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Volume 21 Issue 3 - November 2015

  • Text
  • November
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Arts
  • Symphony
  • Orchestra
  • Musical
  • Theatre
  • Choir
  • Performing
  • Volume
"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!

Melnikov’s pianoforte

Melnikov’s pianoforte is again the Streicher (1847 Vienna), Faust’s violin the 1704 Strad and Queras’ cello the 1696 Gioffredo Cappa. Bruce Surtees Mahler – Symphony No.5 Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra; Myung- Whun Chung Deutsche Grammophon 481 154-0 Mahler – Symphony No.10 Orchestre Metropolitain; Yannick Nézet-Séguin ATMA ACD2 2711 !! Two very different recordings pose the question: how “live” is a live performance? The Korean conductor Myung-Whun Chung has brought the Seoul Philharmonic to the world’s attention thanks to his recording contract with the venerable yellow label and the orchestra certainly sounds fabulous in this latest DG recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Though it is difficult to say precisely whether the credit lies entirely with the conductor or the German Tonmeister team, the results are sonically exceptional. It is, after all, quite unusual to detect the grainy sound of contrabassoon doublings so distinctly in the concert hall or to apprehend orchestral balances this clearly in real life live performances. In any case, Chung proves himself a master of this familiar work, conducted from memory and sensitively interpreted with a convincing Viennese lilt in the lengthy third movement Scherzo and a moving yet not maudlin performance of the celebrated Adagietto. The challenge of the Rondo finale is adroitly solved by taking a middle-ground tempo that binds together the ever-shifting tempi of the disparate sections. From the outset of his Tenth Symphony it is clear that Mahler was tentatively entering into a new sonic realm of expanded chromaticism and rhythmic freedom, tragically cut short by his untimely death at the age of 50. He left behind skeletal sketches of the entire work which has been reconstructed several times, the most familiar of these being the third Deryck Cooke version presented here. For the most part the Orchestre Métropolitain delivers an impressive performance save for some occasionally ragged playing by the brass section. Though the normal OM string section has been doubled in strength for this performance, they still fall 17 players short of the Seoul forces and the difference is telling. Nonetheless Nézet-Séguin uses this to his advantage, bringing forth a beautifully veiled pianissimo behind the exquisite flute solo in the moving finale of the work. ATMA’s production is far less interventionist, spliced (not altogether seamlessly) together from multiple performances in long takes with a modest array of microphones. Despite the disparate production values of these two releases it is the ATMA recording I find myself returning to most often; Nézet-Séguin clearly has something special to say about this least familiar Mahler symphony and I am willing to forgive its relatively minor shortcomings. Daniel Foley Rachmaninov; Haydn; Ravel Alain Lefèvre Analekta AN 2 9296 !! Ever since winning first prize in piano and chamber music at the Paris Conservatoire followed by first prize at the Alfred Cortot International Piano Competition, Alain Lefèvre has earned a reputation as an artist of the first rank. His performances have won him rave reviews in the press and he has appeared on concert stages as far reaching as New York, Berlin, London and Shanghai. Although born in Poitiers, France, Canada has long claimed him as a native citizen, owing to his long period in this country beginning with his first lessons at the Collège Marguerite-Bourgeoys in Montreal. His newest disc on the Analekta label features an eclectic program of music by Rachmaninov, Haydn and Ravel. From the opening descending arpeggio of the Rachmaninov Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, the listener is made keenly aware that Lefèvre is in full command of this most challenging repertoire. Like Chopin’s sonata of the same key, this work is a study in contrasting movements. Lefèvre approaches the technical demands of the first and third with apparent ease, capturing the dark and dramatic spirit with much bravado, while the quietly introspective second movement is treated with much sensitivity. In total contrast is the Haydn Sonata No.38 in F Major, dating from 1773. Lefèvre’s interpretation is elegant and precise, demonstrating a particular clarity of phrasing as befits this music, clearly rooted in the classical tradition. Ravel’s La Valse from 1918 has always been regarded as a tour de force. In this version for piano, Lefèvre adroitly captures the waltz’s kaleidoscopic moods, from the opening references to a gracious Second Empire ballroom to its final frenzy – a true musical depiction of a “harsh new world” brought on by the immense political and social changes of the early 20th century. Bravo, M. Lefèvre – once again you have proven yourself most worthy of the accolades bestowed by critics and audiences alike. Richard Haskell Prokofiev – Cinderella Mariinsky Ballet & Orchestra; Valery Gergiev Mariinsky MAR0555 !! Of late, with its ongoing confrontation in Ukraine, European trade sanctions and a worrisome intervention in the Syrian war, Russia is again starting to look like a frozen-in-time empire of the Cold War. There is no such freeze in the artistic life of the country however. Case in point: new, exciting choreography for Cinderella. This staple of traditional ballet, rendered beautifully by many artists, from Margot Fonteyn to Maya Plisetskaya, was a stylish piece, to be sure, but it has been in dire need of a makeover. The new Cinderella is simply brilliant. Contemporary and energetic, with smart costumes by Elena Markovskaya, it plays, as it should, as a modern parable of the triumph of good over evil. The sheer nervous energy of the performance highlights the beauty of the score. In typical Prokofiev fashion, the music reveals itself to be even more ahead of its time than we suspected. The physically demanding new choreography illustrates perfectly the tension of the score and highlights Prokofiev’s uncanny ability to express movement through music. Filmed in the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, the work truly belongs in Mariinsky II, designed by the Canadian starchitect Jack Diamond. Fresh, exciting and triumphant, this recording leaves us hoping that Putin’s Russia is nothing but a phase in the history of a great artistic nation. Robert Tomas Shattered Expectations Acclarion Acclarion Records ACC3000 (acclarion.ca) !! Acclarion’s latest release showcases the phenomenal musicianship of clarinetist Rebecca Carovillano and accordionist David Carovillano. Partners both in life and in this 12-year duo project, they perform here with passion, elegance, wit and stylistic acuity. Five tracks are composed by David Carovillano. It is always a joy and an earopening experience to hear a composer play his own works. Rooted in romantic and postromantic soundscapes with touches of jazz flavours, the serene virtuosic opening and challenging fluid lines of Twilight of Shadows and driving momentum of the aptly titled 70 | Nov 1 - Dec 7, 2015 thewholenote.com

