1 year ago

Volume 27 Issue 5 | March 4 - April 15, 2022

"Hard to watch and impossible to ignore"--on the Russian invasion of Ukraine; Tafelmusik goes live again in a tribute to Jeanne Lamon; TSO MD reunion as Centennial Countdown kicks off; PASS=Performing Arts Sunday Series at the Hamilton Conservatory of the Arts ...; crosstown to the TRANZAC, Matthew Fava on the move; all this and more ....

marimba gladly offers

marimba gladly offers its deepest resonant brilliance. Throughout the 12 works on the recording the listener passes through a series of enchanting moods that shift like sand storms, as seen from miles above, that are somehow at once violently gripping across the landscape and also frozen in time. Works like Still Life, aether, Stasis and Nocturne paint sonic geomorphologies that propagate amid shimmering ephemera while works like Quickening, Ostinati and Kinetics rely on charming rhythmic interplay. It is clear through listening to this release that Nobles’ Open Score Works are a pleasure to perform. The unmistakable gratification inherent in this recording only adds to what Nobles continues to offer through his music: a gift. Adam Scime Harrison Birtwistle – Chamber Works Adrian Brendel; Melinda Maxwell; Nash Ensemble; Lawrence Power; Richard Benjafield BIS BIS-2561 ( ! This album of Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s recent chamber works is released by the virtuosic Nash Ensemble. The exceptional performances by the world-class musicians are delivered with impressive bravura – a necessary quality when attempting to successfully interpret the highly challenging music of the British composer. The Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano is richly complex and contains a great deal of cerebral expressionism throughout the single movement. The unrelenting prickly gestures in this trio are answered with sombre lyricism in the strings, only to be interrupted with towering pianistic dissonances. The 20-minute Duet for Eight Strings (scored for viola and cello – each instrument having four strings combining to eight) is decidedly more romantic in expression as compared to the powerhouse trio heard before it. The rich and sonorous colours in this piece are wonderfully at odds with the unexpected suspended atmosphere heard throughout. Written in 1981 and later revised in 2018, Pulse Sampler, for oboe and percussion, is a raucous display of oboe fireworks above bombastic hits and jabs on various drums and wood blocks. This thrilling music is remarkably challenging for the oboe and Richard Benjafield delivers a stunning performance of unbelievable virtuosity and clarity of tone. Lastly, the Oboe Quartet, for oboe, violin, viola and cello, is a scintillating ride in four movements where each player engages in clever interplay. For those familiar with Birtwistle’s music, this release won’t disappoint as the inventive neo-modernist approach is ever-present and performed expertly by the ensemble. Adam Scime Max Andrzejewski – Mythos Berliner Ensemble; Max Andrzejeskski Backlash Music ( ! German drummer and composer Max Andrzejewski’s work takes up stylistic residence somewhere in between the freedom of jazz, energy of experimental rock and historically informed European classical music. His four-movement Mythos bears the earmarks of these multivalent stands of musical DNA, effectively interpreted by the 12-member Berliner Ensemble. The liner notes give us insight into the work’s origin story, boldly proclaiming that “the piece is born out of Max’s violent interaction with Richard Wagner’s infamous Ring Cycle […] built on German myth.” The resulting work “deals with the artistic remains of a much heralded prophet of classical music the way it maybe should be dealt with: scrap it and leave it for parts.” While few