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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, September 2009

There’s a strong Canadian feel to this disc as most of the composers hail from North of the [American] Border. Michael Colgrass was born in Chicago but now lives in Toronto. Harry Freedman left his native Poland in 1927 when he was five so we can call him Canadian. Messiaen, not, obviously.

The Toronto Wind Orchestra is a versatile ensemble and takes on a variety of repertoire in its concerts, as it does here on disc. Louis Applebaum kicks things off with his zippy, sparky High Spirits—A Short Overture for Concert Band which he wrote in 1986. He keeps the percussion discreetly busy throughout. For a ‘sounds like’ think a bit of Holst—I thought of Mars from time to time. If Applebaum had been around in c.1942 Walter Legge would have got him writing an ENSA overture.

Back in 2001 Colgrass wrote Dream Dancer which is an altogether different kind of animal from the ebullience of High Spirits. Featuring the saxophone of Wallace Halladay this has some pluralistic agendas to fulfil and the ex-Jazz drummer explores a gamut of music from Jazz lines to sinuous light Asian percussive sounds. The scherzo writing is nervous and edgy, and the percussion and saxophone exchanges have an air of Jazz ‘trading fours’. There are some yearning moments too and plenty of colour in this invigorating opus.

Some Assembly Required is the jokily entitled work of Henry Kucharzyk. There is room for latitude here regarding the ordering of movements and also room for improvisation. Febrile but insistent and also insidious the first of the three movements grips from the start. The central movement has more open air to it, before a brass and percussion dance pattern emerges; and then comes the finale (though in other performances this movement could come first) which is freewheeling, portentous but with a jazz-inflected quality. Gary Kulesha wrote Ensembles in 1999. Again it’s a three movement affair but here all similarities stop. This one has a statuesque aura, one of quietude that does display a nervous tension in the middle movement—where the piano is used to heighten things and terse elements do abound—but the finale reasserts a Chorale like thread and nobility. There’s a sense of space and gravity too.

Freedman’s Laurentian Moods—Suite of French Canadian Folk Songs is a light hearted affair, with the melodies nicely distributed amongst the band. It’s a tuneful work but not condescendingly so—it doesn’t sound like Vaughan Williams but it has similar warmth. Finally there is the Messiaen [Oiseaux exotiques], where Simon Docking is the precise and hard working pianist. The bird call panorama is verdant as ever in this fine performance.

But all the performances receive tip-top performances in good sound to boot. There are good things here—and not just for Canucks.

Ira Novoselsky
BandWorld, July 2009

Northern Winds is a terrific recording that features the music of a few Canadian composers and a few Canadian birds as well. An ideal opening work, the short overture High Spirits (Louis Applebaum) sets the pace for this program. The name Michael Colgrass may be familiar to some; Dream Dancer is his tale of an alto sax with so many different music styles to embrace. Henry Kucharzyk composed a band piece called Some Assembly Required; the players and conductor get their opportunity to make choices beyond what sits on the printed page. Ensembles (Gary Kulesha) is a work that offers moments of peace and dissonance surrounding a central tempest for winds, percussion & piano. There are many works for band based on French Canadian folk songs; Harry Freedman’s Laurentian Moods is one of the best. The final work is by French composer/ornithologist Olivier Messiaen. Oiseaux exotiques (Exotic Birds) is a most intricate, challenging work for solo piano and wind ensemble that assimilates the bird calls through melody & rhythm. Simon Docking and the Toronto Wind Orchestra travel through “Birdland” with ultimate precision & sensitivity, a rare musical feat.

Barry Kilpatrick
American Record Guide, May 2009

The Toronto Wind Orchestra, founded in 1994 and led by Tony Gomes since 1999, offers a mostly Canadian program of relatively recent works. Louis Applebaum’s ‘High Spirits’ (1986) is a spirited opener. In Dream Dancer (2001), Michael Colgrass portrays a saxophonist “attracted to various styles of music, trying to decide which one to play”. In the 19-minute work, a dreamy atmosphere prevails between sections where soloist Wallace Holladay (University of Toronto) dabbles in modernism, Middle-Eastern sounds, whimsical dialogs with other instruments, and the saxophone’s high register (too shrill for my taste). Spooky sounds make for a captivating ending.

Toronto composer Henry Kucharzyk wrote the three-movement Some Assembly Required in 1998. I opens with frenetic pointillism, calms down, and then becomes rhythmically insistent and fragmented. II opens with a simple English horn solo that is taken up by other winds before yielding to complexity and discord. III is fast and frenetic. The performers are given occasional freedom to decide what to play and in what order, but that is not apparent to a listener.

Gary Kulesha’s three-movement Ensembles (1979) has a peaceful yet serious I, hard-driving II, and a fascinating III where various instrumental choirs work together while disagreeing about tonality.

Harry Freedman, long-time English horn player with the Toronto Symphony, used French-Canadian folk songs in his medley ‘Laurentian Moods’. The program ends with a lively reading of a staple of the wind repertory, Olivier Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques (Exotic Birds, 1956). Simon Docking is the fine piano soloist who expertly evokes dozens of specific varieties of birds.

