01_gurdjieffGurdjieff/Hartmann - Music for Piano Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 - Asian Songs and Rythms

Patrice Lare

XXI XXI-CD 2

 

This is an intriguing CD set on several levels. First off, the very idea of co-composition, in this case the enigmatic G.I. Gurdjieff (1877? - 1949) and the Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann (1885 - 1956), is rare in the Western classical tradition.

 

While Gurdjieff’s musical roots are vague, de Hartmann studied with three of Russia’s leading composers: Rimsky-Korsakov, Anton Arensky and Sergei Teneyev. The 22 year old de Hartmann first made a name for himself with his 1907 ballet The Pink Flower, produced by Diaghilev at the Russian Imperial Opera.

 

Gurdjieff on the other hand is known primarily as a mystic, philosopher and spiritualist, though his musical practice, informed by his theories on life and energy, did take centre stage at various times in his career. The very distinct paths of these two men overlapped when de Hartmann became a Gurdjieff disciple during the First World War. They co-penned some 200 short works for the piano – or at least it seems that Gurdjieff whistled or picked out melodies he imbibed during his 20 year peregrination, which de Hartmann then scored for piano.

 

Another fascinating spin on this collection of 49 brief piano pieces is that they were meant to accompany “sacred dances” choreographed by Gurdjieff. The 1979 Peter Brook movie Meetings with Remarkable Men shows a scene of such a dance. Another example can be viewed online: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3926028940560435071&hl=en#

 

How do these brief piano pieces work as listening music? A few have an innocent, evanescent charm. Much of it sounds like early 20th century parlour music with a Middle Eastern twist. The Montreal pianist Patrice Lare plays them with élan.

 

For seekers who wish to dive even deeper into the deep well of Gurdjieff’s music, there is a 19 hour compilation “Harmonic Development: The Complete Harmonium recordings 1948-1949” on the Basta Music label from The Netherlands.

 


04_fringe_percFringe Percussion

Fringe Percussion

Independent FP2009

(www.fringepercussion.com)

From the first ten seconds of the first track of “Fringe Percussion”, I was held spellbound. The Vancouver group of the same name is able to hold their own in the diverse and talented pool of Canadian percussionists and percussion ensembles by performing an interesting program with consistent precision and musicality.

John Cage’s Dance Music for Elfrid Ide was an unknown work until its 2005 discovery in the Mills College archives. Composed for dancer/student Elfrid Ide, it is a charming three movement work. The performers capture Cage’s nuances with elegance, especially in the softer sections. Jocelyn Morlock’s Darwin’s Walken Fish Quartet is all musical fun and games, with a splashy percussive ending that contemplates what life would be like if fish were four-legged creatures. The Fringe Percussion recording of John Wyre’s Marubatoo is based upon the work’s unrecorded trio version. Composer Colin MacDonald’s contribution is Enginuity. This feels more like a work in progress, with the clever idea of having the vibraphone and marimba supporting the drumming really coming to fruition in the final third of the work. The energetic Latin flavoured Los Forwards by Graham Boyle completes the release.

What strikes me in listening to Fringe Percussion is the meticulous rhythmic ensemble playing which is overshadowed only by a formidable musical sense. Jonathan Bernard, Martin Fisk, Brian Nesselroad and Daniel Tones play together like lifelong friends. Here’s hoping that they continue drumming together for a long time!


03_creating_landscapeCreating A Landscape

Réa Beaumont

Shrinking Planet Productions SPP 0089 (www.creatingalandscape.com)

Sometimes the planets align, and fortune favours the bold. These sayings only partially do justice to Réa Beaumont, who takes command of the stage of Glenn Gould Studio with a stunning set of contemporary piano works.


Opening with Arvo Pärt’s groundbreaking tintinnabular work
Für Alina, the dynamic continues to remain below mezzo piano for an astonishing 13 minutes. Cage’s very early In a Landscape, played as it was written with no prepared piano devices, rounds out this episode. As you proceed through the works, the material grows gradually denser and more adventurous. Beaumont chose another early work, Colin McPhee’s Op. 1 Piano Sketches from 1916, showing the composer in great form before his exposure to the gamelan. Barbara Pentland’s relatively late (1983) Vincula is an adventurous bit of polyphony, and sensitively played. Chan Ka Nin cascades arpeggiated lines in Vast. Brent Lee’s Subjective Geometries restores the tranquility. The surprise ending is Anton Kuerti’s 6-movement Six Arrows (1974) in a thoroughly 20th century idiom, far removed from anything remotely related to Beethoven.


Beaumont handles all this repertoire with enviable ease. Glenn Gould Studio’s hand-picked Steinway D274 is sensitively recorded by the legendary team of Jaeger and Quinney, with help from Dennis Patterson. The recorded sound is not “in your face”, but nonetheless you can clearly hear subtle nuances of pedalling. You absolutely must hear this.


