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Volume 20 Issue 2 - October 2014

  • Text
  • October
  • Toronto
  • Choir
  • November
  • Concerts
  • Jazz
  • Musical
  • Arts
  • Orchestra
  • Theatre
Includes the 2014 Blue Pages Member Directory

The 16th instalment of

The 16th instalment of Hyperion’s ongoingsurvey of Romantic violin concertos isdevoted to two early works by Richard Strauss(1864-1949) andFerruccio Busoni(1866-1924). ThoughStrauss is immenselybetter known thanhis near-contemporary,his ViolinConcerto is clearly theweaker of the twoworks. A product of his teenage years, this Dminor concerto was composed in1881-2 forhis violin teacher Benno Walter. While Strausswould later admit that he found learning theviolin unpleasant and physically taxing, it’squite evident he well understood the bravuraaspects of the now-forgotten showpiececoncertos by the likes of Ernst, Spohr andLéonard his teacher favoured. The threemovements of the concerto are textbookexamples of proper academic form andconventional orchestration without a trace ofany distinct personality, though the sprightlyfinale does provide moments of comic relieffrom the otherwise echt-Deutsch ponderousnessof this dismally anodyne work.Thankfully a distinct voice and a fascinatingamalgam of a unique pan-European viewpointis magnificently evident in Busoni’sD-Major concerto, conceived in 1896-7 forthe Dutch violinist Henri Petri (father of thepianist Egon Petri) and championed in the20th century by Joseph Szigeti, whose stillavailable1958 recording is unfortunatelycompromised by his arthritic condition atthe time, but is musically electrifying. Were itnot for Szigeti’s advocacy, Busoni might havewillingly disavowed this fascinating workwhich grows more impressive with repeatedhearings and clearly deserves a more prominentplace in the violin repertoire than thatafforded the Strauss concerto.Tanja Becker-Bender, the Hamburg-basedGerman violinist and champion of bothneglected and contemporary works, is theoutstanding soloist, drawing a beautiful tonefrom a loaned 1710 Stradivarius and exhibitingcomplete technical mastery. GarryWalker and the Scots BBC orchestra providea crisp and spirited accompaniment in thisnicely recorded disc. Come for the Strauss ifyou must, but stay for the Busoni; you won’tbe disappointed.Daniel FoleyAnton Rubinstein – Piano QuartetsLeslie Howard; Rita Manning; Morgan Goff;Justin PearsonHyperion CDA68018“Russians call meGerman, Germanscall me Russian, Jewscall me Christian,Christians a Jew.Pianists call me acomposer, composerscall me a pianist. Theclassicists think of me as futurist, and thefuturists call me a reactionary. My conclusionis that I am neither fish nor fowl –a pitiful individual.” Anton GrigorevichRubinstein playfully described himself thisway in his posthumously published bookGedankenkorb. While he is better knownas one of the greatest 19th-century pianistsand educators (he founded the St. PetersburgConservatory, the first of its kind in Russia),Rubinstein also had a long and productivecomposing career.The two piano quartets presented on thisCD are premiere recordings of these pieces.Piano Quartet in F major, Op.55bis wasoriginally written as a quintet with winds andthe reduction for the string version was quitesuccessful. The string’s sonority (with slightlymore prominence given to the cello) certainlyenhanced typical romantic gestures, lushharmonies and flourishing piano lines.Piano Quartet in C-Major, Op.66 is clearlythe stronger of the two – more cohesive,with more emotional depth and a touch ofbeautiful dark sonorities. The third movement,Andante assai, stands out with itsstately piano lines and a dramatic violin solothat brings in a dash of gypsy spirit beforesettling