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Volume 17 Issue 10 - July/August 2012

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DISCOVERIES | RECORDINGS REVIEWEDEditor’s CornerDAVID OLDSIf i keep it brief, I’ll have room for all sevenof the discs that have been in rotation onmy player over the past month …First there were a couple of hotoff-the-pressreleases from theCanadian Music Centre. My Lifein Widening Circles (CentrediscsCMCCD 17712) features music ofR. Murray Schafer, both new andold, performed by Land’s EndChamber Ensemble. The disc beginswith a string trio written in2006. Quasi tonal and dramatic,with echoes of previous Schafer(and Mahler) motifs, it is abeautiful addition to the repertoireof this neglected combinationof instruments (violin,viola, cello). The ensemble playingis immaculate and the blendingof sound is enhanced by thefact that all three instruments wereconstructed by the same luthier,Christopher Sandvoss, who wasalso the producer of the recordingsession. Book-ending this collectionis another 2006 compositionwritten for guest soprano StacieDunlop, Six Songs from Rilke’sBook of Hours. I find the juxtapositionof purely instrumentalsounds and the powerful voice of Dunlopquite jarring, but as both works were writtenfor Land’s End I understand why they wantedto showcase them together. In between, wehear Dunlop in a set of songs from very earlyin Schafer’s career, Kinderlieder from 1958,and core member John Lowry in two worksfor violin and piano: Wild Bird, originallyfor violin and harp, which was written forJacques Israelievitch’s 50th birthday celebrations,and Duo for Violin and Piano from2008. Curiously there are three pianists listedin the credits, but I have been unable to discernwho actually plays on which cuts. TheDuo received a 2011 Juno Award for ClassicalComposition of the year in its recordingby Duo Concertante for whom it was written.It is an all too rare opportunity to have asecond recording to compare with the first,but a little surprising to find them both onCentrediscs in such close proximity.The other new Centrediscs release is verydifferent in nature. Forging Utopia (CMCCD17612) features four powerful orchestralworks by Vancouver composer John Oliver,also know for his electroacoustic compositionsand as an accomplished guitarist. Theworks presented here span more than a decadeand are performed by orchestras fromVancouver, Windsor and Ottawa. The titletrack was commissioned by the National ArtsCentre Orchestra’s Generation XYZ festival in1998 and reflects Oliver’s thoughts and feelingsabout the world at the turnof the new millennium, strivingto “forge a future for music,rather than dwell too much onthe past.” The CBC commissionUnseen Rain, which takesthe mystical writings of the Sufipoet Rumi for its inspirationand texts, features renownedopera mezzo Judith Forst in fullvoice and splendour. The settingsare mostly meditative yet manageto convey the dense textures ofthe poetry. Face in the Abstract,which takes as its premise themulti-layered, quasi-narrativevisual art of JohannesDeutsche and Anselm Keefer,seems a convincing auralrepresentation ofa similar approachto art. The mostextended work,Raven Steals theLight, is an effectivetone poem wordlesslyre-telling the dramaticNative Americanstory of the same name as toldand illustrated by Bill Reid andRobert Bringhurst. All in all thisis an important addition to theCanadian orchestral discographyand a timely reminder that thereare a number of composers in thiscountry who have created a significantbody of large scale works.A third disc devoted to the music of a singleCanadian composer, in this case BarbaraMonk Feldman, also captured my attentionthis past month. Released on the Americancontemporary music label Mode Records(mode 244), it features performances by AkiTakahashi and the Sabat/Clarke duo withpercussionist Dirk Rothbrust. Deeply rootedin the sensibility of her teacher/mentor/latehusband Morton Feldman, the music is delicate,pristine and precise. I have found it takesa special mood and patience to appreciate thisschool of composition, but when that statecan be achieved the music takes on a wonderfultrancelike and even transcendental quality.The first piece, The Northern Shore, isscored for violin, piano and various percussioninstruments. As it unfolds slowly overnearly half an hour with lush piano texturesand mostly resonant mallet percussion instrumentswith chimes and bell