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Volume 26 Issue 6 - March and April 2021

  • Text
  • Contemporary
  • Orchestra
  • Album
  • Toronto
  • Quartet
  • Ensemble
  • Jazz
  • Composer
  • April
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96 recordings (count’em) reviewed in this issue – the most ever – with 25 new titles added to the DISCoveries Online Listening Room (also a new high). And up front: Women From Space deliver a festival by holograph; Morgan Paige Melbourne’s one-take pianism; New Orleans’ Music Box Village as inspiration for musical playground building; the “from limbo to grey zone” inconsistencies of live arts lockdowns; all this and more here and in print commencing March 19 2021.

over-wrought bloviators

over-wrought bloviators Rachmaninoff’s music seems perennially entrapped by. In the hands of Babayan, the listener finally beholds an inheritance: a musical – cultural – inheritance that is fierce yet fragile, at moments comprised only of single, radiating strands. Transmuting this elusive, quintessential expression, Babayan fully fathoms this coveted lineage and his own recent contribution to it. Adam Sherkin The Romantic Piano Concerto Vol.82: Stéphan Elmas – Piano Concertos Nos.1 & 2 Howard Shelley; Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Hyperion CDA68319 (hyperion-records.co.uk/ dc.asp?dc= D_CDA68319) ! Stéphan Elmas? Who? One could be forgiven if the name seems unfamiliar, but during his lifetime, this Armenian pianist-turnedcomposer was a respected musician and pedagogue. Born into a well-to-do family in Smyrna (now Izmir) in 1862, he showed musical promise at an early age and later studied in Vienna, making his debut in 1885 to great acclaim. Elmas ultimately turned to composition, writing in a conservative style not dissimilar to that of Anton Rubinstein – and with more than a passing nod to Chopin. His style is perhaps nowhere better represented than in the two piano concertos featured on this Hyperion disc with Howard Shelley performing and also directing the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, the latest in the Romantic Piano Concerto series. The Concerto in G Minor from 1882 is very much a product of its time. Encompassing a large canvas – the first movement is 19 minutes alone – the work allows the soloist plenty of opportunity to display their technical prowess, juxtaposed with sections which are quietly introspective. The formidable technical demands should come as no surprise – after all, the composer was also a virtuoso pianist. Throughout, Shelley performs with a solid conviction at all times demonstrating carefully nuanced phrasing and a flawless technique, while the TSO proves to be a solid and sensitive partner. The second concerto, written five years later, contains the same degree of attractive interplay between piano and orchestra. Once again, Elmas’ profound gift for melody shines through brightly – particularly in the second movement Andante – and more than makes up for any shortcomings the piece may have with respect to form and thematic development. While these concertos aren’t in the same league as those of Brahms or Rachmaninoff, they’re worthy examples worth investigating. Thanks to Shelley and the TSO, they’ll be prevented from languishing in undeserved obscurity. Richard Haskell Florent Schmitt – The Tragédie de Salomé Susan Platts; Nikki Chooi; Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta Naxos 8574138 (naxosdirect.com/ search/8574138) ! JoAnn Falletta’s conducting career goes from strength to strength: music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic; myriad recordings for Naxos; a 2019 Grammy Award. The four works on this disc by Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) demonstrate Falletta’s ability to attain expressive, assured results with complex scores for large orchestra. The composer’s style extends the scope of French Impressionism, with rich and fluid sonorities but also with passages that feature more dissonant writing. Musique sur l’eau (1898) is sung by mezzo Susan Platts with a full and seamless tone that goes well with Schmitt’s lush, colourful setting. The symphonic poem La Tragédie de Salomé (1910, revised from the earlier ballet) opens with an evocative prelude out of which a wonderfully played English horn solo takes the lead. In the succeeding dances, menacing strings and violent brass interpolations prefigure a horrific ending. Another ballet-based work is the Suite – Oriane et le Prince d’Amour (1934-37). In this later work, Schmitt’s harmonic language has advanced considerably, with lush and complex chords and figurations that Falletta and the excellent Buffalo players navigate with well-paced clarity. The dance in 5/4 time in this work is a motivic and rhythmic tour de force. Finally, the violin-orchestra version of Légende, Op.66 (1918) receives its recording premiere here. Légende is a staple of the alto saxophone repertoire, but with the well-modulated, expressive tone of Canadian violinist Nikki Chooi it also comes across exceedingly well in this version. Roger Knox Entente Musicale – Music for Violin and Piano Simon Callaghan; Clare Howick SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0625 (naxosdirect.com/search/sommcd+0625) ! Entente translates as a friendly understanding or informal alliance between two people or states. SOMM has titled a new CD Entente Musicale, which qualifies appropriately the collaboration of violinist Clare Howick and pianist Simon Callaghan and indirectly, the English and French repertoire included. Howick is acknowledged as being in the forefront of a generation of inspired violinists. The Strad is not stinting in their praise, finding her “playing with beguiling warmth and affection.” The American Record Guide qualifies her as “simply spectacular.” Callaghan has been commended in The Strad for his “velvetgloved pianism of ravishing sensitivity.” Together they give shining performances of these well-chosen works: Delius – Violin Sonata in B Major; Cyril Scott – Cherry Ripe and Valse Caprice; Debussy – Violin Sonata in G Minor; John Ireland – Violin Sonata No.1 in D Minor; Ravel – Pièce en forme de Habañera; Bax – Mediterranean. Some of the works may be familiar and others will surely find new fans. New to me is the Delius sonata, published after his death. Delius, born in Bradford, Yorkshire in 1862 but preferring to live in France, had three violin sonatas published, but this one, written in 1892-93 in Paris where he had taken up residence in 1888, was turned down by his publisher. Perhaps it was because of the unusual key of B Major, muses the author of the comprehensive booklet. Delius held on to it and here it is. The first movement, Allegro con brio, is dramatically optimistic. The second movement, Andante moto tranquillo, is typical Delius and exquisite beyond words, resolving in the third movement, Allegro con moto. The duo plays the Jascha Heifetz arrangements of the Ravel Pièce and the joyful Bax Mediterranean. Bruce Surtees Villa-Lobos – Complete Symphonies São Paulo Symphony; Isaac Karabtchevsky Naxos 8506039 (naxosdirect.com/search/8506039) ! Among the amazingly prolific Heitor Villa- Lobos’ 2,000- plus works are 11 audacious, spellbinding yet littleknown symphonies, composed at 38 | March and April 2021 thewholenote.com

