Review

01 Plante Tango borealLet me start with a disclaimer: I don’t get opera; I don’t like tango; and cabaret is not my cup of tea. That being said, imagine my surprise to find that the disc which has been getting the most play on my system this month is a cabaret-style “tango opera” by Denis Plante. La Bibliothèque-Interdite (ATMA ACD2 2752) features actor-singer Sébastian Ricard and Plante’s ensemble Tango Boréal in a tale set in the dark days of mid-20th-century Argentina.

“The odyssey began,” Plante tells us, “with a concert […] by Les Violons du Roy, the Tango Boréal Trio and actor Sébastian Ricard. Its theme: Jorge Luis Borges. I had been commissioned to write tangos to accompany the poetry of Argentina’s great literary figure for the production. Sébastian Ricard captivated the audience as, pacing like a caged tiger, he played several roles […] One year later I suggested to Sébastian that we continue the experiment in musical theater by creating an original show, La Bibliothèque-Interdite [The Forbidden Library]. I wanted to present an impressionistic portrait of tango at the end of that Infamous Decade [which began in 1930 with the military coup that overthrew President Hipólito Yrigoyen and lasted until 1943 when another coup resulted in the rise of Juan Perón]. I have long been fascinated by this period – and by the fact that, sometimes risking their lives, it was the gaucho minstrels and tango enthusiasts, the payadores and the tangueros, who first denounced the rise of the fascists…”

Plante has created a libretto that is “a confession, a life story and ideological speech” sung by a fictional poet. Although this character sprung from the composer’s imagination, it is also based on stories told by his father-in-law Alfredo Monetta, “an Argentinian exile who barely escaped the genocide of the dirty war of 1976.” He goes on to say “Other memories are my own. I discovered the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires in dramatic and violent circumstances: blinded by tear gas during the crisis of the pot-banging protests of December 2001.”

So what does this all sound like? It begins with Eden, a languidly nostalgic song – I often dreamed of a library with secret doors…it was my childhood and my destiny: I became a poet – that gives way to Inspecteur Barracuda, a harder-edged portrait of the prince of the renegades, the nabob of tango. [Translations mine.] There are 16 contrasting movements, each with their own story from Icarus’ Descent and a Bestiary to ruminations on departures, memory, silence and life. The instrumentation is simple and clean, featuring bandonéon (Plante), nylon-string guitar and charango (David Jacques) and acoustic bass (Ian Simpson), with occasional added percussion and small chorus. Stylistically it is a pastiche, as freely admitted by Plante, with moods that vary from ballad to narrative to dance-like, including of course more than a fair share of tango.

What struck me most however was the clarity of Ricard’s vocals. I studied French throughout public and high school plus several post-secondary summer immersions, and although I cannot carry on a fluid conversation in la belle langue, I am able to read fairly sophisticated texts en français (my summers always include reading a least one French novel in the original). But listening to art songs or popular music in French I often have trouble following the lyrics. So I was immediately hooked when I realized that I could understand la plupart of what Ricard was singing, thanks to his clear diction and to Plante’s careful setting of the texts. I was reminded of the vocal writing of John Weinzweig, oh not in the musical language, but in the careful selection of words that could be clearly understood when sung.

The booklet notes include a dedication paragraph and, as quoted in part above, a “Diary of Creation” by Denis Plante, a foreword by Sébastien Ricard, a poem by Brigitte Haentjens and artists’ biographies, all in both official languages. Strangely the libretto only appears in French, leaving me glad of all those years I put in building my vocabulaire. Highly recommended.

02 All Over the MapMy next selection takes us All Over the Map with Steve Kirby’s Oceanic Jazz Orchestra (stevekirbymusic.com). Winnipeg-based composer and bassist Kirby has himself been “all over the map” having worked with such luminaries as Elvin Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Cyrus Chestnut, Abbey Lincoln and Joe Lovano, to name but a few, before re-locating from New York City in 2003. He currently serves as Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Manitoba, director of the U of M Summer Jazz Camp, artistic director of the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances and editor of dig! magazine. The disc’s production is also a well-travelled affair, having been recorded at Toronto’s Canterbury Sound and Winnipeg’s Paintbox and Musirex studios, and mixed in New York.

The ten tracks, all penned by Kirby, explore a plethora of styles and geographies but never stray from jazz’s mainstream. Assiniboine traverses the complexity of Manitoba’s famous winding river using a relatively small but lively sampling of the orchestra’s instrumentation, just eight players, with Curtis Nowosad’s drums, Warren Wolf’s vibraphone and Jon Gordon’s soprano saxophone particularly prominent. Boissevain, another Manitoba landmark, is a ballad with alto flute (Shannon Kristjanson) added to the mix and Mike Eckert’s pedal steel and Will Bonness’ piano featured in the “celestial” finale. Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster Gwen Hoebig exercises her fiddle chops in Duende’s Dance, a lively swing with high vocalise from Anna-Lisa Kirby and Heitha Forsyth.

Each of the tracks has full musician credits and a program note by Kirby, but I don’t know what to make of the title Health Sciences Hypertension Clinic which he says is part of his Winnipeg Suite. Although busy with what could perhaps be construed as hyperactivity, I don’t hear the “frenzied pressure” mentioned in the note. Be that as it may, A Change of Plans adds a mellow change of pace, nylon-string guitar and gentle lyric by Anna-Lisa Kirby over a bossa-nova rhythm. Electronic textures provided by Örjan Sandred with pedal steel, violin, soprano sax and piccolo contribute to the glacial timbres featured in Qallupilluit, which depicts an Inuit tale “in which parents terrify their children with threats of mystical sea creatures that live under the ice..” Peter Lutek’s bassoon intro to Dance of the Carapace sets the stage for a lilting rollick that includes an extended vibraphone solo and a star turn for trumpeter Derrick Gardner.

The most strident piece is the one that provides social commentary and protest, both timely and historical. Tulsa is a collage of black voices decrying the abuses and atrocities committed against African-Americans throughout history. I don’t feel it is my place to comment, but the power of the piece speaks for itself. There is a good clip on YouTube where Kirby discusses the background and context of Tusla; well worth viewing.

The disc does not end in anger, but rather with an optimistic anthem. A Speck of Dust “was inspired by Carl Sagan, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and my dream of a peace festival” says Kirby. With its lyric A speck of dust out in space/became the home for this whole human race/ […] On the surface we are different there are many of us/Deep within our hearts we are all the same “it’s an invitation to lose imaginary boundaries.” A valuable message indeed.

03 Joe Sullivan Big BandI have the one sheet (press release) and program notes for Unfamiliar Surroundings by the Joe Sullivan Big Band (Perry Lake Records joesullivan.ca) but I can’t figure out why it’s called that. Trumpeter/composer/arranger Sullivan is obviously totally at home in the context of both the band and the music, and titles of the three original suites that comprise the 2-CD set don’t suggest anything exotic. This is mainstream jazz in top form, and the dozen and a half players involved, including such journeymen as Rémi Bolduc, Al McLean, André Leroux, André White and Lorne Lofsky, all seem totally comfortable in their ensemble and solo roles.

