7 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 8 - May 2016

  • Text
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Festival
  • Arts
  • Symphony
  • Quartet
  • Choir
  • Theatre
  • Musical
  • Bach
INSIDE: The Canaries Are Here! 116 choirs to choose from, so take the plunge! The Nylons hit the road after one last SING! Fling. Jazz writer Steve Wallace wonders "Watts Goode" rather than "what's new?" Paul Ennis has the musical picks of the HotDocs crop. David Jaeger's CBC Radio continues golden for a little while yet. Douglas McNabney is Music's Child. Leipzig meets Damascus in Alison Mackay's fertile imagination. And "C" is for KRONOS in Wende Bartley's koverage of the third annual 21C Festival. All this and as usual much much more. Enjoy.

over-romanticized opera

over-romanticized opera has little to do with historical truth. At the summer festival of Valle d’Itria, a mountainous region of Puglia, southern Italy, the opera comes to us live from the open air, a rather windy courtyard of the Ducal Palace, undoubtedly a thrilling experience for the lucky festival crowd. Nevertheless this is a low-budget, minimalist production with a small chorus, small orchestra, young, talented singers and an excellent conductor. While it is musically certainly satisfactory, the overall grandeur of this opera demands a more substantial scale. Its main strength is English-born star soprano Jessica Pratt in the spectacular title role having all the vocal requisites, especially in her ringing high registers. She has become famous in Rossini repertoire and this is probably her first Verdi role, so she is severely tested in the physical and emotional intensity a Verdi heroine demands. An exciting, radiant young tenor, Jean-François Borras is energetic and passionate, ideal for Charles VII. The third principal, the Korean Julian Kim, tries very hard to be a Verdi baritone, a fine voice, but unfortunately he is far too young for the role of the old father Giacomo, a real challenge for even a seasoned mature baritone. The young Italian conductor, Riccardo Frizza, has Verdi in his veins. It must have been difficult to convey the event in a video, being in almost total darkness, in a video and the sound is less than ideal. Still…an interesting new issue, but no rival to the 2008 Tutto Verdi set with Svetla Vassileva (who simply is Giovanna) plus the immortal Renato Bruson as Giacomo, which I would consider as a benchmark. Janos Gardonyi Honegger & Ibert – L’Aiglon Gillet; Barrard; Dupuis; Sly; Guilmette; Lemiuex; Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal; Kent Nagano Decca 478 9502 !! Years ago, when Toronto’s CJRT-FM still broadcast classical music, I had the distinct pleasure of producing a show, Opera Obscura, dedicated to forgotten or neglected parts of the repertoire. Even then, L’Aiglon escaped my attention. I wish I had known there existed a 1957, incomplete recording of this opera by Arthur Honegger and Jacques Ibert. Worry no more, L’Aiglon is back on disc and it is here to stay! The oddity of two composers working together on one opera is quickly overcome by the wonder of Ibert’s waltzes (recalling some of the best of Richard Strauss’ scores) and by the rhythmicity and uncanny sense of the dramatic, Honegger’s own calling card. The story of L’Aiglon (The Eaglet), the erstwhile Napoleon II, quickly rebranded the Duke of Reichstadt and spirited away to Vienna after his father’s final defeat, is potent opera fodder. When presented in 1936, the work was permeated with French patriotism and Gallic pride. This was a no-go just four years later, under the Vichy regime and the Nazi occupation of France. What started as wartime suppression has become a sort of long exile. The story of a consumptive boy, dreaming of restoring his father’s empire and then crushed by the gears of the geopolitical machine may seem naïve in our cynical times, but nevertheless resonates at some level even in the hardest of hearts. This is the effect of the music, modern yet nostalgic, grandiose yet somehow restrained. The exciting performances that Kent Nagano gently coaxes out of Anne-Catherine Gillet, Marc Barrard, Etienne Dupuis and Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal