01 12 Ensemble Death and the Maiden In Terry Robbins’ Strings Attached column you will see Schubert’s string quartet Death and the Maiden referred to as an “almost symphonic work,” which fits right in with my first selection. 12 Ensemble is a string orchestra from the UK founded in 2012 by co-directors Eloisa-Fleur Thom and Max Ruisi. Touted on its website as a “modern, versatile and virtuosic ensemble, the group is built around a core of 12 of London’s finest chamber musicians. Always playing without a conductor, the ensemble’s acclaimed performances combine the energy, excitement and creativity of a small ensemble with the breathtaking sound afforded by a string orchestra.” The core membership is supplemented as required by the repertoire and by my count from the video clip, there are 14 players involved in the group’s transcription of the title work from Death and the Maiden (Sancho Panza digital release the12ensemble.com). The disc opens with John Tavener’s transcription of his tranquil choral setting of Blake’s The Lamb, which is followed by the tumultuous Schubert. Ruisi’s program note includes an extended explanation of why 12 Ensemble chose not to use Mahler’s well-known transcription of this iconic work. Instead they decided to go “back to basics, using Schubert’s quartet parts and creating a double-bass part that adds impact and depth when required but is sensitive to the delicate balance of Schubert’s orchestration.” To my ear this is an effective treatment with only occasional moments of overbearingly thick textures. For the most part the playing is light, dynamic and convincing.

Some 45 minutes later we are granted respite from Schubert’s emotional rollercoaster with Honey Siren, a three-movement work by Oliver Leith written especially for the ensemble in 2019. Leith tells us “I was thinking about sirens; the wailing kind, not the bird women singing on rocks. [...] They usually signal something ominous; these sirens do not. They are honeyed, dripping in globules of sweetness [...] like a smiling alarm.” All is not entirely placid however and the last movement ends with some near-strident tension before the sirens fade. The brief final work is truly calming. It dates from an Icelandic residency in 2016 when ensemble member Guy Button came up with a string arrangement of Fljótavík by the band Sigur Rós. The sense of the original words – “We’re sailing, stretching ourselves…We’re sailing into land, unknown place…I felt myself happy there…we are really thankful” – is aptly captured in this gentle closer.

02 Gould GuldaI am always pleased to encounter another recording of Glenn Gould’s String Quartet Op.1. Since the original recording by the Symphonia Quartet under Gould’s direction in 1960, there have been half a dozen or so more, most under the auspices of Gould anniversaries and celebrations, but in recent years a few stand-alone releases have appeared. You can find reviews of Alcan and Catalyst Quartet recordings in The WholeNote back catalogue (searchable on the website) from April 2009 and September 2015 respectively. The latest to appear is Glenn Gould; Friedrich Gulda – The String Quartet featuring the Austrian Acies Quartet (Gramola 99028 naxos.com). This intriguing pairing features quartets from early in the careers of two eccentric, accomplished pianists, their only ventures into the genre. While Gulda (1930-2000) is described as a pianist and composer, Gould is almost exclusively known as keyboard virtuoso. Of course we know of Gould’s work as a radio documentarian, a genre which he approached in a most composerly fashion, but his actual musical output was minimal with the string quartet accounting for roughly half if considered by duration (about 35 minutes). We can be forgiven for looking on this work, composed around the age of 21, as an aberration. Unlike his performance practice of focusing on the Baroque era, and to a certain extent the 20th century, the quartet seems rooted in the romanticism of the 19th century and is positively lugubrious in its thick textures at times. I note that the first recording described it as “reflect[ing] Gould’s love for Bruckner, Wagner, and Richard Strauss,” a love that, as far as I can tell, was only otherwise manifest in his lone venture as a conductor (other than his own chorales) in his recording of A Siegfried Idyll. Be that as it may, this somewhat anachronistic work stands as testament to his understanding and command of the idiom.

Gulda, a man of broad tastes and talents, was as well versed in jazz as in the contemporary classical world. Born two years before Gould, Gulda’s lifespan exceeded his coeval’s by two decades, but he too wrote his only quartet at the age of 20. The String Quartet in F-sharp Minor was premiered in Vienna in 1953. Although not particularly forward-looking – no hints of postwar avant-garde tendencies here – it is firmly rooted in idioms of the first half of the century. With contemplative outer movements that are interrupted by a sprightly scherzo which itself gives way to a gentle middle section, the overall quartet has a slow-fast-slow-fast-slow arc. Incidentally, for those of you not familiar with Gulda the pianist, in the April edition of Old Wine in New Bottles, Bruce Surtees will be reviewing a newly issued set, Friedrich Gulda: Piano Concertos by Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Strauss on the SWR Music label.

The Acies Quartet, founded some 15 years ago, is now in the fifth year of its current membership. Having studied and participated in masterclasses with some of the world’s outstanding ensembles – including the Alban Berg and Guarneri Quartets – it is not surprising that these still-young musicians play with an understanding beyond their years. Of note, besides excellent musicianship is their curatorial inspiration in bringing these two little-known works together. And kudos for the booklet which gives an insightful context to each, with essays by Jens F. Laurson (Gould) and Walter Gürtelschmied (Gulda).

03 BoulangerI have WholeNote alumna Simone Desilets to thank for bringing the next disc to my attention. Pianist Clare Longendyke was the recipient of the George Brough Memorial Endowment scholarship at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in 2017 and the following year Desilets invited her to Toronto to participate in celebrations to mark Brough’s centennial. Together with recital partner violist Rose Wollman, Longendyke recently released Homage to Nadia Boulanger (rosewollman.com) featuring works by the iconoclastic teacher and her lineage on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of her death. Boulanger (1887-1979) mentored many of the leading composers and musicians of the 20th century, among them such notable Canadians as Gabriel Cusson, Jean Papineau-Couture, István Anhalt, Maurice Blackburn, Gabriel Charpentier, Pierre Mercure, John Beckwith, Sterling Beckwith, Roger Matton, Walter Buczynski and Arthur Ozolins, to name a few of the more than 60.

This Homage begins with Le Grand Tango by Astor Piazzolla, who studied with Boulanger in his 30s when he was already an established tango artist. Wollman says the duo worked extensively with tango experts to ensure an authentic performance of this idiomatic work and that she is currently preparing a transcription of their approach into an “edition that will help classically trained musicians perform this piece stylistically.” The disc continues with Boulanger’s own Trois pieces pour violoncelle et piano in Wollman’s arrangement for viola. Two gentle movements of great beauty are followed by a driving finale reminiscent to my ears of Prokofiev, described as vite et nerveusement rythmé.