Sullivan, a Franco-Ontarian who hails from Timmins, studied classical trumpet at the University of Ottawa before pursuing jazz studies at Berklee and the New England Conservatory. Since then (1987) he has made his home in Montreal where he teaches jazz composition, arranging and trumpet at McGill University and directs the McGill Jazz Orchestra. In addition to his own activities (which include seven previous CDs) he has served as conductor and arranger with the Kirk MacDonald Jazz Orchestra, has been a member of the Vic Vogel Big Band for some 25 years and has appeared as a trumpet soloist with the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal.

October Suite, which opens the first disc, begins with a Prelude that starts quietly before a rousing chorus from the whole ensemble that leads to extended solos by pianist White and guitarist Lofsky. Off Kilter begins with unison brass figures giving way to a tenor solo from McLean and bass solo from Alec Walkington. In Let’s Go, drummer Dave Laing gets his turn to come to the fore in a solo that swells and breaks like waves upon the shore eventually ebbing behind ebullient brass that in turn give way to the trombone of Jean-Nicolas Trottier in a virtuoso display of dexterity. After more rousing tutti choruses the trombone eventually returns to gradually calm things down and bring the suite full circle to a peaceful end.

Suite Laurentides is another three-movement work: The Grackle, featuring a delightful flugelhorn solo from Sullivan, surprisingly lyrical for a bird that is known mostly for its croak, followed by a growly tenor outing from Mclean; Nightfall, expectedly dark with musing baritone from Jean Fréchette and contemplative piano from White; and the concluding movement which gives the album its title and I suppose answers my initial question, although the upbeat closer still doesn’t break new ground. In Sullivan’s defense I will concede that “unfamiliar surroundings” does not necessarily imply uncharted territory.

The second disc contains the five movement Suite Montage: The Waiting Game; A Lullaby; Montage #3; The Captain’s Log; and Refuge. This latter features another solo by Sullivan and Lofsky’s mellow guitar over a sparse rhythm section before the orchestra enters for the quiet conclusion of a gorgeous set. I just wish there were some descriptive notes to give a clue to the intriguing titles.

04 DuffmusiqThe final disc this month sounds like vintage guitar-based R&B, although Duffmusiq’s Soulleash (duffmusiq.com) consists of 11 original tracks of (presumably) recent vintage. Damir Demirovic, a.k.a. Duffmusiq, was born and educated (classical violin, piano and theory, and later guitar and saxophone) in Serbia before moving to Toronto in 2002 to study music production and studio engineering at the Harris Institute. Since that time he has worked as a producer and studio musician and has developed a successful career composing for film and television.

Soulleash is his first solo album and on it he displays a multitude of talents, composing both the music and lyrics, producing and mixing the recording and playing a host of instruments. Most prominent is his distinctively smooth guitar style, reminiscent of George Benson and Wes Montgomery. He is joined by some fine musicians including Alexis Baro (trumpet), Anthony Brancati (keyboards), Alex Sekulovski (drums) and Sam Heineman (Hammond organ). Of special note however are the vocalists who are featured on several tracks, a vocalise by Vania Margani on the opening Interlude Solitude, Christine Hamilton on After Midnight, Wade O. Brown on My Only Love and Party People where he is joined by Quisha Wint and Gyles, Lisa Michelle on the title track, plus Jeff Eagar and rapper Jin Brown on Solace. It’s kind of a retro offering, but I mean that in a good way. It takes me back to my clubbing days in the 1970s grooving to Billy Reed and the Street People, Dollars (Mary Margaret O’Hara’s band) and Rough Trade. Nice memories. Thanks Duffmusiq!

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 Andres BookComposers In My Lens/Compositeurs dans mon objectif (Canadian Music Centre ISBN 978-1-77136-056-2) presents a photographic journey through the world of Canadian music as documented by André Leduc over the past three decades. I might be considered too close to the subject to write about this book, but on the other hand that is exactly why I need to tell the story. I first met my good friend André in 1986 at an Esprit Orchestra concert at Jane Mallett Theatre. One of the most outgoing people I have ever encountered, he just wandered up and started talking about the concert, the music, life and himself. At that point I had been producing and hosting Transfigured Night at CKLN-FM, a program focusing on contemporary music, for a couple of years and it was a treat to meet someone who shared my love of that esoteric medium. We became fast friends and for the next five years while the show ran its course, he was my number one fan. So there is my full disclosure/due diligence done.

A commercial photographer by trade, André is also a hobbyist with a passion for taking portraits and, more to the point, action shots of the composers whose music, he says, changed his life. With no formal training in music he simply follows his ears. For years he has told me that I was his inspiration but, as we have delved back into the depths of memory, it seems his road to Damascus moment actually predated our meeting by quite some time. While listening to Radio Canada one day he heard a piece by François Dompierre that struck him like a bolt of lightning and he was amazed to learn that it was written by a Canadian composer and, not only that, by someone who was still alive! Thus began his love of contemporary music and lifelong quest of “stalking the wild composer” in his lair, which proves what I’ve told him time and time again: “It’s not MY fault!” Although I do admit to being his fellow traveller over the past three decades, introducing him to composers featured on my radio program and later bringing him on as the photographer for New Music Concerts when I started there in 1999. But even there André had made his own inroads and had taken photographs for NMC for several years until a change of administration had brought that to an end long before my tenure. We also took road trips together, to Montreal, on one occasion for the founding of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community where we met a number of composers that are featured in the book – notably Francis Dhomont and Robert Normandeau – and another time to meet with Jean Papineau-Couture, and to Ottawa where we spent an enchanting afternoon with Violet Archer, but most of our adventures took place right here in Toronto.

André built a bond with many of the new music societies in town and the fruits of these relationships are on display in his marvellous book. The scope of the project spans generations – from composers born before the First World War: Murray Adaskin, Otto Joachim, John Weinzweig and Violet Archer; through the 1920s and 1930s: Harry Freedman, Harry Somers, John Beckwith, Gilles Tremblay, R. Murray Schafer, Norma Beecroft and Ann Southam; the 1940s and 1950s: John Rea, Alex Pauk, Alexina Louie, Gary Kulesha and Linda Bouchard; to those born in the 1960s and 1970s: Omar Daniel, James Rolfe, Allison Cameron, Chris Paul Harman, Brian Current and André Ristic – to name literally just a few. Each composer is presented in two frames, on facing pages, some candid and some obviously posed. Highlights for me include the iconic shot of Jean Papineau-Couture seated in front of an open orchestral score wearing a cravat and dress jacket adorned with his Order of Canada pin; Robert Aitken looking ferocious with his white mane, flute to his mouth and wearing the small, thick-framed glasses that were his trademark for so many years; Larry Lake lounging, drink in hand, with a big smile on his face wearing an embroidered shirt and swanky cowboy boots; and Lori Freedman caught in action with bass clarinet in hand (and mouth) and contrabass clarinet draped over her shoulder. As the saying goes, “every picture tells a story” and here we are presented with some intriguing tales of our musical heritage. The book is available from the CMC website at musiccentre.ca.

