7 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 3 - November 2015

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  • November
  • Toronto
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  • Performing
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"Come" seems to be the verb that knits this month's issue together. Sondra Radvanovsky comes to Koerner, William Norris comes to Tafel as their new GM, opera comes to Canadian Stage; and (a long time coming!) Jane Bunnett's musicianship and mentorship are honoured with the Premier's award for excellence; plus David Jaeger's ongoing series on the golden years of CBC Radio Two, Andrew Timar on hybridity, a bumper crop of record reviews and much much more. Come on in!

VOCAL Rimsky-Korsakov

VOCAL Rimsky-Korsakov – The Tsar’s Bride Peretyatko; Rachvelishvili;Kränzle; Cernoch; Kotscherga; Tomowa-Sintow; Staatkapelle Berlin; Daniel Barenboim BelAir Classics BAC105 !! This production was a highlight of the 2013 season in Berlin. One of the reasons was Russian director-genius, Dimitry Tcherniakov (creator of the COC’s unorthodox and spectacular Don Giovanni last February) who has since become a very desirable commodity all over the world. Tcherniakov’s modern concept targets the world of media bosses inventing computergenerated heroes and rounding up beautiful women (remember The Bachelor?) to be chosen against their will to be their wives. His concept chimes in nicely with the gruesome original story and is also very engaging, colourful and spectacular to look at. Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Tsar’s Bride is largely unknown in the West and it is the true story of Ivan the Terrible’s chosen bride who was poisoned soon after their marriage. The opera is strongly dramatic with beautiful melodic invention and is profoundly moving, especially in the hands of Daniel Barenboim, who is packing in sold-out performances one after the other in Berlin and in Milan – at La Scala where Verdi was discovered and where he is referred to these days simply as “The Maestro.” The celebrated cast is headed by Russia’s latest export, the gorgeous high soprano Olga Peretyatko, still a bit of an unknown quantity to most, but already a star. I’ve watched her in Rossini literally charming the Pesaro audience with her conquering hair-raisingly difficult vocal acrobatics and her spectacular stage presence. It’s almost impossible to outdo her, yet mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili’s deeply felt, heartbreaking performance as the wronged woman gets even more applause at the end. Of the men, German bass-baritone J.M. Kränzle, who is also a great character actor, makes a big impression as a larger-than-life and complex Boyar Grigory. Opera at its best. Janos Gardonyi Parry – I Was Glad; Coronation Te Deum Choir of Westminster Abbey; Onyx Brass; Daniel Cook; James O’Donnell Hyperion CMA68089 !! Sir Hubert Parry’s most famous Church of England standards such as Jerusalem, Dear Lord and Father of mankind (on his hymn tune Repton), the ode Blest pair of sirens, his “Mag and Nunc” (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis) and coronation pieces I was glad and Te Deum are featured alongside lesser-known early works in this excellent recording by the gentlemen and boys of Westminster Abbey. Though some contemporaries saw Parry as overly conventional, one must admit that his music can be rousing and has graced many a royal occasion, not just in his own time but in ours as well. While I was glad and Te Deum served for coronations throughout the 20th century, Blest pair of sirens – Parry’s setting of Milton’s ode At a Solemn Music, was performed by the Westminster Abbey Choir for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate). By employing the Onyx Brass, this recording pays tribute to the many times brass was introduced