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Volume 18 Issue 6 - March 2013

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DISCOVERIES | RECORDINGS

DISCOVERIES | RECORDINGS REVIEWEDWhat a wealth of material comingout of the Canadian Music Centrethese days! Four solo piano discshave been released in the past two monthsfollowed almost immediately bythree discs of chamber music.The one I have in hand is historyis what it is — music of PeterHatch performed by the BlueRider Ensemble (Centrediscs,CMCCD 18413). Kitchener-basedHatch founded NUMUS Concertsin 1985 and the Open Ears Festivalof Music and Sound in 1998, bothof which continue to flourish.He was composer-in-residencewith the Kitchener-WaterlooSymphony from 1999 to 2003,is currently the Arts and CultureConsultant with the PerimeterInstitute for Theoretical Physics anda Professor at the Faculty of Music atWilfrid Laurier University. In additionto these administrative andacademic pursuits Hatch has managedto compose an impressivebody of work over the past threedecades. The current collectionencompasses works spanning thepast dozen years including pieceswritten for Toronto’s ContinuumContemporary Music, Vancouver’sStanding Wave Ensemble,Montreal pianist MarcCouroux and a collaborativeendeavour — a structured improvisation— with K-W’s Blue RiderEnsemble. Hatch often finds inspirationin literature and two of theseworks reflect that. Five Memos from2005 draws on essays of Italo Calvino.The memos have evocative titles such as thefirst, In Which an Image is Formed, with itsdarkly lyrical cello line gradually taken overby clarinet, flute and violin. The second, InWhich Things Happen Quickly, opens witha vibraphone pattern soon joined in unisonby strings and eventually giving way to pianoand winds while the percussionist moves tounpitched sounds. The following movementsprovide contrasting moods and texturesending with a whirlwind and wayward quasimilitarymarch led by snare drum and piccolo(fife?) and the frantic scratching of blockchords on the fiddle.Music is a beautiful disease is an extendedone-movement work that starts pianissimowith occasional percussive interjectionsbefore a ghostly motif reminiscent of aEuropean police siren, but heard at such adistance as to suggest calm rather than emergency.This haunting fragment is given aDAVID OLDSvariety of instrumental treatments throughoutthe 18-minute work, eventually heardshared by piano and vibraphone. One Says.History Is. for solo piano was written in 2003.It begins tempestuously in motoperpetuo form alternating sustainpedal drones and staccato passages.After this prolonged fastsection the music calms and wehear, in the distance, a recitationof texts from Gertrude Stein’s WeCame. A History. At the end of therecitation the piano returns to itsformer frenzied pace over whichwe hear a very slow wordless melodysung calmly. The relentlessrepeated notes eventually give wayto a pointillistic denouément forthe last three minutes of the firstmovement. This is followed byanother calm section in whichthe recitation comes to the forefront forseveral minutes until the pianoreturns to percussive, althoughmore subdued, textures. The finalmovement of this nearly half-hourlong work is an extended meditationusing very few notes.The disc ends in a beautifullycalm mood with the structuredimprovisation mentioned above,Cantabile, with grace, based, thecomposer says “on a simple sketchI generated for them.” Throughoutthe disc the members of theBlue Rider Ensemble — LiselynAdams, flute; Paul Bendza, clarinet;Jeremy Bell, violin; PaulPulford, cello; Pamela Reimer,piano and melodica; Beverley Johnston,percussion; Anne-Marie Donovan, voice andmelodica — are in fine form.Like Peter Hatch’s Music is a beautiful disease,Alfred Schnittke’s Piano Quintet hasa haunting theme that recurs and is transformed.We hear it piece-meal in the openingmovement but it really takes form in thesecond, a sort of demented waltz. It eventuallyreturns in a ghostly form in the pastoralfinale. The work was begun in 1972 shortlyafter the sudden death of the composer’smother, but not completed until 1976, ayear after the death of his idol Shostakovich.In 1978 he made an orchestral version of thisdark work and called it In memoriam. It isthe original version which is included onAlfred Schnittke – Chamber Music Volume 2,the latest release by Montreal’s MolinariQuartet (ATMA ACD2 2669). For the quintetand the one-movement Piano Quartetwritten in 1988 based on sketches by GustavMahler, the members of the quartet arejoined by Louise Bessette. The much celebratedpianist was awarded two Opus Prizesby the Quebec Arts Council last month forher “30-year career” concert with the Sociétéde musique contemporaine du Québecin March 2012. Incidentally, the MolinariQuartet, whose seventh ATMA