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Volume 26 Issue 7 - May and June 2021

  • Text
  • Musical
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  • Toronto
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Meet some makers (of musical things) - a live filmed operatic premiere of a Handel oratorio?; 20 years of Summer Music in the Garden, short documentary film A Concerto is a Conversation; choirs Zooming in to keep connection live; a watershed moment for bridging the opera/musical theatre divide; and more than 100 recordings listened to and reviewed since the last time.

Uncovered, Vol. 1:

Uncovered, Vol. 1: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Catalyst Quartet; Stewart Goodyear; Anthony McGill Azica ACD-71336 (catalystquartet.com/uncovered) ! The late- 19th-century British composer, Samuel Coleridge- Taylor, conquered the United States with his musical ingenuity. But could his being billed – somewhat patronizingly – as the “African Mahler” have blunted his singular musical achievements? We will never really know, and it may even be unimportant now as, with Uncovered, Vol. 1: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the Catalyst Quartet turns the marquee lights on to illuminate his elegant music, and not the colour of his skin. But poetic justice must also come by way of inviting pianist Stewart Goodyear and clarinettist Anthony McGill – two prodigiously gifted Black musicians – to participate in this significant musical project. The association with Mahler does have some significance however, because it took decades of proselytizing by conductors such as Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Mengelberg and Leonard Bernstein before Mahler’s symphonies became audience-pullers. If it’s fallen upon the Catalyst to do likewise for Coleridge-Taylor they’ve certainly delivered. These are über-articulate readings of the Quintet in G Minor for Piano and Strings Op.1 featuring Goodyear, Quintet in F-sharp Minor for Clarinet and Strings Op.10 featuring McGill and Fantasiestücke for String Quartet Op.5. The Quartet’s musicians shape phrases with attention paid to every nuance of the scores, while the music’s grand sweep remains paramount throughout; Goodyear’s pianism sings in the piano quintet and McGill’s clarinet does likewise in Op.10. The Catalyst’s performance is marked by a wide range of touch and timbre, with extraordinary emphasis on the inner voices of Coleridge- Taylor’s eloquent music. Raul da Gama Symphonic Roar – An Odyssey of Sound from the Paris Conservatoire Yuri McCoy; Brady Spitz Acis APL92957 (acisproductions.com) ! Inspired by French composers’ exploitation of the organ’s myriad multicoloured sonorities in these “symphonic” works, Houston-based Yuri McCoy says he feels “free to orchestrate… in many different ways,” often making “many more registration changes than indicated in the score.” (As for the “roar,” wait for it!) McCoy and console assistant Grant Wareham collaborate in Jean-Louis Florentz’s Poème Symphonique “La Croix du Sud” (2000), named for the constellation. With influences from Florentz’s teacher Messiaen, and Tuareg and Sufi music, it growls, chirps and surges around disquieting interludes that conjure mysterious, desolate landscapes. A noble central anthem illuminates the celebratory Allegro Vivace from Felix Alexandre Guilmant’s Organ Sonata No.2 (1862). Joseph Bonnet’s brief Elfes from his 12 Pièces (1910) is a gossamer swirl of shimmering light, rendered in sound. Fantaisie, Op.101 (1895) by Camille Saint-Saëns comprises a murmuring, gentle andantino, a tempestuous fuga and a calm, reassuring finale. Clair de Lune from Louis Vierne’s 24 Pièces, Suite No.2 (1926) paints a secluded nocturnal scene in muted pastel watercolour. At nearly 28 minutes, the CD’s longest and most “symphonic” entry is a remarkably effective arrangement by McCoy and percussionist Brady Spitz of Edgard Varèse’s Amériques (1921), the original version requiring 27 