CD Review // Canadian Panorama

February 14, 2017

Winds of the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra; Ronald Royer, Conductor
Cambria CD-1227

By: Michael Schulman

In his printed introduction to these world-premiere recordings of works by six CMC Associate Composers and a long-time CMC staff member, Ronald Royer writes, “Canadian culture, history or geography inspires each composition featured on this album.”

That said, only three of the eight works are overtly “Canadian” in their subject matter, including the first piece on the CD, Fundy: A Poem of Wind and Waves by Chris Meyer (b.1974). I haven’t been to the Bay of Fundy, but this richly-scored music (hard to believe only 13 musicians are involved) readily conjure for me images of surging tides, rugged landscape and folkdancing villagers. It would make a splendid opener for any symphony or band concert.

Next on the disc are its two longest pieces, at 10 and 15 minutes respectively, both by SPO Music Director Ronald Royer (b.1959). Rhapsody for Oboe, Horn and Wind Ensemble is an arrangement of his work for oboe, horn and orchestra commissioned by two members of the Toronto Symphony – Principal Oboist Sarah Jeffery and her husband, hornist Gabriel Radford, the soloists on this recording. The music is dramatic and vibrant, with a dance-like middle section Royer describes as “Eastern European…inspired by Bartók.” To me it sounds much more Arabic-Middle Eastern; either way, I enjoyed it.

Royer’s Travels with Mozart is a set of variations on Pamina and Papageno’s Bei Männern duet from The Magic Flute. Royer, a cellist himself, says he has often performed Beethoven’s classic set of variations for cello and piano on the same tune. His treatment, though, is wildly different – a kaleidoscopic romp through eight European cities associated with Mozart, incorporating disparate references, including Allegri’s Miserere, a Balinese gamelan, a Turkish dance and a Neapolitan tarantella. No Canadian reference, although Royer asserts the piece nevertheless embodies something quintessentially “Canadian” – multiculturalism.

Alex Eddington (b.1980) calls Saturday Night at Fort Chambly a tribute to his ancestor, François Montee, who was stationed there as a soldier “seven or eight generations ago.” Originally for full orchestra and arranged by Eddington for this recording, it’s a collage of “more than 20” French-Canadian folksongs that “François would likely have known and sung.” Now reverential, now raucous, it successfully suggests the patriotism, homesick nostalgia and drink-induced revelry of the barracks-life of long ago.

Allemande for double wind quintet and contrabass, the shortest work on the CD, is by John S. Gray (b.1953) the CMC Audio Archivist and recording engineer for this disc. It’s a playful, slightly sentimental neo-classical piece that, like the Energizer bunny, keeps bouncing steadily forward throughout its just under five-minute duration.

The SPO’s Principal Clarinetist, Kaye Royer (Ronald’s wife), is the soloist in Serenade for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble, a charming little piece by Jim McGrath (b.1958). The whimsical “strolling” main theme and colourful hurdy-gurdy-like instrumental ambience bring to (my) mind a cinematic excursion through an amusement park, the solo clarinet taking in the sights, pausing briefly to reflect on some private thought, before resuming its passage through the fairground and walking off.

Whirligig by Alexander Rapoport (b.1957) is easily the disc’s most stylistically “modern” work. It’s a phantasmagoria of driving, spinning repetitions, sudden brief outbursts and near-silences, highlighted by Rapoport’s very ingenious scoring, employing many unusual, spooky sound effects and ending with the ghostly sounds of the musicians blowing air through their instruments. Fascinating!

The late, great Howard Cable (1920-2016) was, for many years, the SPO’s Principal Pops Conductor, who conducted the orchestra even into his 90s. His McIntyre Ranch Country is a salute to the huge, historic Alberta ranch and its rich cultural connections. It’s vintage Cable – a rollicking medley of old Western tunes, ending with the Blackfoot Confederacy Owl Dance, all cheerfully scored and eminently enjoyable, a very smile-generating conclusion to this very smile-generating disc.

I’ll defer to another reviewer to sum it up. Allan Pulker, in his review of Canadian Panorama in the February issue of The WholeNote magazine, wrote: “In short, this recording and the music so beautifully performed on it are, and will continue to be for many years, a precious gift to us all in the year of our nation’s 150th birthday.”

Well said!

For more information and to purchase Canadian Panorama, visit the SPO website.