02 Jocelyn MorlockJocelyn Morlock – Halcyon
Various Artists
Centrediscs CMCCD 23817 (musiccentre.ca)

With Halcyon, JUNO-nominated Canadian composer Jocelyn Morlock explores her compositional voice over seven substantial works from voice accompanied by piano to orchestra. Let’s give a listen.

Halcyon, warmly performed by cellist Ariel Barnes with Corey Hamm on piano, is a slow tonal elegy. It takes as its extra-musical theme the mythic tale of the kingfisher Halcyon. The composer tells us in the liner notes that the next work Vulpine, brought to life by violinist Nicholas Wright and Hamm, plays on the many characteristics associated with the fox.

With Shade, the cello is back, this time supported by Vern Griffiths on vibraphone. Morlock enigmatically remarks on the multiple meanings of shade, and “Hades, a disembodied spirit” in her liners.

Two song cycles follow. The three Involuntary Love Songs are sung by contemporary music specialist soprano Robyn Driedger-Klassen, the six Perruqueries by Driedger-Klassen and baritone Tyler Duncan, plus the stand-alone song Somewhere Along the Line by Driedger-Klassen. Erika Switzer provides the muscular piano framework throughout. The amusing lyrics for the Perruqueries set – about wigs and the people who love them – were provided by the Canadian author Bill Richardson. After hearing Morlock’s offerings here, I’ll pay closer attention to the recent reemergence of Canadian art song.

The album wraps with Aeromancy, an airy, loose-limbed two-movement laconic – at times mysterious – double concerto. Ariel Barnes and Joseph Elworthy spin emotive cello melodies, while the Vancouver Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leslie Dala, provides pastel colours over a firm harmonic base.

03 Brian CurrentBrian Current – Faster Still
Various Artists
Centrediscs CMCCD 24217 (musiccentre.ca)

This recording is a timely reminder of the significant work that Brian Current is doing as a composer and conductor, and the excellent performance standard of three of Toronto’s leading new music ensembles.

The CD opens with an attractive short scena from 2006 – Inventory – with soprano Patricia O’Callaghan as a shoe salesperson, letting her imagination wander. The clever text is by Anton Piatigorsky and the Soundstreams ensemble (conducted by Current) features fine playing by some of Toronto’s top players. O’Callaghan’s poignant and whimsical performance is a highlight of the disc.

Faster Still, Strata and Shout, Sisyphus, Flock are three substantial instrumental works given superb performances here by the ensembles of Duo Concertante/Blue Engine String Quartet, Continuum Contemporary Music and New Music Concerts respectively. All three works are vital and intense and illustrate Current’s mastery of ensemble colour and aural imagery.

The Duet for Cellos, originally written in 2007 and revised in 2016, is an effective contrast in the middle of the program. Cellists Amahl Arulanandam and Bryan Holt give a sensational performance of this short, compelling work. The final track Circus Songs is a thrilling early piece for a mixed quintet that takes the listener on a wild ride and features great playing from all the performers. I especially loved pianist Stephen Clarke’s muscular “freak out” near the end.

It was a pleasure to get to know Current’s music better through this fine CD. He is a bold, uncompromising, highly skilled composer with much to say. 

04 Canadian OboeCanadian Works for Oboe and Piano
Charles Hamann; Frédéric Lacroix
Centrediscs CMCCD 24117 (musiccentre.ca)

In 1993, 22-year-old prodigy Charles Hamann became principal oboe of the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Continuing in this role he is now internationally renowned; this two-disc Canadian sesquicentennial CD with University of Ottawa colleague Frédéric Lacroix shows why. Well-rounded tone and sensitive phrasing invite us into the uneasy lyricism of Jean Coulthard’s Sonata for Oboe and Piano (1947) and her concise Shizen – Three Nature Sketches from Japan (1979). Pianist Lacroix shines in the inventive sonorities and harmonic colour of Alexina Louie’s Filigree (2012). Neglected composer Leslie Mann’s haunting Vocalise (1974) is riveting, as is Incantation (1977) by Jacques Hétu featuring Hamann’s breathtaking sustained tones. Amazingly, Oskar Morawetz’s bracing, dialogue-rich Three Fantasies for oboe and piano (1976) is played here for the first time!

JUNO Award-winning composer John Burge’s lively, beautifully-crafted Sonata Breve No.4 (2006) first attracted Hamann and Lacroix into this recording project, which also includes his whimsical solo oboe Twitter Études No.2 (2016). Gary Kulesha’s imaginative, commissioned Lyric Sonata for Oboe and Piano (2015) is lyrically unconventional, with quarter tones and multiphonics effectively melded into the slow movement which evokes a lonely landscape. The disc includes a Sonatine (2015) by Frédéric Lacroix, arrangements of Marjan Mozetich’s Calla Lilies and John Estacio’s Canzona, plus works by Charles Wilson, Monte Keene Pishny-Floyd and Victor Herbiet. For great stories about the recording’s creation see the Canadian Music Centre website and the program notes. Highly recommended for anyone who likes the oboe and 20th- and 21st-century music!

