One of the greatest challenges of editing DISCoveries is always how to do justice to as many of the fine recordings that come our way as we can. Never more so than this past pandemic year, when more artists have focused on recordings in the absence of live performance opportunities. Although we have been able to increase the number of reviews in each edition, there is still a wealth of material we could not get to, with “truckloads [more] arriving daily” to borrow an advertising slogan from the now defunct Knob Hill Farms supermarket chain. 

As Stuart Broomer notes further on in these pages, “Though it’s no exchange that one might choose, the COVID-19 lockdown has often replaced the social and convivial elements of music with the depth of solitary reflection.” 

This has certainly been the case for me, and likely also explains the number of solo projects that have crossed my desk in recent months. You will find them scattered throughout the DISCoveries section, but I have set aside a few of them for this column. 

01 Matt HaimowitzOne of the most ambitious is cellist Matt Haimovitz’s PRIMAVERA PROJECT, the first volume of which is now available: PRIMAVERA I: the wind (PentaTone Oxingale Series PTC 5186286 theprimaveraproject.com). THE PRIMAVERA PROJECT was inspired by the “multi-layered musicality” of German-American artist Charline von Heyl, her “whimsical imagination intertwined with literary and historical references,” and by Sandro Botticelli’s famous painting Primavera. The project’s co-founders, Haimovitz and Dr. Jeffrianne Young, asked von Heyl if she would ever consider reimagining the Botticelli painting for the 21st century, and discussion about the idea of commissioning new cello works inspired by the artwork began. Less than two months later, days before the pandemic lockdown, von Heyl had completed her Primavera 2020. Haimovitz says “The musical commissions of THE PRIMAVERA PROJECT celebrate our golden age of musical diversity and richness. Each new piece – like the blossoming flowers, figures, and symbols of von Heyl’s and Botticelli’s Primaveras – has been a ray of light, offering us hope for renewal of the human spirit.” There are 81 commissioned works, all based on the paintings, and this first volume includes 14 of these. With influences from the world of jazz and Latin music, Vivaldi and Scriabin, the music runs the gamut of contemporary styles. Highlights for me include inti figgis-vizueta’s the motion between three worlds, a rhythmic piece reflecting the composer’s Andean and Irish roots, Vijay Iyer’s reflective Equal night which includes an occasional nod to Bach’s iconic cello suites, the dramatic  by Roberto Sierra and Lisa Bielawa’s otherworldly Missa Primavera; but all of the tracks have something to recommend them. Haimovitz is in top form no matter how many challenges the music throws at him. PRIMAVERA II is scheduled to be released this fall. For more details about the project and upcoming in-person and virtual performances visit the website.

02 Scott Ordway 19 MovementsCanadian cellist Arlen Hlusko has taken a different approach on her latest release with Nineteen Movements for Unaccompanied Cello all written by the same composer, Scott Ordway (Acis APL85895 acisproductions.com). Ordway sees the unaccompanied solo recital as “a kind of high-wire act with no parallel in musical performance tradition.” He says the work recorded here “pushes – sometimes gently, sometimes more forcefully – on the boundaries of this convention. […] The music is sometimes fast, aggressive, and reckless. More often, though, it is quiet and contemplative. […] Each movement is a reflection on one of four ‘images’ related to the themes of solitude and wilderness: walking, singing, wind, and waves.” Most of the movements have “twins” that appear later in the cycle, reworking the material; there are seven instances of wind, six of singing, four of waves but only two of walking, the short pizzicato opening movement and the protracted bowed finale using the same motif, where only the final four notes are plucked. Although Ordway does reference existing solo cello repertoire in places, particularly Bach and Britten, I don’t find the work at all derivative. The set dates from 2018 and was commissioned by Hlusko when she and Ordway were colleagues at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Lasting most of an hour, as the composer says, Nineteen Movements demands “a different kind of virtuosity; one of endurance, focus, vulnerability and stillness.” Hlusko demonstrates all those qualities, and more.

03 HallgrimssonNext, another collection of 19 movements for a solo string instrument, this time Hafliði Hallgrímsson: Offerto – works for solo violin performed by Peter Sheppard Skærved (Metier msv 28616 divineartrecords.com/label/metier). Hallgrímsson (b.1941, Iceland) is a renowned cellist and composer who studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and has spent much of his career in the UK, including a stint as principal cellist of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He also has strong ties with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, with which he served as composer in residence. British violinist Sheppard Skærved has had more than 400 works composed for him but also has a strong interest in little-known repertoire from the past. In 2005 he approached Hallgrímsson for a few short sketches for a concert in an art gallery in Mexico City. Hallgrímsson later revisited and expanded these into 15 quite substantial pieces while maintaining the original title Klee Sketches, in homage to the painter Paul Klee, also an accomplished violinist. The set explores myriad aspects of violin technique, from the Stravinsky-like spiccato opening of the first movement, Klee practising an accompaniment for a popular song, to the playful and virtuosic closing moments of Klee notates birdsong in the aviary. The two books of “sketches” are separated on this recording by Offerto, Op.13 (in memoriam Karl Kvaran), written in 1991 for a close friend, recognized as one of Iceland’s finest abstract painters. The four movements, which range from contemplative to frenetic, are all played with conviction and finesse by Sheppard Skærved. One of Hallgrímsson’s own paintings adorns the cover of the CD. 

04 TransformationsViolinist Elizabeth Chang says that American composer Leon Kirchner (1919-2009) had a “profound artistic and pedagogical influence” on her as an undergraduate at Harvard. Reflecting on the relationships formed with her own students and on how “the particularity of the teacher/student relationship […] bears fruit in our evolution as human beings and musicians,” she conceived of Transformations (Albany Records TROY1850 albanyrecords.com). It features works for violin alone and in duo with piano and cello by Kirchner and his teachers Roger Sessions and Arnold Schoenberg, both “pioneers in seeking a new compositional language in the post-tonal world while being deeply rooted in the Germanic tradition.” Chang goes on to tell us that “Kirchner’s voice reflects the thorny complexity of modernism while palpably reaching for the sensuality of the musical language of a previous era.” The disc begins with a late work by Kirchner, the Duo No.2 for Violin and Piano (2002) in which this approach is aptly demonstrated. Sessions’ extended Solo Sonata follows, a four-movement mid-career work dating from 1953, and then his brief and evocative Duo for Violin and Cello from 1978. Schoenberg’s Phantasy Op.47 for violin and piano, written in 1949, completes a compelling disc. “Thorny complexity” notwithstanding, I found it interesting to notice my wife moving rhythmically along with this supposedly academic fare as we listened while playing our daily game of cribbage, one of our COVID stay-at-home routines. She isn’t normally engaged by the music when I’m doing my “homework” listening.

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05 John Luther AdamsAfter so many solo string sonorities and so much craggy modernism it was something of a relief to immerse myself in the lush wash of Alaskan composer John Luther Adams’ Arctic Dreams (Cold Blue Music CB0060 coldbluemusic.com). The gradually changing textures and rich sonorities, an early example of Adams’ “Aeolian” sound world, grew out of his “experiences listening to wind harps on the tundra.” Arctic Dreams is dedicated to the memory of the composer’s dear friend, naturalist and author Barry Lopez, and shares its title with one of his greatest books. The seven movements of the suite, with evocative titles such as The Place Where You Go to Listen and Where the Waves Splash, Hitting Again and Again, are scored for four string players (Robin Lorenz, violin; Ron Lawrence, viola; Michael Finckel, cello and Robert Black, bass), four singers (Synergy Vocals) and three layers of digital delay. The eerie, yet calming, music is a perfect antidote to the stress and tribulations of these troubled times.  

