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Volume 25 Issue 4 - December 2019 / January 2020

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Welcome to our December/January issue as we turn the annual calendar page, halfway through our season for the 25th time, juggling as always, secular stuff, the spirit of the season, new year resolve and winter journeys! Why is Mozart's Handel's Messiah's trumpet a trombone? Why when Laurie Anderson offers to fly you to the moon you should take her up on the invitation. Why messing with Winterreisse can (sometimes) be a very good thing! And a bumper crop of record reviews for your reading (and sometimes listening) pleasure. Available in flipthrough here right now, and on stands commencing Thursday Nov 28. See you on the other side!

György Kurtág –

György Kurtág – Scenes Viktoriia Vetrenko; David Grimal; Luigi Gaggero; Niek de Groot Audite 97.762 ( !! The nonagenarian Hungarian composer György Kurtág ranks among the leading living modernist music masters. His precisely crafted, intense, compressed, emotion-filled and dramatic style evokes a kind of sonic haiku, demanding the utmost from instrumentalists and singers alike. This album presents six previously unreleased songs and instrumentals by Kurtág, with lyrics from literary works in Hungarian, Russian and German. Scenes from a Novel, Op.19 (1984) for example, consisting of 15 extremely varied short movements, is a prime example of Kurtág’s oeuvre. With melancholic, introspective texts by the Russian writer Rimma Dalos, the songs feature virtuoso soprano Viktoriia Vitrenko, who nails the shifting emotionaltonal terrain. She is impressively supported by violinist David Grimal, bassist Niek de Groot and cimbalomist Luigi Gaggero. Given its masterful composition, imbued gravitas, dramatic and emotional range and the near- 20-minute length of this series of epigrams, the work takes on an operatic magnitude. And I found the rest of the songs here just as compelling. The Hungarian cimbalom is a stylistic and national marker on much of the album, a sonic through-line in addition to the voice, although novice listeners should not expect even a tinge of Magyar folkloric colour. The cimbalomist Gaggero makes a solo appearance at the end of the album on Kurtág’s Hommage à Berényi Ferenc 70. His soft, wistfully sensitive rendition feels like a relaxed puff of gently perfumed smoke after the intense multicourse sonic dinner we had just experienced. Andrew Timar Soli for Tuba, Zheng, Horn, with Percussion McCormick Percussion Group; Robert McCormick Ravello Records rr8014 ( !! The awardwinning Floridabased McCormick Percussion Group specializes in interpreting non-mainstream percussion scores, often collaborating with guest non-percussionists. Its latest album presents five works by four American composers featuring one or more non-percussion soloist backed by the forces of the MPG, the size of a modest orchestra. Album opener Loam by Kentucky composer Tyler Kline is a substantial four-movement concerto for tuba and percussion ensemble. Metaphorically, it seeks to convey the notion of natural cycles: the earth being tilled, life being born from the soil and ultimately returning to it after death. Prize-winning Taiwanese- American composer Chihchun Chi-sun Lee’s attractive Double Concerto for Tuba, Zheng and Percussion Orchestra is perhaps the first work scored for these instruments. She effectively juxtaposes the expressive upper register of the plucked strings of the zheng with the lower wind tones and multiphonics of the tuba, the texture filled in by the spatially arrayed percussion sounds. While the first movement blends colour, timbre and gesture among these disparate instruments, movement II focuses on tuba and zheng solos. The final movement balances all three forces in an energetic finale. Lee’s other score on the album, Zusammenflusses (Confluences), is a duet for zheng and percussion, distinguishing it from the concerto forms of the other works on the album. Using a non-tonal language, Lee deftly counterposes the differences and similarities between the plucked and bowed zheng, vibraphone and various cymbals. This album, a journey into unexpected combinations of sounds and cultures, is one well worth taking in. Andrew Timar Jimmy López Bellido – Symphonic Canvas Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra; Miguel Harth-Bedoya MSR Classics MS 1737 ( !! Two novels, written nearly 400 years apart, inspired these two works, both from 2016, by Jimmy López Bellido (b.1978), composer-inresidence of the Houston Symphony. Miguel de Cervantes’s final literary creation described two Scandinavian nobles’ adventurous pilgrimage to Rome. López Bellido says his Symphony No.1 – The Travails of Persiles and Sigismunda wasn’t intended to portray the novel’s events, but “to convey [its] spirit, greatness and humor.” Nevertheless, the fourmovement, 45-minute symphony contains many dramatic “events” – eerie forebodings leading to garishly scored, violent climaxes. The Latino-tinted third movement provides the only “humor” – jazzy and snarky. In December 1996, Túpac Amaru terrorists took hundreds of people hostage after storming a reception at the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima, Peru, López Bellido’s native city. His 2015 opera, Bel Canto, was based on Ann Patchett’s 2001 novel of the same name, itself based on the four-month-long hostage crisis. The three-movement, 30-minute Bel Canto – A Symphonic Canvas, encapsulates the opera. Perú, Real and Unreal begins with the Overture and ends with the climax of Act I, the shooting of diva Roxane Coss’ accompanist. La Garúa depicts an enshrouding fog and several hostages’ plaintive emotional outpourings. The End of Utopia derives from the final scene, the attack that frees the hostages and Coss’ anguished aria, here “sung” by a trumpet, over the desolation. Both works show López Bellido has clearly mastered the knack of building suspense and effectively ending it with climaxes of exceptional sonic power and brilliance. Michael Schulman Morton Feldman Piano Philip Thomas Another Timbre at144x5 ( ! ! 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of John Tilbury’s signal All Piano, a four-CD set approaching almost all of Morton Feldman’s piano music. Here the younger Philip Thomas presents a five-CD, six-hour set of even more of these works. There’s a direct lineage: in 2014, the two pianists recorded Two Pianos and other pieces, 1953-1969 (also on Another Timbre), covering Feldman’s works for multiple pianos and some for pianos with other instruments. Thomas explores the breadth of Feldman’s solo piano music, omitting only a few student pieces from the 1940s, while resurrecting others, like an archival minute-long Untitled piano piece, dated 1947, for a glimpse of Feldman’s nascent vision. There are also transcriptions of two pieces with lost scores, including the piano part in the soundtrack for the film Sculpture by Lipton. Thomas brings a reflective depth to the work, emphasizing the composer’s preoccupation with sonic detail. Although Feldman didn’t alter the piano’s physical character like his colleague John Cage, he explored its sonic character and notation with a unique depth, including silent fingerings to create harmonic resonance, varied approaches to grace notes and allowing sounded notes to decay in full, the sounds isolated and appreciated individually. While sometimes developing a kind of dislocation – even writing two-hand parts as if they were synchronous, then instructing that they be played separately – Feldman put a new emphasis on attack, duration and decay. There’s great detail in Thomas’ 52-page liner essay, including his description of a 92 | December 2019January 2020

