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Volume 25 Issue 9 - July / August 2020

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  • Toronto
  • August
  • Jazz
July/August issue is now available in flipthrough HERE, bringing to a close 25 seasons of doing what we do (and plan to continue doing), and on stands early in the week of July 5. Not the usual bucolic parade of music in the summer sun, but lots, we hope, to pass the time: links to online and virtual music; a full slate of record reviews; plenty new in the Listening Room; and a full slate of stories – the future of opera, the plight of small venues, the challenge facing orchestras, the barriers to resumption of choral life, the challenges of isolation for real-time music; the steps some festivals are taking to keep the spirit and substance of what they do alive. And intersecting with all of it, responses to the urgent call for anti-racist action and systemic change.

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as opposed to the old-fashioned fable. The use of Chinese instruments such as the dizi, erhu, gaohu, pipa and guzheng allows children of all backgrounds to either connect with sounds they are familiar with or make exciting new discoveries. Ho’s skillful contrast between Chinese and Western instruments, the well-placed dissonances and the numerous vocal and instrumental glissandi provide a unique and vibrant listening experience. Most exquisite, Chan’s libretto and Ho’s music are expertly woven together, seamlessly moving the action forward. The Monkiest King was nominated for two Mavor Dora Moore Awards in 2019 for Outstanding Performing Ensemble and Outstanding Original Opera. Sophie Bisson CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Marin Marais – Badinages Mélisande Corriveau; Eric Milnes ATMA ACD2 2785 (atmaclassique.com/Fr) ! French musician and composer Marin Marais (1656-1728) served at the Sun King’s Versailles court, composing as many as six operas – and fathering 19 children. Another point of interest, he was one of the earliest composers of program music; his The Bladder-Stone Operation includes detailed descriptions of the surgery. Marais was, however, best known for his supreme skill in capturing the rich, deep, silky and nuanced voice of the viola da gamba. He poured all his skill and passion into his vast five-volume lifework Pièces de viole (1686–1725). Together with harpsichordist and conductor Eric Milnes, Marin Marais: Badinages features Québecoise viola da gamba virtuosa Mélisande Corriveau. Gramophone magazine hailed her as leading “a new generation of players bringing formidable performing skills and knowledge of period practices.” Badinages is devoted to 20 excerpts from Marais’ remarkable bass viol repertoire of some 500 works. He toyed with convention in some, presenting a series of character pieces rather than the dance forms then favoured. These suites demand a high degree of virtuoso technique, application of appropriate period performance practice, and taste. Corriveau is fully up to the challenge. She renders the numerous period ornaments with finesse, the sound-swelling enflés and one- and two-finger vibratos among them, conveying a stylish, sensuously delicate musical affect. Adventurous both melodically and harmonically, Marais’ music marks a high water mark of the French Baroque. And to our contemporary ears, Corriveau and Milnes’ evocative performance on this album firmly sites this music in that very particular time and place. Andrew Timar Beethoven – Nine Symphonies MSO Festival Chorus; Tuomas Katajala; Derek Welton; Kate Royal; Christine Rice; Malmö Symphony Orchestra; Robert Trevino Ondine ODE 1348-5Q (naxosdirect.com) ! Young conductors must look forward to recording their first Beethoven cycle the way adolescents wait for their chance to get the keys to the car. Not every car is as finely tuned as the Malmö Symphony Orchestra, and not every kid knows how to drive as well as Robert Trevino. Still, the task must cut any ego down to size, so overdone is this amazing artifact of orchestral repertoire. What hasn’t been done with it? From the turbulence of Toscannini’s NBC recordings, at breakneck pace, to the several versions from Berlin with von Karajan, Chicago with Solti, and on and on… And how to summarize what Trevino has achieved? First and foremost, his reading is lyrical. Beethoven can seem all elbows and knees, his angles and bangings claiming too much attention of those who only see the storm clouds gathering on the brow of his famous portrait. Trevino claims a different outlook on the famously tortured genius’ musical expression. After the jarring sequence of dominant seventh chords that opens Symphony No.1, the violins are encouraged to fill their instruments with romantic lush sound, and they manage the effect without excessive vibrato. In the iconic Fifth, whenever it stops knocking fatefully at the door, the same quality enters, especially in the first movement’s second subject. Any symphony cycle will chart LvB’s progress from his early punk-Haydn phase, through the tormented Heiligenstadt period of encroaching silence to his late mystically elevated, even serene mastery. His