Views
1 year ago

Volume 24 Issue 8 - May 2019

  • Text
  • Theatre
  • Symphony
  • Concerts
  • Singers
  • Arts
  • Jazz
  • Choral
  • Musical
  • Toronto
  • Choir
What a range of stuff! A profile of Liz Upchurch, the COC ensemble studio's vocal mentor extraordinaire; a backgrounder on win-win faith/arts centre partnerships and ways of exploring the possibilities; an interview with St. Petersburg-based Eifman Ballet's Boris Eifman; Ana Sokolovic's violin concert Evta finally coming to town; a Love Letter to YouTube, and much more. Plus our 17th annual Canary Pages Choral directory if all you want to do is sing! sing! sing!

Bernd Alois Zimmermann

Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970) was already dead by his own hand when I first discovered his music in my formative years, but what a revelation that music was. From a piece for solo cello, to electronic compositions, works for large orchestra and the thoughtto-be “un-performable opera” (due to its complexity and the sheer size of the resources required) Die Soldaten, I was blown away by everything I heard. Other than the early Sonata for Viola Solo performed by Rivka Golani and the late Four Short Studies for solo cello performed by Siegfried Palm, both under the auspices of New Music Concerts, I don’t believe I have ever heard Zimmermann’s music live. I take heart from a new Ondine release which confirms that his oeuvre is still in favour, at least in some parts of the world. Recent recordings of the Violin Concerto (1950), Photoptosis (1968) and Die Soldaten Vocal Symphony (1957-1963) are here performed by violinist Leila Josefowicz, vocal soloists, and the Finnish RSO under the direction of Hannu Lintu (ODE 1325-2 naxosdirect.com). It is the middle of these works that I would suggest as an introduction to this extremely forwardlooking German composer. From the opening bars of Photoptosis (Incidence of Light) for large orchestra, which seem to emerge from some primordial ooze, the music grows in intensity through richer and richer textures. Out of this dense stew arise quotations from familiar iconic works – Beethoven’s Ninth, Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker – and the tension recedes, only to build relentlessly again to an explosive finale. During the years Zimmermann was working on his opera, he was also preparing a concert version roughly one third the length of the two-hour original. Calling for soprano, alto, contralto, tenor, baritone and bass soloists, and interspersing instrumental sections among the operatic scenes, the Vocal Symphony provides a precis of the extravagantly dramatic work. The opera was originally broadcast on radio in 1963 and received its first full staging in 1965 by the Cologne Opera under Michael Gielen. Since that time it has enjoyed several productions in each of the subsequent decades, most often in Europe, but also Britain, the USA and in 2016, Buenos Aires. In Zimmermann’s centenary year, Die Soldaten enjoyed productions in Nuremberg, Madrid and Cologne. I have a feeling that recordings are as close as Toronto audiences are likely to get to the opera in the foreseeable future. And to bring it full circle, I will mention one more of my “brushes with greatness,” this time not in my formative years, but in those of the artist. During my time as a music programmer at CJRT-FM in the early 1990s, I had the opportunity to meet Leila Josefowicz as a child prodigy on her first press junket. I’m not sure if that was before or after her Carnegie Hall debut in 1994, but I expect it was in conjunction with the Philips release of her Tchaikovsky and Sibelius concertos the following year. She was born in Mississauga in 1977; her parents relocated to Los Angeles when she was three, and then moved to Philadelphia a decade later so that she could attend the Curtis Institute of Music. And the rest, as they say, is history. She is enjoying a significant international career, with well over a dozen recordings on such labels as Warner, Nonesuch, DG and Hyperion, with repertoire from Beethoven and Brahms What we're listening to this month: Elles Marina Thibeault; Marie-Eve Scarfone ELLES, the new album by the violist Marina Thibeault and pianist Marie-Eve Scarfone features repertoire by exceptional 19th and 21st century women composers. to John Adams, and now Zimmermann. The craggy Violin Concerto is the earliest work on this disc, but its intensity, postmodernism, and its extremes of tonality, belie its origins. Josefowicz rises to all of the challenges and is obviously not daunted by “difficult music.” When I was doing my program Transfigured Night at CKLN-FM in the 1980s, I used to present a Difficult Listening Hour – sit bolt upright in that straight-backed chair (with a nod to Laurie Anderson) – and any of these pieces would have (and likely did) find a home there. Not for the faint of heart. Shameless self-promotion: After 20 years as general manager of New Music Concerts I will be stepping down at the end of this season. As a parting gift to the organization, I am hosting a fundraiser on behalf of NMC, “Coffee House 345 Revisited” (aka Gallery 345 on Sorauren), on Thursday May 30. I will be bringing my eclectic repertoire, 6- and 12-string guitars and a few musical friends along for the ride. It’s a benefit so the tickets are a little pricey – each or two for 0 – but that includes complimentary snacks and drinks, and a charitable receipt for the CRA allowable portion. I hope you will join me. For reservations call 416-961-9594. We invite submissions. CDs, DVDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. David Olds, DISCoveries Editor discoveries@thewholenote.com Ana Sokolović: Sirènes Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal; Mélanie Lacroix ATMA Classique presents an evocative musical portrait of Canadian composer Ana Sokolović. thewholenote.com/listening The Other Side University of St. Thomas Symphonic Wind Ensemble This golden volume has something for everyone: symphonic Romanticism, allusions to Surrealism and Abstract Art, jazz/rock fusion with virtuosic solo and ensemble performances. 68 | May 2019 thewholenote.com DANIEL FOLEY

