In this issue: several local artists reflect on the memory of composer Claude Vivier, as they prepare to perform his music; Vancouver gets ready to host international festival ISCM World New Music Days, which is coming to Canada for the second time since its inception in 1923; one of the founders of Artword Artbar, one of Hamilton’s staple music venues, on the eve of the 5th annual Steel City Jazz Festival, muses on keeping urban music venues alive; and a conversation with pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, as he prepares for an ambitious recital in Toronto. These and other stories, in our October 2017 issue of the magazine.
! Deutsche Grammophon are milking their exclusive partnership with Nézet-Séguin. They have a winner with this smart and attractive recording. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe was founded in 1981 by young graduates of the European Union Youth Orchestra. This recording was a result of a week of concerts under Nézet-Séguin’s baton, in the Philharmonie in Paris in February 2016. It has the vitality of a live performance, with fine playing from all the sections. The numbering of Mendelssohn’s symphonies does not reflect their chronology. Their true order is 1-5-4-2-3. This doesn’t matter, though, as there is a stylistic homogeneity that runs through all five. Clear counterpoint, rugged drama hearkening back to Haydn’s Sturm und Drang (most notably in the last movement of the Fourth), nostalgic beauty and yes, those attractive melodies. The collaboration between Nézet-Séguin and the COE shines in each of these works. The pacing and tempi illuminate the structure and breadth of Mendelssohn’s expression. There are highlights in all five symphonies: the great journeys of the First and Third, the exuberance of the Fourth, Baroque religiosity of the Fifth. For me, the greatest achievement of this disc is the superb performance of the Second Symphony or Hymn of Praise (Lobgesang). On the surface, it’s a strange work: symphony? Cantata? Oratorio? There are obvious comparisons to be made with Beethoven’s Ninth (which don’t favour Mendelssohn), but – taken on its own and knowing that it was written as an occasional work to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press – the piece is an irrepressible celebration of life and intelligence. Nézet-Séguin, the RIAS Kammerchor and three fabulous soloists (including Canada’s Ruby Awardwinning luminous diva, Karina Gauvin) raise the roof in a sincere and joyful rendering of a unique score. Larry Beckwith Bruckner – Symphony No.3; Wagner – Tannhäuser Overture Gewandhausorchester Leipzig; Andris Nelsons Deutsche Grammophon 479 7208 ! Anton Bruckner moved to Linz in 1856 to take up the position of organist at the Old Cathedral, Ignatiuskirche, rapidly establishing himself as one of Europe’s greatest exponents of the instrument. Bruckner also took to studying theory and composition under Simon Sechter and later with Otto Kitzler. When the latter conducted a performance of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser in Linz, Bruckner fell under Wagner’s spell, melding the composer’s passion for poetry and drama with the unbounded exaltation of his (Bruckner’s) spirituality to deliver so much in the way of harmonic ingenuity, melodic sweep and sheer orchestral magnificence in his music. Andris Nelsons delivers all of this grandeur in Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 in D Minor (WAB 103), paired with Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture. This live recording made with the legendary Gewandhausorchester Leipzig is the first in a proposed cycle of Bruckner symphonies. No.3 was unfinished when Bruckner took it to Wagner, who, in 1873, selected it as a dedication to him by Bruckner. Under Nelsons’ baton Bruckner’s spiritualism and Wagnerian grandeur soar in music redolent of melodic and harmonic touches. It is a visceral and dynamic performance. Nelsons shows that he has developed a perfect bond between the orchestra’s instrumentalists, enabling them to dig deep and bring to No.3 and the Tannhäuser Overture a sublime melodic beauty – conducting the structurally complex music with outstanding naturalness, a special charisma and dignity in a way that only a great Bruckner conductor can. Raul da Gama MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Chamber Music (Re)Discoveries Suzanne Snizek; Benjamin Butterfield; Keith Hamm; Joanna Hood; Yoomi Kim; Alexandria Le; Aaron Schwebel University of Victoria (finearts.uvic.ca/music/flute) ! Imagine picking up a CD of music by three unknown composers named Bartók, Copland and Shostakovich, listening and wondering how you could not have heard of them. Listening to Suzanne Snizek’s new CD was a bit like this for me except the names of most of the composers really were unknown: Jan van Gilse, Petr Eben, Leo Smit, Mieczysław Weinberg, Boris Blacher. Their music, highly individual and accomplished, has languished forgotten for three generations, because they lived (and three died) in