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Volume 24 Issue 2 - October 2018

  • Text
  • October
  • Toronto
  • Arts
  • Choir
  • Jazz
  • Musical
  • Concerts
  • Performing
  • Orchestra
  • Theatre
Presenters, start your engines! With TIFF and "back-to-work" out of the way, the regular concert season rumbles to life, and, if our Editor's Opener can be trusted, "Seeking Synergies" seems to be the name of the game. Denise Williams' constantly evolving "Walk Together Children" touching down at the Toronto Centre for the Arts; the second annual Festival of Arabic Music and Arts expanding its range; a lesson in Jazz Survival with Steve Wallace; the 150 presenter and performer profiles in our 19th annual Blue Pages directory... this is an issue that is definitely more than the sum of its parts.

of the most often

of the most often recorded. Initially written for piano solo, it is the orchestral version of 1923 by Maurice Ravel that made the big hit in the symphonic repertoire. Ravel by this time was a name to conjure with particularly in the field of orchestration, with his scintillating palette of French Impressionism. There were other orchestral versions, but the phenomenal success of the Ravel score overshadowed them all, including this particular one by Sergei Gorchakov. During the height of the Soviet era in 1955, Gorchakov aimed at a more Russian character by concentrating on the lower strings, deeper textures and sonorities, and heavy percussion, thus emphasizing the struggles of the working man. For example, The Oxcart (Bydlo) is far weightier in steady fortissimo than Ravel’s more subtle crescendo/calando line. This trend is consistent, culminating in The Hut on Hen’s Legs (Baba Yaga), a real blockbuster and more ghoulish then I’ve ever heard it. We get the idea fairly quickly but are we sure this would be an improvement on Ravel’s brilliance? The Fort Worth Symphony’s enthusiastic and charismatic conductor Miguel Harth- Bedoya, however, was on the right track in showing the instrumental skills of his band by choosing a showpiece and being a bit different at the same time, proven by the enthusiastic ovation of the Texas audience. A happier choice is Prokofiev’s radiantly beautiful Selections from Cinderella – partly because the selections are by the conductor and arranged in chronological sequence, following the story faithfully and illuminating the arch-like pattern of one of the world’s beloved fairy-tale love stories. The excellent acoustics of the concert hall make this CD an audiophile’s delight. Janos Gardonyi Transfigured Night Alisa Weilerstein; Trondheim Soloists Pentatone PTC 5186 717 (pentatonemusic.com) !! The Trondheim Soloists is a Norwegian chamber orchestra formed in 1988, now recognized as one of the most innovative and exciting groups in the country and fervent performers of Scandinavian music. Alisa Weilerstein was appointed artistic partner in 2017 and this is the first recording in their new exclusive agreement for Pentatone Music. The performances and recording are exemplary in every respect. A brilliant debut. The contrasting choice of repertoire, Haydn and Schoenberg, each an apt foil for the other, works well. Weilerstein was taken with the Haydn concertos when performing them the previous September in their first collaboration. The buoyant and inspired performances and translucent recordings are more than satisfying. Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, Transfigured Night, is a programmatic string sextet in one movement, composed in 1899, inspired by the Romantic poem of the same name by Richard Dehmel. As in the poem, the work is in five sections. Dehmel tells the tale of a man and a woman, lovers, walking through the woods. She confesses to him that the child she is carrying was conceived in an embrace with a stranger. After much turmoil the man tells her that the depth and warmth of their love will transfigure the stranger’s child to be his… theirs. Resolved, they walk, his arm about her, through the high, bright night. In 1943 Schoenberg scored the work for a string orchestra, which is the version heard here. Although I have listened to