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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.

Halibut Cheeks & Other

Halibut Cheeks & Other Love Songs Leslie Fagan; Lorin Shalanko Independent (canadianartsong.com) !! Soprano Leslie Fagan and pianist Lorin Shalanko, both international performers and professors of music at Wilfrid Laurier University, are devoted to showcasing Canadian composers through their Canadian Art Song Series, which premiered with the release of Thread of Winter in 2016. This second recording in the series, which takes on the theme of love and romance, is bursting with heartfelt and melodious pieces performed with great warmth and passion. Since the prelude to romance is often a meal, the recording begins with the witty David L. McIntyre’s Creek Bistro Specials in which a sumptuous (and very Canadian) menu, from appetizers to desserts, is extravagantly presented in song. Nestled within the mains is the title track Halibut Cheeks and one can’t help but note a clever nod to Schubert’s Die Forelle in the piano part at the end of the Grilled Trout course. In the selections that follow, the performers mine exquisite depths of emotion, first with Lionel Daunais’ Cinq Poèmes d’Éloi de Grandmont, then with Srul Irving Glick’s sensuous Seven Tableaux from the Song of Songs. Gorgeous selections by Matthew Emery and Michael Coghlan by turn frame Gladys Davenport’s Cool and silent is the lake, in which Fagan and Shalanko delicately evoke a sense of wonder at nature’s tranquility. Dianne Wells CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Mahler – Symphony No.6 Minnesota Orchestra; Osmo Vänskä Bis BIS-2266 (bis.se) !! The enigmatic Sixth of Mahler is one of the “Wunderhorn Symphonies” (Nos.5-7) because each draws its main inspiration from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, Mahler’s most atmospheric and melodic song cycle. But the Sixth stands out because it ends in a minor key; with no triumphant fortissimo ending, it fades out into nothingness. Hailed as “exacting and exuberant” (New York Times), Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä at the head of the prestigious Minnesota Orchestra is putting his mark on the US’ and the entire world’s music scene with his highly original and compelling interpretations. He has a visceral sense and immediate grasp of the essence of the music and a near hypnotic grip on the orchestra. His revolutionary Beethoven cycle already caused a world sensation and now he is ready to tackle Mahler. In this superb, spacious BIS recording Vänskä avoids all overt emotional excesses and concentrates on the musical textures and beauties of the score. In fact, in his hands the symphony is not tragic at all, but a strong affirmation of life. He leads us through a remarkable journey: the relentless, terrifying military march that dominates the first movement is relieved by a magnificent love theme (inspired by Mahler’s beloved wife Alma) into an idyllic realm of an alpine meadow, cows grazing and village church bells ringing in the distance. The Andante is one of Mahler’s heavenly creations, but military madness returns as a demonic 3/4 time Scherzo punctuated with piercing and agonizing shrieks. The 32-minute Finale is an incredible piece of music that culminates in those three giant hammer blows, the power of fate that ultimately destroys man, sure, but after what a journey and what a struggle! Janos Gardonyi Hanging Gardens – Debussy; Berg; Webern; Schoenberg Jacob Greenberg; Tony Arnold New Focus Recordings FCR 192 (newfocusrecordings.com) !! If one went by the names on the cover of pianist Jacob Greenberg’s two-disc set Hanging Gardens, one might wonder if Debussy were the odd man out. After all, of the four composers featured Debussy was the impressionist, while Schoenberg, Berg and Webern were pioneers of the Second Viennese School, not only tending towards expressionist painting but also favouring an atonal approach to harmonic conception. However, the connection between the four men is deep and born of the desire to look beyond mainstream Western traditions as a way of expanding the vocabulary of music, the vividness of Symbolist poetry and above all an overwhelming sense of the elemental beauty of indeterminate harmonies. The centerpiece of this repertoire is Schoenberg’s Das Buch der hängenden Gärten, a song cycle based on the poetry of German Symbolist poet Stefan George. The work is a telling illustration of Schoenberg’s search for new modes of expression, which though unified poetically, tend to complete a musical statement within the frame of a miniature, with miniatures succeeding one another without developing a broad narrative pattern. But Greenberg shapes