02 Hat TrickGarden of Joys and Sorrows
Hat Trick
Bridge Records 9472 bridgerecords.com

Review

This CD features the first recording of Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp (1915) using the new Carl Fischer edition, incorporating original score details differing from the initial publication. The opening Pastorale is somewhat reminiscent of Debussy’s piano prelude The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, yet more mysterious. The New York-based trio Hat Trick plays it with suggestions of light and colour, but without the languorous drooping at cadences I have heard sometimes. In the Interlude following, Hat Trick again resists over-interpretation, letting the tonal feast proceed unhindered. Articulation and ensemble are precise in their spirited Finale.

A conventional Terzettino (1905) by Théodore Dubois was the first piece for flute, viola, and harp, given here with appealing French sentiment. Uruguayan-born Miguel del Aguila’s commissioned work Submerged (2013) here receives its CD premiere. Hat Trick brings excitement and commitment to its dance rhythms and under-the-sea imagery. The group plays Toro Takemitsu’s And then I knew ’twas Wind (1992) with sensitivity to evocative contemporary timbres and textures, the work’s main attractions. I find the tonal material much derived from Messiaen’s scales, though. Sofia Gubaidulina`s 1980 Garten von Freuden und Traurigkeiten (Garden of Joys and Sorrows) is the lengthiest work. Its extended exploration of harmonics, glissandi, percussive harp and many other effects is realized here with maximal facility. Altogether this is a stellar production by Hat Trick – April Clayton, flute; David Wallace, viola; and Kristi Shade, harp – who indeed make every shot count.

03 Weinberg KremerMieczyslav Weinberg – Chamber Symphonies; Piano Quintet
Kremerata Baltica; Gidon Kremer
ECM New Series 2538/39

Review

In his late 60s, Mieczyslav Weinberg began reaching back over 40 years, transforming three unpublished string quartets into three Chamber Symphonies for string orchestra, making numerous changes and composing new movements for each. Many Hindemith-like neo-Baroque melodies and sequences indicate Weinberg’s early stylistic orientation.

 Chamber Symphony No.1 (1986) is sunny, graceful and dance-like, its Presto finale resembling an episode from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. No.2 (1987) is darker and more dramatic, the newly composed middle movement a wry Mahlerian ländler. No.3 (1990), based on a quartet from 1945, is darker still, its first and third movements sombre reflections of their wartime origins. The vigorous second movement suggests the influence of Shostakovich, Weinberg’s friend and mentor whose stylistic fingerprints cover many pages of Weinberg’s scores, including the newly composed, eerily haunting Andantino that ends No.3.

 As much as I enjoyed No.3, I was unprepared for the emotional impact of Chamber Symphony No.4 (1992), Weinberg’s last completed work, containing quotations from several of his mature compositions. Here, Weinberg truly sounds like no one else but himself. In this profoundly affecting music, I hear a lifetime of experiences – long-ago loves, losses, pleasures and griefs, the klezmer clarinet an aching echo from Weinberg’s childhood in Poland, before he fled the Nazis to live in Russia. I consider it a masterpiece.

 Weinberg’s youthfully robust Piano Quintet (1944), arranged by Weinberg enthusiast Gidon Kremer and percussionist Andrei Pushkarev, completes this very significant and satisfying 2-CD set.

04 KurtagGyörgy and Márta Kurtág play Kurtág
György Kurtág; Márta Kurtág
BMC Records CD 233 (bmcrecords.hu)

In February 2016 the city of Budapest celebrated György Kurtág’s 90th birthday with something few living composers receive: an eight-day festival. The internationally renowned Hungarian composer is also a pianist, who for decades served as an influential professor of piano and later of chamber music at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. Márta, his wife of over 65 years, is also a pianist, and they have performed and recorded together for almost as long.

Of the 43 pieces/tracks on the CD, 39 are from the composer’s Játékok (Games). Begun in 1973, Játékok is an ever-growing extensive collection of aphoristic solo and duo piano “pedagogical performance pieces.” Presently numbering eight volumes, they mark significant stages in the development of Kurtág’s oeuvre.

Kurtág explains his initial motivation for the Játékok series was “suggested by children playing spontaneously…for whom the piano still means a toy.…They pile up seemingly disconnected sounds, and if this happens to arouse their musical instinct they look consciously for some of the harmonies found by chance and keep repeating them.”

This disc presents previously unreleased live concert recordings as well as those made by the Kurtágs for Hungarian Radio over a period of 23 years. Performed close to the date they were composed, they preserve the composer’s germinal vision for the works, many of which are meant as miniature memorials for friends or musicians. Here is one of the paradoxes of these works: the remarkable power of a sonic fragment to suggest vast space or timelessness.

Not simply a series of dry pedagogic piano exercises, Játékok explores Kurtag’s signature sound world marked by concentration and sonic intensity hand in hand with the exploration of a very wide range of human experience. It’s a world in turns playful and intellectually exploratory, evoking flowers as much as death and tears. This is music which richly rewards repeated visits.

