Browsing: CD and Book Reviews

Jean-Philippe Sylvestre, piano; Orchestre Métropolitain; Alain Trudel, conductor ATMA Classique ACD22763, 54 min 32 s. Quebec child prodigy André Mathieu is paired with Russian giant of the piano repertoire Rachmaninov in this live recording made during the 2017 Festival Classica. There have always been comparisons between the two composers, but with the scattering of blues harmonies amid the late-Romantic language in the Concerto de Québec, you can hear the relationship between Mathieu and Gershwin as well. Mathieu had a great amount of raw talent, but was unable to refine his style; this much is made clear by the juxtaposition on…

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Zosha di Castri, Jocelyn Murlock, Nicole Lizée, John Estacio, Erin Wall, soprano; Martha Henry, narrator; Monique Mojica, actor; NAC orchestra; Alexander Shelley Analekta AN 2 8870, 73 min 25 s. This recording is the “soundtrack” for the multi-media work Life Reflected, which had its premiere at the National Arts Centre May 19, 2016. It was a highly ambitious and worthwhile project that brought together four newly-commissioned pieces by Canadian composers – three of them women – under the overall direction of the NAC’s conductor Alexander Shelley and creative producer and director Donna Feore. Each of the pieces was based on…

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James Campbell, clarinet; New Zealand String Quartet Naxos 8.573454, 76 min 36 s. For many Canadian music-lovers clarinetist James Campbell will be the main attraction on this new Naxos CD. Campbell was born in Leduc, Alberta and at the age of 22 won the CBC Talent Competition. During the 1970s through the 1990s he was a ubiquitous figure in concert circles in Toronto. Campbell has had a long association with the New Zealand String Quartet and he has often invited them to appear at the Festival of the Sound. At the age of 65, when this recording was made, Campbell…

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Danish National Radio Choir, Elmer Iseler Singers, Swedish Radio Choir, Toronto Children’s Chorus, Esprit Orchestra/Alex Pauk, Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis. Centrediscs CMCCD 23517, 77 min. Composer Harry Freedman (1922–2005) played English horn in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) for nearly 25 years. This new CD brings together five of his major orchestral works covering a period between 1960 and 2003. For listeners too young to have known Harry Freedman when he was alive, this album offers an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with his legacy. The oldest piece in this collection is Images composed in 1960. On the whole, this…

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Those who believe in the death knell of the CD better think twice. Justin Time Records and Disques Effendi, the local jazz labels, don’t seem to buy into this dire prediction. The former kicks off the season this month with three new titles. Matt Herskowitz Trio + 1 – Forget me Not (Homage to Lew Soloff) Quadro Nuevo with Cairo Steps – Flying Carpet Cecile McLorin Salvant – Dreams & Daggers Not to be outdone, Effendi has four titles on tap for this fall. Simon Legault – Hypnagogia Polis Emie R Roussel Trio – Intersections Tevet Sela / John Roney…

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Modern composers, when they die, go into limbo for about a decade before their reputation settles. It has been five years since Henze left us and I miss bumping into his music, on the radio, at festivals, anywhere. It has all gone rather quiet. Which may account for my excessive pleasure at encountering these otherworldly pieces, rich in references to a forgotten age and its leisurely pace. The Kammermusik, for tenor, guitar and eight instruments, is dedicated to Benjamin Britten in thanks for introducing Henze to the guitarist Julian Bream. But although Henze quotes a Britten phrase and dabbles wistfully…

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The US composer Bunita Marcus worked for seven years with Morton Feldman and subsequently accused him, after his death, of sexual abuse. Feldman wrote this piece as an act of homage to Marcus. It begins with what appears to be a visit by an extremely unhurried piano tuner and proceeds by its own logic into a sound world where time and motion lose all meaning. It lasts for 72 minutes and 38 seconds and unless it has succeeded in transcending such mundane measurements the experience will probably feel like eternity. The pianist Marc-André Hamelin reports that “the first time I…

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Now here’s a surprise. A new release from Opera Rara usually consists of some bel canto work that has languished forgotten in a vault since its premiere 160 years ago, and usually for good reason (as becomes apparent when you’re halfway through the unreviewable second disc). This package, though, is different: a pair of debut releases by two fast-rising singers, soprano and tenor, mingling well-known arias with the fairly obscure. El-Khoury, a Lebanese-Canadian, sticks mostly to well-trodden tracks, albeit with interesting variations. The Berlioz setting of a Freischütz piece is new to me, as is anything from Hérold’s Le Pré aux clercs, which turns out…

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The first thing you need to know about Daniel Barenboim’s live performance with the Staatskapelle Berlin is that it is the best-sounding Gerontius on record. No British string section has ever played the work with such sweet serenity. No British winds ever breathed with such deep assurance. Strange as it may seem, the Berlin musicians and chorus singers feel this most English of works in their fingers and bones. There is something akin to love in their playing. This is not to disparage past recordings, all by English forces, notably the Halle’s with John Barbirolli and two-thirds of a dream…

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If you go out and buy the Minnesota Orchestra’s Bis recording of Mahler’s fifth symphony, rest assured that you need never buy another. It’s resoundingly well played in every department, devoid of the bravado that impairs some American performances, and discreetly shaped by the music director Osmo Vänskä, who finds organic solutions for some of the more abrupt shifts in the score. Vänskä’s approach is coolly objective. He plays what is in the score and allows the listener to find his or her own level of emotional engagement. The Adagietto, at twelve and a half minutes, is slower than is…

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