Archive for February, 2008

Amici presents “The Golden Harp” reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Sunday, February 10, 2008, CBC Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto.

Heidi Krutzen joined her golden harp to the impeccable Amici Ensemble and played a concert of uninterruptedly beautiful music. One highlight was R. Murray Schafer’s programmatic “Theseus (1983) for harp and string quartet”. Ms. Krutzen and the quartet added a flute–Robert Aitken, and a clarinet–Joaquin Valdepenas for Ravel’s “Introduction and Allegro”. She played Saint-Saens’ “Fantasie Op. 124 for violin and harp” with Ben Bowman. The Amici, including Steven Dann, viola, David Hetherington, cello, and Carol Lynn Fujino,violin, filled out the concert with Berhard Crusell’s exquisite “Quartet Op.4 for clarinet and strings”, and two pieces by Heitor Villa-Lobos, for flute and clarinet, and flute and cello.

The Saint-Saens “Fantasie”, moves lightly in its five sections through alternating moods: idyllic splendour that give way to flambouyant passion in a gypsy mode, which itself subsides into an indescribable tenderness. Ben Bowman’s violin line leads, followed by the lilting countermelodies of the harp, like the assertive prow waves of a boat that are followed by the gentler spreading ripples of the wake.

R. Murray Schafer’s piece,”Thesesus, a section of his theatrical “Patria” series, is a well-constructed musical story depicting the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. The ‘programme’ is surprisingly vivid and as easy to follow as the ball of twine that Ariadne gave Theseus to help him find his way back out of the labyrinth where he’d overcome the beast. Schafer’s score is a richly textured tapestry, quilted with a variety of sound panels, interwoven by interesting discordant harmonies, boldly dramatic as it embodies a tale of wierd, fearful mystery, conflict, triumph, celebration, and a return reality that turns out to be as wierd as the labyrinth itself

The surprise of the afternoon was the “Clarinet Quartet No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 4,” by Berhard Crusell, a Finnish composer and clarinet virtuoso active during the first third of the 19th Century. His quartet has a simplicity that is delightful. The melodies of the monothematic movements are distinct, enjoyable, unified in tone, tempo and mood, tending toward a cheerful lightness that is sustained, even during the virtuosic velocities of the final rondo, by the warm tone and dynamic control of the soloist, Amici’s Joaquin Valdepenas.

Valdepenas joined up with Robert Aitken and David Hetherington to develop the langorous discordant meanderings of two short Villa-Lobos compositions that exploit the contrasting movements of breath (flute, clarinet) and body (cello), flow and friction, bouyancy and gravity. Colourful and lighthearted in their play, one cannot help think of an underlying darkness, like that implied by the title of the G.G Marquez novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

The afternoon was brought to a sensational conclusion by Ravel’s “Introduction and Allegro”. He wrote it quickly on commissioned from a harp manufacturer who’d learned that a competing firm had hired Saint-Saens to write his “Dances Sacres et Profanes” to advertise their newest harp product.

Ravel’s piece, really a miniature concerto, explores and exploits the full resources of the chromatic harp. From the first whispering collaborations of breathy flute, reedy clarinet, plucked and bowed strings, the piece flits like a butterfly through melodic fragments with subtle grace. During the solo cadenza of the final allegro, Ms. Krutzen’s outstanding touch made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle.

Finland Today reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

Friday, February 8, 2008,Toronto. The Music Gallery and New Music Concerts present Magnus Lindberg (composer) and Timo Korhonen (guitar) with David Hetherington (cello) and the NMC Ensemble.

In a pre-concert interview with Robert Aitken, Magnus Lindberg spoke about his compositional goal of using the instruments of an ensemble, orchestral or chamber, “as a single macro-instrument.”

Keeping this notion of a ‘macro-instrument’ in mind as I listened to five of Lindberg’s pieces, provided me with a reference point for his fascinating soundscapes. It was as if the instruments were “speaking” to each other in different dialects of the same language: as if Robbie Burns, Robert W. Service, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, and Eminem were jamming together on a composition by Cole Porter. You could sort the sonics by sameness and differences at the same time.

“Konzertstuck” a 12 minute duo with Lindberg at the piano and David Hetherington on cello was emotionally broad, ranging from passion to reflection to toe-tapping kineticism, responsive to vagaries of spirit like a Calder mobile.

Lindberg spoke of a similar “macro” principle he employs in composing for solo guitar, referring specifically to “Mano a mano (2004)” played this evening by its dedicatee, Timo Korhonen. Lindberg’s challenge is to write so the guitar sounds like an orchestra. The sound transformations on the solo guitar, as one chord resolves into the next, as one line of sound joins the entire network of sounds, strive to become part of one instrument big enough to play the music of urban life itself.

Timo Korhonen joined his guitar with the eccentric ensemble of clarinets (Max Christie), cello (David Hetherington), and percussion (Rick Sacks), for “Kiri (1996)” composed and conducted by Lindberg. This beautiful piece opens with the subterranean harmonies of contrabass and cello and climbs high on short spurts of rich, lively runs of various instrumental dialects and longer quiet lines of guitar. There are many tonal units, almost melodic, klezmeric runs, but they are woven into an atonal fabric of beautiful freedom.

