6 years ago

Volume 23 Issue 3 - November 2017

  • Text
  • Toronto
  • November
  • Jazz
  • Arts
  • Musical
  • Theatre
  • Symphony
  • Performing
  • Orchestra
  • Bloor
In this issue: conversations (of one kind or another) galore! Daniela Nardi on taking the reins at "best-kept secret" venue, 918 Bathurst; composer Jeff Ryan on his "Afghanistan" Requiem for a Generation" partnership with war poet, Susan Steele; lutenist Ben Stein on seventeenth century jazz; collaborative pianist Philip Chiu on going solo; Barbara Hannigan on her upcoming Viennese "Second School" recital at Koerner; Tina Pearson on Pauline Oliveros; and as always a whole lot more!


MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Shostakovich – The Golden Age Bolshoi Ballet BelAir BAC443 !! A friend and I watched this video of, as we used to call it, The Age of Gold, with neither of us knowing the story nor what they were dancing about. Nevertheless, it was so brilliant that we watched it with delight for quite some time, simply revelling in the joyous and boisterous music while captivated by the goings-on onstage. Shostakovich had a gift for musical satire, as his opera The Nose exemplifies. This story plays out on the floor of the Golden Age, a restaurant in the south of Russia and a favorite haunt of petty criminals in the 1920s. Interlaced with a floor show in progress at the restaurant, a young girl, Rita, now known as Mademoiselle Margot, is desired both by Boris, a young fisherman and aspiring actor and Jacques, Rita’s dance partner, in reality Yashka, the leader of a local gang of bandits. Inevitably, as in any good melodrama, eventually someone is stabbed to death. The librettist and choreographer is the legendary Yuri Grigorovich, well known and adored in ballet circles. Thanks to Shostakovich and Grigorovich the action is vibrant and non-stop. There are a few familiar tunes, including the Polka and Tea for Two. For those in the know, the principal dancers are Nina Kaptsova (Rita), Ruslan Skvortsov (Boris), Mikhail Lobukhin (Yashka), Ekaterina Krysanova (Lyuska, Yashka’s accomplice) and Vyacheslav Lopatin (variety show compere at the Golden Age). The high-definition video is, as expected, breathtakingly real, as is the usual astonishing virtuosity of the Bolshoi orchestra as heard in earlier releases. For fans of Shostakovich and/or Grigorovich this is a self-recommending must-have. As we are getting to that time of year, here are two apropos serious gift suggestions: The Great Bolshoi Ballets: four Blu-ray discs in one package – Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle and The Flames of Paris (BelAir BAC610), breathtaking in every respect; and Shostakovich: The Complete Symphonies & Concertos with Valery Gergiev and the Orchestra and Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre & six soloists (Arthaus Musik 107552, four Blu-ray discs plus hardbound book). These are definitive live performances recorded over the span of a year in the Salle Pleyel in Paris. Unique. Bruce Surtees George Antheil – Symphonies 4 and 5 BBC Philharmonic; John Storgårds Chandos CHAN 10941 !! Best remembered for his futuristic Ballet mécanique of 1926, the New Jerseyborn pianist and composer George Antheil (1900- 1959) was in his youth the darling of the Parisian avant-garde and a rising star of American music. Alas, his attempt to replicate his Parisian acclaim with an ambitious, high-profile American remounting of this work at Carnegie Hall in 1927 was a disaster from which the selfproclaimed “Bad Boy of Music” was slow to recover. His scandalous score (originally conceived for an orchestra of player pianos, percussionists and airplane propeller) was not to be heard again for 60 years. Dejected, the pugnacious, pistol-packing composer eventually found work in