the cataclysms of Nazism and Stalinism. The music on this CD, as Snizek points out in the notes, does not reveal the tragic and traumatic circumstances of the composers’ lives. The transcendent lyricism of the opening soliloquies of van Gilse’s Trio and Eben’s second Lied, played so simply and movingly by Snizek, speak of another reality, as do the exuberant abandon of the third movement of the van Gilse Sonata, the first and last movements of the Smit Sonata and the third movement of the Blacher. Snizek’s artistry both as a soloist and as a collaborator is evident throughout, but nowhere more so than in her “dialogues” with tenor Benjamin Butterfield in Eben’s Drei Stille Lieder. She has spent a decade researching this lost, forgotten and neglected generation of composers. Her research, coupled with the artistry of all the performers on this CD, makes it an important addition to our knowledge and the repertoire of the mid- 20th century. Originally from Philadelphia, Dr. Snizek is now professor of flute and music history at the University of Victoria. Proceeds from CD sales, available through their website, will go to support the University of Victoria flute studio. Allan Pulker Editor’s note: Regular DISCoveries readers will know that Mieczysław Weinberg’s music has enjoyed mounting interest in recent years; 15 CDs that include his music have been reviewed in these pages, beginning in December 2006 with the ARC Ensemble’s RCA release On the Threshold of Hope. The ARC Ensemble’s exploration of “lost composers” is ongoing, as can be seen in the following review. Chamber Works by Szymon Laks ARC Ensemble Chandos CHAN 10983 ! In 1942, Polish- Jewish composer Szymon Laks was deported to Auschwitz. Few prisoners survived that place. But, remarkably, the Nazis’ demands for Laks’ skills as a violinist, copyist, arranger and conductor kept him alive, as he explains in his harrowing, brilliant memoir. This collection of his music is the third in the ARC (Artists of The Royal Conservatory) Ensemble’s Music in Exile series recovering lost works by composers suppressed by Hitler’s regime. Laks suffered dreadfully during the war, yet his continued neglect afterwards is certainly undeserved. His music may not be groundbreaking, but it is inventive, with alluring melodies, exciting rhythmic sequences, shifting moods and luminous harmonies. The String Quartet No.4 deserves a place in every quartet’s repertoire. In fact, all six of the works on this disc merit frequent performances and recordings, including the lively, angular Divertimento, the rhapsodic Sonatina (one of the few works by Laks to survive from before the war) the tender Concertino, the poignant Passacaille and the Piano Quintet on Popular Polish Themes, brimming with vivid character. These are all premiere recordings, though some works were previously recorded in different versions, and the Quartet No.4 66 | October2017 thewholenote.com
is just out on a welcome new recording of Laks’ three surviving string quartets by the Messages Quartet (DUX 1286). The members of the ARC Ensemble (Joaquin Valdepeñas, clarinet; Erika Raum, Marie Bérard, violin; Steven Dann, viola; Winona Zelenka, cello; David Louie, Diane Werner, piano; Sarah Jeffrey, oboe; Frank Morelli, bassoon) are all notable soloists who teach at the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School. Laks provides plenty of opportunities for each to shine individually. But it’s their thrilling ensemble work that makes the most compelling case for Laks’ music. Pamela Margles Meditations and Tributes Matthew Nelson Soundset Records SR 1087 (soundset.com) ! This selection of solo clarinet works, distinct in character and technical demand, stands as testimony to the fine effort and abilities of clarinettist Matthew Nelson. A who’s who of contemporary composers populates Meditations and Tributes, including Kaija Saariaho, Franco Donatoni, Karel Husa and Krzysztof Penderecki. Nelson’s technical assurance allows all their diverse musical ideas to reach the listener; here is a wealth of material for the unaccompanied instrument (much more than can be mentioned in a short review), masterfully played. Out of the darkness, Saariaho’s Duft flutters into audible range to open the disc. The title translates as “scent.” I balk at kinaesthetic associations with music, though some may not. A coincidental segue between the final pitch of Flüchtig (the third Movement of Duft) and the first of Joël-François Durand’s La mesure des choses might mislead an inattentive listener. Durand’s style is very distinct from Saariaho’s, however, so the illusion doesn’t last. The former is active yet meditative, the latter full of intense, almost violent motion. Following Saariaho and Durand is Donatoni’s Clair, a two-movement work from 1980. Donatoni’s music is manic, even obsessive, in its manner of motivic evolution, but somehow lyrical and gorgeous. The other works presented are all either stand-alone pieces or triptychs, but Donatoni pairs two balanced movements, as he often