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Centaur Classics CEN1021
Ottawa-based harpist Caroline Léonardelli’s fourth album to date offers an enticing mix of old and new: a program of beloved French standards by Debussy, Tournier and Damase book-ended by compositions by Canada’s leading composer for the harp.
Devising convincing music for the so-called “naked piano” involves technical and conceptual challenges exasperating enough to discourage many a composer. Marjan Mozetich, however, composes in a style ideally suited for the instrument and has contributed greatly to its repertoire. His El Dorado was commissioned in 1981 for harpist Erica Goodman by Toronto’s New Music Concerts and was followed by several further works for the instrument. There is a pronounced minimalist influence detectable in the evocative oscillations of Mozetich’s early works which have since given way to a more supple and idyllic approach. Originally scored with string orchestra and formerly available on a now deleted CBC recording of the premiere performance, El Dorado is admirably revived here in a budget-conscious arrangement featuring the Penderecki String Quartet and double bassist Joel Quarrington. The album also features the third (!) recording of Mozetich’s 1988 cycle of four solo pieces, Song of Nymphs, in an exceptionally scintillating performance. Among the French solo pieces placed between these Canadian works Marcel Tournier’s Féerie stands out for its rhapsodic and dramatic sweep, a welcome antidote to the comparative bucolic placidity of its neighbours. The recording boasts outstanding sound engineered by celebrity tonmeister Anton Kwiatkowski.
Echiquier Records ECD009 (www.marykenedi.com)
Zoltán Kodaly, Hungary’s Composer Laureate of the latter half of the 20th century, is mostly known by his orchestral, chamber and choral works. His piano music was mostly neglected, so this collection performed by acclaimed Toronto pianist of Hungarian origin, Mary Kenedi, is welcome. Although by no means complete, it is still rewarding to follow the composer’s evolution from his youthful attempts towards his mature style.
The 9 Pieces for Piano, Op.3 date back to 1907, when the 25 year old Kodaly in Paris fell under the spell of Debussy. The talented, somewhat rebellious young fellow experimented by mingling impressionism with radical new rhythms and original harmonies of the pentatonic scale, which is the basis of Hungarian folk idiom. His predominantly serious mood is sometimes relieved with humorous pieces showing Kodaly’s lighter side that later became so irresistible in his famous Hary Janos singspiel.
In the 7 pieces, Op.11 one can see how much Kodaly developed in less than 10 years. Themes are more meaningful, full of feeling and the ideas previously experimented with have become integrated into the music’s message. Some of the pieces are based on haunting, lamenting melodies of Transylvania, that foreboding, mysterious region of the Carpathians where much of Kodaly’s research took place. Ms Kenedi’s firm, authoritative hands are most impressive in No.18 Rubato where she carries the assertive, long melodic line with wonderful atmosphere. The pièce de resistance is the well known Dances of Marosszek (1927) in its original version, a formidably difficult, colourful bravura piece that reminds me of Liszt’s piano transcriptions. Here Kenedi pulls out all the stops and brings this disc to an exciting close.
Perhaps due to the recording, some harsh tones are noticeable that detract from the otherwise very fine performances.
Ralitsa Tcholakova; Elaine Keillor
Carleton Sound CSCD-1012
As a violin and piano recording, this one is immediately evident as being at the top of the genre. Performers are first rate, and playing with a passion. Audio production is unusually well done, with none of the bizarre qualities one finds so often nowadays, either of the violinist sounding as if she is larger than the accompanist, or the listener being right inside the piano.
Excellent choices were made for the music on this CD, with special emphasis on Bulgarian iconic figure Pantcho Vladiguerov, who is represented by the Chant from his larger Bulgarian Suite, the widely-known Rhapsody Vardar, a Humoreske, plus an encore arrangement of Dinicu’s Hora Staccato.
Tcholakova and Keillor show an admirable commitment to Canadian repertoire, beginning with Gena Branscombe’s unjustly neglected A minor Sonata, well represented in this performance. Violet Archer’s Fantasy and Prelude and the Prelude and Allegro are equally well served. But the best is saved for last: we get to hear the violin version of the late Patrick Cardy’s Liessel, Suse, Ilze, and Gerda, and Mary Gardiner’s monumental Remembered Voices, here finally blossoming in a hall vastly superior to the Heliconian Club.
The Glenn Gould Studio’s hand-picked Steinway is on its best behaviour. No fewer than three sound engineers did the microphone wizardry. All photos are posed, with none showing the actual recording sessions.
An excellent CD.
John S. Gray
Opening Day Records OD 7368
The Eastman Wind Ensemble (EWE) is a celebrated student ensemble at the University of Rochester with a tradition of very high standards honed through extensive rehearsals. Tuba player Chuck Dallenbach of the Canadian Brass was a student at the Eastman School of Music in the 1960s, where he shared lodgings with the producer of this recent souvenir album, fellow tubist Dixon van Winkle.
The title track, British composer and conductor Bramwell Tovey’s Manhattan Music, is a brash and bountiful set of seven variations which somehow manages to hang together quite nicely. Originally commissioned for the Canadian Brass, Tovey has recast the work for wind ensemble since leading the premiere with the Vancouver Symphony in 2005. A subsequent suite carved from Leonard Bernstein’s controversial Mass wrests the most attractive sections of music from this sadly dated 1971 work, while sparing us the cringe-worthy theatrical scenario. The arrangement by Michael Sweeney highlights the quintet most effectively. Rayburn Wright’s Shaker Suite tills the familiar ground appropriated long ago by Aaron Copland but falls short of Copland’s level of inspiration. Jeff Tyck’s eclectic, over-the-top New York Cityscape suite brings the proceedings to an appropriately rambunctious close. Mark Scatterday conducts the fine-sounding, slightly slap-happy ensemble with vigour.
The perplexing liner notes include a pleonastic encomium touting the virtues of the 1950s Mercury record label (marketer of some two dozen EWE Frederick Fennell albums back in their glory days) and a stint of shameless pimping for the founders of ArkivMusic, who, it seems, will burn you a copy of this disc for a fee should you happen to hear of it.
Cedille CDR 90000108
In 1997 Charles Rosen recorded all of Elliott Carter’s piano music for a disc called “The Complete Music for Piano”. At that time, the composer was over ninety years old. Now, some ten years later, Ursula Oppens offers “The Complete Piano Music”, with six new works. All shorter than the earlier pieces, none is a masterwork like Night Fantasies. But what they lack in monumentality, they compensate for in warmth and charm, especially the lovely Matribute and the ebulliently virtuosic Caténaires. Both are recorded here for the first time.
Oppens has long been recognized as a singularly eloquent interpreter of contemporary music. She has worked closely with Carter for many years, and was one of the four pianists responsible for commissioning Night Fantasies, along with Rosen, Paul Jacobs and Gilbert Kalish. In fact, she gave the premiere performance at the Bath Festival in 1980.
Oppens’ luminous performances of Mozart piano concertos with Mark Morris’ dance troupe during last summer’s Luminato Festival in Toronto attested to the breadth of her musical scope. This stands her in good stead here as she illuminates Carter’s complex textures with musical insight, revealing the poetry in this expressive music. This is a disc to treasure, and would serve as a fine introduction to a seminal composer of our time.
Carter just turned one hundred, and is still composing brilliantly - a miracle of creative activity surely unmatched in the history of music. I hope the next complete piano recording offers even more new works.
Centrediscs CMCCD 13508
Not all CDs were created equal. This CD wipes a smile across my beard. After listening to it over and over, it’s apparent: Nicole Lizée knows the good stuff. I began doing anthropological studies by having this recording playing in the background and watching people’s reactions. What I deduced is that “This is not background music” could have been an easy alternate title to “This Will Not be Televised”.
The title composition is a wonderfully creepy musical adventure. The music goes in so many interesting directions. In the liner notes of this 2008 Centrediscs release, it’s mentioned that this piece was named a Top 10 recommended work at the 2008 International Rostrum of Composers. I would agree that this piece sets the bar for great contemporary music!
The piece RPM blends turntables with a larger orchestra. I love this sound, and I think the symphony orchestras of the future should make it standard to include an entire turntable section. It’s very difficult to describe the magical combination of turntables and ensemble that Lizée has achieved. It is obvious that every sample she uses is carefully chosen and appropriately placed. I love the sense of play in this music, from the live mimicking of skipping records, to the nostalgic use of cheesy 1980s heavy metal albums. When I close my eyes, a lot of this music is the soundtrack to the cartoon in my mind.
Girl You’re Living a Life of Crime is a pop-based piece, reminding the listener that the composer is also a multi-instrumentalist in the successful Montreal pop outfit Besnard Lakes. This piece certainly is not a standard pop tune though as it messes with the idea of tape-splicing and in the end the musicians create a shaky ostinato and eventually drive it off a cliff.
This CD does such a genuine job in celebrating jazz music, improvisation, pop music, contemporary music and everything in between. Lizée’s music clearly reflects the many identities of Canadians, and the next generation of its composers. Her fearless approach is engaging and I highly recommend raising children on this music…