04 McGregor Lutalica CD CoverLutalica
Mark Takeshi McGregor
Redshift Records (redshiftrecords.org)

Vancouver flutist Mark Takeshi McGregor is an internationally recognized interpreter of classical flute music, particularly of the experimental kind. As he writes in the liner notes, the motivation for his new album came from an exploration of his identities. “Lutalica [the word invented by John Koenig] meaning ‘the part of one’s identity that doesn’t fit into categories’ is a solo flute project that grew out of an identity crisis.”

McGregor has been performing music of predominantly European composers on the metal concert flute, even though he was “anything but Western European. I am half-Japanese, half-Australian, born and raised on the West Coast of Canada: a true product of the Pacific Rim.” His geographically informed search culminated in Lutalica, an album of nine recent widely varied solo flute works by composers hailing from Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan and the USA.

Bookending the album are works by two composers with strong Canadian connections. Hope Lee’s moving requiem for her father, forever after (2000), alternates moments of lyrical grief with percussive anger. Emilie LeBel’s 2017 Hiraeth (Welsh for homesickness, nostalgia, grief for lost places of the past) explores at length the “traveller’s desire to be free… all the while longing for a home to which they cannot return… which maybe never was.” The final alternating long low tones make a beautiful and satisfying ending to this album’s musical journey around the Pacific rim.

Should you consider listening to an entire album of contemporary solo flute music? When it’s so well composed, thoughtfully curated, and impressively performed as Lutalica is, my answer is a resounding yes.

05 What Goes Around Front CoverFrank Horvat – What Goes Around
Various Artists
Centrediscs CMCCD 27419 (musiccentre.ca)

I once developed a liking for a pricey mosaic backsplash tile with sharp colours featuring tiny images reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein’s pop-art icons. If minimalist music has an analogy in the visual arts it is with mosaics. Frank Horvat’s minimalism is attractive, bright-coloured and poppy. Also surprising. Also, somewhat formulaic. This last is not a criticism of the quality or value of his writing; I’m no judge in that regard, but it does strike me that five of the six cuts on the newly released What Goes Around clock in at roughly ten minutes, suggesting a pattern of construction he consistently follows.

Breaking with this pattern, at nearly 15 minutes, is the most powerful piece, 7 Pianos, recorded on several tracks and performed by the composer. A concentration exercise for the listener, it’s almost a game of recognizing the extremely gradual variations away from the initial minute of a repeated gesture. Maybe it’s me being jaded, but this one challenges me to truly listen and not let the patterning lull my attention. Fatigue for the performer is sometimes a cherished aesthetic of the composer (those guys burn me up), and if it is so for Horvat, he has at least chosen a willing victim: this is intensity from start to finish.

A curiously titled piece referencing the late Rob Ford is similarly a multi-track recording with Peter Stoll ably accompanying himself on multiple clarinets in melancholy tunefulness; apparently Horvat felt more compassion than outrage regarding the misguided mayor. Other performers include the redoubtable Bev Johnston on mallets, and the disc ends with a strangely offensive (to me, I have issues) voice loop on the repeated phrase “I Love You.”

06 HartenbergerRussell Hartenberger – Requiem for Percussion and Voices
Nexus; TorQ; Lindsay Kesselman; Cory Knight
Nexus 11031 (nexuspercussion.com)

The requiem mass has provided composers with inspiration for centuries, from which has come some of Western music’s greatest works, including the Requiems of Verdi and Mozart, Fauré and Duruflé, as well as those incorporating external texts, such as Britten’s War Requiem.

Russell Hartenberger’s Requiem for Percussion and Voices is a work in the latter form, eschewing the traditional requiem texts in favour of an eight-movement reflection on death and nature. Incorporating tolling bells, funeral drum beatings, a Bach chorale, bird songs and bugle calls, this requiem is an eclectic and wide-ranging synthesis of musical style that suggests a broad, universal outlook.

The disc’s liner notes, written by Hartenberger (who is also a member of Nexus), are exceedingly insightful and highly recommended to anyone who listens to this piece, for within them one will find a personal story behind each movement, from Hartenberger’s days in the United States Air Force Band to his study of West African drum music. In a work with such wide-ranging and globally sourced material as this Requiem, such commentary serves as a road map, guiding the listener in an invaluable way.

In an area of the arts so often committed to reviving the works of the past, it is vitally important to explore new material in addition to the old standards. This recording provides a splendid example of why this is: tuneful, contemporary (in its truest sense), and a fine display of vocal and instrumental ability, Requiem is worthwhile listening for all.

07 Suite NostalgiqueSuite Nostalgique – Musical Impressions from Ukraine
Izabella Budai; Matthew Christakos; Maria Dolnycky; Alex McLeod; Peter Stoll
Independent n/a (store.cdbaby.com/cd)

Pianist Maria Dolnycky originally brought together the five local musicians on this recording to perform the stylistically diverse music of these seven Ukrainian composers in 2016 at Toronto’s Gallery 345 as a fundraiser for modern prosthetic limbs for Ukraine.

