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Volume 25 Issue 7 - April 2020

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After some doubt that we would be allowed to go to press, in respect to wide-ranging Ontario business closures relating to COVID-19, The WholeNote magazine for April 2020 is now on press, and print distribution – modified to respect community-wide closures and the need for appropriate distancing – starts Monday March 30. Meanwhile the full magazine is right here, digitally, so if you value us PLEASE SHARE THIS LINK AS WIDELY AS YOU CAN. It's the safest way for us to reach the widest possible audience at this time!

Bruch – 8 Pieces Op.83

Bruch – 8 Pieces Op.83 Philon Trio Analekta AN 2 8923 ( !! It is so easy to love Max Bruch’s music, and particularly these works for clarinet, viola and piano. His Acht Stücke Op.83 were composed for his son, Max Felix, a noted clarinetist of the early 20th century. They are the sole material on the recording released this year by the Philon Trio, comprised of David Dias da Silva on clarinet, Adam Newman, viola, and pianist Camilla Köhnken. The work is quite often performed in excerpts, for the simple reason that the pieces vary so much in character and duration that there is no compelling reason to present them all as if they formed a united suite. As the only material on this disc, one might carp that something might have been added as a bolster to the value; the total playing time is just under 35 minutes. Possibly there were time or financial constraints. Still, including Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen, for context and contrast with another work for the same forces, would have been welcome. But I won’t carp; I will stick to the positives: these are great performances. Tending more to a dreamy or meditative character for the most part, the collection is leavened by numbers four and especially seven, both of which are presented at a good pace, demonstrating how technically able these fine musicians are. Köhnken hails from Bruch’s home city Köln, and seems to have his spirit guiding her playing. Da Silva’s sound is airy and fluid at once, and while sometimes he fights the demon of sharpness, he most often wins. Newman’s playing is agile and sure. The mix seems to favour the clarinet sound overall, an odd balance anomaly that points to perhaps a hurried production or difficult acoustic. Max Christie Nielsen; Ibert; Arnold – Flute Concertos Clara Andrada; Frankfurt Radio Symphony; Jaime Martin Ondine ODE 1340-2 ( !! What a good idea to trace the dramatic transition from Romanticism to Modernism through flute concerti by three composers of three consecutive generations: Carl Nielsen, born in 1865, Jacques Ibert, born in 1890 and Sir Malcolm Arnold, born in 1921. The age differences notwithstanding, all three concerti were written in the 28 years from 1926 to 1954. The first movement of the Nielsen concerto (1926) seems to me to capture this strange and abrupt transition, opening with a stormy – modernist – flourish by the orchestra, answered by a long, lyrical melody, which could almost have been written by Nielsen’s Romantic predecessor, Carl Reinecke. The angular second subject, however, is without argument the product of a 20th-century sensibility, most effectively played, I might add, with calm rhythmic stability by soloist Clara Andrada. Similarly the second movement of Ibert’s concerto (1932) begins with a long sustained melodic line, played with great grace and refinement by Andrada, before becoming progressively more disquieted, reflecting perhaps the growing tensions and anxieties of the late 1920s and early 30s. The third movement of Arnold’s Flute Concerto No.1 (1954), fast, short, exciting – and tonal – is unquestionably a product of the 20th century. Arnold’s skill as a composer is very much in evidence in this movement, as he