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Volume 26 Issue 4 - December 2020 / January 2021

  • Text
  • Choir
  • Composer
  • Jazz
  • Symphony
  • Recording
  • Toronto
  • Orchestra
  • Musical
  • January
  • December
In this issue: Beautiful Exceptions, Sing-Alone Messiahs, Livingston’s Vocal Pleasures, Chamber Beethoven, Online Opera (Plexiglass & All), Playlist for the Winter of our Discontent, The Oud & the Fuzz, Who is Alex Trebek? All this and more available in flipthrough HERE, and in print Friday December 4.

translations – he also

translations – he also translated the novel – are provided in the booklet. Sveinsson calls his creation an opera, but the only characters in this unique work are set designs painted by Ragnar Kjartansson. There are no people on the stage, (an opera with no divas says the composer); the orchestra, solo cellist, vocal trio and chorus perform unseen from the pit. The first of its four movements is purely instrumental and is strongly reminiscent to my ear of Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. The sombre mood continues in the following movements where the choral settings are somehow lush and stark at the same time. Kjartansson’s stage sets are said to be rooted in “Germanic romantic clichés” and I assume the striking paintings, which adorn the four panels of the cardboard packaging, are drawn from them. It is an impressive addition to Sono Luminus’ ongoing commitment to bringing Icelandic culture to the world. During my tenure at CJRT-FM in the 1990s, one of my great pleasures was getting to know and work with Latvian-Canadian composer Tālivaldis Ķeniņš (1919-2008). During one of my years there “Tāli” was the subject of our annual week-long Canadian Composer Retrospective, which involved an extended documentary which I produced, and daily broadcasts of his music, including a concert that featured his Viola Sonata, commissioned for Rivka Golani especially for the occasion. After service in the Second World War, Ķeniņš settled in Paris where he studied with Tony Aubin and Olivier Messiaen at the Conservatoire. After successful completion of his degree, including a first prize in composition for his Cello Sonata, he moved to Canada and became an important fixture in our musical life, teaching for many years at the University of Toronto and serving as the president of the Canadian League of Composers. 2019 marked the centenary of Ķeniņš’ birth and although I’m not aware of any particular fanfare to mark that occasion, it is nice to see that two new recordings of his orchestral music have just become available. The first to arrive, Tālivaldis Ķeniņš – Symphony No.1; Two Concertos, features the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra on the Ondine label (naxosdirect.com/ search/ode+1350-2). The Concerto di camera No.1 for piano and chamber ensemble (flute, clarinet and strings) was composed in 1981 and first performed during the Latvian Song Festival at U of T on Canada Day that year. Ķeniņš says, “This is not a virtuoso romantic concerto but rather a work held within the baroque and classical framework in a concertante style, where the thematic material is a neverending development and takes shape in the dialogue between the soloist and the other members of the chamber group.” The soloist in this performance is Agnese Egliņa. In the Concerto for Piano from 1990 the accompanying string orchestra is complemented by an extensive obbligato percussion part, performed by Edgars Saksons. Once again the soloist is Egliņa. Both concertos are conducted by Guntis Kuzma. The earliest work, dating from 1959, is the first of eight symphonies that Ķeniņš would pen over his career. The eminent Latvian critic in exile, Jānis Cīrulis, called this work “a mighty symphonic edifice, which rises above our local musical structures.” It was first played at the Indianapolis Latvian Song Festival in 1960 and shortly thereafter in Vancouver and Winnipeg and broadcast by the CBC. This June 2020 performance from Riga’s Great Guild Hall is conducted by Andris Poga. The second disc was produced by the Latvian Music Information Centre. Tālivaldis Ķeniņš – Violin Concerto; Concerto for Five Percussionists and Orchestra; Beatae voces tenebrae (LMIC088 skani.lv) once again features the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Andris