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Volume 27 Issue 2 - November 2021

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  • November
  • Toronto
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Live events on the up and up while creative live-and livestreamed hybrids continue to shine. October All-star Sondheim's Follies at Koerner Hall headlines the resurgence; Zoprana Sadiq brings MixTape to Crow's Theatre; Stewart Goodyear and Jan Lisiecki bring piano virtuosity back indoors; Toronto Mendelssohn Choir's J-S Vallee in action; TSO finds itself looking at 60 percent capacities ahead of schedule. All this and more as we we complete our COVID-13 -- a baker's dozen of issues since March 2020. Available here in flipthrough, and on stands commencing this weekend.

Kurtág – Six moments

Kurtág – Six moments musicaux; Officium breve; Dvořák – String Quintet No.3 Parker Quartet; Kim Kashkashian ECM New Series 2649 (ecmrecords.com/shop) ! In a program of contrasts, the musically sensitive Boston-based Parker Quartet plays the music of György Kurtág with virtuoso panache, and are joined by their mentor, violist Kim Kashkashian, in an Antonín Dvořák work in their ECM New Series debut. Czech composer Dvořák’s easygoing late American period String Quintet No.3 is bookended by two of Kurtág’s tightly wound quartets. The latter’s Six moments musicaux (2005) and the Officium breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánszky (1988/89) glitter jewel-like in their neo-expressionistic refinement. Composed in three days in Spillville, Iowa in 1893, Dvořák’s lyrical work differs from his other quintets in his use of two violas and also in its formal straightforwardness: there’s little development of thematic material and extensive repetition. The Parker Quartet’s feeling for instrumental colour, texture and attention to detailed ensemble work is evident from the first measure. The same can be said about the quartet’s performance insights into Kurtág’s scores, developed through extensive work with the senior Hungarian composer. I was particularly moved by the Parker’s riveting rendering of Kurtág’s brilliantly intense 15-section Officium Breve in Memoriam… Even as they mirror the concision of each miniature movement, paradoxically the music becomes even more static, timeless – and elegiac. A perceptive reviewer once wrote that his music was “like opening a trapdoor in your floor and dropping for a moment into the infinity of the cosmos.” Kurtág’s notes often seem unmoored from conventional function, freed to resonate in a much larger musical and emotional space. Andrew Timar MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Varèse, Ligeti, Lutosławski, Baldini Miranda Cuckson; Maximilian Haft, Münchner Rundfunkorchester; UC Davis Symphony Orchestra; Christian Baldini Centaur Records CRC3879 (naxosdirect.com/search/crc3879) ! What to do when the music stops? If you’re Christian Baldini, music director of the University of California at Davis Symphony since 2009, you rummage through your archives, choose your best performances from the past and publish them with the caveat “unedited live recordings.” There are some real collegiate gems to be heard here, notably two of the finest violin concertos to have been composed in the late-20th century. Ligeti’s Violin Concerto from 1994 can be a challenge for all involved, but for the marvellous soloist Miranda Cuckson it’s a piece of cake. Most of these difficulties occur in the bizarre third movement, where the horns must do their best to perform solely on the overtone series (i.e. without the use of valves) and