I am always intrigued by the connections I find, especially in the seemingly separate realms of literature and music, when something I am reading or listening to relates directly to experiences in my everyday life. I don’t mean when I’m reading about something because it relates, but rather when in unrelated materials there turns up an unmistakably fortuitous reference to something that has just happened to me. I have been aware of this phenomenon for many years, but the first instance which made me really pay attention to this synchronicity was one morning at a friend’s cottage when there was a thump on the window and we found a northern flicker lying, we thought lifelessly, on the deck. But moments later the bird shook itself and flew off. It was as if in a dream that I realized exactly this situation had been described in the Richard Powers novel I had been reading the evening before, right down to the breed of bird. Since then I have been aware, time and again, of how this in itself is, if not an everyday occurrence, at least something that happens regularly. (My wife Sharon says it could be because I read so much.)

01 Mathew RosenblumAt any rate, this month’s column is all about connections which might be construed as coincidences. The first relates directly to November’s column when I wrote about Wlad Marhulets’ Concerto for Klezmer Clarinet. Until that time I had not heard of the dedicatee David Krakauer, despite his prominence in both the worlds of klezmer and classical music. My ears pricked up immediately when I received another disc this month which features him: Mathew Rosenblum – Lament/Witches’ Sabbath (New Focus Recordings FCR219 newfocusrecordings.com). Rosenblum is an American composer (b.1954) of Ukrainian heritage, and the title track is an in-depth exploration of his roots. The composer says the work “involves the rewriting of my personal and family history through instrumental sound (klezmer-tinged clarinet with orchestra) and the sound and texture of the voice (field recordings of Ukrainian laments; sung and spoken Ukrainian, Russian and Yiddish text by my grandmother). It is also about reconnecting with my high school friend and dear colleague, the amazing clarinetist/composer David Krakauer, for whom the piece was written. […] It is a tribute to my grandmother, Bella Liss.” He goes on to mention that it is loosely based on the last movement of Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique and also references his grandmother’s superstitious sensibility, which he says is grounded in Eastern European Jewish culture. It is a particularly moving work, with the haunting Ukrainian laments as prominent as the solo clarinet, soaring above the orchestral textures provided by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under the direction of Gil Rose.

It seems I can’t write this column without some mention of my day job at New Music Concerts. It was there that I was first exposed to the characteristic keening of Ukrainian lamentation when young Ukrainian-Canadian composer Anna Pidgorna wrote Weeping for our 2015 Ukrainian-Canadian Connection concert. For this piece the members of a sextet were provided recordings of traditional laments in order to better understand how to approach their instrumental parts, which were based on that tradition. This initial exposure made the laments included in Rosenblum’s work hauntingly familiar.

I feel obliged to mention another coincidence related to my appreciation of Rosenblum’s disc. The second work is called Northern Flicker, which is something I had not remembered when I wrote my introduction. The world works in mysterious ways indeed. Northern Flicker is for a solo percussionist who mimics and extrapolates on the distinctive sounds of this woodpecker in the wild. Lisa Pegher holds our attention throughout the witty and inventive piece. Soprano Lindsay Kesselman and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble under Kevin Noe then lead us through Falling, a dramatic work about the true tale of an Allegheny Airlines stewardess who was sucked out of a plane’s emergency exit and fell to her death in October, 1962. Based on a poem by James Dickey, the piece incorporates a recording of the poet’s recitation of his text which is then further expanded by the soprano. The composer’s use of microtonality – Falling is dedicated to the memory of Dean Drummond, composer and co-artistic director of Newband who championed the microtonal work of Harry Partch among others – adds to the otherworldly and at times eerie homage. This composer portrait disc concludes with the at times raucous – recalling that woodpecker again – Last Round for amplified string quartet (FLUX) and the six members of Mantra Percussion. Another welcome and effective offering from New Focus Recordings.

Listen to 'Lament/Witches’ Sabbath' Now in the Listening Room

The next connection encompasses both literature and music again. My wife, a secular and mostly non-observant Jew, does however spend Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, each year contemplating and reading something that relates to her heritage. Most years it is a book of history or theory or at any rate non-fiction, but this year, with nothing more appropriate at hand, she took my suggestion to spend the day with a novel. The Last of the Just by André Schwarz-Bart, a French Jew of Polish extraction whose parents were killed by the Nazis, tells the story of the family of Rabbi Yom Tov Levy, the only survivor of a pogrom in 12th century England. As legend has it, God blessed Levy as one of the Lamed-Vov, the 36 Just Men of Jewish tradition, a blessing which extended to one Levy of each succeeding generation. The story takes place over the next 800 years, through the Spanish Inquisition, to expulsions from England, France, Portugal, Germany and Russia, and to the small Polish village of Zemyock, where the Levys settle for two centuries in relative peace. It is in the 20th century that Ernie Levy, the title character, emerges in 1920s Germany, as Hitler’s sinister star is on the rise and the agonies of Auschwitz loom on the horizon. Gilbert Highet, a Book-of-the-Month Club judge, called it, “the saddest novel I have ever read, almost as sad as history.” I don’t think Sharon thanks me for the recommendation.

It’s been 20 years since I last read the book – that time in the original French – but it has always stayed with me, and so it was with curiousity that I recently picked up a CD by a Black jazz musician with the same last name as the author. I didn’t really expect that it was anything other than a coincidence until I read the note inside and found that Jacques Schwarz-Bart is indeed the son of André. A bit of Googling turned up the information that during WWII Schwarz-Bart fought with the French resistance and was captured by and escaped the Germans. After the war he went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne, where he met and eventually married a woman from Guadeloupe named Simone, (who incidentally also went on to become a novelist and playwright).

02 HazzanThe disc is called Hazzan (enja yellowbird YEB-7789 naxosdirect.com/items/hazzan-468735). A hazzan or chazzan is a Jewish musician or precentor who helps lead the congregation in songful prayer, in English often referred to as cantor. The project, combining jazz with Jewish prayer chants, is meant as a tribute to Jacques’ father who died in 2006. “As soon as I started working on the arrangements, it became clear that these powerful ancient melodies lent themselves to impressionist harmonizations, and could be enhanced with infectious rhythms from the African diaspora.” He goes on to say “In The Morning Star my father describes a character who – just like me – is a jazz musician from Jewish and black descent. He refuses to be labelled half-Jewish and half-black and claims to be 200 percent: 100 percent Jewish and 100 percent black. I hope Hazzan will do justice to this conception of my Jewish identity as the blossoming fruit of universal cross pollination.” Thanks to the Toronto Public Library I am now immersed in that posthumous publication by Schwarz-Bart’s father and will shortly embark on a novel co-written by his mother and father (Un plat de porc aux bananes vertes).

