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Volume 26 Issue 6 - March and April 2021

  • Text
  • Contemporary
  • Orchestra
  • Album
  • Toronto
  • Quartet
  • Ensemble
  • Jazz
  • Composer
  • April
  • Musical
96 recordings (count’em) reviewed in this issue – the most ever – with 25 new titles added to the DISCoveries Online Listening Room (also a new high). And up front: Women From Space deliver a festival by holograph; Morgan Paige Melbourne’s one-take pianism; New Orleans’ Music Box Village as inspiration for musical playground building; the “from limbo to grey zone” inconsistencies of live arts lockdowns; all this and more here and in print commencing March 19 2021.

describes the turbulent

describes the turbulent longings which lead her to rapturous visions of the divine. Kinsella conjures up storms and church bells, while Tandl achieves sublimity with the closing repeated “Alleluia.” Tandl and Kinsella’s perspective is so fresh and fruitful; I’m looking forward to hearing more of Schubert’s women-focused songs from them – especially the 12 songs he set to texts by women poets. Pamela Margles Wagner – Tristan und Isolde Juyeon Song; Roy Cornelius Smith; Ostrava Opera Men’s Chorus; Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra; Robert Reimer Navona Records nv6321 (navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6321) ! It’s a plausible idea to remove opera from the opera house to the concert stage. It makes it more accessible to the public, much less expensive and musically just as satisfying. (I recall seeing Nabucco for the first time in New York, Carnegie Hall, with Tito Gobbi and Elena Suliotis in concert form and still treasure the memory). In this instance, Tristan und Isolde was performed in concert under the aegis of the Claude Heater Foundation of San Francisco at the Penderecki Cultural Center in Poland with the forces noted above. And what a performance! Thanks to Facebook I actually saw excerpts from it on a wide stage with the full symphony orchestra and soloists all at the same level and a large screen behind with projected images following the mood of each scene. The result is this audio recording with young singers, largely unknown, and a wonderful orchestra from the nearby Czech Republic enthusiastically and passionately conducted by Robert Reimer, an up-andcoming young German conductor, well known and already very successful in Europe. Tristan was sung by American heldentenor Roy Cornelius Smith with amazing vocal power and total emotional involvement shaping the difficult, strenuous role. Isolde is a big surprise: largely unknown Korean dramatic soprano Juyeon Song, a petite figure but what a voice! A vocal powerhouse with secure high notes; a strong and passionate Isolde. Just listen to her angry outbursts of indignation in the first act, the impatient longing when awaiting Tristan for their secret tryst, the sheer ecstasy of their first embrace and that wonderful love duet with waves of passion that never wants to end! South African mezzo, Tamara Gallo, a thoroughly convincing Brangäne, shines in her soliloquy warning the lovers of the coming danger, and American basso John Paul Huckle as King Marke is perfect as the wronged husband. Excellent spacious sound favours the singers. An impressive new issue, highly recommended. Janos Gardonyi A Present from a Small Distant World: Vocal Music by Alex Eddington Kristin Mueller-Heaslip; Daniel Ramjattan; Jennifer Tran; Joseph Ferretti; Elaine Lau; Alex Eddington Redshift Records TK483 (alexeddington.com) ! Toronto composer Alex Eddington made a splash in 2004, winning a SOCAN Award for his cheekily titled monodrama