The project claims to include Boulanger and her students and “great grandstudents.” I wondered what this latter term meant and was told that the youngest of the composers included – Gabriela Lena Frank (b.1972) – studied with William Albright and Samuel Jones who studied with Ross Lee Finney and Bernard Rogers respectively, who in turn were themselves students of Boulanger. A bona fide lineage indeed. Frank’s contribution is a lilting and mostly lively dance suite titled Cinco Danzas de Chambi (2006), inspired by the work of Peruvian Martín Chambi (1891-1973), the first Amerindian photographer to achieve international acclaim. The suite ends hauntingly with the mournful Harawi de Chambi.

The most substantial work presented here is also the last on the disc. Emile Naoumoff is a French pianist and composer who was born in Bulgaria in 1962. Wikipedia tells me that “At the age of eight, after a fateful meeting in Paris, he became the last disciple of Nadia Boulanger, who referred to him as ‘the gift of my old age’. He studied with her until her death in late 1979.” The Sonata for Viola and Piano dates from 2001 and was revised eight years later. It is in one extended movement, beginning darkly but gradually moving toward the light. A pizzicato theme passed back and forth between the instruments introduces a lyrical section before the piece gradually returns to quiet calmness. The Wollman-Longendyke duo worked extensively with Naoumoff in preparation for this recording, about which he has said, “Wonderful playing and captivatingly generous narrative sound quality! Thank you for playing my sonata with such solar depth!” No argument from me – I expect the other composers would (have) agree(d).

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04 En SoloI seem to be shedding instruments at every turn in this column. I’m down to one cello in the final entry, En Solo,featuring challenging works by Canadian composers very ably performed by Pierre-Alain Bouvrette (ATMA ACD24039 digital release atmaclassique.com). As an amateur cellist and avid collector of Canadian music, I welcome this addition to the catalogue, but I must admit a number of frustrations with this digital only release. I find the recording quality and performance very satisfactory, but the digital booklet leaves much to be desired. There is a biography of this young and accomplished cellist, who for more than a decade has played with the renowned Molinari Quartet, but about the composers there is no information except for their years of birth (and death in the case of one) or about the pieces. There are hyperlinks which in three cases lead to Canadian Music Centre biographies, and in the fourth to Michel Gonneville’s own French-only website. There is also a link to Gonneville’s program note, but no notes for the other works even on the CMC site. Frankly I have come to expect more from the otherwise excellent ATMA label.

The opening selection is Paean, a 1989 composition by Otto Joachim (1910-2010, two and half months shy of his 100th birthday!). I believe this is its first commercial recording, but fortunately I have in my collection a Radio Canada portrait disc devoted to the works of Joachim which includes a broadcast recording of the premiere in 1992 by the dedicatee Guy Fouquet. (I believe my photographer friend André Leduc and I were actually at that performance which took place during the Quinzaine du violoncelle in Montreal.) Thanks to the Radio Canada release I am able to tell you that in his program note Joachim says that “Paean is mainly a 12-tone work but I subconsciously integrated into the series a melodic pattern from a Tamil raga that I knew, thereby creating a haunting melisma. I added to those long sustained notes a rhythm based on the tabla heard in this very raga…” He added “One assumes that it is harder to find ideas at 80: this was not the case with Paean, which I wrote in a relatively short time.” Now that’s the kind of information and insight that I find helpful when listening to a contemporary work.

It’s a shame that we are left wanting with two of the other pieces, Antoine Ouellette’s Psaume, Op.5 which dates from 1982 and was revised in 2013, and Denis Gougeon’s Six Thèmes Solaires: Pluton from 1990, revised in 2014. These meagre details I was able to glean from the CMC catalogue of works, along with the information that Gougeon’s six themes are each scored for different instruments or instrumental combinations and take their names from planets (Pluton = Pluto); and I suppose that Ouellette’s title is self-explanatory. As mentioned, Gonneville’s website does provide a description, in French, and a translation of the German title Hinauf, dem Bach entlang. My understand of the French is “walking up along the brook” and there is a pun here on the name of Bach, which means brook in German. Gonneville says the piece takes some of its inspiration from Bach’s Solo Cello Suite No.5. Perhaps a bit ironically, it is Gougeon’s piece that is most reminiscent of Bach’s solo cello writing to my ear, not Gonneville’s. All that being said, this is still an important addition to the catalogue, and my collection, and it’s great to get to hear Bouvrette come into his own with this solo tour de force.

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01 Luna Pearl WoolfThis month Tapestry presents the world premiere of American composer Luna Pearl Woolf’s latest opera, Jacqueline. Coinciding with this is the Pentatone release of Woolf’s Fire and Flood on the Oxingale label (PTC5186803 naxosdirect.com). This striking vocal disc features mostly recent works for a cappella choir (the Choir of Trinity Wall Street under the direction of Julian Wachner) with soloists in several instances and, in the most memorable selection, Après moi, le déluge, obbligato cello (Matt Haimovitz). After a virtuosic cello cadenza, this work develops into a bluesy and occasionally meditative telling of the story of Noah and the Flood which culminates in the gospel-tinged Lord, I’m goin’ down in Louisiana before gently subsiding. After a rousing arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows for vocal trio and cello, comes a modern-sounding but fairly tonal Missa in Fines Orbis Terrae with the choir accompanied by Messiaen-like organ (Avi Stein). The vocal trio (sopranos Devon Guthrie and Nancy Anderson with mezzo Elise Quagliata) return for One to One to One, in this instance accompanied by the low strings (three cellos and three basses) of NOVUS NY. Having begun with the close harmonies, murmurs, shouts and extended vocal techniques of the a cappella To the Fire with full choir, the disc ends with the vocal trio once again joined by Haimovitz for a raucous setting of Cohen’s Who by Fire to close out an exceptional disc. A wonderful cross-section of Woolf’s vocal writing that bodes well for the new opera.