builds energy and excitement through the alternation of soloist and orchestra. I must commend conductor, Jaime Martín, a flutist himself, and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, for their exemplary rapport with the soloist – musical teamwork at its best. Allan Pulker Escales – French Orchestral Works Sinfonia of London; John Wilson Chandos CHSA 5252 ( !! While the subtitle of this disc is “French Orchestral Works,” it could just as easily be called “Spanish Music from France,” for that is what comprises the majority of Escales’ contents. The opening and closing tracks are Chabrier’s España and Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole, clearly evoking a strong Spanish influence, while Ibert’s Escales outlines a threepart journey from France, through Italy, to Spain. Between these works are more standard essays in 20th century French composition, with such classics as Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Massenet’s Méditation. The interesting subtext to this disc is that, although the Spanish-infused pieces are clearly and deliberately exotic and meant to sound Spanish, they are immediately recognizable as being French. Perhaps this is because the works themselves are only caricatures of another style, or perhaps because they are surrounded by more characteristically familiar music of the same school; regardless of the reason, this disc makes a strong case for France’s inherent national musical identity through its composers. The Sinfonia of London are fine interpreters of this rich and lush material, coaxing out the timbral subtleties of each composer’s material. From the tranquil openings of Debussy’s Prélude to the driving conclusion of Ravel’s Rapsodie, the character of this music is expressed to full effect, aided in large part by the terrific quality of the sound itself. Released as a super audio CD, Escales captures a high degree of sonic detail, such as the robust spectrum of overtones produced by the divided string section, and translates these into a product that is remarkably close to a live performance in a concert hall, ideal for these colourful impressionistic works. Matthew Whitfield Strauss – Also sprach Zarathustra; Burleske Daniil Trifonov; Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Mariss Jansons BR Klassik 900182 ( ! ! The most remarkable aspect of this iconic work – apart from the work itself – is that Richard Strauss started out as someone who was brought up to almost despise the work of Wagner and Liszt, who created the very form of one of Strauss’ most famous works. The nine-part symphonic tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra is a spectacular homage to Nietzsche’s philosophy of the Superman and his celebration of human power and energy. Strauss’ response to Nietzsche’s book is a work of enormous proportions, a free-flowing fantasia which, apart from its philosophical aspirations, creates some truly awe-inspiring orchestral sounds. Not the least of these is the work’s inspired “sunrise” opening, depiction of a primordial darkness-to-light so elemental that the titanic, sustained contra-octave C played on the organ, contrabassoon, contrabass and bass drum begins barely audible to the human ear. This is a stupendous live recording. The Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks play with adventure and excitement under Marriss Jansons’ inspired leadership. Few other versions manage to give a convincing sense of the shape to this work. The Burleske, written ten years earlier, may belie a Brahmsian influence, but also foretells the future of a composer seized with the true immensity of symphonic sound. Pianist Daniil Trifonov is particularly dazzling with exemplary lucidity, showing why he is the darling of the cognoscenti today as he employs the sweetest tones to create a great Romantic wash of colour. Raul da Gama 58 | April 2020

