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Volume 19 Issue 3 - November 2013

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  • November
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • December
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This month brevity will

This month brevity will have to be thesoul of wit as I try to do justice to someof the many interesting CDs to land onmy desk in recent weeks. To begin, a marvellousdiscovery from northern Ontario. Ihave long known and enjoyed the musicof Sudbury-based Robert Lemay but I hadnot previously heard his music for stringquartet nor for that matter did I know thereeven was a string quartet in thatcity. L’errance …, another in thewealth of recent releases on theCentrediscs label (CMCCD 19513)has opened my ears on bothaccounts. The Silver Birch StringQuartet is an excellent ensemble ofyoung players currently in residenceat Laurentian University witha string of accomplishments,including a previous recordingwith Montreal jazz pianist JohnRoney that garnered a JUNOnomination in 2010 and twoFelix Awards, which makesme wonder why they weren’talready on my radar. Thisdisc spans two decades of theLemay’s output, beginning withL’errance ... hommage à WimWenders composed over a twoyearperiod in Montreal, QuebecCity and Buffalo, completed in1990. It takes its inspiration fromWenders’ film Wings of Desireand is the first of a series of workspaying tribute to different filmdirectors. Although written long before thegroup’s formation, Silver Birch have touredthis work extensively and feel it to be a signaturepiece in their repertoire. Opening withan extended cello solo and ending with soloviolin, in this it is reminiscent of the thirdquartet of Canadian icon R. Murray Schafer,although Lemay’s language is quite distinct.The other works are more recent and reflectthe mature voice of this composer. Structure/paysage ... hommage à Eli Bornstein (2008)is one of a series of works honouringabstract painters, in this case the leader ofthe Canadian structuralist abstract school.For the final and most developed work onthe CD, Territoires intérieurs (hommage àBernard Émond) (2010), the quartet is joinedby pianist Yoko Hirota. This captivatingpiece was commissioned by the quartet anddeveloped over the period of a residency atthe Banff Centre which they say “was amongthe most artistically fulfilling projects forus as a quartet.” Certainly that camaraderieis conveyed in this performance which wascaptured in all its intimate glory in this GlennGould Studio recording by engineer DennisDISCOVERIES | RECORDINGS REVIEWEDDAVID OLDSPatterson and producer David Jaeger. This isone of the most satisfying chamber discs tocome my way in a long time.A close second is the latest from the ARCEnsemble (Artists of the Royal Conservatory),a Chandos recording featuring ChamberWorks by Paul Ben-Haim (CHAN 10769).Ben-Haim, born Paul Frankenburger in 1897,was a German Jew who immigratedto Palestine shortly afterHitler’s rise to power in 1933. Thebulk of this disc is devoted toworks written in the decade afterarrival in Palestine, includingworks for viola and piano andviolin and piano from 1939 anda piano piece from 1944. It isobvious from the use of Middle Easternthemes and references tothe local landscapethat Ben-Haim wasquick to embrace hisnew land. The mostsubstantial of these isa clarinet quintet from1941 about which thecomposer says “I wasvery satisfied becauseI felt that I had atlast succeeded inconsolidating a newstyle.” This lush andlyrical work is beautifullyperformed byJoachim Valdepeñasand a string quartetcomprised of Marie Bérard,Erika Raum, Steven Dann (alsofeatured in the haunting violapieces) and Bryan Epperson.It was revised in 1965 and Iwish the liner notes mentionedwhat sort of revisions thecomposer made more than twodecades after writing the work.The disc opens with an early venture, thePiano Quartet Op.4 from 1920-21 (violinistBenjamin Bowman and pianist David Louiejoin Dann and Epperson) which shows theinfluence of Germanic forebears Brahmsand Strauss but also French nuances ofFauré and to my ear, Debussy. Evidently thecomposer suppressed his pre-immigrationworks and until unearthed in the Ben-Haimarchives and performed by the ARC Ensemblein 2012 this quartet had not been heardsince a radio broadcast in 1932 before thecomposer left Germany. As with their threeprevious releases (on RCA Red Seal) of musicby Mieczyslaw Weinberg, Julius Röntgen,Walter Braunfels and Adolf Busch the ARCEnsemble continues to bring to light somerepertoire unjustly neglected due to politicalsuppression or shifts in musical fashion,in stunning performances through its Musicin Exile series under the artistic direction ofSimon Wynberg.I Am in Need of Music is the title ofanother new Centrediscs release featuringsongs on poems of Nova Scotian ElizabethBishop (CMCCD 19413) composed by AlasdairMacLean (NS), John Plant (QC), EmilyDoolittle (NB) and Christos Hatzis (ON).Best known for her extensive work in thefield of early music, soprano Suzie LeBlancbrings her signature vocal purity to thisproject which she conceived and developedbetween 2007 and 2011, Bishop’s centenaryyear, in conjunction with poet and Bishopscholar Sandra Berry. Together they decidedto commission settings of Bishop’s poems inhonour of the anniversary and it was Berrywho told LeBlanc about a walking trip thatBishop had undertaken in 1932 in ruralNewfoundland. LeBlanc, a walker in her ownright, decided to recreate this journey as wellas could be done some 75 years of developmentlater, and invited filmmaker LindaDornan to join her. The results weretwo-fold, both documented in thiscombined CD and DVD releasefrom the Canadian Music Centre:more than an hour’s worth ofmusic wonderfully performed byLeBlanc accompanied by the BlueEngine String Quartet (MacLean)and the Elizabeth Bishop Playersunder the direction of DinukWijeratne (Plant, Doolittle andHatzis); and a half-hour video ofLeBlanc and Dornan’s adventurein the outports of Newfoundland.The music, although consistentlylyrical and tonally based, is quiteeclectic in the different musicallanguages of these composers. Mostsurprising to me was to hear yetanother side of chameleon-likecomposer Hatzis whose charmingsettings show him to be as at homein the idiom of musical theatre as inthe diverse and multi-ethnic worldsof his previous compositions.Congratulations to Suzie LeBlanc onthe success of her vision and to allconcerned in this endeavour.Concert note: Suzie LeBlanc is featuredwith tenor Charles Daniels in Tafelmusik’s“Purcell and Carissimi: Music from Londonand Rome” at Trinity-St. Paul’s CentreNovember 6 through 10. She also joinsLes Voix Humaines Consort of Viols for aWomen’s Musical Club of Toronto recitalNovember 21 at Walter Hall.In brief: Analekta has released a CD/DVD combination featuring one of the celebratedhistorical voices of Canadian opera,bass Joseph Rouleau. Now 84, Rouleau isa Companion of the Order of Canada andGrand Officer of the Order of Quebec. I wasfirst introduced to the splendour of his voicein a CBC recording of the extended orchestral66 | Novemberr 1 – December 7, 2013 thewholenote.com

song cycle he commissioned from JacquesHétu in 1984, Les Abîmes du rêve basedon the poetry of Émile, and I was hooked.Although particularly associated with Frenchand Italian repertoire, Russian OperasRusses (AN 2 9223-4) makes it clear thatRouleau was also at home in the role of bassoprofundo as displayed in selected arias fromthe operas of Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov,Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov.The recording, dating from the height of hiscareer, originated in 1972 from the concertSoirée de musique russe avec Joseph Rouleauproduced for Les Beaux Dimanches at RadioCanada. The bonus DVD features Rouleauin the title role of Boris Godunov’s DeathScene (Act Four, Scene Two ofMussorgsky’s opera) filmed in1983. This is a welcome testamentto one of the great voicesof our country and although thesound is not as pristine as mightbe hoped, it is still sufficient tosend chills down the spine.The next disc made me laughout loud on first hearing. Ireally didn’t know what to expect fromNutcracker Nouveau – The RussianExpedition from the wacky eclecticlocal Ensemble Polaris (ensemblepolaris.com).I had been told by coremember Alison Melville that this wasthe closest they would ever come toa Christmas disc, so we’re perhapsrushing the season a bit (as I write thisHalloween is still a couple of weeks away)but as they will be launching the disc onNovember 29 at the Edward Day Gallery at952 Queen St. W. and as I’m told the discwill be in stores by the time this issue ofWholeNote hits the streets (and because asyou will see shortly there are other connectionsafoot) I thought I’d slip it in now.The opening track, Kirk Elliott’s arrangementof Tchaikovsky’s “Trepak” from TheNutcracker, begins with what sounds likeDuelling Banjos followed by the theme fromThe Beverly Hillbillies before settling into thefamiliar melody from Tchaikovsky’s ballet.This sets the stage for a hilarious homageto the Russian master. The instrumentationranges from guitars, mandolins and banjosthrough violin, accordion, bagpipes, bazouki,flutes, recorders and clarinets to a host ofmulti-cultural percussion instruments.Particularly effective is the guzheng and theviolin convincingly impersonating an erhu inMelville and Elliott’s arrangement/medley ofthe traditional Chinese melody Picking Teaand Tchaikovsky’s “Danse Chinoise” whichalso features descant recorder and musicalsaw among other oddities. The suite is aclever and entertaining blend of new takes onthe familiar ballet themes intertwined withother Slavic favourites. Perhaps due to mypersonal preference for the instrument I mustmention the gorgeous sound of MargaretGay’s cello which was captured in all its gloryby Jeremy Darby at Canterbury Sound.The Polaris ensemble is of