7 months ago

Volume 28 Issue 5 | April & May 2023

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April and May is Canary Time in the world of WholeNote -- the time when choirs in larger than usual numbers refresh the info in our online "Who's Who" to inform prospective choristers and audiences what they have to offer. Also inside: There's a new New Wave to catch at Esprit; Toronto Bach Festival no 6 includes a Kafeehaus; another new small venue on the "Soft Seat Beat" (we assume the seats are soft!); an ever-so Musically Theatrical spring. And more.

My mother is a big fan

My mother is a big fan of the late Leon Bibb, folksinger, actor and civil rights activist – he marched at Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – and through her interest I became familiar with his son, renowned bluesman Eric Bibb. Eric’s youth was spent immersed in the Greenwich Village folk scene. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger were visitors to his home, and he was deeply influenced by Odetta, Richie Havens and Taj Mahal. Mom and I had the pleasure of seeing him perform at Hugh’s Room some years ago and my biggest takeaway from that evening was his statement “I just need one guitar… more!” Imagine my surprise when I watched a video from his new album Ridin’ (Stony Plain SPCD1472 and saw him playing a six-string banjo (aka banjitar). Bibb plays it more like a blues guitar than a traditional banjo, but the snare drum-like membrane of the banjo head and the hollow round body give it a very distinctive sound. It this sound that opens the disc in a paeon to kith and kin, aptly titled Family, the lyrics of which nicely sum up the overall message of the album: “I am like you – born of a woman | I am like you – a child of God | You are like me – here to learn from History | You are like me – Family.” Bibb says, “As a songwriter, studying African American history has always been a deep well of inspiration. The true stories of my ancestors and their communities are at the heart of many of the songs on my new album. Together with co-writer/producer Glen[vin Anthony] Scott, we’ve created a concept album focusing on the ongoing task of understanding systemic racism and purging it from our world.” The history lessons include songs about the 14-year-old Emmett Till, kidnapped, tortured and lynched in Mississippi in 1955 (the title track); another about the white author who underwent skin pigment transformation to write Black Like Me, and the persecution he faced from his own community as a result in The Ballad of John Howard Griffin; and the destruction of “Black Wall Street” by white mobs in 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma in Tulsa Town, among others. These are interspersed with traditional folk songs like 500 Miles and Sinner Man. I cannot find credits for the backup band, but there are a number of identified cameos throughout the album including star turns by Taj Mahal and Jontavious Willis on Blues Funky Like Dat. Bookending the disc is People You Love (People you love pass on, but they’re not gone | the ones who love you, stay by your side…) bringing a bittersweet but hopeful portrait of a troubled land to a gentle close. I see I have not left myself much space for the final disc, TumbleWeedyWorld, the latest from Canadian country icon Lynn Miles (True North Records TND802 On this, her 16th studio album, the Juno Award-winning and three-time Canadian Folk Music Awards Songwriter of the Year is accompanied by an outstanding band featuring Michael Ball (bass), Joey Wright (mandolin/acoustic guitar), Stuart Rutherford (dobro), Rob McLaren (banjo) and James Stephens (violin). Wright’s mandolin is front and centre on one of my favourite tracks Cold, Cold Moon which features Miles’ signature octave breaks in the moving melody line. Although at times during the disc I felt that this vocal effect was a little overused, it is particularly moving and effective on Moody, where it borders on yodelling. Julie Corrigan and Dave Draves contribute harmonies on the upbeat Sorry’s Just Not Good Enough This Time and dobro and banjo come to the fore in All Bitter Never Sweet with Rebecca Campbell providing duet vocals. This traditional country-flavoured disc comes to a poignant conclusion with Miles in fine voice on the ballad Gold in the Middle. We invite submissions. CDs, DVDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. David Olds, DISCoveries Editor STRINGS ATTACHED TERRY ROBBINS With Mendelssohn Complete String Quartets Vol.2 the Quatuor Van Kuijk complete the cycle of the composer’s string quartet output. Included here are the String Quartets No.4 in E Minor Op.44 No.2, No.5 in E-flat Major Op.44 No.3 and No.6 in F Minor Op.80 (Alpha Classics ALPHA931 Both Op.44 quartets receive outstanding performances, but the real gem is Op.80, the last work Mendelssohn completed before his death and written in an outburst of grief following the death of his beloved sister Fanny. Described as “a confrontation with grief” it’s a striking work in which the composer’s pain is palpable, the performance here being one of quite stunning emotional impact and remarkable sensitivity and intensity. The CD runs to a commendable 83 minutes, giving Quatuor Van Kuijk an edge over competing sets, many of which run to three volumes. Not that they need any advantage – it’s difficult to imagine any playing coming close to this. Three late works by the masters of Viennese classicism are presented on Haydn & Mozart, the new CD from Canada’s Rosebud Quartet and violist Steven Dann (Leaf Music LM252 The CD has been getting frequent airplay on CBC Radio, and with good reason, all aspects of the release being of exceptional quality. The Haydn works are his two String Quartets in G Major Op.77 No.1 and F Major Op.77 No.2, apparently originally intended as part of a set of six. They are his last complete works in the medium, two later middle movements of an unfinished D minor quartet being published as Op.103. Dann joins the quartet for Mozart’s String Quintet in E-flat Major K614, the last of his six and from April 1791, just eight months before his death. Beautifully recorded at Quebec’s Domaine Forget, it’s an outstanding disc. Fine performances of the two Haydn Op.77 quartets are also featured on Haydn String Quartets Opp.42, 77 & Seven Last Words, a two-for-the-price-of-one CD set with which The London Haydn Quartet complete their much-admired survey of the composer’s mature quartets using the original published editions (Hyperion CDA68410 The String Quartet in D Minor Op.42 completes the first disc, with the second CD filled by the lengthy – over 75 minutes – Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross Op.51, Haydn’s own arrangement of his orchestral original. Described as a fitting testimonial to the composer’s deep, enduring faith it compensates for the inevitable loss 58 | April & May, 2023

