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Volume 27 Issue 2 - November 2021

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  • November
  • Toronto
  • Symphony
  • Jazz
  • Musical
  • December
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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.

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deeper understanding of this music. By the time the last etude is played, gentle and unassuming, the sonic space becomes clear. And when the sound blends with silence at the very end, one is granted the sense of closure. Ivana Popovic Maya Beiser x Philip Glass Maya Beiser Islandia Music Records (islandiamusic.com) ! Talking Heads front person David Bryne, in his 1999 essay “I Hate World Music” that predates his excellent book, How Music Works, describes so-called “world music” as “a name for a bin in the record store signifying stuff that doesn’t belong anywhere else in the store.” In 2021, as bins, record stores and, to a lesser extent, musical genres and meaningless categorizations in terms of the way that sound is captured and assembled (and marketed) fades into the rear view, there remain vestiges of (to artificially demarcate things historically) the pre-streaming playlist-driven genre tribalism of the “Before Times.” I say all of this to push back on the characterization that I have read of Maya Beiser – the exceptionally talented American cellist who has released an evocative and wonderful retrospective of Philip Glass’ music on her own Islandia Music Records label – as “avantgarde.” This recent recording offers, simply put, beautiful music (it’s Glass after all!), played exceptionally well by an expressive and emotive artist who has much that is new and insightful to say on these largely familiar Glass pieces. Captured in beautiful fidelity at the Hudson Opera House and, through the studio wizardry of multi-tracking, looping cello parts and the creation of what she calls a “sonic cello kaleidoscope,” Beiser puts forth meaningful arrangements on this fine recording that defy every categorization other than good! It is little wonder why Beiser has such insight into Glass’ music: she was the cellist chosen (by Glass) to be part of the Philip Glass Ensemble on the worldwide tour of his Qatsi trilogy in 2005 and she brings this familiarity, creativity and attention to detail to the fore on Maya Beiser x Philip Glass. Andrew Scott Amends Matt Magerkurth People Places Records PPR 023 (peopleplacesrecords.bandcamp.com) ! Amends, the debut album of pieces for solo cello from American cellist and composer Matt Magerkurth, presents as a contemplation of isolation and experimentation. Recorded in Bixby, Oklahoma’s Closet Studios, the album is composed of pieces in skeletal form to be played semi-improvisatorially. The seven pieces are introspective self-examinations and seem to highlight the loneliness experienced by so many artists during the current pandemic. Met with the occasional accompaniment of layered effects and occasional oceanic basslines by producer Scott Bell, Magerkurth traverses the cello in arpeggiated gestures, making use of the overtones by playing with a light bow technique, often to beautiful effect, expressive and colourful. The overall experience is one of longing and reflection. Cheryl Ockrant Van Stiefel – Spirits Van Stiefel Panoramic Recordings PAN21 (newfocusrecordings.com) ! Renowned contemporary guitarist and composer Van Stiefel set out on a mission to thoroughly compose, perform and record his own album from top to bottom; his latest release is the worthy result of that endeavour. Taking inspiration from favourites of his such as Les Paul, Chet Atkins and Glen Campbell, Stiefel puts his own twist on the concept of the studio-instrumental album by expertly using a recording and editing technique called “layered guitar.” The record is a journey through moments, thoughts and experiences in the guitarist’s life through a fascinating and immersive soundscape of sonorous snippets. Stiefel describes the pieces as being almost like “journal entries that hint at secrets, idiosyncrasies, and personal rituals.” Each tune is completely different from the last, calling forth a mood or image into the listener’s mind. King of Cups begins the album with a slightly country-flavoured piece over which a haunting processed melody is overlayed. Memory Jug is a unique and explorative piece with its striking dissonance and computergenerated sounds in the background creating a futuristic and robotic tune. Acquiescence – as well as a few other pieces – captivate due to the technique of “cutting and pasting” fragments of melody to create a new whole. This is an album that would be a great fit for anyone looking to expand their auditory palette. Kati Kiilaspea With Malice Toward None Apollo Chamber Players Azica ACD-71340 (apollochamberplayers.org/media) ! The Apollo Chamber Players have embraced a mission toward the championing of globally inspired programming and commissioning. The new works on their latest release, With Malice Toward None, are part of a larger commissioning project titled 20x2020 – an effort to support the creation of 20 new works from multicultural composers by the end of 2020. The ensemble’s passion for new music and impressive virtuosity is on full display on this new disc as the listener is treated to an inspired assemblage of repertoire. The title track (referencing a phrase uttered by Abraham Lincoln) – for electric violin and string quartet – composed by J. Kimo Williams features Tracy Silverman on electric violin. This work speaks to certain contemporary socio-political issues and the electric violin soaring over the string quartet creates a dramatic and compelling atmosphere. Some clever Hendrix quotes emerge as an unexpected contrast. Pamela Z’s The Unraveling is a brilliant reworking of American folk songs from the 1960s and 70s. This work, in four movements, shows Pamela Z’s unparalleled talent to create highly original sound worlds using sampling, looping and fragmentation of the familiar. Themes of Armenian Folksongs, originally composed by the Armenian composer known as Komitas and later arranged by members of Apollo and the Komitas Quartet, originates from ten Armenian folk songs that were collected by Komitas. This bright and eupeptic music reveals the world-class musicianship of the quartet players. Lastly, Eve Beglarian’s We Will Sing One Song is a wonderfully ethereal and expressive work that paints at once a disturbing and welcoming landscape with the duduk instrument providing a subdued allure – the perfect bookend to this superbly recorded release. Adam Scime 44 | November 2021 thewholenote.com