greatest two symphonies mark the divisions between those three periods: the Seventh, which precedes his late period; and the greatest of them all, his Third Symphony, subtitled Eroica, the one famously dedicated and then undedicated to Napoleon. Consider the slow movements of each. In the earlier one, the mood is extreme tragedy, which Trevino milks by taking a tempo more than ten points below the indicated 80 bpm. The only way it can work is by complete dedication to the line. He allows the pace to move forward in the fuguetto, where the composer seems to cry for mercy or justice or just relief, and then lets it positively take off in the codetta that precedes the return of the opening material, yet he never returns to that opening dirgelike pace. This is pretty radical, to my ear, and I love it. In the more recognizable marche funèbre from the Seventh, as much as Trevino allowed flexibility in the example above, here he maintains an assiduous observance of a uniform but never mechanical pace. This earns him a standing ovation from this quarter. I cannot abide this piece given the inadvertent gradual accelerando one sometimes hears; it makes me want to drive off a cliff. Both movements perch on the precipice of despair, but the later one seems less angry, more resigned, and Trevino observes this difference, it seems to me. A story Trevino tells in the notes about having attempted a strange move in a Schumann symphony with Leipzig’s Gewandhaus orchestra (the organization that premiered Schumann’s works) has him finally agreeing to try it their way, and thanking them subsequently for “making [him] a better conductor.” Malmö has perhaps significantly younger and, it might be, more flexible personnel. The ignition at the heart of this high-performance vehicle is undoubtedly a spectacularly well-regulated wind section: pitch-perfect solos and ensemble work enhance the lyrical element. Trevino loves the middle voices, and makes sure we hear them. He gives the strings license when supplying repeated rhythmic fill to celebrate the meeting of gut and horsehair. And he helps the players achieve the most startling crescendi. It’s lovely to hear Beethoven that isn’t all bumps and bruises, although the brass and (classical) timpani provide just enough of those. The low strings in the recitativo of the finale of the towering Ninth Symphony serve notice, if any were needed, that the entire band, from trunk to transmission, are an ensemble worthy of the ace driver on the podium. Max Christie Clara – Robert – Johannes: Darlings of the Muses Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra; Alexander Shelley; Gabriela Montero Analekta AN 2 8877-8 (analekta.com/en) ! Britishborn conductor Alexander Shelley assumed the role of music director of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra in 2015 and this Analekta recording is the fourth to be released under his leadership. Titled Clara-Robert-Johannes: Darlings of the Muses, it features Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero and is the first in a series of four to be released exploring the personal and professional connections among Robert Schumann, his wife Clara and Johannes Brahms. 48 | July and August 2020 thewholenote.com

Completed in just over a month in 1841, Schumann’s Symphony No.1 in B-flat Major “Spring” was the composer’s first attempt at orchestral writing, and its buoyant, optimistic mood was reflective of a particularly happy time in his life. From the opening fanfare, the NACO approaches the score with much panache – the playing is full and robust with a satisfying balance among the strings and brass. In contrast, the opening mood of Brahms’ Symphony No.1 in C Minor is dark and foreboding, aided by the steady beat of the timpani – is that really fate knocking at the door? Shelley and the orchestra successfully convey a true sense of majesty throughout the work, and today, it’s difficult to believe that this work was the source of such controversy at the time of its premiere in 1876. For years, Clara Schumann was too often known as “an accomplished pianist who composed” – surely an unfair assessment. Her Piano Concerto Op.7 was an early work written in 1835 when she was all of 14. Gabriela Montero delivers a polished performance with the demanding solo passages allowing her ample opportunity to display a flawless technique. Clearly this music was not intended for amateurs! Interspersed with the three major works are short improvisations by Montero based on music by Schumann, aptly demonstrating her talents as both pianist and composer. In all, this is a promising start to an engaging series we can look forward to. Recommended. Richard Haskell Constellations Canadian National Brass Project Analekta AN 2 8924 (analekta.com/en) ! The Canadian National Brass Project, founded in 2015 by artistic director James Sommerville (principal horn, Boston Symphony Orchestra) and administrative director Sasha Johnson (principal tuba, National Ballet of Canada Orchestra) is comprised of 25 Canadian brass players and three percussionists selected from 15 major Canadian and U.S. orchestras. This unbelievably outstanding big ensemble performs brass/percussion arrangements