05_shadowlandShadowLand

DaCapo Chamber Choir

Independent DC 002-09 (www.dacapochamberchoir.ca)

 

The essence of this recording weaves an ever-changing metamorphosis of darkness to light, highlighting the thought that neither of these polarities can possibly exist without the other. Night and day, life and death, earthly time and eternity are each a shadow of the other and which is real? The compositions chosen for this brilliantly focused choir provide exquisitely mystical and powerful music as meditations for a variety of texts highlighting this theme. The most dramatic is Whitacre's When David Heard based on the biblical passage telling of David's grief over the death of his son Absalom. Contrasting with the quietly poignant settings of Absalom fili mi we are used to, Whitacre's fourteen and a half minute setting moves through several different musical characterizations, evoking movement from sobbing to screaming, pain to ritual acceptance, through a processional passage. Other pieces such as Moonset by Jeff Enns and Nocturne by Leonard Enns which celebrate the beauty of night and the harmony of the spheres make effective use of overtones to inspire awe. In The searching sings by R. Murray Schafer, and Leonard Enn's The Amazing Day the choir celebrates the magic and lightness of nature. The recording begins and ends with two meditations on the sacred, Enn's I saw eternity and Imant Raminsh's O ignus spiritus.

 

Dianne Wells

01_quintessence_handbellsA Ring of Bronze

Quintessence Handbell Ensemble

Independent QHE200901 (www.quintessencebells.ca)

 

“Drats! If only I had listened to this CD before Christmas!” was my first reaction – it would have made a perfect gift for many of my friends. Handbell ringing is a dying art – usually ridiculed on par with the kazoo and ukulele. There is nothing to ridicule here however, as the Quintessence members are very talented musicians and arrangers. The selections range from classical (Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring) to spirituals (Swing Low, Sweet Chariot) to seasonal and original tunes – all superbly and precisely rendered by the five member ensemble. The amateur musicians, whose spiritual and musical home is the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Scarborough, are joined by a talented trio of professional musicians, Svetla Dybenko on cello, Kevin McChesney on guitar and Joanne McLennan on piano. Almost regardless of the tune, the sound is all Christmas – shimmering lights and joy, invoking the magic that captivates us so about the season. Do yourself (and your friends) a favour and start you Christmas 2010 shopping early at www.quintessencebells.ca.

 

Robert Tomas

12_triple_concertoThe Melody of Rhythm - Triple Concerto and Music for Trio

Bela Fleck; Zakir Hussain; Edgar Meyer; Detroit Symphony Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin

E1 Music KOC-CD-2024

 

A trio of stars creates a musical galaxy of sound, ideas, patterns and rhythm, that gives a new meaning to the words “classical crossover” – the Grammy nomination in this category pretty well sums up the high quality of “The Melody of Rhythm”

Bela Fleck (banjo), Zakir Hussain (tabla) and Edgar Meyer (double bass) are each stars in performance and composition. Their ensemble work as a trio is brilliant. Theirs is a trustworthy conversation in the six trios presented here. The music is a quilt of styles – the short rhythmic and tonal melodic ideas create amazing counterpoint.

 

Add the symphony orchestra in the Triple Concerto The Melody of Rhythm and a fascinating mix of the Western classical, world music and American jazz/folk is created. The best part of the three movement concerto is that not a single musician is asked to be something they are not. No uncomfortable stylistic boundaries are crossed. The symphonic musicians parts, though indicative of the banjo, tabla and double bass parts, provide more of a different viewpoint than an accompaniment to the soloists. It is clever writing with respect for the different genres from everyone involved.

 

Fleck, Hussain and Meyer are phenomenal as always. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin rises to the musical challenge. The production is clear, with the concise liner notes a dream to read. This is entertainment and musical genius to be applauded!

 

Tiina Kiik

Musical Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year to you and yours with some of these new Christmas recordings out in time for the holidays.

01_love_came_downThe Choirs of St. James United Church in Toronto perform with enormous holiday spirit in Love Came Down at Christmas. The ethereal angelic opening track O Come All Ye Faithful has the choir in superb form. From carols to more secular songs like Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the choir and Music Director Clive R. Dunstan have assembled the perfect mix of repertoire with an eclectic mix of organ, piano and flute accompaniment. Some high notes need to be tweaked but high marks for an excellent recording. You can email stjames_uc@rogers.com or call the church at 416-622-4113 to purchase the disc.


02_lullabye_snowy_nightMaria Dolnycky's Lullaby for a Snowy Night (www.mariadolnycky.com) features piano performances of holiday music from around the world. All is well played, perhaps a bit too percussive at spots, but well worth a listen, especially for Dolnycky’s intriguing take on Bela Bartok's Romanian Carols, and her touching rendition of Pietro Mascagni's Christmas Pipe Tune.

