5 years ago

Volume 17 Issue 9 - June 2012

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three Bach Concertos on

three Bach Concertos on her latest CD (EMIClassics 6 79018 2) with the Elias StringQuartet. The two solo Violin Concertos, in aminor and e major, are here, as well as theHarpsichord Concerto in D Minor BWV1052,which is believed to be based on a now-lostviolin concerto.Yang found the solo parts in the violinconcertos to be perfectly playable on theguitar, but the real masterstroke here is herarrangement of the orchestral accompanimentfor string quartet, thus ensuring thatthe guitar’s softer voice can always be heard.Her playing is clean, precise and beautifullyRuggles – The Complete Music ofCarl RugglesBuffalo Philharmonic;Michael Tilson ThomasOther Minds OM 1020/21-2!!Long out of print,this double CD reissueof the 1980Columbia vinylLPs of the completemusic of theAmerican iconoclastCarl Ruggles(1876–1971) makesa welcome return to the fold thanks to theefforts of the San Francisco Symphony’sOther Minds project. Michael Tilson Thomas,long-time conductor of that admirableensemble, was also music director of theBuffalo Philharmonic from 1971–79, continuinga golden age for contemporary musicin Buffalo dating back to the tenure of hispredecessor, the composer-conductor LukasFoss (1963–71).Ruggles struggled mightily with hiscompositions, publishing only a dozencomplete works from 1918 to 1944, amountingto a mere 90 minutes of music. Strident,granitic and densely chromatic, Ruggles’powerful music attracted the attention ofthe avant-garde of the time who greatly admiredhis uncompromising vision. EdgardVarèse (none too prolific himself) was amajor enthusiast, and used his influenceto arrange high-profile performances andsolicit new commissions for him. Alas, thecantankerous Ruggles was more fascinatedwith the process of composition than itstermination and left the majority of his projectsunfinished. His colleague Henry Cowellrecalled overhearing Ruggles pounding outthe same crystalline sonority relentlesslyshaped, and the balance with the quartet isexcellent throughout.Yang was drawn to the violin concertos bythe guitar transcriptions of Bach’s solo violinsonatas and partitas, and this disc includesthe Sonata in G Minor, transcribed by herto a minor. Nothing seems to be lost in thetranscription; indeed, many sections soundsmoother than in the violin original. ThePrelude in C Major from the Well-TemperedClavier, again transcribed by Yang to a major,and played on a seven-string guitar, andthe Air on the G String complete an excellentand generous —almost 80 minutes — CD.Strings Attached continues at with works for baroqueguitar performed by David Russell, violin and piano by Stravinskyperformed by Carolyn Huebl and Mark Wait, early violin concertosof Vieuxtemps featuring Chloë Hanslip, Cuban-inspired concertoscomposed and performed by Israeli violinist Ittai Shapira and some jazzyofferings from Marin Alsop’s all-star ensemble String Fever.modern & contemporaryfor hours on end, and when he gently questionedhim about it Ruggles bellowed, “I’mgiving it the test of time!”Ruggles’ distinctive music has indeedpassed that test with flying colours, and 32years after their initial release these performancesremain compelling despite thecomparatively dated sonics. The voicing ofthe glowing, closely-packed harmonies inthe isolated moments of quiet repose areexpertly balanced and the orchestra projectsthe stentorian passages with chilling conviction.Excellent documentation is included.This is a landmark collection that should notbe missed.