01 To AnatoliaTo Anatolia – Selections from the Turkish Five
Beyza Yazgan
Bridge Records 9549 (bridgerecords.com/collections/catalog-all)

A love letter to Anatolia (Asia Minor), this album introduces young artist Beyza Yazgan, a Turkish pianist now based in New York. Yazgan expresses immense pride for her heritage and gentle longing for her homeland through a wonderful selection of piano pieces by a group of 20th-century composers known as the Turkish Five. She also includes her own illustrations and detailed liner notes on Turkish music traditions, thus making this album even more personal. 

Yazgan’s interpretation of these compositions is simply lovely. Her heartfelt approach brings out beautiful colours from gentle and melancholic pieces. On the other hand, she engages masterfully with complex rhythms in more percussive compositions, making her performance well balanced and charming. 

The Turkish Five – Ahmet Adnan Saygun, Ferid Alnar, Ulvi Cemal Erkin, Necil Kazim Akses and Cemal Reşit Rey – transformed the music of their time by introducing Western compositional styles and forms and blending them with rhythms and modes of traditional Turkish folk music and dances. Just as Anatolia itself has been the land of many cultures and flavours, so is the music on this album. From the beautifully atmospheric Little Shepherd by Erkin and feet-stomping Horon by Reşit Rey, to the elegant Zeybek Dance by Alnar, the pieces tell stories of the unique and rich music heritage of this land, its people and customs.

02 Alexander MosolovAlexander Mosolov – Symphony No.5; Harp Concerto
Taylor Ann Fleshman; Moscow Symphony Orchestra; Arthur Arnold
Naxos 8.574102 (naxosdirect.com/search/8574102)

Russian composer Alexander Mosolov (1900-1973) was active in the early Soviet era, and his artistic voice sits somewhere between Shostakovich and Prokofiev. The latest recording of director Arthur Arnold and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra is a dedicated release of the lesser-known composer’s Fifth Symphony and Harp Concerto. In the former, never performed during the composer’s lifetime, Arnold and the Moscow Symphony deliver the work with subtle musicianship and crisp articulation – aspects that are needed to execute the contrasting three movements. 

Mosolov’s Harp Concerto is a delicate and beautiful work in four movements that takes the listener on a journey from contemplative sustained atmospheres in the first movement, through a mysterious Nocturne, to a charming Gavotte, and finally a flashy Toccata. Harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman’s technique and phrasing are outstanding in this performance. Her captivating interpretation leaves no doubt that this work deserves a lasting place in the harp concerto repertoire. 

It is always nice to encounter an effort to keep lesser-known composers’ music alive – Arnold and the Moscow Symphony certainly make a strong case for increased future performances of Mosolov’s music.

03 Music for Self Isolation Album CoverFrank Horvat – Music for Self-Isolation
Various Artists
Centrediscs CMCCD-28521 (cmccanada.org/shop/cd-cmccd-28521)

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Toronto composer and pianist Frank Horvat observed fellow musicians struggling to cope with loss, precarity triggered by cancelled gigs and the strain of isolation. Wondering how to effectively respond, his answer: write new compositions to counter self-isolation. Thus, during the spring of 2020 he composed 31 short classical-style pieces, shared immediately with the international community on social media. They were an instant hit. Numerous performance videos were posted on the Internet and Horvat made plans to record them on the album Music for Self-Isolation at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall. The session wrapped the day before Ontario’s stay-at-home order came into force on January 14, 2021. The album also includes the ensemble composition Together in Spirit, using overdubbing technology to effectively bring together the 22 talented musicians who played solos and duos on the other tracks of Music for Self-Isolation.

Part two of the album comprises eight nuanced The Idea of North-style audio documentaries titled Pandemic Stories. These layered monologues, each by a different musician, are deeply personal stories about impacted careers and lives during the pandemic, accompanied by Horvat’s instrumental music. The aim: to present “the hopes, dreams and fears,” of each musician, and their views on the arts and culture sector, “in order to heal and move forward together.”

Taking the two sections together – the 32 music miniatures and eight audio reports – the 40-track Music for Self-Isolation offers accessible, soothing music, plus international voices of resilience during this time of plague. The album reminds us that music is among the most mysterious and highest order of human skills.

04 Andrzej Pietrewicz 4 EP Cover#4
Andrzej Pietrewicz
Independent (soundcloud.com/andrzej-pietrewicz/sets/4a-1/s-h6vzdD1KKYM)

Andrzej Pietrewicz is an independent musician, small instrumental ensemble composer and producer based in Port Credit, near Toronto. His unique inspirational compositional and performing sound makes this six original-song, self-produced-during-COVID-lockdown creation, unforgettable! Pietrewicz clearly has a comprehensive technical understanding of diverse musical genres such as Baroque, jazz, blues, folk, classical and contemporary. He draws on this knowledge to develop his own vibrant sound performed here by talented instrumentalists on piano, strings, percussion, guitar, winds, programming and, in the closing track, vocalists. 

Multi-instrumental track 1 is a great introduction to his music, combining quasi-orchestral tonal sounds with modern touches such as interval jumps and tweeting bird-like piano sounds. The faster, happier track 2 with its rhythmic piano interval patterns, instrumental held notes, simultaneous tonal/modern effects and high-pitched woodwind sounds creates a musical pre/post-COVID sunny warm spring day for me! 

