01 Montreal Guitar TrioDANZAS
MG3, the Montréal Guitare Trio
Analekta AN 2 8791 

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Strings Attached (March 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

If you’re a regular listener to Tom Allen’s Shift program on CBC Radio then you’ve probably already heard two of the tracks from DANZAS, the new CD of Spanish guitar music from MG3, the Montréal Guitare Trio of Glenn Lévesque, Sébastien Dufour and Marc Morin (Analekta AN 2 8791).

By pure coincidence the CD arrived in the mail the same afternoon that Allen played a movement from Agustín Barrios Mangoré’s La Catedral, so I knew how good the CD was going to be before even opening it. And “good” is putting it mildly. From the dazzling flamenco runs and rhythms of the opening track of Al Di Meola’s Mediterranean Sundance and Paco De Lucía’s Rio Ancho, the MG3 return to the Spanish roots of their student days with a program of terrific arrangements of mostly standard works.

In addition to the Mangoré Catedral there are six tracks of dances and songs by Manuel De Falla, De Lucia’s Canción de amor and finally Charlie Haden’s Our Spanish Love Song. All arrangements are by the guitarists, either together or as individual efforts by Dufour or Lévesque. The outstanding playing is beautifully captured in a resonant recording made last October in the St-Benoît-de-Mirabel Church in Québec.

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02 Canadian Guitar QuartetMappa Mundi
Canadian Guitar Quartet
ATMA Classique ACD2 2750

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Strings Attached (March 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

There’s more terrific guitar playing on Mappa Mundi, the new CD with a mixture of old and new works from the Canadian Guitar Quartet of Julien Bisaillon, Renaud Côté-Giguère, Bruno Roussel and Louis Trépanier (ATMA Classique ACD2 2750).

Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor for Two Cellos RV531 works extremely well in Roussel’s arrangement, with all four guitarists sharing the two solo lines at some point in the three movements.

The other four works on the CD are all comparatively recent compositions. Fille de cuivre (Copper Girl) by quartet member Côté-Giguère explores the conflicting emotions when outward persona is not matched by inner self; it was inspired by the metal-welding works of Québecois sculptor Jean-Louis Émond, whose sculptures include a woman with a perfectly polished front but an open back revealing the rough inner welds.

Concierto Tradicionuevo by Patrick Roux (b.1962) is a terrific homage to the Argentinian tango, with particular nods to the 1930s singer Carlos Gardel and – in a particularly dazzling movement – Astor Piazzolla.

Octopus, by the German composer Hans Brüderl (b.1959) was originally a work for eight guitars (hence the title pun: Oct-Opus) written for the Canadian Guitar Quartet and the Salzburg Guitar Quartet; the former enjoyed it so much that Brüderl adapted it for four guitars. It’s a delightful piece with a real “Wow!” factor.

The CD’s title work Mappa Mundi was written by the Canadian composer Christine Donkin (b.1976) and is a portrayal of four of the images on the 14th-century world map held at Hereford Cathedral in England. Cellist Rachel Mercer joins the quartet in the Tower of Babel movement, the cello representing the voice of God!

These are all substantial, captivating works, beautifully played and recorded.

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03 Chopin ChoChopin – Piano Concerto No.1; Ballades; London Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda
Seong-Jin Cho
Deutsche Grammophon 4795941

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (March 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

Seong-Jin Cho won the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015, the first Korean to do so. His latest recording Chopin – Piano Concerto No.1; Ballades; London Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda (Deutsche Grammophon 4795941) shows how his focus on the singing qualities of Chopin’s ideas won him that coveted prize. Cho’s treatment of the principal melodic ideas in the opening movement is fluid and lyrical. Even his ornaments come across more as small eddies in a current than clusters of notes on a page. The second movement Romance is exquisite. Cho manages to retain a fragility about his playing, even through the slightly more assertive middle section. His technical display in the final movement is flawlessly clear.

The Ballades too, reveal Cho’s fascination with the singing qualities of Chopin’s ideas. Much of the Ballade No. 1 in G Minor Op.23 is remarkably understated, making for a starker contrast with the outburst of the middle section as well as the closing measures. The Ballade No.2 follows in a similar vein. The effectiveness of Cho’s playing lies as much in his virtuosity as in his ability to fall into Chopin’s moments of repose with a delicacy that transcends the pianissimo markings. He’s a tall young man whose interviews reveal a shyness, a non-star-like simplicity that seems to suit him perfectly for this music.

