8 years ago

Volume 17 Issue 6 - March 2012

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Strings AttachedTERRY

Strings AttachedTERRY ROBBINSThe canadian violinist Lara St. John, byher own admission, never managed toreally connect with the Bach Sonatasfor Violin and Harpsichord; somehow, shesays, she “never thought they quite clicked,”either with harpsichord or modern piano accompaniment.Several years ago, when St.John was staying in Berlin with Marie-PierreLanglamet, the principal harpistof the Berlin Philharmonicsince 1993, the two read throughsome Bach sonatas. It was,says St. John, “a revelation.”Bach Sonatas, her new CD withLanglamet on her own Ancalagonlabel (ANC 139) is the result, andit is, indeed, a revelation. Theswitch from harpsichord to harpis obviously the major factorhere. There might be very littledynamic range on the keyboardinstrument, but it’s scarcely anybigger on the harp. Moreover,the crisp, precise incision of thenote attack on the harpsichordis replaced by a softer, gentlerand more luminous sound on the harp, especiallyin the bass lines of the lower register.This completely changes the nature ofthe accompaniment, and poses significantquestions for the violinist: straightforward,by-the-numbers playing, especially in thefaster contrapuntal passages, simply won’twork anymore. St. John, however, has theperfect answer, playing not only with unerringaccuracy but also with a wonderfullyexpressive sensitivity, almost as if thoughtfullyprobing and exploring the music ratherthan simply presenting it. It’s intelligent andnuance-filled music-making of the highestlevel, and matched for both nuance andsensitivity by Langlamet.This is by no means a complete set of thesix sonatas. The performers chose sonataswhere the keyboard part could be played aswritten (and the harpsichord parts for theseworks were fully written out, and not just afigured bass part) with no need for transcriptionfor the harp. Two violin sonatas — No.1in B Minor BWV1014 and No.3 in E MajorBWV1016 — are here, together with the FluteSonatas in G Minor BWV1020 (possibly notwritten by Bach) and in B Minor BWV1030,and the Siciliana from the Flute Sonata inE-Flat Major BWV1031.Beautifully recorded in Berlin, the resultis a supremely satisfying CD that presentsthese works in a quite different light.Concert Note: The Lindsay ConcertFoundation presents Lara St. John andMarie-Pierre Langlamet at Fleming College,Lindsay, on March 4 at 7:30pm.The two-CD set The Soviet ExperienceVolume 1 is the first in a series on Chicago’sexcellent Cedille label devoted to StringQuartets of Dmitri Shostakovich and hisContemporaries (Cedille CDR 90000 127). Ican think of few quartets that are as immediatelyrecognizable as those of Shostakovich,and of no music that is more imbued withpersonal pain and a sense of utter resignation,together with a heart-breakingsense of nostalgia for betterdays, now long gone. Listeningto his music often seems likeeavesdropping on a privateand intimate conversation. ThePacifica Quartet performed thecomplete Shostakovich cyclein five Chicago concerts overfour-months in 2010/11 as partof The Soviet Arts Experience,a 16-month project showcasingartists who worked in theold Soviet Union. They havedeveloped a deep understandingof these works. Four quartets,Nos.5 to 8, are included on thisfirst volume and the Pacificamembers scale the heights of the music asconvincingly as they plumb the depths. Theoverwhelmingly autobiographical — andachingly personal — Quartet No.8 Op.110 isparticularly effective.Nikolai Miaskovsky was 25 years olderthan Shostakovich, but was also includedin the notorious 1948 Zhdanov decree thataccused many of the Soviet Union’s leadingcomposers of “formalism.” He was 36when the 1917 Revolution took place, and,as the excellent booklet notes by WilliamHussey point out, was the only major Sovietcomposer who was also a member of thepre-Revolution generation of Tchaikovskyand Rimsky-Korsakov. His String QuartetNo.13 in A Minor was written in 1950, notlong before his death, and — not surprisingly,given the circumstances — in a fairlyconservative style. If it has nowhere near thepersonal depth of the Shostakovich quartets,it’s still a fine work and receives an equallyfine performance here.Presumably, the complete cycle will bemade available on CD before too long.If this first volume is anything to go by,it will be a significant addition to theShostakovich catalogue.Strings Attached continues at with a new release fromviolinist Joshua Bell and string quartetdiscs featuring Quatuor Diotima performingAmerican works, the Doric Quartetplaying Schumann and the WieniawskiQuartet with three pieces by Polish composerKrzysztof Meyer.modern & contemporaryAmerican Flute MasterpiecesSusan Hoeppner; Lydia WongMarquis 774718141323This CD is itselfa little masterpiece:the six works onit by 20th centuryAmerican composers,alreadyrecorded by manyother flutists, areperformed with suchstyle, panache, and artistry that it is a welcomeand justified addition to the catalogue.The first track is the opening movementof Eldin Burton’s Sonatina. SusanHoeppner’s phrasing is mesmerizing, to thepoint that I played this over and over again!Her interpretation of the Canzone fromthe second movement of Samuel Barber’sPiano Concerto is serene and measured,but perhaps a little too dispassionate. Themost wonderful moments in the entire CDcome in the second movement of LowellLiebermann’s Sonata Op.23. Hoeppner andLydia Wong build on the strength of eachother’s playing to come to a thrilling andalmost superhuman intensity. Their performanceof John Corigliano’s Voyage, while embracingthe simplicity of the piece, infusesit with great sensitivity and tenderness andat times intensity that arises entirely out ofthe sound and colour of the flute. Hoeppnerand Wong give stirring performances ofthe last two compositions, Aaron Copland’slyrical Duo for Flute and Piano and RobertMuczynski’s technically challenging SonataOp.14.This CD brings us definitive performancesof music from an ongoing “golden age” ofcomposition in the United States, which continuesto thrive in the protective enclaves ofuniversities despite the vicissitudes of thesetumultuous times. Kudos to both artists; thisCD is a winner.—Allan Pulker24 Frames – ScatterTim Brady; Bradyworksambiences magnetiques AM 206 CD24 Frames – TranceTim Brady; Martin Messierambiences magnetiques AM 203 CD-DVD( Brady’smost ambitiouscomposition to datemust surely be 24Frames consistingof a series of 24movements eachof which he identifiesas a “frame.”74 thewholenote.comMarch 1 – April 7, 2012