into a peaceful melody. The ensembleplaying is strong and close knit. LeslieHoward’s articulation is refined, bringinga sparkling quality to more virtuosic pianolines. Strings are juxtaposed nicely, achievinglovely colours in unison parts. Recommendedfor rainy afternoons – not exactly masterpieces,but these quartets could certainly takeyou on an interesting journey.Ivana PopovicAllureKayla WongIndependent (kaylawong.net)Unlike many youngartists, who tend tostick to familiar repertoirewhen releasingtheir first recording,pianist Kayla Wongthought outside thebox and produced aCD of music almostentirely from the 20th century. She explained:“The composers on this CD are ones thatI have always been drawn to on a deepmusical level” and the result is an intriguingcombination of music by Lecuona, Ravel,Rachmaninoff and Barber on this debutrelease titled Allure.Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Wongstudied at the University of Victoria andthe University of Southern California, LosAngeles. Since then she has appeared inconcert throughout North America and Asia,including recitals at Carnegie Hall and theHong Kong Cultural Centre.Wong’s deep affinity for 20th centurymusic is evident from the first chord ofLecuona’s Ante El Escorial, one of threecompositions included by the Cuban-bornpianist/composer. Her playing is dramaticand polished, at all times capturing the subtlerhythms and nuances which are such aninherent part of his style. Lecuona’s slightlyolder contemporary Maurice Ravel is representedby two of his most famous compositions,Jeux d’eau from 1901 and Une barquesur l’océan from the set Miroirs, written fouryears later. Dazzling and difficult, this musicbroke new ground when it first appeared andWong approaches its formidable technicalchallenges with apparent ease. Indeed, herflawless technique seems to have no limitations,evident again in the RachmaninoffMoments Musicaux Op.16 where a warmlyromantic tone further enhances a fineperformance. Of all the compositions on thisdisc, Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata Op.26from 1948 is undoubtedly the least familiar.Its four movements are a study in contrast,from the strident opening to the bold finalein the form of a fugue – a true technicaltour de force which Wong brings off withmuch bravado.In all, this is a very impressive recordingfrom a young artist – “alluring” indeed – andwe certainly hope to hear from her again inthe future.Richard HaskellThere are more Classical reviews atthewholenote.com where Daniel Foley praisesa new recording of Mahler’s Fifth, RichardHaskell finds Volume 5 of The Romantic Cello(Saint-Saëns) worthy of note and BruceSurtees is enthralled by a period instrumentperformance of Le Sacre du Printemps.MODERN AND CONTEMPORARYGabriel Prokofiev – Selected ClassicalWorks 2003-2012Various ArtistsNonclassical NONCLSS017In this release bycomposer GabrielProkofiev (grandsonof Sergei Prokofiev)we get a clear senseof the composer’spredilectionfor displacing hisvarious musical influences(electronica for example) into traditionalclassical contexts. This disc, releasedon Prokofiev’s own label, is a collection ofworks ranging from 2003-2012 that signalProkofiev’s return to notated compositions.In his first and second string quartets, aseries of dance grooves constantly devolveinto mysterious textures. Punchy doublestopsand gritty gestures remind one of Bartókor Janáček. Rhythmic plucks and scratcheslie below lyrical folk inspired melodicelements. In the second quartet, Prokofievdoes away with any lyrical commitment andrelies on clear rhythmic processes akin todissonant minimalism. Both quartets possessa satisfying yet frigid mood, much like the68 | October 1 - November 7, 2014 thewholenote.com

