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Volume 27 Issue 6 | April 15 - May 27, 2022

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Vol 27 No. 6. Here’s some of it: “Growing up in a house full of riches” – the Kanneh-Masons; “As if the music knows what it is doing” – J.S. Bach; “Better experienced than described” – Women from Space; “Stories set in prehistoric times are notoriously difficult to pull off without invoking nervous laughter” – Orphan Song; “To this day when I look at an audience, there’s some part of me that sees a whole bunch of friendly teddy bears wearing bow-ties” – Boris Brott. …. etc

DISCOVERIES | RECORDINGS

DISCOVERIES | RECORDINGS REVIEWED DAVID OLDS Just as Terry Robbins’ column is named “Strings Attached,” this month mine could be called “Strings Galore.” First up is Matangi: Outcast – Schnittke | Silvestrov | Shostakovich (Matangi Music MTM04 matangi.nl), an album devoted to “musical troublemakers and outsiders, three Soviet- Russian composers who wrote music that went dangerously against the tastes of the regime under which they lived.” The Matangi string quartet has been at the forefront of contemporary music in the Netherlands since its founding at the turn of the current century. In their own annual (Un)heard Music Festival in The Hague they present works that are rarely if ever heard in Dutch concert venues, venturing beyond the realm of traditional concert music to include jazz, dance and pop while still embracing the classical canon. A recent guest at the festival was the reclusive Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov (b.1937), a polystylist whose early works ranged from serialist to pointillist, resulting in him being branded avant-garde and refused entry to the Union of Soviet Composers. He has said of his early contrarian works “composing radical music was like working with a mountain of salt that you used up completely. Now I take a handful of salt, just for the taste.” Silvestrov’s delicate, indeed at times barely audible, 1974 extended one-movement String Quartet No.1 provides a gentle bridge between the more familiar works by Schnittke and Shostakovich on this disc, which opens with the former’s String Quartet No.3. Schnittke was also influenced by a plethora of styles, often rooted in Western culture, and likewise deemed unacceptable by the Soviet powers that be. He often incorporated what he called “forgeries” of other compositions and his quartet opens with quotes from Orlando di Lasso, Beethoven and Shostakovich which reappear throughout the quartet. Of particular note is the Agitato second movement that layers a ghostly hint of Lasso’s Stabat Mater into an angular waltz often interrupted by strident echoes of Shostakovich’s eighth string quartet. It is this latter work that concludes the disc. The Quartet in C Minor, Op.110 was sketched in three days in 1960 in Dresden where the composer was deeply affected by the ruins left by the Allies’ firebombing of the city during the late days of the Second World War. It is one of Shostakovich’s darkest works, opening with a Largo movement although, as mentioned, it also has strident moments in the Allegro molto second, and features a lilting waltz third movement, before returning to the glacial pace of the first in the final two Largo movements. The Matangi give outstanding performances of all three works on this particularly timely release. Russian/American pianist Olga Kern is featured with the Dalí Quartet on Brahms & Shostakovich Piano Quintets (Delos DE 3587 delosmusic.com). In an impassioned statement accompanying the release Moscow-born Kern, whose grandfather was Ukrainian and great-grandmother an opera singer in Kharkiv, says “I defy war. It’s heartbreaking to witness the tragedy that is unfolding before our very eyes in Ukraine. It’s ugly and brutal beyond words and it also brings us together in the face of injustice. […] Please stop this madness! Please say NO to war!” Unlike the later string quartet discussed above, Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op.57, is a sunny work. It was composed in 1940, before Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, “a time of deceptive optimism among the Russian people [when] even the despair-prone Shostakovich was hopeful that he could maintain his [newfound] status as [a] favoured composer.” This work did indeed prove popular with the public and even won Shostakovich the inaugural Stalin Prize. In homage to Bach, the quintet opens with a Prelude introduced by the piano, followed by a second movement Fugue in which the strings intertwine until about the two-minute mark when the piano joins in. The contemplative spirit of the opening movements is interrupted by a truly joyous, ebullient Scherzo lasting a brief three minutes. A languorous Intermezzo follows before a playful and melodious Finale brings this beloved half-hour work to an end. It seems to have been Robert Schumann who first combined solo piano with string quartet, giving birth to the genre of piano quintet in 1842. Some 20 years later Brahms, by then a familiar member of the Schumann household, composed his own Piano Quintet in F Minor but in this instance opting for two cellos. The work was not well received and he went on to make a two-piano version that was equally unsuccessful before finally settling on the more usual arrangement of piano, two violins, viola and cello, which became the lush and lyrical work we now know as Op.34. Known for its championing of Latin American repertoire – the quartet members hail from Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the United States and the group received the Atlanta Symphony’s Aspire Award for accomplished African American and Latino musicians – the Dalí Quartet shows itself here to be just as thoroughly at home with European repertoire in these sparkling performances. Kern, among whose awards is a Gold Medal from the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, shines throughout. Speaking of lush, a work Glenn Gould once called “the most moving piece of the 20th century” gives the title to the next disc: Metamorphosen – Strauss | Korngold | Schreker featuring Sinfonia of London under John Wilson (Chandos CHSA 5292 naxosdirect.com/search/ chsa5292). Of course Gould also referred to Metamorphosen as “23 wayward strings in search of a cadence” or some such pithy phrase, but he does seem to have had great admiration for Richard Strauss’ 1945 study for 23 solo strings. Wilson leads his ensemble flawlessly through the meandering journey which lasts 28 minutes, negotiating the waves of sturm und What we're listening to this month: Outcast Matangi Quartet The top String Quartet in the Netherlands present "Outcast" - quartets by Schnittke, Silvestrov and Shostakovich - all critics of Soviet Russia Viola Boréalis Marina Thibeault Violist Marina Thibeault explores musical links between northern cultures: Latvian composer Peteris Vasks; Anishinaabe composer Melody McKiver; the very first viola concerto by Telemann. 38 | April 15 - May 27, 2022 thewholenote.com