My own exposure to Jewish ritual is limited to attendance at funerals, memorial prayers said and candles lit for my in-laws, and participation in “second night Seder” dinners at the home of WholeNote publisher David Perlman. It was therefore a wonderful surprise to me to recognize one of the melodies from Hazzan as being Dayenu (“It would have been enough”), a song I myself have participated in during those Passover meals. The overall feel of the album is surprisingly upbeat and contagious. Schwarz-Bart has indeed managed to paint a “mystical and uplifting fresco” and his saxophone playing is truly cantorial. By the way, it is not only his Jewish heritage that has inspired him over the years. The product of a double diaspora, Schwarz-Bart fils is the founder of Gwoka Jazz, based on Guadeloupian traditions, and has worked extensively in Voodoo jazz with Haitian colleagues. Where will literary connections take me next I wonder?

03 MessiaenNext is a recording that features a work that has been a favourite for most of half a century – Messiaen’s Quatuor pour le fin du temps – and once again there is a New Music Concerts connection. Recently, when we presented the Ensemble contemporain de Montréal, while the other musicians were out to dinner, Chloë Dominguez busied herself rehearsing the incredibly demanding cello part of the Quatuor which she would be performing with pianist Louise Bessette and other colleagues in Montreal in late November. I had a chance to chat with her after the concert and mentioned a new recording featuring clarinetist Raphaël Sévère and Trio Messiaen (Mirare MIR 334 mirare.fr) and the fact that the liner notes intrigued me with the mention of a piece I had never heard of before. I had always assumed that Messiaen, who had chosen the instruments for his quartet by what was available in the internment camp in Silesia where he was imprisoned during the Second World War (piano, clarinet, violin and a cello with just three strings), had invented that instrumental combination. But it turns out that Paul Hindemith had written a quartet for the same forces some three years earlier in 1938. This was news to me, and to Dominguez, and I have spent some time since listening to performances on YouTube. It is a very strong work and I found myself wishing that instead of just mentioning it in the notes, the recording had included the Hindemith instead of Thomas Adès’ Court Studies, a chamber arrangement of some of the incidental music he wrote for The Tempest. I find the Adès, mostly light and indeed courtly, a strange pairing with the Messiaen quartet with its powerful, mystical mix of sombreness and ecstasy.

The performance of the Messiaen lives up to expectations heightened by countless other recordings over the years. From the opening movement for full quartet, growing out of silence with the awakening of birds at dawn, through the strident proclamations of the Angel announcing the end of time, the respite of the solo clarinet movement, again depicting birds, and the calm of the cello and piano Louange, to the furious dance of the seven trumpets (quartet) and final movement of Praise for the Immortality of Jesus, a quiet meditation for violin and piano, we are led on a wondrous journey, impeccably balanced and full of nuance. The booklet, in three languages, provides a thorough history of the genesis of Messiaen’s iconic composition, along with historical and biographical context and some analysis. There are notes on the very accomplished young musicians as well, but I wish they had included some explanation for the name of the trio. With the addition of the clarinet the connection to Messiaen is clear, but as he never wrote a piece for piano trio (and almost no other chamber music), the name Messiaen Trio leaves me scratching my head. 

04 Mike BlockWith well over a dozen recordings of Bach’s Solo Cello Suites in my collection, plus transcriptions for 11 string “alto” guitar and for alto recorder (by Göran Söllscher and Marion Verbruggen respectively, both highly recommended), I find myself wondering, what does a new interpretation have to offer? This must be a daunting question for any young musician looking to make his mark in a world replete with existing renditions by virtually all of the greatest cellists of the past century, including Pablo Casals himself, who unearthed these masterworks that had languished in obscurity for nearly 200 years. One young man has answered the question by not tackling the canon in its entirety, but rather by selecting individual movements and juxtaposing them with contemporary works. On Echoes of Bach (Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0124 brightshiny.ninja) featuring Mike Block, an alumnus of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, we hear alternately the Prelude from the first suite, the Allemande from the second and the Courante from the third separated by the two very different movements of György Ligeti’s Sonata for Solo Cello in what is a brilliant stroke of programming. Later on we find movements from the other suites interspersed with music by Ahmed Adnan Saygun, a composer who pioneered Western classical music in Turkey; Giovanni Sollima, one of the composers associated with Silk Road (it’s worth checking out the YouTube video of this piece Citarruni); and, strangely, Domenico Gabrielli, born a generation before Bach. Gabrielli was a virtuoso cellist and had the distinction of publishing the first works for solo cello and so has every right to be included here, but as the other non-Bach offerings are all contemporary the choice is somewhat surprising. Another surprise is the final track, the Sarabande from first suite played entirely without a bow. This seems quite a liberty to take, but I must say the pizzicato interpretation really works.

Mike Block is not only an accomplished cellist, but also an inventor. His “Block Strap” allows a cellist to harness the instrument to his or her body and play while standing, and even walking around. He has become quite adept at this, to the extent that even in this studio recording I get the impression from the occasion sound of footsteps that he is in motion. As one final nod to New Music Concerts I will mention that the first time I saw such a thing was when NMC presented Quatuor Molinari performing eight string quartets (at that time the complete cycle) of R. Murray Schafer at Glenn Gould Studio in 2003. For String Quartet No.7 Julie Trudeau had to construct a sling for the instrument to facilitate the movements that Schafer required of the cellist. 

We 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.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

As I sit down to write this column in Toronto, there is a gala performance taking place in Montreal celebrating the winners of this year’s Azrieli Foundation music composition prizes. Kelly-Marie Murphy is the winner of the 2018 Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music. This is the second time that the Foundation has awarded the $50,000 prize – the largest of its kind in Canada – which is granted to a Canadian composer based on a proposal for a new work which expresses an aspect of the Jewish experience with “the utmost creativity, artistry and musical excellence.” Established by the Azrieli Foundation in 2015, the biennial Azrieli Music Prizes (AMP) also include a $50,000 international prize, granted to the composer of the best new major work of Jewish Music written in the last ten years.

Murphy’s new work, a double concerto for cello and harp, explores Sephardic music and how it impacted other cultures as the diaspora settled in Morocco, Tunisia and parts of Europe. “What fascinates me is how music travels, and how it can subtly influence cultures throughout its journey,” says Murphy, who drew from Sephardic folk and liturgical melodies for the new concerto. Murphy adds: “The Azrieli Foundation has created a wonderful opportunity to encourage Canadian composers to write significant works on a grand scale.” 

