7 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 8 - May 2016

  • Text
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Festival
  • Arts
  • Symphony
  • Quartet
  • Choir
  • Theatre
  • Musical
  • Bach
INSIDE: The Canaries Are Here! 116 choirs to choose from, so take the plunge! The Nylons hit the road after one last SING! Fling. Jazz writer Steve Wallace wonders "Watts Goode" rather than "what's new?" Paul Ennis has the musical picks of the HotDocs crop. David Jaeger's CBC Radio continues golden for a little while yet. Douglas McNabney is Music's Child. Leipzig meets Damascus in Alison Mackay's fertile imagination. And "C" is for KRONOS in Wende Bartley's koverage of the third annual 21C Festival. All this and as usual much much more. Enjoy.

company. This is,

company. This is, apparently, Stephan Krehl’s debut on CD, as it is for the Larchmere String Quartet, based at the University of Evansville in Indiana. Krehl (1864-1924) was a fixture at the Leipzig Conservatory as student, teacher and author of books on theory and composition, eventually becoming the conservatory’s director. Although a contemporary of Mahler and Richard Strauss, Krehl was no forwardlooking stylistic adventurer, instead drawing inspiration from Schumann, Brahms and one of his predecessors as Leipzig Conservatory director, Mendelssohn. Yet for all his looking backward and academic credentials, the music on this CD never sounds imitative or academic. The performances are similarly un-stodgy, expressive and vivacious. Krehl’s String Quartet Op.17, published in 1899, is filled with attractive, yearning melodies and unexpected, engaging changes of texture, tempo and rhythm. In the Clarinet Quintet Op.19, the strings are joined by Wonkak Kim, professor at Tennessee Tech and a regular Naxos artist. Krehl’s Quintet, published in 1902, is patterned on that of Brahms, even being written for and dedicated to clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld, for whom Brahms had composed his Quintet. Again, we are treated to wistful melodies, imaginative part-writing and frequent, effective changes of mood. Considering Krehl’s obscurity, I was happily surprised by just how good and downright enjoyable this music is, with lovely melodies and attention-holding narratives. Naxos, more Krehl, please. Michael Schulman Walter Braunfels: Don Juan; Symphonic Variations on an Old French Nursery Song Altenburg-Gera Philharmonic Orchestra; Markus L. Frank Capriccio CD C5250 !! Born in Frankfurt am Main, Walter Braunfels (1882-1954) was the best, most well-equipped of the German composers whom the Nazis managed to sideline completely after their ascension to power in 1933. Braunfels seems to have been the most surprised at being outed as a Jew since he considered himself a staunch, practising Roman Catholic. He was already in mid-career, having produced a string of major compositions. In fact, the Cologne Conservatory had been especially formed around Braunfels as principal. He belongs in the same user-friendly idiom as Richard Strauss although he sounds nothing like Strauss. He had already written his operatic masterpiece, The Birds, an excellent recording of which can be found on Decca in their Entartete Kunst series. Three of his other operas enjoy fine recordings. Don Juan was written when the composer was at the pinnacle of his career. This is very much the Don Giovanni of Mozart, specifically the Champagne Aria upon which there are seven entertaining variations. It was premiered by Wilhelm Furtwängler in 1924. The Symphonic Variations on an Old French Nursery Song dates from 1909 and remained in the repertoire until 1933 when it was banned. It is a thoughtful, more serious work, beautifully orchestrated. Neither work presents any challenges to the musicians or the listener. In case you’re wondering, in 2001 the Provincial Orchestra of Altenburg amalgamated with Philharmonic Orchestra of Gera, forming an orchestra that honours the centuries-old traditions of both cities. Bruce Surtees Copland – Orchestral Works I: Ballets BBC Philharmonic; John