Review

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.

 

Review

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.

 

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

01 MessiaenCanadian soprano Jane Archibald’s international career continues to flourish with recent and upcoming performances in leading roles at the Met, Opéra national de Paris, La Scala, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and opera houses in Düsseldorf, Munich, Zürich, Santa Fe and Madrid, plus a tour with the English Concert as Armida in Handel’s Rinaldo. Here at home, Archibald is the Canadian Opera Company’s Artist in Residence for the coming season, featured in Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, Stravinsky’s The Nightingale and Other Short Fables and as Zdenka in the COC’s premiere production of Strauss’ Arabella, which opens at the Four Seasons Centre on October 5.

Primarily known for her interest in the Baroque and classical eras – her discography includes music of Charpentier, Vivaldi, Haydn and Mozart – Archibald has also been known to venture bravely into the 20th century, as witnessed by the latest release from the Seattle Symphony. Continuing its own commitment to the music of our time, and in particular modern French repertoire, following three recordings of works by Henri Dutilleux, Ludovic Morlot leads the orchestra in seminal pieces by Olivier Messiaen (SSM1016 seattlesymphony.org). A relatively early work, Poèmes pour Mi, dates from 1936. Originally written for soprano and piano, the work appeared in an orchestral version the following year and was Messiaen’s first vocal work to be orchestrated. It was dedicated to his first wife, violinist Claire Delbos; “Mi” (as in “do, re, mi”), corresponding to the highest string, E, on the violin, was his nickname for her. As with all of his vocal settings, the texts are by the composer. Archibald’s clear, pure soprano voice is particularly well suited to this deeply personal work that explores the spiritual aspects of marriage. It is rarely heard in its orchestral version, and in fact this recording is a first for my own extensive Messiaen collection.

The song cycle is nicely complemented by another pivotal vocal work, Trois Petites Liturgies de la Présence Divine from 1944, following Messiaen’s release from a German prison camp in Silesia where he composed the Quatuor pour la fin du temps. The Liturgies were written for high male voices (the Northwest Boychoir in this recording) and an orchestra featuring Messiaen’s signature sounds of obbligato ondes Martenot and piano, played here by Cynthia Millar and Michael Brown respectively. All involved perform with distinction under Morlot’s direction in this significant addition to both the orchestra’s and Messiaen’s discography.

02 Herald TribuneHaving just mentioned Messiaen’s Quatuor, I will use it to segué to the next disc that caught my attention over the summer, Composer-Critics of the New York Herald Tribune (Other Minds OM 1024-2
otherminds.org)
. The outer Chorale movements of Lou Harrison’s Suite for Cello and Harp (1949) put me in mind of the Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus for solo cello and piano in Messiaen’s iconic work, not in a derivative sense, but rather in their meditative sensibility. Harrison (1917-2003) is one of five composers featured on this intriguing disc, which includes program notes and an extensive essay by another pioneering figure of American art music, Charles Amirkhanian, and two articles by the Herald Tribune’s chief critic Virgil Thomson. The more-than-50-page booklet is an important artifact in its own right, not only giving context to the music, but painting an intriguing picture of a time quite unlike our own, when art music was treated seriously, and prominently, by mainstream media.

Thomson’s own witty Capital Capitals, on a text by the inimitable Gertrude Stein, is included along with works by novelist/composer Paul Bowles, Australian-born Peggy Glanville-Hicks and a man who arguably had the biggest influence on our basic understanding of the very nature of what constitutes music, John Cage. Thomson’s 1927 setting of the tongue-twisting text, which riffs on CAPITAL LETTERS and Capital Cities, is scored for four alternating male voices and piano. It is the earliest work presented, with Glanville-Hicks’ craggy Sonata for Piano and Percussion (1951-52) with its, perhaps inevitable, echoes of Bartók, the most recent. Bowles is represented by the tongue-in-cheek Music for a Farce (1938) for clarinet, trumpet, percussion and piano, and Cage by the quietly haunting, and now iconic, String Quartet in Four Parts (1949-50) performed by the New Music String Quartet.

