8 years ago

Volume 12 - Issue 1 - September 2006

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WWW. TH EWHOLENOTE.COMS EPTEMBER 1 - O CTOBER 7 2006. ~ , DISCS OF THE MONTH:Canadian ComposerPortraits- Harry SomersVarious ArtistsCentrediscsCMC-CD 11306A CD collection of senior Canadian "classical"composers without Harry Somers would be likean anthology of 20th-century Brits that left outBritten. Although the independent "Window onSomers" project, half-a-dozen releases to date,has splendidly made up for his previous neglect,major pieces have remained unavailable. Portraitsand Ovations, the joint efforts of Centrediscsand CBC Records, have provided 2-CD albumsdevoted to twenty or more individual composers(one disc of a documentary "portrait" and one ofmusic), and supplemental albums each with moreof their music, five composers per album. Thisnew Somers release offers a documentary plusten pieces spread over not one but three discs . Ofthe ten pieces, it is puzzling to discover from CBCRecords' web-site, all but two are currently availableon other CDs ("Harry Somers Celebration","The Spring of Somers" , and "Stravinsky andSomers"). According to the producer, Eitan Cornfield,there are to be no further "Ovations" releases;CBC Records no longer records Canadian"classical" composers.The two fresh entries are nothing short of marvellous. Of Menwry and Desire (1993; the titlederives from Eliot) is a broad statement for stringorchestra on several athematic schemes, mechanicalto describe but transfixing to hear. The stringphrases sing out warmly; as usual with Somers,the gradations of loud and soft are an essentialingredient of the form. The only performance todate of the Concertante (1982) for violin, percussionand string orchestra has remained in my mindas among the most sensational of many astonishingachievements by Somers. The recording reproducesthat performance. The solo violinprojects its complicated personality in an openingone-minute solo, after which it weaves ornamentalmelody lines, engages in rapid dialogue withthe percussion, and presides over a series of jaggedand insistent rhythmic passages, without everresorting to cliche. At one point all sections, includingthe soloists, share a melody of superhumanrange, each passing a few notes to the nextas in a hold-your-breath tennis match. This excitingwork has deserved more live performances;may the excellent recording help make it betterknown.The re-issued numbers are all substantial andworth re-hearing. Especially good to encounteragain are the witty and eclectic Picasso Suite andthe fine Third Concerto. Among still unrecordedtitles by this prolific composer are Stereophonyand Five Concepts, major orchestral scores fromthe 1960s.Cornfield's documentary is a brave attempt,but hardly an adequate "portrait" of Somers: e.g.,Louis Riel is mentioned, but none of his other fiveoperas. The booklet's unsigned tribute to the com-poser is a questionable departure: there wasno such gesture for the other deceased composersin the series.John BeckwithWagner - Tristan undIsolde (Stage directionby Olivier Py)Charbonnet; Forbis;Fujimura; Dohmen;Reiter; Orchestre de laSuisse Romande;Armin JordanBel Air ClassiquesBAC014Among the five-odd videos of Tristan and Isoldeavailable, I regarded Barenboim 's long since discontinuedBayreuth performance as a benchmark.This new DVD, however, outshines all . It doesTristan full justice and will be the top recommendationfor a long time to come.Tristan is a turning point in Western music. Itschromatic universe revolutionized harmony. Debussy'scareer would be unimaginable withoutTristan . It surpasses all of Wagner's other operasand perhaps any opera ever written. It is anopera of ideas infused with the dark philosophy ofSchopenhauer, and at the same time the most beautifullytragic love story ever told. Its music, soundsnever heard before, full of ecstasy and despair,enthralls audiences. No one comes out of Tristanunaffected.The young French director Olivier Py's totalcommitment to creative lighting and design is manifesteverywhere down to the last detail. The colourchange from realistic to infrared photographyat the love potion scene, with emphasis onhands touching each other, is magical. In the LoveDuet, the concept of interconnecting rooms(achieved by a revolving stage) with abrupt lightingchanges gives new meaning to the text. The3rd act set is incredible with its flooded stage, a'watery world' representing a continuum of lifeand death. Isolde's rise to 'heaven' is a finale unlikelyto be forgotten.Highest musical credits should go to venerableSwiss conductor, Armin Jordan, an accomplishedWagnerian, who controls the ebb and flow masterfullyand never lets the tension sag. Conductingwith minimal movements his is a passionateperformance of great insight with almost Furtwanglerianintuition. Singers are of the highestcalibre and look the part. American dramatic soprano,Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet has risen tofame just recently and her magnificent voice, passionateacting and thorough understanding of therole of Isolde make her superior to the rest of thecast. Clifton Forbis, a strong heldentenor familiarto Toronto audiences, is a deeply suffering,sensitive Tristan who copes very well with thismost difficult and strenuous of roles, though hisvoice seems to weaken in the last act. MihokoFujimura's intense and insightful Brangaene ismemorable while Alfred Reiter with his resonantbasso injects excitement into Konig Marke'smonologue that can be tedious in lesser productions.Janos Gardonyi

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