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Volume 21 Issue 7 - April 2016

  • Text
  • April
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Musical
  • Symphony
  • Arts
  • Theatre
  • Orchestra
  • Concerto
  • Choir

particularly interested,

particularly interested, in modern dance. But the ten athletic dancers running gazelle-like (or is it Giselle-like?) around the stage in patterns reminiscent of a Samuel Beckett play on speed proved to be almost as hypnotic as the music. The focus of the film is understandably on the dancers, with only occasional tantalizing glimpses of the musicians, but the 5.1 Dolby digital sound is immaculate and the performance is compelling. Concert Note: On April 14, Soundstreams presents a very ambitious program at Massey Hall, including Reich’s iconic Clapping Music, the large choral work Tehillim and Music for 18 Musicians. Steve Reich provides the bridge to the next disc, Density, featuring flutist Claire Chase (clairechase.net) which has been waiting patiently on my desk for the past year. It opens with Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint for 11 flutes (piccolos, flutes and alto flutes), conceived as a work for flute “choir” or to be overdubbed by one player (as first performed and recorded by Ransom Wilson). As with all the works on this disc, Chase plays all of the parts in studio recordings in which the layers blend seamlessly. All are by living composers with the exception of the title piece Density 21.5 which Edgard Varèse (1883-1965) composed for a solo platinum flute in 1936 (21.5 grams being the approximate density of a cubic centimeter of platinum). The other works all involve multiple flutes and/or electronics. Of particular note for its rich sonorities is Marcos Balter’s Pessoa for six bass flutes. Alvin Lucier’s Almost New York for piccolo, flute, alto, bass and contrabass flutes, and pure wave oscillators, takes some getting used to. The pure electronic sounds are quite harsh in comparison with the warmth of the natural flutes, but eventually our ears adjust and the contrast is quite effective. That being said, Philip Glass’ homage to Erik Satie, Piece in the Shape of a Square for two flutes, comes as breath of fresh air after 25 minutes of the sterile sounds produced by Lucier’s oscillators. Luciform for flute and electronics by Mario Diaz de León presents a very different electronic soundscape: synthetic layerings and contrapuntal accompaniments to the rich sounds of the flute in its lower register. Again, to my ears, the purely acoustic sounds produced by the platinum flute in Varèse’s Density 21.5 are more interesting by far. Nevertheless, Chase is to be congratulated not only for her dexterity throughout the full range of flute family but also for her diverse choice of repertoire, producing a 75-minute homophonic program that holds our interest from start to finish. Concert Note: To hear all the members of the conventional flute family (contrabass to piccolo) combined in a live flute orchestra I recommend (conflict of interest duly noted) “Flutes Galore,” a concert of contemporary music for 24 flutes presented by New Music Concerts on April 24 at Saint Luke’s United Church. If Claire Chase has shown mastery in combining all the members of one instrumental family through “the magic of the studio,” what is to be said of Mike Herriott? On Isn’t Life Grand (mikeherriott.com) this consummate musician is responsible for not only the entire horn section (piccolo trumpet, trumpets, flugelhorns, French horns and trombones), but also basses and piano. He is joined by frequent collaborator Richard Moore on drums and percussion throughout, with a (very) few other guests on several tracks. The overall sound is rich and warm and takes me back to the great horn arrangements I heard in my formative years from the likes of Chicago, Lighthouse