Other than two years of piano lessons begun when I was five which I was allowed to abandon after kicking and screaming during daily practise sessions throughout that period, my classical music studies did not begin until after high school. I mentioned in the last issue that I attended the somewhat experimental Thornlea Secondary School in its initial years and the music teacher there, Charles Lapointe, has had a lasting influence on me. Although we didn’t have any formal classical music in the curriculum – the school bands were a folk club, a mariachi band, a rock group and an electronic music studio – we were exposed to a broad spectrum of music, from Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul to Honegger’s Pacific 231. “Charlie” was a cellist and in my effort to emulate him in the sabbatical year following graduation (at least that’s what my mom called it, I thought I was finished with schooling at that point) I decided to take up that lowest member of the violin family myself. I did this with cello lessons from Wolfgang Grunsky and music theory studies through the Royal Conservatory. I rapidly found that to even partially grasp the basic tenets of composition I would need to add keyboard to my skill set. I was fortunate that Thistletown where I grew up was home to a very accomplished piano teacher, Elska Albarda, who was sympathetic to my desire to ignore the syllabus and concentrate on Bach and Bartók, whose music had become central to my development. Incidentally, her husband, retired architect Jan Albarda, was an amateur harpsichord maker and when for a term-end recital one of my pieces was a Bach two-part invention I had the privilege of performing on an “original” instrument. While I pursued these formal studies for only a couple of years after high school, I did find myself going back to Mrs. Albarda some years later for a bit of remedial study. By this time she had relocated to idyllic Elora for her final decades – her legacy of a 1913 Rosler grand piano adorns the Elora Centre for the Arts – and I was living for the summer in a coach house in Guelph from which I commuted by bicycle for lessons. To my shame I never returned her copy of Arthur Alexander’s edition of those two-part inventions published by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, but every time I see her handwriting on the cover I have fond memories of our times together.

02 Mozart Horn ConcertosAll this is by way of a long-winded introduction to my first CD selection for the month. At the time I was working on my RCM Grade 7 piano, my slightly younger brother Kevin, who was still in high school and had taken up the French horn, was working on one of the Mozart concertos and asked me to accompany him. Although I was simply not up to the challenge, it was an enlightening introduction to these great pieces. I remember my brother going to see Barry Tuckwell performing with the Toronto Symphony and explaining that, with an instrument comprised of 12 feet of coiled tubing, even the best horn players never really know for sure what note will come out. I don’t know if this was a commentary on Tuckwell’s performance or just a general statement. Be that as it may, if the new recording of the Mozart Horn Concertos with Les Violons du Roy (ATMA ADC2 2743) is any indication, Louis-Philippe Marsolais can be fairly confident of his ability to produce the right notes. Touted as Canada’s most active horn soloist, Marsolais is a multiple award-winner with an international solo and chamber career. Since 2009 he has also been principal horn in Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s Orchestre Metropolitain and is a frequent collaborator with Les Violons du Roy. As alluded to above, his intonation is impeccable and his tone is exemplary. This recording includes the three familiar concertos that Mozart completed, all in E-flat (Nos.2-4), plus the two-movement D-Major concerto known as No.1, here in Mozart’s original version completed by modern-day musicologist Robert D. Levin (as opposed to the version by Mozart’s coeval Franz Xaver Süssmayr). Also included is Levin’s edition of the lesser known Rondo K371 in E-flat Major. Marsolais provides his own convincing cadenzas in all five works. The disc is completed by the Concerto for Bassoon in B-flat Major K191 featuring the dulcet tone and impressive agility of Mathieu Lussier, who also serves as conductor for the entire project.

I had initially offered this disc to Alison Melville but found myself reneging when I gave it a listen. In the words of my apology to her: It’s a dandy! (She graciously responded that it was all right because the recording I had given her to review of these concertos several years ago with Pip Eastop and the Hanover Band was also a dandy.)

03 Nutcracker GoodyearAnother piece that harkens back to my formative years is Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker although my exposure, like that of so many others I’m sure, was just to the eight-movement Suite Op.71a. My introduction was on a 3-LP Seraphim set of suites from the ballets Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Efrem Kurtz. No wonder then that so many of the 24 tracks on Stewart Goodyear’s transcription for solo piano of the entire ballet (Steinway & Sons 30040) seem unfamiliar. Somehow we missed this disc, recorded in February 2015, when it came out. Since then two Christmases, the traditional Nutcracker time, have come and gone. Rather than wait another year I want to tell you about this new approach to what is indeed a timeless classic.

In the words of the performer/arranger “You can look at The Nutcracker as the Walt Disney of music. It enchants on the same levels as Disney does: there’s the humour; for some, there’s the love story; for some, adventure. All those aspects are there: it’s like listening to Technicolor, listening to animation.” You would be forgiven for thinking that Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous orchestration which incorporates so many colours into its palette might suffer in translation to a single instrument, and for that matter a single performer. But I’m here to tell you that Goodyear’s thoughtful treatment and virtuosic flamboyance give the lie to this. “I’m just trying to create as faithful an arrangement as possible” says Goodyear, “with all of the orchestral elements there – the woodwinds, the brass, so it doesn’t feel like the audience is missing anything – it’s all there.” I would have to say that he succeeds. And when I said just a single instrument, I will note that there is one exception to this: At the outset of the pitched battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King we are momentarily startled by the sharp crack of a slapstick which announces the Keystone Kops-like action sequence. All in all, this is an outstanding and exhilarating achievement and I’m sorry it took so long to come to my attention. Insider’s note: Goodyear’s next recording features works by Maurice Ravel (Jeux d’eau; Sonatine; Miroirs, Gaspard de la nuit and Pavane pour une enfant defunte) and will be released by Orchid Classics in May.