02 ConcurrenceLast April I wrote about a solo recording by Icelandic cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir called Vernacular which included Afterquake by Páll Ragnar Pálsson, a rock musician who has recently come to the world of art music. That solo piece was directly linked to his earlier Quake for cello and chamber orchestra, a concerto in all but name and his first collaboration with Thorsteinsdóttir. On a new disc from Sono Luminus, Concurrence (DSL-92237 sonoluminus.com) Thorsteinsdóttir is heard performing this forebear with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Daniel Bjarnason, the orchestra’s principal guest conductor. While I find Afterquake a stunning tour de force with its virtuosity and subtlety, I welcome this opportunity to hear the original Quake with its expanded palette of timbre, texture and colour. It is no surprise that it was a selected work at the International Rostrum of Composers in Budapest in 2018. The disc also includes Metacosmos, an atmospheric work by Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, Haukur Tómasson’s Piano Concerto No.2 and María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir’s Oceans. In the booklet essay by American critic Steve Smith we are urged to contemplate the human dimensions of the music and not just hear it as scenic paintings. I must confess though, from the opening strains of Metacosmos I found myself remembering the stark landscapes of Iceland and thinking that yes, “You can hear a country in its music.” Tómasson’s concerto is seemingly all about timbre, the dynamics range from delicate pianissimos to forceful fortes, but the music is never bombastic. As Smith says, “the soloist [Víkingur Ólafsson] is first among equals, a frolicsome force in continual conversation with lively choruses of counterparts, never overshadowed but also rarely isolated.” Sigfúsdóttir’s Oceans begins in near silence, gently evoking sunrise on a quiet sea. The seven-minute piece remains calm and serene throughout, setting the stage for Pálsson’s Quake, which concludes the disc. The recordings were made in the main Eldborg concert hall and the Norðurljós recital hall of Reykjavik’s five-star waterfront cultural centre Harpa, using Pyramix software, with the orchestra seated in a circle around the conductor. Production values are superb, with both CD and Blu-ray Pure Audio discs included in the package. Highly recommended.

03 AfterimageThe String Orchestra of Brooklyn (SOB)’s conductor Eli Spindel says of the group’s debut CD release afterimage (Furious Artisans FACD6823 furiousartisans.com) “The featured works […] take as their starting point a single moment from an older work and – through processes of repetition, distortion, and in the case of the Stabat Mater, extreme slow motion – create a completely new soundscape, like opening a small door into an unfamiliar world.” The disc begins with Christopher Cerrone’s High Windows, based on Paganini’s Caprice No.6 in G Minor. Scored for string quartet and string orchestra, the SOB is joined on this recording by the Argus Quartet. The 13-minute work examines a fragment of the Paganini as under a microscope and also draws on material from an earlier Cerrone piece for piano and electronics. The title refers to the windows of the church in which the premiere performance took place. Although this is the SOB’s first recording, they were founded in 2007 and the second work is Jacob Cooper’s Stabat Mater Dolorosa which was written for them in 2009. Taking Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater as its point of departure, the 27-minute work incorporates two singers as does the original. It takes patience to listen to the extremely slow unfolding of this careful examination of one of the most gorgeous works of early 18th-century vocal repertoire. If you are able to suspend your disbelief, it’s well worth the journey. The disc also includes the original works that inspired Cerrone and Cooper. Violinist Rachel Lee Priday performs Paganini’s solo caprice and soprano Mellissa Hughes and mezzo Kate Maroney shine in a more traditional interpretation of the first movement of Pergolesi’s masterpiece to complete the disc. My only quibble with this recording is the order of presentation. I’m sure much thought went into the decision to put the new works first and the old works last, but after several listenings I find I prefer to hear the Paganini first to set the stage for Cerrone’s tribute, then the Cooper, with Pergolesi last to really bring us home.

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04 Matt SargentI thought I had all the material I needed for this month’s column when, just a few days before deadline, we received a shipment from the label Cold Blue and I found one of the discs so similar in approach to Cooper’s Stabat Mater that I decided to add it to my pile. Although new to me, it seems that Jim Fox originally founded this label in 1983, producing 10- and later 12-inch vinyl discs of primarily California-based contemporary and avant-garde music. When both of its distributors closed their doors in 1985 the label ceased operations for a time, but Fox later re-established it and began producing CDs in 2000. The catalogue now includes some five dozen titles by a host of composers including Fox himself, John Luther Adams, Charlemagne Palestine, Larry Polansky, Kyle Gann and Daniel Lenz to name but a few (i.e. the ones I’ve heard of). The disc that captured my attention is Matt Sargent – Separation Songs (CB0055 coldbluemusic.com), a set of 54 variations on selections from William Billings’ New England Psalm Singer. Composed between 2013 and 2018, Sargent has scored these four-voice hymn tunes, originally published in 1770, for two string quartets. On this recording the Eclipse Quartet accompanies and interacts with itself through overdubbing. Sargent says: “Throughout the piece, hymns tunes appear and reappear in ever-expanding loops of music passed between the quartets. Each time they return, the tunes filter through a ‘separation process’ whereby selected notes migrate from one quartet to the other. This process leaves breaks in the music that either remain silent or are filled in by stretching the durations of nearby notes, generating new rhythms and harmonies.” To my ears, the effect is like listening to a Renaissance consort of viols through a layer of gauze, or filtered by the mists of time, much like when ghostly strains of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden appear in George Crumb’s Black Angels. If I said you would need patience for Cooper’s protracted Stabat Mater, that is more than doubly the case for this 73-minute, one-track composition, but again, it rewards every moment of attention. I look forward to exploring the Cold Blue back catalogue, and to future releases.

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05 Shuffle DemonsWell, all that listening to atmospheric and mist-shrouded ambience left me needing an injection of backbeat and rhythm, so when I found the latest from the Shuffle Demons in my inbox I knew the remedy was in hand. I’ll admit I may not be the ideal candidate to take on this review as it’s somewhat beyond my usual purview, but having spent some of my formative years in funky Queen St. W., I have fond memories of watching this outstanding (and outrageous) band playing on the streets of the neighbourhood. It came as a bit of a surprise to me that the Demons were still active some 35 years later, but it was a pleasant one indeed. Their ninth album Crazy Time (Stubby Records SRCD 1703 shuffledemons.com) features the classic three saxes and driving rhythm of bass and drums the Demons are known for. It includes two new members, Matt Lagan on tenor sax and bassist Mike Downes alongside stalwarts Richard Underhill, Kelly Jefferson and Stich Wynston, but in honour of their 35th anniversary, original members Mike Murley and Jim Vivian appear on five of the ten tracks. As in the past, hot instrumentals are interspersed with topical vocal tracks reminiscent of the classic Spadina Bus – be sure to check out the YouTube videos of that defining song – including the title track with its commentary on Ontario’s current leadership among other things: “We live in a crazy town, in a crazy world, in a crazy time.” All tunes were penned and arranged by Underhill with the exception of Jefferson’s smooth instrumental Even Demons Get the Blues and the retro rap vocal Have a Good One which Underhill co-wrote some years ago with interim Demons Eric St-Laurent, Mike Milligan and Farras Smith. The signature swinging unison horn choruses and individual solo takes are as strong as ever, and the infectious beat goes on. It’s great to find this iconic Canadian jazz institution alive and well, with no signs of aging or decay; long may the Shuffle Demons reign!

