01 New WorldsNew Worlds/Nouveaux Mondes; Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra; Alexander Shelley (Analekta AN 2 8873 analekta.com). It took a while to identify what sounded familiar in Ana Sokolović’s Golden slumbers kiss your eyes…, but eventually I realized it reminded me of that mid-20th century pillar of choral/orchestral repertoire, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Reading the program notes revealed another parallel to that great work – this too is based on secular, vernacular texts, in this case primarily folk songs in French, English, Italian, German, Ladino and the composer’s native Serbian. The likeness to Carmina Burana is mostly one of scale – vocal soloist, multiple choirs, orchestral forces with prominent percussion – but there are a couple of movements that are particularly Orffian, including Mie mama mata mata with its alternating lines between the choirs, and later an anguished countertenor solo reminiscent of the dying swan of Orff’s masterpiece.

Conceived as a tribute to NACO (now CNACO)’s founding conductor and later, music director Mario Bernardi, it is a celebration of Canada’s multiculturalism and pays tribute to Bernardi’s Italian heritage in two of the seven movements. Although the texts are from folk songs they are surprisingly transformed in this presentation, sometimes to the point of non-recognition. À la claire fontaine begins with a haunting solo by countertenor David DQ Lee, eventually joined by dark chanting from the chorus more reminiscent of a satanic ritual than the coureur de bois chanson learned at French immersion camp. I was also reminded of some of the more dramatic scenes from Harry Somers’ Louis Riel and the movement Durme, durme, a Serbian lullaby, reminded me of that opera’s Kuyas. I don’t mean to say that this is in any way a derivative work. Sokolović has a unique voice and it is more a reflection of my own way of relating to new things, always happy to find touchstones.

Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra, better known for “viewing the past through rose coloured glasses” in recent decades, is marching bravely into the 21st century under Alexander Shelley, who succeeded Pinchas Zukerman as music director in 2015. I’m pleased to note that their last three CDs have all featured new Canadian compositions commissioned by the orchestra. In this most recent addition, Sokolović’s stunning work is paired with Dvořák’s New World Symphony. I think it is very effective programming, and any questions I had about whether this classical-size orchestra numbering 60-some players would be sufficient to do justice to this staple of the Romantic repertoire were allayed by listening to the performance on this beautifully recorded disc.

02 Juliet PalmerI believe several disclaimers are in order here for the sake of full disclosure. New Zealand-born Canadian composer Juliet Palmer’s music has been presented on several occasions by New Music Concerts (my “day” job), most recently last month on our program “The Lioness of Iran,” featuring settings of the poetry of Simin Behbahani. In addition, Palmer and her husband James Rolfe (another composer whose work we have presented), are frequent attendees at parties at my musical neighbour Gail’s house, where I’m often heard jamming with guitars and, on the best nights, mandolins and fiddles. But if I recused myself from writing about all the composers I have had the pleasure to meet over the past several decades, there wouldn’t be many left to mention. A further disclosure is that for the most part I don’t enjoy contemporary vocal music. So when Palmer’s new mostly a cappella disc Rivers (BR0343 barnyardrecords.com) arrived, I fully expected to be assigning the review to someone more at arm’s length and more appreciative of the genre. My curiousity got the best of me however and I decided to give it a listen. I must say I was smitten! The six tracks span a decade, with Simple Death from 2006 (from SLIP, a site-specific multimedia collaboration with lyricist Anna Chatterton which took place in Harrison Baths as part of that year’s X Avant Festival), to two selections first performed as part of another site-specific project, Singing River, on the Pan Am Path, Lower Don Trail in 2015.

The disc opens with the sounds of a babbling brook, or so it seems. It turns out to be blood flow, ultrasound recordings from the Sunnybrook Research Institute which, complemented by quiet chattering and disturbing interpolations from a chorus, provide a kind of ostinato under the anguished solo vocal by Laura Swankey on a text from Emily Dickinson’s The Heart has narrow Banks. Dreaming of Trees is a slow lyrical piece that begins with a very simple pattern on a metallophone which continues throughout under the solo voice of Alex Samaras and gentle, flowing tonal harmonies from a small mixed chorus. The text is by Nicholas Power. Dusk of Tears from Palmer’s opera Shelter is an unaccompanied duet – Felicity Williams and Samaras – with lyrics by Julie Salverson, which employs some close harmonies and clever counterpoint. This leads to the onomatopoeic and at times abrasive Burble, a lament for the Don River featuring Swankey with chorus. Litany (After the End) features post-apocalyptic lyrics of Christine Duncan recited in sprechstimme by the author with electronic treatments by Palmer. The closing track, Simple Death, uses a traditional Japanese folksong as its point of departure, with Aki Takahashi sounding hauntingly muezzin-like, juxtaposing an English lyric interwoven by Duncan over droning vocalise. It is an effective conclusion to a very satisfying recording.

03 Shostakovich violin sonataDmitri Shostakovich composed his Violin Sonata, Op.134 in 1968 and it was premiered by its dedicatee David Oistrakh with Sviatoslav Richter in the spring of the following year. In 1975, the year of the composer’s death, a Melodiya/Angel LP recording of that performance and the premiere of the String Quartet No.13, Op.138 was released in North America, and for some months held pride of place in this avid young collector’s library. So it was with great interest that I received a new recording of the sonata featuring two young Russians, Sergei Dogadin and Nikolai Tokarev (Naxos 8.573753 naxos.com). Dogadin has won ten international violin competitions including the Tchaikovsky (2011) and the Joseph Joachim International (2015), so his credentials are impeccable. While his colleague’s accolades are perhaps not quite so prestigious, Tokarev nevertheless has been recognized with awards in Switzerland and Germany since completing his piano studies in 2007. Together they capture the essence of Shostakovich’s late sonata in a riveting performance. The disc also features the first complete recording of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes, Op.34 in transcription for violin and piano: 19 by Dmitry Tsyganov (some from 1937 and some from 1963) praised by Shostakovich as sounding more idiomatic in this guise than even the piano originals; and five by composer/pianist Lera Auerbach to complete the set in 2000. These youthful and sometimes exuberant short pieces – 35 minutes in all – provide a welcome contrast to the darkness of the sonata, which is not to say that they are all bright and sunny. The preludes, which date from 1932-33, run the gamut of emotion and at times hint at the hard times to come in the composer’s troubled life. While not supplanting the Oistrakh/Richter, this new recording will also occupy a treasured spot in my library.

