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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!

Bucher’s recording is

Bucher’s recording is scholarly and informed, it rises quickly to gratifying levels of inspired creativity that have a lasting emotional impact. It’s a performance of thought and substance. Ronald Brautigam has a new recording of the Mendelssohn Piano Concertos (BIS, BIS-2264, naxosdirect.com) in which he performs on a modern fortepiano, a copy of Pleyel Op.1555 from 1830 which is still preserved in the Paris Museum of Music. The instrument’s sound is an immediate clue to the period project in which Die Kölner Akademie also performs with period orchestral instruments, historical seating plan and critical editions of scores. Brautigam’s instrument is remarkable. While it has the characteristically short resonance of all fortepianos, it is 244cm (8 ft.) long and offers plenty of power against the volume of the orchestra. Equally impressive is the quick keyboard response to the extremely fast passages. The Presto movement of the Concerto No.1 is an example of this amazing key action technology from 1830. It’s unlikely that Pleyel had yet developed his own double escapement action to match his competitor Érard who’d invented it just a decade earlier. But Pleyel’s hammers and actions were known to be lighter and very responsive to the need for speed and repetition. Additionally, Brautigam’s modern copy also holds its tuning remarkably well for all the rigour that Mendelssohn’s score imposes on it. The upper register in particular is beautifully pitched and voiced. In addition to the two Mendelssohn concertos, the disc also includes his Rondo Brillant in E-flat Major, Op.29, Capriccio Brillant in B Minor, Op.22 and Serenade and Allegro Giojoso, Op.43. Thomas Leininger – Fortepiano, Mozart, Beethoven (Talbot Records, TR 1901, talbotrecords.net) is a new disc recorded at Von Kuster Hall, University of Western Ontario. Leininger plays a modern fortepiano built in Freeport, Maine after an instrument by Anton Walter, a German-born builder who ran a successful business in Vienna for nearly 50 years. Leininger is a trained organist and harpsichordist. His recognized specialization in early music has attracted invitations for him to compose missing passages, many of them extensive, in fragmentary works by Handel and Vivaldi. On this disc, his performance of Mozart’s Sonatas K331 and 332, and Beethoven’s Sonata Op.2, No.1 demonstrates not only how such works could have sounded to their composers and audiences, but how differently phrasings, speeds and dynamics must have been understood. These period instruments respond differently to touch, produce different colours and offer a musical experience unlike what we know today. Leininger knows his instrument extremely well. He uses the lighter, simpler mechanical action to shape the tone of his notes with great effect. His playing style uses the well-documented freedoms of tempo and ornamentation that are common for the repertoire period. An intriguing feature of this recording is the brief prelude that Leininger improvises before each of the sonatas. The production is well informed, and intelligently and beautifully played. In 2010 Andras Schiff acquired a stunning walnut Brodman fortepiano built in Vienna ca. 1820. Brodman was one of Vienna’s finest builders whose instruments were, not surprisingly, owned by the Austrian Royal Family. The last Austrian Emperor took this one into Swiss exile with him in 1919. One of Brodman’s young apprentices named Bösendorfer in time took over the business and made it the familiar name we know today. This instrument underwent some restoration in 1965 and has been on loan to the Beethoven Haus in Bonn since Schiff took ownership. Schiff brought the instrument to London for a recital at Wigmore Hall in early 2015 where he performed a program of three Schubert Sonatas. The following year he used it to record this disc Franz Schubert Sonatas and Impromptus, (ECM, ECM 2535/36, ecmrecords.com) in the Kammermusiksaal at the Beethoven Haus back in Bonn. Schiff’s fortepiano exhibits all the mechanical and tonal characteristics of its period: very brief open resonance, comparatively little overall power, and a unique tonal colouring that makes this recording a real gem. Each of the high, middle and low registers has its own quality. Additional mechanisms create a gentle bassoon-like buzz in the bass and a general dampening of the strings in play. But the most striking feature is the intense intimacy, the true smallness of sound that Schiff is able to create from the keyboard. Whether for historical reasons or out of pure curiosity, this recording is a must-have. VOCAL Renmen Laments Renaissance Men; Eric Christopher Perry Navona Records nv6210 (navonarecords.com) !! RenMen, short for the Renaissance Men, have teamed with Navona Records to release Renmen Laments, a beautiful reimagining of the music of such composers as Pablo Casals and Darius Milhaud, along with the ensemble’s continued relationship with the great contemporary American choral composer Daniel E. Gawthrop, that easily evokes an otherworldly ethereal beauty in celebration of the adult male voice. Beautifully recorded at the Westminster Presbyterian church in Buffalo, New York the ten-piece vocal group, formed in 2014, offers up another fine collection of music that demonstrates why they are a welcome addition to the already busy choral music scene in Boston, and a satisfying collection of new work for choral music fans worldwide. On Laments, the group is authentically and expertly able to bring a Renaissance vocal approach and sensibility to the wide swath of music presented here, leaping countries of origin, historical timelines and style. Finding artistic simpatico with American composers Gawthrop and the fellow Massachusetts-based musician Patricia Van Ness, the Renmen have worked, and succeeded, at bringing what some may view as a historically antiquated music into cultural relevance for 21st-century audiences. With this victory, coupled with what I hope is the widespread dissemination power of a new record company and a busy calendar of public concert engagements in 2019, the group holds the promise to help Renaissance music have its own renaissance in the foreseeable future. Laments is a highly recommended recording for enthusiasts of vocal music, choral work and the Renaissance more generally. Andrew Scott Pauline García Viardot – Le Dernier Sorcier Soloists; Manhattan Girls Chorus; Trudie Styler Bridge Records 9515 (bridgerecords.com) ! ! The French/ Spanish mezzosoprano, composer, and pedagogue Pauline García Viardot composed Le Dernier Sorcier (The Last Sorcerer) in collaboration with her partner, Russian novelist/librettist Ivan Turgenev. After its 1867 premiere, the 72 | May 2019 thewholenote.com

