10 upcoming Canadian classical albums to get excited about
Yannick-Nézet-Séguin, Marc-André Hamelin and others will release new music in the coming weeks
On Jan. 2, when Louis Lortie released his second volume of piano concertos by Saint-Saëns on Chandos Records, we had a feeling it was a sign of good things to come in 2020, and we were right.
A survey of record labels reveals that the floodgates have opened: there's an impressive array of new albums expected in the coming weeks from Canada's classical musicians.
We're especially excited about the following 10 upcoming releases, presented in chronological order.
Album: Vivaldi: Manchester Sonatas
Artists: Mark Fewer, Hank Knox
Label: Leaf Music
Date: Jan. 17
Frequent collaborators, violinist Fewer and harpsichordist Knox have reconvened for the first recording by Canadian musicians of this remarkable collection of 12 sonatas by Vivaldi that were discovered in a library in Manchester, England, in 1973. Fewer describes them as "a haberdashery of Vivaldi," due to their assemblage of unusual forms, phrase lengths and harmonic progressions. Recorded at l'Église St. Augustin in Mirabel, Que., whose acoustic is so favourable to baroque music, these sonatas will get a lively reading from this duo.
Album: Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 8
Artists: Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Date: Jan. 17
The U.S. premiere of Mahler's Symphony No. 8 took place in 1916 and was given by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski. This new live recording to be released by Deutsche Grammophon took place in 2016, on the 100th anniversary of that premiere. "This is one of the greatest memories I have, so far, of concerts I gave with my wonderful Philadelphia Orchestra," says Nézet-Séguin in a recent Facebook post. Orchestral musicians, chorus members and soloists numbered 420 at this performance, contributing to what Nézet-Séguin describes as the symphony's "impressively majestic force."
Album: Mirrored Glass
Label: Ravello Records
Date: Jan. 24
We went bonkers for Taktus's 2015 release, Glass Houses for Marimba, featuring the music of Ann Southam arranged for two marimbas. Now, percussionists Greg Harrison and Jonny Smith are back with their highly anticipated followup, Mirrored Glass, on which they play more of Southam's music plus four Etudes by Philip Glass — minimalist compositions that perfectly suit the duo's precision and dramatic phrasing. The album concludes with Glass's Music in Contrary Motion, originally written in 1969 for organ, and arranged with the addition of Moog synthesizer drones. It's quite a trip.
Artists: Ensemble Made in Canada
Date: Jan. 24
True to its name, Ensemble Made in Canada has been engaged over the past year in what is possibly the most Canadian project ever — Mosaïque — and this new album is its culmination. Comprising pianist Angela Park, violinist Elissa Lee, violist Sharon Wei and cellist Rachel Mercer, the group commissioned 14 composers (including Ana Sokolović, Sarah Slean, Kevin Lau, Samy Moussa and Barbara Croall) representing every region of Canada to each write a piece inspired by their respective locales. Together, these pieces form a suite that purports to celebrate the beauty and diversity of Canada. They're launching the album on Jan. 24 with a livestream from FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines, Ont.
Album: Max Bruch: 8 Pieces, Op. 83
Artists: Philon Trio
Date: Jan. 24
Canadian–Portuguese clarinetist David Dias da Silva formed Philon Trio with violist Adam Newman and pianist Camilla Köhnken in 2011 in Basel, Switzerland, where they were all studying. Since then, they've been semifinalists in some international competitions, and had a residency at the Banff Centre, which is where they recorded this set of pieces by Bruch for their debut album. With their sweet tunes and rich, tonal harmonies, these pieces are more akin to 19th-century Romanticism than the expressionist tendencies of 1910, when Bruch composed them, and they'll make an endearing calling card for this new (to us) trio.
Album: Sarah Slean & Symphony Nova Scotia
Artists: Sarah Slean, Symphony Nova Scotia, Bernhard Gueller
Date: Jan. 24
If you're experiencing déja vu, here's why: half of this album originated in 2012 when singer-songwriter Slean performed Lamento by Christos Hatzis with Symphony Nova Scotia and Bernhard Gueller. CBC Music recorded it and released videos you may have seen. Then, in 2018, the same musicians reunited for a new Hatzis work, Ecstasy, also recorded by CBC (see below). Now, thanks to Centrediscs, these performances are getting new life. If you're looking for music that successfully crosses over between classical and popular styles, this is it.
Album: Le monde d'hier
Artists: Mathieu Lussier, Francis Perron
Label: ATMA Classique
Date: Jan. 24
We're guessing you don't have enough bassoon in your life, a situation soon to be remedied by Lussier and pianist Perron with Le monde d'hier. "The music recorded on this disc belongs to a world that no longer exists," Lussier explains in the liner notes, "a world in which what you could and could not say depended on your education and way of life, on the proprieties of the time." Lussier and Perron play music from both sides of the English Channel: genteel salon music by Englishmen William Hurlstone and Edward Elgar, and a selection of virtuoso showpieces written for students at the Paris Conservatory. The heart of their album is Camille Saint-Saëns' sublime sonata.
Album: Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 22 & 24
Artists: Charles Richard-Hamelin, Les Violons du Roy, Jonathan Cohen
Date: Jan. 31
Taking a break from the Chopin and Beethoven that have been his recent preoccupation, pianist Richard-Hamelin has teamed up with Les Violons du Roy and conductor Cohen for two late concertos by Mozart: the monumental C minor concerto, K. 491, and the occasionally overlooked K. 482 in E-flat major — a nice pairing, not only because of their key relationship but also because both concertos feature colourful writing for woodwinds. Richard-Hamelin told CBC Music he had "a blast" at the recording sessions, held last July at Salle Raoul-Jobin in Quebec City's Palais Montcalm, and we're expecting that energy and enthusiasm to come pouring out of our speakers when the album drops at the end of the month.
Album: Homage and Inspiration
Artists: Iris Trio
Label: Coviello Classics
Date: Feb. 7
Believe it or not, here's another clarinet-viola-piano trio that's set to release an album in the near future. Iris Trio comprises Canadian clarinetist Christine Carter (who teaches at Memorial University in St. John's), violist Molly Carr and pianist Anna Petrova. They met while studying in New York and have been busy touring ever since. On Homage and Inspiration, their debut, they present four paired works: First, Robert Schumann's Märchenerzählungen and György Kurtág's response to it, Hommage à R. Sch., composed in 1926. Then, Mozart's "Kegelstatt" Trio, K. 498, and its companion piece, a new trio by Christof Weiß called Gespräch unter Freunden (Conversations with friends). This trailer gives a sample:
Album: Samuil Feinberg: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1-6
Artists: Marc-André Hamelin
Label: Hyperion Records
Date: Feb. 28
Having already devoted albums to the works of Charles-Valentin Alkan, Nikolai Medtner and Leo Ornstein (to name just a few), Hamelin continues his exploration of pianist-composers with this new set featuring the first six sonatas by Russian Samuil Feinberg. They were composed between 1915 and 1923, and in this short interval Feinberg's writing goes from lush post-Romanticism in the first sonata to bold expressionism bordering on atonality in the sixth (despite its title's assertion that it is in B minor.) We're looking forward to Hamelin's rendition which is guaranteed not only to bring the noise (there are some volcanic outbursts in these sonatas) but also capture the restless passion that runs through Feinberg's music.