04 Sina BathaieRay of Hope
Sina Bathaie
sinabathaie.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Editor's Corner (October 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

This month I’ve become aware of a local santur virtuoso, Sina Bathaie, who plays the Persian version of this intriguing instrument. Ray of Hope (sinabathaie.com) is a (mostly) instrumental album which blurs the borders between Middle Eastern and Western popular musics, combining the santur with guitar (Alexei Orechin or Nima Ahmadieh), bass guitar (Oriana Barbato or Semco Salehi), cello (Raphael Weinroth-Browne), percussion (Siavash Sadr Mahdavi) and guest appearances by drummer Adam Campbell and vocalist Alireza Mahdizadeh.

Bathaie’s note tells us that the music is inspired by the verses of poems that “celebrate our timeless elusive pursuit for peace, hope and the most important of all these, love.” The texts, in Farsi, Italian, Russian, Chinese, and Korean, are seen “tattooed” on Bathaie’s face in the CD’s cover image.

The disc begins with Rebirth, where a banjo-like bed track (shades of Appalachia) from santur, bass and percussion support a soaring melody from the cello. Ray of Hope opens ominously with the sound of jets, gunfire and sirens, overtaken by santur in both accompaniment and melody, gradually growing to include bass, drums and an electric guitar line that borders on feedback as it rises to a triumphant conclusion. Into the Sky brings back the cello in the lead role, in a quieter, but not subdued, flight. The disc progresses through Journey, Invocation (a solo for santur where we hear more clearly Bathaie’s ability to play melody and accompaniment at the same time), I Remember, Dance of Delight (with its long, languid opening that eventually gives way to the ecstatic feeling suggested by the title), the only vocal track on the album Lullaby of Spring and finally Light Like a Feather, with Orechin’s finger-style guitar setting the stage for a rousing finale.

I would like to say that Bathaie is one of Toronto’s best kept secrets, but I have a feeling it is just the sheltered life I lead that makes me think so. I learned from his website that he has been featured on CBC radio Metro Morning and at festivals such as Luminato, In/Future, Small World Music, Mundial Montreal, Open Mind, Quiet Strings, South Asia Calling and at the Aga Khan Museum. Shame on me.

Concert note: Ray of Hope will be launched at a concert in the Lyric Theatre of the Toronto Centre for the Arts on October 13.

01 Michael Kolk PerosNick Peros – Nocturnes: 24 Nocturnes for Solo Guitar
Michael Kolk
DeoSonic Music DSM54536 nickperos.com

Review

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

The outstanding Michael Kolk is the soloist in the world premiere recording of Nocturnes: 24 Nocturnes for Solo Guitar by the Canadian composer Nick Peros (DeoSonic Music DSM54536 nickperos.com). Peros has written numerous other solo works for classical guitar, including five Suites and a Sonata, and is clearly someone who knows and understands the instrument’s potential for tone and colour.

The short pieces here are predominantly quiet, slow and pensive – they are nocturnes, after all – 16 of them with subtitles like relaxed; atmospheric, mysterious; reflective; as a dream; with mystery and longing; peaceful, gentle. Only two are noted as with fire and passion. They appear to be centred on traditional major and minor keys, predominantly the open guitar strings of E, A and D, but it’s never that simple – there is actually a good deal of tonal ambiguity here, and an abundance of rich chromatic expression.

They are well-crafted, attractive and quite beguiling pieces, with the occasional faster numbers in particular much in the style of the standard 19th- and 20th-century guitar etudes. The final two Nocturnes in particular are really lovely.

One thing is certain: they couldn’t possibly have a better interpreter than Michael Kolk, whose playing, as always, is of the highest musical standard – technically faultless, with a clear, clean and resonant sound, and a complete absence of left-hand finger noise. The CD was produced by the composer, and it’s difficult to view these beautiful performances as anything other than definitive.

06 Roman MintsLeonid Desyatnikov – Sketches to Sunset; Russian Seasons
Roman Mints
quartz QTZ 2122 quartzmusic.com

Review

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

I don’t recall ever hearing any music by the Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov (b.1955) before, but I’ve clearly been missing out on some strikingly individual compositions. Two of his works – Sketches to Sunset and Russian Seasons – are featured on a new CD on which violinist Roman Mints is the primary artist (quartz QTZ 2122 quartzmusic.com).

Sketches to Sunset from 1992 is based on music written for the film Sunset, about the lives of Jews in pre-Revolution Odessa. Written for violin, piano and orchestra and consisting of nine short connected movements, it also features pianist Alexey Goribol and the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra under Philipp Chizhevsky. Mints is superb in this eclectic work that first introduced him to Desyatnikov’s music some 20 years ago.

Russian Seasons for Voice, Violin and Strings from 2000 has a quite different feel. There are 12 movements, three for each season: Spring, Summer and Winter each have two instrumental tracks and one vocal; Autumn has one instrumental and two vocal tracks. Yana Ivanilova is the soprano in vocal sections that are strongly reminiscent of Stravinsky of Pribaoutki and Les Noces, with the orchestra this time being the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra. It’s difficult music to describe, but in his excellent booklet notes Mints says that “while the instrumental movements feature moments of joy and merriment, utter hopelessness dominates the five vocal movements, in which the composer addresses listeners directly in words.” Shades of Shostakovich, indeed.

Both works were recorded under the supervision of the composer, with the Sketches to Sunset being a world premiere recording.

01 J P SylvestreAndré Mathieu: Concert de Québec, Sergei Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2
Jean-Philipe Sylvestre; Orchestre Métropolitain, Alain Trudel
ATMA ACD2 2763

Review

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

Jean-Philipe Sylvestre is the recipient of many prestigious Canadian and international piano performance awards. His new recording André Mathieu – Concert de Québec, Sergei Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2; Orchestre Métropolitain, Alain Trudel (ATMA ACD2 2763) is an important document for several reasons. It presents this extraordinary artist in an impressive light, revealing his technical power and profound musicality.

It also brings back to the Canadian recording marketplace the rare music of a young 13-year-old André Mathieu, trapped with his family in North America by the outbreak of the Second World War. The simple version of the story is that the young Canadian composer won the New York Philharmonic’s Composer Competition celebrating the orchestra’s centennial. His subsequent work fared less well, but his Piano Concerto No.3, written in 1942-43 and eventually renamed Concert de Québec so as to work better as a film score, is now winning renewed admiration. The score used for this recording is deemed fairly complete and authentic, based on the original score for two pianos. Still, a definitive final version is currently underway and is promised for a couple of years hence.

There’s no mistaking the affinity Mathieu’s music has with Rachmaninov’s. Mathieu’s mother long cherished and promoted the undocumented notion that Rachmaninov had seen young Mathieu’s scores in Paris and responded flatteringly to them. True or not, this music restores a creative work that brought musical life to an early French Canadian film. It’s big, gorgeous and so very Hollywood. Sylvestre and Trudel have produced a superb disc!

03 Nagano BachJ.S. Bach Inventions & Sinfonias BWV 772-801
Karin Kei Nagano
Analekta AN 2 8771

Review

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

Karin Kei Nagano is the daughter of the conductor Kent Nagano and concert pianist Mari Kodama. Her debut solo recording J.S. Bach Inventions & Sinfonias BWV 772-801 (Analekta AN 2 8771) presents a favourite and meaningful repertoire choice from her early piano studies.

The story is well known, of how Bach intended these two- and three-part exercises to teach his students the fundamentals of keyboard playing and composition. Equally important for him was that his pupils develop a true lyrical style to their playing. For Nagano, the connection to these early studies is their beautiful melodic potential. Whether Bach uses a short motif or a longer idea, Nagano is seized by the possibilities they offer. Consequently her playing goes far beyond meeting the technical requirements of counterpoint lessons and reaches for the beauty of what only a creative mind such as Bach’s could have placed there.

Nagano’s playing reveals a level of care and consideration that directs her inquiry into the pursuit of the art before the form, as if somehow the latter will look after itself. This characteristic is more evident in her treatment of the three-part Sinfonias, where the material is richer and offers a greater reward for the player’s attention to it.

Now embarking on her 20s, Nagano is off to Yale in pursuit of medical studies. Let’s hope this recording whets her appetite to do more before too long.

01 Bach CantatasPour L’éternité: Bach – Cantatas 4; 106; 9; 181
Bilodeau; Lachica; Gagné; Santini; Montréal Baroque; Eric Milnes
ATMA ACD2 2406 (atmaclassique.com)

Review

This CD contains recordings of four cantatas: two very early ones, composed when Bach was working in Mühlhausen (including the earliest one, the beautiful funeral cantata Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, and two later ones which date from Bach’s Leipzig period. Two things stand out: firstly, that following the theories and the practice of Joshua Rifkin and Andrew Parrott, the choral sections are sung by the soloists one to a part (which is probably historically correct and produces a real gain in clarity) and secondly, that the soloists are all young singers at the beginning of their careers; they were the winners of a competition held in 2014.

Tenor Philippe Gagné is the only one whom I have heard in concert. He is very good and so are the other three: Odéi Bilodeau, soprano, Elaine Lachica, alto, and Drew Santini, baritone. I found the baritone especially impressive.

