7 years ago

Volume 14 - Issue 4 - December 2008

filmed performance of

filmed performance of Gustav Mahler's monumentalThird Symphony from August of2007 isperhaps their greatest accomplishment to date.The wonderful sprawl of Mahler' s trulyaudacious 35 minute first movement is unifiedby Abbado's steady yet supple, perfectlypaced march tempo. This massive movement,of which Mahler ruefully remarked,"You'd sometimes think you were in a tavernor a sty", often overshadows the two shortermovements which follow it. Fortunately inthis performance these interludes positivelysparkle and dazzle, thanks to the stellar contributionsof the distinguished first chair soloistsand Abbado's buoyant, no-nonsense tempi.Special kudos are also due to the uncredited"Posthom" soloist for his perfectly executedoff-stage solo.Though Anna Larsson's oracular interpretationof the fourth movement alto solo mayfall a little short on sentiment, it is an appropriatelysepulchral element to the hushed andmysterious atmosphere Abbado establishes.The subsequent brief choral movement fol ­lows like a ray of sunshine. The concludingFinale conveys a unique serenity and warmth,a sense of unconditional love without longingthat leaves the audience in stunned silence atthe luminous conclusion of Mahler's kaleidoscopicepic. This is without question a performanceof truly historic dimensions.Daniel FoleyAlfred Hill - String Quartets, Vol.2The Dominion QuartetNaxos 8.572097We were introduced to the string quartets ofNew Zealand composer Alfred Hill (1869-1960) in volume one (NAXOS 8.570491). I wasimpressed by the beauty of his melodies and theclarity, invention and expert composition skills.All is brilliant if you place him chronologicallybetween Mendelssohnand Dvorakor Tchaikovsky. Hehad studied in Leipzigupon the adviceofEde Remenyi,whom he had metwhen the violinist,who had been a collaboratorof Brahms,I I·!,I '•..,1.was on tour in New Zealand. Hill was, however,a contemporary of Schoenberg and Stravinsky.Listening to these three quartets is a delightfulexperience thanks to Hill himself and tothe superb ensemble of the Dominion Quartet,polished and spontaneous. The splendid engineeringis a model of its kind, being cleanly focusedand perfectly balanced. Would that allrecordings were technically as fine as this.Alfred Hill wrote 17 string quartets, andwith this release Naxos has six of them withthis ensemble. There is an earlier Naxos recordingof numbers 5, 6 and 11 played by theAustralian String Quartet, now out of print inthese here parts. Hill has been treated well byNaxos who has issued three CDs of orchestralmusic, including six of his symphonies.Any group playing chamber music for fun64will enjoy adding one or two Alfred Hill quar -tets to their repertoire.Bruce SurteesMODERN &CONTEMPORARYDelicate FiresTiresiusRedshift TK421www.redshiftmusic.orgWest Coast chamber music has a tendency to befree of varnish and mysterious, with a debt toAsian and French influences that lend refinementto its traditional! y spare aural landscape."Delicate Fires" isthe first recordingby the Vancouverduo Tiresias. FlautistMark McGregorand pianistRachel Iwaasa performBritish Columbianmusic spanningnearly sixty years,including several commissions. The music'srife with birdy or windy melodic lines that arepicturesque and strange like an unidentifiablewood carving found in a lonely forest.McGregor and Iwaasa have excellent rapportand capture each score's naturalist poise. Thecore of the disc is three works by Barbara Pentland,which range from breezy tonality to elegantatonal material. New pieces by JocelynMorlock, Rodney Sharman and Jennifer Butlervary in idiom from Satiean quirk to Feldmanesquepensiveness. It's all inviting music, withoutany of that tired stoic overreach that hauntsso many contemporary compositions.Most people don't know what BC music islike, how when it's properly performed itwhiffs of cedar, ocean mist and rainwater, withlong slow arabesques wavering the way healthyboughs do in an evening breeze. Tiresias evokesthis atmosphere with seamless execution andclear engineering. It's a familiar sound even iftoday's chamber music isn't your regular listeningfare. "Delicate Fires" illuminates an importantand refreshing aspect of our nationalsound that begs multiple hearings. Play it onceand you'll be relieved to know this duo alreadyhas another recording in the works.John KeillorJohn Burge - Flanders Fields ReflectionsSinfonia Toronto;Nurhan ArmanMarquis 81383Sinfonia Toronto isnow coming to theforefront of the genrethat has been hithertodominated bythe Thirteen Stringsand the ManitobaChamber Orchestra. Under the deft leadershipof founder Nurhan Arman, this ensemble hasaccuracy with depth and passion and just mustbe heard.WWW. THEWHOLENOTE.COMTheir second CD is devoted to the work ofcomposer John Burge, who works out of Kingston,Ontario. Three works presented hereshow him as a creator in total command ofhis craft, with a distinctively personal voice.Upper Canada Fiddle Suite , originally for theThirteen Strings, is a robust opener. Principalviolinist Mary Elizabeth Brown shines inthe Waltz movement. The Ottawa group alsocommissioned One Sail , and here ShaunaRolston reprises her solo role.The crowning work is the title track, whichBurge wrote specifically for Sinfonia Toronto,who premiered it in the Glenn Gould Studio.It is a moving work of 5 sections, transportingus musically through McRae's famouspoem.This disc was recorded at HumbercrestUnited in Toronto, which has almost as pleasinga resonant soundscape as the orchestra'shome at Grace Church-on-the-Hill. EngineerDavid Burnham captures the orchestra admirably,although Rolston seems, to my ear, atact too tightly "squeezed" into a mono centreblock in One Sail. Liner notes are clear andwell laid out, although there is no photo of ensemble,nor conductor, nor composer, norsoloist. Recommended.John S. GrayCONCERT NOTE: Sinfonia Toronto performsa program of favourites with guestclarinettist Darko Brlek and guest conductorRista Savic on December 12 and a baroqueprogram with Nurhan Arman at the helm onFebruary 6 .The Henry Brant Collection, Vol.8Various ArtistsInnova415(www 8th volume of"The Henry BrantCollection" gives anincredible windowinto this composer'shigh! y prolific career.Henry Brant,who died in April this year at the age of 94, furtheredthe post-modem American tradition setout by composers like Charles Ives, and histeacher George Antheil.Brant's music celebrates the rich Americantradition. His Jazz Clarinet Concerto ( 1946)was initially written for Benny Goodman and hisswing orchestra, but according to the CD linernotes, Goodman found the piece to be too "abstract". The piece Inside Track, a spatial pianoconcerto presented here in a performance featuringthe late Yvar Mikhashoffand Torontosoprano Barbara Hannigan with the New MusicConcerts ensemble under the direction of conductorsHenry Brant and Robert Aitken, is awild , genre-jumping adventure for the listener.It's everything music should sound like.I enjoy the nostalgia that is rooted in severaltracks on this recording. In Double-Crank HandOrgan Music ( 1933), Brant pays tribute to thesoundscape of New York before the ban ofstreet organs in 1940 by then mayor FiorelloLaGuardia. A piece like Music for a Five andD ECEMBE R 1 2008 - F EB RUARY 7 2009

