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Volume 28 Issue 1 | September 20 - November 8, 2022

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  • Thewholenotecom
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Our 28th season in print! “And Now, Back to Live Action”; a symphonic-sized listings section, compared to last season; clubs “On the move” ; FuturesStops Festival and Nuit Blanche; “Pianistic high-wire acts”; Season announcements include full-sized choral works like Mendelssohn’s Elijah; “Icons, innovators and renegades” pulling out all the stops.

Ritornello is a

Ritornello is a single-movement work for string quartet and electric guitar (played by Wiek Hijmans). After the ear-stretching dissonance of the prior tracks, this at first sounds pop, even a bit like Classical Gas. Briefly. Then it’s Death and the Maiden meets R2D2, and into the multiverse we go. Composer turns clarinetist on Thracian Sketches. A deep and mellow low register melody emerges, exploring the world of octave-plus-tritone, and eventually becoming tired of that limited space. As the melody careens upward, Bermel vocalizes while playing, adding a menacing buzz to the line. Sure enough, once the upper register is breached, all heck breaks loose. It’s one of those pieces that will take all the player’s endurance. Doubtless circular breathing is a featured asset, so seldom does the sound actually stop. It’s a brilliant piece for solo clarinet, ending with a fantastic race down and back up the range of the horn, the explorer thrilled with the view. Five brief Violin Études haunt the ear thanks to excellent renditions by Christopher Otto. To close the disc, Bermel and the JACKs perform A Short History of the Universe. Its second movement, Heart of Space, could be a parody of the theme from Love Story. Balkan dance and Lutheran chorale jockey for position in the good fun of Twistor Scattering, and then refer back to the atonal pointillism of Multiverse, the first movement. Excellent liner notes enhance the many pleasures of Bermel’s music. Max Christie Victor Herbiet – Airs & Dances Victor Herbiet; Jean-François Guay; Marc Djokic; Julian Armour; Jean Desmarais Centrediscs CMCCD 29822 (cmccanada. org/website-search/?q=CMCCD29822) ! Looking back to the era when the saxophone was elbowing its blustery way to the front of composers’ to-do lists, Victor Herbiet offers a diet of 20th-century stylings for a variety of chamber settings all featuring his instrument. Airs & Dances is exactly what it says it is, and the writing is every bit as capable as the playing. It seems a good strategy for saxophonists to provide themselves with fresh repertoire, should they feel so inclined. Herbiet does, in a way that is both pleasant and certainly challenging to the player, and fun for the listener. The opening track, Troika, purports to reference the more jazzy side of Shostakovich, but I hear a good deal of Milhaud or Poulenc as well. Wherever it hails from, it’s a romp. Much of the disc is lighthearted and fun, veering into uncloaked Romanticism in track seven, Pas de Deux for soprano and alto dance-aphonists. Herbiet is ably abetted on several tracks by fellow saxist Jean-François Guay, and aided ably on others by the very fine pianist Jean Desmarais. The other collaborators are fellow Ottawans Marc Djokic on violin and cellist Julian Armour. Herbiet touches down somewhere closer to the current century in Paris Rush, a sparkling duo again featuring Guay, again for soprano and alto saxes. Imagine the Beatles’ tune from Sergeant Pepper’s, A Day in the Life, but mimed out by two saxes in a French accent. Trois Valse-caprices are solo etudes in the style of an early 20th century composer/ dentist, Dr. Gilles Amiot. Herbiet’s solid technique is on full display, and perhaps he’ll consider filling (get it?) a whole study book with these types of pieces. Max Christie Weill – Symphony No.2; Shostakovich: Symphony No.5 Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra; Lahav Shani Warner Classics (warnerclassics.com/ artist/rotterdam-philharmonic-orchestra) ! “Kurt Weill, symphonist” doesn’t jibe with the reputation of the composer from post-WWI Germany. Known more for his theatre work and songs, Weill was discouraged in his early efforts at the large abstract form; unlike his contemporary, Dmitri Shostakovich, his “serious” works remain overlooked. Weill’s Second Symphony (1933) is presented in a clever pairing with the wellknown Fifth Symphony (1937) by the Russian titan, comparing the work of the older man who was forced from his home by the rising Nazi peril to the younger one who stayed put in Stalinist Russia. It’s a shame Weill’s symphony is sidelined by most orchestras. His was a mature, original voice; early criticism missed the mark, calling him a melodist whose ideas were fit only for the cabaret. Weill wrote tonal but edgy, hyperbolically dramatic music, and this is an excellent rendering. Shostakovich wrote his Fifth to keep the wolves at bay, ticking the boxes that Stalinists insisted were proper to good Soviet Art: strife overcome by struggle, a triumphant finale, and no experimental formalisms. Somehow the effort produced a masterpiece of veiled irony. The Rotterdam Philharmonic under Lahav Shani makes a capable team. The recording favours bombast in the fortissimo passages, so the answering dolce colours are sweet relief. The piano entry and fugue in the Fifth’s first movement sends chills. The edges are sharp, and the tempi barely hold the road around the curves. I’ve heard faster, but not more hair-raising. The fierce delicacy of the scherzo is a total delight, if you appreciate comic terror. The largo will make anyone with a soul weep, an over-the-top, haunting lament. The finale, or “a triumph of idiots” per Rostropovich, was disguised parody. Shani and company emphasize the darkness and perhaps even the despair Shostakovich must have felt, and the fear he sustained of being “disappeared” for improper artistic ideas. Weill was perhaps the luckier of the two, having escaped Nazi Germany to publish his “degenerate” music without fear of being detained for it, let alone for being Jewish. Max Christie British Piano Concertos: Addison; Bush; Maconchy; Searle; Rubbra; Benjamin Simon Callaghan; BBC NOW; Martyn Brabbins Lyrita SRCD.407 (wyastone.co.uk/britishpiano-concertos-addison-bush-maconchysearle-rubbra-benjamin.html) ! Be forewarned: there aren’t any actual piano concertos here and one composer isn’t British, but don’t let that deter you from this disc’s pleasures. Oscar-winning film composer John Addison’s 17-minute, five-movement Wellington Suite for two horns, piano, percussion and strings was written for the 1959 centenary of Wellington College, Addison’s alma mater. Occasional “wrong notes” add humour to the jaunty, vaudeville-inflected set of dances. The non-Brit, Australian Arthur Benjamin, modelled his 15-minute, one-movement Concertino for Piano and Orchestra (1927) after Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It’s genial and jazzy, featuring prominent parts for trumpet and alto saxophone. In Elizabeth Maconchy’s sharply etched, 12-minute Concertino for Piano and String Orchestra (1949), two syncopated, neoclassical Allegros surround a haunting, reflective Lento. It’s a real gem! Intended for students, Humphrey Searle’s dodecaphonic Concertante for Piano, Percussion and Strings (1954) packs lots of drama – portentous chords and pounding percussion – into its mere four minutes. Edmund Rubbra’s nine-minute Nature’s Song (1920), subtitled Tone Poem for Orchestra, Organ and Pianoforte, was composed during Rubbra’s studies with Gustav Holst. I found it much more martial than pastoral. Geoffrey Bush’s ten-minute, four-movement A Little Concerto on Themes of Thomas Arne for Pianoforte and Strings (1939) is an affectionate pastiche of charming melodies by the 18th-century composer of Rule, Britannia. Pianist Simon Callaghan and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by 58 | September 20 - November 8, 2022 thewholenote.com

