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CD: Indie Pool


CD 1
Ann SOUTHAM (b 1937)
Glass Houses (1981) [8:44]
Gavin BRYARS (b 1943)
After Handel’s “Vesper” (1995) [13:15]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908–1992)
Première communion de la Vierge (Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus, no.11) (1944) [7:29]
Pierre BOULEZ (b 1925)
Première Sonate (1946) [10:27]
David JAEGER (b 1947)
Quivi Sospiri (1979) [10:15]
Alexina LOUIE (b 1949)
Star Filled Night (1987) [7:02]
Tōru TAKEMITSU (1930–1996)
Les yeux clos (1990) [4:42]
Lowell LIEBERMANN (b 1961)
Apparitions, op.17 (1985) [11:48]
CD 2
Henry COWELL (1897–1961)
Six Ings (c 1922) [8:41]
David del TREDICI (b 1937)
Fantasy Pieces (1960) [8:52]
Frederic RZEWSKI (b 1938)
Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues (North American Ballads, no.4) (1978/1979) [9:02]
Masamitsu TAKAHASHI  
Capriccio for piano [6:05]
Suite (2004) [16:10]
Art TATUM (1909–1956)
I’ll Never be the Same [1:36]
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore [1:18]
Omar DANIEL (b 1960)
Surfacing (1991) [10:46]
Christina Petrowska Quilico (piano)
rec. Glenn Gould Studio, CBC Toronto; Merkin Hall, New York; live, 18 January 2007, Tribute Communities Recital Hall, York University, Toronto (Takahashi and Westcott only) DDD
Experience Classicsonline

