02 Piazzolla GallianoPiazzolla & Galliano – Concertos
Jovica Ivanović; Ukrainian Chamber Orchestra; Vitaliy Prostasov
Navona Records nv6317 (navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6317)

Serbian-Austrian classical accordionist Jovica Ivanović and his colleagues, concertmaster/violinist Valeriy Sokolov and the Ukrainian Chamber Orchestra under conductor Vitaliy Protasov, shine in their collaborative performances of concertos by prominent composers Astor Piazzolla and Richard Galliano. Each three-movement, fast/slow/fast, thoughtful, detailed concerto illuminates Ivanović’s talents and the tight ensemble playing of all the musicians.

Piazzolla’s Aconcagua, a concerto for bandoneón, percussion and string orchestra, was a favourite of Piazzolla himself and it encompasses his characteristic rhythmical tango nuevo melodies and orchestral sonorities. The bandoneón part translates well onto accordion as Ivanović’s intuitive musical performance is highlighted by his detached notes, florid ornamentations and clear fast runs. The orchestral balance is perfect, especially during the ringing, low-pitched string-bass accompaniments.

French composer/accordionist Galliano’s Opale Concerto for accordion and string orchestra is a mix of French, American and Balkan styles. The first movement is slightly more atonal, with such accordion specialities as bellows shakes, accented chords and wide-pitched lines alternating with string solos. The slower second movement starts with a lyrical solo, until the orchestral entry creates a “merry-go-round” reminiscent soundscape. The faster third movement builds excitement with conversational shorter accented melodies until the final ascending accordion glissando ends it with a decisive bang.

Ivanović is a superb accordionist, well-matched to the string players’ collective musicianship. Their interpretations make the Piazzolla and Galliano compositions resonate with permanent eloquence.

03 Godfrey RidoutGodfrey Ridout – The Concert Recordings
Various Artists
Centrediscs CMCCD 28220 (cmccanada.org/shop/cmccd-28220)

Godfrey Ridout (1918-1984) was “an old-school gentleman,” conservative in deportment, attire (three-piece suits) and compositional style. I knew him also to be very accessible, forthright and warm-hearted – just like his music! This welcome CD presents concert performances from 1975-1993, drawn from the CBC archives.

Cantiones Mysticae No.2 – The Ascension (1962) is set to a sixth-century hymn sung in English by sunny-voiced soprano Janet Smith, Brian Law conducting Ottawa’s Thirteen Strings. As the text proclaims, it opens “with a merry noise and… the sound of the trumpet” (played by Stuart Douglas Sturdevant). One line in the serene second section – “Rescue, recall into life those who are rushing to death” – was, wrote Ridout, his son critically ill during its composition, “a cri de coeur… that really struck home.”

The darkly dramatic Two Etudes for string orchestra (1946) comprise the sepulchral No.1 (Andante con malinconia) and the chugging freight train of No.2, briefly stalled by a misterioso passage. Mario Bernardi conducts the CBC Vancouver Orchestra. Violinist Victor Martin, pianist George Brough and the Chamber Players of Toronto perform Ridout’s period-jostling Concerto Grosso (1974), the jaunty neo-Baroque Allegro and sprightly Vivace straddling the extended Mahlerian Adagio. Commissioned to honour the U.S. Bicentennial, the melodic, extroverted George III His Lament – Variations on a Well-known Tune (1975) finds “avowed monarchist” Ridout playfully employing a theme from “the losing side.” Simon Streatfeild conducts the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

Gratifying listening for all who remember Godfrey Ridout – and all who don’t!

04 Jacques HetuJacques Hétu – Musique pour vents
Pentaèdre; Philip Chiu
ATMA ACD2 2792 (atmaclassique.com/en)

Jacques Hétu (1938-2010) was among the leading Canadian classical composers and music educators of his generation, spending his academic career at several Montreal-area universities.

Hétu composed primarily for established forces including piano, string quartet, orchestral winds, symphony orchestra and opera in a style he once described as “incorporating neo-classical forms and neo-romantic effects in a musical language using 20th-century techniques.” His post-Alban Bergian idiom made him one of the most frequently performed Canadian composers during his career.

Commemorating the tenth anniversary of Hétu’s death, this album presents the Pentaèdre wind ensemble and pianist Philip Chiu in a program reflecting the composer’s keen and abiding interest in both wind instruments and the piano. The brilliant Quebec-based Pentaèdre currently comprising Ariane Brisson (flute), Élise Poulin (oboe), Martin Carpentier (clarinet), Louis-Philippe Marsolais (horn) and Mathieu Lussier (bassoon) takes centre stage on the album.

Hétu’s Wind Quintet and compositions for solo winds and piano invite us to discover afresh his idiosyncratic and imaginative modernist musical universe. The works draw out the best qualities of each woodwind instrument, at the same time stretching their technical, colouristic, expressive and ensemble capabilities. This music demands a high level of musicianship and Pentaèdre delivers.

The 12-minute 1967 Quintet is a standout. Mixing serial, modal and tonal languages, it’s skillfully scored, effectively showcasing each instrument and subgrouping. No wonder this dramatic work has become a favourite among Canadian wind quintets.