06 Arching PathAnother disc which I’m finding “good for the soul” is The Arching Path featuring contemplative, mostly soothing music by American composer Christopher Cerrone (In a Circle Records ICR021 cerrone.bandcamp.com/album/the-arching-path). Pianist Timo Andres is featured on all tracks, alone on the title work, and with electronics by the composer on Double Happiness where they are joined by percussionist Ian Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum also returns with soprano Lindsey Kesselman on the five-movement song cycle I will learn to love a person where clarinetist Migzhe Wang is also credited; but you have to listen very carefully to notice. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a clarinet played so subtly or sensitively, simply extending the colour palette of the ensemble sound. I’m very impressed with Kesselman’s voice and control; even in the highest tessitura there’s no strain or shrillness. The texts are five poems by American novelist Tao Lin in which he “ponders the contradiction inherent to life in the digital age, how it is possible to feel at once overexposed and unnoticed to the point of vanishing.” The use of the vernacular is somewhat disconcerting, but the overall effect is riveting, at times with its intensity and at others with its sense of calm resignation. The disc concludes with Hoyt-Schermerhorn, a meditation where the piano is once again alone except for some gently nuanced electronics reminiscent of tinkling icicles. 

07 Territorial SongsI first became aware of Danish recorder virtuoso Michala Petri during my tenure at CJRT-FM in the early 90s when I picked up an RCA CD on which she performed contemporary concertos, including one by Toronto’s own Gary Kulesha. I found it compelling and intriguing and I think it was the first time that I had heard a recorder as an orchestral solo instrument. Since her debut at age 11 Petri has toured the world and performed more than 4,000 concerts, with repertoire spanning the Renaissance era to the present day. She has commissioned more than 150 works and is a tireless champion of living composers; her discography extends to 70 critically acclaimed recordings. Petri’s latest CD, Territorial Songs – Works for Recorder by Sunleif Rasmussen (OUR Recordings 6.220674 ourrecordings.com), presents works in a variety of genres by that celebrated Faroese composer, including the unaccompanied Sorrow and Joy Fantasy, Flow for recorder and string trio (meant to be a companion piece to Mozart’s flute quartets mentioned elsewhere in these pages, performed here with members of the Esbjerg Ensemble), “I” with a cappella choir (Danish National Vocal Ensemble), Winter Echoes with 13 solo strings (Lapland Chamber Orchestra), and the title work, a concerto with full orchestra (Aalborg Symphony under Henrik Vagn Christensen). Territorial Songs is the earliest work presented here, composed in 2009 for Petri when Rasmussen was composer-in-residence with the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra. The soloist uses various members of the recorder family – soprano through tenor – in the different movements. There is an “anti-cadenza” in which Petri is called upon to sing and play her instrument simultaneously, a lyric episode “providing a colourful contrast to the non-stop pyrotechnics” heard elsewhere in the concerto. In the concluding section, before the tolling bells of the opening return, the soloist “pushes the recorder’s virtuosity to its limits, with triple tonguing, rapid chromatic figuration, breathtaking waves of rolling triplets and punishingly difficult octave leaps.” It’s an exhilarating ride handled deftly with seeming ease by Petri. Don’t miss the train, get on board!

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08 Schwarz BartI first wrote about saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart back in December 2018 when he released Hazzan, in which he explored his half-Jewish heritage in the context of jazz. Schwarz-Bart’s latest, Soné Ka-La 2 Odyssey (Enja 9777 enjarecords.com/wordpress), revisits his hybrid of Guadeloupean Gwoka music and jazz first explored on the original Soné Ka-La release in 2005. On that, he set out “to pioneer a sophisticated modern jazz language cross-pollinated with Afro-Caribbean rhythms and melodies inspired by the Gwoka traditions from my native island of Guadeloupe.” On Odyssey he is joined by singer Malika Tirolien (from Montreal via Guadeloupe) and backed by a dynamic rhythm section with Grégory Privat on piano, Reggie Washington, bass, Arnaud Dolmen, drum kit and Sonny Troupé, traditional ka drum. Tirolien is a true partner in this venture where her wordless vocals, often in intricate unison with the leader’s saxophone and extensions, blend seamlessly and add to the distinct signature sound bolstered by the busy percussionists. On first listening I wondered why I found this album hauntingly familiar. Eventually I figured it out. Back in my formative years when I was first exploring the world of jazz, I was introduced to many of the greats by a 3-LP collection called Energy Essentials on the Impulse! label, featuring the likes of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Pharoah Saunders, Sonny Rollins, Archie Shepp and Cecil Taylor among many others. Of particular note was the track Garvey’s Ghost from Max Roach’s album Percussion Bitter Sweet. Roach’s drumming was supplemented by a pair of Latin percussionists adding island beats, but more important was soprano Abbey Lincoln’s bell-like vocalise, soaring and blending with the instruments in a way I’d not heard before. A half a century on from that discovery, Odyssey takes me back to my epiphany with Tirolien’s vivid vocal expressions as flexible and controlled as any horn you might normally have expected to find, in duet with Schwarz-Bart’s supple saxophone lines. His mother, novelist and playwright Simone Schwarz-Bart, describes it well: “Sumptuous duo, astonishing, perilous and breathtaking: the metal is grateful for the ecstatic generosity of the human voice, the voice is thankful for the powerful and delicate vibrato of the metal… Marvel of souls liberated.” There is definitely “Essential Energy” here. 

We invite submissions. CDs, DVDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

01 Tim BradyDuring the pandemic I have been spending some of my enforced stay-at-home time digitizing material from my archives, specifically composer interviews recorded during my tenure as producer and host of Transfigured Night on CKLN-FM (1984-1991). One of the earliest I have unearthed comes from January 1986, on a show previewing an event marking the 15th anniversary of the founding of New Music Concerts (NMC). On that occasion I devoted an hour to young composer and guitarist Tim Brady who discussed, among other things, the Chamber Concerto – commissioned by NMC – which would be premiered during that celebratory concert. That was Brady’s first of many appearances with NMC over the ensuing years, and my first encounter with one of this country’s most prolific and eclectic composers and musical entrepreneurs. His discography includes some 25 compact discs and the pandemic has not succeeded in slowing him down. Most recently he released a virtual edition of Instruments of Happiness 100 Guitars 2021 produced in isolation (youtube.com/watch?v=yODkTMXqFKg) and a three-CD set of mostly new material Tim Brady – Actions Speak Louder (redshiftrecords.org)

Act 1: Solos and a Quartet, is subtitled “Simple Loops in Complex Times,” which describes not only the process involved but also the temporal context in which the seven works were composed. Brady is a master when it comes to the technology available to extend the potential of the electric guitar. It’s hard to conceive of these works as solos with all the multi-layering and timbral complexity on display, but I realize that Brady can indeed perform these works by himself in real time using a plethora of looping devices and effects pedals. The final piece, Uncertain Impact (Quartet), was recorded one month into the COVID quarantine, with distanced, virtual performances featuring the members of his guitar quartet, Instruments of Happiness. On Act 2: v-Orchestra: Triple Concerto “Because Everything Has Changed”, Brady is joined by Helmut Lipsky on violin and Shawn Mativetsky, tabla and percussion. The three improvising soloists are known collectively as Of Sound, Mind and Body. Brady says the title of the concerto “refers not only to the nature of the social and political landscape of 2020, but also to how our relationship to music is continuing to be transformed by technology.” The virtual orchestra consists of sound files produced by Brady using NotePerformer 3.3.2 (an artificial intelligence instrument) to which the soloists reacted with improvised harmonies, melodies and rhythms recorded in their home studios. The result is a stunning reimagining of the orchestral experience in the context of current lockdown protocols. Act 3: Voices: Revolutionary Songs / As It Happened is comprised of an archival recording from 1995 of Brady’s setting of poems inspired by the Russian, Angolan, French and Nicaraguan revolutions featuring Bradyworks with soprano Nathalie Paulin; and an orchestrated radio documentary using a 2000 CBC interview with Linda MacDonald, who had been the subject of horrific drug and shock therapy experiments funded by the CIA at the Allen Institute in Montreal in the 1960s. The latter, Brady’s most ambitious studio production to date, is a powerful and devastating document that has to be heard to be believed. Actions Speak Louder may well be Brady’s own motto. It’s obvious that it will take more than a global pandemic to stifle his creativity.   

