04_lindbergMagnus Lindberg – Graffiti;
Seht die Sonne
Helsinki Chamber Choir; Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Sakari Oramo
Ondine ODE 1157-2

Magnus Lindberg is on a roll these days, carving out a solid position as the leading Finnish composer of his generation. Graffiti is Lindberg’s first major choral work, and it’s a winner. Its text, derived from first century Latin texts preserved on the walls of the doomed city of Pompeii, would certainly have appealed to Carl Orff, and while it is true that there are archaic harmonies to be heard from the thirty throaty voices of the admirable Helsinki Chamber Choir, Lindberg’s bracing sonorities and teeming orchestral textures are far more daring than anything Orff could possibly have imagined.

The title of the companion work, Seht die Sonne (Behold the Sun), is derived from the conclusion of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, that composer’s lavish vocal farewell to Romanticism. Lindberg’s work, originally commissioned by Simon Rattle for the Berlin Philharmonic, received its Canadian premiere by the Toronto Symphony during Lindberg’s memorable visit to Toronto in 2008. It is a broad work on the scale of a Sibelius tone poem, flamboyantly rhapsodic and emotional. Though the abrupt and often unaccountable changes of mood make this a more challenging item than the immediately accessible Graffiti, Oramo and his Finnish radio orchestra prove themselves up to the challenge. Though texts and translations are provided and Kimmo Korhohen provides pithy program notes, it’s a pity that neither the soloist for the prominent piano part in Graffiti nor the solo cellist in the subsequent work are identified.

03_schlagartigSchlagArtig – Percussion Solo
Markus Hauke
New Classical Adventure 60171

Percussion can be an alien world. It speaks, however, with a language strangely familiar to some deeper part of us that doesn’t need a “tune” to recognize music. Those who write for it and those who play it understand its architecture and philosophical constructs well, but even audiences can be drawn quickly and seductively into this world of sounds.

The interpretive role of the performer as guide on any such journey is critical. Deciphering the “code” of notation into a meaningful aural experience is no less daunting when a composer leaves much to the imagination of the player. German-born Markus Hauke is brilliant in his ability to illuminate the manuscripts of composers like John Cage, Iannis Xenakis, Bryan Wolf and Maki Ishii on this disc. His own composition, based on rhythmic themes from Wagner’s “Ring” is also testimony to his ability to speak the language convincingly.

While the array of percussion instruments on this recording seems like something capable of delivering an artillery salvo, Hauke nevertheless brings a great subtlety and sense of nuance to his playing along with the highly complex rhythms that we expect of a professional percussionist.

Most unusual on this CD is the piece by American composer Bryan Wolf. Dedicated to Hauke, the piece uses only metal instruments along with some electronic sounds. The distinctive ringing quality of the work suitably echoes its place in the Triptych “Trails of Glass”.

Surprisingly, this CD will sound as satisfying on your modest computer speakers as on your principal home sound system.

02_castelnuovo-tedescoCastelnuovo-Tedesco; Respighi; Guastavino – Violin Concertos
Jose Miguel Cueto; St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra; Vladimir Lande
Marquis 81407

José Miguel Cueto has often performed rarely heard music. Here he assembles a recital that combines not just little-known compositions but also the intricacies one would expect of a piece by Castelnuovo-Tedesco commissioned and premiered by Heifetz. In fact, all the pieces he selects are virtuosic and technically demanding.

The Castelnuovo-Tedesco Concerto looks to religious inspiration; Jewish melodies grace what the composer described as a biblical concerto. Those looking for the solemnity of synagogue liturgy, however, must wait for the second movement - the first introduces more popular, folkloric arrangements. For all that, this music remains virtuosic throughout - Cueto’s playing in the third movement underlines his reputation.

Concerto gregoriano was not well received, which disappointed Respighi. This adverse criticism is hard to understand. In the second movement one may listen to Cueto’s sensitive interpretation of the andante espressivo; in the third, masterful playing of music deeply influenced by Gregorian Chant awaits.

And so to Guastavino - a chemical engineering graduate, no less, before flourishing as a composer. Despite first impressions, Guastavino avoided direct inspiration from folk-music. And yet these last four minutes, evocative of Guastavino’s Argentine background and transcribed by Cueto himself, is a wonderful way to celebrate José Miguel Cueto’s choice of pieces, whether influenced by religion or folklore.