04 WinterreiseHaving taken the plunge into art song above, I will say that one of my favourite vocal cycles is Winterreise, that classic of the genre by Franz Schubert. One of the discs to cross my desk recently is a new version with the piano part transcribed for string quartet by cellist Richard King of the Copenhagen Quartet which is featured with bass-baritone Johan Reuter (Danacord DACOCD 759 danacord.dk). Reuter, who has been a soloist with the Royal Danish Opera for the past two decades, is touted as “one of the most in-demand classical singers of his generation” in the booklet notes, and with this recording as evidence I can see why. His rendering is powerfully dramatic and tenderly sensitive as required, and his tone is superb. I find the transcription to be quite convincing, although definitely a different sensibility from the piano original. King captures the different moods of the piece, and the playing is nuanced and well balanced. While this will not supplant my other recordings of the cycle – if you are interested in different transcriptions I encourage you to seek out Hans Zender’s rendering for a 30-piece contemporary chamber orchestra – it is a welcome addition to my collection. One reason for not suggesting this be your only recording of Winterreise is the booklet. This Danish production features English-only liner notes, but the texts are only given in German. I had to pull out my Fischer-Dieskau/Brendel performance (Philips 464 739-2), which has English and French translations of Wilhelm Müller’s poems, to be able to follow along.

05 Schumann quartetsBy all rights I should have sent the next disc (along with the Shostakovich) to Terry Robbins for his Strings Attached column, but once again I could not resist it. As a cellist I have played Schumann’s Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet, as well as works for piano trio and cello and piano, but have never had the opportunity to explore his string quartets in depth. So when Schumann Quartets Nos. 2 & 3 featuring the Elias Quartet (ALPHA 280 alpha-classics.com) arrived I decided to hold on tight. Written in 1842 when the composer was 32, his three quartets of Op.41 were presented to his wife Clara in celebration of her 23rd birthday and their second wedding anniversary. I particularly like the personal style of the introductory program note in this tri-lingual booklet by violinist Sara Bitlloch. In it she describes how the Elias approached the charming Quartet No.3 in A Major, one of the first works they played together, and how different it was to encounter the Quartet No.2 in F Major sometime later. “The enthusiasm of the first movement can easily turn into anxiety if you push it a bit too far. In the slow movement the texture is sometimes so bare that to convey its tenderness you have to sustain it with great fervour. The capacious Scherzo is bristling with rhythmic pitfalls […] while the Finale is an endless explosion of joy!” Hard to resist such a description and even harder to ignore the music it describes. The performance was recorded live at Potton Hall, UK in May 2016 and the excitement is palpable.

06 Selcuk SunaFurther on in these pages you will read reviews of new discs from David Buchbinder’s OdessaHavana and KUNÉ, Canada’s Global Orchestra, noting that both groups are featured in performance at Koerner Hall on April 7. I have also received – from restaurateur Oğuz Koloğlu, proprietor of Café 808 – a CD by Toronto-based Turkish clarinetist and saxophonist Selcuk Suna (selcuksuna.com), who will be performing with KUNÉ. The disc, Turkish Standards//Non Standard, is quite eclectic. From the lush but breakneck moto perpetuo opening track Hicaz Mandira it progresses through some smooth jazz (but still with busy, virtuosic melody lines), touches of funk and evocations of Turkish clubs replete with belly dance rhythms. The core band consists of familiars Eric St. Laurent, Tyler Emond, Todd Pentney and Max Senitt and is complemented by a number of guest artists from the Turkish community. I’m a bit frustrated by the lack of detailed information on the disc or on Suna’s website – for instance I tried to find out about the vocalist Dia, but the only hits I got online were for a South Korean Kpop girl group whom I’m pretty sure this is not. Nevertheless the disc kept me grooving in my chair.

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07 Food ForagersThe last disc I will mention takes me even further afield and I don’t even know what section I would have put it in – Contemporary? Improvised? Pot Pourri? – if I wasn’t covering it here. Food Foragers came to us from Unit Records in Switzerland (unitrecords.com). The press release says this is the first Duo release of Mark Lotz (flutes and effects) and squeakologist Alan Purves. “Music that sparkles with imagination and is free from conventions.” It certainly is that. One might ask what exactly a squeakologist is. A partial answer is in the list of the instruments Purves employs: toy accordion; DADA bells; balaphon, sruti boxes; toy horns; klaxon; tin whistle; brim bram; and one of my favourites, toy pigs. Although Lotz’s arsenal is more traditional, he also pushes the envelope, focusing on the extreme end of the flute family: bass flute headjoint; bass flute tongue slaps; concert flute body; prepared flute; bamboo flute; piccolo and even PVC contrabass flute. As for the music, I simply don’t know how to describe it. From melodic flute lines floating over kalimba-like ostinati in Abu in the Sky, to rhythminc grunting in Hog Time, deep heartbeat-like pulsations in the meditative Echoes Of A Life Hereafter and the playful piccolo/toy accordion duet Piepkuiken, to mention just the first four tracks, there’s never a dull moment. Some of the influences listed include traditional songs from Mali, Chick Corea’s Children’s Songs and Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition (1914-17). After a truly wondrous journey a final highlight is the concluding I’m So Sorry Blues, a standard 12-bar riff pairing the contrabass with tin whistles. Intriguing!

01 de Raaff Jaap van ZwedenIn recent months I’ve written about Elliott Carter and George Crumb, two giants of 20th-century composition whom I had the opportunity to meet through my position as general manager of New Music Concerts and my association with founding director Robert Aitken. Over the past two decades, I’ve also had the opportunity to meet innumerable outstanding mid-career and emerging composers. Further on in these pages you will find Michael Schulman’s review of two new releases by a Dutch composer recently featured by New Music Concerts, Robin de Raaff, who celebrated his 49th birthday while in Toronto. De Raaff’s star is definitely on the rise, with numerous significant commissions in recent years in both Europe and North America, including the upcoming premiere of a chamber version of his Second Violin Concerto “North Atlantic Light” at Carnegie Hall in June. It is rare enough for any composer to have two recordings released in a single year, but in fact de Raaff has had three. The one I kept for myself is the latest of four etcetera discs devoted to orchestral and operatic works of this outstanding composer. Jaap van Zweden conducts Robin de Raaff (KTC 1593 etcetera-records.com) – includes his Violin Concerto and Symphony No.1 “Tanglewood Tales” performed by the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest. The violin soloist is Tasmin Little, for whom the concerto was intended.