Listen to 'Jacques Hétu: Musique pour vents' Now in the Listening Room

05 Hamburger SymphoniesJaap Nico Hamburger – Chamber Symphonies 1 & 2
Ensemble Caprice; Matthias Maute; l’Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal; Vincent de Kort
Leaf Music LM235 (leaf-music.ca)

Interesting, musical, inventive and new original Canadian classical music is a reason to celebrate indeed! Here, with two chamber symphonies, composer Jaap Nico Hamburger finds inspiration in honour of Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands to create beautiful and well-executed long-form pieces that, while dealing with the difficult theme of the brutality of war, leave listeners with an appreciation of musical excellence and a lingering sense of hopeful optimism. 

Recorded in Quebec in 2019 by Ensemble Caprice under the direction of Matthias Maute, Chamber Symphony No. 1 “Remember to Forget,” explores, as a tone poem, the metaphor of a train journey in sound, highlighting the teleological nature of life as we, individual agents, push forward through times of challenge and adversity towards forgiveness, atonement and a life worth living. Inspired by the sounds and biography of composer György Ligeti (1923-2006), the offering here is as complex and nuanced as the subject theme itself: strident at times, then mitigated by moments of tranquil introspection. Percussion heavy, the piece dips occasionally into carnivalesque sounds and emotions that imbue a playful and irreverent spirit into this otherwise serious piece. 

Chamber Symphony No. 2 “Children’s War Diaries” features l’Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal and explores one of the darkest periods of history, the Holocaust, channelling the writing of Hamburger’s grandmother, Jannie Moffie-Bolle, whose autobiography Een hemel zonder vogels (“A sky without birds”) documented her experiences as a teenager in Nazi Germany. As the liner notes attest, the themes explored are sobering but important. These two Chamber Symphonies add much to the canon of Canadian classical composition and are well worth your time.

Listen to 'Jaap Nico Hamburger: Chamber Symphonies 1 & 2' Now in the Listening Room

06 John RobertsonJohn Robertson – Symphonies 4 & 5 Meditation: In Flanders Fields
Bratislava Symphony Orchestra; Anthony Armore
Navona Records nv6325 (navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6325)

Anachronism is no sin nor is theft a crime when it comes to making art, not if they are accomplished with subtlety or humour. My favourite 20th-century tomb raider was Alfred Schnittke, who suffered modernity’s loss of innocence, together with nostalgia for past forms. The suffering served as impetus for his most tragic and comic utterances. Which brings me to New Zealand/Canadian composer John Robertson, and his Symphonies 4 and 5.

This music seems happily, painlessly anachronistic, full of bright orchestral effects and warm, tonal harmonies. The second movement of Symphony No.4 is a Sicilienne, a gently progressing dance in 12/8 metre, wherein an oboe laments sweetly over ghostly strings and celesta. The familiar character in the opening of the same work’s first movement recalls so much the wind writing of Carl Nielsen. For a brief moment one hears Shostakovich call out a trill from his own Fourth Symphony at the opening of the third movement. Coincidence? Homage, perhaps, although the body of the theme sounds more like Holst: a jocular, folksong-march. 

The Fifth Symphony revisits Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Samuel Barber as well. Included with the symphonies is a threnody: Meditation: In Flanders’ Fields. Leaving my thoughts on the poem out of this, I’ll say the music accompanying the recited text is fitting, including the requisite bugle call. Take up a quarrel with me on this if you must. 

Robertson is a capable composer, and not, apparently, a suffering genius à la Schnittke. The works are substantive and also pleasurable to hear, which is a refreshing anachronism in and of itself.

07 Julia Den BoerLineage
Julia Den Boer
Redshift Records TK476 (redshiftrecords.org)

French-American pianist Julia Den Boer confidently delivers Lineage, an album of contemporary solo piano music with ties to Montreal. Den Boer’s impressive technical prowess is brilliantly revealed from several angles as each piece on this recording presents high degrees of challenging material. 

First, Chris Paul Harman’s 371 Chorales (2016) is a wonderful gem full of shimmering charm and glistening high-register counterpoint – a delightful miniature that expands upon the composer’s predilection toward recontextualizing old material. Brian Cherney’s multi-movement Tombeau (1996) is a mature work of a modernist approach that sends the listener through a gamut of contrasting expressive landscapes – terrain that Den Boer handles with world-class musicianship. The serendipitous monophony of Matthew Ricketts’ Melodia (2017) is a deeply original work that relies on decidedly exposed lines. This music allows the piano to sing wonderfully in the hands of Den Boer, and is a refreshing reminder that newly composed piano works do not require a maximal approach to produce successful results.

Lastly, Reiko Yamada’s Cloud Sketches (2010) is a substantial work comprised of scalar flourishes and prickly interruptions that evoke a series of conversations and contemplative interludes. With such contrasting works, each demanding in wildly different ways, this release is a strong statement showing Den Boer’s importance as a contemporary music interpreter.

Listen to 'Lineage' Now in the Listening Room

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