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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.

The Concerto No.6 dates

The Concerto No.6 dates from around 1813. By that time, Beethoven had completed his seventh symphony and Wellington’s Victory. Yet any traces of the new Romantic spirit in this concerto are marginal – clearly Cramer wasn’t about to abandon a means of expression that had successfully served his purpose. Once again, Shelley and the LMP comprise a convivial pairing, particularly in the buoyant Rondo finale which brings the concerto and the disc to a satisfying conclusion. So a hearty bravo to Howard Shelley and the LMP for once again shedding light on some fine music that might otherwise have been overlooked. As always, we can look forward to further additions to the series. Richard Haskell Johannes Brahms – Clarinet Sonatas András Schiff; Jörg Widmann ECM New Series ECM 2621 (emcrecords.com) ! Few people play the clarinet so well, compose so well and exemplify the title “musician” so well as Jörg Widman. Substitute “piano” for “clarinet,” and leaving aside composition, the same applies to András Schiff. What a fantastic collaboration this recording of Brahms’ Sonatas for Piano and Clarinet Op.120 turns out to be. The subtitle is accurate: the piano is an equal partner, and often the more dominant. Schiff’s articulation and phrasing leave me nodding in wonder and delight. Widman’s mastery throughout is unparalleled. The two have collaborated often enough that it’s like listening in on a conversation between brilliant friends. Brahms couldn’t have asked for a more united and insightful reading. They open with Sonata No.2 in E-flat Major, which makes sense if, like me, you prefer Sonata No.1 in F Minor. As wonderful as the performance is, there is nothing that can convince me the second sonata carries as much water as the first, which is more in the composer’s Sturm und Drang manner. They focus, in the first movement of the F Minor, not so much on angst as resigned sadness. The same mood runs into the second movement adagio, taken at the bottom of the range of possible tempi at the outset, nudged gently forward in the middle section, and relaxed back in Schiff’s brief cadenza. Widman dedicated his Five Intermezzi to Schiff: solo pieces whose title and content hearken back to Brahms’ late piano pieces. Interposed between the sonatas here, they serve as (mostly) brief enigmas to tease the listener. Think of a clouded mirror. Think of the grumpy ghost of Brahms, still pining, revisiting melancholy. Max Christie Moritz Moszkowski – Orchestral Music Volume Two Sinfonia Varsovia; Ian Hobson Toccata Classics TOCC 0557 (naxosdirect.com/search/5060113445575) ! Fate was surely unkind to the once-celebrated composer and conductor, Moritz Moszkowski (1854- 1925): his marriage ended, his teenaged daughter died, avant-garde movements rendered his compositions “oldfashioned” and his considerable fortune disappeared when World War I obliterated his investments. After years of failing health, he died an impoverished recluse in Paris. Until the recent revival of interest in lesserknown Romantic-era repertoire, all that survived in performance from Moszkowski’s large output were a few short piano pieces that occasionally appeared as recital encores. Nevertheless, it’s hard to believe that his Deuxième Suite d’Orchestre, Op.47 (1890) is only now receiving its first-ever recording – it’s far too good to have been ignored for so long! The 41-minute, six-movement work begins with the solemnly beautiful Preludio, in which extended chromatic lyricism builds to a near-Wagnerian climax. The urgent, increasingly furious Fuga and syncopated, rocking Scherzo suggest Mendelssohn on steroids. The long lines of the lovely Larghetto are warmly Romantic, gradually blossoming from tranquil to passionate. The cheerful, graceful Intermezzo leads to the Marcia, a surging blend of Wagner and Elgar that ends the Suite in a proverbial blaze of glory. Moszkowski’s Troisième Suite d’Orchestre, Op.79 (1908), in four movements lasting 27 minutes, is much lighter and brighter, almost semi-classical in its sunny charm. The robust playing of Sinfonia Varsovia under conductor Ian Hobson adds to this CD’s many pleasures. Here’s winning proof that there’s lots of “good-old-fashioned” music still waiting to be rediscovered and enjoyed! Michael Schulman The French Album Jorge Federico Osorio Cedille CDR 90000 197 (naxosdirect.com/ search/735131919722) ! In a promotional video for Cedille Records’ new release, The French Album by Jorge Federico Osorio, the pianist himself suggests that Claude Debussy argued that French music, above all, “must give pleasure.” If these words were taken as marching orders for the great Mexican pianist, then it should be noted that his 2020 album represents a job well done. No doubt, unpacking, and then reassembling, music that spans composers, generations and musical eras (Baroque, Romantic, 20th century) into an expressive and cohesive narrative that moves beyond a simple shared place of origin towards something more profound, is yeoman’s work to be sure, but work which Osorio, a concertizing pianist and faculty member at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts, handles with aplomb, care and musicality. It is difficult to imagine what exactly the aesthetic similarities are within the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau, Emmanuel Chabrier, Gabriel Fauré, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, but Osorio manages to connect the repertoire by way of his expressive touch, superior musicality and interpretive mastery. By performing these well-known and hugely popular pieces, such as Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte, in its originally intended solo piano context – audiences may be more familiar with the composer’s 1910 orchestral version – Osorio affords listeners an intimate look into the subtle and deliberate compositional motion of this war horse that, perhaps despite accusations of being overplayed, is magnificent in both conception and interpretation here. Similarly, French (and European more generally) fascination (exoticization?) with Spanish melodies and rhythms (Chabrier’s Habanera; Debussy’s La Puerta del Vino and La soirée dans Grenade; and Ravel’s Alborado del gracioso), moves here beyond a fetishization of otherness. Osorio achieves a coherent musical statement that places the simple, Romantic, and decidedly French, expressionism of Debussy’s Clair de lune, for example, in conversation with the complexity of those fiery Iberian rhythms, providing a welcome release. Andrew Scott Debussy Ravel London Symphony Orchestra; Francois- Xavier Roth LSO Live LSO0821D (lsolive.lso.co.uk) ! A sonic adventure! This impressive new release features three masterworks of French Impressionism by two of its greatest exponents, Debussy and Ravel, in superb SACD stereo sound using the latest high-density recording technology and conducted by one of today’s most charismatic and enterprising maestros, French conductor Francois-Xavier Roth. He “creates empathetic musicality and flair for colour 50 | December 2020 / January 2021 thewholenote.com

