10 Boston CommissionsBoston Symphony Commissions – Timo Andres; Eric Nathan; Sean Shepherd; George Tsontakis
Boston Symphony Orchestra; Andris Nelsons
Naxos 8.559874 (naxos.com)

Four recent (2016-2017) works by American composers receive their premiere recordings on this disc.

The episodic structure of the brightly scored, 11-minute Everything Happens So Much by Timo Andres (b.1985) suggests, as per its title, a variety of things happening, as in a play, film or ballet. Similarly, the colourful episodes of another 11-minute piece, the space of a door by Eric Nathan (b.1983), also hint at a sequence of unseen events. Both of these compositions seem, to me, not quite self-sufficient, yet well-suited as soundtracks for something to be watched.

The 13-minute Express Abstractionism by Sean Shepherd (b.1979) invites visual accompaniment by its very nature. In four movements inspired by artists Alexander Calder, Gerhard Richter, Wassily Kandinsky, Lee Krasner and Piet Mondrian, Shepherd’s quirky, cleverly scored music would be even more persuasive if performed together with projected slides of the artists’ works.

The longest (24 minutes) and most substantial music on the disc, needing no visual support, is by the oldest and best-established of the composers, George Tsontakis (b.1951), visiting composer in 2008 at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. His four-movement Sonnets – Tone Poems for English Horn and Orchestra, inspired by Shakespeare, is a lyrical, moody gem, its solo part beautifully played by the BSO’s Robert Sheena. It’s an English horn player’s worthy alternative to Sibelius’ Swan of Tuonela, which it closely resembles in overall impact, though boasting Tsontakis’ individual, memorable melodic expressivity.

01 New Jewish Music 2New Jewish Music Vol.2
Lara St. John; Sharon Azrieli; Couloir; Orchestre classique de Montreal; Boris Brott
Analekta AN 2 9262 (analekta.com)

This Analekta release of new orchestral works features the powerful musical abilities of the Orchestre Classique de Montréal under the internationally respected Canadian conductor Boris Brott. The disc centres around the Azrieli Foundation’s prizes for newly created works. Two prizes are awarded: The Azrieli Prize for Jewish Music – recognizing an existing work – and the Azrieli commission for Jewish music, an initiative created to encourage composers to critically engage with the question of “What is Jewish music?”

The first piece on the disc – the premiere performance of En el escuro es todo uno (In the Darkness All is One) by Canadian composer Kelly-Marie Murphy – is a tour de force of orchestral imagination. Murphy is clearly a confident orchestral writer and it shows in this piece. The work is scored for solo harp, cello and orchestra, and Murphy expertly delivers a fine example of the concertante idiom. This piece represents the results of the 2018 Azrieli Commission Prize and features B.C. duo Couloir, Heidi Krutzen (harp) and Ariel Barnes (cello), as soloists.

The 2018 Azrieli Prize for Jewish Music was awarded to the Israeli-born composer Avner Dorman for Nigunim – a violin concerto in four movements. Dorman writes highly idiomatic and playful passages for the soloist answered by equally light dances and trifles in the orchestra. This work makes for an excellent showpiece for the soloist, Lara St. John in this instance, while not being overly dramatic in the virtuosic sense.

Last on the disc is a new recording of Seven Tableaux from the Song of Songs by the late Canadian composer Srul Irving Glick. This music is lyrical and melancholy. Glick had a particular affinity for creating an emotional painting with his music without being overtly sentimental. Soprano soloist Sharon Azrieli performs this work with stunning colour and musical prowess.

02 James OCallahanJames O’Callaghan – Alone and Unalone
Ensemble Paramirabo
Ravello Records rr8020 (ravellorecords.com)

While listening to music one might consider, “I like these sounds” or “I like how this music moves forward.” While neither of these thoughts can provide an adequate basis for the judgement of artistic value, the latter says more than the former and also comes closer to being such a basis. One might say that “I like how it goes” captures a feature fundamental to music’s being good at a level less abstract than that of the experience of it being intrinsically rewarding.

When listening to the highly personal, compelling and frankly compulsory environments created by Canadian composer James O’Callaghan, one invariably approves of how it sounds and how it goes. In this release of works written especially for the Montreal-based Ensemble Paramirabo, the “I like how it goes” nature of the music connects the listener with the absolutely crucial notion of following music with anticipation – but also with harmonious and welcomed disassociation. With titles such as subject/object and Alone and unalone, there is a certain amount of obfuscation – delivered on an abstract level – but also literally, as admitted by the composer himself in an effort to provide a conceptual motivation of the “transference of concrete sound into abstraction, returned to the conditions from which they were derived.” While the musico-philosophical liminality of this music would make for interesting discussion, one can’t help but simply appreciate the raw and unfettered imagination produced by O’Callaghan’s manner of putting pen to page, and with the electronic aspects of the works, world to speaker.