02 Juilliard QaurtetJuilliard String Quartet – Beethoven: Quartet Op.59 No.2Razumovsky”, Bartók: Quartet No.3, Dvořák: “American” String Quartet (Sony Classical juilliardstringquartet.org) marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the iconic group. The Juilliard made history in 1949 as the first quartet to publicly perform all six Bartók quartets, committing them to disc the following year. By the time of their second recording of the cycle in 1961, founding second violinist Robert Koff had been replaced by Isadore Cohen and cellist Arthur Winograd by Claus Adam. By the mid-70s, when I had the seminal experience of hearing them perform the cycle at the Guelph Festival, the only remaining original member was Robert Mann who would continue to sit in the first chair until 1997, when he retired after more than half a century at the helm. Over the years there have been nine different violinists, three violists and four cellists, but always with a substantial overlap of personnel whenever changes were made. Now the “old hand” is Ronald Copes who was enlisted as second violin in 1997 when Joel Smirnoff moved from second to first upon the departure of Mann. The other members are Roger Tapping, violist since 2013, Astrid Schween, cellist since 2016 and the new first violinist, Areta Zhulia, who joined in 2018. This is their first recording together, but there is no sense of that in the performances; they sound as if they have always been together, a testament to the group’s ongoing legacy. The introductory notes explain the choice of repertoire. Franz Kneisel, a young German hired as concertmaster of the Boston Symphony in 1885, would later became the first head of the violin department of the Institute of Musical Arts in NYC that would evolve into the Juilliard School. His Kneisel Quartet gave the premiere performance of Dvořák’s “American” string quartet in Boston in 1894. Bartók’s Third was the first of the cycle that the Juilliard learned shortly after their founding in 1946, and Beethoven has always been an integral part of their repertoire, including two complete recordings of his legendary 16 quartets. The performances are fresh and convincing, everything we’ve come to expect over the past three quarters of a century from this masterful ensemble. 

03 Beethoven CelloSpeaking of Beethoven, last issue I mentioned Heinrich Schiff and his out-of-print recording of the cello sonatas. I’m pleased to note that a very fine new recording arrived on my desk this month, Beethoven Cello Sonatas 3 and 4 performed by Amit Peled accompanied by Noreen Polera (CTM Classics amitpeled.com). The Israeli-born cellist is on the faculty of the Peabody Institute in Baltimore and has a dozen previous recordings as soloist and chamber musician to his credit. Peled’s Giovanni Grancino instrument (c.1695, on loan from the Roux Family Foundation) provides the perfect depth and range of sound for the lyrical and dramatic Sonata No.3 in A Major, Op.69, in perfect balance with Polera’s deft touch on a modern grand piano. Together they shine on the Sonata No.4 in C Major, Op.102 No.1, the two movements of which each begin in a contemplative slow tempo, much darker in mood than the sunny key signature might suggest. The clouds roll away, however, during the Allegro vivace finale of the second movement bringing this recital to a playful end. 

04 Thomas ChartreBeethoven’s late works form a bridge from the Classical era to the Romantic, and the next disc has some striking works for cello from this latter period. Romantic Cello on KNS Classical features works by Schumann, Brahms and Brahms’ only composition student, Gustav Uwe Jenner, performed by young Toronto-based cellist Thomas Chartré (thomaschartre.com) and Ukrainian-born pianist Serhiy Salov (serhiysalov.com). Among Chartré’s accolades is a first prize in the Canadian Music Competition, the Sylva Gelber Award, and the loan of the “Gand Père” cello from the Canada Council Instrument Bank in 2016. He currently plays a Giovanni Battista Ceruti cello (1815) on loan from Canimex which is perfectly suited to the repertoire on display here. Salov also has many achievements and awards, but surely a highlight of his young career was touring South America with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Kent Nagano, as soloist in Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto. I must confess that Jenner’s name was new to me, but what a wonderful expansion of my knowledge of the period. It was thanks to a recommendation from Brahms that Jenner was appointed music director at the University of Maltburg in 1895, a position he held until his death 25 years later. The Sonata in D Major was first performed by Jenner and cellist Hugo Becker in 1904, and although quite Brahmsian in its sensibility, it is infused, in Chartré’s words, “with Jenner’s distinctive artistic voice.” The three-movement work in the traditional fast-slow-fast form is lyrical and at times dramatic, if a bit anachronistic – nothing forward-looking here. Of particular note is the Andante con variazioni played with tasteful expression and restrained use of vibrato. Jenner’s piece is followed by Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro Op.70 composed in 1849. Although originally for French horn, a relatively new invention at the time, and taking advantage of the chromatic possibilities of that valved instrument, the composer also intended it for performance on violin, viola or cello. It works especially well in the warm, rich range of the cello in the hands of Chartré. Brahms’ Cello Sonata No.1 in E Minor, Op.38, completed in 1865, brings the disc to a suitably Romantic close. This is a promising maiden voyage from a young duo that I hope to hear more of.

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05 Rossini a QuatroRossini – 6 Sonate a Quattro (leaf-music.ca) features two musicians who need no introduction, violinist Mark Fewer and bassist Joel Quarrington, and two rising stars, violinist Yolanda Bruno and cellist Julian Schwarz. They were recorded in conjunction with residencies at the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance in Nova Scotia in 2017. I had the pleasure of working with Bruno in May 2018 when her Iris Ensemble participated in New Music Concerts’ Zipangu!” as part of the 21C Festival. On that occasion she played both violin and viola. Coincidentally, she was the recipient of the loan of the Stradivari Taft violin (1700) from the Canada Council Instrument Bank the same year that Chartré had the “Gand Père” cello. Schwarz, scion of the famed American musical family, made his US touring debut in 2010 with the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra and was the recipient of the first prize at the inaugural Schoenfeld International String Competition three years later. Rossini’s sonate a quattro are youthful works, disavowed by the composer as “dreadful sonatas composed […] at a most infantile age, not even having taken a lesson in accompaniment.” That being said, they are charming works that must be a lot of fun to play – it certainly sounds like these musicians are having a good time at any rate. Written at the estate of Rossini’s friend Agostino Triossi at the age of 12, the unusual instrumentation – two violins, cello and contrabass – reflect the resources available there: Triossi played the bass, his cousins violin and cello, and Rossini took second desk. Rossini’s scorn notwithstanding, these pieces have been in the repertoire ever since he wrote them. They were first published as traditional string quartets and later in an arrangement for wind quartet; it was not until 1954 that the original manuscript came to light. These performances use the 2014 Critical Edition published by the Fondazione Rossini Pesaro and as such I am willing to declare them definitive. Although there are few indications of the operatic writing to come from one of the giants of that form, these are delightful works played with a twinkle in the musicians’ eyes and a sparkle in their step. One more personal note: after reading Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music which mentioned a “lost” string quintet arrangement of one of Beethoven’s piano trios, I had the temerity to ask Fewer whether he would be willing to read through the piece with me and a group of my friends. He agreed and it remains one of the highlights of my amateur music making to have spent an afternoon working on this rarely performed piece with such a consummate musician. As I recall, he did not think very highly of the string writing adapted from the piano part, but was gracious about it all and the afternoon provided me a treasured memory.

