12 Germot WolfgangGernot Wolfgang – Vienna and the West, Groove-Oriented Chamber Music, Vol. 4
Various Artists
Albany Records TROY1760 (gernotwolfgang.com)

If you are searching for a fresh and distinct fusion of styles, something classically based yet different, this is the album you might want to consider. Gernot Wolfgang, an Austrian-born composer now based in Los Angeles, masters an idiosyncratic fusion of the elements of the Second Viennese School with contemporary jazz in this selection of chamber music pieces featuring various combinations of instruments. In a way, these pieces take inventory of the stylistic as well as geographical influences on Wolfgang’s compositional style. Music on this album has a firm and clear classical music foundation but what makes it interesting is the interweaving of the rhythmical jazz grooves, occasional country western music motives (especially in strings) and the cinematic quality of some sections.

Passage to Vienna for piano trio, the second piece on the album, is a story told in fragments, and exemplifies why this unique fusion works so well. It opens with a beautifully flowing, seductive melody in the piano and repeated unison in the strings. Groovy rhythms precede a jazzy violin solo, done with flair and style. We are then transported to Vienna at the turn of the century, and non-linearity takes over along with strong cinematic colours. The mood shifts back to America toward the end and the opening theme comes back but this time it is coloured with dissonance. Another jazzy violin solo, with added country-style motives and propelling rhythms in the piano bring this piece to a conclusion. The textures are simply divine.

All the compositions on this album are engaging and atmospheric and a strong cast of musicians adds individual flavours to Wolfgang’s music.

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01 InvitationInvitation – Trios for Clarinet, Violin and Piano
Christine Carter; Duo Concertante
Marquis Classics MAR 81489 (marquisclassics.com)

Having to declare an interest in the subject of a disc review is an unalloyed pleasure when said conflict involves praising the work of a former student. Together with Tim Steeves and Nancy Dahn (Duo Concertante), clarinetist Christine Carter has released Invitation, an album of trios for clarinet, violin and piano. Alongside the witty and spirited Suite by Darius Milhaud is Aram Khachaturian’s almost emo Trio; Tango, a chestnut by Canadian Patrick Cardy (1953-2005); and last of all, Francis Poulenc’s L’invitation au château.

The latter is new material to me, as I’m sure it will be to many listeners. It’s a curiosity, beautiful raw material that Poulenc never got around to turning into a suite, unlike his colleague Milhaud. Both composers wrote the music on this disc as integral backdrops for plays by Jean Anouilh, but where Milhaud sifted his score down to four movements, the Poulenc remains in its original form of 16 musical installments, some extremely short, others stretching to between one and two minutes in length.

Nothing detracts from the pleasure of listening to the performances on this disc. The Khachaturian stands out as particularly compelling, but no doubt others will find their own favourites. Tasteful style, courteous and elegant musicianship, and technical ease are featured throughout by all three performers. One supposes, or hopes, this won’t be their last such collaboration.

The liner notes are helpful, packing a good deal of information into an interview format.

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02 lori freedmanExcess
Lori Freedman
Collection QB CQB 1923 (actuellecd.com)

On Excess, distinguished Montreal-based clarinetist Lori Freedman presses the boundaries of contemporary musical discourse, challenging the clarinet’s, the individual composer’s and her own expressive depths. Pressing a point, she focuses on bass and contrabass clarinet, perhaps the most vocal of orchestral instruments, with every pitch ready to bend and break, a spray of overtones seemingly ever at the ready. Oh, yes, she challenges the listener as well.

The program is bracketed by its most radical and expansive adventures. British composer Richard Barrett’s Interference requires the performer to sing over a four-octave range and play a kick-drum as well as turn in a virtuosic explosion of wild burbling lines from the contrabass clarinet. It’s shamanic work, an invocation of spirits, a depth of expression that tests the limits of performance. At the opposite end of the CD, there’s French composer Raphaël Cendo’s Décombres, a work of “saturation” that fills the sound space with roaring contrabass clarinet and abrasive electronics.

In between, Freedman reaches back to Brian Ferneyhough’s daunting Time and Motion Study I (1977) and explores three recent pieces. Freedman worked closely with Vancouverite Paul Steenhuisen on Library on Fire and Paolo Perezzani on Thymos, the former mixing vocal sounds with bass clarinet, the latter the sonic potential of the contrabass, elephants and all. It’s her own Withwhatbecomes that’s most remarkable: almost unvoiced, it’s filled with the quietest, most fleeting, evanescent sounds, more challenging in its own way than anything else here.