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

Having retired from my day job at New Music Concerts and recently undergone knee replacement surgery which involves an extended recovery, I have found myself lately with a luxury of leisure time. This has given me the opportunity to listen in more depth to the discs I select for my own column. It has also enabled me to select a bumper crop to write about, without however, providing any extra space in which to do so. With apologies to the artists, I will try to keep my assessments brief.

01 Veress and BartokIn my formative years, while immersing myself in the music of the 20th century, I set out to collect recordings of all the works of Arnold Schoenberg and Béla Bartók. Schoenberg proved to be the greater challenge, because in those days there was not yet a definitive collection of his oeuvre, so I had to gather the recordings wherever I could. The quest for Bartók was simplified by a comprehensive Complete Edition Bartók Béla issued in 33 volumes by the Hungaroton label. It was there that I first encountered the quintet for string quartet and piano dating from 1904, an unpublished student work that although well received at its first performance, was later withdrawn by the composer. I was pleased to receive a new recording of the youthful work on Veress – String Trio; Bartók – Piano Quintet featuring violinists Vilde Frang and Barnabás Kelemen, violists Lawrence Power and Katalin Kokas, cellist Nicolas Altstaedt and pianist Alexander Lonquich (ALPHA 458 alpha-classics.com). Frankly, the disappointment I had felt on my initial encounter some decades ago was confirmed upon re-listening to the quintet. Although I’m sure purists would not agree, to my ear the accomplished and virtuosic work would be more at home in Brahms’ catalogue than in Bartók’s. It shows a masterful control of late-Romantic-period nuances and exuberant bombast, especially in the czardas of the final movement, but none of the subtlety of the night music, nor the harmonic and rhythmic complexity of later Bartók. I was pleased to find that the music of Sándor Veress (1907-1992), who was a piano student of Bartók and later his assistant at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, fits better into my idea of what modern Hungarian music should sound like. The trio dates from 1954 and incorporates Schoenberg’s 12-tone method of composition, thus providing a convincing hybrid of the styles of two of my favourite composers. Veress’ music was a welcome discovery for me, and I look forward to hearing more of this under-sung composer.

02 Tchaikovsky BabajanianTchaikovsky & Babajanian features violinist Vadim Gluzman, pianist Yevgeny Sudbin and Canadian-born cellist Johannes Moser (BIS-2372 SACD bis.se). The bread and butter of this disc is the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in A Minor, Op.50 which receives a stellar performance, amply illustrating the points addressed in the comprehensive liner notes by Horst A. Scholz. But of more interest is the Piano Trio from 1952 by Armenian composer Arno Babajanian (1921-1983) who was previously unknown to me. The work is both rooted in the Romantic world of Rachmaninoff and imbued with folkloristic flourishes from Babajanian’s native land. The notes point out that it was written under the constraints of the Stalin regime and go on to say that after Stalin’s death in 1953, Babajanian’s style opened up to embrace atonality, aleatoric music and microtonality, among other modern techniques. It makes me wish we were presented with a later example of his work, but my preferences notwithstanding, this is a solid composition that holds its own in a crowded field of late-Romantic chamber music, and once again the performance is committed and convincing. The “encore” piece on this CD is Sudbin’s trio arrangement of the Tango from Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No.1 for two violins, harpsichord and strings from 1976, which draws this eclectic disc to a somewhat tongue-in-cheek conclusion.

03 Kira BraunThis year saw the passing of numerous cultural icons, but two in particular are brought together on Kira Braun’s new disc Mosaic (Centaur Records CRC 3779 centaurrecords.com), Glenn Gould Prize-winner André Previn and Nobel Prize Laureate Toni Morrison. Previn first set the poetry of Morrison in the cycle Honey and Rue in 1992 for soprano Kathleen Battle, jazz trio and symphony orchestra. Two years later he went to the well once more, to set Four Songs for the more modest forces of soprano, cello and piano. On this disc Braun is joined by cellist Kirk Starkey and pianist Linda Ippolito in performances recorded February 23, 2019 just three days before Previn’s death at the age of 89. Morrison died just six months later making this an apt memorial tribute, although that was not the intention of the recording. Braun’s voice is well suited to the dark opening poem Mercy, the wistful Shelter and the concluding poem The Lacemaker, but I wish there was a little more edge to the brash and boastful Stones. Starkey’s cello is warm and lyrical throughout and Ippolito’s accompaniment balanced and tasteful. Although Braun’s diction is clear, I wish the texts had been included, along with some information about the composer and poet, their fame notwithstanding. The disc concludes with Previn’s Vocalise written for, and first recorded by, Sylvia McNair and Yo-Yo Ma with the composer at the piano in 1995. It makes a beautiful conclusion to this all-too-brief, 22-minute tribute.

04 Mirrored SpacesOne disc I’ll certainly not be able to do justice in this limited space is guitarist Daniel Lippel’s double CD Mirrored Spaces (FCR239 NewFocusRecordings.com). I would normally be daunted by the prospect of two and a half hours of solo guitar music, but to my delight Lippel has produced such a diverse program that I didn’t notice the time passing. First and foremost, let me state that although he is a truly accomplished classical guitarist, from the dozen composers represented here, there are very few offerings that would be at home on a traditional Spanish guitar recital. Even in pieces such as Lippel’s own Reflected with its quasi-Renaissance feel, our equilibrium is thrown off-kilter by rapid microtonal passages. A number of the pieces involve electronics, live or otherwise. One that particularly struck me was Christopher Bailey’s Arc of Infinity in which I found myself wondering “What if?” the subtle electronic part was transcribed for live cimbalom – how different would that piece be? At any rate, it is extremely effective. While most of the recital is played on a traditional nylon string acoustic guitar, a number of tracks employ an electric instrument, from the gentle harmonics of Sidney Corbett’s Detroit Rain Song Graffiti, to the distortion, feedback and note bending of Lippel’s concluding Scaffold (live). Interspersed throughout the two discs are the nine movements of Kyle Bartlett’s Aphorisms, all using a traditional Spanish guitar, but utilizing a number of extended techniques. If you think you already know what a guitar sounds like, or think that a double CD would be a bit “much of a muchness,” I urge you to check out this remarkable disc.