01_poulenc_trioPoulenc Plays Poulenc
Poulenc Trio
Marquis 81403

Named for French composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), the Poulenc Trio is a world-class chamber ensemble. Oboist Vladimir Lande, bassoonist Bryan Young, and pianist Irina Kaplan Lande all have busy orchestral and solo careers in the Baltimore/Washington DC area as well as worldwide, but find the time to come together to explore some of the most exquisite music written for their trio of instruments. To my knowledge this is their first CD, and hopefully there will be more to come. The recording opens with Russian composer Mikhail Glinka’s Trio Pathétique in D minor, which hails from the composer’s time spent in Italy. Operatic lyricism is carried in the oboe and bassoon lines, and the piece ends in an effortless-sounding blaze of technical virtuosity. Next is the well-loved and much performed trio by the group’s namesake. Poulenc was a member of “Les Six”, French composers who eschewed pretentiousness in music in favour of simplicity and sometimes satire.

Best known for his chamber music, Poulenc’s Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano expresses a wide palette of sentiment, from dark and brooding, to wildly playful, to suave sensuality, the three instruments playing off each other as equal participants in an engaging conversation. Following this is the light-hearted, single-movement Fantasie Concertante on Themes from Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri, by 19th century arrangers, oboist and bassoonist Charles Triébert and Eugène Jancourt. The most interesting work to me however, is the last, and perhaps least known, the 1995 Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano by American composer, conductor and Glenn Gould Prize laureate André Previn. Its three movements, named Lively, Slow and Jaunty, reflect a 20th century aesthetic, while still tonal, and incorporate elements of jazz, and mixed meter writing.

The playing on this recording is both technically superb and musically sensitive, and the CD is well engineered in terms of balance and sound quality. The trio has also commissioned a number of new works, which is part of their mandate of expanding the repertoire for this combination of instruments. I look forward to their future recordings!

05_mc_mcguireMC Maguire - Trash of Civilizations

Max Christie; Mark Rogers; Trevor Tureski; Ryan Scott; MC McGuire

innova 742 (www.innova.mu)


The world as MC Maguire hears it is what “Trash of Civilizations” is all about. It may not necessarily be the same world the listener inhabits, but a fascinating world it is. On CPU, Maguire manipulates, reverses and expands his electronic samples to create a wall of sound backdrop to live musical performances. He may not be of the caliber of my esteemed colleague sound master John Oswald, but Maguire's tough guy aural stance makes for powerful and eclectic listening.


The Spawn of Abe is the stronger of the two double concertos featured here. Derived from an earlier work The Bride of Palestine, Maguire heaps a bundle of samples from singing to Arab pop music to Klezmer bands to helicopters to amass a jungle of sound to accompany live performances by Max Christie on B flat clarinet and Mark Rogers on oboe. Lots of excitement and lots of noise.


Narcissus auf Bali is almost 40 minutes of mutating rhythms performed with perfection by Trevor Tureski on vibraphone and Ryan Scott on marimba. A rewrite/remix of an earlier ballet work for choreographer Lee Su-Feh, the CPU layering encompasses a gamelan flavour. Too bad that often it just doesn't make sense – perhaps too much of a good noise thing combined with a lack of dance visuals makes the work drag. But dedication pays off in the final eight minutes of crescendo and sound hype.


MC Maguire's music is not for everyone. It's really weird yet highly original and rewarding for those who dare to listen.


04_Frank_HorvatA Little Dark Music

Frank Horvat

Independent LTLP02 (www.frankhorvat.com)


Released deliberately to coincide with Earth Day, Horvat’s new CD, on which he plays all the sounds with piano and electronic keyboards, will make waves musically. This is borne out further as he prepares to go on an extensive tour.


The opening Working With The Sun is startling with the prepared piano sonority (sheets of bond paper on the strings) impacting immediately. But it is a sunny piece, certainly the most upbeat of all of them. The Week After employs a keyboard sounding very much like an old Fender Rhodes in polyphony with the big Steinway, through the medium of the studio overdub. In this piece Horvat employs a repeating idée fixe of arching chord progressions. Another idée fixe is a feature of Poverty, with its chromatic bass line that seems a distant cousin to Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony.


In Earth Hour, Horvat allows himself more freedom in a long improvisation that explores tonalities, sonorities and rhythms. I’m curious as to why this improvisation is divided into a dozen tracks one could pick out one’s favorite segments, I suppose – but Earth Hour really should be heard as one continuous piece, a journey, really, which is its strength.


Recorded in CBC’s studio 211, the piano is as near to perfect as those expensive microphones can possibly reveal: there’s not even a pedal squeak. Engineer Dennis Patterson quietly excels behind the glass.


Highly recommended

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