01 New Jewish MusicThis is certainly true for Brian Current, winner of the inaugural AMP in 2016, whose proposal was to write an extended cantata based on the Zohar (Book of Enlightenment), “the most central book of the Kabbalah and the most mysterious of Jewish mystical texts.” I am sure that it is no coincidence that Analekta has just released New Jewish Music Vol.1 (AN 2 9261 analekta.com) featuring that commission, Seven Heavenly Halls, and the Klezmer Clarinet Concerto by young Belarus-born Wlad Marhulets, winner of the international prize that year.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must declare that I know Brian well, and he has served on the board of New Music Concerts, where I have been general manager for many years. He is an integral part of the re-visioning of the organization as it embarks on its second half-century of activity and in the coming years will share artistic direction duties with founder Robert Aitken. Current says that he became interested in the Zohar, particularly its reference to “Seven Heavenly Halls,” while researching texts for The River of Light, a large-scale oratorio in six parts that will explore the subject of transcendence in a variety of religious and cultural traditions. Seven Heavenly Halls is a dramatic work, almost operatic in scope, for solo tenor (Richard Troxell), (unnamed) chorus and orchestra (Czech National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Steven Mercurio). It is an exceptionally well-crafted work, with impeccable balance between soloist – busy throughout – chorus and orchestra, with a wealth of well-chosen colours which support the vocal writing, never masking the texts so carefully prepared by Current’s librettist Anton Piatigorsky from translations by Yehoshua Rosenthal. I find the concept of a prize rewarding an outline rather than a finished work to be intriguing, especially considering this it the largest composition prize in Canada. Congratulations to both Sharon Azrieli of the Azrieli Foundation for conceiving the award, and to Current for bringing the proposed work to such dazzling fruition.

As mentioned, the CD also includes the other 2016 winning work, Marhulets’ Klezmer Clarinet Concerto composed in 2009. The composer says “Klezmer music came crashing into my life when, as a 16-year-old living in Gdansk, my brother Damian brought home a CD by a band called Klezmer Madness, featuring clarinetist David Krakauer [the soloist here]. This was music that was so boldly Jewish, so full of wild energy that a kind of madness enveloped my senses as I listened to it… I decided to become a musician on the spot.” Five years later, having moved to New York, Marhulets met Krakauer and the result was this whirlwind work that draws on not only the Klezmer tradition, but also jazz, funk and hip-hop. This dazzling album is completed with a touch of history, Lukas Foss’ Song of Songs (1947) sung by Sharon Azrieli. All in all, a fine addition to the Analekta catalog.

This just in: At the recent gala it was announced that the Azrieli Foundation will add a third $50,000 prize to its roster for the next round in 2020. The Azrieli Canadian Prize, open to Canadian composers only, will be based on proposals for a new large-scale work exploring specifically Canadian themes. With added performance guarantees, recording and residency benefits, the prize will be worth some $200,000 in all. Applications begin in February 2019.

02 NACOAnother Analekta disc, The Bounds of Our Dreams (AN 2 8874-75) is the latest from Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra and director Alexander Shelley. It also includes a significant recent Canadian work, Concerto de l’asile (Asylum Concerto), by Walter Boudreau. Composed at the request of pianist Alain Lefèvre, the work pays homage to Québec poet, playwright and co-signer of the seminal Refus global manifesto that played such a large part in the Quiet Revolution, Claude Gauvreau. Boudreau is best known as the conductor and artistic director of the Société de musique contemporain du Québec (since 1988), but is a significant composer in his own right with more than 60 concert works and 15 film scores to his credit. The award-winning Lefèvre has devoted his energies to promoting the music of child-prodigy André Mathieu (1929-1968), known as Québec’s “Mozart” (although his virtuosic music had more in common with that of Rachmaninoff than with the Classical era). There are touches of this Romantic sensibility in Boudreau’s expansive (45-minute) concerto, perhaps surprising from such a champion of contemporary music, no stranger to the extremes of the avant-garde. The work is in the traditional three-movement form, here referring to different aspects of Gauvreau’s troubled life. The first, Les oranges sont vertes (The Oranges are Green), refers to Gauvreau’s final work, published posthumously in 1972. It starts with a flourish that sets the stage for an extended movement where the soloist and orchestra are seemingly at odds throughout, and ends with a cadenza representing the poet’s descent into madness. The gentle second movement, St-Jean-de-Dieu, depicts a time of heavy sedation (and shock therapy) spent in the asylum of St-Jean. The final movement was inspired by Gauvreau’s chef-d’oeuvre, La charge de l’orignal épormyable (The Charge of the Expormidable Moose) which received its English language premiere by One Little Goat Theatre at Taragon Theatre in May 2013. Like the play, Boudreau’s concerto is formidable, and Lefèvre, clearly in his element, is in perfect form.

The 2-CD set opens in a welcoming fashion with a sparkling performance Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte in which the orchestra shines. The second disc is devoted to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Shéhérazade with impeccable solo work from concertmaster Yosuke Kawasaki. I see that the orchestra has grown over the years from its classical model of 50-some players to a current total of 80, big enough to tackle these large Romantic works, which it does with convincing agility and aplomb under Shelley’s direction. This is their fourth recording for Analekta with Shelley at the helm, each of which has included new significant Canadian repertoire. Finally, or perhaps once again after an extended hiatus, we can celebrate the (C)NACO as a truly national orchestra. Accolades all around!

05 Paul LanskyBeginning in the mid-1960s, Paul Lansky was among the first to experiment with the computer for sound synthesis. Until the mid-1990s, the bulk of Lansky’s work was in computer music, for which he was honoured in 2002 with a lifetime achievement award by SEAMUS (the Society for Electroacoustic Music in the United States). The first time I heard his music was thanks to my WholeNote colleague and former CBC radio producer David Jaeger, sometime in 1985 on his program Two New Hours. It was a brilliant piece titled Idle Chatter, in which the composer had used computer synthesis to mimic the sound of the human voice, or actually a room full of human voices, and created the babble of a crowd in which you could swear you heard actual words and syntax. It’s available on YouTube and if you’ve not heard it, it’s well worth the search.