The ensemble brings a high amount of musical excellence and an intimate bravura to this recording – a testament to their ongoing commitment to O’Callaghan’s music. Bravo to all.

03 Duo KalystaOrigins
Duo Kalysta
Leaf Music LM226 (duokalysta.com)

Flutist Lara Deutsch and harpist Emily Belvedere first met when collaborating in 2012 at McGill University. Since then Duo Kalysta has been playing chamber music to artistic acclaim, as demonstrated by this clear-sounding release recorded in Montreal.

TSO harpist Judy Loman’s colourful flute and harp arrangement of Claude Debussy’s Prelude à l’après-midi d’un faune opens the CD. The flute beginning catches the listener’s attention, with sparkling arpeggiated harp, dreamy flute and astounding tight ensemble playing in the more rubato sections.

Two Canadian compositions follow. R. Murray Schafer’s three-movement Trio for Flute, Viola and Harp (2011) has violist Marina Thibeault joining them. Freely, flowing has melodic lines with changing volumes, tempi and note lengths creating the soundscape. The sonic space of Slowly, calmly is highlighted by long atmospheric viola notes doubled by the flute underneath. Dance-like Rhythmic is like listening to a musical story with viola plucks, high-pitched flute, harp flourishes and abrupt stops in a race to the end.

Composer Jocelyn Morlock notes that her two-movement Vespertine (2005) refers to night-blossoming plants and nocturnal animals. Twilight presents musically darker colours with longer phrases and more independent parts. Verdigris is performed with sweetly delicate harp staccato lines and contemplative flute notes, bird-like trills and higher notes.

Violinist Alexander Read, violist Thibeault and cellist Carmen Bruno add an orchestral feel to André Jolivet’s Chant de Linos (1944), an intense, dramatic composition highlighted by impressive flute playing.

Here’s to a promising musical future!

04 Kremer VoiceFinding Your Own Voice
Gidon Kremer
Accentus Music ACC20414 (naxosdirect.com)

In the September WholeNote, Terry Robbins reviewed the CD of Gidon Kremer’s recording of the late Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s 24 Preludes to a Lost Time, Op. 100. Written for solo cello, Kremer plays his own transcription for solo violin. Robbins concluded that “His superb performance befits such a towering achievement, one which is a monumental addition to the solo violin repertoire.”

Accentus Music has since issued a DVD of that unique performance and we now see Kremer spotlit alone on the dark stage in the Gogol Centre in Moscow. Behind him in the darkness is a theatre-size, rear-projection screen on which, at appropriate times, are seen original images from the 1960s taken by photographer Antanas Sutkus. Each selected photograph illuminates the mood of the particular prelude being played, often stark, sometimes sad, sometimes amusing but so appropriate. Genius.

The documentary, Finding Your own Voice, is a film by Paul Smaczny that is a totally engrossing biography of Kremer and his world of music. It revolves about music that embraces Kremer’s life and we hear and see him with musicians including conductors and composers whose music touches him. Listen in as he discusses passages in rehearsals with the likes of Arvo Pärt and others. There are so many thought-provoking observations and philosophical reflections that one may be immediately prompted to watch it again in case you missed something. Whether or not you are a Kremer fan, you will get a lot out of this unusual and illuminating film.

05 Kurtag ScenesGyörgy Kurtág – Scenes
Viktoriia Vetrenko; David Grimal; Luigi Gaggero; Niek de Groot
Audite 97.762 (naxosdirect.com)

The nonagenarian Hungarian composer György Kurtág ranks among the leading living modernist music masters. His precisely crafted, intense, compressed, emotion-filled and dramatic style evokes a kind of sonic haiku, demanding the utmost from instrumentalists and singers alike.

This album presents six previously unreleased songs and instrumentals by Kurtág, with lyrics from literary works in Hungarian, Russian and German. Scenes from a Novel, Op.19 (1984) for example, consisting of 15 extremely varied short movements, is a prime example of Kurtág’s oeuvre. With melancholic, introspective texts by the Russian writer Rimma Dalos, the songs feature virtuoso soprano Viktoriia Vitrenko, who nails the shifting emotional-tonal terrain. She is impressively supported by violinist David Grimal, bassist Niek de Groot and cimbalomist Luigi Gaggero. Given its masterful composition, imbued gravitas, dramatic and emotional range and the near-20-minute length of this series of epigrams, the work takes on an operatic magnitude. And I found the rest of the songs here just as compelling.

The Hungarian cimbalom is a stylistic and national marker on much of the album, a sonic through-line in addition to the voice, although novice listeners should not expect even a tinge of Magyar folkloric colour. The cimbalomist Gaggero makes a solo appearance at the end of the album on Kurtág’s Hommage à Berényi Ferenc 70. His soft, wistfully sensitive rendition feels like a relaxed puff of gently perfumed smoke after the intense multicourse sonic dinner we had just experienced.

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