Click above Thumbnails to jump to review below.
I Musici de Montreal; Yuli Turovsky
Analekta AN 2 9899
Though the name of Shostakovich is printed in the largest typeface on this engaging release from the ever-reliable I Musici ensemble, in truth his music serves as bookends for some lesser-known works, most importantly the Chamber Symphony No. 1 by the Polish-Jewish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996). Weinberg (sometimes spelled as Vaynberg) fled to Russia in 1939 during the Nazi decimation of Warsaw; the remainder of his family would later perish in the Trawinki concentration camp. During his evacuation in Tashkent he met Dmitri Shostakovich. Impressed by his talent, Shostakovich later encouraged the younger man to move to his Moscow neighbourhood in 1943. They subsequently became very close friends, and while Weinberg was never formally a student of Shostakovich his own music was closely modelled on that of his mentor, though in the case of his Chamber Symphony (a late work from from 1987) evidencing a more neo-classical and abstract approach betraying little evidence of his harrowing life experiences.
The young composer, clarinettist and conductor Airat Ichmouratov was born in 1973 in Kazan, Tatarstan and now enjoys a busy concert life in Montréal. His Fantastic Dances for piano trio (his own Muczynski trio) and strings was commissioned by I Musici in 2007. It is an affectionate tribute to both Shostakovich and Weinberg incorporating klezmer elements and includes a recasting the second movement of Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony as part of a demented waltz. The ghost of Gustav Mahler also makes a perplexing cameo appearance in the Ravel-derived grand finale.
The Shostakovich works include the youthful Prelude and Scherzo Op. 11, notable for its hard-driven second movement, as well as string orchestra arrangements of the Elegy from the opera Lady Macbeth of Mzensk and the sardonic Polka from the ballet The Age of Gold. Excellent sound and intriguing programming make this one a winner.
New Music Concerts; Robert Aitken
Elliott Carter’s one hundredth birthday is being celebrated this year on a scale previously unthinkable for a living composer - especially a composer whose music was for long considered excessively complicated and difficult. Carter is now recognized as America’s greatest composer - and not just because he has been around the longest. Amazingly, he is still composing.
This CD/DVD set of late works is a standout. It was recorded live in Toronto in 2006 at two concerts given by New Music Concerts. The most significant works are the two beautifully performed ensemble pieces, Dialogues and Mosaic, both presented in audio and video formats. But what particularly draw me on this disc are the virtuosic pieces for solo instruments, especially the exquisite wind pieces. The jazzy, playful Steep Steps is performed with remarkable versatility by the lone non-Canadian performer, American bass-clarinettist Virgil Blackwell, the dedicatee of the piece. In Gra clarinettist Max Christie shapes contrasting layers into a single eloquent voice. Scrivo in Vento, written for New Music Concerts artistic director, flutist Robert Aitken, provides an intense, expressive exploration of the instrument.
I especially enjoyed Aitken’s pre-concert interview with Carter on the DVD. You can feel the affectionate relationship between these two long-time friends. Carter is genial, witty, and brilliant - and quite mischievous. Aitken handles him deftly, but Carter doesn’t make his job easy. Asked about the genesis of a piece, he says, “I’m interested in the music – I’m not interested in where it came from.”
Superb recorded sound, exemplary booklet notes, and snazzy camera work contribute to a terrific set, not just for Carter aficionados but for those wanting to know more about the music of our time.