04 Rattle Bach JohannesElsewhere in these pages you will find Bruce Surtees’ appreciation of the Berlin Philharmonic’s production of the St. Matthew Passion directed by Peter Sellars. I kept the companion set, Johann Sebastian Bach: Johannes-Passion (Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings BPHR 140031, 2 DVDs and 1 Blu-ray disc) for myself and I will echo Bruce’s opinion that one should start with the bonus features. In Andy King-Dabbs’ interview with conductor Sir Simon Rattle and stage director Peter Sellars, he asks each about their first encounters with the work. My own was a sort of epiphany. As an aspiring cellist, in my middle years I joined CAMMAC (Canadian Amateur Musicians) one summer and headed off to music camp in Quebec for an intensive week of music making with about 100 other amateurs under the supervision of some very accomplished professionals. (As a matter of fact, one of my chamber music coaches was violinist Michelle Seto who, I see from the personnel list on the Mozart disc mentioned above, is still a core member of Les Violons du Roy.) Check-in at the camp – a rustic lodge on the edge of Lake MacDonald – was on a Sunday afternoon and our first musical gathering took place that evening. It was my first experience of playing in a large ensemble and I approached it with equal amounts of excitement and trepidation. The music set before us was the opening chorale from the St. John Passion. Although the repeated note that constitutes most of the cello line is quite straightforward, I was concentrating on it with all my energy to the exclusion of my surroundings. When from behind the orchestra the choir suddenly burst forth with Herr, Herr, Herr, Herr unser Herrscher it was a truly glorious moment and I found myself thinking “Wow, this is amazing!” I’ve been hooked on making music with others ever since.

The Berlin production is semi-staged, but as Rattle explains it is more of an elaboration of the text, a ritualization rather than a theatrical presentation of the story. Although written by Bach for church performance on Good Friday, the St. John Passion goes far beyond the bounds of the usual church service and caused, if not scandal, at least disgruntlement among the conservative congregations of Bach’s time, so it is a work which has no natural forum in church due to its theatrical aspects nor the opera house where its liturgical nature is forbidden. This is well explained in the interview and also in the enlightening introduction provided by Simon Halsey, director of the Berlin Radio Choir, who puts not only the original but also this somewhat contemporary interpretation of the work into context. Frequently judged for its anti-Semitic sentiments placing all the blame for Christ’s death on the Jews, this presentation of the Passion takes a more universal approach in which the blame is shared with everyone. Halsey points out that the onus is on each of us to take a stand and speak out against injustice when we see it and likens the situation to the events that led to the First and Second World Wars. (Sellars goes farther, comparing it to the current affairs of his American homeland.)

The Berlin Philharmonie where the performance takes place provides a theatre-in-the-round and Sellars has used this to good advantage. The orchestra – playing on modern instruments, but well informed by historical practices – is divided in two and the instrumentalists move to prominent spots when used as soloists. The continuo consists of cello, organ, lute, contrabass, bassoon and contrabassoon, and this is supplemented with viola da gamba and two violas d’amore as the score requires. The choir, 90 voices strong, is dressed in black and called upon to make some dramatic movements, including writhing on the floor and a making hand gestures. Although off-putting at first, the effects gradually draw us in and become an inherent part of the drama as it unfolds. All of the vocal soloists are outstanding, but particular mention must be made of Mark Padmore (Evangelist), Christian Gerhaher (Pilate) and Roderick Williams (Jesus) who is blindfolded and in uncomfortable positions through much of the action. It is worthy of note that all the vocalists, soloists and choristers (!) alike sing for the entire two hours from memory, and Rattle conducts without a score. This is a stunning production and I highly recommend it.

Concert note: On April 1 the Guelph Chamber Choir presents the St. John Passion with James McLean (Evangelist), Daniel Lichti (Jesus), Gordon Burnett (Pilate) and Orchestra Viva under Gerald Neufeld’s direction at the River Run Centre in Guelph. On April 2 it will be presented in Toronto by the Choir of St. Peter and St. Simon-the-Apostle Anglican Church with Lenard Whiting (Evangelist) and members of the Canadian Sinfonietta, Robin Davis conducting.

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 and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

01 Harry FreedmanI was thrilled to receive the latest shipment of Centrediscs from the Canadian Music Centre (CMC) shortly after filing my February column and several days before that month’s issue hit the streets. I knew exactly what would take pride of place in my March column: Harry Freedman – The Concert Recordings (CMCCD 23517). I was therefore a little dismayed when I did see the February WholeNote and found that David Jaeger had stolen my thunder. His excellent and extended article about Freedman’s orchestral music and the particular pieces included on the disc, from his perspective as producer of a number of those recordings, would seemingly make anything I had to say redundant. But perhaps not irrelevant. In my own years as a broadcaster (at CKLN and CJRT) I met Freedman on a number of occasions and got to know him fairly well, but it is his music that made a real impression on me. In my formative years this was the music, particularly Freedman’s orchestral works, that I grew up understanding to define what made Canadian music Canadian: aural landscapes reminiscent of the North, stark and angular, crisp and rugged, but at the same time lush and evocative.

All of the tracks are exceptional, but there are two real standouts for me. Borealis for orchestra (TSO) and a (heavenly) host of choirs (Danish National Radio Choir, Elmer Iseler Singers, Swedish Radio Choir and Toronto Children’s Chorus) was written for and performed in the towering Barbara Frum Atrium in the CBC Broadcast Centre as part of Soundstreams’ Northern Encounters Festival of the Arts in 1997 with the orchestra and choirs surrounding the ground floor audience from the balconies above. Images predates Borealis by almost four decades (1960) and is heard here in a 1979 performance with Sir Andrew Davis at the helm of the TSO. It is a three-movement work inspired by Canadian artists Lawren Harris, Kazuo Nakamura and Jean-Pierre Riopelle which in the words of the composer is “not so much concerned with the content of the paintings as with their design…in effect, a translation into musical terms of the artists’ styles.”

As a reflection of that aspect of the CMC’s mandate to preserve and promote the history of our musical heritage, I feel this is one of the most significant releases from Centrediscs’ in recent years and as we enter Canada’s sesquicentennial an important reminder of our artistic heritage.

02 RavensThe other disc in the shipment from the CMC has left me scratching my head. I understand that an important part of the CMC’s mandate is to promote the music of our emerging composers and to reflect changing concerns and aesthetics, but I would still expect that to be done within the context of art music. Ravens (CMCCD 23217) features the music of Yellowknife-based composer Carmen Braden and it is a truly eclectic recording that would, I feel, be most at home in The WholeNote’s Pot Pourri section. Please don’t get me wrong, I like the disc very much and there are indeed some “classical” compositions included – a brief excerpt from Candle Ice for piano trio and field recordings of melting ice; Magnetic North for violin and piano; and Waltz of Wing and Claw “a string quartet of ravens playing in the wind” which turns out to be another excerpt from a larger work The Raven Conspiracy – but the bulk of the album consists of quirky and clever pop songs with occasional nods to jazz (à la Joni Mitchell) and even a twangy ode – Small Town Song – explained in the composer’s notes with the statement “The banjo is wonderful, but it scares me a little.” Braden seems to have overcome her fear of this predominantly southern instrument and this rousing sing-along brings an intriguing northern journey to a satisfying end. I just wish we could have heard the instrumental compositions in their entirety.