the wind players are compelled to hoot away on a quartet of decidedly screechy quarter-tone ocarinas. Fear not though, as the stylistic range of this five-movement work is captivating enough to appeal to many tastes. The concerto concludes with the insertion of a lengthy solo cadenza of unacknowledged origin; I for one would like to know its author (possibly Thomas Adès?) and, while we’re at it, the identity of the jackass whose hard-heeled footsteps break its magic spell on stage. Though Lutoslawski’s 1985 violin concerto is clearly less technically demanding than Ligeti’s, Maximilian Haft’s pugnacious performance of Chain 2 is nonetheless commanding and stylish and the orchestra is clearly much more comfortable and capable in this music. Two purely orchestral works are also on offer. A performance of Varèse’s 1927 version of his brutalist tone poem Amériques, while decidedly short on nuance, displays a youthful enthusiasm for the volcanic eruptions that pervade the work, though the 2015 pick-up of the gargantuan, screaming orchestra is lacking in depth and detail. It also has something unique going for it: midway through the printed score there is a trombone solo marked with the lyrics “Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!”; here, that text is shouted through a megaphone! No other recording I know observes this detail. A short work from Baldini’s own hand, Elapsing Twilight Shades, opens the disc with a rambling essay characterized by loud orchestral outbursts followed by quasi-improvised noodling and percussive rumblings in a performance by the very adult Munich Radio Orchestra at the Salzburg Festival in 2012. Daniel Foley Sound Visionaries Christina Petrowska Quilico Navona Records nv6358 (navonarecords.com) Retro Americana Christina Petrowska Quilico Navona Records nv6361 (navonarecords.com) ! With over 50 recordings and a storied record of critical acclaim, veteran piano virtuoso Christina Petrowska Quilico delivers yet another reason why she is regarded as one of the most celebrated interpreters of 20th-century music. The listener is treated to surprisingly original interpretations of frequently recorded selections such as Debussy’s second book of Preludes and Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus. The pianist’s attention to detail and delicate approach to phrasing are unparalleled. The piano sonatas of Pierre Boulez are considered among the most difficult among the solo piano repertoire of the 20th century. In Petrowska Quilico’s recordings of the first and third sonatas of Boulez, the virtuoso’s dynamic command over this highly demanding music produces an assertiveness that undoubtedly will become compulsory atop the list of many recordings of this music. Incidentally, Petrowska Quilico was coached by Boulez before her performance of the first sonata at the presentation of the Glenn Gould Prize to Boulez in November 2002. On her most recent release, Petrowska Quilico brilliantly tackles solo American repertoire from throughout the 20th century. With some rarely performed selections such as Henry Cowell’s Six Ings and Bill Westcott’s Suite combined with some more recognizable titles by Rzewski, Tatum and Gershwin, Petrowska Quilico is able to provide an impressive recital highlighting her technical command over varying styles. There are four selections by composer Meredith Monk – each unfolding as the true gems on the disc. These four pieces reveal the highly compelling originality of the composer – a voice that seems to lend itself to Petrowska Quilico’s performance sensibilities 42 | November 2021 thewholenote.com