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02 Opus 8Melancholy & Mirth
Opus 8
Independent OPUS001 (opus8choir.com)

Review

Opus 8 is a new Toronto ensemble. This is their first disc. The ensemble consists of eight singers and it is directed by Robert Busiakiewicz, who also sings tenor. Busiakiewicz is the director of the choir of St. James Cathedral in Toronto and a number of the singers in Opus 8 are members of the cathedral choir.

Great care has been taken on this disc to provide songs from different periods. The oldest is Josquin des Prez’s great elegy on the death of Johannes Ockeghem; the most recent is a folk-song arrangement by Keith Roberts, who was born in 1971 (when I myself was in my early 30s). In between we have Renaissance madrigals (Thomas Weelkes and John Ward), part-songs by Delius and Parry and 20th-century works by Ravel and Schoenberg, Stockhausen and Maconchy. There is also variation in the number of singers employed: the three Ravel songs take the form of a duet between mezzo and tenor; the Stockhausen sets a soprano soloist against the choir.

Different listeners will like different things. I myself could do without the Martinů with which the disc opens. On the other hand, I was very moved by How are the mighty fallen by Robert Ramsey, an early 17th-century work, perhaps an elegy written on the death of Prince Henry, the British Crown Prince. I was also much taken by Elizabeth Maconchy’s piece on the burial of a dead cat, sad and skittish at the same time.

The performances are very fine in terms of rhythmic precision and purity of intonation. I look forward to the group’s next concert and their next CD.

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03 Julie BoulianneAlma Oppressa – Vivaldi; Handel – Arias
Julie Boulianne; Clavecin en Concert; Luc Beauséjour
Analekta AN 2 8780

Review

There are on this recital disc six arias by Handel and three by Vivaldi; there are also several instrumental interludes by both. Care has been taken to pair the very well-known Lascia ch’io pianga from Handel’s Rinaldo as well as the relatively well-known arias from his Giulio Cesare and Ariodante with the less familiar arias from Imeneo and from Arianna in Creta. Of the Vivaldi arias I was especially moved by the extract from Andromeda liberata. This serenata was apparently composed by a number of composers but Luc Beauséjour assures us that Vivaldi “almost certainly” wrote this particular aria. What I think this means is that there is no real evidence who wrote it but that it is so fine that it has to be Vivaldi. I don’t think that argument would stand up in a court of law but the aria is indeed so good that it would be hard to contradict it.

Julie Boulianne, the mezzo-soprano soloist, is moving in the slow arias and very impressive in the technically demanding fast items. Clavecin en Concert is a crack ensemble of 13 players. There is especially fine work from the cellist Amanda Keesmaat and the lutenist Sylvain Bergeron.

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01 Ensemble la CigaleUp in the Morning Early – Baroque Music from Celtic Countries
Ensemble La Cigale
Leaf Music LM 211 (leaf-music.ca)

Review

Quebec-based early music ensemble La Cigale has a hit on its hands with this collection of Baroque instrumental music from Celtic countries. The tight ensemble playing, sensitivity to style and musical moods, and clear production values, showcase a range of performances from the witty to the danceable to thoughtful to florid.

The large number of works featured is mind-boggling and educational for any Celtic music fan. The opening track is the ensemble’s arrangement of the Scottish song John Come Kiss Me Now. Complete with the lilt and bounce of the faster sections, and lyrical recorder in the slower sections, it is a successful combination of classical with Celtic folk traditions, and foreshadows the flavourful music to follow. Scottish music is the big feature, with works by James Oswald, William McGibbon and General John Reid. Five short Scottish lute works from the Rowallan and Straloch Lute Books circa early 1600s are given a breathless rendition by artistic director Madeleine Owen, especially in the waltzing songbird tune The Canaries. Irish composer Turlough O’Carolan’s Carolan’s Concerto is a curious mix of Irish folk and serious Italian art music.