woodwinds, 29 brass and an immense percussion battery. Collin Boothby assists McCoy on organ and Spitz on percussion, employing all of Varèse’s noisemakers – lion’s roar (!), siren, rattles, cyclone and steamboat whistles, etc., etc. Fascinating listening, from mystery-laden start to roaring finish! Michael Schulman In a Time of War Phillip O. Paglialonga; Richard Masters Heritage HTGCD 173 (heritage-records.com) ! In a Time of War, featuring clarinetist Phillip Paglialonga and pianist Richard Masters, proffers works by two composers suffering exile during WW2. An odd pairing to be sure, but it’s possible to hear some common ground between Serge Prokofiev and John Ireland. If you listen to the late moments of Ireland’s Fantasy-Sonata for Clarinet and Piano there’s an argument to be made. Written in 1943, the same year as Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata Op.94, the Ireland work does what a lot of mid-century English music does: explore modernity and expression, but aloof in a way that might evoke Prokofiev the man, although not his music. I think clarinetists should leave well enough alone when it comes to poaching repertoire, especially in the case of the Prokofiev, which after all was more or less stolen from flutists for the already-crammed violin library by David Oistrakh (with Prokofiev’s complicity!). Sorry, flutes, it’s a better piece in the second take. Opus 94a is heard as often, if not more than the original. The clarinet version here should maybe be called Opus 94a(b), I don’t know. It’s very dicey, range-wise, and hardly idiomatic for the clarinet. Paglialonga manages the high tessitura quite well, but most tempos are slower than you might be used to, and the balance has his sound too far in front of Masters, which jars a bit at the opening. The duo’s rendition is a work apart from the original, as a quick reference to Oistrakh’s recording will confirm. A third work is included, also from 1943, Ireland’s Sarnia: An Island Sequence, a solo Masters performs with more freedom than the other tracks demonstrate. These are good performances, if somewhat staid. Max Christie Classical Kids: Gershwin’s Magic Key Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras Classical Kids Music Education 270541 (classicalkidsnfp.org) ! Gershwin’s Magic Key is the first new album in 20 years from the award-winning platinum-selling Classical Kids, most famous for Beethoven Lives Upstairs. This high quality, dynamic studio recording features the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras conducted by Allen Tinkham, voices of professional actors Elic Bramlett and Leslie Ann Sheppard, and head writer/music supervisor/featured pianist Will Martin, who premiered the original live concert. Set in 1920s New York, the three-act story revolves around a newspaper boy’s chance meeting with composer George Gershwin, leading to the two travelling through New York, verbally telling stories based on Gershwin’s life and the times, intertwined with his music. The opening attention-grabbing string swirls, clear spoken words, piano solo and wailing clarinet set the stage for a fast-paced, exciting fact-based production both children and adults will love. The supportive spoken tips from Gershwin, such as “I was a changed person learning piano; Every sound is music; Do not let anyone tell you what you can or cannot be;” are positive reinforcement for the boy, and all children listening and reading the liner notes. Gershwin’s compositions featured include fabulous orchestral renditions of Summertime, An American in Paris and the upbeat singalong/dance-along I Got Rhythm. Educational musical outtakes from other composers include Dvořák’s Humoresque, the Tin Pan Alley hit Take Me out to the Ballgame, and 1920’s Baby Face. Finale recreates the world premiere of Rhapsody in Blue, from the piano/orchestra exuberant performance to the recording’s closing audience cheers. Bravo! Tiina Kiik 40 | May and June 2021 thewholenote.com

MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY To Anatolia – Selections from the Turkish Five Beyza Yazgan Bridge Records 9549 (bridgerecords.com/ collections/catalog-all) ! A love letter to Anatolia (Asia Minor), this album introduces young artist Beyza Yazgan, a Turkish pianist now based in New York. Yazgan expresses immense pride for her heritage and gentle longing for her homeland through a wonderful selection of piano pieces by a group of 20th-century composers known as the Turkish Five. She also includes her own illustrations and detailed liner notes on Turkish music traditions, thus making this album even more personal. Yazgan’s interpretation of these compositions is simply lovely. Her heartfelt approach brings out beautiful colours from gentle and melancholic pieces. On the other hand, she engages masterfully with complex rhythms in more percussive compositions, making her performance well balanced and charming. The Turkish Five – Ahmet Adnan Saygun, Ferid Alnar, Ulvi Cemal Erkin, Necil Kazim Akses and Cemal Reşit Rey – transformed the music of their time by introducing Western compositional styles and forms and blending them with rhythms and modes of traditional Turkish folk music and dances. Just as Anatolia itself has been the land of many cultures and flavours, so is the music on this album. From the beautifully atmospheric Little Shepherd by Erkin and feet-stomping Horon by Reşit Rey, to the elegant Zeybek Dance by Alnar, the pieces tell stories of the unique and rich music heritage of this land, its people and customs. Ivana Popovic Alexander Mosolov – Symphony No.5; Harp Concerto Taylor Ann Fleshman; Moscow Symphony Orchestra; Arthur Arnold Naxos 8.574102 (naxosdirect.com/ search/8574102) ! Russian composer Alexander Mosolov (1900-1973) was active in the early Soviet era, and his artistic voice sits somewhere between Shostakovich and Prokofiev. The latest recording of director Arthur Arnold and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra is a dedicated release of the lesser-known composer’s Fifth Symphony and Harp Concerto. In the former, never performed during the composer’s lifetime, Arnold and the Moscow Symphony deliver the work with subtle musicianship and crisp articulation – aspects that are needed to execute the contrasting three movements. Mosolov’s Harp Concerto is a delicate and beautiful work in four movements that takes the listener on a journey from contemplative sustained atmospheres in the first movement, through a mysterious Nocturne, to a charming Gavotte, and finally a flashy Toccata. Harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman’s technique and phrasing are outstanding in this performance. Her captivating interpretation leaves no doubt that this work deserves a lasting place in the harp concerto repertoire. It is always nice to encounter an effort to keep lesser-known composers’ music alive – Arnold and the Moscow Symphony certainly make a strong case for increased future performances of Mosolov’s music. Adam Scime Frank Horvat – Music for Self-Isolation Various Artists Centrediscs CMCCD-28521 (cmccanada.org/shop/cd-cmccd-28521) ! Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Toronto composer and pianist Frank Horvat observed fellow musicians struggling to cope with loss, precarity triggered by cancelled gigs and the strain of isolation. Wondering how to effectively respond, his answer: write new compositions to counter self-isolation. Thus, during the spring of 2020 he composed 31 short classical-style pieces, shared immediately with the international community on social media. They were an instant hit. Numerous performance videos were posted on the Internet and Horvat made plans to record them on the album Music for Self-Isolation at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall. The session wrapped the day before Ontario’s stay-at-home order came into force on January 14, 2021. The album also includes the ensemble composition Together in Spirit, using overdubbing technology to effectively bring together the 22 talented musicians who played solos and duos on the other tracks of Music for Self-Isolation. Part two of the album comprises eight nuanced The Idea of North-style audio documentaries titled Pandemic Stories. These layered monologues, each by a different musician, are deeply personal stories about impacted careers and lives during the pandemic, accompanied by Horvat’s instrumental music. The aim: to present “the hopes, dreams and fears,” of each musician, and their views on the arts and culture sector, “in order to heal and move forward together.” Taking the two sections together – the 32 music miniatures and eight audio reports – the 40-track Music for Self-Isolation offers accessible, soothing music, plus international voices of resilience during this time of plague. The album reminds us that music is among the most mysterious and highest order of human skills. Andrew Timar #4 Andrzej Pietrewicz Independent (soundcloud.com/andrzejpietrewicz/sets/4a-1/s-h6vzdD1KKYM) ! Andrzej Pietrewicz is an independent musician, small instrumental ensemble composer and producer based in Port Credit, near Toronto. His unique inspirational compositional and performing sound makes this six original-song, self-produced-during- COVID-lockdown creation, unforgettable! Pietrewicz clearly has a comprehensive technical understanding of diverse musical genres such as Baroque, jazz, blues, folk, classical and contemporary. He draws on this knowledge to develop his own vibrant sound performed here by talented instrumentalists on piano, strings, percussion, guitar, winds, programming and, in the closing track, vocalists. Multi-instrumental track 1 is a great introduction to his music, combining quasiorchestral tonal sounds with modern touches such as interval jumps and tweeting bird-like piano sounds. The faster, happier track 2 with its rhythmic piano interval patterns, instrumental held notes, simultaneous tonal/ modern effects and high-pitched woodwind sounds creates a musical pre/post-COVID sunny warm spring day for me! Track 3, with a nod to Baroque keyboard music, yet so modern day in tonality, moves from the contrapuntal mood-changing opening lines to subtle dissonant intervals, steady rhythms and detailed phrasing, performed with sensitivity, passion and hope by the composer. Nice addition of singers Nacre, Timbre, Laura and Caroline Joy Clarke to track 6 as their high pitches alternating with tight string, flute and piano parts create a captivating positive soundscape. This is uplifting, joyous, beautiful music to be enjoyed over and over again. Tiina Kiik thewholenote.com May and June 2021 | 41

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