Since 2004 Lansky has concentrated on instrumental composition without any electronic involvement, as witnessed by the latest of some two dozen recordings on the Bridge label, The Long and Short of It (BRIDGE 9495 bridgerecords.com). In the notes Lansky states that the music contained here, although recently composed, relates to his earliest musical experiences at the High School of Music & Art in Manhattan, playing folk guitar (with some classical studies) and later the French horn. He achieved quite a high performance level with the latter and for a time was a member of the Dorian Wind Quintet. It is with a wind quintet that this disc begins, the title work performed by Windscape. It is an extended work inspired by the third-movement Adagio of Mozart’s Serenade for Winds K.361, passing through a number of moods and colours, at some moments reminiscent of the busy chatter of the electronic piece I mentioned above. Talking Guitars uses the metaphor of a conversation to characterize a dialogue between the two instrumentalists, although it is much more lyrical than the busy computer chatter I keep mentioning. It is performed by the brilliant young guitarists, Jiyeon Kim and Hao Yang. Pieces of Advice for horn and piano was written for William Purvis and Mihae Lee. The suite consists of “character studies,” with the following performance instructions for the five movements: “Be Mysterious,” “Be Proud,” “Be Patient,” “Be Annoying” and “Be Insistent.” It quite effectively depicts all these moods and is beautifully realized by its dedicatees. It seems whatever the genre, Lansky’s music continues to attract and satisfy.

Listen to 'The Long and Short of It' Now in the Listening Room

03 12 EnsembleI cannot remember when I first heard the music of Polish composer Witold Lutosławski, but I do know that I was thoroughly enthralled by the time I had the great pleasure of meeting him thanks to New Music Concerts back in 1993, before I was directly involved with the organization. On that occasion he was in Toronto to conduct what would turn out to be his last concert – he died just a few months later of cancer. The live CBC recording was released as an independent CD by New Music Concerts and later reissued by Naxos (8.572450). Needless to say I was pleased when I received a new CD by 12 Ensemble, one of the UK’s leading string orchestras, which features Lutosławski’s Musique funèbre. Composed in 1958 and dedicated to the memory of Béla Bartók, it was the last traditional work he composed before incorporating aleatoric principals into his writing, although it does employ 12-tone techniques. It is a moving work, suitably dark, and is here performed with distinction. The group, known for performing without a conductor, has a homogenous sound and an innate sense of ensemble. The Lutosławski is followed by Ulysses Awakes by John Woolrich, which seems to rise from the shadows of the Lutosławski, and perhaps gives rise to the album’s title Resurrection, released on the new Sancho Panza label (SPANCD 001 juno.co.uk/labels/Sancho+Panza). It grows gradually and with an almost medieval, plaintive solo melody fades again. This is followed by Kate Whitley’s Autumn Songs, with whirling glissandi and quiet tremolos in the ensemble once again, and a gentle, soaring melody rising above. The final work, by far the longest, takes us full circle with American rock guitarist Bryce Dressner’s Response Lutosławski, a moving homage commissioned by the National Audiovisual Institute of Poland. The five-movement work explores various thoughtful moods and shows a command of the string orchestra idiom, without a hint of Dressner’s pop-music roots. This perfect bookend completes a stunning debut for both this impeccable ensemble and a new label.

04 The Scene of the CrimeI was skeptical when I first came across the disc The Scene of the Crime featuring Colin Currie and Håkan Hardenberger (Colin Currie Records CCR0002 colincurrie.com). I was not convinced that the combination of percussion and trumpet could sustain interest over the duration of an entire CD. But sustain it does, in many intriguing and satisfying ways. In the words of Currie, “The duo with Håkan Hardenberger is my musical safe space for maximum risk-taking. From my earliest point of connection with this most regal of musicians, what entranced me was the fearless audacity of the endeavour. Envelopes pushed, or simply reinvented, boundaries moved and canvasses recast.” They do this through interpretations of some striking repertoire, from André Jolivet’s 1971 Heptade with its unpitched percussion instruments, through Joe Duddell’s Catch (with Currie on marimba) and Tobias Broström’s use of gongs and vibraphone in Dream Variations, to Daniel Börtz’s mystical Dialogo 4 which begins in near silence, and the title track, Brett Dean’s 2017 composition ... the scene of the crime... written especially for the duo’s “skill and infectious drive, scored for trumpet, flugelhorn and drum kit.” The album never loses its grip on the listener’s attention. A resounding achievement! 

We 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.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

01 Marc DjokicI begin this month with a hot-off-the-press solo violin release on the ATMA label. Solo Seven (ACD2 2748 atmaclassique.com) features works by seven Canadian composers including several written for the soloist, young scion of one of Atlantic Canada’s most respected musical families. After initial studies with his father, renowned violinist Philippe, Marc Djokic continued his studies in the United States at the Cleveland Institute of Music’s Young Artist Program, the New England Conservatory, and with Jaime Laredo at Indiana University. Winner of the 2017-2018 Prix Goyer, a Prix Opus and a former Instrument Bank recipient from the Canada Council, Djokic is currently artist-in-residence at CAMMAC (the Canadian Amateur Musicians association) and was recently named principal violin of the McGill Chamber Orchestra. Solo Seven marks his recording debut.

The disc begins with two virtuosic, moto perpetuo movements from Richard Mascall’s Sonata for solo violin & Digital FX. The first movement, Labyrinth for amplified violin and digital reverb, which Mascall wrote in 1992 at the age of 19 while a first year undergraduate student, went on to success at the CBC Young Composers’ Competition. In 1993 it was chosen to represent Canada at the International Rostrum of Composers and that same year Mascall completed the five-movement sonata. At The Corner House, a reference to a chic Toronto restaurant where the composer worked for a time, is the final movement and it culminates with a blazing cadenza-like “guitar solo,” actually a transcription of an infamous passage from Eddie Van Halen’s iconic Eruption. I must say that it translates effectively to violin, especially in the hands of this young master.

We are also presented with selections from Noncerto RR3, Noncerto Notre-Dame-de-Grace by Matthias Maute. I was familiar with Maute as the director of Ensemble Caprice and as a flute and recorder soloist, but this was my introduction to his work as a composer. The opening Sparkle – Andantino is a warm and gentle movement where the sparkle is more reflective than effervescent. Chopin – A tempo giusto juxtaposes ebullient arpeggiated sections with contemplative melodic moments. Casareccia – Chaconne Prestissimo, is as you would suspect, primarily boisterous although not without some elongated double-stopped melodic passages, providing an exciting finale.

Vincent Ho’s brief Morning Song, evidently begun and finished while watching a single sunrise, gives respite from the whirlwinds that precede it, somewhat reminiscent of The Lark Ascending. Serbian-born Ana Sokolovic is also represented by excerpts, in this case two movements from Five Dances for Violin Solo which the composer tells us, although modelled on the Baroque suite are actually imaginary dances based on the rhythmic improvisations that are characteristic of the folk music of the Balkans. There are echoes of the Baroque in Kevin Lau’s Tears as well, which he says draws inspiration from Bach’s Chaconne in D minor, “whose dramatic three-part arc influenced the architecture and tonal centre of my own piece”; but also from Berio’s Sequenza VIII, “whose searing narrative made a stunning impression on me as a student.” Lau wrote the piece while a student at U of T in 2006, but revised it in 2017 for the purpose of this recording.

