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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.

Earth Voices

Earth Voices Amanda Tosoff Empress Music EMG702 (amandatosoff.com) ! Toronto-based piano player and composer, Amanda Tosoff, has just released a stunning new collection of songs that blurs the lines between jazz and art song. Cleverly marrying texts by classic poets such as Pablo Neruda and Rumi, with her own and others’ compositions, plus drawing on the talents of seven different singers, a string quartet, two sax players and a jazz trio, Tosoff has given us a very rich body of work. Opening with the powerful combination of Tosoff’s composition, Edgar Alan Poe’s words and Emilie-Claire Barlow’s singing, A Dream Within a Dream is one of the jazzier pieces on the album. With sax by Kelly Jefferson and Allison Au, and Jon Maharaj (bass) and Morgan Childs (drums) filling out the rhythm section, it’s lively, complex and thought-provoking. The middle part of the album is more in the art song vein and I found myself especially drawn to these songs with their interplay of piano and strings and voice. Birdwings, based on a Rumi poem and beautifully sung by Alex Samaras, also has Tosoff stretching out a bit with a lyrical piano solo. Oh, Life (written by Mike Ross), featuring cello (Beth Silver) and violin (Aline Homzy) plus Laila Biali’s and Samaras’ beautifully blended voices add to the poignancy of the lyrics. To a Stranger, written by Tosoff and based on a Walt Whitman poem, is spare and gorgeous with just a string quartet and Felicity Williams’ ethereal singing. A Canadian album devoted to poetry wouldn’t seem complete without a Joni Mitchell tune and her early anti-war song, Fiddle and the Drum gets a strong reworking centred around Lydia Persaud’s solid vocals. Cathy Riches The One and the Other Lara Solnicki Outside In Music OiM 2013 (larasolnicki.com) ! Multi-gifted vocalist, composer and poet, Lara Solnicki, has just released a compelling and kinesthetic recording project, utilizing her considerable gifts to manifest a cinematically framed collection of original post-modern art songs. Solnicki has said, “I call these songs ‘tone poems,’ because they are governed and held together by a ‘poetic logic.’” Produced by eminent multi-instrumentalist and film composer Jonathan Goldsmith, the CD also features performances by skilled musicians Peter Lutek (alto sax/electro-acoustic clarinet and bassoon); Hugh Marsh (electric violin); Rob Piltch (electric and acoustic guitar); Scott Peterson (acoustic and electric bass); Rich Brown (electric bass); and Davide DiRenzo on drums. Well recorded by Jeff Wolpert, the first offing is Bit Her Sweet Christopher Street, where Solnicki’s poetic lyrics and her gorgeous, sonorous vocal tone evoke stark images that speak to diverse emotional reactions in a physical space of contrasts. This song seems to address the dense, urban zones where many of us live our lives, and that there can still be beauty, mystery and the deep presence of nature. Goldsmith’s acoustic piano work here is mesmerizing, as is Piltch’s masterful contribution on both electric and acoustic guitar. The Embrace is a composition of incredible beauty and Solnicki brings to mind the incomparable Norma Winstone as she wraps her warm voice around each intriguing musical nuance and syllable. This inspired song cycle concludes with the three-movement The One and The Other, described as an allegory and tragic story in which a man ironically drowns in the image of love. 1) Pass a Glass, is a free-form tourde-force for both Marsh and DiRenzo. 2) Awe of the Sea effectively incorporates pizzicato strings and the entire ensemble to evoke waves, motions, seagulls and unfathomable depths. 3) Hollow the Need, leaves the listener washed up on a paradisiacal shore, having passed through a vortex of emotions, images and the sublime glory of words and music. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Antonio Vandini – Complete Works Elinor Frey; Patxi Montero; Marc Vanscheeuwijck; Federica Bianchi Passacaille 1079 (elinorfrey.com) ! The prolific Canadian-American cellist Elinor Frey adds another impressive release to her discography. This new record features the complete works of the regrettably littleknown Italian cellist and composer, Antonio Vandini. In mighty musical company with the likes of Tartini and Vivaldi, Vandini proved himself a virtuoso in his own right, touring Europe as a celebrated cellist; he also wrote music that has remained inexplicably neglected, even in the 21st century. Six sonatas and one concerto adorn this attractive disc, exquisitely conceived, researched and recorded alongside Frey’s collaborators Patxi Montero, Marc Vanscheeuwijck and Frederica Bianchi. The collaborative voices of contrabass, viola da gamba and harpsichord complement these cello-centric works to salient effect. Vandini himself boasted top-drawer musical partners, the most famous of whom was Giuseppe Tartini. Vandini also taught at La Pietà in Venice, alongside Vivaldi. As mirror to the artistic comradery Vandini enjoyed in his own lifetime, Frey has assembled an expert group of musicians here – friends and colleagues – to help realize these colourful, inspired scores. Some highlights include: the duo Sonata in C Major, Van.2 and the sunny Concerto in D major, Van.5 which features the entire ensemble with two added violins and viola. The final work on the record, the Sonata in E Major, Van.7 has a particular depth of expression, exemplifying the verdant key of E Major. Frey’s flawless focus and confident musicality leads us through an 18th-century cave of wonders: a joyous, antique grotto where others fail to tread. Adam Sherkin Mozart – Complete Piano Sonatas, Volume 1 Orli Shaham Canary Classics CC19 (canaryclassics.com) ! Young Mozart, the proverbial wunderkind, was known primarily as a performer rather than a composer – one of the greatest exponents of the then, relatively new fortepiano. The antithesis of Franz Liszt, who rose to pianistic eminence almost a century later, Mozart encouraged simplicity and clarity over wizardry. This is perfectly reflected in his sonatas, which he only began writing in 1774. Strangely, virtually all 18 of Mozart’s piano sonatas are neglected by pianists and listeners although Mitsuko Uchida, Maria-João Pires and Glenn Gould (who famously disparaged Mozart in one of his CBC broadcasts) have recorded interpretations of the complete sonatas. And now the brilliant young Orli Shaham gives notice that she intends to follow suit with the first of her recordings Mozart – Complete Piano Sonatas (Vol.1). In the wrong hands Mozart’s outwardly simple sonatas can, indeed, sound simplistic and uninteresting – even formulaic. But Shaham brings out all the delights of the sonatas in this recital that features one early and two late works. Her delicate phrasing creates a feeling of innocent melodiousness, yet each movement is intelligently worked out, and Shaham’s subtle manipulation of timing conveys a strong sense of Mozart’s puckish and quick-witted compositional approach. Shaham’s interpretation of the early Sonata in B-flat Major No.3 K281 is gritty. Meanwhile the B-flat Major No.13 K333 and B-flat Major No.17 K570 have been infused with great depth of colour, emotional range and welltuned melodious elegance. Raul da Gama 36 | March and April 2021 thewholenote.com

Louis Lortie Plays Chopin, Volume 6 Louis Lortie Chandos CHAN 20117 (naxosdirect.com/ search/chan+20117) ! The music of Chopin is, for Louis Lortie, a vocational hallmark and the making of his career. Now, six records deep into the composer’s catalogue, Lortie includes a fantasy, an early set of variations and assorted Polish national dances on his latest release. For the dances, an objective, no-nonsense approach is favoured. His sense of rhythmic continuity betrays an aspiration to expose the inherent structures just as they are, without affectation or personalized dilution. The results seem born of the first half of the 20th century – Lortie never handles this music too preciously, with the essence of the dance always at the fore. When considering Chopin, contrast between dark and light is essential. Lortie excels at the conveyance of Slavic expression through the lens of extreme sentiment, often using fine-tuned pacing, silence and varied dynamics to admirable effect. Of unexpected delight is the “Military” Polonaise, Op.40 No 1. Not such a fashionable thing to record these days, Lortie offers it up with unabashed affection and aristocratic poise. Arguably saving best for last, the Fantasy in F Minor, Op.49 concludes the album, highlighting the attributes for which Lortie is celebrated. Lucid and buoyant, it is music sculpted with chiselled lines and acute structural sense. At moments on this disc, a seasoned sort of beauty takes hold of our ears, wherein a keyboard’s conjuring casts an airy, aural spell. In the battle of dark and light, Lortie’s own brand of luminescence wins out every time. Adam Sherkin Chopin Lara Melda Champs Hill Records CHRCD153 (laramelda.co.uk) ! Chopin – the poet of the piano! What more can be said about this composer – born in Żelazowa Wola to a French father and a Polish mother – who embodied the spirit and soul of Poland, but lived his all-too-brief life in France? 