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Volume 24 Issue 3 - November 2018

  • Text
  • November
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Theatre
  • Musical
  • Arts
  • Orchestra
  • Performing
  • Symphony
  • Bloor
Reluctant arranger! National Ballet Orchestra percussionist Kris Maddigan on creating the JUNO and BAFTA award-winning smash hit Cuphead video game soundtrack; Evergreen by name and by nature, quintessentially Canadian gamelan (Andrew Timar explains); violinist Angèle Dubeau on 20 years and 60 million streams; two children’s choirs where this month remembrance and living history must intersect. And much more, online in our kiosk now, and on the street commencing Thursday November 1.

K465 by the Diderot

K465 by the Diderot String Quartet (bearmachinerecords.com). The ensemble, which was formed in 2012 and received training in modern and early music, uses period instruments with gut strings. The remarkable opening Adagio of the quartet consequently sounds quite different from the rich, full approach you frequently hear, with the softer sound and minimal vibrato helping to reveal just how shocking this passage – which gives the work its name – must have sounded to contemporary audiences; you really do hear this astonishing progression with new ears. It pointed the way for the future; as the sparse accompanying notes perceptively point out: “discomfort and pain became new ways to accent the beautiful and transcendent.” This is Mozart with a difference indeed, with excellent dynamic range and flexibility with tempos and phrasing. The rest of the CD is puzzling. It’s a 14-minute podcast discussion between Ben Cooper, who mixed and mastered the disc, and Josh Lee, who produced it, that can most charitably be described as Mozart for Idiots. It seems to want to be both semi-humorous – Cooper first pretending that he’s never heard of Mozart and then saying that his understanding of him “comes 100 percent from the movie Amadeus” – and semi-serious, but even if it does slowly progress through very basic Mozart biography to minimal discussion of the quartet, it ends up being neither particularly amusing nor particularly informative. Quadrants Vol.2 features works for string quartet by six contemporary American composers in excellent performances by the Boston-based Pedroia String Quartet (Navona Records NV6184 navonarecords. com/catalog/nv6184). There is unfortunately zero information on the works or composers included with the cardboard digipak, but additional album content – basically just composer bios – is available on the website. There is also a 12-minute Quadrant Vol.2 trailer on YouTube. Paul Osterfield’s Khamsin is wider ranging in sound and technique than the other works here, but is still essentially approachable and attractive. David T. Bridges’ This Fragmented Old Man is a brief take on the children’s counting song, with an acknowledged nod to Carter, Bartók and Stravinsky. Ferdinando (Fred) De Sena is represented by his three-movement String Quartet No.1, and L. Peter Deutsch by the really effective Departure, the four movements representing Anticipation (“anxiety”), Preparation (“diligent activity”), Leave-taking (“sadness”) and Setting Sail (“excitement”). The third movement of one of the most enjoyable works on the CD is particularly effective. Katherine Price is a young composer with strong roots in the choral tradition. Her lovely and meditative Hymnody has shades of Samuel Barber’s Adagio. Another really strong work, Marvin Lamb’s Lamentations, ends an excellent disc. Visions and Variations is an excellent new CD by the American string ensemble A Far Cry (they are also known as The Criers) on their own label (Crier Records CR1801 afarcry.org). There’s a fine performance of the early Benjamin Britten work Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge, followed by a newer Theme and 12 Variations work by violinist Ethan Wood called Ah! vous dirais-je, Maman: a folktale for 18 players based on characters created by W. A. Mozart. There’s some lovely string writing here. The 20 short pieces of Sergei Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives Op.22 were written individually between 1915 and 1917, many for specific friends. The Russian violist and conductor Rudolph Barshai arranged 15 of them for string ensemble, the remaining five having been arranged here by A Far Cry members Alex Fortes, Jesse Irons and Erik Higgins. Keyed In ALEX BARAN Clipper Erikson explores a dual theme in his new CD release Tableau – Tempest & Tango (Navona NV6170 navonarecords. com). Beginning with the dark overtones of Russian history, he explores works by Russian-born composer David Finko. He combines Fantasia on a Medieval Russian Theme with three piano sonatas that cover a 15-year period in the composer’s life. Finko’s music is substantial and occupies the entire first disc. The Russian theme continues on the second CD with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Erikson reads a great deal of personal content into this familiar work and draws philosophical connections from its program to Finko’s compositions. The tango element appears courtesy of composer Richard Brodhead who wrote both Sonata Notturno and Una Carta de Buenos Aires for Erikson. While the Latin flavouring and dance form are unmistakable, they blend with a contemporary language to form a unique expression that sustains interest throughout the works. Dana Muller and Gary Steigerwalt have been performing as a piano duo for more than 30 years. Their latest recording In Your Head – New Music for Piano Four Hands (Navona NV6190 navonarecords.com) is a reminder of how much wonderful fourhands repertoire there actually is beyond the familiar material of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The works on this disc are by six American composers and present an astonishingly wide array of compositional styles. The opening tracks are a five-part suite by Donald Wheelock titled Mind Games, to which the CD links its own title. The final movement comes as a complete surprise with an energetic and humorous touch. The major work is John La Montaine’s Sonata for Piano Four Hands Op. 25. This is a substantial work with a clear intent to exploit everything two players can bring to the keyboard collectively. Density, volume and colour are the effects the composer requires the pianists to create. These are particularly critical in the closing Fugue, where the subject relies heavily on these devices. While there’s so much in this program that’s commendable, Dreamworlds by Lewis Spratlan deserves special mention for its unique shadings and the distinctive voice of its composer. Its three movements are artfully and entertainingly written character portrayals. Daniil Trifonov lives in the shadow, cast by mountains of gob-smacked reviews all struggling for fresh superlatives to describe his impact on the world of piano music, of his own success. His newest release Destination Rachmaninov – Departure, Piano Concertos 2 & 4, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Deutsche Grammophon 0289 483 5335 4 deutschegrammophon.com/en/artist/trifonov) demonstrates why he has such an effect. Plenty has been written about his technique and the perfect ease with which he manages the most demanding passages. There is, moreover, a sense of confident repose in his musical presence that creates a sense of originality and newness to everything 70 | November 2018 thewholenote.com

