6 years ago

Volume 22 Issue 8 - May 2017

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  • Toronto
  • Arts
  • Musical
  • Jazz
  • Festival
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From science fact in "Integral Man: Music and the Movies," to science fiction in the editor's opener; from World Fiddle Day at the Aga Khan Museum to three Canadians at the Cliburn; from wanting to sashay across the 401 to Chamberfest in Montreal to exploring the Continuum of Jumblies Theatre's 20-year commitment to the Community Play (there's a pun in there somewhere!).

Solo invention is one

Solo invention is one thing, but how does an improvising cellist interact with fellow players? Very well, even as in the case of Relephant (Borcian Records, the meeting is an unconventional strong-percussion mating with American cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and Polish drummer Adam Golebiewski. Although de Beauport still retains traces of so-called classical technique, Lonberg-Holm pushes that to one side, using electronic connection and extended techniques that are often as astringent as a hail storm and just as clangorous to work alongside. Involved with every manner of objects that can be banged or vibrated, the percussionist strikes rims, bells and wood blocks as often as drum tops and is more likely to be shaving jagged timbres from his cymbals than resonating them. That said, each of the four untitled selections vibrates with such a collection of airy, metallic and sometimes sheer unidentifiable timbres that it’s often a toss-up as to which instrument plays which lick. On the penultimate and longest track for instance after Lonberg-Holm’s early spiccato and sul ponticello arco strategies have extracted imaginative tones and extended partials from the mix, he begins guitar-like strums only to quickly abandon the picking for screeching shuffle bowing to challenge the drummer’s J Arthur Ranklike cymbal resonation and later rattles and shakes from percussion add-ons. Ending with a polyrhythmic sequence, percussion pops are heard alongside brass-like near-capillary sounds from Golebiewski, matched by comparable strident string slashes which also take on valve instrument colouration. Hard and thick with no leavening sweetness, the final selection brings bird-of-prey-like wheezing from the cellist and thunderstorm-like percussion reverb forward for a heightened crescendo, finally ending with drum plops and string angling that vibrate to the end. Another strategy that has developed is the use of the cello in the place of a double bass in a jazz combo. That’s Miguel Mira’s contribution to tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado’s Motion Trio. During the selections on Desire & Freedom (NotTwo MW 946-2 nottwo. com) which also includes drummer Gabriel Ferrandini, the trio expresses itself in streamof-consciousness improvisations with the saxophonist exploring every nuance of the sound as Sonny Rollins and Dewey Redman did in similar situations. Meanwhile Mira’s plucks, feints and squeaks follow alongside Amado’s glottal punctuation. The most telling instance of this is on the concluding Responsibility. Halfway through, the cellist creates a vibrating solo, indistinguishable from that of a walking bass line and with the rhythmic power to match the saxophonist’s propelled split tones. By the time the foottapping extravaganza is complete it appears that both have exposed every timbral extension possible. Here and elsewhere, Ferrandini’s unforced clanks and rattles pace the other two like a moderator faced with impassioned speakers in a political debate. On Freedom Is a Two-Edged Sword, controlled thwacks from cello and drums properly situate the reedist’s exposition which bites rodent-like into the theme. Comfortable with gopher hole-like low growls and stratospheric cries, Amado’s reed motion can also be expressed