03 Another truly eclectic disc has come to my attention in the context of an upcoming Toronto performance. Vocalist and songwriter Simrit was born in Athens, Greece, but adopted and brought up in South Carolina by Greek immigrants. Her music draws on the Greek Orthodox chants of her heritage and on the pulse and melodic sensibilities of West African traditions which she has studied intensely. Add to this such influences as Mazzy Star, Jeff Buckley, Loreena McKennitt, roots reggae and world music from the Mediterranean to the Subcontinent and I’m not sure quite what you get, but I’ve been captivated by its compelling ambience for several weeks now.

As well as her haunting vocals, on Songs of Resilience (simritkaurmusic.com) Simrit plays harmonium and mellotron and is accompanied by a septet who between them play kora, pueblo log drums, congas, cello, electronics, electric and acoustic guitars, drum kit and miscellaneous percussion. Simrit says “This music changes consciousness, and that is where we can start. For the world to shift into a potentially peaceful place, we must start with ourselves first.” But as the press release assures us “the central message is not sappy or facile. It’s about finding the sounds to aid change, to expand what you can see and embrace.”

Concert note: You can find out what Simrit’s music and message is all about at St. George’s Lutheran Church at 410 College St. in Toronto on March 29 at 7:30.

Sticking with my Pot Pourri theme, I had the pleasure of meeting up with a friend from my early childhood at Winterfolk on the Family Day Weekend. David Storey and I knew each other back in our pre-school days, attending the same Anglican church and each other’s birthday parties. Somewhere around our teenage years we lost track of each other as he went off to choir school and I attended York County’s experiment with open plan education in the early years of Thornlea Secondary School. Evidently Storey spent some years as a singer-songwriter before taking a 25-year hiatus to direct television and film productions, including the iconic Corner Gas. When this last had run its course, Storey returned to his first love, playing the guitar and turning some wonderful stories into song.

04 David StoreyHe recently released his first full-length CD Coming Home (davidstoreymusic.com) and the name is particularly apt. The songs tell tales (tall and otherwise) of his life and adventures and although they are complete in themselves it was a treat to hear some of their background in intros and asides during his performance at the Black Swan on the Danforth, the central venue of Winterfolk. Performing with Lawrie Ingles (keyboard), Henry Lees (harmony vocals) and Bob Cohen (bass and something that seemed to be an eight-string ukulele, a new one on me) Storey was able to recreate a bare-bones version of the arrangements from the album, with Ingles providing some convincing fiddle lines on his electronic keyboard and adding a third voice to some tight harmonies. Cohen shone with fluid solos on two cover tunes, Little Feat’s Willin’ and Van Morrison’s Crazy Love but the rest of the hour-long set was devoted to original material from the CD.

All in all it was a lovely outing with my mother, who was once Storey’s Sunday-school teacher, and if you missed it – there was a good crowd, but I didn’t see you there – you should check out the album. Highlights for me include Saint Adelaide (Who knew there was a Catholic saint of abuse victims; brides; empresses; exiles; in-law problems; parenthood; parents of large families; princesses; prisoners; second marriages; step-parents; and widows? She must be very busy!); the cancer survivor’s anthem Crusty – “I’m crusty and I’m chuff [look it up if you need to, this is a great word!], and I refuse to die, I’m gonna stare this crazy world straight in the eye…” and Last Loon on the Lake where Storey is joined by the bluegrass band Traditionally Wound. You really owe it to yourself to visit the website to hear this track (and then buy the CD or download).

Lest it seem that I have spent most of my time this month awash in Pot Pourri, I’ll mention that I have been practising my cello diligently for the upcoming term-end recital at University Settlement Music and Arts School (March 3 at 7pm at the Church of St. George the Martyr). This time around I am playing in two string trios and immersing myself in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. My regular group will play selected movements of Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s arrangement of the Goldberg Variations and I managed to talk my way into another which will be doing a trio arrangement of the Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor BWV1043. So it’s been quite a challenging couple of months preparing and “I’m playing as fast as I can!” An initial frustration as I sought out recordings to study was that current day period orchestras tune substantially lower than the modern concert pitch of A440 making playing along impractical unless I want to retune my cello each time. Fortunately I found that my old trusty Columbia LP recording with Isaac Stern and Itzhak Perlman and the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta was indeed at modern pitch and so all I had to do was aspire to their tempos…

05 OistrakhsElsewhere in these pages you can read Bruce Surtees’ impressions of The David Oistrakh Edition which includes among a host of other recordings David and son Igor playing works for two violins by Bach and Vivaldi. It was a great pleasure to find in my inbox just two days before I sat down to write this, a new Berlin Classics reissue of the Bach Concerto for Two Violins BWV 1043 and the Vivaldi Concerto Grosso Op.3 No.8 with David and Igor Oistrach [sic] (010084BC) remastered from 1957 Eterna mono recordings. So now I have two fabulous models to work from (both at A440) and the Berlin Classics recording comes with the added bonus of one of my very favourite violin pieces, the Franck Violin Sonata in A Major featuring David Oistrakh and Anton Ginsburg (piano) from 1958. I must admit that it was a relief to find that without losing any of the bright and lively feel of the outer movements, the Oistrakhs take slightly more relaxed tempos than Stern and Perlman, leaving me with the hope that in the next two weeks I can actually get up to speed after all. On both recordings the gorgeous Largo middle movement is to die for.

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

Most of my listening this month has related in one way or another to my “other hat” as general manager at New Music Concerts. In the early days of January we presented one of our most successful concerts in some years, with standing room only at the Music Gallery. “Conducting the Ether,” a concert originally mounted during the Open Ears Festival last summer in Kitchener, featured German theremin virtuoso Carolina Eyck and the Penderecki String Quartet, with the participation of pianist Gregory Oh, oboist James Mason and composer D. Andrew Stewart.

Patented in 1928 by electrical pioneer Léon Theremin, the theremin is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact by the performer, who literally “conducts the air.” The concert included one of the first ensemble pieces to incorporate the theremin, Bohuslav Martinů’s Fantasia (1944) with oboe, string quartet and piano, works by Omar Daniel for theremin, string quartet and electronic organ, D. Andrew Stewart for string quartet and Karlax (a contemporary digital musical instrument), a transcription of Ravel’s Kaddish for theremin and piano and Eyck’s own recent Fantasias, structured movements for string quartet overlaid with theremin improvisations by the composer.

01 Carolina EyckIt is a recording of these Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet featuring Carolina Eyck and members of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (Butterscotch Records BSR015) that has been in constant rotation on my sound system in recent weeks. While the eerie electronic sound of the theremin can be deceptively close to that of the human voice and is often used that way by composers writing for the instrument, the freshness of Eyck’s pieces for me is the breadth of range presented here. Of the six pieces, two use what I would call the traditional sound of the theremin – familiar from horror movie soundtracks and the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations – but the other four exploit other aspects of the instrument, from chirps and swooshes to rumbles and groans, bell sounds to joyous explosions of mirth. Meanwhile the quartet accompaniment varies from minimalist ostinati to Bartók-like night music, drones to rollicking clouds of harmony and in one instance sounds like a Renaissance consort of viols. For anyone unfamiliar with the theremin, or labouring under the misapprehension that it is a “one-trick pony,” these Fantasias will provide an exhilarating introduction to its true versatility.

