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Volume 11 Issue 10 - July 2006

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DIS~ DISCS REVIEWED

DIS~ DISCS REVIEWED VOCAL & OPERATIC ,, \!\Lill Vivaldi - Laudate pueri Domin um Tracy Smith Bessette; Marion Newman; Aradia Ensemble; Kevin Mallon Naxos 8.557852 Vivaldi - In furore, Laudate pueri e concerti sacri Sandrine Piau, Accademia Bizantina; Ottavio Dantone Nai"ve OP 30416 Canada vs Italy. No this is not the world cup - I've been comparing and contrasting a couple of new Vivaldi releases. The Aradia Ensemble under the baton of Kevin Mallon and Accademia Bizantina under the direction of Ottavio Dantone. Both ensembles perform on period instruments. Both feature the sacred works of Vivaldi. But that's about it for apples to apples. The programming differs - but it's more like apples to pears as opposed to apples and oranges. Both discs feature a Laudate pueri Dominum (Praise the Lord, ye servants) - Canadians RV 600, Italians RV 601. These settings of the Vespers Psalm CXII were written for soprano voice and orchestral accompaniment - likely between 1715 and 1717 - during Vivaldi's long association with the Venetian Ospedale dell Pieta - a charitable orphanage for illegitimate girls that doubled as a music academy. I have to say that the crystal clear and innocent quality of the French soprano Sandrine Piau featured with Accademia Bizantina sends shivers up my spine. The delivery is more than excellent, it's convincing. F ive stars (if you're into count- 50 Back to Ad Index ing stars). Canadian Tracy Smith Bessett, featured with the Aradia's RV600 version presents a lovely and convincing performance - but somehow it lacks the clean crisp quality one might tend to prefer in the delivery of period music. Both discs "fill-out" the program with instrumental works. Again, both ensembles are stellar, but I'd give the tipping point to Bizantina. Their version of the Concerto 'per la Solnnita di San Lorenzo is moving beyond words, literally. In the final analysis - what really won me over to the Aradia disc was the passionate and moving performance by Canadian mezzo-soprano Marion Newman in the Stabat Mater. As they say in the movies, worth the price of admission. Heidi Mackenzie Vivaldi - Dixit Dominus Vocal soloists; Kernerscher Sing­ Verein Dresden; Dresdener Instrumental Concert; Peter Kopp Archiv 477 6145 Fond memories remain of my first Archiv LP, whereby I first heard the sound of a clavichord, courtesy of Ralph Kirkpatrick. When these people choose to release a recording, we should wisely take notice. Much comment is made by scholars about the recent authentication of Vivaldi's Dixit Dominus from the Saxon State Library, and now Archiv have issued it on a very fine CD. The musicological discovery is that this Vivaldi work, among the largest that he left, was long attributed to Galuppi, and gathered dust for centuries. Now, with the researchers in full agreement, Vivaldi's Dixit is presented in a broad, expansive reading from the Dresden forces. Soloists, chorus and ensemble are perfectly disciplined and full of vitality. On the same disc, you find three of Galuppi's Psalm settings, all of which use similar forces. Galuppi's work is finely crafted in I WWW. TH EWHO LENOTE,COM the rococo manner, and many passages are as listenable as Vivaldi, if not more so. This project was recorded in Dresden's Lukaskirche, which has an absolutely magical reverberation, suiting precisely the period-instrument dogma. The organ builder (and tuner) is credited. Liner notes are extensive, revealing the facts of the Vivaldi manuscript unearthing. Photographs adorn the liner notes, every one taken during the recording or engineering sessions, with not a single posed shot to be seen. Unreservedly recommended. John S. Gray Handel - Giulio Cesare Glyndebourne; William Christie OpusArte OA 0950 D This three DVD set is a film of a live performance that took place at Glyndebourne in 2005. It begins with a shot of the orchestra finding its way to the pit, and the audience applauding William Christie as he takes his place before them. This touch, and the further live applause and laughter, makes for a tirelessly enjoyable viewing. The set appears to be a kind of wartime European melee. This offers a sufficiently contemporary understanding to the text and plot. Although I have to admit my partiality to counter-tenors playing male alto roles, Sarah Connolly as Cesare and Angelika Kirchschlager as Sesto are both disturbingly convincing. Perhaps they have been taking lessons from my ensemble. Cleopatra, played by Danielle de Niese, is sufficiently catty and full of herself, and comes complete with her own "Walk-like-an-Egyptian" choreography. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment provides a lively and enthusiastic accompaniment to the work. William Christie keeps the music moving in such a way as to never allow the audience to get bored. My only complaint about this production is that the chorus (The Glyndebourne Chorus) is topheavy and perhaps a little too close to the microphones. How often do you get the chance to make popcorn, grab a beer, kick up your feet and watch one of the greatest stories and greatest compositions of our time appear in your very own living room? This is definitely worth whatever it costs. I'll be over to watch it again with you - I like butter on my popcorn. Gabrielle McLaughlin Wagner; Strauss Adrianne Pieczonka; Munich Radio Orchestra; Ulf Schirmer Orfeo C 665 061 A After a good decade of hard work singing in opera houses around the world, Canada's Adrianne Pieczonka is attracting the attention she deserves. The lyric-dramatic soprano has a voice that not only records well but by all accounts is simply magnificent "live". This Orfeo disc is devoted to just two composers: Wagner and R. Strauss. Well chosen excerpts from Tannhauser, Die Walkure and Lohengrin complement others from Capriccio, Arabella and Ariadne auf Naxos. Each of these seems specially selected for its emotional content and melodic beauty. The immediately striking feature of Pieczonka' s performance is her ease of delivery with repertoire that demands the utmost from the singer. Her instrument is wonderfully balanced throughout her range with uniformly rich colouring. There doesn't seem to be a weak spot anywhere and that puts a listener at ease right way. She's a precise singer with the perfect spin on her voice and an unerring sense of pitch that never fails her despite what Wagner and Strauss throw at her from the orchestra pit. Perhaps most consistently impressive is her emotional commitment to the text of each piece. She is fully engaged in the drama of her story and lives every word of it as she sings. This is singing of the highest standard. Coupled with the Munich Radio Orchestra under Ulf Schirmer, the collaboration is an ultimately satisfying listen. The Deepest Desire Joyce DiDonato Eloquentia EL0504 Alex Baran J ULY 1 - SEPTEM BER 7 2006

HANDEL strument, the other emphasizing the music. The young American mezzo Joyce DiDonato draws ovations for her performances and recordings of Handel and Rossini operas. But she also triumphs in operas from her own time and country, like Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking. So it's fitting, if brave, for her to feature modern American song on her first solo disc. Hers is a light, clear and agile voice, with reserves of forceful dramatic power. She can whiten her sound to create the purest filament, or fill it with fury and despair. But the effect is always remarkably natural, unmannered and bursting with personality. DiDonato moves with ease through the intricate rhythms of Leonard Bernstein. She is at her most compelling in Aaron Copland's Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson. While she is imaginative in colouring words, she resists the common temptation to indulge in coyness in lines like "Why did they shut me out of heaven - did I sing too loud?" Heggie's The Deepest Desire is burdened by the sentimentality of Sister Helen Prejean' s poetry. But DiDonato achieves exhilarating lyricism. David Sobel's piano is scintillating - too much so in Bernstein's Latin-flavoured A Julia de Burgos, where his attempts to overpower the singer fortunately fail. Flutist Frances Shelly provides atmospheric colour in The Deepest Desire. DiDonato's enunciation is not always clear here, especially in Heggie' s four songs, but that is partly due to the reverberant acoustic. Nonetheless, this is an outstanding solo recording debut. Pamela Marg/es Andriessen - Writing to Vermeer Susan Narucki; Susan Bickley; Barbara Hannigan; De Nederlandse Opera; Reinbert de Leeuw Nonesuch 79887-2 From a leading avant-garde composer like Louis Andriessen you would expect hard-edged dissonances and jagged rhythms. These are certainly in evidence in Writing to Vermeer - along with elements of minimalism, expressionism, modernism, jazz, baroque J ULY 1 - SEPTEMBER 7 2 006 Back to Ad Index counterpoint, renaissance lute song and electronic soundscapes. But most unexpected in this provocatively beautiful opera are passages of exquisite lyricism. Andriessen's librettist, the notorious experimental British film director Peter Greenaway, has provided an uncharacteristically sweet and intimate libretto. Three women write letters to the 17th century Dutch painter Vermeer, who is away from home. His mother-in-law Maria, sung incisively by mezzo Susan Bickley, observes, 'You paint us writing so much'. Soprano Susan