here with musicality and precise pitch/intonation. Wagner’s Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral, arranged by Jay Friedman, opens with flawless delicate lyrical lines. As the volume and intensity build to the final majestic ending, the background musical supports hold it together while never being overwhelming. Angus Armstrong’s arrangement of Holst’s Mars and Jupiter from The Planets includes the infamous virtuosic rapid lines, loud detached notes, low rhythms and dramatic percussion crashes, performed here with so much enjoyment! Robert Fraser’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture works so well for this instrumentation from the mood-setting quiet start to the infamous melodic line, horn fanfares and breathtaking, never over the top, closing build. Contrapuntal brass playing with vocallike breathing and detached notes drive Timothy Higgins’ arrangement of Gabrieli’s O Magnum Mysterium and Sancta Maria. Two 20th-century works are given a brass flavour. Taz Eddy’s arrangement of Ola Gjeilo’s Sanctus incorporates its conversational sounds. Silvestre Revueltas’ dramatic Sensemaya is so well suited to the percussion and low brass of Bruce Roberts’ arrangement. High production values and musicianship give each work an out-of-this-world sound! Tiina Kiik Tchaikovsky – Symphony No.4; Leshnoff – Double Concerto Clarinet & Bassoon Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; Mannfred Honeck Reference Recordings (pittsburghsymphony.org) ! On this 2020 release by Reference Recordings as part of their Pittsburgh Live! series, the majestic Symphony No. 4 in F Minor by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, with its famous opening clarion call that immediately commands listener attention, is paired with a lesser-known, but no less stirring, work by the American-born Jonathan Leshnoff. Pairings of this sort (a warhorse coupled with something new) are, of course, familiar within live musical performance practice, but here we are in a world wherein there is no current ability to mass gather and experience powerful symphonic music (perhaps one of the least socially distant musical forms). So, the recording medium will have to suffice. Good thing then that this album captures the dependably great Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, under the musical direction of Manfred Honeck, in fine form. The performance brings musical urgency and vitality to two important works capable of cleansing the banality of everyday life from one’s musical palette, and affording listeners the kind of hopeful optimism that only great music can provide during a time when, without the engagement of socialized work, friends, nightlife or human interaction, it is perhaps most needed. In this way, both works (Symphony No. 4 and Leshnoff’s Double Concerto for Clarinet and Bassoon), the skillful way in which their performances were undertaken and the clear recording capture, are good for the soul. This indeed is life-affirming music during a difficult time, and it is nice to be reminded of the heights of human creativity and expression. Recommended! Andrew Scott Mahler – Symphony No.7 Minnesota Orchestra; Osmo Vänskä Bis BIS SACD-2386 (minnesotaorchestra.org) ! Mahler’s Seventh Symphony might be considered the antidote to the intense pessimism of his Sixth, so-called “Tragic,” Symphony. Portions of this symphony (movements two and four) were in fact conceived concurrently with the Sixth, and there is an architectural similarity between the opening movements of the two works. The unjustly neglected Seventh is Mahler’s most “modern” symphony, an outlier whose progressive tonality and free-associative structure foreshadow the dissolution of the Romantic era. Darkness pervades the heart of this work, culminating in the frightening central Scherzo, yet it ends in brilliant sunshine. Beneath the surface of the frantic marches, haunted waltzes, militant fanfares and moments of deep tenderness lies a subliminal ambiguity that only fully reveals itself on deeper reflection. This is especially true in the mock-triumphalism of the finale of the work, which imposes an interpretive challenge far greater than that of any of the previous or indeed subsequent symphonies. In the words of the pre-eminent Mahler biographer Henri-Louis de la Grange, “To fathom the meaning of this enigmatic Rondo, we need, perhaps, to refer to more recent music in which quotations, borrowings and allusions to the past constitute the principal aim.” It takes a light and nimble hand to guide us through these thickets. Osmo Vänskä and his Minnesota musicians rise to the challenge in this brilliantly recorded performance which ranks amongst the finest interpretations known to me of this oracular masterpiece. Highly recommended. Daniel Foley Manuel de Falla – El Sombrero de tres picos; El amor brujo Marina Heredia; Carmen Romeu; Mahler Chamber Orchestra; Pablo Heras-Casado Harmonia Mundi HMM902271 (harmoniamundi.com) ! This exciting new issue from Harmonia Mundi presents de Falla’s two best stage works back to back on a single CD conducted by the thewholenote.com July and August 2020 | 49

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)