01 Canadian PanoramaCanadian Panorama
Winds of the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra; Ronald Royer
Cambria CD-1227 (spo.ca)

Under the inspired leadership of music director Ron Royer, the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra not only presents an annual concert series but has also created an identity for its woodwind, brass and percussion sections as a professional level wind ensemble in its own right, performing demanding music for wind ensemble and now recording a complete CD of music commissioned for it as part of the orchestra’s dynamic composer-in-residence program.

Seven of the eight Canadian composers on the CD (the eighth was the late Howard Cable, a longtime associate of the SPO) were commissioned in 2013 to compose “music that would celebrate Canada’s cultural heritage and expand the repertoire for our talented wind players.” They have done their job brilliantly: while all eight are very capable orchestrators, three in particular stand out: Chris Meyer’s control of tone colour in Fundy is striking, as is Alexander Rapoport’s in his spiralling virtuosic writing in Whirligig, flawlessly played by this ensemble of virtuosi. Howard Cable’s mastery, more traditional perhaps and understated, in McIntyre Ranch Country was, nevertheless, a very welcome addition to the mix.

In Royer’s Rhapsody for Oboe, Horn and Wind Ensemble the confidently virile solo horn of guest soloist Gabriel Radford and guest oboist Sarah Jeffrey’s poignant lyricism were highlights. There was also some very fine solo work by regular members of the ensemble: Scott Harrison on trumpet in Alex Eddington’s Saturday Night at Fort Chambly, Kaye Royer on the clarinet in Jim McGrath’s Serenade and Iris Krizmanic on horn in McIntyre Ranch.

In short, this recording and the music so beautifully performed on it are, and will continue to be for many years, a precious gift to us all in the year of our nation’s 150th birthday.

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02 Schafer AriadneR. Murray Schafer – Ariadne’s Legacy
Judy Loman and Various Artists
Centrediscs CMCCD 23316
(musiccentre.ca)

Judy Loman, principal harpist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1960 to 2002, is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music where she studied with the innovative harpist Carlos Salzedo. In her many years here and abroad she has championed numerous new works for her instrument. Many of these compositions involved Canada’s internationally renowned polymath R. Murray Schafer and in celebration of Loman’s 80th birthday Centrediscs has re-issued from various sources Schafer’s works for the harp in their entirety. Their first collaboration, The Crown of Ariadne (1979), is a technically demanding six-movement suite in which Loman must also play a number of small percussion instruments. It is derived from Schafer’s vast environmental music drama, Patria 5. A companion work, Theseus (1986), was also drawn from this segment of the 12-part Patria series and features Ms. Loman with the Orford String Quartet. Both works involve the extended harp techniques pioneered by Salzedo with delicate, echoing microtonal inflections pitted against incisive percussive effects. Schafer’s subsequent Harp Concerto (1987) is drawn upon a much larger canvas. Its conventional three movements achieve an almost cinematically epic character in this rousing performance by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra led by Andrew Davis.

A second CD devoted to Schafer’s later chamber music features the intimate duet Wild Bird (1997) with violinist Jacques Israelievitch, commissioned by the late TSO concertmaster’s wife and performed with Loman on the occasion of his 50th birthday. Trio (2011) commissioned by the BC-based Trio Verlaine (Lorna McGhee, flute, David Harding, viola, and Heidi Krutzen, harp) was designed as a companion piece to Debussy’s work for the same forces. Here Schafer strikingly abandons the evocative sound events of his earlier works in favour of a persistently linear melodic profile. Among these late works are two vocal settings: Tanzlied (2004) and Four Songs for Mezzo-Soprano and Harp (2011), both sung by Schafer’s life partner and muse, Eleanor James, the former with Loman and the latter with her former student Lori Gemmell. Tanzlied is a setting of verses by Friedrich Nietzsche and includes quotations from that philosopher’s own little-known Lieder. The surprisingly well-mannered Four Songs was initially composed as a wedding present for Schafer’s niece.

It is doubtful that any further harp works will be forthcoming, as Schafer’s program note for these late songs reveals his recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. All the more reason then to celebrate these definitive and expertly recorded performances from a golden age.

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03 Tilbury KrauzeGrand Tour
John Tilbury; Zygmunt Krauze
Dux DUX 1288 (dux.pl)

Maybe it’s just me, but I find this album of 60s and 70s post-classical piano-centric music a supremely relaxing listening experience. Then again as a high school senior I used to do homework with John Cage records playing on the stereo. I wanted to get my modernist/postmodernist cred clearly on the table before digging into details of this Grand Tour. It documents the onstage reunion of two old colleagues, the British pianist John Tilbury and Polish composer, educator and pianist Zygmunt Krauze in the studio of the Polish Radio, performing repertoire from the era when they first met.

The liner notes narrate the backstory. Krauze co-founded the avant-garde-leaning Warsaw Music Workshop in 1967 along with other musicians. Tilbury. who was in Warsaw on scholarship at the time. is credited with introducing his Music Workshop colleagues to the latest classical music trends via scores – a scarce commodity behind the Iron Curtain in the 1960s – “including many minimalist compositions.” These represented an exciting though quite unknown language there at the time.

