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Volume 26 Issue 3 - November 2020

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Alanis Obomsawin's art of life; fifteen Exquisite Departures; UnCovered re(dis)covered; jazz in the kitchen; three takes on managing record releases in times of plague; baroque for babies; presenter directory (blue pages) part two; and, here at the WholeNote, work in progress on four brick walls (or is it five?). All this and more available in flipthrough HERE, and in print Tuesday Nov 3.

Cheryl Frances-Hoad –

Cheryl Frances-Hoad – The Whole Earth Dances Various Artists Champs Hill Records CHRCD152 ( ! This, the second Champs Hill CD of chamber music by Cheryl Frances- Hoad (b.1980), a much-performed British composer in all genres, features nine works dating from 1998 to 2017, none longer than 14 minutes. Short – but not sweet! This music, although seemingly easy to follow, is anything but easy listening. Eschewing prettiness and warmth, these pieces’ beauties are austere and angstridden. Within predominantly slow tempi, strong accents mark the ways forward, but the clearly defined instrumental lines wander uncertainly amid unclear, undefined tonal centres. The disquiet thus produced reflects Frances-Hoad’s imagery in describing her compositions: “so much of the Earth is being polluted, fracked and deforested” (the CD’s title piece, The Whole Earth Dances, for piano quintet including a double bass, as in Schubert’s Trout); “a dystopian future in which the technology we have come to rely upon kills us” (Game On for piano and electronics); “I incorporated the Dies Irae plainchant – Day of Wrath – as a reminder of the inevitable” (The Prophecy for cello and piano); “a women who kills her two children to spite her husband” (Medea for solo flute); “[Dante’s] description of sinners submerged neck-deep in rivers of boiling blood” (My Day in Hell for string quartet). Disturbing, uncomfortable, but always holding my attention, these works often reminded me of the sparse, haunted atmosphere of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. If you’re in the mood for feeling moody, you’ll enjoy this CD, as I did. Michael Schulman George Kontogiorgos – Dancing with Centaurs Stathis Mavrommatis; Orchestra of Colours; Miltos Logiadis Naxos 8.579047 ( search/747313904778) ! Composer George Kontogiorgos’ illustrious tonal melodies highlight this Global Music Award-winning release with four works inspired by Greek traditional songs/mythologies, juxtaposing tonal and atonal sounds, pentatonic scales, Romanticism, minimalism, jazz and pop soundscapes. Saxophonist Stathis Mavrommatis and pianist Christina Panteli rise to the occasion to master and perform these dense, challenging, stylistically diverse works with technical and musical aplomb! The ten-movement Dancing with Centaurs (2014), for soprano saxophone and piano, superimposes ancient Hellenic traditional music ideas with Romantic tonality to musically describe these Greek mythical creatures. The second movement Idyllic starts with fast descending piano lines and then smooth sax notes lead to more tonal song-like melodies. The third movement, Dancing with Centaurs, is folk-flavoured with subtle tango undertones and high-pitched squeaky sax. There is a breathtaking change in mood by a slower, reflective sax solo and piano chords in Meditation. Jazz undertones, repeated single sax tones and marching piano groove add to the atmosphere in Battle of the Centaurs. Ringtone (2016) for alto saxophone and piano is an amusing take, with simple cyclical melodic sax and piano lines mimicking different