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Volume 15 Issue 10 - July/August 2010

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VOCALIn Nativitate

VOCALIn Nativitate Beatae Mariae VirginisSchola Sanctae Sunnivae; Anne KleivsetLindberg Lyd AS 2L-069• Norway’s Reformationof 1537 washarsh on liturgicalcodices; very fewsurvived. Ten foliosfrom a choir bookfrom Nidaros Cathedralin Trondheimdid survive (havingbeen cut into strips for ledger covers!) andthey are the basis of this celebration of theNativity.In fact, thirteen sung antiphona are interlacedwith five interludia for melodic percussionby the Norwegian composer HenningSommerro. Under the title Maria, the workas a whole was performed for the 800th anniversaryof Our Lady Church, Trondheim. Atranscription for melodic percussion was thenmade especially for this recording.Twelve female voices and their conductorexplore the nativity in the greatest detail onthis CD. As no individual singers are singledout, the entire ensemble may claim collectivesuccess in an uplifting rendition of thiscollection of simply-written but richly spiritualpieces.There is, it must be said, a contrast, perhapsa void, between the chanted antiphonaeand the instrumental interludia, which aremodern in their style. This can not distractfrom the purity of the voices of Schola SanctaeSunnivae.One criticism. The final interludium unfortunatelydoes not blend in with the remainingpieces - its own style is out of place, notleast as in the preceding track, the last sungpiece, singers and percussionists join in a celestialplea to observe the birthday of Mary.Michael SchwartzVerdi - OtelloAleksandrs Antonenko; MarinaPoplavskaya; Carlos Alvarez; WienerStaatsopenchor and Philhamoniker;Riccardo MutiUnitel Classics 701408• With the first shriekingchords of the orchestraVerdi forcefullydraws us into the worldof Shakespeare’s horrifyingtragedy, one of fullestembodiments of evilever created. Each of thecharacters is widely differentfrom one another:Otello the accomplished fearless hero, but insecureand gullible; Desdemona full of love,but naïve; and Jago congenitally and relentlesslyevil. Their interaction is the stuff ofdrama and of one of the greatest in Verdi’soeuvre.Salzburg hasn’t seen a production ofOtello since 1970 when Karajan conducted itin a noble, unforgettable performance withour Jon Vickers in the title role. Now it’s RiccardoMuti’s turn. Muti today has become aconductor of stature and a true master of Italianopera repertoire since his early years as ayoung firebrand when I saw him a few timeshere in Toronto. His usual forceful stylehelps ‘shine a light on Otello’s violence’ andturns the orchestra into a snarling monsterwhen required. His orchestra is well balancedthroughout, swift moving yet he finds time tobring out much of the richness, hidden meaningand delicacy of the score.The extraordinary width of the stage ofGrosses Festpielhaus has always been difficultto handle for stage designers and directors.Director Stephen Langridge withGeorge Souglides solved the problem by subdividingit into multiple elements: galleries,stairs, projection screen and a fragile transparentplatform that shatters at the end of act3, symbolizing Otello’s descent into insanejealousy.The cast is international, nearly all young,very talented singers with spectacular voices.Latvian Aleksandrs Antonenko is a powerful,clear heldentenor whose ‘ringing’ entry‘Esultate!’ sets the tone for his performance.Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya bringsmuch richness to the part of Desdemona notjust with her voice but her wonderful acting.Famous Spanish baritone Carlos Alvarez’sturncoat portrayal of Jago, alternately eviland suave, is skilfully acted and brilliantlysung. His shattering ‘Credo’ is one of the bestI ever heard. This is a performance worthy ofVerdi and Shakespeare, highly recommended.Janos GardonyiTenor AriasMarc Hervieux; Orchestre Metropolitain;Yannick Nézet-SéguinATMA ACD2 2618• After years of writing CD reviews for thismagazine, it’s time tocome out of the closet:I am a big, loud,unabashed snob. I believethat cross-overartists are sell-outsand that Il Divo, AndreaBoccelli andCharlotte Churchcheapen, not popularize, classical music. Apersonal opinion, to be sure, but one augmentedby many years of education, listeningto music and developing some discernment.The battle lines drawn, I can now review thelatest disc from the quintessential