and such startling touches that the players look stunned” (London Times); “…there’s never anything routine about his approach.” (Gramophone) Ravel’s Rhapsodie espagnole emerges in pianissimo from total darkness with four descending notes that reoccur in all movements, unifying the work. It then progresses with “cumulative vitality” into sunlight with three dance movements: Malagueña, Habanera and – exploding in fortissimo – the final movement Fiera. To maintain the suspense and gradual crescendo is a real test for the conductor who is showing his lion claws already. Thanks to medici.tv I actually watched him conducting the Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune with the London Symphony and was impressed by his emphasis on the individual players’ spontaneity, the wonderful interplay of woodwinds supported by the harps and the horns. The overall arch-shape is very clear: from the meandering, voluptuous solo flute through ever-changing textures into the passionate fortissimo middle part and sinking back into pianissimo as the faun, after being aroused by the elusive nymphs, goes back to slumber. The real clincher is Debussy’s iconic La mer. Debussy’s immense achievement captures “the majesty and delicacy, fury and stillness, effervescence and power of the sea” and inspires Roth to give an extraordinary performance, careful attention to detail, stunning orchestral effects and an overall epic sweep with a very exciting ending. Janos Gardonyi Hindemith – Kammermusik IV - VII Kronberg Academy Soloists; Christoph Eschenbach Ondine ODE 1357-2 (naxosdirect.com/ search/0761195135723) ! Christoph Eschenbach and the Schleswig- Holstein Festival Orchestra bring us a second volume of pieces that Paul Hindemith chose to lump into one category: Kammermusik. They are all works for smaller ensembles. Most or all require conductor, which is unusual for chamber music; they are complexly orchestrated for bands of varying instrumentation. Here are the latter four in the series. Hindemith was perhaps most easily described as a neo-classical composer, but this reduction definitely omits more than it describes. As an unabashed fan of his music, I’m in a reductive category as well, it sometimes seems. I love the clarity of his ideas and forms, the cleverness of his counterpoint, the freshness of his harmonic language. Kammermusik IV is a violin concerto. Don’t look for many clues in his movement titles other than an indication of the type of pace for each, but the second movement is titled “Nachtstuck” (literally Night Piece); not exactly a nocturne, but still yes, a nocturne. There is expression here, and quirkiness, as in the interlude that seems to depict the chirpings of nocturnal creatures in the forest. The final two movements run together, and the violinist is devilishly good, as are the players in the micro-orchestra. Kammermusik V is a Viola Concerto, one that Hindemith frequently performed himself. The finale is a Marche Militaire, where one might expect a certain ironic humour to play out. It does not disappoint. VI features the viola d’amore, and VII, the organ. Hindemith was not neo anything except possibly neo-Hindemith. Fresh, prolific and always inspired, it will be a century before he is accorded the kind of stature given Mozart. Says me. Max Christie The Cello in My Life Steuart Pincombe 7 Mountain Records 7MNTN-019 (steuartpincombe.com) ! Cellist Steuart Pincombe’s choice of repertoire on this album is both diverse and connected. With exquisite musicianship, and skillful dedication to the delivery, he takes a deeper delve into the material of each composer and finds a way to link them together, in spite of the nearly 200 years separating them. He has highlighted the “gesture” – the energy and physical motive which begins a sound – and he does it with an attention to detail and authenticity which I found totally absorbing. The nuances of grit, breath and space spanned the entire album, beginning with the Bach Suite V in C Minor which flowed with a high volume of intent. The recording is edgy and perfectly flawed with a realness that included delightful burbles from the scordiatura. Pincombe’s interpretations of both the early music and the modern instructions stay clear of both exaggeration and nerdiness. Rather, his energy is felt from a bodily sense deep within and is executed perfectly while still enunciating his passion for the freely gestural energy he programmed. Perhaps during this time of lost public performances I was especially appreciative of the rawness, the energy and the unprocessed feel of the recordings. Helmut Lachenmann’s piece Pression, written in 1969, is a long exploration of playing parts of the cello not generally found What we're listening to this month: thewholenote.com/listening Urban(e) Mike Fahie Jazz Orchestra Reimagining works by seven classical composers (Chopin, Puccini, Stravinsky and more) for jazz orchestra, celebrating the cross-pollination of these two musics. Tales of Solace Stephan Moccio The Canadian composer, producer, arranger, and conductor returns to the piano and his roots in classical composition for this hauntingly beautiful album. MISTRĀL Tamar Ilana & Ventanas CFMA nominated Tamar Ilana & Ventanas present their newest album, MISTRĀL. Ancient ballads, flamenco grooves, Mediterranean melodies, and original compositions. The sound of Toronto! Saqqara Esbe SAQQARA is the new album from producer, composer and singer, Esbe. A luscious mix of entrancing vocals and electronica on a captivating journey through Egypt. thewholenote.com December 2020 / January 2021 | 51

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)