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05 Her VoiceLast month I wrote about Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata, and the controversy it caused at the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge-sponsored competition where the judges considered that such a beautiful piece “could not have been written” by a woman. This month Clarke has reappeared on my desk with another work that also was a runner-up in that Berkshire Festival of Chamber Music Competition, the Trio from 1921. Her Voice features the Neave Trio playing works by Clarke, Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (1867-1944) and Louise Farrenc (1804-1875) (Chandos CHAN 20139 naxosdirect.com/). Although Clarke (1886-1979) was a generation younger than Beach, her trio was written 17 years before that of her older colleague. Beach’s Trio, Op.150 was a mature work, written in late-Romantic style while showing the influence of French Impressionism. French composer Farrenc on the other hand, whose Trio No.1 Op.33 dates from 1843, writes in a much more Germanic fashion, honouring the genre’s origins with Haydn, and more specifically the music of Beethoven. As a matter of fact, as an amateur who has enjoying playing Beethoven trios, I feel that Farrenc’s is a welcome contribution to the repertoire and I’m glad that it has come to light. Kudos to the Neave Trio for continuing to bring lesser-known works to life in sparkling fashion.

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06 Bright and GippsTwo more composers previously unknown to me appear on the next disc, Piano Concertos by Dora Bright and Ruth Gipps (Somm Recordings SOMMCD 273 somm-recordings.com/). Both English, Bright lived from 1862-1951 and Gipps from 1921-1999. Bright was an accomplished and celebrated pianist of whom Liszt said “Mademoiselle, vous jouez a merveille!” and who was described by George Bernard Shaw as “a thorough musician.” In 1888 she became that first woman awarded the Lucas Medal for Composition, and, after leaving the Academy of Music in London, established herself as a double threat, performing her own Concerto in A Minor at the Crystal Palace in 1891. That impressive work is featured in its first recording on this disc with Samantha Ward as soloist.

Gipps was also a stellar pianist, celebrated as a child prodigy both as performer and composer. A hand injury thwarted her performing career, but she then focused on composition and added conducting to her portfolio, becoming the first notable British woman in the field and founding several orchestras. She went on to produce five symphonies and several significant concerted works. Her Piano Concerto in G Minor dates from immediately after the Second World War and Ambarvalia, Op.70 is from 1988. Both are performed with conviction by Murray McLachlan. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s nuanced performances on this important disc are directed by Charles Peebles. 

07 KorngoldErich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was another child prodigy. Born in Vienna, his ballet Der Schneemann (The Snowman) caused a sensation when he was just 11, and his Second Piano Sonata, written at 13, was played throughout Europe by Artur Schnabel. At 21 his opera Der Tote Stadt (The Dead City) was produced in Hamburg and Cologne. Korngold composed a wealth of concert music and six operas, but is best known for the Hollywood film scores he wrote following an invitation to America from director Max Reinhardt in 1934. He stayed in Hollywood for the duration of WWII, and never returned to his homeland. Although his film scores were a huge success, revolutionizing the field along with Max Steiner and Alfred Newman, his later concert music was dismissed by the critics and cognoscenti of the time who were by then focused on the post-war avant-garde doctrines of Boulez and Stockhausen. The Symphony Op.40, was begun in 1947 while on vacation in Canada and completed in 1952. With its lush orchestration, rich melodic content and cinematic scope, the symphony was rejected by the cultural powers that were, and was not revived until the 1970s when Korngold’s star began to rise again. Korngold: Symphony in F Sharp; Theme and Variations; Straussiana is a new recording on the Chandos label featuring Sinfonia of London under John Wilson (CHSA 5220 naxosdirect.com/). It is a stunning realization of the symphony, but unfortunately I find the companion pieces – one written for school orchestra and the other a pastiche – to be just too much fluff. But the symphony is well worth the price of admission. 

08 Daisy DeboltThe final disc is a little strange in that it no longer exists as such. Daisy DeBolt – Ride Into the Sunset was a limited edition archival collection produced by George Koller for a memorial tribute to DeBolt at Hugh’s Room back in 2011. Although perhaps best known as half of the iconic Canadian acid-folk duo Fraser & DeBolt, active in the late 1960s and early 1970s, DeBolt’s career continued as a solo artist active on the concert stage, composing for the National Film Board and participating in various theatrical productions throughout her lifetime. The recordings included in this compilation date from as early as 1971 – a track with Allan Fraser, presumably an outtake from their first album – right up to four tracks from 2008 co-written with Koller. There’s a 1975 DeBolt composition which she later choreographed for Ballet Ys, and eight tracks from the 1989 cassette-only release Dreams Cost Money. This latter features a number of familiar names including Robert David (woodwinds), David Woodhead (bass), Brent Titcomb (vocal and percussion), Chris Whitely (trumpet), Zeke Mazurek (violin) and Scott Irvine (tuba) to name but a few. Fraser & DeBolt were a formative influence on me and it is a great pleasure to discover this trove of material as a reminder of just how innovative DeBolt was. Last month DeBolt’s estate decided to reissue Ride Into the Sunset digitally. It is available on all the major platforms, including iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora and CD Baby. 

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

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

I had a great musical visit with my good friend Ted a couple of weeks ago and he took the opportunity to show off his marvellous guitar collection. Ted has so many fine guitars that I didn’t even bother to pack one of my own for the overnight visit. Of particular interest to me was his recently acquired Larrivée 12-string, but this turned out not to be the one that impressed the most. His pride and joy is a finely hand-crafted Lowden six-string instrument with the most incredible resonance, and perfectly balanced dynamics from the quietest to the loudest range, not to mention some extremely artistic inlay over the neck and body of the guitar. It is probably the finest instrument I’ve ever had the privilege to play, and it answered the question that always pops to mind when I hear one of the masters playing: How do they get that gorgeous sound? Well of course it has a lot to do with impeccable technique, but also it seems, with the quality of the instrument itself.