contest the ambition and grandeur of Wagner’s hefty four-opera cycle, or overlook his hateful personal anti-Semitism, how exactly does Andrzejewski repurpose this music? The notes claim he cites some (melodic) leitmotifs from the four overtures as a point of departure in Mythos, though it also imagines that, “even the most devoted Wagner connoisseur would have trouble picking out any trace of the original overtures.” I agree: Andrzejewski returns from his stealth mission having extracted thematic elements from his predecessor’s scores in order to recast them for his ensemble to render anew. Moreover, with musicians hired from classical and jazz worlds Andrzejewski’s 21st-century group seamlessly integrates scored composition and improvisation using both acoustic and electronics. It inhabits a completely different world from Wagner’s 19th-century orchestral aesthetic. And for listeners today that’s a good thing. Andrew Timar field anatomies Laura Cocks Carrier Records CARRIER062 ( ! Brilliant and fearless, American experimental flutist Laura Cocks’ solo album field anatomies is a collection of works featuring various varieties of flute, one each by US-based composers David Bird, Bethany Younge, Jessie Cox, DM R and Joan Arnau Pàimes – all exciting new discoveries for me. Today the executive director and “flutistin-chief” of the TAK Ensemble, the title field anatomies was inspired by Cocks’ experiences in the prairie fields of her childhood, memories she carries in her body still and transfers to her flute playing. And the results are striking. Just one example is Bird’s substantial 18’38” Atolls (2017) for solo piccolo plus 29 spatialized piccolos. This studio recording employs panning techniques to emulate the surround sound of the 29 auxiliary flutists in the stereo field, here all played by Cocks. Beginning with a virtuoso catalogue of solo breath and metal piccolo clicking sounds punctuated by Cocks’ own vocalise, around the six-minute mark Atolls morphs into elegantly sculpted sound clouds. These are craftily constructed of single sustained tones expanding to masses of many-part chords ever shifting around the listener’s ears on headphones – or around the room you’re sitting in, if on speakers. I was fascinated to read the composer’s note that the work’s “pitch material is derived from the combined spectral analysis of a crash cymbal and Janet Leigh’s infamous scream from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.” That may sound like a chilling listening experience, daunting even. Far from it, I find Atolls in turns highly intimate and elegantly sculpted – and at times a reassuringly gentle sonic experience. Andrew Timar Illumination – Piano Works of Victoria Bond Paul Barnes; Philharmony Bohuslav Martinů Albany Records TROY1880 ( ! Veteran American conductor Victoria Bond (b.1945) is also very active as a composer. Her melodic inventiveness and dramatic flair are perhaps the most notable features of both her instrumental and operatic scores. On Illumination Bond shares her compositional spotlight with her collaborator, the concert pianist Paul Barnes. He has one of the most unusual doubles for a concert pianist I’ve ever heard: he is also a very credible singer of Byzantine chant. And he shows that vocal talent to good effect on the concluding four concise tracks, accompanied by a male chorus. The album begins with Bond’s three-movement Illuminations on Byzantine Chant for solo piano (2021), an extended piano meditation on three contrasting Byzantine liturgical chants. It’s followed by two piano concertos – Black Light (1997) and Ancient Keys (2002) – the program bookended by Barnes’ idiomatically convincing rendering of the aforementioned Byzantine chants. The composer writes that the title “Black 48 | March 4 – April 15, 2022

