Thanks to my day job as general manager of New Music Concerts, it has been my great privilege over the past decade to work with flutist Robert Aitken whenever he is not off on his travels, performing around the globe. Largely due his activities as artistic director of NMC over the past four decades Bob is mostly thought of as a contemporary music specialist here in Toronto, but throughout the rest of the world he is renowned as a performer of music from all eras. Recent activities have included a tour to Hong Kong with harpist Erica Goodman, 10 days of conducting in Slovenia and three weeks of solo and orchestral performances in the Philippines and mainland China. 01_stamitz_aitkenOne project that he is particularly proud of is a recording of four flute concertos by Johann Stamitz (1717-1757) which has been released by Naxos(8.570150) just in time for Christmas. The disc was recorded in Vilnius, Lithuania following concert performances with the St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra conducted by Donatas Katkus. We will have an impartial review in our next issue, but I did not want you to have to wait until February to hear about this new disc which I think sounds great. Concert notes: Robert Aitken conducts the NMC ensemble in “Happy Birthday, Udo!” on December 13 at Betty Oliphant Theatre and on January 10 he will receive the prestigious Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts at Glenn Gould Studio during NMC’s presentation “Zygmunt Krauze and the Polish Perspective”.


When I dropped by the WholeNote office recently to pick up last minute arrivals there was a bumper crop of discs waiting for me. Here’s a brief mention of those which I found particularly worthy of note.

02_beethoven_gryphonBeethoven Piano Trios Op.1 No.2 and Op.97 “Archduke”– The Gryphon Trio (Analekta AN 2 9858): With the St. Lawrence Quartet having taken up residence in California, the Gryphon Trio can rightfully be called Canada’s pre-eminent chamber group. These two Beethoven trios are personal favourites and receive exhilarating performances here. Although this “Archduke” may not replace as my benchmark the Gilels/Kogan/Rostropovich recording I grew up with, the Gryphons do themselves proud here.


03_el_sistemaEl Sistema – A film by Paul Smaczny & Marta Stootmeir (EuroArts 2056958): This year’s Glenn Gould Prize winner was José Antonio Abreu for his development of El Sistema, the incredibly successful program bringing children to classical music across Venezuela. There are currently 340,000 children, many from disadvantaged families, enrolled in more than a hundred youth orchestras across that country. For those of us not lucky enough to have been in the audience at the Four Seasons Centre last month to hear the jewel in the crown of the program, the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra under Gustavo Dudamel and experience the exuberance (and excellence) of these young performers first hand, this DVD documents Abreu’s miraculous achievement.


04_togni_elmer_iselerLamentatio Jeremiae Prophetae – Jeff Reilly; Elmer Iseler Singers; Lydia Adams (ECM New Series 2129): Peter-Anthony Togni’s stunning Jeremiad is a concerto for bass clarinet and mixed choir and it’s great to see it getting international exposure on Manfred Eicher’s adventurous label. This very original work capitalizes on Jeff Reilly’s ability to improvise and uses the bass clarinet as the voice of the beleaguered prophet. The choir is in fine form, with soprano soloist Rebecca Whelan deserving special mention. Recorded in the Cathedral Church of All Saints, Halifax the broad acoustic is well suited to this haunting music. [It is to my ear at moments somewhat reminiscent, but not at all derivative, of Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light” created as a soundtrack for the silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc, and Philip Glass’ music for the film Koyannasqatsi. I wonder if there is a film to be found in this music too?]


05_torture_memosThe Torture Memos – The Parkdale Revolutionary Orchestra ( Composer Ben Mueller-Heaslip uses texts drawn from the writings of John Yoo and his colleagues at the Office of Legal Counsel for the George W. Bush administration for this unusual song cycle. The stark orchestration includes saxophone, violin, cello, bass and drum kit to accompany the declamatory vocals of soprano Kristin Mueller-Heaslip. The result is very effective but hard to define or categorize. The composer sites Schubert, Philip Glass and David Byrne among his influences and the music is as eclectic as might be expected from such diverse roots. Concert note: The Parkdale Revolutionary Orchestra launches “The Torture Memos” at The Tranzac Club on December 11.