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06 Mahani TeaveAlthough I’ve never been to the South Pacific, there is a connection for me with the next disc, Rapa Nui Odyssey (Rubicon RCD 1066 rubiconclassics.com). Last issue I mentioned Liszt’s transcription for piano trio of Vallée d’Obermann from one of his Années de pèlerinage. I was not familiar with the original and wondered how all that was going on between the piano, violin and cello could have been realized in a solo piano performance. My answer came in the form of this double CD featuring Mahani Teave performing that work by Liszt and other staples of the repertoire by Bach, Handel, Scriabin, Chopin and Rachmaninoff. Teave was born on Easter Island (Rapa Nui) to an American mother and a local singer/songwriter. Music was in her blood, so to speak, and when the opportunity came to study piano – there was none on the island until a visiting teacher brought one when Teave was a young girl – she took to it like wildfire. The teacher, a violinist by profession, did not have any simple piano music and Teave’s introduction to the instrument was Mozart’s Sonata in C Major – considered easy, but by no means a beginner’s piece – and Beethoven’s Für Elise. She practised incessantly and advanced to such a degree that just a few months after those lessons Roberto Bravo, a well-known pianist from Chile who visited the island and heard her play, suggested she move to the mainland to study. She spent nine years there, receiving a degree from the Austral University of Chile in Valdivia and eventually won first prize at the Claudio Arrau Piano Competition in 1999. Teave left Valdivia with the intent to study in Europe, but a stop off in the US for a masterclass turned into a six-year stint at the Cleveland Institute of Music as a pupil of Sergei Babayan. From there she was off to Berlin to build her performing career under the wing of Fabio Bidini. This is certainly the stuff on which major careers are built, but after a few years of successful concertizing in Europe Teave decided it was more important to return to her native island to give back to the land that fostered her interest and her talent in the first place. Since then she has established an arts and culture centre to serve all the children of Rapa Nui. Her crusade for musical culture could be favourably compared to Venezuela’s El Sistema in my opinion, but her vision goes beyond culture to encompass ecology and to making the island self-sufficient. There is a wonderful film by John Forsen, Song of Rapa Nui, available (exclusively unfortunately) on Amazon Prime Video that I highly recommend. It documents her life in music, but more importantly her vision for the future of Rapa Nui and its people. Fortunately, her work there has not compromised her own performance abilities and this wonderful 2CD set, recorded in Seattle in November 2018, is a fine testament to her art. 

We invite submissions. CDs, DVDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

01 ŽibuoklėODE1386 2Saudade is the name of a new album of orchestral works by Lithuanian-American composer Žibuoklė Martinaitytė, and of the most recent composition included on the disc (Ondine ODE 1386-2 naxosdirect.com/search/ode+1386-2). According to Martinaitytė, the Portuguese word saudade means “a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing […] sad and happy feelings together […]. For the last decade this thread of longing has been woven into my life, colouring all experiences.” It is a sentiment which I’m sure most of us have been feeling during the past year of lockdown and isolation, so it is interesting that the four works presented were all written in the half dozen years before COVID reared its ugly head. Although evoking stark landscapes, there is a wonderful lushness to the music, which seems to grow inherently out of initial quiet in vast arcs of sustained tones and tremolos, occasionally erupting like bubbles exploding from some primordial soup. The music builds and recedes in many-textured layers with no melodies per se, just shifting colours that draw us in with a sense of yearning. Of particular note is the Chiaroscuro Trilogy (2017) for piano and orchestra that holds us enthralled throughout its three movements played without pause – Tunnel, Meteors and Darkness of Light. Gabrielius Alekna is the soloist with the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra. The other works are performed by the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, Giedrė Šlekytė conducting throughout.

02 Mirror Lysander TrioMartinaitytė mentions that one of the works on her disc was inspired by the films Cloud Atlas and The Hours (both based on books) as well as Italo Calvino’s postmodernist novel If on a winter’s night a traveller. I would not normally mention a CD that we have previously reviewed, but I found myself intrigued last month by Adam Sherkin’s review of the Lysander Trio disc mirrors (First Hand Records FHR11 lysandertrio.com). Specifically it was Reinaldo Moya’s Ghostwritten Variations that caught my attention, featuring “reimagined” music of fictional composers from four novels: Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus; David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas mentioned above; Richard Powers’ Orfeo; and Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Memory of Whiteness, only the last of which I hadn’t read. With time on my hands I decided to explore this 1985 novel set in a distant future of interplanetary travel and habitation, where the universe is controlled by an enormous synthetic orchestra and its master. Although I found Ghostwritten Variations less than convincing as a depiction of music by these invented composers, it was an interesting premise and a well-crafted result. I actually found the 2010 trio, An den Wassern zu Babel by William David Cooper with its retro-expressionist sensibility, perhaps a more convincing example of what Mann’s character Adrian Leverkühn, loosely based on Arnold Schoenberg, might have written. That being said, I was happy to spend time with this well-performed survey of recent piano trios by contemporary American composers. 

03 Star Makers FragmentsMusic again led me to literature in the next instance, Taylor Brook’s Star Maker Fragments, commissioned and performed by the TAK Ensemble (takensemble.bandcamp.com/album/star-maker-fragments). I had not previously read Olaf Stapleton’s 1937 speculative fiction novel involving transcendental interstellar and time travel, and the melding of the narrator’s mind with other sentient beings (of all shapes and sizes) from other planets and other galaxies, in a story that encompassed the entire history of the universe. It’s also about galactic consciousness(es) and the creator – Star Maker – told from the perspective of a pacifist philosophy from a time when Europe was headed, seemingly inevitably, toward global conflict. Brook has excerpted fragments of the book for his text, which is narrated by the group’s soprano, Charlotte Mundy, accompanied by flute, bass clarinet, violin and percussion, with electronics by the composer. The piece was written explicitly for recording, making extensive use of multi-tracking, processing, sound synthesis and field recordings, but may also be performed in concert with ensemble and live electronics once COVID is a thing of the past. It is a very convincing encapsulation of the striking landmark book, lasting about 45 minutes and followed by an instrumental postlude. If you’re not familiar with Star Maker, this provides an intriguing introduction to the SF classic, whose more famous admirers include H.G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, Brian Aldiss, Doris Lessing, Stanisław Lem and Jorge Luis Borges, who called it “a prodigious novel.” Recommended.

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04 Michael Peter Olsen Yearning FlowI sometimes multi-task, listening to music while reading. Pretty much anything with lyrics, especially narration, is off limits, because I cannot deal with words in my ears and words on the page at the same time. This meant not listening to Star Maker Fragments while reading the book, but I did find some music that seemed a perfect match to those interstellar wanderings, Toronto composer Michael Peter Olsen’s Yearning Flow (handdrawndracula.com/artists/michael-peter-olsen). Olsen plays electric and acoustic cello with electronics throughout, and is joined by guests on four of the six tracks: Chris Evans, synth guitar on MoonMist; Todor Kobakov, modular synth on 7 Days; Brandon Lim, bass guitar on Ours; and Merival, in a beautiful vocalese duet with cello, on Cloud Parade. In addition to providing a marvellous soundtrack for the transcendental journeying mentioned above, Yearning Flow ​is evocative and visual, “a sonically deep album that layers ambient textures with tension and release,” that also rewards concentrated listening. Perfect music for sitting in the dark and letting your mind go. 

05a Self Portrait with Russian PianoBrought to my attention by WholeNote reader and old high-school chum Doug Walker, Self Portrait with Russian Piano by Wolf Wondratschek is a compelling story of the narrator’s friendship with a fictional Soviet pianist Suvorin, and Suvorin’s own friendship with real-life cellist Heinrich Schiff (even including Schiff’s recipe for caramelizing onions!). I find it interesting that a book about a pianist speaks of piano repertoire in only general terms, but when it comes to Schiff and the cello it gets specific, mentioning Beethoven’s cellos sonatas and Triple Concerto. This led me to search out Schiff’s performance of the Cello Sonata in A Major Op.69 on YouTube – his recordings of the five sonatas seemingly having fallen out of the catalogue – and to a brand new CD with the Beethoven Triple Concerto in C Major Op.56 featuring Isabelle Faust, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Alexander Melnikov and the Freiburger Barockorchester, conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado (Harmonia Mundi HMM902419 store.harmoniamundi.com).

