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Volume 26 Issue 2 - October 2020

  • Text
  • Classical
  • Artists
  • Choral
  • Concerts
  • Performances
  • Choir
  • Jazz
  • Musical
  • Toronto
  • October
Following the Goldberg trail from Gould to Lang Lang; Measha Brueggergosman and Edwin Huizinga on face to face collaboration in strange times; diggings into dance as FFDN keeps live alive; "Classical unicorn?" - Luke Welch reflects on life as a Black classical pianist; Debashis Sinha's adventures in sound art; choral lessons from Skagit Valley; and the 21st annual WholeNote Blue Pages (part 1 of 3) in print and online. Here now. And, yes, still in print, with distribution starting Thursday October 1.

Honeywood Emilyn Stam

Honeywood Emilyn Stam and John David Williams Independent ( ! This toe-tapping, instrumental/folk 15-track release showcases the superb Ontariobased duo Emilyn Stam (five-string fiddle, piano accordion) and her husband John David Williams (clarinet, diatonic accordion) in both their original and their arranged traditional “balfolk” style tunes, a Western European Dutch, German and French style of folk dances such as waltzes, schottisches, rondeaux and mazurkas. Great entertaining diverse musical feels throughout. Their tune J & C Mazurka opens with a reflective lead clarinet against fiddle plucks leading to a tight quiet duet. Their cover of the traditional Brittany tune Laridés features upbeat conversational fiddle/clarinet interludes, and clarinet octave shifts. Williams plays diatonic accordion with Stam’s fiddle in the lyrical, sensitive, tightly phrased cover of the traditional Dutch Marche de Roux/La Baigneuse (Marche/Waltz). Five special guests add new colour to select tracks including upright bassist Alan Mackie’s deep low pitches in After the Snow/Autumn in the Valley (Schottische); and Nathan Smith’s great fiddling as Stam picks up the piano accordion to play backdrop grooves and doubling driving clarinet lines in Red Bay/ The Stone Whale/Stukjes (Jig Chapelloise). Stam and Williams play with joy, technique and superb musicianship. Honeywood is the Ontario town where Stam and Williams were married in 2017, and also where their first two Big Branch Festivals for balfolk were held. No festival this year due to the pandemic, but there is so much great music here to keep you dancing at home, and hopefully out and about soon! Tiina Kiik Something in the Air Sophisticated Solo Reed Sessions Score with Surprises KEN WAXMAN Once a rite of passage, solo outings for reed players have now become almost as commonplace in improvised music as jazz piano trio discs. At the same time, figuratively performing musically naked like that involves more than desire and technical skill. Cerebral planning as well as deciding which horn(s) to use, plus the suitability of the location’s acoustics are necessary as well. These new discs demonstrate how international reed players deal with the challenges. Performing on Geminga (Creative Sources CS 637 CD, German Julius Gabriel uses the spatial dimensions of an ancient chapel in Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal to expand his improvisation on soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones. That means that sometimes not only is he creating a thematic line and a vibrated secondary commentary but echoes from the chapel add a third aural element. Hear this at work on the extended Asteroids, as lively tones spill from his tenor saxophone augmented by a lower-pitch continuum and, following an upwards pitch shift, are joined by moderated trills that seem to vibrate from a second distant tenor saxophone. During ten tracks, Gabriel works his way to Epicycles, the circular-breathed soprano sax finale. Characterized by a surge from presto to prestissimo, his tone extensions and detours sputter and soar irregularly and broadly, but never interrupting the narrative flow. Briefer tracks are displays of blindingly fast key percussion or, on Cave Moans, just that, with gravelly razzing wails reflected by the spatial situation suggesting the noise of cave people shouting into the void. Other pieces are more focused. The Nerves finds layered baritone saxophone reed vibrations moving from nephritic honks to altissimo squeaks while displaying split-tone fluctuations. Meanwhile Juju’s Dream confirms that running through reed changes and affiliated chamber echoes with the harshest and most jagged tenor sax buzzes can climax with screaming multiphonics without abandoning a straightforward hidden melody. Jagged and smooth, sweet and sour, Walk Down’s andante exposition overlaps a jumpy theme to renal slurs and splatters before sliding to a smooth final interchange. While Gabriel divides his reed attention three ways, Montreal’s Yves Charuest concentrates on the alto saxophone and spotlights the exploratory nature of his solos in the title of his CD, Le Territoire de l’Anche (Small Scale Music SSM-022 Concurrently his preoccupation is with high-pitched textures. Moving from a whisper to a scream on Arundo Donax, Adorno Don’t Ask, Charuest’s tongue-slapping variables and shrill whistles are dissected into terse peeps and screech passages at the edge of hearing using only stiff percussive breath. Subsequently, on Exquisite Corpus Callosum, he unearths slurry and slippery theme variations of temporal and timbral activity with a series of tongue stops, sliding from low pitches to elevated trills without upsetting andante motion. Charuest also uses barely there reed bites and tongue stabs to vibrate a secondary theme that is both spiky and stimulating. All together his tracks are terse, tart and throbbing and also expand the properties of the saxophone’s metal body, as exhalation digs textures from the body tube that owe nothing to reed or mouthpiece. He can also approximate mellow with connective slurs as on Rohrwurm. But his usual strategies involve moving timbres from shrill to shriller. Although these continuous eviscerated honks and piercing squeaks make the architecture of a tune like Interstitial Defect seem like a merry-go-round of musical motifs endlessly rotating, circular breathing leads to tone extensions not limitations. By the concluding Anémophile, as tongue slaps and whistles presage varied textures, he’s made a convincing case for the validity of brief, strident, metal-accented pitches as the basis for profoundly distinctive improvisations. Dividing her sonic explorations in two, French soprano saxophonist Alexandra Grimal has put out the monkey in the abstract garden (Ovni OVB 0003, a two-CD set of which only Disc 1 is of concern. The second features her abstract vocalizing further altered and processed by Benjamin Lévy’s electronics. However, it’s her nine solo soprano saxophone variations on Ma that are fascinating. Dedicated to the intervals between and among notes, she projects a moderated tone, uses more pauses and stops than any of the other soloists here, in improvisations that are calm and dulcet without being cloying. With the tracks fluid, the sole dissident texture occurs at the beginning of Ma 5, 66 | October 2020

