01 I Musici de MontrealRichard Strauss – Metamorphosen; Arvo Pärt – Symphony No.4 “Los Angeles”
I Musici de Montréal; Jean-Marie Zeitouni
ATMA ACD2 2813 (atmaclassique.com/en)

What constitutes interpretation? Certainly every artist or orchestral ensemble worth its name seeks to internalize the message of the music they choose to perform in the hopes of sharing a unique perspective with the audience. In the very best cases, that perspective is highly individual, shaped by training, culture, intelligence, imagination, curiosity and countless other factors. The best music invites a variety of approaches and our source of continuing fascination with the Western canon is the constant artistic revivification of its musical literature.

I Musici de Montréal’s revisiting of Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen and Arvo Pärt’s Symphonie No.4 “Los Angeles” is a breathtaking reminder that personal interpretation can lie just off the beaten track – s0 as to make your experience of it utterly breathtaking.  

The sense of foreboding in Metamorphosen is not simply complete and ink-black but inhabits the gloom of post-war Germany with enormous tonal power, conjuring the visual skyline of shattered cathedrals and priceless bombed Gothic structures, open to the sky, roads filled with the debris of war, with desultory, homeless survivors scavenging for a living. It is a show-stopping performance.  

The poetic sentiments of Pärt’s Symphonie No.4 are no less weighty in tone textures, albeit far less grim. The three-movement work is based on the prayer to the Guardian Angel, taken from the Slavonic Orthodox Canon. Jean-Marie Zeitouni leads the ensemble in a monumental, sacred essence of the work in haunting, spectral and evocative terms.

Listen to 'RICHARD STRAUSS ARVO PÄRT' Now in the Listening Room

02 Piazzolla BessettePort of Call: Buenos Aires Astor Piazzolla
Chloé Dominguez; Louise Bessette; Marc Djokic
Analekta AN 2 9298 (analekta.com/en)

Canadian pianist Louise Bessette’s second recording from her series A Piano Around the World travels to Buenos Aires, Argentina with works by the world-renowned composer/bandoneonist/tango master Astor Piazzolla. Here Bessette is joined by Canadians violinist Marc Djokic and cellist Chloé Dominguez.  

The opening work, Oblivion, is an arrangement for piano, violin and cello by José Bragato, former Buenos Aires Philharmonic member and cellist in several Piazzolla ensembles cellist. This is a tight meditative almost classical rendition with the piano groove supporting the famous alternating violin and cello melodies. Bragato also arranged the four-tango movement Las cuatro estaciones porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) which Piazzolla composed independently between 1965 and 1970, about the city’s weather seasons. Tight performances in fast and happy Primavera Porteña. A more orchestral arrangement in Verano Porteña with cello and violin solos amidst classic Piazzolla grooves, accents, tango lines and piano flourishes. 

Le grand tango (1982), written for Mstislav Rostropovich, is a one-movement original virtuosic work featuring Dominguez’s well-thought-out clear legato cello phrases above Bessette’s rhythmic piano accompaniment. Dmitriy Varelas’ violin and piano arrangement of Piazzolla’s four-movement Histoire du Tango (1985), is a decades-spanning musical tango history from the classic early high-spirited tango Bordel 1900 with Djokic’s memorable high-pitched violin lines and percussive taps, to the current Concert d’aujourd’hui, with its more atonal violin/piano lines. From the melancholy opening to tempo and mood changes, Bessette’s solo piano interpretation of Adiós Nonino is perfect Piazzolla. 

A standing ovation for these respectful Piazzolla tango performances!

Listen to 'Port of Call: Buenos Aires' Now in the Listening Room

03 TransfigurationTransfiguration
Stéphane Tétrault; Valérie Milot
ATMA ACD2 2865 (atmaclassique.com/en)

A “classical” CD opening with jazz and ending with rock? Credit Quebeckers Stéphane Tétreault (cello) and Valérie Milot (harp) for assembling these wildly disparate “transfigurations” by five Canadian composers.

La Folía, a Renaissance-era Portuguese dance tune, has inspired variations by hundreds of composers from Vivaldi to Rachmaninoff (including my fellow WholeNote reviewer Daniel Foley!). In Alexandre Grogg’s buoyant Three Variations on La Folia, drummer Bernard Riche joins Tétreault and Milot for this semi-improvised, bossa-nova-flavoured jazz arrangement. Tétreault’s cello floats melancholically amid Milot’s rippling in Grogg’s Swan to Swan, quoting “swan music” by Gibbons, Sibelius and Barber, leading to the iconic The Swan by Saint-Saëns.

Kelly-Marie Murphy’s Si veriash a la rana (a Ladino nursery rhyme), arranged from her Concerto for cello and harp, moves from solemn Hebraic prayer to wailing flamenco frenzy. Puccini’s Madama Butterfly infuses Transfigured Sentiment in Marjan Mozetich’s audience-pleasing style of repeated phrases expressing endless yearning.