05b Beethoven TripleIt had been several decades since I last listened to the “Triple” and it was a real treat to have occasion to revisit it, especially played by such amazing performers. The balance between the soloists and period orchestra (presumably supplemented from its Baroque size to the forces Beethoven would have had available at the time) is perfect, and the simpatico communion between violin, cello and piano is palpable. The album also includes a surprisingly full-bodied rendering of Beethoven’s piano trio arrangement of the Symphony No.2 in D Major, Op.36. Quite a feast for the ears! 

06 Schoenberg TrioPiano trios seem to be a recurring theme this month and next on the agenda is a new recording of Eduard Steuermann’s 1932 arrangement of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht Op.4 with Trio Karénine on La Nuit Transfiguré (Mirare MIR554 mirare.fr/catalogue). Originally composed for string sextet in 1899, Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) is considered Schoenberg’s first important work, and incidentally it was Pierre Boulez’s Domaine Musical recording of the original version that provided my introduction to the music of this icon of the 20th century. Predating his development of the 12-tone system, this piece is a dense example of Expressionist art with the dramatic, and sometimes lugubrious, string textures full of Romantic angst. Although a purely instrumental work, it explores – verse by verse – a poem by Richard Dehmel in which a woman is walking with her lover, but is pregnant by another man. She is worried about the ramifications, but ultimately the beauty of the evening and the intensity of their love triumph. This tone poem departs from the tradition established by Liszt and later perfected by Richard Strauss, in that it is for chamber forces, not full orchestra. Trio Karénine’s performance is intense and convincing, with the “orchestral” piano part conceived by Steuermann ably filling in for the missing strings. The CD also includes Tristia, Liszt’s 1880 trio arrangement of the solo piano work, Vallée d’Obermann S. 723c, and Schumann’s Six Studies in Canonic Form for pedal piano, Op.56 as transcribed by Theodor Kirchner.

07 Verklarte NachtSteuermann’s is not the only arrangement of Transfigured Night; Schoenberg himself expanded it for string orchestra including contrabass (adding to the abovementioned lugubriousness) in 1917, and again for similar forces in 1943, by which time the Austrian composer had moved to America. Verklärte Nacht, a new album from Chandos featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Edward Gardner (CHSA 5243 naxosdirect.com/search/chsa+5243), includes this last arrangement, plus German orchestral songs by Franz Lehár, Oskar Fried and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Lehár’s Fieber (Fever) is the dramatic story of a young officer in hospital after suffering wounds on the battlefield early in WWI, as was the case of the composer’s younger brother Anton. It is markedly different from the music of The Merry Widow and other operettas for which Lehár is renowned, although momentary hints of the waltz composer peek through. Fried’s 1901 Verklärte Nacht is based on the same text that inspired Schoenberg, in this instance using Dehmel’s words, sung by mezzo-soprano (Christine Rice) and tenor (Stuart Skelton). It is a quasi-operatic scene in post-Wagnerian style, of which Fried said in later years: “I myself find it too beautiful; I am drowning in this music.” Korngold composed his four Lieder des Abschieds (Songs of Farewell) in 1920- 21, soon after his opera Die tote Stadt, when he was still in Vienna. It is the most tonal work on offer here (Fried’s self-assessment notwithstanding), gorgeously sung by Skelton, whose full heldentenor is impressive throughout the vocal works on the disc, well matched by Rice in the Fried. 

08 Fremb bin ich EingezogenSpeaking of arrangements, or in this case adaptations, regular readers will know that I am enamoured of Schubert’s Winterreise in just about any shape or form. Other than Bach’s Goldberg Variations I don’t know of any work that has been interpreted in so many ways, for so many instruments. Perhaps the most unusual version I had encountered until now was Philippe Sly and Le Chimera Project’s Klezmer/Roma rendition recorded for Analekta and later performed live for Toronto audiences at Koerner Hall in 2020, shortly before the lockdown. This has now been surpassed by a new disc from the Asambura-Ensemble, founded in Hannover in 2013 to interpret classical music in dialogue with non-European perspectives. Fremd bin ich Eingezogen (Decurio DEC-004 decur.io) is subtitled Winterreise interkulturell and it connects Schubert with Persian poems and music in an intriguing mélange that provides a multicultural gloss on the original text and accompaniment. The vocal soloists are Yannick Spanier (German) and Mehdi Saie (Persian), and the orchestration is a mix of Western and Eastern instruments: piano; violin; viola; cello; contrabass; flutes; clarinets; guitar; santoor; oud; tar; marimba; djembe; riq and dumbek. The title translates to “I arrived a stranger,” the opening line of Gute Nacht, the first song of the Winterreise cycle, and it embodies the spirit of the project as stated in the booklet, “…in view of the homelessness of so many refugees.” It is a haunting and evocative reinterpretation of a timeless classic, firmly rooting it in the troubled 21st century. A stunning addition to my Winterreise collection. 

09a akikos piano coverTwo Japanese piano concertos complete this month’s column, Dai Fujikura’s Piano Concerto No.4 “Akiko’s Piano” (daifujikura.com/#shop) and Toshio Hosokawa’s Lotus under the moonlight on Hosokawa / Mozart (ECM New Series 2624 ecmrecords.com/shop)

Fujikura tells us that his ”special piano concerto was written for and dedicated to the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra’s Peace and Music Ambassador, Martha Argerich. […] In Hiroshima, there is a piano that survived the atomic bomb, the smashed glass window from the blast is still stuck to the piano’s body. This piano belonged to a 19-year-old girl, Akiko […] who was working as a mobilized student, when the atomic bomb was dropped. She walked and swam, as the bridge had been destroyed, to her home where her parents were that day. Then, the next day, she died [of radiation poisoning] in her parents’ arms.” In this recoding, two pianos are used; a grand piano for the body of the work, and then the cadenza at the end of the concerto is played on Akiko’s Piano, the piano that survived the bombing. Fujikura says “To express such a universal theme of ‘music for peace’ the piece should portray that most personal, smallest point of view. I think that is the most powerful way, and only music can achieve this.” I think he has done so admirably. The soloist is Mami Hagiwara and the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Tatsuya Shimono.

09b Hosokawa MozartHosokawa’s concerto was commissioned by the Nordeutscher Rundfunk for the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. The composer was asked to select a favourite Mozart concerto and write a work for the same instrumentation. He chose the Concerto in A Major K488, and used the “beautiful slow movement” in F-sharp Minor as his point of departure. Hosokawa says “Of all flowers, the lotus blossom is the most highly valued in Buddhism. Many statues of the Buddha show him standing on a lotus blossom. […] In my concerto, the piano symbolizes the lotus flower (human) and the orchestra the surrounding water and universe. […] The work does not depict the lotus flower quietly but rather tries to express the mysterious energy of the universe that flows into the blossoming of the flower.” For this purpose, Hosokawa has supplemented the orchestra with percussion instruments; dramatic bass drum explosions and the gentle tinkling of bells and chimes. He dedicated the work to Momo Kodama who premiered it in Hamburg in 2006. Her performance here is from the Japanese premiere, recorded later that same year, with Seiji Ozawa conducting his Mito Chamber Orchestra. As at the premiere, the recording pairs Lotus under the moonlight with Kodama’s performance of the Mozart Piano Concerto in A Major that inspired it. 

We invite submissions. CDs, DVDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

In the two months since the last issue so much, and yet so little, has happened that it’s hard to know where to begin. One true highlight was spending a week savouring Welsh writer and musicologist Paul Griffiths’ latest novel Mr. Beethoven. I received an inscribed copy of the small press UK edition sent just before Christmas by the author, but I’ll wait to write about that, and the music it led me to, until later this year when the book is released in North America. 

