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Roots: An album worth the time to listen!
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON March 15th 2020
With the cancellation of concerts around the country, Jan and I considered how we could support some of the rising stars of classical music. It seemed to us that given the need for social distance and isolation, it would be a great time for people to get their music digitally. Could there be a better time to discover new musical voices?
Readers may recall that we reviewed The Wild Swans by violinist Yolanda Bruno and pianist Isabelle David in December 2019. I reached out to Yolanda for suggestions of up and coming Canadian artists who deserved support. She gave me the name of Saskatchewan born violinist Amy Hillis.
Hillis and fellow Saskatchewan pianist Meagan Milatz have been a duo based in Montreal since their undergraduate years at McGill University. Calling themselves, appropriately enough Meagan&Amy, they have been on a Pan-Canadian Recital Tour since September 2019, performing over 50 concerts in every province and territory. The tour has been an attempt to explore connections between Canadian compositions and works from the traditional canon of classical repertoire. This exploration inspired their first album Roots.
The album is a collection of accessible and adventurous music by composers who both relate to each other and to the “roots” of the duo’s musical background. The duo’s classical roots which began with training in Saskatchewan where neither Amy nor Meagan knew the other except by reputation, is represented by the music of Mozart, Debussy and Messaien. The first tracks comprise some of Mozart’s most joyful music in his Sonata for piano and violin 22 K. 305, a short two-movement sonata. The joyfully precise playing of both piano and violin is a treat. Neither eclipses the other. Mozart must have been very happy and full of confidence as he left the employment of the Archbishop of Salzaburg in 1778 and set out on a tour to find employment. The uplifting sonata is a delight.
Meagan and Amy, in a phone interview from Strathmore Alberta where they are currently on tour, were excited to share the music of Saskatchewan composer, David McIntyre and Quebec composer André Mathieu with the rest of Canada both on the album and on tour. The composers are best-known in their respective provinces, but not widely performed across the country. They deserve to be.
McIntyre’s contribution to the album is his Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano. The rhythmic vitality of the first movement is full of humour while the second movement has a lyrical beauty that speaks of the vast horizons of his province.
André Mathieu’s Sonate pour violon et piano is reminiscent of Debussy. I thought for an instant in the second movement that I might be listening to Claire de Lune. Mathieu was dubbed the “Canadian Mozart” as a child prodigy touring in France. Later his parallel to Mozart continued in a troubled adult life cut short at age 39 in 1968.
Debussy’s Sonata pour violon et piano CD 148 belies that it was written in wartime as Debussy was dying of cancer. The three movements marked “Allegro vivo”, “fantastique et léger” and “très animé” point to the impulsive and joyful mood of the work.
Debussy’s music along with Olivier Messiaen’s Thème et variations offer a glimpse into another musical “root” of the duo, as both have spent time studying in France in recent years. The lyrical opening theme expresses a mood of longing and reminiscence that coincides with the duo’s nostalgic look back.
The playing on this album is both fearless and nuanced. Both Hillis and Milatz are in full control of their instruments and clearly in total synch in their playing. The rich sound of Hillis’ violin is matched with a collaborative piano that plays an equal role. Both instruments have a virtuosity that can’t be missed.
The album was exquisitely produced by Martha de Francisco and Efraim Hahn with the financial support of the Canada Council and recorded at Pollock Hall, McGill University. It is available on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify and other streaming services while a CD can be obtained through the website: meaganandamy.com. The duo’s tour was to continue in small venues with performances in Dawson City, Haines Junction, and Whitehorse, Yukon in the last half of March, however, because of the Coronavirus pandemic, the concerts have been postponed indefinitely.
Pianist Meagan Milatz and violinist Amy Hillis, Meagan&Amy
Photo credit: Brent Calis Photography