In the 18th century it was expected that instrumentalists could play more than one instrument. Here we find that that practice is not entirely obsolete: Margaret Little plays viola and viola da gamba, Susie Napper plays cello as well as viola da gamba, Mélisande Corriveau plays cello and recorder and Matthew Jennejohn plays both oboe and cornetto.

There are now a number of complete recordings of Bach’s cantatas. Montréal Baroque has never presented their cantata recordings as a complete cycle but I hope that is what they will become.

03 Meditations solo clarinetMeditations and Tributes
Matthew Nelson
Soundset Records SR 1087 (soundset.com)

Review

This selection of solo clarinet works, distinct in character and technical demand, stands as testimony to the fine effort and abilities of clarinettist Matthew Nelson. A who’s who of contemporary composers populates Meditations and Tributes, including Kaija Saariaho, Franco Donatoni, Karel Husa and Krzysztof Penderecki. Nelson’s technical assurance allows all their diverse musical ideas to reach the listener; here is a wealth of material for the unaccompanied instrument (much more than can be mentioned in a short review), masterfully played.

Out of the darkness, Saariaho’s Duft flutters into audible range to open the disc. The title translates as “scent.” I balk at kinaesthetic associations with music, though some may not. A coincidental segue between the final pitch of Flüchtig (the third Movement of Duft) and the first of Joël-François Durand’s La mesure des choses might mislead an inattentive listener. Durand’s style is very distinct from Saariaho’s, however, so the illusion doesn’t last. The former is active yet meditative, the latter full of intense, almost violent motion. Following Saariaho and Durand is Donatoni’s Clair, a two-movement work from 1980. Donatoni’s music is manic, even obsessive, in its manner of motivic evolution, but somehow lyrical and gorgeous. The other works presented are all either stand-alone pieces or triptychs, but Donatoni pairs two balanced movements, as he often did. Bent Sørensen’s Songs of the Decaying Garden is lovelier than the title (or the composer’s reputation for terrifyingly difficult music) might suggest. The haunting Prelude by Penderecki closes this excellent collection.

Nelson includes his own well-written liner notes, supplemented by three of the composers describing their own pieces: Durand, Bruce Quaglia, and Marc Satterwhite.

04 Songs Shanites

Sea Songs & Shanties
La Nef
ATMA ACD2 2749

Review

The following is an excerpt from Editor's Corner (September 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

The next disc also comes out of Quebec, but that’s about where any resemblance ends. I first thought that Sea Songs & Shanties (ATMA ACD2 2749) was a departure for La Nef (la-nef.com) but I now realize that in their more-than-two-and-a-half-decade history La Nef has encompassed a wealth of styles from “early music, the music of oral traditions, world music, experimental and contemporary approaches to musical creation.”

This current project is under the direction of eclectic singer Seán Dagher, himself as at home in an Irish pub as in many musical traditions from Medieval and Baroque through contemporary folk. Dagher tells us: “These songs did not start out as music to be heard. These were songs to sing, songs to help with the work, songs to pass the time. Their original functions influenced the way they are built […] as call and response songs: a whole crew can learn a song from one man in the first instants he’s singing it. They are sung rhythmically, so the hauling is most efficient. Or they are sung freely, as if to fill the long days and evenings spent together. These songs are spread by oral trading, creating many variants and variations.”

This tradition was brought home to me earlier this summer when I came upon a version of the song I had grown up believing was called Sloop John B. As I found out from Tom Lewis’ rendition of the original Nassau Bound, the Beach Boys “left out the [most interesting] parts.” That, in combination with re-visiting a disc I wrote about last year, by Chaim Tannenbaum, which includes a duet with Loudon Wainwright on the traditional tune Paddy Doyle, primed the pump for my appreciation of this Irish-tinged maritime journey with La Nef.

The disc opens gently with Leave Her, Johnny, with sparse cittern accompaniment that gradually adds more voices, bass and flute and grows to a full finish replete with bosun’s whistle, wave sounds and seagull cries. As the disc progresses through drinking songs and laments, cautionary tales of press gangs and ship wrecks, welcoming tunes like Over the Hills and Far Away and Haul on the Bowline, we are drawn into the myriad moods of the seafarer. It’s at times randy and rugged, so strap yourself to the mast and prepare for adventure. But be forewarned, like shades of the John B: “I hate to sail on this rotten tub; No grog allowed and rotten grub,” so pack a lunch!

