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!).

Walton – Symphony

Walton – Symphony No.2; Cello Concerto Paul Watkins; BBC Symphony Orchestra; Edward Gardner Chandos CHSA 5153 “When you play Walton make big gestures,” Gregor Piatigorsky told the soloist I accompanied in the Walton Viola Concerto. The great cellist, tall and impressive in a white summer suit, was giving a string masterclass at Santa Barbara’s Music Academy of the West. Only later did I learn that Piatigorsky himself had commissioned Walton’s Cello Concerto and premiered it with the BBC Symphony! This CD’s expressive performance by cellist Paul Watkins and the Edward Gardner-led BBC players captures the work’s engaging spirit. Many cellists can sound expressive generically, but Watkins’ cello is expressive of particular melodic and harmonic beauties from the lyrical first movement on. In the tricky scherzo notable are the soloist’s impeccable bowing, intonation and ensemble playing. Both Watkins and Gardner pull through many mood changes in the last movement’s theme and improvisations convincingly. The passion and commitment of conductor and orchestra also show in Walton’s Symphony No.2 (1960). In the opening movement strings display virtuosity while maintaining the most prominent motif’s yearning quality. The slow movement has touchingly played woodwind and horn solos, with mysterious trills and tremolos in the background held in balance by Gardner. The closing Passacaglia’s recurring 12-tone line is not confining; dramatic moments abound and the whole ensemble shines in an exciting Fugato-Coda. In Improvisations on an Impromptu by Benjamin Britten (1969), less inspired and more schematic than the other works, the BBC-ers realize Walton’s craftsmanship and imaginative orchestration well. Highly recommended. Roger Knox MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY 1939 (Jongen/Ullmann/Hindemith/Hua/ Klein) Teng Li; Meng-Chieh Liu; Benjamin Bowman Azica ACD-71301 !! Since Teng Li moved here to join the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as principal viola, she has become a much-valued presence on the Toronto concert scene in her own right. But, surprisingly, this is her first solo disc. At its heart is Hindemith’s third Sonata for Viola and Piano. Like most of the works here, it was written in 1939, as the horrors of World War II were being unleashed on the world. Li’s impassioned performance, with pianist Meng-Chieh Liu, underlines the expressive force of Hindemith’s dazzling work. Gideon Klein was just 20 when he wrote his audacious Duo for Violin and Viola. Li is well-matched by violinist Benjamin Bowman in a shattering evocation of Klein’s despair. An extraordinary work – in an unforgettable performance. Viktor Ullmann’s situation was as dire as Klein’s in 1939. But his Five Love Songs, like Joseph Jongen’s luminous Concertino for Viola and Piano, are infused with hopeful, if bittersweet, longing. Arranged for viola and piano by Liu, Ullmann’s songs, though fleeting and unmoored without their texts, find an eloquent poetic voice here. Moon Reflected in Er-Quan takes us to Li’s native China with this tender elegy composed by the blind itinerant Yanjun Hua. Li manages to evoke the distinctive sound of the erhu in this moving arrangement for solo viola. This is a memorable disc. The recorded sound is clear and authentic, and Li’s own booklet notes, in English, French and Chinese, are persuasive in presenting these works as direct responses to their fraught times. Pamela Margles Shostakovich – Symphony No.9; Violin Concerto Leonidas Kavakos; Mariinsky Orchestra; Valery Gergiev Mariinsky MAR0524 Symphony No.9 in E-Flat Major Op.70 is a lively, mocking, inspiring, bouncy, sarcastic picture of human nature. Originally imagined as a monumental work, with chorus and soloists – the ode to the victorious ending of the brutal war – it eventually emerged as a 22-minute-long creation that was lighthearted, humorous and transparent. Shostakovich himself said: “It is a merry little piece. Musicians will love to play it, and critics will delight in blasting it.” He was right, indeed. The work had a disappointing effect on the general public, and was quickly banned by the Soviet regime. However, amidst the parades and humour, this symphony is illuminated by deeply felt moments of human suffering in the slower movements and features the most heartbreaking bassoon solo in the fourth movement. The Mariinsky Orchestra, under the baton of maestro Valery Gergiev, displays a wonderful uniformity of sound and phrasing. Their interpretation of this work is both exciting and reassuring. The Ninth Symphony is coupled here with the dark and reflective Violin Concerto No.1, arguably one of the best violin concertos ever written. It