Ottawa–born Christina Petrowska Quilico, she’s the widow of Metropolitan Opera baritone, Louis Quilico, studied with Boris Berlin at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto, making her orchestral debut aged 10. At the Juilliard School she studied with Rosina Lhévinne, Jeaneane Dowis and Irwin Freundlich, where she acquired her formidable technique. At 14, as a co-winner with Murray Perahia of the High School of the Performing Arts Concerto Competition, she made her New York concert debut at Town Hall. Thereafter she studied at the Sorbonne, and in Darmstadt and Berlin with Karlheinz Stockhausen and György Ligeti. She has toured extensively through North America, Europe, The Middle East and Asia and recorded some 20 CDs of classical, romantic, new and world music.
This wide ranging recital includes five works by Canadian composers as well as a representative selection of fairly recent music from Europe and Japan. Starting with a pleasantly minimal piece by Ann Southam, Glass Houses is the kind of easy–going, dare I say laid–back, piece we used to hear so often twenty years ago, before most of those, better known, composers went on to bigger, but not necessarily better things. It’s a lovely start to a challenging recital.
Gavin Bryars’s work was written for harpsichord, and it received its première by Maggie Cole on that instrument, and its strong chordal writing works well for the piano for the long held sounds resonate in a way that is impossible on the earlier instrument. However, the harpsichord is the perfect instrument for this piece for it is precisely the elements which make it easier on the piano which make it more interesting on the harpsichord. It’s a bit too “perfect” here, no sounds of the action clattering, the sonorities are richer and fuller, and it’s very comfortable. It’s like sitting in a comfy arm–chair as opposed to on an hard backed chair. After Handel’s “Vesper” is a fine piece and it’s good to have a recording of it in any form.
Première communion de la Vierge appears at the mid–point of Messiaen’s vast piano cycle Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus. Written in the midst of the German occupation of France, it is a tribute to the tenacity of the composer that he managed not just to write the piece but that he could compose over 2 and an half hours of music for his home, in the north–east of Paris, was surrounded by constant outbreaks of fighting! This Virgin's First Communion shows the Virgin kneeling, worshipping the unborn Jesus within her. Despite a couple of outbursts this is a delicate meditation and Petrowska Quilico displays a restrained and calm poise throughout.
The natural force which is Pierre Boulez hit the music scene with this Première Sonate, his second work, after the original version of Notations. This is a cogently argued and dramatically demanding work which is ultimately a strong example of music coming from a generation stifled by the war. Thank goodness we can hear the work again and again for it deserves repeated hearings and it does repay the time spent studying it.
David Jaeger is probably best known as the producer of CBC Radio 2’s lamented, and now shut down, Two New Hours – a weekly showcase for contemporary music. In 1971 he co-founded the Canadian Electronic Ensemble and has remained an active member of the group. Quivi Sospiri, which apart from the piano, has significant parts for synthesizers, represents part of the third Canto from Dante’s Inferno, where, according to the composer, “there is total darkness…Dante describes the sounds he hears.” This is a very dark, brooding, nocturne, where nothing is quite what it seems to be, musically, and the electronics slide through and round the piano. It’s a fascinating and fabulous nocturne of murky intensity.
Alexina Louie is one of Canada’s best kept secrets, as far as we, in this country, are concerned. She is a prodigious composer who has worked in all media and created a solid and varied catalogue. The beautiful and ethereal Star Filled Night was written for this pianist and she plays it with such authority, obviously relishing the many colours and moods within the light, fantastic, work.
In a foreword to a book of Takemitsu’s writings, conductor Seiji Ozawa wrote, "I am very proud of my friend Tōru Takemitsu. He is the first Japanese composer to write for a world audience and achieve international recognition." For many in the west, Takemitsu is modern Japanese classical music and his reputation is well established. His death, in 1996, from pneumonia whilst undergoing treatment for cancer of the bladder was a loss of huge proportions. He called himself an adagio composer, feeling that he could best convey his ideas in slow, quiet and thoughtful music whether on a large scale, such as Orion and Pleiades and How slow the Wind or in miniatures like the exquisite Les yeux clos recorded here. Ten years later he wrote Les yeux clos II and it is regrettable that this could not have been included on this disk.  
Lowell Liebermann is a prolific composer who made his concert debut at Carnegie Hall, playing his Piano Sonata, op.1, when only 16 years of age. In an interview with newscaster Sam Donaldson, Van Cliburn described Liebermann as “a wonderful pianist and a fabulous composer.” Apparitions is an early work comprising four pieces which are elusive, mysterious and quicksilver in inspiration. It’s a fine little suite and brings the first disk to a dreamy close.
Writing about Henry Cowell, in the early 1950s, Virgil Thomson said, “…Cowell's music covers a wider range in both expression and technique than that of any other living composer…No other composer of our time has produced a body of works so radical and so normal, so penetrating and so comprehensive. Add to this massive production his long and influential career as a pedagogue, and Henry Cowell's achievement becomes impressive indeed. There is no other quite like it. To be both fecund and right is given to few.” John Cage called Cowell, "the open sesame for new music in America." The Six Ings (Floating, Frisking etc) is an early work, and as it pre–dates Aeolian Harp there’s no playing on the strings of the instrument. Instead here are six strong miniatures, full of humour, pathos and dark shadows.
Del Tredici’s Fantasy Pieces is a student work. Like many young composers of this time he took to dodecaphonic composition before discovering tonality once more. These four pieces show the influence of Schoenberg, being spikey, angular and dissonant. They are also very approachable and enjoyable.
Many of Rzewski's works display a deep political conscience and the North American Ballads are all based on traditional American work and protest songs. The composer has written that the pieces “…represent…the things I believe in.” The last of the set, Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, has won popularity for itself and it’s easy to see, and hear, why. It’s a relentless toccata, with the slow blues in the middle, which evokes the sound of machines and the de–humanizing effect of the monotonous nature of the work. It’s based on an anonymous 1930s blues from North Carolina. What starts as a truly barn–storming performance seems to loose its way after the middle section and never really re–creates the excitement of the opening until the very end.
Masamitsu Takahashi’s Capriccio for piano is an unashamed blues, while Bill Westcott’s Suite is a jazz–infused composition, but this is serious jazz, not one of those awful pieces knocked up by composers who should know better. A fine piece and a very pleasant surprise in the midst of all the earnestness. The two Art Tatum pieces are well enough known, I think, to avoid any description. Suffice it to say they follow the Jazz Suite very nicely.
Omar Daniel’s Surfacing returns to the minimalist idea of building music through cumulative repetition and the four sections seem to embrace a manic blues, a disjointed toccata and night music. Indeed, it seems to be a summation of everything which we’ve heard on these two disks.
This is one of the most fascinating selections of music I’ve ever come across. As a concert of fairly contemporary music, to be listened to in one sitting, it could hardly be bettered for the programme, the order of the pieces, with the lighter pieces at the end, make for a most satisfying whole. I imagine that all the tracks were recorded live because just occasionally you can hear the odd noise from an audience, but in general it is very quiet and attentive throughout.
I am always hoping that contemporary music can reach a wider audience and with issues such as this, where the music is strong but attractive and easily approachable, I hope that a few more converts will scale the heights of modernism and accept the composers of our time as well worth the time we give to them. There’s something here for everybody so no–one who buys these well produced disks will be disappointed.
Bob Briggs


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