2 years ago

Volume 26 Issue 2 - October 2020

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  • Classical
  • Artists
  • Choral
  • Concerts
  • Performances
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  • Toronto
  • October
Following the Goldberg trail from Gould to Lang Lang; Measha Brueggergosman and Edwin Huizinga on face to face collaboration in strange times; diggings into dance as FFDN keeps live alive; "Classical unicorn?" - Luke Welch reflects on life as a Black classical pianist; Debashis Sinha's adventures in sound art; choral lessons from Skagit Valley; and the 21st annual WholeNote Blue Pages (part 1 of 3) in print and online. Here now. And, yes, still in print, with distribution starting Thursday October 1.

Missy Mazzoli; Royce

Missy Mazzoli; Royce Vavrek – Proving Up Opera Omaha; International Contemporary Ensemble; Christopher Rountree PentaTone PTC 5186 754 ( ! Right from the opening of this grim, gripping opera, reality mingles with fantasy. In a hearty invocation to the great American Dream, Pa Zegner (the alluring baritone John Moore) sings, “Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm.” Meanwhile, eerie sounds creep in from the orchestra. It’s clear Pa is deluded. It’s the 1860s. Pa and his family have been lured to the Nebraska prairies by the promise of free land offered by the recent Homestead Act. But two young daughters have already died. The land is dry and barren. The weather is nasty. And Uncle Sam’s requirements – including a glass window – are proving mighty difficult to fulfill. American composer Missy Mazzoli and Canadian librettist Royce Vavrek have transformed a disturbing short story by Karen Russell into a powerful theatrical experience. In Russell’s story the Zegners’ brave young son Miles, “a thirteen-year-old runt,” was the narrator. But the opera unfolds without a narrator. As a result, Miles’ tragic confrontation with the ghostly, diabolical Sodbuster (the riveting bass Andrew Harris) has even greater dramatic impact. Michael Slattery’s lovely tenor moves us at every turn in the plot, the only distraction being the drawnout, overwrought baroque-style ornaments Mazzoli gives Miles. But Mazzoli’s writing is fresh, original and enticingly contemporary. With six impassioned soloists and the dynamic International Contemporary Ensemble conducted by Christopher Rountree, this recording from Opera Omaha, a co-commissioner of the opera, commands attention. Fortunately, the booklet contains the full libretto. Pamela Margles CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Telemann – Concertos & Ouverture Arion Orchestre Baroque; Alexander Weimann ATMA ACD2 2789 ( ! Georg Philipp Telemann was a prolific composer. One commentator made the astonishing claim that the sheer quantity of Telemann’s compositions is more than all the works of Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert combined! Yet the self-taught, selfmade Telemann was not just an ordinary workaholic. He was also recognized as a master of many of the international and regional musical styles of his era, a kind of Baroque transnational genre fusionist. In his works for the church, opera and the emerging German public concert scene, his skillfully orchestrated scores were seldom pro forma. They typically exhibit clear melodies, buoyant dance rhythms, adventurous harmonies and exploit mood and drama. Montreal’s Arion Orchestre Baroque (founded in 1981) makes a strong case for the three Telemann works on this album. Quebec recorder virtuoso Vincent Lauzer tears into the first track of Concerto in C Major with youthful gusto. The spirited fourth movement Tempo di minuet sets the stage for Lauzer’s displays of speed double tonguing, crisp arpeggios and dramatic octave leaps – performed with lyrical grace and aplomb. Bassoonist and conductor Mathieu Lussier joins Lauzer in the