02 Jean Willy KunzJean-Willy Kunz au grand orgue Pierre-Béique
Jean-Willy Kunz
ATMA ACD2 2747

Review

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

Jean-Willy Kunz is the first organist in residence of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. His debut solo recording Jean-Willy Kunz au grand orgue Pierre-Béique (ATMA ACD2 2747) contains the requisite Toccatas along with some skillfully chosen works that make this recording thoroughly entertaining.

Among the standards in the list is the Toccata from Widor’s Organ Symphony No.5. For the sake of acoustic clarity, Kunz takes this at a slightly slower pace than is often heard, so the piece comes across cleanly but still powerfully. Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster Op.54, No.6 builds beautifully to a towering and thrilling finish. Another impressive work is Maxime Goulet’s Citius, altius, fortius! in which Kunz showcases the organ’s solo and chorus reeds, and mixtures.

The CD’s highlight is Kunz’s own arrangement of Saint-Saëns Le Carnival des animaux. The colouristic potential of this symphonically planned concert instrument is exploited in each of the 15 movements. L’Éléphant, appropriately portrayed by the deepest register pedal pipes, will shake your speakers, while Le Coucou au fond des bois uses a small reed stop to sound the familiar two-note call.

It’s an excellent recording with perfect repertoire choices and brilliant playing.

04 Bach Art of FugueBach – The Art of the Fugue
Duo Stephanie & Saar
BWV 1080 (New Focus Recordings FCR181)

Review

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

Duo Stephanie & Saar have taken a novel approach to their latest recording project Bach – The Art of the Fugue, BWV 1080 (New Focus Recordings FCR181). Taking advantage of their duo nature, they perform some selections as four hands, some as two pianos and the simpler two-voice canons as solos.

The sheer weight of the genius behind the music makes focusing on any other aspect of the performance nearly impossible. As one of Bach’s final utterances, unfinished at that, it reveals the ability of this composer to think about musical development forwards, backwards, inverted, expanded and contracted, and most often in some combination of these.
In this respect the work is very much like the Goldberg Variations, where a good performance quickly yields to the content of the music while the performer is lost to the larger presence of the art form.
The Duo Stephanie & Saar (their first names) are highly disciplined and always turn their skills to the contrapuntal possibilities Bach has laid out in the score, regardless of whether it’s for two voices or four. They keep expression to a polite minimum, revealing the beauty of the growing complexity in the larger fugues.

The two-disc set is one you know you’ll play many times, waiting to find newly revealed truths.

02 SongbirdSongbird
Layla Claire; Marie-Eve Scarfone
ATMA ACD2 2754

Review

Canadian soprano Layla Claire`s impressive background includes concert performances with top international orchestras and roles in significant Handel and Mozart opera productions. She participated in the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, leading to return engagements. This disc demonstrates her recitalist side with 20 art songs in French, German and English. She has an attractive, agile voice with a light vibrato, sparkling top and rich middle-to-low register. Her choice of songs leans towards cheer, intimacy and (she writes) “music that I think is charming and cozy.” In impeccable collaboration with outstanding Quebec-based pianist Marie-Eve Scarfone, bright songs like the opening Viens! Les gazons sont verts! (Gounod), Chanson d’avril (Bizet) and Spring (Dominick Argento) communicate a definite sense of joy.

But there is more. In Gounod’s Sérénade, Claire’s vocal agility is remarkable. Her wide registral and dynamic range show in Richard Strauss’ Epheu, where after a dive of nearly two octaves she continues with perfect control. Warm low notes aptly colour the beginning of Brahms’ great Unbewegte laue Luft. Both artists lead me mesmerized into Chausson’s symbolist Dans la forêt du charme et de l’enchantement; Scarfone contributes subtle colouring and pacing. As for small quibbles, one vocal climax note is cut off unusually and a couple are slightly under pitch. Also the package lacks song translations. Not to worry; I recommend Songbird highly and look forward eagerly to more music from Claire and Scarfone.

02 Christine JensenChristine Jensen – Under the Influence Suite
Orchestre National de Jazz Montreal; Christine Jensen
Justin Time JTR 8957-2 (justin-time.com)

Review

Two-time JUNO-winner, saxophonist, composer and conductor Christine Jensen is one of the most gifted, creative and skilled international musicians/composers of her generation. With her new five-part jazz suite and recording, Montreal-based Jensen has materialized nothing short of a musical triumph. A deeply personal project, this well-produced CD (which was commissioned by l’Orchestre national de jazz de Montréal) is an homage to Jensen’s significant musical influences – creative masters with whom she found a deep, soul connection and who have helped to shape her as an artist and as a human being. These jazz icons include the late Kenny Wheeler, the late Jan Jarczyk, the late John Coltrane, Lee Konitz (with whom Jensen studied extensively) and Wayne Shorter. Jensen (who conducts the ONJM) has also chosen to incorporate the lovely voice of Sienna Dahlen – which in timbre and tone is the perfect complement to the dynamic ONJM and also to the potent music itself (to which Dahlen contributed lyrics).