Wilson Chandos CHSA 5164 !! In 1979, I interviewed Aaron Copland and asked him how he, a boy from Brooklyn (like myself), developed such a feel for Western and rural America. “That’s not so odd,” he answered. “There’s a whole legendary feeling about the West. I think any young American, wherever he might live, would have some sort of feel about the wide open spaces. Beyond that, it’s just a feat of the imagination.” Copland’s imagined wide-open spaces are front-and-centre in this CD’s three ballet suites. The cowboy ballets Billy the Kid (Billy – another Brooklynite!) and Rodeo receive atmospheric, colourful readings with emphasized percussion. (The booklet notes identify Rodeo choreographer Agnes de Mille as Cecil B.’s daughter; she was his niece.) In Appalachian Spring, conductor Wilson underlines “the spaces between the notes,” building a grand climax on the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts. The CD opens with an unusually slow and sombre Fanfare for the Common Man, followed by Wilson’s less-than-raucous treatment of El Salón México, Copland’s musical postcard from a Mexican dancehall. (Though not intended for the stage, it has occasionally been choreographed.) Aided by brilliant recorded sound, Wilson’s measured approach adds uncommon depth and dignity to these works, often tossed off as pops repertoire. The Roman numeral “I” on the cover indicates more Copland CDs are planned. Here’s hoping the unjustly neglected film scores will finally get the comprehensive coverage they deserve. In any event, the series is off to a promising start. Michael Schulman MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Intersystems Intersystems Alga Marghen Number One ( !! Intersystems’ outer limits musique concrète began as the soundtrack to the suitably named “Mind Excursion” event at the University of Toronto in 1967. This immersive environment filled ten rooms with sights, sounds and smells for a sensory overloading psychedelic experience. The team behind this “electrosonic presentation” was sculptor Michael Hayden, architect Dick Zander, electronic composer John Mills-Cockell and poet Blake Parker. Over the next two years, Intersystems masterminded a series of similarly mind-massaging installations along with three albums, now lovingly enshrined in this lavish box set from Italy’s Alga Marghen. The reproduced sleeve of 1967’s Intersystems Number One credits Mills- Cockell’s “musical visitations” and Parker’s “chaste mouthings,” as introduced on the immortal Orange Juice & Velvet Underwear. Scraping strings and hypnotic drones propel Parker’s deadpan conjuring of “gentle boys,” “smells of oranges” and “marmalade on velvet.” As Nick Storring offers in his essay, “it may be the most typically capitalp Psychedelic cut of their entire catalog,” but simply sets the scene for what’s to come. Parker’s blending of the sensual with the surreal and the banal never quite becomes clear in the shimmering subaquatics of Intersystems’ debut. Sonic equivalents of his Burroughsian cut-ups are John Cale’s The Gift, Throbbing Gristle’s Hamburger Lady or the foghorn oration in an ocean of din from Bill Exley of the Nihilist Spasm Band (later signed to Intersystems’ label Allied Records on Hayden’s suggestion.) Parker’s poetry is far more kitchen sink, yet its power is felt subliminally, changing the temperature in any room where it’s played. As Mills-Cockell explains in his essay, a device called “The Coffin” created the ominous acousmatics of Intersystems Number One. This satin-lined box was the resting place for piano wire, tuning pegs and contact mics to switch between ghostly samples like a radio station from beyond. By 1968’s Peachy, he had become one of Canada’s earliest owners of a Moog Mark II synthesizer, voyaging even further out. Peachy opener Experienced Not Watched is comparable to the prog fantasias of Mills- Cockell’s later project Syrinx, but proves to be another fakeout. Intersystems’ masterpiece flows through a jump-cut collage of sputtering sound effects, orchestral swells and 70 | May 1, 2016 - June 7, 2016