and Blood, Sweat and Tears. Herriott penned all the tunes and, with the exception of the extended Free at Last arranged by the late, great Canadian flugelhorn icon, Kenny Wheeler, did all the arranging too. Fittingly, Herriott provides a lush flugelhorn solo on Free at Last and is joined by Dave Reid for a bass trombone solo. The style is quite mainstream, and I am left thinking that with some lyrics and a singer like David Clayton Thomas this music could have been top of the charts back in the day. I mean that in the nicest possible way though and am in awe of this one-man big band that is Mike Herriott. Another disc that spans mainstream jazz and pop sensibilities is Taylor Cook’s The Cook Book (taylorcook.com). In this instance though, the composer/leader has some fine Toronto players contributing to his ensemble. This is not to say that Cook is a one-trick pony by any means. The basic tracks see him on alto sax, flute and clarinet, with bandmates Jack Bodkin, keyboards, Brandon Wall, guitar, Justin Gray, acoustic and electric bass, and Robin Claxton, drums. This is complemented by a host of horns and woodwinds on such tracks as the rollicking Biker’s Dozen and the sultry Lilia which also includes string quartet. Another track where the ranks swell is Cook’s effective arrangement of On the Sunny Side of the Street which features a horn sextet. All of the other tracks are composed and arranged by Cook, including Splainin’ with lyrics by Neil Surkan and plaintive vocals by Alex Samaras, with the exception of the closing, soulful Testifyin’ by Fender Rhodes-playing Bodkin. In all, The Cook Book provides some tasty recipes, prepared to perfection. As noted with modern dance above, I confess to being somewhat out of my comfort zone in the world of serious modern jazz. In my formative years however, I did spend quite a bit of time combing the shelves of John Norris’ Jazz and Blues Centre down on King St. West and building a collection of the standards of the time: Monk, Coltrane, Hawkins, Rollins, Davis, Parker, Coleman, MJQ, Brubeck and, as mentioned in last month’s column, even the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. Montreal bassist Alain Bédard and his acoustic Auguste Quartet take me back to those exciting years of discovery. Circum Continuum (Effendi Records FND 144) features Félix Stussi on piano, Samuel Blais on saxophones, Bédard on contrabass and Michel Lambert on drums. The music is old fashioned in the sense that is reminiscent of the music I was listening to in the 70s and 80s from the pioneers of post-bop jazz: uncompromising yet cohesive, melodic without being tuneful. Often busy in its undercurrents, but overlaid with long lines, and with nothing extraneous – all four members of the machine integral to the process. Bédard composed nine of the 13 tracks with the other members each contributing one of their own. The only “outside job” is Oelo by Gilles Bernard, inspired by Sonny Rollins’ Oleo. Lambert’s Blue Mitch begins with an enervated extended drum and saxophone duet, eventually tamed by the bass and piano before reestablishing their dominance in a harmolodic-style ending. Blais’ Noirceur Passagère features a haunting saxophone melody that gives way to a pizzicato bass solo that segues into Stussi’s Garissa evoking a Night in Tunisia sensibility. Bédard’s Le Gras Mollet with its block chord melody in the sax, piano and bass over a walking drum and cymbal line brings this excellent disc to a very satisfying conclusion. David Olds, DISCoveries Editor discoveries@thewholenote.com 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 thewholenote. com where you can find added features including direct links to performers, composers and record labels, “buy buttons” for on-line shopping and additional, expanded and archival reviews. 70 | April 1, 2016 - May 7, 2016 thewholenote.com