Light implies the light that shines from African America music, which has had a profound effect on my compositions. The first movement contrasts a driving, aggressive orchestra with a playful, jaunty response in the piano.” The slow soul-searching second movement was inspired by Jewish liturgical music, while the third by the scat singing of Ella Fitzgerald set in a combination of orchestral variation and rondo forms. Featuring the Philharmony Bohuslav Martinů and Barnes’ rhythmically and dynamically incisive solo piano, this is my favourite music on the album. Andrew Timar Melia Watras – String Masks Various Artists Planet M Records PMR003 ( ! American composer and virtuoso violist Melia Watras’ latest album String Masks primarily features her sensitive playing and several string instrumentcentred compositions – with a brief detour to a delicate unaccompanied song with Icelandic lyrics. The dramatic exception is the 23-minute title track which also includes singers, actors and instruments invented by the iconoclastic American composer and music theorist Harry Partch (1901-1974), by far the longest and most complex work here. String Masks opens with Watras’ Kreutzer for string trio, explicitly eliciting Beethoven’s wellknown sonata for violin and piano of the same name, as well as borrowing from Janáĉek’s String Quartet No.1. Michael Jinsoo Lim (violin), Watras (viola) and Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir (cello) perform the four-movement score with restrained eloquence and passion. Watras has been captivated by the Partch Instrumentarium ever since they arrived at University of Washington, where Watras serves as professor of viola. She includes three of them in String Masks, the narrative-based work in which she echoes Partch’s manner of using his microtonal instruments to reflect the cadences and phrases of human speech, and to set an idiosyncratic mood. She effectively uses Partch’s Harmonic Canon (44-string zither with microtonal tunings), Bass Marimba (with organ-pipe resonators) and Cloud-Chamber Bowls (14 large hung glass carboys) in addition to violin, viola and voices. The composer writes that the “otherworldly sounds of Partch’s inventions” are used to set the aural stage for a “fantastical vision of an underworld inhabited by string-playing legend[ary musician]s from the past. Read by three actors, each is evoked in the text, the narrative forming the metaphoric backbone of the aptly titled String Masks. Andrew Timar Andy Akiho – Seven Pillars Sandbox Percussion Aki Rhythm Productions ( ! Critically acclaimed new music composer Andy Akiho has created a captivating and powerful commission for the Sandbox Percussion quartet in the form of Seven Pillars, the collaboration a labour of love between friends spanning eight years. Written as a multimedia chamber work, even without the intended video presentation included, the music is mesmerizing from the instant it opens. The complexity of the work belies the relative simplicity of the acoustic percussion tools at hand: bottles, glockenspiels, drums, wood blocks, metal pipes, sandpaper, marimbas, kick drum. Akiho takes full advantage of the skill and inventiveness of the individual performers by dedicating solo tracks to each, so that he can explore the nuances and textures of the simple objects. It is in the delivery that the writing takes flight. The remaining seven movements are for the full quartet, showing off not only the compositions but the slick performance and tight comradeship of the group. Akiho and Sandbox Percussion commissioned 11 video artists to create original films for Seven Pillars – one film for each movement of the work – however the hard copy of the CD makes no mention of this. It does however include a complex insert, a complicated paper cutout designed almost as a stage setting in lieu of the visual films. These took some studying, slowly revealing explanations of the form of each movement in relation to the work as a whole, and spelling out the instruments used (“brake drum” for instance). But the cards can’t quite replace the brilliance of the collaborative videos that encompass the worlds of dance, animation, experimental narrative film, time-lapse and more. They are also a lot more fun, as you can see here: Cheryl Ockrant Dana Lyn – A Point On a Slow Curve Instrumental Ensemble In A Circle Records ( ! It took eight years for experimental visual artist Jay DeFeo to complete her mixed media painting The Rose in the 60s. The Rose is over ten feet high and weighs more than one ton. It is this impressively textured and radiant work that drew American composer and violinist Dana Lyn to start her own eight-year compositional journey. The result is A Point on a Slow Curve, a nine-movement sonic poem parallelling the creation of The Rose. Scored for female choir, violin, clarinet, cello, bassoon, vibraphone, bass and drums, A Point on a Slow Curve is experimental in nature, sometimes wild and chaotic, sometimes angelic. The improvisatory sections are tightly connected with contrapuntal writing, depicting the long process of artistic creation. In each movement, Lyn matches the textures of the painting beautifully. She creates endless interconnected lines but somehow the work remains austere and symmetrical in its expression. It is precisely this combination of chaos and uniformity that reflects the scale of The Rose. As the painting illuminates everything from its centre, so does Lyn’s music. That is especially obvious in three movements depicting major drafts of the work in progress – Death Rose, White Rose and, finally, The Rose. The ensemble playing is exemplary and it includes the composer herself on violin. Lyn’s unconventional music really benefits from the musicians’ improvisational skills, as well as from their imagination. Ivana Popovic Maija Einfelde – Violin Sonatas Magdalēna Geka; Iveta Cālīte LMIC SKANI 129 ( ! Every now and then there is an album that is simply captivating, the music so powerful that one feels the need to go back to it over and over again. This particular album of sonatas by senior Latvian composer Maija Einfelde (including world premiere recordings of the third sonata and a solo work) had that special effect on me. The three sonatas for violin and piano and one for solo violin were written over the span of the last 20 years of the 20th century. They do not feature any exuberant contemporary violin techniques (though the imitation of the clay bird whistle sounds in the second sonata is delightful) but rather share some similarity with the musical language of Messiaen. What they do feature is an abundance of darkness, shades of deep sonority, profoundness of the life lived and an encompassing artistry. This music is supremely focused, there is no note that is unnecessarily placed, and maintaining this sort of conceptual intensity requires both fortitude and heart from the performers. Violinist Magdalēna Geka and pianist Iveta Cālīte have both. These two powerhouses delve deeply into the music of Einfelde, as if their lives depend on it. Geka’s tone is so resonant, so intense and clear (especially in the high register), that one feels its reverberations in the body. What is most March 4 – April 15, 2022 | 49

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