opposite ends of his career. Except for the epic Symphony No.10, they sort themselves into pairs, stylistically and by date of composition. As a boy, Villa-Lobos learned to play clarinet and cello from his father. Adding guitar to his skills, he performed Brazilian popular and folkloric music with salon ensembles, and symphonic and operatic repertoire as an orchestral cellist. Slighting institutional composition study, Villa-Lobos absorbed Vincent d’Indy’s pedagogical Cours de Composition Musicale, leading to his trademark mix of European late-Romanticism with Brazilian melodic and rhythmic exoticism. Symphonies No.1 “Unforeseen” (1916) and No.2 “Ascension” (1917, revised 1944), with their lush sonorities, gorgeous, broadly flowing string melodies, chattering woodwinds suggestive of an active Brazilian rain forest, brass fanfares and throbbing percussion, find the young Villa-Lobos effectively creating a stereotypical “Hollywood sound” well before sound’s arrival in Hollywood. After World War I ended, Villa-Lobos was commissioned by Brazil’s National Institute of Music to compose three celebratory symphonies: No.3 “War,” No.4 “Victory” and the now-lost, never-performed No.5 “Peace,” perhaps unfinished. Requiring huge forces, “War” and “Victory” (both 1919) contain martial fanfares, anguished dirges and percussion-heavy, explosive battle music, “Victory” ending in a triumphal fortississimo. Villa-Lobos wouldn’t produce another symphony for 24 years, while composing many other orchestral, chamber and vocal works, eight of his nine Bachianas Brasileiras, all 17 Chôros and dozens of piano pieces, also serving as director of music education for Brazilian public schools. The angular themes of Symphony No.6 “On the Outlines of the Mountains” (1944) were derived by tracing the contours of photographed mountaintops. The opening movements conjure foreboding, rugged, desolate vistas; the Allegretto and final Allegro bathe the vast panoramas in bright sunlight. The four movements of Symphony No.7 “Odyssey of Peace” (1945) closely mirror those of No.6, with similar tempo markings, timings and moods. Here, turbulence and slowly drifting tonal centres precede two buoyantly joyous movements, the closing seconds echoing the bombast of the “Victory” finale after World War I. The unsubtitled Symphonies No. 8 (1950) and No.9 (1952) are Villa-Lobos’ most concise – No.9, just under 22 minutes, is the shortest of all. Both are infused with confident, upbeat melodies, mechanized urban rhythms and dense metallic textures, reflecting the revitalized post-war sense of optimism and material progress. After these two succinct symphonies evoking modern technology, Villa-Lobos about-faced with the grandiloquent, hourlong Symphony No.10 “Ameríndia” for large orchestra, tenor, baritone and bass soloists and chorus singing in Portuguese, Latin and indigenous language Tupi. (In this performance, the entire tenor section sings the tenor solo.) Commissioned for São Paulo’s 1954 quadricentennial, “Ameríndia” also bears the designation Oratorio and a second subtitle, “Sumé, Father of Fathers.” Sumé, the mythical bringer of knowledge to pre-Columbian Brazil, is here conflated with the 16th-century Jesuit missionary St. José de Anchiera. The music for this sonic extravaganza creates a blazingly coloured tapestry weaving paganism, Christianity, mystical lamentation, ecstasy and exultation. It’s totally thrilling! The opening fanfares, lush melodies and exotic colours of Symphony No.11 (1955) recall Villa-Lobos’ cinematic early symphonies, now with even greater rhythmic, harmonic and textural complexity. No.12 (1957), completed on Villa-Lobos’ 70th birthday, features more fanfares, vibrant rhythms and colours, a mystery-shrouded, near-atonal Adagio and a final, multithematic, kaleidoscopic display of orchestral fireworks. Further enriching this six-CD