170 years after his passing, his music continues to enthrall connoisseurs and amateurs alike; this disc on the Champs Hill label, presenting a new artist in her debut recording, is bound to be welcome. Lara Melda was born in England of Turkish parentage. She studied at the Royal Academy, winning the BBC Young Musician competition in 2010 and since then, has continued to appear in recital throughout Europe and in other parts of the world. The thoughtfully chosen program comprising seven nocturnes and the four ballades is a delight. Melda approaches the music with an elegant sensitivity, her warm tone coupled with just the right degree of tempo rubato. The technical challenges inherent in these pieces, particularly the ballades, are daunting enough for any pianist, but she conquers them with apparent ease. There are times when her tempos – such as in the Nocturnes Op.9 No.3 or Op.48 No.1 – may seem a little brisk, but this is a minor issue and certainly doesn’t mar her fine performance. Of the 11 tracks, among the highlights is surely the glorious fourth Ballade Op.52, considered by many to be one of Chopin’s greatest compositions, and also one of his most difficult. Melda does it full justice, from the lyrical and delicate opening measures to the frenetic coda which brings the disc to a satisfying conclusion. If this recording is any evidence of her musical stature, we can surely hope to hear from Lara Melda again in the near future. Richard Haskell Rachmaninoff Sergei Babayan Deutsche Grammophon (deutschegrammophon.com/en/artists/ sergei-babayan) ! “The heat of Rachmaninoff’s music is like the heat of dry ice, it’s so cold that it burns you.” – Leon Fleisher Like the memory of an enkindled winter’s kiss, Rachmaninoff can clutch you by the throat, not to mention the heart. The music transfixes our soul, engendering lifelong adoration for such immutable layers of melody, harmony and ebullient Slavic passion, penned only as the singular Sergei R could have. Who of us, though, can truly know Rachmaninoff? From the 21st century’s vantage point – more than 75 years on from the composer-pianist’s death – his music is perpetrated the world over, arguably by far too many interpreters with far too little to say. Performing Rachmaninoff’s music has never been an easy feat but rarely does one encounter a quintessence, a spirit of truth from his espousers. To appropriate a quote from the composer himself, “but do they exalt?” With so much performance practice swirling around Sergei (R) and his catalogue, richly gifted and rare, sympathetic interpreters such as Sergei (B), tend to twinkle and gleam atop the pianistic flotsam we hear all too often from – those self-indulgent, What we're listening to this month: thewholenote.com/listening 13 Lunar Meditations: Summoning the Witches Ayelet Rose Gottlieb New album by vocalist / composer Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, featuring Jay Clayton, an improvisers' choir, a quartet and poetry by women from around the world. EL CURRUCHÁ Eliana Cuevas & Aquiles Báez (guitar) A new, intimate collection of traditional Venezuelan folk songs that will take you to Latin America. AVAILABLE NOW on all digital platforms. CONCERTO 2000 Jan Järvlepp Composer Jan Järvlepp presents CONCERTO 2000. These tonal works are performed by world class ensembles the Janáček Philharmonic, Moravian Philharmonic, and Zagreb Festival Orchestras FLIGHTS OF FANCY Jan Järvlepp Fusing European and American traditions, composer Jan Järvlepp’s FLIGHTS OF FANCY pairs the excitement of rock and jazz rhythms with classical music forms. thewholenote.com March and April 2021 | 37

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