieu of program notes for the familiar trios, the booklet includes essays by each of the three performers about their own connections to the music. In the case of Weiss, this involves a lineage of teachers reaching all the way back to Beethoven via her mentor Leon Fleisher, a student of Schnabel, who worked with Leschetizky, a student of Liszt, who studied with Czerny, a student of the great master himself. Kaplan and Stumpf each share their personal takes on the trios, and the occasion of the recording. 

Although not as frequently heard as the string quartets which span Beethoven’s entire career (some of which are among the last works he would compose), the piano trios represent his early and middle periods very well, from his earliest published works, to the mammoth “Archduke” Trio Op.97 of 1811 (my own introduction to the genre some 50 years ago in a recording featuring Emil Gilels, Leonid Kogan and Mstislav Rostropovich). This current recording reminds us however that Beethoven returned to the trio form in 1824 when he published the charming “Kakadu Variations” Op.121a, here paired with the very first trio from 1795. The eight trios therefore spanning three decades of Beethoven’s creativity, all in splendidly dynamic and idiomatic performances which kept me captivated for many hours over the course of the holiday season. 

02 Joan TowerIt seems Beethoven also provided inspiration to composer Joan Tower whose 1985 Piano Concerto – Homage to Beethoven is the title track on a new portrait CD from Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP Sound 1093 Soloist Marc-André Hamelin is in stellar form in the dramatic and often percussive work from 1985. Although there are no obvious quotations from Beethoven, Tower says “he had a huge influence on me in terms of how to try to create and motivate a strong dramatic structure.” She also says she included fragments from three Beethoven sonatas which are imbedded in the cadenzas. The most recent work is Red Maple, a bassoon concerto from 2013. Right from the extended solo opening, bassoonist Adrian Morejon establishes command, leading BMOP through the haunting quarter-hour virtuosic showpiece. There are two flute concertos bookending Red Maple, Rising for flute and string orchestra (2010, originally for flute and string quartet) and the 1989 Flute Concerto, both premiered by the outstanding Carol Wincenc who is the soloist here. This CD is a fitting tribute to Tower, the now 85-year-old American treasure whose successful career has spanned six decades. 

03 Dello JoioJoan Tower’s piano concerto put me in mind of one of my first exposures to modern (at the time contemporary) concertante works, more than half a century ago. I bought an LP of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G featuring Lorin Hollander with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Erich Leinsdorf that also included the premiere recording of Norman Dello Joio’s 1961 Fantasy and Variations for Piano and Orchestra. I fell in love with the Ravel, especially Hollander’s tender performance of the slow movement, but it was the Dello Joio that really caught my attention. Although that recording has recently been remastered, it is a piano concerto by his son Justin Dello Joio that I want to write about here. Oceans Apart: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra features Garrick Ohlsson with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Alan Gilbert (Bridge Records 9583 Composed in 2022, the title of the work refers, in part, to the “…the immensity, the oceanic vastness, of the polarization of our time. People seem to be moving irreparably apart. The waves of misinformation spreading relentlessly over the web, the belief that such a thing as ‘alternate facts’ can exist, and the swell of unharnessed power this has caused – these were in my thoughts.” Captured in a live performance, the work opens with “an unresolved tritone in the low register in the piano and the highest sounds, beyond any specific pitch, whispering incomprehensively and at the edge of audibility in the strings” which extends into a 20-minute dramatic contest between piano and orchestra. Ohlsson, for whom it was written, holds his own in a brilliant performance which, to paraphrase the composer, pits him like a surfer on a 100-foot wave against the daunting force of a large symphony orchestra. As the applause dies away we are treated to Due Per Due, two movements for cello and piano (Carter Brey and Christopher O’Riley), Elegia: To an Old Musician and Moto in Perpetuo. Written in 2011, three years after his father’s death, the first pays homage to Norman’s Prelude: To a Young Musician which Justin learned to play at the age of six. The second is as rambunctious and flamboyant as the title implies. This fine disc is completed by Blue and Gold Music written for the tricentennial of the Trinity School, in a sparkling performance by organist Colin Fowler and the American Brass Quintet. 