Adding up to three CDs and a DVD (AM905), it amounts to well over two hours ofsometimes meditatively calm and at othertimes challenging and exhilarating music.While a soprano voice, baritone sax, bassclarinet, viola, bass trombone and percussionmake appearances one at a time in substantialthough supporting roles, the through-linehere is Brady’s writing for electric guitar andhis masterful virtuoso playing in every sectionof his sprawling opus.Indeed the 8’53” section called “Scatter –Frame 1” could easily stand as a self-containedwork. Featuring the nuanced vocaliseof Karen Young, her vocal performance isso densely processed at times that it becomesa virtual choir. Yet Brady reminds us thatthis is a human voice first and foremost, byhaving vocalist Young imitate a wow-wowpedal effect acoustically about halfway in. Itonly lasts a moment but for me it is such deftand delicate touches which impress the mostin 24 Frames. At the end of this section theguitar’s distant bell-like sonorities admirablysupport Young’s soft cooing.Frame 2 is subtitled “In Almost Unison”and it’s an apt description of the relentlesstempo giusto and metrically complex characterof the joint duo of guitar and baritonesax, marvellously played by Jean-MarcBouchard. Frame 3 on the other hand, featuringLori Freedman’s dramatic bass clarinet,has many more contrasting angles andemotional facets to it.Frame 4 – “Still” – is a highlight, a lyrical,spacey and languid essay in viola longtones, chords and slow, surprisingly moodymid-20th century melodic passages. It’sunderpinned by a lexicon of exposed delicateelectric guitar effects: I heard reverb, precisestring harmonics, thick gong-like chords,chorus effects and perhaps even pitch-shiftedother-worldly echoes. This is a gorgeous,satisfying movement that I’ll be returningto repeatedly.Reviewing such an immense, assured andaccomplished work — and I’ve only touchedon about a third of it — is truly an insurmountablechallenge given the constraints ofthis review. I hope my listening notes havesuccessfully reflected the scope of Brady’sfertile compositional imagination, and myown pleasure and enthusiasm for the musicin his multi-CD project.—Andrew TimarAn extended version of this review can befound at & IMPROVISEDThe Other SideMelissa LaurenIndependent ML1111( Melissa Lauren hasbeen a part of the Toronto music communityfor a few years now,but with her sophomorerelease, TheOther Side, she’sreally making hermark. Lauren has abeguiling voice thatmixes sweet playfulnesswith solidtechnique, control and range. Which wouldbe plenty, but on top of that she has songwritingabilities that put her in another categoryfrom the legion of lovely crooners whoenlist others’ work to tell their musical story.Harmonically speaking, Lauren’s songwritingdoesn’t push a whole lot of boundaries,and she’s got a clever way with words thatgoes enough beyond cute to make thingsinteresting without getting overly heavy. Allof which suits the breezy, jazzy air of thealbum. The dozen songs each have a whiff ofa bygone era hovering somewhere betweenthe 1930s and the 60s, without being tooderivative of any time or genre. So we geta bit of Mancini-esque cool on the openingArt Class, a touch of twangy longing onSomehow, a slightly Eastern European edgeto Your Fool and an old tyme rollick fromthe title track. It all adds up to a specialsound, much of the credit for which shouldbe shared with guitarist Nathan Hiltz who isthe main instrumental support and negotiatesthe shifts in style with taste and personalitythat never overwhelms. The rhythm sectionis ably rounded out by Ernesto Cervini ondrums and Ross MacIntyre on bass. Lauren’sCD release event is March 1 at The Rexin Toronto. Check melissalaurenmusic.cafor details.