Murray Adaskin’s Vocalise No.1 was composed for clarinet solo in 1989 and adapted three years later for violin and dedicated to Andrew Dawes, founding first violinist of the Orford Quartet. Throughout this work, the composer uses a melody which reoccurs in undulating variations, gradually rising in pitch and giving the impression of moving from darkness to light. Incidentally, it was Andrew Dawes who performed Mascall’s Labyrinth during the CBC Young Composers Competition.

This in effect brings the disc full circle, but wait, there’s more, in the form of an “encore” piece Dystopia by Christos Hatzis. Hatzis tells us that, “Hidden behind the hyper-virtuosity and relative brevity,

this piece is a meditation on the causes of religious intransigence, disenchantment and, ultimately, jihad. The literal meaning of the title (a ‘terrible plac’) refers to the current conflict between narrowly defined religious creeds, particularly the conflict between the Moslem world, and the so-called Western civilization, or modernity.” It provides a timely and fitting coda to this fine recording.

I look forward to further releases from Marc Djokic, and to hearing the other movements of Mascall’s, Maute’s and Sokolovic’s suites on some future occasion.

Listen to 'Solo Seven' Now in the Listening Room

02 Telegraph QuartetOne of the first works I ever heard that integrated electronics with live performance was American composer Leon Kirchner’s 1966 String Quartet No.3 with electronic tape. It was an epiphany for me and an introduction to a brave new world. On Into the Light (Centaur CRC 3651 centaurrecords.com), the Telegraph Quartet performs an earlier work by Kirchner, the String Quartet No.1 from 1949, a gnarly modernistic composition, that while lacking any electronic extensions of the sound world manages to push the envelope in its own ways. The third movement Divertimento seems to foreshadow the world of Schnittke’s “ghost waltz” and the Adagio final movement anticipates late Shostakovich. Another revelation to me, or more accurately a reminder, as I know I have this piece in my vinyl collection and first heard it nearly half a century ago, of how forward-looking Kirchner was in those early postwar years.

This new disc pairs the Kirchner with Anton Webern’s Funf Satze (Five Movements) for String Quartet, Op.5 from 1909 and Benjamin Britten’s Three Divertimenti (1936). I will borrow from Kai Christiansen’s note about the Webern because “I couldn’t have said it better myself!” He tells us in part that the music is “atonal, exquisitely colourful, shockingly brief and so mysteriously evocative. Like five epigrammatic character pieces from outer space, they conjure eerie landscapes, fantastic atmospheres as well as ineffable inner spaces.” The Telegraph Quartet’s realization of these “jewels” (Stravinsky) is crystalline and thoroughly engrossing. The Britten miniatures – although relatively epic when compared to Webern’s haikus – provide a dramatic contrast: an angular and majestic March, lilting Waltz and playful presto Burlesque. All in all, a welcome addition to my string quartet collection (with apologies to Terry Robbins).

03 Douglas BoyceSome Consequences of Four Incapacities (new focus recordings FCR205 newfocusrecordings.com/catalogue/douglas-boyce-some-consequences-of-four-incapacities) features extremely esoteric – I would say old school new music – chamber compositions by American composer Douglas Boyce. The disc opens with 102nd & Amsterdam, performed by members of the Aeolus Quartet. The work honours the composer’s father and his love of New York City. It begins in near silence with nervous scratching and harmonics in the high strings. Ever so gradually, melodies emerge and a cello solo comes to the fore. Later the violin and viola join in a furious round of glissandi and dense choppy rhythms. Eventually the eerie atmosphere of the opening returns as “this portrait of an urban crossing beautifully captures how one spot in a city can contain an entire universe.” Members of counter)induction perform the brief but intense Piano Quartet No.1 which is a splendidly raucous homage to Boyce’s youthful love of Bartók and King Crimson.

The final work, filling more than half of the disc, is the intriguing Fortuitous Variations, in four movements performed by Trio Cavatina. There are literally pages of program notes about this piece in the covering letter I received from Boyce, on the one-sheet press release and in the extended notes on the new focus website (the disc itself has none). Boyce writes “The CD’s title is borrowed from an essay of C.S. Peirce, the inaugurator of philosophical Pragmatism and its particularly ferocious rethinking of the potential of thought in comparison to practice. […] There is a darkness here, as there is in so much of Peirce – a seeming submission to human finitude, to limits both cognitive and biological. And, I think, that gothic and mournful mood carries across all the works on the disc.” The movement titles – every deduction involves the observation of a diagram; the vastness hitherto spoken of is as great in one direction as in another; so it is rather the whole river that is place, because as a whole it is motionless and the dawn and the gloaming most invite one to musement – presumably refer further to Peirce and his development of “America’s great contribution to philosophy.” The web notes tell us (in part): “Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) is a fascinating figure philosophically, historically, and biographically. [...] founder of an intellectual enterprise committed to disrupting all foundations. His most inventive work addressed language, communication, and symbology; the pure volume of his output on pretty much everything is quite belittling to one’s own sense of capacity – mathematics, mathematical logic, physics, geodesy, spectroscopy, astronomy, psychology, anthropology, history, and economics.” How this actually relates to the music and its composition is beyond me, but Boyce, who is associate professor of music at George Washington University, has found in it inspiration to create a compelling cycle of works. Recommended for those who are not concerned with finding hummable tunes in their craggy contemporary music. The performances are all outstanding.

04 Gaite ParisienneThe final disc this month provides a bit of a “guilty pleasure” or at least a nostalgic trip down memory lane. I believe I first heard Offenbach’s Gaîté parisienne in my early teenage years on my mother’s Reader’s Digest collection of great classical favourites (I don’t remember the exact title, but it was about ten LPs and had more or less what you’d expect in a sampler). A new ATMA release by the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec under the direction of Fabien GabelGaîté Parisienne (ACD2 2757 atmaclassique.com) – features that cancan-filled work along with Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales and Poulenc’s suite from Les Biches in spirited performances. Paris-born Gabel, director of the OSQ since 2012, brings with him an innate love and understanding of French repertoire as witnessed in this, OSQ’s fifth ATMA, and 25th overall release, recorded live in Salle Louis-Frèchette, Grand Théâtre de Québec in May of this year.

