7 years ago

Volume 19 Issue 5 - February 2014

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MODERN AND CONTEMPORARYRosenthal – L’intégrale pour pianoStéphane LemelinATMA ACD2 2587!!While ManuelRosenthal earned hisgreatest success as aconductor over thespan of his long lifetime(he died in 2003a few weeks short ofhis 99th birthday) hewas also a composer ofconsiderable merit, writing in an affable, neoclassicalstyle. For whatever reason, his outputfor solo piano is comparatively small, all ofit written between 1924 and 1934, and it ispresented in its entirety on this ATMA releasefeaturing pianist Stéphane Lemelin.With his affinity for French music, it seemsappropriate that Lemelin should be the one tounearth this relatively obscure repertoire. Hestudied with Karl Ulrich Schnabel and LeonFleisher and since 2001 has been on faculty atthe University of Ottawa.From the gentle opening chords of the HuitBagatelles from 1924, it’s clear that Lemelinis very much at home with this music. Hisplaying is refined and elegant, ably capturingthe ever-contrasting moods of these musicalminiatures. And it’s this sense of kaleidoscopicvariety that makes these pieces soengaging. The brief Valse des pêcheurs à laligne (The Angler’s Waltz) is all pastoral tranquility,while the suite Les Petits Métiersfrom 1934 is a musical description of variousoccupations, ranging from the strikingchords of the “Le Maréchal-ferrant” (TheBlacksmith), to the staccato frenzy of “La PetitTélégraphiste” (The Telegraph Operator). DoI hear echoes of François Couperin? Lemelinhandles it all with great panache.While Rosenthal’s piano output mightnot be deemed “great music,” it neverthelesshas a charm all its own, often combiningelements of French salon style with the moreprogressive tendencies of Ravel and Milhaud.Lemelin is to be commended for bringing tolight some intriguing 20th-century repertoirethat might have been undeservedly forgotten.Richard HaskellLigeti – Violin Concerto; Lontano;Atmosphères; San Francisco PolyphonyBenjamin Schmid; Finnish Radio SymphonyOrchestra; Hannu LintuOndine ODE 1213-2!!It’s not just theterrific performanceson this disc thatmake it so appealing.The programming offour iconic works byHungarian composerGyörgy Ligeti offers ahandy overview of theorchestral music of one of the most imaginative,idiosyncratic, influential and enjoyablecomposers of the past century. Ligetiwas a loner, but his music was embraced byleading avant-garde composers and featuredin popular films like 2001: A Space Odyssey.The big draw here is violinist BenjaminSchmid’s energized performance of themajestic Violin Concerto, a late work from1993. There are plenty of thrills, especially inthe virtuosic cadenza. But what makes thisperformance so memorable is the way Schmidand conductor Hannu Lintu find the idealbalance between Ligeti’s angular modernismand his heartfelt lyricism.The earliest work here, Atmosphères, from1961, still fascinates – that such an apparentlystatic work can be so gripping. The surface isall glassy smoothness. But Lintu takes us deepinto the colours and textures swirling underneathas they emerge and recede.By the time Ligeti wrote San FranciscoPolyphony, in 1974, he was working withrecognizable melodies, layering them innew and exciting ways. In his delightfullyidiosyncratic booklet notes Lintu admitsthat “successfully executing the trickiestsequences in San Francisco Polyphonyrequires not only skill but a generous helpingof good luck, too.” It sounds like everyoneinvolved in this marvellous disc had plenty ofboth good luck and skill.Pamela MarglesConcert note: Hannu Lintu conductsthe Toronto Symphony Orchestra at RoyThomson Hall on March 20 and 22 in Solenby Matthew Whittall, Symphony No.5 bySibelius and Beethoven’s Piano ConcertoNo.5, with Angela Hewitt as soloist.Nebula – solo piano music of HeatherSchmidtHeather SchmidtCentrediscs CMCCD 19613!!Throughoutmusical history,the term “pianistcomposer”is one thathas been used all tooliberally – usually it’sa case of either-or. Sowhen someone suchas Heather Schmidtcomes along, we tend to sit up and takenotice, for she truly excels on both levels. Hernewest disc, Nebula, on the CMC label, is thefirst opportunity for the public to enjoy herpianistic talents at performing her own solomusic, while demonstrating just how well thedescription pianist-composer applies to thisCalgary-born artist.Schmidt studied piano and compositionat the Juilliard School and later at IndianaUniversity, where she was the youngeststudent to earn a doctorate degree. Sincethen, she’s been the recipient of numeroushonours, including three consecutive BMIawards and two from SOCAN. Most recently,a move to Los Angeles with a focus on