Ensemble Vivant Latin Romance CD CoverPianist and ensemble artistic director Catherine Wilson is joined for this ebullient celebration of Latin music by Corey Gemmell on violin, Norman Hathaway on viola, Jim Vivian on bass, Sybil Shanahan on cello, Don Thompson on vibes, Juan Carlos Medrana & Luisito Orbegosa on Latin percussion, and Kevin Turotte on trumpet.  Their performance of these 13 tracks, by composers ranging from across Latin America and Spain (and a few closer to home), is a vibrant testament to musical élan.  Several selections get our nod as album standouts.   Andalucia (by Ernesto Lecuona) transports the listener to Spain: a travelogue of the mind’s eye, it has a wonderfully evocative melody that’s chock-full of local color and charm. Dansa Negra (by Mozart Carmago Guarnieri) likewise tells a visual story, conjuring, for us, the Antebellum South, with lyrically emotional resonance.  Bernardo’s Tango (by Canadian Phil Dwyer) has a cinematic feel to its moments of drama; while Oblivion (by Astor Piazzollo) is a study in bittersweet poignancy.  Leroy Anderson’s Serenata sways across the dance floor like Astaire & Rogers.  For its part, Cité Tango (by Astor Piazzolla) starts with subtly discordant rhythms.  With its passionately intense fixation on its objet de désir, it is dance as duel – until, that is, it segues into a gentle resolution in a closing section that is pleasingly reminiscent of Catherine Wilson’s own work as a composer.  Isaac Albenez’ ever-so-traditional Tango in D is tango comfort-food.  And Canadian John Burke’s La Despedida is tango as reverie, the musical incarnation of a gentle pas de deux with one’s beloved.

Catherine Wilson on the late composer and collaborator John Burke:

“I first met the brilliant Canadian composer John Burke in late 1980 at the University of Michigan. I was a student of the late Theodore Lettvin in the Master’s Program in Piano Performance, and John was completing his Doctorate in Composition. John reacted to my playing with the astute observation that, ‘You play the piano as though you’re a string player.’ Many of the people I’ve met through my music-making have been instrumental in my life’s journey – both musically and otherwise. John Burke was one of those people; and our friendship, musical collaboration, and spiritual connection was to endure for four decades. We were like kindred spirits. Sometimes, he would be on the road for months on end, travelling the globe to places like India, Turkey, Bali, and Berlin on grants for composing. Whenever he could, John would travel to hear me perform, and we loved discussing our respective musical projects by telephone.

Along with his musical genius, John was an erudite, supremely intelligent, highly spiritual, and generous man, with a quick wit and wonderful sense of humour. His music will endure the test of time. John wrote the compelling art-tango La Despedida for solo piano and gave it to me as a gift. Featured on Ensemble Vivant’s Latin Romance album, it had its world premiere at the album launch at Hugh’s Room Live in Toronto on December 6, 2019 – to a sold-out crowd, with John in attendance. Who’d have guessed that he would pass away only six weeks later (on January 18, 2020) at the too-early age of 68 I miss him terribly.”

When the pandemic is finally behind us, Ensemble Vivant plans to celebrate John Burke’s musical life with a tribute concert. In the meantime, watch Catherine Wilson performing La Despedida live in concert.

Edited by John Arkelian