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Volume 20 Issue 5 - February 2015

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Volume 20 Issue 5

subtlest nuances. Most

subtlest nuances. Most pianists end up with a demonstration of how loudly they can erect the Great Gate of Kiev, now judged to be a measure of a great performance. Lewis employs extraordinary control in restraining his performance to achieve maximum effect without limiting its power, thereby rather strengthening it. A stroke of genius on someone’s part was to follow the extroverted Mussorgsky with the substantial, inward-looking Schumann Fantasie. Many of the greats have recorded this work but Lewis stands behind none of them. The sound is exemplary. Bruce Surtees Concert note: Paul Lewis performs with violinist Lisa Batiashvili at Koerner Hall on March 27. The program includes Busoni’s solo piano arrangement of Bach’s Chorale Prelude “Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland,” BWV 659. Daphnis et Chloé National Youth Orchestra of Canada; Emmanuel Villaume Independent NYOC2014CD ( The great bandleader and clarinetist Benny Goodman once reflected: “Too many young musicians today want to win polls before they learn their instruments.” Quite clearly, this sentiment doesn’t apply to the gifted young musicians in Canada’s National Youth Orchestra. For more than 50 years now, the NYOC has been a bridge between academic studies and a professional career, providing experience and high-quality training for young performers. These high standards continue to be evident in their tenth and latest CD, an attractively packaged twodisc set featuring music by Ravel, Wagner, Richard Strauss, Neal Gripp and Jordan Pal under the direction of Emmanuel Villaume. Despite a lukewarm reception at its premiere in 1912, Ravel’s ballet Daphnis et Chloé has long been regarded as his masterpiece. Typically Gallic, the score is sophisticated and sensuous, and the NYOC does it full Canada’s Quatuor Alcan has been at the forefront of the string quartet world for many years now, and the ensemble is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. The group’s sizeable discography includes quartets by Haydn, Mozart and Schubert, but so far, perhaps surprisingly, only two of Beethoven’s 16 string quartets. That’s about to change, however, as their 25th anniversary is being marked by the release of a CD series of the complete Beethoven Cycle. Volume 1 (ATMA ACD2 2491) was released in November and is a 2-CD issue containing the six quartets of Op.18. Although the ensemble’s website refers to the Beethoven project as a “new recording,” these six quartets here were actually recorded between May 2007 and November 2010. It’s certainly an auspicious start to the series. There’s marvellous playing, tremendous accuracy and attention to detail here, made even more effective by the way this ensemble seems to think, breathe and play in complete unison. The Alcan is up against serious competition in this field of course, with complete cycles still available from most of the leading ensembles of the last 60 years – the Guarneri, Amadeus, Orford, Alban Berg, Budapest, Borodin, Emerson, Tokyo, Artemis and Quartetto Italiano for starters. The good news, though, is that comparisons are not only almost impossible but also completely irrelevant; this promises to be a terrific set, and that’s all that matters. Volumes 2 and 3 are scheduled for release in February and April of this year. Stay tuned. Robert Schumann, more than any other composer I can think of, tended to concentrate on one particular genre of composition at a time. 1842 was his chamber music year and his three String Quartets Op.41 were written in a matter of eight weeks in June and July, after he had spent several months preparing by studying the quartets of Haydn, TERRY ROBBINS Mozart and – in particular – Beethoven, whose late quartets had so impressed him a few years earlier. The influence of the latter is easy to hear, but the voice that really leaps out at you is that of Mendelssohn, to whom the quartets were dedicated on their publication in 1848. On Schumann, their latest CD (Sono Luminus DSL-92184), the Ying Quartet gives passionate and committed performances of these wonderful works. Schumann’s non-keyboard compositions are often viewed as being somewhat pianistic, but if any of his works belie this view it’s these string quartets: they are beautifully written – idiomatic, strong and imaginative, sensitive and nuanced, with wide-ranging emotions and an abundance of rhythmic vitality. All of these qualities are fully exploited by the Ying Quartet; this is full-blooded Romantic playing recorded with a rich resonance. The CD package comes with an additional Pure Audio Blu-ray CD equipped with the mShuttle application, enabling you to access portable copies of the music featured on the regular CD. The third and final volume of the outstanding series of the Complete String Quartets by the Danish composer Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) is now available (DACAPO 6.220577). Volume 1 was reviewed in depth in this column in July 2012 and Volume 2 in April 2014, at which times I noted that Denmark’s Nightingale String Quartet was simply superb in this series of all nine quartets by a composer described as an eccentric outsider who was virtually ignored by the Danish musical establishment in his lifetime. Most of Langgaard’s string quartets were written in his youth, between 1914 and 1925, although his later revision and recycling of earlier material makes for a confusing numbering system which doesn’t include all of the quartets and doesn’t even reflect the order of their composition. As the excellent booklet notes point out, the works date from the departure point between Late Romanticism and Modernism and cover a remarkably wide stylistic spectrum, with tonal idioms ranging from Mozart to Bartók. This third volume features the String Quartet No.1 from 1914-15 (revised in 1936), the String Quartet No.5 from 1925 (revised 1926-38) and the very brief string quartet movement Italian Scherzo from late 1950, Langgaard’s last contribution to the genre. This track and the String Quartet No.1 are world premiere recordings. Once again, the performances by the prize-winning allfemale Nightingale Quartet are outstanding – warm, passionate, expressive and displaying great ensemble playing. Beautifully recorded at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and issued on Denmark’s national record label, these performances are as close to definitive as you can get; the complete set is an outstanding addition to the 20th century string quartet discography. Strings Attached continues at with a new recording of Brahms sonatas by French violinist Arnaud Sussmann and the American pianist Orion Weiss, plus the intriguing Bach to Parker featuring young English violinist Thomas Gould. 60 | February 1 - March 7, 2015