opens with Nocturne, essentially a long violin narrative. Dance-like elements become more devilish toward the end of the Scherzo, increasing the virtuosity in the violin lines. The central movement, Passacaglia, brings a sense of inevitability that culminates in the cadenza, which starts as a beautiful lament but changes into a furious display of emotions. The soloist, Leonidas Kavakos, while superb throughout, truly shines in this movement – his expression is raw, vulnerable yet powerful, revelatory in nature, bewitching to the listener. Burlesque, the last movement, has an eerie combination of spookiness and light, ending in swirls of melodies and rhythms, like a shamanic dance. The outstanding acoustic qualities of the Mariinsky Theatre (where this album was recorded) makes this disc even more enjoyable. Ivana Popovic Glass Houses for Marimba – Music by Ann Southam Taktus Centrediscs CMCCD 21415 !! It was with great pleasure that I listened to Taktus (percussionists Greg Harrison and Jonny Smith) playing Glass Houses for Marimba. It was difficult not to compare this version to the piano pieces, which I have recorded; however, music should be experienced in the moment and in different interpretations so I enjoyed this CD. In these performances tempi and articulation vary from the piano in interesting ways. No.5 by the marimbas clocks in at 5 minutes 21 seconds in comparison to the piano’s 8 minutes 28 seconds. The marimbas play this Glass House in a slower tempo and make it more meditative, rather than the virtuosic piano version. I like that their version is quite different from the piano, although I do prefer No.5 with all its repeats, faster and with an edge. Glass House No.1 as heard here is twice as long as the piano version, although the tempi were comparable (more repeats were added). The shorter version is closer to the original score but the transcription from piano to marimba results in different tonal colours and phrasing. I do think it is important to have different performances and interpretations. How boring music would be if everyone played the same way. I like the contrasting dynamics in No.7, which is almost three minutes slower than the original. Again, different sounds emerge from different instruments and this highlights the unique quality of this music. No.8 is wicked for the piano – there 68 |Sept 1 - Oct 7, 2015

is a 33-note drone which the pianist must memorize in order to focus on the right hand melodies. Needless to say I relished hearing two people perform this difficult piece with such relaxed ease and expertise. My favourite Glass House in this CD was the performance by Taktus of No.9 because it accentuated the colours and delicate nuances of the marimbas. The playing throughout the CD was impeccable and articulate. Christina Petrowska Quilico Editor’s Note: Centrediscs will be re-issuing Christina Petrowska Quilico’s piano recording of Ann Southam’s complete Glass Houses as a 2-CD set in the coming months. Elements Eternal Julie Nesrallah; Gryphon Trio Naxos 8.57353 !! The Gryphon Trio, comprised of Annalee Patipatanakoon (violin), Roman Borys (cello) and Jamie Parker (piano), has just released a new album Elements Eternal. It features four very different works they recently commissioned from some of Canada’s finest composers writing today. The CD opens with Brian Current’s These Begin to Catch Fire (2012), which suggests patterns of light reflecting on the water at Lake Muskoka. The intensity of this mesmerizing composition is heightened through a series of complex polyrhythms in the piano part, played flawlessly by Parker. Andrew Staniland’s Solstice Songs (2011) highlights the importance of the celestial seasons in this compelling instrumental work written in three sections. The ensemble effectively communicates the wide scope of moods that range from an ethereal nocturnal atmosphere to an exciting perpetual motion finale. In his song cycle Letters to the Immortal Beloved (2012) James K. Wright uses as its text Beethoven’s famous love letters written 200 years ago. Wright’s deeply moving composition, exquisitely sung by mezzo-soprano Julie Nesrallah, seamlessly weaves Beethoven’s own Andante favori into the third movement in further tribute to the composer. Centennials (2012) by Michael Oesterle celebrates the centenary of the birth of three individuals born in 1912: chef Julia Child, composer Conlon Nancarrow and painter Jackson Pollock. Their contrasting personalities are captured perfectly and the Trio’s skills are particularly evident in the final movement with its extreme fluctuations of temperament that the production team has recorded with balance and clarity. An excellent CD. Réa Beaumont Isadora Sings Vivienne Spiteri isadorArt isi 03 ( !! The harpsichord