Poga in performances from the Great Guild Hall earlier this year. The Violin Concerto dates from 1974 and was commissioned by the CBC for Steven Staryk who gave the first performance with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra. The internationally renowned Canadian soloist and concertmaster – he had been the youngest ever to hold that position with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of 24 – was visiting professor at the University of Victoria at the time. At the premiere, Vancouver Sun critic Lloyd Dykk perceived the Violin Concerto as “an old-fashioned melange of Romantic and Neo-Classical patterns and moods ... prominent in its Milhaudish playfulness.” The soloist in this performance is Eva Bindere, winner of the Latvian Grand Music Award in 2016 for musician of the year. She says: “This concerto was a true surprise. I believe it’s absolutely world-class music, written extremely professionally, with a wonderful technical understanding of the instrument, [...] In the musical sense, the concerto is very saturated; much depends on the soloist’s personal contribution... [but] the whole process brought me joy, and I never felt that this composition needed any sort of subjective ‘assistance.’” The Concerto for 5 Percussionists and Orchestra (1983) was commissioned by the Faculty of Music, U of T, with support from the Ontario Arts Council, on the occasion of Ķeniņš retirement (although he would stay active as professor emeritus for many more years). Ķeniņš had a close relationship with percussion. In a conversation with Edgars Kariks, he stated: “I appreciate the extensive opportunities that percussion instruments offer. They provide so much colour. They give my music a dynamic profile... something like an independent objective. They serve as the foundation for all of the dramatic elements...” Beatae voces tenebrae was commissioned by the Composers, Authors and Publishers Association of Canada (CAPAC, now SOCAN). In 1977, in conjunction with the Frankfurter Buchmesse, the world’s largest trade fair for books, CAPAC organized Canadian Music Week in several cities in Germany – eight concerts featuring various compositions and performers from Canada. The premiere of Beatae voces tenebrae was given by the Beethovenhalle Orchestra in Bonn, conducted by Boris Brott. The CBC issued a double LP of works featured during that event which has held a treasured place in my collection over the years. I am delighted by this new recording of one of Ķeniņš’ most moving orchestral works. He did not often provide detailed program notes, but this work is an exception: “This composition coincides with a period of grief in the life of the composer who was mourning the sudden passing of two close friends. These events have influenced the meaning and design of the work and explain the frequent allusions to motivic ideas by classical composers bearing on similar concerns. Through a series of images of serenity and drama, past and present intermingle in sudden flashes of emotion and various dimensions of human anguish...” The excellent booklet notes detail some of the quotations from Liszt, Bach (and the well-known BACH motif – B flat, A, C, B natural which appears frequently), Beethoven and Fauré, with bar numbers and timings of where to find them in the recording. The composer’s epigraph on the score reads “to those beloved shadows who once were a part of our lives.” I am honoured to have known Tāli Ķeniņš as a colleague and proud that he considered me a friend. He inscribed my copy of his biography Between Two Worlds (by Ingrida Zemzare, in Latvian, with English summary) “For David Olds, in true friendship.” I will treasure it always. And one final note, speaking of colleagues and friends, while preparing for this article and for David Hetherington’s recent virtual recital “Cello Masterworks” (newmusicconcerts.com), I listened to Hetherington and William Aide’s recording of Ķeniņš’ prize-winning Cello Sonata on a disc that also includes his Piano Quartet No.2 (with Paul Meyer and Steven Dann) and the Concertante for flute and piano with Aide and Robert Aitken (Centrediscs CMCCD5997 cmccanada. org/shop/cd-cmccd-5997). Highly recommended! 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 42 | December 2020 / January 2021 thewholenote.com

