The Amici Chamber Ensemble (ACE), whose original members included clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas and cellist David Hetherington — both members of the Toronto Symphony – and pianist Patricia Parr, recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. When Parr retired in 2008, Serouj Kradjian replaced her.
It is amazing that ACE has endured so long, considering that apart from trios by Mozart and Brahms, there is very little important repertoire for this configuration of instruments. The ensemble got around this basic problem by taking a different approach to programming: e.g., the members of the group perform not only as a trio but as also as a duo (i.e. clarinet and piano or cello and piano) and as soloists. On occasion, they also perform with guest artists. This variety of possible configurations greatly expands ACE’s repertoire choices.
For this new recording, the Amici Chamber Ensemble is joined by soprano Mireille Asselin in a celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday. A great deal of research has been done to put together a program that is imaginative, diverse and inspiring, and the performances are superb. Much of the music is presented in arrangements created — mostly with great skill — by AMC’s pianist, Serouj Kradjian.
To say that soprano Mireille Asselin is a great addition to ACE would be a ridiculous understatement; from her first entrance in Ernest Seitz’ “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise,” she commands attention for the sheer beauty of her voice and the ease and naturalness of her phrasing. Did I mention that this music was composed by a young Canadian pianist only twelve years of age? Ernest Seitz (1892-1978) was born in Hamilton, Ontario and in spite of his prodigious musical gifts, studies in Europe with Josef Lhévinne and numerous appearances with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, spent most of his life running his family’s car dealership in Toronto.
Although Serouj Kradjian comes up with decent arrangements of all the songs and folk songs on this CD, he sometimes gets a little too clever for his own good; for example, when he takes Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Forever Rag” and tosses in some quotations – too obscure to be effective – from both “The Maple Leaf Forever” and “O Canada”. I also began to think that Kradjian didn’t really know what to do with the cello, as most of the time it is either doubling the left hand of the piano part or is all but inaudible, rarely getting a chance to sing out in its upper register.
The album presentation also leaves a lot to be desired. There are no translations from French to English or vice versa, and no printed texts for songs by Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. Since classical music fans are the most likely buyers of this CD, one can hardly assume that these songs are so familiar that their texts don’t require inclusion in the booklet. Or could it be that they were left out for copyright reasons?
These reservations noted, however, I don’t want to leave a negative impression. This CD, despite its shortcomings, is an imaginative contribution to the celebration of Canada on the occasion of its 150th birthday. Some of the songs included may be familiar to Canadian listeners, while others will be totally new and, as such, are valuable contributions to our understanding and appreciation of our heritage.
LUDWIG VAN TORONTO
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