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Volume 20 Issue 5 - February 2015

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Volume 20 Issue 5

The biggest surprise and

The biggest surprise and a great sensation, however, is Canadian baritone Gerald Finley creating a lasting impression as a newcomer to the incredibly difficult central role of the suffering sinner, Amfortas. Janos Gardonyi Robert Bruce – Songs of Light and Shadow, Vol.1 Various Artists; Robert Bruce Independent ( Robert Bruce is the composer, lyricist and pianist in nine pieces which border on new age, easy listening sentiments while exploring minimalism, simple harmonies and uncomplicated melodies. Listening to Bruce perform his own work on piano is such a joy, and a perfect example of compositions played just the way the composer intended them to be performed. Sure he wrote them, but this is no easy task even for the composer himself. Bruce the performer plays with an appropriate degree of detachment to make Bruce the composer’s works elegant, unaffected and clear. Vocalists Janet Obermeyer, Amy Dodington and Karen Barrett-Grignon perform clearly and musically to Bruce’s accompaniment. The additional occasional instrumental inclusion of harpist Elizabeth Eastwood, oboist Nancy Neeson and percussionist Dave Simpson add much appreciated aural depth. Bruce’s Songs explore love, dreams and the female life experience. The words may not be to everyone’s taste but are a tight fit to the carefully composed constructed lines and, like film music, image-evoking harmonic colours. Especially enchanting and beautiful are the repeated oboe line in Spirit of Song and the closing repetitive piano line of The Candle of Love. Too bad A Little Bit of Neptune ventures a little bit too much into the pop music planet for this reviewer, but that’s the only one which does. Excellent production values, mix and levels complete the package. The haunting, enigmatic and ethereal tonal music of Robert Bruce makes this a satisfying listening experience. Tiina Kiik EARLY MUSIC AND PERIOD PERFORMANCE Handel’s Recorder: Recorder Sonatas; Musick for the Royal Fireworks Ruth Wilkinson; Miriam Morris; John O’Donnell Divine Art dda 25124 ( Putting out a CD of Handel’s recorder sonatas might seem a slightly strange choice these days, as numerous versions are already available; but then, if musicians want to record music they’ve known and long enjoyed, who’s to argue? Featuring three Australians active as performers and teachers for over three decades, this disc opens with a twist: an intimate version of the Music for the Royal Fireworks, arranged in the 18th century (like much of Handel’s opera music) for treble instrument and basso continuo. It’s a pleasure to hear this piece in miniature, and quite entertaining if you’re familiar with the heartily orchestrated original! The four recorder sonatas from Handel’s Opus 1, lovely pieces all, follow in their usual order, and there is much tasteful and cheery playing here. The perennial balance problems in the A minor sonata are solved by the removal of the bass viol from the mix, though that’s a bit of a pity because Handel’s bass lines are so robust, but that said, harpsichordist John O’Donnell whips through the feisty second movement with aplomb. The seasoned and well-knit ensemble playing of recorder player Ruth Wilkinson and her colleagues O’Donnell and gambist Miriam Morris is immediately evident, as is their affection for this music. The booklet notes are informative and the recorded sound is particularly beautiful; because of this, the