01 Marc DjokicI begin this month with a hot-off-the-press solo violin release on the ATMA label. Solo Seven (ACD2 2748 atmaclassique.com) features works by seven Canadian composers including several written for the soloist, young scion of one of Atlantic Canada’s most respected musical families. After initial studies with his father, renowned violinist Philippe, Marc Djokic continued his studies in the United States at the Cleveland Institute of Music’s Young Artist Program, the New England Conservatory, and with Jaime Laredo at Indiana University. Winner of the 2017-2018 Prix Goyer, a Prix Opus and a former Instrument Bank recipient from the Canada Council, Djokic is currently artist-in-residence at CAMMAC (the Canadian Amateur Musicians association) and was recently named principal violin of the McGill Chamber Orchestra. Solo Seven marks his recording debut.

The disc begins with two virtuosic, moto perpetuo movements from Richard Mascall’s Sonata for solo violin & Digital FX. The first movement, Labyrinth for amplified violin and digital reverb, which Mascall wrote in 1992 at the age of 19 while a first year undergraduate student, went on to success at the CBC Young Composers’ Competition. In 1993 it was chosen to represent Canada at the International Rostrum of Composers and that same year Mascall completed the five-movement sonata. At The Corner House, a reference to a chic Toronto restaurant where the composer worked for a time, is the final movement and it culminates with a blazing cadenza-like “guitar solo,” actually a transcription of an infamous passage from Eddie Van Halen’s iconic Eruption. I must say that it translates effectively to violin, especially in the hands of this young master.

We are also presented with selections from Noncerto RR3, Noncerto Notre-Dame-de-Grace by Matthias Maute. I was familiar with Maute as the director of Ensemble Caprice and as a flute and recorder soloist, but this was my introduction to his work as a composer. The opening Sparkle – Andantino is a warm and gentle movement where the sparkle is more reflective than effervescent. Chopin – A tempo giusto juxtaposes ebullient arpeggiated sections with contemplative melodic moments. Casareccia – Chaconne Prestissimo, is as you would suspect, primarily boisterous although not without some elongated double-stopped melodic passages, providing an exciting finale.

Vincent Ho’s brief Morning Song, evidently begun and finished while watching a single sunrise, gives respite from the whirlwinds that precede it, somewhat reminiscent of The Lark Ascending. Serbian-born Ana Sokolovic is also represented by excerpts, in this case two movements from Five Dances for Violin Solo which the composer tells us, although modelled on the Baroque suite are actually imaginary dances based on the rhythmic improvisations that are characteristic of the folk music of the Balkans. There are echoes of the Baroque in Kevin Lau’s Tears as well, which he says draws inspiration from Bach’s Chaconne in D minor, “whose dramatic three-part arc influenced the architecture and tonal centre of my own piece”; but also from Berio’s Sequenza VIII, “whose searing narrative made a stunning impression on me as a student.” Lau wrote the piece while a student at U of T in 2006, but revised it in 2017 for the purpose of this recording.

Murray Adaskin’s Vocalise No.1 was composed for clarinet solo in 1989 and adapted three years later for violin and dedicated to Andrew Dawes, founding first violinist of the Orford Quartet. Throughout this work, the composer uses a melody which reoccurs in undulating variations, gradually rising in pitch and giving the impression of moving from darkness to light. Incidentally, it was Andrew Dawes who performed Mascall’s Labyrinth during the CBC Young Composers Competition.

This in effect brings the disc full circle, but wait, there’s more, in the form of an “encore” piece Dystopia by Christos Hatzis. Hatzis tells us that, “Hidden behind the hyper-virtuosity and relative brevity,

this piece is a meditation on the causes of religious intransigence, disenchantment and, ultimately, jihad. The literal meaning of the title (a ‘terrible plac’) refers to the current conflict between narrowly defined religious creeds, particularly the conflict between the Moslem world, and the so-called Western civilization, or modernity.” It provides a timely and fitting coda to this fine recording.

I look forward to further releases from Marc Djokic, and to hearing the other movements of Mascall’s, Maute’s and Sokolovic’s suites on some future occasion.