drang – at times reminiscent of Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night – without ever losing the thread or floundering into troubled waters. It’s a truly transcendent voyage. Hans Schreker’s brief and lyrical Intermezzo, Op.8 from 1900 lightens the mood and sets the stage for Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Symphonic Serenade for String Orchestra Op.39 (1947-48). If we thought that the 23 strings of the Strauss were sufficient, Korngold disagreed. He scored his serenade for 16 each of first and second violins, 12 violas, 12 cellos and 8 double basses. Somehow Wilson manages to keep these 64 string instruments from turning into an indecipherable wash of sound, even in the densest passages. The sprightly pizzicato second movement provides welcome contrast to the lyrical opening and the languorous third, but it is the hold-on-toyour hats rollercoaster finale that is the icing on the cake; a flourishing finish to a thoroughly satisfying disc. After immersing myself in the dense, lush – I keep wanting to say “at times lugubrious,” but that’s not right, they are simply thick, rich and gorgeous – textures of Brahms and Strauss, I found I needed a palette cleanser. A new Analekta release, Early Italian Cello Concertos featuring Elinor Frey and Rosa Barocca under Claude Lapalme (AN2 9163 analekta.com/en), proved just the thing. In her extensive and informative booklet notes Frey discusses the development of the violoncello, describing it as actually a family of instruments originating with the violone, a small type of bass violin current in the 17th century. “Only beginning in the 1720s did a sort of ideal compromise instrument, of a size halfway between the smallish Baroque violoncello and the larger violone, establish itself as our current standard cello. The term violoncello piccolo, often used today to denote the typical Baroque violoncello, is in part a modern invention – an anachronistic misnomer […which] only makes sense when used in comparison with our larger modern instrument.” She also discusses the differences between four- and five-string versions of the cello. For this recording – which includes works by Sammartini (1700- 1775), Vivaldi (1678-1741), Tartini (1692-1770) and Leonardo Leo (1694-1744) – Frey uses two different instruments, the smaller Baroque size in the Sammartini and Tartini, and the modern size for Vivaldi and Leo. These latter she says “have inspired quite a few modern-day cellists to perform on a five-string instrument, in part because of the fiendishly difficult passagework that ascends into the upper register. […] Over time I came to view these works as demanding and thrillingly virtuosic concertos that belonged to the larger four-string cello repertoire.” Thrilling virtuosity is especially true of Leo’s Concerto No.2 in D Major, which I first encountered in thewholenote.com/listening Anner Bylsma’s recording with Tafelmusik back in my days at CJRT- FM; it became a favourite and I programmed it frequently, both on Music Before 1800 with Peter Keigh and during regular morning broadcasts with Alex Baran. As seminal as that recording was in my developing an interest in Baroque music, I must say that Frey and Rosa Barocca, a Montreal ensemble of which I was not previously aware, surpass this forerunner in terms of crispness, energy and articulation. From start to finish this disc is enthralling; my only quibble is the choice to end the recital with a minor key Andante cantabile movement from a violin sonata by Tartini, one of two Frey transcriptions to grace the disc. I would have preferred it to end with a bang, not a whimper, lovely though it is. Palette cleansed, I returned to our current century with Nicolas Altstaedt’s performance of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Cello Concerto with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra under Dima Slobodeniouk (Alpha ALPHA627 naxosdirect.com/search/ alpha627). This riveting 2017 work was co-commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Barbican Centre (London) and the Elbphilharmonie (Hamburg) NEW ALBUM RELEASE “classical and contemporary gems from around the globe... masterful fugues, exquisitely performed” ensemble vivant a world of fugues Inspirations: New Music for Solo Guitar Daniel Ramjattan This debut album features six works by diverse living composers for classical guitar, ranging from the philosophical and mindful to the virtuosic and unbridled. Resurrexi! Choir of Keble College, Oxford; Instruments of Time & Truth; Paul Brough Celebrating Easter – a mass sequence based around Mozart’s Spaurmesse, interspersed with plainchant and a treasury of Viennese classical sacred music by the Haydn brothers www.ensemblevivant.com AVAILABLE ON CD OR DOWNLOAD ON ALL PLATFORMS thewholenote.com April 15 - May 27, 2022 | 39

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