5 years ago

Volume 23 Issue 8 - May 2018

  • Text
  • Choir
  • Toronto
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  • Jazz
  • Festival
In this issue: our sixteenth annual Choral Canary Pages; coverage of 21C, Estonian Music Week and the 3rd Toronto Bach Festival (three festivals that aren’t waiting for summer!); and features galore: “Final Finales” for Larry Beckwith’s Toronto Masque Theatre and for David Fallis as artistic director of Toronto Consort; four conductors on the challenges of choral conducting; operatic Hockey Noir; violinist Stephen Sitarski’s perspective on addressing depression; remembering bandleader, composer and saxophonist Paul Cram. These and other stories, in our May 2018 edition of the magazine.

ackground becomes

ackground becomes immediately apparent in the delicately handled, caressing string tone right at the beginning of the symphony when the main theme first insinuates itself, and in how lovingly and expressively he handles the strings throughout the symphony. But he is also a gifted conductor with great musical insight, imagination and intuition, plus an ability to get into the composer’s mind, making sure that everything written down is heard. I was discovering passages I haven’t heard before or hearing them differently, like the flute playing merrily over the famous string tune second subject in the first movement. We rediscover Brahms’ masterly skill at counterpoint that came from his years of studying Bach. And experience the thrill of that magisterial fourth movement as it simply explodes from mysterious, whispering strings and is driven joyfully to a triumphant ending. The Stavenger Symphony of Norway is a dedicated group of superb instrumentalists who have an intuitive chemistry with their conductor. Previously they recorded on the Swedish BIS label famous for its demonstration quality sound, but with this stellar CD they launched their own SSO Recordings and we wish them continued success. Janos Gardonyi Prokofiev – Romeo and Juliet Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Marin Alsop Naxos 8.573534-35 ( !! The Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev’s ambitious and beautiful ballet Romeo and Juliet continues to be loved by audiences the world over, not only for its musical beauty and scope of ambition, but for the universality of its original narrative theme, taken from William Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Love – unrequited, tragic, desired, mutual, romantic – is a topic that clearly has not been exhausted by the creative commentators among us, and audiences seem to have an unquenchable thirst for works that tackle this subject. Naxos Records is a Hong Kong-based company that, while championing digital distribution, continues to release high quality classical music in physical form, somehow managing to stave off the demise of physical product that has so impacted most other record labels. And good for us. This 2018 CD release of an October 2015 performance in the acoustically rich Meyerhoff Hall captures the very fine Baltimore Symphony under the direction and leadership of conductor Marin Alsop. Having led the Symphony since 2007, and recently given a contract extension until 2021, Alsop is a dynamic conductor whose intentional and forceful style once again brings out an exhilarating and striking performance from this ensemble. The highlights from Prokofiev’s original ballet are many and the world most certainly has enough piecemeal assemblages of these greatest hits. With this recording, however, we have another fine complete capture of this most beautiful work that successfully balances the effervescent and playful bounce of dance with the drama, passion and ultimately Act IV darkness of Shakespeare’s original text. Recommended. Andrew Scott MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Maria de Alvear: De puro amor & En amor duro Eve Egoyan, piano World Edition 0033 ( !! It’s been over 20 years since Canadian pianist Eve Egoyan gave the North American premieres of De puro amor (Of Pure Love) and En amor duro (In Hard Love) by Maria de Alvear. After hearing those performances, de Alvear, an innovative Spanish composer, performer and multimedia artist, composed three works for Egoyan. In 2001 Egoyan recorded one of those, Asking. Now, on this stunning new two-disc set, come De puro amor and En amor duro. In her scores, de Alvear likes to give performers the freedom to make decisions about elements as fundamental as rhythm, metre and dynamics. With her fearless imagination, boundless sense of adventure and brilliant technique, Egoyan pushes beyond what seems possible on the piano. Floating melodies, expressive rhythmic shapes and ringing intervals plucked from the harmonic series weave a contemplative mood in both works, though disruptive undercurrents do intermittently surface. De Alvear is a charismatic figure in the world of experimental music, especially in Germany, where she now lives. But her music is so personal that it either speaks to you or it doesn’t. For me, it does. I love the honesty, the passion and the openness, which lead her to colourful titles like Sexo and Vagina to evoke the more intimate aspects of love. This set features drawings by de Alvear’s sister and frequent performance partner, Ana de Alvear, and booklet notes by Tim Rutherford-Smith, who has just published a groundbreaking book on contemporary music, Music After the Fall. Pamela Margles Gyula Csapó: Déjà? Kojâ? Quatuor Bozzini Collection QB CQB 1821 ( !! Founded in 1999, Quatuor Bozzini are distinguished interpreters of contemporary repertoire, including fine recordings of John Cage, James Tenney and Steve Reich. Here they present a particularly challenging work, a three-part, 73-minute piece composed between 2011 and 2016 by Gyula Csapó, a Hungarian composer currently teaching at the University of Saskatchewan. His music suggests the influences (including scale and depth) of Morton Feldman and Arvo Pärt. Csapó’s brief note about this work is dauntingly abstract (“event-fossils,” “fractals”), but the core is in the title, Déjà? Kojâ? part French, part Persian: “Already?” is easy. “Kojâ?” comes with a poem that suggests “Threshold” as the crucial sense, and that this world is a threshold, the beginning of another experience or existence, a step both inevitable yet deferred. The work is monumental, developing thick, often dissonant textures. Its long first section is anchored to a repeating oscillation, brief but slow, between low-register cello and viola and high, reedy violins. Seconda Parte is more varied, adding other sonic devices, including moving the contrast of registers to pizzicato lows and whistling harmonic glissandi from the violins. Terza Parte eventually expands the oscillating figures into a still minimalist, but gradually evolving melodic shape. It’s a demanding work, a dark reverie that suggests anticipation while dramatizing its delay, a sombre meditation shot through with bright highs that are themselves dissonant. At once static and tumultuous, this is depth experience, rewarding all the attention one can give it. Stuart Broomer Dmitri Tymoczko – Rube Goldberg Variations Flexible Music; Atlantic Brass Quintet; Amernet String Quartet Bridge Records 9492 ( ! ! Mid-career American composer and music theorist Dmitri Tymoczko’s music exhibits an attractive blend of jazz, Romanticism and rock, as well as influences from film and cartoon soundtracks. Demonstrating sonic imagination and frequent nods to past composers, his work appears to be equally at home in the American concert hall modernist 74 | May 2018