03 Stump LinshalmPetra Stump-Linshalm – Fantasy Studies
Various Artists
Orlando Records or 0033 (orlando-records.com)

The technical ability of the players on this new disc is enough to bind the listener to the chase of sounds they produce. A collection of different works for (mostly) winds, and most among them the various sizes of clarinet, the CD is named for its final multi-movement work, written by composer Petra Stump-Linshalm. This piece calls for four players dealing with 11 instruments between them (flutes, clarinets, recorders, cello, some also playing percussion). The performers produce eerily beguiling songs and dances. Tonality is a ghost of its former self, pale-to-vanishing. Stump-Linshalm is more concerned with finding voices to utter her thoughts that no one has heard yet, colours and consonants fresh from a fine-tuned imagination. Movement is mostly ordered but gradual, although some movements pop and spark with sudden furtive gestures. Nowhere is the dance faster than a lively funeral march. Fantastic indeed, and beautiful; and terrifying.

Opening the disc are eight short movements for solo contrabass clarinet, which seems to be having its moment in new music. Uisge Beatha is an exploration in sound of the variety of flavours found in good peated scotch. My unmixed love of single-malt scotch whiskey is not matched by my feelings for the contrabass clarinet. I certainly admire the playing ability of Heinz-Peter Linshalm, who is featured on most of the disc, and his mastery of the double-length bass. There’s a mad take on The Teddy Bears’ Picnic as well; I leave the listener to find it.

04 cqb simon martinSimon Martin – Musique d’art
Quatuor Bozzini; Pierre-Alexandre Maranda
QB CQB 1922 (actuellecd.com)

Simon Martin is a younger Quebecois composer whose work is intimately connected with music’s relationship to materiality. His earlier work Hommage à Leduc, Borduas et Riopelle focused on specific works of three great painters, setting each segment with a small group of like instruments: a saxophone quartet, a trio of classical guitars and the string quartet, Quatuor Bozzini. Here the quartet turns to a more ambitious Martin work. Musique d’art is similarly concerned with meaning, with relationships among music, sound and noise and the philosophical and material status of the musical work, its title a play on the expression “objet d’art.”

It’s a work of substantial scale, over an hour in length, and also great sonic mass. Quatuor Bozzini is extended to a string quintet here with the presence of double bassist Pierre-Alexandre Maranda. In some of the work’s five movements, his is the central voice. The first part moves from silence to a consonant drone that’s gradually engulfed in a gathering dissonance only to return to silence. Maranda’s role comes to the fore in the second part, his harsh, low-register bowing suggesting grinding tools. At another point, his savage, whipping glissandi feel as much like a side effect of industry as a musical technique.

The final movement alternates groups of sustained harmonics to develop a state that’s simultaneously tense and suspended, gradually creating a sense of timelessness. A kind of stable mystery, Musique d’art can only grow in significance.

05 Samuel AndreyevSamuel Andreyev – Music with no Edges
HANATSUmiroir
Kairos 0015025KAI (kairos-music.com)

Before you even read the booklet notes that speak of a late work of Marcel Duchamp in relation to Samuel Andreyev’s sublime modernist composition, you realize – in the rhythm and stroke of reeds, strings and percussion – that the Canadian composer now living in France is a visualist musician. It is clear from the very first few bars of Vérifications (2012). Then rifling through the booklet as you might be tempted to do, the discovery of his scores reveals more of his method. Of the three scores depicted, only one is on staved paper; another is on a black sheet and the third is on graph paper. The notes are meticulously written, ramrod straight. But clearly Andreyev does not mean for them to sound that way.

This is, after all, Music with no Edges. Fingertips holding bows and mallets are meant to be extensions of paint brushes, perhaps just as pursed lips on piccolos and other reeds become extensions of musicians painting with sound, rather than engaging in some aural activity. So, for instance, on Cinq pièces, Stopping, Passages and, indeed Music with no Edges, and the final Strasbourg Quartet, the steady drip, drip, drip of sound as if wet from a paint brush seems to fall from the ensemble HANATSUmiroir onto blank canvases creating vivid pictures of sound emboldened with emotion. Andreyev seems to write not only with a pencil but with his nerve endings as well.

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