Reclassified as Violin Concerto No.1 “Angelic Echoes” to reflect the fact that de Raaff is currently at work on a second concerto, I am actually pleased that this recording did not include the subtitle because I like my first listenings to be unencumbered by programmatic references or musicological explanations. So I was listening blind, so to speak, when I first encountered this work. Right from its opening notes I had the distinct impression that I was hearing an homage to one of the great concertos of the past century, and one of my favourite works, Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto – “To the Memory of an Angel.” Reading the comprehensive notes (from two different recordings) later confirmed this for me, and further explained how de Raaff had accomplished this by mirroring Berg’s composition without directly referencing his melodic material. Where Berg had used a Bach chorale, de Raaff composed one of his own and then treated it in a similar fashion. In both works the notes of the open strings of the violin – a cycle of fifths – play an important role, and by stacking these (G-D-A-E) de Raaff takes the interval of a sixth thus created (G to E) to derive much of the material for his piece. Open strings also play another important role in that he has the second violin section of the orchestra tune a semitone below the pitch of the first violins (F-sharp-C-sharp-G-sharp-D-sharp), giving eight (instead of the usual four open pitches) and increasing the overtone possibilities accordingly. Inspired by techniques from Gregorian Chant, de Raaff uses these overtones to create “angelic” countermelodies which seem to arise out of the orchestral textures. In another parallel to Berg’s iconic work – dedicated to the memory of Manon Gropius, daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius – de Raaff uses his work to eulogize a close friend who died during its composition. Saxophonist William Raaijman is immortalized with the unexpected entry of two alto saxes towards the end of the concerto. Like its forebear, this is a gorgeous work, and beautifully played.

De Raaff has had an ongoing relationship with Tanglewood – the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra – since his first residency there in 2000. There have been five subsequent visits, most recently in 2015. Symphony No.1 began as a single-movement work titled Entangled Tales, premiered by the BSO at Koussevitsky Shed, Tanglewood’s premier venue, in 2007. He later added an introductory prequel Untangled Tales in 2011 and ultimately a brief coda was added in 2016. The title refers to a book by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys, which he wrote while living in a cottage near Tanglewood in 1853. Hawthorne retells several Greek myths but de Raaff’s tales are more topical, depicting the site of the summer music festival before and during public performances. The quiet opening portrays the landscape of the estate during which we hear fragments from various rehearsal studios, providing a preview and in a sense an “untangling” of the material which will be developed in the second movement. The subsequent “tangled tales” are livelier, more energetic and complex. The coda returns to the overall sensibility of the first movement, but with a somewhat heightened sense of colour and light.

I treasure the time that I spent with Robin de Raaff during his recent visit to Toronto, especially an evening of socializing at which I got to share some of my own music-making. It was also enlightening to experience the extensive preparations involved in advance of the performance of de Raaff’s extremely complex Percussion Concerto with soloist Ryan Scott and the New Music Concerts Ensemble under Aitken’s direction. This work has had numerous previous performances and has entered the canon of contemporary repertoire, but de Raaff assured us that the Toronto performance was the best yet. Having had the opportunity to get to know one of his more recent pieces so intimately, it was a great pleasure to get to know some of his earlier work on this very fine CD.

02 UTS RemembersI Remember, featuring University of Toronto Schools Alumni Musicians and Friends (Cambia CD-1247 cambriamus.com), showcases performers, composers and teachers associated with the independent secondary school (Grades 7 through 12) affiliated with the University of Toronto. The music is a range of chestnuts by the likes of Scriabin, Brahms, Dukas and Dvořák, along with premiere recordings of original music by Canadian composers Alexander Rapoport (composer-in-residence at UTS), Ronald Royer (alumnus and UTS music teacher), Sarah Shugarman (UTS music teacher), Alex Eddington (UTS alumnus and TDSB teacher) and Billy Bao (who graduated UTS in 2014 and is now doing a major in Music Performance and a minor in Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University). Bao is featured as both composer and performer. Other performers include outstanding current UTS students and recent graduates, plus two of Canada’s most distinguished musicians, alumni James Sommerville (horn) and David Fallis (singer, conductor, and in this case, narrator).

I Remember is a charming mix of music new and old, performed with precision, passion and aplomb by these fine (mostly) young musicians. Of course the classical selections are beyond reproach, but the highlights for me are the new works: Shugarman’s Carousel, a canon-like piece for three violins, two cellos and bass; Rapoport’s dark but lush Walberauscht for horn and piano, which he says means “intoxicated by the forest;” Danzon by Royer, a movement from the larger suite Dances with Time in an arrangement for two violins, cello and piano; Eddington’s playful Bubblegum Delicious (on poetry by another UTS alumnus, Dennis Lee) for soprano and small ensemble with narrator; and Billy Bao’s virtuosic Dance, a brief but thrilling duet for violin and cello. Although there is nothing here that would be considered cutting edge or challenging new music, it is important that the curriculum at UTS is emphasizing to the students that “classical” composers are alive and well, and living in Canada!

I Remember provides not only a “reminder” but also ample evidence of the importance of inspiring and nurturing young performers and the efficacy of doing so within the school curriculum. Bravo to UTS. Let them be an example for us all, especially for the powers that be who make decisions about arts and education. I hope copies will be sent to all the MPPs at Queen’s Park.

As the editor of DISCoveries, I see all of the CDs and DVDs received here at The WholeNote – and believe me, that is quite a number, far more than we can cover each month. For instance, there are more than 75 discs covered in this edition, and that is only about half of the number under consideration. I have noticed in recent months an exceptional rise in the number of local and Canadian, mostly independent, jazz releases. In our last issue we covered 24 jazz titles and further on in these pages you’ll find another 17. And I still find a backlog of local content waiting for attention. With this in mind, and take it as a disclaimer if you like, as is occasionally the case I am about to venture outside my comfort zone and report on (an important distinction from reviewing) a few of these neglected titles. So with that caveat, here are some discs that I found of interest this month.

03 Jody ProznickYou will find Raul da Gama’s take on Laila Biali’s excellent eponymous disc in the Pot Pourri section of this issue, but she is also present on a very strong jazz release from stalwart Vancouver acoustic bass player Jodi Proznick, Sun Songs (Cellar Live CL010118 cellarlive.com). Biali’s vocals are supported by Proznick’s usual quartet, rhythm section partners pianist Tilden Webb and drummer Jesse Cahill, complemented by the melodic alto and soprano sax lines of Steve Kaldestad. The album features eight original Proznick songs, three with co-writers, and her arrangement of Stephin Merritt’s The Book of Love. The overall feel of this disc is gentle and melodic and with its emphasis on lyrical songs could be construed as an amalgam of jazz and pop, but to my ear this falls firmly in the jazz camp with no compromise to the world of popular music. Highly recommended.