The touching closing track is the group’s very loyal, respectful arrangement of the Canadian fiddler Oliver Schroer’s (1956-2008) modern day lyrical Celtic work A Thousand Thank-yous.

And more than a thousand thank yous to director Madeline Owen (lute, theorbo, Baroque guitar), Sara Lackie (harp), Vincent Lauzer (recorders), Marie-Laurence Primeau (viola da gamba) and Sari Tsuji (violin) for this joyous music!

 

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05 Pictures at an ExhibitionMussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition
Wiener Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel
Deutsche Grammophon 479 6297

Review

Of all the composers in the Russian nationalist school “The Mighty Handful,” Mussorgsky is arguably the greatest. True, Rimsky-Korsakov’s highly colourful style left its mark on Glazunov and Stravinsky, but it was Mussorgsky’s works that were ground-breaking. And though Rimski-Korsakov disparaged Mussorgsky’s work as having “absurd, disconnected harmony, ugly part-writing, sometimes strikingly illogical modulation…” these characteristics were grist to the mill for Mussorgsky’s power, earthiness and sheer musical invention that inform, for instance, the mighty work: Pictures at an Exhibition (1874). This tribute to the architect and painter Victor Hartmann was written as a suite of piano pieces and, like other versions, not performed until after Mussorgsky’s death.

This Wiener Philharmoniker version conducted by Gustavo Dudamel comes from Maurice Ravel’s 1922 orchestration. Unlike every previous recording of Pictures at an Exhibition – including Berliner Philharmoniker and Claudio Abbado’s – in this interpretation (of Ravel’s Mussorgsky) Dudamel restores Mussorgsky’s Pictures to its architectural grandeur. The ten pictures – each one an atmospheric miniature – are connected by a recurring theme (the Promenade) and suggest Liszt’s influence, but with a greater psychological insight. The sinister melancholy of Gnomus, playfulness of Tuileries and grand triumphalism of The Great Gate of Kiev are dazzling. The intense beauty of the performance is completed by Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain and the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Now all we need is a documentary of the 900 Superar children aged 5 to 16, from Vienna’s tenth district that contributed to this project.

Editor’s Note: Superar is a high quality musical program for young people. The program is free for participants and offers courses in choirs and orchestras. Superar is an offer to young people who for various reasons have little or no access to cultural education. Superar was founded in 2009 by Vienna’s renowned institutions the Wiener Sängerknaben, the Caritas of the Archdiocese of Vienna and the Wiener Konzerthaus.

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03 Weinberg KremerMieczyslav Weinberg – Chamber Symphonies; Piano Quintet
Kremerata Baltica; Gidon Kremer
ECM New Series 2538/39

Review

In his late 60s, Mieczyslav Weinberg began reaching back over 40 years, transforming three unpublished string quartets into three Chamber Symphonies for string orchestra, making numerous changes and composing new movements for each. Many Hindemith-like neo-Baroque melodies and sequences indicate Weinberg’s early stylistic orientation.

 Chamber Symphony No.1 (1986) is sunny, graceful and dance-like, its Presto finale resembling an episode from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. No.2 (1987) is darker and more dramatic, the newly composed middle movement a wry Mahlerian ländler. No.3 (1990), based on a quartet from 1945, is darker still, its first and third movements sombre reflections of their wartime origins. The vigorous second movement suggests the influence of Shostakovich, Weinberg’s friend and mentor whose stylistic fingerprints cover many pages of Weinberg’s scores, including the newly composed, eerily haunting Andantino that ends No.3.

 As much as I enjoyed No.3, I was unprepared for the emotional impact of Chamber Symphony No.4 (1992), Weinberg’s last completed work, containing quotations from several of his mature compositions. Here, Weinberg truly sounds like no one else but himself. In this profoundly affecting music, I hear a lifetime of experiences – long-ago loves, losses, pleasures and griefs, the klezmer clarinet an aching echo from Weinberg’s childhood in Poland, before he fled the Nazis to live in Russia. I consider it a masterpiece.

 Weinberg’s youthfully robust Piano Quintet (1944), arranged by Weinberg enthusiast Gidon Kremer and percussionist Andrei Pushkarev, completes this very significant and satisfying 2-CD set.