he plays. Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin describes it as seeming to compose the music as he is playing it. Both concertos on this disc are truly breathtaking. The lesser known No.4 is especially satisfying to hear for its rarity and the occasional flavours of jazz-band harmonies that recall the contemporary sounds of 1926 New York. The most memorable moments are those when Rachmaninov swells the music to a veritable orchestral and pianistic tsunami that wreaks an exhilarating devastation on anyone listening. Trifonov also includes three sections from Rachmaninov’s solo piano transcription of Bach’s Violin Partita No.3 in E Major, BWV1006. His performance shows how much fun Rachmaninov had stripping away the Baroque strictures in favour of a more playful contemporary iteration. Hyeyeon Park is an accomplished performer and a respected academic. Her new release Klavier 1853 Liszt, Schumann, Brahms (Blue Griffin records BGR351 bluegriffin.com) uses 1853 as the starting point for a selection of piano works that have their genesis in that year. It seems to have been a time of historical significance on numerous fronts. Both piano manufacturers Steinway and Bechstein founded their respective firms in 1853. More importantly, the paths of several key musical personalities crossed in that year, beginning a series of influential relationships that shaped the evolution of European music. The young Brahms met Liszt in Weimar in June 1853 shortly after Liszt had completed his Ballade No.2 in B Minor S.171. By September he’d presented himself at the Düsseldorf home of Robert and Clara Schumann. Clara had written her Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann Op.20 in early 1853 as a birthday gift for her husband. After Robert Schumann’s decline in health, Brahms used the same theme in a set of variations he composed as a gift for Clara. Brahms had arrived with some samples of his work including the Piano Sonata No.3 in F Minor Op.5. Robert was so impressed by this young talent that he experienced a resurgence of creative inspiration and composed several pieces, including the Gesänge der Frühe Op.133. This group of historically-linked pieces forms the intriguing program Park performs on this disc. She is a complete artist who brings everything to this music that it needs. She plays with a Romantic sensitivity to the language of each composer, perfectly capturing the spirit of the age. Romain Descharmes’ new CD Saint-Saëns Piano Concertos Nos.4 & 5 “Egyptian” (Naxos 8.573478 naxos.com) completes his project begun in 2017 with the release of the first three concertos. Marc Soustrot conducts the Malmö Symphony Orchestra for all the performances in the set. The two-movement Concerto No.4 is not often heard. The easy flow of the music from both the piano and orchestra comes as a reminder of Saint-Saëns’ remarkable gift for composition. Descharmes’ playing perfectly matches the attractive elegance of the music. While his sensitive playing suggests a vulnerability that suits the composer’s voice exquisitely, power and forceful statement are always available when needed. The artistic partnership between pianist and orchestra is superb. It makes its greatest impact in the Concerto No.5 “Egyptian” where Saint-Saëns uses exotic orchestrations and musical ideas to create his Egyptian mystique. Descharmes describes the work as the composer’s best – a showpiece designed to impress and dazzle the audience. Everything builds toward the final movement where high energy, brilliant scoring and performance leave an impression as lasting as the pyramids at Giza. This recording is excellent on all counts. It reflects the highest production values and a shared artistic genius consistently present from start to finish. If you’re going to get this recording, get the earlier two discs as well. It’s a set worth having. Karsten Scholz is now well into his project to record Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas. His latest release is, like its two predecessors, a two-disc set, Beethoven Klaviersonaten III (Elmstudio 300970-4 karstenscholz.de). Apparently recording them in reverse chronological sequence, this third set presents the early half of the middle sonatas, Nos.12-18. The first two sets cover everything after this period and clearly, the early sonatas are yet to come. Scholz is in his late 40s and has an impressive bio with a credible collection of awards, postings, performances and other career achievements. In a world filling quickly with self-recorded and selfpromoted artists, Scholz stands out as an obvious talent. Scholz is the kind of artist that sets the standard for trusted, intellectually informed performance. Maturity guides his artistic decisions. His expression has a wide dynamic supported by wonderful keyboard technique all of which is spent in aid of the perfect balance. Sonata No.14 in C-sharp Minor, Op.27 “Moonlight,” is for its wide familiarity and inner variety, a potent litmus test of interpretive skill. Scholz takes the opening movement with an unhurried intention that frequently hesitates at critical phrase endings to heighten the appearance of the next idea. The second movement is slower than often What we're listening to this month: thewholenote.com/listening Abundance Ernesto Cervini's Turboprop “I’m grateful for the abundance of good that there is in the world and I feel privileged to experience it every day.” Jim and Paul play Glenn and Ludwig Jim Gelcer / Paul Hoffert Trio, featuring George Koller A jazz album inspired by Glenn Gould’s favourite Beethoven music that reinterprets themes such as Moonlight Sonata and Beethoven’s 5th in carefully-crafted jazz arrangements. Kenny Wheeler: Suite for Hard Rubber Orchestra featuring Norma Winstone Kenny Wheeler’s Suite for Hard Rubber Orchestra represents the final large work by the famed composer performed and recorded by an ensemble of deeply devoted musicians. Moose Blues Subtone New quintet album with pianist Florian Hoefner out Oct 26th! Photo by Bo Huang. www.subtone.eu thewholenote.com November 2018 | 71

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