Hollywood, where he scored films and worked as a journalist. The patriotic fervour of wartime 1940s America brought him back into the spotlight with a catalogue of works radically more conventional than those of his youth. Antheil’s Symphony No.4 (subtitled “1942”) was broadcast nationwide by Stokowski in 1944 to great acclaim and received numerous subsequent performances. Later Eugene Ormandy would come calling to commission his “Joyous” Symphony No.5 (1948) for the Philadelphia Orchestra. Throughout the 1950s however, the quest for the “Great American Symphony” faded along with Antheil’s career. He died suddenly in 1959 of a heart attack. The numerous tempo changes noted in the track details to the movements of these two symphonies hint at Antheil’s problematic sectional approach to composition. It is a challenge for any conductor to tie so many mood swings together coherently, a task that Storgårds for the most part achieves, though to my mind Hugh Wolff’s CPO recording of the same symphonies with the Frankfurt RSO from the year 2000 is superior in this regard. Despite the patchwork nature of Antheil’s music there is never a dull moment; the listener, though perhaps a tad confused, will find the music consistently engaging and effectively orchestrated. Surprisingly, despite the self-consciously upbeat all-American profile of these works, both symphonies exhibit strong influences from the leading Soviet composers of the era, notably the obsessive dactylic rhythms of Shostakovich and the harmonic twists of Prokofiev. A bonus track brings us the first recording of Antheil’s Over the Plains (1945), a cinematic evocation of the landscape of Texas. All told, an intriguing and enjoyable album, quite plushly recorded and very keenly played. Daniel Foley Facets Cline/Cuestas Duo Independent ( !! There are many fine flutists in the world these days, and Jenny Cline of the Cline/Cuestas Duo is definitely one of them. She and guitarist Carlos Cuestas have put together a terrific program which combines four substantial contemporary compositions balanced by music from the late 19th and the early- and the mid-20th centuries. At 15 minutes, Maximo Diego Pujol’s Suite Buenos Aires is the longest of the four contemporary pieces. Composed in 1995, its four movements depict different parts of the city after which it is named. The slow second movement is particularly exquisite, opening with a guitar solo beautifully played by Cuestas, setting up Cline for the heartrending solo which follows. The last movement too, is particularly noteworthy, bristling with excitement and precise teamwork. Among the earlier compositions are six of Bartók’s Romanian Dances and Enrique Granados’ Danza Española No. 5: Andaluza, from which the duo draws haunting nostalgia for times past in pre-cataclysm Eastern Europe and Spain respectively. Daniel Dorff’s Serenade to Eve, After Rodin (1999), beginning passionately lyrical and moving to an astonishing virtuosic conclusion, is yet another great addition to the contemporary repertoire for flute and guitar. So too is Gary Schocker’s Silk Worms, music of great refinement commissioned by the duo in 2013 and interpreted here with warmth and conviction. Credit also goes to Oscar Zambrano, who mastered the recording, for really getting the balance between the two instruments just right. Congratulations to all who were involved for an excellent first CD. Allan Pulker Klezmer Dreams André Moisan; Quatuor Molinari; Jean Saulnier ATMA ACD2 2738 ( ! ! Originating hundreds of year ago, the roots of klezmer, the instrumental party music of Ashkenazi Jewish communities, were enriched by contact with the music of the people of Central and Eastern Europe and beginning in the early 20th century, with jazz. The performance of klezmer music generally 76 | November 2017