Listen to 'Solo Seven' Now in the Listening Room

02 Telegraph QuartetOne of the first works I ever heard that integrated electronics with live performance was American composer Leon Kirchner’s 1966 String Quartet No.3 with electronic tape. It was an epiphany for me and an introduction to a brave new world. On Into the Light (Centaur CRC 3651 centaurrecords.com), the Telegraph Quartet performs an earlier work by Kirchner, the String Quartet No.1 from 1949, a gnarly modernistic composition, that while lacking any electronic extensions of the sound world manages to push the envelope in its own ways. The third movement Divertimento seems to foreshadow the world of Schnittke’s “ghost waltz” and the Adagio final movement anticipates late Shostakovich. Another revelation to me, or more accurately a reminder, as I know I have this piece in my vinyl collection and first heard it nearly half a century ago, of how forward-looking Kirchner was in those early postwar years.

This new disc pairs the Kirchner with Anton Webern’s Funf Satze (Five Movements) for String Quartet, Op.5 from 1909 and Benjamin Britten’s Three Divertimenti (1936). I will borrow from Kai Christiansen’s note about the Webern because “I couldn’t have said it better myself!” He tells us in part that the music is “atonal, exquisitely colourful, shockingly brief and so mysteriously evocative. Like five epigrammatic character pieces from outer space, they conjure eerie landscapes, fantastic atmospheres as well as ineffable inner spaces.” The Telegraph Quartet’s realization of these “jewels” (Stravinsky) is crystalline and thoroughly engrossing. The Britten miniatures – although relatively epic when compared to Webern’s haikus – provide a dramatic contrast: an angular and majestic March, lilting Waltz and playful presto Burlesque. All in all, a welcome addition to my string quartet collection (with apologies to Terry Robbins).

03 Douglas BoyceSome Consequences of Four Incapacities (new focus recordings FCR205 newfocusrecordings.com/catalogue/douglas-boyce-some-consequences-of-four-incapacities) features extremely esoteric – I would say old school new music – chamber compositions by American composer Douglas Boyce. The disc opens with 102nd & Amsterdam, performed by members of the Aeolus Quartet. The work honours the composer’s father and his love of New York City. It begins in near silence with nervous scratching and harmonics in the high strings. Ever so gradually, melodies emerge and a cello solo comes to the fore. Later the violin and viola join in a furious round of glissandi and dense choppy rhythms. Eventually the eerie atmosphere of the opening returns as “this portrait of an urban crossing beautifully captures how one spot in a city can contain an entire universe.” Members of counter)induction perform the brief but intense Piano Quartet No.1 which is a splendidly raucous homage to Boyce’s youthful love of Bartók and King Crimson.

The final work, filling more than half of the disc, is the intriguing Fortuitous Variations, in four movements performed by Trio Cavatina. There are literally pages of program notes about this piece in the covering letter I received from Boyce, on the one-sheet press release and in the extended notes on the new focus website (the disc itself has none). Boyce writes “The CD’s title is borrowed from an essay of C.S. Peirce, the inaugurator of philosophical Pragmatism and its particularly ferocious rethinking of the potential of thought in comparison to practice. […] There is a darkness here, as there is in so much of Peirce – a seeming submission to human finitude, to limits both cognitive and biological. And, I think, that gothic and mournful mood carries across all the works on the disc.” The movement titles – every deduction involves the observation of a diagram; the vastness hitherto spoken of is as great in one direction as in another; so it is rather the whole river that is place, because as a whole it is motionless and the dawn and the gloaming most invite one to musement – presumably refer further to Peirce and his development of “America’s great contribution to philosophy.” The web notes tell us (in part): “Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) is a fascinating figure philosophically, historically, and biographically. [...] founder of an intellectual enterprise committed to disrupting all foundations. His most inventive work addressed language, communication, and symbology; the pure volume of his output on pretty much everything is quite belittling to one’s own sense of capacity – mathematics, mathematical logic, physics, geodesy, spectroscopy, astronomy, psychology, anthropology, history, and economics.” How this actually relates to the music and its composition is beyond me, but Boyce, who is associate professor of music at George Washington University, has found in it inspiration to create a compelling cycle of works. Recommended for those who are not concerned with finding hummable tunes in their craggy contemporary music. The performances are all outstanding.