of orchestral colour and power by an increased sense of intimacy. Given the subject matter it’s not always an easy listen, but its emotional impact is considerable. In the booklet notes for the new CD Haydn Almeida Beethoven on the Spanish Eudora label the Protean Quartet members say that since 2018 they have focused their activity on historical performance on period instruments, and that one of their major creative engines is the recovery of Spanish music heritage and its dissemination. Their contribution here is the first recording of the String Quartet in G Minor Op.7 No.1 by the Portuguese-born Juan Pedro Almeida Mota (1744-c.1817), who developed his career in Spain (EUD-SACD-2301 Haydn’s String Quartet in D Major Op.33 No.6 is a lovely opening to the disc, the freshness and elegance of the work conveyed perfectly through light and sensitive playing. The same performing qualities are evident in the Mota quartet – again, a light but attractive and not insubstantial work. The beautifully clean and articulated performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major Op.18 No.1 gives the whole CD a decided consistency, with a delightfully playful touch mixed with sensitivity and insight. The Ruisi Quartet make their Pentatone label debut with Big House, featuring music by Joseph Haydn, Matthew Locke and the young British composer Oliver Leith (Pentatone PTC 5187040 pentatonemusic. com/product/big-house). Finely judged performances of two Haydn works – the String Quartet No.11 in D Minor Op.9 No.4 and the String Quartet No.23 in F Minor Op.20 No.5 – open and close the disc. The brief Fantasie from Locke’s Consort of 4 Parts: Suite No.3 in F is paired with Leith’s equally brief 2020 reworking of A different Fantasie from Suite No.5 in G Minor (After Locke’s Consort of 4 Parts). The central and largest work is Leith’s seven-movement string quartet The Big House, inspired by the 1980 book In Ruins: The Once Great Houses of Ireland by photographer Sir Simon Marsden, who specialized in black-and-white photographs of allegedly haunted houses. There’s certainly an eerie air of decay in the slow, distinctive and unusual but effective writing, albeit with very little variation. John Wilson leads the Sinfonia of London in simply outstanding performances of English string music on Vaughan Williams, Howells, Delius, Elgar: Music for Strings (Chandos CHSA 3291 catalogue/CHAN%205291). Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for Double String Orchestra was written for the 1910 Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester Cathedral and designed to exploit the cathedral’s acoustics. The antiphonal forces – the smaller second orchestra and a featured string quartet – are captured here in stunning detail. Herbert Howells was an organ student at Gloucester and present at the Fantasia premiere. A few weeks later he heard Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings (Quartet and Orchestra) Op.47, calling the events “two intensely timely, kindling, formative experiences.” His own Concerto for String Orchestra from 1938 was begun in 1934 as a tribute to Elgar, who had died that year, but the middle movement became an In Memoriam tribute to both Elgar and Howells’ own nine-year-old son, who died suddenly in 1935. Using the same forces as the Elgar, it’s an impressive and impassioned work that should really be much better known. The Delius work is Late Swallows, the slow movement of his 1916-1917 String Quartet arranged by Eric Fenby in 1962-63. A rich and glorious reading of the Elgar work concludes a superb disc. Violinist Ellinor D’Melon is outstanding on her debut album on the Rubicon Classics label, pairing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major Op.35 with Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole in D Minor Op.21, ably supported by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra under Jaime Martin (RCD 1106 rteso-ellinor-dmelon-tchaikovsky-lalo). From the lush, glowing tones of the opening of the Tchaikovsky it’s obvious that this is a player with complete technical command and a fine sense of phrasing and shaping, and nothing in the rest of the concerto or in the Lalo does anything to challenge that assumption. There is a link between the two works – Tchaikovsky’s playing through the Lalo with violinist Iosif Kotek in early 1878 led directly to Tchaikovsky composing his own concerto. The spacious recorded sound perfectly showcases the tonal quality of the two Guarneri “Del Gesù” violins D’Melon plays here: the c.1744 “Sainton” in the Tchaikovsky and the c.1724 “Caspar Hauser” in the Lalo. Dream Catcher, the latest release in the ongoing survey of the works of American composer Augusta Read Thomas is the debut album by the young violinist Clarissa Bevilacqua, who was instrumental in devising the program after getting to know Read Thomas and performing her violin compositions. The complete works for solo violin are here, along with the 2008 Violin Concerto No.3 “Juggler in Paradise” with the BBC National Orchestra April & May, 2023 | 59

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