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Shostakovich with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Vasily Petrenko

Symphony No. 11

Naxos 8.572082

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Francois Houle; Turning Point Ensemble; Owen Underhill

Liquid

ATMA ACD2 2394

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Gaito; Ginastera; Piazzolla

Quatuor Abysse

XXI XXI-CD 2 1589

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James Tenney - Arbor Vitae

Quatuor Bozzini

Quatour Bozzini CQB 0806

(www.actuellecd.com)

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Gallery Players of Niagara

Canadian Oboe Quartets

Gallery Players GPN09001

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01_shostakovichShostakovich - Symphony No. 11

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Vasily Petrenko

Naxos 8.572082

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This is remarkably fine performance, superbly recorded.

The first performance one hears is often imprinted as the way to perform a certain work. I first heard the Shostakovich 11th symphony on an EMI recording by André Cluytens and the ORTF orchestra. Made in the presence of the composer on May 15, 1958, it is, by definition, unerringly faithful to Shostakovich’s wishes and is my ideal (available in stereo on Testament SBT1099). 1958 was a good year for the work as Stokowski made his celebrated recording for Capitol in Houston exactly 51 years ago this month and another Russian performance under Stokowski from 1958 was issued. Since then there have been a score or more versions that have been listened to and filed away.

Titled “The Year 1905”, this symphony depicts the events of Bloody Sunday when more than 200 peaceful demonstrators were massacred by Czarist soldiers outside the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. From the very opening bars, Petrenko perfectly shapes and balances the composer’s mood picture of the inanition of the multitude leading to the second movement during which the pregnant stillness is devastatingly broken by the deadly attack. All is quiet again and pain and sorrow lead to bitter resolution, presaging the revolution to follow 12 years later.

Petrenko does far more than get it right. From manifest compassion to total brutality, he conducts from the inside, exposing the composer’s sources of inspiration, his Muse.

The state-of-the-art recording is the best yet, making this CD a must-have for audiophiles and the composer’s following.

This is the first instalment of Naxos’s announced complete cycle with Petrenko and his orchestra, presaging an exciting project.

Bruce Surtees

 

02_liquidLiquid

Francois Houle; Turning Point Ensemble; Owen Underhill

ATMA ACD2 2394

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Canada has produced a vibrant cohort of clarinettists who specialize in new music; a short list should include Robert W. Stevenson, Lori Freedman, James Campbell, Joaquin Valdepeñas, André Moisan, Jean-Guy Boisvert and François Houle – the featured soloist on this recent disc by the Turning Point Ensemble, conducted by Owen Underhill.

First up is Vancouver composer John Korsrud’s Liquid. Houle’s virtuosic technique is highlighted throughout, from the opening highly rhythmic figuration, which gradually disperses into a more fragmented ensemble texture. It resembles a concerto grosso, with an extended slow section featuring a sparsely-accompanied solo clarinet - replete with the seemingly obligatory multiphonics - gradually returning to the opening rhythmic figurations.

Next is Schrift, by Quebec composer Yannick Plamondon. The liner notes inform us that Plamondon, like Eric Satie, has placed enigmatic texts throughout the score, such as “The mechanistic noise of a language that seeks itself.” Plamondon’s inventive use of percussion sounded “mechanistic” I suppose, but the piece ended before I finished puzzling over that one.

The third work on the disc – Concerto – features Houle as both soloist and composer. The title is in keeping with the original 18th-century convention of an opening section, or ritornello, introducing the soloist. Like Korsrud’s piece, Concerto is a three-part single movement: a slow meditative section framed by more vigorous opening and closing movements.

Kya (1959) by Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi, is the earliest work on the disc, and one of the most intriguing, using texture and timbre as compositional determinants. Scelsi, an Italian aristocrat, lived in Rome, yet the piece seems more acquainted with John Cage, Harry Partch, Indian or even Nepalese classical music than the stylistic tendencies of Scelsi’s European contemporaries.

Overall, the sound is crisp, clean, and well-engineered. Underhill has done well guiding the Turning Point Ensemble – a highly skilled group of players on a par with Houle’s virtuosity - through some very complex instrumental textures.

Tim Buell

 

03_quatuor_abysseGaito; Ginastera; Piazzolla

Quatuor Abysse

XXI XXI-CD 2 1589

This is a fabulous recording showcasing the breathtaking emerging Quebec string quartet Quatuor Abysse. Simon Boivin (violin), Melanie Charlebois (Violin 2), Jean-Francois Gagne (viola) and Sebastien Lepine (cello) are four young string players who play with a sensitivity and maturity beyond their collective years and musical experience.

