Let me begin by thanking David Schreiber for his feedback on Janos Gardonyi’s guest editorial about on-line shopping and digital downloads last month. Mr. Schreiber rightly suggests caveat emptor in regards to MP3s, which are compressed files with resulting loss of information. MP3 technology provides convenience and portability, but compromises sound quality, much the same way that cassette tapes did versus LPs, and will not likely satisfy the audiophile. A quick check with Wikipedia tells us that there are three basic kinds of audio file formats: uncompressed files such as WAV, AIFF and PCM; formats with “lossless” compression such as FLAC, MPEG-4, Apple Lossless and Windows Media Player Lossless; and formats with “lossy” compression such as MP3, Vorbis and Musepack. As always, the onus is on the consumer to do the research and decide to what extent to accept compromise for the sake of convenience and economy.

As the year end approaches and the holiday season along with it, rather than focus on just a few discs here I want to briefly mention a number of seasonal titles and other special gems which I think will be of interest. I expect you will see full reviews of the latter items in coming issues, but let’s begin with the seasonal releases. Top of the list is In Midnight's Stillness - St. Michael's Choir School (www.smcs.on.ca). This wonderful collection of Christmas fare is conducted by Jerzy Cichocki, Caron Daley and Teri Dunn and features guest performances by the True North Brass. The choirs are in fine and festive voice as I’m sure they will be at the annual Christmas Fantasy performances at Massey Hall on December 10 and 11.

On Noèl - Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà (Analekta) Dubeau and her wonderful baroque string ensemble provide a musical tour and celebration of the Nativity which covers three centuries and takes us to Finland, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, Russia, the USA, Mexico and Canada. Of special note is Kelly Marie Murphy’s lush and haunting impression of the Huron Carol.

On a completely different note, jazz pianist Oliver Jones, singer Ranee Lee and the Montreal Jubilation Choir provide a joyous and exuberant take on the season with A Celebration in Time (Justin Time). A highlight for me is the island rhythms of Gras Bondye/Seigneur J’élève Ton Nom featuring the Daphnée Louis Singers.

And there is one last Christmas disc to mention, which was not yet in hand at the time of writing, but I am going to go out on a limb and recommend it anyway, because how could you go wrong with Monica Whicher and Judy Loman? Lullabies and Carols for Christmas (Naxos) features Loman’s arrangements for soprano and harp of such traditional favourites as the Coventry Carol, In the Bleak Mid-Winter; Bulalow, In Dulce Jubilo, and the Wexford Carol along with seasonal solo harp pieces by Britten and Tournier.

We have recently received several boxed sets featuring Canadian artists that are particularly worthy of mention. The first is a six CD collection of the art songs of the late 19th century Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko. This is the second instalment of the Ukrainian Art Song Project (www.uasp.ca) following on the 2006 release of the songs of Kyrylo Stetsenko. The idea for the project dates back to 2004 when bass baritone Pavlo Hunka came to Toronto for the lead role in the COC’s production of Falstaff and was adopted as a native son by the Toronto Ukrainian community. Lysenko (1842-1912) is considered the father modern Ukrainian classical music and this impressive set, accompanied by a 200 page book of libretti, translations, biographies and notes, includes 124 of his 133 known art songs (the other nine have been lost). Recorded in Glenn Gould Studio the other singers involved in the project are all well known on the Canadian opera scene including Elizabeth Turnbull, Benjamin Butterfield, Michael Colvin and Robert Gleadow, with pianists Albert Krywolt, Mia Bach and Serouj Kradjian, flutist Doug Stewart and cellist Roman Borys. Mykola Lysenko’s Art Songs will enjoy a gala launch at Koerner Hall on December 5 for which Pavlo Hunka will be joined by Monica Whicher, Kristina Szabó and Russell Braun.

Robert Silverman’s most recent recording project is a seven CD set of the complete Mozart Piano Sonatas for the audiophile isoMike label (www.isomike.com). These hybrid discs include CD stereo, SACD stereo and four channel surround sound capability. We’ll have a full review of this set in the February issue but I wanted to bring it to your attention in time for holiday shopping

The last set I will mention is a 15 CD collection of Angela Hewitt’s complete Hyperion recordings of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. With almost 18 hours of music by this renowned Bach interpreter priced at about $100, this would make a great addition to anyone’s collection.

I have also elicited the help of several of my colleagues to bring to your attention a number of items we missed this year which had we unlimited space and resources would certainly have found their way into these pages. Geoff Chapman tells us that although his mandate is Canadian jazz, there’s a plethora of great jazz created elsewhere. Here’s a few titles that really caught his attention: Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green - Apex (www.pirecordings.com) - A brilliant alto sax collaboration between a hot newcomer and a hardy veteran with stellar band. Vijay Iyer - Solo (www.vijay-iyer.com) – An ace pianist pays extraordinary contemporary tribute to his inspirations. Jason Moran - Ten (Blue Note) – The best piano trio outing for eons in a crowded field. Wadada Leo Smith – Spiritual Dimensions (www.cuneiformrecords.com) – This double-CD illuminates the avant-garde trumpeter’s mastery of free jazz. Yehudi Menuhin & Stephane Grappelli - Friends In Music (EMI) – A delightful 4-CD reissue of virtuoso violinists covering the musical waterfront.

