02 Gryphon TrioThe End of Flowers
Gryphon Trio
Analekta AN 2 9520 (analekta.com)

There’s no explanation in the booklet about the CD’s title, The End of Flowers. An online search led to Gryphon cellist Roman Borys’ comments: “The First World War brought with it unprecedented loss of life, youth and hope. It was the end of flowers… fields lay barren, blasted and churned beyond recognition.” Borys continues: “In the winds of war Ravel and Clarke composed two remarkable piano trios… not intended as memorials but [which] stand as a testament to the enduring power of life and art.”

Rebecca Clarke left no programmatic description of her 1921 Piano Trio, two years after her other major work, the richly melodic Viola Sonata. Unlike the sonata, her trio evinces the influence of the war. Turmoil erupts immediately with the explosive opening of the Moderato ma appassionato, a movement marked by turbulent melodies, restless rhythms and a distinct bugle-call motif. The mournful Andante molto semplice is followed by the final Allegro vigoroso, alternating between a life-affirming folky tune and quiet reflection. There’s a reprise of the first movement’s agitation and the bugle call, but the trio ends on a positive, buoyant note. This gripping, emotion-filled work deserves to be much better known. Hear it!

Ravel’s familiar Piano Trio lacks obvious war-references, but it garners an especially gravitas-laden interpretation from the Gryphon Trio – University of Toronto artists-in-residence currently celebrating their 25th anniversary. Both of these marvellous works receive exemplary performances in a disc to hear and re-hear.

03 Megumi MasakiMusic4Eyes+Ears
Megumi Masaki
Centrediscs CMCCD 24017 (musiccentre.ca)

The title of this (Blu-ray+CD) package is an obvious giveaway. If you’re about to dive into its contents, then do so Blu-ray first. The reason is simple: the cover not only reads Music4Eyes+Ears, the visceral excitement of the music is also magnified exponentially by viewing Megumi Masaki perform her music on the Blu-ray. Although Keith Hamel’s Touch is the only work performed on both, its enormous impact when viewed on Blu-ray is absolute proof of the visual experience. Remember also that music was a visual experience long before the invention of recording technology. Those eager listeners who decide to jump in CD-first anyway are hardly likely to be disappointed, though.

Music4Eyes+Ears is made up of repertoire that is simply breathtaking. That has principally to do with Masaki’s pianism. Her depth of understanding of narrative is unprecedented and her ability to translate musical composition into something emotionally vivid and alive is quite extraordinary. Orpheus Drones by T. Patrick Carrabré is an evanescent work in which the legendary Greek protagonist, musician, poet and prophet is served by the closest approximation of what might be described as divine music. The follow-up, Orpheus (2), is superbly related to death and descent – the politically motivated murder of Chilean singer Victor Jara becoming its principle contemporary metaphor via Margaret Atwood’s poem.

The performance of Touch is where the worlds of eyes and ears meet. But while the music itself is statuesque and graceful, it is in the balletic performance by Masaki on the Blu-ray that it comes magically alive. The floating melody and harmony, egged on by a plethora of ethereally sounding bells (played electronically) is heightened also by the sweeping hand movements, often in the air above the keyboard, which become visual metaphors as they tell a tactile story of dancers coming together and drawing apart.

In Ferrovia, Masaki aligns her visionary performance with the ethereal conceptions of composer Brent Lee and multimedia artist Sigi Torinus. The near-impossible realities of physical and mathematical sciences collide with a human presence, around which dynamic images provoke grief-suggesting sounds. Meanwhile the powerful music of Hamel’s Corona echoes with its own intercessory, who appears in the form of a spectral Gérard Grisey. And the often-terrifying Stanley Kubrick film The Shining comes alive in Kubrick Études by Nicole Lizée, which incorporates (often glitched) clips from his films. However, throughout the discs, despair and ugliness are compellingly resolved by the beauty and hope of Masaki’s musicianship.

04 KumbosKumbos
Paulo J Ferreira Lopes; Karoline Leblanc
Atrito-Afeito (atrito-afeito.com)

Even if you really, really dislike electroacoustic music, give this release a try because its strength in sound, collaboration and experimentation lead to accessible listening. Montreal-based composer/performer Paulo J Ferreira Lopes utilizes his many, many clever and established electro and percussion skills to create a fascinating musical conversation with his collaborator, acoustic keyboards performer Karoline Leblanc, in this one-track, hand-numbered 200 limited edition sound adventures release.

Kumbos begins with an attention-grabbing recurring percussive opening and dense piano chords. The subsequent soundscape of high pitched squeaks and cymbal washes against piano textures is a pleasing juxtaposition of sound effects. More melodic piano lines provide contrast in the quieter sections. Love the sudden loud electronic crashes. Highly effective are the numerous silences interspersed throughout the work, which are welcome escapes from sound, and music in their own right. These add to the creation of musical intrigue leading to the final climactic conversation of more intense electroacoustic rhythms, large held piano chords and washes of sound colour.

There are touches of field recordings by Leblanc which are a bit of a strain to hear but are colourful musical diversions. Additional melodic piano sections would be welcome, as well as more drum kit against electronic effects. The production is clear and the instrument levels are balanced. Repeated listening adds to a gratifying appreciation of detail in performance and composition.