Founded in the 1980s in Poland as the New Szymanowski Quartet, the Penderecki String Quartet earned its new name when it won a special prize at a 1986 competition in Lodz for its performance of Quartet No.2 by Krzysztof Penderecki and the composer invited the quartet to take his name. They later went to the USA and were affiliated with the University of Wisconsin before establishing a permanent residency at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo in 1991. There have been numerous personnel changes over the years, with violinist Jerzy Kaplanek the only Polish member remaining. Violist Christine Vlajk has been with them for two decades and Jeremy Bell has been sharing first chair duties with Kaplanek since 1999. Only American cellist Katie Schlaikjer, who joined in 2013, is a relative newcomer. In addition to teaching positions at WLU, the PSQ enjoys an active international career and has recorded more the 25 compact discs with repertoire ranging from Beethoven through Bartók – the first Canadian recording of the Bartók cycle – to commissions from many composers of the present day.

02 PSQTheir most recent release – De Profundis (Marquis Classics MAR 81473) – features two works by Polish-born Norbert Palej who now teaches at the University of Toronto, and their namesake Krzysztof Penderecki’s String Quartet No.3 “Leaves of an Unwritten Diary” (2008). The PSQ worked closely with the composer at Symphony Space in New York City on the occasion of Penderecki’s 80th birthday in 2013. In his liner notes Bell says they became aware on this encounter “that Penderecki’s ‘unwritten diary’ is key to understanding this quartet. While there seems to be an outpouring of autobiographical references in this work, it was clear upon meeting the composer that this diary is to remain private. This is a highly evocative and nostalgic quartet that Penderecki wishes to be his gift to music, to listeners, and to performers – a work of abstract art that we can approach with our own humanity and emotion.”

As mentioned, Palej, who is the coordinator of the U of T New Music Festival which runs January 29 through February 5 at the Faculty of Music, is represented by two pieces, both world premiere recordings. String Quartet No.1 “De Profundis” dates from 2011, a time when Palej was reading Oscar Wilde’s book of that name. Two years later he returned to the medium, this time adding soprano vocalise (Leslie Fagan) in the penultimate movement. String Quartet No.2 “Four Quartets” takes its context from T.S. Eliot. Although both these works have literary inspirations, or at least connotations, Palej says “I can’t explain exactly where the influence is revealed. The subtitles of my quartets merely point toward it, hoping this gentle gesture will not in any way delimit the listeners’ flights of imagination. Can the dark desolation of Reading Gaol be heard in the first quartet? Or can you hear the ‘deception of the thrush,’ the ‘association of man and woman in daunsinge,’ the flowing of the ‘brown strong god,’ or ‘the dove descending’ in the four movements of the second? Maybe, but maybe not. It is not important, at least not to me, the composer.” Be that as it may, he also says, “Without the influence of this poetry the music would have turned out completely differently: more than that: I would now be a different person, a poorer one spiritually.” At the risk of sounding bombastic I would dare to add that we would all be poorer without these dark and probing works so majestically performed.

03 SzymanskiContinuing with the Polish theme, I would note that my introduction to the music of Paweł Szymański (b.1954) was the result of New Music Concerts back in 1988, long before my association with that organization began. On that occasion, one of the works featured was for solo piccolo and an unusually low ensemble of horn, trombone, two percussion, two violas and two cellos. A recent disc by harpsichordist Małgorzata Sarbak – Dissociative Counterpoint Disorder (Bolt Records BR1035) – features another concertante work from that year, Partita III, but in this instance the accompaniment is provided by traditional orchestra (Janáček Philharmonic; Zsolt Nagy). It starts at full speed with continuous harpsichord lines juxtaposed with busy, flamboyant orchestral textures. All this activity stops suddenly after two minutes for an abrupt and disconcerting silence of almost 20 seconds after which the frenetic activity begins again. This happens a number times with increasing frequency during the one-movement work, with subsequent silences of shorter duration giving way to nearly inaudible string chords before the busyness returns. The quiet passages ultimately overcome the frenzied sections and the piece fades into an otherworldly quiet with a single high repeated note on the harpsichord as if a beacon flashing into outer space.

The title work is the most recent and was written in 2014 for Sarbak, unlike Partita III and Through the Looking Glass (1994) which were composed for the iconic Polish harpsichordist Elżbieta Chojnacka who had championed the works of Ligeti, Xenakis and other post-war composers. Dissociative Counterpoint Disorder as its title suggests, is somewhat bipolar, once again alternating between frantic activity and more stately passages, but this time for harpsichord alone. The “Alice”-inspired solo work begins with more frenetic stops and starts with the harpsichord sounding almost like a calliope, and once again fades to black, this time with a series of sustained yet isolated notes in the lowest register.

In music the term “parody” does not imply ridicule, but simply means “in the style of” as with Palestrina’s parody masses and parody madrigals based on works of Cipriano de Rore and others. Szymański is a masterful parodist in this sense, as witnessed by Les poiriers en pologne ou une suite de pièces sentimentales de clavecin faite par Mr. Szymański. Critic Alex Ross wrote of another of Szymański’s pseudo Baroque suites in the New Yorker that it “not only sounds like Bach but could be mistaken for Bach – the latter being rather more difficult than the former.” Sarbak, who is herself a specialist in Baroque performance, says “…Szymański is actually composing in the idiom of the Baroque…using the words – melodical and rhythmical formulas, the expressions, rhetorical figures that were very important then – in the language of the period. […]Szymański wouldn’t put in any score markings, which were also absent at that time…He leaves the freedom to the performer…[which is] what’s great and vivid about playing Baroque music.” One of Szymański’s earliest works from his student days was for violin and harpsichord. It is obviously an interest that has stuck with him throughout his career and the result is really something to behold.

04 Bernstein SymphoniesI first heard Leonard Bernstein’s symphonies in my formative years, in his recordings with the New York Philharmonic. They impressed me then and they still do. There are three and none of them follow the traditional symphonic mould. Each has a subtitle and they all employ a soloist: Symphony No.1 “Jeremiah” features a mezzo soprano; Symphony No.2 “The Age of Anxiety” a pianist and Symphony No.3 “Kaddish” a narrator (Bernstein’s wife Felicia Montealegre in the version I grew up with), plus soprano and choir.