06_torQTorQ Percussion Quartet ( This eponymous CD features improvisations, arrangements and compositions by group members Daniel Morphy, Jamie Drake and Richard Burrows, plus works by Toronto composers Michael Smith, Elisha Denburg and Mark Duggan. There’s lots of lively music here, but moments of contemplation too as in the bell-like sonorities of Duggan’s moving John’s Gone. TorQ was awarded a MARTY for “Best Emerging Performing Arts Group – 2009” by the Mississauga Arts Council and this debut release demonstrates why.


07_catherine_meunierNight Chill – Catherine Meunier (Centrediscs CMCCD 15109): While you might be forgiven for thinking that an hour of banging on the wooden keys of a marimba might be a bit much all at once, there is plenty of contrast here thanks to sound files from Christian Ledroit and Alcides Lanza, Paul Frehner’s second marimba doubling on vibraphone and Nicolas Gilbert’s use of French horn for colour in one of two pieces included here. Like Gilbert, Andrew P. MacDonald contributes two works - The Riff, a lively extended piece for solo marimba and The Illuminations of Gutenberg, a playful marimba duet. Montreal percussionist Catherine Meunier shines throughout.


08_imagesImages, New Music for Guitar and Strings – Rob MacDonald; Madawaska String Quartet ( I took a break from writing this column to attend the CD launch of this disc at Gallery 345. This was my first opportunity to hear young guitarist Rob MacDonald and I must say I was very impressed. Very clean articulation, exceptional technique, a strong sense of line and the solo pieces were performed from memory. Like the concert, the CD begins with a very effective set of pieces by Andrew Staniland for solo guitar and concludes with Images, an extended work for guitar and string quartet by American composer Christopher William Pierce. Like Staniland, Pierce did his doctoral studies at the U of T and both are laureates of the Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music. Another award winning local composer, Jules Léger Prize laureate Omar Daniel, contributes the dark Nocturne for viola, guitar and cello. Double bassist Peter Pavlovsky joins MacDonald and the members of the Madawaska Quartet for Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe’s lyrical Love Song. Although not mentioned on the disc, a web search indicates that all four pieces are world premiere recordings - well worth seeking out.


09_beauvaisInvisible Cities - music composed and performed by William Beauvais (Centrediscs CMCCD 14809): I have mixed feelings about this disc. Not that it isn’t well performed or well recorded, but simply that it is surprising to hear music with a rhythm section and a “back-beat” – even one so ably provided by George Koller and Alan Hetherington – on the Canadian Music Centre label. These examples – Well Tempered Choros and In Joplin’s Pocket - are just the bookends however and in between there are a number of more “serious” compositions including the Italo Calvino inspired title track for solo guitar. This is a piece I hope to hear live one day because I would love to see how the multiple layers of sound are achieved without overdubbing. Also particularly effective is Infinity’s Window on which Beauvais is joined by percussionist Barry Prophet whose bowed cymbals and other extended techniques add an eerie, electronic ambience, and the quartet Juxtapositions with guitarists Raffi Altounian, Michael Kolk and Rob MacDonald.


10_rick_washbrookMoonlit Solace – Rick Washbrook ( The latest disc from local guitarist Rick Washbrook is an eclectic offering. This solo effort showcasing his bluesy finger-style steel and nylon string picking, with and without gravely voice, features a number of original compositions along with eccentric vocal takes on My Funny Valentine and Fulsom Prison Blues and extended instrumental interpretations of Moon River and Summertime. Of particular note among the originals is the moving You’re Not Alone and the introspective instrumental title track.


