Gryphon Trio / Julie Nesrallah

Elements Eternal

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This enjoyable group of contemporary Canadian chamber pieces gives exposure to a quartet of composers largely unknown outside the Great White North. They are among dozens of works commissioned by Canada's Gryphon Trio. All the pieces have some kind of readily evident extramusical content, but all treat the idea of extramusical content differently. Mileage may vary, but for one listener the program got generally stronger as it proceeded. The highlight was Michael Oesterle's Centennials, composed in 2012 to mark the birth centennials of three entirely disparate figures: Julia Child, Conlon Nancarrow, and Jackson Pollock. This might seem not to make sense, but that's the work's charm: Oesterle backs off from the program a little bit and produces a coherent three-movement work. Also intriguing is James K. Wright's Letters to the Immortal Beloved, for voice (here, mezzo-soprano Julie Nesrallah) and piano trio, setting the letters Beethoven wrote to the titular Immortal Beloved. Her exact identity remains a matter of debate, but it's a bit surprising that nobody has hit on this bit of Beethoveniana before as a topic for a composition: it offers, and Wright deftly exploits, many opportunities for quotation of and allusion to Beethoven's own music. A recommended sampling of contemporary music from the country where it is arguably most vital in the Western hemisphere. Naxos is to be commended for restraining itself from its usual habit of recording in the most resonant church it can find and instead moving to the much more appropriate confines of Toronto's Glenn Gould Studio.

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