01_Proulx_SirocoSirocco - A Warm Breeze from Newfoundland
Sylvie Proulx
Centaur Records CRC 3053 (www.centaurrecords.com)

Here is a delightful solo recording by Canadian guitarist Sylvie Proulx featuring accessible yet virtuosic contemporary music for everyone, even those one or two of you who don’t like new music.

Proulx is a technical and stylistic wizard on the guitar. She tackles the non-stop perpetual rapid momentum of the fourth movement Presto in Carlo Domeniconi’s Koyunbaba with breathless ease. Her take on the Spanish musical influences of Andrew York's Sirocco are personal yet bang-on accurate. The more Baroque-like qualities of Leo Brouwer’s An Idea showcase her solid foundation in a more classical rooted work, and her ability to conjure a more subtle and soothing atmosphere from her instrument. Soothing elements resurface in the first movement of Roland Dyens’ Triaela while she gets to interpret more jazz and groove based lines in its other two movements.

The Theme and 10 Variations of Clark Ross’ Variations on McGillicuddy’s Rant are as wide ranging in style as Proulx’s talent. From folk dance to jig to chorale to bluegrass, it was written over a 20 year period yet is so cohesive in spirit and ideas that it sounds like it was composed after an afternoon at the pub.

It is really, really difficult to maintain a listener’s interest in a solo recording (or recital for that matter). Proulx’s guitar finesse with her excellent choice of repertoire makes “Sirocco” a recording that will keep one’s interest for a long time to come.

01_james_rolferaW - Chamber Music by James Rolfe
Continuum Contemporary Music
Centrediscs CMCCD 16210

The Continuum ensemble, comprised of Toronto’s top contemporary musicians, adds a third CD to its discography. Here effectively conducted by Gregory Oh, the entire album is dedicated to the music of multi award winning Toronto composer James Rolfe (b. 1961).

raW (2003) is a delightful musical romp. Based on Bach's Second Brandenburg Concerto, Rolfe notes that the musical elements of raW are filtered through several reggae songs and the John Philip Sousa march Stars and Stripes Forever. The work starts smartly with a series of recognisable motoric sixteenths from the Bach treated to syncopation and silencing. This stream is then subjected to a complex multi-layered compositional process exposing evanescent and barely recognizable echoes of reggae and march. The effectiveness of raW is heightened by its masterful scoring. The first series of chords sound as if a much larger ensemble than Continuum’s six musicians produced it. Graced with deftly constructed light-hearted moments, it’s no wonder this effective work was awarded the 2006 Jules Léger Prize for Chamber Music.

The composer’s brand of cheeky humour re-appears in Devilled Swan (1995). Here the composer takes apart the late 18th-century hymn tune China by Timothy Swan, the American hymnodist. Like James Rolfe’s composition teacher John Beckwith has often done in his own works, Devilled Swan takes an established hymn and re-composes it; except that the student takes compositional messing to new extremes. Rolfe virtually vivisects the hymn, proposing an ode to chromaticism and rhythmic stasis.

The violin sonata Drop (1999) is most memorable where the extended violin melody is doubled on the piano. Squeeze (1997) on the other hand starts off as a jaunty march, flavoured with a “Les Six”-like insouciance. Further on it marches right into the mysterious dreamy realm of a Bach chorale, dissolving into an unresolved tonal, harmonic and textural mistiness.

Composer Rolfe, evidently fond of bass drum thumps of all dynamic gradations, indulges his penchant in Revenge! Revenge!! Revenge!!! (1995) to dramatic effect, adding brake- and other drums for good measure.

This is a distinguished album by one of our most gifted composers of new concert music, definitively played.

Vivienne Spiteri
Centrediscs CMCCD 16410

This new offering from the enigmatic Canadian harpsichordist Vivienne Spiteri is brilliantly unique. Although I do not understand Spiteri’s musical approach, I cannot help but respect and applaud her conviction and honesty to her art and her playing. In the five duets and two trios featured, she is able to seamlessly transport her ideas from thoughts to fingers to keyboard, showing a talent so wide ranging that it is mind boggling.

A Who’s Who of Canadian composers and performers join Spiteri on her musical journey. In Hope Lee’s In the Beginning was the End, accordionist Joseph Macerollo’s exquisite long tones juxtaposed against the crisp harpsichord sounds move the composition in an ethereal dimension that only this world-class accordion hero can achieve. The three duo works by John Beckwith are diverse. In both Ringaround with lever harpist Sharlene Wallace, and Lines Overlapping with Kirk Elliott on five-string banjo, a sparse dialogue of overlapping parts creates a tinkling aural world. In contrast, Beckwith’s Blurred Lines has Spiteri and violinist Lawrence Beckwith blast into the sonic future. Percussive or florid harpsichord lines against droning, moaning or plucked violin melodies jubilantly cross styles, moods and centuries in this top track. Works by Bruce Mather, Linda Bouchard and Kirk Elliott complete the disc.

A remarkable depth of performance is key here. Spiteri never overshadows or disappears in her ensemble playing. She knows what she wants yet lets others do what they do best.

