01_rubbing_stoneRubbing Stone - Music by David Eagle, William Jordan, Hope Lee, Michael Matthews, Laurie Radford

Jeremy Brown

Centrediscs CMCCD 14909

Calgary-based saxophonist Jeremy Brown compiles works by composers living in Alberta on his newest disc, Rubbing Stone.

The title track refers to a glacial erratic in Calgary used as a resting place by migrating buffalo. In this solo work, composer Hope Lee sets out to achieve a sense of “timelessness; the result is reminiscent of the music of Scelsi. Her other work, Days Beyond, is more fantasia, conjuring dreamlike reflections of nature for saxophone and piano (Ami Longhi).

David Eagle’s Intonare 2 combines the colours of the saxophone, piano and various percussion instruments, alternating chromatic stasis with primal rhythmic drive and Messiaenic homophony. Percussive electronic sounds battle for prominence with the saxophone in …que la terre s’ouvre… by Laurie Radford.

William Jordan has two sonatas on this disc: the one for alto is more saxophonistic, using jazz elements and accompanied recitative; the more playful soprano sonata was originally conceived for oboe.

Michael Matthews wrote perhaps the most ambitious work on the disc, The Skin of Night. What begins as a simple melodic cell becomes a roller coaster of flourishes, followed by a lengthy weighted decay. Both Brown and Longhi are impressive.

Recitative and fantasy as a compositional device permeate all the works, but it places Brown – the protagonist – at centre stage; his colourful sound and expressive vocabulary never tire.

Wallace Halladay

01_multiple_flutesDifferent Stones - Canadian Music for

Multiple Flutes

Mark Takeshi McGregor

Redshift (www.redshiftmusic.org)

The seven beautifully crafted compositions by young composers, magnificently multi-tracked at the Banff Centre for the Arts by Vancouver flutist, Mark Takeshi McGregor, make this CD of music for multiple flutes of interest beyond the ranks of flute aficionados and beleaguered university flute choir directors.

Meaning of music lies in the way it creates the feeling of going somewhere, moving ahead, departing and arriving. Each piece on the disc does this, developing organically and convincingly, not as in traditional music by the repetition and variety of melody and rhythm, but with different musical elements, such as dynamics, busy-ness, expanding ranges, abrupt stops, silences, and textural contrasts. Apparently random beginnings and endings of long tones in Jennifer Butler’s Sky, for example, provide both repetition and variety, and the addition of short two and three-note tonal patterns moves the piece ahead. The simple addition of a six-note “counter ostinato” to the four-note opening ostinato in Christopher Kovarik’s Dectet similarly creates a feeling of forward motion, and the climactic chord two minutes into the piece creates the feeling of having arrived at a pivotal point.

This CD is an instructive primer in a genre of contemporary composition, which, shall we say, maximises minimalism. As such, it is of interest well beyond the coteries of flute and composition cognoscenti, generating meaning by means that are equally archetypal and yet uniquely and recognisably related to the aesthetic sensibility of our time.

02_haimowitz_figmentFigment

Matt Haimovitz

Oxingale OX2016 www.oxingale.com

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@Grigorian.Com

Matt Haimovitz’s new solo program and CD title were inspired by American composer Elliott Carter (still with us at 100!) and his two Figments for solo cello, but the disc features a wide range of new works for cello alone or cello and electronics by established and emerging composers from Canada and the USA. Three of the works are from 2009, and five are recorded here for the first time.

The short but impressive Carter pieces were the strongest for me; in fact, I found myself preferring the non-electronic tracks throughout the CD – Ana Sokolovic’s Vez, Gilles Tremblay’s Cedres en Voile, Steven Stucky’s Dialoghi and Luna Pearl Woolf’s Sarabande all having “something to say”.

The other pieces, by Serge Provost, the Montreal-based musician/producer Socalled, and - especially - the two Du Yun works, came across less successfully, at least on initial listenings.

There is no indication of whether or not there were any improvisational or aleatoric aspects to the performances.

Unfortunately, there were no booklet notes with the digipak (although these are available on-line at www.oxingale.com). Also, the gaps between CD tracks are often way too short - as little as 3 or 4 seconds at times. Given the stops and pauses in many of the works it’s sometimes hard to tell where one piece ends and the next begins.

Haimovitz, however, is in great form, in a value-for-money CD that packs in almost 80 minutes of music.

Concert Note: Matt Haimovitz’ “Figment” tour stops in Toronto at the Music Gallery on November 8.