Narratives on Life – music for cello and piano is the latest CD from the Ottawa duo of cellist Joan Harrison and pianist Elaine Keillor (Marquis MAR 81467). The four varied works are connected by the composers’ shared Jewish heritage and are not often heard – indeed, three of the performances here are world premiere recordings. Srul Irving Glick’s Chagall Suite for Cello and Piano is a three-movement work from 1993 inspired by the Marc Chagall paintings The Cellist, The Lights of the Wedding and The Big Circus. There’s some lovely tone and colour from the cello, although the piano seems to be a bit far back in the balance. My feeling that the playing was perhaps a bit too subdued was reinforced by the second work, the Sonata for Cello and Piano by the Canadian composer Steven Gellman. Completed in 1994, its third movement finale is titled Scherzo (on a Heavy-Metal rhythm), but while the playing here is more than up to the technical challenges it really seems to need more fire and energy. The one work I would have thought would be a first recording turned out to be the only one that wasn’t. The musically multitalented child prodigy Hélène Riese Liebmann was born in Berlin in 1795 and was already having her compositions published by 1813, a quite remarkable achievement in an age when the likes of Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann would have to resort to having their compositions published under the names of their respective brother and husband. The Grand Sonata in B-flat Major for Cello and Piano Op.11 is a very pleasant work and it is very much of its time. While studying at Yale University Harrison met the son of the American composer Maurice Gardner (1909-2002) whose Sonata for Cello and Piano completes the CD. Gardner had a long and varied musical career in many commercial spheres, and was finally able to concentrate on non-commercial compositions when he reached his 60s. Harrison’s acquaintance with his son led to her being coached by the composer himself in the playing of this sonata, and it shows: it’s not only the strongest and most assured work on the CD, but also draws the most committed and convincing playing from the performers. It’s a fine ending to a very interesting CD. Say what you will about Antonio Vivaldi – and despite the huge popularity of his music, he isn’t everyone’s favourite composer – his voice is unmistakeable. We’ve all heard the old line – that Vivaldi didn’t write 500 concertos but wrote the same concerto 500 times – but the truth is that despite the continuous sequences, circles of fifths, arpeggios, scales and rhythmic patterns that tend to obscure the frequent absence of any real melodic material, there is a delightful freshness and inventiveness and a sense of spontaneity that runs throughout his instrumental music. TERRY ROBBINS before the final Concerto in C Major for Two Trumpets, Strings and Continuo RV537, whose familiar opening three notes will immediately bring to mind the closing doors on a TTC subway car for Toronto residents; the dazzling third movement brings to a close a CD that is a pure delight from start to finish. The orchestral texture is warm and bright, with a discreet and beautifully balanced continuo and a clear and resonant recorded sound. The young Spanish ensemble Trio Rodin is featured in a lovely CD of music of their homeland with Enrique Granados Chamber Music with Piano (Ævea Æ16013). Chamber music was a neglected field in late 19th-century Spain, a situation that Granados addressed in his compositions; his Piano Trio Op.50 was one of two chamber works that he performed on his debut in Madrid’s musical society in 1895. It’s an attractive work that allows all three performers here to showcase their technique, their warm tone and their ensemble skills. For this recording Trio Rodin worked from the autograph manuscript source, apparently only recently identified. Pianist Jorge Mengotti is joined by cellist Esther García in the three pieces Madrigal, Danza gallega and Trova, all adapted from previous Granados works and all dedicated to Pablo Casals. The remaining eight tracks on the CD feature violinist Carles Puig. Romanza is a lovely, lyrical miniature that brings sensitive playing from the duo. The Tres preludios are extremely short (less than four minutes in total) but quite effective. The unfinished Sonata for Violin and Piano completes the disc. It dates from the same period as the Piano Trio, but until fairly recently the beautifully rhapsodic first movement was thought to be all that was completed; Trio Rodin, however, found a completed second movement in the same manuscript source as the Piano Trio, together with very brief opening fragments for an Andante and a Finale; all the material is presented here. The works here are all finely crafted and beautifully played, with an exceptionally clean recorded sound. Every now and then a CD comes along that reminds you how easily you can lose track of contemporary composers and their works if your focus is always on the standard repertoire and the established, traditional composers, and how much of real value you can consequently miss. Visit TheWholeNote.com/Listening These qualities are more than captured in Vivaldi, the outstanding new CD from Les Violons du Roy under Mathieu Lussier (ATMA ACD2 2602). Moreover, the six concertos here display the wide range of solo combinations that Vivaldi used, as 16 of the orchestra members are featured as soloists. Just look at the range of works: the two Concertos in F Major for Violin, Two Oboes, Bassoon, Two Horns, Strings and Continuo RV569 and RV574; the Concerto in B Minor for Four Violins, Cello, Strings and Continuo RV580; the Concerto in G Minor for Violin, Two Recorders, Two Oboes, Bassoon, Strings and Continuo RV577; and the Concerto in E Minor for Four Violins, Strings and Continuo RV550. There is a brief Sinfonia from the opera La verità in cimento, RV739 'Glassworlds Vol. 3' reveals the "Metamorphosis" in Glass’s work from his '80s film and theatre transcriptions, through "The Olympian", composed for the Los Angeles Olympiad, to rarities such as "Coda". Despite the popularity of Khachaturian’s ballet music, his works for piano have been relatively neglected. This CD combines arrangements of popular pieces with less familiar works. thewholenote.com April 1, 2016 - May 7, 2016 | 71

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