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08 Dave YoungDave Young Quintet featuring Renee Rosnes
Modica Music (modicamusic.com)

Review

Toronto bassist Dave Young has had a distinguished career, including duet recordings with pianists Oscar Peterson, Kenny Barron and Cedar Walton. In recent years, he’s led a fine quintet reworking classic modernist repertoire, including compositions by Charles Mingus and Horace Silver. On One Way Up, the group includes regulars Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Perry White on tenor saxophone and Terry Clarke on drums, with a special guest, the Vancouver-raised, New York-based pianist Renee Rosnes.

This time the group explores hard bop and post-bop compositions by icons like Walton, Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard as well as three of Young’s own pieces. This is the most muscular of jazz idioms (think Blue Note records of the late 50s to mid-60s), and the band brings real heft to every tune, some characterized by anthemic themes and punchy vamps and ostinatos. As the program moves along it makes perfect sense for Turcotte to be spinning long, bright lines on Hubbard’s Intrepid Fox or White finding the perfect degree of reflection for Henderson’s Inner Urge: it’s not imitation, but the original inspiration is clear in both cases, and there’s no more apt Canadian choice for any chair in the band. (It’s also true when regular pianist Gary Williamson is present.)

The requisite combination of vibrant subtlety and polished force begins in the foundations with Young and Clarke, who often come to the fore, and continues with Rosnes’ sparkling comping and soloing, particularly brilliant on Henderson’s Serenity. Walton’s Holy Land is a hymn-like piece thoughtfully arranged to include Young’s somber arco bass and Turcotte’s elegiac trumpet.

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01 Marito MarquesNa Eira
Marito Marques
Independent (maritomarques.com)

Review

We are oh so very lucky to have the Portuguese-born percussionist/composer/producer/arranger Marito Marques residing in Toronto now. If you can’t catch him live, his multifaceted talents are showcased on this, his third CD release. His musical sensitivity shines throughout this jazz/pop/PALOP roots music project which features a plethora of 15 international and local world-class performers playing at their very best.

Marques’ most striking talent is his ability to adjust his performance depending on the context. In Dia Chuvoso, his funky rhythms and continuous driving spirit timekeeping are in the forefront yet never overpower the sing-along vocals and instrumentals from the band members. In contrast, the slower ballad-like Rosa features the versatile soaring vocal lines of Senegalese Woz Kaly beside sensitive accordion lines by João Frade while Marques, acoustic guitarist Munir Hossn and bassist Rich Brown provide a subtle backdrop. The aptly titled Bird’s Shadow features flutist Jorge Pardo on rapid warbling lines, held notes and wind duets with accordion, with Marques’ busy drums, percussion and programming setting the mood. Ernie Tollar’s superb bansuri playing is featured in the title track while vocalist/lyricist Yvette Tollar sets the upbeat mood in the more pop/jazz standard-flavoured Scábias.

There is never a dull moment as Na Eira (“the threshing floor”), with artists too many to mention, weave together the traditional with the contemporary, the popular with the folk to create a truly unique listening experience.

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01 Bach Magnificat

Bach – Magnificat BWV243; Kuhnau – Cantate “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern”
Winkel; Zomer; Laing; Wilder; Brock; Arion Orchestre Baroque; Alexander Weimann
ATMA ACD2 2727 (atmaclassique.com)

Review

Bach composed the Magnificat for Christmas 1723. The work was originally in E-flat Major but revised to the lower tonality of D Major. Like most recordings this CD presents the revised version but with two differences. The first version included four interpolations. These have been included (transposed in accordance with the D-Major tonality) on the present recording. A more substantial difference with most performances lies in the handling of the choral sections. Most performances observe a marked difference between the solo and the choral sections but Weimann’s interpretation follows the views of Joshua Rifkin and Andrew Parrott that the choral sections should also be sung one to a part. The gain in clarity in movements like Fecit Potentiam and Sicut locutus is unmistakable. There is an odd error in the Table of Contents which states that Suscepit Israel is a duet between the two soprano voices. It is actually a trio with the alto taking the lowest part.