recording thisis, has also been honoured with Opus Prizes,14 since its formation in 1997.While the two Schnittke works with pianohave been among my favourites for a goodmany years, this important addition to thediscography also includes a String Trio from1985 with which I was not previously familiar.This would be reason enough to pick upthis excellent CD. My only quibble is that at60 minutes there was more than sufficientroom to include Mahler’s own movement forpiano quartet that Schnittke’s was meant toaccompany.My high regard for the Molinari Quartetand its commitment to the art music of ourtime notwithstanding, a very different sortof string quartet has also captured my attentionthis month. The Fretless brings togethertraditional Celtic and Canadian-style folkmusic in what they call a “Rad Trad” amalgamusing the standard formation of a classicalstring quartet. Three western Canadian fiddlechampions, who take turns in the violachair, are joined by a classically trained NewEngland cellist whose interest in folk idiomscame from his father’s Irish and old-timemusical interests. After very successful fiddlingcareers in British Columbia, Victoria’sIvonne Hernandez and Courtenay’s TrentFreeman went off to Boston to polish theirskills at the Berklee School of Music wherethey met cellist Eric Wright. Add to this mixSaskatoon’s Karrnnel Sawitsky, a four-timeSaskatchewan fiddle champion and you havethe makings of a very fine ensemble indeed.Waterbound (thefretless.com) presents a lushand invigorating mix of traditional and traditional-soundingoriginal compositions full ofjigs and reels and drones. With guest spots bysingers Ruth Moody and Norah Rendell in themore balladic title tune (Moody) and Harderto Walk these Days than Run (Rendell) it’sno wonder that this debut recording garneredtop honours at both the WesternCanadian Music Awards and the CanadianFolk Music Awards.Another happy discovery this monthoccurred when I received a letter and a newCD from the iconic Canadian conscienceMendelson Joe. Perhaps best known for hisoutspoken letters to the editor in nationalpublications, Joe has been adding his voice inthe wilderness to the Canadian music scenesince the hippie heyday of Yorkville with theblues band McKenna-Mendelson Mainlineand sporadic solo acoustic releases over thepast four decades. He is also the author of fivebooks and a painter of renown. He uses all ofhis creative outlets to speak against oppression,injustice and environmental abuse.Recorded last spring in HuntsvilleCanuckian (mendelsonjoe.com) is testamentto Joe’s unflagging determination to70 thewholenote.com March 1 – April 7, 2013

hold societal hypocrisy and political meannessand greed up to the microscope. I AmCanuckian provides an autobiographicalinsight into the Canadian landscape throughthe eyes of someone who’s “been everywhere,man” and includes a (somewhat ambiguous,but I have been assured heartfelt) indictmentof Jim Keegstra and things Albertan.I’m A Folkie is a lament for “Big, Big Mommy”(Mother Earth) and Deemo Crassy demonizesSteven Harper as “a world-class weenieand a world-class meanie.” If I’m Dreaming issimply a love song, Joe returns to his soapboxin the final track, Dissertatio, a philosophicaldiatribe on the subjects of truth and greedwhich includes reference to his mentor “thelate angel” June Callwood who said “there areno innocent bystanders.” He concludes withthe motto “I exist therefore I Art.” It’s reassuringto know that Joe continues to “stand onguard” for us.We welcome your feedback and invite submissions.CDs and comments should be sentto: The WholeNote, 503–720 Bathurst St.,Toronto ON, M5S 2R4. We also encourageyou to visit our website, thewholenote.com,where you can find additional, expanded andarchival reviews.—David Olds, DISCoveries Editordiscoveries@thewholenote.comVOCALSchumann – LiederkreisGerald Finley; Julius DrakeHyperion CDA67944!!Canadian singerGerald Finley is livingproof that being abaritone is not someform of divine punishment.Finleydemonstrates hisadvantage with a rich,resonant ease in arange that basses and tenors can rarely match.His choice of the Schumann Op.24 andOp.39 song cycles offers him the opportunityto move through a wide range of poetic textsby Eichendorff and Heine. Whether nostalgic,frustrated or purely romantic, Finley capturesthe spirit of each iteration with a convictionas honest as Schumann’s own must havebeen. The writing is imbued with the passionand frustration of his romance withClara Wieck whose father found Schumannan unsuitable match for his daughter andresisted the ever-deepening relationship thatwould inevitably result in their marriage.These songs reflect a structural freedomthat is neither fully through-composed norfully strophic. Yet Schumann seems entirelycomfortable with his decision to live in anevolving world between accepted forms. Hiswriting offers singers a freedom to exploitthe emotional and dramatic potential of eachpoem, and Finley does this exceptionally well,especially in the more gentle songs.Finley brings an engaging tendernessto the opening tracks of Op.39, especially“Mondnacht.” Where many singers glidethrough the text on the merit of Schumann’smelody, Finley uses strategic pauses toheighten the sense of nocturnal mystery. TheOp.24 “Berg’ und Burgen” also shows Finley’ssuperb artistic sensibility. Altogether a veryfine performance.