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

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  • Thewholenotecom
  • Violin
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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

The heart of this album

The heart of this album and the title piece, Song and Call, plays like a musical treatise on birds. Four attacca movements, titled after four birds (Gray Fantail, Common Starling, American Robin and Eastern Winter Wren), are a magical kingdom of slowed-down bird song samples, electronics, loops, whistling, chimes and singing bowls, in addition to electric violin and often percussive cello. The result is simply stunning. Ivana Popovic Aleks Schürmer – À ses derniers pas, entrant dans la boue Grégoire Blanc; Aleks Schürmer Centrediscs CMCCD 29221 (cmccanada. org/shop/cd-cmccd-29221) ! Invented in 1920 by Russian physicist Leon Theremin, the theremin is an early electronic musical instrument that is played without being touched. Bringing a hand near the vertical antenna raises the pitch of the note, while bringing the other hand near the horizontal antenna changes the loudness of the tone. A captivating instrument to observe in performance, the thereminist seems to be pulling sound out of thin air and the ethereal nature of the sound produced makes it a fascinating source of musical expression. Compared to most musical instruments, the theremin is exceedingly rare, and toplevel performers are even harder to come by. Grégoire Blanc is a French solo, chamber and orchestral performer who is one of the world’s few theremin virtuosos, and his work on this disc is nothing short of extraordinary. All the music on À ses derniers pas is composed by Aleks Schürmer, a Canadian multi-instrumentalist, educator and artist. From the playful Concertino en si bémol majeur to the solemn Four Cowboy Songs and the miniature cycle that comprises the title track, Schürmer’s music combines a wide variety of styles and ideas that, when partnered with the unique timbres of the theremin, create a truly unique auditory experience. This disc is highly recommended as a premier example of the remarkable, innovative artists in the world today. From new compositions to a rare musical instrument, this disc will feature much that is unfamiliar to many listeners, which is a very good thing. Take this opportunity to broaden your horizons and get out of your comfort zone with À ses derniers pas – you won’t regret it. Matthew Whitfield George Perle – Solos & Duos Various Artists Bridge Records 9546A/B (bridgerecords.com) ! George Perle (1915-2009) might be compared to Hindemith as a composer concerned with tonal as well as motivic manipulation, highly developed, recognizable structures and just plain beauty. Where Hindemith stayed with more consonant tonalities and clearly defined melodic structure, in a word, a classicist, Perle follows a more Romantic path, in the sense of his rhythmic and metric freedom, as well as a much more challenging tonal language. This two-disc collection, Solos & Duos, features works for a range of instruments, another echo of Hindemith. Perle, like Hindemith, produced effective music to exploit the instruments he wrote for. Solo works for piano, bassoon, violin, cello, contrabass and clarinet are interspersed on the discs with several works for piano with cello and one with clarinet and piano. Solo works are perhaps an acquired taste, but I find Perle’s explorations via Monody II (1962), the double bass work played with tremendous verve by Edwin Parker, a complete treat to hear. Ditto Bassoon Music (2004) in an equally compelling