Narucki, as his pregnant wife Catharina, poignantly reminds him how he is constantly talking about making and supporting babies. The role of Vermeer's model Saskia was written for Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan. Her shimmering expressiveness makes Andriessen's reworking of an old Dutch folk song Mein junges Leben a highlight. Inevitably, Greenaway's scenario is loaded with impending disasters. These loom up intermittently in passages of electronic music prepared by Dutch composer Michel van der Aa. They bear titles like 'Murder of the De Witt brothers' 'French invasion,' and, to end th~ opera, 'Flood'. The superb orchestra and choirs under Reinbert de Leeuw paint luminous, distinctive textures. The booklet contains a fine essay, an interview with the composer, and photos of the 2004 stage revival of the original 1999 production by the Amsterdam Nederlandse Opera. Pamela Marg/es CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Handel - Concerti Grossi Handel and Haydn Society; Christopher Hogwood AvieAV2065 Listening to the complete concerti grossi of Handel is like taking a tour of the man's musical ideas and interests: from German counterpoint to Italian opera; from Engli sh pastoral fantasy to French WWW.THEWHOLENOTE. COM dance-inspired elegance. The paintings used to accompany the booklet of this re-issue of fine performances by the Handel and Haydn Society perfectly exemplify these pieces, as well. The cover features an anonymous early 18th century English landscape of "Putney Bridge and Village from Fulham". The peace of villagers walking near the bridge is contrasted by a horse and its rider being vigorously chased by a dog and men straining to bring their boat ashore. The famous portrait of Handel by Thomas Hudson graces the inside cover. The buttons of his elegant jacket are straining to stay done up and his eyes seem to be saying to the portrait-painter: "hurry up and finish, I have a rehearsal to get to!" A rumpled collection of pages of music is in his left hand and his right hand is pushing on the seat of his chair, conveying a strong sense of impatient energy. The performances on this disc, which date as far back as 1988, are gorgeously rendered; the tempi are perfect, every note is in place and the emotional affect of each movement is accurately represented. The soloists play with grace and style and the Handel and Haydn Society orchestra has a luxuriousness of sound that perfectly suits these pieces. The only thing I miss is the sense of danger and impatience that under! ies the paintings. Underneath the surface craft and sophistication of this music lurks the more impolite but vital feelings of passion, regret, exuberance, despair, lust, etc. that pervade Handel's stage works and that more recent recorded performances of these pieces bring out in spades. Larry Beckwith Mozart - Sonatas K331; 570; Fantasia K397; Adagio K540 Tom Beghin, fortepiano Etcetera KTC 4015 Haydn - Five Keyboard Sonatas on a Schanz Fortepiano Malcolm Bilsom Claves 50-2501 Two CDs, with two different approaches to I 8th-century keyboard music - one emphasizing the in- Tom Beghin, currently an associate professor at McGill University, plays Mozart on "Mozart's fortepiano", specifically a replica of an instrument built by Anton Walter for the composer, as restored to its initial state (after Mozart died, Walter had radically rebuilt it). The replica includes alternative damper-raising mechanisms, illustrated by Beghin in two renditions of the Fantasia ind, and in contrasting treatments in the two sonatas. The booklet includes a four-page essay by a Viennese expert, with technical details. Interesting though all this is, the performances are mannered to the point of obliterating the flow and sometimes even the harmonic sense of this fine music. In the Fantasia the presto interruptions become ; blur with one damper device, and are only slightly clearer with the other; in one passage of the Adagio, raising the dampers of just the lower half of the keyboard similarly clouds the texture and continuity, and exaggerated "dramatic" silences do not compensate. In K. 331 the variation-theme grinds to a nearhalt every four bars; the pianist's stamping adds novelty to the "Turkish march" finale here. Only in the final rondo of K.570 do we get a clear steady beat and lines we can follow. In Malcolm Bilson's preface to his Haydn CD he does not claim to play "Haydn's fortepiano", but, referring to modern interpretations, says only that he wanted "to possibly gain a somewhat different access (dare we say a closer one?) to [Haydn's] expressive world." The booklet comments briefly on the works played, but gives no technical specifications of the in- 51

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