The cohesiveness and tonal magic they create in interpreting the works of Argentineans Constantino Gaito, Alberto Ginastera and Astor Piazzolla culminate in an unimaginable musical truthfulness. All three composers draw on both their European classical traditions and Argentinean folk music at different degrees. Gaito is more of the romantic stylist, though his String Quartet No. 2, op.33 draws heavily on the pentatonic scale. In contrast, Ginastera's String Quartet No. 1, op. 20 is more chromatic and rhythmic in nature. Piazzolla's work needs no introduction – L'Histoire du Tango is a string quartet arrangement by Jean-Francoise Gagne of the original flute and guitar duet. The four part work chronologically and musically outlines the transformation of both the tango as an art form, and Piazzolla as a composer.

If you listen to only one recording this year, let it be this one. I hope Quatuor Abysse continues to develop musically. Their astute musicality combined with an uncanny sense of respect for the compositions, the composers and themselves as performers makes for unequivocal and unforgettable listening.

Tiina Kiik

 

04_tenney_bozziniJames Tenney - Arbor Vitae

Quatuor Bozzini

Quatour Bozzini CQB 0806

(www.actuellecd.com)

This recording by the Quatuor Bozzini of the American–Canadian composer James Tenney is essential for anyone interested in experimental music of the 20th century. Superbly recorded at Radio Frankfurt by tonmeisters Christoph Classen and Udo Wustendorfer with the assistance of sound engineer Thomas Eschlen, the two CD set brings together all of Tenney’s music for string quartet, as well as works for string quartet and additional instrument.

James Tenney composed for string quartet throughout his life, and so this release provides an excellent overview of his compositional interests throughout his diversely productive career. From his lifelong interest in just intonation and other tunings, to his use of electronics and computers, his systems of stochastic development, his constant desire to engage in an exchange of ideas with other members of both the music community and the wider society of artists from all disciplines, this collection brings forward all of these interests with great clarity and passion. The playing is both accurate (and I can tell you that as a performer who worked with Jim for over twenty-five years, this is no small accomplishment), and sensitive to the sensuality of Tenney’s music. The Bozzinis are ably assisted by percussionist Rick Sacks, pianist Eve Egoyan and contrabassist Miriam Shalinsky.

Robert W. Stevenson

 

05_oboe_quartetsCanadian Oboe Quartets

Gallery Players of Niagara

Gallery Players GPN09001

James Mason, principal oboe of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony for the past twenty years, is joined by his distinguished colleagues Julie Baumgartel on violin, Patrick Jordan on viola and Margaret Gay on cello in this intriguing recording by The Gallery Players. The ensemble’s original concept for this project was to commission Canadian composers to create works derived from Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F major K370 in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the divine Amadeus. Of the composers on this disc only Peter Hatch fully accepted this challenge, albeit in quite a perverse way. His Wiki Mozart superimposes a distracting tape collage upon what seems to be a quite sensitive performance of Mozart’s work, with the droning voice of Gertrude Stein thrown in for no good measure. You can replicate the effect quite easily in your own home by turning your television, CD, DVD and radio on all at once. James Rolfe’s Oboe Quartet, while not in the least bit derivative, echoes Mozart’s refined style in its carefully wrought artistry and exceptional architectural balance. Michael Oesterle’s Sunspot Letters finds its inspiration in the solar observations of Galileo Galilei, juxtaposing frenetic, highly ornamented oboe passages upon the inexorable cosmic pulsation of the string trio to great effect. The studied monotony of John Abram’s Oboe Quartet is derived from an earlier operatic project and while agreeably melodic is the least relevant and most woefully over-extended part of the program. The excellent acoustic of Toronto’s Humbercrest United Church is vividly captured in these exceptionally sensitive performances.

Daniel Foley

 

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Shostakovich; Weinberg; Ichmouratov

I Musici de Montreal; Yuli Turovsky

Analekta AN 2 9899

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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.

Daniel Foley

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Elliott Carter - 100th Anniversary Release

New Music Concerts; Robert Aitken

Naxos 8.559614

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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.

Pamela Margles

 


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El Dorado

Caroline Leonardelli

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.

Daniel Foley

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Quos Ego - Complete Piano Works of

Zoltán Kodaly

Mary Kenedi

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.

Janos Gardonyi





Remembered Voices

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

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Manhattan Music

Canadian Brass; Eastman Wind Ensemble

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.

Daniel Foley


Oppens plays Carter - Elliott Carter at 100 The Complete Piano Music

Ursula Oppens

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.

Pamela Margles




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Nicole Lizée - This Will Not Be Televised

Various artists

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…

Richard Marsella

 

 

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