Frenzy, especially showcase Acclarion’s tight ensemble awareness of balance, breath and colour, and the composer’s thorough knowledge of both instruments. Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet for Two is a gorgeous performance by two exceptional classical players as the accordion proves itself to be a perfect instrument to join the clarinet in this transcription. Likewise the three short Vaughan-Williams English Folk Song tracks are welcome, soothing delights both in arrangement and the colourful lush sonic qualities. Rebecca Carovillano is a star clarinet performer with solid breath control, superb varied tone and an unmatched musical ear sensitive to nuance. David Carovillano plays the accordion with the same qualities, and solid bellows control and technical mastery. Together they create detailed and interesting musical conversations. More varied dynamics and a bit more spontaneity would drive the duo toward a welcome future musical journey that will hopefully continue for many years to come! Tiina Kiik MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Leo Ornstein – Piano Quintet; String Quartet No.2 Marc-André Hamelin; Pacifica Quartet Hyperion CMA68084 !! Why has there been a revival of music by composer/ pianist Leo Ornstein (1893- 2002)? From early groundbreaking piano pieces onward, his was an extraordinary (and extraordinarily long!) musical life. In 1906 his family emigrated from Russia to the United States where he trained as a piano virtuoso, but after an amazing start he gave up concertizing. His father was a cantor and Ornstein’s Russian- Jewish musical heritage came to the fore. In a modernist context it permeates the Piano Quintet (1927), which I think ranks in quality with the Shostakovitch and Bloch quintets for piano and string quartet. The tempestuous opening movement typifies Ornstein’s rhapsodic process of linking varied phrases and sections that suggest frenzied dances, song-like laments, marches and much more. I particularly liked the slow movement, especially a passage with high violin, mysterious piano repeated notes and chords, and uneasy supporting strings. The Quintet reflects Ornstein’s piano virtuosity; Marc- André Hamelin, who has recorded a notable Ornstein solo disc on Hyperion, is ideal, while the outstanding Pacifica Quartet partners him with confidence, colour and clarity. Ornstein’s String Quartet No.2 (c.1929) is a more orderly affair. Strings are treated more independently than in the Quintet,and the lower instruments are given solos. The Pacifica Quartet emphasizes the work’s lyrical beauty with well-shaped melodic gestures and sensitive playing of accompanying parts, which through Ornstein’s variety of chord spacings, registers and rhythmic patterns become just as interesting as his melodies. Roger Knox Spin – like a ragged flock James Harley; Ellen Waterman Independent ADAPPS 15001(jamesharleymusic.com) !! Spin is a highly original disc created by composer James Harley and performer Ellen Waterman, combining electroacoustic composition, improvisation and spatialized sound. Harley provides the electroacoustics, processing, sound diffusion and theremin playing, while Waterman performs on an array of flutes and provides vocal elements. To demonstrate their improvisational creative process, they have included two versions of two different pieces. The first two tracks, Birding I and II, intermingle a wide range of bird and flute calls, creating hints of an intimate human-nature dialogue before cascading into more complex dissonant textures. The second two tracks, Fluting I and II, create a sonic environment that puts the listener within a field of multiple flute voices, particularly evident when listening in the 5.1 surround sound format, a major feature of this recording. Sound diffusion is the art of moving the sound sources amongst multiple speakers. In listening to all six pieces, I observed a different-than-usual approach to diffusion. Rather than sounds dispersed individually in different spatial locations, I experienced a melded aesthetic, much like being in a reverberant space with the combined sound coming from all directions. Creating contrast between different locations in the space was, however, utilized in unique ways – to split up the layers of a dissonant chord, or to highlight glissandi moving between front and back. Spin creates a unique aural experience, providing several touchstones highlighting our relationship with nature. Although primarily a surround-sound DVD without a CD layer, the disc includes stereo files that can be downloaded to a computer or iPod. Wendalyn Bartley Ivan Ilić plays Morton Feldman Ivan Ilić Paraty 135305 (ivancdg.com) !! American avant-garde composer Morton Feldman, the pioneer of “indeterminate music,” began (like Varèse) with the orchestra making weird sound effects as tonal paintings and later simplified it to white noise like his famous Rothko Chapel where people could sit for hours in isolation, meditate and chill out. For further simplification he turned to the piano with long works lasting over an hour, like this one that sounds like soft notes moving slowly and undisturbed around the middle of the keyboard, always quiet, no crescendo and never reaching forte. Sometimes shrill and percussive very high notes interrupt in a different rhythm like a bird chirping, then a sudden blob of a broken chord in the lower register like a drop of water into a still pond …. Listen to it lying down and soon you’ll drift and float, no longer awake but not asleep either, and when it’s suddenly over you feel as if you have been asleep and perhaps missed something. Wagner wrote such subliminal music like the ancient, atavistic shepherd pipe tune meandering in and out of the consciousness of the mortally wounded Tristan that miraculously breaks through his coma and returns him to life. Feldman’s music operates on this level, but it is also a set of 22 very loose variations with changes so imperceptible, like things that happen in real life. When you expect it, it usually won’t happen but if you don’t, it might. You’ll notice the difference between each variation when you quickly sample the tracks. The whole thing is actually composed and written down, but then it has to be played to sound totally improvised or haphazard, completely unstructured. With his soft and wonderful touch pianiste extraordinaire Ivan Ilić’s mind is so dedicated and attuned to Feldman’s that he can do this like no one else can. It’s spellbinding. (You can get a taste of it along with commentary by Ilić at youtube.com/watch?v=V1B9uX4v1H0.) Janos Gardonyi JAZZ AND IMPROVISED MUSIC On the Street of Dreams Morgan Childs Independent (morganchildsmusic.com) !! Morgan Childs is, as a composer, a drummer, an accompanist and a soloist, deeply rooted in tradition, well-informed, incredibly proficient and bubbling with unmistakable personality. All of this and more is on display in his newest release, On the Street of Dreams, a live album which, over the course of around 70 minutes, presents a compelling argument for going to see Childs play live. Street of Dreams is a compilation of thewholenote.com Nov 1 - Dec 7, 2015 | 71