Terry Robbins found three titles of particular note: Beethoven String Quartets Vol.4 (Virgin Classics) - A mixture of early, mid and late quartets, including the profound C sharp minor Op.131, superbly played by the Artemis Quartet. Rodion Shchedrin - Chamber Music (ARS MUSICI) - Works by the contemporary Russian composer (who plays piano for two of them), highlighted by Dmitry Sitkovetsky's tremendous performance of the Bach-inspired Echo-Sonata for solo violin. John Corigliano - The Red Violin Concerto (Naxos) - Another superb disc in the Naxos American Classics series, with the terrific Michael Ludwig, concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and the BPO itself under JoAnn Falletta recorded in their Kleinhans Music Hall home.

Richard Haskell took particular delight in a new recording of Rachmaninov - Piano Concertos Nos.3 & 4 (EMI Classics) - The pairing of Leif Ove Andsnes with the London Symphony under the direction of Antonio Pappano is sublime. Andsnes’ performance is bold, expansive, and technically brilliant, while Pappano coaxes a warm and lyrical sound from the orchestra. And Daniel Foley found in Messiaen: Livre du Saint-Sacrement (Naxos) exceptional performances by Paul Jacobs of Messiaen's towering final contribution to the organ literature; a massive work that demands close attention to fully absorb its theological and programmatic intent.

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

I’d like to begin this month by welcoming two new reviewers to the WholeNote family. Singer/songwriter Bill MacLean is no stranger to reviewing in his capacity as Entertainment Editor with the Beach Metro News, and you can read his take on Adi Braun’s maiden voyage into singer/songwriter territory in our Pot Pourri section. Sharna Searle is a pianist with a Music History degree whose subsequent Law studies and call to the bar in both British Columbia and Ontario has left her hankering for an artistic outlet. You will find her impressions of Ian Parker’s (yes, of that Parker family) ATMA recording debut in concertos of Ravel, Gershwin and Stravinsky with the London Symphony Orchestra in Early, Classical and Beyond.

fialkowska_chopin_concertosMy own choice recording this month is another disc of piano concertos on the ATMA label, featuring Janina Fialkowska. Last month’s review of Fialkowska’s “Chopin – Études, Sonatas and Impromptus” erroneously stated that these were new recordings postdating her recovery from the cancer which affected her left arm (not the right arm as stated). In fact that 2-CD set was a 2010 repackaging in honour of Chopin’s bicentennial of recordings made in 1997 and 1999 before she was afflicted with the devastating illness. Fialkowska’s outstanding Chopin performances with Tafelmusik last month are testament to the fact that she has indeed overcome her cancer and that her exceptional abilities remain intact, as is the recording of both Chopin Piano Concertos with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Bramwell Tovey (ACD2 2643). Recorded live in the Orpheum Theatre in March 2010, there is an energy and élan to these performances which literally jumps out of the speakers. The warmth and depth of sound capture the music in all its grace and grandeur and none of the nuance is lost. Fialkowska and Tovey are both in their element here and together they bring out the best in the members of Canada’s third largest orchestra, much to the delight of the enthusiastic audience. In fact they are so enraptured of the performance that even listening on my full frequency range headphones I was not aware of their presence until they burst into applause. With this latest release ATMA is proving itself a truly trans-Canadian label and with the sheer number and diversity of recent releases, as reflected in the following pages, confirming itself as a label of international importance.

There are a number of other discs I would have liked to tell you about this month, but they will have to wait until December. After lamenting the demise of the record store as we know it with some colleagues I was taken to task by reviewer Janos Gardonyi who chastised me for not embracing the brave new world of the internet and the wealth of retail possibilities to be found there. I subsequently invited him to write the following guest editorial, a layman’s guide to shopping on the World Wide Web.

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.