Karl Weigl – Symphony No.1; Pictures and Tales Deutsches Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland- Pfalz; Jürgen Bruns Capriccio C5365 ( !! Karl Weigl (1881-1949) was a succesful Vienna composer and teacher whose Jewish origins forced him to emigrate in 1938. In the United States he remained active but it has taken a long time for his relatively conservative music to receive the acclaim it deserves. The Symphony No.1 (1908) demonstrates his mastery of a personal late- Romantic style, opening with pastoral cheerfulness and a lyrical Viennese touch. The busy scherzo features chattering winds and sophisticated play with cross-rhythms and syncopations. Especially good is the slow movement – a yearning fantasy in the strings. Again in the third movement, woodwinds take a prominent role and there is a tremendous passage of multiple wind trill chains that must be heard – a true chorus of nature! In this work there is little fin-de-siècle brooding. The high-register orchestration is outstanding again in the finale, a somewhat parodistic march ending with a boisterous close. In a much different vein, Weigl composed Pictures and Tales, Op.2 (1909), a set of short piano pieces which he orchesterated into a suite for small orchestra in 1922. The title alludes to scenes and images from fairy tales, e.g. Stork, Stork Clatter or Elves Dance in the Moonlight, with deft and transparent orchestration and appeal for children and adults alike. Jürgen Bruns is a much-in-demand conductor who has led a much-needed recording that would likely delight the composer even more than us. Roger Knox Homage and Inspiration – Works by Schumann, Kurtág, Mozart and Weiss Iris Trio Coviello Classics COV92002 ( !! Reviewing a former student’s second chamber music recording in as many years nudges my feelings from pride toward sheer professional envy, especially because this is the better of two fine discs involving clarinetist Christine Carter. Cleverly compiled, the disc of music for clarinet, viola (Molly Carr) and piano (Anna Petrova) explores the way each work was influenced by the previous one. In 1786, Mozart composed his Trio in E-flat Major, K498, known familiarly as the “Kegelstatt,” for his friend and clarinetist Anton Stadler (for whom he also wrote the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings and the Concerto K.622). Robert Schumann responded with his peculiar Märchenerzählungen, Op.132 in 1853. Hungarian composer György Kurtág wrote a reflection on the odd personae populating much of Schumann’s music, including this trio, in his Hommage à R. Sch. Op.15d. Finally on the disc is a recent commission for the same grouping by Christof Weiß (whose liner notes provide much helpful information), his Drittes Klaviertrio für Klarinette, Viola und Klavier “Gespräch unter Freunden.” The works are ordered to highlight the links from past to present, rather than chronologically. It’s lovely to hear the Mozart presented with such fresh freedom. Pulse is allowed to ease and press forward, such that the music comes close to representing what one so often hears it is meant to depict: a conversation among friends over a game of bowling. A special nod to Petrova; this is a small piano concerto in fact, and she knocks it over with grace and flair. Working on Kurtág’s Hommage was one of many experiences for which I can thank Robert Aitken and New Music Concerts. These mysterious works are uncannily beautiful, and this rendition is absolutely breathtaking. Max Christie MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Lutosławski – Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3 Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Hannu Lintu Ondine ODE 1332-5 ( !! There’s no mystery why Polish composer Witold Lutosławski’s Symphony No.3 from 1983 has been recorded so frequently. It’s an influential work. And, as this new recording with Hannu Lintu conducting the Finnish Radio Orchestra demonstrates, it’s a truly exciting work, full of delights and surprises. It starts with a definitive burst of four rapidly repeated E’s, which keep returning right until the end. That motif is the last thing heard. Lintu, who has conducted the Toronto Symphony in a number of memorable concerts during the past decade, brings out the sharp contrasts that make Lutosławski’s music so dramatic. In the semi-improvised sections, where Lutosławski stipulates what notes are played but allows the musicians the freedom to choose the rhythms, the orchestra creates unearthly sounds that shimmer with twists and slides. But it’s the contemplative passages that show the real strength of this recording – its open-hearted embrace of the lyricism that make this work so moving. Lintu’s interpretation easily measures up to the fine recordings from Solti, who commissioned the work, Salonen, who made the first recording, Wit, Barenboim and Lutosławski himself. With a colourful performance of Symphony No. 2 from 1967, Lintu wraps up his set of Lutoslawski’s four symphonies. Like the third, this symphony is in two connected sections, here called Hésitant and Direct. The scale is less grand. But the impact just as powerful, and the performance is every bit as rewarding. Pamela Margles Rose Petals – Canadian Music for Viola Margaret Carey; Roger Admiral Centrediscs CMCCD26319 (cmccanada.ort) ! ! The oldest and longest work on this CD, Jean Coulthard’s 17-minute Sonata Rhapsody (1962), filled with moody introspection and intense yearning, makes an auspicious beginning to violist Margaret Carey’s “hand-picked” collection of Canadian compositions, Three pieces are for solo viola: Jacques Hétu’s Variations, Op.11 is predominantly slow and songful, occasionally interrupted by rapid, virtuoso passagework; in 19_06, Evelin Ramón combines intricate, electronics-like viola sonorities with vocalizations by the soloist; Howard Bashaw’s Modular 1, the first movement of a longer work, is a tightly rhythmic study in repetition, sustaining momentum throughout its four-minute duration. Pianist Roger Admiral, heard in Coulthard’s piece, also collaborates in three other works. Ana Sokolović’s Toccate, another four-minute essay in motoric rhythms, strikingly (pun intended) evokes the sounds of the cimbalom and Serbian Gypsies. The CD’s title, Rose Petals, is taken from the titles of a poem and a painting by Carey, both reproduced in the booklet. They, in turn, inspired Sean Clarke’s The Rose, commissioned by Carey. Clarke writes that in it, Carey also sings fragments of the poem but I found these inaudible. Nor could I discern much in the way of structural or expressive coherence amid the music’s disconnected, brutal fortissimo chords. Laurie Duncan describes the first two movements of his Viola Sonata as “melancholic” while “the third movement, Jig, is unexpectedly gay and joyous.” It’s a substantial, satisfying conclusion to this adventurous traversal across highly disparate compositional approaches and aesthetics. Michael Schulman April 2020 | 59

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