11_wendy_warnerWendy Warner Plays Popper and Piatigorsky – Wendy Warner; Eileen Buck (Cedille CDR 90000 111): As a student of the cello I became more than familiar with David Popper’s “High School of Cello Playing”, a set of 40 etudes designed to develop all the fundamental techniques required for mastering the music of the late 19th century. It surprises me now, some thirty years after struggling through those exercises, that I did not realize that Popper was also the composer of some lovely music. American Wendy Warner, a protégé of Rostropovich who went on to win first prize at the 1990 International Rostropovich Competition in Paris, presents us with three sets of pieces by Popper including a fully developed Suite for Cello and Piano lasting nearly half an hour. 20th century virtuoso cellist Gregor Piatigorsky was also an important teacher among whose students was notable Canadian Denis Brott. Piatigorsky is represented here by an intriguing set of variations on that familiar theme of Paganini. Each of the fourteen variations is inspired by another great string player – Pablo Casals, Joseph Szigeti, Yehudi Menuhin, Fritz Kreisler and Piatigorsky himself among others – culminating with a Tempo di Marcia dedicated to Vladimir Horowitz. These virtuosic portraits are performed with fiery panache by Warner and her able accompanist Eileen Buck. Fasten your seat belt for a hair-raising ride!


12_jcbach_jarousskyJC Bach, La dolce fiamma – Philippe Jaroussky; Le Cercle de l’Harmonie; Jérémie Rhorer (Virgin Classics 5099969456404): Elsewhere in this issue you will find a review of Cecilia Bartoli’s latest release “Sacrificium”, a collection of arias written for castrated male sopranos in the 17th and 18th centuries. This follows on last month’s release of a similar collection of castrati arias by Porpora sung by Karina Gauvin, also reviewed in these pages. Lest we think that this repertoire is now only the domain of female singers, French sopranist/countertenor Philippe Jaroussky has thrown his hat into the ring with a collection of “forgotten castrato arias” by Johann Christian, youngest son of Johann Sebastian and Anna Magdalena Bach. I must say I am a bit surprised to learn that the barbaric practice persisted so long into the 18th century, with the latest work included here a concert aria dating from 1779. Be that as it may, this is wonderfully lyrical and dramatic music superbly sung by the young Jaroussky. The period orchestra is fine form under Rhorer’s direction and the sound is immaculate.


We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: The WholeNote, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4.

David Olds

DISCoveries Editor



01_krenekI wonder if it is in the very nature of string orchestra music to be lush. A case in point is the otherwise austere music of Austrian 12-tone composer Ernst Krenek (1900-1991). Ernst Kovacic and the Leopoldinum Orchestra of Wroclaw, Poland have just released Symphonic Elegy – Works for String Orchestra (Capriccio 5033), a collection of Krenek’s compositions from the middle years of his long career. Rather than the angular, atonal fare we might expect from a proponent of serial techniques of composition, to my ear the six works included here are all quite warm and lyrical. The earliest work is also the latest, in the form of a 1960s arrangement of the Adagio and Fugue movements of the sixth string quartet dating from 1936. The quartet was written at a time when Krenek was in close contact with Anton Webern, who he considered to be “one of the most important composers of all times: Music of a crystal clear perfection.” While strongly influenced by Webern, that master’s miniature approach is not in evidence here – with movements lasting about 8 minutes each. Krenek left Austria in 1938 and settled in the USA. It was there that he heard of Webern’s death in 1945 (fatally shot by an American soldier in the final days of the war in a tragic case of mistaken identity) and composed the Symphonic Elegy in his memory. The work is marked Allegro and is more of a celebration than a mournful cry. The disc includes two collections of short movements – Seven Easy/Light Pieces and Five Short Pieces for Strings – which are more akin to Webern’s architecture, if not his pointillist aesthetic. The final work is the Sinfonietta a Brasileira written on a visit to Rio de Janeiro in 1952. I found myself expecting to hear something reminiscent of the flamboyant music of Villa-Lobos, but other than a few moments of rhythmic motor activity which the liner notes tell us actually refer back to an earlier period of Krenek’s development rather than folk influences, there is nothing particularly suggestive of South America in this work. These fine performances present a very thorough picture of one aspect of this prolific and rarely heard composer, but although all of the pieces are worthy of note, at nearly 80 minutes I found a bit too much sameness in the CD when taken all at once.