STRINGS ATTACHED TERRY ROBBINS On her latest Chandos CD Tasmin Little plays Clara Schumann, Dame Ethel Smyth & Amy Beach (CHAN 20030 chandos.net), the outstanding English violinist is accompanied by her longtime recital partner John Lenehan. All three women composers were encouraged by their families in their early musical endeavours but experienced far less support, if not outright opposition, when it came to pursuing professional careers. Beach’s Violin Sonata Op.34 from 1896 is a full-blooded work with sweeping melodies and rich harmonies in the German Romantic tradition; music critics in Berlin noted its indebtedness to Robert Schumann and Brahms. It draws big, strong playing from both performers. Clara Schumann’s compositional activity declined – by choice – after her marriage to Robert, and the Drei Romanzen Op.22 from 1853 was her final chamber work. Originally described as being for piano and violin these lovely pieces again feature flowing melodies for the violin over quite demanding passage work for the pianist. Ethel Smyth’s Violin Sonata Op.7 from 1887 also shows a strong Germanic influence, hardly surprising given that ten years earlier the then-19-year-old composer had moved to Leipzig to study and had spent the subsequent decade on the continent, being encouraged by both Clara Schumann and Brahms. Two lovely short pieces by Beach – Romance Op.23 and Invocation Op.55 – complete a terrific CD. Little has announced her decision to retire from the concert stage in 2020 when she turns 55. Presumably – and hopefully – it won’t include an end to her outstanding series of superb CDs. Clara Schumann’s Three Romances Op.22 appear again on another recital of works by women composers, this time as the opening tracks on ELLES, featuring the Canadian duo of violist Marina Thibeault and pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone (ATMA Classique ACD2 2772 atmaclassique.com/En). There’s no word on the transcription source (a viola version was published in 2010) for this or the following work on the CD, the Trois pièces pour violoncelle et piano by Nadia Boulanger. Written in Boulanger’s mid-20s, some seven years before she gave up composition to concentrate on teaching, the piano again features prominently in three brief movements, two of which were transcriptions of organ improvisations. A very brief setting of a Goethe poem by Fanny Hensel, Mendelssohn’s highly talented sister, precedes the two major works on the disc: Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata for Viola and Piano from 1919; and the Sonate Pastorale for solo viola by the American violist Lillian Fuchs. A professional violist, Clarke left a wealth of viola works that finally seem to be attracting the amount of recording attention they richly deserve. Written in New York, her sonata is redolent of contemporary French music. In all the viola and piano works, Thibeault plays with a pure tone and a smooth melodic line, ably supported by Scarfone; there are times, perhaps, when a stronger attack could be used. That, however, is exactly what we get in the two unaccompanied works that follow. Fuchs wrote little in a long life (both she and Clarke made it into their 90s) but the three-movement Sonate is a simply terrific work that brings the best playing on the CD from Thibeault. Another solo work that began as a piece for cello, young Canadian composer Anna Pidgorna’s The Child, Bringer of Light from 2012, ends the CD. Its eight continuous sections use a variety of techniques to great effect and once again show just how talented a player Thibeault is. There’s a really lovely set of the Brahms Three Sonatas for Violin and Piano featuring the duo of violinist Wen-Lei Gu and pianist Catherine