03_shostakovichShostakovich - Symphonies 1 & 15
Mariinsky Orchestra; Valery Gergiev
Mariinsky MAR0502

The Mariinsky Theatre has followed the lead of The London and Chicago Symphonies, the Concertgebouw and other orchestras by creating their own, independent recording label. Their first release, Shostakovich’s opera The Nose (MAR0501, SACD/CD), was received with enthusiasm by the critics. They also have a HD video of their electrifying mounting of both Le Sacre du Printemps and l’Oiseau de Feu employing the original choreography and costuming as witnessed at their notorious Paris premieres (MARIINSKY/BelAir DVD, BAC041), reviewed in the September issue.

In the First Symphony Gergiev looks beyond Shostakovich’s precocious ideas and exuberant optimistic orchestration and finds a rather mature work by a prodigious composer. This is not to suggest that the interpretation is in any way anachronistic. Determining the composer’s mental attitude behind this or that composition, passage or reference remains a popular exercise among the pundits that, except in some rare cases, hasn’t produced a certain, or even approximate, QED. There is no better example than the 15th Symphony with its quotes from other composers, Rossini and Wagner, and allusions from other works. What is the sense in this symphonic autobiography and what does each reference and quotation mean? Whatever it may be, we hear what we wish to hear, like a musical Rorschach test.

This performance of the 15th is a distinguished interpretation that, if listened to and not overheard while otherwise occupied (text messaging seems to be today’s universal pre-occupation), leaves the listener sated and, perhaps, somewhat introspective. Such eloquent, empathetic, and searching performances as these do not just happen. They are the result of the artist getting inside the score and not simply on top of it. This was totally unexpected because here Gergiev reveals these immeasurable qualities that are missing from his earlier Philips CDs of Shostakovich symphonies, Four through Nine, recorded live between 1994 and 2002.

The astonishingly dynamic recording from hushed, barely whispered passages to unfettered outbursts, all in a realistic acoustic, is a credit to the ubiquitous, independent producer James Mallinson.

After, in fact, while, listening to these two familiar symphonies I hoped that this disc presages a complete cycle from this cast recorded in their own theatre.

04_rautavaaraEinojuhani Rautavaara - 12 Concertos
Various artists; Helsinki Philharmonic
; Leif Segerstam
Ondine ODE 1156-2Q

Finland’s enterprising Ondine label has faithfully recorded the music of the eminent composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (born 1928 in Helsinki) for decades and has assembled from their extensive catalogue of his works this immensely valuable collectors’ edition of four discs documenting a dozen concertos composed by him over the past 30 years. All of the recordings were supervised by the composer and feature outstanding soloists accompanied in most cases by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of the redoubtable Leif Segerstam.

Rautavaara’s extant series of concertos (though a recent percussion concerto has yet to be recorded) begins with the 1968 Cello Concerto, heard here in a performance by Marko Ylönen, and extends to the lengthy 2001 Clarinet Concerto in a masterful performance by its dedicatee Richard Stoltzman. My personal favourites include the stunningly evocative 1972 Concerto for Birds and Orchestra “Cantus Arcticus”, which amalgamates the composer’s own field recordings of the waterfowl of northern Finland in a halo of shimmering orchestral sound, and two compositions from 1977, the kaleidoscopic scoring and stream-of-consciousness impunity of the single movement Concerto for Organ, Brass Quintet and Symphonic Winds with Kari Jussila the soloist and Elmar Oliveira’s affectionate account of the capricious mood swings of the Violin Concerto. The collection also includes a lively Flute Concerto with Patrick Gallois, a succinct Ballad and prolix Concerto for harp, and an uncanny Concerto for Double Bass.

Rautavaara’s three Piano Concertos, the first two performed by Ralf Gothoni with the Leipzig and Bavarian Radio Symphony orchestras and the third performed and conducted from the keyboard by Vladimir Ashkenazy in Helsinki, provide an excellent overview of the composer’s stylistic evolution over the decades. Considered by many as one of the greatest musical figures in Finland after Jean Sibelius, Rautavaara’s compositions are infused by a rich palette of expression that consistently reward the listener while remaining admirably contemporary in their approach. All the selections feature excellent production values and constitute a loving tribute to this important composer’s considerable achievements.

05_bradyworksMy 20th Century
Tim Brady; Bradyworks;
Quatuor Molinari
ambiences magnétiques AM 189 CD-DVD

Canadian composer and innovative guitarist Tim Brady has created music in a huge range of genres and I was wondering what to expect in his new double disc release. The back cover states it clearly enough: “My 20th Century: A music/video/theatre narrative in 4 works”. The attractive package contains an audio CD and a DVD of the work, thus neatly representing the opus’ various aspects.

Didn’t someone once claim that the 20th century was the century of the guitar? The first two works here serve as homage to two of the past century’s iconic electric guitarists, whom one assumes are composer Brady’s guitar heroes too. The jazz great Charlie Christian’s famous Solo Flight (1941) is radically re-constructed in a post-modernist manner for a small ensemble in Traces; Brady’s own electric guitar riffs adding a fuzzy-toned note of 20th century angst.

Strumming (Hommage à John Lennon) is perhaps the most approachable work presented here, informed by a clear slowly unfolding structure and propelled by frequent dramatic timbral and metric shifts. One especially catchy composite meter: 4/4 + 2/4 + 3/16 caught the ear of this happy metric camper.