03_yoko_hirotaSmall is Beautiful; Miniature Piano Pieces

Yoko Hirota

Phoenix Classical PHC95252

(www.yokohirota.com)

Yoko Hirota has added another item to her impressive set of laurels in the form a new CD. Keeping things consistent, she begins with a Schoenberg work, 6 Kleine Klavierstücke, Op. 19. But Hirota advances well beyond the Second Viennese School here, with explorations that take us well into the present day, over the course of 35 different tracks. Works and composers roughly follow a chronological timeline, with non-Canadian composers ending with Elliot Carter in 2000, and the Canadians at the end, from 1951 to 2006. Hirota’s depth and control are unequalled throughout, as can be expected from one with such impressive academic credentials. But it is the works from her adoptive land, Northern Ontario, which make the disc unique. Aris Carastathis’ Traces and two recent works by Robert Lemay are remarkable.

With the recent tours of New Music North, one hopes to hear Hirota to showing pianistic muscle in an ensemble setting, but that must wait for another release. Here, we must be content with a lone Boston model D-272 piano. The recording is nicely balanced between direct and reverberant sound, although the hall is not identified. Recommended.

04_chatmanStephen Chatman - Earth Songs

Various Artists

Centrediscs CMCCD 14709

“Earth Songs” is the name of a new CD on the Centrediscs label featuring music by the west-coast based composer Stephen Chatman – a sort of “musical plea” for an endangered planet. Although the listener might rightly assume that this is a disc of choral or vocal music, it’s only the first set (and title track) that actually utilizes a chorus. Other works are scored for combinations of violin, cello, piano, saxophone, and solo harp.

The opening suite, using texts from various sources, is a wonderful study in contrasts, from the jubilance of Et inluminent terram to the delicacy of The Waterfall, an homage to ancient China. Here, the University of British Columbia Singers and CBC Radio Orchestra (sadly, in its final recording) are conducted by Alain Trudel. The set that follows, For Pent-Up and Aching Rivers, scored for violin and cello, and the piece Or from the Sea of Time, for piano and cello, are both inspired by poems by Walt Whitman. In the first, violinist Gwen Thompson (who provided the commission) and cellist Eric Wilson successfully create an impassioned mood. Or from the Sea of Time is decidedly more restrained - mysterious and introspective music, where cellist Eric Wilson and pianist Patricia Hoy are featured in a haunting dialogue.

My only quibble with this disc – and it’s a minor one – is the dark and sombre tone pervading much of the music throughout. Is there no glimmer of hope for a better (and greener) future? Nevertheless, the music is a fine representation of Chatman’s musical style – the broad sweeping lines, the lyricism, and the sensitive pairing of music and text are all very much in evidence. “Earth Songs” – what could be more fitting in these environmentally-challenged times?

05_horwoodPercussionique - The complete percussion music of Michael S. Horwood

Toronto Percussion Ensemble

Albany Records Troy1122

(www.albanyrecords.com)

This disc of percussion music by American-born Canadian composer Michael S. Horwood (b. 1947) should attract both new music aficionados and others interested in revitalizing listening experiences. Superbly performed by the Toronto Percussion Ensemble (John Brownell, David Campion, Mark Duggan, and Beverley Johnston) “Percussionique” is beautifully recorded and presented by Albany Records.

The “spine” of this chronologically presented oeuvre is a series of Pieces Percussioniques dating from 1964 to 2008. Spanning various contemporary compositional practices, a consistent voice still emerges, refined yet playful. For example, in No. 3 a sensitive xylophone cadenza leads into a pensive slow section with exquisite, soft dynamics, followed by a rondo with a Monty Pythonesque march rhythm! Piece No. 4 is finely structured in four-parts; the fast sections have for me a hint of Horwood’s passion for roller coasters. A percussionist himself, Horwood writes idiomatically. Intricate divisions of the beat layered variously between instruments give an effect of luxuriant flourishing, without cluttering the texture.

Along with the Pieces Percussioniques, individual pieces showcase particular instruments: The Shadow Of Your Drum for bass drum with 2 players; Dynamite for piano and two suspended cymbals, composed for a noir-ish film scene; and my particular favourite - the vital, carefully structured Fragments (2006) delightfully performed by mallet specialists Mark Duggan and Beverley Johnston. In a noisy world we forget to listen truly: try letting Percussionique’s sound world beguile you!

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