6 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 1 - September 2015

  • Text
  • September
  • Jazz
  • Toronto
  • Musical
  • Sept
  • Quartet
  • Concerto
  • Orchestra
  • Symphony
  • Violin
Paul Ennis's annual TIFF TIPS (27 festival films of potential particular musical interest); Wu Man, Yo-Yo Ma and Jeffrey Beecher on the Silk Road; David Jaeger on CBC Radio Music in the days it was committed to commissioning; the LISTENING ROOM continues to grow on line; DISCoveries is back, bigger than ever; and Mary Lou Fallis says Trinity-St. Paul's is Just the Spot (especially this coming Sept 25!).

stripped down to its

stripped down to its essentials. About half of the songs are originals, including the title track, plus effective covers of Billy Eckstine, Marvin Gaye, Son House and the duo’s reworking of Robert Johnson’s Come On In My Kitchen. Coffee Creek is the first full-length release by the young Toronto bluegrass band Slocan Ramblers ( Mentored by Chris Coole of Foggy Hogtown Boys fame who also produced this disc, the group shows a virtuosity and command of the genre that belies their youth (and geography). The formation is fairly standard – banjo (Frank Evans), mandolin (Adrian Gross), guitar (Darryl Poulson) and double bass (Alistair Whitehead) – with the vocal duties shared and the balance about equal between original instrumentals and traditional bluegrass songs. The band’s website testifies to a busy touring schedule, both across the country and south of the border, but unfortunately it seems we won’t get to hear them live in Toronto in the immediate future. Readers in Ottawa can catch them on October 24 at Spirit of Rasputin’s Folk Club at Westboro Masonic Hall. Of course my summer was not spent entirely in front of loudspeakers attached to mechanical (or electronic) reproduction devices. There was a generous share of backyard music-making with friends and I attended a number of live music shows. The one that had the most impact on me was at the Summerworks festival, a “musical” unlike any other I’ve seen. Written and created by Adam Paolozza and Gregory Oh, Melancholia: The Music of Scott Walker drew on five decades of music recorded, and for the most part written, by the former Walker Brother, best known to members of my generation for the 60s hit The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore. I must confess that I was unaware of Walker’s creative development in the intervening years. I was actually surprised to hear that there even was such a person as my understanding was that no member of the Walker Brothers was actually named Walker. But it seems that the baritone “brother,” born Noel Scott Engel, adopted the name when he went out on his own in the 1970s. The music that followed was a far cry from the pop ballads that had brought the boy band fame, which for a time rivaled that of the Beatles. Evidently he was profoundly influenced by the music of Jacques Brel and some of his earlier solo work reflects this, including an album of covers of Brel’s work. Walker is also well versed in classical music and has given producers such instructions as “I hear Sibelius here” and “I’m thinking of Delius for this.” His own songs became darker and darker over the years and although his distinctive, low plaintive voice would not change much, the music behind and at times over top of the lyrics, did profoundly. Since experiencing the live local production I have continued to explore the world of this troubled, solitary artist. Although he has not performed live in many years, he did allow cameras into the studio when he was recording the album The Drift. The resulting documentary, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man produced by Stephen Kijak (with executive producer credits to David Bowie who professes to have been deeply influenced by Walker), was released in 2006 and is viewable on YouTube. I highly recommend it. And then skip ahead to his latest