treasuretrove are two folklore-inspired works depicting mythical jungle spirits: the tonepoem Uirapuru (1917) and the choral cantata Mandu-Çarará (1940), sung in indigenous language Nheengatu. (Texts and translations for this and “Ameríndia” are provided.) With definitive, super-charged performances by the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra conducted by Brazilian-born Isaac Kabatchevsky, this set is most enthusiastically recommended! Michael Schulman MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Piazzolla & Galliano – Concertos Jovica Ivanović; Ukrainian Chamber Orchestra; Vitaliy Prostasov Navona Records nv6317 (navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6317) ! Serbian-Austrian classical accordionist Jovica Ivanović and his colleagues, concertmaster/violinist Valeriy Sokolov and the Ukrainian Chamber Orchestra under conductor Vitaliy Protasov, shine in their collaborative performances of concertos by prominent composers Astor Piazzolla and Richard Galliano. Each three-movement, fast/slow/fast, thoughtful, detailed concerto illuminates Ivanović’s talents and the tight ensemble playing of all the musicians. Piazzolla’s Aconcagua, a concerto for bandoneón, percussion and string orchestra, was a favourite of Piazzolla himself and it encompasses his characteristic rhythmical tango nuevo melodies and orchestral sonorities. The bandoneón part translates well onto accordion as Ivanović’s intuitive musical performance is highlighted by his detached notes, florid ornamentations and clear fast runs. The orchestral balance is perfect, especially during the ringing, low-pitched stringbass accompaniments. French composer/accordionist Galliano’s Opale Concerto for accordion and string orchestra is a mix of French, American and Balkan styles. The first movement is slightly more atonal, with such accordion specialities as bellows shakes, accented chords and widepitched lines alternating with string solos. The slower second movement starts with a lyrical solo, until the orchestral entry creates a “merry-go-round” reminiscent soundscape. The faster third movement builds excitement with conversational shorter accented melodies until the final ascending accordion glissando ends it with a decisive bang. Ivanović is a superb accordionist, wellmatched to the string players’ collective musicianship. Their interpretations make the Piazzolla and Galliano compositions resonate with permanent eloquence. Tiina Kiik Editor’s Note: March 11, 2021 marked the centenary or Piazzolla’s birth. He died in 1992 at the age of 71. Godfrey Ridout – The Concert Recordings Various Artists Centrediscs CMCCD 28220 (cmccanada.org/shop/cmccd-28220) ! Godfrey Ridout (1918-1984) was “an old-school gentleman,” conservative in deportment, attire (three-piece suits) and compositional style. I knew him also to be very accessible, forthright and warm-hearted – just like his music! This welcome CD presents concert performances from 1975-1993, drawn from the CBC archives. Cantiones Mysticae No.2 – The Ascension (1962) is set to a sixth-century hymn sung in English by sunny-voiced soprano Janet Smith, Brian Law conducting Ottawa’s Thirteen Strings. As the text proclaims, it opens “with a merry noise and… the sound of the trumpet” (played by Stuart Douglas Sturdevant). One line in the serene second section – “Rescue, recall into life those who are rushing to death” – was, wrote Ridout, his son critically ill during its composition, “a cri de coeur… that really struck home.” The darkly dramatic Two Etudes for string orchestra (1946) comprise the sepulchral No.1 (Andante con malinconia) and the chugging freight train of No.2, briefly stalled by a misterioso passage. Mario Bernardi conducts the CBC Vancouver Orchestra. Violinist thewholenote.com March and April 2021 | 39

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