works, all, except for Benjamin’s Concertino, here receiving their first-ever recordings. Michael Schulman Carl Vine – Complete Piano Sonatas Xiaoya Liu Dynamic CDS7931 (xiaoyaliupiano.com/ press) ! Australian Carl Vine (b.1954) has written at least eight symphonies, nine concertos, six string quartets and 40 scores for dance, theatre, film and TV, but “only” four piano sonatas, ranging from 15 to 19 minutes in duration. Vine’s two-movement Piano Sonata No.1 (1990) was commissioned and choreographed by the Sydney Dance Company, where Vine was resident composer and pianist. Beginning gloomily, it soon erupts with driving, irregular rhythms, repeated rapid phrases over syncopated thumping, glittering sonorities, headlong accelerandos and booming climaxes. Distant echoes of Debussy and Rachmaninoff inhabit the first movement of No.2 (1997). Propulsive, jazzy syncopations fill the concluding second movement until a slow, suspenseful interlude leads to an enraged plunge to the sonata’s final, brutal explosion. No.3 (2007) is in four movements: Fantasia opens with slow drips over dark chords, followed by distorted Chopinesque melodies; in Rondo, meditative passages separate surging, percussive rhythms; Variation presents elaborations of Fantasia’s drips and chords; Presto begins and ends violently, interrupted by a gentle, disquieted ambulation. The three-movement No.4 (2019) starts with Aphorisms, its slow, aimless melody wandering over burbling arpeggios. In Reflection, delicate droplets over low rumbles bookend a restless, yearning central section. Pummelling barrages surround plaintive lyricism in Fury, expressing, says Vine, “relentless and unfocused anger,” ending in a ferocious prestissimo-fortissimo. Pianist Xiaoya Liu, top-prize-winner of several major piano competitions, brilliantly surmounts all the extreme virtuosic challenges of these intense, turbulent works – gripping music that definitely deserves your attention. Michael Schulman Trios from Contemporary Chicago Lincoln Trio Cedille CDR 90000 211 (cedillerecords.org) ! My November 2021 WholeNote review of a CD containing trios by two Chicago composers praised “the vivid colours, dramatic expressivity and sensational virtuosity” of the Lincoln Trio, here returning with compositions by five living Chicagoans. Sensual passion fills Shulamit Ran’s eightminute Soliloquy, derived from an aria in her opera Between Two Worlds, in which the tenor (here, the violin), yearns for his beloved. Less satisfying is Augusta Read Thomas’ …a circle around the sun…, five minutes of enigmatic fragmentation. Three works written for the ensemble receive their first recordings. Shawn E. Okpebholo’s 11-minute city beautiful celebrates three Chicago architectural icons. Dribbling, undulating melodies evoke the 82-storey Aqua Tower’s wave-like exterior. Long-lined, pastoral lyricism reflects the horizontal planes of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. Okpebholo calls Union Station “an amalgam of neoclassicism and modernism;” his similarly styled music expresses, he says, the terminal’s “century-old hustle and bustle.” Mischa Zupko’s three-minute Fanfare 80, honouring the Music Institute of Chicago’s 80th year, exists in versions for orchestra, woodwind quintet and the Lincoln Trio. Rambunctious seven-and-11-beat measures create, writes Zupko, “a savage celebration.” One wonders why. The best comes last. Sanctuary is Stacy Garrop’s two-movement, 23-minute, emotion-wrenching memorial to her father. In Without, brooding anguish, urgent desperation and a “pseudo-Jewish folksong” describe, she writes, a girl “searching for her lost parent.” Within’s hymn-like solemnity and gentle piano wind-chiming represent the girl (violin) finally reuniting with her father (cello) “within the sanctuary of her own heart.” Michael Schulman When Dark Sounds Collide: New Music for Percussion and Piano Pathos Trio Panoramic Recordings PAN24 (newfocusrecordings.com) ! These specially commissioned works are so unusual and remarkable that they demand an equal share in the limelight of this debut album, When Dark Sounds Collide by the Pathos Trio. The stunning music expertly interlaces a wide world of time and space, and musical traditions, into extraordinary repertoire for percussion and piano. In each work, the Pathos Trio have closely collaborated with the composers – Alyssa Weinberg, Alison Yun-Fei Jiang, Finola Merivale, Evan Chapman and Alan Hankers, who is, of course, also the pianist of the trio. This has resulted in some truly inspired performances by the members of the trio, who demonstrate – in soli as well as in ensemble – each composer’s heightened skill at conjuring a spectrum of sonic worlds. The collision of metallic, wooden and electronic percussion instruments – performed by Felix Reyas and Marcelina Suchocka – alternate, blend and often enter into outright battle with the plucked, strummed strings stretched taut across the brass frame of the concert grand piano, which is also softly hammered and variously pedalled by Hankers. The music veers from delicate washes of sound in Jiang’s Prayer Variations and Hankers’ Distance Between Places to somewhat cataclysmic eruptions such as those that inform the mysterious strains of Merivale’s oblivious/oblivion, often punctuated by prescient and even foreboding silences. Meanwhile, the musicians also revel in the passagework – both delicate and fierce – of Chapman’s fiction of light and Weinberg’s Delirious Phenomena. Raul da Gama Allison Cameron – Somatic Refrain Apartment House Another Timbre at196 (anothertimbre.com) ! Somatic Refrain is another in the English label Another Timbre’s extensive series of recordings of contemporary Canadian composers’ works performed by Apartment House, a distinguished British ensemble dedicated to performing contemporary music. The works here, composed between 1996 and 2008, spring from different creative impulses but share a certain probing calm, a deliberated tone of sensitive inquiry, as if the pieces were already there and Cameron was examining why and revealing their graces. Somatic Refrain (1996) is a solo piece for bass clarinet. Originally commissioned by Torontonian Ronda Rindone it’s played here by Heather Roche of Apartment House. The instrument’s extraordinary timbral possibilities have been more extensively examined in improvised music than in composition, and the intrepid Cameron explores the range of Rindone’s mastery of multiphonics, creating a piece that demonstrates the instrument’s thewholenote.com September 20 - November 8, 2022 | 59

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