release from 2014, Soused (4AD CAD 3428CD) which features five extended Scott Walker “songs” on which the now familiar melancholy voice is accompanied by the Seattle drone metal band Sunn O))). Not for the faint of heart! We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website where you can find added features including direct links to performers, composers and record labels, “buy buttons” for online shopping and additional, expanded and archival reviews. David Olds, DISCoveries Editor TERRY ROBBINS The Toronto-based Canadian guitarist Drew Henderson is probably best known as a performer as one half of the Henderson-Kolk Duo with Michael Kolk, whose Mosaic solo CD was reviewed in this column in March 2014. Nocturne – Guitar Music of the 19th Century is Henderson’s independent first solo release ( His playing puts me very much in mind of Kolk’s, which is saying a great deal: there’s the same outstanding technique with unerring accuracy and cleanness; a clear, rich tone across the board; lovely dynamics; virtually no finger noise; and above all a beautiful sense of line and phrase. Henderson has chosen a varied and interesting recital program. Giulio Regondi was a child prodigy in the early 1800s, and is represented here by his Nocturne “Reverie” Op.19 and Introduction et Caprice Op.23. Henderson plays an eight-string guitar on the CD, which enables him to include the usually-omitted bass notes in Les Soirées d’Auteuil Op.23 by Napoléon Coste, who often wrote for a seven-string guitar. Four Capricci from Luigi Legnani’s 36 Capricci per la Chitarra Op.20 and a simply dazzling performance of Paganini’s Grand Sonata in A Major round out a superb disc. The CD was recorded two years ago in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Toronto, with Henderson handling the recording and editing himself; he did an outstanding job. Henderson has technique and musicianship to burn, and has produced a simply terrific CD. James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong are back with another recital CD, this time featuring the Violin Sonatas of César Franck and Richard Strauss (Onyx 4141). There’s a glowing, expansive opening to the Franck, especially in the piano chords as the momentum builds, and real passion in the Allegro second movement. The famous canon in the fourth movement is a pure delight. Ehnes is in his element with the big tone and strong, controlled bowing you need for the long, sustained violin phrases in this work. Written within a year of the Franck, when the composer had just met his future wife, Strauss’ Sonata in E-Flat, Op.18 is an early work bubbling with a sense of joy and passion that both performers catch perfectly. One short Strauss work and three song transcriptions complete the CD. The Allegretto in E is a brief but lovely piece from the last year of the composer’s life. The three songs are Wiegenlied, Waldseligkeit and Morgen!; the intricate piano decorations that run beneath the long violin line throughout the Wiegenlied are particularly lovely. Ehnes is in superb form throughout the disc, and Armstrong is his equal in every respect. There’s another performance of the Franck Violin Sonata on a new CD featuring works by Lekeu, Franck and Boulanger from the Montreal violinist Frédéric Bednarz and pianist Natsuki Hiratsuka (Metis Islands Music MIM-0006). Guillaume Lekeu and Lili Boulanger (Nadia’s younger sister) both died at the tragically young age of 24. Lekeu’s Sonata in G Major is a fine three-movement work, with its long violin lines and agitated piano in the outer movements somewhat reminiscent of the Franck, which was written just six years earlier. Bednarz’s beautiful sweetness of tone is evident right from the start. Boulanger was always in fragile health, and her works often seem to display her awareness of her condition. Nocturne is a simply lovely and delightful piece, again perfectly suited to Bednarz’s sweet tone. 60 | Sept 1 - Oct 7, 2015

The Franck Sonata is the centrepiece of the CD, and again it’s the tonal quality of the violin playing that makes the biggest impression. Hiratsuka gives perhaps a bit less weight to the piano part in the opening movement, and there seems to be less turbulence and urgency in the second movement than on the Ehnes/Armstrong CD, but this is still a strong, musical and highly enjoyable performance. There have been several recordings of the very effective string trio transcription by violinist Dmitri Sitkovetsky of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and now the Bach/Gould Project, the debut CD by America’s Catalyst Quartet, gives us an equally effective and satisfying arrangement for string quartet (Azica ACD-71300). It took the quartet members a year and a half to produce their own transcription, and it’s a quite stunning achievement, with a rich, warm sound right from the opening Aria and some beautifully judged phrasing and dynamics. The up-tempo sections don’t have quite the ferocity of Glenn Gould’s approach, but there is the same exuberance and sense of sheer joy that pervades Gould’s recordings. The decision to include Glenn Gould’s String Quartet Op.1 was a smart one. Gould wrote the work in the mid-1950s while preparing for his debut recording of the Goldberg Variations, the work that marked the beginning and the end of his recording career; not surprisingly, perhaps, it is a rich, complex single-movement quartet highly reminiscent of early Schoenberg but – as the notes point out – showing the influence of German composers from Strauss and Wagner right back to Bach. What may be surprising is that it is full of truly idiomatic string writing, with a great deal of contrapuntal voicing (no surprise there!) that is handled with great skill. It’s so much more than just a competent work or an odd curiosity, and really deserves to be heard more frequently. A short video about the Bach/Gould Project is available on the quartet’s website and on YouTube. Česko is another terrific string quartet CD, this time featuring the young – and all-female – British/Dutch ensemble the Ragazze Quartet in a program of works by the Czech composers Antonín Dvořák and Erwin Schulhoff (Channel Classics CCS SA 36815). Schulhoff died of tuberculosis in Wülzburg concentration camp in 1942 at the age of 48. His String Quartet No.1 is a short but fascinating four-movement work from 1924, and very much a work of its time. Schulhoff’s real passion for the jazz dance forms of the 1920s is reflected in his 6 Esquisses de jazz from 1927, a piano work arranged for string quartet here by the Dutch composer Leonard Evers. The six pieces – Rag; Boston; Tango; Blues; Black Bottom; and Charleston – are short but entertaining. The central work on the disc is Dvořák’s String Quartet No.13 in G Major Op.106, which has been in the quartet’s repertoire since their student days. It’s a glorious work, and their familiarity with and affection for the music is clear in the lovely sweeping start and the passion and dynamic range in their playing. In their booklet notes the players refer to Dvořák’s “beautiful singing melodies, warm harmonies and Czech passion.” Their performance here shows how well they have taken these qualities to heart. There’s even more great string quartet playing on Mozart – The 6 String Quartets dedicated to Haydn, a 3CD box set featuring the Quatuor Cambini-Paris (naïve AM213). The packaging adds “on period instruments” after the quartet’s name; since the ensemble was founded in 2007 the performers have been playing and recording on period instruments with gut strings and authentic bows, and if you ever needed any evidence of just how satisfying “historically informed” performances can be, here it is. The six quartets themselves – numbers 14 through 19, and including the Spring, Hunt and Dissonance quartets – are simply sublime, and the warmth and sensitivity of the interpretations here display them in all their glory. The closeness of the recording means that some extraneous breathing noises are audible at times, but never to the point of distraction. These are performances that come from the heart and speak to the soul; there wasn’t a single moment when I could imagine these works being played any other way. Add the absolutely terrific booklet notes and this is a set to treasure. The terrific Jennifer Koh is back with Bach and Beyond Part 2 (Cedille CDR 90000 154), the second of a three-part series of recital programs that Koh initiated in 2009 to explore the history of solo violin works from Bach to the present day. Each recital features two of the Bach Sonatas & Partitas paired with solo compositions from the subsequent centuries. Part 1 was reviewed in depth in this column in May 2013. This current issue pairs the Sonata No.1 in G Minor and the Partita No.1 in B Minor of Bach with the Sonata for Solo Violin by Béla Bartók and Frises, a work for solo violin and electronics written in 2011 by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. Koh, as always, is superb, her intelligence and interpretation always matching her outstanding technique. The third and final program of the series will apparently pair the remaining two Bach works with Luciano Berio’s Sequenza VIII and the world premiere of John Harbison’s For Violin Alone. The new Alina Ibragimova CD of the Six Sonatas for Solo Violin by Eugène Ysaÿe (Hyperion CDA67993) is another simply outstanding solo disc. This is the fifth CD of these amazing works that I have received in the past four years or so, and Ibragimova’s is Philip Glass: Violin Concerto No. 2 “The American Four Seasons” Gidon Kremer Kremer returns to DG after more than a decade, his first solo concerto album in many years Pas de Deux Mari and Håkon Samuelsen The world premiere recording Pas de Deux by the late James Horner, written especially for the sister/ brother team, Mari and Håkon Samuelsen. ZOFO – pianists Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi – is at it again with an all-Terry Riley album that includes original compositions, arrangements and a commission. First published in 1720, Handel’s ‘eight great suites’, immensely popular in their time, contain some of Handel’s most beautiful music. Sept 1 - Oct 7, 2015 | 61

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