04 Bethany ProjectThe Bethany Project (iliosjazz.ca) is the brainchild of Toronto-based drummer and composer Ilios Steryannis, who spent his formative years in Bethany, ON “where it snowed a lot, we had a big old fashioned radio, and I loved to gaze up at the stars in the beautiful night sky…” There are 11 original tunes which each have a particular focus and personal link for Steryannis. From the opening The Group of 7 which turns out not to have anything to do with the art collective of that name, but rather refers to the Afro-Cuban groove in 7/4 time over which its melodies soar, through to the closing Soledad, inspired by the Gabriel García Márquez novel 100 Years of Solitude, there are many moods and tributes along the way. The one thing that is consistent throughout is the funky sensibility. And consummate musicianship from contributors Sundar Viswanathan (alto and soprano saxophones), Kenny Kirkwood (baritone sax), Connor Walsh (acoustic and electric bass), Joel Visentin (Hammond organ), Scott Neary (guitar) and Adam Hay and Larry Graves on sundry percussion. While primarily Latin in feel, other influences include John Coltrane, John Scofield and Joe Henderson, music of Steryannis’ Greek heritage and African beats from Kenya and Cameroon. Hard to sit still while this CD is on the player!

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05 Terrry Gomes Tropical DreamAnother disc that lifted my spirits and kept me grooving through the bitterly cold days of early January was The Tropical Dream, a concept album from Ottawa guitarist Terry Gomes (terrygomes.com). With a degree in classical guitar and composition, Gomes is quite an eclectic musician, having worked in rock bands, a classical guitar/flute duo and as a singer/songwriter. On this outing he has surrounded himself with a host of diverse musicians playing a range of percussion instruments, horns, piano, Paraguayan harp, basses, cello, steel pan and vocalizations to complement his own guitars and keyboards. Gomes says “If you live all or part of the year in a cold climate, chances are that you have some sort of tropical dream. This one is mine.” This is music that keeps you moving, although not always at a frenetic pace – there are occasional respites and a beautiful bossa ballad. The Tropical Dream would be a perfect accompaniment to a pitcher of margaritas or your favourite umbrella drink. I for one was happy to be on board with Gomes on this island cruise.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website, thewholenote.com, where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples, upcoming performance details and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

01 George CrumbLast month a CD of late works by Elliott Carter gave me occasion to muse about the brushes with greatness I have been privileged with, thanks to my relationship with New Music Concerts. A new CD – Complete George Crumb Edition Volume 18 (BRIDGE 9476 bridgerecords.com) – gives me that opportunity once again. Although it seems more recent, I realize it has been more than a dozen years since George Crumb was last in Toronto as the guest of NMC. For several decades after NMC’s founding in 1971, a tradition developed that Crumb’s new works would receive their second performances in Toronto; in the case of the celebrated Idyll for the Misbegotten for amplified flute and three percussionists, dedicated to Robert Aitken, this city was the location of its world premiere. That tradition continued in 2003 when the composer’s daughter Ann Crumb sang the Canadian premiere of the recently composed …Unto the Hills, Songs of Sadness, Yearning and Innocence, with the New Music Concerts ensemble.

On that occasion it was my great pleasure to spend several days in the company of the 74-year-old composer and his family. In the intervening years Crumb has not slowed down much, as this disc attests, with a new work from 2012 – The Yellow Moon of Andalusia, Spanish Songbook III for Mezzo-Soprano and Amplified Piano – and recently revised versions of 1979’s Celestial Mechanics, Cosmic Dances for Amplified Piano, Four Hands and Yesteryear, A Vocalise for Mezzo-Soprano, Amplified Piano and Percussion originally written in 2005. Central to the disc is a 2001 composition, Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik, A Little Midnight Music, Ruminations on ‘Round Midnight by Thelonious Monk for Amplified Piano, a nine-movement tribute to both Monk and Mozart performed by Marcantonio Barone. Amplification is one of the key elements of Crumb’s music, not to make it louder per se, but to make audible some of the subtle effects that the performers are called upon to execute, be it whistle tones on a flute or plucked notes or pedalled washes of harmonics inside the piano. This is very much a part of the Mitternachtmusik, along with other Crumb signature sounds and techniques, from dramatic knocks on the piano’s frame to shimmering glissandi on the strings, gentle melodies juxtaposed with brash interjections – veritable explosions of sound – and vocalizations from the pianist. Crumb’s characteristically descriptive movement titles include Cobweb and Peaseblossom; Incantation; Golliwog Revisited (with a nod to Debussy) and Cadenza with Tolling Bells.

There is another personal connection for me on this recording. The soprano in the two vocal works is Tony Arnold, who performed a stunning rendition of György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments with violinist Movses Pogossian for New Music Concerts at Gallery 345 last season. Arnold is no stranger to Crumb’s music – she received a Grammy nomination for her performance of Ancient Voices of Children – and is in fact the dedicatee of Yesteryear. That title was inspired by a line from François Villon, “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan,” rendered most famously into English by Dante Gabriel Rosetti as “But where are the snows of yesteryear?,” a line declaimed and later whispered in the original archaic French toward the end of the 11-minute work. As the composer’s preface tells us, “the singer is vainly searching for her lost youth and beauty and laments their inevitable erosion by the relentless passage of time.” There is some ritual involved in the performance, as is often the case in Crumb’s music. In this instance, over the duration of the piece the singer moves between nine stations – spread around the concert hall in the original version but restricted to the stage in the 2013 revision.

Both Yesteryear and The Yellow Moon of Andalusia are first recordings. In the latter, Crumb returns to the poetry of Federico García Lorca, which has been the inspiration for many of his works since the 1960s, including the above-mentioned Ancient Voices of Children. While the earlier works used the original Spanish, here Crumb sets English translations of the poems. The comprehensive booklet includes both the originals and the translations. We have to thank Bridge Records for their thoroughness, not only in the preparation of this recording, which also includes the piano duo Quattro Mani and percussionists David Nelson and William Kerrigan, but for undertaking such an exhaustive catalogue of works by one of the unique voices of our time.

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02 Jordan PalI am pleased to note that this month we have reviews of four Analekta discs, and that they all feature contemporary (or at least 20th-century in the case of André Mathieu) composers. I point this out because although this Quebec label is highly respected for its releases, for the most part they stick to more conventionally classical repertoire, even though some of their artists are renowned for their commitment to contemporary music. The Gryphon Trio has been a major “exception to this rule.” The Gryphon’s 19-title discography includes half a dozen Analekta releases of contemporary music, so kudos to them. The most recent of these is Into the Wonder (AN 2 9521 analekta.com), on which they join the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arthur Post to perform the music of Jordan Pal. Described by Ludwig van Toronto as “the country’s current it-boy composer,” at 34, Pal is currently the RBC affiliate composer of the Toronto Symphony and his music has been performed by every significant orchestra across Canada.

Starling – Triple concerto for violin, cello, piano and orchestra was commissioned by the Gryphon Trio and the Thunder Bay Symphony in 2013. It is a scintillating work in three movements, opening with an orchestral flourish that develops into a 15-minute flight, a “murmuration” with only brief moments of respite, mostly in the form of lyrical cadenzas from the solo trio. It is exhilarating how Pal sustains the momentum throughout. The Largo second movement begins in dark brass timbres that once again give way to gorgeously lyrical passages from the soloists, especially in the cello lines. But one word of caution, or at least a cautionary tale for me. Many years ago I discovered how close the sound of a cello can be to that of a saxophone when I first heard Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto No.2. About midway through, the solo cello gives way to an alto saxophone cadenza so seamlessly that it takes several seconds for the ear to recognize what has just gone on. I had a similar experience when I first listened to Starling, which I did on small computer speakers. I was convinced I was hearing saxophone at several points in the recording and emailed Pal to ask if this was the case because I did not see any saxophonists credited in the list of orchestra members. He assured me that he had not included saxophone in the instrumentation and subsequent listening on proper speakers has confirmed this. That’s why I make a point of listening on my stereo system before passing judgement on discs – basic computer systems simply don’t provide accurate sound. The finale, Presto – Electric and Wild is simply that, a moto perpetuo once again reminiscent of a thousand starlings soaring and swirling together in the sky.

I think I will let the composer speak for himself about the title piece, also commissioned by the TBSO, which at half an hour comprises just under half of the disc. “Into the Wonder celebrates the creative will of our universe. Evoking birth and death, creation and destruction, universal interconnectedness and the rapture of love, this piece seeks to capture the mystery, awe and wonder of life. Nature’s own great works of art are reminders that we are a part of this magnificent range of possibilities, that we are part of something much greater. This symphony celebrates all that is beautiful.” Is this simply the naïve vision of a young man couched in slick orchestral finery? This is certainly not “new music” in the sense of Carter or Crumb, but it is genuinely attractive, well-crafted and brilliantly executed. Does it succeed in its aspirations? I welcome you to judge for yourselves.

Listen to 'Into the Wonder' Now in the Listening Room

03 Margaret MariaI’m not normally drawn to so-called new age music, and I think that’s the category cellist Margaret Maria’s Carried by an Angel would most naturally fall into, yet I find myself drawn to it. In 2011 Margaret Maria Tobolowska left the position she held with the National Arts Centre Orchestra for a dozen years to pursue a solo career as cellist and chamber musician, composer and producer. I must confess that I was a little off-put by the statement on the cover of the promotional copy of the disc I received: “The beauty of the Archangel Raffaele, the bringer of healing, comfort and compassion has been brought to me. The music is full of energy that heals, sings, dances on the edge of winged spirits and brings such indescribable beauty in colours that shimmer and are full of love.” I am not a believer in angels, nor spiritual healing and at first did not think I should be the one to comment on the disc. But as a cellist, and lover of many diverse sorts of music, I gave it a try, and then another. It is ostensibly a solo cello disc, but more accurately, a solo cellist disc. There are many layerings of lines that together produce dense and lush melodic textures, a lovely wash of sound that is warm and immersive. The overall effect is orchestral, but in a unique way since all of the sounds are made by cello, with some computer processing, so there is a welcoming homophony. To me it is reminiscent of the music of Arvo Pärt if you imagine a piece like Spiegel im Spiegel on an orchestral scale. If you are curious, you can check our Margaret Maria’s website (enchanten.com) and her Enchanten channel on YouTube.

04 George LiAnd a quick final note. 2015 Silver Medalist in the International Tchaikovsky Competition George Li has just released his inaugural CD, Live at the Mariinsky (Warner Classics 0190295812942). It was recorded in St. Petersburg one year ago and it features exactly the same repertoire the young superstar performed in Vancouver in October and will perform again in Toronto in February: piano sonatas by Haydn (Hob.XVI:32) and Chopin (Op.35), Rachmaninov’s Variations on a theme of Corelli, and Liszt’s Consolation No.3 and Hungarian Rhapsody No.2. I am a little surprised that the CD booklet, which includes an extended article about the repertoire by Jed Distler in three languages, contains not a word about this fabulous young performer. There is lots of information available on his own website however – georgelipianist.com – including such tidbits as he made his first public performance at the age of ten (2005) at Boston’s Steinway Hall, and in 2011 performed for president Obama at the White House in an evening honouring Chancellor Angela Merkel. If the disc is any indication, the concert will be a barnburner not to be missed by the cognoscenti. Now, if he could just find time to learn some new repertoire!

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website thewholenote.com where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples, upcoming performance details and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

01 Vincent HoSeveral months ago in this column, in reference to Harry Freedman’s orchestral works, I noted that “I grew up understanding that what [identified] Canadian music as Canadian [were] aural landscapes reminiscent of the north, stark and angular, crisp and rugged, but at the same time lush and evocative.” I had that feeling again listening to The Shaman / Arctic Symphony – Orchestral Music of Vincent Ho (Centrediscs CMCCD 24317) featuring the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, of which Ho was the composer-in-residence between 2007 and 2014. The WSO performs both works under the direction of Alexander Mickelthwate. The Shaman is a percussion concerto written for Dame Evelyn Glennie who premiered it during the WSO’s New Music Festival in 2011, the performance recorded here. It is a stunning work, in the words of John Corigliano who wrote the Foreword to the booklet notes: “a work that set an atmosphere of magical stillness, with the soloist evoking unearthly sounds – wolf calls, shimmering colours, and the lightest of orchestral textures. [… In the second movement] Vincent has written a heavenly theme with almost no accompaniment by the orchestra. It goes to the heart, and is simple without ever being simple-minded. [… The final movement] grows into a primitive drum-led dance that is wild and relentless […] The Shaman should be played often!” Glowing praise indeed from one of the most significant mainstream American composers of our time.

Although he is now an accomplished mid-career composer as his residencies (he is currently the artistic director of Calgary’s Land’s End Ensemble) and accolades testify, I can’t help thinking of Ho (b.1975) as a young composer. I first encountered his music in the summer of 1999 at the Strings of the Future workshop in Ottawa, where the iconic Arditti Quartet was reading through a number of fledgling works. Ho’s String Quartet No.1 made a lasting impression on me and went on to win a SOCAN Award. It was premiered during the November 2000 Massey Hall New Music Festival by the Composers Quartet. You can check it out on Soundcloud and judge for yourself.