with a bewildering ease and effortlessness – an expressive attribute that will enchant the listener. This release is yet another statement from a restless virtuoso who has a seemingly inexhaustible ability to provide gripping interpretations of the music of our time. Adam Scime Frank Horvat – Project Dovetail Frank Horvat; Edwin Huizinga; Elixir Baroque Ensemble; TorQ Percussion Quartet; et al. Independent (frankhorvat.com/ discography) ! Toronto composer-pianist Frank Horvat “has carved a niche for himself among today’s composers, wearing his fragile heart on his sleeve,” observed CBC music critic Robert Rowat. Project Dovetail, Horvat’s final release in an album trilogy spanning 2021, follows that emotional thread. Featuring some of Canada’s top chamber musicians, Project Dovetail has an intriguing synesthetic twist. Horvat has taken the art and artists that have inspired him and “dovetailed” aspects of them into his music. Among others, the works of two Canadian artists are featured: best-selling author Suzanne Desrochers and master printmaker Lorna Livey. Lorna’s Metamorphosis is a good example of the composer’s synesthetic dovetailing. In it, Livey speaks candidly about her passion for butterflies and the environment. Remarkably, Horvat has accurately scored the rhythms of her voice and then composed a dynamic instrumental counterpoint to it for vibraphone, two marimbas, piano and tympani. The composer notes that “it captures the Lorna I know: determined, honest and kind… compliment[ing] her driving, forwardthinking personality.” The Sad Life of Laure Beauséjour for two violins, viola da gamba and harpsichord takes its cue from scenes in the novel Bride of New France by Desrochers. Horvat depicts the protagonist’s many hardships in music, choosing period instruments to evoke the novel’s 1670s setting. The Sad Life’s four slow movements are all intentionally similar in key, their melancholy melodies receiving straightforward accompaniments. In his program notes Horvat invokes the musical influence of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes in this work, and I can feel the emotional throughlines spanning a century and a third. Andrew Timar Newfoundout Nick Storring Mappa Editions MZP027 (nickstorring.bandcamp.com) ! Toronto Composer Nick Storring is a prolific artist. As a composer, writer, musician and arts curator he seems to be everywhere, and yet he managed to touch down long enough to complete his seventh solo album. Consistently surprising us with his dexterous layering and technology skills, Newfoundout is a perfect blend of Storring’s musical ear for raw audio beauty and his skillful sound assembly. A completely acoustic layering of curiosities – is that a vuvuzela in harmony? – the compositions are so deftly complete you will forget to keep asking what you are hearing. From the first track Dome, a full 12’41” piece that could have been presented in a concert hall, it’s nearly impossible to find the distinction between what might have been improvised and what might be composed. Each track is intentionally directed, spare and transparent, blissfully curious at times and at others suspended in outer space, swirling in dust and light. Storring ensures that there is nothing superfluous to cloud the beauty of the found sounds; drums dance, dog whistles sing, and the final mix is perfect. One is reminded of the phrase “truth is stranger than fiction.” The album flows superbly as a whole. Never aimless, each piece weaves intentionally between composed sections and exquisitely layered psychedelia, anchored with an assortment of undefined instruments, plucked strings, pianos and drum rhythms. It’s like witnessing the mysteries of life on Earth. With tracks named after Ontario ghost towns, Newfoundout is a sublimely delicious curiosity. I lost track of the beginnings and ends of each piece and just enjoyed the entire album start to finish. Cheryl Ockrant Felipe Téllez – Songs of Longing TakeFive Ensemble Centrediscs CMCCD 28721 (cmccanada.org/shop/cd-cmccd-28721) ! The TakeFive Ensemble (comprised of violinists Lynn Kuo and Csaba Koczo, violist Carolyn Blackwell, cellist Emmanuelle Beaulieu Bergeron and pianist Shoshana Telner) have recorded two substantial works by Colombian-Canadian composer Felipe Téllez. The first – in three movements – titled Fate, is rather traditional in its language and form. This music cycles through a tempestuous first movement into a tender and lyrical second movement and finishes with a dramatic and sorrowful third and final movement. The composer describes fate as taking on many contrasting characteristics that may or may not be within our control. With the cheery punctuation heard in the final measures of this work, it is clear that fate has delivered a happy ending in this case. The second work is a collection of songs without words in five movements that adopts a less classical treatment than the first piece on the disc. Titled Colombian Songs, it utilizes colourful gestures and clever twists of mood to provide a pleasing reaction to some traditional Colombian song sources. The musicians in TakeFive execute Téllez’s music with a shimmering brilliance. The expressive quality permeating from each instrument in the ensemble is at once individually impressive but also blends into an exquisite whole. Bravo to TakeFive on some superb performances – an ensemble I hope to hear much more from in the future. Adam Scime Philip Glass – The Complete Piano Etudes Leslie Dala Redshift Records (redshiftmusicsociety. bandcamp.com/album/philip-glass-thecomplete-piano-etudes) ! Continuing the tradition established by Chopin, Debussy and Ligeti, piano etudes by Philip Glass have been loved by many concert pianists. Although most etudes are created for the purpose of pursuing a specific harmonic or technical preoccupation related to the instrument, Glass’ carry a particular element of beauty and depth. Melancholy is mixed with sweetness, rhythmical drive with unique harmonic language; one senses an arc of the composer’s personal relationship with the piano in this music. The new recording by Leslie Dala, a conductor and pianist based in Vancouver, brings in a solitary air of an artist who has found stillness. Dala has a natural pianistic affinity for Glass’ compositional language. He experiments with a wealth of colours found in these etudes but never strays away from the classical pianistic tradition. A strong percussive touch accentuates the fluid motion of the music. The result is an album that is refined and rich, natural in its expression. Hearing the 20 etudes in succession makes for the best listening experience. Each etude has its own character and atmosphere but it is the flow, the longer narrative and the observation of correlational aspects and the morphing of Glass’ compositional and Dala’s interpretative ideas that gives the listener thewholenote.com November 2021 | 43

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