Death to the Butterfly Dictator! (libretto by Kristin Mueller-Heaslip). His ambitious vocal-focused debut album A Present from a Small Distant World is as unorthodox and in some ways just as cheeky. Eddington’s work embraces orchestral and choral music to electroacoustics, on the way adding period instruments and steel pan ensemble to his catalogue. And like much of Eddington’s oeuvre A Present from a Small Distant World can certainly be branded eclectic. It consists of six art songs composed between 2008 and 2020 authoritatively sung by soprano Mueller-Heaslip, plus three aphoristic acoustic guitar-centred interludes, sensitively played by Daniel Ramjattan, disrupted by spacey, Morse coded electronics by Eddington. One of the album’s leitmotifs is interstellar communication. Its inspiration is revealed in the title track where Mueller-Heaslip sings part of Jimmy Carter’s 1977 speech that launched the Voyager spacecraft. Onboard was the Golden Record, a phonographic metal disc with a cross-section of the words, images and music of humanity. Explains Eddington, “… there is something wonderful about sending greetings hurtling outward,” even though chances they will be intercepted are slim. The last track, INTERSTELLAR, To the Makers of Music (text: inscribed by hand on the abovementioned Golden Record) neatly brings together all the elements previously presented – (multi-tracked) vocals, guitar and electronics – atmospherically summing up Eddington’s vision of music drifting through time and space toward an unseen audience. Andrew Timar Against Method counter)induction Celebrates a landmark anniversary for veteran New York ensemble counter)induction. Their two decades of musical life are a testament to their focused artistic vision and vibrancy of performances. Nick Cave; Nicholas Lens – L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S Various Artists Deutsche Grammophon 483 9745 (deutschegrammophon.com/en) ! Dark, intimate and beautiful – the music on this album flows like the fragmented pieces of night’s shadows in search of belonging to a world that is no more. Featuring four voices and an 11-piece instrumental ensemble, this chamber opera is simply breathtaking. There are no big arias here and no extravagant operatic gestures; instead, the melodies are unpretentious and the music is dreamy, almost trancelike, creating a selfenclosed world of small wonders. Belgian composer Nicholas Lens and Australian rock icon Nick Cave’s second opera collaboration unfolded during the lockdown in 2020. The album was recorded in Lens’ home studio where he and his daughter, Clara-Lane Lens (who accidentally found herself in Brussels during the lockdown), stepped into the singing roles, along with fabulous Denzil Delaere and Claron McFadden. The understated voices added a beautiful and real vulnerability to both the music and lyrics. Cave’s libretto cuts through the tonal layers like a well-honed knife; his poetry is both haunting and relentless in its chase of divine recognition for humankind. The sparsity of the music proved to be advantageous in this opera – every note, every phrase, every word, has a visible meaning. From the opening Litany of Divine Absence, to the gorgeous violin lines in Litany of the First Encounter and Litany of Godly Love, to the cinematic Litany of Divine Presence, the 12 movements unravel stories of the human condition. Ivana Popovic What we're listening to this month: Five Compositions (2009-2019) Louis Karchin "The Chamber Symphony is certainly a masterpiece. This is a superbly recorded and expertly performed recording." - MusicWeb International 34 | March and April 2021 thewholenote.com