01 Francis Dhomont 20167 IMEDI suppose the best place to start is with old friends. During my tenure as host and producer of Transfigured Night (1984-1991) at CKLN-FM, I became interested in the field of electronic music, to the extent of becoming a founding member of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC). On a trip to Montreal in 1986, for a conference that led to the establishment of that national organization, I met and became friends with a number of movers and shakers in that rarified field, including Jean-François Denis, who went on to found the internationally renowned empreintes DIGITALes (electrocd.com). At time of writing, the Montreal-based label has 171 releases featuring the most distinguished practitioners of electroacoustics, acousmatics and musique concrète from around the world. While at CKLN, I commissioned radiophonic works from a dozen composers, one of the most successful of which was Figures de la nuit/Faces of the Night by Francis Dhomont. Since the late 1940s working with magnetic wire recorders in Paris – one of the first exponents of what Pierre Henry would later call musique concrète – Dhomont has been a pioneer of electroacoustic composition, and has worked exclusively in fixed media (i.e. magnetic tape and its digital progeny) since the 1970s. From 1978 until 2004, Dhomont split his time between France and Quebec, where he taught for 16 years at the Université de Montréal. I am pleased to see, as witnessed by the recent CD Images nomades (IMED 20167), that at the age of 94 Dhomont is still active in his studio in Avignon, France. This release includes three recent works – a particular favourite is Perpetuum mobile (Pluies fantômes) – plus a cycle of 15 shorter tributes to friends and colleagues such as composers Bernard Parmegiani and Jonty Harrison he calls Ami-versaires  – composed between 2002 and 2020. This and the dozen or so discs of Dhomont’s music available from empreintes DIGITALes confirm him not only as a pioneer in the field, but also as a master of his craft. 

02 Molinari PendereckiA new ATMA release – Krzysztof Penderecki featuring Quatuor Molinari (ACD2 2736 atmaclassique.com/en) – also feels like an old friend. Although I did meet Penderecki on several occasions, I did not have the opportunity to get to know him. But I have met founding violinist Olga Ranzenhofer and through her the quartet’s namesake, the late painter Guido Molinari, both of whom I would consider friends. This latest disc in the Molinari’s extensive catalogue includes Penderecki’s two early avant-garde string quartets from 1960 and 1968 with their graphic scores and extended techniques, and the much later, more conservative String Quartet No.3 “Leaves from an Unwritten Diary” from 2008, a kind of autobiographical reminiscence replete with references to earlier works. Being familiar with these from a number of recordings, particularly those of Kitchener-Waterloo’s Penderecki String Quartet, of more interest to me are the in-between works included here, that give a kind of context to the transition from angry young man of the 60s to the successful gentleman of his later years. They include the brief movement for string quartet, The Broken Thought (1988), the String Trio (1990) and a Quartet for Clarinet and String Trio (1993). The trio opens aggressively but gradually subsides into variations on Penderecki’s signature descending-note motif. The clarinet piece begins gently, and even in its more strident moments is playful and melodic. Clarinetist André Moisan proves to be the perfect foil for the members of the Molinari, whose playing, as always, is exemplary in its expressivity. A fitting tribute to Penderecki, who died in late March, 2020 after a long illness (not related to the coronavirus). He was 86.

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03 Tigran MansurianMy first exposure to Penderecki’s clarinet quartet was on a Sony recording from the 1993 Penderecki Gala celebrating the composer’s 60th birthday. That performance featured, among others, the exceptional American violist Kim Kashkashian, who is a key player on one of two recent ECM releases that I’ve spent a lot of time with over the past two months (ecmrecords.com/shop). Kashkashian is joined by eight other A-list musicians, who mostly share her Armenian heritage, on Con Anima (ECM New Series 2687), devoted to the chamber music of Tigran Mansurian, an Armenian composer born in 1939. Again the highlights include a String Trio and a clarinet quartet, Agnus Dei. The clarinet is accompanied by violin, cello and piano in this instance and this is the only work on which Kashkashian does not appear. The earliest piece on the disc is String Quartet No.3, dating from 1993, which Kashkashian performs with violinists Movses Pogossian, Varty Manouelian and cellist Michael Kaufman. Two recent works from 2015 and 2016 are duos: Die Tänzerin where Kashkashian is joined by Manouelian and Sonata da Chiesa with pianist Tatevik Mokatsian. Mansurian’s music is characterized by restrained pointillism, subtle rhythms and delicate impressionistic beauty. Most of his works begin and end quietly, as in the opening Agnus Dei, dedicated to the memory of violinist Oleg Kagan, which sets the tone for the entire disc. Contrary to expectation, the title work Con anima (in a spirited manner), is no exception. Completed in 2007, this string sextet, which adds former TSO principal violist Teng Li and cellist Karen Ouzounian to the string players noted above, is a gloss on Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.13 in which the viola dominates. That role is given here to first violist Kashkashian, whose gorgeous dark tone leads the others on a transformative journey. A brilliant, subdued and contemplative disc, perfect for our troubled times. 

04 Erkki Sven TuurThe other ECM release, Lost Prayers (ECM New Series 2666), features chamber works by Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür. I had the pleasure of meeting Tüür several times, when he was in Toronto for the Border Crossings Festival in 1990, and again in 2010 when he was featured on a Soundstreams concert. This disc is bookended by two piano trios effectively performed by Harry Traksmann (violin), Leho Karin (cello) and Marrit Geritz-Traksmann (piano) which are the earliest and latest works presented. The dramatic Fata Morgana (2002) is a quasi moto perpetuo whereas Lichttürme (2017) is relatively introspective.  Although rollicking string ostinati echoes of the former work emerge from time to time, the latter begins and ends with a sense of calm. The same can be said of Synergie (2011) featuring violinist Florian Donderer and cellist Tanja Tetzlaff. Written the following year, String Quartet No.2 “Lost Prayers,” performed here by the Signum Quartet, is atypical of Tüür’s output, at least thematically. His focus is more often identified by “rational-systematic designations” as in his series of Architectonics pieces (the fourth of which was commissioned by Toronto’s Sound Pressure and premiered here in 1990). In the quartet, Tüür says, “I tried to imagine a cloud of cries for help – from believers, non-believers, people of different traditions, of different periods of history. Are these cries lost? The music is dealing with the energetic field of the accumulation of these spontaneous outcries.” Fitting music for these distressing times, hauntingly performed. With ECM founder Manfred Eichmann’s characteristic concern for pristine sound, the disc was recorded in Bremen’s acoustically responsive Sendesaal, a venue that gained international attention in audiophile circles in 1973 when ECM released Keith Jarrett’s Solo Concerts: Bremen/Lausanne.

05 Olivier GreifVery different from the quiet and meditative offerings from ECM is a new release from the Centre International Albert Roussel in Bavinchove, France. Olivier Greif – A Tale of the World (CC 002 ciar@free.fr) is a 48 minute piano quintet performed by Quintette Syntonia. It is a truly remarkable work integrating texts in Sanskrit, Elizabethan and modern English, Italian, French and German, meant to be spoken, sung and chanted by the musicians, all while playing their instruments with virtuosity. Greif (1950 -2000) began his studies at the Paris Conservatoire and continued them at the Juilliard School in New York. His first creative period (in the sense of Western art music) lasted from 1961 through 1981 when he became a disciple of the Indian spiritual master Sri Chinmoy. During the next decade, the bulk of his creativity went to composing devotional songs on Chinmoy’s texts and writing small piano pieces dedicated to friends. In 1991 he returned to “classical” composition and in 1994 was commissioned to write this remarkable quintet by a festival in Kuhmo, Finland. Originally scheduled for premiere that year, the first performance was postponed for health reasons and A Tale of the World was not heard until 1996 when performed by Jean-François Heisser and the Sibelius Quartet. The Syntonia Quintet was founded in 1999 and had the opportunity to work briefly with Greif before his death the following year. The meeting had a profound effect on the young musicians who were then studying at the Paris Conservatoire. They have gone on to become champions of contemporary music and have recorded a number of Greif’s works, including String Quartet No.2 with voice “On Three Sonnets by Shakespeare” and the Ulysses Quartet which they premiered. In 2020, after years of preparation, they felt ready to record A Tale of the World, with its “wall of sound” textures sometimes reminiscent of the Ramayana Monkey Chant from Bali juxtaposed with moments of extreme delicacy and beauty; they realized this goal in late February just before COVID-19 overtook the world. A stunning achievement.