in arrangements of Parry’s work, notably those by Grayston Ives. The choir performs as if born to this music and an excellent solo quartet for the Magnificat emerges from its ranks, including a treble solo of great clarity by the young Alexander Kyle. Organist Daniel Cook veritably shines, having been given the over 11-minute Fantasia and Fugue in G Major. Dianne Wells Rufus Wainwright – Prima Donna Janis Kelly; Kathryn Guthrie; Antonio Figueroa; Richard Morrison; BBC Symphony; Jayce Ogren Deutsche Grammophon 479 5340 !! Rufus Wainwright is certainly a polarizing figure. Celebrated by some, panned by others, for his fawning song-bysong recreation of Judy Garland’s concerts. He has been a ubiquitous presence at the Toronto Luminato Festival and is now a recorded opera composer. Wait, what? Yes, his 2009 opera Prima Donna, seen in Toronto at Luminato, recently received the full Deutsche Grammophon treatment with a stellar cast. Wainwright says he was inspired by a late-in-life interview with Maria Callas, apparently conducted in French, hence the language of the opera. Instigated apparently as a promise of commission from Peter Gelb and the Metropolitan Opera, it did not end up at the Met – Gelb insisted on a new opera in English, not French. Instead, the Manchester Festival and the now defunct New York City Opera staged it to little fanfare. So, how is it? Surprisingly listenable. Wainwright does not break any new ground here, but it is a competent piece of Puccini-esque nostalgia. The interesting part is that Wainwright writes the best melodies not for his Prima Donna, but for her imagined lover, the journalist André Letourneur. Late in the work, in the fifth scene of the second act, the beautiful voice of Antonio Figueroa brings to life some fine operatic writing. In an intriguing twist of the libretto, the scene is a recreation of the past glory of the Prima Donna and her partner, foreshadowing the sad ending. Nostalgic musically and thematically, Prima Donna is a surprisingly enjoyable effort from the bad boy of torch song. Robert Tomas EARLY MUSIC AND PERIOD PERFORMANCE Perfect Polyphony – Peter Phillips’ Favourites Tallis Scholars Gimell CDGIM 213 !! Coming up to 2000 concerts and 56 albums, director Peter Phillips has chosen to celebrate the Tallis Scholars by compiling his favourite recordings from 40 years of their stellar performances of Renaissance polyphony. Appropriately, the disc begins with Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, which also happens to be the very first piece the group ever recorded, and is followed by a lovely 1987 recording of Victoria’s Versa est in luctum. Tackling Gesualdo’s intense and harmonically challenging Ave, dulcissima Maria highlights the high level of precision these singers can execute. Particularly moving are the two sets of Lamentations of Jeremiah by Thomas Tallis, with Brumel and Ferrabosco’s settings following. Repetition, however, is not an issue: each composer’s treatment (and selection of text) is quite different. The opening of Josquin’s Missa Ave maris stella is resplendent with purity of tone, particularly in the women’s voices, and is lovely in its canonic pursuit from start to finish. The Tallis Scholars’ perfect intonation is enhanced by their uncanny ability to imbue the performance with meaning and beauty, never departing from the true spiritual significance of these works. Dianne Wells Concert note: The Chamber Music Orillia Chamber Choir performs Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli and works by Rachmaninoff, Fauré and Bach under Jeffrey Moellman’s direction on November 8, at St. James’ Anglican Church, Orillia. The Vale of Tears Theatre of Early Music; Schola Cantorum; Daniel Taylor Analekta AN 2 9144 !! Many years ago I discovered Heinrich Schütz’s funeral cantata, the Musikalische 68 | Nov 1 - Dec 7, 2015