At nearly 40 minutes, Ho’s Arctic Symphony is a mammoth, fully mature work. Written after a residency with the Circumpolar Flaw Lead System Study aboard the arctic research vessel CCGS Amundsen in 2008, the five-movement work is a dramatic depiction of Canada’s North and its Northern peoples. Ho writes of witnessing the interaction of scientists and Inuit elders as they shared valuable information about climate change and how it is affecting the culture and way of life in Indigenous communities. It opens with the haunting Prelude – Lamentations which starts with the eerie sounds of tundra winds and an Inuit welcome song performed by Nunavut Sivuniksavut Performers. As the song fades, the orchestra enters with a quiet shimmering cymbal and dark string textures reminiscent of that wind. Among the dramatic effects is an extended unison melody in the double basses juxtaposed with pointillist piano and interpolations from an extensive percussion battery. Three short, descriptively titled movements follow – Meditation, Aboard the Amundsen and Nightfall – during which Ho’s brilliant orchestration creates vivid pictures drawing on the full resources of the modern orchestra. Towards the end of the fourth movement however, all grows calm and a muted, vibrato-less solo strings chorale is heard, in the distance as it were, somewhat like the fleeting appearance of a theme from Death and the Maiden in George Crumb’s Black Angels for electric string quartet. The extended final movement O Glorious Arcticus – Postlude begins with quiet strings again but builds gradually to a rousing middle section, kind of a Northern take on Copland’s Rodeo or Weinzweig’s Barn Dance from The Red Ear of Corn. This too gradually passes as the work slows and diminishes, giving way to the sound of the wind again and the return of the Indigenous choir singing the joyous Inuit Sivuniksangat – The Future of Inuit by Sylvia Clouthier, the final lines of which are translated as “There is strength in who we are / We mustn’t forget that we are in this together.” A sentiment we would all do well to keep in mind.

These are two important additions to Canada’s orchestral repertoire and to paraphrase Corigliano, they should be played often. Kudos to Ho, to the WSO for recognizing and fostering his potential and to Centrediscs for a fabulous recording.

One of the perks of working at (my day job) New Music Concerts – beyond the privilege of daily contact with one of this nation’s foremost artists, Robert Aitken – is getting to meet some of the most brilliant minds in the field of contemporary music from around the world. Among my most cherished memories is the time spent with the late Elliott Carter (1908-2012) during several of his visits to Toronto, the last of which took place on the occasion of his 97th birthday. Arrangements were in place to bring him back five years later for a concert celebrating his 102nd, but a major snow storm in New York City curtailed his travel plans and we had to present the historic concert in Carter’s absence. On that occasion Carter’s associate Virgil Blackwell gave the very first performance of Concertino for bass clarinet and ensemble and Aitken gave the Canadian premiere of his Flute Concerto. Carter died in November 2012, just a month before his 104th birthday, and since that time New Music Concerts has presented one of his late works each December in honour of the iconic composer who took part in our concerts on seven occasions over the years.

02 Elliott CarterAnd this brings me to a new Ondine release, Elliott Carter – Late Works (ODE 1296-2), which features among its titles several pieces presented by New Music Concerts in the past decade. Dialogues (2003) for piano and ensemble is here performed by pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, along with Epigrams (2012) for piano trio, which features Aimard with Isabelle Faust and Jean-Guihen Queyras. Aimard, a frequent Carter collaborator, is also featured with the Birmingham group in Dialogues II (2010) and, with percussionist Colin Currie, on Two Controversies and a Conversation (2011) for piano, percussion and chamber ensemble, plus Interventions (2007) and Soundings (2005) with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Oliver Knussen’s direction. The brief orchestral work Instances, from Carter’s final year, completes the disc.

In his later years, Carter’s music became a bit less craggy and unapproachable, although he never joined the ranks of “friendly music” composers. As Robert Aitken likes to say, good music “must challenge someone – the composer, the performer, the listener; preferably all three” and Carter’s music certainly continued to do that to the end. Back in 1990, before I joined the New Music Concerts team, I had the privilege of attending two rehearsals and a performance of the Canadian premiere of the String Quartet No.4 (1986) by Accordes. I was amazed that at each listening the work sounded unfamiliar, as if I had never heard it before. There were simply no touchstones for my relatively unsophisticated ears to grasp onto in the complexity of the score where seemingly each of the four parts moved independently.

As I say, there is no compromise in the late works, but somehow they do not seem as daunting. Perhaps it is my own development over the past two and a half decades, but I do think that the music itself also changed, becoming more genial and perhaps warmer. A case in point is the Two Controversies and a Conversation, which began as a single-movement concerto for piano and percussion, to which the two brief introductory movements were added at the invitation of Knussen. There is both playfulness and tension, harmony and discord. As the comprehensive notes by John Link tell us, “… from the final movement’s opening chords, the soloists quickly separate to engage in rapid fire exchanges with the orchestra and each other. The pianist proposes slow music, but is diverted by auto-horn-like blasts in the orchestra, which lead to a pianistic scherzando. Undaunted the piano returns to its rhapsodic music, speeding up and slowing down in long phrases that enact a would-be reconciliation […] The final gesture leaves the two conversationalists both far apart and exactly together.” This also happens time and again in my favourite piece on this disc, Epigrams, in 12 brief movements lasting just 14 minutes. I wonder if my comfort level is a result of having heard Stephen Sitarski, David Hetherington and Gregory Oh play it on a New Music Concert back in December 2014. Is it possible that Carter’s music can sound familiar after all? This new disc is a wonderful way to find out for yourself.

03 Eliana CuevasOne of the loveliest World/pop-inflected discs to cross my desk in recent memory is Golpes y Flores by singer-songwriter Eliana Cuevas, who has made her home in Toronto for the last two decades. Released by Alma Records (ACD98172 almarecords.com), the disc is dedicated to her two daughters and her native country, Venezuela. Afro-Venezuelan rhythms permeate the entire project, which comprises seven Cuevas original tunes and three she co-wrote with producer/keyboardist Jeremy Ledbetter who also did the arrangements. Central to the recording is Yonathan “Morocho” Gavidia and several percussionist colleagues who Cuevas met through Aquiles Báez, a Venezuelan guitar-and-quatroist who performed in Toronto last year and who is also featured here on several tracks.

I confess I am at a disadvantage in that, although lyrics are included in the booklet, there are no translations and I don’t have much of a Spanish vocabulary. Fortunately the press release that accompanied my copy of the disc includes an explanation of the title. Cuevas says “‘Golpes’ means hit, often referring to rhythms, while ‘flores’ means flowers. To me, the title suggests a combination of the sophistication, beauty and gentleness of flowers and the strength and force of the Afro-Venezuelan rhythms.” There is one song in English, A Tear on the Ground, inspired by a visit to India, where Cuevas “spent a few days doing yoga at an ashram that was right by a lake that had a sign warning people to be careful of the crocodiles.” The song includes the lyric “crocodiles will swim in our tears / and our hearts will pound together without fear,” giving a new take on the phrase “crocodile tears.”