phones ringing simultaneously. Concertino “Testosterone” (2015) adds a string section to the duo. Solo alto sax Night Walk (2017) has a free improv jazz feel and slight tonal pitch changes at ends of phrases. Kontogiorgos’ understanding of his personal musical influences and the infrequently heard saxophone/piano instrumentation along with great playing makes for illuminating listening. Tiina Kiik Désordre: György Ligeti – Etudes; Trio Eric Huebner; Yuki Numata Resnick; Adam Unsworth New Focus Recordings FCR269 ( ! For American piano marvel Eric Huebner, myriad talents have ignited a multifaceted career of unwavering performance prowess, equal in measure as soloist, chamber player and orchestral pianist. Huebner remains one of the most active keyboardists of his generation and if you don’t already know his work, you really should. A latest release featuring music by György Ligeti offers a homecoming of a kind. Fiendishly demanding contemporary repertoire has always been Huebner’s specialty but at the heart of his musical muse is a longstanding association with Ligeti. Huebner believes the Études to represent “an entirely new musical language… fusing together disparate elements.” Ligeti came to challenge himself – his own compositional craft – later in life when he penned these works. Remarkably at home in these scores, Huebner puts his dazzling arsenal of abilities on full display, sculpting timescales and wielding rhythmic idiosyncrasies all with a veteran expertise and panache. His is a deft touch, keenly born of an exceptional musical ear and fine sense for textural expression (arguably a prerequisite in the successful interpretation of any piece by Ligeti). Rising to the challenges, Huebner writes of “laying bare the music’s intricacies and keeping pace with its extreme technical demands while expressing its joy, poignancy and, at times, melancholy.” Ligeti’s horn trio reveals even more of the composer’s unusual universe. It is a cosmos that glimmers benevolently in the care of dedicated artists like Huebner, Yuki Numata Resnick and Adam Unsworth. Adam Sherkin Edward Smaldone – Once and Again Various Artists New Focus Recordings FCR 258 ( Knehans; Smaldone – Double Portrait All of the Above; HU Jianbing; Wiliam R. Langley Ablaze Records ar-00053 ( ! The music of composer Edward Smaldone (b.1956) is firmly rooted in the modernist tradition of what for decades in the 20th century formed the mainstream of American academic “classical” music. It was a lineage severely disrupted, though not wholly extinguished, by numerous new approaches to concert musical experiment including indeterminacy, acousmatic and electronic sound, transethnicism, minimalism and free improvisation, among many others. Smaldone’s own output has nevertheless steadfastly retained close ties with the compositional modernism of his teachers, George Perle and Ralph Shapey, though this mid-century American aesthetic was also modified by admixtures of jazz. With the release of two new albums, we can listen in to the music Smaldone has been composing over several decades. Edward Smaldone: Once and Again presents five well-crafted compositions written between 1986 and 2014: a collection of chamber music, two song cycles and a string orchestra work. They collectively showcase Smaldone’s diverse sources of inspiration ranging from the Renaissance/ Baroque composer Claudio Monteverdi and American modernist Perle, to jazz giants Ellington and Monk. The liner notes highlight the implications of these influences, contrasting the “’classical’ values of motivic and formal cohesion and development,” 40 | November 2020