02_villa-lobos_symphoniesVilla-Lobos - Complete Symphonies

Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra WDR; Carl St. Clair

CPO 777 516-2

The eminent Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) took as his model for symphonic compositions the cyclic approach endorsed by Vincent d’Indy, regarded in the conservative Brazilian musical circles of his day as quite innovative. Though Villa-Lobos was to discover on first visiting France in 1923 that he was a generation behind contemporary trends in this regard, he doggedly held on to this model for the remainder of his works in this genre. The 12 symphonies are almost entirely cast in four often quite lengthy movements with very few traces of the indigenous Brazilian characteristics for which he is best known. His symphonies have never been as popular as his celebrated Bachianas Brasilieras and Chôros cycles and the majority of them have not previously been available in recordings. Fortunately the American conductor Carl St. Clair began the project of documenting these works in Stuttgart in 1997 for the innovative CPO label and we now have the complete works in an attractively priced box set.

The early symphonies date from 1917 to 1920; symphonies 2-5 are part of a cycle documenting the course of the First World War (the score of the fifth symphony however is lost). The French influence is prominent, including Debussian whole tone passages, lush harmonies and programmatic quotations of La Marseillaise. The Stuttgart forces cope admirably with the often cruel string writing and congested scoring. The later symphonies date from 1944 to 1957 and were commissions from various orchestras; the most impressive of these, the grandiose “Amerindia” choral Symphony No. 10, was written for the 400th Anniversary of the City of São Paulo. The harmonic language of these later works is considerably more interesting and the orchestration marginally more concise, though there is sometimes a surfeit of counterpoint that suggests mere note-spinning.

Carl St. Clair is to be commended for his patience in deciphering the error-ridden manuscripts and contributing the essential interpretive decisions this notoriously prolific composer neglected to indicate. Though these self-consciously cosmopolitan symphonies may lack the charm of his overtly nationalist works they are typically impassioned, energetic, and well worth listening to. This is a well-recorded landmark set and a must-have item for aficionados of Latin America’s greatest composer.

01_frangSibelius; Prokofiev - Violin Concertos
Vilde Frang; WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne; Thomas Søndergård

EMI Classics 6 84413 2

I don’t know how to start... she’s too good to believe! Even though Vilde Frang is new on the recording scene, her debut CD has tremendous impact, driven by her talent and intelligence. This kind of supreme violin playing is rare.

Vilde Frang was born in Norway in 1986 and made her debut with orchestra at the age of ten. She concertizes throughout Scandinavia, Europe and the Balkan countries. She has shared the stage with such luminaries as Martha Argerich, Gidon Kremer, and Maxim Vengerov. She toured Europe and the USA with Anne-Sophie Mutter (her mentor) and the Camerata Salzburg. The recordings heard here were made when she was 22.

There are several recent recordings of the Sibelius, both new and historic, re-issues and discoveries, but this one stands out. Not since Ivry Gitlis’ legendary recording from the mid-fifties (VOX) have I been so taken.

From the opening bars the mood is set and the heartfelt scenario unfolds. Her playing is not only beautiful, it is original with genuine style and personality... attributes that have characterized the greatest music masters throughout a century of recordings. From the lyrical first movement to the energetic frisson of the finale I was mesmerized. That she feels a close relationship to this concerto is unmistakable.

For the Prokofiev concerto, too, she plays with great authority. After the eerie opening, she introduces a measure of frivolity and rhythmic vitality, always with taste and respect for the composer. Altogether, another magnificent performance.

A compelling case is also made for the rarely heard Humoresques.

Throughout the coherence and rapport between soloist, conductor and orchestra is captured on a dynamic recording with a real-life balance between soloist and orchestra. I am certain that we’ll be hearing much more from Vilde Frang.

11_farah_unfoldingUnfolding

John Farah

Dross:tik Records DTK10 (www.johnfarah.com)

Toronto composer and pianist John Farah noted in a recent interview, “I wanted Unfolding to be like my favourite juggernaut classical pieces, something you could listen to hundreds of times because you're always hearing new details ..." (Hour Magazine, 2009). In this goal, it seems to me that he succeeded brilliantly. I can’t wait for a live concert version with full symphony orchestra.

Overall, the structure of Unfolding resembles a grand 20th c. piano concerto in ten movements. Its symphonic accompaniment is here deftly provided by synthesizers and acoustic drums, clarinet and cello. Its style and musical language is a veritable musical alchemical amalgam, drawing from an incredibly varied range of Western and Middle Eastern contemporary and historical sources. Established musical forms abound, both Middle Eastern (the 10 beat samai metre in mvt. 6), and Western (the passacaglia underpinning mvt. 5). Contemporary urban dance styles are welcome in Farah’s concerto too. They make guest appearances alongside advanced jazz augmented chords and tonal passages reminiscent of Schoenberg’s 12 tone musical language. The composer’s love for the keyboard music of the Renaissance is not neglected either and gets a place at the table, though the harpsichord is not included as it was on his first CD, Creation.

Unfolding reflects a mature fully-realised musical voice in the tradition of European keyboard-composers. Imagine one part rippling jazzy piano and Rhodes lines blended into crunchy augmented chords, one part chopped-up drum samples, trippy acid synth lines and drum ’n’ bass, plus another part Middle Eastern percussion and modal references, all served in a sophisticated highball glass in the form of a 20th century piano concerto. Can’t? Then you’ll just have to listen to this album.

Andrew Timar

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