Lindberg also conducted his earliest work on the program, “Linea d’ombra (1981), a 15 minute piece for flute (Robert Aitken), alto saxophone (Wallace Halladay), with Timo Horkonen on guitar and the impeccable Rick Sacks on percussion.

This piece so fresh and free brings to mind Lindberg’s description of ‘freedom’ in composition: “Freedom is when you put constraints, when you find rules, follow them, understand them, and destroy them.” The ensemble gets into extended techniques—Timo bangs on his guitar, Aitken moans into his flute calling to distant beings, the sax player yells and grunts, all players join in a Ramayanan Monkey Chant.

The looseness, the fragmented staccato riffs are held together, at least momentarily, by recognizably beautiful, virtuosic lines on every instrument, by the harmonies among them, and by the overlapping rhythmic similitudes. This high spirited play ends the evening on whispered words of poetry that resolve like the sound of a gong into silence and space: “Laugh, sigh, keep Death away, for the cold apple tree will bloom tonight.”

Nikki Yanofsky in Toronto by Stanley Fefferman

Friday, February 8th, 2008

Wednesday, February 6, 2008. Isabel Bader Theatre, Toronto.

“They say as a child, i appeared a little bit wild_with all my crazy ideas._but i knew what was happening, i knew, _i was a genius._what’s so strange,_when you know that you’re a wizard at three?_i knew that this was meant to be.” –Emilie-Claire Barlow–

“A wizard at three”– the phrase fits Nikki Yanofsky too, whose father Richard, also a musician like Brian Barlow, has archived everything his daughter has done since she started singing at ‘three’.

Further into the coincidence department, Emilie-Claire led off her first successful album “Tribute” (2001) with her version of Ella Fitzgerald’s scat number, “Airmail Special.” Nikki, aged 13, performed that same number at the Montreal Jazz Festival last year and also recorded it as the closing track on the star-filled Ella Fitzgerald tribute album “We All Love Ella, “recorded at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles – where Ella herself recorded.

How do the Emilie-Claire’s and Nikki’s performances compare? Both are crisp. Emilie-Claire takes it for subtlety, nuance and humour. Nikki has it for sheer energy– velocity, clarity, and guts.

When asked how she managed to make her first attempt at scat singing to be a perfect copy of Ella’s, Nikki replied: “It comes from my toes, it just comes out… I don’t know. I heard it and I loved it and I tried to learn it.”

This evening, Nikki sang jazz like Ella (”Airmail Special”, “Mack the Knife”), gospel like Aretha (backed by the great 10 member Imani Gospel Singers), soul and rock like Stevie Wonder, Etta James (“At Last”) and Joe Cocker (“With a Little Help from My Friends”), pop like Judy Garland (“When You Wish upon a Star,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”).

This girl has some set of pipes on her. Nikki can really belt out a tune or be soft as a summer breeze. She has a killer ear, flawless coordination and timing, a tremendous range of vocal stylings, and a convincing ease with sophisticated lyrics. When she sings “I’ve got music in me,” I believe it. As the concert moved on towards 90 minutes, it felt like I could listen to her all night and never be bored.

Jazz pianist Oliver Jones said after hearing Nikki sing. “In the years to come, if she keeps it up, she’ll exceed what Diana Krall has done,” Yes indeed. When Nikki and her bitchin’ 12 piece band get to Carnegie Hall in few days (Friday, February 8th), if they do in New York what they did in Toronto, a new star will be born.

Feel the pride.

Nikki’s Toronto “In Concert” appearance was presented by LUMINATO, in partnership with the TD CANADA TORONTO JAZZ FESTIVAL, Patrick Taylor, Director.

Michael Holt’s latest CD “WINDOWS”, Reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Cut to the chase. Holt’s original song, “All the Michaels in the World (except me, are thinking about you)” is one of the best songs you will ever hear. Hear it once, you can’t forget it, the music and lyrics are that tight.

The album opens, intriguingly for me who loves tranquil adagio moods, with his solo piano rendition of a reflective piece by the Russian classical composer Alexander Scriabin (if that means not too much to you, think Satie). From this, he morphs into a full band pop song, and several more, all charming and youthful in a Beatlesy way, and I soon got over the break in the adagio mood. Let’s face it; Michael Holt is a musical charmer.

He played for a long while with the San Francisco band, The Mommyheads, and recorded several albums with them. Around the millennium he moved to Toronto, collaborating and recording with the likes of Ron Sexsmith and Bob Wiseman; the latter is quoted as referring to Holt as a “diamond among rhinestones.” I’d agree with that.

“Windows” is Michael Holt’s third solo album. The songs are smart, intellectually as well as musically. They are also intimate and direct and for the young at heart.

Michael Holt, “WINDOWS”, 11 tracks: