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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!

Germany – and what a

Germany – and what a debut it is, with music ranging from the Baroque to the present day (8.573906 naxos.com). Kocić’s own arrangement of the Bach Partita No.2 in D Minor BWV1004 for solo violin works beautifully. It’s essentially the violin score note for note, with a crystal-clear line, superb articulation in the numerous fast runs, a lovely sense of pulse and a warm resonance that allows the implied harmonies to sound through. In particular, the guitar’s chording ability means that the multiple stopping – always a stumbling block for violinists – ceases to be a problem. It makes the Sarabande and, in particular, the monumental Chaconne (with its quadruple stops) smoother, calmer and – appropriately – more stately. Add beautifully shaped phrasing that displays musicianship to match the impeccable technique and you have a performance that will stand comparison with any. The standard never drops in the other three works on the CD. The Introduction et Caprice Op.23 is a dazzling work by Giulio Regondi, the 19th-century prodigy whose music fell into oblivion before being republished in 1981. Manuel Ponce wrote his Diferencias sobre la folía de España y Fuga for Segovia in 1930; it’s one of the more challenging works in the standard repertoire. Marek Pasieczny’s Phosphenes (After Sylvius Leopold Weiss) was commissioned by the International Guitar Festival as a set piece for their Guitar Masters 2016 competition in Warsaw. It’s a fairly short but tough work that shows Kocić equally comfortable in the contemporary field. The Chilean guitarist José Antonio Escobar (born 1973) is the soloist on the second CD, Guitar Music of Eduardo Sáinz de la Maza (8.573456 naxos.com). The composer’s life spanned most of the 20th century, and the works here are mostly from the period 1961 to 1973. The main work on the CD is the lovely Platero y yo (Platero and I), a suite of eight scenes from the 138 prose-poems of the same name by the Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez that illustrate tales of the donkey Platero and his owner. It’s a work full of tenderness and colour. Ten shorter works that still serve to illustrate the composer’s technical and expressive breadth fill out the CD, including a delightful Habanera that involves tuning down the two lower strings and three Homenajes – homages to Haydn, Toulouse-Lautrec and the guitar itself. Again, the playing here is clean, warm, resonant and full of colour, and with impeccable technique, the fast tremolo in the Campanas del Alba (The Bells of Dawn) being particularly brilliant. The music of Lithuanian composer Romuald Twardowski (b.1930) is presented on Violin Concerto, featuring the New Yorkbased Polish violinist Kinga Augustyn with Poland’s Toruń Symphony Orchestra under Mariusz Smolij (Naxos 8.579031 naxos.com). Twardowski’s music is described as blending tradition and modernity with what the composer calls “a clarity of expression,” and the works here are all highly accessible and finely crafted. Three pieces – the brilliant Spanish Fantasia from 1984, Niggunim “Melodies of the Hasidim” from 1991 and Capriccio in Blue “George Gershwin in memoriam” from 1979 – were originally for violin and piano and later orchestrated by the composer. The respective influences – Andalusian music, Polish/Ukrainian Jewish melodies, and jazz – are captured effectively and give the soloist ample opportunity to display a range of styles. The major work is the quite lovely 2006 Violin Concerto, a mainstream work with a challenging cadenza. The Serenade for string orchestra from 2003, another lovely work with a lush Andante movement, completes the CD. Augustyn’s playing is clear, warm and assured, untroubled in the technically challenging passages and with a flowing line in the many melodic sections. Orchestral support and recorded sound are both excellent. Li-Wei Qin is the cello soloist on Russian Cello Concertos with the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice under Michael Halász (Naxos 8.573860 naxos.com). It’s a somewhat misleading title, given that of the seven works on the CD only one – Glazunov’s Concerto ballata in C Major Op.108, written in 1931 after he had left Russia – is anything like a true concerto, although admittedly Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme in A Major Op.33, heard here in the usual revised and rearranged version by the composer’s colleague Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, does come close. Qin draws a lovely sound from his 1780 Guadagnini cello in the two major works as well as in the shorter recital pieces: Glazunov’s Deux Morceaux Op.20 and the Chant du ménestrel in F-sharp Minor Op.71; Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo capriccioso in B Minor Op.62 and the Andante Cantabile from his String Quartet No.1 in D Major Op.11; and Rimsky- Korsakov’s Serenade Op.37. What we're listening to this month: thewholenote.com/listening Vienna and the West Gernot Wolfgang VIENNA AND THE WEST (grooveoriented chamber music vol.4) acknowledges Gernot Wolfgang's deep Austrian musical roots, filtered through more than 20 years of California living. Both Sides Marc Jordan A newly minted collection of chilled out romantic contemporary jazz arrangements of popular songs! This Could be the One Karin Plato “reserved melancholy…absolutely impeccable production…wideopen space in the sound”- Stuart Derdeyn, The Vancouver Sun “voice that seems to caress each note” - Dianne Donovan, Voices in Jazz Domestic Tranquillity 13go Living Colour's Guitarist, Vernon Reid, offers his production skills and playing on 13go's debut album. It is an ambitious record with great playing. 70 | May 2019 thewholenote.com