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2019)

Volume 25 Issue 2 - October 2019
Volume 25 Issue 1 - September 2019
Volume 24 Issue 8 - May 2019
Volume 24 Issue 7 - April 2019
Volume 24 Issue 6 - March 2019
Volume 24 Issue 5 - February 2019
Volume 24 Issue 4 - December 2018 / January 2019
Volume 24 Issue 3 - November 2018
Volume 24 Issue 2 - October 2018
Volume 24 Issue 1 - September 2018
Volume 23 Issue 9 - June / July / August 2018
Volume 23 Issue 8 - May 2018
Volume 23 Issue 7 - April 2018
Volume 23 Issue 6 - March 2018
Volume 23 Issue 4 - December 2017 / January 2018
Volume 23 Issue 3 - November 2017
Volume 23 Issue 2 - October 2017
Volume 23 Issue 1 - September 2017
Volume 22 Issue 9 - Summer 2017
Volume 22 Issue 8 - May 2017
Volume 22 Issue 7 - April 2017
Volume 22 Issue 6 - March 2017
Volume 22 Issue 5 - February 2017
Volume 22 Issue 4 - December 2016/January 2017
Volume 22 Issue 2 - October 2016
Volume 22 Issue 1 - September 2016
Volume 21 Issue 9 - Summer 2016
Volume 21 Issue 8 - May 2016
Volume 21 Issue 6 - March 2016
Volume 21 Issue 5 - February 2016
Volume 21 Issue 4 - December 2015/January 2016
Volume 21 Issue 3 - November 2015
Volume 21 Issue 2 - October 2015
Volume 21 Issue 1 - September 2015

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