Among the superb sections of this cycle are Part I (For Kenny Wheeler), which begins with Ouverture – a spooky and disarming sequence that opens the door for Starbright, a stunning, breathtaking and heartbreaking opus that segues into an expressionistic and free-flowing vocal and instrumental exploration, which then explodes into a cacophony of heart-pounding brass, a scorching piano solo by genius François Bourassa as well as gorgeous solos/rhythm section work from trumpeter Bill Mahar and drummer Kevin Warren. Also performed to perfection are the lilting, sassy and swinging Sweet Lee (For Lee Konitz) and both compositions written in tribute to Wayne Shorter: Anthem – a spiritual, non-linear, outside of space/time experience – and the joyous, dueling saxophones of Chant.

09 BowieLakeCD001

Live at A Space 1976
Joseph Bowie; Oliver Lake
Sackville SK 2010 (delmark.com)

Review

Featuring a masterful series of duets by alto saxophonist/flutist Oliver Lake and trombonist Joseph Bowie, this five-track reissue captures two accomplished improvisers at their most adventurous and celebrates an epoch when Toronto’s reputation as a major haven for experimental music was being established.     

Although the two would go on to make more accessible sessions with jazz-funk bands like Jump Up and Defunkt, the surprise in hindsight is how accessible some of these sounds actually are. While there are enough extended techniques involving wailing split tones, tongue slaps and percussion plus deep-in-the-throat snorts and guffaws from both horn players, sonic unity is paramount. A track like Orange Butterflies, for instance, may set up opposing flute peeps and brass snorts as if they’re going to recall the unpleasant meeting of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, but these untrammelled tremors eventually cease, replaced by tones that bond the two in lockstep unity. Another strategy, summarily demonstrated on After Assistance, is how one horn produces a solid continuum upon which the other is free to improvise, with the two subsequently switching roles with the coordinated skill of paired ballroom dancers. Bowie’s prestidigitations are most aptly demonstrated on A Space Rontoto, when slide motions are used to taper his usual gutbucket action into a mere sound thread as if strained through a sieve. Meanwhile Lake’s wobbling, lowing and fluttering multiphonic variations on Zaki don’t preclude him cycling back to its theme in tandem with Bowie at the finale.

03 CartographyCartography
Mariel Roberts
New Focus Recordings fcr185
marielroberts.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Editor's Corner (June 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

Raging Against the Machine may be the title of the last CD discussed, but the phrase could apply equally, or perhaps even more appropriately, to Eric Wubbels’ composition gretchen am spinnrade which opens Mariel Roberts’ latest CD Cartography (New Focus Recordings fcr185 marielroberts.com). As a matter of fact I had to go online to watch a video of a live performance (at icareifyoulisten.com) to see whether or not any machine-like technology was in use. With the composer at the piano and Roberts on cello it is amazing to realize that the excruciating intensity is being generated in real time by two mere mortals. It is truly a sight, and sound, to behold, with what Wubbels describes as “alternating relentless motoric circuits with plateaus of regular ‘idling’ motion.” After repeated listening and viewing it is still not clear to me whether the microtonality in the piano part as the piece progresses is a result of the frantic banging on the keys, or if some of the notes have been specially (de)tuned in advance. Whatever the case, Gretchen is definitely pictured at a particularly post-industrial spinning wheel in this reinterpretation of Schubert’s original.

By way of respite, Aman by Cenk Ergün is a much quieter offering, but one that does involve live electronics by the composer along with Roberts’ solo cello. While it was the intensity and sheer volume of Wubbels’ scoring that made the sounds seem mechanical in gretchen, here it is the sparseness that makes them unfamiliar and somewhat otherworldly. It is as if we are “listening” through a microscope to the very structure of the sounds. It’s often hard to distinguish between the manufactured sounds and those created by extended techniques on the cello. I look forward to seeing a video of this one or, better yet, the chance to see Roberts in live performance.

George Lewis’ Spinner for solo cello veritably bursts forth after the quietude of Aman. Lewis, Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University, is also a renowned trombonist who has worked with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music for more than four and a half decades. Spinner is set in a more traditional mode for a virtuosic solo instrumental work, at least in the sense of the post-war avant-garde. It is a compendium of sounds available to the cellist using bow and fingers on the strings of the instrument, without venturing into the various extra-musical extensions sometimes called for in the context. It is a thoroughly musical work, which effectively integrates some aspects of modern jazz without compromising its status as a concert piece.

