Sunday 24 April 2016

Ensemble Transmission prove terrific advocates of works by Ana Sokolović on a new release from Naxos

Serbian-born composer Ana Sokolović studied composition at university under Dusan Radić in Novi Sad and Zoran Erić in Belgrade then completed a master’s degree under the supervision of José Evangelista at the Université de Montréal. She has lived in Montreal for two decades.

Over the years, Ana Sokolović has earned a steady stream of commissions and awards. Her compositions include orchestral, vocal, chamber, operatic and theatrical pieces. From 1995 to 1998, she was a three-time recipient of the SOCAN Foundation Award for Young Composers. In the 1999 edition of the CBC Young Composers Competition she won the grand prize along with first prize in the chamber music category. In 2005, she won the Joseph S. Stauffer Prize presented by the Canada Council for the Arts and in 2007 the Conseil québécois de la musique awarded her the Prix Opus for composer of the year. In 2008 she won the Jan V. Matejcek Award presented by SOCAN and, in 2012, was a repeat winner of the same award. In 2009, she won the prestigious National Arts Centre Award, which included commissions, residencies and teaching positions over a five-year period. In the summer of 2012, her opera Svadba-Wedding, commissioned and produced by the Queen of Puddings Music Theatre, received six nominations for the Dora Mavor Moore Awards and won for Outstanding New Musical/Opera. The opera then went on tour in Canada and Europe until 2015.

The Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) recently marked the 20th anniversary of Ana Sokolović’s arrival in Quebec with a celebration of her body of work. More than 200 events were presented in her honour from coast to coast.

The Émile Nelligan Foundation awarded Ana Sokolović the prestigious 2015 Serge-Garant Prize last November. Ana Sokolović recently received a prestigious commission from the Canadian Opera Company for a main-stage opera that will be premiered during the 2019/20 season. Ana Sokolović teaches composition at the Université de Montréal.

Naxos have just released a recording of works for a variety of instruments by Ana Sokolović as part of their Canadian Classics series, performed by members of Ensemble Transmission , a Montreal based collective of six musicians who are independent artists.


Vez (2005) for solo cello was a commission by the cellist Yegor Dyackhov and premiered by him in 2005 as part of the Virtuosi Series, Winnipeg. Performed here by cellist Julie Trudeau, the work opens with fast, energetic rapid bowing that gives way to gentle yet no less varying textures. Ana Sokolović requires an increasingly varied range of textures and timbres from the cello, pizzicato phrases and drumming on the instrument all add to a vibrant, vital piece. Yet there are richly drawn longer phrases where Trudeau finds a multitude of colours and textures. After a long slow drawn passage, that brings forth some lovely sounds from this soloist, the restrained coda is reached.

Portrait parle (2006) for violin, cello and piano was commissioned by Trio Fibonacci and premiered by them in 2006 at the Chapelle historique de Bon Pasteur, Montreal. The work outlines various parts of the body and was inspired by an early 20th century chart designed to help assist French police to identify people.

As Alain Giguère (violin), Julie Trudeau (cello) and Brigitte Poulin (piano) open they lay out a wonderful instrumental sound world, haunting yet with so many colours out of which each instrument finds its voice. Soon there is a swirl of strange sounds before this piece works through many variations, always seeking a new colour, texture or timbre out of which a myriad of ideas emerge. These players find some beautifully conceived sounds, so many fine little details. There are moments of humour so well caught by these players before a series of piano chords signals a quieter moment that is the coda.

This is, perhaps, the best work to start listening to on this disc in order to get into Sokolović’s sound world.

Trois Études (1997/2013) receives its World Premiere recording here with pianist Brigitte Poulin. It was premiered in 1998 at the Chapelle historique du Bon Pasteur, Montreal by Marc Couroux. These Études develop a single aspect, a rhythm, a harmony and a melody.

Étude No. 1 opens with a repeated note, slowly varied and expanded, Sokolović finding much to develop out of the opening motif before concluding at the lower end of the keyboard. Étude No. 2, the longest of this group at just over four minutes, opens quietly, gently and tentatively before little motifs sound out. Sokolović creates some beautiful ideas as the music moves through delicate subtly formed passages, leading to a broader melody, beautifully translucent and full of lovely colours. Étude No. 3 opens with a simple little theme that is quickly developed as it dances forward through some finely varied passages to a concluding peak.

Mesh (2004) was commissioned by the clarinetist Lori Freedman and premiered by her in 2004 at the Music Garden, Toronto. The work features the repetition and quickly moving transformation of short rhythmic units. Lori Freedman gives this World Premiere recording. The opening brings a jaunty dancing theme which is subjected to variations, many fine ideas being drawn from the clarinet, tonally, rhythmically and in terms of colours, textures and timbres. This is a distinctive piece full of terrific ideas, sometimes finding a jazz element. This soloist’s playing is truly remarkable, a wonderful technique combined with an ability to avoid any course grained tone despite all the challenges. There are some fine themes emerging throughout as well as many fine details before a wonderfully drawn, hushed coda.

Un bouquet de brume (1998/2014) for bass flute and piano is given its World Premiere recording here by Guy Pelletier (bass flute) and Brigitte Poulin (piano). The piano brings rolling chords to which the bass flute gently adds colours and bubbling textures in the opening rising theme, all together creating a wonderful atmosphere as the music moves through subtly shifting passages of great beauty.

Ciaccona (2002/2011) was commissioned by Arraymusic and premiered in 2002 at the Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto. Originally written for clarinet, trumpet, piano, percussion, violin and double bass it has been arranged for Ensemble Transmission’s line up of clarinet (Lori Freedman), piccolo (Guy Pelletier), piano (Brigitte Poulin), violin (Alain Giguère), percussion (Julien Grégoire) and cello (Julie Trudeau). The music opens with a vibrant theme, full of rhythmic syncopations with this combination of instruments providing a bright range of colours and textures. The music moves through more fragmented passages, each instrument adding a particular texture, timbre and colour. Part-way through, there are cries from the clarinet leading to a sustained phrase that brings a terrific sequence of ideas, superbly played. There are pulses of instrumental sounds that rise to an emphatic peak before the piano leads on over string phrases, bringing a gentle moment. There are some quiet strangely beautiful undulating passages before the rhythm picks up again with a sense of purpose, achieving some dramatic moments before the quiet coda. 

Ensemble Transmission prove terrific advocates of Sokolović’s music. They receive an excellent recording made at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, Montreal, Canada and there are useful booklet notes.

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