Ravel’s love of the waltz, “You know my great liking for these wonderful rhythms,” resulted in a set of eight piano pieces in 1911, titled in homage to Schubert who had published two collections, Valses nobles and Valses sentimentales. Ravel orchestrated his set and in 1914 it was premiered under the direction of the legendary Pierre Monteux (who incidentally conducted the OSQ in 1962). Less well known is Poulenc’s ballet suite, but it provides an appropriate bridge to the final work that is the icing on the cake, Offenbach’s Gaîté parisienne, created in 1938 for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo with choreography from Léonide Massine, one of the leading lights of the former Ballet Russes. We are here presented with a half-hour long suite arranged at Massine’s request, by Manuel Rosenthal drawing on the best of Offenbach’s operettas, although primarily La vie parisienne. It ends with the gorgeous Barcarolle from Les contes d’Hoffmann, and a good time is had by all!

Listen to 'Gaîté Parisienne' Now in the Listening Room

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 French Moments Trio NeaveFollowing their 2016 release American Moments, featuring music of Foote, Korngold and Bernstein, the Neave Trio returns with an enchanting new disc entitled French Moments – Fauré, Debussy, Roussel (Chandos CHAN 10996 chandos.net). Formed in 2010 the trio is comprised of a American violinist (Anna Williams), a Russian cellist (Mikhail Veselov) and a Japanese pianist (Eri Nakamura). Based in the United States, they are currently on faculty of the Longy School of Music of Bard College as Alumni Artists, Faculty Ensemble in Residence. French Moments features youthful works by Albert Roussel (1869-1937) and Claude Debussy (1862-1918) along with one of Gabriel Fauré’s (1845-1924) final works. Roussel’s Trio, Op.2 opens the disc with a barely perceptible rocking motif, waves gently reaching the shore, and gradually grows and swells into rollicking melodies and dramatic chiaroscuro. It was composed in 1902 while Roussel was still a student at the Schola Cantorum.

The charming Piano Trio in G Major was composed in 1880, begun when Debussy was just 17. At the time he was travelling as tutor and accompanist with the family of Tchaikovsky’s patroness Nadezhda van Meck. In her correspondence with Tchaikovsky she mentions Debussy’s criticism of German music as being “too heavy and unclear.” Although the trio does not have the impressionist sensibility for which his music would later be known, it “bears out this preference for lightness and clarity.”

Fauré had retired from a lifetime of teaching at the Paris Conservatoire two years before he wrote his Trio in D Minor, Op.120 and at the time complained to his wife that “The trouble is that I can’t work for long at a time. My worst tribulation is a perpetual fatigue.” This is not evident in the music itself however, which is full of life. A somewhat melancholy opening quickly dissipates into rising melodies and gently soaring spirits within the minor key context. There are moments of turmoil along the way, but the trio ends joyously in a lively scherzo-like finale.

The Neave Trio is in fine form throughout, obviously thoroughly at home in this repertoire. It is easy to see why they continue to receive glowing praise wherever they perform. As part of its mission to “create new pathways for classical music and engage a wider audience,” the Neave Trio champions new works and frequently collaborates with artists of all mediums, participating in multiple award-winning productions with dance companies and filmmakers. Evidently “Neave” is a Gaelic name meaning “bright” and “radiant” – an apt moniker for this shining ensemble.

02 VC2The February 2018 issue of The WholeNote featured an intriguing cover showing two young men seemingly playing hockey with carbon fibre cellos, and an extended article about the cello duo VC2 comprised of Amahl Arulanandam and Bryan Holt (vc2celloduo.com). Sara Constant’s interview with the pair included discussion of their project Beethoven’s Cellists, which has now borne fruit in the form of a compact disc of the same name. The premise is that Beethoven’s colleagues were responsible for a number of design innovations for both cello and bow that have had a lasting influence on the instrument. Of particular note was Bernhard Romberg, and the disc opens with VC2’s very effective transcription for two cellos of Romberg’s Sonata No.1 in E Minor, Op.38. But the meat of the project is a number of newly commissioned works funded by Shauna Rolston Shaw, based in some way on Beethoven’s own writing for cello. The works featured on this disc are by Canadian composers Andrew Downing, Raphael Weinroth-Browne, Fjola Evans, Matt Brubeck and Hunter Coblentz, and draw respectively on Beethoven’s sonatas one through five. All of the composers are accomplished cellists and so the music is very idiomatic, but that’s about where the similarity ends. Each has a very different style and approach to the challenge and the offerings really do run the gamut. Very exciting and innovative additions to the cello repertoire performed with panache!

Listen to 'Beethoven's Cellists' Now in the Listening Room

03 MeitarI have often mentioned my connection with New Music Concerts and the fabulous opportunity it has provided for meeting internationally renowned composers and musicians. Last year our season began with the presentation of the Meitar Ensemble of Tel Aviv performing works of Israeli composers and of their French, now Canadian, composer-in-residence Philippe Leroux. Another composer who has an ongoing relationship with the ensemble is the Boston-born Amos Elkana, who grew up in Jerusalem before returning to the USA at the age of 20 for studies at Berklee School of Music and the New England Conservatory. He later studied in Paris before finishing an MFA at Bard College, NY. The album Tripp, which features chamber and solo works by Elkana performed by members of Meitar, has been released on Albany Records (TROY1718 amoselkana.com). Elkana’s music is, for the most part, abstract. For instance, the title piece is based on a series of numbers which is used as a fractal to generate the structure and the proportions within it, so that “the macro and micro levels have the same proportions. Exactly as it is in fractal geometry where zooming into a part of the whole reveals that it looks exactly like the whole. While searching for a title I googled the number series… and a zip code of a small town in South Dakota came up… Tripp.” None of this is evident to the listener, however, and we are presented with a challenging and contrasted work where each of the flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano and various combinations thereof are featured in turn.

This is followed by an intriguing work for solo violin and computer called Reflections. The computer, acting like a very sophisticated looping device, records the live violin performance and plays back and layers various segments at specified moments of the work through four speakers placed next to the performer on stage. The violin sounds are rarely processed and in most instances are hard to distinguish from the live performance. The effect is at times that of an ensemble of live violins playing in intricate counterpoint. It is very effectively achieved by Meitar violinist Yael Barolsky, to whom it is dedicated. The other works are for solo piano, solo clarinet, cello and electronics (recorded and processed spoken word), solo flute, and a minimalist celesta solo. An intriguing collection of smaller works by an internationally acclaimed composer whose orchestral scores have been performed by the Berlin, Israel, Slovak Radio and Jerusalem Symphony Orchestras, as well as the Warsaw Philharmonic.

