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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.

Beethoven – Christ on

Beethoven – Christ on the Mount of Olives Elsa Dreisig; Pavol Breslik; David Soar; London Symphony Chorus; LSO; Sir Simon Rattle LSO Live LSO0826D (lsolive.lso.co.uk) ! In the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke capture Jesus’ last moments as a free man. Aware of his impending arrest and execution – having been betrayed by Judas Iscariot – Jesus uses his final night to reflect and pray at a familiar location, the Garden of Gethsemane, located on the Mount of Olives. To this day, the location remains a site of Christian pilgrimage and, in 1803, afforded rich artistic fodder to Beethoven, who used its physical beauty and importance as a site within Christian theology to pen his compelling, rarely performed, and only Passion oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives. Although not theologically Christian, but rather an Enlightenment-era deist, Beethoven was most certainly drawing a parallel between this Gospel narrative of Jesus at his most fallible and his own looming existential crisis of encroaching deafness and isolation. Written while living at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien and understood, at the time, within the context of other 18th-century oratorios that focus on religious themes, subjects and iconography, Christ on the Mount of Olives deserves to occupy a more central place within Beethoven’s already bountiful canon. Good thing then, that it is performed and recorded so beautifully here on this 2020 LSO Live release by the London Symphony Orchestra with Sir Simon Rattle at the helm. Fleshed out with an enormous chorus of nearly 150 under the direction of Simon Halsey and released in honour of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, this musthave recording packages together a compelling religious narrative with the majestic backing of the LSO and inspired soloists Elsa Dreisig, Pavol Breslik and David Soar performing a variety of biblical figures from Franz Xaver Huber’s libretto. With the religious importance for some of the upcoming Christmas season, this recording could not have come at a better time. Andrew Scott Elgar – Sea Pictures; Falstaff Elīna Garanča; Staatskapelle Berlin; Daniel Barenboim Decca Records 00028948509683 (deccaclassics.com/en/catalogue) ! A new and sumptuous live recording from Decca features two important works by Sir Edward Elgar: the five Sea Pictures, Op 37 (1899) and the seldom-heard “symphonic study,” Falstaff, Op.68 (1913). Elgar was both proud and fond of his Falstaff. While it was well received at its premiere in 1913, it hasn’t quite found its footing in the standard repertoire to date (at least outside of England). Conversely, the Sea Pictures have long captured the imaginations of singers and audiences alike. The sea itself is central to British identity and, while many other cultures could claim the same, an Englishman’s love for his island’s coastal waters is of a particular brand; Elgar epitomizes this relationship in his cycle. They are unique for their dark and rich soundscapes, initially scored for contralto. (Canada’s own Maureen Forrester sang them – almost as trademark – throughout her career.) The five Pictures set words from different poets, including the composer’s wife: In Haven (Capri). Daniel Barenboim is no stranger to interpreting Elgar. What an experience it is, to hear him steer this record’s course. Barenboim’s seasoned Elgar is luminous and emotive, ever balanced and rational. One might argue that he brings just a hint of German cerebralism to such overtly English Romantic music. Mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča contributes her own impressive artistry here, embracing this ravishing repertoire with all that she’s got. Her voice soars above the Staatskapelle Berlin, buoyed and serene, “to rolling worlds of wave and shell.” Adam Sherkin Egon Wellesz – Die Opferung des Gefangenen Hwang; Cerha; Dewey; Koch; Vienna Concert Choir; Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien; Robert Brooks Capriccio C5423 (naxosdirect.com/ search/845221054230) ! Austrian-British composer Egon Wellesz (1885- 1974), of Hungarian Jewish origin, was a prolific composer. Extensively performed and decorated during his lifetime, he achieved success early, being the first of Arnold Schoenberg’s students to receive a publishing contract from Universal Edition, before Berg or Webern. Generally neglected in the decades since his death, this world premiere recording, by the Vienna Concert Choir and the Radio- Symphonieorchester Wien of Wellesz’s 1924-25 opera-ballet Die Opferung des Gefangenen (The Sacrifice of the Prisoner), is part of a wider revival of interest in his music. The opera’s story is based on a scenario by Eduard Stucken after the ancient Mayan play Rabinal Achi, performed annually in Rabinal, Guatemala. Subtitled “a cultural drama for dance, solo singers and choir,” Wellesz’s work is about an imprisoned prince who is waiting for his execution after a battle. It’s not a huge stretch however to see the story reflecting many of the post WWI anxieties around the consequences of the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Replete with dramatic vocal and choral scenes and massive orchestral passages with Mahlerian and Schoenbergian echoes, Die Opferung is a prime example of Wellesz’s mature Viennese musical style. His signature colourful orchestration is underscored by forte brass choir and bold percussion statements. This theatrical work, parts of which would not be out of place on a later blockbuster movie soundtrack, reads surprisingly well on audio CD, even without the visual and dance elements of a stage production. Andrew Timar English Songs à la Française Tyler Duncan; Erika Switzer Bridge Records 9537 (bridgerecords.com/ products/9537) ! British Columbia-born/ New York-based baritone, Tyler Duncan, and his wife, pianist Erika Switzer, are internationally renowned performers as a duo, and individually. The clever idea of performing French composers’ settings of original English texts started when French baritone François Le Roux handed them Camille Saint-Saëns’ Cherry-Tree Farm score, set to Horace Lennard’s poetry. More of these Romantic/20th century songs were compiled, which, after their recital in Tours, led to this, their remarkable first duo album. A literal who’s who of French composers successfully set the original English texts. Reynaldo Hahn’s Five Little Songs (1914), set to Robert Louis Stevenson’s words, are short children’s songs with tonal word painting like the florid piano lines behind lyrical vocals in The Swing, and colourful low vocal pitches with piano tremolo night sky effects in The Stars. Darius Milhaud’s settings of five Rabindranath Tagore Child Poems (1916) are operatic, such as the fully orchestrated piano part supporting lyrical emotional singing in 46 | December 2020 / January 2021 thewholenote.com