with “’modernist’ values of capturing an improvisatory sensibility, asymmetry, and irregularity.” The two multi-movement song cycles on the album provide keys to Smaldone’s work. The dramatic Cantare di Amore (2009) – with links to Monteverdi – provides soprano Tony Arnold plenty of room for declamatory drama, supported by sprightly supporting harp and flute writing. Letters from Home (2000/2007/2014), sung by soprano Susan Narucki, uses a five-part narrative of period letters providing a snapshot of mid-century American women’s lives, effectively framed by flute, clarinet and piano. Duke/Monk (2011) for clarinet and piano on the other hand is a contrasting two-part tribute to Ellington and Monk, the American jazz masters’ voices eloquently filtered through Smaldone’s idiosyncratic aesthetic. Smaldone shares space with his composer colleague Douglas Knehans on the 2-CD album Knehans Smaldone: Double Portrait. He is well represented by four chamber music works performed by the virtuoso young ensemble All of the Above. Smaldone’s Suite (1992, 2001) played by violinist Scott Jackson and pianist Matthew Umphreys is a standout. The astringent score makes considerable technical and emotional demands of the violin soloist right from its opening cadenza to Stephane’s Dance, its Grappelli-like, jazz-imbued third movement. Three Scenes from The Heartland (1994) for solo piano is a sensitive work for the instrument drawing particularly on its jazz legacy. Receiving a definitive performance by Umphreys, Scenes is marked by a wide range of responses to the vast American landscape, both geographic and human, the Heartland of the title. Smaldone writes about “unbridled optimism, freedom of spirit, ingenuity, grit and determination” that lies within the American spirit, “yearning for the new, the unknown,” in the final movement reflecting on “the exultation of reflection in its quiet, motionless close.” Whether you share his personal view of the American journey, the call for renewal embedded in this emotional, and perhaps nostalgic, music may well resonate with your own search for meaning and connection during this challenging time. Andrew Timar Five Thoughts on Everything Jobina Tinnemans Bright Shiny Things BSTC-9134 ( ! Her selfconfessed “analog obsession” has enabled the Dutchborn, Wales-based composer and performer Jobina Tinnemans to produce some of the most extraordinarily eloquent music you may have heard in a long time. Five Thoughts on Everything is a unique perspective on the ecosystem of planet Earth in which humanity plays a pivotal role. The title suggests that the raison d’être for our existence is quite simple. Tinnemans’ performance on Five Thoughts on Everything brings that existential simplicity to life by weaving the piano into a series of other field recordings so exquisitely made that the mechanical aspects of the recording melt seamlessly into a whole world of ephemeral sound. The extraterrestrial white noise of Midtone in G forms a kind of warp into which the chorale of Djúpalónsdóttir & Hellnarson is woven (by the South Iceland Chamber Choir). An interminable dance of marine life burbles in the intertwining of piano and jabbering grey seals from Pwll Deri, Wales in The Shape of Things Aquatic. Meanwhile the rhythmic arrival of roosting starlings is subsumed by deep aquatic life including the call of whales – all this in Microbioism. The sound palette of Varèsotto, Hinterland of Varèse, Tinnemans’ 2018 take on Edgard Varèse’s installation at the 1958 Brussels World Fair, returns us to a macro-view of the ecosystem that is planet Earth. It’s a disc to die for, in which Tinnemans’ universe – and ours – is described with ethereal beauty from end to end. Raul da Gama Jeff Morris – Close Reeding, A digital view from the inside out Various Artists Ravello Records RR8041 ( ! The third track on this disc by sound artist Jeff Morris is Slurp, an unsettling collection of the very oral sounds made by reed players with the apparatus of their trade: mouthpiece, reed, tongue, lips, actuated by saliva and breath. As an exploration it is horrifying yet familiar. I stood the test of it by writing these thoughts while hearing it, but it was still a challenge. Compared to some of the other tracks, Slurp is at least comfortingly acoustic; others, like the title track, are laboratory products, where the hint of a recreated physical space is buried under synthetic effects occurring in the void of Cyberia. I visualize a blank soundstage, black or neutral white, no corners, no floor walls or ceiling. Within this space Morris explores the quasi-human voices of reed instruments, pairing them with, or pitting against, sounds from his own digital sound production mechanisms. Melody and harmony sit much of this disc out, back in the “real” world. Instead: dialogues of nattering, whining, dyspeptic, or louche voices, disembodied and reminiscent of the acoustic instruments where they were born. So, rhythm, timbre, certainly pitch, but pitch that is nearly arbitrary, the servant of an attempt to express through something very like speech, something very like meaning. In Voclarise, a brief melodic utterance by the bass clarinet turns into a gorgeous chorale that is soon usurped by a croaking (contra?) bass clarinet. What’s in a Whisper is a fourmovement (Hush, Howl, Growl, Grit) trio for drum kit, alto sax and synthesizer. Here is almost conventional chamber music, at least compared with the other more singular and solitary expressions. The lineup of contributors is impressive, their commitment to this extravagance is total. Not for everybody, but verifiably music. Max Christie Thomas Meadowcroft – Percussion Works Speak Percussion Mode Records mode 319 ( ! The Australian composer, Thomas Meadowcroft (b.1972), delivers a CD featuring four of his works written for percussion and electronics performed by his compatriots, the renowned Speak Percussion ensemble. In the first piece, titled The Great Knot, piercing electronic drones and chirpings create a delightfully barren expanse. This piece is a meditation in an open field with rusty swings and passing melodies in the wind. Cradles is a psychedelic lullaby warping lounge music into a hallucinogenic dreamscape. In Plain Moving Landfill, the listener travels through industrial ambiences and synthetic punctures. For a piece that is inspired by the layers of rubbish found in a landfill, this piece is decidedly calm – albeit in a Tim Hecker sense of the word. Lastly, Home Organs takes its inspiration from the attempt at memory retrieval at the onset of Alzheimer’s illness. Our memories can create a sense of “home” or belonging for the individual. This piece certainly delivers a sense of frustration that undoubtedly accompanies a loss of this sense of home through the failure of one’s November 2020 | 41

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