The performance is very successful and several moments stand out: the virtuoso trumpets in the opening and closing movements, the soprano solo (Johanna Winkel) and oboe d’amore obbligato (Matthew Jennejohn) in Quia respexit, the alto and tenor duet (James Laing and Zachary Wilder) in Et misericordia and the alto solo and the flutes’ obbligato (Claire Guimond and Alexa Raine-Wright) in Esurientes implevit bonis.

The CD also contains Johann Kuhnau’s Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, also for five voices and also performed one to a part. It is an imaginative coupling: Kuhnau is best known as Bach’s predecessor as cantor of Saint Thomas’ in Leipzig, but he is clearly an important composer, whose works are worth listening to for their own sake.

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02 Franco Fagioli

Rossini
Franco Fagioli; Armonia Atenea Choir and Period Orchestra; George Petrou
Deutsche Grammophon 479 5681

Review

The best ever? In the early 1960s I was fortunate to hear and meet Alfred Deller and Russell Oberlin, pioneers who created the standard for countertenors well before their voice type entered the musical mainstream. They were models for those who followed and eventually surpassed them, such as the splendid David Daniels.

But when I watched the DVD of Vinci’s Artaserse (Erato 46323234) I felt a new level of countertenor brilliance had been achieved. The DVD of Hasse’s Artaserse and the CD Arias for Caffarelli (Naive V5333) convinced me that Franco Fagioli’s phenomenal coloratura technique and uniquely dark timbre make him the greatest of all countertenors.

This, Fagioli’s first CD as an exclusive DG artist, focuses on Rossinian trouser roles, male characters written for and traditionally sung by mezzo-sopranos. Other than arias from Tancredi and Semiramide, four rarities are represented: Demetrio e Polibio, Matilde di Shabran, Adelaide di Borgogna and Eduardo e Cristina.

Though unfamiliar, the music is high quality, showcasing Fagioli through emotions from anguish to joy, fearfulness to triumph. I especially enjoyed the two scenes from Adelaide featuring martial choruses and Fagioli as the heroic Otto singing, of course, heroically. In the scene from Eduardo e Cristina, he spins a breathless, lyrical line before launching into the spectacular coloratura finale, also the CD’s thrilling conclusion. Special credit to George Petrou’s crackling period-instrument orchestra and chorus.

Texts and translations are included. A super disc by a super singer.

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11Thread of Winter

Thread of Winter
Leslie Fagan; Lorin Shalanko
Canadian Art Song Series (canadianartsong.ca)

Review

When reviewing (in early 2004) the first solo album by Leslie Fagan, I stated that “she is in a class of her own.” What a pleasure to conclude, some 12 years later, that she remains just as original. Her career has taken her to the world’s most important concert stages, providing Fagan with opportunities to present both traditional (Handel, Mahler) and contemporary (Poulenc, Kulesha) repertoire. She is also active as a voice teacher, in schools ranging from Wilfrid Laurier to Juilliard. It is that latter school’s reverence for the American Songbook that prompted Fagan to record this first album of the Canadian Art Song Series.

Much to no one’s surprise, Canadian composers such as Gary Kulesha, James Gordon, Walter MacNutt, Imant Raminsh, Jeff Smallman and others, have been steadily amassing a repertoire of songs, set to the words of both Canadian and international poets. It is perhaps our ongoing doubt about the nature of Canadian identity that prevents us from recognizing and celebrating this treasure trove in the way the American Songbook is usually feted. I have a feeling that Prof. Fagan will soon change that, at least among her students.

In this first of hopefully many recordings, Fagan is in great form: clear, lyrical, playful (in Six Nursery Rhymes by Peter Tiefenbach) and pensive. She is showcasing not only her beautiful soprano (so reminiscent of her erstwhile teacher, Ileana Cortubas), but also an interpretive range to be envied. Lorin Shalanko’s accompaniment is superb – fully supportive and intelligent, bringing to mind some of Gerald Moore’s best recordings.

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12 Winter Voces

Winter
Voces8
Decca 483 0968

Review

The cover art of Voces8’s Winter accurately represents this gorgeous, chill compilation of choral pieces written and arranged by composers from countries of Northern climes. There’s an ethereal quality to the recording that evokes the Aurora Borealis, such as in the first track, Arnalds and Arnarson’s For Now I Am Winter.