04 Gaite ParisienneThe final disc this month provides a bit of a “guilty pleasure” or at least a nostalgic trip down memory lane. I believe I first heard Offenbach’s Gaîté parisienne in my early teenage years on my mother’s Reader’s Digest collection of great classical favourites (I don’t remember the exact title, but it was about ten LPs and had more or less what you’d expect in a sampler). A new ATMA release by the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec under the direction of Fabien GabelGaîté Parisienne (ACD2 2757 atmaclassique.com) – features that cancan-filled work along with Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales and Poulenc’s suite from Les Biches in spirited performances. Paris-born Gabel, director of the OSQ since 2012, brings with him an innate love and understanding of French repertoire as witnessed in this, OSQ’s fifth ATMA, and 25th overall release, recorded live in Salle Louis-Frèchette, Grand Théâtre de Québec in May of this year.

Ravel’s love of the waltz, “You know my great liking for these wonderful rhythms,” resulted in a set of eight piano pieces in 1911, titled in homage to Schubert who had published two collections, Valses nobles and Valses sentimentales. Ravel orchestrated his set and in 1914 it was premiered under the direction of the legendary Pierre Monteux (who incidentally conducted the OSQ in 1962). Less well known is Poulenc’s ballet suite, but it provides an appropriate bridge to the final work that is the icing on the cake, Offenbach’s Gaîté parisienne, created in 1938 for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo with choreography from Léonide Massine, one of the leading lights of the former Ballet Russes. We are here presented with a half-hour long suite arranged at Massine’s request, by Manuel Rosenthal drawing on the best of Offenbach’s operettas, although primarily La vie parisienne. It ends with the gorgeous Barcarolle from Les contes d’Hoffmann, and a good time is had by all!

Listen to 'Gaîté Parisienne' Now in the Listening Room

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 French Moments Trio NeaveFollowing their 2016 release American Moments, featuring music of Foote, Korngold and Bernstein, the Neave Trio returns with an enchanting new disc entitled French Moments – Fauré, Debussy, Roussel (Chandos CHAN 10996 chandos.net). Formed in 2010 the trio is comprised of a American violinist (Anna Williams), a Russian cellist (Mikhail Veselov) and a Japanese pianist (Eri Nakamura). Based in the United States, they are currently on faculty of the Longy School of Music of Bard College as Alumni Artists, Faculty Ensemble in Residence. French Moments features youthful works by Albert Roussel (1869-1937) and Claude Debussy (1862-1918) along with one of Gabriel Fauré’s (1845-1924) final works. Roussel’s Trio, Op.2 opens the disc with a barely perceptible rocking motif, waves gently reaching the shore, and gradually grows and swells into rollicking melodies and dramatic chiaroscuro. It was composed in 1902 while Roussel was still a student at the Schola Cantorum.

The charming Piano Trio in G Major was composed in 1880, begun when Debussy was just 17. At the time he was travelling as tutor and accompanist with the family of Tchaikovsky’s patroness Nadezhda van Meck. In her correspondence with Tchaikovsky she mentions Debussy’s criticism of German music as being “too heavy and unclear.” Although the trio does not have the impressionist sensibility for which his music would later be known, it “bears out this preference for lightness and clarity.”

Fauré had retired from a lifetime of teaching at the Paris Conservatoire two years before he wrote his Trio in D Minor, Op.120 and at the time complained to his wife that “The trouble is that I can’t work for long at a time. My worst tribulation is a perpetual fatigue.” This is not evident in the music itself however, which is full of life. A somewhat melancholy opening quickly dissipates into rising melodies and gently soaring spirits within the minor key context. There are moments of turmoil along the way, but the trio ends joyously in a lively scherzo-like finale.

The Neave Trio is in fine form throughout, obviously thoroughly at home in this repertoire. It is easy to see why they continue to receive glowing praise wherever they perform. As part of its mission to “create new pathways for classical music and engage a wider audience,” the Neave Trio champions new works and frequently collaborates with artists of all mediums, participating in multiple award-winning productions with dance companies and filmmakers. Evidently “Neave” is a Gaelic name meaning “bright” and “radiant” – an apt moniker for this shining ensemble.