year-long recording process with producer Simon Reynell that emphasizes the music’s sound from the performer’s perspective and suggests the albeit quiet music be played loud enough for all its detail to emerge. Landmarks and masterworks will draw attention first. Disc One creates an immediate overview, gathering significant pieces that run throughout Feldman’s career and last between 22 and 27 minutes, from 1959’s diverse Last Pieces, to 1977’s Piano with its greater formal concerns and his final Palais de Mari (1986), with its geometric construction and enduring resolution. Still more commanding are the late and large-scale Triadic Memories and For Bunita Marcus, vast explorations of form and scale that can suggest compound bells. Feldman’s relative miniatures, however, are just as significant: the collaborative nature of his music, including unspecified durations and sequences, clearly inspires Thomas. It’s most notable in Intermission 6 (1953), with the performer determining order and repeats. Thomas provides three versions of the piece, one in the published score, two of his own design, one of those with repetitions, the three running from less than five to over 11 minutes. Feldman produced one of the most resonant and intimate bodies of 20th-century piano music, conditioning and opening time in the process. Philip Thomas is an ideal collaborator. Stuart Broomer New York Rising – American Music for Saxophone Quartet New Hudson Saxophone Quartet Independent ( !! The New Hudson Saxophone Quartet is led by Paul Cohen (soprano), who also arranges two of the selections on this CD. Avi Goldrosen (alto), David Demsey (tenor) and Tim Ruedeman (baritone) complete the group which plays cleanly and expressively, delivering nuanced performances of several conceptually related works. The opening New York Rising (2003) was composed by Joseph Trapanese who evokes his sense of “curiosity and determination” from the time he moved to New York as a freshman music student and watched the sun rise from his small practice room. The piece is descriptive as it moves us through the day in this fabled city, from the Prelude, to the Chorale and then ending with the Fugue which represents the city at its busiest. The album’s centrepiece, the fivemovement Diners (Robert Sirota, 2009), written for this quartet, was inspired by three of the composer’s favourite diners and his travels to them through the city and suburbs. A highlight is the final Taking the N train to Dinner at the Neptune, Astoria, Queens where we hear the quartet emulating the rattling of the elevated subway as a counterpoint to the dining experience. The three-movement Saxophone Quartet No.1 by David Noon (2001), two works by Aaron Copland (arranged by Cohen) and Lisbon by Percy Grainger, round out the album. The quartet sound is excellent on all tracks and the range of compositions create diverse and engaging portraits of New York. Ted Parkinson JAZZ AND IMPROVISED Aftermath Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School Independent ( !! Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School is a modern jazz orchestra that’s been producing contemporary music only since about 2014 yet this is the group’s third recording and second full-length album. This is no mean feat for a small group, but for a 19-piece big band it’s extremely impressive. Even more impressive is the scope of this album. With ten tracks mostly clocking in at seven to eight minutes each, it tackles all kinds of ideas both musically and lyrically with all the songs written, arranged and conducted by McBride. The main theme of Aftermath is conflict and, as such, it’s not surprising that the overall feel of the music is driving and angular and that there are sometimes less-than-pretty sounds used to convey the ideas. The opening track, Revolution Blues, was inspired by the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (The one and only good thing I can say about Trump is he’s inadvertently inspired some great art.) House on Fire with its carnival vibe, delves into the impact corporate greed has on our world. There are some melancholy beauties here too, like Say You Love Me and The Void Becomes You. McBride formed the band shortly after graduating from Humber College and the majority of the players are her 20-something contemporaries along with a few veterans like trombonist William Carn and saxophonist Colleen Allen, the latter of whom is featured on the Me Too ode, Porcelain along with Naomi Higgins. Trumpeter Tom Upjohn takes an epic turn on Ballad of the Arboghast. The musicianship throughout the recording is superb but singer Alex Samaras deserves special mention. He executes the challenging melodies with skill and adds much musicality and warmth with his beautiful voice. Aftermath is a big, ambitious project well worth the attention of fans of modern big band music. Cathy Riches Life Force Diane Roblin Independent ( !! Following her successful 2014 comeback, noted composer and multi-keyboardist Diane Roblin has once again created an eclectic, deeply personal and musically meaningful project that unabashedly celebrates life, and the inevitable, invigorating roller-coaster ride that is part of a well-lived human experience. Roblin’s gifted collaborators here include CD producer and acoustic/ electric bassist, George Koller; trumpet/EVI player Bruce Cassidy (who also contributes the exceptional horn arrangements); Kevin Turcotte on trumpet and flugelhorn, Jeff LaRochelle on tenor sax and bass clarinet and Ben Riley on drums. Back on Track is the sassy opener, with Roblin laying it down on Fender Rhodes, deftly establishing the spine of the funk. Cassidy’s EVI solo, followed by Turcotte’s trumpet solo, propel things to a higher vibrational level, while Koller’s gymnastic, supportive bass work and Riley’s drums are the soulful glue that gently hold the expandable structure of the tune together. Another standout is Snowy Day (which reappears at the end of the CD). LaRochelle’s bass clarinet is simply stunning and perfectly complements the introspective mood of the tune, as well as Roblin’s skilled and intuitive acoustic piano work. All the while, Cassidy’s horn arrangement weaves a silken web of harmonically complex ideas. Another fine track is Suspend Yourself, where Roblin reminds us of her skill, not only as a pianist, but as a new music composer. The ensemble breaks into the piano intro with considerable pumpitude, morphing into a straight-ahead bop motif, spurred on by Cassidy’s EVI. Of special note is the tender Ballad in 3-4, which displays the gentle, contemplative aspects of Roblin’s musicality, gorgeously framed by Koller’s bass solo and the Kenny Wheeler-ish horn parts. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke Dream a Little… Champian Fulton; Cory Weeds Cellar Live CLO22519 ( ! ! It is probably pure happenstance, but a song such as Dream a Little Dream of Me seems to have been written for just such December 2019January 2020 | 93

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