Dime Store (1932) for violin, piano and kitchenhardware also celebrates another factionof early American culture. Brant writes inthe liner notes: "My piece was written in thehope that it might one day be played in an actualWoolworth 'five and dime', but as far asI know this never happened."There is a genuine sense of humour andgood ole' American rebellion that is infusedin Brant's music. This CD clearly outlinesBrant's fearless need to mix genres, or use aBach theme in a honky-tonk polka. HenryBrant is all over this recording, and whetherhe's performing as a pianist, percussionist,or conductor, he's clearly not afraid to get hishands dirty with music.Richard MarsellaSymphony in Waves -Music of Aaron Jay KernisGrant Park Orchestra; Carlos KalmarCedille CDR 90000 105Aaron J. Kernis (b. 1960) has, in the last decade,positioned himself increasingly at the headof the elite small group aspiring to assume themantle left behind by the late Mr. Copland.Kernis' idiom is pure post-Romantic modernism,free from any obeisance to the repetitiousnessof minimalism. For many years associatedwith the MinnesotaOrchestra, Kernishas found championsin Chicago'sGrant Park Orchestraunder conductorCarlos Kalmar.This CD, entirelydevoted toKernis' large-scaleorchestral works, is truly stunning. The 2005Newly Drawn Sky (written for the RaviniaFestival) is a brilliantly inspired piece, subduedin overall tone and exquisitely well-crafted. TooHot Toccata from 1996 functions much like Bartok's1944 Concerto for Orchestra, but achievescompletion in just six minutes. Symphony inWaves (1989) is the major work, and a real tourde force for a relatively young composer's firstsymphony. In five, rather than the traditionalfour movements, the work will leave you utterlybreathless.Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra playwith steely precision, but always as humbleservants to the music. Notes tell us that theseworks were taken from live concerts in Chicago,but there is not a sign of an audience audibleanywhere. Three audio engineers take creditfor the awesome sound. The orchestra does not,unfortunately, merit a photograph.Highly recommended.JohnS. GrayJuxtapositions - S films on the greatest20th century composersA collection created by Frank SchefferMedici Arts 3078398This set of documentary films puts the focus onjust five significant, and very different, contemporarycomposers. But it manages to cover aremarkably wide spectrum. In fact, despitethe misleading title (these are not the fivegreatest 20th century composers, and thereare more than five films here), I can't thinkof a better introduction to contemporary musicon video. The two finest documentarieshere - Olivier Mille's "The Crystal Liturgy"on Olivier Messiaen, and Frank Scheffer's"A Labyrinth of Time" on Elliott Carter -even provide a sense of their subjects' placein the music of their time.Pierre Boulez is better known as a conductorthan as a composerthese days. So it'sfascinating to observehim in interviewsabout his own compositionsand rehearsingone of his pieces inScheffer's documentaryfilm "Eclat". Asecond documentaryby Andy Sommerrecords Boulez talkingabout his work to a group of students. Hiswarmth and genial humour are unexpected,and all the more appealing for that.Scheffer's film on Carter shows the composerat home in New York City with his wifeHelen (who has since died), attending rehearsalsof his music, and walking around thecity. Carter was ninety-six when this filmwas made. Scheffer's camera treats him tenderly,and, in return, Carter lights up thescreen. He says that he sees his music as amodel of what he hoped society would be. Myfavorite moment is when the camera catchesthe expression on his face when Boulez, whois rehearsing one of Carter's works, tells himthat he sometimes makes changes to a composer'sdynamic markings. "But what," asksCarter, "do you think