And while the season pervades the album’s themes, there’s a lot of variety. Es ist ein Ros entsprungen is like a slo-mo version of the Praetorius standard, and the Balulalow text, written by the three 16th-century brothers and poets, the Wedderburns, is nothing like Britten’s version: where the Ceremony of Carols setting swells like waves off the North Sea coast, this one glides along like cross-country skis. Of course, my hero Pärt’s Nunc Dimittis is divine, as is Rachmaninoff’s Vespers. There’s harp accompaniment with a touch of the medieval in the traditional The Snow It Melts the Soonest, and the countertenors in Rebecca Dale’s premiere, Winter, reminded me of those in the Talla Vocal Ensemble. Ola Gjeilo offers up a Holst-based In the Bleak Midwinter, and it’s not so Christmasy that you can’t enjoy it now.

Perhaps most interesting are the featured Vasks pieces: three Plainscapes movements and The Fruit of Silence, the text of which was penned by Mother Teresa. All four convey the Latvian composer’s concern for and focus on environmental issues. This is a simply lovely, contemplative mood-setting release, with pristine choral and instrumental blending.

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01 Goldberg Beyond Variations

Johann Gottlieb Goldberg – Beyond the Variations
Rebel; Jörg-Michael Schwartz
Bridge Records 9478 (bridgerecords.com)

Review

Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, namesake of Bach’s famous Variations, was a highly talented musician. His life (1727-1756) was tragically short, but this CD, with five of Goldberg’s sonatas, shows us just what we were deprived of. Jörg-Michael Schwarz, playing a 1668 Jacobus Stainer violin, sets the scene with some beautiful playing in the Adagio of the B-flat Major Sonata. In the Allegro he is joined by Karen Marie Marmer playing a 1660 Stainer in a highly spirited Allegro. A Ciacona, at times stately and at others very lively, ends the sonata.

Goldberg’s Sonata in G Minor is thoughtful and involves the basso continuo much more than in the preceding sonata. There is a richness to John Moran’s cello playing in the Adagio before the violinists interpret the Allegro with a real passion and zest. The final movement of this sonata is the somewhat conventional Tempo di Menuetto.

Enter the viola of Risa Browder. The Largo in the Sonata in C Minor is indeed dignified, as the viola adds an element of complexity to the sonata. This is sustained in the cheerful Allegro and Giga.

The Sonata in A Minor features an Alla Siciliana movement, a dreamy composition which brings out both the violin playing and Goldberg’s own skills as a composer. It is movements like this and the following Allegro assai which bring home what was lost to us when Goldberg died so young.

Finally, there is the Sonata in C Major with its majestic Adagio worthy of any great Baroque composer. The Gigue which concludes the sonata also concludes this CD – again, an inspired introduction to the music of someone who could have generated a lifetime of wonderful music.

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06 Roberto OcchipintiStabilimento
Roberto Occhipinti
Modica Music MM0017 (modicamusic.com)

Review

In Stabilimento Toronto bassist and composer Roberto Occhipinti has produced a highly ambitious and coherent musical statement. The album’s repertoire combines Occhipinti’s wide-ranging compositions with imaginative interpretations of pieces by Caetano Veloso, Stevie Wonder and Beethoven. A strong world music vibe, a hallmark of Occhipinti’s varied musical career, serves as a home base for the album’s nine tracks.

Saxophonist Tim Ries is prominently featured on the first five tunes. His remarkable virtuosity and inventiveness is cast alongside Luis Deniz’s equally compelling alto playing on Tuareg, the opening cut. Pianist Manuel Valera creates a wide-open landscape for the horns to blow on and proceeds to take full advantage of this territory, starting with small rhythmic cells that expand into fleet double-time lines. Drummer Dafnis Prieto brings an Afro-Cuban edge to the groove and closes the track with a brief but explosive solo.