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02 VC2The February 2018 issue of The WholeNote featured an intriguing cover showing two young men seemingly playing hockey with carbon fibre cellos, and an extended article about the cello duo VC2 comprised of Amahl Arulanandam and Bryan Holt (vc2celloduo.com). Sara Constant’s interview with the pair included discussion of their project Beethoven’s Cellists, which has now borne fruit in the form of a compact disc of the same name. The premise is that Beethoven’s colleagues were responsible for a number of design innovations for both cello and bow that have had a lasting influence on the instrument. Of particular note was Bernhard Romberg, and the disc opens with VC2’s very effective transcription for two cellos of Romberg’s Sonata No.1 in E Minor, Op.38. But the meat of the project is a number of newly commissioned works funded by Shauna Rolston Shaw, based in some way on Beethoven’s own writing for cello. The works featured on this disc are by Canadian composers Andrew Downing, Raphael Weinroth-Browne, Fjola Evans, Matt Brubeck and Hunter Coblentz, and draw respectively on Beethoven’s sonatas one through five. All of the composers are accomplished cellists and so the music is very idiomatic, but that’s about where the similarity ends. Each has a very different style and approach to the challenge and the offerings really do run the gamut. Very exciting and innovative additions to the cello repertoire performed with panache!

Listen to 'Beethoven's Cellists' Now in the Listening Room

03 MeitarI have often mentioned my connection with New Music Concerts and the fabulous opportunity it has provided for meeting internationally renowned composers and musicians. Last year our season began with the presentation of the Meitar Ensemble of Tel Aviv performing works of Israeli composers and of their French, now Canadian, composer-in-residence Philippe Leroux. Another composer who has an ongoing relationship with the ensemble is the Boston-born Amos Elkana, who grew up in Jerusalem before returning to the USA at the age of 20 for studies at Berklee School of Music and the New England Conservatory. He later studied in Paris before finishing an MFA at Bard College, NY. The album Tripp, which features chamber and solo works by Elkana performed by members of Meitar, has been released on Albany Records (TROY1718 amoselkana.com). Elkana’s music is, for the most part, abstract. For instance, the title piece is based on a series of numbers which is used as a fractal to generate the structure and the proportions within it, so that “the macro and micro levels have the same proportions. Exactly as it is in fractal geometry where zooming into a part of the whole reveals that it looks exactly like the whole. While searching for a title I googled the number series… and a zip code of a small town in South Dakota came up… Tripp.” None of this is evident to the listener, however, and we are presented with a challenging and contrasted work where each of the flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano and various combinations thereof are featured in turn.

This is followed by an intriguing work for solo violin and computer called Reflections. The computer, acting like a very sophisticated looping device, records the live violin performance and plays back and layers various segments at specified moments of the work through four speakers placed next to the performer on stage. The violin sounds are rarely processed and in most instances are hard to distinguish from the live performance. The effect is at times that of an ensemble of live violins playing in intricate counterpoint. It is very effectively achieved by Meitar violinist Yael Barolsky, to whom it is dedicated. The other works are for solo piano, solo clarinet, cello and electronics (recorded and processed spoken word), solo flute, and a minimalist celesta solo. An intriguing collection of smaller works by an internationally acclaimed composer whose orchestral scores have been performed by the Berlin, Israel, Slovak Radio and Jerusalem Symphony Orchestras, as well as the Warsaw Philharmonic.

I recently read an article about the return of vinyl records and their sensual appeal – the physical pleasure of removing the large disc from its sleeve, the visceral appeal of dropping the needle onto the colourful vinyl platter, the warmth of the analog sound – and more or less dismissed it out of hand. I still have a functioning turntable, and several thousand LPs taking up space in my basement (and several dozen in more or less regular rotation in my living room), but I am not averse to digital technology. I don’t miss the clicks and pops so prevalent on vinyl recordings and I appreciate the high-end clarity of compact discs, and the convenient size and packaging of CDs. I suppose I will eventually come around to the convenience of streaming and download technology, especially as space becomes even more of an issue in my modest house – it’s already near the threshold – but I still prefer the full spectrum response of my stereo system over anything that my computer speakers or ear-buds can reproduce. 

