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Volume 11 Issue 5 - February 2006

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Gustav Mahler:

Gustav Mahler: Conducting Mahler; I have Lost Touch with the World dir. Frank Scheffer ldeale Audience 2 (DVD) Gustav Mahler: Attrazione D'Amore; Luciano Berio Voyage to Cythera dir. Frank Scheffer Ideale Audience 1 (DVD) The Dutch film maker Frank Scheffer has been creating outstanding musical documentaries for the past twenty years and has been laud- ".""l'.: ed for his por- & traits of musicians as diverse as Frank Zappa, John Cage and Elliott Carter. These two new DVD releases present four distinctive perspectives on the music of Gustav Mahler. Conducting Mahler documents the May 1995 Mahler festival in Amsterdam by the Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras. Conductors Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Chailly, Bernard Haitink, Carlo Muti and Simon Rattle are shown in rehearsal and in English language interviews discussing their views on Mahler, accompanied by excerpts from each of Mahler's ten symphonies. I Have Lost Touch With the World (the title is an unexplained allusion to Mahler's heartfelt setting of a poem by Riickert) documents Riccardo Chailly's valedictory performance with the Concertgebouw orchestra of Mahler's Ninth Sym- ~ldlddlldldPPll#IIIP/ , I ~ 314 Churchill Ave • ,1 Toronto , Ontario ~ rJ M2R 1 E7 Canada ,1 ~ Te l : 416 - 224 -1956 ,I Fax : 416-224-2964 : , MIKROKOSMOS ,1 (I (I , ,I ,I ,I ~ We buy your ~ ,I ,I ~ classical LP ~ ,I ,I ~ collection ~ ,I ~ (I .,I (I ,I , Beethoven, Mozart, , ,1 (classical, such as , , ,I , Stockhausen) , ~ f ,I ,I ~ we travel anywhere ~ ~ for good col l ections ~ , ,- ~ (I phony in 2004. Chailly's complicated relationship with the obstinate Dutch musicians is touched upon in a series of interviews with the players, who admittedly were uncomfortable with his charismatic approach for much of his tenure. Riccardo Chailly's interpretation of Mahler's Fifth Symphony is :I the centrepiece of the 1998 docu- ·~ mentary, Gus- , ![ tav Mahler - , Attrazione d 'Amore. Amsterdam's importance as a crucible for the promulgation of Mahler's music is explored in a fascinating examination of the annotated scores of the orchestra's first music director Willem Mengelberg. Chailly is also seen rehearsing excerpts from Bach, Puccini, Varese, Stravinsky and Mozart. Luciano Berio - Voyage to Cythera is the most elaborate of these documentaries. Mahler again provides the context, though in an unusual way. The third movement ofLuciano Berio's landmark Sinfonia for orchestra of 1969 appropriates the Scherzo of Mahler's Second Symphony to form the backdrop upon which Berio superimposes a grand collage of quotations from fifteen seminal compositions of the twentieth century. Berio himself conducts the work and elucidates his appraisal of Mahler as the spiritual father of the music of our own time. The sources ofBerio's citations, stretching from Debussy to Stockhausen, are systematically revealed in their original contexts. Scheffer's unconventional approach is consistently intriguing and the sound is quite excellent throughout these films. A trademark of Scheffer's cinematography is that the focus is predominantly on the conductors in close-up; one seldom sees a wide shot of the orchestras. While this may disconcert certain viewers I found it provided an intimacy that works very well for home viewing. Highly recommended. Daniel Foley Schoenberg - Piano Music Yoko Hirota Phoenix PHX65122 Schoenberg's piano music finds distinctive resources in the instrument: a basis in the lower range; crunchy dissonant chords; extreme melodic •• #. ,.. , •••,,J, 64 WWW. TH EWHOLENOTE.COM . ,. stretches; a busy texture of interwoven parts. His own performing medium was the cello, but the solo vehicle he turned to most often was the piano. This recording, by the Japanese­ Canadian pianist Yoko Hirota, currently with Laurentian University, Sudbury, includes three of the five main works with opus numbers - opp. 11 (3 pieces), 23 (5 pieces), and 33 (2 pieces), in precise and keenly projective performances. The remaining menu offers the composer's entire known unfinished writings ("Fragments") for piano, a series of 17 items from early to late phases of his career. Some are indeed fragmentary: nos. 9 through 11 last just a phrase or two each, no. 16 only 3 bars, and no.5 only 6 bars, 2 of which immediately undergo revision. For completeness, Ms. Hirota includes these, doodle-ish and incoherent