sounds, I amleft confused by the choice of such a drytimbre for the violin. While the use of pure,vibrato-less pitch is understandable, I believeit is still possible to achieve a fuller tone thatwould better complement the other membersof the trio, but here Marc Sabat, and presumablythe composer, have opted for a thin andreedy sound. My other hesitancy from fullyembracing the piece is that, sparse and slowthough it is, once I have suspended my usualexpectations and relaxed to the point of immersionin this near timeless state, I feel thatthe piece would actually be more effectiveand convincing at half the pace, giving moretime for each group of notes to fully decaybefore proceeding to the next.I have no such concern about Takahashi’sperformance of In the Small Time of a DesertFlower, perhaps because of the monochromatic,though again very lush, texture of thesolo piano. Once again taking nearly half anhour to develop, the immaculate pacing andbalance of the piece make it a crystalline gem.Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition hasbeen orchestrated so often and effectively thatit is easy to forget its origin as a solo pianocomposition. As I was listening to J. ScottIrvine’s version for brass quintetand organ as recorded by the TrueNorth Brass and Eric Robertson(TNB005 I found myself wonderingif I missed the strings of the originalversion. It took me a minuteto realize that my memory wasbeing tricked into believingPictures to have been conceivedas an orchestral piece.Ravel’s orchestration (commissionedby Serge Koussevitskyin 1922) has become the mostfamiliar, but there have beenliterally dozens of different orchestrationsof Mussorgsky’s remembranceof his friend, artistViktor Hartmann, since it wascomposed in 1874. For comparison’ssake I went back to the 1996 recordingby the Toronto Symphony Orchestra usingJukka-Pekka Saraste’s performing edition(Finlandia 2 14911) which drew on the orchestrationsof Sergei Gortschakov (1920s)and Leo Funtek (1950s). While there is a bitless lushness in Irvine’s “orchestra”— theCasavant organ at All Saints’ KingswayAnglican Church — the instrument brings itsown fullness and vast range of colour to themix in a very effective way. And due to theacoustic properties of the church, the engineeringskills of Anton Kwiatkowski, Irvine’sarrangement and the excellence of the players,the brass quintet is positively convincingin its orchestral range. Congratulations toall concerned!The next disc also involves arrangements,but this time in a more idiomatic way. TheMétis Fiddler Quartet is comprised of foursiblings who appear to be in their teenage62 July 1 – September 7, 2012

years, although there is very little personalinformation included in the notes, whichexclude even their surname. North WestVoyage/Voyage Nord Ouest (MFQ1201 features Alyssa,Nicholas, Conlin and Danton [Delbaere-Sawchuk] playing fiddles, guitar and celloin their own arrangements of traditionaland recently composed fiddle tunes, withparticular emphasis on the aboriginalfiddle tradition. This album honours eldersJohn Arcand (Métis, SK), James Flett andLawrence “Teddy Boy” Houle (both Ojibwe,MB). The playing is exceptional and themusic is more diverse than one might expect.Of particular note is the arrangementof the traditional Trade Song which beginswith a prologue in a haunting and surprisinglymodern tonality before progressinginto more familiar ground. The cello, asomewhat surprising addition to the traditionalinstrumentation, is used effectivelyas both a pizzicato bass and a full-voicebowed melody instrument. This disc will beat the top of the pile next to my CD playerthis summer.Well I was obviously unableto rein myself in this timearound. You’ll find my takeon new releases from theBande Montréal Baroque (NewBrandenburg Concertos) andWinona Zelenka and ConnieShih (music by Debussy,Chausson, Fauré and Franck)at welcome your feedback and invitesubmissions. CDs and comments should besent to: The WholeNote, 503–720 BathurstSt., Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourageyou to visit our website,, where you can find added featuresincluding direct links to performers, composersand record labels, “buy buttons” foronline shopping and additional, expandedand archival reviews.