Ries’ rich soprano sound brings a bittersweet quality to Stevie Wonder’s Another Star, treated here as a ballad rather than the Latin/funk of Wonder’s original recording. The ensemble adds horns, strings and percussion for the title track, Occhipinti’s Stabilimento. The writing is lush and inviting with inspired blowing from Ries and Deniz as well as a challenging and expertly executed soli section. Valera conjures Herbie Hancock on the vamp out. Tenor saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff is featured on Wayne Shorter’s Penelope. The large-ensemble arrangement, this time including pianist Hilario Duran and drummer Mark Kelso, lends itself beautifully to the poignant waltz and Nachoff improvises fluidly and effortlessly.

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11 Keith Jarrett

A Multitude of Angels
Keith Jarrett
ECM 2500-03

Review

The ECM label is continuing to release high quality previously unissued live performances from master musician Keith Jarrett’s catalogue. Recent archival concert releases include Sleeper, Bregenz and Hamburg 1972 – all issued over the last few years. The latest in this series is A Multitude of Angels, a four-CD set encompassing consecutive concerts from his 1996 European tour. This was the final time that Jarrett would perform the extended solo improvisations – up to 45 minutes in length without a break – for which he had become famous. Following a several-year performing hiatus, Jarrett returned to the concert stage with a new approach and format that would instead feature shorter solo vignettes. As he would never perform his extended solos again, A Multitude of Angels gives us a glimpse into this fruitful period of his last documented lengthy solo improvisations.

Also, as all of these concerts were recorded within one week, the listener gets a rare view of Jarrett’s creative process on a nightly basis as he performs concerts in Modena, Ferrara, Torino and Genova. Modena Part 1 begins with a beautiful, reflective ballad structure through shifting tonal centres. One gets the sense of the artist finding his way over a long, winding path, as he takes his time exploring a continuous thematic arc. Midway through, Jarrett segues into one of his trademark pedal point vamps as he improvises over a funky gospel left hand figure. The pianist then subtly shifts into a stunning contrapuntal section of intersecting right and left hand lines, until he eventually returns full circle to a pristine ballad.

Other highlights of the set include Ferrara Part 1, in which the pianist moves from a powerful chant-like section into musical territory that is infused with rhythmic influences from central Asia and Africa. The crown jewel of the set, though, is the Genova concert. The concluding tremolo-based section of Part 1 and the hymn-like opening of Part 2 may be some of the most sublime music he has ever created. All told, A Multitude of Angels is a major masterpiece: a testament to the transformative power of music.

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03 Shirley Eikhard

I Am the Hero
Shirley Eikhard
Independent (shirleyeikhard.ca)

Review

Singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Shirley Eikhard has been a popular and successful mainstay of the Canadian music circuit for decades. In this, her “20th record of new performances,” she multitasks and does practically everything, from singing the lead and backup vocals to her own songs, playing all the instruments, producing, and painting the CD cover art, with help in artwork/design from Catherine Osborne, and mixing and mastering from George Seara.

This is a very personal musical journey and gift to us, the listeners, as Eikhard touches on her country, jazz, folk and reggae influences and weaves elaborate stories in her lyrics. The tragic love story of My Diego unwinds like a bestseller murder mystery novel set to upbeat toe-tapping music. Likewise the title track, I Am the Hero is an illuminating look at self-exploration. In contrast, the instrumental Carmen’s Revenge proves Eikhard is equally stunning in both lead and improvisational instrumentals in this funky, jazz-tinged track, though a list of what instruments are being played would have been greatly appreciated. Closing track Comforts of the Country is hit material as it combines great lyrics, vocals, upbeat melodies and grooves.

Eikhard is a master of creating satisfying sing-along, ear-worm musical hooks that resonate long after the CD is back on the shelf. It may be too pop for one’s tastes with looping melodic sections and the typical three-minute, radio-friendly track length, but this is really, really fun music!

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01 Chopin DLX

The Complete Chopin - Deluxe Edition
Various Artists
Deutsche Grammophon 4796555

Review

 
The following is an excerpt from Old Wine in New Bottles - Fine Recordings Re-Released (February 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.
 
For The Complete Chopin – Deluxe Edition (DG 4796555, 20 CDs, one DVD, large 108 page book) DG has assembled an outstanding collection of well-chosen performances from its archives together with new recordings by many contemporary artists.

