01 new jewish music 3 irduyNew Jewish Music Vol.3
Sharon Azrieli; Krisztina Szabó; Nouvel Ensemble Moderne; Lorraine Vaillancourt
Analekta AN 2 9263 (analekta.com/en)

The Azrieli Foundation has released their recording of this year’s composition prize for new Jewish music, along with recordings of commissioned works in the categories of Canadian Composition and Jewish Music: Yotam Haber’s Estro Poetico-armonico III  in the latter, Keiko Devaux’s instrumental work Arras in the Canadian category. Yitzhak Yedid’s Kadosh Kadosh and Cursed won the prize for an existing work of Jewish Music. Dissidence, a concise and somewhat anachronistic work for small orchestra and soprano (Sharon Azrieli, a fine soprano and founder of the prize) by the late Pierre Mercure, rounds out the disc.

Kadosh… is concerned with Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the place shared as sacred by three major religions. Embattled chattering and shouts introduce Yedid’s work, followed by brassy bombast and unison modal melody in alternation, depicting conflict, even violence. A middle section provides relief, insofar as mourning relieves cataclysm. The individual players of Montreal’s excellent Nouvel Ensemble Moderne get a brief chance to sing before hostilities recommence, devolve into a nasty Hora, returning tragically to increasing strife. By the end of the movement, we’re hoping, nay praying for peace. Hope deferred, the heart is sick. A chant melody in the piano calls through maddened violin scratches and braying brass. Yedid seems pessimistic; in spite (or because) of the spiritual importance of the Temple Mount, hostilities persist.

The formidable mezzo Kristina Szabó joins the ensemble for Haber’s work, a complex piece with so much historical/textual weight it deserves a review unto itself. Highly effective writing. 

Arras is a woven tableau, relying on breath and bow effects, microtonal vibrato and dissonances, and shifting background textures to frame lush, even lurid melody. A single movement of nearly 25 minutes’ length, it makes a patient argument for beauty.

Listen to 'New Jewish Music Vol.3 ' Now in the Listening Room

02 andrew stainiland ftdkpAndrew Staniland – Reddened by Hammer (Earthquakes and Islands Remixed)
Robin Richardson; Tyler Duncan; Martha Guth; Erika Switzer
Centrediscs CMCCD 29121 (andrewstaniland.com)

Andrew Staniland is on the faculty of music at Memorial University where he teaches composition and electronic music. He is director of the Memorial ElectroAcoustic Research Lab which has produced the Mune digital instrument. Reddened by Hammer: Earthquakes and Islands Remixed is based on Staniland’s earlier song cycle for soprano, baritone and piano with the poetry of Robin Richardson. In fact “Side B” of this album features a selected set of recordings from that cycle (performed by soprano Martha Guth, baritone Tyler Duncan, pianist Erika Switzer) remastered for vinyl. “Side A” uses those recordings as a source, but overlays many electronic effects to both obscure and reinvent the original compositions.

Meditations is contemplative and I am reminded of standing beside a river with trees creaking, wind blowing and a storm working its way closer Reddened by Hammer is more industrial sounding and the original recording with piano and singers is more immediate (as if someone is performing music in another room). The vocals, emerging from behind the electronics, bring a resonant, ethereal and sometimes spooky quality to the proceedings (particularly in All the Grey Areas are God). All five of the remixes are fascinating and their effects range from intense/ambient to edgy and percussive. Listening to the whole album allows us to first hear the reinventions which then inform our appreciation of the acoustic originals. The digital release is available now from the Canadian Music Centre, with a limited-edition vinyl pressing to come early in 2022.

03 dmitri klebanov o581oChamber Works by Dmitri Klebanov
ARC Ensemble
Chandos CHAN 20231 (rcmusic.com/arc-ensemble)

After his Symphony No.1 (1947), “dedicated to the memory of the martyrs of Babi Yar,” was performed in his native Kharkiv and then in Kyiv (where, in 1941, Nazis had massacred over 30,000 Jews at the Babi Yar ravine), Jewish-Ukrainian composer Dmitri Klebanov (1907-1987) was vilified as “unpatriotic” for memorializing Jewish civilians rather than Soviet soldiers. The Union of Soviet Composers banned the symphony and Klebanov lost his posts as chairman of the Composers Union’s Kharkiv branch and head of the Kharkiv state conservatory’s composition department. He was eventually “rehabilitated.”

This latest in the Music in Exile series by Toronto’s ARC Ensemble (Artists of the Royal Conservatory) presents violinists Erika Raum and Marie Bérard, violist Steven Dann and cellist Thomas Wiebe in Klebanov’s String Quartets Nos.4 and 5. The joyous No.4 (1946), filled with singable, folk-like tunes, is dedicated to the memory of composer Mykola Leontovych, a Ukrainian separatist murdered by the secret police in 1921. It includes two melodies by Leontovych familiar to Ukrainian listeners, one of them known in the West as the Christmassy Carol of the Bells.