coincidentally the shortest track, where an initial reed squeak soon settles into a horizontal patterning with an unbroken tone. More characteristic are improvisations where adagio peeps and trills curve into brief timbral emphasis, never losing exhilarating mellowness. Happily, to avoid sameness, the lengthiest instances of this allow for more development. Ma 8, for instance, emphasizes reed lowing and accelerating peeps as pauses lengthen between tongue flutters as the track slows down to largo. Eventually, as individual breaths lengthen each time they’re heard, a squeaking motif distinguishes this showcase from the other tracks. Ma 3 is also memorable, since the logically projected tongue stops and curlicue trills introduce a sequence where high and low pitches alternate so that it appears as if a ghostly second saxophonist is answering the primary reed projections. Solo reed revelations aren’t limited to saxophonists. A couple of clarinetists, Belgian Ben Bertrand and Italian Marco Colonna, are involved in similar programs, but with effects and electronics prominent as well. More animated and atonal of the two are the sounds on Colonna’s Fili (Niafunken nfk 007 Playing clarinet and bass clarinet and using extended techniques and effects to overdub, dissect and multiply timbres, Colonna creates an unprecedented program. Like an actor in a one-person play, he takes all the parts himself and frequently interacts with his sonic doppelgangers. On Pane, for instance, a low-pitched tongue-slap beat is harmonized with treble reed lines until a single clarinet breaks out from the group to propel the klezmer-like theme forward with squeaks and splats until the line is so deemphasized that it fades away. Sos Berbos on the other hand plays with the rhythm created by key percussion and nasal exhalation, followed by an interlude from a ghostly clarinet trio whose output interacts as each reflects the other’s tones, climaxing with layered slurs from both high and low-pitched reeds. Sometimes, as on A Matita, the sequences fly by with kinetic multiphonics concentrated into stacked polyphony. Or, on Farina e Pianto, the exposition suddenly changes course as a solo clarinet sounds two calming rustic tones simultaneously as low-pitched reed pressure moves up the scale with intermittent squeals. Probably the track which best reflects Colonna’s multi-pronged reed strategy is Pietra. On it, soft-drinkbottle-cap-opening pops projected by tongue slaps presage a series of clarion bites and subterranean snorts from different instruments before culminating in a horizontal finale of a lone upturned trill. A divergence into differently defined textures, Belgian Ben Bertrand uses his bass clarinet and numerous effects machines to stretch his improvisations on Manes (Stroom/Les albums claus STRLP-038/ LAC015 so that they relate to techno and ambient music. Most distinctively, Incantation 3 defines this lower-case strategy. Reed respirations coupled with expressive sine waves create repetitive tones that vibrate rhythmically as clarion clarinet trills soar across the sound field for a deconstructed but measured exposition. Even as they blow airily these dissected trills retain their reed identity, but elsewhere the processing and extended techniques create passages that sound nothing like the tones a clarinet produces. Although overdubbed glissandi to create clarinet ensembles produce unique reed buzzes, the addition of the disembodied voice of Claire Vailler on the concluding The Manmaipo merely puts into bolder relief Bertrand’s achievement. Distinctively, this allows for the creation of altissimo and chalumeau register pitches to engage in a distinctive call and response between themselves. Electronics aside, each of these reed players has produced individual and exceptional solo works. As their varied programs demonstrate, there’s