cross-overartist, Marc Hervieux. The Quebec singerdid not read music until his mid-twenties,sang in a rock band and still cannot pass overan opportunity to sing for kings, presidents orwith Patsy Gallant (don’t ask!). Except for thefact that Hervieux has a great, undeniable talentwith a capital T. His voice, a spinto tenorin full Italian style, invites positive comparisonswith young Pavarotti. This truly wonderfulrecording spans all the classics – fromVerdi, Mascagni, Cilea, and Leoncavallo toa good dose of Puccini. Moreover, it allowsthe music, deftly handled by Nézet-Séguin(whose own meteoric rise takes him onto podiumsof the greatest opera houses in theworld) breathe in unison with the voice. Atthe end, you are left with a feeling of peacefulcontemplation – not at all a feeling I expectedfrom a “cross-over” artist. So as longas Monsieur Hervieux continues to recorddiscs as beautiful as this one, I will keep onlistening to them, my snobbery be damned!Robert TomasEXTENDED PLAYRecent Opera DVDs from Britainby Pamela MarglesSomething unusual happened even beforethe curtain came up on this performanceof Rossini’s Il Barbiere diSeviglia at Covent Garden last July - theconductor himself, Antonio Pappano, cameout on stage. He told the audience that theevening’s Rosina, Joyce DiDonato, hadbroken her leg during the previous performance.She would sing –but in a wheelchair. Thedirectors, Moshe Leiserand Patrice Caurier, hadalready left town, theirwork apparently done.So it was up to the castto figure out how to accommodatea wheelchairboundheroine restrictedto a ramp across thefront of the stage. The results on this DVD(Virgin Classics 9 694581 9) are so fresh, invigoratingand thoroughly enjoyable that it’seasy to overlook the unflattering costumesand drab, claustrophobic sets. The splendid54 THEWHOLENOTE.COMJuly 1 - September 7, 2010

DiDonato, in a role she has made her own,is such a feisty and alluring heroine that thewheelchair proves to be just another aspectof who this Rosina is. The mellifluous PietroSpagnoli creates an unconventionally soulfulBarber. But, inevitably, it’s Juan DiegoFlórez as the Count who stops the show withhis ravishing Cessa di più resistere.Sophie’s Choice, composedby British composerNicholas Maw tohis own massive libretto,made a lengthy drawnoutevening when it waspremiered at CoventGarden in 2002. Butnow that it has finallybeen released on DVD(OpusArte OA 1024 D) it’s possible to seewhat conductor Simon Rattle meant whenhe called it “an instant classic” in a bonusinterview here. There’s much to appreciate inMaw’s moving work, with its tender melodies,atmospheric harmonies and searing orchestrations.I can’t imagine a more impassioned,convincing cast, especially with Canadiantenor Gordon Gietz as the impressionableyoung writer, Dale Duesing as his olderself, who narrates this tragic tale, Rod Gilfryas the charming and dangerous Nathan,and above all, Angelika Kirschschlager ina fearless, unforgettable performance as thedoomed Holocaust survivor Sophie. DirectorTrevor Nunn shapes the too-frequent scenechangesand flashbacks into a compelling narrative,which gains resonance with each viewing.By the time narrator sings the final lines,“At Auchwitz, tell me, where was God? Theresponse: where was Man?”, the incalculablecost of the Holocaust for all of humanity isinescapable.Boito based his libretto for Verdi’s finalopera, Falstaff, on Shakespeare’s comedy,The Merry Wives of Windsor. Director RichardJones’ delightfully boisterous and wittyproduction, recorded last summer at Glyndebourne(OpusArte OA1021 D), is set in a post-World War II middleclasssuburb where thehouses are mock-Tudor,the furniture covered inchintz, and the gardensare planted in obsessivelyneat rows of cabbages.The terrific cast and orchestraattack Verdi’sfinal work with alacrity, especially in the ensembles.Christopher Purves gleefully exploitsthe foibles of Verdi’s puffed-up safarisuitedknight, but still gives him some dignity.The vocally nuanced Canadian contraltoMarie-Nicole Lemieux, in a brilliant pieceof acting, plays Mistress Quickly as a cunningmartinet. Conductor Vladimir Jurowski,leading the London Philharmonic, supportsthe remarkable teamwork on stage evento the extent of downing a pint with the castwhile they do full justice to the magnificentclosing fugue, Tutto nel mondo è burla – lifeis a joke.Although Acis and Galatea was Handel’smost popular stage work during his lifetime,this