6 years ago

Volume 22 Issue 5 - February 2017

  • Text
  • February
  • Toronto
  • Symphony
  • Arts
  • Jazz
  • Musical
  • Quartet
  • Orchestra
  • Performing
  • Theatre
In this issue: an interview with composer/vocalist Jeremy Dutcher, on his upcoming debut album and unique compositional voice; a conversation with Boston Symphony hornist James Sommerville, as as the BSO gets ready to come to his hometown; Stuart Hamilton, fondly remembered; and an inside look at Hugh’s Room, as it enters a complicated chapter in the story of its life in the complex fabric of our musical city. These and other stories, as we celebrate the past and look forward to the rest of 2016/17, the first glimpses of 2017/18, and beyond!

The Four Seasons are

The Four Seasons are also featured on A Violin for All Seasons – Music by Antonio Vivaldi & Roxanna Panufnik, another Super Audio CD with Tasmin Little as both soloist and conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra (Chandos CHSA 5175). Although on first hearing this seems to be a performance more in the mainstream manner, Little was clearly fully aware of the great variety of performances available and of the need to offer something individual to the listener; she has apparently waited many years before deciding to commit a performance to disc. She admits to having been influenced by Baroque violinists although not being one herself, but as a modern player she feels that a larger orchestral accompaniment can add greater drama and nuance than a smaller group. Playing this CD right after the Ars Antiqua CD cast more than a little doubt on that belief, but there is much here that lifts this performance out of the ordinary. For starters, Little is superb, with some simply dazzling playing and some fresh ideas, in particular her increased dialogue with continuo harpsichordist David Wright, whom she encouraged to be “as bold and different as he wished.” Both players improvise links between movements on occasion, and there is certainly an air of freshness about the entire proceedings. The Vivaldi work continues to inspire new compositions as well as new approaches and interpretations, and such is the case with Four World Seasons, the Panufnik work that receives its premiere recording here. The work resulted from Little’s 2008 request for a new set of “Seasons” to be performed alongside the Vivaldi and was completed in 2011; since then Little has programmed both works in numerous concerts. The composition of each of the movements here is influenced by a country with which the particular season has become culturally associated. Autumn in Albania is in memory of Panufnik’s father, the composer Andrzej Panufnik; Tibetan Winter (complete with Tibetan singing bowl), Spring in Japan and Indian Summer are dedicated to Tasmin Little. It’s a simply outstanding work, much deeper, more emotional, wide-ranging and passionate than the Vivaldi, with which it shares almost the same orchestration. It draws more terrific playing from Little and the BBC Symphony. Schumann’s Enigma: An Exploration of Robert Schumann’s Sonatas for Violin and Piano is the excellent debut CD from violinist Svetlana Tsivinskaya and pianist Natalia Tokar (Blue Griffin BGR 391). The Sonata in A Minor Op.105 and the Grand Sonata in D Minor Op.121 are both given accomplished readings, with some lovely playing from both partners – fairly restrained at times and not too dramatic, but always warm and with no lack of depth or commitment. What gives these performances added interest, though, is the research and thought that has gone into them. Tsivinskaya provides an excellent essay on Schumann’s contrasting and imaginary alter egos Eusebius and Florestan, and the way he used them to explore his own contrasting ideas and his mental processes – and indeed the way he used cryptography and coded signatures of his wife Clara and his own various names to determine thematic material and choice of key in his works. There seems to be a growing awareness of the significance of this approach among performers, with the cellist Carmen Miranda’s extremely detailed article along the same lines on Schumann’s Cello Concerto featured in a CD review in this column just last September. Tsivinskaya’s penetrating essay here is a riveting and convincing analysis, and adds a great deal to our understanding of the two works. Keyed In ALEX BARAN A century ago we removed the boundaries that defined the general order of things in our world. Notions of social class, religious belief and art all flowed into a sea of mixing currents as we challenged ourselves to be comfortable with things much less clear than once had been. Composers, like painters, developed a powerful, post-Romantic language that guided the human experience of art beyond intellect and emotion and into something of an altered state. Less concerned with linear argument than impression, composers like Debussy mastered the vocabulary of other worlds and left us a creative legacy that has scarcely aged a day. So it seems natural that a contemporary musician like Kathleen Supové should commission a project from a group of seven 21st-century composers asking how the music of Claude Debussy has shaped their art, The Debussy Effect (New Focus Recordings FCR170). Listening to these works in this context, they are all clearly tributes to the French impressionist, although some more tenuously than others. Still, there’s plenty of originality in this repertoire and Supové plays wonderfully, whether with or without electronic effects. Jacob Cooper’s La plus que plus que lent slows down Debussy’s waltz significantly as it plays with fragments of the original. Cakewalking (Sorry Claude) by Daniel Felsenfeld is especially creative in its unmistakable rhythms and occasional quotes from Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk. The most effective work may well be Randall Woolf’s What Remains of a Rembrandt. Here the composer argues that the essence of Debussy is the element of mystery. Supové’s playing demonstrates a complete understanding of how Woolf sets out to render this element and achieves exactly what both he and Debussy would have intended. The Debussy Effect is a bold and creative project that is as admirably clever as it is superbly performed. American composer Bruce Adolphe is often inspired by very contemporary social and political issues, and so it is that his latest recording, Bruce Adolphe – Chopin Dreams (Naxos 8.559805) is a little unusual. The recording’s title work is an impression of how Chopin might compose today were he a jazz musician playing in a New York club. Adolphe does an artful job of borrowing Chopin’s distinctive keyboard language. He replicates the melancholy harmonies, the cascading right-hand arpeggios, the ornaments and L/R The Complete Chopin Edition / 20 CDs + DVD + Hardcover Book Available at L’Atelier Grigorian, 70 Yorkville Ave., Toronto and The Mozart 225: The New Complete Edition Available at L’Atelier Grigorian, 70 Yorkville Ave., Toronto & Full details 68 | February 1, 2017 - March 7, 2017