STRINGS ATTACHED TERRY ROBBINS There are two 2CD sets of the complete Mozart violin concertos this month, one of which is simply unique. On Mozart’s Violin: The Complete Violin Concertos violinist Christoph Koncz and Les Musiciens du Louvre, one of Europe’s leading period-instrument ensembles perform the concertos with Koncz – astonishingly – playing Mozart’s own violin (Sony Classical G010004353645E sonyclassical.lnk.to/ Koncz_MozartsViolinPR). The violin, made in the early 1700s by Klotz of Mittenwald after a Jacob Steiner model, was played by Mozart while he was concertmaster in the Salzburg Hofkapelle from 1769. It was entrusted to his sister Maria Anna (Nannerl) when he moved to Vienna in 1781. The concertos date from 1773-75, so would have been played on this instrument; indeed, Koncz makes a strong case for the violin’s particular sound clearly influencing the compositions. The instrument passed through various owners – all listed in the booklet notes – before being acquired by the Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation in 1955. Remarkably, it has retained its original Baroque form, and not suffered any alterations. Koncz clearly understood and appreciated the remarkable privilege accorded him by this recording project, and he responded with absolutely faultless performances. The violin has a sweet, clear sound, and Koncz plays it beautifully, with a tasteful use of vibrato and with warmth and feeling. Mozart left no cadenzas – these would have been improvised at the time – and Koncz supplies his own, after studying the extant cadenzas for the piano concertos and immersing himself in the style of Mozart’s Salzburg years. Les Musiciens du Louvre, the first ensemble to perform Mozart on period instruments at the Salzburg Festival, provides the perfect accompaniment. It’s not simply the emotional and personal impact of the instrument that makes this set so special; the performances themselves, recorded in the Salzburg Mozarteum, are technically and musically superb in what is a quite stunning release. What we're listening to this month: If I could own only one set of the Mozart violin concertos, this would be it. Normally, any release by the outstanding Latvian violinist Baiba Skride would likely be topping my list, but this time her Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos.1-5 with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra under Eivind Aadland (also included are the Adagio in E Major K261 and the two Rondos in B-flat K269 and C Major K373) (Orfeo C997201 naxosdirect.com/search/orf-c997201.) is up against the Koncz set. Skride draws a beautiful sound from the Yfrah Neaman Stradivarius violin that she plays on extended loan, with a clear tone and an effortless grace and warmth. Like Koncz, Skride performs her own cadenzas to great effect. There’s never a hint of an issue with Skride’s playing in beautifully judged and finely nuanced modern-instrument performances, but while there’s elegance and depth in the orchestral playing, their recorded sound seems less than ideal; they seem set fairly far back with a particularly over-heavy bass line that often muddies the texture. The ongoing Analekta series of the complete Beethoven Violin Sonatas with violinist Andrew Wan and pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin continues with the second volume, this time featuring the three Op.12 Sonatas – No.1 in D Major, No.2 in A Major and No.3 in E-flat Major – and the “Spring” Sonata, No.5 in F Major Op.24 (AN 2 8795 analekta.com). Volume One was reviewed here in December 2018. The Op.12 sonatas from 1797/98 were the first to be written and show the two instruments on an equal footing despite the customary “piano and violin” designation. They are joyful works – only one movement is in a minor key – and, while formally conventional, are imaginative and bright in texture. A pure delight from start to finish, the performances here are of the same high standard as on the earlier volume of a series that continues to impress. The Dover Quartet swept the board at the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, the first prize announcement noting that they “consistently demonstrated an exceptional level of maturity, poise and artistry.” Add five or six years of performance experience to that judgement and you will have a good idea of the exceptionally high standard of their new release (2CDs priced as a single) Beethoven Complete String Quartets Volume 1 The Opus 18 Quartets thewholenote.com/listening Metamorphosis Three Reeds Duo Three Reeds Duo, Leah and Paul Forsyth, offer a program of newly commissioned works (“Little Rivers” and “Duo Displasia”) as well as early works for oboe and saxophone Soul Searching H2 Quartet The award winning h2 quartet takes advantage of the great expressive capacity of their instrument by programming traditional, avant-garde, minimalist, and jazzinfluenced works Twinge Haven Trio Twinge is a song cycle by Jon Magnussen about the devastating tsunami of 2004, performed by HAVEN TRIO with narration by Barry Bearak C Minor Progression Peter Miyamoto Pianist Peter Miyamoto performs works in the key of C Minor by by Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert thewholenote.com December 2020 / January 2021 | 43

Volume 26 (2020- )

Volume 26 Issue 1 - September 2020
Volume 26 Issue 2 - October 2020
Volume 26 Issue 3 - November 2020
Volume 26 Issue 4 - December 2020 / January 2021

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)