original manuscript of this two-act chamber opera, scored for solo voices, treble chorus and piano, was held in a private collection until the Harvard University Houghton Library recently acquired it and allowed this world premiere recording. The libretto tells the story of Krakamiche, (bass-baritone Eric Owens), a once powerful sorcerer who has fallen on hard times after upsetting the lives of the fairies, (sung brightly by the Manhattan Girls Chorus), who live in the forest. The love story is between his daughter Stella (soprano Camille Zamora) and the lovelorn Prince Lelio (mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala). Other characters round out the story. The great thing is that though sung in French (with liner notes both in French and English translation), actress Trudie Styler as the narrator recites in English between sung moments. This entertaining, funny, toe-tapping, quasi-cliché opera merits dancing and singing along. The music is so very in the style of the operas of the day, with such classic sounds as alternating loud and soft volumes, piano accompaniment marching, waltz and lyrical lines, vocals soaring high and low. Pianist Myra Huang supports all the superb singers with clear playing. Totally unexpected fun makes this a recording to lift one’s spirits! Tiina Kiik George Benjamin – Lessons in Love and Violence Stéphane Degout; Barbara Hannigan; Gyula Orendt; Peter Hoare; Samuel Boden; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; George Benjamin Opus Arte OA 1221 D (naxosdirect.com) !! It’s been four years since the Toronto Symphony gave an unforgettable concert performance of British composer George Benjamin’s opera Written on Skin. It featured the dynamic Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan, who subsequently premiered Benjamin’s gripping new opera, Lessons in Love and Violence in this production from the Royal Opera House two years ago. Playwright Martin Crimp uses Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan play Edward II, along with historic records, to recount the messy downfall of the 14th-century British King, who ruled neither wisely nor well. Director Katie Mitchell pulls off some innovative moves to shape an exciting drama from Benjamin’s gorgeous, evocative music, Crimp’s poetic text and Vicki Mortimer’s stylish modern sets and costumes. The resourceful but unobtrusive camerawork from video director Margaret Williams ensures a sense of immediacy, especially in the use of imaginative overhead shots, soft focus, and close-ups. As riveting an actor as singer, Hannigan provides the opera’s most chilling moments as Isabel, the alluring, raging Queen. There are vivid performances from Peter Hoare as Mortimer, Isabel’s lover and the King’s nemesis, Samuel Boden as the son, Ocean Barrington-Cook as the daughter (extraordinary in a non-singing role), and Canadian mezzo Krisztina Szabó, who also sang in that TSO performance, as a courtier. But the most moving passages belong to the two splendid baritones, Stéphane Degout as the King and Gyula Orendt as his lover Gaveston, especially in their impassioned duets. This is a timely work – and all the more eloquently rich for that. While it’s the King’s blind infatuation that brings him down, the problem isn’t that he is gay. It isn’t even that he is having an affair. The problem is that he has abused his power by neglecting his family and his people, lavishing all his attention and resources on Gaveston. Yet it’s only after the King rejects Isabel that she turns on him. By the time their children, who have been forced to witness the violent power plays that ensue, manage to seize the power for themselves, they are able to show that they have learned their lessons only too