the closing, The Gift. Love Maurice Ravel’s Chanson écossaise (1910) setting of Robert Burns’ text. Ravel emulates a Scottish quasibagpipe folk song without ever creating a parody. Jules Massenet’s setting of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Come into the Garden, Maud (1880) foreshadows future musical theatre sounds. Poulenc, Roussel and Gounod works complete the recording. Duncan and Switzer deserve a “bilingual” standing ovation for their tight duo musicianship and colourful interpretations of these one-of-a kind art songs. Tiina Kiik Saman Shahi – Breathing in the Shadows Maureen Batt; Fabián Arciniegas; Tiffany Hanus; Various Instrumentalists Leaf Music LM237 (samanshahimusic.com) ! The debut album by Iranian- Canadian composer and pianist Saman Shahi, Breathing in the Shadows, feels like a gentle journey through the kaleidoscope of meaningful images, each captured in a subjective and probing way. The three song cycles included on this album are worlds unto their own – powerful and empowering, existential blocks of unique and diverse musical language combining minimalism, dodecaphony, hints of Iranian traditional music and rock. The poetry is beautiful and impactful, but it is the music that propels it beyond its scope. Shahi’s music lets the poetic images breathe and blossom and underlines the themes of inner and outer struggles, yearnings, rebelliousness and death (symbolic and physical). The rhythmic drive and atonal segments create an immediacy that is enlivening. The titular song cycle, Breathing in the Shadows, is based on poems by five poetesses from around the world and features a wonderfully talented duo – soprano Maureen Batt and pianist Tara Scott. Each song is a statement of independence and defiance in the face of oppression, longing or, simply, love. The second cycle, Orbit, builds on sharp imagery conceived by Serbian-Canadian singer-songwriter Jelena Ćirić. The waves of colours Shahi creates in the piano lines are just gorgeous and tenor Fabián Arciniegas’ phrasing underscores the words with subtle urgency. The concluding cycle, Song of a Wandering Soul, merges several musical forms that Shahi considers a part of his musical identity. Written for a larger ensemble, using improvisation and electronics to create varied textures and riding on the perfectly suited timbre of Tiffany Hanus’ voice, this cycle is pure rock ’n roll in a classical setting. Ivana Popovic Reena Esmail – This Love Between Us: Prayers for Unity; Barbara Croall – Giishkaapkag Elora Singers; Mark Vuorinen Independent TESR-001 (elorasingers.ca/ hear/recordings) ! The professional Elora Singers have established a reputation as one of the finest chamber choirs in Canada, particularly known for their commitment to Canadian repertoire. This admirable new release on their own imprint features two contrasting large-scale choral works by Canadian composer Barbara Croall and American composer Reena Esmail. The subtitle, Prayers for Unity, of Esmail’s This Love Between Us (2016) tips listeners off to the composer’s intent. The work’s seven movements are titled after the major religious traditions of India: Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Jainism and Islam. Esmail has selected representative texts in the original seven languages from each, evoking unity, universal brotherhood and kindness. A signature element of the work is the inspired and effective incorporation of a Hindustani sitarist, vocal soloist and tabla player into the orchestral and choral texture, underscoring the fusion of North Indian and Western classical musical elements, both traditions Esmail is at home in. Odawa First Nation composer and musician Barbara Croall’s 2019 Giishkaapkag (Where the Rock is Cut Through) is scored for choir, percussion and the pipigwan (Anishinaabe cedar flute) eloquently played by the composer. The vocals are underscored by a powerful, elegiac text condemning the violence to the feminine in creation. “Due to colonization,” writes Croall, “many women and girls likewise have suffered (and continue to suffer) … due to the many past and continuing violations of Shkakmigkwe (Mother Earth).” Referencing the present tragedy of murdered and missing Indigenous women, Croall reminds us that “the rocks bear witness and speak to us of this” – a message also heard clearly through her powerful music. Andrew Timar Rosa Mystica – Musical Portraits of the Blessed Virgin Mary Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir; Paul Spicer Somm Recordings SOMMCD 0617 (naxosdirect.com/search/748871061729) ! Among the stated objectives of this record label, one stands out and it is this: “to uncover new [music] … from the unique to the extraordinary…” What we're listening to this month: thewholenote.com/listening English Songs à la française Tyler Duncan and Erika Switzer Baritone and pianist pair present their debut album, a collection of songs by masters of French mélodie in a rarely heard form: English verse. Breathing in the Shadows Saman Shahi Stories of oppression through alienation, resistance, and selfactualization. The poems have an inherent musicality, evocative imagery, and a powerful message of unity and hope. Voices of the Pearl, Volume 3 Anne Harley and Stacey Fraser Canadian soprano/artistic director Anne Harley is joined by fellow Canadian artists Stacey Fraser, Steve Thachuk, Emily Cecilia LeBel to present an album of exciting commissioned works. The Anchoress David Serkin Ludwig A one-woman monodrama that explores struggles with faith, alienation, gender, and social power through the imagined person of an anchoress. thewholenote.com December 2020 / January 2021 | 47

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)