course not thefirst to make original arrangements of thismost “Christmas” of all ballets. Anotherinstance arrived recently from HarmoniaMundi featuring Tchaikovsky’s originalNutcracker Suite, Op.71a in a straight aheadand wonderfully lush performance by theHarmonie Ensemble New York under StevenRichman paired with a 1960 arrangement byDuke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn (HMU907493). For this iconic jazz rendition theHarmonie is joined by Lew Tabackin tenorsax, Lew Soloff trumpet, Bill Easley clarinet,Victor Lewis drums and George Cables piano.If you are not already familiar with thiswonderful example of “third stream” musicyou owe it to yourself to check it out. Rarelyhas there been such a successfulfusion of traditional classical musicand big band jazz.Classical/jazz fusion continuesto inspire artists and a recent localexample is (primarily) jazz pianistRon Davis who makes a strong casefor it in the liner notes to his newCD SymphRonica with the WindsorSymphony Orchestra and JohnMorris Russell (rondavismusic.com).The discincludes six Davis compositionsarranged by TimothyBerens and Jason Nett alongwith two traditional tunesand a variation on J.S. Bach’sMache Dich Mein Herze Rein.Davis is joined by bassistMike Downes and drummer Ted Warren forthe jazz treatments with orchestral soloistsSasha Boychouk clarinet and Lillian Scheirichviolin. While SymphRonica is certainly notin the same league as the Ellington/StrayhornNutcracker arrangements it is obvious thatit is a labour of love and that a good timewas had by all, classical and jazz participantsalike.Concert note: Ron Davis launchesSymphRonica with events at the Lula Loungeon November 3 and 10.Another disc that expands the scope of theclassical orchestra is Symphony!, the latestoffering from Toronto’s many-influencedSultans of String (sultansofstring.com).Violinist Chris McKhool and his colleagues,guitarists Kevin Laliberte and Eddie Paton,bass player Drew Birston and percussionistRosendo “Chendy” Leòn, are joined bysome very special guests including BassamBishara on oud, James Hill ukulele, LarryLarson trumpet and Paddy Maloney of TheChieftains on pennywhistle and pipes. Addto this 55 of Toronto’s top orchestral playersunder the direction of Jamie Hopkings andsome very effective orchestrations by RebeccaPellett and we are presented with a wonderfullyplayful disc of mostly original materialpenned by McKhool and Laliberte rangingfrom gypsy style and flamenco to MiddleEastern influences. Of course there is a goodmeasure of swing in the mix, along withsome lush soundtrack-like pieces and thepop song proposal Will You Marry Me withbacking vocals by Dala.Concert note: You can catch a live versionof this “roots-worldbeat-symphony mashup”at Koerner Hall on December 1 whenthe Sultans of String will be joined by theCathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra.We welcome your feedback and invitesubmissions. CDs and comments should besent to: The WholeNote, Centre for SocialInnovation, 503–720 Bathurst St., TorontoON, M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visitour website thewholenote.com where youcan find added features including direct linksto performers, composers, record labels andadditional, expanded and archival reviews.VOCAL—David Olds, DISCoveries Editordiscoveries@thewholenote.comTrobairitzShannon Mercer; La NefAnalekta AN 2 9846! ! Troubadours andtrobairitz were activein medieval Provence.The troubadours weremen; they were generallynot of high birthand in their compositionsthey sangthe praises of nobleladies. By contrast, trobairitz were nobly bornwomen who sang the praises of troubadours.Although a number of their poems have beenpreserved, there is only one composition thathas both words and music: A Chantar by theComtessa de Día.A Chantar is not on this disc. Instead thedirector, Seán Dagher, has taken a numberof extant texts and composed new musicfor them. Their sound world is closer to thatof a folk-music group like Milladoiro thanthat of early music groups like Sequentia orHesperion XX. No texts are included but theycan be found on the Analekta website. Anoddity is that, while the titles of songs aregiven in Occitan and in French and Englishtranslations, the texts are in Occitan only.That limits their usefulness. Another oddityis that the names of the (presumed) poets arenot included.The instrumental ensembles are tightand the music is attractive if not particularlymemorable. The glory of the disc is inthe singing of Shannon Mercer. Mercer isperhaps best known as an early music singer(for Analekta she has recorded FrancescaCaccini and traditional Welsh music) but shealso sings contemporary music (in a recentSoundstreams concert she performed ArvoPärt and James Rolfe). Her singing on this discis very fine: expressive, technically assuredand with wonderful intonation.—Hans de Grootthewholenote.com November 1 – December 7, 2013 | 67

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