The third work is scored for a string quartet with an electronic soundscape, while the fourth features a “virtual string quartet” plus piano, saxophone, percussion and electric guitar. I found #4, Double Quartet (Hommage à Dmitri Chostakovitch), particularly engaging throughout its three movements. The elegiac movement An Infinity of Four with images from the siege of Leningrad was particularly moving.

With the future of the audio CD in question, could this sort of combined video + audio disc package become common even for purely music projects?

Concert note: New Music Concerts hosts the Toronto stop on Tim Brady’s national “My 20th Century” tour with the Bradyworks ensemble and videographers Martin Messier and Oana Suteu at Isabel Bader Theatre on October 17.

06_Ancia NAXOSShort Stories - American music for saxophone quartet
Ancia Saxophone Quartet
Naxos 8.559616

Borrowing from popular music has almost defined American “classical” music since the time of Ives, and the Ancia Saxophone Quartet has compiled a disc of commissions and favourites that capture Twentieth Century America.

The Chorale from Ives’ String Quartet No. 1 opens this disc, which also includes the third movement of his Fourth Symphony. Ives would have embraced the organ-like sound of the saxophone quartet for his collage of hymns.

The influence of Elliott Carter can be seen in Fred Sturm’s Picasso Cubed (a reworking of a Coleman Hawkins improvisation, perhaps as seen through a kaleidoscope), and in David Bixler’s Heptagon (seven short jazzy Webernesque movements). Accordionist Dee Langley joins for Elusive Dreams, where composer Carleton Macy demonstrates how well the instrument blends with saxophones.

The minimalist movement is represented by Michael Torke’s July. Written one hundred years after the Ives, Torke also likes to borrow from popular music: “Whenever I am drawn to a particular… pop song, I scratch my head and think, ‘I like that, how could I use it?’”

Jennifer Higdon – who is popular now in the orchestral world – wrote the title track, Short Stories, for the Ancia Quartet. Each picturesque movement invokes a film while listening. Higdon knows each instrument, and writes very well for saxophone quartet.

The American Classics Series on NAXOS continues to record a wide range of music and artists, and Ancia’s disc is an enjoyable listen.

Wallace Halladay

05_kleiberg_concertiTreble & Bass - concertos by Ståle Kleiberg
Marianne Thorsen; Göran Sjölin; Trondheim Symfoniorkester; Daniel Reuss
Lindberg Lyd AS 2L59SACD

The Norwegian composer Ståle Kleiberg was born in Stavanger in 1958 and now lives in Trondheim. Several of his works have been commissioned by the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra, including the two excellent Concertos recorded here featuring Trondheim native Marianne Thorsen on violin and the orchestra’s Swedish principal bass player Göran Sjölin, sensitively accompanied by conductor Daniel Reuss and the excellent Trondheim ensemble.

Kleiberg’s two string concertos are both cast in a traditional three movement fast-slow-fast framework yet exhibit a very individual melodic approach that is remarkably compelling. Restricting himself for the most part to easily comprehensible two part counterpoint, Kleiberg composes long lines of chromatically inflected strands of ever-evolving melodies that captivate the listener through a process of seamless organic metamorphoses. Decidedly post-modern in their allegiance to tonality, these concertos exhibit highly effective and idiomatic string writing. This is especially evident in his double bass concerto. For such a burly fellow, the soul of the contrabass is at heart rather melancholy, intimate and a bit clumsy, and a real challenge to compose for. Soloist Sjölin performs miracles in the many extended passages in the highest register and is rock-solid in his performance of the luminous sections composed entirely from the natural harmonics of the instrument. There’s never a dull moment in either of these eminently accessible works. Highly recommended.

Daniel Foley

04_secluded_gardenLorenzo Palomo - My Secluded Garden
Maria Bayo; Pepe Romero; Romero Guitar Quartet; Seville Royal Symphony Orchestra; Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
Naxos 8.572139

The two glorious vocal collections by Spanish contemporary composer Lorenzo Palomo feature many influences from traditional Spanish, Sephardic or Arab roots to more modern day contemporary and quasi jazz tonalities. The rich tonal colours and harmonies are only surpassed by the ever present musical “surprise” lurking around every corner.

The eleven songs comprising My Secluded Garden are composed to the Spanish love poems of Celedonio Romero, the late “grand maestro of the guitar”. Love with all its surprises offers Palomo the opportunity to superimpose the above mentioned styles. Soprano Maria Bayo’s voice is occasionally too shrill but she is confident in her attitude, while guitarist Pepe Romero (Celedonio’s son) provides a perfect backdrop. Callen los pinos, is the melodic gem of the collection with an unforgettable fortissimo climax and a sudden sweet ending.

Love is still the lyric theme in Madrigal and Five Sephardic Songs. The composer sets the traditional texts to a more uniform musical influence, this time the melodies of Jewish songs. Now Bayo’s voice is rich and deep, her intonation flawless, while the guitar setting allows Romero to display his mastery.

Concierto de Cienfuegos for four guitars and orchestra is given a superb rendition by The Romero Guitar Quartet and the Seville Royal Symphony Orchestra. With many musical surprises, this three movement work with Spanish flavours is easy on the ears though deeply rooted in contemporary harmonies and rhythmic variations.

The biggest surprise of the day however was how much I enjoyed “My Secluded Garden” and Lorenzo Palomo’s music. Ole!

Tiina Kiik

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