justice. The ensemble achieves a sonorous, full-bodied sound with a wonderful melding of strings, woodwind and brass. While the tempos are perhaps a little more languorous at times than customary, this doesn’t necessarily detract from a fine performance. The second disc brings us to 19th-century Germany and 21st-century North America. Wagner’s Prelude to the first act of Lohengrin is quietly introspective, the warmth of the NYOC strings evoking the magical mood of the fairy tale opera to come. In total contrast, the popular 1895 tone poem Til Eulenspiegel by Richard Strauss is all exuberance and jollity, where the puckish charm of the hero is fittingly characterized by a virtuosic brass section. The remaining two compositions are recent creations. Violist Neal Gripp’s Passacaglia was intended as a dialogue between flutist Carolyn Christie and her musical colleagues in the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Archly neoromantic, the music has an elegantly elegiac mood, contrasting with the bombastic The Afar by NYOC composer-in-residence Jordan Pal. A musical depiction of the Afar triangle in Ethiopia, the score is exciting and colourful, requiring the youthful ensemble to pull out all the stops. It does so admirably, bringing the disc – and the set – to a most satisfying conclusion. Richard Haskell Fauré; Pierné – Trios avec piano Trio Wanderer Harmonia Mundi HMC 902192 Here are two piano trios that belong in anyone’s stringsand-piano chamber music collection! One surprise: I have always found the technically challenging finale of the Fauré Trio, Op.120 problematic on account of its quirky, off-balance character. But Trio Wanderer turns this into a positive quality by emphasizing it rather than smoothing it over, with spiky accents and precise articulation that never interfere with overall fluency. In the wonderful Andantino they capture both the sentiment of the opening melody and the probing character of motivic development and harmonic exploration that follows. Both in this and the opening movement, I found myself moving from admiration of the elegance and clarity of playing to appreciation of subtle effects of light and shade, the nuances that make Fauré’s music such a delight when well-performed. The Trio, Op.45 by Gabriel Pierné (1863- 1937) is the strongest work I have heard by this composer. The extended opening movement seems to receive its energy from an enigmatic, syncopated figure in the piano, which grows and changes in myriad ways. Pierné’s palette is darker than Fauré’s, with thicker sonorities and dynamics ranging from fortissimo climaxes to whispering string harmonics. Trio Wanderer is adept in this dramatic style, and equally so in the dance style of the bouncy middle movement, influenced by the Basque zortzico. A highly inventive theme and variations featuring amazing fingered harmonics on the violin rounds off the work. Roger Knox Turina – Chamber Music for Strings and Piano Lincoln Trio Cedille CDR 90000 150 Bullfighting, Andalusian rhythms, Spanish flavoured motifs and French aesthetics – this is the world of Joaquín Turina (1882-1949), a relatively unknown Spanish composer and pianist. This double CD presents the chamber works written over the 30-year period of his most prolific time as a composer. Compositions include several piano trios, a piano quartet and a piano quintet as well as a sextet written for solo viola, piano and string quartet. Turina, born in Seville, spent most of his life in Spain, with the exception of the period between 1905-1914, when he studied piano and composition at Schola Cantorum in Paris. French influence on his music is apparent – as a matter of fact, Turina adopted