Marin Alsop has now completed her recording of the cycle with Bernstein – Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 conducting the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (Naxos 8.559790). Jeremiah is a three-movement work: Prophecy, Profanation and Lamentation. Bernstein said “The work I have been writing all my life is the struggle that is born of the crisis of our century, a crisis of faith. Even way back, when I wrote Jeremiah [1939-1942] I was wrestling with that problem.” The first movement is contemplative and the second is dance-like, presaging some of the composer’s later stage music. It is in the third movement that the mezzo – Jennifer Johnson Cano here – enters, singing Hebrew texts selected by Bernstein from the Lamentations of Jeremiah which are expectedly heart-wrenching and dramatic before an extended quiet orchestral coda.

Inspired by W.H. Auden’s The Age of Anxiety which Bernstein discovered in 1947 and called “one of the most shattering examples of pure virtuosity in the English language […] almost immediately the music started to sing.” Jean-Yves Thibaudet is the soloist in this extended work in 18 movements divided into two main sections. Part 1 begins with a quiet orchestral Prologue followed by two sets of variations, The Seven Ages and The Seven Stages, where the piano is prominent. Although lasting half of the work’s 35 minutes, Part 2 has only three sections, The Dirge, The Masque and The Epilogue, which continues the flamboyance of the preceding movement in its opening stages but then features an extended introspective piano cadenza and a swelling, triumphant orchestral finale. As Frank K. DeWald’s program notes suggest however, in the Second Symphony the crisis of faith is “discussed, probed [but only] superficially resolved…” Bernstein will take up the theme again in his final symphony.

Somehow I overlooked Alsop’s recording of Symphony No.3 ”Kaddish” with Claire Bloom narrating when it was released last year (Naxos 8.559742). With the powerful performances of the first two symphonies presented here as evidence, I will definitely be rectifying that shortly.

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

Ten days ago I thought I knew what I would write about in this month’s column, but so much has happened since then: the death of Leonard Cohen on the heels of the release of his final work You Want It Darker – darker indeed!; the change in the weather from beautiful, colourful days of unseasonably high temperatures to high winds, sub-zero thermometer readings, bare trees and the first sight of snow as I sit down to write this; and the last-minute arrival of a number of particularly interesting discs (most of which will have to wait until February).

01 MessiahIt is literally a case of “this just in” – couriered to me the afternoon before my deadline – with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s new recording Handel Messiah (Chandos CHSA 5176(2)), with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and soloists Erin Wall, Elizabeth DeShong, Andrew Staples and John Relyea. TSO Conductor Laureate Sir Andrew Davis not only conducts but is responsible for the new arrangement for full modern orchestral forces. In his booklet notes, Davis tells us that this labour of love, dedicated to the memory of his parents, took ten months to prepare in advance of 2010 performances with the TSO. I first became aware of the mammoth scope of this version when Davis and the TSO revisited it for the 2015 Messiah performances last December. At that time I needed to hire a contrabassoonist for New Music Concerts’ “Portrait of Philippe Leroux” and approached Fraser Jackson, the TSO musician who is our usual go-to guy for contra. Fraser said that although Messiah doesn’t usually require quadruple winds and brass, for Davis’ version it was all hands on deck as full orchestral resources, and then some, are called for.

This recording was prepared from those live performances at Roy Thomson Hall last year so I knew not to expect a lean, historically informed approach and in fact was a little concerned about just how bombastic it would turn out to be. I am pleased to report that Davis achieves a nice balance between restraint in the accompaniment to the arias and larger forces in the choruses. Especially effective is the power of the Hallelujah Chorus toward the end of which Davis added sleigh bells “because this passage has always brought to my mind the picture of proudly rearing horses!” This is contrasted with the opening aria of Part Three where the soprano is accompanied only by clarinet and solo strings. The final chorus which begins in full voice is reined in for the “Amen” fugue which begins with organ accompaniment and gradually builds to a magnificent and triumphant finale that threatens to bring down the house.

Producer Blanton Alspaugh and the engineers of Soundmirror Inc. have done an impressive job of capturing the TSO and Mendelssohn Choir in glorious full spectrum sound. The vocal soloists are in top form, although I must say that personally I find soprano Wall’s wide vibrato a little hard to take – it’s simply not a taste I have acquired. A highlight for me is the alto aria “But who may abide…” and the bass’ “The people who walked….” Personal tastes aside, this new recording does the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and, indeed, Toronto itself proud.

Concert notes: There are some two dozen opportunities to hear full performances of Messiah listed elsewhere in these pages, plus a number of concerts featuring excerpts from the iconic work. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra promises a somewhat different approach this year with famed early music expert Nicholas McGegan at the helm. The TSO offers five performances with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and soloists Yulia Van Doren, Abigail Lewis, Isaiah Bell and Daniel Okulitch at Roy Thomson Hall December 18 (matinee), 19 through 21 and 23 at 8pm.

If there was any doubt that the flute is a going concern in our fair city, activities in the last six months have certainly laid that to rest. My association with Robert Aitken has given me an insider’s view of some of these, including New Music Concerts’ “Flutes Galore” last April with an orchestra of 24 members of the flute family – piccolo to contrabass – featuring (many of) this city’s finest players. This came just days after the Canadian Flute Association’s Latin American Flute Festival which had involved some of the same musicians along with international guests. Since then, Soundstreams’ “Magic Flutes” included Aitken and fellow Torontonian Leslie Newman, with international stars Marina Piccinini, Claire Chase and Patrick Gallois. This was followed by “Flute Day” at the University of Toronto with workshops, masterclasses and a flute choir concert with Aitken, Newman, Nora Shulman, Stephen Tam, Camille Watts and faculty students, and the following week Esprit Orchestra’s presentation of R. Murray Schafer’s Flute Concerto with Aitken as soloist. Interspersed with this has been a series of flute showcases, demonstrations and concerts by internationally renowned flutists sponsored by Long & McQuade, hosted by Gallery 345. And this is all just in the realm of the classical flute tradition. Bill McBurnie’s Extreme Flute, Jamie Thompson’s Junction Trio and Jane Bunnett’s myriad activities are just a few examples of how diverse the local flute scene is.

02 Sue HoeppnerOne of the other late arrival discs features another star in Toronto’s flute firmament, Susan Hoeppner. Following on their JUNO award-winning 2012 Marquis release American Flute Masterpieces, Hoeppner and pianist Lydia Wong have just released Canadian Flute Masterpieces, this time on the Centrediscs label (CMCCD 23116). The disc begins with Gary Kulesha’s Sonata for Flute and Piano, which is dedicated to Hoeppner who premiered it with the composer in 2014. The effective work is in three contrasting movements, a bright Allegro molto, a brooding Slowly, freely and the toccata-like Moderately fast finale. It is freely tonal but among the effects used are microtonal bending of notes, unpitched breath sounds and whistle tones in the flute line and small cluster chords in the piano part. This is followed by Michael Conway Baker’s moving Elegy in an arrangement for flute and piano.