The disc concludes with The Cartography of Time by New York-based composer Davíð Brynjar Franzson. The program note includes a definition of cartography (map-making) and time (the indefinite continued progress of existence…) and a quotation from Wittgenstein, none of which sheds much light on the piece, but I do find its progress glacial and textures reminiscent of an Icelandic landscape or, in my wife’s ears, Northern Lights, perhaps linked to the composer’s birthplace, Akureyri, on the north coast of Iceland just south of the Arctic Circle.

All in all, Roberts’ disc is an incredible journey. Fasten your seatbelt and pack your parka, but be forewarned, although it begins with a bang!, it ends with a whisper…

11 Honens BurattoSchumann – Davidsbündlertänze, Humoreske, Blumenstück
Luca Buratto
Hyperion / Honens CDA 68186

Review

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

Luca Buratto is the 2015 Honens Prize Laureate. An assured performer, he plays with impeccable technique. His approach to the music of Schumann on this Honens-sponsored disc Schumann – Davidsbündlertänze, Humoreske, Blumenstück (Hyperion / Honens CDA 68186) reveals an uncommon gift for fresh thinking. Buratto has captured Schumann’s Romantic urgings and compellingly channeled them through the keyboard. He has cut loose the classical moorings that many pianists respect and instead allows his interpretations to drift freely into currents where forms become more fluid. It’s here that we feel the deep pull of Brahms, Chopin and Liszt.

Humoreske in B-flat Major Op.20 demonstrates Buratto’s ability to transcend the composer’s signature melancholy that is too often the extent of a performer’s achievement. Buratto moves beyond this by creating an ethos of mysticism rarely experienced in this music. The Davidsbündlertänze Op.6, too, reveal new possibilities for understanding how far Schumann wanted to propel the music of his time from its conservative shelter. Buratto exploits every opportunity to do this by stretching inner tempos and even pulling them apart a little, as if to experiment with left and right hand being out of sync.

None of this happens at the expense of the music because Buratto plays with such conviction that you immediately know he is certain he has revealed Robert Schumann’s true voice. It’s a deep connection that he sustains effortlessly through the entire recording. Hear him live if you can.

03 Bach sonatas partitasJ.S. Bach – Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin
Movses Pogossian
New Focus Recordings FCR178 (newfocusrecordings.com)

Review

On the back cover of the booklet inserted in the album sleeve is the handwritten note: “in memory of our common research of g minor. a minor sonata / Budapest 6.9.2015 / Márta-György Kurtág.” Before recording the Sonatas and Partitas Movses Pogossian journeyed from Los Angeles to Budapest to work with the 89-year-old Kurtág and his wife Márta. Pogossian had collaborated with the composer before, but on Kurtág’s music, notably the Kafka Fragments, which he performed with soprano Tony Arnold in Toronto this past March. It was then that I asked Movses about his “research” with the Kurtágs. He said that Kurtág was very particular about harmony, structure and tempo and had an allergy to anything that did not feel right. Capturing the character of the piece was the most important thing. For instance, Kurtág said the subject of the A Minor Fugue should be “without emotion,” suggesting the link between key and Affektenlehre.

Their “research” resulted in transforming the Sonatas and Partitas into something in the nature of six Baroque altarpieces, where each movement is a panel depicting a tableau that illustrates some aspect of the key in question. Pogossian remains faithful to the affect of each set, even in the Double of the Corrente of the B Minor Partita, where he frames the torrential stream of notes within the penitential mood of that key. Phrasing is free, as though allowing singers to breathe and dancers to pause between phrases. Pogossian’s approach is far from those who treat this repertoire as though an extreme sport.

The G Minor Adagio, dark timbre, grieving harmonies, each phrase rising from stillness, the fioriture parsed for motivic shapes, the last chord held 12 seconds a niente for a running time of nearly six minutes; the grave Fugue (Kurtág wished it slower); the lilting Siciliana danced with sad restraint; the grimly brilliant Presto. The desolate A Minor Sonata, the Andante, an aria of loss (compare Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben). Pogossian plays the D Minor Partita with noble restraint, and takes the cosmic Chaconne at a stately quarter = 46. He treats the Adagio of the C Major Sonata as though the Creator is breathing on the waters (eighth = 40), while the Olympian Fugue follows as the fully formed world. The pastoral Largo in F major is all smiles, and the final Allegro could be titled Tutto nel mondo è burla. The E Major Partita radiates uttermost joy.