presentation by Steven Dibner. Every decade from the 1940s until the ‘aughts is represented. Clarinetist Charles Neidich plays the Three Sonatas for Solo Clarinet (1943, the earliest works) as well as Sonata quasi una fantasia (1972), together with Michael Brown on piano. Both are performed with considerable flair. Pianists Leon Fleisher, Richard Goode and Horacio Gutiérrez, perform works written for each. Musical Offerings from 1988, references obliquely Fleisher’s unpleasant departure from his directorship of the Tanglewood Music Festival. Ballade, written for Goode in 1981, allows him to explore Romanticism through a modern lens. Nine Bagatelles (1999) (average length/bagatelle under one minute) are wittily conveyed by Gutiérrez. But the star among stars on this twin pack, apart from Perle himself, is cellist Jay Campbell. What a glorious rich cello voice, and what terrific agility from the bass string right up into thumb position! His selections cover the most ground on the recording, in number of works played (four), as well as total length (close to 40 minutes of the two-hour total). Perle clearly loved the instrument and Campbell seems to enjoy playing his work. Max Christie Conversations with Myself Alicia Lee New Focus Recordings FCR302 (newfocusrecordings.com/catalogue) ! I’m willing to bet the two years just past have seen a noticeable increase in the number of released CDs of solo instrumental works, prepared in the isolation of one’s practise studio. Conversations With Myself is a selection of solos for clarinet and bass clarinet, some from the years between 1983 and 2007, bookended by works composed in 2020, during the new normal. Alicia Lee writes that the pieces present her “in dialogue with myself… where I was delivering advice to anyone who cared to listen.” Dai Fujikura’s Contour for Bass Clarinet opens the disc. Freely melodic and ranging over the low to mid-high range of the instrument, it offers Lee room to show off musicality more than flashy technique. More demanding is Dialogue de l’Ombre Double (the only work for B-flat clarinet) by Pierre Boulez. Two characters emerge from Lee’s confident and affecting performance: the first, in the right channel, is a compulsive repeating motif that then gives way to a mercurial trilling countersubject heard on the left-hand side of the “stage.” At nearly- 20-minutes’ length, this is a substantial undertaking, through which Lee’s sound remains clean and assured. In live performance, one of the “shadows” is pre-recorded. Here the effect of “live” versus electronic is overlaid through some highly effective spatial trickery; when in isolation, why not find ways to simulate social engagement? If Monolog for Bass Clarinet (1983) by Isang Yun offers advice, I’m not sure what it might be. I love the sounds Lee produces on her grumpy big brother clarinet. Unsuk Chin’s Advice for a Caterpillar (from Alice in Wonderland, 2007) possibly advises poor life choices, in a seductive opium-infused siren song. Hideaki Aomori’s sweetly brief Split, brings the conversations to a close. Max Christie Karl Fiorini – In the Midst of Things Charlene Farrugia; Dimitri Ashkenazy; Rebecca Raimondi; Stefan Kropfitsch Grand Piano GP880 (naxosdirect.com/ search/gp880) ! Malta, smack dab in the middle of the Mediterranean, has absorbed influences from the many varied cultures that, over millennia, have settled there. Maltese composer Karl Fiorini (b.1979) is similarly ecumenical. In Trio Lamina for clarinet, violin and piano (2002), quirky, perky neoclassicism – Poulenc crossed with Stravinsky – surrounds 50 | April 15 - May 27, 2022 thewholenote.com

