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Volume 21 Issue 4 - December 2015/January 2016

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  • December
  • Toronto
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What's a vinyl renaissance? What happens when Handel's Messiah runs afoul of the rumba rhythm setting on a (gasp!) Hammond organ? What work does Marc-Andre Hamelin say he would be content to have on every recital program he plays? What are Steve Wallace's favourite fifty Christmas recordings? Why is violinist Daniel Hope celebrating Yehudi Menuhin's 100th birthday at Koerner Hall January 28? Answers to all these questions (and a whole lot more) in the Dec/Jan issue of The WholeNote.

Clara Schumann, Brahms

Clara Schumann, Brahms presented a threemovement work, but this was welcomed with scorn. Only in 1867 did a six-movement work receive a triumphant reception. The work’s profile only increased when a year later he added the aforementioned solo for soprano as part number five. It is a meditative piece, serious in its sorrow, yet lacking the transcendence of Fauré’s Requiem. The soloists become the pallbearers of this solemn mass, guiding the choral procession from the blessing of the suffering survivors to benediction of the dead. Despite being culled from the Old Testament and the Gospels, the text has been criticized for not being overtly religious. This speaks to Brahms’ humanistic, rather than religious, viewpoint. Both Ginia Kühmeier and Gerald Findley stun with their vocal performances, the latter entering a period of his life when his baritone voice moves into being defined as a bass. Robert Tomas Nielsen – Maskarade Milling; Reuter; Riis; Beck; Dahl; Andersen; Danish NSO & Choir; Michael Schonwandt dacapo SACD 6.220641-42 !! This remarkable recording of Denmark’s beloved “national opera” is a superlative tribute marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of composer Carl Nielsen (1865- 1931). Nielsen’s second opera, Maskarade, received its Copenhagen premiere in 1906, at a time when the composer was employed as a second violinist in the Royal Danish Theatre. Quite unlike the dramatic symphonies of his maturity, this is music of lightness and charm, immediately accessible and immensely enjoyable. The opera’s contrived comedy of mistaken identities serves as mere scaffolding for a libretto that revels in a peculiarly Danish sense of the absurd. Niels Jørgen Riis plays Leander, forced into a marriage with Leonora (Dénise Beck) by his buffoonish father Jeronimus (Stephen Milling). He eventually comes to realize during the celebrations at the masked ball that the disguised woman he truly desires is Leonora herself. Johann Reuter plays Leander’s servant Henrik, who also has his eye on Leonora’s servant, Pernille (Ditte Højgaard Andersen). The conductor Michael Schønwandt is a magisterial proponent of the score, a work he committed to memory at the age of ten. The studio-quality SACD recording is greatly enhanced by the superb acoustics of the new Danish Royal Koncerthuset. The orchestra, chorus and the cast drawn from the Royal Danish Opera are uniformly excellent throughout. A full libretto is provided; the English translation is identical to that of the newly edited score provided by the Carl Nielsen Project of the Music Department of the Royal Danish Library, freely available as a PDF download at bit.ly/1X2vvUO courtesy of the Danish Centre for Music Publication. Daniel Foley Widor; Vierne – Messes pour choeurs et orgues Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal; Les Chantres Musiciens; Gilbert Patenaude; Vincent Boucher; Jonathan Oldengarm ATMA ACD2 2718 !! Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) and Louis Vierne (1870-1937) were, respectively, organists at Saint-Sulpice Church and Notre Dame Cathedral. The recent Paris terrorist killings occurred not far from the churches where these works originated. During those dreadful days I felt particularly uplifted by this disc, for both the emotional resonances of the two great masses (along with six motets) and the youth and promise of the singers. There is freshness and confidence in the singìng of both boys’ and young mens’ choirs of Mont-Royal led by Patenaude, that is complemented wonderfully by Boucher’s great organ and Oldengarm’s small organ near the choir. On disc we cannot fully sense the spatial separation of the great organ from the rest in Montréal’s St. Joseph’s Oratory, yet the dynamic and timbral contrasts in the magnificently resonant acoustical space are effective indeed! Vierne’s Solemn Mass in C-Sharp Minor (the track list wrongly states F-Sharp Minor) opens with a Kyrie that felt a little stiff, but ended impressively. In the Sanctus, the affecting opening call in each of the choir’s four sections followed by the whole choir, the impassioned and even raw singing of the “Pleni sunt,” and captivating organ registration throughout were highlights. In Widor’s Mass for Two Choirs the excellent trebles of the Petits Chanteurs are heard to advantage in the Kyrie. In the Gloria there are interesting crossrhythms and other challenges, but the ensemble on the recording remains amazingly tight throughout. Roger Knox CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Mendelssohn – String Quartets Op.44 Nos.1&2 Cecilia String Quartet Analekta AN 2 9844 !! Having played these two quartets many times over the years and listening to them, one way or another, countless more times, I am still amazed at the enchanting influence Mendelssohn’s quartets hold over string players and their audiences. His penchant for combining beautiful melodies with the intricate underlying textures seems especially suited to the Cecilia Quartet, who bring out a weaving of the voices in the most enticing manner. Sonorous, youthfully energetic, refined and exuberant at the same time – all are characteristics of this recording, but what I was most impressed with was the element of subtle understatement that Cecilia Quartet mastered throughout. This ensemble did not put the emphasis on the most obvious elements of Mendelssohn’s music (though they are, of course, undeniable) but rather integrated it with the delicate texturing of phrasing and enunciation. The three quartets opus 44 were written within a year (1837-1838), at the most prosperous time of Mendelssohn’s life. The newly married composer began working on them on his honeymoon and the opening of the Quartet in D Major, Op.44 No.1 carries through the buoyancy and generosity of happiness discovered. Two middle movements are more classical in nature, while the finale brings out the spirited dance elements. Mendelssohn was the master of combining a sense of urgency with melancholy and such is the opening of the Quartet in E Minor, Op.44 No.2 in contrast to the sentimentality of the third movement. Cecilia Quartet is particularly adept at highlighting the nimbleness of the Scherzo with their impressive bow technique but they certainly don’t lack power in the final movement. Recommended to all the admirers of notes ingenious and pleasing. Ivana Popovic Concert Note: The Cecilia String Quartet is off on a European junkett in January with concerts in Switzerland, Norway and the United Kingdom, but returns to Toronto to perform the winning work of the String Quartet Composition Competition at the University of Toronto New Music Festival at Walter Hall on February 4. Liszt Inspections Marino Formenti Kairos 0013292KAI !! The magician of the keyboard, Franz Liszt started early and lived a long life playing, composing and experimenting. His son-in-law Wagner already blew apart traditional harmonies with Tristan, but Liszt introduced atonality for the first time (see Faust Symphony, first movement). Atonality of course later became the cornerstone of the Second Viennese School of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg and also the 74 | December 1 2015 - February 7, 2016 thewholenote.com