thecreation of film and television scores hasrevealed yet another side of her talents.In creating Nebula, she explained that itwas her aim to capture the special connectionbetween composer, performer and audienceand as a result she deliberately includedworks with a wide range of styles. Indeed,contrast is a big part of this disc, and hermusic demonstrates a myriad of influences.Pieces such as Silver Tides and Serenity arenocturnal and atmospheric while the “Fugue”from Twelve for Ten is a robust contemporaryinterpretation of a baroque form. Incontrast, Shimmer owes something to theFrench Impressionists, while the technically-demandingNebula is bold and impassioned.Throughout, her flawless techniquegoes hand-in-hand with a deeply-rootedsensitivity.Bravo, Ms. Schmidt, you’ve proven that youare indeed a rara avis, a fine pianist who alsohappens to excel at composition, and Nebulais an example of some fine solo contemporarymusicmaking on many levels.Richard HaskellA Sweeter MusicSarah CahillOther Minds Records OM 1022-2! ! This CD has anadmirable concept,which packs apowerful message intoday’s society. Thetitle comes from aquote by Dr. MartinLuther King, Jr. fromhis Nobel Lecture,December 11, 1964: “We must see that peacerepresents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody,that is far superior to the discords of war.”The repertoire chosen for this CD reflectsa myriad of responses from the selectedcomposers. Terry Riley’s Be Kind to OneAnother (2008/2010) is a rag, which beganas his late-night improvisatory noodling.This was not what I expected for a firstpiece on this themed CD. You would thinkan Arvo Pärt spiritual work would reflectthe CD’s concept. However, I enjoyed theretro-sounding work and let myself reallylive in the musical moment and anticipatedbeing surprised by the rest of the CD.Meredith Monk’s Steppe Music (excerpts)(1997) explores colour, texture, resonanceand gesture. Frederic Rzewski’s Peace Dances(2007/2008) were written for Sarah Cahill.The brevity and unique sound for each of theseven pieces remind me of Henry Cowell’sSix Ings. These works are a wonderful additionto the contemporary piano repertoire.Kyle Gann’s War is Just a Racket (2008)has the pianist making a speech given byGeneral Smedley in 1933. Although Cahilldid an admirable job in her oration I wouldhave preferred a low baritone to representthe general’s voice. Carl Stone’s Sonamu(2010) with electronics created ghostly58 | February 1, 2014 - March 7, 2014

apparitions of sound and Phil Kline’s 2009The Long Winter (“Crash” and “Embers”) isrecommended for the lovely tonal qualityof “Embers.” Toning (2008) by Yoko Onosounded like someone tuning the piano andalthough I understand the musical conceptI felt this was the weak link in the CD. TheResidents: drum no fife (2008) with text andnarration by the Residents was a fitting end tothis intriguing and worthwhile CD.The program notes, most written by thecomposers, were excellent and informative.Cahill played with a sweet and sensitive toneand touch. Her technique was impeccableand I recommend this CD highly.Christina Petrowska QuilicoReturning Minimalism (In Deung – vibrationof the spirit (getaran jiwa); In Dang –teruna’s dream (mimpi teruna))Gamelan Semara Ratih of BaliSargasso scd28074 (!!This musicallyintriguing andculturally complexrelease usesAmerican composerTerry Riley’sgenre-defining1964 minimalistwork In C as a working model for explorationand improvisation by the renownedgroup Gamelan Semara Ratih (GSR) fromsouthern Bali, Indonesia. It’s the brainchildof the Italian gamelan recording producerand composer John Noise Manis who hassince the 1990s nurtured the notion ofbringing together two of his musical passions:minimalism, and Javanese and Balinese formsof gamelan music. This ambitious albumis the third in the series titled “ReturningMinimalism.” In each, the creative challengeposed by Noise Manis to indigenousperformers: find your inner, culturally appropriateIn C.He’s certainly not been the first to employcross-cultural approaches to exploring musiche loves. As the musicologist Kyle Gann haswritten, “minimalism [can be seen as] anirruption of non-Western influences into theWestern tradition – even, American music’sattempt to connect with the rest of theworld.” More pointedly however: did gamelanmusic somehow exert a substantive influenceon early minimalism? There’s no evidencefor this. To the contrary in 2011 Terry Rileystated that in the early 1960s when he createdhis early minimalist works, “the fact is that Ididn’t know about gamelan.”Regardless of shifting perceived patternsof cross-cultural influence the ongoingReturning Minimalism project argues for theimportant work of contesting