double Concerto in F Major. The playful four-movement work pits the penetrating treble recorder against the characteristically muffled-sounding Baroque bassoon, an example of the composer’s interest in unusual sonic combinations. Telemann’s ten-movement Overture in G Major – one of his 200 (sic) Overtures – is influenced by the French Baroque style he admired and includes a pastoral trio of two oboes and a bassoon. It receives its premiere recording here. I’m pleased to report that Telemann’s witty and engaging music, composed more than 250 years ago, lifted my clouded pandemic mood. It has the power to uplift other music lovers too. Andrew Timar Beethoven – Complete Symphonies transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt Michel Dalberto, Jean-Claude Pennetier, Alain Planès; Paul Badura-Skoda Harmonia Mundi HMX2931192.98 (!/albums/2643) ! For over 25 years, Franz Liszt undertook the task of transcribing Beethoven’s symphonies for the piano, not merely transferring the notes from one instrument to another but reworking and recomposing these great works entirely. The material is unchanged – Beethoven’s melodic and harmonic content remain intact – but the approach is different, as necessitated by the reduction of 20-or-so instrumental parts down to two hands. It is important to consider that when Liszt made these transcriptions the concept of the symphony orchestra was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is today, and there was no recording technology available to capture these incredible works for posterity; a performance was a one-time event, in the truest sense of the idea. If people wanted to listen to Beethoven in their living rooms, they had to do the work themselves, playing the notes live on their own pianos. By making these transcriptions, Liszt was enabling pianists everywhere to hear this great composer’s symphonies as often as they were willing to play them, while hopefully garnering himself a reasonable sum in royalties. To those of us in the 21st century for whom accessing any one of the 10,000 recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies is as easy as pushing play, can these pianistic oddities have any relevance? Strangely, yes – but not in the straightforward way we might think. Liszt’s transcriptions have the effect of taking the immensity of the orchestra and distilling it into a chamber-sized sound, akin to a piano sonata rather than a symphony. Listening to pianist Paul Badura-Skoda tackle the legendary Fifth Symphony, for example, one is struck by how much his interpretation resembles a long-lost cousin to the Pathétique. While this recording may be more of a novelty item than a standard must-have collectible, those who are familiar with Beethoven’s symphonic essays will appreciate hearing them in a different way, from the inside out, perhaps, rather than the outside in. Matthew Whitfield Weber – Symphonies; Clarinet Concertos Joan Enric Lluna; Berliner Camerata IBS Classical IBS222019 ( ! Oh, allow the clarinet player his argument in favour of Carl Maria von Weber. This younger contemporary of Beethoven, precursor to Wagner, has been afforded an unfortunate and unfair place in the pantheon, close to the fire exit, on the way to the restrooms. But just listen to the powerful bass-y recording released by the Berlin Camerata, featuring Joan Enric Lluna as soloist and conductor in the Clarinet Concertos, Nos.1 in F Minor and 2 in E-flat Major. It’s as though the vengeful ghost of Weber has come to remind us: he was all that then, and he is still all that. Not for Lluna and the team any polite, apologetic renditions of this stuff: it is, as they say, junk out. It’s great to hear, for once, musicians who agree Weber is kind of wild, and requires that approach in order to be heard as intended. The microphone work is an integral part 58 | October 2020