Fine readings, good sonics.

Julie Williams
MusicWeb International, March 2009

This collection—entitled Northern Winds—surveys the repertoire for wind band, as created by composers from the orchestra's native Canada. It spans a range of style from the traditional to the improvised. The Toronto Wind Orchestra, who specialise in presenting Canadian works, are conducted by their Music Director and co-founder. He is involved in a number of projects to develop the Canadian Wind repertoire and has the distinction of holding the Chair of Music at Upper Canada College.

High Spirits lives up to its name with an exuberant and vivacious opening written in a traditional 'band music' style. The composer’s works are characterised by exuberant optimism and this piece is certainly no exception. After this fitting and suitable opener, the disc ventures into more experimental territory.

Dream Dancer features solo saxophone supported by the wind band. It explores the idea of cross-fertilisation of different musical cultures and traditions in our increasingly international world. Some Assembly Required—a phrase which will bring dread to anyone who, like me, has moved house recently—derives its title from the incorporation of significant improvised sections. The rhythmic and harmonic structures are loose and tone colour is the main organising element.

Gary Kulesha's Ensembles which follows continues a contemporary idiom but brings a return to more traditional form. Instead of the forward driving force often found in band music, the music is more circular and reflective, and often characterised by dissonance.

Laurentian Moods takes the listener back to a more familiar territory. Written in 1957 by Harry Freedman—who played horn in the Toronto Symphony for 25 years—it is based on Quebec folktunes and reflects the composer's love of big band jazz.

The disc closes with its only non-Canadian piece: Messiaen's Oiseaux Exotiques, in which the wind ensemble are joined by the Australian-born pianist Simon Docking in the solo part. Of the bird species whose songs are featured in the piece, no less than 38 are from North America and the majority of these are found in Canada. Messiaen's contribution to the music of the twentieth century—both as a composer and as a teacher—has been significant, so its inclusion in this survey is very fitting. His love of birds is well known and the use of their song is one of his hallmarks. This is a remarkable piece and the ensemble show their versatility in tackling its challenges, as they have with the other complex and innovative works here.

David Olds
The WholeNote, March 2009

Former Array director Henry Kucharzyk also has a presence on a new Naxos release featuring the Toronto Wind Orchestra under Tony Gomes’ direction. Northern Winds is an eclectic collection of Canadian compositions. The disc opens with a boisterous overture entitled High Spirits by Louis Applebaum. Applebaum wrote hundreds of compositions for a myriad of media, but it is all too rare to hear his music performed these days outside of the fanfares he created for the Stratford Festival which are still in use today. Kudos to the Toronto Wind Orchestra for reminding us of his vibrant contribution to Canadian music. Dream Dancer is an extended work by Michael Colgrass for solo saxophone (the exceptional Wallace Halladay performing) and wind orchestra with a large percussion section. The work moves from haunting slow passages through virtuosic pyrotechnics and sections reminiscent of a variety of exotic cultures with more than a nod to the Indonesian gamelan. Next we are treated to a more abstract work, Kucharzyk’s Some Assembly Required, which with its three contrasting movements gives a somewhat more avant garde approach to the wind orchestra although its rollicking final movement reminds us somewhat of Copland and Bernstein as seen through the eyes of John Adams. Gary Kulesha’s Ensembles inverts the usual fast-slow-fast structure and places its dynamic toccata-like piano and percussion movement in the middle of two slow meditations. The disc is rounded out by Harry Freedman’s Laurentian Moods, a suite of French Canadian Folksongs which unfortunately seem a bit trivial in this context and a centenary tribute to Olivier Messiaen in the form of Oiseaux exotiques featuring pianist Simon Docking.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2009

Contemporary North American music for wind orchestra is here crowned by Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques performed by a gathering of Toronto’s superb wind musicians. Opening with the aptly named overture, High Spirits, from Louis Applebaum—one of the fathers of today’s Canadian music—we move onto the unique sound world of Michael Colgrass, his subtle colours creating Dream Dancer, a fusion of various cultures. Scored for saxophone and transparent textures of a wind ensemble, it is a long and haunting work excellently played by the crossover saxophonist, Wallace Halladay. The three movements of Henry Kurcharzyk’s Some Assembly Required offers an experiment in the freedom of individual expression by performers, the movements to be performed in any order, the prevailing mode being proactive without being aggressive in any sense. From the same musical epoch, Gary Kulesha’s short three-movement, Ensembles, contrasts the slow moving outer movements with a return to tonality in the central hymn-like movement. Of Polish origin, Harry Freedman was the cor anglais in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for twenty-five years, with the last thirty-four years up to his death in 2005 spent exclusively in composing a wide range of music. Laurentian Moods came early in his career and was a compilation of French Canadian Folk Songs derived from Quebec. Easy on the ear and on the performers. The Messiaen essay on bird-song is adeptly handled. The Toronto Wind Orchestra is a very capable and well balanced group that find the technical hurdles easily negotiated. Good sound engineering.

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