Dolnycky performs with passion and detail in all the works. Mykola Lysenko’s traditional Romantic-flavoured Sorrow (Elegy), Op. 39 opens with cellist Matthew Christakos playing a mournful solo line leading to singable melodies above tonal piano chords. Anatoly Kos-Anatolsky’s Waltz for cello and piano is upbeat with dramatic touches of swing and big band styles. Now it’s violist Alex McLeod’s turn to perform expressively in Vasyl Barvinsky’s Three Romances, a three-movement work highlighted by the happy closing It’s Spring Again! movement. Levko Kolodub’s Moldovan Sketch for viola and piano showcases the composer’s and two performers’ musical talents ranging from classic high tinkles to rhythmic Moldovan-flavoured folk music. Title track Suite Nostalgique for clarinet and piano is the strongest composition here, as clarinetist Peter Stoll joins Dolnycky in playing composer Taras Yashchenko’s four-movement exploration of two-step Foxtrot, slower Aria and intense rhythmic party Samba. Flutist Izabella Budai also traverses musical styles with piano from the sweet to atonal in nine short tasty selections from Boris Kosak’s Petit Fours (bite-sized treats), and the expressive Théodore Akimenko’s Idylle, Op.14 for flute and piano.

Let’s applaud Dolnycky for making these fascinating lesser-known Ukrainian works available for wider audiences to hear and contemplate.

Listen to 'Suite Nostalgique – Musical Impressions from Ukraine' Now in the Listening Room

08 Come Closer bassoonCome Closer
Michael Harley; Phillip Bush
New Focus Recordings FCR240 (newfocusrecordings.com)

If you play clarinet in an orchestra, the bassoon is your best friend. That rich and deeply grained sonority forgives a multitude of pitch variances; a well-supported bassoon sound is a perfect colour complement to the whingeing voice of its single-reed neighbour. So immediately I must declare a bias in this commentary on Come Closer, featuring American bassoonist Michael Harley playing the music of several of his colleagues from the University of South Carolina and beyond.

Listen to this album. Just go out and buy it and put it on and marvel at the title track by John Fitz Rogers. A quartet performed in multi-track by Harley, with definite echoes of Reich, Adams and Glass, it nourishes the ear, never tiresome, always delightful. Precision marries beauty. In the following piece, Miphadventures by Stefan Freund, we’re treated to a blues-infused dialogue between bassoon and piano (played with sympathy and guts by Phillip Bush). An introductory arioso sets the stage for a swinging dance in a stylish syncopated four to a bar. This is Americanism, not Americana. It’s never hackneyed, simply enjoyable. Harley allows just the barest hint of jazz inflection, which is good. Too many bends induce nausea.

If you begin to think this all sounds too like easy listening, stay tuned. The third track will satisfy your wish for tonal exploration. Alarums and Excursions by Carl Schimmel bills itself as a Puzzle-Burlesque, but really leave off the brain work and just gloat that here’s something very grabby that also avoids major and minor sonorities.

I could go on. You don’t need me to. You need to get this disc.

Listen to 'Come Closer' Now in the Listening Room

09 TupleDarker Things
Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0179 (brightshiny.ninja)

Here’s certainly something different, a bassoon duo playing contemporary concert music. Music scored for two bassoons apparently only reaches back a few decades, yet undeterred, bassoonists Rachael Elliott and Lynn Hileman formed their duo Tuple in 2006. They have played their unusual repertoire widely at American experimental art and music venues ever since. Darker Things, their debut album, displays their admirable technique and musicality, as well as the surprising tonal, timbral and emotional range possible on just two bassoons.

The earliest work here is by the celebrated Tatar-Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina. Her masterfully crafted, impassioned Duo Sonata (1977) is characterized by one of her extra-musical themes: reaching for the divine in music. Frequent glissandi, intense chromatic motives, the use of micro-chromaticism (i.e. quarter tones) and multiphonics illustrate what Gubaidulina characterizes as striving for a “transition to another plane of existence.”

Lacrimosa (1991), by the idiosyncratic Dutch master composer Louis Andriessen, is a slow and deliberate work employing close atonal harmonies to create the keening quality suggested by its title. On the other hand multiple Grammy Award-winning composer Michael Daugherty’s Bounce (1988) explores a series of dramatic moments in various moods, tempi, dynamics and bassoon ranges. Black (2008) by American post-minimalist Marc Mellits stays light of heart throughout. Echoes of Steve Reich at his most ebullient permeate the work, however Mellits’ complex cross-rhythms and syncopations also reference rock’s straightforward tonality and forward-propelling energy.

Darker Things is a fun and thought-provoking album suitable for double reed players – as well as the rest of us.

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