—Daniel FoleySchulhoff – Piano Works 1Caroline WeichertGrand Piano GP604Weinberg – Complete Piano Works 1Allison Brewster FranzettiGrand Piano GP603!!Music ofErwin Schulhoff(1894–1942) andMiecyslaw Weinberg(1919–1996) raisesconsideration oftotalitarianism’seffects. Jewishcomposers escapingthe Nazi terrortransformed andelevated our westernmusical world,but what about theones who lookedeastward? Newdiscs enhance ourawareness of thesewonderful artists. Born in Prague, ErwinSchulhoff developed early as a significantpianist and composer. Attempted emigrationto the Soviet Union was overtaken in 1939by Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakiaand his arrest; he died in a concentrationcamp. Weinberg grew up between the warsin Poland, barely escaping the Nazi invasionwhile the rest of his family perished in theHolocaust. He settled successively in Minsk,Tashkent and Moscow in 1943, adapting asbest he could to the Soviet regime.Schulhoff has received considerable attentionin recent years; his piano works showa tasteful master integrating musical influencesinto original and deeply felt works.The affecting Variations and Fugue on anOriginal Dorian Theme (1913) reveals analready-mature composer commandingcompositional forms and devices towards hisexpressive ends. Carolyn Weichert brilliantlycaptures the idioms of both modernism andjazz in Partita (1922) where 1920s dancesreplace Bach-era ones. Transcending clichésof decadent Weimar Germany, the depthand seriousness of its jazz scene during the1920s and ‘30s are evident; I love the charm,quirky humour, fleeting pensive momentsand glimpses beyond the ordinary in theTango-Rag. Schulhoff’s harmony is neverjust “bi-tonal” or “wrong-note.” Weichertbalances chords and brings out subtle voiceleadingsin music evocative of the era andmore. The Third Suite for the left hand is awork of pianistic genius. Weichert’s fingerscrawl “multi-legged” over the keyboard; asher thumb sings out one of Schulhoff’s exquisitelong melodies in the Air, fingers carryon a canonic invention below! After the harmonically-adventurousImprovisazione, shedelivers the mixed-metres perpetual-motionFinale with flair but without bombast.Miecyslaw Weinberg’s major piano worksare ably performed by Allison BrewsterFranzetti, some in premiere recordings.Weinberg was an excellent pianist whosecreative leanings showed in his Lullabycomposed at 16, which carries the genreto remarkable heights. Nazi totalitarianismthrew him towards the Soviet sphereand he was strongly affected upon hearingShostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. His FirstSonata (1940) retains adventurous musicalpossibilities: bi-tonal passages, extremeregisters, stark and dissonant sonorities.Franzetti’s performance of the magicalclose of the Andantino is touching, seeminglywandering into the distance beforethe fearsome Finale emerges. Official pressureagainst Shostakovich’s experimentalismforced him towards the SymphonyNo.5’s more “positive” idiom; comparingWeinberg’s Second Sonata (1942) to the firstshows similar movement. Harmony is organizedaround familiar scales, the music liltsand sings. Franzetti builds perfectly towardsthe slow movement’s climax, and the quietreturn of the opening mood is breathtaking.Again in 1948 Stalinism reared up, demandingfolk-like themes and simple forms. In theSonatina (1951) Weinberg incorporated someof these changes; unsatisfied, he revised it in1978 as Sonata Op.49A. The effects of totalitarianismcan be long-lasting.—Roger Knox64 June 1 – July 7, 2012

