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Volume 26 Issue 5 - February 2021

  • Text
  • Toronto
  • Recordings
  • Musicians
  • Pianist
  • Composer
  • Quartet
  • Musical
  • Jazz
  • Recording
  • February
So, How Much Ground WOULD a ground hog hog? community arts and the Dominion Foundries end run; the vagaries of the concert hall livestreaming ban; hymns to freedom; postsecondary auditions do the COVID shuffle; and reflections on some of the ways the music somehow keeps on being made - PLUS 81 (count them!) recordings we've been listening to. Also a page 2 ask of you. Available in flipthrough format here and in print February 10.

with the same thoughtful

with the same thoughtful intelligence, convincingly addressing the various moods throughout, from the gentleness of the fourth movement (Sehr langsam) to the agitated energy of No.7 (Sehr rasch). The gently rollicking finale, with its slight sense of the macabre, is never easy to bring off – but Turetayeva handles it adroitly, thus bringing the set, and the disc, to a most satisfying conclusion. This young artist is on the brink of great success and here’s hoping we’ll hear more from her in the near future. Richard Haskell Brahms – The Last Piano Pieces, Opp. 117, 118, 119 Victor Rosenbaum Bridge Records 9545 (bridgerecords.com) ! Often, there is a fetishization of the young in music. The prodigy, perhaps particularly so on the piano, presents a familiar trope in the literature of musical biographies, record reviews and concert journalism. It is, of course, easy to see why this is the case. Music performed at the high level of excellence and dedication to craft that classical audiences have grown to expect, takes time... often a lifetime of study. And when someone is stationed at the beginning of their career, rather than the end, the results can be all the more astounding. That said, as artists age, there often comes a sheen of introspective reflection (usually described as musical maturity) to their playing and composing that, while perhaps not as attention-grabbing as their earlier and more precocious work, can be soul-enriching for the attenuated listener. Such is the case here on Victor Rosenbaum’s wonderful new Bridge Records recording, Brahms: The Last Piano Pieces Opp. 117, 118, 119, where the acclaimed American pianist and educator mines, with aplomb, the expressive depths of the final pieces written for his own instrument by old man Brahms. The music is typical Brahms, filled with wonderful lyricism of course, but offering a career bookending meditative counterpoint to, say, the virtuosity of his Piano Concertos No. 1 and 2 composed some 35 years earlier. Wonderfully recorded and played with tremendous attention to the subtle details of the work, Rosenbaum simply adds here to his fine reputation as a masterful pianist and interpreter. Even his reading of Opus 118: No. 3, Ballade: Allegro energico, which, as the title suggests, opens with an energetic G-minor clarion call, is handled with appropriate care and does not devolve into grandstanding. Instead, Rosenbaum plays up to the detailed richness of the German composer’s original intentions. As Rosenbaum writes in his self-penned and illuminating liner notes, “he [Brahms] is drawing our attention not to speed but to vigor.” An excellent recording to start 2021! Andrew Scott Mariss Jansons – His Last Concert Live at Carnegie Hall Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks BR Klassik BRK900192 (naxosdirect.com/search/brk900192) ! A great loss to the music world, one of the top conductors of our time, a great musical mind and a wonderful human being, Mariss Jansons passed away in December 2019. This concert was his last, November 8 of that year, a