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Volume 26 Issue 4 - December 2020 / January 2021

  • Text
  • Choir
  • Composer
  • Jazz
  • Symphony
  • Recording
  • Toronto
  • Orchestra
  • Musical
  • January
  • December
In this issue: Beautiful Exceptions, Sing-Alone Messiahs, Livingston’s Vocal Pleasures, Chamber Beethoven, Online Opera (Plexiglass & All), Playlist for the Winter of our Discontent, The Oud & the Fuzz, Who is Alex Trebek? All this and more available in flipthrough HERE, and in print Friday December 4.

This disc, Rosa Mystica,

This disc, Rosa Mystica, not only fits that objective, but it does so with a great deal of reverential eloquence. The centerpiece – halfway through the album – is Benjamin Britten’s ardent setting of Gerald Manley Hopkins’ poem Rosa Mystica (Mystical Rose), an invocation in the 16th-century Litany of Loreto, which actually dates back to the Tanakh and Song of Songs (2:1), and which, when translated, reads: “I am the Rose of Sharon.” Paul Spicer and the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Choir interpret the work with shimmering passion. It is Siva Oke, the recording producer, who makes sure that your edification begins from track one, with the inimitable John Tavener’s Mother of God, here I stand. Remarkably, each track thereafter is instrumentally and lyrically fresh despite the underlying theme of all the music being the same: that is, dedication to the praise and worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The producer has also reflected a keen sense of history and openness for new material in the selection of these Musical Portraits of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Nicholas Ludford (1485-1557) offering, Ave cujus conceptio, is the oldest. Meanwhile, from the contemporary era, Carl Rutti’s Ave Maria, Judith Bingham’s Ave virgo sanctissima and Cecilia McDowall’s Of a Rose make their debuts on this impressive recording. Raul da Gama Peter Lieberson – Songs of Love and Sorrow; The Six Realms Gerald Finley; Anssi Karttunen;Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Hannu Lintu Ondine ODE 1356-2 ( search/0761195135624) ! American composer Peter Lieberson (1946– 2011) had a fascinating, bicultural career. A composition student of rigorous American modernists Milton Babbitt and Charles Wuorinen, at an early age he imbibed the classical music of earlier eras, as well as mid-century jazz and musical theatre in the NYC home of his prominent record-executive father Goddard Lieberson and ballerina mother Vera Zorina. Starting in the 1970s he embraced the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism which profoundly influenced his compositional approach. Lieberson’s mature works successfully fuse those seemingly disparate influences into a cohesive idiosyncratic chromatic style threaded with an appealing lyricism and anchored by inventive orchestration. Lieberson composed The Six Realms (2000), a dramatic concerto for amplified cello and orchestra, at the request of Yo-Yo Ma. The work’s backstory outlines a key Buddhist teaching: differing states of mind shape human experience. Thus each of the concerto’s six continuous sections illustrates a different realm in Buddhist cosmology and aspect of human emotion. The work receives a powerfully emotional rendering on the album by contemporary music specialist, cellist Anssi Karttunen, a close Lieberson friend. The record’s other work features an outstanding performance by Canadian bassbaritone Gerald Finley as soloist in Lieberson’s orchestral song cycle Songs of Love and Sorrow (2010), among his last works. Set to five sonnets from Cien sonetos de amor by Pablo Neruda, the Songs are imbued with love for – but also a sense of quiet farewell to – the composer’s late wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, ending with a haunting repeated “adios.” Andrew Timar Ian Venables – Requiem Choir of Gloucester Cathedral; Adrian Partington Somm Recordings SOMMCD 0618 ( ! The requiem Mass is one of the most frequently set texts in all of music, with many of history’s greatest composers turning their pens to this ancient burial rite. Traditional settings date from the medieval era to the present and range from the contemplative (Fauré and Duruflé) to the bombastic (Berlioz and Verdi), while a number of 20thand 21st-century settings incorporate additional texts, such as Britten’s War Requiem and Howard Goodall’s Eternal Light. One of the most recent contributions to the requiem genre is Ian Venables’ 2018 Requiem, Op.48, which presents a selection of the traditional requiem Mass texts in a contemporary setting. Scored for chorus and organ, Venables composed this work with liturgical performance in mind; although this might seem to be a restrictive limitation when compared to the immense orchestrations of the great musical requiems, Venables uses the timbres and textures of both the organ and choir to produce a range of effects that reflect the drama, terror and peacefulness present in the text. This attentive and effective synthesis of words and music should come as no surprise, as Venables is a respected and highly experienced art song composer who has also written a range of instrumental and choral works. Venables’ Requiem is characterized by a mixture of textures, woven together throughout the duration of the work to produce varying results. One such distinguishing feature is the use of modality, which often erupts into bright, open quartal chords that produce a luminescence not otherwise attainable in the major/minor system. While tuning is always of paramount importance for any performing group, it becomes even more so when non-traditional harmonies are used, and the Gloucester Cathedral Choir executes every such passage with precision and accuracy, breathing life into this mass for the dead. Matthew Whitfield Voices of the Pearl Volume 3 Anne Harley; Stacey Fraser; James Hayden; Various artists Voices of the Pearl ( albums) ! The ambitious Voices of the Pearl project commissions, performs and records works by international living composers, who set texts by and about females from diverse traditions throughout history, illuminating their lives, struggles and beliefs. Volume Three features five works based on Buddhist, Chinese and other Asian texts, performed by Canadian/California-based sopranos Anne Harley (who is also artistic director) and Stacey Fraser, with American instrumentalists and singers. Canadian composer Emilie Cecilia LeBel’s You Moving Stars (2017) is based on early Therīgāthā (Verses of the Elder Nuns) poetry collection by and about female disciples of the historical Buddha from about the fifth century BCE. Performed by Harley and electric guitarist Steve Thachuk, it is sparsely orchestrated yet attention-grabbing, from the opening long-held guitar drone, sudden high soprano entry, wide-interval-pitched melody, and brief almost unison vocal and guitar sections. The two performers create a sacred, thought provoking sound. Chinary Ung’s Still Life After Death (1995) follows a living Soul, sung by Fraser, on her ritualistic end-of-life journey. Scored for full ensemble and performed by the terrific Brightwork newmusic, the repeated detached notes, loud crashes and almost contrapuntal flute, violin and clarinet backdrops support the soprano’s emotional wide-ranging part until the deep-calming, short-Buddhistphrase-chanting, bass-baritone, James Hayden, relaxes the Soul to echo him until her final fearless ending. Works by Karola Obermüller, Yii Kah Hoe, and a second Chinary Ung composition complete this amazing recording, illuminating female artists throughout history. Tiina Kiik 48 | December 2020 / January 2021