Exequien at an early music workshop in Amherst, Massachusetts. I am not exaggerating when I say that this was one of the most stunning musical experiences which have come my way. The week ended with a performance which was recorded. Naturally I rushed out to obtain the tape. It proved truly awful. Fortunately I discovered a fine professional performance conducted by Hans-Martin Linde on LP (it never made it to CD). Since then there have been others. I do not myself care for the very extroverted disc conducted by John Eliot Gardiner (Archiv) but there is a superb rendering by Vox Luminis on Ricercar, conducted by Lionel Meunier, who is also one of the bass soloists. I am not going to claim that this new recording led by Daniel Taylor is even better, but it certainly runs close. It gets off to a very good start with the Intonation sung by Rufus Müller, who is terrific throughout. The singing is very fine and besides Müller I very much enjoyed the soprano soloists, Agnes Zsigovics and Ellen McAteer. The CD also contains two short movements from a mass by Michael Praetorius as well as a cantata by Bach (O heiliges Geist- und Wasserbad, BWV165). That cantata has a solo quartet consisting of Zsigovics, Müller, Daniel Taylor (alto) and Alexander Dobson (baritone). They are very good as are some of the obbligato players, notably the violinist Cristina Zacharias and the cellist Christina Mahler. Highly recommended. Hans de Groot Concert note: The Theatre of Early Music Choir and Students of the Schola Cantorum led by Daniel Taylor, are featured in The Lamb: An A Cappella Christmas Concert at Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto, on November 29. Also, baritone Alexander Dobson is the featured soloist in New Music Concerts’ peformance of Ailes by Philippe Leroux on December 6 at Betty Oliphant Theatre. Le Concert Royal de la Nuit Ensemble Correspondances; Sébastien Daucé harmonia mundi HMC 952223.24 !! The ballet Le Concert royal de la Nuit was first performed in 1653. It can be seen as an act of homage to the young French king, the then 15-year old Louis XIV, who also danced the main part, that of the rising sun. A complete list of the performers has survived: it includes 24 princes and aristocrats, four courtiers and five children. We know that the author of the text was Isaac de Benserade. Jean de Cambefort was the most prominent composer of the music. The vocal music has been preserved but the instrumental music is based on a copy by Philidor, made half a century after the ballet’s performance. Philidor wrote out the top line and sometimes the bass line. It was left to the conductor, Sébastien Daucé, to reconstruct the implied but missing inner lines. Often now record companies try to economize on the material provided. That is not the case here where the CDs come with a richly documented book of almost 200 pages that includes illustrations of the original performers and their costumes, illustrations taken from the material preserved at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. In one of his notes, Daucé mentions that he had originally intended to create a complete reconstruction of the original ballet, but that was not feasible. Instead, we have here all the vocal music as well as 51 of the original 77 dance sequences. This music is juxtaposed with selections from two Italian operas written for Paris: Ercole amante by Francesco Cavalli and Orfeo by Luigi Rossi. These operatic sequences are written in a rather different idiom than that of the dance music but they go together surprisingly well. The record also contains some earlier airs by Antoine Boesset (who had died in 1643): these provide an interesting contrast with the slightly later dance music. The music requires large forces to do it justice: I counted 16 singers and 34 instrumentalists. Everything is beautifully done. Hans de Groot CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Haydn; Schubert; Brahms Stéphane Tétrault; Marie-Ève Scarfone Analekta AN 2 9994 !! This cello disc comprises three significant works by Viennese masters. Haydn’s delighful Divertimento in D Major was arranged for cello and piano by Gregor Piatigorsky from the original, composed for the violrelated baryton, viola and cello. Cellist Stéphane Tétreault is heartfelt in the opening Adagio’s melodies, still achieving classical poise with pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone. They convey the Menuet’s classicism and match the finale’s brightness and geniality. For me the disc’s highlight is Schubert’s Sonata in A Minor for the six-stringed, bowed arpeggione (1824), now usually played on the cello. The duo’s reading is impassioned, its expression tasteful. Dramatic arpeggios and leaps suggest agitation and crying. The Adagio’s emotional opening cello melody carries forward into a well-shaped long line. There is plenty of colour in Tétreault’s playing, with flexibility of tempo and perfect ensemble by the duo. Lucie Renaud’s fine program notes point out nostalgic and historical elements in Brahms’ Sonata in E Minor (1871) – for example the second movement’s minuet and third movement’s fugato – and connections to the disc’s previous works. After the Schubert, I was struck by this piece’s analogous leaping cello cries in the first movement’s opening theme. And Brahms-like Schubert is a master at mixing major- and minor-key inflections that evoke shifting moods. The performers are neither routine nor precious in their expressive reading of the Menuetto. And Scarfone comes to the fore in the finale, playing its contrapuntal passages with fire and conviction. Roger Knox Schumann – Piano Concerto in A minor; Piano Trio No.2 Alexander Melnikov; Isabelle Faust; Jean-Guihen Queyras; Freiburger Barockorchester; Pablo Heras-Casado harmonia mundi HMC 902198 !! This is the second installment of Schumann’s three trios and concertos. The first (HMC 902196) contained the violin concerto and the third trio Op.110 in performances that were game changing with a soft attack and sensitive textures. This orchestra as we know by now, with their aesthetic firmly based, seeks to recreate the sound of early music in its time. The open mesh to their sound illuminates this middleromantic deployment of pre-modern instruments. With valveless horns and trumpets, woodier woodwinds, sinewy gut strings and taut percussion, this must be the sound the composer knew wherein no instrument is buried. Schumann in his concertos sought to harmonize the sound of soloist and orchestra rather than throw them against each other as Brahms did later. The pianoforte employed in this concert performance, recorded in the Berlin Philharmonie, is an 1837 Érard. The enthusiastic performance is a revelation, driven by Spanish conductor Heras- Casado’s well-paced tempi, always attentive to the felicities of Schumann’s score. All aspects considered, this is decidedly a benchmark account. Exactly as I noted in my May 2015 WholeNote review of their performance of the Third Trio, “Faust and her colleagues radiate ardor and optimism, performing with sensitivity, sincere musicality and flawless ensemble that hold the listener’s attention.” Their choice of instruments is interesting: Nov 1 - Dec 7, 2015 | 69

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