Rising w/The Crossing The Crossing; Donald Nally New Focus Recordings FCR281 (newfocusrecordings.com/ catalogue/?artist=11549) ! Living in the throes of a raging global pandemic we all experience our “new normal” differently. If ever we could imagine a soundtrack that unites us through the silent roar of isolation it would be one that reflects both the hopelessness of it all as well as the uplifting energy of hope itself. With its soul-stirring music, Rising w/ The Crossing certainly qualifies to provide powerful anthems for our self-isolating sensibilities. The choral ensemble conducted by Donald Nally brings uniquely thoughtful and penetrating insight to music by Joby Talbot, Ēriks Ešenvalds, Dieterich Buxtehude, Paul Fowler, Alex Berko, Ted Hearne and Santa Ratniece; works that follow in the wake of David Lang’s powerfully prescient protect yourself from infection, the text of which was inspired by instructions that rose out of the last pandemic: the Spanish flu. The sense of awe and wonder which hovers over this entire recital is particularly closefocused in Lang’s work. It is echoed in the evershifting heartbeat of the wonderfully supple voices of the singers who make up The Crossing; voices that ceaselessly and eloquently trace the melodies of other stellar miniatures too. Much of the music is performed a cappella and this gives the works in question a wonderfully spectral quality. This is certainly true of Hearne’s 2016 work What it might say. But equally, it is Buxtehude’s Baroqueperiod works featuring the Quicksilver ensemble that enliven the elusive moments of this ethereal music’s whispered breath. Raul da Gama Poul Ruders – The Thirteenth Child Soloists; Odense Symfoniorkester; Bridge Academy Singers; David Starobin; Benjamin Shwartz Bridge Records 9527 (bridgerecords.com) ! The Thirteenth Child is an opera in two acts by Danish composer Poul Ruders (The Handmaid’s Tale) with a libretto by Becky and David Starobin. Performed by a large cast of excellent soloist singers, the Odense Symfoniorkester and the Bridge Academy Singers, the opera is based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, The Twelve Brothers. The Thirteenth Child follows Princess Lyra’s quest to find her 12 exiled brothers and bring them home to save the kingdom. The singers are all excellent and their vocal abilities are displayed throughout the opera via the modern and challenging parts written for them, often covering extreme tessitura on both sides of their vocal range. This is especially evident in the several falsetto effects sung by the two bass-baritones. The opera is fast paced and action packed with spells and adventures of good versus evil mixed in with tragedy and triumph. The cast of principals is large and the opera runs a short 77 minutes. As a result, the characters are not as developed as they could be and this makes meaningful audience engagement challenging. It may be that adding a third act could not only resolve this but would also allow for the story to be modernized and for Ruders to showcase more of his capable writing as he does for Princess Lyra and her suitor Frederic. Commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera and the Odense Symfoniorkester, The Thirteenth Child was recorded in Denmark and New York. It was premiered in Santa Fe, July 2019. Sophie Bisson Cooperstown – Jazz Opera in Nine Innings Daniel Montenegro; Carin Gilfry; Rod Gilfry; Daniel Favela; Julie Adams; Band; Sasha Matson Albany Records TROY1848 (albanyrecords.com) ! Cooperstown: Jazz Opera in Nine Innings, is scored for a 1950s-style jazz quintet and five singers. The composer is Sasha Matson with libretto by Mark Miller, inspired by A. Bartlett Giamatti’s essay The Green Fields of the Mind. Although this story takes place at the ballpark, it features all of the elements of a great opera: Angel, from impoverished Santo Domingo and newly raised to the majors as a pitcher, falls in love with Lilly from the Upper East Side. Undermining their romance is Marvin, the aging pro catcher and Jan, the jealous sports agent in love with Angel. The dual love of baseball and romantic love stories unfolds as the team manager, Dutch, attempts to manage the relationship struggles to focus on winning games. In the liner notes Matson describes in detail the recording process that allowed his team to capture sounds reminiscent of the original Blue Note recordings (microphone choices, specific recording and mixing equipment). The result is an outstanding listening experience: the sounds are rich and full but the music is as close and detailed as it would be in an intimate luscious jazz lounge. The classically trained voices are gorgeous and skillfully blend in with the jazz quintet. Each scene (inning) is bookended by a short and seamless transition in the form of an instrumental jazz chart played with impressive skills by musicians of the jazz quintet. Cooperstown might perhaps be more at home on a theatrical stage than at the opera house but it is a top-shelf musical experience. Sophie Bisson thewholenote.com/listening The Months Have Ends Paolo Marchettini Composer, clarinetist, and pianist Paolo Marchettini releases his debut recording of works for orchestra that are characteristic of his lush, lyrical style. Monday Nights Sophie Bancroft Reimagined classics and original compositions featuring Scottish singer-songwriter Sophie Bancroft on vocals and guitar alongside Canadian expat Tom Lyne on acoustic & electric bass. Surfboard Brandi Disterheft Surfboard is a Brazilian Jazz album showcasing Brandi's inventive writing, power-socket bass playing, and sweet ethereal vocals. Featuring saxophonist George Coleman, Portinho on drums and Klaus Mueller on piano. Klaus Treuheit with Lou Grassi Klaus Treuheit Two performances recorded by Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation that are just too good to be relegated to once-a-year midnight transmissions. thewholenote.com March and April 2021 | 35

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