dreariness of the CD cover image.Next, in the Concerto for Turntables andOrchestra the turntablist creates variouselectronic sounds cleverly blended with theorchestra with confident rhythmic inventiveness.Imagine Stravinsky’s Rite fused withthe pounding rhythms of a nightclub beneatha haunting lyricism. The second movementevokes a deranged carnival as the turntablesounds mesh with the orchestra in a bizarreand warped sound environment.Piano Book No. 1 provides an array ofmoods for the performer to explore withoutrelying on unnecessary virtuosity. Next, theCello Multitracks for solo cello allows theperformer to stack dense layers of recordedcello sounds through electronic manipulation.The result is a rich sound world movingto and from ethereal and light moments, tothick and intense passages.The disc is an impressive culminationof confident works that span a decade ofthe composer’s output. Each piece showsProkofiev’s ability to create a successful reactionto the influences of pop and electronicathrough a traditional application.Adam ScimeEditor’s Note: Gabriel Prokofiev was theRoger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor inComposition and composer-in-residence atthe University of Toronto’s New Music Festivalin January 2014. There were a number ofperformances of his works including theConcerto for Turntables and Orchestra (withDJ Madhatter and the U of T Symphony) andCello Multitracks and Remixes performed byShauna Rolston.Madison AvenueWesley FerreiraPotenza Music PM1035 (wesleyferreira.com)Canadian clarinetistWesley Ferreira, nowbased in the U.S., hasa solo release ofmostly Americanmusic. The texturesrange from intimateand unaccompaniedto wind-ensemblebacking at hurricane-force. He includesnothing substantial in terms of duration, butconsistently demonstrates a fine fluidtechnique and flexible tone. The longest work,clocking in at 13 minutes, is a tribute to theautomobile called Auto ’66. This selectionwheels along in spite of poor engineering(sound, not mechanical): Ferreira and theband seem to have been separated by afirewall. High rev. brassy moments arereduced to a sub-compact size, and theclarinet colour is dulled, losing the waxylustre it displays on other tracks. ComposerJames M. David has a thing for cars and forHolst’s The Planets. Mercury is a source forthe second movement (Mini Cooper S), whichis appropriate, but what Mars has to do with aLamborghini escapes me.Elsewhere Ferreira knocks off blisteringpassagework and a great array of multiphoniceffects, most notably in Mikro-Sonataby Aleksandar Obradović. The title track, byNick DiBerardino, opens the CD with a briefand cheeky tribute to New York. Pianist GailNovak types furiously in the background(the composer’s own suggestion, from thevery useful liner notes), while the clarinetscales the skyscrapers and swings on loopingSpidey-webs between them. CanadianAlasdair MacLean’s Without Further Ado IIfor two clarinets which immediately followssounds like it could be a second movementto the previous track. In this as elsewhere,Ferreira is joined by his spouse CopperFerreira. She holds her end of the bargain upwell in the MacLean, but not so well as thebass clarinetist in Rotazione tre by RobertoCognazzo, which derives much of its materialfrom music of Nino Rota, a less instantlyrecognizable source than Holst.My pick for best cut is the Sonata for B-flatClarinet and Piano by Nikola Resanovic.At just over ten minutes, it wastes no timedoing anything but providing a showcase forFerreira and fun for the listener, especially inthe Balkan-influenced finale.Max ChristieMusic for Alfred HitchcockDanish National Symphony Orchestra;John MauceriToccata Classics TOCC 0241The eerie atmospherescreated bythe films of AlfredHitchcock were theresult of stunningcinematography andeven more stunningmusical backdrops.The Danish NationalSymphony Orchestra under the directionJohn Mauceri (who edited six of the works)here performs music from Hitchcock filmswith grace, splenduor, colour, well-placedangst and appropriate creepiness, transforming“background soundscapes” to firstclass orchestral works that need no visuals.Bernard Herrmann worked closely withHitchcock on many films. The music fromVertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much,North by Northwest, and the in-your-facePsycho: A Narrative for String Orchestra areso familiar that they need no musical critiqueor introduction. The performances areastounding in clarity and tension. Herrmannthen made an interesting arrangement ofArthur Benjamin’s The Man Who Knew TooMuch: The Storm Clouds – Cantata. The work,with its Vaughan Williams flavoured choraland vocal solo sections, seems somewhatout of place without the visuals. Herrmann’scompositional influences can also be heardin Danny Elfman’s work from the 2012 biopicHitchcock.The symphony musicians prove themselvesto be gifted interpreters in the jazzflavouredsections of the “Prelude” fromFranz Waxman’s Rear Window: Suite. DimitriTiomkin’s waltzes, bells and groundedwriting technique drive the music fromStrangers on a Train and Dial M for Murder.Superb liner notes and production qualitycomplete the package. Music for AlfredHitchcock deserves a spot on every listener’sbucket list.Tiina KiikRoger Knox reviews a new recording ofworks by American Edward Gregson atthewholenote.com.JAZZ AND IMPROVISED MUSICOffering: Live at Temple UniversityJohn ColtraneImpulse! B0019632-02No musician in jazzhas created the stylistictransformationsof John Coltrane,moving in little morethan a decade throughthe harmony-rooted“sheets of sound” ofthe late 1950s andthe modal period typified by his hit MyFavorite Things in the early 1960s, ultimatelyto embrace and extend the most intenseform of free jazz, “energy music,” in the twoyears prior to his death in 1967. This 2CD setpresents a relatively well-recorded concertin Philadelphia just eight months beforehis death.Coltrane’s last band was characterized bythe rapid fluttering scales of pianist AliceColtrane, the dense percussive fields generatedby drummer Rashied Ali and, exceedingColtrane himself in turbulent fury, saxophonistPharoah Sanders, generating madwails and honks that somehow erupted intopolyphony. On this occasion, the band wasaugmented by a complement of four handdrummers and two young saxophonistssitting in.The repertoire was already classic Coltrane– Naima, Crescent, My Favorite Things – butthe treatment rarely is. This is jazz eschatology,religious and revolutionary, a vision ofheaven and hell in which sounds may writhein ecstasy or torment. Coltrane’s own soundis transformed by a tight vibrato and whenhe has taken his horn to its expressive limithe turns to chanting, pounding his chest forvibrato, in a performance that is as much riteas concert. This music has divided jazz audiencesfor half a century and still demandsto be heard.Stuart BroomerStuart Broomer also explores a new discby Italian jazz pianist Stefano Bollani atthewholenote.com.SignalElizabeth ShepherdLinus 270197 (elizabethshepherd.com)thewholenote.com October 1 - November 7, 2014 | 69

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