05 Shadow EtchingsShadow Etchings – New Music for Flute
Orlando Cela
Ravello Records RR7982 (ravellorecords.com)

Orlando Cela’s Shadow Etchings is a nine-track collection of recent compositions for flute using “extended techniques,” whistle tones, harmonics, vocalizing and playing at the same time, blowing air quickly through the flute without making an actual pitch and so on. Having some experience with extended techniques I can say with some conviction that Cela does them very well.

A brief description of each track will provide an idea of what is on this recording: Jean-Patrick Besingrand’s Le soupir du roseau dans le bras du vent, the first track, is derived from Claude Debussy’s Syrinx. Beginning with the first couple of phrases of Syrinx, variations are added using vocalizations, breath tones, throat flutters and other distortions of which the flute is capable. Lou Bunk’s Winter Variations consists of distorted long tones on the flute with percussive discords on the piano. Robert Gross’ Variations on a Schenker Graph of Gesualdo, combines manipulated electronics with harsh multiphonics and vocal punctuations by the flutist. Dana Kaufman’s Hang Down Your Head is a disjointed version of the original Tom Dooley folk melody complete with vocal growls, whistles and shrieks. The three movements of Stratis Minakakis’ Skiagrafies II offer lots of multiphonics, overtones, shimmers, vibes and twitters. A Turning Inwards by Edward Maxwell Dulaney gives us high alternating overtone whistles and Self-Portrait by Ziteng Ye is built on wavering, breathy tones with some voice added.

All in all, this disc offers an intriguing introduction to some of the new sounds available to the contemporary flutist.

Listen to 'Shadow Etchings' Now in the Listening Room

06 Lachenmann clarinetAesthetic Apparatus – Clarinet Chamber Music of Helmut Lachenmann
Gregory Oakes; Matthew Coley; Jonathan Sturm; Mei-suang Huang; George Work
New Focus Recordings FCR196 (gregoryoakes.com)

Utter the name Helmut Lachenmann in a loud stage whisper, being sure to accentuate fully the consonants, exaggerating the different vowel colours, and you’ll have an idea what it is like to perform his music. He asks performers to make varying sounds which require a complete rethinking of one’s technical approach. Lachenmann, Maurizio Kagel and Heinz Holliger have led the way to innovative notations depicting the strange breath effects, kisses, clicks, squeaks and honks they demand from performers.

In Aesthetic Apparatus, clarinetist Gregory Oakes has compiled three substantial chamber works by Lachenmann. The first, Dal Niente, for solo clarinet, is an extension of silence into a variety of soundscapes. Oakes conveys conviction that all the sounds he generates belong in a congruent whole, and with more hearings I’m certain I’d agree. What is unusual in this recording is the extended periods of nearly empty time, where the effects produced might be more easily perceived if one could see them produced. It takes chutzpah to publish this performance on a sound-only recording.

Trio Fluido, for clarinet, viola and percussion, provides a richer soundscape, although the writing is still full of attenuated pauses. Early exchanges between the instruments seem full of repressed violence, which occasionally breaks out into outright hostility. Beyond this, there are delightful moments of simply elegant trialogue, as if three species of creature are employing their various intelligences to match one another’s language.

Allegro Sostenuto, for clarinet, cello and piano, completes this wonderful exploration. I use the term “tonal” modified by “somewhat more” to indicate that in contrast to the first two tracks, this work exploits more interplay between pitches than raw sounds, making it perhaps the most immediately listenable.

07 Daniel CrozierEast of the Sun & West of the Moon – Orchestral Music of Daniel Crozier
Seattle Symphony; Gerard Schwarz; Moravian PO; Stanislav Vavřínek
Navona Records NV6137 (danielcrozier.com)

“These are fairy tale pieces,” writes American composer Daniel Crozier (b.1965), professor of theory and composition at Florida’s Rollins College. Crozier names only one of the stories, saying it’s more entertaining for listeners to use their own imaginations.

The 34-minute Symphony No.1: Triptych for Orchestra begins with Ceremonies, a movement whose sombre sonorities and unstable tonal centres suggest portentous, menacing situations. The second movement, Capriccio, with its sprightly winds, dancing strings and outbursts of brass and percussion, conjures (for me) images of malicious elves cavorting in a dark forest. The final movement, Fairy Tale: East of the Sun and West of the Moon, draws its title from a Norwegian folk tale containing many familiar fairy tale elements. This, the symphony’s slow movement, features a long-lined, otherworldly melody for the violins followed by a solo flute floating over hushed strings. I was quite taken with this music – rather than hearing episodes of a story, I “saw” a beautiful, secluded mountain lake, shimmering under the stars. The symphony ends by recalling its ominous opening before quietly fading away. No happily-ever-after here. The Seattle Symphony Orchestra and conductor Gerard Schwarz provide an energetic, virtuosic performance.

The 11-minute Ballade: A Tale after the Brothers Grimm resembles the symphony’s second movement – animated playfulness bracketing a sinister-sounding, slow middle section. It’s performed by the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra under Stanislav Vavřínek.

Both of these very colourful works are well worth a listen.

Back to top