01 Alain Lefevre OPUS 7 Cover preview 1 Alain Lefèvre – Opus 7 Préludes
Alain Lefèvre
Warner Classics 9029540078 (alainlefevre.com/composer)

Charismatic Alain Lefèvre is a perfect composer and pianist in his seventh release featuring seven piano preludes, six of which were recorded in spring 2019 in his native Quebec.

Composing and then performing one’s own works must be exceedingly gratifying. Lefèvre started his career as a pianist, reaching international acclaim. The liner notes state he started composing in the late 1970s and first recorded his compositions in 1999. He accurately describes himself compositionally as a storyteller.  

No.1 Force fragile is reminiscent of Romantic-style music with a waltz opening, sparkling high notes, contrasting lower pitches, runs against melodic held notes and loud, percussive, yet surprisingly, never-banging notes building to a happy story finale. No.3 Amour fou utilizes subtle touches of contemporary harmonic shifts, shorter repeated melodic phrases, rubato, and an unexpected triple-time faster programmatic section with staccato chords and melodies with turns, all recounting the search for true (not crazy/fou) love. No.5 Aux portes du destin, composed for a Syrian friend with cancer, is a dramatic grief-laden major/minor tonality piece enveloped by melodic high single notes, and at the ending creating a tinkle of hope. No.7 Mati, for piano and bouzouki (Thanasis Polykandriotis), was composed after a tragic 2018 fire in Mati, Greece. Recorded in Athens, the bouzouki’s plucked strings and piano-hammered keys create a unique sound, especially during quasi-unison duets, melodic conversations with bouzouki high notes.

Lefèvre’s Opus 7 Préludes are colourful, multi-character “best-selling” piano stories!

02 Rose BoltonThe Lost Clock
Rose Bolton
Important Records/Cassauna (imprec.com/cassauna)

The undulating hypnotica of Canadian composer Rose Bolton’s latest release demonstrates mastery of colour and form as filtered through the electronic realm. In the four tracks that comprise the album, titled The Lost Clock, the listener is captivated throughout introspective drones and pulses all layered in a foundation of sonic alchemy. 

The first piece, Unsettled Souls, is a short gem infused with mysterious bells that somehow haunt and comfort simultaneously. The almost 13-minute title work has a mood of wonderful anguish much like hidden corrosion under a brilliant surface. The third piece, Starless Night, is comprised of a warm blanket of electronic molasses over which jagged and unknown sound sources create a liminal experience of otherworldliness and real-world mechanics. The Heaven Mirror, the concluding work, is as evocative as the title suggests. 

This music is serene and calm, but not without deep and profound poetic intention. The Lost Clock is a digital release also available on cassette on the Caussana imprint from Important Records.

03 Dustin White Ri Ra Artwork FinalRi Ra
Dustin White
Mon Hills Records (dustinwhiteflute.com)

Early-career West Virginia flutist Dustin White has made a name exploring flutecentred intersections of Western contemporary art and Middle Eastern musics. His debut solo album, Ri Ra, treads that path; featuring seven solo works from the last 18 years for C, alto and bass flutes Montreal’s Katia Makdissi-Warren is however no mere coincidence. She is the founding artistic director of Oktoécho, an ensemble specializing in the fusion of Middle Eastern and Western musical idioms, right in line with the album’s theme. 

Most of the works chosen for were winners of a 2020 open call for scores which sought compositions by composers of Middle-Eastern descent, or music inspired by Middle-Eastern themes. White’s masterful command of the Western concert metal flute enables him to evoke the sounds of the reed nay and shabbaba, modes outside diatonic scales and Middle-Eastern forms such as taqasim, found in Arabic improvisation.

Makdissi-Warren’s beautifully wrought flute solo Dialogue du silence is a standout. Inspired by taqasim, she eloquently highlights silence in the score. It serves to punctuate melodic phrases, as portmanteaux of transition and as echoes of preceding phrases. Dialogue du silence is both compelling as an emotional statement, as well as a rare example of an effective marriage of extended flute techniques pioneered by 20th-century Western composers and received Arabic flute and vocal performance practices. The score is eminently worthy of joining the roster of solo flute concert standards.

