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December 2008 marked the 100th birthdays of two very significant 20th century composers, Olivier Messiaen and Elliott Carter. Carter is still very much alive and continues to make significant contributions to the repertoire. You can read Pamela Margles’ comments on some of his recent works in her review of Ursula Oppens’ recording of his complete (at least to this date) piano works elsewhere in these pages, and next month we will feature a review of Toronto’s New Music Concerts centenary tribute to the American master. As for Messiaen, who died in 1991, there is a wealth of material being released to celebrate his centennial. I would highly recommend La Fête des belles eaux, a new Ensemble d’Ondes de Montréal release (ATMA ACD2 2621). This work is scored for six ondes Martenot, one of the first commercially produced electronic instruments, and one which Messiaen used extensively. Due to the rarity of the ondes this breathtaking work is seldom performed. In addition the CD includes four Feuillets inédits (late, unpublished works) for ondes and piano performed by Estelle Lemire and Louise Bessette and an arrangement of the first movement of Ravel’s String Quartet for four ondes Martenot. I find the haunting sound of the ondes particularly well-suited to Ravel. 01_messiaen



We are still four years away from Benjamin Britten’s Centenary year, but Bruce Surtees’ Old Wine in New Bottles column in this issue brought to mind my own favourite pieces of this British master. In February 2002 I wrote in these pages: “Two recent recordings of Benjamin Britten’s complete works for solo cello are welcome additions to the available discography of these highly regarded but all too rarely heard masterpieces. All three solo suites were written for Mstislav Rostropovich … [and] with this in mind, all subsequent recordings must be measured against Rostropovich’s classic 1968 Decca performance, marvellously remastered for CD release in 1989. I’m pleased to report that both of the current releases pass muster with flying colours… Both the Norwegian Truls Mørk (Virgin Classics 45399) and Dutchman Peter Wispelwey (Channel Classics CCS 17198) bring a wealth of technique and experience to their interpretations, and they both seem to have made these pieces their own.”


02d_haimovitz Rostropovich himself never recorded the third suite in which Britten incorporated several Russian melodies. My first exposure to that piece was through a 1995 recording featuring a young Israeli-born cellist Matt Haimovitz who Leonard Rose at the Juilliard School described as “probably the greatest talent I have ever taught”. At 17 Haimovitz signed an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon and several of his recordings of standard and non-standard repertoire won international awards over the next 12 years. Three of those discs have been re-issued on DG’s budget “Trio” line. The 20th Century Cello (80004505) now comprises 3 CDs and almost 4 hours of music including all three Benjamin Britten Cello Suites along with important works by Crumb, Kodaly, Dutilleux, Henze, Berio, Ligeti and many others.

I’m here to tell you now that the playing field has become even more crowded with the new ATMA (ACD2 2524) release of the Britten Cello Suites performed by Denise Djokic. This Halifax native who comes from a large musical family – her father Philippe is a former concertmaster of Symphony Nova Scotia - was at the tender age of 21 named by MacLean’s as one of “25 Young Canadians who are changing our World”, and by ELLE as one of “Canada’s 30 most Powerful Women”. Djokic has shown a strong affinity for modern repertoire; in her debut recording of music by Barber, Martinu and Britten (Suite No.3) for Sony Classical which won an East Coast Music Award for Best Classical Recording in 2002, and the subsequent “Folklore” on Endeavour Classics which included works by Vaughan Williams, Stravinsky, Janacek and Cassadó. On the current ATMA release, recorded at Domaine Forget last February, the cellist revisits Britten’s third suite with even more confidence and aplomb than the Sony recording from six years earlier, and adds brilliant performances of the first and second suites to complete the set. With this recording Djokic proves herself to be living up to the high expectations generated in her formative years.

My final selection for the month combines the cello playing, singing and song-writing skills of multi-talented local musician Kevin Fox. The self-stated purpose of Songs for Cello & Voice (www.kevinfox.ca) was to produce a pop record which would feature only Fox’s voice and cello. There is some overdubbing involved, but nevertheless the result is a stunning achievement. Comprised of eight original compositions and two covers - Kate Bush’s Army Dreamer’s and the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (are made of this) - the collection rises above usual “pop” fare with its thoughtful lyrics, sparse orchestration and pure, unadorned vocal stylings. The diverse offerings touch on swing, doo-wop and straight ahead pop with a fine balance of melodic flair and emotional expression. The instrumental final track cleverly invokes memories of such iconic cello pieces as Saint-Saëns’ The Swan and Bach’s solo suites without seeming unduly derivative. This is a very refreshing disc.


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David Olds

DISCoveries Editor


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