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Violet Archer, Larysa Kuzmenko, Alexina Louie: Concerti

Archer / Louie / Kuzmenko / Quilico
Release Date: 04/27/2010 
Label:  Centrediscs   Catalog #: 15610   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Alexina LouieLarysa KuzmenkoViolet Archer
Performer:  Christina Petrowska Quilico
Conductor:  Alex PaukJukka-Pekka SarasteJohn E. Gardiner
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 11 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

LOUIE Piano Concerto 1. ARCHER Piano Concerto No. 1 2. KUZMENKO Piano Concerto 3 1-3 Christina Petrowska Quilico (pn); 1 Alex Pauk, cond; National Arts Centre O; 2 John Eliot Gardiner, cond; CBC Vancouver O; 3 Read more class="ARIAL12">Jukka-Pekka Saraste, cond; Toronto SO CENTREDISCS CMCCD 15610 (71:29)

These three piano concertos by Canadian women composers seem to be a summing-up of historical, conservative trends of the last century. They are all fast-slow-fast three-movement constructions, featuring the traditional dramatic structure of solo versus orchestra. The ghosts of Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, and Bartók hover over all of these works, although they are not imitative. The 1984 concerto of Alexina Louie opens mysteriously, really rather portentously, with percussive sonorities and blaring brass, but the overall feel of the work is Impressionistic, as rendered by the delicate and colorful timbre blending in the orchestra writing as well as the deftly textured solo piano part. Some sections have an Expressionistic cast, and there is writing for strings in the slow movement that seems to mimic a theremin. The last movement has a delightfully jazzy playfulness.

Violet Archer, a major figure in Canadian music who died in 2000, gives us a piano concerto in the Russian mode, with a brawny, post-Romantic work that sounds like it could have been produced by the great Soviet music-making machine of the mid 20th century. In fact, it was premiered in 1956, by far the oldest of the trio of concertos here. Prokofiev seems to be a major influence. It is a solid, very well-written work of concentrated emotional heft that could easily satisfy a wider audience, given the chance.

With its energy and spiky rhythms, the 1995 concerto of Larysa Kuzmenko bears the profile of an early Bartók work. The final movement is especially impressive, a propulsive tour de force for both soloist and orchestra, very well presented by this team of musicians.

Christina Petrowska Quilico plays all of this music with vivid brio, always finding a lucid textural balance with the orchestra. Her rock-steady rhythmic pulse and palpable enthusiasm seem to beg the listener to pay attention to the music, as if to say that none of this deserves obscurity. She is well supported by these Canadian bands, with only the National Arts Centre Orchestra betraying some rough edges.

FANFARE: Peter Burwasser

Essential for the magnificent Louie work.

A big hurrah for this disk for it brings to us a major work by Alexina Louie, one of the brightest, and most exciting, composing talents to come out of Canada in recent years. Her music is full of the sounds of her Chinese heritage. She was born of second generation Canadians of Chinese descent, and she uses a full, rich and colourful palette in her works. Her language is modern, but one which speaks readily to an audience. This Concerto is a big virtuoso work, the piano taking the lead and the orchestra supplying a varied tapestry of sound to highlight the piano’s thoughts. There’s a lot going on in this work and it’s one of those pieces which really repay repeated hearings. The lyricism of the work might not be immediately apparent but it is full of tunes, and Louie works them out with a skill and grace which are typical of her music. Louie is a major composer who we should hear much more of, and I hope that this fabulous Concerto will win her many friends. The performance, conducted by Alex Pauk, Louie’s husband and a particularly sympathetic interpreter of her work, is very good indeed, and has the mark of authenticity.

Violet Archer’s Concerto comes as a shock after the hothouse of Louie’s work for here is very much a divertissement of a piece, the outer movements being sparkling and vivacious surrounding a rather more severe and serious slow movement. The ending is pure farce with big gestures, à la virtuoso vehicle being mocked and over-done. This is a pleasing enough piece, more than a bit of fluff, certainly, but despite Kenneth Winters’ assertion that “… it is a masterpiece …” it isn’t and doesn’t have the real quality sufficient to be a major contribution to the Piano Concerto literature.

Kuzumenko’s Piano Concerto begins in a very uncompromising manner with dissonance and a bravura cadenza for the soloist. That done, it turns into a neo-classical romp which, oddly, reminds me of Arthur Bliss’s Piano Concerto. The central movement changes style into a frozen northern landscape such as one which we have heard from Vagn Holmboe. The finale is a fast race and reminds one of Alan Rawsthorne. The problem, and I think you will have realised what I am about to write, is that this work, which is very competently written and everything happens just as it should do is lacking a really original voice. I don’t, for one minute, think that Kuzumenko is copying the composers whose names I have mentioned, rather she has happened onto the same sounds for which the others are known. Ironically, this work receives the best recorded sound – and it should be good considering that one of the engineers is the fabulous Stretch Quinney.

The sound for Louie and Archer is rather distant but an increase in volume can help this. Balance between soloist and orchestra is generally good and the notes, in English and French, will be of help to those unfamiliar with these composers. This issue is essential listening for anyone interested in new music and is particularly important for giving us the magnificent Alexina Louie work.

-- Bob Briggs, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Piano Concerto by Alexina Louie
Performer:  Christina Petrowska Quilico (Piano)
Conductor:  Alex Pauk
Written: 1984 
Date of Recording: 06/21/1986 
Venue:  National Arts Centre, Ottawa, Canada 
Length: 32 Minutes 2 Secs. 
Piano Concerto by Larysa Kuzmenko
Performer:  Christina Petrowska Quilico (Piano)
Conductor:  Jukka-Pekka Saraste
Written: 1995-1996 
Date of Recording: 10/10/1996 
Venue:  Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada 
Length: 20 Minutes 51 Secs. 
Piano Concerto No. 1 by Violet Archer
Performer:  Christina Petrowska Quilico (Piano)
Conductor:  John E. Gardiner
Written: 1956 
Date of Recording: 11/13/1981 
Venue:  CBC Studio 1, Vancouver, Canada 
Length: 17 Minutes 52 Secs. 

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