— David Olds, DISCoveries Editordiscoveries@thewholenote.comVOCALA Poet’s Love through the eyes of Heine,Schumann & LysenkoLaura McAlpine; David!!Two song cyclesbased on selectedtexts from HeinrichHeine’s Buch derLieder are offeredon this recording,the first beingRobert Schumann’sfamed and welllovedDichterliebe. This cycle is most oftenperformed by male voice, yet, lest we be mistakenthat Laura McAlpine’s fine performanceis without precedent, this was actuallyfirst dedicated to a woman, German sopranoWilhelmine Schröder-Devrient.McAlpine’s clear, expressive voice doesjustice to the light-hearted as well as themore dramatic songs. While I sometimes feelshe could achieve even more expressivenessby taking more liberties with the rhythm“as written,” pianist David Eliakis providesan excellent foil by use of measured rubatothat, nonetheless, stays perfectly in sync withthe singer.The second part of the recording is a cycleof texts by Heine set by Ukrainian composerMykola Lysenko (1842–1912). Despite pressureto embrace “Great Russian” culture from theRussian Imperial Music Society which hadfunded his studies abroad, Lysenko devotedhimself to Ukrainian music, setting all hisvocal compositions, including this, in his nativelanguage. A challenge for many singers,but McAlpine has clearly done her research,mining her resources as well as her familyheritage to deliver these texts naturally andwith fine artistic sensibility.— Dianne WellsJanáček – The Makropulos AffairAngela Denoke; Raymond Very;Peter Hoare; Jurgita Adamontye;Johan Reuter; Wiener Philharmoniker;Esa-Pekka SalonenCmajor 709508!!Success camelate to Leoš Janáček(1854–1928) and hisbest, most deeply feltoperas were writtenin his 70s. The ideaof eternal life comesnaturally to any personat that age andwhen he came across Karel Čapek’s play onthis subject he eagerly accepted it for his newopera in 1926. His heroine, Emilia Marty (néeMakropulos), a beautiful woman who managedto live over 300 years with a miracledrug invented by her father, a Greek alchemistin the court of Rudolf II in 1585, was infact a personification of Janáček’s unrequitedbut very passionate love for a much youngerwoman. The opera’s strong emotional driveand beautiful music can be attributed to this“happy” coincidence.One can rest assured that anything comingout of the Salzburg Festival is a worldclass,extraordinary event. Director ChristophMarthaler takes full advantage of the Grossfestpielhaus’wide stage with a tripartite arrangement.The centre is made out to be acourtroom, as the opera centres on a lawsuitand most of the action takes place here. Onthe left is a glass soundproof box where twowomen cleaners discuss eternal life whilechain-smoking themselves to death, but thedialogue cannot be heard.Acting, even more than the singing, iscrucial here. All of the cast is perfect in bothrespects, but Angela Denoke, one of today’sbest with credits too numerous to mention,a stunning German singer/actress (followinga tradition carried by Elizabeth Soderstromand Anja Silja) towers above the others and itseems as if the opera has been written for her.A great coup for the Festival in securing Esa-Pekka Salonen as conductor, whose interpretiveskill, depth of musical understanding andinspirational leadership is almost unequalledin today’s shallow, sensation-and-cheapthrill-seekingworld.— Janos GardonyiJake Heggie – Dead Man WalkingJoyce DiDonato; Philip Cutlip; Fredericavon Stade; Measha Brueggergosman;Houston Grand Opera; Patrick SummersVirgin Classics 50999 6024632 5!!In the last fewyears, Broadway producerslooking fora sure-fire successembraced the ideaof making popularmovies into musicalsThe Producers,Spiderman, Howto Succeed in Business, Sister Act, Once,Priscilla Queen of the Desert — this list couldgo on. Not nearly as often, a modestly successfuland thoughtful film becomes anopera. Dead Man Walking — the movie — maystill be remembered because of SusanSarandon’s portrayal of the anti-death penaltycrusader, Sister Helen Prejean. Unlike manyfilms, this is a great subject for an opera. Thethemes of life and death, crime and redemption,desperation and grace play well on thegrand stage. They would not, however, playhalf as well were it not for the music of JakeHeggie, an American composer whose personallove of the operatic genre is showcasedin the inspired use of the negro-spiritual andpop-music idioms.Just over a decade after its premiere, thisopera shows a lot of staying power. The performancesare impressive — Joyce DiDonato,reprising the role originated by Frederica vonJuly 1 – September 7, 63

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