—Cathy RichesSomething in the AirImprovisers’ Unexpected InspirationsOver the past few years as post-modernismhas made anything fair gamefor musical interpretation, sophisticatedimproviser/composers have taken inspirationfrom the most unlikely sources, farbeyond the motifs, historicism and pastels ofearlier times. Canadian bassist in New YorkMichael Bates for instance, has organizeda salute to Dmitri Shostakovich(1906–75), using his own musicand variants on the modernRussian composer’s oeuvre.Iconoclastic American composer/saxophonist Fred Ho has produceda five-part suite honouring boxerMuhammad Ali (b.1942) as amilitant, outspoken fighter forsocial justice. The luminous canvases ofAmerican visual artist Cy Twombly (1928–2011) stimulate Israeli saxophonist ArielShibolet’s creativity, while Polish saxophonistAdam Pierończyk recasts in his own fashionthe distinctive film scores of composerKrzysztof Komeda (1931–69).Michael Bates’ masterful arrangementson Acrobat: Music For, and By, DmitriShostakovich (Sunnyside SSC 1291 are so perceptivethat during the course of nine tracks healmost reveals symphonic colours usingonly a top-flight quintet: his double bass;the perfectly timed drums of Tom Rainey;Russ Lossing’s shuddering smears fromelectric and regular pianos; trumpeter RussJohnson’s brassy blasts; and the fluid lyricismof Chris Speed’s sax and clarinet. Thisis apparent from the first track, “Dance ofDeath,” from Shostakovich’s Piano TrioNo.2 in E Minor. Very quickly the bouncymelody is transformed with plunger trumpetKEN WAXMANwork and well-modulated reed trills to amotif that’s as much 1970s Miles Davis asit is a mazurka. Later Silent Witness usesfusion references to atmospherically suggestthe composer’s Stalin-era paranoia,with Speed’s singular reed slurs becomingprogressively lower-pitched and tonal asRainey`s drums smack and rebound whileLossing’s ratcheting licks makeit seem as if he’s playing electricguitar not piano. Held togetherby Bates’ reliable thumping, thecacophonous final section givesway to repeated theme variationsand conclusive keyboard echoes.Elsewhere, with music derivedfrom the Russian composer’swork or not, the tunes use varied strategies.Intermezzos can be atmospheric and formal,with the reedist approximating oboe-likeburrs and timed runs arising from Lossing’sacoustic instrument; as loose and swingingas a Benny Goodman-led combo; or explodingwith tougher near-Jazz Messengers-likeharmonies. Arcangela is another highpoint,allowing both Russes sufficient solo space.The pianist showcases a series of repeatedglissandi centred by Bates’ stentorian pulse;while the trumpeter’s capillary slurs evolveinto a quicksilver flow cushioned by harmonizedkeyboard and reed textures. All in allthe wrap-around themes simultaneously celebrateShostakovich’s intent while exposingimprovisations that are true to jazz’s ethos.To read how Ho, Shibolet andPierończyk transform their varied influencesinto distinctive improv sessions seethe continuation of this column at 1 – April 7, 75

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