As in many of Srul Irving Glick’s works, Sonata for Flute and Piano is a tuneful secular piece which incorporates a traditional Hebrew melody, in this case a chant for the Jewish New Year. Oskar Morawetz wrote his Sonata for Flute and Piano in 1980 for another towering figure in the flute world, Jeanne Baxtresser, who served as principal flute for both the Montreal and Toronto Symphony Orchestras before accepting the position of solo flutist with the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Meta. Morawetz was a self-avowed traditionalist and this sonata is a good example of that with its charming melodic turns and the rhythmic intensity of its outer movements.

An arrangement for flute and piano of Larysa Kuzmenko’s Melancholy Waltz from Suite of Dances provides a haunting contrast to both the preceding track and the final work, Arctic Dreams I, by Christos Hatzis, written for Hoeppner and percussionist Beverley Johnston. Hatzis explains that Arctic Dreams is a palimpsest of sorts, a piece written overtop material that was originally recorded for Footprints in New Snow, the third movement of the radio documentary Voices of the Land, about the Inuit and their culture, created with CBC producer Keith Horner. The work’s soundtrack opens with Inuit throat singing and the Arctic landscape of the title is effectively superimposed with melodic flute and vibraphone textures.

I first met Hoeppner in my capacity as a concert recording producer at CJRT-FM and I can vouch for her dedication and concern that only first-rank performances be recorded for posterity. She and Wong have risen to the occasion on this project and both the performances and the production values of this Mazzoleni Hall recording are outstanding. While I might have called them Canadian “gems” rather than “masterpieces,” I have no qualms about recommending this fine recording.

Concert note: On December 12 at 5:30pm Susan Hoeppner launches Canadian Flute Masterpieces at the Canadian Music Centre.

Review

03 Papineau CoutureI grew up understanding that John Weinzweig was the “Dean of Canadian Composers” but in my formative years came to the realization that, as with so many things Canadian, there are Two Solitudes and that Jean Papineau-Couture (1916-2000) was “The Dean” in La Belle Province. He was born into one of the most distinguished Quebec families and his forebears include the statesman Louis-Joseph Papineau and the composer Guillaume Couture, who was his paternal grandfather. As a matter of fact Papineau-Couture was named in honour of his grandfather’s masterwork, the oratorio Jean le Précurseur, John the Baptist.

There are many parallels between the two “deans.” After studies at home in Toronto, Weinzweig went to the USA to study at the Eastman School and Papineau-Couture left his native Montreal to attend the New England Conservatory and later studied with the iconic Nadia Boulanger who spent the war years in America. Both moved back to Canada to establish careers as composers and university professors. They were founding members of the Canadian League of Composers (CLC) and the Canadian Music Centre (CMC) and enjoyed a friendly rivalry over the decades. I had the pleasure of meeting Papineau-Couture on several occasions and the privilege of interviewing him for my program Transfigured Night at CKLN-FM in the 1980s. He was a charming man and a generous soul, a fierce champion of the rights of artists and staunch defender of serious culture. He was also an active administrator serving as the president of the CLC, the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec and the Canadian Music Council, dean of the music faculty at the Université de Montréal and the director of the Montreal office of the CMC.

I was delighted when I heard that Quatuor Molinari was recording his complete music for string quartet along with the string trio Slanó (ATMA ACD2 2751). And even more delighted to find that in addition to the String Quartets 1 and 2 with which I was familiar, there was a third from 1996 and an incomplete fourth recently found among his papers. So we are effectively presented with works spanning nearly half a century and all the periods of his mature career. String Quartet No.1 dates from 1953 and shows the influence of French composers of the early 20th century. By the centennial year when he composed String Quartet No.2, although eschewing the serial school of composition, he was exploring an expanded tonality using all 12 tones. It is the string trio from 1975 that is the most experimental, with its elaborate use of extended techniques and layering of timbres. Quartet No.3 is a one-movement work which presents a sense of stylistic transition, moving away from the somewhat abrasive world of the string trio, embracing a certain lushness while at the same time approaching the sparse lyricism with which we are presented in the posthumous final work. Although unfinished, I must say that it does not give the impression of being incomplete.

This is a wonderful retrospective of one of our most important composers on the occasion of his centennial and it includes two world premiere recordings. Kudos to founding first violinist Olga Ranzenhofer and the members of the Molinari Quartet for their ongoing commitment to the music of our time through recordings of some of the most significant works of the last half century and their efforts to develop new repertoire with the Molinari International Composition Competition, the sixth of which took place in 2015. Praise is also due to the designers of the attractive and informative package which includes some wonderful photos of Papineau-Couture throughout his life, from an adolescent in a sailor suit through to the pensive, but ever-smiling, grand old man.

04 Cohen You Want It DarkerThis month we say goodbye to another grand old man and icon of the Canadian music scene, Leonard Cohen. Much like David Bowie’s final offering Black Star, Cohen’s You Want It Darker (Columbia/Sony) seems a precursor, with such lyrics as “I’m ready my Lord,” “I’m leaving the table; I’m out of the game” and “I’m traveling light, it’s au revoir” recurring throughout the nine-song release. Produced by Adam Cohen, the disc features lyrics by his father set to music co-written with Patrick Leonard, Sharon Robinson and Adam himself. There is an overall consistent feel, mostly mellow and melancholy with Cohen’s haunting sprechstimme vocals, but with occasional upbeat respites such as Steer Your Way, with rhythmic fiddling from David Davidson and background vocals by Dana Glover and Alison Kraus. The orchestration is quite varied, from the title track with drums, two B3 organs and keyboard, cantor Gideon Y. Zelermyer and the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir, to a quintet of accompanists in Leaving the Table who play between them drums, bass, nylon-string guitar, guitar, mellotron, celeste, keys, piano, electric and pedal steel guitars. One very effective juxtaposition is Treaty – “I wish there was a treaty we could sign; It’s over now, the water and the wine; We were broken then, but now we’re borderline; I wish there was a treaty; I wish there was a treaty; Between your love and mine” – with the final track, which is a revisiting entitled String Reprise/Treaty. This features an extended string prelude by Patrick Leonard which is somewhat reminiscent of another contextual anomaly, producer Jack Nitzsche’s String Quartet from Whiskey Boot Hill on Neil Young’s eponymous album back in 1968.

On the credits page of the booklet, Cohen includes an extended tribute to his son, saying, in part “I want to acknowledge, with deep gratitude, the role my son Adam Cohen played in the making of You Want it Darker. Without his contribution there would be no record. At a certain point, after over a year of intense labour…the project was abandoned. Adam took over…and brought these unfinished songs to completion, preserving of course, many of Pat [Leonard]’s haunting musical themes. It is because of my son’s loving encouragement and skillful administration, that these songs exist in their present form. I cannot thank him enough.” We should all be thankful for this moving memento mori.

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 added features including direct links to performers, composers and record labels, “buy buttons” for online shopping and additional, expanded and archival reviews.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

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