All the works here bear repeated pleasurable listening, but my favourite track on the album is Terry Riley’s Keyboard Studies No.2 (1965), in which the two pianists play through a series of notated modal cells of different lengths at their leisure. It’s a repetitive developmental strategy Riley also employed in his better-known In C (1964). It may well have been among the pieces introduced by Tilbury to his Warsaw friends back in the day. Keyboard Studies No.2 receives a lovely, nuanced performance by Tilbury and Krauze. Perhaps it’s a fanciful notion, but I imagine its sonic patina, coloured by the canny application of the pianos’ sustain pedal, is more deeply the result of half a century of living with and performing this charming music. For me 60s-era Riley will never get old.

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04 Polish clarinetMusic for Clarinet by 20th Century Polish Composers
Mariusz Barszcz; Piotr Saciuk; Jacek Michalak
Dux DUX 1258 dux.pl

This collection could be renamed music by Mid-20th-Century Polish Composers, roughly following as it does a chronology of three decades beginning in the early 1950s. One finds in many of the selections a homogenous tonal and stylistic range, possibly reflecting the somewhat insular world of Polish composition during the Communist era. Happily, one also hears committed and honest performances by clarinetist Mariusz Barszcz and pianist Piotr Saciuk. While tending sharp in some of the slower and quieter selections, Barszcz has a peckish and puckish articulation, and the rhythmic agreement in the very challenging Dance Preludes by Witold Lutosławski is admirable.

This work, along with Krzysztof Penderecki’s Three Miniatures, are the only ones likely to be performed with any frequency in North America, so it is welcome to hear some of the more avant garde selections toward the end of the disc. Music for magnetic tape and solo bass clarinet by Andrzej Dobrowolski (1980) comes out of the dark corners of one’s psyche and invites itself in for a terrifying and confusing visit. Barszcz can manage the bass clarinet’s registers well and gives a fine accounting of the extended techniques required by the composer. Not Sunday afternoon listening by any stretch, but excellent rainy Monday fare. Krzysztof Knittel’s Points/Lines (for clarinet, tapes and slides, 1973) steps back into the laboratory, a controlled and tidy experiment carried out by a harried researcher.

Wedged between these two works is a Trifle (in two parts), for accordion and bass clarinet by Andrzej Krzanowski (1983).

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05 American MomentsAmerican Moments
Neave Trio
Chandos CHAN 10924

“American” moments? Twelve-year-old wunderkind Erich Korngold was living in Vienna when he composed his Trio, Op.1 (1910), a well-constructed, exuberantly expressive piece already evincing some distinctive melodic turns that would reappear throughout his mature music. The Neave Trio seems to approach it from the perspective of those later works, with a sense of nostalgia rather than youthful ardour. (Korngold emigrated to the US in 1938.)

Leonard Bernstein’s Trio dates from 1937, when he was 19, studying at Harvard. Unpublished until after his death, it opens meditatively, leading to an extended Fugato and an exultant climax. The second movement anticipates the jazzy Bernstein, with pizzicato, blue notes and dancing syncopations. The finale begins with a questioning melody, answered by a rousing Jewish-klezmer romp. New to me, I quite enjoyed it.

Arthur Foote, in contrast, was 55 and well-established when he wrote his Piano Trio No.2 (1908). Considered the first significant composer trained entirely in the US, he, like most of his American contemporaries, still drew inspiration from European models. The first two movements, lilting, sweet and sentimental, are perfumes from a Viennese salon; the weightier finale evokes Foote’s much-beloved Brahms.

America, like Canada, is a nation of immigrants, making the Neave Trio, currently visiting artists at Brown University, truly American, with its violinist from the US, cellist from Russia and pianist from Japan. Their performances of these stylistically varied works amount to a concert program for home listening that’s highly entertaining.

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06 GinasteraGinastera Orchestral Works 2 – Panambi; Piano Concerto No.2
Xiayin Wang; Manchester Chamber Choir; BBC Philharmonic; Juanjo Mena
Chandos CHAN 10923

Continuing a 2016 series celebrating the centennial of Argentinian master Alberto Ginastera’s birth, this disc offers an intriguing contrast of compositions from his early and late periods. Beginning with the latter, Xiayin Wang’s elegant and sonorous performance of the Second Piano Concerto (1972) will be a surprise for anyone who associates the composer with pianistic bombast. Her crisp, even touch in both the perpetual motion, repeated-note scherzo and the prestissimo triplet finale is remarkable, yet so is her balance of complex chords and gradual pacing in the tread-like build of the slow movement to a crisis point. The first movement is the most dissonant and complex. Succeeding movements are more accessible; textures and sounds fascinate throughout. Altogether, this work is a major statement of artistic freedom and of identification with both classical and contemporary music for the composer, who had recently moved to Switzerland from the darkening situation in his homeland.

Panambi (1934-37), subtitled Choreographic Legend in One Act, is Ginastera’s Op.1. It is a precocious work from his folkloric years, one which also includes modern tendencies. Notable are the composer’s varied percussion writing and his seeking out of innovative low-register combinations. Rather than dwell on obvious influences from early 20th-century Paris, I would like to emphasize his successful evocation though imagery and sound of the Argentinian pampas, suggesting feelings associated with nature and the past. The BBC Philharmonic led by Juanjo Mena play with verve and sensitivity throughout.

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