The winter in Toronto has been rough. During a snowstorm last week, driving around was out of the question, the TV schedule was uninspired, so I thought I’d do a little work. Work turned out to be pure pleasure as I reacquainted myself with a 1991 CBC SM5000 release, the music of Canadian composer, Michael Conway Baker.
Baker is melodist. His melodies are long, arching and pleasantly uncomplicated. Harmonies are influenced by the Romantics and also of his teacher, Sir Lennox Berkeley. The structures of the works are cogent and always retain interest. So many modern composers lose the plot — either good in design or complex in harmonic voice, or both. But melody? Yes, the elusive melody. That’s the reason you’ll be pressing the CD player’s repeat button. Baker is not scared to be sentimental, but with wonderful sophistication.
Soloists include outstanding Canadians, Robert Silverman, piano, Marina Piccinini, flute, Steven Dann, viola, and vocalist Ann Mortifee. They are splendid, all. I’m biased, but I love Baker’s Flute Concerto. There are so few modern flute concertos in the repertoire that allow the instrument’s pastoral nature to the fore. Most are always buzzing about. Silverman’s art is well known on CD (and in the electronic pages of Audiophilia). His performance of Baker’s Piano Concerto is a knockout and most probably definitive. Mortifee is new to me — a stylish and technically gifted singer, definitely not in the operatic/lieder style. Steven Dann makes his viola sing and is easily on the level of Atar Arad and even Pinky Zuckerman. He is former lead viola of the Concertegebouw in Amsterdam. Piccinini is a prof. at Peabody in Baltimore. She’s a fantastic player with a heartbreaking sound. Conductor Akiyama (at the time, MD of the Vancouver Symphony) conducts the CBC Chamber Orchestra and inspires them to accompany with grace and charm. On this showing, a very fine orchestra.
The recording highlights the soloists but the strings and winds of the orchestra also sound superb. The CD was recorded in the Orpheum, a converted theatre which boasts superior acoustics. They are highlighted beautifully by the recording.
Conway Baker resides in Vancouver. I urge you to search out his recordings. If you like beautiful, modern ‘classical’ music that inspires, you’ll find much of it penned by this musician’s musician.