recording he regretfully will never hear. Jansons, as a baby and being Jewish, was smuggled out of Latvia to the Soviet Union to escape the Nazis: he grew up studying under the legendary Mravinsky in Leningrad and was discovered later by Karajan who invited him to Berlin. I was lucky to have seen him conduct here in Toronto at Roy Thomson Hall. He did Mahler’s Second Symphony, commanding the vast forces of the TSO and the Mendelssohn Choir to a standing ovation. In the last 16 years he was chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony which he honed to perfection, a world-class ensemble as witnessed by this recording. Music of Richard Strauss, Four Interludes from the opera Intermezzo, pieces of extraordinary bravura, provide a rousing start and show off the virtuosity of the orchestra. The music is full of spirit and beautifully melodic with a waltz sequence that rivals Der Rosenkavalier, but the harmonies and orchestration are far more adventurous. What follows is a wonderful, idiomatic and highly personal reading of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony. I must admit I’ve never heard it played as beautifully, Carlos Kleiber notwithstanding. From the soft, undulating haupttheme of the first movement through the second movement of pure beauty and the rambunctious, boisterous Scherzo (the first and only real scherzo Brahms ever wrote in a symphony) we arrive at the monumental, unorthodox Passacaglia with 30 variations on an eight-note ground bass, and a standing ovation. Then the encore, Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No.5, the famous one, played with great gusto ends the concert. A recording to treasure. Janos Gardonyi MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Jeffrey Ryan – My Soul Upon My Lips Various Artists Redshift Records TK469 (redshiftrecords.org) ! A labour of love by Canadian composer Jeffrey Ryan, My Soul Upon My Lips is a collection of music for solo woodwinds ten years in the making. Two larger works with piano bookend eight short solo pieces for a full complement of instruments from the woodwind family. Ryan captures the essence of each instrument with the use of a variety of 20th-century techniques to masterfully explore a range of colours and emotion. Aside from the use of the usual winds from an orchestra, Ryan also employs the tárogató and the alto saxophone, adding a unique timbre not often showcased in classical music, making this albums’ repertory approach uniquely his own. In close collaboration with individual performers, each piece has been tailored to play to the strength of their instrument and highlight its spectrum of possibility – ingeniously invoking feelings from haunting to celestial and everything in between. My Soul Upon My Lips is an emotionally inspirational collection of character pieces that gives first place in title to no one instrument, uniting all in a stylish reformation of 20th century form in a 21st-century embodiment. With a starry lineup of instruments and Ryan’s soaring imagination, these pieces are a welcome addition to any artist’s repertoire and would prove to be an engaging and exhilarating selection for a recital. Melissa Scott Jan Järvlepp – Concerto 2000 and other works Pascale Margely; Janáček Philharmonic; Zagreb Festival; Moravian Philharmonic Navona Records nv6291 (navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6291) Jan Järvlepp – Flights of Fancy: Chamber Works Various Artists Navona Records nv6323 (navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6323) ! It is a pleasure to review two retrospective discs of music by Ottawabased composer Jan Järvlepp (b.1953). Growing up, he played classical cello, popular music 42 | February 2021 thewholenote.com