 

03_cormierI knew that Toronto-based baritone Bruno Cormier (www.brunocormier.com) is a very fine singer in the operatic genre. A huge Christmas present surprise for me was finding that he is also an accomplished composer. His L'arrivée du Christ is a slightly atonal yet lyrical tradition-based six part song cycle. It is the highlight of the CD Dans le silence de la nuit, a collection of French Christmas songs arranged by Bruno, and performed by him and his sister, mezzo-soprano Aurélie Cormier. This is a very professional and musically moving release. Both singers have the soul and the technique to dazzle, and are accompanied by a tight instrumental ensemble.

 

04_chatmanThe Canadian Music Centre (www.musiccentre.ca) has another Christmas star with A Chatman Christmas (Centrediscs CMCCD 15509), a collection of holiday choral music by UBC professor Stephen Chatman. Chatman's original works and arrangements of classics feature traditional harmonies with a fluid tonality, all astutely performed in this “composer-supervised recording” by the University of British Columbia Singers conducted by Bruce Pullan, with a number of special guests. Make sure to hear Jumalisten joucko, with medieval drummer Quennie Wong. This is a memorable and very idiosyncratic Christmas song.

 

05_czech_massJakub Jan Ryba's Czech Christmas Mass (Archiv Produktion 477 8365) features mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozenà in this re-release of a 1998 recording. Ryba (affectionately known as Hey, Mister after the mass' opening line) wrote this Czech language masterwork in 1796. A holiday tradition to this day, the charming sound is so very much in the style of the music of the time. The childlike innocence that we all associate with Christmas is perfectly captured in both words and music as the humour and loving story of Czech shepherds at the manger unfolds. Great performances by the Capella Regia Musicalis under Robert Hugo too.

 

06_christmas_voicesFinally, what would Christmas be without Luciano Pavarotti singing O Holy Night, Joan Sutherland’s Joy To The World or Renati Tebaldi’s take on Schubert's Ave Maria? The two CD compilation Christmas Voices: The World's Greatest Voices, The Essential Sacred Songs (Decca 478 2093) give us these and other famous voices in timeless performances that will keep you in the holiday spirit for generations to come!

01_curtis andrewsThe Offering of Curtis Andrews

Curtis Andrews

Independent (www.curtisandrews.ca)

I’ve been smiling more than usual today, bopping around the apartment to this joie de vivre-filled CD by Curtis Andrews, Newfoundland’s globe-trotting percussionist and composer.

Very ably aided by fellow islander musicians Patrick Boyle (outstanding on trumpet), Bill Brennan (keyboards), Chris Harnett (saxes and flute), Brad Jefford (electric guitar) and other fine players, Andrews’ very eclectic world roots are clearly on display here.

The music is self-described as world jazz and the tag fits. Drawing from Andrews’ studies in South Asian, West Africa and North America music, The Offering of… merges all those influences in an energy-rich field, couched in mainstream jazz forms improv-rich solos and melodic-harmonic language. With such a rich multi-cultural banquet, I must admit it took me several listening to fully clue into the multi-layered inter-cultural musical goings on.

Equally at home on mrdangam (South Indian classical drum) and Ewe (West African) percussion as on drum set, Andrews sets a high musical standard for his collaborators. Not indulging in mere musical exoticism Andrews impresses with his good humour in Genghis Khanda Blues (yes, it is in 5/4), and shear musical ambition on exhibit in his virtuoso mrdangam solo in Malabar. One of my favourite tracks is Camel Ride, an enigmatic though easy-going east-coast feel post-Shakti bebop. Kaju Fenny (titled after a reportedly wicked Goan cashew liquor) is another outstanding chart. A tip: if you want to join the players in their fun, just be sure to keep tapping a slow 7 beat cycle throughout its convoluted beat groupings. That way you can land on the downbeat with them.

The Offering of Curtis Andrewsmarks the debut of an important and accessible new world-conscious compositional and percussion voice. Visit the website to preview the album, download the free charts, and hum or play along!

 

01_jesse_cook_advanceThe Rumba Foundation

Jesse Cook

EMI 50999 698061 2 4

Jesse Cook can now add ethnomusicologist to his résumé, right under rumba flamenco guitar god. For his 7th album, the award-winning composer travelled to Bogota, Colombia to absorb the musical culture and integrate it into his unique style of nuevo flamenco music. And he’s done a fine job of it, too. Sometimes when musicians attempt to bring together musical genres the result is somewhat disjointed, with one style awkwardly inserted into the other, never achieving a true blend. But on “The Rumba Foundation” Cook and crew achieve an artful marriage of rhythms and harmonies. Several tracks have been recorded with Colombian musicians Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto, and on Manolo’s Lament and Bogota by Bus the group has found the common ground between the musics and traditional Colombian instruments like gaita flutes are completely at home. La Rumba del Jefe’s medium groove completely hits the rhythmic sweet spot.

Cook’s writing and playing shifts easily between contemplative ballads and blistering guitar work. So although there are new sounds here, we also get treated to some of his trademark gorgeous ballads on Tuesday’s Child and Homebound (aided by Chris Church’s plaintive violin), while unleashing the million-note-a-minute runs on Paul Simon’s Cecilia. This, the only cover on the record, is completely appropriate as the rousing multicultural rendition is a great tribute to the man who was one of the first to bring “world” music to North American pop audiences.

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