—Alex BaranWhither must I wander?David John Pike; Isabelle TrübSignum Records SIGCD314davidjohnpike.com!!With a dauntingrange of emotionalexpression and poeticmoods, VaughanWilliams’ Songs ofTravel challenge everysinger who performsthem. Singers performingthese songsmust have a convincingly profound understandingof the composer’s affinity for thepoet’s (Robert Louis Stevenson) own spiritualwanderlust. Canadian-British baritone DavidJohn Pike travels well in Vaughan Williams’universe. He understands the evolutionarypush these works gave to English parloursong, moving the art form into the 20th centuryand unimagined new realms of form andtonality. Vaughan Williams writes with thefeel of open-ended free form that neverthelessrests on solid compositional craft. Pike seemsnaturally at home with this, flowing easilyfrom the lighter-hearted “Blackmore by theStour” to the mystical and sacred “The Call.”Pike’s dark roast baritone voice is wonderfullyrobust yet clear and his articulatepleasure at singing art song in English is ajoy to hear. His repertoire choice makes for asuperb program on a disc that includes worksby two of Vaughan Williams’ friends and colleagues:Gerald Finzi and Roger Quilter.Finzi’s language is more restrained andintrospective, qualities that Pike senses andportrays beautifully. But the real surprise onthe disc is Quilter’s Three Shakespeare Songsthat Pike delivers with imagination and elegance.Here is an unassailable argument forhearing more of Quilter’s work performedand recorded.Finally, accompanist Isabelle Trüb isstunningly virtuosic without stealing thelimelight ... incredible.—Alex BaranWagner – Die Meistersinger von NürnbergGerald Finley; Marco Jentzsch;Johannes Martin Kränzle; Anna Gabler;London Philharmonic Orchestra;Glyndebourne Chorus; Vladimir JurowskiOpus Arte OA 1085 D!!To sit through Wagner’s over five-hourlong comic masterpiece in the opera house isa daunting task but on DVD in the comfort ofhome it becomes joyfuland rewarding.From Glyndebourne’snew Opera House thepiece springs to freshnew life under DavidMcVicar’s innovativedirection. Fullyaware of how thisopera has been boundto “sacred” Germanictraditions he hasmade a few striking departures to make itrelevant to today’s audiences not with directorial“tricks” but by adding a new thoroughlyhuman dimension.Canadian baritone Gerald Finley is aninspired choice for Hans Sachs, the hero ofthe opera, traditionally portrayed as an oldman. Many of Wagner’s operas are somewhatautobiographical and seeing himself as Sachs,a still handsome, virile and wise middleagedartist surely would have pleased Wagner.Finley proves to be wonderful in this complexand difficult role.Wagner also saw himself as the rebelliousyoung lover, Walther von Stolzing, sungby Marco Jentzsch, not the traditional beefcakeheldentenor but a handsome youthwith a voice of gentle tenderness embeddedin the Wagnerian power. Just like the composer,Walther is also intent on breaking intothe “Establishment” with his new music, butencounters strong resistance in Beckmesser(alias Hanslick, Wagner’s arch critic) whoin this new setting is no bungling fool, but aman of some stature, portrayed superbly byJ.M. Kränzle.The distinguished cast is well chosen, lookthe part, act and sing gloriously. Add to allthis the London Philharmonic in the orchestrapit and a young conductor, VladimirJurowsky, who controls Wagner’s multi-layeredpolyphonic, contrapuntal score like aKarajan reborn.—Janos GardonyiHans de Groot reviews two DVDs on theoccasion of the 800th anniversary of theLeipzig Thomanerchor. The first is a “yearin-the-life”documentary, the second, “avery moving experience” of the St. ThomasBoys Choir performing Bach’s St. MatthewPassion. Dianne Wells finds the WestminsterWilliamson Voices “superb and flawless”in James Whitbourn’s choral setting ofThe Diary of Anne Frank. All three are atthewholenote.com.EARLY, CLASSICAL & BEYONDMéhul – Le Chant du departLes Jacobins; Mathieu LussierATMA ACD2 2659!!Etienne-Nicolas Méhul — now there’s aname we don’t encounter all that often thesedays! But if you were an enlightened citoyenand a patron of the arts during those stormyMarch 1 – April 7, 2013 thewholenote.com 71

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