04 Claude ChampagneMy first exposure to the music of Claude Champagne (1891-1965) was an educational LP on the Canadian Music Enrichment label, one side of which was an uninterrupted performance of Symphonie Gaspésienne and on the other the same work with cues for a slideshow depicting the landscape of the Gaspé peninsula that inspired the work. Although not much attention was given to him in English Canada, where his contemporaries included Healy Willan and Sir Ernest MacMillan, Champagne was an important figure in the annals of classical music in Quebec, where his students included Violet Archer, Roger Matton, Pierre Mercure, Serge Garant and Gilles Tremblay among other notables. I was very pleased to see a new recording of Champagne’s brilliant tone poem featuring L’Orchestre symphonique de Laval under Alain Trudel (ATMA ACD2 4053 Starting eerily in near silence, Trudel leads his orchestra through the gradually building portrait of the fabled peninsula with dramatic turns and climaxes along the 20-minute journey. Although the program notes mention Debussy and the Russian school as influences, I also hear echoes of Delius and Vaughan Williams in this marvelous one movement work. You can access the digital-only recording for free on the ATMA website. 

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05 China TownChinatown (Leaf-Music LM281 is a striking new opera featuring the words of Giller Prize laureate Madeleine Thien and music by multiple-award-winner Alice Ping Yee Ho. The project was initiated by City Opera Vancouver back in 2017 and developed over the next five years through a myriad of workshops and public consultations with Vancouver’s Chinese community. During that process the importance of the Hoisan language to the history of Vancouver’s Chinatown became evident as that was the province of China where many of the original immigrants came from. Writer Paul Yee was engaged to translate portions of the opera into the Hoisan dialect. The result is the first opera to depict a Canadian Chinatown, and the first libretto to combine Hoisanese, Cantonese and English. The orchestration features traditional Chinese and Western classical instruments. It tells the story of two families and a chorus of ghosts, beginning with the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad through to our own times. It deals with “violence and despair, the Head Tax, the Exclusion Act, paper sons, and paper promises.” The opera was staged in 2022 under the direction of Mary Chun and this is the original cast recording of the groundbreaking milestone of the musical stage. The booklet includes a synopsis for each of the 12 scenes of the two-act opera, program notes and biographies in English, French and Chinese pictograms. 

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06 Vivian FungEdmonton-born, Juno Award-winning composer Vivian Fung first studied with Violet Archer, went on to receive her doctorate from the Juilliard School and is currently based in California. Insects & Machines – Quartets of Vivian Fung (Sono Luminus DSL-92270 features the Jasper String Quartet – who have admired Fung since first performing one of her quartets in 2019 – being “immediately captivated by the visceral energy and impeccable craft of her writing.” The four works included span 18 years of her chamber output. Fung, whose family survived Cambodian genocide, has travelled extensively in the Far East and drew on folk music of certain parts of Asia, including China and Indonesia, for her String Quartet No.1. It began as a short movement written on assignment at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in 2001 for performance by the American String Quartet. The success of that reading inspired her to add three more movements, also drawing on Eastern themes, to complete the quartet in 2004. To my ear is it reminiscent of the “night music” style of Béla Bartók, especially in the original pizzicato movement. (What young composer would not be influenced by Bartók’s incredible contribution to the string quartet genre? And, having spoken of musical lineage earlier in this column, I will mention that Fung’s teacher Archer was herself a student of that Hungarian master.) Fung states that “issues of my Asian identity underscore much of my work.” String Quartet No.2 (2009), also uses a Chinese folksong for its base, and String Quartet No.3 (2013) evokes “a non-Western song […] highly ornamented, powerful, and tuned to suggest the microtonal tendencies found in many non-Western scales.” String Quartet No.4: Insects & Machines is likewise inspired by travels to the Orient, this time Cambodia, where “I was especially attuned to the persistent noises of buzzing insects that accompanied my walk through the thick jungle.” The subtitle aptly describes the divisions of this one-movement work: Buzzing… whirring… glitching… ringing… thumping…. The members of the Jasper String Quartet – named after Canada’s Jasper National Park, although I cannot find another Canadian connection to the group – rise to the multiple challenges posed by Fung throughout these works, but especially in the unrelenting and virtuosic tour de force of this final quartet. But final is not the right word: Fung has recently completed a fifth for Victoria’s Lafayette String Quartet. 

