4 years ago

Volume 22 Issue 4 - December 2016/January 2017

  • Text
  • December
  • Toronto
  • Arts
  • January
  • Symphony
  • February
  • Jazz
  • Performing
  • Choir
  • Orchestra
  • Volume
In this issue: a conversation with pianist Stewart Goodyear, in advance of his upcoming show at Koerner Hall; a preview of the annual New Year’s phenomenon that is Bravissimo!/Salute to Vienna; an inside look at music performance in Toronto’s health-care centres; and a reflection on the incredible life and lasting influence of the late Pauline Oliveros. These and more, in a special December/January combined issue!

lyrical approach in this

lyrical approach in this work. All three movements of the concerto maintain a constant, mercurial energy leavened with explosive outpourings of orchestral frenzy. This is tough music to love, but easy to admire. Daniel Foley Wind blown – Sonatas for wind instruments by Peter Hope Various Artists Divine Art dda 25137 ( !! Wistful sentiments dominate the opening moments of most of the works on this collection of wind music by British composer Peter Hope. His music can be called contemporary in terms of date (all six works were composed in the space of six years, between 2009 and 2015) but in character it’s all unabashedly anachronistic. As capably written as the pieces are, one can only imagine Hope has determined that the harmonic and rhythmic language of the most conservative 20th-century composers is sufficient to his artistic needs. The writing for recorder goes even further back in time, echoing the pre- Baroque era with open parallel harmonies. He ventures into the popular idioms of jazz and klezmer styles, which sadly come off as cliché to such a jaded ear as mine. It is music that remains by the hearth in the library, caftanwrapped, brandy snifter at hand, faithful hound at its feet. It is comfortable and, for those seeking such, comforting. All performances are quite good, and the production is untainted by excessive reverb, the sound clean and direct. The piano balances the soloists on all the sonatas, while remaining clear and forthright. The instruments are each presented with all their idiosyncrasies, close-miked enough to catch tone-hole whistles yet not such that any warts are apparent. Kudos to engineer Richard Scott for capturing a soundscape so familiar to the undergraduate ear – that of the academic recital hall – in this case the one at Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Max Christie A Land So Luminous – Music by Richard Causton; Kenneth Hesketh Continuum Ensemble; Philip Headlam Prima Facie PFCD051 ( !! In 1993, two Canadians – pianistconductor Philip Headlam and pianist Douglas Finch – co-founded Britain’s Continuum Ensemble specializing in L/R L/R contemporary music. Here they present first recordings of works by two prominent English composers, both in their 40s but very different stylistically. Kenneth Hesketh’s A Land So Luminous for violin and piano and IMMH for solo cello feature fragmentary outbursts, prolonged pauses and directionless meandering. In IMMH, an “imagined shamanic ritual, marking the passage from life to death,” the cellist plucks, bows, vocalizes and knocks on the cello’s body, but with no discernible trajectory. Hesketh’s three-movement Cautionary Tales for clarinet, violin and piano was adapted from his five-movement Netsuke for large ensemble. Both works ostensibly depict literary “events and characters” but offer only more fragments, silences and meandering. Five engrossing pieces by Richard Causton follow, providing welcome contrast. Threnody for soprano, two clarinets and piano is a moody setting of a Russian anti-war poem from 1915. His 13-minute Rituals of Hunting and Blooding, two movements for large ensemble, would