a slow, moody, almost jazzy nocturnal interlude. Piano Trio for violin, cello and piano (2005) mixes serialism, North African folk music and mathematical ratios to create intriguing night music – eerie gloom, helter-skelter jumpiness, squeaks, groans, slowly dripping water and a hectic escape. There’s more perturbed darkness in Two Piano Études (2007-2008), composed using Fibonacci sequences, but then, writes Fiorini, after “heartlessly abiding to purely intellectual procedures… I felt I had to revisit tonality.” Jump to 2017 – the gripping Piano Sonata encompasses powerful, discordant percussiveness, a slow, quiet, tentatively tender ambulation and a motoric rush to the finish. At 16 minutes, In the Midst of Things for clarinet, violin, cello and piano (2019) is the longest work on this CD. Its four movements juxtapose brooding melancholy with suspenseful agitation and, like all this CD’s music, it’s an engrossing wordless narrative, stylistically accessible yet elusively mysterious. Maltese pianist Charlene Farrugia, New York-born clarinetist Dimitri Ashkenazy (Vladimir’s son), Italian violinist Rebecca Raimondi and Austrian cellist Stefan Kropfitsch made these world-premiere recordings in 2019 and 2020 with Fiorini present. Undoubtedly, he was justifiably pleased with what he heard. So was I. Michael Schulman Eric Nathan – Missing Words Various Artists New Focus Recordings FCR314 (newfocusrecordings.com) ! “The false sense of movement when, looking out from a stationary train, you see another train depart.” There’s now a word for it – “Eisenbahnscheinbewegung” (Railway- Illusion-Motion) – one of 120 German compound words invented by Ben Schott for his 2013 English-language book Schottenfreude, furnishing whimsical oneword terms for assorted common, disorienting experiences. Eisenbahnscheinbewegung is also the title of the first of 23 mini-tone poems in six sets of Missing Words, spanning 84 minutes on two CDs. In them, multi-award-winning American composer Eric Nathan (b.1983) employs onomatopoetic sound effects, abruptly punctuated, irregular rhythms and wildly varied instrumentation to depict many of Schott’s disconcerting, often uncomfortable, psychological states. Some examples: Eisenbahnscheinbewegung combines railroad noises with glissandi and shifting pulses to evoke that familiar unsettled feeling; lurching glissandi illustrate Leertretung (Void- Stepping) – “Stepping down heavily on a stair that isn’t there;” fanfares in Brillenbrillanz (Spectacles-Luminosity) herald “The sudden, innervating clarity afforded by new glasses;” Beethoven’s hastily scribbled drafts for his Ninth Symphony inspire the aggressive, motorized grumblings of Ludwigssyndrom (Ludwig’s-Syndrome) – “Discovering an indecipherable note in your own handwriting;” halting, quiet rumination in the concluding Rolleirückblende (Rollei-Flashback) reflects “The flood of memory released when looking at old photos.” Performing Missing Words I to VI are, respectively, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, American Brass Quintet, cellopiano duo Parry and Christopher Karp, the International Contemporary Ensemble, Neave Trio and Hub New Music. I’m sure they all had fun playing these very imaginative pieces, all fun to listen to as well. Michael Schulman John Aylward – Celestial Forms and Stories Members of Klangforum Wien New Focus Recordings FCR320 (newfocusrecordings.com) ! The composer John Aylward seems committed to the idea of pushing the language of music into unchartered territory. His work consistently suggests that only the relatively extreme is interesting. In all of the radicalism that this soundscape suggests, Aylward also manages to remain true to bright sonorous textures evoked in vivid phrases that leap and gambol with elliptical geometry. Yet every so often the percussive impact of his work transforms its flowing character into a kaleidoscopic melee of scurrying voices which are built up layer upon layer. His suite Celestial Forms and Stories reimagines characters and narratives from Ovid’s classic, Metamorphosis. The five pieces have been arranged in the form of an atmospheric suite inspired as much by the Latin epic poem as it is by the dissertation, Ovid and Universal Contiguity, by Italo Calvino, itself an iconic treatise, epic in breadth and scope. Celestial Forms and Stories begins with Daedalus and the darkly dramatic voyage of Icarus, its lofty melodic line ascending rhythmically into the heat of the rarefied realm. The transcendent motion of Mercury exquisitely evokes the winged messenger colliding with the obdurate Battus. The suite melts into the buzzing, swooning mayfly, Ephemera. Narcissus follows, trapped in the glassy tomb with Echo. The suite climaxes in the restless drama of Ananke with its forceful, tumbling rhythmic changes. The remarkable musicians of Klangforum Wien perform this work with vivid orchestral colours and preeminent virtuosity. Raul da Gama Chasing Light & Sound – The Tuba Music of Elizabeth Raum Tom McCaslin; Akiko Tominaga Centrediscs CMCCD 29422 (cmccanada. org/shop/cd-cmccd-29422) ! Elizabeth Raum enjoys a reputation of being one of Canada’s most prolific and accessible composers, and is celebrated by tuba players around the world for her many compositions for “that noblest of instruments.” Many of these works were the result of her association with the late tuba virtuoso John Griffiths of the Regina Symphony where Raum played oboe. Several of these pieces are now standard repertoire and they regularly show up on international competition lists. This recent release on CMC Centrediscs celebrates a number of these compositions and features the principal tubist of the Calgary Philharmonic, Tom McCaslin. One of Griffiths’ star students, McCaslin was around for the premieres of many of these works during his formative years. The CD begins with four works for tuba and large ensemble (heard here in tuba and well-crafted piano reduction versions). McCaslin’s technical prowess and innate lyricism are on display throughout, ably supported by pianist Akiko Tominaga. The CD ends on a lighter note with a work for unaccompanied tuba, Sweet Dances (2002). These are four extremely clever and very idiomatic pieces, with very tongue-incheek titles: I’m still chuckling over the third one; Waltzin’ Matuba! This definitive recording is the realization of McCaslin’s long-time dream to bring attention to Raum’s music, and is strongly recommended. It should be a part of any serious tuba player’s library. Scott Irvine thewholenote.com April 15 - May 27, 2022 | 51

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