01 McManus ToaspernSpeaking of masters, Celtic guitarist Tony McManus (Scottish-born with Irish heritage), who has made his home in Elora for the past dozen years, is exactly that. His reputation is such that the prestigious Maryland-based custom guitar manufacturer PRS has produced a signature Tony McManus Private Stock Acoustic guitar line, one of which, not surprisingly, is featured on his latest release Live in Concert with multi-instrumentalist Julia Toaspern (CDTRAX405 felicitas-records.de). Toaspern also plays a PRS (Angelus Private Stock) guitar, an unidentified violin, and they each, on occasional tracks, play a Greenfield G5 soprano guitar. The soprano guitar (a new one on me, tuned an octave above a standard guitar) is particularly effective on the Django-inflected Breton Waltzes (McManus) and Star of Munster Set (Toaspern). Although primarily a virtuosic instrumental album, McManus and Toaspern each sing a few songs, and the influences encompass Celtic, roots, jazz and Latin, along with one foray into early classical repertoire – Caccini’s Amarilli – which Toaspern says is a holdover from her days training as an opera singer. Her beautiful soprano voice is suitably idiomatic to the 16th-century love song, and the acoustic guitar accompaniment is immaculate. Also of note is her arrangement for two guitars of Manha de Carneval from Black Orpheus in medley with the Irish tune The Musical Priest, with some familiar quotations from disparate genres thrown in along the way. Very effective. McManus’ own distinctive vocal work on a setting of Robbie Burns’ Bonnie Jean with Toaspern’s vocal and violin harmonies is stunning, harkening back to the best of the string band music to find its way to North America from the British Isles in the heyday of the 60s and 70s. As one of the “50 most influential acoustic guitarists of all time” (Guitar Player Magazine), we are fortunate that McManus has chosen to follow that path too, and settle with us in Southern Ontario. He is truly masterful and the music he has chosen to share with us here is enchanting.

02 InventionOne of the most exceptional things about the music of J.S. Bach is that it can withstand transcription to virtually any instrumental medium, from grandiose Wagner-size orchestra to sopranino recorder and just about anything in between or beside, including Moog synthesizer as evidenced by Wendy Carlos some half a century ago. The latest example to cross my desk is an album titled Invention featuring violinist Tessa Lark and contrabass player Michael Thurber (larkandthurber.com). On this disc, seven of Bach’s two-part inventions are interspersed with original “inventions” by Lark and Thurber, drawing on diverse influences from Appalachia to New Orleans, running the gamut of Americana, but also encompassing their skill as classical musicians. The juxtaposition works surprisingly well, from the lilting Wooden Soldier that leads into the first two-part invention, dear to my heart since learning it for my Grade Six Royal Conservatory exam and performing it on my teacher’s harpsichord (handmade by her husband Jan Albarda), to the sombre strains of Until We Meet Again, with its echoes of the Celtic fiddle laments brought to American shores some hundreds of years ago. A satisfying and eclectic look at simple counterpoint. 

03 Jessica MeyerJessica Meyer is an accomplished violist who has championed contemporary applications for her instrument and expanded its repertoire through commissioning and collaboration. She is also active in the fields of period performance and improvisation, and is a renowned educator. During the past five years she has added composition to her palette and Ring Out on Bright Shiny Things (BSTC-0128 brightshiny.ninja) is a showcase for this aspect of her creativity. The disc features six powerful works ranging from solo cello through various string combinations, to songs for voice, viola and piano and the title work, for a cappella vocal octet (Grammy-winning Roomful of Teeth) and field recordings. This latter work, the title track which concludes the album, was composed in 2017 for Colorado’s TANK Center for Sonic Arts with its incredible 20-second reverberation decay, exceeding both the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramid in this regard. Meyer takes full advantage of this in a stunning work, the overall acoustic of which is reminiscent to my ear of some of the great works of Renaissance polyphony, albeit with contemporary close harmonies. The addition of handheld percussion and recordings of church bells adds greatly to the effect.

The disc begins somewhat abrasively with But Not Until for viola (Meyer) and cello (Andrew Yee), inspired by a quote from one of my favourite authors, David Foster Wallace: “The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.” This is followed by I Only Speak of the Sun, for string trio, which takes its inspiration from a poem by Rumi. Released, for specially tuned cello, “explores ideas surrounding the last moments of life… flickering lights and memories, and perhaps a swirling vortex of images of your life flashing before your eyes.” Seasons of Bashō is a four-song setting of haiku by that 17th-century Japanese master, featuring the beautiful and haunting countertenor voice of Nicholas Tamagna. Only a Beginning is an instrumental duo for violin (Miranda Cuckson) and viola, but it too takes words as a point of departure, in this case a quote from Indira Ghandi – “Martyrdom does not end something, it is only a beginning” – and the text of In Paradisum from the Catholic funeral mass. All in all, this is an impressive maiden voyage for Meyer the composer, with performances and production values beyond reproach. My only caveat is the lack of information in the package, although the lyrics are included. Fortunately, all the performer details and biographical information about Meyer are available on her website jessicameyermusic.com.

04 Novel VoicesAlthough they have been making music together since 2005, Novel Voices (Melos Records ML812/33-100) marks the debut recording for the Carr-Petrova Duo (carrpetrovaduo.com), Molly Carr (viola) and Anna Petrova (piano). The disc is the culmination of a multidisciplinary project begun in 2018 called the Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project (winner of Music Academy of the West’s Alumni Enterprise Award). The project is designed to give voice and visibility to refugee communities around the globe while raising awareness and support for both local and international refugee-aid organizations, by bringing classical music performances and musical workshops to refugee camps and aid programs. The disc begins with the Lullaby from the ballet Gayaneh in an arrangement by the duo. I must say I was only familiar with the bombastic highlights of Aram Khachaturian’s ballet, such as the famous Sabre Dance, and would have been hard-pressed to identify the origins of this gentle, lyrical work so beautifully realized here. Mieczyslaw Weinberg is also represented by a transcription, in this instance of his Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Op.28, reminding us of the close similarities between the timbre of the viola and the darker registers of the clarinet. This is not to say that the work itself is gloomy. The charming, and at times angular, Allegretto middle movement is reminiscent of Shostakovich and Prokofiev at their most playful, but, like late Shostakovich, the work ends with a mostly sombre Adagio.

