01_Joe_CelloTSO principal cellist Joseph Johnson and his section mates were featured during the recent New Creations Festival in the North American premiere of the Cello Concerto Grosso by festival curator Peter Eötvös. Johnson took that occasion to launch his first compact disc which features two staples of 20th century cello repertoire, the Rachmaninov Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor Op.19 and Sonata No.2 in D Minor Op.40 by Dmitri Shostakovich. Johnson is accompanied by Victor Asuncion with whom he has been performing since 2009. The partnership seems to have been made in heaven if the music making heard here is any indication. Balance and interplay are impeccable and these interpretations are obviously from the heart. As it says on the homepage of Asuncion’s website (www.victorasuncion.com) “Victor is a collaborator. Don’t get lost in a forest of blandness. Opt for an enthusiastic artistic partner working with you, not just for you.” Joseph Johnson (www.joecello.com) has obviously done just that.

The independent release (JVCD-01) was recorded last winter in Minneapolis where Johnson previously played in the Minnesota Orchestra and the Minneapolis Quartet. As the very personal liner notes tell us, the session took place just days after what could have been a disastrous accident at Roy Thomson Hall when Johnson’s cello fell out of its case and the neck of the 1747 Guillami instrument snapped off. Thanks to the experts at Toronto’s Geo. Heinl and Co. temporary repairs were made and the session was able to proceed. There is no suggestion of distress in the sound of the cello captured on this beautiful recording. My only criticism is the assumption that this music is so well known it speaks for itself. There is not a scrap of information about the pieces or the composers to be found in the notes.

02_Owen_UnderhillThe latest from the Canadian Music Centre is Still Image – Music by Owen Underhill (Centrediscs CMCCD 17412) which features works involving string quartet performed by Quatuor Bozzini. They are joined by François Houle and Jeremy Berkman on clarinet and trombone respectively. Still Image is an apt description of the disc as well as being the title of a piece commissioned in 2007 by Houle and revised in 2011 for this recording. Underhill’s music generally has an underlying stillness although it is often tinged with tension. Quarter-tones and multiphonics in the clarinet writing extend the tonality here.

There are two one-movement string quartets which represent the earliest and most recent works on the disc. Both are very personal and emotional offerings. String Quartet No.3 – The Alynne was written in 1998 after the birth of a daughter with chromosomal abnormalities. String Quartet No.4 – The Night was commissioned by Quatuor Bozzini in 2011. It takes its title and inspiration from a poem by Henry Vaughan which includes the lines “There is in God (some say) / A deep, but dazzling darkness.” Underhill says “The striking contrast and integration of darkness and dazzling light in the poem helped guide the overall concepts of alternating slow and fast sections.”

The opening of the Trombone Quintet which dates from 1999 is suggestive of a distorted Renaissance consort of viols whose microtonal chord drones could be mistaken for an accordion over top of which the long tone melody of the trombone soars. The second movement has the strings in a dance-like accompaniment as Berkman sings into his muted trombone. A contemplative and lyrical third movement is followed by an extended fourth which begins percussively but gradually gives way to stillness which brings the disc to a close. Quatuor Bozzini has an obvious affinity with this music and Underhill is very well served by this disc.

Concert Note: Quatuor Bozzini performs music of Stravinsky, Oesterle and Britten in Music Toronto’s Quartet Series at Jane Mallett Theatre on April 5.

03_Trio_ArbosI was pleasantly surprised to receive a new disc by the Spanish Trio Arbós and find that it contained an extended work by Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich. Scales of Joy and Sorrow was commissioned by the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival and Roger D. Moore for the Gryphon Trio who premiered it in 2007. The three-movement 20 minute work has obviously gone on to have an international life of its own and listening to this rollicking performance it is easy to see why. The Non Profit Music release (NPM 1012 www.nonprofitmusic.org) is entitled Play it Again and it is full of attractive and approachable contemporary works for piano trio. Not quite “bonbons” but certainly designed as crowd pleasers, this repertoire — including works by Kenji Bunch, Jorge Grundman, Elena Kats-Chernin, Paul Schoenfield and Chick Corea — is enthusiastically embraced and ebulliently played by Trio Arbós.

Concert Note: The Penderecki String Quartet will perform Marjan Mozetich’s JUNO award winning Lament in a Trampled Garden along with works of Beethoven for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society on April 18.

04_Johannes_PassionATMA Classique of Montreal continues to put out excellent discs at a prodigious rate. One of the more recent releases is particularly appropriate to the Easter season this month, Bach’s St. John Passion (ACD2 2611). Featuring Les Voix Baroques and Arion Orchestre Baroque under the direction of Alexander Weimann, international soloists include tenor Jan Kobow as the Evangelist and three basses, Stephan MacLeod as Jesus, Joshua Hopkins as Peter and Nathaniel Watson as Pilate. All are in great form here, with particular kudos to chorister soprano Shannon Mercer who shines in the aria “Ich folge dir gleichfalls mit freudigen Schritten.” From the motoric opening “Herr, unser Herrscher” through the recitatives, arias and choruses of the “Betrayal and Arrest,” “Denial of Peter,” “Interrogation and Scourging,” “Condemnation and Crucifixion,” “Death of Jesus” and “Burial” of Christ to the peaceful final chorale “Ach Herr, lass dein leib Engelein” (Ah Lord, let thine own angels dear…) almost two hours later, our attention is held without flagging in this glorious performance. The comprehensive booklet includes thorough program notes and texts in three languages.

Concert Note: Although I was unable to find any local performances of the St. John Passion this month, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion will be presented by the Grand Philharmonic Choir at the Centre in the Square in Kitchener on April 6.

05_Anonymous_4And a final local concert note. On April 11 Toronto audiences can experience the pure tones of the predominantly medieval group Anonymous 4 at Koerner Hall. This a cappella female ensemble has been charming audiences for 25 years and the “Anthology 25” program will highlight ancient, traditional and modern works from their repertoire. The recent Harmonia Mundi release Secret Voices (HMU 807510) features chant and polyphony from the Huelgas Codex, c.1300 with selections divided into “First Light,” “Morning,” “Mass,” “Evening” and “Night.” If you are not already familiar with Anonymous 4 this would be a great place to start.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: The WholeNote, 503–720 Bathurst St., Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website www.thewholenote.com where you can find added features including direct links to performers, composers and record labels, “buy buttons” for on-line shopping and additional, expanded and archival reviews.

-David Olds, DISCoveries Editor, discoveries@thewholenote.com

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