03_canadian_flute_quartetsCanadian Flute Quartets
Laurier Quartet
CML Productions CD 104

This recording of flute quartets by Canadian composers was funded by Wilfrid Laurier University in celebration of its centennial year. It can also be seen as a celebration of the work of Amy Hamilton, who has been teaching the flute at Laurier since 1987: the four players are she and three of her students, Jennifer Brimson, Heather Snowden, and Dawn Ellis-Mobbs, each of whom has gone on to pursue post graduate studies in flute in Canada, the U.S. and Britain. Their playing is consistently accomplished and assured, excellent intonation, articulation, and tone quality, even on the bass and alto flutes called for in several of the six compositions on the disc.

The repertoire covers a broad spectrum of contemporary genres, from the minimalism of Sally Norris’s Writing the Voice (for piccolo quartet) to the lyricism and piquant and sonorous harmonic vocabulary of Carl Derfler’s Flute Quartet No. 1. Even more interesting and individual are the pieces in between: the spellbinding counterpoint of David McIntyre’s A Gentle Melancholy, the organic musical architecture of Claude Lassonde’s Euphonie Fantasmique, the stunning use of the bass flute as a solo instrument in Euphrosyne Keefer’s The Undertow, and the poetic, almost uncanny way that Roberta Stephens captures the mood and essence of a moment in her three short pieces.

I congratulate Quartet Laurier for revealing these wonderful additions to the flute quartet repertoire - a must-have CD not only for flutists but also for composers and orchestrators, and, of course, anyone who loves the sound of the flute.

cacheCache 2009
Various Artists
CEC PeP 014 (http://cec.concordia.ca/cd/)

Each year the Canadian Electroacoustic Community/Communauté Electroacoustique Canadienne (CEC) holds a competition for new works merging acoustic and non-acoustic sounds by young and emerging sound artists. For the 2009 edition of winning musical submissions the CEC collaborated with its German counterpart, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Elektroakustische Musik. They co-produced this double CD set, one for each country: “Cache 2009”.

CD I opens auspiciously with the saxophone key flutterings of Syncrétisme (2009) by Québec composer Guillaume Barrette. This work is entirely based on sounds sourced from a multicultural array of instruments including saxophone, violin, piano, gangsa and ugal (the latter two being metallophones of the Balinese gamelan).

In the next track Montrealer Tomas Furey’s Tes Régions (2008) builds its musical case on elusive strummed guitar chords around which various other acoustic bell, string, knocking, rolling, crumpling and electronic sounds accumulate. Furey seems to be reaching here for a dream-like atmosphere tinged with tonality which serves to bolster the emotional quality of the music.

Olivier Girouard’s lengthy and cinematic Suite_04 (2009) shifts back and forth between several sonic tableaux: live recordings of public spaces and soundscapes produced in the studio. A third “text” appears in the form of quiet intimate voices from the soundtracks of a Wim Wenders film and from a Pedro Almodovar film. The title refers to a J.S. Bach dance suite on which this work’s structure is modeled. Girouard’s objective appears to be to access a wide variety of the world’s sounds and transcribe them into his work.

Space allows me to mention only one work from the German CD: the gorgeous Nachtschatten (2008) by composer Alexander Schubert. This dramatic “tape piece” is based on sound material derived equally from both instrumental and electronic sources. In Nachtschatten (Nightshade, a genus in the extensive nightshade plant family) the composer creates a rich chamber ensemble acousmatic texture. Schubert also foils expectation by undercutting the common musical practice of slowly adding sounds in order to build increasing density. Rather he maintains a moderate sound event tempo thus keeping the texture fairly homogenous. The work ends with several rich and crunchy chords I have trouble describing other than with the word “yummy”.

The 13 stimulating and diverse works in this package reminded me of the excitement I felt in the 1970s when I produced such fresh sounds and electroacoustic constructions myself at York University’s Electronic Studios. Nostalgia for les temps électroacoustique perdue, perhaps?


Joseph Petric

ConAccord (www.josephpetric.com)

We've come a long way since Canadian scientist Hugh LeCaine (1914-1976) invented the “Electronic Sackbut”, the world's first voltage controlled synthesizer in 1945. Live electronic art was born, and the three electroacoustic composers featured on accordionist Joseph Petric's new release all play homage to LeCaine in their artistic manipulations.

Take a listen to current mainstream popular music on the radio – all the same tweaks, loopings and sounds can be heard on “Elektrologos” too. Bob Pritchard's Breathe on Me (O Breath of God...) is an ethereal soundscape. Larry Lake's early booming Sticherarion shows the composer experimenting with technology while his later work, Fractals is more of a techno-chamber work. Finally the great Orbiting Garden by Christos Hatzis is a sound explosion – Petric plays nonstop with florid musical rock star lines. This is the powerhouse performance and piece.

Accordionist Joseph Petric is an accomplished, sensitive and intelligent musician who has an international following both for his live performances and his prolific recorded output. He can play any style, but don't get me wrong, he is really in his element in the world of electroacoustic music. He absolutely shines – it is especially his impeccable bellows control that shapes the dynamic interplay between accordion and “sound machines” here.

A thousand raves to Joseph Petric and the composers. This is an accessible and culturally important aural experience to be heard time and time again.

Back to top