and used César Franck’s principle of cyclic composition in most of his works. Late Romantic elements are also present in his lush melodies and cinematic atmosphere, especially in slow movements. But what makes his music alive is virtuosic piano writing coupled with rhythmical sounds of his native land, Andalusia. Among many interesting works presented here, Circulo, Op.91 stands out for me. It depicts the day as a circle – not with youthful vigour but rather with the restraint of a life lived – and brings out the essence of Turina’s musical aesthetics. Members of the Lincoln trio – Desirée Ruhstrat (violin), David Cunliffe (cello) and Marta Aznavoorian (piano) – not only play with passion but also highlight beautifully the sublime sounds of muted strings (Turina loved using this effect) and effortlessly convey the fugal aspects present in many of these compositions. The ensemble sound blossoms in larger works, with each guest artist (violists Ayane Kozasa and Doyle Armbrust, violinists Jasmine Lin and Aurelien Fort Pederzoli) adding a bit of individual sound to Turina’s music. Ivana Popovic MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Nicole Lizée – Bookburners Various Artists Centrediscs CMCCD 20514 (CD+DVD) In 2013, Canada’s government committed what scientists now call libricide, closing seven Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries. Ostensibly, it was to save by digitizing materials, but that hasn’t happened. Little attempt was made to preserve the materials and precious collections were lost to landfill. It was 21st-century book burning, but without the symbolic theatre. Milton wrote that anyone who kills a man kills “a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself.” The striking cover image (by Todd Stewart) of Nicole Lizée’s Bookburners CD/ DVD may assert a similar interpretation. Depicting a skeleton holding a smouldering book, the figure may have sought to burn it, but instead self-immolated, consigning her/ himself to eternal damnation, rather than squelching the ideas on the pages. Conversely, a dug-up, laughing skeleton having a good read fits in with the rough-hewn and somewhat nostalgic approach to technology and media that permeates the aesthetic of the five works in this collection. The music and images tease us into dissecting the materials, reference points and tools; a rich exercise with antennae outside European contemporary music and into pop cultural icons that are the shared knowledge of Lizée’s generation. Prog-rock chord progressions, American minimalist repetitions, post-digital glitch techniques, DJ sound gear and uncommon instrumentations are all there, crashing into one another, but listening exclusively that way becomes so fragmented that it prevents the pleasures of listening to the global textures. When identification of materials becomes second to hearing their blended interaction, the music opens up a bright tableau of complex rhythms and timbres, despite the darker undertones of the titles and subject matter. On the CD, White Label Experiment, for percussion quartet and electronics, is a joyously warped mashup of John Cage and rave culture, with the turntable as the common denominator. Typewriters peck away, combined with stylus/needle drops, noise timbres and omnichord, while metallic percussion takes you higher, in register and experience. Ouijist continues the attraction to sound hacking and an expansive, low-tech electronic palette built on the bent and the broken. On Son of the Man with the Golden Arms, drummer Ben Reimer’s playing stands out with a crisp tone and light touch, February 1 - March 7, 2015 | 61

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