I recently read an article about the return of vinyl records and their sensual appeal – the physical pleasure of removing the large disc from its sleeve, the visceral appeal of dropping the needle onto the colourful vinyl platter, the warmth of the analog sound – and more or less dismissed it out of hand. I still have a functioning turntable, and several thousand LPs taking up space in my basement (and several dozen in more or less regular rotation in my living room), but I am not averse to digital technology. I don’t miss the clicks and pops so prevalent on vinyl recordings and I appreciate the high-end clarity of compact discs, and the convenient size and packaging of CDs. I suppose I will eventually come around to the convenience of streaming and download technology, especially as space becomes even more of an issue in my modest house – it’s already near the threshold – but I still prefer the full spectrum response of my stereo system over anything that my computer speakers or ear-buds can reproduce. 

04 Jonas BonnettaThat being said, it actually was a pleasure to open a parcel recently from singer/songwriter Jonas Bonnetta, driving force behind the folk-rock band Evening Hymns, and find a limited edition white vinyl copy of his latest project, All This Here (jonasbonnetta.bandcamp.com). It is lush, quiet and gentle music, to my ear reminiscent of Brian Eno’s ambient compositions of the late 1970s of which I was quite fond. So when combined with the technology, the music provided quite a pleasant nostalgic mood. And I was surprised to find how I was drawn in by the expanse of white revolving on the turntable, and by the fact that there were, at least thus far, no distracting surface flaws. Parts of the music were originally composed for the film Strange and Familiar: Architecture of Fogo Island produced by Site Media and we find pieces with titles such as Deep Bay, Fogo, Island Harbour, Little Fogo and Joe Batt’s Arm. Bonnetta combines subtle field recordings with haunting instrumental lines performed by Anne Müller (cello) and Mika Posen (violin), providing piano, synthesizer and electronics himself. It is a wonderfully warm and relaxing listening experience that I highly recommend. And by the way, the LP comes with a digital download card for those who prefer convenience.

05 Jason DoellProjecting a similar aesthetic, although coming from a different background, Jason Doell’s debut CD “…amid the cannon’s roar,” (jasondoell.com) presents a series of interrelated chamber and solo pieces which explore “the tensions of being a Canadian settler artist who has inherited the brutal legacy of the British colonial project.” Featuring mid-career artist Rob Macdonald on guitar, junctQín keyboard collective, and some of Toronto’s finest young musicians – pianist/harpsichordist Wesley Shen, flutist Sara Constant, violinist Aysel Taghi-Zeda and cellist Amahl Arulanandam – the album includes the works “Our Lovèd Dominion Bless…,” “…we’ll do deeds to follow on our words…,” “And let our Empire be” and “…long to reign over us…” separated by three interludes called “casualties.” Neither the physical package nor the information sheet on the composer’s website give more detail about the concept of the album or the source material. The cover art – black and white representations of fireworks – in conjunction with the title, would seem to suggest some bombastic aspect to the music, but in fact it is something of the opposite of that: slow and contemplative in what I have come to think of as the “Arraymusic School” as reflected in the work of composers such as Linda Catlin Smith, Martin Arnold and John Mark Sherlock.

Within this context, this is very thoughtful and introspective music, but there’s obviously a programmatic aspect here that notes would have helped to elucidate. That being said, Doell, who was the recipient of the 2014 Toronto Emerging Composer Award, has found his own unique voice and this disc provides a welcome introduction to his vision.

Doell is currently the operations manager of Continuum Contemporary Music, an organization also known for fostering emerging composers. As we find out later on in this issue in Ted Parkinson’s review of the new Toronto Jazz Orchestra CD, Continuum’s former manager Josh Grossman, now the artistic director of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, is also an accomplished composer in his own right. This all bodes well both for Continuum, and for the well-being of the Toronto music scene.

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 David Aaron CarpenterWhen a new recording of the Bartók Viola Concerto crossed my desk recently it immediately caught my attention. Begun in 1945 and left incomplete at the time of his death – actually it was just a few sketches – this was the composer’s final composition. Although in the words of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians Bartók’s assistant Tibor Serly’s completion of the concerto “cannot be considered definitive,” it has always been a favourite of mine. Motherland (Warner Classics 0190295697693 warnerclassics.com) features young superstar violist David Aaron Carpenter performing concertos by Dvořák, Bartók and Walton, plus a number of concerted works by Kiev-born, New York City resident Alexey Shor (b.1970) with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Carpenter, born in NYC in 1986, has had a remarkable career, winning the 2005 Philadelphia Orchestra Young Artists Competition, the Walter W. Naumburg Viola Competition the following year and an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2010. His first recording, Elgar and Schnittke concertos, was praised highly in these pages in October 2009 by Terry Robbins, and two subsequent outings met with similar attention in Robbins’ Strings Attached column in recent years. With that in mind, I had no qualms about holding back Carpenter’s latest recording for my own collection. Of course I had to start with the Bartók, and I was immediately transported back to the heights I first scaled when introduced to this work by Yehudi Menuhin’s performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Antal Dorati’s direction half a century ago. We’ll likely never know just how much of this atypical work is Bartók’s and how much that of Serly. Strangely though, it is a much more original work than Serly’s own Rhapsody for Viola and Orchestra which is replete with borrowings from his master. Carpenter’s stunning performance reminds us why, its questionable pedigree notwithstanding, this concerto is a staple of the viola repertoire.

The first CD (of two) opens with Joseph Vieland’s transcription of Dvořák’s masterful Cello Concerto, to which Carpenter has added his own refinements. It is very effective, but as a cellist I can’t help but notice that the power and anguish of the cello’s upper register, its chanterelle range, is not equalled when the viola plays the same pitches. That being said, it is still a captivating performance, with the orchestra under Kazushi Ono in fine form. Especially noteworthy are the horn solos. The second disc begins with William Walton’s concerto, which was commissioned by Lionel Tertis in 1929. Tertis was not convinced and declined to premiere the work but later, in words of Andrew Morris “was good enough to admit his mistake.” Tertis said: “The innovations in [Walton’s] musical language, which now seem so logical and so truly in the mainstream of music, then struck me as far-fetched.” To our modern ears it seems hard to imagine this lush and romantic work being received as anything but a masterpiece.

There is more than an hour of music by Shor dispersed across the two discs, and frankly I don’t know why. The inclusion of his Seascapes, a four-movement work for viola and orchestra, would have more than sufficed. His motion-picture soundtrack sensibility makes even the Dvořák and Walton sound modern, and the 13-movement Well Tempered Chanson, a compendium of encores written for Carpenter, seems like just too much dessert. The Bartók, however, is worth the price of admission.