The Anchoress Hyunah Yu; Mimi Stillman; PRISM (Saxophone) Quartet; Piffaro, The Renaissance Band XAS Records XAS 110 ( recordings) ! The Anchoress is a song cycle in eight movements composed by David Serkin Ludwig with text by Katie Ford. Written for soprano, saxophone quartet, and a Renaissance band, The Anchoress explores the medieval mystic tradition of anchorism. As part of a devotional practice to Christian life, an anchoress withdrew from secular society in order to live in extreme deprivation in a bricked-up cell attached to a church (an anchorhold). From her “squint” (a tiny window) to the outside world, Ford imagines a narrative from the most inner thoughts of a medieval anchoress. From that tiny window we are privy to slices of conversations, with herself and others, where the anchoress experiences intense and extreme emotions that range from contemplation and doubt to terror and religious ecstasy. Ludwig’s striking choice of orchestration in the mixing of ancient and modern instruments moves the listener efficiently through the various narratives by creating sonorities that are both unusual and unique. The solo recorder is particularly efficient as it converses and interrupts the voice, mirroring the meandering mind of the anchoress. The Anchoress is an expansive monologue in which soprano Hyunah Yu makes use of several vocal techniques such as vocalises and Sprechstimme. She is expertly supported by Piffaro, the acclaimed Renaissance wind band and the PRISM Quartet. The Anchoress received its world premiere in October 2018 by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. The disc also features three instrumental settings, Three Anchoress Songs, featuring flutist Mimi Stillman and tenor saxophonist Matthew Levy. Sophie Bisson CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Corelli’s Band – Violin Sonatas Augusta McKay Lodge; Various Artists Naxos 8.574239 ( search/747313423972) ! The accomplished young Baroque violinist Augusta McKay Lodge brings her considerable musical elegance and strong personality to bear in this fascinating program of early 18th-century sonatas for violin and continuo. We hear three sonatas by Giovanni Mossi and two by Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli. Both Mossi and Carbonelli were students and/or followers of Arcangelo Corelli and indeed their works owe much to the great master, both in content and structure. The lone Corelli work on the disc is one of his greatest, the Sonata Op.5, No.3 in C Major, and the performance is sensational, a great combination of fire, precision and risk-taking. This is playing of great clarity that brings out the harmonic tension, melodic beauty and rhythmic interest in Corelli’s music. Of the three Mossi sonatas, the two from his early Op.1 collection from 1716 are a real revelation. They’re technically challenging with a refreshing originality. The later 1733 sonata of his which opens the disc is somewhat more square and uninteresting. While obviously talented, Carbonelli seemed to have dabbled in music, possibly studying with Corelli and having known Vivaldi, who named one of his sonatas – Il Carbonelli – after him. His only published music – before he took up work as a supplier of wine to the English court – was a set of sonatas published in 1729. The two represented here are full of interest and great poignancy. The continuo band is a powerhouse and provides strong support to Lodge, who is clearly emerging as one of the most eloquent and interesting Baroque violinists around. Larry Beckwith Johann Baptist Cramer – Piano Concertos 1, 3 & 6 Howard Shelley; London Mozart Players Hyperion CDA68302 ( ! Apart from his piano Etudes Op.84 – for many years a staple in piano pedagogy – the name Johann Baptist Cramer is not all that well known today. A year after his birth in Mannheim in 1771, his father – himself a renowned violinist and conductor – moved the family to London to take advantage of the thriving musical life there. The move was clearly a fortuitous one, for over the course of his long lifetime, Cramer earned a reputation as a virtuoso soloist, composer and pedagogue. In light of his sizable output, he is definitely a composer worth re-exploring and who better to do it than the London Mozart Players with Howard Shelley both directing and performing three piano concertos on this Hyperion recording, the sixth in the Classical Piano series. The Concertos No.1 and 3 in in E-flat and D Major respectively, were completed in the 1790s and stylistically straddle the classical and Romantic periods. While both were perhaps written with an eye to demonstrating Cramer’s technical prowess, the musical style is gracious and spirited, further enhanced by Shelley’s technically flawless performance and the LMP’s solid accompaniment. What we're listening to this month: Music for English Horn Alone Jacqueline Leclair A dynamic collection of solo works for this instrument usually relegated to a coloristic role in the orchestra, by a renowned double reed practitioner. Alex Moxon Quartet Alex Moxon On his debut as a leader, Moxon offers an antidote to gloom and despair, reminding us that the future will be a wonderful place. The Circle Doxas Brothers Tight, angular jazz by a pair of brothers that have rubbed elbows with the top progressive voices in jazz - this is on the money throughout. Sunset in the Blue Melody Gardot "Sunset In The Blue" is Melody Gardot’s latest release since 2018’s “Live in Europe”. Ambitiously created during the pandemic, the album is both timeless and necessary December 2020 / January 2021 | 49

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