The centrepiece of this disc is a work by British composer Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) who moved to the United States at the age of 30. From the liner notes I take the following: “…three years later she entered a male-dominated composition competition sponsored by the wealthy American philanthropist Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge… Out of a field of 72 candidates for the prize, her Viola Sonata came first, tied with a composition by Ernest Bloch. Ultimately, though, the award went singlehandedly to Bloch, amidst prejudice-ridden rumours that ‘Rebecca Clarke’ was simply a pseudonym for another male composer, because ‘it could not have been’ a woman who had written such a beautiful piece of music.” That harsh judgement notwithstanding, the notes go on to say: “The Viola Sonata has almost become a flagship for the advocacy of the viola as a solo instrument, and is now considered one of the magnificent jewels of chamber music literature.” This nuanced performance gives credence to that statement.

The premise of the project is intriguing, and is the focus of a documentary by filmmakers Victoria Stevens and Skyler Knutzen that will premiere in 2020. A young Mexican, Fernando Arroyo Lascurain, was selected to be the project’s composer-in-residence and he accompanied the musicians on their tour of refugee camps. The resulting work, Novel Voices, is in three movements: Stories and Dreams, Dance and Uncertainty and Call and Prayer. It “magically weaves together the different music of the various children’s ancestral cultures we encountered: from Arabic music to the music of Bulgaria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Syria, Chechnya…” and provides a moving and effective ending to this outstanding CD. 

05 I must admit that I was only familiar with two of the names of the composers included on Silenced Voices, Hans Krása and Gideon Klein. The disc features works for string trio by Jewish composers from early in the 20th century performed by the Black Oak Ensemble (Çedille CDR 90000 189 cedillerecords.org). Both Krása and Klein spent time in the German “camp-ghetto” Theresienstadt, where the latter organized cultural events and the former’s children’s opera Brundibár received more than 50 performances. Although the Nazis cynically described Theresienstadt as a “spa town” where elderly German Jews could “retire” in safety, the ghetto was in reality a collection centre for deportations to killing centres in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. Krása died at Auschwitz and Klein was sent to Fürstengrube, where he perished just days before its liberation in 1945. The other composers represented here all suffered similar fates, with the exception of Géza Frid (1904-1989) who fled his native Hungary to the Netherlands “where he managed to escape detection as a ‘stateless Jew’ and eventually became a citizen and celebrated composer.” He is represented by his first published work, the String Trio Op.1, with hints of Hungarian hurdy-gurdy and bagpipes, in its world premiere recording. The other composers – Dick Kattenburg (1919-1944), Sándor Kuti (1908-1945) and Paul Hermann (1902-1944) – all perished at the hands of the Nazis. The marvellous and diverse music contained on this disc gives a glimpse of just how much culture was lost through the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the thoughtful and thorough booklet notes by OREL Foundation scholar Robert Elias provide context.

The project-based Black Oak Ensemble is comprised of Swiss-American violinist Desirée Ruhstrat, British-born cellist David Cunliffe and French-born violist Aurélien Fort Pederzoli. Silenced Voices was inspired, in part, by Pederzoli’s mother, a history teacher of Sephardic descent who led annual student trips to Auschwitz, Treblinka and Terezin (Theresienstadt). In August of this year the group presented Silenced Voices at the Terezin House of Culture during the Everlasting Hope International Music Festival. It is our good fortune that they have also committed the project to disc. 

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

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

01 Gillian SmithInto the Stone (Leaf Music LM228 leaf-music.ca) is a particularly interesting and timely disc of “Music for Solo Violin by Canadian Women” featuring Gillian Smith, a dynamic East Coast performer who serves as instructor of violin and viola at Acadia University in Wolfville and is head of the upper strings department at the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts in Halifax. I suppose it is the adage “never ask a woman her age” that explains the lack of birth years given for the composers in the liner notes. I will not give away any secrets further than saying the five composers involved were born in places as far flung as Hong Kong, Australia, Serbia, Ontario and Quebec in the two decades between 1956 and 1975. The pieces themselves span 1997 (the title track) through 2010 (the opening selection, Alice Ho’s Caprice). The latter is a playful work that, in the words of the composer, is “a fancy, a virtuosic piece… [in which the] performer is asked to show both technical skill and musicality.” Smith’s performance abounds with both. This is followed by Ana Sokolović’s Cinque danze per violino solo. The five dances are rooted in the angular and often dissonant folk music of her native Balkan region, although Sokolović says there is no direct quotation involved. Each movement is distinct, although distinctly related, ranging from the somewhat abrasive first to the contemplative, although at times somewhat enervated, finale. “I try to create different climates while keeping material and gesture strongly related.” Both the composer and performer succeed in conveying this effectively.

The quiet ending of Sokolović’s last dance is a perfect set up for Veronika Krausas’ piece that gives the disc its title. It begins gently in the lower register but gradually rises in both pitch and intensity. Krausas says: “The piece is inspired by a line from Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen: ‘What lives inside the stone? Miracles, strange light.’” Kati Agócs’ Versprechen (Promise) is based on Bach’s harmonization of the Lutheran chorale Ist Gott mein Schild und Helfersmann (God is my Shield and Helper). “The piece casts the soloist as the hero in a musical peregrination… [that] traces spiritual yearning, supplication, and redemption, with the chorale melody always present, although at times ‘refracted’ as if heard through an auditory prism.” With this uniting theme there is a continuity to the development, but the refractions are diverse enough that it is a sonic relief when the original melody is revealed toward the end of the eight-minute piece. For Le ciel doit être proche by Chantale Laplante from 1999, no translation is given for the title and neither is there a context in the program note. This makes it unclear whether “ciel” refers to sky or to heaven, but as the piece is built on “the use of intervals slowly introduced in widening order, keeping the perfect fifth as the final step to some serenity” I’m going to translate it as Heaven must be near. This serenity provides a very satisfying end to a stunning debut album by a rising star from the East (coast). Congratulations to Smith and all concerned.

Growing up in northern Etobicoke the Richview library, 20 minutes down the road on the Islington bus route, became a major resource and influence on my musical development. It was there that I discovered such diverse artists as Thelonious Monk, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Terry Riley. I remember bringing home a recording of Riley’s seminal modular piece In C – where the musicians are instructed to repeat each of the 53 short phrases as long as they (individually) want before moving on to the next – and putting it on the record player (I don’t think we had a “stereo” in those days) in the living room. After about five minutes my mother called out from the kitchen “Your record is skipping.” That was my introduction to minimalism and I was hooked, quickly moving on to the music of Philip Glass, who I saw perform with his ensemble for New Music Concerts in 1980 at Walter Hall. It was also through NMC that I first heard Steve Reich’s music live, in 1976, when Robert Aitken was able to convince Reich that rather than just his own Steve Reich and Musicians, he should let others play his music, in this case the NMC ensemble, if he wanted it to live on in posterity. 1976 was also the year that I first encountered Kronos Quartet, although that was through a recording of music by Dane Rudhyar rather than a live performance. (They would not perform in Toronto for another seven years when NMC invited them to perform the premiere of Morton Feldman’s almost-four-hour long String Quartet No.2.) So you see, even though I have retired from my position as general manager of NMC, it remains an integral part of my musical history.