Upon first listening I did not realize the recordings were historic, as the sound is convincingly pristine. But they are all monophonic and were originally issued by Columbia Records between 1953 and 1955 on the Modern American Music Series. Reproduced under license from Sony, this Other Minds release is a welcome addition to my understanding of mid-century American music and culture. The booklet also includes the strikingly modern cover art from the four original LPs.

03 Arion EnsembleAlthough recorded in 2014, Rebelles Baroques (EMCCD7777, early-music.com) is the most recent recording of Montreal’s Arion Orchestre Baroque to come my way. Featuring music of Quantz and Telemann, it focuses on two composers who developed and perfected the goûts réunis style of the early-to-mid 18th century, integrating French and Italian approaches into German music. While simply referred to as rebels in the disc’s title, the booklet essay calls Georg Philipp Telemann and Johann Joachim (J.J.) Quantz “Delightful Rebels” (“Charmants Rebelles” in Jacques-André Houle’s original French) which seems to incorporate both the elegance of the music and the fact that Quantz and Telemann had to fight against family prejudices to follow their chosen musical paths. Telemann was expected to become a clergyman like his father, while Quantz’s family trade was blacksmithing. Both overcame the odds to follow their own dreams and to our benefit the rest, as they say, is history.

Telemann (1681-1767) is the senior of the two, and his output spans virtually all musical genres. It seems most of his instrumental music dates from before 1740 and in the case of the three concertos included here, likely before 1721 for presentation in Frankfurt by the collegium musicum of the Frauenstein society of which he was the director. The first is a concerto grosso for strings and continuo featuring the whole group, with Alexander Weimann directing from the harpsichord. The second has the distinction of being the first concerto written for viola, and Jean-Louis Blouin shines in a surprisingly busy and ornately ornamented solo part. The third is a lovely flute concerto with an opening reminiscent of birds awakening at first light. Like all of the Telemann concertos included here, it is in four movements as in the earlier sonata di chiesa form, rather than the Italian-style three movements. All of the movements, including the stately Largo, are flowing and dancelike.

Quantz (1697-1773) was, like Telemann, a multi-instrumentalist, but most prized for his flute playing. He was flute tutor and composer to Frederik the Great of Prussia, as of 1741 composing exclusively for the musical king (for whom Bach wrote the famed Musical Offering). He is represented by two (three-movement) concertos which bookend the disc, one for solo flute and one for two flutists, Arion stalwart Claire Guimond who is joined Alexa Raine-Wright, a renowned soloist and regular member of Infusion Baroque and Flûte Alors. The two trade lines seamlessly and work in perfect harmony throughout, especially in the Presto finale which brings this engaging disc to a rousing close.

Review

04 Songs ShanitesThe next disc also comes out of Quebec, but that’s about where any resemblance ends. I first thought that Sea Songs & Shanties (ATMA ACD2 2749) was a departure for La Nef (la-nef.com) but I now realize that in their more-than-two-and-a-half-decade history La Nef has encompassed a wealth of styles from “early music, the music of oral traditions, world music, experimental and contemporary approaches to musical creation.”

This current project is under the direction of eclectic singer Seán Dagher, himself as at home in an Irish pub as in many musical traditions from Medieval and Baroque through contemporary folk. Dagher tells us: “These songs did not start out as music to be heard. These were songs to sing, songs to help with the work, songs to pass the time. Their original functions influenced the way they are built […] as call and response songs: a whole crew can learn a song from one man in the first instants he’s singing it. They are sung rhythmically, so the hauling is most efficient. Or they are sung freely, as if to fill the long days and evenings spent together. These songs are spread by oral trading, creating many variants and variations.”

This tradition was brought home to me earlier this summer when I came upon a version of the song I had grown up believing was called Sloop John B. As I found out from Tom Lewis’ rendition of the original Nassau Bound, the Beach Boys “left out the [most interesting] parts.” That, in combination with re-visiting a disc I wrote about last year, by Chaim Tannenbaum, which includes a duet with Loudon Wainwright on the traditional tune Paddy Doyle, primed the pump for my appreciation of this Irish-tinged maritime journey with La Nef.