though they are. The other Fragments are more readily grasped, and cover a stylespectrum from something resembling a Brahms rhapsody (no. I, 1900) to a group of short dodecaphon ic studies (nos. 13, 15, 17, early to mid­ I 930s). No. 6's rapid gestures with the hands an octave apart, and no. Ts fanciful interplay of triads in an atonal context, are surprisingly free expressions; no. 12 is a compelling slow march. In cases of missing information - no. 2 lacks dynamic markings, no. 8 has no tempo indication - Ms. Hirota makes good, logical guesses. The long oboe-register line of no. 15 seems intended for filling-out, as do also the sparse textures of no. 8; but the performer leaves these mysteries unsolved. John Beckwith MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Scelsi Volume 1 - The Piano Works 1 Louise Bessette, piano Mode 92 Scelsi Volume 2 - The Orchestral Works 1 The Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic & Concert Choir; Juan Pablo Izquierdo, Mode 95 Scelsi Volume 3 - Music For High Winds Carol Robinson; Clara Novakova; Cathy Milliken Mode 102 Scelsi Volume 4 - The Piano Works 2 Stephen Clarke, piano Mode 143 Referring to Giacinto Scelsi ( 1905- 1988) as Italy's Charles Ives is both on and off the mark. Like Ives, Scelsi's brilliantly radical and idiosyncratic music only gained recognition at a late stage in the composer's life. Both were ultimate inner-driven composers. In other respects they are polar opposites. New England's sol idly bourgeois Ives studied music at Yale and became an insurance executive. Scelsi was an independently wealthy Count who trained in a very eighteenth-century way via private mentoring. After thriving as a virtuoso pianist, composer, poet and essayist in interwar Paris, Scelsi turned intensely private. While Ives drew inspiration from American vernacular music, Scelsi learned music and religion in India. He then created a deep hybrid of Asian and European musical structures. Giarir.lo S 0 _.;·~Y.infc ~,::elsi Three of the four phases ofScelsi's compositional path, plus one shining selection from the final period, are represented to date in Mode's important series of Scelsi recordings. Phase one ( 1930-43) involved Scriabin, futurism, atonality, and dodecaphony. The Piano Suite 2 ( 1930) on Volume 4 already presents an attention to overtones that would inspire Scelsi's microtonal, "threedimensional" music. Phase two begins with an extended nervous breakdown and Scelsi's creation of a new musical system as a vehicle for self-healing. He focused on complex nuances that could be generated from a single note. Scelsi's practice ofBuddhist meditation and Yoga was integral to the attentiveness that attuned him to F EBRUARY 1 · M ARC H 7 2006

microtonal consequences of individual sounds. Beyond pitch and duration, this was music's third dimension. Through 1956, Scelsi composed mainly for piano. Real-time composition was part and parcel of his new musical system. In the late I 940's, Scelsi tape-recorded piano improvisations. His ample wealth permitted paying assistants to transcribe recordings. Once Scelsi supervised revisions, however, there was little intended room for performers to interpret works. Then the half-tone limits of piano keys moved him towards woodwinds, strings, human voice and electronic keyboards as vehicles for realizing micro-tonality. By 1959, Scelsi arrived at his mature musical system. The third phase of the !960's extended this system to orchestras, choruses, and a variety ofchamberensembles. This was the decade when Darmstadt recognized that a great composer had been quietly at work. Among Mode's discs, the best entry point is " Music for High Winds". Clarinetist Carol Robins worked intensively with Scelsi during the l 980's. Her impressive disc gives us the Scelsi parallel of Pears singing Britten. Then I would turn to Toronto pianist Stephen Clarke's performance of Action Music (1955), a piece that synthesizes what Scelsi achieved for the piano. "Orchestral Works" stretches, literally, what can be done with power of the big instrumental beast that we' ve inherited from the nineteenth century Romantic tradition. It also includes striking samplings ofScelsi's writing for voice. The solo clarinet version of Three Latin Prayers ( 1970) on "High Winds" announces phase four of Scelsi's compositions, reworking tonality into his three-dimensional system. The clarinet sounds classically gorgeous and yet unfamiliar, as does the stately but varying tempo. Given the exemplary performances of Scelsi's music in the four