starting point of Italian pianist and conductor Mario Formenti’s remarkable journey: Liszt Inspections. Formenti selects over a dozen of Liszt’s less familiar pieces, played so sensitively that those alone would make this an attractive set to have, but that’s not his purpose at all. Instead he looks into various aspects (he calls it Vocabulary) of music common to both Liszt and a number of avant-garde composers and builds a well-argued thesis unearthing and proving these relationships. Each of the Liszt compositions illustrates one point of the Vocabulary (e.g. constructivism, sound, minimalism, death, remembering-forgetting, elimination of the metre, silence and more) and by this process he achieves two things: 1) proving Liszt’s genius and his vision into the future and 2) bringing a number of contemporary pieces into focus, highlighting them so the average listener who’d otherwise willfully reject new music is enticed to listen. I am willing to bet that the next time any of these composers’ music is played he will do so with interest. There are at least a dozen composers, like Adams, Berio, Kurtág, Ligeti, Rihm, Stockhausen etc., each with his own unique style that up to now I had considered so much noise and hogwash. In the shining light of Liszt these begin to shine as well. Nice achievement for Signor Formenti. Janos Gardonyi Brahms – Violin Sonatas; Schumann – Romances; FAE Sonata Isabelle Faust; Alexander Melnikov harmonia mundi HMC902219 !! Isabelle Faust has become famous for her performances on a gut-strung 1799 Strad that in almost every case have become models of period performance practice successfully extended into works of the mid-19th century. To today’s ears, her return to the more intimate, late romantic values could sound reticent with her unusually delicate, lean tone, very simple and deeply penetrating. Her recent Schumann piano trio recordings are shining examples of her persuasive approach, with its chaste, almost textured tone. She had already recorded Brahms First Violin Sonata (HMC901981) and this new disc once again features the like-minded approach of Alexander Melnikov playing his own 1875 Bösendorfer which can hardly be mistaken for the more recent instrument to which we have become attuned. The employment of this earlier practice versus the more viscerally robust esthetic of today’s Brahms is illuminating. Here Brahms is speaking rather than being spoken about. Melnikov has a rare affinity to perform Brahms and he and Faust are of one mind. The Schumann pieces are wonderfully poetic, leaving no doubt that they have the exact measure of this gentle, tragic composer. The unusual F.A.E. Sonata is a four-movement work written in 1853 by Albert Dietrich, Schumann and Brahms for violinist Joseph Joachim to identify the composer of each movement. He had no trouble doing so. The flawless sound places the listener about five rows back, at which point the two instruments are correctly balanced. This very successful album is most enthusiastically recommended. Bruce Surtees Saint-Saëns – Complete Violin Concertos Andrew Wan; Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal; Kent Nagano Analekta AN 2 8770 !! Even though Camille Saint-Saëns was an exceptionally prolific composer, it seems that his temperament was especially suited to the form of the solo concerto, allowing him to blend virtuosity (which he held in high regard) with the wealth of his musical ideas. He also had a special fondness for the violin, especially after meeting Pablo de Sarasate (the 19th century violin superstar) to whom he dedicated his first and third violin concertos. It comes as no surprise that Andrew Wan, another violin superstar (though from an entirely different era) and one of the youngest concertmasters of a major symphony, has performed and recorded Saint-Saëns’ complete violin concertos with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, the very orchestra he leads. This certainly has an advantage point – the soloist and the orchestra have an astonishing rapport on this recording. Captured here are live recordings from a series of concerts held at Maison symphonique de Montréal in November 2014. It is no small accomplishment to be able to perform all three concertos, as they are not only technically demanding but also ask of the soloist to be both versatile and flexible in their interpretation. Andrew Wan stands up to this task easily and fiercely – while technically superb in the live performances, he captures his audiences even more with his passion and the constant changes of sound colour. The first two concertos have been unfairly neglected on the concert stage – they are every bit as exciting and expressive as the third one – but this recording just may change that. Ivana Popovic Rachmaninov Variations Daniil Trifonov; Philadelphia Orchestra; Yannick Nézet-Séguin Deutsche Grammophon 4794970 !! How appropriate that a pianist by the name of Daniil Trifonov would record a disc of music by Sergei Rachmaninov plus a composition of his own titled Rachmaniana. To be honest, I was unfamiliar with his name, but it seems this 24-year-old already has more than a few feathers in his cap. Not only has he been the recipient of numerous prizes, including first prize in the prestigious Arthur Rubinstein competition, but he is making a worldwide name for himself. In this recording – his sixth – he has teamed up with Canadian conducting superstar Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra, resulting in a fusion of two great artists. There are innumerable recordings of the Rachmaninov Paganini Variations, but this is surely one of the finest. Trivonov’s flawless technique is matched throughout by the Philadelphia Orchestra’s full-bodied and robust sound. The variations literally fly by the listener in rapid succession, each a musical microcosm, notwithstanding the poetic and familiar No.18 which is treated with the heartfelt lyricism it so deserves. Both soloist and orchestra make ease of the enormous technical demands presented in the variations leading to the tumultuous finale, doing so with a sense of strong self-assurance. Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme by Chopin Op.22 are based on the familiar Prelude Op.28 No.20. Trifonov approaches the music with great sensitivity, deftly capturing the kaleidoscopic moods of the 22 movements. His own set of variations, Rachmaniana, was written out of homesickness for his native Russia while temporarily residing in the U.S. While there is much originality within the score, the style also draws from Rachmaninov’s own musical idiom – the work opens in a quietly introspective manner, but the finale is a burst of technical exuberance. The familiar Variations on a Theme of Corelli predate the Paganini Variations by only three years. Despite the myriad of moods conveyed within, Trifonov creates a unified whole, demonstrating intelligence and an innate musicality for this most demanding repertoire. While a Russian artist performing Russian music doesn’t always guarantee a stellar performance, in this case it did – this recording is bound to be a benchmark. Richard Haskell Satie; Poulenc – Le comble de la distinction David Jalbert ATMA ACD2 2683 !! Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), composer and pianist, was a man of many contradictions, perpetually thewholenote.com December 1 2015 - February 7, 2016 | 75

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2020)

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