In addition to a number of Venezuelan musicians there are several familiar names from the local jazz scene including Mark Kelso, Rich Brown, George Koller and Daniel Stone. As mentioned, infectious rhythms abound and it’s hard to sit still while listening. One exception is the lush and lovely Mi Linda Maita inspired by Cuevas’ grandmother. With rich string sonorities and Cuevas’ pure voice it is breathtaking, but even here we end up swaying to the beat that builds as the song develops. Golpes y Flores, her fifth release, will further cement Cuevas’ place in Toronto’s World Music firmament and, I expect, will go a long way in bolstering her international career. It is a dandy!

Concert Note: The Eliana Cuevas Ensemble performs at the Rex, 198 Queen St. W. on January 4 and 5 at 9:30pm and at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on January 10 (one set only at 5:30pm; free).

04 Cory WeedsI will briefly mention one more pop-inspired disc that I’ve been enjoying this month, Let’s Groove: The Music of Earth, Wind & Fire, Cory Weeds’ latest venture on his Cellar Live label (CL041017 cellarlive.com). First off, I love the cover. I don’t know if it will come through in the miniature version shown here, but it’s worth a trip to the website just to check it out. I’m not sure it would be safe to “groove” in those oversized shoes, but it’s a great picture! The project was the brainchild of pianist and organist Mike LeDonne who did the arrangements of the iconic R&B band’s tunes and plays soulful and funky Hammond organ throughout. I was always a sucker for EWF vocal gymnastics, missed here, but the saxophones of Weeds (alto) and colleague Steve Kaldestad (tenor) are a satisfying substitute, especially their tight harmonies in unison passages and the flights of fancy in their solos. The excellent rhythm section includes LeDonne’s longtime associate drummer Jason Tiemann, percussionist Liam MacDonald and guitarist Dave Sikula. My favourites are the title track, Getaway and Shining Star. If you’re in the mood to Groove, you can’t top this.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website thewholenote.com where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples, upcoming performance details and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

Review

01 Tafelmusik Beethoven 1 9Last month saw the release of a compiliation of recordings of Beethoven – Symphonies 1-9 featuring Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir under the direction of Bruno Weil (TMK1034CD tafelmusik.org). All of the symphonies, recorded live at the George Weston Recital Hall (Nos.5 & 6 in 2004, 7 & 8 in 2008, for Analekta) and Koerner Hall (Nos.3 & 4 in 2012, 1 & 2 in 2013 and No.9 in 2016 for Tafelmusik Media), have been previously available but are here collected in an attactively priced boxed-set. Here’s what our reviewers had to say of the original releases:

Symphonies 1-4: Bruno Weil, a longtime collaborator with the orchestra, draws a finely articulated and transparent response from the rarely seen Tafelmusik podium. The performances of the first two symphonies, though rich in detail, seem to take their time to fully blossom. […] though it gradually becomes evident that Weil is a master of the slow burn […] with a pair of powerful and scintillating finales. The renderings of the Third and Fourth Symphonies can be recommended without qualification; both are superb throughout. Daniel Foley, June 2014

Symphonies 5 & 6: Tafelmusik […] seem ever confident of bringing a revitalizing touch to works we’ve known intimately for a lifetime […] The strings are sparse and largely straight-toned, revealing surprising hues of colour in the wind parts. After years of big romantic orchestra performances this sound is wonderfully new, especially in the second and third movement of the Sixth Symphony. Their fourth movement “storm” is delightfully bad weather, reminiscent of The Four Seasons and the finale offers a slightly slower tempo than usually heard but works well nevertheless. […] It’s been a long time since Five and Six sounded so new. Alex Baran, May 2005.

Symphonies 7 & 8: Their bright and animated approach brings a breath of fresh air to these familiar pieces. David Olds, December 2008

Symphony No.9: Make no mistake – Tafelmusik sounds just as powerful as any contemporary symphony orchestra. It builds the momentum of the emotional narrative with conviction, starting from the solemn D-Minor theme of the first movement all the way to the jubilant ending of the fourth in D Major. Tafelmusik Chamber Choir and soloists – Sigrid Plundrich, Mary-Ellen Nesi, Colin Balzer and Simon Tischler – are all superb in bringing out the purity and drama of Beethoven’s music. Ivana Popovic, October 2016.

So all in all, reviews are favourable and at $40 for the complete set this collection should not be missed. The booklet includes bilingual biographical notes, an appreciation by conductor Bruno Weil, reflections on the journey with Weil during the more than decade-long project by music director Jeanne Lamon and extensive program notes by Allen Whear. As Tafelmusik launches its first season under the direction of Elisa Citterio this release provides a fitting monument to the orchestra’s first three decades under Lamon’s guiding hand.

While I’m looking into the past through rose-coloured glasses, here’s what I wrote about Toronto guitarist William Beauvais’ suite Appalachian Colours – Gold; Red; Green; Blue from his Old Wood – New Seeds when I reviewed it back in June 2016. “...evidently inspired not by Copland’s Appalachian Spring, but rather by that iconic American composer’s orchestral suite Rodeo. From the contemplative opening movement through the lilting second and the lullaby-like third, our attention is held by the lush colours Beauvais draws from his instrument. The gently ebullient final movement, glistening like sunlight off the surface of a rippling lake, held me wrapped in its thrall from start to finish.” In the program note in the version published by the Canadian Music Centre Beauvais says “This work is dedicated to Emma Rush, the very fine guitarist from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Upon discovering that we both had a great affection for Gerald Garcia’s Esquisse 17 - Tournesol – I felt a certain comradeship.”

02 Emma RushNow, just over a year later, we are presented with a performance by the dedicatee on Canadiana – Emma Rush, guitar (guitarhamilton.com), a disc supported in part by Hamilton’s City Enrichment Fund. Rush tells us that the suite “uses a partial capo to provide a sense of open tuning, along with employing elements of finger-style guitar playing, bluegrass, and ragtime music.” My initial impressions of Appalachian Colours remain unchanged with this new recording, which as you might expect from composed music does not differ much from the version presented by Beauvais. But Rush has obviously spent enough time with the luscious suite to make it her own. The tempos vary slightly, with the dreamlike opening movement just a bit slower and the tumbling finale a shade quicker.

The remainder of the disc is comprised of Floyd Turner arrangements of songs by iconic Canadian folk singer-songwriters Joni Mitchell (Blue and Marcie), Gordon Lightfoot (Pussywillows, Cat-tails and Canadian Railroad Trilogy) and Stan Rogers (Northwest Passage). All are beautifully crafted and masterfully performed, with Blue and the Trilogy being personal favourites. Rush’s technique is flawless throughout, with no extraneous finger noise and much attention to nuance. My only complaint is that from this evidence one might conclude that all Canadian folk songs are dreamy or introspective, written in a slow to moderate tempo, with an almost lullaby feel. I would have enjoyed the inclusion of something a bit livelier, for instance Mitchell’s Carey or Rogers’ Watching the Apples Grow.