02 Kronos RileyBut back to Kronos Quartet. I think it might surprise many people that the Kronos Quartet was active as early as 1976, and also that Rudhyar, a pioneer of modern transpersonal astrology considered by some to be among the most important thinkers of the 20th century, was also a composer of serious modernist works, but I have the vinyl to prove it. Kronos and Terry Riley have collaborated frequently over the decades since their first commission Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector back in 1980. Their most recent release, on the Nonesuch label, is titled Sun Rings (nonesuch.com). Twenty years after Sunrise Kronos received a call “out of the blue” from NASA, which had a small budget for commissioning space-based artwork to mark the 25th anniversary of the launching of Voyager 1. NASA also had access to recordings made possible by the engineering feats of scientist Donald Gurrett, who designed special microphones to record in the so-called vacuum of outer space. Riley, with his own interest in astrophysics, agreed to the project, but the 9/11 terrorist attack occurred while composing the new quartet and Riley says his “original, gee-whiz enthusiasm for Sun Rings suddenly felt too much like kid’s stuff, shooting rockets into space at an unsettlingly sabre-rattling time.” It was only after hearing poet and novelist Alice Walker recite her September 11 mantra, “One Earth, one people, one love,” that he realized that “pondering the universe put the problems on Earth into a needed, interplanetary perspective.” The 80-minute multimedia work that Riley eventually completed incorporates recordings from both in and out of space crafts – most presented as ambience with a “music of the spheres” feel, but some including words spoken by astronauts and ground controllers – string quartet, the vocal group Volti (in two movements), the voice of Alice Walker repeating her mantra, and visual design by Willie Williams. The result, even as just an audio recording without the visual aspects, is truly stunning.

I could go on and on about how, as a young(ish) cellist I was moved and inspired by the Bach Solo Suites and Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas, but suffice it to say that they did, and have continued to, influence my understanding of the instrument. I have spent, literally, countless hours playing the first three Bach suites and movements of the remaining ones, and although I have not yet managed to achieve any measure of success with the Beethoven sonatas themselves other than my favourite movement, the opening of the A Major Sonata, Op.69, I have managed to get one of his three non-sonata offerings, the Variations on “See, The Conquering Hero” from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus – the original being one of my mother’s favourites – to performance level. So it was with great pleasure that I received new recordings of both complete cycles this month.

03 Ornamented BachI must admit I was a little wary when I first heard about Going Off Script – The Ornamented Suites for Cello, JS Bach (King Street Records KING001) from Baroque cellist Juliana Soltis (julianasoltismusic.com). My general feeling is that masterworks don’t need any improving or personalizing; that it is incumbent on the performer to do their best to realize the composer’s intent as written on the page. I learned during my many years at New Music Concerts just how important it is to bring the composer to work with the musicians, to ensure that those intentions are being respected. Of course that is not possible in the case of composers no longer with us, but there is a long history of interpretation and scholarship that tells us what those marks on the page mean and how they should be treated. Soltis addresses this in her very personal notes to the recording. “As musicians, we spend years learning to decipher and interpret these instructions, and as with any good recipe, we trust that everything we need to know is there. But what if we’re missing something?” She goes on to say “…those instructions – the pitches and rhythms, the harmonies and articulations – are but a starting point, a simple framework crowning Bach’s instruction.” The booklet includes some graphic illustrations using fragments of the score of the first suite, with which Soltis makes a case for the “spaces,” created by tied or dotted notes, actually being an invitation to “improvise here.” Realizing that Bach was a renowned improviser – think of the spontaneous origins of The Musical Offering – I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. I am pleased to report that I was not disappointed. Her interpolations are unobtrusive and, as far as I can tell, idiomatically sound and consistent with the spirit of the pieces. Much closer to that spirit than, for instance, the larger-than-life flourish with which Misha Maisky ended the first suite on his 1985 recording of the cycle. To quote Soltis again, “…whenever I thought about the incredible chorus of voices and versions that is the Recorded Bach Cello Suites, I knew that I didn’t want to join in that particular conversation unless I had something important to say. And for the longest time I wasn’t sure that I did.” We can be thankful that she changed her mind and has given us the chance to appreciate her thoughtful interpretation.

Listen to 'Going Off Script – The Ornamented Suites for Cello, JS Bach' Now in the Listening Room

04 Beethoven Nancy GreenAlthough not as extensive as with the Bach Suites, there is a wealth of recordings of Beethoven Cello Sonatas, with most “name brand” cellists having contributed to the discography from Casals, through Navarra, Fournier and Rostropovich, to Ma, Harrell, Schiff, Harnoy and Queyras, to name but a few. The latest to enter the ring, Beethoven Complete Works for Cello and Piano (JDI Recordings J143 jdirecordings.com) featuring Nancy Green with pianist Frederick Moyer, is certainly a contender for high honours. Green, who is known for her recordings of both obscure repertoire and staples of the standard canon, enjoyed an outstanding concert career that took her throughout the USA, Europe and the Far East. In 2015 she formally withdrew from the concert stage to devote herself exclusively to recording.

One of the most important aspects of Beethoven’s cello sonatas is the way he makes the cello and piano equal partners, as pointed out in the excellent and comprehensive program notes by R. Larry Todd. Before Beethoven, the cello served as either simply part of the continuo “rhythm section” or was the featured voice with accompaniment. Green appears here in a truly balanced partnership with Moyer, himself a renowned soloist who has performed in 43 countries and with such orchestras as Boston, Cleveland and Philadelphia, etc. Together they bring an unmistakable verve to these works which span Beethoven’s early, middle and late periods. Green’s powerful sound is matched but never overwhelmed by the piano. Her tone is immaculate; light and lyrical in the delicate passages, yet full, rich and meaty as required. It is no wonder that she has been compared to such greats as Rostropovich, Yo-Yo Ma, Leonard Rose and Jacqueline du Pré. The production values are outstanding. This is a very welcome addition to my library.

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

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

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