make an effective ballet score, with its wildly syncopated rhythms of the chase followed by the solemn initiations of hunters being ceremonially marked with their prey’s blood. Sleep for solo flute is a dignified elegy, commissioned by a widower in memory of his wife. Finally, Douglas Finch plays two atmospheric piano pieces, Non Mi Comporto Male and Night Piece, contemplative homages, respectively, to Fats Waller and Mozart. One thumb down; one thumb up. Michael Schulman Richard Danielpour – Songs of Solitude; War Songs Thomas Hampson; Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero Naxos 8.559772 !! On the day the Twin Towers fell, Richard Danielpour was at the composers’ retreat in Aaron Copland’s former Peekskill, NY, home. His artistic response to 9/11 was to begin work on Songs of Solitude, settings of six scathing Yeats poems. Danielpour’s melodic, rhythmic and colouristic predilections link him to Copland and Bernstein, two fellow New Yorkbased composers of Jewish ancestry. Echoes of Copland appear in the cycle’s orchestral opening and closing; Bernstein is channelled in the jazzy Drinking Song. The longest song, lasting nine of the cycle’s 28 minutes, sets Yeats’s most famous poem, The Second Coming, but the music fails to match the power of these often-quoted lines. There’s power aplenty, though, in War Songs (2008), inspired, writes Danielpour, by photographs of young soldiers killed in Iraq. Set to haunting Civil War poems by Walt Whitman, four dirge-like, elegiac songs precede the shattering final song, Come up from the Fields Father, at 11 minutes, nearly half the cycle’s duration. I was left both shaken and stirred. Both cycles were composed for baritone Thomas Hampson, here in characteristically fine voice, fully expressive of the words (texts are included). Michael Schulman Transformations Aaron Tindall, tuba; various ensembles Bridge Records 9471 ( L/R !! The convergence on this disc of hornplaying composer Gunther Schuller (1925-2015) and tuba virtuoso Aaron Tindall in Concerto No.2 for Contrabass Tuba and Symphony Orchestra (2008) is highly successful. Professional French horn player Schuller’s orchestration skills and affinity for low-registered instruments are evident; at the opening the solo tuba emerges wonderfully from darkness. With the Ithaca College Symphony Orchestra under Jeffrey Meyer, Tindall gives an adept, eloquent recording of this mostly expressionist concerto. Horn-tuba affinity recurs in Dana Wilson’s (b.1946) Concerto for Tuba and Wind Ensemble (2013). It begins with an offstage horn echoing the tuba, and continues with motifs over a minimalist weave. Tindall’s melodic shaping and building together with the Ithaca Wind Ensemble in the second movement is remarkable, but unfortunately the composer’s turn to a jazz finale is awkward. Harmonien (2006) by Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) is played here on tuba, not the original bass clarinet. Including a wealth of sounds and processes, it is a solo tour de force for Tindall. The composer’s claims of colour and time-of-day associations do not resonate with me, though. The bold Are You Experienced? for electric tuba, narrator, and chamber orchestra (1987- 89) by David Lang (b.1957) would ideally be best experienced live or on DVD. Its imaginative take on the situation of having received a brain injury breaks new ground, and Tindall’s evocation of Jimmy Hendrix’s fuzz-tone guitar on the electric tuba is truly amazing! Roger Knox Vyacheslav Artyomov – Symphony Gentle Emanation; Tristia II Russian National Orchestra; Teodor Currentzis; Vladimir Ponkin Divine Art dda 25144 Artyomov – Symphony on the Threshold of a Bright World; Ave Atque Vale; Ave, Crux Alba 84 | December 1, 2016 - February 7, 2017