on several instruments and studied composition, then turned in a post-modern direction – incorporating influences from pop, jazz and Hispanic, Arab or Nordic folk styles. The disc Concerto 2000 includes orchestral music from the last 30 years while Flights of Fancy contains chamber music composed and recorded in the 1990s. Three orchestras, mostly Czech, were recorded for the former between 2017 and 2019. I am especially impressed by the title work, with outstanding flute soloist Pascale Margely. Each movement is characterized by a folk style: Caliente! with exciting flamenco rhythm, wood instruments and hand clapping is appealing; the atmospheric Nocturne, which evokes Arabic singing, is a deep, increasingly complex and tragic work. In Memoriam (2016) is a processional work for strings that I found solemn and dignified. Camerata Music (1989) is a highly successful minimalist composition, with a pentatonic string ostinato soon doubled at the fifth by a flute. This is an example of the pervasive parallelism that is a fingerprint of Järvlepp’s music. Here it produces interesting harmonies and occasional clashes with increasingly divergent motifs and phrases above, as the ostinato breaks up. Other instruments are added and the work builds well. The other tracks are more pop-influenced, including the recent Brass Dance (2018) in which parallelism applies to diminished chords and train-horn sounds. But though they are entertaining, for me the pop elements sound familiar and somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Flights of Fancy: Chamber Works is the other current release. It opens brilliantly with Pierrot Solaire (1994), an extended tour de force that is clearly pop in derivation, but with substantial smooth and contrasting interludes led by the violin. Later, there is cross-cutting between shorter music segments, and towards the end instruments become frenetic virtuosos. A three-movement Saxophone Quartet (1996) is played by the excellent ensemble, Saxart. The opening movement, Cadillac, is a perpetual motion piece, blues-evoking and witty with virtuosic solo turns by each saxophone for contrast. Space does not allow for every work on this disc, but we must note that the versatile composer has played with and composed for many musicians in the Ottawa area, establishing lasting connections. He appears as electric guitarist on Tarantella (1996) and as cellist on Trio No.2 (1997). In the latter, flutist Margely and violist Kevin James join with Järvlepp in a piece whose opening movement achieves unique and beguiling combinations involving string harmonics. Another aspect of these chamber pieces is the composer’s adeptness with instrumentation for many different instruments, something that has facilitated his orchestral composing. In fact, though the chamber works are earlier than the orchestral ones, these two CD’s belong together – the working out of a long and productive compositional practice. Roger Knox Apperceptions Taylor Brook Independent (taylorbrook.info) ! Canadianborn, US-based guitarist/improviser/composer/ lecturer and computer programming whiz, Taylor Brook, performs with a new “improvising colleague” in his self-described “music for human improviser with computer improviser.” He designed audio-corpus-based AI computer software which listened, analyzed and then improvised music to Brook’s preceding new music guitar improvisations. Brook tuned his solo electric guitar in a different just intonation tuning on each of the ten tracks. My skepticism vanished immediately as the slow reflective Track 1 E opens with held-note guitar string ringing being matched by the subsequent computer colours which develop into more dissonant intervals alternating with occasional guitar strums. Quiet, calming breaks, contrasting atonalities and surprising dynamic “duo” swells lead to a guitar and computer-generated blended final fade. Track 4 F#’s longer, faster guitar melody opening “inspires” ringing computer high tones matching the guitar’s lines which gradually unite to build musical tension. Attention grabbing guitar strums and repeated notes with computer echo ideas in the lower pitched intense Track 5 A+51 which are expanded with cymbal-like computer ringing in Track 6 Interlude. Track 8 G# is a welcome gentler contrast to the other tracks, as Brook’s virtuosic opening guitar playing is answered by high computer single notes and chordal rings. More guitar fun in Track 9 A as computer plucks match the real guitar ones! As a free improviser myself, I am amazed at Brook’s fantastic creation of a computer program to interact with his live guitar improvisations. Looking forward to future duets expanding on these contemporary sounds. Tiina Kiik mirrors – 21st Century American Piano Trios Lysander Piano Trio First Hand Records FHR11 (lysandertrio.com) ! The formidable Lysander Piano Trio celebrates its ten-year anniversary with an attractive new disc, featuring music hot-off-the-press by living American composers. The trio is fervently committed to new music and to the commissioning thereof: no less than six world-premiere recordings populate this disc. Ne’er to shy away from muscular playing and athletic feats of prowess, the members of Lysander crack on through these works (generally having been constructed with their triply impressive strengths in mind). The composers represented here do seem to ensure a freshness of concept, sometimes sojourning in new directions. Thankfully, the result is a 21st-century deliverance of the genre from the shackles of a 19th-century canon. The extra musical inspiration throughout the record is notable. Reinaldo Moya’s Ghostwritten Variations has been inspired by four novels that highlight composers as protagonists, namely those of Thomas Mann, David Mitchell, Richard Powers and Kim Stanley Robinson. Moya’s piece offers a reimagining of what music by these four might sound like – a compelling conceit. The Black Mirror by Jakub Ciupinski turns to the visual arts for incentive, referencing a portable painting aid, curiously known as a “Claude glass.” And Sofia Belimova’s brief, Titania and Her Suite, reaches our eyes by way of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Without doubt, a highlight of this release is Love Sweet by Jennifer Higdon, as sung by Sarah Shafer. The young soprano’s narrative abilities and refined vocal colour bring the new, five-song cycle to life. Adam Sherkin Wang Lu – An Atlas of Time Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Momenta Quartet; Ryan Muncy; Daniel Lippel; Miranda Cuckson New Focus Recordings FCR277 (newfocusrecordings.com/catalogue) ! Chinese- American composer Wang Lu’s works excite like a case of sudden-onsetfireworks display. Frenetic bombast prevails amid haunting breath-like interjections that induce enjoyable sonic nightmares of a welcome thewholenote.com February 2021 | 43

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