05 Eliot BrittonEliot Britton – Metatron
Architek Percussion
ambiences magnetiques AM 232 CD (actuellecd.com)

Metatron was composed as part of Eliot Britton’s doctoral dissertation at McGill a couple of years ago, and it has now happily been recorded by Montreal-based quartet Architek Percussion. This music is the result of a very purposeful collision of two different sound worlds: the kaleidoscopic sounds of Architek’s drums, cymbals, other percussive instruments and synthesizers are woven together with recorded samples of old vinyl, mostly jazz and swing music. Britton has deftly integrated these two sources, not only exploiting the obvious sonic dissonances between them, but also finding surprising ways to bring them into harmony with each other.

The liner notes say that Britton was partly inspired by memories of destroying his childhood piano with a chainsaw, an experience that led him to reflect on the relationships between technology, history, and our musical lives. At times the pummelling power of the percussion certainly feels like it is annihilating the sampled music, but Britton also reserves sparser passages for the samples to stand on their own, offering brief glimpses of earlier musical aesthetics between the percussion and electronics.

Metatron is a thrilling record, though perhaps not one for all occasions. Bristling with a youthful energy and fearlessness, at times it reaches the same rhythmic intensity as techno, making it a record that is more likely to give you a jolt than soothe you.

01 Canadian PanoramaCanadian Panorama
Winds of the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra; Ronald Royer
Cambria CD-1227 (spo.ca)

Under the inspired leadership of music director Ron Royer, the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra not only presents an annual concert series but has also created an identity for its woodwind, brass and percussion sections as a professional level wind ensemble in its own right, performing demanding music for wind ensemble and now recording a complete CD of music commissioned for it as part of the orchestra’s dynamic composer-in-residence program.

Seven of the eight Canadian composers on the CD (the eighth was the late Howard Cable, a longtime associate of the SPO) were commissioned in 2013 to compose “music that would celebrate Canada’s cultural heritage and expand the repertoire for our talented wind players.” They have done their job brilliantly: while all eight are very capable orchestrators, three in particular stand out: Chris Meyer’s control of tone colour in Fundy is striking, as is Alexander Rapoport’s in his spiralling virtuosic writing in Whirligig, flawlessly played by this ensemble of virtuosi. Howard Cable’s mastery, more traditional perhaps and understated, in McIntyre Ranch Country was, nevertheless, a very welcome addition to the mix.

In Royer’s Rhapsody for Oboe, Horn and Wind Ensemble the confidently virile solo horn of guest soloist Gabriel Radford and guest oboist Sarah Jeffrey’s poignant lyricism were highlights. There was also some very fine solo work by regular members of the ensemble: Scott Harrison on trumpet in Alex Eddington’s Saturday Night at Fort Chambly, Kaye Royer on the clarinet in Jim McGrath’s Serenade and Iris Krizmanic on horn in McIntyre Ranch.

In short, this recording and the music so beautifully performed on it are, and will continue to be for many years, a precious gift to us all in the year of our nation’s 150th birthday.

02 Schafer AriadneR. Murray Schafer – Ariadne’s Legacy
Judy Loman and Various Artists
Centrediscs CMCCD 23316
(musiccentre.ca)

Judy Loman, principal harpist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1960 to 2002, is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music where she studied with the innovative harpist Carlos Salzedo. In her many years here and abroad she has championed numerous new works for her instrument. Many of these compositions involved Canada’s internationally renowned polymath R. Murray Schafer and in celebration of Loman’s 80th birthday Centrediscs has re-issued from various sources Schafer’s works for the harp in their entirety. Their first collaboration, The Crown of Ariadne (1979), is a technically demanding six-movement suite in which Loman must also play a number of small percussion instruments. It is derived from Schafer’s vast environmental music drama, Patria 5. A companion work, Theseus (1986), was also drawn from this segment of the 12-part Patria series and features Ms. Loman with the Orford String Quartet. Both works involve the extended harp techniques pioneered by Salzedo with delicate, echoing microtonal inflections pitted against incisive percussive effects. Schafer’s subsequent Harp Concerto (1987) is drawn upon a much larger canvas. Its conventional three movements achieve an almost cinematically epic character in this rousing performance by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra led by Andrew Davis.

A second CD devoted to Schafer’s later chamber music features the intimate duet Wild Bird (1997) with violinist Jacques Israelievitch, commissioned by the late TSO concertmaster’s wife and performed with Loman on the occasion of his 50th birthday. Trio (2011) commissioned by the BC-based Trio Verlaine (Lorna McGhee, flute, David Harding, viola, and Heidi Krutzen, harp) was designed as a companion piece to Debussy’s work for the same forces. Here Schafer strikingly abandons the evocative sound events of his earlier works in favour of a persistently linear melodic profile. Among these late works are two vocal settings: Tanzlied (2004) and Four Songs for Mezzo-Soprano and Harp (2011), both sung by Schafer’s life partner and muse, Eleanor James, the former with Loman and the latter with her former student Lori Gemmell. Tanzlied is a setting of verses by Friedrich Nietzsche and includes quotations from that philosopher’s own little-known Lieder. The surprisingly well-mannered Four Songs was initially composed as a wedding present for Schafer’s niece.

It is doubtful that any further harp works will be forthcoming, as Schafer’s program note for these late songs reveals his recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. All the more reason then to celebrate these definitive and expertly recorded performances from a golden age.

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