Track 3, with a nod to Baroque keyboard music, yet so modern day in tonality, moves from the contrapuntal mood-changing opening lines to subtle dissonant intervals, steady rhythms and detailed phrasing, performed with sensitivity, passion and hope by the composer. Nice addition of singers Nacre, Timbre, Laura and Caroline Joy Clarke to track 6 as their high pitches alternating with tight string, flute and piano parts create a captivating positive soundscape. 

This is uplifting, joyous, beautiful music to be enjoyed over and over again.

Listen to '#4' Now in the Listening Room

05a Claire Chase 1Density 2036 (2013-2015)/(2016-2017)
Claire Chase
Corbett vs Dempsey CvsD CD076 (corbettvsdempsey.com)

Claire Chase is a force. Our modern understanding of contemporary music performance is pushed forward with artists of this calibre. The eminent flutist’s latest release comes as a monumental four-disc statement toward why Chase is one of the world’s most celebrated performers. As one would expect, the execution on this release is extraordinary. That said, expected excellence must not be confused with anything inherently predictable: each piece is delivered with a stunning level of musicianship that demands attention and respect. Titled Density 2036, this release represents the first five years (2013-2017) a of a 24-year project through which Chase will commission new pieces for solo flute each year until the 100th anniversary of Edgard Varèse’s seminal flute composition Density 21.5, written in 1936.

05b Claire Chase 2The first disc begins with Marcos Balter’s Pessoa for six bass flutes – a piece that embodies a rather meditative atmosphere with shakuhachi-like gestures. There are two pieces by Brazilian-American composer Felipe Lara, the second of which, titled Parábolas na Caverna, is wonderfully mysterious in its richness, drawing the listener into a highly successful soundworld and unusual invocations for the flute. Chase takes command of the extended techniques to such a world-class level that I had to listen several times to believe what was being heard. 

It is not simply technical fireworks on display that makes Chase’s playing so compelling: it’s technical wizardry combined with a level of care, dedication and nuance that makes a recording like this so important. George Lewis’ Emergent for flute and electronics is a true gem of the repertoire. This highly original music is stunning for its thrilling otherworldliness. An Empty Garlic for bass flute and electronics written by Chinese-born composer Dun Yun is exquisite. It is a lush garden of undiscovered essences producing an irresistible listening experience. The first CD caps off with Chase’s own interpretation of Varèse’s Density 21.5 that may objectively be considered a seminal recording of this early-20th-century masterpiece. 

We also receive a dynamic and adventurous piece from Dai Fujikura and an engagingly hip work from Francesca Verunelli. Pauline Oliveros’ Intensity 20.15: Grace Chase – a work inspired by a text written by Chase’s grandmother – is 20 minutes of pure ingenuity suspended in a realm beyond imagination. 

Suzanne Farrin’s The Stimulus of Loss is an expressive and delicate work with an appearance by the ondes Martenot; the playful energy in Tyshawn Sorey’s Bertha’s Lair is a magical landscape with percussive edges; Pauchi Sasaki’s Gama XV: Piece for Two Speaker Dresses makes brilliant use of technology in a highly evocative soundscape where the ears become enveloped within an airy expanse. The fourth CD contains an eight-movement work by Balter, titled Pan, which is a substantial journey inspired by memory. This work embodies a rather theatrical aesthetic and is written with an intense and luminous brilliance and with clever novelty of material.  

This first installment of Chase’s Density 2036 project is impressive, and a profound affirmation of why Chase is one of the most important champions of contemporary music. Her tremendous musicality and breathtaking command of the flute is dramatic and remarkable. As the CD liner notes remind us, density is a matter of scale; this release deserves 10 out of 10 with any metric I can think of.

06 Norgard Ruders celloPer Nørgård & Poul Ruders: Works for Solo Cello
Wilhelmina Smith
Ondine ODE 1381-2 (naxosdirect.com/search/ode+1381-2)

Courageous and captivating, cellist Wilhelmina Smith has released a new album spotlighting Danish composers Per Nørgård and Poul Ruders. This disc makes a welcome sequel to Smith’s previous solo release featuring Finnish cello music by Esa-Pekka Salonen and Kaija Saariaho. 

Attractively programmed in two parts, this album opens with three sonatas by Nørgård, followed by Bravourstudien, (L’homme armé Variations) by Ruders. Within the sonatas, the listener gains a chronological sense of expressive storytelling. Beloved amongst string instruments, the cello is predisposed to a masterful narrative ability, epitomizing the perfect solo instrument in a number of ways. It possesses a wide tonal and dynamic range that resonates warmly and reverberantly in multiple environments. When wielded by an expert player such as Smith, the cello can direct the most intimate modes of expression and in turn manifest a certain spaciousness, with majestic soundscapes of impressive import. It is this latter profile that proves most exceptional in Nørgård’s three sonatas; they are immediately striking with an outward sonic expanse. In this bowed string land, capacious vistas prevail. By the third work, subtitled “What - Is the Word!” we remain in awe of darkly pulsing melodies as they haunt our ears, questing after an elusive (collective) Nordic heart.

Smith then shifts seamlessly to the whimsical – even impish – soundworld of Ruders. The slightly younger composer of the twain, Ruders is a modern musical maverick; the very same might be said of Smith.

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