this work, as Schoenberg himself declared writing it: seeking beauty and sacrificing everything to it with the ripples of atonality and dissonance that come with it. Tony Arnold’s agile, luminous soprano voice is ideal and sings with power and subtlety. The Berg Sonata Opus 1 with traces of Liszt and – unsurprisingly – Schoenberg, manipulates tiny fragments of melody and rhythm into a statement dense with dramatic gesture and emotional power. And Webern’s Variations Op.27 are packed with incident and crafted like an overture, which enhances its dramatic potential. Greenberg appears to be ever the outstanding interpreter of fin de siècle French piano music and his wonderfully lucid and fluent pianism seems perfectly suited to Debussy’s quicksilver imagination. His accounts of both the Études and Préludes are astonishing. The Préludes indicate an affinity with the allusive world of the composer’s Images from several years earlier. The Études are more technically demanding and Greenberg, with marvellous gradations of dynamics and timbre, seems perfectly suited to this, Debussy’s most macroscopic piano music. Raul da Gama Violoncelle Français Cheng² Duo Audite 97.6987 Violonchelo del Fuego Cheng² Duo Audite 97.7366 (audite.de/en/ensemble/127-cheng_duo_duo) ! ! Having heard the best of the best during more than 60 years of frequent concertgoing, I’m not easily impressed, but four years ago, when I first heard the Cheng² (Cheng Squared) Duo, I was thrilled by their prodigious virtuosity and impassioned expressivity. Cellist Bryan Cheng was then all of 16, pianist Silvie Cheng in her early 20s. I was thrilled again this past August when the brother-and-sister pair from Ottawa performed at the Toronto Summer Music Festival. Bryan combines a dark, robust tone with jaw-dropping bravura, while Silvie creates an extraordinarily varied palette of keyboard colours that enhance her imaginative, nuanced phrasing. Together, they offer remarkably fresh approaches to familiar music, making their first two CDs so very special. The major works on Violoncelle Français, the Cello Sonatas of Claude Debussy and César Franck, are performed with unusual extremes of moody introspection and rhapsodic abandon. I’d grown tired of hearing the Franck, whether in the original version for violin or Jules Delsart’s cello transcription, 74 | November 2018 thewholenote.com

ut the Duo’s revelatory re-invention of this much-performed work, with myriad subtleties of tempo, dynamics, phrasing and tonal colour, surprised and delighted me. The CD also includes five encore-style selections, Saint-Saëns’s Allegro Appasssionato and The Swan, and three wellloved pieces by Gabriel Fauré that receive especially loving treatments – Pablo Casals’ arrangement of the song Après un Rêve and two works originally for cello and piano, Élégie and Sicilienne, both subsequently orchestrated by Fauré. More encore pieces, arrangements of familiar music by Spanish composers Granados, Albéniz, Sarasate and de Falla, appear on Violonchelo del Fuego. Bryan says: “Arrangements open up a whole new world of possibilities, and you’ll hear that at times I will strum like a guitar or Silvie’s playing will imitate castanets.” “Playing” is the appropriate word for their playful, exuberant approach to this music. Brian and Silvie add expressive embellishments to Maurice Gendron’s transcription of de Falla’s Siete canciones populares españolas, reflecting their desire to convey the meanings of the songs’ words. Bryan has also arranged the second song of the cycle, Seguidilla murciana, omitted from most instrumental arrangements, including Gendron’s. He says: “A lot of the idiosyncrasies in articulation, vibrato and colour are based on the vocal originals of these songs. It was my goal to really make the cello sing and speak as a dramatic singer would.” The results are truly exhilarating! This wonderful CD also affords Bryan and Silvie the chance to shine as individuals, in Gaspar Cassadó’s virtuosic Suite for solo cello and Joaquín Turina’s evocative Exaltación for piano. Though only in their 20s, both Bryan and Silvie are already world-class, performing separately and together at major international venues and festivals. I can’t – and won’t – stop raving about them. Michael Schulman MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Costas – Works for Guitar and Flute Duo Beija-Flor Big Round Records BR8953 (bigroundrecoreds.com) !! The days of November are increasingly colder and grayer, so what better way to dispel any prewinter gloom than a flute and guitar duo performing music with a strong Mediterranean focus. The Montreal-based Duo Beija-Flor – guitarist Charles Hobson and flutist Marie-Noëlle Choquette – began playing