declined as the last century progressed. Beginning in the 1970s a grassroots revival spread out from its North American base, today’s klezmer scene (re)embraces the globe. Arab, Indian, Celtic and Korean musicians are getting in on the act. Earlier this year Amalia Rubin’s performance of a 1927 Yiddish song on Mongolian TV’s version of American Idol, accompanied by six Mongolian instrumentalists, garnered thousands of likes on social media. Despite its transnational appeal, there are, however, essential features which distinguish klezmer music. Glissandi and syncopation that evoke laughter or sobs, ornamentation of the melody reflecting the inflections of the human voice, and melodies moving within the tonal modes of Central/Eastern Europe are just three. Emotional mood is also often sharply delineated, ranging from deep melancholy to dancing exuberance. Classical concert composers have been attracted by klezmer’s vibrancy too. Five are represented in the very satisfying album Klezmer Dreams, including two Canadians, Srul Irving Glick (1934-2002) and Airat Ichmouratov (b.1973). Sergei Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes (1919) for clarinet, piano and string quartet is the oldest composition on this disc. Prokofiev retains the folkloric flavour of the Jewish melodies he borrowed while maintaining his idiosyncratic composer voice, this time rendered in a light tone. At over 35 minutes The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind (1994) for Klezmer clarinet and string quartet, by Argentinian- American composer Osvaldo Golijov (b.1960), is by far the longest and stylistically most adventurous score here. It features the brilliant and stylistically spot-on Klezmorim clarinet solos of Montrealer André Moisan. Starting and ending with a prayer, “Thou pass and record, count and visit, every living soul, appointing the measure of every creature’s life and decreeing its destiny,” this substantial work definitively demonstrates the reach of klezmer – once considered folk party music – deep into the concert hall. Andrew Timar Toy Piano Composers Toy Piano Composers Ensemble; Pratik Gandhi Redshift Records TK452 ( !! There can be few more reliable guarantees of contemporary music that is both thoughtful and entertaining than when the name Toy Piano Composers (TPC) appears on the tin. Founded by pianists and composers Monica Pearce and Chris Thornborrow, and now with a decade of growth in performance that has included over 120 new works in various formats from chamber and orchestral to operatic, TPC, fronted by its ensemble, has grown exponentially in performance and in creativity. Fuelled as much by Reich, Riley, Glass and Pärt as by the unfettered creativity of young questing minds, the composers in the collective as well as its performing ensemble have continually pushed the proverbial envelope and the ceaselessly receding horizon, with music that has swelled with classical elegance and avant-garde subversion. This album – simply bearing the collective’s name – appears to be the first by a group that has focused so far solely on performance. In keeping with the mission to create something new and remain in the continuum of the classical tradition, these seven works, written by various composers from 2010 to 2014, are performed by the TPC Ensemble, a group of nine instruments of contrasting character. Together they are famously at ease with the most testing new music for traditional acoustic instruments plus toy piano. From Clangor (Pearce) to Hermes’ Lure (Ruth Guechtal) and Modus Operandi (Nancy Tam), the TCP Ensemble may seem stretched to the limit but are equal to the challenge. Raul da Gama Charles Wuorinen Vol. 3 loadbang; Anne-Marie McDermott; Group for Contemporary Music; Charles Wuorinen Bridge Records 9490 ( !! Among the most prolific of contemporary American composers, the 79-year old Charles Wuorinen’s catalogue of 260-plus compositions includes works for opera, orchestra and chamber music, as well as solo instruments and voice. He has received many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the MacArthur Fellowship. The 2014 Madrid premiere of Wuorinen’s opera, set on Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, was covered by international media and has had several subsequent European productions. Anthony Tommasini in his 2014 New York Times review characterized Wuorinen as an “unabashedly complex Modernist.” And while in 2008 Wuorinen called the term serialism “almost without meaning,” nevertheless his career-long commitment to 12-tone composition is clear, with Schoenberg, Berg, late Stravinsky and Babbitt cited among primary influences. Fractals and Mandelbrot mathematical sets are also central to Wuorinen’s recent compositional procedures. Much of Wuorinen’s music makes great technical demands on musicians, including tonal leaps, extreme dynamic contrasts, and rapid exchange of pitches, all requiring extreme precision and virtuosity. This is all on ample display in the three works on Charles Wuorinen, Vol. 3. The album opens with Alphabetical Ashbery (2013) a song cycle/motet marked by the free-flowing, playful and often disjunctive poems by the American poet John Ashbery performed by the unique forces of loadbang: Jeffrey Gavett, baritone, Carlos Cordeiro, bass clarinet, Andy Kozar, trumpet and William Lang, trombone. The muscular and substantial Fourth Piano Sonata (2007), the latest and most traditionally structured of Wuorinen’s works in this genre, is definitively rendered by the brilliant pianist Anne- Marie McDermott. It Happens Like This (2010) closes the CD. At just over 39 minutes in seven bite-sized movements, this fourvoice cantata is set to American modernist James Tate’s surrealistic poems, providing a charming close to our musical visit with one of America’s enduring elder statesmen of composition. Andrew Timar Rhapsodies Around the World Guy Yehuda; Deborah Moriarty Blue Griffin Records BGR441 ( ! ! An ambitious project launched by clarinetist Guy Yehuda resulted in six new works for clarinet and piano, all somehow influenced by Claude Debussy’s Première Rhapsodie. Rhapsodies Around the World is a fair description of the contents, as all the continents are represented by the diverse set of composers Yehuda chose to commission. The disc opens with his performance of the model work, and Yehuda demonstrates a decent finesse with this always-difficult piece. His reading is marked by certain injections of personality, if that’s the right word. Over time a well-worn piece might seem to beg for reinterpretation, and one is always free to provide one, just as a listener is free to like or dislike the layering of liberties pasted on the original. I’m grateful nonetheless to the performer for this collection. The various spinoffs most resemble the original only in duration, each between eight and ten minutes in length. The composers provide an accounting of their approach to the project’s requirements, some more prolix than others. The essay by Michel Petrossian describing his Timkat Song bears so much analysis on its own that one might forget the fine piece of music it describes. American violinist/composer Piotr Szewczyk’s Luminous Rhapsody reminds me of the music of Joan Tower. Yao Chen almost literally recalls the original Rhapsodie at the outset of Through Waters, By Mountains. Clare Loveday of South Africa wrote Heatwave during a real heat wave, gave up November 2017 | 77

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