of this approach. You’ll hear everything as if you were sitting not just near, but within the band. The very first sound from the clarinetist is an inhale, and such a hungry, lüstig breath Lluna takes. Weber orchestrated with verve and wit. The Camerata players are given license to kill it, and we hear all the voicings as characters in an opera. Listen to the horns! Listen to the gutty strings! The liner notes written by Josep Dolcet are instructive; Lluna’s own brief addition pays respect to Weber the dramatist, and labels the soloist as the diva! There is a companion CD included of the rarely heard symphonies from the younger Weber. Max Christie The Leipzig Circle Vol.II – Chamber Music by Felix, Clara & Robert London Bridge Trio Somm Recordings SOMMCD 0619 ( ! Leipzig – like Vienna, a city of music! Not only did Bach reside there as cantor at the Thomaskirche for 27 years, but the city also witnessed the birth of Clara Schumann, the arrival of her husband from Zwickau to study law (but later, piano), and the arrival of Mendelssohn to conduct the renowned Gewandhaus Orchestra. Such is the basis for this splendid recording on the Somm label, the second one to feature the London Bridge Trio, this time performing piano trios by Mendelssohn and Robert and Clara Schumann. Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio Op.49 – his first of two – was composed in Leipzig in 1839, and has long been regarded as a supreme example of the genre. The impassioned first movement is all freshness and spontaneity, the intricate interplay deftly handled by the three performers. The second movement is a true song without words, while the scherzo and allegro finale contain the graceful brilliance that so typifies Mendelssohn’s chamber style. Clara Schumann enjoyed a long career as an outstanding concert pianist, but her own compositions remain unjustifiably neglected. Nevertheless, her Trio Op.17 – considered by many to be her greatest work – demonstrates great originality and not surprisingly, a formidable piano part, adroitly handled by Daniel Tong. From the buoyant exuberance of the first movement, the heartfelt lyricism of the second and the cheerful optimism of the finale, Robert Schumann’s Trio Op.80 from 1847 truly embodies the Romantic spirit – little wonder the piece has earned such high praise over the years. Throughout, the London Bridge Trio performs with great panache, demonstrating a sensitive but confident approach in this most intimate repertoire. This disc is a delight! Richard Haskell Si! Sonatas Leticia Gómez-Tagle ARS Produktion ARS38270 ( ! Sonatas by Chopin, Liszt and Domenico Scarlatti are featured on this Ars Produktion recording titled Si! Sonatas with Mexican-born pianist Leticia Gómez-Tagle. While most of us realize the word “Si” is Spanish for “yes” it also refers to B minor, the key in which all three pieces were written. The title was chosen by the artist herself, but even without the play on words and tenuous connection, the program is an attractive one. Chopin’s Sonata No.3 Op.58 was completed in 1844, a time when the composer was at the height of his creative powers. The piece has long been regarded as one of his most difficult, not only with respect to the technical demands, but also to nuance. To say the least, Gómez-Tagle rises to the challenges in a very big way. She delivers an elegant and polished performance, her formidable technique further enhanced by a beautiful tone and fine use of phrasing. The Sonata in B Minor by Franz Liszt is acknowledged as one of the powerhouses of 19th-century piano repertoire; fiendishly difficult, the piece presents technical challenges even greater than those of the Chopin sonata. Again – and not surprisingly – Gómez- Tagle meets the demands with apparent ease, creating a mood of thrilling dramatic intensity throughout. In total contrast to the two Romantic giants is an encore – the Scarlatti Sonata K87, a gentle miniature written a century earlier. Here, Gómez-Tagle’s delicate and precise approach is clear evidence that she is as comfortable with Baroque repertoire as she is with that from later periods. Superb sound quality throughout further enhances an exemplary recording. Highly recommended. Richard Haskell Piano Works by Heitor Villa-Lobos Flavio Varani Azur Classical AZC 175 ( ! Even today, the piano music of Villa-Lobos remains an untapped trove that suggests something of the exotic. Despite the popularity of a handful of his works such as the Bachianas Brasileiras series, Villa-Lobos’ prodigious output for his own instrument boasts much unfamiliar music, thereby requiring a devotional sort of elucidation. Apparently up to such a task is veteran pianist (and native Brazilian), Flavio Varani. He brings an unusual commingling of old-school romanticism and ardent, fiery command to his new disc where accompaniments leap and melodies spring about the keyboard. Varani’s training as a student at the Juilliard School with the great Rosina Lhevinne – and subsequently Arthur Balsam – reveals an integral approach to his art and a careful conception of pianistic lineage in general. The listener is aware that Varani has lived long and purposefully with the music of his homeland; the relationship of composer and interpreter here recalls the great association John Browning, (also a Lhevinne student), had with Samuel Barber. Villa-Lobos’ strange and exotic piano calls to us from unexpected pieces throughout this record: Chôros No.1 W161 “Chôro tipico brasileiro” (a transcription from guitar) and the Danças características africanas W085 are examples. Conversely, Varani chooses the oft-loved eighth piece from Cirandas W220, “Vamos atrás da serra, Calunga,” as epilogue. Regrettably, the recording quality here is not of the highest calibre. Levels are noticeably out of balance and extraneous studio noises disturb the overall flow of an otherwise convincing disc. Adam Sherkin A Character of Quiet – Schubert; Glass Simone Dinnerstein Orange Mountain Music ( ! Admittedly feeling “anxious and enervated” during the early days of lockdown in March and April, pianist Simone Dinnerstein has confessed that she felt neither “creative” nor “productive.” In time however, with the help of poets Wordsworth and Melville and walks through her local cemetery – the hallowed Green- Wood of Brooklyn – she found her way back to the piano. In June, she sat down to record the music of two composers she has held a close connection with: Philip Glass and Franz Schubert. (And we are so very glad that she did!) From the first note of this “quiet” and remarkable album (recorded in her New York home with longtime producer and friend Adam Abeshouse), the listener feels as if ferried to a private audience with Dinnerstein. Therein we are greeted with soloistic utterances on a wholly intimate order, sincere and sublime. With this October 2020 | 59

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