07 Philip Glass DubeauSpeaking of string quartets, later on in these pages you will find Terry Robbins’ take on Quatuor Molinari’s latest installment of the quartets of Philip Glass. The Molinari is not the only Montreal-based ensemble to have an ongoing interest in the American minimalist master, and Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà have just released a follow-up to their 2008 Philip Glass: Portrait album. Signature: Philip Glass (Analekta AN 2 8755 is comprised of 16 short movements drawn from a dozen “signature” works spanning most of four decades. Dubeau says that for many years she has found Glass’ music “nourishing intellectually and musically” and for this, her 48th album, she chose works she finds “significant and compelling” from his vast oeuvre. Opening (appropriately) with Opening from 1981’s Glassworks, the earliest work on the disc, we journey through the years with stops at such classics as Symphony No.3, Koyaanisqatsi, The Somnambulist, A Brief History of Time, Candyman Suite and several movements from Bent. New to me, and of particular interest, is the extended movement from the 2018 Piano Quintet and two Duos for Violin and Cello from 2010 (featuring Dubeau and Julie Trudeau). The arrangements and adaptations are by Dubeau and François Vallières and they are compelling indeed. 

08 Eno PianoAround the same time that I was discovering the music of Philip Glass in the late 1970s I was also intrigued by the ambient compositions of Brian Eno such as Music for Airports. Glass had a seminal influence on Eno who, in 1971 along with David Bowie, heard Glass perform at the Royal College of Art in London. Glass would later acknowledge a reciprocal influence, composing three symphonies based on Eno and Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy of albums. In 2015 Bruce Brubaker released Glass Piano and with his latest, Eno Piano (infiné iF1088 the connections continue. Whereas Eno used a variety of techniques and tape loops to create the drones and sustained notes of his ambient creations, in effect making the studio his instrument, with aid of new technologies such as the EBow (an electromagnetic device used to make long notes on the strings of a guitar or piano) and the latest spatialization techniques from IRCAM, Brubaker has effectively turned the grand piano into a studio to be played in real time. It’s quite a stunning achievement. The tracks on offer are the three parts of Music for Airports along with three shorter works, The Chill Air (from Ambient 2 with Harold Budd, 1980), By This River (Before and After Science, 1977) and Emerald and Stone (Small Craft on a Milk Sea, 2010). 

09 SkjalftiAnother contemporary take on the ambient genre, Skjálfti (Quake) by composers Páll Ragnar Pálsson and Eðvarð Egilsson (sonoluminus-com/store/skjalf) extrapolates a 15-part suite from their soundtrack to the 2021 Icelandic film of the same name. Written and directed by Tinna Hrafnsdóttir, the film tells the story of Saga, an author and mother who, after an epileptic seizure, experiences memory loss at the same time as hidden memories of family secrets begin to resurface. The psychological drama the film explores is hauntingly realized in this effective expansion of the original soundtrack that comprised 40 very brief segments, developing them into a strikingly atmospheric stand-alone work. 

10 Poul Ruders Piano TrioHaving begun this column with Beethoven’s impressive cycle of piano trios, I will close with the world premiere recording of one of the latest contributions to that time-honoured genre. Renowned Danish composer Poul Ruders (b.1949) had written some two dozen orchestral works (including five symphonies), as many concertante works, and countless chamber pieces (including four string quartets), before embarking on his first Piano Trio in 2020. Written for the Trio Con Brio Copenhagen, featured here in a performance that lives up to the group’s name, the composer describes it as a Kantian “thing in itself” with no hidden agenda. As per the accompanying press release, “The outer movements zip by in a flurry of heightened virtuosity that verges on the ecstatic (or hysterical, depending on your mood).” The contemplative central movement, Slow Motion, provides some much-needed respite from the at times abrasive opening, and a chance to catch your breath before the whirlwind finale. This is a fine example of how older forms can serve contemporary purposes. Cudos to all involved in this exceptional project (Our Recordings 9.70892

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