in a more moderate fashion as he demonstrates on Liberty. With his narrative shaded to a deeper tone, while still multiphonic, the plinking strings and cymbal vibrations shadow him like a resolute foxhound as he develops theme variations and helps smooth the narrative down to soothing slurs by the finale. Another variation on this theme is exhibited by Toronto’s Ugly Beauties. On Strange Attractors (, Matt Brubeck’s cello takes the double bass role as well as what’s expected from the so-called classical cello in this ten-year-old aggregation with equal input from pianist Marilyn Lerner and drummer Nick Fraser. Although the cello’s natural melancholy tone is evoked when slow motion bends connect with variable piano patterning on Blue Violins and in contrast squirms and vibrates in tandem with the spontaneous joy emanating from the keyboard on the title tune, the true test of its adaptability comes in What Now? With the cellist initially skipping through the narrative like an inspired toddler, Lerner’s confirmed adults-only rendition of jazzy variations matures Brubeck’s output enough to replicate a walking bass line. Finally the cello’s resonation becomes tough enough to intersect with Fraser’s rolls and pops. Later, in a Januslike demonstration of four-string versatility, the cello’s low pitches create a bluesy introduction to Sniffin’ Around, adding smacks on the wood for extra percussiveness as the pianist busily speeds up her chording to suggest terpsichorean movements. While other tunes like Fragments of a Dream and Broken Glass play up the cello’s solid chamber-music-like tones, Holometabolous, the extended free improvisation which ends the set confirms that staccato string torquing and descriptive glissandi are not only atonally effective but also are the equivalent mates for the pianist’s long-lined kinetics and string stopping. Overall the material somehow manages to combine a heavyweight boxer’s rough reach with the delicacy of a ballet dancer’s jetés. Moving further into the abstract realm is Raw (Leo Records CD LR 766 More cerebral than coarse, the CD shows how the unconventional Swiss string trio of cellist Alfred Zimmerlin, violinist Harald Kimmig and double bassist Daniel Studer adapt its variant of modern chamber music with the addition of British tenor and soprano saxophonist John Butcher. An individualistic blend of sharp angling, judders and stretched asides, Kimmig-Studer-Zimmerlin (KSZ) relates to a string trio only in the same way a cat and tiger are both felines. But its idiosyncratic variables make the saxophonist’s slurs and split tones the ideal complement to the trio-developed sound. Separated by protracted periods of near-inaudibility and silences, the results are something like the proverbial blind taste tests. Which timbres can be attributed to the reedist and which to strings? The giveaway on tracks such as the extended A Short Night with a Light Beam of the Moon are when Butcher’s circular breathing, multiphonics or tongue slaps audaciously confirm his identity. Overall though, the string trio’s angled unison allows reed trills to arise organically from within the KSZ’s practised interface. Reed-and-metal plus wood-andstrings blending demonstrate congruence most obviously on Morning Star Shining on Hydrangea, as first Zimmerlin, then Butcher, sound near-identical caustic echoes before string rubs and reed bites sweep to silence. Although less raw than imagined, a CD like this demonstrates the cello’s versatile skill in solo and group situations, just as pushing it another way on some of the other discs confirms its rhythmic function. Using imagination and skill, cellists have found a place for themselves in improvised music that probably could never be imagined by those who support conventional techniques. Click to listen. Click to buy. Visit the listening Room online at 80 | May 1, 2017 - June 7, 2017