session photo of the musicians with their tech team is a very nice touch. Alison Melville CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Beethoven – The Piano Concertos; Triple Concerto Mari Kodama; Deutsches Symphonie- Orchester Berlin; Kent Nagano Berlin Classics 0300597BC They say marriages are made in heaven and this is a good case for it, especially if the wife is distinguished Japanese pianist Mari Kodama and the husband the incomparable Kent Nagano, one of the top five conductors today. Apart from their obvious love for each other, there is another bond, their love of Beethoven. For them playing these concertos is a constant revelation, a journey of discovery, as if they’ve never heard this music before. “Richly nuanced” comes to mind as Kodama particularly delights in the unexpected, where Beethoven breaks tradition, as well as in his sense of humour, most pronounced in the two early concertos she recorded in 2006 (previously reviewed enthusiastically on these pages). At that time she was relatively unknown. It has taken almost eight years for the young pianist to mature sufficiently to conquer the final three, in which Beethoven by a tremendous quantum leap broke loose from the spectre of his predecessors, Haydn and Mozart. Each one is a new entity, a world of its own, completely different from those written before and completely different from each other as well. From the poignant, minor key Third, through the gracefully eloquent, unorthodox and probably the most forward-looking Fourth, to the boldly defiant, heroic Fifth which the deaf Beethoven wrote while Vienna was being heavily bombarded by Napoleon’s guns, all shine with technical brilliance, superbly controlled passion, grace, rhythmic precision, clarity and an epic sweep that are certainly the mark of a mature pianist. A spectacular achievement for Kodama, who is joined by Kolja Blacher (violin) and Johannes Moser (cello) in a memorable performance of the Triple Concerto in C Major, Op.56 under Nagano’s deft direction. Janos Gardonyi Beethoven; Brahms; Weber Jon Manasse; Jon Nakamatsu; Clive Greensmith Harmonia Mundi HMU 807618 Oh, to have made this recording! What fine playing and fine representation of the repertoire from clarinetist Jon Manasse, with Jon Nakamatsu on cello and Clive Greensmith on piano. The early Beethoven Trio, Op.11 sets a tone of heady optimism, youthful spirit and crisp virtuosity. Beethoven had yet to discover his deafness when he wrote this work. It is perhaps hindsight informing the sense one gets that the young composer felt invulnerable, yet this performance favours the notion. Interesting liner notes fill in details about this seldom-recorded piece, including the fact that Beethoven took the theme for its third movement from a popular opera aria of the day, now forgotten. At the far end of the romantic spectrum is the final work on the disc, Brahms’ monumental Trio in A Minor, Op.114. As dark and melancholic as the Beethoven is light and chipper, it is a work for which Brahms saved a final great outburst of his Sturm und Drang manner. The piece is difficult, especially the finale, where the sections can seem almost cut-and-pasted together. This tremendous ensemble works beautifully together, eliding and joining the range of moods into a seamless expression. Manasse does something mysterious with his tone in the haunting, second movement Adagio. Rather than press, he floats. It’s extraordinary. This is a special performance, and I’m glad to have heard it. Sandwiched by the trios is Weber’s Grand 58 | February 1 - March 7, 2015

