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

03_fibonacci5 X 3

Trio Fibonacci

Centrediscs CMCCD 15710


“5 X 3” is a spectacular release on which Trio Fibonacci – violinist Julie-Anne Derome, cellist Gabriel Prynn and pianist Anna D'Errico – have chosen five works from their extensive repertoire of original Canadian compositions. This is Canadian music at its finest, from performance, compositional and production viewpoints.


Ana Sokolovic's Portrait parle is a shimmering soundscape of musical ideas based on an odd synoptic table of physiological traits from the French police circa 1900. Paul Frehner’s Quarks Tropes is a two movement work in which he superimposes violin and cello parts to his solo piano work Finnegans Quarks Revival. The brooding first movement with its mournful cello part is especially noteworthy. Analia Llugdar's haunting Tricycle explores resonance as a compositional tool with its sliding string lines and ringing piano part.


Trio Fibonacci is also known for its performance of classical repertoire. Fitting then that the other two works have the composers draw from it. Jean Lesage's The Mozart Project, subtitled “the author questions himself on the complexity of styles and the mixing of genres”, combines a bit of Mozart with a bit of Lesage to create a fascinating mix of musical styles. In Chris Paul Harman's Piano Trio, material from Bach's E Major Partita for solo violin is modified so that the three players play as one through the clever use of intervals, canons, rhythmic and pitch shuffling.


Trio Fibonacci plays with passion, accuracy and in-depth understanding of interpretation. “5 X 3” is a recording that should be heard by everyone.


02_feldman_babbittFeldman; Babbitt - Clarinet Quintets

Mark Lieb; Phoenix Ensemble

innova 746 (www.innova.mu)


Both Milton Babbitt and Morton Feldman have had a powerful impact on the music of our time. But these two American composers, born ten years and ninety miles apart, are rarely heard together, since their music comes from such different artistic worlds. This pairing of their clarinet quintets is revelatory.


Feldman’s soulful, tender and understated lyricism has a direct appeal. His Clarinet and String Quartet from 1983 still sounds audaciously visionary today, twenty-three years after his death.


Babbitt’s music is undoubtedly complicated by his use of serial techniques for all aspects of a piece, from the pitches to the rhythm and dynamics. But the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings from 1996 is warm, jazzy, and charming. This is not wholly surprising since Babbitt, who is now ninety-four years old, once wrote a Broadway musical, as the booklet notes tell us, and analyzed Jerome Kern’s All the Things You Are in lessons, as former student Steven Sondheim once recalled.


Clarinettist Mark Lieb uses the chameleon qualities of his instrument to weave in and out of the four strings, whose immaculate and expressive playing responds to the clarinet’s wealth of colours.


This is an important and exciting disc, and it offers the first recording of Babbitt’s quintet. So it deserves better than the unattractive yellowy-brown cover art which spills onto each page of the booklet, making the notes and bios – welcome as they are – difficult to read.

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