Vivienne Spiteri
Centrediscs CMCCD 16410

This new offering from the enigmatic Canadian harpsichordist Vivienne Spiteri is brilliantly unique. Although I do not understand Spiteri’s musical approach, I cannot help but respect and applaud her conviction and honesty to her art and her playing. In the five duets and two trios featured, she is able to seamlessly transport her ideas from thoughts to fingers to keyboard, showing a talent so wide ranging that it is mind boggling.

A Who’s Who of Canadian composers and performers join Spiteri on her musical journey. In Hope Lee’s In the Beginning was the End, accordionist Joseph Macerollo’s exquisite long tones juxtaposed against the crisp harpsichord sounds move the composition in an ethereal dimension that only this world-class accordion hero can achieve. The three duo works by John Beckwith are diverse. In both Ringaround with lever harpist Sharlene Wallace, and Lines Overlapping with Kirk Elliott on five-string banjo, a sparse dialogue of overlapping parts creates a tinkling aural world. In contrast, Beckwith’s Blurred Lines has Spiteri and violinist Lawrence Beckwith blast into the sonic future. Percussive or florid harpsichord lines against droning, moaning or plucked violin melodies jubilantly cross styles, moods and centuries in this top track. Works by Bruce Mather, Linda Bouchard and Kirk Elliott complete the disc.

A remarkable depth of performance is key here. Spiteri never overshadows or disappears in her ensemble playing. She knows what she wants yet lets others do what they do best.

03_canadian_flute_quartetsCanadian Flute Quartets
Laurier Quartet
CML Productions CD 104

This recording of flute quartets by Canadian composers was funded by Wilfrid Laurier University in celebration of its centennial year. It can also be seen as a celebration of the work of Amy Hamilton, who has been teaching the flute at Laurier since 1987: the four players are she and three of her students, Jennifer Brimson, Heather Snowden, and Dawn Ellis-Mobbs, each of whom has gone on to pursue post graduate studies in flute in Canada, the U.S. and Britain. Their playing is consistently accomplished and assured, excellent intonation, articulation, and tone quality, even on the bass and alto flutes called for in several of the six compositions on the disc.

The repertoire covers a broad spectrum of contemporary genres, from the minimalism of Sally Norris’s Writing the Voice (for piccolo quartet) to the lyricism and piquant and sonorous harmonic vocabulary of Carl Derfler’s Flute Quartet No. 1. Even more interesting and individual are the pieces in between: the spellbinding counterpoint of David McIntyre’s A Gentle Melancholy, the organic musical architecture of Claude Lassonde’s Euphonie Fantasmique, the stunning use of the bass flute as a solo instrument in Euphrosyne Keefer’s The Undertow, and the poetic, almost uncanny way that Roberta Stephens captures the mood and essence of a moment in her three short pieces.

I congratulate Quartet Laurier for revealing these wonderful additions to the flute quartet repertoire - a must-have CD not only for flutists but also for composers and orchestrators, and, of course, anyone who loves the sound of the flute.

cacheCache 2009
Various Artists
CEC PeP 014 (http://cec.concordia.ca/cd/)

Each year the Canadian Electroacoustic Community/Communauté Electroacoustique Canadienne (CEC) holds a competition for new works merging acoustic and non-acoustic sounds by young and emerging sound artists. For the 2009 edition of winning musical submissions the CEC collaborated with its German counterpart, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Elektroakustische Musik. They co-produced this double CD set, one for each country: “Cache 2009”.

CD I opens auspiciously with the saxophone key flutterings of Syncrétisme (2009) by Québec composer Guillaume Barrette. This work is entirely based on sounds sourced from a multicultural array of instruments including saxophone, violin, piano, gangsa and ugal (the latter two being metallophones of the Balinese gamelan).

In the next track Montrealer Tomas Furey’s Tes Régions (2008) builds its musical case on elusive strummed guitar chords around which various other acoustic bell, string, knocking, rolling, crumpling and electronic sounds accumulate. Furey seems to be reaching here for a dream-like atmosphere tinged with tonality which serves to bolster the emotional quality of the music.

Olivier Girouard’s lengthy and cinematic Suite_04 (2009) shifts back and forth between several sonic tableaux: live recordings of public spaces and soundscapes produced in the studio. A third “text” appears in the form of quiet intimate voices from the soundtracks of a Wim Wenders film and from a Pedro Almodovar film. The title refers to a J.S. Bach dance suite on which this work’s structure is modeled. Girouard’s objective appears to be to access a wide variety of the world’s sounds and transcribe them into his work.

Space allows me to mention only one work from the German CD: the gorgeous Nachtschatten (2008) by composer Alexander Schubert. This dramatic “tape piece” is based on sound material derived equally from both instrumental and electronic sources. In Nachtschatten (Nightshade, a genus in the extensive nightshade plant family) the composer creates a rich chamber ensemble acousmatic texture. Schubert also foils expectation by undercutting the common musical practice of slowly adding sounds in order to build increasing density. Rather he maintains a moderate sound event tempo thus keeping the texture fairly homogenous. The work ends with several rich and crunchy chords I have trouble describing other than with the word “yummy”.

