Archive for January, 2007

BACH and the MUSES : Music, Poetry & Art———– Reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

January 21, 2007
BACH and the MUSES: Music, Poetry & Art
Trinity-St.Paul’s Centre, Toronto

There is a direct way you can put words to music: listen to the music and put your words to it. Three poets, Lorna Crozier, Anne Michaels and Jan Zwicky, accepted Tafelmusik director Jean Lamon’s invitation to do that with solo works by Bach. Ms. Lamon also chose three painters who agreed to paint while they listened to Bach solos.

Here you have a painting by Margaret Shaw made in response to Bach’s “Suite in D Minor for solo violoncello, BWV 1008″. As we contemplate Shaw’s ascending spiral structure, Christina Mahler plays the sinuous ‘Prelude’ of the Bach. Its progress is leisurely, compared to the spirited benchmark Rostropovich. A reading by Karen Woolridge puts the words of poet Lorna Crozier to the Bach.

They speak of the cello that knows the lower body best, the heat “of the belly, / the bowels, the genitals—the sweat/ and stain of things, holy and otherwise, / their dark vibrations….” Forgotten is Rostropovich. Michelle Pfeiffer, the pregnant Witch of Eastwick, merges with Christina Mahler as the “dark vibrations” of the ‘Allemande’ begin to issue from “the clutch of calves and knees and inner/ thighs, the pitch and muscle/ of their sounds.”

Crozier has a poem for each of the five intervals between sections of the suite. Her words change how I hear the cello: “whale song echoing miles/ across the sea floor, calling the lost, / the ones without a mother, home.”

Three preludes and fugues (BWV 854,849,860) from Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I” are represented in this triptych painted by Christopher Hogue. Between silvery recitals by Charlotte Nedinger on harpsichord, we listen to Karen Woolridge speak with warmth and clarity the words of Anne Michaels’ poem “Repairing the Octave”. Her theme is healing through conflict.

In her mind are two couples, three hundred years apart: Bach, blind, tended by his wife Anna Magdalena, while they listen to the playing of some of their 20 children; and the poet herself, Anne Michaels remembering, by the bedside of her father abstracted now by Alzheimer’s, how one long-gone winter’s day they shared hearing “the clear precision of the fugue/on the car radio.” She recalls her father’s dedication to Bach’s music, him learning to sing the notes, then to play them on the piano: “…how the voices of the fugue /entered each other like needle and thread/through cloth.” Kinship in music heals all separation: “The two men sit in the dark. / What is 300 years /between one voice/ and another?”

Following intermission, on the stage below this painting by Konstantin Nikov, Jan Zwicky read her 6 part poem “Practicing Bach” in the gaps of J.S.B’s “Partita in E Major for solo violin, BWV 1006.” The subtle dynamics, sculpted rhythms, and vivid colours of the ‘Preludio’ performed at speed by Aisslinn Nosky provoked a spontaneous outburst of applause. For Zwicky Bach’s piece is “The partita of the world, the dance of everything:”

everything/ has to be possible.” Bach’s wisdom, that we can hear in the music, is:

ceaselessly: there is
one art: wind
in the open spaces
grieving, laughing
with us, saying

AN EVENING OF JEWISH MUSIC reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Friday, January 19th, 2007

January 18, 2006
Art of Time Ensemble presents
An Evening of Jewish Music

Andrew Burashko’s Art of Time Ensemble does consistently fine work. Their “Overture on Hebrew Themes Op. 34 by Prokofiev is the best I’ve ever heard. Lori Freedman’s tone and timing made the lugubrious clarinet motif (think “Pink Panther”) wonderfully slinky. Burashko’s piano kept the beat on padded feet, and the strings were appropriately gritty.

Soprano Monica Whicher joined the quintet for Osvaldo Golijov’s heartbreakingly beautiful “Tenebrae” (2002). Talk about a voice crying in the wilderness while cello and viola maintain a minimalist pulsing murmur of restless wind!

The Ensemble as string quartet performed John Zorn’s “Kol Nidre”, an entrancing piece built on a drone and a sigh: the sigh being a melody played mid register by second violin (Sarah Nemtallah) and viola (Steven Dann), that is sandwiched between the sustained keening of Ben Bowman’s first violin and the groaning of Thomas Weibe’s cello.

The work of the Ensemble is the part of the concert you could take to the bank. The rest of the show, a bold exploration of Judaic Fusion—the kind of risk we’ve come to expect Burashko to take and make—didn’t pay off evenly, despite the high caliber players. Around these efforts, I did not feel the audience and the players connecting, nor was there much energy in the room. The applause, like the lighting, was on the dim side.