Old Wine, New Bottles Fine Old Recordings Re-Released BRUCE SURTEES As the years go by, fewer and fewer people recognize or remember Grace Bumbry. One of her era’s greatest sopranos, Bumbry was born in St. Louis, Missouri on January 4, 1937. Her father was a railroad porter and her mother a schoolteacher. Aged 17, she was awarded the first prize at a local radio station, singing O don fatale from Don Carlos. One of the prizes was a scholarship to the local conservatory that happened to be segregated and declined to accept her. The promoters arranged for her to attend the Boston University College of Fine Arts, later transferring to Northwestern University. There she met Lotte Lehmann with whom she later studied in Santa Barbara, California, Lehmann becoming her early mentor. In 1958, she was a joint winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions with soprano Martina Arroyo and later that year, she made her recital debut in Paris. Her operatic debut was at the Paris Opera in 1960 singing Amneris in Aida. At an audition in Cologne where Wolfgang Sawallisch was looking for a new Carmen, she was passed over but Sawallisch sent her name to Wieland Wagner who was casting a new Tannhäuser. At her audition in Bayreuth she told Wagner that “I didn’t have a single German work in my repertory, to which he replied, ‘That doesn’t matter, just sing what you can do best’ and the best thing I could sing then was O don fatale from Don Carlo. After the audition I was sitting backstage…at the point of gathering my things and leaving when Wagner’s assistant…took me to Wagner’s office…where Wieland asked me ‘Frau Bumbry, can you imagine being our new Venus?’” The 1961 production of Tannhäuser was a triumph all around but particularly for Bumbry, the first black singer to appear in Bayreuth. Conservative opera goers were most offended at the very thought but by the end of the performance she had won over the audience and there followed 30 minutes of applause and 42 curtain calls for “Bayreuth’s Black Venus.” Her career was assured and for decades she was in demand in opera houses around the world including Toronto, where from September 20 to October 4, 1975 we saw and heard her in Richard Strauss’ Salome. I recall it well. Over her performing career which lasted well into the 1990s she first sang as a mezzo, then a soprano and back to a mezzo although she was sometimes critiqued as not a true soprano. A broad crosssection of her recordings has been collected in The Art of Grace Bumbry (DG 482 7626, 8 CDs and 1 DVD). Quite unexpected are elegant performances of two Handel oratorios produced by Westminster in which she sings as an alto. Handel’s Israel in Egypt (1957) and Judas Maccabaeus (1958) were conducted by Maurice Abravanel and recorded in the Assembly Hall in Salt Lake City with soloists, including Martina Arroyo in Maccabaeus, the Utah Symphony Orchestra and the University of Utah Chorus. The fifth CD features the great arias from the works of Handel, Gluck, Mascagni, Bizet, Gounod, Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky, Falla and Verdi including, as expected, O don fatale. Disc 6 has Verdi and Wagner arias plus six Lieder by Brahms. The seventh is all Lieder by Schubert, Brahms, Liszt, Wolf and Richard Strauss. CD 8, With Love, is a pop collection from 1995 including Just Like a Woman, Smile, My Way and a duet with Dionne Warwick, Sometimes When We Touch. The final disc is a knockout, a DVD of Carmen, one of her celebrated roles, from 1967 with Jon Vickers, Mirella Freni, et al. with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan. The audio was recorded in the Musikverein in June and the video in August in Munich. The lip syncing is perfect and the illusion of being in the presence of a live performance is utterly convincing. The believable performances by the principals in their heyday and all those on stage backed by the vitality and sonorities generated by the orchestra certainly make this a version to covet. Theo Adam, the bass-baritone who celebrated his 90th birthday last August, is still to be heard in countless recordings made over the second half of the 20th century. Born in Dresden, he first sang with the Dresden Kreuzchor and later studied with Rudolf Dietrich making his professional operatic debut in 1949, singing the hermit in Der Freischütz at the Semperoper. In 1952 he joined the Berlin State Opera, the same year that he appeared in Bayreuth in a small role. He returned to Bayreuth each year, winning roles in Parsifal and Lohengrin, Fasolt in the 1958 Das Rheingold and, at last, his first of a series as Wotan in the 1963 production of the Ring Cycle. Adam’s voice has a quite recognizable edge and is not fatiguing in any setting from Bach to Mozart to Berg, from grand opera to sacred music to song cycles. Three of his popular CDs, Bach Sacred Arias, Wagner and Richard Strauss Arias and Mozart Arias, have been collected in a single package, Theo Adam 90th Birthday Edition (Berlin Classics 0300824BC 3 CDs), at what amounts to a surprisingly low price. The Bach disc contains arias from the Christmas Oratorio, the Matthew Passion and six cantatas. The Wagner disc has five top arias, together with Strauss duets from Der Rosenkavalier and Die Frau ohne Schatten with mezzo Gisela Schröter. Finally, the Mozart disc has 17 arias from six operas. A worthwhile collection for a small investment. sing them. The late lamented lyric tenor Fritz Wunderlich was at home in opera, operetta and popular songs and so it was with a great deal of pleasure that I received a copy of Hits from the 50s from SWR MUSIC (SWR 19029, 2 CDs). Unfortunately for me, the 39 songs are popular songs from Germany, sung in German. A disappointment, but friends who have German were happy to hear Wunderlich There is a 3-CD collection of songs from the 1940s and 50s that can be recommended without reservation. The Absolutely Essential 3-CD Collection (Big-3, BT 3119) is the aptly titled compilation of 60 items from that era sung by Fred Astaire in his inimitable style and voice that are still universally admired even after so many years. The fact is that he didn’t sound like anyone else nor, it seems, did he have any rivals, nor anyone who cared to emulate him. The closest that anyone came was fellow song-and-dance man Gene Kelly but Astaire’s je ne sais quoi, his panache, was his alone. As far as I can see, every original Astaire recording is here, 60 of them including Cheek to Cheek; A Fine Romance; Puttin’ on the Ritz; Let’s Face the Music and Dance; Dearly Beloved; A Foggy Day in London Town; Top Hat, White Tie and Tails; Night and Day; They Can’t Take That Away from Me; and the rest of his classics. For classics they are, incomparable and timeless. May 1, 2017 - June 7, 2017 | 81

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