The three CDs are a panoply, but they give only a hint of when one sees Pogossian in person, for he enacts the affects of the Sonatas and Partitas with his whole body and breath. Such intense identification of body, mind and spirit with sound is a rare gift. I am also grateful for the notes by Paul Griffiths, who wrote virtually short poems on each of the types of movements. They end with words on the Ciacconia: “Finally the voices spiral into the keynote. This was the lesson that had to be taught and learned. How to end.”

04 Vanhaul EyblerJohann Baptist Vanhal – Six Quartets, Op.6
Eybler Quartet
Gallery Players of Niagara GPN 17003 (eyblerquartet.com)

Review

Johann Baptist Vanhal was a Bohemian composer active in Vienna. In his autobiography the Irish tenor Michael Kelly (who sang in the first performance of The Marriage of Figaro) records that he attended a concert of a string quartet which consisted of Haydn, Mozart, Vanhal and Ditters von Dittersdorf. It is a quartet one would have liked to have heard! Vanhal was also a prolific and successful composer.

The Eybler Quartet is an ensemble of distinguished Toronto musicians well-versed in 18th-century performance practice: Julia Wedman and Aisslinn Nosky, violin, Patrick Jordan, viola, and Margaret Gay, cello. It was founded in 2004 with the aim of exploring the first century and a half of string quartet repertoire. The quartet’s concerts have featured the work of Haydn and Mozart, but its main emphasis has been on bringing back the work of composers now rarely heard, such as Joseph Leopold Edler von Eybler (after whom the quartet is named) and now Johann Baptist Vanhal. These are attractive works, and they are beautifully played. They are also unremittingly cheerful (they are all in major keys) and that constitutes both an asset and a limitation. It was well worth unearthing this music, but a comparison with, say, Mozart’s G Minor Quintet or any of the mature quartets by Haydn brings out that limitation.

01 Avery RaquelWithout a Little Rain
Avery Raquel
Independent GKM 1029 (averyraquel.com)

Review

On her sophomore recording, young vocalist Avery Raquel has not only created a satisfying follow-up to her 2016 debut but has matured into a fine, contemporary songwriter. Collaborating with producer, arranger and musician Greg Kavanagh (and vocalist Sophia Perlman), Raquel has co-authored six tracks, and in so doing, has established her own, unique voice as both a composer and singer – no easy trick.

Joining Raquel and Kavanagh (who plays guitar on this project) is a strong lineup of musicians, including Adrean Farrugia on acoustic and electric piano, Ross MacIntyre on bass, Joel Haynes on drums, Ben Lemma on guitar, Amoy Levy on backing vocals, Kaelin Murphy on trumpet/flugelhorn, Brandon Tse on alto sax, Emma Haynes on percussion and special guest, the iconic David Clayton-Thomas (of Blood, Sweat & Tears) on the Disney classic from Toy Story, You’ve Got a Friend in Me – which is a fresh, jazzy, soulful take on this Disney standard, featuring excellent bass work on this track by Jaden Raso.

Other notable tracks include the catchy and engaging title tune, Without a Little Rain; the funky Your Mouth Is the Door, which not only boasts a clever lyric, but displays Raquel’s vocal power and control as the song builds in intensity. Without question, Dreaming (co-written with Perlman) is one of the strongest compositions on the recording – not overly arranged, as well as rhythmic and appealing, the song seamlessly highlights the lovely gossamer lightness of Raquel’s vocal quality. Sophisticated chord voicings and wonderful flugelhorn work by Murphy are the icing on this irresistible cake.

Concert Notes: Avery Raquel has a busy schedule this summer with performances June 11: Barrie Jazz Festival – Bradford West Gwillimbury Public Library; June 24: Children of the Forest Fundraiser – The Duke Live, Toronto; June 29: Music on the Waterfront – Hamilton; July 20: Summer Concert Series – Goderich; July 22: Jazz at the Museum – Haliburton; August 19: South Coast Jazz Festival – Port Dover; and August 20: Riverfest – Elora.

07 Blue VerdunBlue Verdun
Quinn Bachand’s Brishen
Beacon Ridge Productions CP102 (quinnbachand.com)

Review

Quinn Bachand is an old soul in a 21-year-old body. Or maybe he’s a time traveller from the ’30s who’s simply (and successfully) channelling the gypsy-jazz souls of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. Whatever the case, Victoria, BC’s multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist Bachand is a seriously impressive young artist.

Blue Verdun, Bachand’s second album with his group, Brishen, is an unabashed celebration of all things swing, and a showcase for Bachand’s exceptional musicianship and versatility. With Bachand on  violin, guitar, banjo, bass guitar, lapsteel and vocals, along with Brishen bandmates Connor Stewart (horns), Maude Bastien (drums), Paul Van Dyke (bass) and Béatrix Méthé (vocal harmony), Blue Verdun takes us on a magical romp through the musical landscapes of gypsy jazz and Western swing.

