03_mompouFederico Mompou - Silent Music

Jenny Lin

Steinway & Sons 30004

I understand Federico Mompou’s four books entitled Silent Music for piano (1959-67) as music to be co-constructed by creator and listener. The needed frame of mind, conditions, and responses must come from the listener. Then pensive moments may arrive that take us beyond ourselves. The Spanish title Musica Callada comes from mystical poetry by St. John of the Cross, the 28 pieces sharing a quality of monastic sparseness with soft dynamics and slow tempi.

Since acquiring ArkivMusic in 2008, Steinway & Sons has released several discs showcasing its topflight piano. This is a special recording where instrument, production, engineering, documentation, and performance are all superb. Jenny Lin displays flawless pianism with superb control of dynamics and occasional flashes of virtuosity. I am reluctant to single out particular favourites: the books create cumulative effects and listener responses will vary widely.

In Mompou’s own recordings, melodies are shaped more incisively, rubato is freer, and old-fashioned “breaking of the hands” is heard. As a contemporary listener, I much prefer Lin’s approach. But Mompou’s own passionate playing belies any notion of minimalist intentions. The mood is different than Satie’s and closer to Debussy at his most sparse, in the prelude …De pas sur la neige, or in Le petit berger from the Children’s Corner Suite.

One extra piece, Secreto, comes at the disc’s end. Here, criticism takes its leave and readers are invited to seek their own experiences with this remarkable music.

04_daniel_jankeDaniel Janke - Cinco Puntos Cardinales

Mark Fewer; Coro In Limine

Centrediscs CMCCD 16911

In part compositions for violin solo, a men’s chorus, mixed instrumental ensemble and soundscapes from South America, the unifying principle of this eclectic collection is its design as an accompaniment and essential text to a modern dance work by the Lima Peru dance company, Danza Contemporanea.

The work’s title may be translated as “Five Cardinal Points” and its choreographer Yvonne von Mollendorff suggests a metaphysical reading: the four directions of the compass plus the fifth – “the self, the observer.” The work’s sections range widely in kind from three austere solo violin pieces eloquently performed by Mark Fewer, to the rhythmic sound of palm fronds in Guyana, to the lush male sounds of the Peruvian Coro in Limine. Composer Daniel Janke deftly merges international and his own Canadian musical influences and creates a work that verges on the cinematic in scope. The variety of performing ensembles and where they were recorded geographically reminds one of Janke’s more recent career as a film writer, composer and director.

Adding to the kaleidoscope of aesthetics and genres is a track recorded with some of Toronto’s top improvisers, as well as a West African tinged track Miawezo. The latter composition alludes to Janke’s studies of the kora (West African harp-lute) in the 1970s and ‘80s with some of its leading hereditary Jali musicians.

Long devoted to incorporating world music influences in his compositions, Daniel Janke continues to boldly bridge parts of our globe through the music on this album.

Chamber Music for Harp

Valérie Milot; Antoine Bareil; François Vallières; Raphael Dube; Jocelyne Roy

Analekta AN 2 9985

Gifted young artist Valérie Milot here performs significant twentieth-century works with vigour and elegance. Trained in Quebec and at Juilliard, Milot opens with Germaine Tailleferre’s Sonata for solo harp (1953), capturing telling moments in this occasionally bittersweet piece. She gives a straight-ahead reading of the march-like opening movement, changing moods for the sultry habanera. Milot’s accomplished technique fully realizes accumulating dance-like energies in the finale.

Ravel’s piano Sonatine appears in Carlos Salzedo’s transcription, as reworked by violist François Vallières who joins Milot and flautist Jocelyne Roy. It doesn’t take orchestral colour to transcribe Ravel effectively! His impeccable voice-leading and harmonic “nudges” bring solo lines alive, as the performers demonstrate.

Chez R. Murray Schafer the outdoors beckons. Apparently Wild Bird (1997) received its title from violinist dedicatee Jacques Israelievitch’s “rather orange hair.” Whatever ― skittering, trilling, “nyah-nyah’s” among other birdcalls characterize the leading violin, the harp playing a supporting role. While birdsong and scale constructions evoke Messiaen, the flair, drama, and humour that violinist Antoine Bareil and Milot bring out are pure Schafer.

Philippe Hersant’s chant-based Choral features cellist Raphäel Dubé with Milot. Evocative harp sonorities undergird passionate cello outcries, resolving in a mystical close. Then all performers join in Jean Françaix’s engaging Quintet No. 2 for Flute, String Trio, and Harp for a fine upbeat ending.