Mode discs at hand, let's hope for future volumes dedicated to the composer's final endeavours. Phil Ehrensaft Reich - You Are (Variations) Los Angeles Master Chorale; Grant Gershon Nonesuch 79891 -2 Reich - Different Trains Quatuor Bozzini DAME collectionCQB CQB0502 FEBRUARY 1 - M AR CH 7 2006 Reich - Different Trains The Smith Quartet signum records SIGCD064 Live 1977 Steve Reich and Musicians Orange Mountain Music OMM0018 Steve Reich's most recent largescale work You Are (Variations) offers an extravaganza of pianos, percussion, winds, strings and voices. A spirit of affirmation colours the g listening contrapuntal textures, swinging rhythms and gentle dissonances. His four texts are short and punchy. A quote from the 18th century Jewish mystic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, ' You are whatever your thoughts are', the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, 'Explanations come to an end somewhere', the Psalms and the Talmud, suggest open-ended interpretations. The Los Angeles Master Chorale under Grant Gershon, who gave the world premiere in 2004, captures the celebratory mood. Cello Counterpoint, from 2004, provides an alluring companion piece, with cellist Maya Beiser interacting with seven pre-recorded cello tracks. Different Trains, from 1988, remains Reich's most moving work to date. Rei ch recorded the voices of a Pullman porter who worked the NY - LA line that Reich traveled to visit his mother when he was a child, the governess who accompanied him, three Holocaust survivors, and train sounds. Each quartet pre-recorded three separate tracks to accompany it in performance. The Quatuor Bozzini, based at Concordia University in Montreal, has produced a vivid, g utsy recording. Closely miked, it clearly differentiates the prerecorded tracks from what's being performed live in the studio. When a taped voice says WWW. THEWHOLENOTE.COM 'Black crows invaded our county' the solo cello responds with hair-raising effect. But the cute cover art and unwieldy packaging don' t appeal to me, and much as I object to choosing a disc for its playing time, 27 minutes seems stingy - as does the lack of information about the piece. At leastthey give the texts correctly (though without punctuation). The booklet for the Smith Quartet's new recording transcribes 'completely' instead of'concretely' in the text, even though it is clear in the score. But the British group's performance is refined and passionate, and the CD includes two lyrical works by Reich, the expressive Triple Quartet and the tenderly conversational Duet. Steve Reich and Musicians, Live 1977 documents four concerts of Reich's music dating from his earliest days as an experimental maverick. From the influential Violin Phase to the now-classic Drumming Uust the final part is included here), these pieces still work magic. But to fully appreciate Pendulum Music, scored for microphone feedback, you surely had to be there. My cat's response made me think of Michael Tilson Thomas's story about conducting Reich's Four Organs (a piece l actually love), when an audience member ran up and banged her head on the front of the stage, screaming 'Stop, stop, l confess'. This disc features two members of Toronto's stellar percussion ensemble Nexus, Bob Becker and Russell Hartenberger. They remain part of Reich's own group, Steve Reich and Musicians, which performs on these recently discovered, now-historic recordings. Pam Marg/es ~.::;;[ ~, ; I I I Array Live Arraymusic Artifact Music ART 035 Array Live is the 6th CD of this Toronto-based new music group, now in its 34th year of activity. That makes it one of the oldest groups in the country commissioning, performing, recording and generally championing the concert music and composers of the moment. On this CD, they make a convincing case for the music of five mature composers, Walter Zimmermann, Linda C. Smith, James Tenney, Christian Wolff and Jo Kondo, each of whom has already established their own individual voice. l couldn't help thinking however, that the unspoken influence of the iconoclastic American composer John Cage was not that far off. If you're looking for a taste of the zeitgeist ofU.S.-Euro-Canadian instrumental art music circa 1991-5, then the repertoire on this CD will deliver. The playing by the Arraymusic ensemble is refined and musical throughout, made even more remarkable when one realizes that it was recorded at a live concert at GOLD RECORDS JUNO AWARDS Call for a coffee and tour 65 '

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