Remarkably, save for one track the tunes are all Bachand’s – inspired, fresh takes on old traditions, demonstrating a profound respect for that marvellous music of “yesteryear.” Moreover, Bachand clearly relishes this stuff and, as is apparent on every track, is determined to help keep it relevant and alive. The album is a joy. Reinhardt and Grappelli are never far from mind, but it’s Bachand’s masterful performances on his lilting Cheyenne (Quit Your Talkin’) and virtuosic Swing ’96 that take centre stage. I swear I heard hints of a young Chet Baker (singing) on Fading Light, and of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World on Lonely Star, attesting to Bachand’s having done his homework. He has also made it nearly impossible to remember that he is only 21!

01 Plante Tango borealLa Bibliothèque-Interdite – Denis Plante
Sébastian Ricard & Tango Boréal
ATMA ACD2 2752

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Editor's Corner (May 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

Let me start with a disclaimer: I don’t get opera; I don’t like tango; and cabaret is not my cup of tea. That being said, imagine my surprise to find that the disc which has been getting the most play on my system this month is a cabaret-style “tango opera” by Denis PlanteLa Bibliothèque-Interdite (ATMA ACD2 2752) features actor-singer Sébastian Ricard and Plante’s ensemble Tango Boréal in a tale set in the dark days of mid-20th-century Argentina.

“The odyssey began,” Plante tells us, “with a concert […] by Les Violons du Roy, the Tango Boréal Trio and actor Sébastian Ricard. Its theme: Jorge Luis Borges. I had been commissioned to write tangos to accompany the poetry of Argentina’s great literary figure for the production. Sébastian Ricard captivated the audience as, pacing like a caged tiger, he played several roles […] One year later I suggested to Sébastian that we continue the experiment in musical theater by creating an original show, La Bibliothèque-Interdite [The Forbidden Library]. I wanted to present an impressionistic portrait of tango at the end of that Infamous Decade [which began in 1930 with the military coup that overthrew President Hipólito Yrigoyen and lasted until 1943 when another coup resulted in the rise of Juan Perón]. I have long been fascinated by this period – and by the fact that, sometimes risking their lives, it was the gaucho minstrels and tango enthusiasts, the payadores and the tangueros, who first denounced the rise of the fascists…”

Plante has created a libretto that is “a confession, a life story and ideological speech” sung by a fictional poet. Although this character sprung from the composer’s imagination, it is also based on stories told by his father-in-law Alfredo Monetta, “an Argentinian exile who barely escaped the genocide of the dirty war of 1976.” He goes on to say “Other memories are my own. I discovered the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires in dramatic and violent circumstances: blinded by tear gas during the crisis of the pot-banging protests of December 2001.”

So what does this all sound like? It begins with Eden, a languidly nostalgic song – I often dreamed of a library with secret doors…it was my childhood and my destiny: I became a poet – that gives way to Inspecteur Barracuda, a harder-edged portrait of the prince of the renegades, the nabob of tango. [Translations mine.] There are 16 contrasting movements, each with their own story from Icarus’ Descent and a Bestiary to ruminations on departures, memory, silence and life. The instrumentation is simple and clean, featuring bandonéon (Plante), nylon-string guitar and charango (David Jacques) and acoustic bass (Ian Simpson), with occasional added percussion and small chorus. Stylistically it is a pastiche, as freely admitted by Plante, with moods that vary from ballad to narrative to dance-like, including of course more than a fair share of tango.

What struck me most however was the clarity of Ricard’s vocals. I studied French throughout public and high school plus several post-secondary summer immersions, and although I cannot carry on a fluid conversation in la belle langue, I am able to read fairly sophisticated texts en français (my summers always include reading a least one French novel in the original). But listening to art songs or popular music in French I often have trouble following the lyrics. So I was immediately hooked when I realized that I could understand la plupart of what Ricard was singing, thanks to his clear diction and to Plante’s careful setting of the texts. I was reminded of the vocal writing of John Weinzweig, oh not in the musical language, but in the careful selection of words that could be clearly understood when sung.

The booklet notes include a dedication paragraph and, as quoted in part above, a “Diary of Creation” by Denis Plante, a foreword by Sébastien Ricard, a poem by Brigitte Haentjens and artists’ biographies, all in both official languages. Strangely the libretto only appears in French, leaving me glad of all those years I put in building my vocabulaire. Highly recommended.

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