also still scope for others to engender particular responses to the solo reed challenge. Old Wine, New Bottles Fine Old Recordings Re-Released BRUCE SURTEES British pianist Solomon Cutner, who had a natural talent for the piano, was born in London on August 9, 1902. He was the seventh child of musical parents of German-Jewish and Polish- Jewish extraction and began to play the family piano aged five. He made his debut, of sorts, aged seven, in his father’s tailor shop playing his own arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. He became a pupil of Mathilde Verne, herself a former pupil of no less than Clara Schumann. He learned well. As did she. She tied him to a five-year contract with her company and toured him as “Solomon, the Child Prodigy.” Solomon made his real debut in Queen’s Hall in 1911. In 1914, the 12-year-old played Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto at the Proms. Proms founder, Sir Henry Wood insisted that he continue his studies and he made it to Paris where he studied with Marcel Dupré and others. He appeared in the United States in 1926 and again in 1939. During WWII and after, he played for the Allied troops around the world including Australia and New Zealand. Solomon was a mighty talent whose brilliant recordings produced by English Columbia and His Master’s Voice, EMI were treasured by discerning music lovers everywhere who appreciated his artistry and technique. He first recorded in 1929. He was in the midst of recording the complete cycle of Beethoven sonatas for EMI Records when he suffered a devastating stroke in 1956, which paralyzed his right arm. He never recorded or performed in public again, but lived on for another 32 years, dying in 1988 in London. The recordings that Profil selected for the collection Solomon – Concertos, Sonatas and Pieces (Profil PH20032 cover repertoire from J.S. Bach to Sir Arthur Bliss and include concertos, duos and solo works all in the best HMV/Columbia sound. There is not a single performance that is anything less than individual and many that surprise. On CD8 is the most welcome first recording of the unique and devilishly difficult 1938 piano concerto by Bliss, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. The Bliss concerto was written specifically for the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and the familiar gestures of the grand Romantic manner were calculated to please audiences of the day. Listening to Solomon play the poetic Grieg concerto that follows, conducted by Herbert Menges, the listener can only but marvel at how, in the first movement, the keys could be depressed so gently and still be making the notes. That disc concludes with two pieces by Brahms, the Intermezzo in B-flat Minor, Op.117 No.2 and the Rhapsody in G Minor, Op.79 No.2 in definitive performances. As may be expected by now, this listener is attuned to expect Solomon’s articulation and clarity, and so, Schumann’s Carnaval is unusually fresh. On CD5, The Beethoven “Archduke” Trio with Henry Holst (violin) and Anthony Pini (cello) follows the Brahms Piano Sonata No.3 Op.5. CD6 contains three of Beethoven’s most loved piano sonatas, Pathétique, Moonlight and Appassionata. To put the icing on the cake, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky joins Solomon for the Cello Sonata No.5, Op.102 No.2. What a shock on CD7 when the stentorian Liszt’s Hungarian Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra conducted by Walter Susskind lashes out following Scriabin’s Concerto in F-sharp Minor and Tchaikovsky’s First, both conducted by Isssay Dobrowen. On these ten discs, there are concertos by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Scriabin and Bliss of course, in addition to a multitude of piano works by Bach, Mozart, Haydn, October 2020 | 67

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