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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 17, No. 5


February 1, 2012

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POST CARD: Music by Brandao, Annunziata, Evangelista, Del Aquila, Nicolau, D’Rivera and Ichmouratov
Quatuor Alcan
ATMA Classique ACD2 2502 (64 min 28 s)

This is the kind of eclectic contemporary programme the Kronos Quartet is famous for. Yet, the Chicoutimi-based Quatuor Alcan musicians can just about match their American colleagues in imaginative programming. This is an album of recent quartet pieces based on folk music from many countries. The longest work, at about 24 minutes, is the Quartet No. 2 by Airat Ichmouratov, which combines Klezmer and Beethoven (the Muss es sein motif from the Quartet Op. 135). Ichmouratov was born in Russia but now lives in Canada. His quartet is a little too ambitious for its material.
The other Canadian composer represented is Jose Evangelista, with his Spanish Garland based on folk melodies from his country of birth. The problem here is that using twelve different melodies in an 11-minute piece doesn’t allow for much development. Nonetheless, Evangelista very convincingly uses the quartet to create a Middle-Eastern sound. The most impressive piece is perhaps Alessandro Annunziata’s Meltemi, which deftly combines sound and structure to create a unique atmosphere. Quatuor Alcan plays very well indeed. The sound quality is clear but a little dry.
 Paul E. Robinson

Liszt Recital
Janina Fialkowska, piano
ATMA Classique ACD2 2641

Janina Fialkowska has a great talent: programming. As part of the celebrations for the bicentenary of the birth of Liszt, the Canadian pianist has chosen little-known works which offer a new perspective on the Hungarian composer’s œuvre. Framed by two grand waltzes, the program includes two very long meditative works, Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude and Gretchen, taken from an arrangement for piano of the Faust Symphony. In the middle, we find Six chants polonais, written by Chopin and arranged for piano by his friend and rival Liszt, who added considerable difficulties. Unfortunately, in this recording the interest ends there. The pianist seems incapable of choosing between melodies, accompaniments and counter-melodies and therefore plays everything with equal intensity and force. The discourse rapidly becomes incomprehensible, while the arid and academic playing rapidly wears out its welcome. The only moment of real joy, the Valse de Faust, after Gounod’s work, gracefully closes a program which works better in theory than in practice. Normand Babin

Maki Ishii Live
Ryan Scott, percussion; Esprit Orchestra/Alex Pauk
Innova 809 (52 min 21 s)

Japanese composer Maki Ishii had a successful international career—his music was regularly played in America, Europe, and Asia from the 1970s until his death in 2003. A bit like his compatriot Takemitsu, Ishii blended compositional techniques drawn from the European avant-garde with those of traditional Japanese music. The result is radically original music, perhaps more energetic than Takemitsu’s, but equal in its contemplative power and in the beauty which Ishii’s Japanese traditions bring to this clever cross-breeding. Canadian percussionist Ryan Scott interprets these three pieces with flamboyant energy. Saidoki is an explosion of strength and vigour which plows breathlessly toward the end. Concertante, for marimba and small percussion ensemble, is just as interesting though less energetic. Finally, the concerto South – Fire – Summer is generally more contemplative, though it climaxes in a stunning rhythmic flourish. Recorded live by CBC, this disc showcases a solid and intelligent interpretation by Scott and by Esprit Orchestra, meticulously directed by Alex Pauk. A great discovery! Éric Champagne

Old Friends: Simon & Garfunkel—Homage
Valérie Milot, harp; Antoine Bareil, violin; Marjolaine Goulet, horn; Christian Prévost, violin; Dominic Girard, double bass
Analekta AN 29883 (49 min 52 s)

“Please, no more pop arrangements!” comes the likely cry from the average music lover. This prejudice is in error. In listening to these extremely charming little pieces, one can’t help but be seduced by the quality of the simple arrangements and the musicality of the sensitive and honest interpretations. Certainly the principal duo—violinist Antoine Bareil and harpist Valérie Milot, a Radio-Canada favourite—is largely to thank, but the three other musicians who participate in some but not all of the pieces are equally solid. The programme consists of several songs by Paul Simon (popularized with Art Garfunkel), including gems such as America, Mrs Robinson, Old Friends, Bridge Over Troubled Water, etc., plus some folk songs like Scarborough Fair. We rediscover Paul Simon as a type of modern troubadour, somewhat akin to Stephen Foster, whose melodies are quite adaptable to the chamber music context. The secret is in the arrangements, as it always is in this sort of venture. Here, the secret recipe works and, surprisingly, leaves us wanting more. Frédéric Cardin

Christina Petrowska Quilico, piano; Canadian Ukranian Opera Chorus/Wolodymyr Kolesnyk; Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Warren
Centredisques CMCCD 17011 (65 min 52 s)

Christina Petrowskia Quilico and the Canadian Music Centre present two piano concertos by very different Canadian composers. George Fiala’s Concerto Cantata is a heavy and rather abstruse work in which the piano is accompanied by a choir and a carillon. Unfortunately the neo-romantic tonal writing (reminiscent of Hindemith), the interminable succession of solid chords, the absence of melody, and the exclusive harmonic use of the choir wear out their welcome well before the end of forty long minutes. A transcription of the sung texts in the liner notes could perhaps have aided in the understanding of the work. On the other hand, the young pianist and composer Heather Schmidt seduces the listener with her Piano Concerto No. 2; the work offers as much to the neophyte as to the specialist in contemporary music. The instrumentation is interesting throughout and the piano is brilliant in this sparkling work. The last movement is particularly successful and will doubtlessly cause a mad dash of pianists to perform this piece, as well as encouraging listeners to seek out further works by Schmidt. The courageous pianist performs two difficult concertos which have never before been recorded; both recordings were made live, and the audience can be heard throughout, excepting moments of applause. Normand Babin

Vivaldi: Cello Concertos  
Jean-Guihen Queyras, cello; Akademie für Alte Musik/Georg Kallweit
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902095 (68 min 34 s)

Biting, incisive, contrasting, baroque—this new disc of cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras takes us on a personal tour of the cello works of the Red Priest. Seven concertos (including one for cello and bassoon—a revelation!), a sinfonia in C-major (RV 709), plus two instrumental works by Antonio Caldara, which add variety and offset the monotony of Vivaldi’s strictly tripartite formal structure. The Akademie is in top form. What else is there to say?  Superb! Frédéric Cardin

Translation: Miriam Clouthier, Rona Nadler, Karine Poznanski


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