Kautsky (Centaur CRC 3684 naxosdirect.com). Both performers are on the music faculty at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. The opening bars of the Sonata No.1 in G Major Op.78 always seem to set the tone for all three works, and it’s clear from the outset here that we are in excellent hands. From the autumnal feel of the first sonata through the warmth of the Sonata No.2 in A Major Op.100 to the passion and restlessness of the Sonata No.3 in D Minor Op.108 the playing here is all you could ask for, with warmth, sensitivity, passion when needed and an ever-present sense of innate musicality. If you collect different performances of these lovely sonatas then this will make a strong and welcome addition to your CDs; if you’re just looking for one set then this one has a great deal to offer and will certainly not disappoint you. The Australian violinist Elizabeth Holowell studied Viennese string performance practice during the 1780 to 1820s in her postgraduate work – studies which had a major influence on The Grand Duo, her recording of the Schubert Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano with Erin Helyard at the fortepiano (Centaur CRC 3665 naxosdirect.com). The result is an attempt to recreate as far as possible what a contemporary performance of the music would have sounded like. The violin here is without modern fittings and has gut strings; the bow is described as a pre- Tourte transitional model. More significantly, the fortepiano is a new copy of a contemporary Viennese model by Conrad Graf that has six pedals that provide a variety of special tonal effects, including one for Turkish or janissary bells and drums. Holowell says that interpretation of the notation of these works led to reassessments of tempo, dynamics, phrasing, bowing and articulation. The recording levels also reflect the fact that the three 1816 sonatas – in D Major D384, A Minor D385 and G Minor D408 – were published as sonatas “with violin accompaniment.” The Sonata in A Major D574, known as The Grand Duo completes the CD. The results are, at times, quite startling. It’s part Historically Informed Performance, part early Romantic in style: vibrato comes and goes; there’s portamento and elasticity in tempo and phrasing; and very occasional pitch issues with the gut strings. Above all, the fortepiano sound varies a good deal, including adding crashing bells and drums to the occasional chord. It’s intriguing and always more than merely interesting, but it will probably come down to a matter of personal taste as to whether you feel that this approach really enhances the music and your understanding of it, or merely serves as a historical demonstration. Either way, it’s not your standard Schubert recital! There are two quite superb guitar CDs from Naxos this month, both beautifully recorded at St. Paul’s Church in Newmarket, Ontario with the ever-reliable Norbert Kraft as producer, engineer and editor. At the Naxos retail price they are both simply must-buys for any lover of the classical guitar. The debut CD by Serbian guitarist Vojin Kocić (born 1990) follows his win at the 2017 Heinsberg International Guitar Competition in thewholenote.com May 2019 | 69

Volume 26 (2020- )

Volume 26 Issue 1 - September 2020

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2020)

Volume 25 Issue 9 - July / August 2020
Volume 25 Issue 8 - May / June 2020
Volume 25 Issue 7 - April 2020
Volume 25 Issue 6 - March 2020
Volume 25 Issue 5 - February 2020
Volume 25 Issue 4 - December 2019 / January 2020
Volume 25 Issue 3 - November 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

Volumes 16-20 (2010-2015)

Volumes 11-15 (2004-2010)

Volumes 6 - 10 (2000 - 2006)

Volumes 1-5 (1994-2000)