Parker’s disembodied Dalek buzzing. Their final album, Free Psychedelic Poster Inside, amps up the agitation with lobe-slicing sine waves and seasick stereo pans, alongside the story of a “plastic” couple on the brink. Emerging from this spawning pool, Mills- Cockell’s Moog would be employed by the likes of Kensington Market, Bruce Cockburn and Anne Murray. He would see brighter lights, but these avant-garde origins deserve a flashback. Nearly 50 years later, the remastered LPs are packaged with 132 densely packed pages of images and essays, finally giving listeners the chance to lucidly experience Intersystems’ mind excursions in the mind’s eye. Jesse Locke Ana Sokolović – Folklore Imaginaire Ensemble Transmission Naxos 8.573304 !! Folklore Imaginaire is the name of Serbian-born Canadian composer Ana Sokolović’s newest CD. With six works performed by Montreal’s Ensemble Transmission, a mixed chamber ensemble for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion and piano, the recording is a vibrant demonstration of the rhythmic vitality and scope of Sokolović’s compositional talents. Each piece is scored for different combinations of instruments, ranging from the haunting and atmospheric sounds of bass flute and piano in Un bouquet de brume to the effervescent Ciaccona for the full ensemble. One of the most striking characteristics of Sokolović’s music is the influence of her roots in Balkan music. Her music never descends into pastiche folk music, but rather it’s the driving spirit of her heritage that shines through in unique ways in dialogue with her own creative strategies. Her sense of humour is evident particularly in Portrait parle, a trio for violin, cello and piano, in which she uses a police document from around 1900 that gives tips on how to describe the human body when filing criminal reports. She uses these depictions of the forehead, hair, nose and lips, for example, as a basis for her musical transformations. In Mesh, she uses the instructions for how to use a hair dryer as her inspiration. Sokolović’s music appeals to a wide variety of listeners. Her ear for unique sonorities combined with classically based strategies for musical transformation blended with a dynamic pulse that runs throughout each piece makes this CD a multi-varied and rich listening experience. Wendalyn Bartley Higgs Ocean – Music for Gamelan and String Quartet Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan; Quatuor Bozzini Artifact Music ART-042 ( !! Toronto’s Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan has just released a superb CD entitled Higgs Ocean that features five works for the ECCG performing on their unique Indonesianbased bronze and wood instruments in counterpoint with the sounds of the Quatuor Bozzini string quartet – a daring combination of soundworlds, cultures, tunings and timbres. Since their beginnings in 1983, the ECCG have been steadily building a repertoire of works through the commissioning of Canadian and international composers. This CD is no exception with five commissioned works composed by Canadians. The first, In the High Branches by Linda Catlin Smith, tackles head-on the fundamental challenge in pairing the two groups of instruments. Smith calls it an “oil and water situation.” Her solution was to allow both ensembles to have their own distinctive space to establish their identities. Gradually one hears these two worlds merging in such a way that they blend seamlessly. Smith’s work sets the stage for the remaining pieces, each of which handle this challenge in different ways whether that be through the use of repeating rhythmic patterns and melodic motives, such as in Michael Oesterle’s Higgs Ocean and Ana Sokolović’s In Between or the more starkly pointillist style in Spe Salvi by Petar-Kresimir Klanac. One distinctive feature in Sokolović’s piece is the use of glissandi on the flutelike suling that swoop and soar around the string and gong-like textures. Overall, the CD displays a sense of surety and conviction in its exploration and blending of two cultural legacies. Wendalyn Bartley Amorisms – Music of Paul Moravec Portara Ensemble; ALIAS Chamber Ensemble Delos DE 3470 The word amorism is defined as the state of someone who is preoccupied with love and lovemaking or with writing about love. Certainly the case with the Elizabethans; Shakespeare was surely the most prolific in this regard. Composer Paul Moravec joked that “William Shakespeare is a sort of silent partner who has been very good to me over the years.” Two of the three works on this recording, Amorisms and Tempest Fantasy, are based on the Bard’s works. In writing Amorisms, which was jointly commissioned by ALIAS Chamber Ensemble, vocal ensemble Portara and the Nashville Ballet, Moravec speaks of the challenges of writing engaging music for both, whilst not detracting from the dance performance. The resultant music, with recurring, carefully pruned texts, provides a gorgeous and evocative palette to enhance the stage performance. The second work on the album, Tempest Fantasy, earned the composer a Pulitzer Prize in 2004. Scored for violin, cello, clarinet and piano, each of the first three movements evokes one of the play’s characters: the sprightly Ariel, the mystic Prospero and the earthy Caliban. A fourth movement portrays the island soundscapes and the finale a challenging flight of fancy only for the most adept of players; ALIAS certainly rises to the task. The outstanding Portara vocal ensemble joins the instrumentalists again for the third work on the recording, Sacred Love Songs, settings of biblical texts as well as the Prayer of St. Francis, with an instrumental interlude as the penultimate movement. Dianne Wells Hand Eye Eighth Blackbird Cedille CDR 90000 162 !! Hot off their fourth Grammy Award win (2016 Best Small Ensemble/Chamber Music Performance for Filament) Eighth Blackbird’s latest record Hand Eye might be better described as a natural phenomenon – an autonomous, multimedia collage which seems to have arisen inevitably from the storm of information whirling in a data-saturated world. For this project, Eighth Blackbird, all Oberlin alumni, collaborated with the composer supergroup Sleeping Giant, all Yale alumni. The two groups are made up of six members each, a handsome symmetry which is artfully exploited here: for each piece, one composer paired up with one performer to develop a work centering around that performer’s particular instrument. This is just one of Hand Eye’s organizational layers, however. In another, the composers take inspiration from works of art in the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation for Art collection; in yet another the six pieces form one continuous narrative with a motivic continuity that is perceptible on the first listen. As such, Hand Eye is meant to be taken in all at once – but there are certainly standout works. By-By Huey (by Ted Hearne) marshals bass clarinet wails, Ligeti-esque muted piano ostinati and a solo jazz piano pastiche into something not only internally coherent, but coherent with the works which surround May 1, 2016 - June 7, 2016 | 71

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