stereotypicalWestern exoticist readings of culture. In thisalbum the project has put a seminal musicalcomposition, which at its birth shook upnorms of classical Western music, into thehands of Balinese composers and musicians.Guided by the seasoned American gamelanmusician Ken Worthy, in their adaptiveexplorations of In C the 23 musicians of GSRare heard in two works on this ear-openingalbum. They form an attractive unforcedsoundinghybrid reflecting both their Balineseand minimalist sources with clarity while notcompromising either. On track one, In Deung– Vibration of the Spirit, melodic cells from InC are transposed into the seven-tone tuningof the GSR gamelan evoking an introspectivemood representing “the spirit centred inthe self.” By way of contrast the more lively InDang – Teruna’s Dream reworks In C motifsand skilfully weaves into the fabric occasionalquotations from Teruna Jaya (VictoriousYouth), the influential early 20th-centuryNorth Balinese masterwork.This marvellous music helps us deepenour understanding and enjoyment of suchmasterfully made multiple redirections in theflow of trans-cultural influences.Andrew TimarYou can find Andrew Timar’s review of acompanion disc, Gamelan Cage – John Cage’sprepared piano pieces on Balinese Gamelan,at AND IMPROVISED MUSICTranquilityNeil Swainson; Don ThompsonCornerstone Records CRST CD 141(!!RecordedOctober 3 and 4,2012 at InceptionSound Studios,Toronto, here isanother gem fromCornerstone Recordsand producer BarryElmes, with two musicians who blend beautifullytogether in that most intimate of musicalsettings, the duo. Neil Swainson has a verypersonal sound and melodic quality to hisbass playing and listening to Don Thompson’spiano there is a rippling liquid quality thatmakes me think at times of a flowing stream.The program begins with a unisonstatement of the Charlie Parker themeQuasimodo based on, if my hunch is correct,Embraceable You. The rest of the CD consistsof compositions written by some of thefinest musicians and composers, rangingfrom Henry Mancini’s Mr. Lucky to TimeRemembered by Bill Evans via Never Let MeGo by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston and anoriginal, Tranquil, by Swainson.There is also a waltz, something that I liketo find on any album. There is somethingabout 3/4 tempo which gives a natural swingto the music and this one, Everybody’s SongBut My Own by Kenny Wheeler is no exception.This is music played at the highest levelby two masters of their art.There is a liner note contributed by the lateJim Hall and I shall borrow a phrase fromwhat he wrote – “Lovely music played beautifullyby two fantastic musicians…” ’Nuff said.Jim GallowayThis Is What You Get…Griffith Hiltz TrioIndependent (!!In complete contrast to the Swainson/Thompson CD wehave a much moreextroverted offeringfrom this group– excellent musicianship,obviousempathy and a widerange of influenceswith hints of Celtic,Norse and Eastern regions as well as a tip ofthe hat to R&B and Ornette Coleman, all of itwith a strong melodic content.Reed-player Johnny Griffith is a veryaccomplished musician and one of myfavourite tracks is The Rainbow Connectionwhich features him on bass clarinet. It ispensive and beautifully haunting includingthe guitar solo from Nathan Hiltz. Other highlightsfor me include the quirky Strawmanand Steppin’ Out.As a group all three have an obvious sharedpleasure in their music and a cohesiveness inwhich they become greater than the sum ofthe parts. I feel somewhat remiss in singlingout Hiltz and Griffith because drummer SlyJuhas is a major factor in the success of thisgroup’s music and the feeling of unity.If you are looking for a conventional jazzrecording this isn’t it – but if you are willingto open your ears to something a littledifferent and innovative I would recommendThis Is What You Get… You might just likewhat you do get.Jim GallowayPaul Bley (Complete Black Saint and SoulNote recordings)Paul BleyBlack Saint; Soul Note BXS 1027! ! If one is asked toname the most popularor famous Canadianjazz performers, certainnames trip readilyto the tongue, likelyDiana Krall and OscarPeterson. If asked toname the most creativeor influential, it’s almost as easy, likely theMontreal-born pianist Paul Bley or Torontoborntrumpeter Kenny Wheeler. Since hisrecording debut as a leader over 60 yearsago with modernist giants Charles Minguson bass and Art Blakey on drums, Bley hasworked near the vanguard of jazz, crafting adistinctively minimalist yet freely lyrical solostyle, leading a series of highly interactivebands from trios to quintets, developing newidioms with legendary figures like February 1, 2014 - March 7, 2014 | 59

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