02_alain_lefevreAlain Lefèvre continues to champion the music of André Mathieu with his latest release Concertino & Concertos (Analekta AN 2 9283) which also features music of Shostakovich and Mendelssohn. Mathieu’s concert career began at the age of six and at twelve he premiered his Concertino No. 2 (his Op.13!) with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. That work went on to win the New York Philharmonic Competition which led to Mathieu’s 1942 performance of the Concertino at Carnegie Hall. His star continued to rise throughout the 1940s but then waned. He had a tragically short and troubled life (1929-1968) and at the time of his death his creative triumphs were already long behind him. It is the abovementioned Concertino which opens this disc. The stunning virtuosic three movement work shows a maturity that belies the age of its creator. Lefèvre is accompanied by the London Mozart Players led by Matthias Bamert. The recording also includes brilliant performances of Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto (with Paul Archibald, trumpet) - I had forgotten how the early Shostakovich concerto presages the final work in his orchestral oeuvre, Symphony No. 15 and its extensive use of quotation – and Mendelssohn’s rarely heard Double Concerto with the pianist’s brother David Lefèvre on violin. All in all an exhilarating addition to the catalogue.

03_brahms_symkjphoniesEMI has just released Brahms – The Symphonies, a 3CD set with Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker (2 67254 2). Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, or as it is affectionately known, “Beethoven’s 10th”, is one of the pillars of the symphonic repertoire for me and I must confess that repeated listening to it is as far as I have got with this new cycle. While it will likely not replace my “desert island” pick of Carlo Maria Giulini conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic on an old DG digitally recorded LP – I do hope there will be a turntable on that fabled isle - I find Sir Simon’s majestic performance well balanced and well paced. The sound of the orchestra is glorious, captured in its natural habitat of the Philharmonie last October and November. My resolution? One of these days to start at disc two of this set so that I may get past the fabulous first and explore the other three symphonies on offer here.

04_frienly_richOrchestration is a fine art and a piano piece which has tempted the hand of a number of masterful orchestrators since its creation in 1874 is Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Wikipedia lists some 30 arrangements for orchestra and more than 80 for other forces thus far, and Ontario composer Richard Marsella – AKA Friendly Rich – has just thrown his hat into the ring (Pumpkin Pie Corporation PPCD006). Although I have obviously not heard all of the others, I can’t help thinking that this Looney Tunes-like arrangement for the forces of the Lollipop People (percussion; trombone & euphonium; synthesizer; kazoo; toy piano, piano & harpsichord; bassoon & penny whistle; clarinets; accordion; harp; electric guitar; drums and electric bass) must be among the most unusual. Particularly effective for me is the extensive use of bassoon (Jeffrey Burke), especially in combination with harpsichord (Gregory Oh) and accordion (Kimberley Pritchard). Friendly Rich certainly has an ear for remarkable tone colours and the instrumentation changes substantially from movement to movement. Perhaps the wackiest is the Cum mortuis in lingua mortu with vocalizations by guests Paul Dutton and Christine Duncan. I must confess however that I find the coarse surprise ending of the otherwise effective finale, The Great Gate of Kiev, disconcerting and a little disappointing. Concert Note: You can experience the full force of Friendly Rich’s bizarre interpretation of Pictures at an Exhibition for yourself at the CD launch at the Tranzac Club on Saturday November 7th.

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, , where you can find added features including weekly CD giveaways, direct links to performers, composers and record labels, “buy buttons” for on-line shopping and additional and archival reviews.