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth in 1810, DG issued Chopin, The Complete Edition on 17 CDs (DG 4778445) that certainly was complete as claimed and contained acclaimed performances of, well, everything. The contents of that edition are pretty well duplicated in this new one… with some changes and four extra discs of some interesting alternative performances. Changes to this set are: The Arrau/Inbal versions of the works for piano and orchestra are replaced by a new June 2016 recording by Canadian Jan Lisiecki conducted by Krzysztof Urbanski; The Rondo for two pianos in C Major Op. posth.73 passes from Kurt Bauer and Heidi Bung to Daniil Trifonov and Sergei Babayan; For the 19 Waltzes, Ashkenazy is replaced by Alice Sara Ott; The Grand Duo concertant on themes by Meyerbeer finds Anner Bylsma and Lambert Orkis replaced by Gabriel Schwabe and José Galiado.

CD 18 in the new set is a live recording from the XVII International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2015 of the winner, South Korean Seong-Jin Cho who was 21 years old at the time. His artistry came as a pleasant surprise for, unlike many technical wizards, he plays with understanding beyond his years without empty artifice. There are the 24 Preludes, the Nocturne in C Minor Op.48 No.1, the Second Piano Sonata and finally the Polonaise in A-flat Major Op.53. All adding up to an unexpected, insightful and thrilling 73 minutes.

CD 19 has 20 legendary Chopin pianists, the usual suspects and others – Halina Czerny-Stefanska, Adam Harasiewicz, Monique Haas, Julian von Karolyi, Géza Anda and Stefan Askenase – playing familiar shorter pieces from the repertoire. CD 20 has pianists from the younger generation: Lisiecki, Trifonov, Blechacz, Grosvenor, Grimaud, Uja Wang and others. Disc 21 is a DVD of Arthur Rubinstein playing the Second Piano Concerto with André Previn conducting the LSO in 1947 and the Second Scherzo from 1973. Both very worthwhile in very good video.

The new edition is an overtly opulent production in the form of a unique 11” wide x 8” tall “book” bound in burgundy vinyl moleskin, with gold embossed boards. Enclosed is an impressive, well-researched and illustrated 11” x 7 5/8” 108-page book. If you own the earlier set you may not consider this a reasonable purchase. If you don’t, the peerless new edition is certainly the one to have.

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04 Tchaikovsky Quartes 1 3

The Heath Quartet
Tchaikovsky String Quartets Nos.1 & 3

Review

The following is an exerpt from the November 2016 Strings Attached.

The British string ensemble the Heath Quartet has built an enviable reputation for itself since its foundation at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester in 2002, and garnered glowing reviews for its 2013/14 recording of the complete string quartets of Sir Michael Tippett that comprised its debut CD on the Wigmore Hall Live label last year.

Their new CD of Tchaikovsky String Quartets Nos.1 & 3 (HMU 907665) marks the start of a new relationship with the outstanding Harmonia Mundi label, and what a start it is!

The String Quartet No.1 in D Major Op.11 was written for a March 1871 concert intended to promote Tchaikovsky and his music, and includes the famous Andante cantabile slow movement which almost immediately achieved a life of its own. The Heath Quartet is in tremendous form from the outset, with full-bodied and passionate playing, a warm, rich tone, a lovely dynamic range and sensitive phrasing.

The players for the first performance, assembled from Tchaikovsky’s colleagues at the Moscow Conservatory, were mostly the same for the String Quartet No.2 in 1874. Ferdinand Laub, the Czech first violinist in both performances, died the following year at 43, and the String Quartet No.3 in E-flat Minor Op.30 was Tchaikovsky’s response to the loss. The third movement Andante funebre e doloroso was intended as an elegy to Laub, and not surprisingly made the biggest impression at the premiere. It really is played quite beautifully here.

The Heath Quartet’s next CD release will be the complete Bartók quartets in 2017, apparently recorded during its performance of the complete cycle at London’s Wigmore Hall this past May. That cycle won rave reviews in The Telegraph, and if this outstanding Tchaikovsky CD is anything to go by the Bartók issue should really be something to look forward to.

Concert note: The Heath Quartet will feature music of Bach, Beethoven, Bartók and Dvořák during its Canadian debut tour which includes performances at the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society on January 20 and Mooredale Concerts in Toronto on January 22.

 

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