02 Howard ShoreSpeaking of film scores and people named Shor(e)… last year Canadian superstar film composer Howard Shore took time out from his day job to compose a celebratory cantata to honour Canada’s sesquicentennial. Sea to Sea/D’un ocean à l’autre was commissioned by the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra (nbyo-ojnb.com) and was first performed on July 2, 2017 at the Canada 150 Stage, Riverfront Park, Moncton. That performance featuring New Brunswick’s pride and joy, soprano Measha Brueggergosman, and the Choeur CANADA150 Choir was recorded and is now available from Leaf Music (LM217 leaf-music.ca). With bilingual lyrics by Elizabeth Cotnoir, the nine-minute work opens with a horn fanfare to set the stage and then launches into jubilant praise for our fair land. After the bombastic opening there is a contemplative middle section gently declaring “We hold a vision.” The final section is a return to the opening exuberance, this time en français. The CD single also includes two “radio edit” versions, just under three minutes each, one in English and one in French.

03a Andrew Collins TongueThe latest project from the 2016 Canadian Folk Music Awards Best Instrumental Group of the Year – Andrew Collins Trio – is the cleverly named pair of CDs Tongue and Groove (andrewcollinstrio.com). The first is a departure for the band, with 11 tracks featuring lead vocals by multi-mando frontman Collins for the most part, with harmonies and occasional lead lines provided by bass player James McEleney. The third member of the trio, Mike Mezzatesta, keeps busy on guitar, mandolin, fiddle and mandola. 03b Andrew Collins GrooveIt’s an eclectic collection of traditional “down homey” numbers, novelty songs, cover versions and a few originals. Of particular note are Collins’ own reworking of Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill’s Long Black Veil and Roger Miller’s The Hat. But for me it is the instrumental disc Groove that really shines. Replete with some of the finest bluegrass pickin’ you’re likely to find this far north, there’s also a mix of styles, including some very Django-like vibes to which the double strings of Collins’ mandolin give a new twist, a beautiful lullaby and a couple of fiddle tunes. Standouts include Poplar Bluff, Kentakaya Waltz, Badabada Ba Ba and Big Toaster.

Listen to 'Tongue' and 'Groove' Now in the Listening Room

04 Moto BelloIt seems that every month we receive a dozen or more CDs from the Parma Recordings group, which includes the labels Ravello, Big Round, Asonica and, in this case, Navona Records. Although my current activities as an amateur cellist are focusing on string-only ensembles, quartets and at the moment a trio, for many years I also played with pianists in the traditional piano trio formation – violin, cello and piano. Beginning with the classics, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn (Felix and Fanny), Schumann (Robert and Clara), but eventually moving into the 20th century with Debussy, Shostakovich and contemporary Canadians including Colin Eatock and Daniel Foley – both of whom will be familiar to readers of  The WholeNote – I spent countless hours exploring the repertoire with friends. So I was quite interested when a new double CD from Trio Casals, Moto Bello (nv6156 navonarecords.com) arrived. The Moto series “represents a curated collection of contemporary music by living composers with the traditional instrumentation of the acclaimed Trio Casals.” The group’s acclaim began in 1996 at the Pablo Casals Festival in Puerto Rico, from which I assume their name derives. There are ten composers included in this two-disc package, none of whom were previously known to me. The repertoire runs the gamut of contemporary styles, from approachable melodic works, through minimalism to craggy modernist sensibilities, and although most utilize the full trio resources, there are several solo and duo pieces. Of particular note is Beth Mehocic’s Somewhere Between D and C# for solo cello, with its exploration of ambiguous resolution. L. Peter Deutsch’s Ocean Air is a lovely suite in three movements harkening back to the late 19th century. Giovanni Piacentini’s Ondine begins in quiet Debussy-like arpeggiation that gradually builds into a stormy tempest before calming to gentle seas again. Each of the ten composers brings an individual voice to the medium, making for a varied and satisfying program. The playing is convincing and committed throughout. I was especially impressed by how complete the package was: a simple folded cardboard cover containing two CDs and a 12-page booklet with composer bios and program notes. I only wish that there was more information about the trio itself, and that the composers’ names were more discernable – pale blue type on a blue background is hard to read.

05 Eloquent SaxophoneAnother Navona recording that arrived recently looked strangely familiar to me. The Eloquent Saxophone featuring Toronto (now Cobourg) saxophonist, professor and founding member of the pioneering band Lighthouse, David Tanner and pianist Marc Widner (nv6158 navonarecords.com). It’s a charming collection of mostly French repertoire from the early 20th century, but also including more recent works by American Leslie Bassett and Gene DiNovi – a saxophone ensemble piece achieved through overdubbing the various parts. The disc begins with another saxophone quartet, the aptly named Serenade comique by Jean Françaix. Although most of the works were written for the saxophone, there is an effective transcription of Debussy’s Syrinx (originally for solo flute) in a warm and thoughtful rendition. Widner is the perfect accompanist for this repertoire, whether playing original piano lines or, in the case of Paule Maurice’s Tableaux de Provence, subbing for an entire orchestra. Also of note is Charles Koechlin’s Etude No.VIII from a set of saxophone and piano studies that were not published until 1970, 20 years after the composer’s death. The credits tell us that the recordings were made in 1988 in Toronto, the multi-tracking at Axon Music Productions and the rest in Walter Hall. That’s when I figured out what was so familiar. I checked my file card catalog of LP recordings, and sure enough, I have the original vinyl version of this disc put out on Apparition Records. Even the cover art is the same. The brief performer bios have been updated nominally and the order of the tracks has been modified – it used to start with Syrinx – but with the exception of the program notes, unfortunately missing from the CD reissue, the recording is the same. It was a welcome addition to my collection three decades ago, and it is welcome again now.

Listen to 'The Eloquent Saxophone' Now in the Listening Room

06 Baljinder SekhonOne final note, an intriguing percussion-centric disc of music by Baljinder Sekhon. Places & Times (innova 988 innova.mu) is, in the words of the composer, “no ordinary album of percussion ensemble music. These compositions explore a wide spectrum of possibilities offered by the percussion family, from the aggressive noise of a cymbal on piano strings and peaceful meditations created by finger cymbals gently buzzing on a vibraphone, to the curious thump of a person falling on a bass drum.” The disc features three percussion ensembles: Los Angeles Percussion Quartet; McCormick Percussion Group and Line upon Line Percussion. Three of the tracks include soloists: Dave Gerhart, steel pan; Dieter Hennings, guitar and Eunmi Ko, piano. Musica Casera, a 12-minute track that features guitar holding its own against a battery of percussion instruments, through delicate passages and thunderous sections, is particularly captivating. Another highlight is Sun for three percussionists all equipped with similar outfits: one keyboard, one skin, one wood and one metal instrument. They all share access to a large cymbal in centre stage, presumably the namesake of the piece. Despite similar resources, the combinations provide a very broad spectrum of sound and range. 

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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