06 Iceland SO OccurenceSono Luminus has just completed its project with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra under Daníel BjarnasonVolume Three: Occurrence (sonoluminus.com) includes Bjarnason’s own Violin Concerto, the atmospheric Lendh by young Canadian expatriate Veronique Vaka and works by Haukur Tómasson, Þuríður Jónsdóttir and Magnús Blöndal Jóhannsson. Bjarnason’s concerto opens eerily with the soloist whistling high-pitched tones accompanied by sparse pizzicato notes before the violin melody begins in earnest. Later in the piece the quiet whistling returns, effectively trading off of “whistle tones” produced with harmonics high up the neck of the solo instrument. The effective cadenza was composed by the soloist Pekka Kuusisto. Vaka’s body of work “intends to create a poetic context between what she sees, hears and feels in the unspoiled nature” and this is obvious from the dramatic opening low chords of double basses and percussion in Lendh, reminiscent of calving icebergs. After its premiere during the Dark Music Days festival in January 2019, it went on to receive nominations for Composition of the Year in the Icelandic Music Awards and the Nordic Council Music Prize. Whistle tones, mentioned above, are more often created on the flute than on string instruments, and we hear these and other extended flute techniques, along with an insect-like electronic soundtrack, interacting with the orchestra in Jónsdóttir’s Flutter with soloist Mario Caroli. The disc ends with its most traditional piece, the breathtakingly beautiful Adagio for strings, celesta and percussion by Jóhannsson, a work that marked his return to composition in 1980 after a troubled decade following the death of his wife. Its quiet grandeur evokes in me visions of a still Arctic landscape during an endless night, and brings this orchestral tribute to the music of Iceland to a fitting close. 

07 Anna ClyneLondon-native Anna Clyne (b.1980) has impeccable credentials. She has served as composer-in-residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, L’Orchestre national d’Île-de-France and Berkeley Symphony. She is currently the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Associate Composer and a mentor composer for Orchestra of St Luke’s DeGaetano Composer Institute. 2020 saw the release of a portrait disc Mythologies (Avie AV2434 avierecords.com), featuring five works performed live by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the direction of four distinguished conductors including Marin Alsop and Andrew Litton. It opens with bombastic drama in the form of Masquerade, commissioned by BBC Radio 3 to open the Last Night of the Proms in 2013, and continues in much the same vein with This Midnight Hour. The centrepiece is an intriguing violin concerto titled The Seamstress. Unusual for Clyne, the work is based on a 12-note row, but more interesting is the whispered, almost inaudible recitation of William Butler Yeats’ stanza, A Coat, late in the work. (“I made my song a coat/Covered with embroideries/Out of old mythologies…”) Jennifer Koh is in stellar form as soloist, with Irene Buckley the speaker. The last two works return to the bombast of the opening with the stormy Night Ferry and the unrelenting <<rewind>>. All in all, an exhilarating introduction to a composer I look forward to hearing more from soon. 

We invite submissions. CDs, DVDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

01c Folling Out of Time book webHousebound in these COVID-19 days, I find I’m reading even more than usual. And it’s taking longer than normal because I’m making a point of supplementing my reading by listening to all the music mentioned in the books as I go. Pauline Delabroy-Allard’s Ça raconte Sarah, a tragic story of the love between two young women, included Schubert’s Trout Quintet and the quartet Death and the Maiden, Bartók’s String Quartet No.4 and Mendelssohn’s Octet. Sarah Léon’s Wanderer, a saga of friendship and unrequited love between a child prodigy pianist and a young composer/cellist featured Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, his late piano works, Winterreise and other lieder, along with Chopin’s Piano Trio and Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody. Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, the story of the lifelong friendship of two couples who meet early in their academic careers, led once again to the Trout Quintet, Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Most eclectic of all is Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, which I’m only a third of the way through. It has already sent me off to find Brahms’ Fourth Symphony and Piano Concerto No.2, Bill Evans’ Waltz for Debby, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band plus a number of pop classics and, strangely, a whistled version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary. (It took a while to track this last one down, but I was able to find it on Amazon for 99 cents.) 

All this could be considered incidental music to the books, although Death and the Maiden loomed larger than that in Delabroy-Allard’s tale, as did Winterreise in Léon’s, but two discs I want to talk about this month actually take their inspiration and raison d’être from specific works of literature. My interest was sparked for Osvaldo Golijov’s Falling Out of Time when I realized that it was based on a book of the same name by David Grossman, an author whose works I have previously enjoyed. And Kjartan Sveinsson’s Der Klang der Offenbarung des Göttlichen is based on the novel World Light by Icelandic Nobel Prize-winning author Halldór Laxness, another of my favourites. 

01a Falling Out of Time webGolijov’s Falling Out of Time, performed by the Silk Road Ensemble (inacircle-records.com/releases) has another serendipitous connection to my reading life. It seems that Golijov conceived of the project after a meeting with the founder of the Parents Circle, an organization that brings together Palestinian and Israeli parents who have lost children in the ongoing conflict in their homeland(s), in hopes of finding some semblance of healing and some road to eventual peace. I had not been aware of this organization until about a month ago when I read an incredibly moving “novel” called Apeirogon by Colum McCann. I use quotation marks to qualify the definition. Although a work of fiction, McCann’s main characters are actual members of the Parents Circle, a Palestinian whose daughter was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier, and an Israeli whose own daughter was killed by a Palestinian suicide-, or more accurately, murder-bomber, both as innocent bystanders. The book incorporates chapters by both of these real fathers who describe their own states of being and give context to McCann’s fiction (which they condone). A truly magnificent book. 

01b Apeirogon book webHow does a person stay alive after losing a child? Grossman’s poetic book tells the stories of a number of people in that situation who, as a result, have fallen out of their own lives into a dreamlike state. It opens with a narration by the Town Chronicler who describes the village at night, much in the way of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. We next meet a Man who decides he must go “there” to find his dead son, although his wife assures him “There is no such place. There does not exist.” Nevertheless he departs to wander, muttering, in ever-widening circles in his search. As the book unfolds more and more lost parents join the ghostly parade, each telling of their own loss. For the Walkers, “Poetry is the language of my grief.” Golijov’s stark and wrenching adaptation of the texts, originally in Hebrew but presented in both Hebrew and English translation (included in the booklet), is extremely effective. Wu Tong is especially moving in his heart-wrenching depiction of the Walking Man. Drawing on the resources of the Silk Road Ensemble, Golijov employs a variety of traditional and exotic instruments and some electronics to accompany and extend the voices of the various characters. As Grossman calls his book “a Novel in Voices,” Golijov describes his rendition not as an opera or a song cycle, but “a Tone Poem in Voices.” Grossman says in an introductory note: “In this work by Osvaldo and the wonderful Silk Road Ensemble, I heard the voice of human pain and grief laid bare – the scream of an animal. […] It is true that no one knows what hides behind the impenetrable wall of death. But there is one place, or rather one dimension, where we can feel, if only for an instant, both the absolute nihility of death and the full absence of life. And that dimension is art. It is literature and poetry, music, theatre and cinema, painting and sculpture. When we are in that place we can sense, concurrently, both the everything and the abysmal void. The negation of life and its affirmation. I hope that listening to this creation will provide you, too, with this sensation.” It did for me.