Overheard – Music for Oboe andEnglish HornMichele Fiala; William Averill;Martin Schuring; Donald SpeerMSR Classics MS!!Overheard is arefreshing disc ofcontemporary musicfor oboe and Englishhorn, by composersborn between 1952and 1986. A professorof oboe at OhioUniversity who hasperformed internationally, Michele Fiala’splaying on this, her second recording, is certainly“world class,” in both display of solidtechnical facility and musical expression,with equally able piano accompaniment providedby William Averill and Donald Speer;but congratulations are also in order on thechoice of repertoire which covers a gamutof styles from jazz to the incorporationof electronics.One of three commissioned works onthis disc is by Toronto composer BeverlyLewis —her Fundy Temperaments for Englishhorn and piano is a dramatic work evokingthe landscape of the Bay of Fundy, includinga foghorn depicted through the use ofmultiphonics. Another commission, Peachesat Midnight, is a delightful work by TheresaMartin evoking the playfulness of childhood.Sheer technical brilliance is displayed inGilles Silvestrini’s Three Duos for Two Oboes,in which Fiala is joined by Martin Schuring;the movements are named for works byFrench impressionist painters.The concluding work on the disc is a personalfavourite —Mark Phillips’ Elegy andHonk for English horn and electroacousticmusic uses only processed English hornsounds for the background soundtrack of theslow and moody first segment, while Honkemploys manipulated sounds of geese, ducksand a bicycle horn as a rhythmic backdrop tothe live instrument. I found myself chucklingalong with this last track on what is athoroughly enjoyable and important contributionto the recorded repertoire for oboeand English horn.—Karen AgesAfter You, Mr. GershwinAndré Moisan; Jean SaulnierATMA ACD2 2517!!I used to like jazz.Then somethinghappened. PerhapsI’ve heard too manysimilar versions ofthe standards. MaybeI just realized thatnone of it was necessaryafter Monk. Ialso used to enjoy clarinet music but now toooften I just curl up from over-exposure.Nevertheless, there is hope for others, andit comes in the form of this wildly impressivecollection of jazz-influenced repertoire performedby the estimable clarinettist AndréMoisan together with his frequent collaboratorJean Saulnier. Good lord these two canplay, and have fun while at it too!Odd that the disc opens with a recitalencore, one of Béla Kovác’s Homages series.It is of course the title track, but in itssparkling brevity it delivers what might bethe final word for the whole compilation.The next cut is the highly effective Cape CodFiles, a sonata by Paquito D’Rivera, the mostsubstantial selection. For the first while myjaded ear was persuaded to attend, especiallyduring the beautiful unaccompanied thirdmovement. The conventional finale suggeststhe composer wanted to get on withother things.The rest of the material ranges fromheart-on-the-sleeve sentimentality (DanielMercure’s Pour mon ami Leon) to theclear and incisive Time Pieces by RobertMuczynski. This one is probably the leastovertly jazz-inspired, but it’s got thatcrazy syncopated rhythm goin’ on. JosephHorowitz’ Sonatina starts off sounding likewatery British recital literature until theflashy third movement makes its argumentfor inclusion.The playing is fine to fantastic. On occasionMoisan allows his tone to get thin andreedy, edging sharp in the higher range,but generally his sound is lovely, warm andexpressive when it needs to be, and fluid andfree for the assured passage work. I was gladto hear the clicking of his keys on some ofthe tracks, an effect as charming as closemikedguitar.—Max ChristieTerrestreClaire ChaseFocus Recordings, FCR 122 DDD!!Despite thecover image — ClaireChase, flute on hershoulder, staringdirectly into thecamera —this CD isnot all about Chase.It is an exhilaratingride through themusic of five “modernist” composers; it isall about the music, which the high-voltageinterpretations of Chase and her five equallycapable collaborators render incandescent.The title track, Terrrestre by KaijaSaariaho, moves from twitchy virtuosic birdsongs in the opening movement, L’oiseaudansant, to luminous dreaminess in thesecond, Oiseau, un satellite infime. In both,the contribution of percussionist NathanDavis must be mentioned.Franco Donatoni’s Fili (Threads) andElliott Carter’s Esprit Rude; Esprit Doux areboth series of rhythmically erratic conversations,the first between the flute and thepiano, played by Jacob Greenberg, the secondbetween flute and clarinet, played by JoshuaRubin, with effortless ease and rhythmicagility equal to Chase’s.Chase and Greenberg navigate PierreBoulez’s now classic (ground-breaking atthe time —1946) Sonatine Op.1 with aplomb:it sounds as new as if it had been composedyesterday.Kai Fujikara’s Glacier for bass flute concludesthe CD. Chase plays the bass withexceptional fluidity and a lovely shakuhachilikesound. The ending, a haunting figurerepeated more and more quietly until it disappears,is exquisite.The superb technique of the performersand their commitment to the “modernist”musical genre give us the opportunity tohear this very difficult music as (I imagine)the composers would want it to sound.—Allan PulkerKagel – Das Konzert; Phantasiestück; PanMichael Faust; Sinfonia Finlandia;Patrick GalloisNaxos 8.572635! ! Throughout his lifethe Argentinean-German composerMauricio Kagel(1931–2008) exploredevery aspect of theevolving musicallanguage of histime, including freeimprovisation, open form, electronic music,music theatre and purely instrumentalmusic. He taught and organized forums fornew music and was a masterful conductor ofhis own works. He also held an exceptionalinterest in broadcast media, completingseveral thought-provoking films in the 1960sfor German television and producing radioprograms of new music. His appearances inToronto with New Music Concerts are fondlyremembered by all who experienced them.In his later years Kagel’s music took on anaspect one might call “post-modern,” freelyincorporating the extended instrumentaltechniques of the 20th century in afrequently ironic dialogue with traditionalmusical conventions. These shadows ofthe hallowed past occur frequently in thelate period works on this disc. Kagel’s 1988Phantasiestück, a quasi-Schumannesquework that devolves from an atonal to a purelydiatonic realm, appears in two versions, onefor flute and piano with pianist Paulo Alvaresand an expanded version with string quartetand two clarinets performed by MichaelFaust’s own Ensemble Contrasts conductedby Robert HP Platz. The brief and delightfulPan for piccolo and string quartet (1985)is a pastiche on Papageno’s pan-flute solofrom Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. Das Konzertis a theatrical work that was written at therequest of Michael Faust and premieredby the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in 2003with a dozen performances in DuisburgJune 1 – July 7, 65

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