Duo Concertante Op.48. Here I’m bound to question how often they dip into the rubato well, which I think cheapens Weber’s music. I like Weber. I think he shows what a lessertalented Beethoven might have written, had he grown up in the real one’s shadow. Max Christie fantasy Jon Kimura Parker Independent FP0908 ( Jon Kimura Parker first gained attention as the Gold Medal winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1984 and he has since maintained a stellar 30-year career. Parker’s newest release fantasy presents five solo piano works in this genre, demonstrating not only his technical prowess, but also his substantial range. The recording opens with Schubert’s Fantasie in C Major, D760, also known as the Wanderer Fantasy, and closes with another monumental work, Schumann’s Fantasie, Op.17. Parker’s deeply expressive playing and seemingly tireless energy propel the momentum of these complex, multimovement compositions. Originally written for two pianos, William Hirtz’s Wizard of Oz Fantasy (1999) is presented here in a solo piano arrangement that transforms a medley of Herbert Stothart & Harold Arlen’s Academy Awardwinning score into a virtuoso’s delight with its changing textures and dazzling finale. Calogero Di Liberto’s Fantasia sulla Cavalleria Rusticana is a tribute to the opera composer, and fellow Sicilian, Pietro Mascagni with a fantasy that, although written in 2005, recalls the Romantic grandeur of Liszt’s operatic piano transcriptions. The bravura of these two works is in stark contrast to Mozart’s unfinished Fantasia in D minor, KV397 featuring Parker’s own 90-second ending and refined playing. Mention should also be made of the excellent audio quality of this 75-minute CD that was recorded in Stude Concert Hall at Rice University, Texas where Parker is professor of piano. Dr. Réa Beaumont Transformation Gallery Players of Niagara Independent GPN14002 ( Chamber transcriptions of vocal or orchestral music are nothing new – as early as the 1780s, Bohemian composer Joseph Tribensee was arranging arias from Mozart operas for woodwind ensembles, helping to bring music from the opera house onto the street. The tradition continues today, and among the most recent offerings is this delightful disc aptly titled Transformation, featuring arrangements of works by Beethoven, Ravel and Schumann performed by the Gallery Players of Niagara. The disc opens with Beethoven’s Violin Sonata Op.24 “Spring” – as transcribed for flute, violin, viola and cello by GPN violist Patrick Jordan. Here, the deft arrangement is greatly enhanced by elegant and finelynuanced playing in which the ensemble achieves a particularly sensitive balance at all times. Ravel thought highly enough of his keyboard suite Le Tombeau de Couperin to produce an orchestral version in 1919. In this particular arrangement for oboe, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, Trevor Wagler indeed achieves what he set out to do – to remain as faithful to the original as possible. The playing is both graceful and spirited, while the inclusion of the piano is an attractive reminder that the suite was originally conceived for solo keyboard. Most transcriptions diminish the original orchestration, but in the case of the third work – Schumann’s famous song cycle Dichterliebe Op.48 – the resources are augmented, comprising an unusual combination of string quartet, classical guitar and double bass, all joined by Canadian baritone Brett Polegato. Yet Patrick Jordan’s arrangement in no way hampers the mood of quiet introspection, and the six members together with Polegato’s warm interpretation achieve a wonderful sense of intimacy right up to the anguished finale, Die alten, bösen Lieder. Transformation is appealing on two levels – tasteful and sympathetic arrangements coupled with some fine music-making. It’s perfect listening for a brisk day in February – or for that matter, any time of year. Richard Haskell Debussy – Images; Preludes II Marc-André Hamelin Hyperion CDA67920 Internationally recognized French- Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin has an impressively extensive repertoire and an astounding discography of approximately 60 albums recorded on the Hyperion label. Hamelin originally developed a reputation as a virtuoso performer of little-known, and fiendishly difficult, late-19th and early- 20th century music. This CD showcases Hamelin’s masterful technical control and intriguing interpretive vision as he ventures into the world of Impressionism with a recording of Debussy’s Images (complete) and Préludes, Book II. Written between 1905 and 1907, the two volumes of Images feature Debussy’s six well-known favourites Reflets dans l’eau, Hommage à Rameau, Mouvement, Cloches à travers les feuilles, Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut and Poissons d’or. Suited to the composer’s rare moments of overt virtuosity, Hamelin executes the intricate passagework with fluidity and ease, exposing an array of subtle tone colours. The first book of twelve Préludes was composed in 1909-1910, with the second set published three years later. Each Prelude has a descriptive title and the works are considered some of Debussy’s finest compositions for piano. Hamelin effectively captures the different moods of each piece, bringing a brooding quality to the dark Brouillards and Feuilles morts, complexity to Ondine, and a subtle playfulness to the comic General Lavine. The final prelude Feux d’artifice (Fireworks), the most difficult of the set, catapults this beautiful album to a resplendent close. Dr. Réa Beaumont Concert Note: Marc-André Hamelin performs at Koerner Hall on March 1. The program includes Debussy’s Images: Book II. Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition; Schumann – Fantasie Paul Lewis Harmonia Mundi HMC902096 For the first time in memory I found myself truly listening to Mussorgsky’s music. The score itself is not unfamiliar to most music lovers and collectors for whom the only reason for hearing a new performance is surely to assess the pianistic and athletic prowess of the performer. Not so here… not at all. From the opening Promenade there is a real sense of discovery that is unlike any other version, recorded or live, that I have ever heard. This is patrician playing in the very best sense of the word. There is more than a sense of musical narrative here. His art makes maximum use of the ups and downs of the journey that arcs the music through its climactic episodes with patrician ease. He is always the empathetic observer. This may seem obvious but Lewis is the only performer of whom I am aware, who, instead of imposing his pianistic stamina on the score, successfully plays the music from within, thereby revealing the unsuspected, hidden beauties, the ebb and flow, tension and release as carefully written by the composer. The listener to this unique performance may well conclude that any orchestration of it is superfluous, losing many of Mussorgsky’s February 1 - March 7, 2015 | 59

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