03 Patricia CanoOne of the most enjoyable theatrical experiences I’ve had in a long time was Tomson Highway’s one-woman musical The (Post) Mistress last November at the Berkeley Street Theater. It featured Patricia Cano (patriciacano.com) who went on to win the Toronto Theatre Critics Award for Best Actress in a Musical. On October 4 at Lula Lounge Cano will launch her multilingual new CD Madre Amiga Hermana (Mother Friend Sister). While Highway’s production was in French, English and Cree, in the current release the Sudbury-based Peruvian-Canadian adds the Spanish, and in one case (Terre Mère), Indigenous Quechua language, of her motherland. The overall mood of the CD is joyous, replete with samba rhythms, contemporary jazz and soul, plus a smattering of nostalgia and thoughtful ballads, culminating in the anthemic Woman on the Rise.

The welcoming opening track, Caminando, has a Spanish chorus and English verses telling a love story that culminates in the birth of a (we assume her) son, and the lines “I was so grateful for the fateful day back when / all the stars aligned and you and I / collided into love.” This is followed by the French-language Juana Guerrière, “an honour song for my great grandmother…a beautiful strong and resilient woman of Afro-Peruvian descent.” Over an infectious ostinato Cano tells the story of a decades’ long courtship – resulting in seven children – with an unscrupulous white man who eventually turns out to be already married with six “legitimate” offspring. Mi Maru is a beautiful Spanish ballad written “to record my son’s first words (water, owl, more, and his favourite word of all, ‘caca’).”

Featured prominently on the album is an awesome rhythm section comprised of longtime associates Kevin Barrett (guitar), Paco Luviano (bass), Luis Orbegoso (percussion and vocals) and Carlos Bernardo, a Paris-based Brazilian guitarist and composer. The booklet contains lyrics for the original songs – the three outlined above with words and music by Cano and six co-written with Orbegoso or Bernardo – although no translations are included except from the Quechua into Spanish. The two covers are the lyrical Bridges (Travessia) by Milton Nascimento (sung in English with words translated by Gene Lees from the original by Fernando Brant) and the gentle thanksgiving Gracias a la Vida by Violeta Parra (1917-1967), a Chilean composer, songwriter, folklorist, ethnomusicologist and visual artist.

Cano invites us on a beautiful, and personal, journey; she is a wonderful guide and a wondrous talent.

There are likely many instruments in this world with which I am unfamiliar, but now I can scratch santur off the list. Wikipedia – and yes I do make a small monthly donation to the Wikipedia Foundation – tells me that “The santur (also santūr, santour, santoor) is a hammered dulcimer of Persian/Iranic origins” and that the term originally meant “100 strings.” I’m not sure that is meant literally, but the instrument does boast 18 bridges dividing a plethora of strings. I am more aware of the santur’s European counterparts the cimbalom (Hungary) and the hackbrett (Germany and Austria) used in concert works by Kodály, Stravinsky, Boulez, Kurtág and Eötvös, and with its American cousin, simply named the hammered dulcimer, heard in Appalachian folk music.

Review

04 Sina BathaieThis month I’ve become aware of a local santur virtuoso, Sina Bathaie, who plays the Persian version of this intriguing instrument. Ray of Hope (sinabathaie.com) is a (mostly) instrumental album which blurs the borders between Middle Eastern and Western popular musics, combining the santur with guitar (Alexei Orechin or Nima Ahmadieh), bass guitar (Oriana Barbato or Semco Salehi), cello (Raphael Weinroth-Browne), percussion (Siavash Sadr Mahdavi) and guest appearances by drummer Adam Campbell and vocalist Alireza Mahdizadeh.

Bathaie’s note tells us that the music is inspired by the verses of poems that “celebrate our timeless elusive pursuit for peace, hope and the most important of all these, love.” The texts, in Farsi, Italian, Russian, Chinese, and Korean, are seen “tattooed” on Bathaie’s face in the CD’s cover image.

The disc begins with Rebirth, where a banjo-like bed track (shades of Appalachia) from santur, bass and percussion support a soaring melody from the cello. Ray of Hope opens ominously with the sound of jets, gunfire and sirens, overtaken by santur in both accompaniment and melody, gradually growing to include bass, drums and an electric guitar line that borders on feedback as it rises to a triumphant conclusion. Into the Sky brings back the cello in the lead role, in a quieter, but not subdued, flight. The disc progresses through Journey, Invocation (a solo for santur where we hear more clearly Bathaie’s ability to play melody and accompaniment at the same time), I Remember, Dance of Delight (with its long, languid opening that eventually gives way to the ecstatic feeling suggested by the title), the only vocal track on the album Lullaby of Spring and finally Light Like a Feather, with Orechin’s finger-style guitar setting the stage for a rousing finale.

I would like to say that Bathaie is one of Toronto’s best kept secrets, but I have a feeling it is just the sheltered life I lead that makes me think so. I learned from his website that he has been featured on CBC radio Metro Morning and at festivals such as Luminato, In/Future, Small World Music, Mundial Montreal, Open Mind, Quiet Strings, South Asia Calling and at the Aga Khan Museum. Shame on me.

05 DCXDo I have time for one quick guilty pleasure? I spent a marvelous evening a couple of weeks ago watching the DVD documentary included with the double CD DCX MMXXVI Live (Columbia 88985 46031 2), recorded during the Dixie Chicks’ (DCX) 2016 tour that culminated at the Forum in Los Angeles where the video was shot. The nearly two-hour performance was received with near-hysteria by the 17,000 standing-room-only fans in attendance. I never experienced live Beatlemania but I can’t imagine it would have been any more over-the-top than this. Whatever animosity garnered by DCX for their anti-war stance sparked by America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 seems to have been forgiven by their fans, at least the ones in this urban West Coast centre. Again resorting to Wikipedia, I note that “By December 2015, with 30.5 million certified albums sold, they had become the top selling all-female band and biggest-selling country group in the U.S.”

It was an energized performance from the trio and their five-piece band, sometimes fully charged and wall-of-sound, but with some intimate moments – including touching personal stories from lead singer Natalie Maines about their progress from no children to nine kids between them over the past 15 years – and some acoustic tunes (if you can still call them acoustic when they are amplified to fill an amphitheatre). The repertoire spanned most of what we have come to expect from DCX, with a few surprises, including covers of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U and (on the CD only) Thunderclap Newman’s Something in the Air. A highlight for me was the bluegrass instrumental medley with just the trio, Emily Strayer on banjo and Martie Maguire on fiddle, and Maines simply keeping time on a bass drum. Boy, can this woman play! I refuse to be ashamed of my absolute enjoyment of their high-energy, but thoughtful, performance.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website thewholenote.com where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples, upcoming performance details and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor

discoveries@thewholenote.com

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