04 Jonas BonnettaThat being said, it actually was a pleasure to open a parcel recently from singer/songwriter Jonas Bonnetta, driving force behind the folk-rock band Evening Hymns, and find a limited edition white vinyl copy of his latest project, All This Here (jonasbonnetta.bandcamp.com). It is lush, quiet and gentle music, to my ear reminiscent of Brian Eno’s ambient compositions of the late 1970s of which I was quite fond. So when combined with the technology, the music provided quite a pleasant nostalgic mood. And I was surprised to find how I was drawn in by the expanse of white revolving on the turntable, and by the fact that there were, at least thus far, no distracting surface flaws. Parts of the music were originally composed for the film Strange and Familiar: Architecture of Fogo Island produced by Site Media and we find pieces with titles such as Deep Bay, Fogo, Island Harbour, Little Fogo and Joe Batt’s Arm. Bonnetta combines subtle field recordings with haunting instrumental lines performed by Anne Müller (cello) and Mika Posen (violin), providing piano, synthesizer and electronics himself. It is a wonderfully warm and relaxing listening experience that I highly recommend. And by the way, the LP comes with a digital download card for those who prefer convenience.

05 Jason DoellProjecting a similar aesthetic, although coming from a different background, Jason Doell’s debut CD “…amid the cannon’s roar,” (jasondoell.com) presents a series of interrelated chamber and solo pieces which explore “the tensions of being a Canadian settler artist who has inherited the brutal legacy of the British colonial project.” Featuring mid-career artist Rob Macdonald on guitar, junctQín keyboard collective, and some of Toronto’s finest young musicians – pianist/harpsichordist Wesley Shen, flutist Sara Constant, violinist Aysel Taghi-Zeda and cellist Amahl Arulanandam – the album includes the works “Our Lovèd Dominion Bless…,” “…we’ll do deeds to follow on our words…,” “And let our Empire be” and “…long to reign over us…” separated by three interludes called “casualties.” Neither the physical package nor the information sheet on the composer’s website give more detail about the concept of the album or the source material. The cover art – black and white representations of fireworks – in conjunction with the title, would seem to suggest some bombastic aspect to the music, but in fact it is something of the opposite of that: slow and contemplative in what I have come to think of as the “Arraymusic School” as reflected in the work of composers such as Linda Catlin Smith, Martin Arnold and John Mark Sherlock.

Within this context, this is very thoughtful and introspective music, but there’s obviously a programmatic aspect here that notes would have helped to elucidate. That being said, Doell, who was the recipient of the 2014 Toronto Emerging Composer Award, has found his own unique voice and this disc provides a welcome introduction to his vision.

Doell is currently the operations manager of Continuum Contemporary Music, an organization also known for fostering emerging composers. As we find out later on in this issue in Ted Parkinson’s review of the new Toronto Jazz Orchestra CD, Continuum’s former manager Josh Grossman, now the artistic director of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, is also an accomplished composer in his own right. This all bodes well both for Continuum, and for the well-being of the Toronto music scene.

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 David Aaron CarpenterWhen a new recording of the Bartók Viola Concerto crossed my desk recently it immediately caught my attention. Begun in 1945 and left incomplete at the time of his death – actually it was just a few sketches – this was the composer’s final composition. Although in the words of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians Bartók’s assistant Tibor Serly’s completion of the concerto “cannot be considered definitive,” it has always been a favourite of mine. Motherland (Warner Classics 0190295697693 warnerclassics.com) features young superstar violist David Aaron Carpenter performing concertos by Dvořák, Bartók and Walton, plus a number of concerted works by Kiev-born, New York City resident Alexey Shor (b.1970) with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Carpenter, born in NYC in 1986, has had a remarkable career, winning the 2005 Philadelphia Orchestra Young Artists Competition, the Walter W. Naumburg Viola Competition the following year and an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2010. His first recording, Elgar and Schnittke concertos, was praised highly in these pages in October 2009 by Terry Robbins, and two subsequent outings met with similar attention in Robbins’ Strings Attached column in recent years. With that in mind, I had no qualms about holding back Carpenter’s latest recording for my own collection. Of course I had to start with the Bartók, and I was immediately transported back to the heights I first scaled when introduced to this work by Yehudi Menuhin’s performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Antal Dorati’s direction half a century ago. We’ll likely never know just how much of this atypical work is Bartók’s and how much that of Serly. Strangely though, it is a much more original work than Serly’s own Rhapsody for Viola and Orchestra which is replete with borrowings from his master. Carpenter’s stunning performance reminds us why, its questionable pedigree notwithstanding, this concerto is a staple of the viola repertoire.