and popular music streams, a compositional style which has been dubbed polystylistic. Rube Goldberg Variations, the central work on this album, refers both to a certain J.S. Bach keyboard work, and to the American cartoonist known for his illustrations of machines designed to perform simple tasks in baroque, convoluted ways. The four-movement, 19-minute Variations is scored for brass quintet and prepared piano. In its movement titles Tymoczko refers to his musical ancestor Igor Stravinsky, to kinetic sculpture and to his experiences of fatherhood. Rhythmically and sonically engaging, the prepared piano part in the first movement, To a Leaf, refers to its inventor John Cage. The brass quintet flutters along with idiomatic fanfare-like wind polyphony contrasted by contrapuntal brassy sustained chords. Stravinsky Fountain is another effective movement, with its shards of jazz in a syncopated early-20th-century style, and references to the dedicatee composer’s adoption of it in his concert works. This single movement is a satisfying complete musical statement. The other album works, S Sensation Something (string quartet and piano) and I cannot follow… (chamber ensemble), are more conventional in instrumentation and form. They are not however without the melodic invention and easygoing charm with which Tymoczko brands his mature scores. Andrew Timar Morton Feldman – For John Cage Erik Carlson; Aleck Karis Bridge Records 9498 ( !! For John Cage (1982) scored for piano and violin is late-period Morton Feldman (1926- 1987). That typically means a very lengthy work in a single continuous movement – more than 71 minutes in this recording – that explores a glacially paced musical development and very quiet sound levels. In a 1982 lecture Feldman asked, “Do we have anything in music … that just cleans everything away?” For John Cage offers his answer. A tribute to one of Feldman’s most enduring personal and professional relationships, it’s a platform for his musical concerns at the time. These include translating meaningful visual and textural effects he found in Turkish regional carpets into musical patterns and sonic gestures. The two musicians, violinist Erik Carlson and pianist Aleck Karis, render the composer’s ideas with precision and delicacy in equal measure. Feldman was a frequent visitor to Toronto during the 1970s when he taught at the University of Buffalo. Later he married his Canadian composition student Barbara Monk, who established a home in midtown Toronto where she held soirees after her husband’s death. While attending two of these soirees, I was particularly fascinated by the walls covered with kilim carpets, a physical reminder of a source of Feldman’s late period inspiration. Leaning toward a minimalistic aesthetic in its use of subtly varied melodic phases and a restrained abstract formalism, don’t expect tunes you can hum along with, or grooves to tap your toes to here. While this music will be challenging for some listeners, I personally find it a searching, engaging and rewarding listen. Andrew Timar Wind Concertos: Ticheli; Warnaar; Ranjbaran James Zimmermann; Leslie Norton; Érik Gratton; Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero Naxos 8.559818 ( !! Three very different, recent (2010-2015), earcatching concertos in the traditional fast-slow-fast three movements, by three composers born in the 1950s, each referencing earlier music, receive vibrant performances from Nashville Symphony principals James Zimmermann (clarinet), Leslie Norton (horn) and Érik Gratton (flute). In his Clarinet Concerto, Frank Ticheli, who teaches at the University of Southern California, pays homage to American composers in movements titled Rhapsody for George, Song for Aaron and Riffs for Lenny, adding some recognizable quotations and paraphrases to flavour his original, engaging takes on his illustrious predecessors. It’s a pops concert natural! Michigan native Brad Warnaar wrote his Horn Concerto for the instrument he played in the Toronto Symphony and other Ontario orchestras in the 1970s, before relocating to play in the Los Angeles Philharmonic and, he claims, “over a thousand film scores.” Warnaar says his concerto embraces everything from rock to atonality, but I hear only very accessible, enjoyable, tonal mainstream music in the minimalist-energized Tintinnabulations, the ruminative Elegies, Lamentations and the jaunty Tarantella, including subtle quotations from Mozart, Brahms and Richard Strauss. Juilliard faculty member Behzad Ranjbaran, born and raised in Iran, emulates what he calls the “mystic, melancholic” tone of the ney (Persian end-blown reed flute), enhancing the exoticism of his hybrid Iranian- Western Flute Concerto. Extended meditative passages (the Adagio cantabile is a real beauty) are offset by the sparkling finale. These world-premiere recordings should help all three very entertaining concertos become, deservedly, part of today’s active repertoire. Michael Schulman JAZZ AND IMPROVISED Lézardes et zébrures Bernard Falaise Ambiances Magnétiques AM 237 ( !! Guitarist Bernard Falaise is a significant contributor to Montreal’s musique actuelle movement, a member of the expansive Ensemble SuperMusique as well as the trio Klaxon Gueule and Quartetski, a group that regularly re-imagines high modernist composers like Bartók and Stravinsky. Lézardes et zébrures is a solo record, but one without solos, a series of pieces constructed from minimal materials. Each begins with short figures, intervals and arpeggios played on an acoustic guitar in open tunings to emphasize steel string resonance and ringing harmonics; these are then looped, with Falaise adding layers of other instruments, among them electric guitar, glockenspiel and melodica. The opening Au zoo sets both a pattern for the music and an intermittent theme, one that’s reflected in titles like Langue de girafe and Mémoire d’éléphant, and even in the CD title – literally “cracks and welts” but with the bi-lingual suggestion in this context of lizards and zebras. These notions of other species’ consciousness are matched with alternative substances and spaces – Marcher sur la glace or Stalactites et stalagmites – all of them implicit in sounds that repeat and reconfigure. All of Falaise’s works here are at once immediate, luminous and strangely dream-like. The oscillating figure of Le compas dans l’œil suggests Steve Reich’s minimalism, while the clicks and suspensions of Distillations reference the turntablist’s art, but it’s all part of Falaise’s bright, immediate, sonic universe, developed at greatest length in the imagination of another materiality in Porcelaine 360°. Stuart Broomer Plus One Dan Pugach Nonet Unit Records UTR 4816 ( ! ! Israeli-born, Berklee-educated drummer Dan Pugach’s debut bandleader album, Plus One, recorded in Brooklyn and May 2018 | 75

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