Matt Haimovitz

Oxingale OX2016 www.oxingale.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


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


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!

01_francaixJean Françaix 1912-1997
Trio di Colore
XXI XXI-CD 2 1580


Nadia Boulanger pronounced to the mother of 10-year old Jean Françaix: “I don’t know why we’re wasting our time teaching him harmony, which he obviously knows already. How he became so proficient at it is a mystery; he seems to have been born with it. Let us rather do counterpoint.” That love of harmony persisted throughout his life and career. Françaix was criticized in the 1950’s for not moving ahead with the serialists and dodecaphonic composers. His reply was disarming: “I would gladly be the spiritual grandson to Grand-Papa Haydn. The limpidity, the calm and the humour of his art seem to me the antidote to the contemporary idiom.”


Despite his protestations that he never changed, Françaix obviously evolved. As the composers of the minimalist movement (most notably John Adams) re-discovered harmony, so did Françaix discover his own version of minimalism. The perfect example of that evolution is one of his late compositions, the 1990 Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano. Together with his compositions from the 1970’s, 1940’s and even 1930’s, this disc becomes a great Françaix primer, beautifully executed by Trio di Colore. This young ensemble, formed at the acclaimed Indiana University – Jakob School of Music, received the First Prize and Gold Medal at the prestigious 2004 Fischoff Chamber Music Competition. The individual musicians are also winners of multiple competitions, guaranteeing an intelligent and beautiful reading of thes harmonic treasures by Jean Françaix.


02_elgar_schnittkeElgar & Schnittke - Viola Concertos
David Aaron Carpenter; Philharmonia

Orchestra; Christoph Eschenbach
Ondine ODE 1153-2

I sometimes find the transcription of concertos hard to justify, suspecting that the motivation is possibly more practical than musical, and aimed primarily at increasing the repertoire.

If ever a recording ought to blow that feeling away, it’s this transcription of the Elgar Cello Concerto for viola. Viola concertos are pretty thin on the ground, and when the great virtuoso Lionel Tertis made his transcription in 1928 Elgar not only gave it his full approval but also conducted the first major performance with Tertis in 1930.

David Aaron Carpenter is a wonderful talent, and has built on Tertis’ transcription for this, his own arrangement, which he feels is “more attuned to what Elgar originally wrote.” He doesn’t say how, but no matter - the cello and viola share a tonal quality that makes this a natural progression, and in this marvellous performance the concerto remains a moving and supremely satisfying work.

The year of Elgar’s death - 1934 - was also that of Schnittke’s birth. His viola concerto was completed in 1958, only ten days before the major stroke that left him partially paralysed, and the work consequently had great personal significance for him. It’s a stunning, albeit dark, passionate and introspective work, clearly influenced by Shostakovich and also by Berg. Carpenter calls it “harrowing” and “emotionally draining”, and it’s easy to see - and hear - why.

A great recorded sound and top-drawer performances from Carpenter, Eschenbach and the Philharmonia make this an outstanding disc.

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