The first CD (of two) opens with Joseph Vieland’s transcription of Dvořák’s masterful Cello Concerto, to which Carpenter has added his own refinements. It is very effective, but as a cellist I can’t help but notice that the power and anguish of the cello’s upper register, its chanterelle range, is not equalled when the viola plays the same pitches. That being said, it is still a captivating performance, with the orchestra under Kazushi Ono in fine form. Especially noteworthy are the horn solos. The second disc begins with William Walton’s concerto, which was commissioned by Lionel Tertis in 1929. Tertis was not convinced and declined to premiere the work but later, in words of Andrew Morris “was good enough to admit his mistake.” Tertis said: “The innovations in [Walton’s] musical language, which now seem so logical and so truly in the mainstream of music, then struck me as far-fetched.” To our modern ears it seems hard to imagine this lush and romantic work being received as anything but a masterpiece.

There is more than an hour of music by Shor dispersed across the two discs, and frankly I don’t know why. The inclusion of his Seascapes, a four-movement work for viola and orchestra, would have more than sufficed. His motion-picture soundtrack sensibility makes even the Dvořák and Walton sound modern, and the 13-movement Well Tempered Chanson, a compendium of encores written for Carpenter, seems like just too much dessert. The Bartók, however, is worth the price of admission.

02 Howard ShoreSpeaking of film scores and people named Shor(e)… last year Canadian superstar film composer Howard Shore took time out from his day job to compose a celebratory cantata to honour Canada’s sesquicentennial. Sea to Sea/D’un ocean à l’autre was commissioned by the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra (nbyo-ojnb.com) and was first performed on July 2, 2017 at the Canada 150 Stage, Riverfront Park, Moncton. That performance featuring New Brunswick’s pride and joy, soprano Measha Brueggergosman, and the Choeur CANADA150 Choir was recorded and is now available from Leaf Music (LM217 leaf-music.ca). With bilingual lyrics by Elizabeth Cotnoir, the nine-minute work opens with a horn fanfare to set the stage and then launches into jubilant praise for our fair land. After the bombastic opening there is a contemplative middle section gently declaring “We hold a vision.” The final section is a return to the opening exuberance, this time en français. The CD single also includes two “radio edit” versions, just under three minutes each, one in English and one in French.

03a Andrew Collins TongueThe latest project from the 2016 Canadian Folk Music Awards Best Instrumental Group of the Year – Andrew Collins Trio – is the cleverly named pair of CDs Tongue and Groove (andrewcollinstrio.com). The first is a departure for the band, with 11 tracks featuring lead vocals by multi-mando frontman Collins for the most part, with harmonies and occasional lead lines provided by bass player James McEleney. The third member of the trio, Mike Mezzatesta, keeps busy on guitar, mandolin, fiddle and mandola. 03b Andrew Collins GrooveIt’s an eclectic collection of traditional “down homey” numbers, novelty songs, cover versions and a few originals. Of particular note are Collins’ own reworking of Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill’s Long Black Veil and Roger Miller’s The Hat. But for me it is the instrumental disc Groove that really shines. Replete with some of the finest bluegrass pickin’ you’re likely to find this far north, there’s also a mix of styles, including some very Django-like vibes to which the double strings of Collins’ mandolin give a new twist, a beautiful lullaby and a couple of fiddle tunes. Standouts include Poplar Bluff, Kentakaya Waltz, Badabada Ba Ba and Big Toaster.