05 Canadian WomenCelebrating Canadian Women!
Laurel Swinden; Stephanie Mara
Independent LBSCD2017 (musiccentre.ca)

Flutist and University of Guelph flute professor Laurel Swinden and pianist Stephanie Mara have teamed up to record this new CD of music by Canadian women, introducing composers and music new to many of us. Swinden’s playing is consistently first-class – great sound with flawless intonation and articulation. Mara is her equal all the way, playing like a soloist when that is required – and there are at times some devilishly difficult solos for the pianist – and stepping back when needed.

The program includes two sonatas, one by Quebec composer and organist extraordinaire Rachel Laurin, the other by composer and pianist Heather Schmidt. Both sonatas, oddly enough, have cadenzas which are, in my opinion, some of the best writing in these pieces, and which Swinden plays with great confidence and verve.

I had the same response when hearing the opening of the Schmidt Sonata and the opening phrases of Alice Ho’s Suite for Flute and Piano: “What a composer!” Both bristle with excitement and virtuosity, demanding that the performer go to a stratospheric energy level. I was struck by how idiomatic Schmidt’s writing was for the flute. The second movement’s kaleidoscopic changes of mood are virtuosic feats of composition. While Swinden excels in this exciting and treacherously difficult music, she also shines in the more lyrical, like Jean Coulthard’s Music on a Quiet Song, which she plays with great artistry.

This CD brings together artistry and artistic leadership. Well done!

06 Butterfield BozziniChristopher Butterfield – Trip
Quatuor Bozzini
Editions QB CQB 1719 (actuellecd.com)

For its 23rd CD, Quatour Bozzini has produced a monograph recording with an almost-chronological retrospective of music by Christopher Butterfield. Spanning more than 20 years, it contains three pieces for solo strings and two string quartets. Clinamen (the Latin name Lucretius gave to the unpredictable swerve of atoms), for solo violin (1999), is made up of 80 cards, each containing a short musical phrase, combined according to the free will of the performer. Intentionally inchoate, the piece is bound together most prominently by the honey tone of Clemens Merkel’s playing, and yet, there are whispers of its compositional technique, as though related materials were sketched, bent through historical filters from classical music to modern, and then splayed by means of William S. Burroughs’ cut-up technique.

Fall (2013), written for the full quartet, is the perfect vehicle for the Bozzinis’ signature non-vibrato playing. At times haunting and tense, their sound is also unadorned, unaffected and exquisite. Engaged in material processes of rotation and accumulation, the ensuing tone of the piece is plaintive and distantly evocative of Cage’s String Quartet in Four Parts. The eponymous Trip (meaning possibly all of: excursion, to dance or run lightly, to stumble or fall, to release and raise an anchor, and to hallucinate) is an outlandish journey from a short Scorrevole movement augmented by a random talk radio broadcast, through a moto perpetuo, to a swaying, recapitulatory Scherzo. The last movement, marked Adagio molto, is longer than the preceding movements combined, and sounds not simply slow but like a time-stretched recording, where the smallest, usually ordinary timbral deviation is magnified and burnished, while notes, lines and harmonies are expanded into tranquillizing beauty. 

07 Veronique MathieuArgot
Véronique Mathieu; Jasmin Arakawa
Navona Records NV6105 (navonarecords.com)

Canadian violinist Véronique Mathieu has positive mojo in spades: chops to burn, rock solid musicianship, solo and concerto gigs around the world and a doctorate in music. Not taking the typical path, Mathieu has chosen to play, commission and record primarily contemporary music, mostly by American and Canadian composers.

In Argot Mathieu – and Jasmin Arakawa, her pianist in the Lutosławski repertoire – has chosen a demanding program of late-20th-century classical music. She tackles substantial scores of three European heavyweights, Franco Donatoni (1927-2000), Pierre Boulez (1925-2016) and Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994).

The two-movement Argot by Donatoni definitely makes a virtuoso, dramatic statement. Brimming with a huge variety of keening timbral shifts, swift overtone-rich melodic fragments and expressive bowing and fingering, it’s an impressive work and performance. Composed for Yehudi Menuhin in 1992, Boulez’s Anthèmes employs extended techniques and virtuoso passagework galore. To these ears, Mathieu nails this 8’56” solo.

The album is capped by the three works by Lutosławski for violin and piano. Recitativo e Arioso (1951) is early Lutosławski, imbued sometimes with an almost folk-like lyricism. Subito (1992), on the other hand, is among the composer’s last works, though in no way is it resigned. Rather, it is full of melodic playfulness with perhaps a musical tip of the hat to the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók.

Mathieu’s recital closes satisfyingly with the largest work here, Lutosławski’s five-movement Partita (1984). I understand it’s the work on the album most often included in contemporary violin recitals. In the virtuoso hands of Mathieu and Arakawa you can clearly hear why.

Back to top