The Planets & Humanity – Piano Reflections Tanya Ekanayaka Grand Piano GP879 (naxosdirect.com/ search/gp879) ! Award-winning Sri Lankan- British pianist and composer Tanya Ekanayaka delivers a recording of original compositions which correspond to the eight planets that inhabit our solar system and the seven continents on Earth. Many of the selections utilize echoes of traditional melodies supported by a decidedly Romantic-era harmonic sensibility. Composed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, this cycle for solo piano represents Ekanayaka’s interest in the expressive connections between past and present. The eight movements combine to create a potpourri of moods through which Ekanayaka is able to showcase a confident and precise technical command of the piano. Adam Scime William Bland – Piano Sonatas Kevin Gorman Bridge Records 9556 (bridgerecords.com) ! Born in West Virginia in 1947 and trained at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, William Bland is a prolific composer of solo, chamber and orchestral music, including 24 piano sonatas. Conceived as a cycle similar to Bach’s Well- Tempered Clavier, with one work in each of the major and minor keys, Bland’s compositional versatility and creativity is astonishing, especially when one considers the inherent constraints of writing 24 unique pieces for the same instrument, each over 20 minutes in length! This recording showcases Bland’s 17th and 18th sonatas, performed by pianist Kevin Gorman in his recording debut. Gorman is a lively and compelling player, able to reign in Bland’s eclectic, and occasionally eccentric, musical sensibilities in a way that feels entirely organic and logical. When there are moments requiring brash attacks, he does so ably, but Gorman also conveys intense sweetness and sincerity, particularly in instances where the textures are lush and melodious Bland’s writing is difficult to classify, encompassing a swath of influences and styles ranging from pop and jazz to atonality, with a bit of everything in between. At one moment you may be listening to a beautiful, Schumann-esque bit of melody, the next a bit of extension-inspired jazz, finishing with a spot of Schoenberg. Does this all come together? Absolutely. I don’t know how, but it certainly does, like a chef grabbing everything within arm’s reach and somehow producing a delicious and savoury meal. It is often a simple task to recommend a recording to a particular group of auditors but, as they do in so many other ways, Bland’s sonatas defy such simple classification. What I can recommend, however, is that everyone give this music a try, for there is something in these works that is sure to captivate every listener, regardless of their usual preferences and proclivities. Matthew Whitfield Paul Lansky – Angles Various Artists Bridge Records 9532 (bridgerecords.com) ! The sound of augmented intervals on acoustic guitar brings Joni Mitchell to mind at the immediate opening of Slow Train – the first movement of Four’s Company – on this disc of Paul Lansky’s chamber pieces. I don’t hear a slow train, but I can imagine travelling on one through the countryside, enjoying an impromptu performance in one of the compartments. Pseudo Pavanne continues the genial mood. Movement four is Vivaldiana, LOL. Brief, truly modest liner notes incline me to like and respect this composer; his satisfying harmonic palette and calm textures refresh the spirit, his dry sense of humour is a wink and a nod. The Curtis Institute Guitar Quartet look like a bunch of kids, but they can play! The title track is a work for piano trio in four movements as well. The titles give further proof that Lansky doesn’t take life too seriously, while writing effective and freshsounding music. With Pluck dances along in a happy minimalist vein; Take a Bow revisits the same kind of open-string harmonies featured in Four’s Company, approaching a mood of introspection if not melancholy. About a Minute Waltz flips past as a scherzo movement, and A Sad Song is just that. Find your own words, weep if you will, but there’s a quickening that consoles about two minutes in. Springs is what a conversation among small mechanical clocks might sound like, until the heavies show up to get us all up dancing. Sō Pecussion keep things bopping along hypnotically. Color Codas, for piano four hands (Quattro Mani: Steven Beck and Susan Grace), provides kinaesthetic takes on three linked colours: In the Red, Purple Passion and Out of the Blue. Max Christie David Fulmer – Sky’s Acetylene New York Philharmonic; Jeffrey Milarsky New Focus Recordings FRC306 (newfocusrecordings.com) ! At 14 minutes, Sky’s Acetylene is either a short EP or a long single, featuring flute (bass, soprano and piccolo), harp, double bass, piano and percussion soloists. Composer David Fulmer has won an Academy Award, but don’t expect typical movie score tropes here; this is legitimately avant-garde, atmospheric and even spectral. Flutist Mindy Kaufman has the most notes to play, followed closely by harpist Nancy Allen. The other three (Eric Huebner, piano; percussionist Daniel Druckman; Max Zeugner on bass) provide support for the ravings and ramblings of the flute. Kaufman has formidable command of the broad range she navigates on all three pipes, huffing, bending and scurrying through her solos with conviction. Commissioned to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic, it seems curious to present a chamber concerto as a landmark. Four of the players are principals with the Phil; conductor Jeffery Milarsky is a frequent guest. Worth hearing for the solid performances. Max Christie American Discoveries Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra; Reuben Blundell New Focus Recordings FCR 286 (newfocusrecordings.com) ! So gratifying listening to the Lansdowne Symphony, a community orchestra conducted by Reuben Blundell, performing three American female composers’ previously unrecorded orchestral works. City Trees (1928) by Priscilla Alden Beach (1902-1970) is an under fiveminute work in ABA ternary form. This is a tonal walk through the woods, with romantic and impressionistic genre, lush orchestral harmonies and outer sections enveloping a louder intense winds section. Many of Beach’s works have been lost, so thanks to editor Clinton Nieweg and the Philadelphia Free Library Fleisher Collection for producing this new orchestral edition. Linda Robbins Coleman’s For a Beautiful Land (1996) pays homage to her Iowa home state in three episodes. Love the very dramatic and contrasting playful sonorities such as the percussion roll opening and closing crash, first episode waltz’s quiet bird-like wind thewholenote.com November 2021 | 45

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