did. Bent Sørensen’s Songs of the Decaying Garden is lovelier than the title (or the composer’s reputation for terrifyingly difficult music) might suggest. The haunting Prelude by Penderecki closes this excellent collection. Nelson includes his own well-written liner notes, supplemented by three of the composers describing their own pieces: Durand, Bruce Quaglia, and Marc Satterwhite. Max Christie Gregory Mertl – Afterglow of a Kiss; Empress; Piano Concerto Solungga Liu; Immanuel Davis; University of Minnesota Wind Ensemble; Craig Kirchhoff Bridge Records 9489 (bridgerecords.com) ! Ever-changing restless rhythms, often punctuated by sudden blasts of brazen colour, make these works by American Gregory Mertl (b.1969) compelling listening, even throughout the 42-minute duration of his Piano Concerto. In the CD booklet, Mertl writes that he intended “to subvert” the traditional model of a piano concerto in which the “pianist is hero,” choosing instead to “compose a concerto where the soloist would discover herself over the course of the work.” His Piano Concerto certainly sounds different – not least because the accompanying winds and percussion, lacking strings, create an icy, “heavy metal” backdrop for the piano, strongly played by Solungga Liu. Jagged, almost jazzy syncopations dominate the Piano Concerto’s first and third movements. The second movement, the longest at 17 minutes and the only movement with a title – Coupling – is a slow, seemingly improvised ambulation by the piano with the orchestra providing chordal pedal points and, as in the outer movements, occasional declamatory outbursts. The sprightly seven-minute Afterglow of a Kiss for solo flute (Immanuel Davis), winds, strings, harp, celeste and percussion shares the Piano Concerto’s sense of improvisation, busy rhythms and glittery sonorities. I found the atmospheric, 12-minute Empress for winds, strings, harp and percussion particularly evocative, with melodic threads continually emerging from and disappearing into a tapestry of timbres. Mertl’s distinctive style here receives vivid support from conductor Craig Kirchhoff, who commissioned the Piano Concerto, and the University of Minnesota Wind Ensemble. Michael Schulman You Haven’t Been; Me to We; The Current Agenda; Love in 6 Stages Frank Horvat Iam who Iam Records LTLP05 - LTLP08 (frankhorvat.com) ! Frank Horvat is one of the most inventive songwriters to come out of the contemporary scene in Canada. Although not a fullblooded minimalist, his music is frequently spare-sounding, unmistakable, with its repetitions of cell-like phrases, often built on brightly coloured piano sounds, sometimes enhanced by bright horns and mallet percussion, soothing strings and vocals. Best of all, Horvat’s work is exquisitely eventful and almost insidiously effective. Horvat has also recently found another way in which music can be organized: around rhythmic ideas instead of around structure, where rhythm forms the structural basis of the music instead of merely being a necessary ornament. Moreover, Horvat’s ideas are suspended in a kind of bohemian dynamic and come alive in their thrilling combinations of trademark repetitions and overlappings with an almost ceremonial theatrical grandeur. His recent work comprises You Haven’t Been, music for solo piano; Me to We, which is music written for duo and trio settings, The Current Agenda, which is a dark record of music featuring solo, duo, trio and quartet music, intensely socialist in nature, and Love in 6 Stages, a work where minimalism meets art song and where the two milieus collide in the visceral physicality and psychology of love. Clearly it appears time for Frank Horvat to take the gloves off musically and declare that he is free to roam as he pleases, wherever the music beckons. In return for such dramatic freedom, he returns the favour by recording the events of this long and difficult expedition in deeply personal and profoundly beautiful music. Of the four recordings recently released, Me to We and You Haven’t Been are so deeply personal that listening to the music on each requires an intrusive mindset. In the former recording the probing duos appear to tear through the composer’s innards not simply to discover his heart, but to gather its myriad pieces and bind them back together again. This is done, at Horvat’s urging, through dark, warm sounds that evoke healing, through music that is mysterious and exotic as well as long-limbed and almost aria-like without the vocals. On The Current Agenda Horvat focuses his outward vision and glares at the world in all its nakedness. What he sees results in music filled with anger, a mesmeric and hypnotic visual account of a world gone mad. Portentous piano and deep, chanting voices meld with floating, reflective moments (as in the solo piano of Lac-Mégantic), which return eventually into haunting music, tumbling to earth once again. Love in 6 Stages is the most elevating of the four recordings. Between Horvat’s piano (and its soporific thewholenote.com October2017 | 67