David Olds

DISCoveries Editor

01_dedicated_to_haydn2009 is the bicentenary of the death of Joseph Haydn and to mark the occasion the Haydn Festival Eisenstadt (seat of Haydn’s patrons the Esterhazy family) commissioned piano trios by 18 composers for the festival’s resident ensemble, the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt. While D2H -Dedicated To Haydn (Capriccio 7020) is described as a “global composition project”, it is in fact quite Euro - and more particularly - Austro-centric, with 6 composers from Austria, 6 more from Europe (U.K., Spain, Belgium, Germany, Hungary and France) and 6 from the rest of the world (China, Japan, U.S.A., South Africa, Argentina and Australia). Canada is included in a peripheral way – South African composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen, who spent a number of years in Toronto as director of Musica Noir, contributed Two Nguni Dances to the collection. As well as geographical spread, there is also a broad spectrum of ages represented here with birth years ranging from 1926 (Betsy Jolas) to 1976 (Gernot Schedlberger). With almost three hours of diverse offerings, this multi-disc set kept me busy for most of the month. The range of styles is vast, from quite conservative works by John Woolrich and Xiaogang Ye to the thoroughly modern from José Maria Sánchez-Verdù, Màrton Illès and Elisabeth Harnik, with plenty of adventures in between. Although there is a dearth of biographical information, each of the pieces does have a note by the composer explaining the (sometimes quite tenuous) link to Haydn. But I also enjoyed listening “blind” as it were, trying to guess how the music related to the master, or which part of the world the composer was from, sometimes with quite erroneous results. For instance I knew there was a piece by an Australian composer, so when I heard something that to my ear was reminiscent of the Aboriginal-inspired music of Peter Sculthorpe I had an “ah ha” moment. It turned into a “ha ha” though when I checked to find I was actually listening to KAGETSU – Etude on the name of Haydn by Yui Kakinuma (Japan). Mind you when I did get to Australian Elena Kats-Chenin’s Calliope Dreaming its repetitive dance-like motifs again sent my thoughts “down under” notwithstanding the fact that all the themes were evidently drawn from Haydn’s “Mourning Symphony” and the composer spent the first half of her life in Uzbekistan. The music that is most obviously reminiscent of Haydn came from two composers known for their humour, American William Bolcom and German Dieter Schnebel. Bolcom’s HAYDN GO SEEK pays homage to some of Haydn’s famous rondos and in the words of the composer intends to “play a constant game of surprise throughout, in as Haydnesque a fashion as I could muster from two centuries remove.” Schnebel is known for his theatrics and in a reverse take on the “Surprise Symphony” the first sounds we hear are the footsteps of the musicians and a few offstage notes as they approach the performance area. What follows is a de-construction of the finale from Haydn’s string quartet “The Joke” (Op.33, No.2) replete with spiccato bowing in the violin, pizzicato from the cello, pointillist piano chording and intermittent hissing and shushing from all concerned. Other tracks of note include Lalo Schifrin’s lush and lilting (and somewhat deceptively titled) Elegy and Meditation and Ah Haydn by Betsy Jolas. This last was of particular interest to me as I had been impressed by several of this French composer’s works in my formative years, but had not encountered any of her music in more than three decades. I was pleased to note that she is still active and that her music has not lost its edge. The Haydn Trio Eisenstadt was founded in 1992 and the current membership has been in place for just over a decade. As well as their residency at the Haydn Festival they have a very busy and successful recording career, with complete recordings of Haydn’s folksong arrangements (18 CDs on the Brilliant label) and the complete piano trios of Haydn, Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven. “Dedicated To Haydn” is their second foray into the realm of the contemporary and quite an extensive one at that. Kudos to all concerned.

02_haydn_quartetsThe Capriccio label mentioned above is distributed by Naxos and it is to the Naxos catalogue that I tend to turn when I find a glaring hole in my collection. For instance although I have several dozen Haydn string quartets, when I wanted to listen to “The Joke” as referenced by Dieter Schnebel I found I did not have a recording. As I suspected it was easy to track it down. Haydn’s “Russian” String Quartets Op.33 are available in fine performances by the Kodàly Quartet on two CDs (Naxos 8.550788 & 8.550789) and once again I was able to fill in a gap in my collection without breaking the bank. It is not just the affordable prices and good to very good performances that make the Naxos line attractive to me, but even more important is the fact that their ever-expanding and ever-more adventurous catalogue is already complete when it comes to the standard repertoire and that everything stays in the catalogue and remains readily available. It is no wonder that Naxos has become the most successful purveyor of classical music of our time.

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