make certain that this eagle has landed to uniform applause. Robert Tomas R. Murray Schafer – Loving Fallis; Gudgeon; MacPhail; Terrell; MacLeod; Savard; New Music Concerts; Robert Aitken Centrediscs CMCCD 22516 !! R. Murray Schafer’s 70-minute bilingual “synaesthetic” chamber work Loving (Toi) was written between 1963 and 1965 (the same year he wrote the pivotal book, The Composer in the Classroom) and was first performed on the Radio Canada television program L’Heure du Concert in 1966. A few months later it was rebroadcast on the CBC English network. Over 13 years, L’Heure du Concert (produced by Pierre Mercure) brought a spectacular 133 operas and 133 ballets to CBC national television audiences. Mercure’s production of Loving (Toi) was his last, leaving several elements unfinished at the time of his sudden death at age 39. Fortunately, the Canadian Music Centre’s Centrediscs label recently reissued the excellent 1978 New Music Concerts recording of the first complete production that was originally released on the Melbourne Records label. It was conducted by Robert Aitken and features strong performances by the entire group, including singers Mary Lou Fallis, Susan Gudgeon, Jean MacPhail, Katherine Terrell and Trulie MacLeod, actor Gilles Savard, members of the Purcell String Quartet and Nexus, among others. Loving (Toi) is Schafer’s first work for the stage (the 1978 NMC performance which toured four cities was semi-staged), predating the Patria series, his string quartets, and other works he is most known for. Clues that point to Schafer’s subsequent eclectic blending of multicultural mythological characters are abundant here, with Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of fertility, love, war and sex, cohabiting the work with the Greek god of love, Eros, in what Schafer calls a “confrontation between the male and female psyches.” Interspersed are the qualities and attitudes of Modesty, Vanity, The Poet, The Man and The Woman, each given supporting colouration within the ensemble (Modesty as strings plus accordion, Vanity as plucked instruments, Ishtar with percussion and Eros using bells). Schafer’s writing is broadly expressive, a free-flowing synthesis of the avant-garde mannerisms of the epoch, warmly recorded spoken text, simple yet effective electroacoustic episodes, florid harp writing and long vocal lines that sometimes foreshadow the neo-Romanticism that dominates his later work. While Schafer describes Loving (Toi) as ambiguous and exploring the depths of the unconscious, his consideration of human sexuality now seems dated in its binary focus on masculine and feminine. Fifty years later, however, the piece retains the sense of sonic inventiveness and integrated plurality that is synonymous with his best work. Paul Steenhuisen R. Murray Schafer – Apocalypsis Various Artists Analekta AN 2 8784-5 Canada’s R. Murray Schafer, widely recognized for composing large-scale music theatre works often set in unorthodox venues, completed his oratorio-community pageant Apocalypsis in 1980. Its elaborate, visually striking full score was hand-drawn in ink, a masterpiece of the genre. Apocalypsis’ premiere at Centennial Hall, London, Ontario, was at the time dubbed “one of the most spectacular events in the history of Canadian music” by Toronto Star music critic William Littler. “Sounds about right,” commented London Free Press columnist and reporter James Reaney who was there, in his 2010 London Free Press article. Then last June I attended the spectacular restaging of Apocalypsis, the centrepiece of Toronto’s 2015 Luminato Festival. Reportedly costing over a million dollars, the two concerts enacted a ritual “theatre as a civic action” for nearly 1,000 performers. They were crisply captured by CBC audio engineer Doug Doctor for radio broadcast and are presented on these two Analekta CDs. David Fallis, the music director of the production, points out in his liner notes that apocalypsis is “the Greek word for ‘disclosure.’” This deeply mystical work certainly reveals a few of the many concerns Schafer has nurtured over a long career. His chosen texts, drawn from the Old Testament books of Isaiah and Joel and the New Testament 68 | May 1, 2016 - June 7, 2016