Listen to 'Falling Out of Time' Now in the Listening Room

02a Kjartan Sveinsson webSveinsson, a member of the Icelandic ambient/post-rock band Sigur Rós, has in recent years become a celebrated film composer, including the 2005 Academy Award-nominated short film Síðasti bærinn (The Last Farm) and the 2011 Eldfjal (Volcano). Der Klang der Offenbarung des Göttlichen, The Explosive Sonics of Divinity in English, is performed by Filmorchester Babelsberg and Filmchoir Berlin under Davíð Þór Jónsson
(sonoluminus.com/store/derklang).

Laxness’ four-part novel revolves around Ólafur Kárason, an unloved foster child on a farm in rural Iceland around the turn of the last century, his belief that one day he will be a great poet, and his “incurable longing for beauty and its catastrophic consequences.” Sveinsson’s adaptation uses Kárason’s poems and thoughts from the book, translated into German. Magnus Magunsson’s English translations – he also translated the novel – are provided in the booklet. Sveinsson calls his creation an opera, but the only characters in this unique work are set designs painted by Ragnar Kjartansson. There are no people on the stage, (an opera with no divas says the composer); the orchestra, solo cellist, vocal trio and chorus perform unseen from the pit. The first of its four movements is purely instrumental and is strongly reminiscent to my ear of Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. The sombre mood continues in the following movements where the choral settings are somehow lush and stark at the same time. Kjartansson’s stage sets are said to be rooted in “Germanic romantic clichés” and I assume the striking paintings, which adorn the four panels of the cardboard packaging, are drawn from them. It is an impressive addition to Sono Luminus’ ongoing commitment to bringing Icelandic culture to the world.

02b World Light book webDuring my tenure at CJRT-FM in the 1990s, one of my great pleasures was getting to know and work with Latvian-Canadian composer Tālivaldis Ķeniņš (1919-2008). During one of my years there “Tāli” was the subject of our annual week-long Canadian Composer Retrospective, which involved an extended documentary which I produced, and daily broadcasts of his music, including a concert that featured his Viola Sonata, commissioned for Rivka Golani especially for the occasion. After service in the Second World War, Ķeniņš settled in Paris where he studied with Tony Aubin and Olivier Messiaen at the Conservatoire. After successful completion of his degree, including a first prize in composition for his Cello Sonata, he moved to Canada and became an important fixture in our musical life, teaching for many years at the University of Toronto and serving as the president of the Canadian League of Composers. 2019 marked the centenary of Ķeniņš’ birth and although I’m not aware of any particular fanfare to mark that occasion, it is nice to see that two new recordings of his orchestral music have just become available. 

03 Ondine Kenins webThe first to arrive, Tālivaldis Ķeniņš – Symphony No.1; Two Concertos, features the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra on the Ondine label (naxosdirect.com/search/ode+1350-2). The Concerto di camera No.1 for piano and chamber ensemble (flute, clarinet and strings) was composed in 1981 and first performed during the Latvian Song Festival at U of T on Canada Day that year. Ķeniņš says, “This is not a virtuoso romantic concerto but rather a work held within the baroque and classical framework in a concertante style, where the thematic material is a neverending development and takes shape in the dialogue between the soloist and the other members of the chamber group.” The soloist in this performance is Agnese Egliņa. In the Concerto for Piano from 1990 the accompanying string orchestra is complemented by an extensive obbligato percussion part, performed by Edgars Saksons. Once again the soloist is Egliņa. Both concertos are conducted by Guntis Kuzma. The earliest work, dating from 1959, is the first of eight symphonies that Ķeniņš would pen over his career. The eminent Latvian critic in exile, Jānis Cīrulis, called this work “a mighty symphonic edifice, which rises above our local musical structures.” It was first played at the Indianapolis Latvian Song Festival in 1960 and shortly thereafter in Vancouver and Winnipeg and broadcast by the CBC. This June 2020 performance from Riga’s Great Guild Hall is conducted by Andris Poga.

04 LMIC Kenins webThe second disc was produced by the Latvian Music Information Centre. Tālivaldis Ķeniņš – Violin Concerto; Concerto for Five Percussionists and Orchestra; Beatae voces tenebrae (LMIC088 skani.lv) once again features the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Andris Poga in performances from the Great Guild Hall earlier this year. The Violin Concerto dates from 1974 and was commissioned by the CBC for Steven Staryk who gave the first performance with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra. The internationally renowned Canadian soloist and concertmaster – he had been the youngest ever to hold that position with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of 24 – was visiting professor at the University of Victoria at the time. At the premiere, Vancouver Sun critic Lloyd Dykk perceived the Violin Concerto as “an old-fashioned melange of Romantic and Neo-Classical patterns and moods ... prominent in its Milhaudish playfulness.” The soloist in this performance is Eva Bindere, winner of the Latvian Grand Music Award in 2016 for musician of the year. She says: “This concerto was a true surprise. I believe it’s absolutely world-class music, written extremely professionally, with a wonderful technical understanding of the instrument, [...] In the musical sense, the concerto is very saturated; much depends on the soloist’s personal contribution... [but] the whole process brought me joy, and I never felt that this composition needed any sort of subjective ‘assistance.’”
The Concerto for 5 Percussionists and Orchestra (1983) was commissioned by the Faculty of Music, U of T, with support from the Ontario Arts Council, on the occasion of Ķeniņš retirement (although he would stay active as professor emeritus for many more years). Ķeniņš had a close relationship with percussion. In a conversation with Edgars Kariks, he stated: “I appreciate the extensive opportunities that percussion instruments offer. They provide so much colour. They give my music a dynamic profile... something like an independent objective. They serve as the foundation for all of the dramatic elements...”

Beatae voces tenebrae was commissioned by the Composers, Authors and Publishers Association of Canada (CAPAC, now SOCAN). In 1977, in conjunction with the Frankfurter Buchmesse, the world’s largest trade fair for books, CAPAC organized Canadian Music Week in several cities in Germany – eight concerts featuring various compositions and performers from Canada. The premiere of Beatae voces tenebrae was given by the Beethovenhalle Orchestra in Bonn, conducted by Boris Brott. The CBC issued a double LP of works featured during that event which has held a treasured place in my collection over the years. I am delighted by this new recording of one of Ķeniņš’ most moving orchestral works. He did not often provide detailed program notes, but this work is an exception: “This composition coincides with a period of grief in the life of the composer who was mourning the sudden passing of two close friends. These events have influenced the meaning and design of the work and explain the frequent allusions to motivic ideas by classical composers bearing on similar concerns. Through a series of images of serenity and drama, past and present intermingle in sudden flashes of emotion and various dimensions of human anguish...”  The excellent booklet notes detail some of the quotations from Liszt, Bach (and the well-known BACH motif – B flat, A, C, B natural which appears frequently), Beethoven and Fauré, with bar numbers and timings of where to find them in the recording. The composer’s epigraph on the score reads “to those beloved shadows who once were a part of our lives.”

I am honoured to have known Tāli Ķeniņš as a colleague and proud that he considered me a friend. He inscribed my copy of his biography Between Two Worlds (by Ingrida Zemzare, in Latvian, with English summary) “For David Olds, in true friendship.” I will treasure it always.

05 Kenins biography webAnd one final note, speaking of colleagues and friends, while preparing for this article and for David Hetherington’s recent virtual recital “Cello Masterworks” (newmusicconcerts.com), I listened to Hetherington and William Aide’s recording of Ķeniņš’ prize-winning Cello Sonata on a disc that also includes his Piano Quartet No.2 (with Paul Meyer and Steven Dann) and the Concertante for flute and piano with Aide and Robert Aitken (Centrediscs CMCCD5997 cmccanada.org/shop/cd-cmccd-5997). Highly recommended! 

We invite submissions. CDs, DVDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

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