01 Costas guitar and fluteCostas – Works for Guitar and Flute
Duo Beija-Flor
Big Round Records BR8953 (bigroundrecoreds.com)

The days of November are increasingly colder and grayer, so what better way to dispel any pre-winter gloom than a flute and guitar duo performing music with a strong Mediterranean focus. The Montreal-based Duo Beija-Flor – guitarist Charles Hobson and flutist Marie-Noëlle Choquette – began playing together during their student days at Concordia University and officially became a duo in 2010. Since then, they have performed throughout Canada, the United States and Argentina.

This disc, titled Costas – referring to the Latin coastlines of the Atlantic – is a delight, featuring music by such diverse composers as Manuel de Falla, Astor Piazzolla, Celso Machado and Roddy Ellias. What is particularly striking from the very beginning is the wide variety achieved with respect to style, mood and tempo within a thoughtfully chosen program.

De Falla’s set of Seven Spanish Folksongs was originally arranged for soprano and piano in 1914 and this transcription is particularly convincing. Less familiar is Celso Machado’s languorous Quebra Queixo. Machado, a world music guitarist now based in Vancouver, wrote the piece in homage to a popular Brazilian candy!

Not all works on Costas are by Hispanic composers. Roddy Ellias is a Canadian performer and composer whose piece Havana Street Parade was especially commissioned by the duo. Its quirky and syncopated rhythms are an intriguing blend of jazz and Latin elements, performed with much aplomb.

Throughout the disc, the addition of extraneous effects – percussive tapping on the guitar and the sound of wind created by the flute – further heightens the listening experience. Infectious rhythms, a diverse program and superb playing by both performers make this CD ideal not only for a cool gray day but any time of year – highly recommended.

02 Dreams Laid LowDreams Laid Down – New Music for Classical Guitar
Alan Rinehart
Ravello Records RR7996 (ravellorecords.com)

“Poetic” is surely the word for British Columbia-based classical guitarist Alan Rinehart’s new solo disc. For example, the six pieces of the title work Dreams Laid Down (2013) by American composer Michael Karmon are each based on a poem from a collection by Rinehart’s wife Janice Notland. And Vancouver composer David Gordon Duke states that his own Soliloquies and Dreams (2003, evocative miniatures written for Rinehart) “alternate between the declamatory and the lyric” while the guitar “speaks as an actor, musing on ideas and thoughts.” In my view, these words also apply to Rinehart’s sensitive expression and tone.

Of the disc’s three other compositions, the Rinehart-commissioned Ancient Heroes Suite by composer and guitarist John Oliver is a major work honouring poetic (e.g. Rumi) and guitar-connected greats. Couperin’s Ghost draws the connection between the French clavicinist and lute music. Especially attractive is Passacaille, which evokes not only the variation form but the dance’s steady tread and patterns. Richard Gibson’s Variaciones sobre una tema de Juan Lennon (2013) effectively brings together John Lennon’s song Julia and the classical guitar’s Spanish tradition. Finally, Canadian guitarist and composer William Beauvais’ Beginning of the Day (2017, dedicated to Rinehart) asserts the improvisational aspect of the instrument, extending it with exciting metrical intricacies. For several decades Rinehart has been a key performer, educator and, as we have seen, supporter of new repertoire; it is now a pleasure to recommend this disc.

03 Bekah SimmsBekah Simms – impurity chains
Various Artists
Centrediscs CMCCD 26118 (musiccentre.ca)

Bekah Simms released impurity chains in early September this year. On it are three tracks between six and seven minutes, three between ten and fifteen. Microlattice is controlled chaos. Like many of these works, it follows an ABA structure. Tonally it neatly divides into three roughly equal lengths. Bells announce new sections. A coda juxtaposes the two tonal areas, the closely layered pitches generating a new colour. Metre is shrouded by the expansive pace.

Next are two quartets, both using material derived from folk songs. Slept Unwell is for SATB vocal quartet featuring gasps, whispers and cries, the voices slightly extended with electronic effects. Newfoundland folksong The Maiden’s Lament is the source code; listen carefully. Swallow/Breathe, for string quartet, is a fresh take on the much-loved She’s Like the Swallow. Her coda quotes the melodic source material exactly, like a serving of dessert.

Granitic is for larger ensemble, but of a shorter length. The piece is an ominous sonic mobile, the ten voices suspended in space slowly rotating about, gradually revealing the discernible pulse and in the electric guitar, rock-like riffs. The title may well be a pun. Is there a Kid A (National Anthem) quote in the closing section? This is my favourite.

Everything Is… Distorted, brings back the slow pace of terror I felt in the opening track, while impurity chains is a 15-minute long solo for electric guitar via vocoder. This is a tough slog, and, to quote the helpful liner notes, marked by “various abstruse texts…embedded into the timbral fabric.”

Listen to 'Bekah Simms – impurity chains' Now in the Listening Room

Canadian Composers Series Nos.6-10
Various Artists
another timbre (anothertimbre.com)

Canadian Composers on Another Timbre: Another Timbre is a distinguished English label that specializes in a particular range of contemporary music that draws from the indeterminacy and minimalism of John Cage and Morton Feldman and intersects regularly with the textures and practices of European free improvisation. In 2017 it released five CDs by Canadian composers (reviewed by Raul da Gama in these pages in May 2017) and has just released five more, all ten discussed in a 116-page book of interviews with the composers that’s available with the CDs (anothertimbre.com). 

04a CC Cassandra Miller Just SoAmong the highlights of the series are two CDs by Victoria native Cassandra Miller. Just So (at129, Canadian Composer series #9) presents string quartet pieces performed by Montreal’s Quatuor Bozzini, varied works that possess a rare, original lyricism, in which traditional materials are fragmented and recast, including the delicate bird songs of Warblework and the strangely still About Bach in which transcribed materials are evidently undone by computer glitches, while the first violin part is performed in a stratospheric upper register. 