02_wolpe_pianoMusic of Stefan Wolpe Vol. 6

David Holzman

Bridge Records Bridge 9344 (www.BridgeRecords.com)

Stefan Wolpe (1902-1972) is still one of the underappreciated great composers of the twentieth century. It has been said by someone that Wolpe has all the complexity of Carter or Boulez, but with the added bonus that Wolpe can swing.

Pianist David Holzman is a persuasive advocate of Wolpe, having known and studied with him. This is his second disc for the Bridge label’s ongoing Wolpe series, his first from 2002 garnering a Grammy nomination. The works span 1926-1959 and range from epigrammatic to large-scale forms. The breadth of Wolpe’s character is in evidence here. An impassioned dramatic sense, rigorous intellect, lightness and wit all have a place.

Four Studies on Basic Rows (1936) is a work for only the most intrepid pianists, exploring particular intervallic relations while making extraordinary pianistic demands. The fourth of these, Passacaglia is a masterly construction of tempestuous drama and brooding introspection. Mr. Holzman’s ability to bring clarity to the dense counterpoint and thick textures is remarkable. An entirely different interpretation from Peter Serkin’s excellent 1986 recording on the New World label, Holzman brings an earthiness to this important work. The Toccata in Three Parts (1941) is a similarly challenging work, its double-fugue finale again presenting Mr. Holzman’s virtuosity.

The disc also features many aphoristic miniatures. Pastorale, a gem from 1941 will surprise those familiar with Wolpe with its gentleness and lyricism. Wolpe’s interest in Jewish folk music is represented by the dance-like Palestinian Notebook (1939), written after his sojourn in Jerusalem (1934-38).

One very enjoyable feature of both of Mr. Holzman’s Wolpe discs are his own liner notes, with a personable and sometimes amusing quality.

Astounding complexity and unabashed simplicity co-exist in Wolpe’s musical world. The concluding miniature Lively. Why not? will put a smile on anyone’s face.

03_woodwind_triosLand of Living Skies - Canadian Woodwind Trios

Members of Estria Woodwind Quintet

Centrediscs CMCCD 16811

“Land of Living Skies” is an intriguing disc featuring Étienne de Médicis, oboe d’amore; Pauline Farrugia, clarinet; and Michel Bettez, bassoon ― all members of the Estria Woodwind Quintet (l’Estrie being Quebec’s Eastern Townships). The five recent works by Quebec composers show the group’s commitment to commissioning new music and promoting the reed trio.

Denis Gougeon’s poetic Le Chant de Pauline is a highlight. From the opening solo clarinet section onward the composer displays an assured voice, maintaining an active line that carries through the breaks and fissures of trills, bend tones, and flutter-tonguing. Clarinettist Farrugia, the work’s dedicatee, handles everything confidently and with feeling, as do de Médicis playing oboe d’amore in the ensuing duet, and Bettez completing the trio on bassoon. Ensemble and intonation are impeccable and all obviously believe in this work ― perhaps as a life journey?

Sudbury-based Robert Lemay’s atonal Fragments also impresses. Each of the nine miniatures has a distinct profile, with such arresting effects as microtonal pitch variations and pulsating dynamics. I like the mysterious static passages in Alain Perron’s Land of Living Skies II, and the use of chant and chorale in Marc O’Reilly’s Le poisson rouge. Stewart Grant contributes his neoclassical Serenata Estria to the reed trio’s repertoire, his mastery of free counterpoint being a clear inspiration to all.

02_David ChildsMoto Perpetuo

David Childs

Salvationist Publications DOYEN DOY CD262 (www.davidchilds.com)

A few months ago I had the pleasure of attending a concert by the Hannaford Street Silver Band which featured euphonium soloist David Childs. With the memory of that breathtaking performance still fresh in my mind, I then received a CD by this amazing young Welsh virtuoso. From Paganini to Stephen Foster, David Childs shines a bright light on the broad spectrum of musical qualities of his instrument. Performing with the famous Cory Band, under the direction of his father Robert Childs, David explores the qualities of this underrated member of the brass family. The opening, dazzling, title track of the Paganini Moto Perpetuo left my head spinning. I could not operate my brain with such dexterity let alone my fingers. In contrast, the Lament by contemporary Welsh composer Karl Jenkins is one of the most lyrical solos I have ever heard on that instrument. Originally written as soprano solo in Jenkins’ Stabat Mater, this instrumental arrangement is my favourite on the record. Similarly, the Benedictus from Jenkins’ highly acclaimed The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace highlights the soloist’s ability to display the finest lyrical qualities of his instrument. The CD also features a new concerto for euphonium by Jenkins which was commissioned by David Childs.

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