National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia; Vladimir Ashkenazy Divine Art dda 25143 ( !! Vyacheslav Artyomov was preparing for a life in astrophysics, but these two symphonies (parts of a tetralogy) are unlike The Planets, unless you think of them as uber-Holst: they cause a visceral reaction and suggest a metaphysical cri de cœur. My initial reaction to them was that they sounded like the soundtrack of some 1940s film noir or an original-series Star Trek episode – which is apt, since they embody mystery and the unknown. In his essay, Musica Perennis, the composer said “Serious music is created by the spirit for the Spirit,” and these twinreleased CDs reflect his view of music as a mediator between God and man, but also as science. While I find the Threshold of a Bright World symphony more arresting than the Gentle Emanation, they are both accessible, and while Artyomov is often compared to Arvo Pärt, I hear a little more of Rautavaara. The orchestration in Ave Atque Vale and Gentle Emanation is a little jarring due to the highlighting of the percussion parts. But Ave, Crux Alba, a choral (Helikon Theatre Choir) and orchestral setting of the Hymn of the Knights of Malta, returns to the majesty and mystery Artyomov is known for in his musical quest for spirituality. Tristia II, based on the 19th-century poems of Nikolai Gogol and with spoken parts read by Russian actor Mikhail Philippov, carries on the potential-soundtrack feel and allows us non–Russian speakers to hear the cries of the artist to God for inspiration; the suspense in the middle tracks suggests Him mulling the petitions over. Both CDs are in memoriam of the composer’s friend and colleague, Mstislav Rostropovich, and both have expansive liner notes. Vanessa Wells Slow Bend See Through Two All-Set! A8007 ( Famous Wildlife Movies Mike Smith All-Set! A8006 ( Another Helpful Medicine Aurochs All-Set! A8004 ( Margins See Through 5 All-Set! A8005 ( !! The All-Set! Imprint is fast becoming a beacon of originality as a fast-growing world of boutique and independent contemporary music labels. Its penchant for featuring artful cover graphics that appear more inclined towards corporate identity than visually describing musical content is unusual, to say the least. But nothing could prepare the listener for what to hear on each of their releases; not even the names of rather well-known experimental musicians whose work lies within each release. A case in point is Slow Bend by the bass duo See Through Two. On this masterful performance by Rob Clutton (bass, banjo and fretless Fender bass) and Pete Johnston (bass) we glimpse music from quite another realm of bass violin, with the sound of the banjo providing not just relief, but occasionally elevating the music to the upper layers of this tonal realm. The personality of each piece is characterized by the rhythmic brevity of its title but often takes the dallying conversation between the two bassists to fascinating harmonic spaces. This adventure that takes as its starting point, in place of metric lassitude, a steady beat which is then stretched and moulded with infinite varieties of rubato. As a result, the rather explicitly titled Range that begins the set to Trail, which suggests not the end, perhaps, but the beginning of another journey, the refreshing overall impression is of a great colouristic soundscape that is rather dynamic and rich in possibility. In addition to Slow Bend, but completely different in every aspect of music, recent releases have also included Mike Smith’s Famous Wildlife Movies, a fascinating collection of pieces which emerges as an epic in miniature for large ensemble performed with special authority and élan. Two years after Aurochs’ Rational Animals comes Another Helpful Medicine, which seems to have been created in a crucible ignited by an explosion of collective imagination. Finally the recent collection of releases includes Margins by See Through 5, a quintet whose music is characterized by its gaunt sonority, laser-like projection, finely calibrated articulation and uncanny rhythmic equilibrium. Raul da Gama Concert note: All Set! founder Mike Smith’s the Mike Smith Company is featured in “Moondog 100” along with Nexus Percussion and guest vocalist Suba Sankarin on December 3 at the Music Gallery. JAZZ AND IMPROVISED John MacMurchy’s Art of Breath Volume One John MacMurchy Independent ( !! Toronto woodwind stalwart John MacMurchy has produced a sonically refreshing album that manages to combine sophistication and accessibility across a variety of musical genres. The eight original compositions contained in Art of Breath flow together in a natural way, a testament to MacMurchy’s writing and arranging skills. The somewhat unusual instrumentation, a septet augmented by vocals and a string quartet, makes for a broad colour palette. The front line of MacMurchy’s tenor saxophone, clarinet and harmonica, Bruce Cassidy’s trumpet, flugelhorn and EVI (electronic valve instrument) and Dan Ionescu’s guitar provide a large ensemble sound with a few twists. Alan Hetherington’s highly informed percussion work adds a nice touch of groove and authenticity to the tracks. Expat Cafe introduces most of the band with Ionescu’s slightly overdriven guitar tone and soaring approach giving way to pianist Mark Kieswetter’s patiently constructed and harmonically lush solo. MacMurchy and Cassidy build intensity with spirited trading on tenor and EVI. Working Title Blues evokes Art Blakey in its soul jazz vibe and boporiented improvisation. Drummer Daniel Barnes and bassist Ross McIntyre swing hard and make concise solo contributions. Vocalist Whitney Ross-Barris is also the lyricist of Now You’ve Gone Away. Her understated style and economy of phrasing lend themselves perfectly to the Latin-tinged ballad, as does the atmospheric string quartet arrangement and MacMurchy’s soulful harmonica. Yvette Tollar brings her rich voice and poignant delivery to Dandelion Wine, MacMurchy’s hauntingly beautiful elegy to a departed friend. Ted Quinlan It’s Easy to Remember Corey Weeds Quintet featuring David Hazeltine Cellar Live CL031716 ( !! Vancouver tenor saxophonist Cory Weeds teams up with New York pianist David Hazeltine in this impressive live outing. Recorded at December 1, 2016 - February 7, 2017 | 85

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