A special eight-page section focusing on recent recordings from the US and Canada

JS Bach Goldberg Variations, BWV988 Repast Baroque Ensemble MSR F MS1661 (78’ • DDD)

The Repast Baroque Ensemble members approached arranging Bach’s Goldberg

Variations by first singing through the score and then trying out various instrumental combinations. They decided, however, not to touch the Aria, nor Variations 1, 5, 11, 14, 17, 20, 23, 28 and 29, leaving the solo harpsichord originals intact. Consequently, the end result lacks a sense of cumulative flow and underlying continuity, although individual movements contain imaginative strokes of instrumentation. In the French Overture (Var 16), for example, the bassoon and Baroque flute sonorities achieve an assiduous and witty blend that compensates for the harpsichord’s lessthan-assertive continuo function. By contrast, the continuo is more prominent in the lilting Var 7 (buoyed by subtle cello pizzicatos) and in the canon at the unison (Var 3), where Bach’s close-lying imitative writing gains clarity by virtue of timbral distinctions between flute and violin.

Period-instrument cognoscenti will look upon the musicians’ agogic phrasings and minuscule dynamic swells as stylish expressive devices, yet I find them to be fussy and predictable mannerisms that pull attention away from what’s really going on in the music. Var 18, the canon at the sixth, is a particularly telling example of what I mean, where the choices regarding dynamics and articulations sound exaggerated and artificially imposed, and ultimately obscure the music’s inherent conversational nature and rhythmic bounce. The musicians play Var 4’s contrapuntal lines perfectly, yet lose sight of how Bach’s syncopations propel the variation forwards. They also pull back and tiptoe around movements that cry out for rhythmic vigour and a natural dramatic build, as in the Quodlibet, Var 30.

talks to ... Friction Quartet The San Francisco-based quartet talk about ‘Spark’, their latest album of new music How did you get to know the Common Sense Composers’ Collective? We irst met Dan Becker, director of Common Sense, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He was the head of composition, and was a teacher of music history classes. Many members of Friction had taken classes or performed his students’ works. He attended our irst public performance and approached us about playing his piece Lockdown. We loved the work and decided to programme it. Eventually Dan started dreaming of a quartet album for Common Sense, and the trust we had built from previous collaborations led to us working on the album together.

Are there stylistic features that unify the works on this album? The trait that most uni ies this music is the exploration of sonic potential. And the most impressive element is that the composers did this with unique, authentic and inspired energy.

Similarly, rhythm proves harpsichordist Gabe Shuford’s undoing. His prosaic and low-energy playing deflates the giddy rush of Var 14’s neoScarlatti runs and reduces Var 20’s virtuoso scintillation to a dry, tensionless exercise. True, he favours sensitive registrations and subtle ornaments, yet so do dozens of stronger soloists who’ve recorded the Goldbergs on the harpsichord, including Mahan Esfahani (DG, 10/16) and Andreas Staier (Harmonia Mundi, 6/10) among recent favourites. MSR provides superbly detailed and lifelike engineering. Jed Distler

Indeed, the exploration of texture seems to be of central importance. Yes, exactly. Texture is something that string quartets can highlight extremely well. And the composers of Common Sense all have a unique way of using that ability. Dan’s piece Lockdown manipulates texture with propulsive interlocking hockets. Melissa Hui’s work explores textures as a springboard for improvisation. Carolyn Yarnell’s music explores the negative space, much like a bonsai tree. Randall Woolf’s work unites electronics with the string quartet, extending the sonority into the warehouse dance hall. In the course of a single album you can experience almost the full gamut of what a string quartet is capable of.

JS Bach . Handel . Schütz JS Bach Komm, Jesu, komm, BWV229 Handel Dixit Dominus, HWV232 Schütz Calicem salutaris accipiam, SWV60. Ego enim inique egi, SWV58. Ego sum tui plaga doloris, SWV57. Quid commisisti, SWV56. Quo, nate Dei, SWV59 Daniel Taylor counterten Ottawa Bach Choir; Ensemble Caprice / Lisette Canton ATMA Classique F ACD2 2790 (52’ • DDD • T/t)

Showing that Toronto is not the only Canadian city capable of producing superb