The disc opens gently with Leave Her, Johnny, with sparse cittern accompaniment that gradually adds more voices, bass and flute and grows to a full finish replete with bosun’s whistle, wave sounds and seagull cries. As the disc progresses through drinking songs and laments, cautionary tales of press gangs and ship wrecks, welcoming tunes like Over the Hills and Far Away and Haul on the Bowline, we are drawn into the myriad moods of the seafarer. It’s at times randy and rugged, so strap yourself to the mast and prepare for adventure. But be forewarned, like shades of the John B: “I hate to sail on this rotten tub; No grog allowed and rotten grub,” so pack a lunch!

05 MAE TrioI have written on several occasions in these pages about “my favourite band,” the newgrass-flavoured Joy Kills Sorrow, and lamented their demise. Since they disbanded a couple of years ago I have been on the lookout for a successor to comfort me. Although not as instrumentally virtuosic, over the summer I had the pleasure of hearing a group from Australia that went a long way towards filling that void: The MAE Trio, three young women the initials of whose given names (Maggie, Anita and Elsie) provide the acronym of their trio’s name. When my wife and I saw them at the Burdock, they played violin, mandolin, guitar, banjo and cello between them, and produced some sweet high harmonies on mostly original material. One of the songs, Haul Away, is a quasi-sea shanty, but I don’t think that alone explains my infatuation – I left the gig humming the title track of their latest release Take Care, Take Cover (Creative Victoria Records) and am very glad to have taken a copy home with me.

Evidently this was their second trip to Canada (and second Burdock appearance) and although it may be a while before they return – throughout September and October these world travellers have shows in Ireland and various places in the UK – you can sample material, and buy the CD, on their website (themaetrio.com).

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

04a Mariposa BookI recently read The Mariposa Folk Festival: A History by current artistic director Michael Hill, and Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing. The first brought back memories of my own visits to the iconic festival in the Toronto Island years of the early 1970s. One of the lasting memories I have from that time is seeing Taj Mahal performing with his acoustic resonator guitar and a quartet of tubas (!) that included the iconic Howard Johnson. I believe that was the first time I heard Fishin’ Blues, which remains one of my favourite songs of the genre. Or a tuba at a folk festival for that matter.

04b Taj MahalIt seemed fortuitous then when one of the last discs that found its way to me before I sat down to write this column was TajMo, the latest from Taj Mahal and Keb Mo’ (Concord Records CRE00431). It’s a little over-produced for my taste, but there is a great horn section (no tubas though) and a host of fine musicians including a cameo guitar solo by Joe Walsh. Highlights for me are the one all-acoustic track, John Estes’ Diving Duck Blues with just the two headliners trading verses and licks, and Pete Townsend’s Squeeze Box with a rockin’ band that includes both lead and rhythm accordions. It’s also nice to hear Toronto get a shout-out in the rollcall of TajMo’s calypso-flavoured anthem Soul.

Concert note: The 57th annual Mariposa Folk Festival runs from July 7 through 9 at Tudhope Park in Orillia. Although Mahal will not be there this year I see that the calypso band Kobo Town, whose album Where the Galleon Sank was reviewed in the Pot Pourri section of June’s The WholeNote, will be (July 8 at 11:45 AM at the 150+ Stage and July 9 at 4:45 at the Mariposa Pub Stage).

04c Thien Do Not SayI often re-read books that have spoken to me in a special way, but rarely just a few months after my first exposure. An exception to this practice will be this summer when I return to Thien’s multiple award-winning novel depicting life in pre- and post- Cultural Revolution China and the days surrounding the Tiananmen Square protest and massacre. Much of the book is concerned with two generations of musicians involved with the Central Conservatory of Music and I was surprised by the music that was mentioned throughout the book. Upon next reading I plan to take the time to revisit these masterpieces which are so important to the storyline, including Bach’s Violin Sonatas, Partitas and Double Concerto, Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto and Pastoral Symphony, Handel’s Xerxes Overture, Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata, Ravel’s Tzigane and Shostakovich’s Symphonies Four, Five and Ten. Seems like a good use of my summer!

As always, 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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