The 13 stimulating and diverse works in this package reminded me of the excitement I felt in the 1970s when I produced such fresh sounds and electroacoustic constructions myself at York University’s Electronic Studios. Nostalgia for les temps électroacoustique perdue, perhaps?


Joseph Petric

ConAccord (www.josephpetric.com)

We've come a long way since Canadian scientist Hugh LeCaine (1914-1976) invented the “Electronic Sackbut”, the world's first voltage controlled synthesizer in 1945. Live electronic art was born, and the three electroacoustic composers featured on accordionist Joseph Petric's new release all play homage to LeCaine in their artistic manipulations.

Take a listen to current mainstream popular music on the radio – all the same tweaks, loopings and sounds can be heard on “Elektrologos” too. Bob Pritchard's Breathe on Me (O Breath of God...) is an ethereal soundscape. Larry Lake's early booming Sticherarion shows the composer experimenting with technology while his later work, Fractals is more of a techno-chamber work. Finally the great Orbiting Garden by Christos Hatzis is a sound explosion – Petric plays nonstop with florid musical rock star lines. This is the powerhouse performance and piece.

Accordionist Joseph Petric is an accomplished, sensitive and intelligent musician who has an international following both for his live performances and his prolific recorded output. He can play any style, but don't get me wrong, he is really in his element in the world of electroacoustic music. He absolutely shines – it is especially his impeccable bellows control that shapes the dynamic interplay between accordion and “sound machines” here.

A thousand raves to Joseph Petric and the composers. This is an accessible and culturally important aural experience to be heard time and time again.

02_scelsiGiacinto Scelsi - Piano Works 4

Stephen Clarke

Mode 227 (www.moderecords.com)

Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988) was a remarkable Italian innovator. His music is dissonant, improvisational, and often unorthodox rhythmically. Stephen Clarke’s virtuosity and artistic sensitivity are both evident on this disc of 1930s piano music by Scelsi.

The triptych Hispania (1939) opens by evoking flamenco guitar as it fans out from the pitches E-F. Clarke handles the “thrums,” ornaments, and “damped” tone clusters with panache. The wonderful slow movement starts at a slow tread, like a quest in the dark, and then becomes more agitated. Contrasting white-note modality prevails in the finale where slow chords effect peaceful closure

I particularly enjoyed Suite No. 5, “The Circus” (1935). These miniatures are appropriately gestural, at times dance-like. The 5th piece has a profusion of acrobatic arpeggios, leaping up higher and higher until they cover the instrument’s full range. The 6th is a tarantella like no other that rumbles in the depths! The last piece to me has hints of fascist marches at a time when World War Two approached. Clarke captures well the work’s whimsical and sometimes childlike sensibility.

Suite No. 6 (1939) has intriguing moments, though Scelsi’s trademark fast repeated notes here seem excessive. Yet Clarke has mastered them, as well as fiendish leaps to note clusters that differ slightly each time. Recorded in Berlin and Toronto, the disc is a labour of love whose recording quality equals that of the performances. I look forward to more Scelsi as the Mode Edition unfolds.

Concert Note: Stephen Clarke performs the music of Giacinto Scelsi in a benefit performance for Arraymusic at Gallery 345, 345 Sorauren Ave. on February 12.


Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa

Redshift Records (www.cosmophony.com)


Canada is blessed with a remarkable roster of talented pianists who are dedicated to championing work by our country’s composers. We can add Vancouver’s Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa to that roster. As her bio says, she has “a shameless passion for contemporary music” and it shows on this solo debut for the Redshift Music Society. “Cosmophony”, as defined in the extensive liner notes, is a noun built on Greek roots and literally means “sound of the cosmos.” It is also the banner under which Iwaasa unites her favourite Canadian composers to create a recital album inspired by the planets. Completed over three years, “Cosmophony” starts with Denis Gougeon’s fiercely virtuosic Piano-Soleil and extends out across the solar system in a series of ten works from West-Coast composers, nine commissioned by Iwaasa expressly for this project. She has selected her contributors well, among them Rodney Sharman, Jeffrey Ryan, Marci Rabe, Jordan Nobles, Jennifer Butler and Emily Doolittle. They all use juxtapositions of science, mythology and astrology to depict their selected planets and amplify their individual voices. From Sharman’s truly mercurial Mercurio dal Ciel In Terra to Rabe’s intimate yet eerie Venus, and from Ryan’s scintillating Saturn: Study in White to Butler’s submerged sonics of Neptune, Iwaasa covers a range of moods and styles with great mastery. Noticeably absent is Pluto, which was delisted as a planet during the project’s development. It’s replaced here with Doolittle’s optimistic but ominous Gliese 581, evoking a distant planet we had hoped inhabitable. Matching “Cosmophony” with George Crumb’s ambitious Makrokosmos Volume II: 12 Fantasy Pieces after the Zodiac is a brilliant touch of programming, not only for its showcasing of Iwaasa’s full virtuosity – calling on a range of extended techniques – but also for its counterpoint to the more traditional technique required by the Canadian collaborators. Excellent recording quality and lovely packaging make this a strong release.

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