ook of Revelation, serve to anchor the turbulent, dramatic narrative of Part One: John’s Vision. It echoes with the power of dark forces and the cataclysmic end of times, brilliantly articulated by the 12 choirs, the real heart and musical stars of the performance. The large percussion and wind forces add needed texture, timbral diversity and dramatic emphasis. The various actors and singers for the most part play supporting roles to the choirs, with the shining exception of Tanya Tagaq. Her searing vocal-stretching performance as the Old Woman serves as a reminder of the 1980 score specification that “sound (concrete) poets rather than actors” be cast in the three speaking roles, embedding sound poetry deeply in the work. It’s a stipulation elsewhere not followed in this production. By way of contrast, Part Two: Credo, conventionally a statement of religious belief, is text-spare, adapted from the writings of the cleric, philosopher, mathematician, poet and astronomer Giordano Bruno (1548-1600). Credo is a kind of glorious exaltation of the unity of all creation, each of the 12 sections beginning with the “Lord God is universe” sung by the 12 choirs supported by 12 string quartets. The composer writes in his notes that Credo is also his affirmation of the potential transformative power of art. It’s an affirmation many of us can also believe in. Andrew Timar John Corigliano – The Ghosts of Versailles LA Opera; James Conlon Pentatone PTC 5186 538 !! The Ghosts of Versailles in retrospect makes for an impossible opera: a play within a play, with numerous principals. No wonder it graces the stage so rarely – it’s prohibitively expensive to produce, a fate shared with another grand opera, Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots. Initially commissioned for the Metropolitan Opera’s 100th season, it arrived…eight years late. This long gestation period is partially explained by its ambition: to combine a tribute to Mozart and Rossini with the pivotal episode of the French Revolution, the so-called Affair of the Necklace, which turned the French populace against Marie Antoinette. The way to do all this is by the means of the Culpable Mother, Beaumarchais’ sequel to the Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. Corigliano references Mozart and Rossini cleverly during the staging of an opera for The Ghosts of Versailles, Marie Antoinette, her king and court. Though ostensibly an opera buffa, the score turns darker in Act II, reflecting the horrors of the Revolution. It is hard to believe that 25 years since its premiere, this is the first full recording of the opera. The credit goes to James Conlon, the artistic director of the Los Angeles Opera, who has also committed to record rarely heard operatic pieces by Schreker and Zemlinsky. Full marks go to the extensive team of this live recording, who manage, according to the composer himself, to recapture the greatness of the Met premiere. An additional bonus is the SACD recording, delivering on compatible players, incomparable resolution and dynamic range. Robert Tomas CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Bruckner – Symphony No.9 Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Mariss Jansons RCO 16001 !! On his knees, the ailing Anton Bruckner beseeched God, “Let me be well, I need my health to finish the Ninth.” The devout composer even dedicated the symphony to “lieben Gott.” Apparently, God disdained the dedication: Bruckner died before completing the work. Although Bruckner scored some of the fourth movement and various completions have been performed, the Ninth is almost always presented, as on this CD, unfinished, ending with the sublime Adagio. This movement, along with the Adagios of Bruckner’s Seventh and Eighth, and those of Beethoven’s and Mahler’s Ninths, ranks among the most profound and exalted slow movements in all music. Yet many music-lovers scorn Bruckner for his disjointed lumbering, often conducted at lugubrious tempi. Devoted Brucknerites wallow in this expansive timelessness; this CD is not for them. Instead, it makes an ideal, painless way to introduce Bruckner-scorners to this transcendent music. Recordings of the Symphony No.9 often last an hour or more; this performance, while under 55 minutes, is no superficial runthrough. In the opening Misterioso, Jansons favours cohesive lyrical flow over mystery and granitic grandeur. Nonetheless, the movement ends in a sonically stunning climax, highlighted by the RCO’s magnificent brass. The Scherzo, with its powerfully punctuated, rugged main theme, emerges unusually cheerful and buoyant, with tightly accented rhythms. In the closing Adagio, Jansons and his great orchestra produce glorious, heavenstorming, organ-like sonorities, bringing this Ninth to a memorable conclusion. Recommended to all Bruckner scorners. Michael Schulman Dvořák – Symphonies Nos.7 & 8 Houston Symphony; Andres Orozco- Estrada Pentatone PTC 5186 578 !! Every so often a disc comes along that is truly cross-cultural and this is certainly one of them. The renowned Colombianborn conductor Andrés Orozco- Estrada leading the Houston Symphony in Dvořák’s seventh and eighth symphonies on the Dutch Pentatone label is proof indeed that music in the 21st century is truly a global affair. Dvořák was at the height of his fame early in 1884 when he received a commission by London’s Royal Philharmonic Society. The resulting Symphony No.7 is a dark and dramatic work, heavily influenced by the political situation in Bohemia and the composer’s ongoing troubles with his publisher Simrock. Nevertheless, its premiere in April 1885 was a huge success and the work has remained a landmark ever since. Orozco-Estrada and the Houston Symphony masterfully evoke a sense of tragedy and tension throughout, creating a dark but warmly romantic sound particularly in the second movement Poco Adagio. The third movement Scherzo is all lightness and grace while the grand and triumphant fourth receives a fittingly solid and heroic performance. The much sunnier Symphony No.8 was completed in 1889 and received its premiere in Prague early the following year. In contrast to its predecessor, the music is cheerful and optimistic and the precision, expression and energy created by the Houston Symphony make this an exciting performance. The wistful third movement waltz contains just the right amount of sentimentality while the buoyant finale – introduced by the famous trumpet fanfare – is a true tour de force with Orozco-Estrada and the orchestra going for the gusto all the way to the brilliant conclusion. This is an exemplary recording, one that can rightfully take its place alongside the more established performances. Judging from this CD, fine music-making does indeed transcend international boundaries. Highly recommended. Richard Haskell Stephan Krehl – Clarinet Quintet; String Quartet Wonkak Kim; Larchmere String Quartet Naxos 9.70173 !! Another unfairly forgotten composer re-emerges thanks to an enterprising ensemble and record May 1, 2016 - June 7, 2016 | 69

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2020)

Volumes 16-20 (2010-2015)

Volumes 11-15 (2004-2010)

Volumes 6 - 10 (2000 - 2006)

Volumes 1-5 (1994-2000)