04 Catherine LeeRemote Together
Catherine Lee
Redshift Records TK489 (redshiftrecords.org)

During the worldwide pandemic, Canadian oboist Catherine Lee turned this experience into a creative solo album, Remote Together. The compositions are put in a specific order to recreate the transformative experience during social isolation; loneliness to overcoming seclusion, with a new perspective on life as we know it. The album features works by Canadian and American composers from the Pacific Northwest, often incorporating the vibrant sounds of nature with the pastoral timbre of the oboe, oboe d’amore and English horn.

Although each composition brought different perspectives of the oboe family’s tonal variety, the one that really stood out was the final work Silkys, co-created in 2020 by Catherine Lee and Juniana Lanning. Silkys depicts the lifecycle of the domestic silk moth with the integration of field recordings of natural sounds. You can hear the entire metamorphosis from the very beginnings of life, crawling around as a caterpillar, to being sealed in a cocoon hearing the faint world around outside, to developing and trying new wings, to finally emerging a free moth. Lee has cleverly paired this composition with images, creating a video to enhance the experience.

Lee showcases her beautiful dark tone on all three instruments and her mastery of 20th-century techniques. Remote Together is a direct reflection of current society and nature’s ability to adapt to surrounding circumstances.

05 HovhanessAlan Hovhaness – Selected Piano Compositions
Şahan Arzruni
Kalan 773 (kalan.com)

Drawing upon his friendship with the composer and what he describes as “stacks of handwritten manuscripts,” Armenian pianist-ethnomusicologist-media personality Şahan Arzruni performs ten works by Alan Hovhaness, several unpublished, here receiving their first recordings.

Hovhaness (1911-2000) was born in Massachusetts to an Armenian father and Scottish mother. Many of his hundreds of compositions reference Armenian historical and musical traditions. Embracing as well the melodic, rhythmic, modal and colouristic resources of other diverse cultures, Hovhaness’ music evokes ritualistic processions, incantations and dances in moods ranging from lamentation to jubilation.

This disc contains 34 tracks, nearly all under three minutes long. In the five-movement Invocations for Vahakn, Op.54, No.1, percussionist Adam Rosenblatt adds Chinese drums, Burmese gongs, cymbal, conch and thunder sheet to the suitably aggressive music. (Vahakn was an ancient Armenian war god.) Rosenblatt rejoins Arzruni in the eight-movement Sonata Hakhpat, Op.54, No.2. (The Hakhpat monastery complex in Armenia is a UNESCO World Heritage site, dating from the tenth century.) Unlike its martial companion piece, it begins with slow, bell-like chords; a pensive Pastoral and mournful Aria provide repose between mesmerizing, propulsive dances. 

Of the solo piano works, my special favourites are the quirky Suite on Greek Tunes, the sensuous Mystic Flute and the glowing, beautiful Journey into Dawn. I enjoyed the entire CD, though, along with all of Hovhaness’ music that I’ve heard throughout over 60 years of appreciative listening to it on disc. Quite simply, I’m a fan!

08 Eric Lyon GigaEric Lyon: Giga Concerto
String Noise; Greg Saunier; International Contemporary Ensemble
New Focus Recordings FCR293 (newfocusrecordings.com/catalogue) 

Frenetic energy and whirling pastiche permeate throughout Eric Lyon’s Giga Concerto. Performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), with guest soloists, this six-movement work is certainly a fun ride. The composer notes that the music of Brahms is decidedly “gloomy” and aims to avoid this attribute in his own music. The Giga Concerto does exactly that: the obvious polar opposite of gloom. The listener is treated to pure giddiness as Lyon enjoys many jaunty moments in each movement of the piece. The joviality of mood is unrelenting with many sarcastic string slides and punchy percussive romps. This release is truly a carnival dance in a not-to-distant land. The International Contemporary Ensemble, soloists Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim Harris (also known as the duo String Noise) and percussionist Greg Saunier execute the piece with supreme musicianship and technical mastery. The Giga Concerto is wonderfully buoyant – the perfect listen on a gloomy day.

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