and absorbed this favourite work many, many times over the years, I am newly thrilled and quite taken with this brilliantly recorded, poignant performance. The fourth section, Adagio, where the transfiguration begins, blending into the fifth section’s molto tranquillo, quite literally took my breath away. The musicians are consistently responsive and dedicated, sounding like true believers. I had not read the accompanying booklet before listening but later leafing through it found Weilerstein’s notes. Her account of the recording sessions concluded, “While recording Verklärte Nacht, at the end of a day spent working through details, we concluded with one final concert play-through – a tradition where the fatigue of a long session often outstrips artistic goals. This time, however, it was the most vibrant and focused rendition of the whole afternoon. As the final note decayed in the rounded echo of that old church, everything was completely still and everyone completely silent.” Bruce Surtees Richard Strauss – Eine Alpensinfonie Frankfurt Radio Symphony; Andrés Orozco-Estrada Pentatone PTC 5186 628 (pentatonemusic.com) !! With Ein Heldenleben and Macbeth released in 2016, Andrés Orozco-Estrada and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony already showed themselves to be impressive Straussians. And now, with Eine Alpensinfonie, Orozco-Estrada and the orchestra have continued to uncover the feverishly ardent harmonics and melodic tuneful artistry of the last great German Romantic composer with electrifying brilliance. Unravelling this work with subtle note-spinning, both conductor and orchestra have infused it with febrile energy and hip-swinging seductiveness through to a finale that is properly shattering. Completed in 1915, Eine Alpensinfonie turned out to be the last of Strauss’ large-scale non-operatic works, crafted with masterful use of horns. Orozco-Estrada’s approach here is unrushed and often expansive. But there is no shortage of dynamism: though leisurely by the clock the performance is spectacularly punctuated by enormous Straussian shock and shudder. At its peak this performance takes the composer’s atmospherics of Eine Alpensinfonie completely seriously, and achieves a quality of sound so rich and incisive as to overcome Strauss’ proverbial bombast and prolixity. What the conductor cannot disguise – indeed he revels in it – is the impetuosity of Strauss’ orchestral writing. Moments of awe swell in Eintritt in den Wald and the thrill of adventure soars in the prophetic colour and expression, especially in Auf dem Gipfel and the thunderous Gewitter und Strum, Abstieg. This work is well-suited to Orozco- Estrada’s flamboyant style, and the orchestra’s rich refulgent tone as both conductor and orchestra hit the mark in thrilling fashion. Raul da Gama Bartók & Kodály – Concertos for Orchestra Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin; Jakub Hrůša Pentatone PTC 5186 626 (pentatonemusic.com) ! ! Two works of the same title and genre by the two most important composers of 20th-century Hungary, yet as different as can be. Bartók is a genius and now is being fully appreciated. He successfully achieved a synthesis of modern trends between tonal and atonal music, consonance and dissonance, infusing both with inspiration from mid-century turmoil and anguish. Kodály is in no way close to this level though highly skilled, very competent and dedicated to Hungarian folk music, suffusing it with his own considerable melodic richness and compositional skill and also achieving international fame. Kodály’s Concerto (1940) has only recently come to widespread worldwide attention with some worthy new recordings. It combines contrapuntal fireworks of Baroque architecture with a high-stepping Hungarian folk dance, alternating fast and slow movements, all with a jaunty good forward momentum and an increasing complexity. It is also highly entertaining, and young, dynamic Polish conductor Jakub Hrůša makes the most of it with his energetic, brisk tempi and natural affinity for Eastern European music. This performance will make many converts to the piece. 72 | October 2018 thewholenote.com