together during their student days at Concordia University and officially became a duo in 2010. Since then, they have performed throughout Canada, the United States and Argentina. This disc, titled Costas – referring to the Latin coastlines of the Atlantic – is a delight, featuring music by such diverse composers as Manuel de Falla, Astor Piazzolla, Celso Machado and Roddy Ellias. What is particularly striking from the very beginning is the wide variety achieved with respect to style, mood and tempo within a thoughtfully chosen program. De Falla’s set of Seven Spanish Folksongs was originally arranged for soprano and piano in 1914 and this transcription is particularly convincing. Less familiar is Celso Machado’s languorous Quebra Queixo. Machado, a world music guitarist now based in Vancouver, wrote the piece in homage to a popular Brazilian candy! Not all works on Costas are by Hispanic composers. Roddy Ellias is a Canadian performer and composer whose piece Havana Street Parade was especially commissioned by the duo. Its quirky and syncopated rhythms are an intriguing blend of jazz and Latin elements, performed with much aplomb. Throughout the disc, the addition of extraneous effects – percussive tapping on the guitar and the sound of wind created by the flute – further heightens the listening experience. Infectious rhythms, a diverse program and superb playing by both performers make this CD ideal not only for a cool gray day but any time of year – highly recommended. Richard Haskell Dreams Laid Down – New Music for Classical Guitar Alan Rinehart Ravello Records RR7996 (ravellorecords.com) !!“Poetic” is surely the word for British Columbia-based classical guitarist Alan Rinehart’s new solo disc. For example, the six pieces of the title work Dreams Laid Down (2013) by American composer Michael Karmon are each based on a poem from a collection by Rinehart’s wife Janice Notland. And Vancouver composer David Gordon Duke states that his own Soliloquies and Dreams (2003, evocative miniatures written for Rinehart) “alternate between the declamatory and the lyric” while the guitar “speaks as an actor, musing on ideas and thoughts.” In my view, these words also apply to Rinehart’s sensitive expression and tone. Of the disc’s three other compositions, the Rinehart-commissioned Ancient Heroes Suite by composer and guitarist John Oliver is a major work honouring poetic (e.g. Rumi) and guitar-connected greats. Couperin’s Ghost draws the connection between the French clavicinist and lute music. Especially attractive is Passacaille, which evokes not only the variation form but the dance’s steady tread and patterns. Richard Gibson’s Variaciones sobre una tema de Juan Lennon (2013) effectively brings together John Lennon’s song Julia and the classical guitar’s Spanish tradition. Finally, Canadian guitarist and composer William Beauvais’ Beginning of the Day (2017, dedicated to Rinehart) asserts the improvisational aspect of the instrument, extending it with exciting metrical intricacies. For several decades Rinehart has been a key performer, educator and, as we have seen, supporter of new repertoire; it is now a pleasure to recommend this disc. Roger Knox Bekah Simms – impurity chains Various Artists Centrediscs CMCCD 26118 (musiccentre.ca) ! ! Bekah Simms released impurity chains in early September this year. On it are three tracks between six and seven minutes, three between ten and fifteen. Microlattice is controlled chaos. Like many of these works, it follows an ABA structure. Tonally it neatly divides into three roughly equal lengths. Bells announce new sections. A coda juxtaposes the two tonal areas, the closely layered pitches generating a new colour. Metre is shrouded by the expansive pace. Next are two quartets, both using material derived from folk songs. Slept Unwell is for SATB vocal quartet featuring gasps, whispers and cries, the voices slightly extended with electronic effects. Newfoundland folksong The Maiden’s Lament is the source code; listen carefully. Swallow/Breathe, for string quartet, is a fresh take on the much-loved She’s Like the Swallow. Her coda quotes the melodic source material exactly, like a serving of dessert. Granitic is for larger ensemble, but of a shorter length. The piece is an ominous sonic mobile, the ten voices suspended in space slowly rotating about, gradually revealing the discernible pulse and in the electric guitar, rock-like riffs. The title may well be a pun. Is there a Kid A (National Anthem) quote in the closing section? This is my favourite. Everything Is… Distorted, brings back the slow pace of terror I felt in the opening track, thewholenote.com November 2018 | 75

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