the composer had inmind when he wrote that?"Philip Glass, at seventy-one, is the baby ofthe group. For all his success, he still possessesan attractive aura of counter-culture. We followhim around on his work-day. He even gives animpromptu performance of one of his short pianoworks. With its impulsive camerawork andslap-dash editing, Eric Darmon's film offerslittle context for Glass's work. But there's lotsof terrific content here, and Glass is unstintingin his cooperation, happy to share his professionallife, his work and his thoughts.Olivier Messiaen, who was in born the sameyear as Carter, 1908, is the only composer featuredhere who is no longer alive. Olivier Millehas fashioned a brilliant portrait from historicclips of Messiaen talking about his music,teaching his famous analysis class at the ParisConservatoire, and notating birdsong in theFrench countryside. Interviews feature formerstudents like his wife and greatest interpreter,pianist Yvonne Loriod, as well as with the omnipresentBoulez. Loriod talks about how shealways referred to her husband as "Messiaen",never calling him by his first name because heremained her teacher throughout his life. Milledoes a superb job of capturing Messiaen's intenselypersonal vision, while showing howcharming, joyful, nai:ve, and profoundly religioushe was. Messiaen himself introduces usto a song-bird - the thrush - that he calls "oneof the best singers in France". He says thatonce you hear it sing, you never forget it.Arvo Part, as presented here by DorianSupin, appears to be as enigmatic as his music.He looks like he just stepped out of aByzantine icon, even in his sports jacket. Buthis manner is a strange mixture of contemplativenessand compulsiveness. He showsflashes of humour, but he emerges from thisportrait as self-absorbed and isolated. Shownat rehearsals, he relentlessly pushes detailsof interpretation upon performers and conductors.Then, during a rare moment of appeasement,he shrugs his shoulders and says,"I imagined it differently."It's those kinds of insights into how an artistworks that makes these documentaries sofascinating. The personalities, the issues, andabove all, the music - they are all here.Pamela MarglesJAZZ AND IMPROVIZEDThe TortoiseRob Mosher's StorytimeOld Mill Records MILL233(www .robmosher .corn)"The Tortoise" is not slow to deliver the goods.One listen makes it clear that Rob Mosher is anaccomplished, imaginative musician with greatrange as a composer, arranger and soloist. Thealbum draws fromboth jazz and classicalinspirations,showcasing the leader'ssecure knowledgeof both genresas he tastefullyblends his musicalideas. Mosher chosea wide variety ofexcellent brass, woodwind and reed players, allof whom deserve to be mentioned: Storytimeconsists of the leader on soprano, oboe and Englishhorn, Brian Landrus on bass and tenor clarinet,Sam Sadigursky on flute, clarinet, and altosax, Peter Hess on clarinet and tenor sax, MicahKillion on trumpet and flugelhom, RachelDrehmann on French horn, Michael Fahie ontrombone, Nir Felder on guitar, Garth Stevensonon acoustic bass and Ziv Ravitz on drums.Instrumental to the album's success is the factthat Masher's compositions and arrangementsvary greatly in their temperament. Clocking inat over ten minutes, the extended Twilight startsoff graceful as the twinkle of a star, eventuallybuilding into a majestic skyline of constellationsthat ultimately vanish. The mysterious Silhouetteof a Man In the Fog grows increasingly eerieeven as it disintegrates. The heavier tracks onthis album are balanced by several hilarious interludes:When Snowflakes are Plotting (1:45),The Tall Tales of Todd Toven (1: 12) and 1920'sCar Chase (2: 17) are all minimalistic works ofart that beg for repeated listening.Ori DaganD ECEMBER 1 2008 - FEBRUARY 7 2009WWW. THEWHOLENOTE.COM65

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