But the ultimate appeal for this new Pentatone issue (famous for recording excellence today) is this atmospheric, beautifully detailed, thoroughly convincing and passionate performance of the Bartók Concerto (1943). Hrůša sure has what it takes and reminds me of the great Georg Solti in his prime, but with an even more virtuosic orchestra and superior recording technology. Bartók was a very sick man in America when he wrote this amazing work, but just listen to the incredible energy of the rustling strings, the bold utterances on the brass and the vitality of superhuman energy outpouring in the last movement. An unshaken faith for a better world and unconquerable humanity. Janos Gardonyi American Romantics Gowanus Arts Ensemble; Reuben Blundell New Focus Recordings FCR 166 American Romantics III Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra; Reuben Blundell New Focus Recordings FCR166C (newfocusrecordings.com) !! Lovely melodies and evocative tonepainting fill the first and third volumes of the American Romantics series created by conductor Reuben Blundell. Together these two CDs present first recordings of 19 pieces by 14 mostly forgotten late-19th- and early-20th-century composers born or active in the U.S. In the first volume, Blundell leads the Gowanus Arts Ensemble, ten string players who also perform on American Romantics II, reviewed in The WholeNote this past February. In the latest release, Blundell appears as music director of the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra, a professional-sounding community orchestra in Philadelphia. Two composers, Ludwig Bonvin and Carl Busch, are featured in both discs under review. Swiss-born Bonvin (1850-1939) emigrated to Buffalo, where he served as music director of Canisius College. He’s represented by the hymn-like Christmas Night’s Dream for strings and the very Wagnerian Festival Procession for orchestra. Busch (1864-1943), from Denmark, settled in Kansas City, finding inspiration in North American Indigenous melodies. Volume I contains two movements from his Indian Tribal Melodies: Four North American Legends; Volume III includes two richly coloured, dramatic tone poems, Minnehaha’s Vision and The Song of Chibiabos, both based on Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha. Another composer who wrote many works on First Nations subjects was Charles Wakefield Cadman (1881-1946), one of the few recognizable names in the American Romantics series. His five-movement Thunderbird Suite, said to incorporate Blackfoot melodies, is, at 21 minutes, by far the longest work on these two discs. The highly cinematic Suite dates from 1918, well before sound arrived in Hollywood, but it’s not surprising that, in later years, Cadman moved to Los Angeles where he would indeed go on to compose music for films. Gena Branscombe (1881-1977), the only woman and only Canadian on these discs, was born in Picton, Ontario (not PEI, as the notes state) but left for the U.S. as a teenager to pursue her musical studies. There, she composed prolifically in all genres, founded and conducted the Branscombe Chorale, and commissioned and performed works by many other women composers. Her brief, bittersweet waltz, A Memory, a miniature Valse Triste, was originally for violin and piano; it’s heard in an arrangement for harp and strings. Like A Memory, all of the predominantly short pieces on these two CDs are well worth hearing, though they tend to fall into the Easy Listening category. This series is obviously a labour of love for conductor Blundell and I hope he continues his pattern of one release per year. I look forward, however, to hearing more extended, substantial yet unfairly forgotten works by these unfairly mostly forgotten composers. Michael Schulman MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Srul Irving Glick – Suites Hébraïques James Campbell; Angela Park; Elissa Lee; Sharon Wei; Cameron Crozman; Barry Shiffman; Wallace Halladay; Susan Hoeppner Centrediscs CMCCD 24817 (musiccentre.ca) !! Srul Irving Glick (1934-2002) composed six Suites Hébraïques between 1961 and 1984, each a multimovement work ranging between ten and 20 minutes in length. Three are written for solo instrument with piano accompaniment, and three for a variety of chamber ensembles. This release is the first to compile them all under one cover, and features some of Canada’s finest instrumental performers. Modest in means and range, the pieces are nonetheless pure expressions of the composer’s love for Jewish traditional melodies, harmonies and forms. Not one movement exceeds six minutes, while most are much shorter. Glick didn’t write them to claim a place atop Parnassus, but rather to celebrate the music he heard and loved growing up the son of a cantor, singing in his father’s choir and at home. For that reason, pay particular note to Suite No.4, for saxophone and piano, played (sung) by Wallace Halladay with Angela Park on piano. Also on the second disc is the final suite, played by violinist Barry Shiffman with Park again at the piano. Both soloists perfectly express the singing quality called for in Glick’s music. Park took on the lion’s share of playing on this recording. She performs beautifully in four of the six suites. Because they are based in the traditional forms, there is a repetitiveness to the titles: Circle Dance occurs in five and Cantorial Chant in four of the six suites; other titles, such as Nigun and Hora, variously find their way into several of them. It’s not a stretch to compare this to the work of Baroque composers, who also explored forms repeatedly in dance suites. However, nowhere does the music repeat itself. In fact, Glick seems to have been one of those composers for whom there was little effort in devising new material. In the jacket note Dorothy Sandler- Glick is quoted thus: “The melodies came easily as if they were waiting for him to lift them out of his soul.” So they sound. Max Christie Apogee – Music of Farshid Samandari Mark Takeshi McGregor; Ariel Barnes; Brian Nesselroad; Marcus Takizawa; Joy Yeh Redshift Records TK453 (redshiftrecords.org) ! ! Vancouver-based composer Farshid Samandari (b. Tehran 1971) arrived in Vancouver in 2001. He quickly embedded himself in the regional contemporary concert music scene, serving in 2013 as composer-in-residence of the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra. That position has helped him build bridges with global musicians resident in the culturally diverse hub of the greater Vancouver area. Apogee features Samandari’s works for conventional Western instrumentation stylishly played by Onyx Trio’s Mark Takeshi McGregor (flute), Marcus Takizawa (viola), and Joy Yeh (harp), plus Brian Nesselroad (percussion). His compositions primarily reflect his interest in contemporary Western musical vocabulary, spectral analysis, as well as extended instrumental techniques. But Apogee also provides a window into subjects that inform his work, including modal Persian classical music and literature. Another key ingredient is referred to in thewholenote.com October 2018 | 73

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2019)

Volume 25 Issue 4 - December 2019 / January 2020
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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