04b CC Cassandra Miller O ZomerMiller’s O, Zomer! (at126, CC series #6) presents her work for varied ensembles, including an octet form of the group Apartment House performing the title work (from 2007, it’s Miller’s earliest work here), a minimalist piece that moves from a kind of light tapping to insistent ensemble reiteration of the same tones. Philip the Wanderer, composed for pianist Philip Thomas, wanders until it ends on a simple, and repeated, major scale. Her unusually titled Duet for Cello and Orchestra, performed by Charles Curtis and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, includes a cello part that is radically minimalist, at one point posing a two-note phrase against a busy orchestral melody. As with many of Miller’s works, it’s much more than merely unusual, creating great drama and depth from truncated materials.

04c CC Lance Austin OlsenLance Austin Olson is a 75-year-old painter (his paintings appear on many of the CDs in the series) and sound artist who lives in Victoria. Dark Heart (at128, CC#8) focuses largely on graphic scores and field recordings and various mergers of the two. Performances of his work range from two different realizations of a graphic score, Theseus’ Breath, by members of Apartment House, to Olson’s extended explorations of others’ materials and graphic scores, creating soundscapes that mingle guitar, voice, field and found recordings as well as amplified copper plate and park bench. These works are far more engaging than one might expect: an ancient wax cylinder in A Mediation on the History of Painting sounds like a voice from another world.

04d CC Alex JangAlex Jang’s momentary encounters (at127, CC#7) inevitably suggests Feldman and Christian Wolff. He literally lets the world in on the title piece, a clarinet solo performed outdoors amidst birds, children, a dog and a consistent hum. Other pieces include a grey, bent interior horizon, beautifully realized by guitarist Cristián Alvear.

04e CC Linda Catlin SmithLinda Catlin Smith, the artist most extensively represented in the series, adds Wanderer (at130, CC #10), another set of often limpidly beautiful, evanescent chamber works performed by Apartment House, to the two-disc Drifter in the first five-CD batch.

05 Legends and LightLegends and Light – New Works for Large Ensemble
Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra; Croation Chamber Orchestra
Navona Records NV6187 (navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6187)

Four melody-saturated neo-Romantic works offer lots of “good-old-fashioned” musical entertainment.

Dutch composer Hans Bakker (b.1945) calls his ten-minute Canzona III: “Hidden in Her Light” a “hymn to the sun,” but I found this music far from hymn-like, its propulsive rhythms, blazing brass and ringing percussion suggesting instead an ancient martial saga.

The 15-minute Suite for Strings by Ottawa native Jan Järvlepp (b.1953) begins with Changing Times, a merry dance featuring abrupt changes in metre. Shifting Cargo is more dramatic, with strong, syncopated ostinatos. The elegiac A Thoughtful Moment reminded me of Grieg, while Dance of the Monkey Man is a rustic romp, complete with foot-stomping.

Clive Muncaster (b.1936) left England to study in the U.S., where he remained as composer, teacher and music-therapist. His 21-minute Redcliffe Gardens Suite for Strings comprises the cinematically sentimental Petronella, the gently rocking Pastorella and Stella, Fuga Romantica (in which the “romantica” dominates the “fuga”) and the sprightly Girandole.

American Shirley Mier (b.1966) teaches at Century College in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Her 19-minute Of Lakes and Legends presents four local scenarios: Legend of the White Bear depicts a tragic tale of lovers from rival Indigenous tribes; Ride on the Rails evokes the inaugural train journey from St. Paul to White Bear Lake in 1868; a nostalgic waltz, Parlor Recital, recalls “intimate concerts” at a piano-teacher’s home; Regatta (White Bear Yacht Club) celebrates the region’s boat-racing community.

A highly enjoyable disc!

06 Miguel KertsmanMiguel Kertsman – Three Concertos; Chamber Symphony No.2 “New York of 50 Doors”
Marina Piccinini; Orsolya Korcsolán; Martin Kuuskmann; Gergely Sugar; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Dennis Russell Davies
Naxos 8.573987 (naxos.com)

Brazilian/American Miguel Kertsman utilizes his artistic musical experiences as a composer, keyboardist, producer, audio engineer and music executive to compose classification-defying symphonic music that ranges from classical to atonal to mainstream/modern jazz to rock to folk.

The passionate performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Dennis Russell Davies support the soloists. Flutist Marina Piccinini performs colourful long-held notes, melodies and rhythmic sections in the Concerto Brasileiro for Flute, Strings and Percussion. Noteworthy are her virtuosic closing first-movement flute cadenza-like coda, and the third movement rhythmic folk/orchestral Repentes dance featuring flute and string conversations with percussion flourishes. Concerto for Violin, Horn, Shofar and Orchestra is an exciting four-movement exploration of styles, tonalities and rhythms. Journey for Bassoon and Orchestra is a geographical/musical trip. The outer movements are named after the composer (and soloist bassoonist) Martin Kuuskmann’s hometowns – the Tallinn movement features a lyrical Nordic-flavoured bassoon line, while the final Recife movement develops from an extended string fugato to a lively Brazilian dance frevo. Kertsman’s time in New York influences the jazzy middle movement highlighted by laid-back bassoon and xylophone conversations, and a driving rhythm section. Two brief solo bassoon extended-technique Inträludiums between movements are exceptional. The jazzy Chamber Symphony No.2 “New York of 50 Doors” uses two main themes from an earlier work with a repetitive chromatic four-note melody, and extended synthesizer use adding unique sounds.

This original disc is a high-quality listening experience!

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