filigree that we uniquely associate with the composer. He also writes in the forms that make up much of Chopin’s repertoire, the prelude, nocturne, mazurka and other dances. While the premise of Chopin as a New York Jazz club pianist offers a comic element to be sure, it’s quickly dispelled by the highly informed and engaging nature of Chopin Dreams. Jazzurka, New York Nocturne, Quaalude and the other items in the set unmistakably use Chopin’s vocabulary. Even so, the frequent presence of the blue note seems entirely appropriate for Chopin, given his affection for the richness of minor keys. Considerably more serious is Adolphe’s recent work Seven Thoughts Considered as Music (2016). Using short quotes from seven thinkers including Emerson, Chief Seattle and Kafka, Adolphe explores the transfer of deeper meaning to the voice of the piano. There’s great substance to these pieces and they merit more than one hearing. Italian pianist Carlo Grante plays the newly redesigned Bösendorfer 280VC concert grand on this CD and has a great deal of fun with the nine Piano Puzzlers, short pieces that Adolphe regularly composes and performs on the American Public Radio program Performance Today. Familiar tunes like Deck The Hall, The Streets of Laredo and many others are set in the unmistakable style of Chopin’s best-known pieces, leaving listeners grinning at the composer’s imitative wizardry. Horacio Gutiérrez is a respected pedagogue and performer. His newest recording, Chopin 24 Preludes, Op.28; Schumann Fantasie Op.17 (Bridge 9479), is an impressive example of his playing. Never short of powerful expression and blazing speed at the keyboard, he is also capable of the tenderest phrasings required in Chopin’s 24 Preludes Op. 28. Each of these short pieces (some merely a half minute) is a complete idea that Gutiérrez treats as though it were entirely independent. Still, the progression of keys is logical and patterned, and so he holds the collection together for performance as a larger utterance. Many argue this was, in fact, Chopin’s intent. Unlike Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues, these are not studies or practice pieces. Nor are they preludes to anything as one writer once famously queried. Instead they are best received as a kind of pianistic haiku. Short, self-contained and entirely complete. Gutiérrez plays with a great deal of disciplined freedom that remains in control of the emotional content through a very precise keyboard technique. This is especially important for the Schumann Fantasie Op.17 where the great contrasts in mood are vital to the work’s impact. The middle sections of the second and third movements demonstrate this wonderfully as does the final, tranquil ending. Every note and phrase is perfectly placed. There is no excess. All is in perfect balance. Gutiérrez’s students at the Manhattan School, where he currently teaches, are fortunate to have such a mentor. Second-place winner of the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015, Charles Richard-Hamelin’s live performances on Chopin Sonata B Minor Op.58; Nocturnes (The Fryderyk Chopin Institute, Polish Radio NIFCCD 617-618) demonstrate why he impressed the panel of judges so profoundly. Perhaps more than anything, Richard-Hamelin plays as if no one else were present, firmly connected to the core of the music and completely given over to it. His technique is impeccable and his interpretive decisions mature and credible. Moreover, he manages to inject subtleties into his performances that would catch the judges’ attention. Micro hesitations, refinements of standard dynamics, tempo relaxations, all give his playing of well-worn works originality and freshness. Despite the fact that the pieces were recorded at various sessions, the three auditions and the final concert, it would have been evident early on that Richard-Hamelin was a serious contender for one of the top spots in this race. Disc one of this 2-CD set closes with the Rondo in E Flat Major Op.16. It’s a piece that uses almost every one of Chopin’s devices and Richard-Hamelin sails through them effortlessly, never showing fatigue or anything less than total focus on the artistic demands of the work. Disc two features a few more smaller pieces but offers the B Minor Sonata Op.58 as its major work. Richard-Hamelin’s capable grasp of its wide-ranging demands earned him his winning spot plus the Krystian Zimerman prize for the best performance of a sonata. The 2015 17th International Chopin Piano Competition was the first time Canada had appeared in the rankings in the competition’s history. Lars Vogt’s new recording, Schubert – Impromptus, D899, Moments Musicaux D780, Six German Dances D820 (Ondine ODE 1285-2) offers familiar repertoire although with a detectable inward focus. The liner notes include a wonderful interview with Vogt in which he reveals his personal thoughts on Schubert and the repertoire in this recording. It’s worthwhile and instructive to read about the intellectual process behind the creative one. Vogt has a unique style at the keyboard. It’s one that has all the warmth and romanticism to express Schubert’s most heartfelt passages, yet also includes a sharp, bright exclamatory touch that can be as brief as a single note or sometimes carry an entire phrase. This plays nicely against the otherwise mellow nature of Schubert’s rich harmonies. The Six German Dances, in particular, are surprisingly tender in Vogt’s hands. Here he argues for an approach that is truer to the original style of the pieces, more down to earth and tender, perhaps even pointing to the convivial bliss of simple country folk. The familiarity of the Impromptus D899 makes them a special challenge. Vogt does a terrific job with them all, but really makes No.4 stand Order today at Sara Lackie, harp; Madeleine Owen, theorbo & lute; Marie-Laurence Primeau, viola da gamba; Vincent Lauzer, recorders; Sari Tsuji, violin February 1, 2017 - March 7, 2017 | 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)