production with Christopher Hogwoodconducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenmentfrom last year marks the first atCovent Garden in almost a century. Especiallynoteworthy is how the director-choreographer,Wayne McGregor, has teamed upboth of Covent Garden’s resident companies,the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet. Bypairing each singer with a dancer, McGregorworks choreography into every element ofthe score. Just how moving this can be is apparentin the enchanting final scene whensoprano Danielle de Niese - a trained dancer– as Galatea performs a captivating pasde deux with Acis’s ethereal double, EdwardWatson. But the semi-divine enchantmentsof this work, based onclassical mythology, areundermined by HildegardBechtler’s bizarrecostumes, which dampenboth the comedy andthe pathos. Bass MatthewRose as the giantPolyphemus sings withplenty of bravado, buthe looks like a thug withhis bare chest covered in scars. Di Niese’svoice is expressive, but her shapeless coat,ratty scarf, and bleached-blond braided wigturn this lovely-looking singer – surely a director’sdream – into a frump. At least tenorPaul Agnew’s costume as the shepherd Damonworks, since his ardent, stylish Considerfair shepherd provides the vocal highlight ofthe DVD (OpusArte OA 1025 D).Concert Notes: Gordon Gietz sings with theToronto Summer Music Festival Ensemble ina program including Mahler’s Das Lied vonder Erde and the world premiere of Song ofthe Earth by Glenn Buhr on Saturday, August7 in the MacMillan Theatre. Opera Atelieris mounting a new production of Acis andGalatea, directed by Marshal Pynkoski andchoreographed by Jeanette Lajeunesse Zingg,at the Elgin Theatre from Oct. 30 – Nov. 7.David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik BaroqueOrchestra.EARLY & PERIOD PERFORMANCESenza ContinuoMargaret LittleATMA ACD2 2612• The formidable gamba player Margaret Little– one half of the legendary Montreal duoLes Voix Humaines – is “a chamber musicianat heart” and “this is her first adventurein solo repertoire.” So says the bio of her atthe back of the booklet of this outstandingrecording. From theopening strains of thefirst of three preludesby Jean de Sainte-Colombewhich open thedisc, I was transfixedby Little’s tone andfreedom of sound.The varied programof music ranges from the late 16th century tothe early 18th and clearly demonstrates whythis instrument was so beloved, particularlyin France.Two solo suites, one by Le Sieur deMachy – a 17th century viol player aboutwhom virtually nothing is known – and anotherby the celebrated virtuoso MarinMarais, make up the meat of the program andare both played with ease, elegance and poetry.Little has complete command of the ornamentationand character of each dance movement,and manages to convey the beautifulemotional arc of both large works. The restof the CD is made up of four airs by the Englishcomposer Tobias Hume and two short“recercatas” by Italians Aurelio Virgilianoand Giovanni Bassano.This lovely recording is a reminder ofhow special and expressive the viola da gambais. In the hands of a confident and tendermusician such as Little, a strong case ismade for the unique solo repertoire of this oftundervalued instrument.Larry BeckwithBach - Brandenburg ConcertosEnglish Baroque Soloists;John Eliot GardinerSoli Deo Gloria SDG 707• Rare is the list ofessential classicalrecordings whichdoes not include theBrandenburgs. Whatmakes this interpretationstand out is notjust the actual playingbut also some thoughtful commentariesby the conductor and soloists on the challengesBrandenburg players face.From the start, this interpretation respectsthe instruments of Bach’s times. The horns ofAnneke Scott and David Bentley are literallyhunting horns, although never the “disruptiveinfluence” she claims they are. All instrumentsblend into an enjoyable performance ofConcerto No 1.The reviewer is a life-long lover of No 2,Bach’s allegro movements bringing out thebest of baroque ensembles in general and thebaroque recorder in particular. Rachel Beckettdemolishes the idea that the recorder is ateaching instrument for children.So to No 3, best-known of the six. Thisrecording is upbeat in the initial allegro, enhancedby a silvery quality to the stringswhich continues through the much-overlookedadagio to the second even more inspiredallegro.July 1 - September 7, 2010 THEWHOLENOTE.COM55

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