01_joykillssorrowThe recording to which I have returned time and again in the past six weeks, more often than to any disc in recent memory, is entitled Darkness Sure Becomes This City by an American string band based in Boston called Joy Kills Sorrow (www.joykillssorrow.com). A collection of fine young musicians from both coasts of the USA, the band is fronted by BC native Emma Beaton who was the recipient of the Canadian Folk Music Award for Best New Artist for her debut album Pretty Fair Maid several years ago. Although an accomplished cellist and pictured frailing a banjo on her own website, Beaton’s contribution to this “new grass” band is strictly vocal with her distinctive high soprano giving the band its signature sound. The other members bring a wonderful virtuosity to the mix with banjo (Wesley Corbett), guitar (national flat-picking champion, Matthew Arcara), mandolin (Jacob Jolliff, the first to ever receive a full mandolin scholarship to the Berklee School of Music) and double bass (Bridget Kearney). Corbett and Kearney provide the harmony vocals that are such an integral part of the bluegrass tradition, and Kearney, a past winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, contributes most of the original songs and arrangements which are the group’s mainstay. Named after the old-time radio show which featured Bill Munroe and his Blue Grass Boys, Joy Kills Sorrow’s music is a compelling mix of traditional breakneck-paced picking and soulful ballads tinged with wry humour. Favourites include the Zydeco-flavoured New Shoes, the dense and rocking Send Me A Letter, Kearney’s sardonic Thinking of You and Such (“I miss you, but not that much – it’s not like I sleep in your clothes; I’m just thinking of you and such”), and Beaton’s quirky You Make Me Feel Drunk. Discovering this disc in my in-box and then spending an evening with Bruce Surtees hearing Joy Kills Sorrow play live at Hugh’s Room last month were distinct highlights of my summer. According to their blog, they traveled 8,726 miles and “killed 15,965 kg of sorrow” on the tour that brought them to Toronto and the Shelter Valley Folk Festival in Grafton. They certainly provided me with some Joy and I hope they will pass this way again soon.


02_britten_illuminationsAnother very different sort of string band that I greatly enjoy is Les Violons du Roy (or as one CBC Radio Two host was wont to say in years gone by – Les Violons Doo Wah), Bernard Labadie’s Quebec City-based baroque chamber orchestra that has been broadening its repertoire to include the 20th century in recent years under the direction of Jean-Marie Zeitouni. For their latest venture into the modern era they are joined by soprano Karina Gauvin in a crystalline performance of Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations (ATMA ACD2 2601). Britten’s setting of the poetry and prose of Arthur Rimbaud with its dynamic contrasts and dramatic range is fully realized by this outstanding soloist, sensitively accompanied by the strings. The disc includes convincing, full-bodied performances of the Prelude and Fugue for 18-part String Orchestra, Op.29 and Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge, Op.10. Gauvin rejoins the ensemble for the final track, the rarely heard Now sleeps the crimson petal, a movement Britten originally intended for the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, Op.31 but discarded before that work’s first performance. The words by Alfred Lord Tennyson are set as a gentle barcarole with the voice in duet with the horn effectively provided by Louis-Philippe Marsolais. This is a timely release for Toronto audiences who will have the opportunity to experience Britten’s Death in Venice in Canadian Opera Company performances from October 16 to November 6.


03_mozart_quintetsMy first experience playing chamber music in an organized fashion goes back almost two decades when I packed up my cello and headed off to CAMMAC’s summer courses at Lake MacDonald in Quebec. There I had the great pleasure of playing in a string quintet under the tutelage of one of the members of Les Violons du Roy, Michelle Seto. That week at music camp was a life changing experience for me and I have rarely felt the power of music as strongly as on that first evening when I was concentrating so hard on playing the repeated pedal note of the opening of Bach’s St. John Passion when the chorus suddenly entered with the haunting “Herr, Herr, Herr unser Herrscher” sending shivers down my spine. To this day the St. John Passion and Mozart’s String Quintet in B-Flat Major K174 remain among my most vivid musical memories. It is evidently thanks to Mozart’s friend Michael Haydn, Papa Joseph’s younger brother, that we have the legacy of the six string quintets. Mozart was always drawn to the dark sonority of the viola and was inspired by Haydn’s Notturno for two violins, two violas and cello - previous string quintets, notably those of Boccherini, had employed a second cello rather than viola. Mozart’s first foray into the form was the aforementioned B-flat major quintet composed in 1773, a spacious divertimento-like work. It was more than a dozen years before he would return to the genre with the contrasting pair of quintets K515 and K516 in C major and G minor respectively. Composed after the celebrated six “Haydn” string quartets and the success of The Marriage of Figaro, these are fully developed mature works. Mozart completed the set with a transcription of the C minor wind serenade originally for pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns, and two original works in D major and E-flat major composed in the final months of his life. A new recording of the complete Mozart String Quintets features members of the renowned Nash Ensemble with violist Philip Dukes (Hyperion CDA67861/3). These sensitive performances bring out the contrasting moods of the quintets from the playfulness of the early B-flat major to the darker colours of minor key offerings. It was a treat to revisit these works in this new recording from the lush acoustic of St. Paul’s Church, Depford, London. For me however these performances won’t replace the 1973 recordings featuring Arthur Grumiaux and friends which I got to know and love when they were reissued as part of the Complete Mozart Edition by Philips back in 1991. They are currently available on the budget Philips Duo series spread over four CDs encompassing “Mozart – The Complete Quintets Volumes 1 & 2” (2PM2456-055 & -058).


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


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