No.5 (1965) is more “serious,” its melodies tinged with dissonance and pessimism, with heavily accented rhythms – it’s strong, attention-riveting music. Pianist Kevin Ahfat joins Bérard and Wiebe in the highly Romantic Piano Trio No.2 (1958). Here, warm, tender lyricism alternates with splurges of invigorated celebration, ending as sweetly as it began.

There’s real beauty on this disc, all beautifully played.

04 noam bierstone 10nmoMountains Move Like Clouds
Noam Bierstone
No Hay Discos NHD 001 (noambierstone.com)

Noam Beirstone is a Canadian percussionist and curator dedicated to modern artistic performance whose main projects include his saxophone and percussion duo, scapegoat, the Montreal performance series NO HAY BANDA, and Architek percussion quartet. Bierstone’s debut album, mountains move like clouds, features three works for solo percussionist by composers Hanna Hartman, Pierluigi Billone and Zeynep Toraman. This album could best be described as “long listening;” the three pieces on the album are extended discoveries of very slow arcs of scrapes, buzzes and ripples of percussion, allowed to vibrate and feedback and cycle over themselves, giving the listener time to reflect on the generation and degradation of the sounds.  

The three works are unique, and feature alternate sound sources; flower pots, bricks, knives and drum initiate the first set of sounds, metal on metal the second, and the third is best described by the artist himself: “The work captures fleeting hums, resonances, and noises – the buzzing of snares, the emerging ripples and vibrations of the skin – and feeds them back into the bodies of the instruments….” All three are interesting soundscapes in themselves, and as a collection they work well. (A word of note however, if headphones are being used: the album contains some higher resonances, but the third track in particular involves extremely high pitches that may warrant cautionary volume levels.)

05a ravenstine electron vycpeAllen Ravenstine – The Tyranny of Fiction: Electron Music; Shore Leave; Nautilus; Rue du Poisson Noir
Allen Ravenstine; Various Artists
Waveshaper Media WSM-05/06/07/08 (allenravenstine.com)

05b ravenstine shore leave f0v0qA quartet of EP discs frame an artistic effort by Pere Ubu founder Allen Ravenstine, which together bear the cryptic title The Tyranny of Fiction. Each one is about a half-hour’s worth of sonic content; attractive covers reference the respective disc titles, and on each, a micro-fiction. These shorter-than-short stories, which may or may not link to the music (I’d call it likely, with not much to go on), provoke the imagination and more than satisfy a narrative arc. Each is a slice of a longer story, a tile stolen from a mosaic. 

05c ravenstine nautilus qqi1lAnd why not allow mosaic to describe how the music and fictions interact? Maybe here I’m closing in on the essential tyranny. Listening to these while bearing in mind their story, see if you don’t feel compelled to write your own novel. Does the story demand attention while the music rolls by? Do words determine the music? 

05d ravenstine poisson noir 31fi3My favourite is the fourth disc, Rue du Poisson Noir, which features tracks with titles like Rear Window, Brothers Grimm, Open Season, complete with a menacing beast snarling at the end of a mysterious hunt through the dusk of a musical forest, with rattles and shrieks punctuating a bass ostinato. Who’s doing the hunting, on whom is the season open? Maybe there’s a clue in the text: “I was here when the dinosaurs lumbered… and I will be here when the time comes and the bell tolls…” This is film noir without dialogue or visuals. The title track combines snippets of spoken words, street noise, rainfall and Tom Waits-style clarinet lines (sampled? There’s no clarinet credit!); an intro for a monologue that never begins. Delightful nonsense verse accompanies the first track, Doff Downie Woot, more James Joyce than Ogden Nash or Edward Lear. 

The tracks range from two to six or seven minutes: mosaic fragments, or vignettes, like the stories; they mostly heel to a prog-pop aesthetic: interesting harmonic language but never jarringly dissonant. The first disc, Electron Music, features almost exclusively electronic sounds, with some acoustic piano in there as well. Its final track, 5@28, at nearly ten minutes’ length, extends itself beyond its welcome. Otherwise, the array of newer and older synthetic-sound instruments (theremin and ondes martenot, as well as prepared piano and guitar) are deployed in many ways: at times rhythmic, others lyric and still others wandering about or staying in place, always evocative, distinctive. The accompanying story is deeply sad, and then terrifying. 

The other two discs are related by a maritime theme, although not by their fictions. The story on Shore Leave captures envy and regret; Nautilus is a ghost story told in detached first person. The individual tracks of Shore Leave are gorgeous brief musical scenes. Nautilus is more unsettled and angsty. Titles like Ninety Miles to the Spanish Harbor, Fog (Devil’s Island Mix) and Red Skies at Night suggest Ravenstine is a sailor as well as a musician and fabulist. For those cool enough to have been Pere Ubu fans, maybe the material will sound familiar; to my ear it’s all more listenable and more fun.

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