well. Pamela Margles Concert note: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra begins its 2019/2020 season with “Dynamic Duo: Hannigan & Storgårds” on September 19 and 21. Both Barbara Hannigan and John Storgårds are featured in double roles, soprano/conductor and violinist/ conductor respectively. Richard Thompson – The Mask in the Mirror, A Chamber Opera SANAA Opera Project; Stephen Tucker Navona Records nv6209 (navonarecords.com) !! Richard Thompson’s haunting opera in three acts The Mask in the Mirror tells the story of the ill-fated marriage between the African-American writer Paul Laurence Dunbar and the lighterskinned Alice Ruth Moore. Thompson tells the story of the lovers with minute and tragic detail, allowing his singers plenty of space to explore the tension of this extraordinary relationship, which unfolds in the context of racism in 19th-century America as well as in terms of the psychological drama surrounding two lovers ill-equipped to distinguish between sexual desire and the loftier ideals of their fraught relationship. Cameo Humes’ Dunbar is truly inspired and the character unfolds through his sonorous tenor which is wielded with enormous power to unlock the vivid metaphor of the mask in the mirror. Angela Owens’ Moore is equally spectacular. She describes Moore’s less successful but nevertheless equally strong character with dramatic thrust. Together with other incidental characters – all exceptionally developed by Thompson – and the superbly moody orchestral performance, The Mask in the Mirror is powerful and heady, as well as appropriately literary. The score remains relatively spare throughout yet provides enough detail to tell the complex story. Thompson demonstrates a masterly control of dramatic pace, ratcheting up tension slowly but surely so that the final dénouement reaches a devastating climax, aided by performances – led by the dark-hued timbre of Humes’ Dunbar – which vividly project the complicated nature of the drama. Raul da Gama Perpetual Twilight Choral Scholars of University College Dublin; Desmond Earley Signum Classics SIGCD558 (signumrecords.com) ! ! While Ireland has long been renowned for its outstanding literary tradition, it is perhaps less well known for its contributions to choral music. Nevertheless, if this CD Perpetual Twilight, featuring the Choral Scholars of University College Dublin under the direction of Desmond Earley, is any indication, it would appear that the current Irish choral scene is a very vibrant one indeed. The 28-member chamber choir was founded by Earley in 1999, and since then, numerous tours to various parts of Europe and the United States have earned the ensemble international acclaim. From the opening track Dúlamán, a lively traditional working song from Northern Ireland, it’s evident that the disc is infused with a strong Irish flavour – and what a warm and mellow sound the ensemble produces! Tenors – rares aves in many vocal ensembles – appear to be a major component of the Choral Scholars, resulting in a well-balanced blend of vocal ranges. The thoughtfully chosen program – an attractive mix of traditional folk songs with newly commissioned pieces – includes the well-known My Love is like a Red Red Rose and Danny Boy in addition to the less familiar Maid of Culmore and Bó na Leathadhairce, the latter arranged by the conductor. Earley is also a composer, and works such as the uplifting Body of the Moon and Strings in the Earth and Air, are testament to his creative talents. thewholenote.com May 2019 | 73

Volume 26 (2020- )

Volume 26 Issue 1 - September 2020

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Volume 25 Issue 9 - July / August 2020
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