Keyed In ALEX BARAN Kirill Gerstein’s new recording of the Busoni Piano Concerto (Myrios Classics, MYR024, naxosdirect.com) is a mammoth production in every way. The Piano Concerto in C Major Op.39 is a five-movement work that takes more than 70 minutes to perform and calls for a large male chorus that sings extensively through the final movement. Premiered in late 1904, it displays a breadth of conception and orchestration stylistically similar to later Mahler symphonies and Rachmaninoff piano concertos. And while it predates the modern cinema by many decades, the music has a grand sweep of musical ideas for both the piano and the orchestra that conjures up epic films on big screens. Busoni has made the piano very much an equal partner with the orchestra in this work rather than having the two engage in a contest of wills. Some of the critical writing about the concerto sees the work as the final iteration of this late-Romantic form, the end of one era rather than the beginning of a new one. But there is so much forwardlooking writing in the concerto that grounds for the counter argument are very strong. Busoni’s own personal evolution toward modernism and experiments with keyboard tonality are further evidence of his contribution to music in a time of profound transition. This disc was recorded live at Symphony Hall in Boston. Gerstein’s output of sheer pianistic energy for the duration of this enormous work is amazing. For many, this Busoni concerto will be new material, and because of its superb performance, should be eagerly acquired. Svetlana Belsky has an enduring fascination with Busoni whose life as a pianist figures centrally in her doctoral dissertation. Her new release Ferruccio Busoni – The Late Works (Ravello RR8007, ravellorecords.com) reveals Busoni’s emerging modernist views on tonality and eventual rejection of late- Romantic performance practices. Busoni was renowned for his technique, as any who have played his transcriptions of Bach organ works will know. Massive chords, dense harmonies and seemingly impossible reaches speak to his mastery of both composition and performance. These familiar baroque transcriptions make it all the more intriguing to hear Busoni writing in a voice so firmly early 20th century. Belsky opens the disc with Sonatina Seconda, a striking example of the composer’s inclination to challenge conventional tonality. The Nine Variations on a Chopin Prelude follow with their increasing degree of technical difficulty. The last work is the set of six Elegies, each dedicated by Busoni to one of his piano students. A curious feature of this set is the appearance of some material from his Turandot Suite. Busoni mistakenly thought the tune Greensleeves was a Chinese folk melody and used it as such in this setting (apologies still owing to Henry Tudor or an anonymous contemporary). This disc is an important document. With it, Belsky reveals a littleknown side of this composer whose original works are refreshingly innovative for their time. Boris Giltburg’s new Naxos release Liszt Études d’exécution transcendante (8.573981, naxos.com) expands his impressive and growing discography for the label. A good many musical scribes have opined on the way that Liszt’s work, in the hands of the finest performers, forges a powerful single expression in which the components are indistinguishable. Composer, performer and instrument become a unified artistic force. Giltburg plays Liszt? Or Liszt plays Giltburg? Such ambiguity can only arise because of the brilliance of this performance. There is both total surrender and total control. Ambiguity and contradiction, the powerful drivers of the highest artistic experience, are everywhere in this recording. Any one of the Études could serve as an example of peerless performance but No.4, “Mazeppa” stands out for its captivating rhythm as well as the three harmonic suspensions in the middle section that add a brief contemplative moment to the maelstrom. The Études alone would be enough to fill a disc but Giltburg also adds Liszt’s Paraphrase de concert sur Rigoletto and the second of the 3 Études de concert, S144/R2b. The Verdi Paraphrase is an example of the distance that any of Liszt’s paraphrases lie from their original material. With only the melody intact, Giltburg wraps the composer’s harmonic and ornamental creation around the operatic excerpt in a way that reimagines it as wholly new. Andrey Gugnin has also recorded the Liszt Études d’exécution transcendante (Piano Classics, PCL10158, naxosdirect.com). This award-winning, festival-conquering young pianist plays with a towering technique. More poignant, however, is the affinity he displays for Liszt’s writing. From the very outset of the Études he plays with the single-minded conviction that the piano is no longer just a piano. Gugnin, like Liszt, is seemingly unburdened by any limitations that he or the instrument might have. Herein lies the transcendental nature of this music. The pianist’s extraordinary technique moves the music beyond conventional levels of comprehension to a richer understanding of what the sounds can actually convey. Having transcended the physical challenges of the music, Gugnin brings a mysticism to his playing that matches the composer’s, note for note. It’s the perfect pairing of master and disciple with the tantalizing promise that the student may even surpass his mentor. Gugnin’s entire performance blazes with energy – yet his ability to retreat into the quiet moments of Paysage and Harmonies du soir is as impressive as his explosive eruptions of Lisztian genius. Feux follets displays a beautifully sustained and controlled line that runs through the piece, with unassuming determination providing the backdrop for Liszt’s main ideas. This performance is the rare combination of youthful athleticism and an unnatural early maturity. Anne-Catherine Bucher is among the latest to record the Johann Sebastian Bach Goldberg Variations (Naxos 8.551405, naxos.com). The peculiar challenges of the Variations seem to place them among the peaks that many keyboard artists want to conquer at least once in their performance lifetime. Considering the illustrious performance history of the work and the height at which that bar has been set, the undertaking can be a career risk. In this recording, however, there is no such hazard. Bucher, an organist and harpsichordist, performs on a modern instrument by builder Matthias Griewisch. The two-manual harpsichord (cembalo) is a replica of a 1745 instrument from the workshop of Flemish builder Johann Daniel Dulcken. With three choirs of strings and at least one buff stop, the instrument offers a variety of individual and combined sounds along with opportunities to solo a voice on a separate manual with a different sound. This is something Bucher does first in Variation 7 and many times subsequently with wonderful effect. Bucher also has a profound grasp of the larger progressive structure Bach uses through the 30 variations. She makes this obvious both in her playing and in her concise liner notes. The Goldberg Variations are, like any piece of music, a window into the soul of the performer. Choice of instrument, tempi, phrasings, etc. all say something about the player sitting at the keyboard. While thewholenote.com May 2019 | 71

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
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Volume 25 Issue 4 - December 2019 / January 2020
Volume 25 Issue 3 - November 2019
Volume 25 Issue 2 - October 2019
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Volume 24 Issue 8 - May 2019
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