Caroline Lizotte’s Close for Couloir, Op.48, commissioned by Couloir, the cello-harp duo from B.C. now based in Europe, evokes a Scottish stone circle, bloody battlefield, Edinburgh Castle, Melrose Abbey and a song by Robert Burns. The music is mysterious, martial, meditative, sentimental – and entrancing!

François Vallières’ busy, fragmented Double-Monologue depicts two individuals incessantly speaking without hearing each other, self-absorption that’s symptomatic, says Vallières, “of contemporary society’s addiction to social media.” Riche rejoins the duo in Vallières’ arrangement of rock-group Gentle Giant’s Cogs in Cogs, ending this fascinating CD in raucous fashion.

Listen to 'Transfiguration' Now in the Listening Room

04 Emilie Girard CharestÉmile Girard-Charest – Intimités
Émile Girard-Charest; various artists
Ambiances Magnétique AM 263 CD (actuellecd.com)

Émilie Girard-Charest is a multi-talented Montreal cellist, improviser and composer. Here, four compositions written between 2014 and 2018 for varying strings, piano and percussion ensembles touch upon her self-described clear personal inspirations in unique, though at times challenging, music all her own. 

 Girard-Charest plays cello on the first three compositions too. Along with violinists Lyne Allard, Geneviève Liboiron and violist Jean René, Asyndètes (2017) is her exploration of the effects of “fracture energy and shocks” as intense outpouring of ragged sounds from fast strings to accents, multi-rhythms and wide pitch settings are spaced out by silences to quieter calm held notes. Épanchements (2014), for violin (Liboiron), cello and piano (Daniel Añez), is based on silences which separate a fascinating use of noisy modern strings sounds and single-note piano, making for focused listening. Heurts (2019) explores the notion of rupture point. Violin, cello, piano and percussion (Noam Bierstone) are dramatic in faster rhythmical driving music with clever midstream percussion hits and slight short instrumental heartbeat-like effects. 

The title track Intimités, for chamber ensemble comprised of four cellos and four double basses, is more atonal with almost painful dissonances as the composer explores aspects of intimacy. Powerful original musical ideas are gradually developed, effectively utilizing held notes throughout – like each ensemble member holding an extended personal note with pitch/tremolo subtlety – and closer to the end, very low-pitch, thunder-like grumbles. 

Contemporary music aficionados, and all other listeners too, are encouraged to experience this great Girard-Charest release.

05 An LaurenceAlmost Touching
An Laurence
people | places | records PPR 033 (peopleplacesrecords.bandcamp.com)

Tiohtià:ke/Montreal-based An Laurence 安媛 is a nuanced experimental guitarist, vocalist and multimedia artist. Not only a solo act, she cofounded the Paramorph Collective with composer Kim Farris-Manning, and with flutist Sara Constant, the duo alokori. Laurence’s approach to performance favours pushing the boundaries of received genres such as contemporary classical, electronic music, spoken word and song. Her 15-track Almost Touching features works by five international composers, combining all those influences, sometimes juxtaposed in abrupt ways. 

Emblematic of the record is Elischa Kaminer’s 11-part expansive, moody and challenging Chants d’amour. Nearly 62-minutes long, it could easily have been a separate album. The work of Kaminer, a composer and theatre-maker based in England and Germany, is “located on the intersections of music theatre, sound art, electronic, concert, queer-pop and Yiddish musics.” His recent work often takes on the form of “electro-acoustic landscapes … molded [onto] performers’ own artistry, humour, physicality and musicality.” 

The dizzying, disparate variety of vocal, instrumental, stylistic, electronic and affective devices in Chants d’amour certainly reflects his approach. Another distinct challenge to an Anglo like me is Laurence’s extensive intimate poetic recitations in French sprinkled throughout the work. In my mind’s eye it adds up to a theatrical whole which might perhaps find its ultimate expression on stage or screen.

The sum of the many parts of this major work – as well as of the album as a whole – while often a demanding listen, is never less than engaging. I’ve a feeling we’ll hear much more from An Laurence.

06 T AK Love Crystal Stone Ashkan Behzadi - Love, Crystal and Stone
TAK Ensemble
TAK Editions (takensemble.bandcamp.com/album/love-crystal-and-stone-2)

The TAK Ensemble and composer Ashkan Behzadi release a song cycle of staggering imagination and originality. Behzadi’s ground-breaking approach to vocal and ensemble writing stretches sonic expression to its outer limits. At times this music is highly kinetic and agitated, unfolding with a seemingly inexhaustible series of magical events. Alternatively there are moments of tender lyricism that invite the listener into mysterious and dusty landscapes that also shimmer with a distant haziness. 

Throughout the seven settings of poetry by Lorca, Behzadi offers a deeply philosophical interpretation that resonates into psychological territory that is at once unsettling and beautiful. The originality of vocal writing and colouristic support in the ensemble is of an innovative quality that pushes musical expression into daring new terrain. Vocalist Charlotte Mundy delivers a performance of breathtaking musicality, placing her among the foremost interpreters of contemporary music. The TAK ensemble approaches the difficult and unrelenting score with brilliant ease and impressive virtuosity. Bravo to all on a stunning recording.

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