Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Music from an important 20th century composer


Those of you who aren't familiar with the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer should check out this Centrediscs two-CD compilation of his music for harp, played by another Canadian great, harpist Judy Loman. The album is due for release on November 11, 2016. It includes a pretty good cross-section of Schafer's works in various genres, performed by (you guessed it) some of Canada's greatest performers, including the Orford String Quartet and the TSO.

Though Schafer made his reputation as an experimental composer - he pioneered concepts such as graphic notation and the soundscape and other electroacoustic ideas - much of the music on this disc is rather pleasant to listen to. While the music is always progressive and sometimes sharp-edged, the harp seems to lend itself to more euphonious sounds, even matched with percussion and the often percussive use of other instruments. Patria 5: The Crown of Ariadne, written for harp and an interesting battery of percussion instruments, is part of a fascinating musical theatre project Schafer has been working on for more than 40 years (!). The always interesting ins and outs of this piece make me anxious to learn more.

Patria makes reference to one of Schafer's life-long obsessions: the story of the Cretan Labyrinth, Ariadne, Theseus and the Minotaur. One of the most interesting pieces on this album is Theseus for harp and string quartet, a substantial work that Loman commissioned in 1983. Here it is, played by Loman and the Orford String Quartet from the original 1997 Centrediscs album Chimera.



One of the best things about the Ginastera centennial in 2016 has been the chance to hear his great Harp Concerto, and I've done just that many times. So I was interested to listen to Schafer's Harp Concerto, written in 1987. This is, again, a relatively accessible piece, though without the obvious importance of Ginastera's concerto. I would still put it up against any of the other 20th century Harp Concertos, including Villa-Lobos's. Loman's playing is outstanding, and the Toronto Symphony provides strong support. Every listen through of this fascinating disc emphasizes to me that Schafer is Canada's greatest composer.

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