is an instrument of opposites. Of ancient origins, it lives on through recent trends of recreation. Sounding with pointillistic attacks of sharp precision, it can unfold with a rich and flexible resonance and tone. Thick blocks of complex sounds contrast with clear, transparent layers of register and texture. Although known for its role in early music performance, these qualities provide a rich sonic palette for today’s composers. Isadora Sings reveals these colours through a series of evocative and dynamic pieces. Vivienne Spiteri and her collaborators pair the harpsichord with electronics, blending them into unique sound fields, extending the instrument beyond its usual capabilities. Of note is Cinéma, mode d’emploi by Pierre Derochers which, through live sampling, creates a thrilling layering of dense, frenzied activity. Also, in Hope Lee’s Tangram, added bass clarinet (played by Lori Freedman) supplements the vastness of the electronics, as well as complementing the harpsichord in its ritual-like meditations and ecstatic outbursts. Most interesting is the title track, a collaboration between Spiteri and composer Kent Olofsson, which uses an array of rarely heard extended techniques. Hand muting, pitch bending, strumming, plucking, even rubbing the strings to excite harmonics, are echoed in the electronics, creating a vast, spacious world of sound. Shadow and light of varying intensities come into focus, from obscure faintness to blinding opaqueness. An imaginative and unique exploration for the curious listener. While the pieces can feel a bit lengthy, the artists’ vision provides rich sonic rewards for the willing ear. Wesley Shen Sassicaia François Houle; Jane Hayes Redshift Records TK438 (redshiftmusic. org) Zarabandeo François Houle; Jane Hayes Afterday AA1501 ( !! The versatile Vancouver-based duo Sea and Sky consists of clarinetist François Houle and pianist Jane Hayes. They have released a pair of CDs: Sassicaia features current Canadian compositions, many of them commissioned by the duo; the other, Zarabandeo, is a collection of pieces in, for want of a better word, Latin style. Both collections are compelling, and both demonstrate the considerable interpretive strengths of this seasoned ensemble. Releasing them together makes sense. It lends a weight to the enterprise that might be missing if one or the other had come out alone. They are set against one another by contrast, not similarity. The title track on the Canadian collection is by Bruce Mather, who has named a number of works for impressive wines. His pointillist and microtonal piece is both gravel terroir and heady bouquet. It is a contemplative, mysterious centerpiece to the disc. Owen Underhill’s Duotone features pointillism and microtones as well, and also the captivating clarinet double tones that Houle demonstrates with mastery. Less effective to me is the headbanger by Keith Hamel entitled Cyclone. Intended to depict the energy of the weather event, its heavy base and static quality forced my ear into shelter. As unfortunate an inclusion as that piece is, the meditation that begins immediately following in Paul Dolden’s Eternal Return of a Ritual Form serves as balm that quickly turns to hallucinogenic drug. Dolden spins a basic repetitive formula into nervous dervishness. Cleverly constructed as a kind of maniacal passacaglia, the 17-minute piece keeps the listener wondering “what next?” When a free improv section gives way to a drum solo, before one can think “OH NO!” it heads on into mad variation X. A gradual disintegration should lead to a calm coda, but instead, everything is all insect buzz and numb desolation. Quite a trip. The opening track of the other disc provides the title. Not your parents’ sarabande, Zarabandeo is by Mexican composer Arturo Marquez. Following this tuneful and romantic rondo form are two effective short works by Cuban clarinetist/composer Paquito D’Rivera. Featured also are works by Argentinians Carlos Guastavino and the tango master Astor Piazzolla. In Ravel’s Pièce en forme de Habanera Houle shows a nice touch, though here he doesn’t meet the style standard set by the remarkable Jane Hayes, whose work on this second album is full of character and verve. Houle includes two takes of Piazzolla’s haunting nocturne Oblivion (he emulates many jazzers here and gives us two interesting improvised intros to the piece). I don’t agree that Two Majorcan Pieces qualifies for inclusion. For me the rest of the collection is utterly charming and substantial enough without Joseph Horovitz’ ersatz Spanishism. Houle lets his sound go in playing this material, allowing his jazz chops to take some focus away from his tone. No one Sept 1 - Oct 7, 2015 | 69

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