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04 Moto BelloIt seems that every month we receive a dozen or more CDs from the Parma Recordings group, which includes the labels Ravello, Big Round, Asonica and, in this case, Navona Records. Although my current activities as an amateur cellist are focusing on string-only ensembles, quartets and at the moment a trio, for many years I also played with pianists in the traditional piano trio formation – violin, cello and piano. Beginning with the classics, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn (Felix and Fanny), Schumann (Robert and Clara), but eventually moving into the 20th century with Debussy, Shostakovich and contemporary Canadians including Colin Eatock and Daniel Foley – both of whom will be familiar to readers of  The WholeNote – I spent countless hours exploring the repertoire with friends. So I was quite interested when a new double CD from Trio Casals, Moto Bello (nv6156 navonarecords.com) arrived. The Moto series “represents a curated collection of contemporary music by living composers with the traditional instrumentation of the acclaimed Trio Casals.” The group’s acclaim began in 1996 at the Pablo Casals Festival in Puerto Rico, from which I assume their name derives. There are ten composers included in this two-disc package, none of whom were previously known to me. The repertoire runs the gamut of contemporary styles, from approachable melodic works, through minimalism to craggy modernist sensibilities, and although most utilize the full trio resources, there are several solo and duo pieces. Of particular note is Beth Mehocic’s Somewhere Between D and C# for solo cello, with its exploration of ambiguous resolution. L. Peter Deutsch’s Ocean Air is a lovely suite in three movements harkening back to the late 19th century. Giovanni Piacentini’s Ondine begins in quiet Debussy-like arpeggiation that gradually builds into a stormy tempest before calming to gentle seas again. Each of the ten composers brings an individual voice to the medium, making for a varied and satisfying program. The playing is convincing and committed throughout. I was especially impressed by how complete the package was: a simple folded cardboard cover containing two CDs and a 12-page booklet with composer bios and program notes. I only wish that there was more information about the trio itself, and that the composers’ names were more discernable – pale blue type on a blue background is hard to read.

05 Eloquent SaxophoneAnother Navona recording that arrived recently looked strangely familiar to me. The Eloquent Saxophone featuring Toronto (now Cobourg) saxophonist, professor and founding member of the pioneering band Lighthouse, David Tanner and pianist Marc Widner (nv6158 navonarecords.com). It’s a charming collection of mostly French repertoire from the early 20th century, but also including more recent works by American Leslie Bassett and Gene DiNovi – a saxophone ensemble piece achieved through overdubbing the various parts. The disc begins with another saxophone quartet, the aptly named Serenade comique by Jean Françaix. Although most of the works were written for the saxophone, there is an effective transcription of Debussy’s Syrinx (originally for solo flute) in a warm and thoughtful rendition. Widner is the perfect accompanist for this repertoire, whether playing original piano lines or, in the case of Paule Maurice’s Tableaux de Provence, subbing for an entire orchestra. Also of note is Charles Koechlin’s Etude No.VIII from a set of saxophone and piano studies that were not published until 1970, 20 years after the composer’s death. The credits tell us that the recordings were made in 1988 in Toronto, the multi-tracking at Axon Music Productions and the rest in Walter Hall. That’s when I figured out what was so familiar. I checked my file card catalog of LP recordings, and sure enough, I have the original vinyl version of this disc put out on Apparition Records. Even the cover art is the same. The brief performer bios have been updated nominally and the order of the tracks has been modified – it used to start with Syrinx – but with the exception of the program notes, unfortunately missing from the CD reissue, the recording is the same. It was a welcome addition to my collection three decades ago, and it is welcome again now.

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06 Baljinder SekhonOne final note, an intriguing percussion-centric disc of music by Baljinder Sekhon. Places & Times (innova 988 innova.mu) is, in the words of the composer, “no ordinary album of percussion ensemble music. These compositions explore a wide spectrum of possibilities offered by the percussion family, from the aggressive noise of a cymbal on piano strings and peaceful meditations created by finger cymbals gently buzzing on a vibraphone, to the curious thump of a person falling on a bass drum.” The disc features three percussion ensembles: Los Angeles Percussion Quartet; McCormick Percussion Group and Line upon Line Percussion. Three of the tracks include soloists: Dave Gerhart, steel pan; Dieter Hennings, guitar and Eunmi Ko, piano. Musica Casera, a 12-minute track that features guitar holding its own against a battery of percussion instruments, through delicate passages and thunderous sections, is particularly captivating. Another highlight is Sun for three percussionists all equipped with similar outfits: one keyboard, one skin, one wood and one metal instrument. They all share access to a large cymbal in centre stage, presumably the namesake of the piece. Despite similar resources, the combinations provide a very broad spectrum of sound and range. 

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

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

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