This is the part where I chew over the bread of complaint and try to pick out a few of the tasty raisins. The main raisin was Marilyn Lerner on piano. Despite her composition, “Rumshinsky’s Bulgar” sounding like a cross between “Shortnin’ Bread” and Leadbelly’s “Pick a Bale of Cotton”, Lerner’s energy was solid and upbeat and her playing was vivid.

Martin van de Ven’s work on clarinet is gentle and lovely, while his bass clarinet thrills. Nonetheless, his “Yiddishism on a theme by Prokofiev”, despite nice polyphonic runs by clarinet and trumpet over the ostinato piano seemed long and loose and left the audience energy to wander disjointedly into intermission.

The previous act, six songs based on contemporary Yiddish poems, with Marilyn and Martin and David Buchbinder on trumpet accompanying David “the voice” Wall were too many, and too much the same talky-style delivery, despite Wall’s amazing range of vocal gifts. His showmanship, as someone said during intermission, though intended to bring out the audience, created a sense of constraint. Odd, but I agree. More of the same in the second half, with a bit more energy, until Prokofiev and the Ensemble saved the evening.

Bottom line: the show, as a show, would have benefited from a stronger directorial hand. Why? Because the music is so worth it. Here is an impressive testimony on that.
“Jewish folk music is close to my ideas of what music should be. There should always be two layers in music. Jews were tormented for so long that they learned to hide their despair. They express despair in dance music.” Dmitri Shostakovich

PASHTES|SIMPLICITY by Lenka Lichtenberg & Brian Katz CD review by Stanley Fefferman

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

Sunflower Records, 2006

This album is subtitled “Music to the Poetry of Simcha Simchovitch”. “Music to the poetry of…” implies that the music respects the poetry. Together, poetry and music make song. These songs of Simcha Simchovitch are dedicated to the “downtrodden and humiliated”, to “days to come…/when the sun of freedom will shine for all/and all will joyously create and sing.”

The vision of this poet is bent double by sorrow and loss: his glance often falls into the gutter of despair, where a glint of sunlight reflected in the filthy water uplifts him to song. This shift is the focus of the poetry that Lenka Lichtenberg and Brian Katz write music to.

Lenka writes most of the music and sings. Brian writes the arrangements, a few songs, and leads the ensemble with his guitar. Both musicians have been working together for the past few years as a concert duo relying on Lenka’s commitment to the Yiddish songbook and Brian’s mastery of guitar styles from classical to jazz and world music.

What is interesting about this particular collaboration is that the music, despite being sung in Yiddish, does not sound particularly Jewish (a.k.a Klezmer). They have managed to generate a unique sound based on sonorities of Latin, Arabic, and jazz, to name just a few.

The title tune starts out klezmer with a weepy violin that hoicks up its ‘tsitsis’ into a weddlinglike ‘freilach’. Very Jewish, like the fifth cut “Tsum Kval”, which again relies on Kathleen Kajoika’s elegiac fiddling (here on viola). But that’s it. Otherwise you get, as in the fourth tune, what sounds like Anne-Sophie Van Otter singing Elvis Costello in Yiddish.

Make no mistake–this epithet is definitely alluding to the training, purity and colour control in Lenka’s vocalizations. Her style is cabaret recitative, melismatic, authentic as a ‘knaidle’, and bubbles with emotion. The melodies she writes are kind of uniform throughout.

Brian Katz’s contribution are highlighted in “Garden Party” where Lenka sings his melody—a sophisticated Latin cum Euro-jazz creation, and in “Calcutta”, a solo instrumental based on single notes and a drone in an East Indian mode.

Ernie Toller on winds brings a breath of middle-eastern inspiration as well as new music weirdness, especially in the closing tune “ “A Lid”. Alan Hetherington imports the full richness of Brazilian percussion, supported by jazz bassist George Koller. With sonic flavours of French horn (Joan Watson), cello (Jill Vitols), accordion (Sasha Luminsky), more drums (Daniel Barnes), and more winds (Kathryn Moses)—well, maybe you never heard anything quite like this album “Pashtes” before.

It is beautifully produced. All the lyrics are given in Hebrew script, also transliterated into roman script if you cannot quite follow Lenka’s dialectish pronunciation that swallows consonants here and there. Translations into English are by the poet himself.