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Volume 15 Issue 9 - June 2010

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• Fanny Hensel: The

• Fanny Hensel: The Other Mendelssohnby R. Larry ToddOxford University Press454 pages, illustrations &musical examples; .50• An Unfinished Scoreby Elise BlackwellUnbridled Books265 pages;.95 US• Sibeliusby Andrew BarnettYale University Press461 pages, photos & musicalexamples; .00 US (pb)IN 1842, FELIXMendelssohnwas received byQueen Victoriaand Prince Albertat BuckinghamPalace. Afterhe performed forthem on the piano,the Queen chose asong from his Op.9 collection, “Italien,”for him toaccompany her. “Iwas obliged,” he wrote in a letter home –quoted by R. Larry Todd in this fascinatingbiography of Mendelssohn’s older sister,Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel – “to confessthat Fanny had written the song (which Ifound very hard, but pride must have a fall).”Hensel wrote over 400 works, includingsongs, piano pieces, cantatas, concert arias,and a major string quartet. Yet few werepublished in her lifetime, even fewer underher own name. Performances were just asrare. It’s a situation that Larry Todd calls“one of the great injustices of music history,”though it is beginning to change, withpublication and performances of her music,as well as excellent recordings like Torontopianist Heather Schmidt’s recent disc.As Todd explains, Hensel’s career asa concert pianist, conductor and composercould only be pursued in private, as an“ornament” to her life. It wasn’t just becauseshe was a woman, but more becauseshe was a wealthy upper-class woman – unlike,for instance, her friend Clara Schumann.Even Mendelssohn, who encouragedher composing, dissuaded her from publishingher music under her own name.Hensel had a devoted and supportivehusband, the painter and poet Wilhelm Hensel,and a loving son, named Sebastian LudwigFelix after her three favourite composers.But her “symbiotic” relationship withher brother was the most complicated andsignificant one in her life. In 1847, at age 41,she died suddenly from a stroke. Six monthslater, Mendelssohn too died in the same way.Todd, who teaches at Duke University,has specialized insight into Hensel and herextraordinary family, as well as the period,having written a major biography of Mendelssohn.The best thing about his book isthe sensitive, meticulous way he looks atHensel’s music and describes her distinctivelyimaginative and adventurous voice, makinga persuasive case for it to be heard morefrequently.IN ELISE BLACKWELL’S intriguing newnovel, all the main characters are musicians.Many are – or want to be – composers.Around that revolves the suspenseful plot,which deals with betrayal, blackmail, and amost unusual method of revenge.Suzanne’s lover Alex has been killed ina plane crash. He was a famous conductor,she an accomplished violist. Suzanneis married to Ben, a cellist and composer.They share their house with Suzanne’s bestfriend Petra, a violinist in Suzanne’s stringquartet, as well as Petra’s daughter, Adele,who – and the author makes sure the ironyis not lost on us – is deaf.Alex’s wife Olivia plans an elegant revengeby forcing Suzanne to complete a violaconcerto her husband had left behind.Suzanne is such a consummate narcissistthat she deceives herself into thinking that“through Alex’s music she will know whathappened to her.” But Olivia has other plans,saying, “From now on, when you think ofhim you will also think of me.”Ben’s unrelenting dullness gives experimentalcomposers a bad name, and Petra’sglibness and endless supply of viola jokesgrow tedious. But Olivia and Suzanne arecompelling characters.Blackwell, who teaches at the Universityof South Carolina, acknowleges the helpof various sources like a masterclass givenby Canada’s St. Lawrence Quartet for themusical side of things, such as her descriptionsof the workings of Suzanne’s stringquartet. She has peppered her story with arcanefacts from music history, like the originsof Albinoni’s famous Adagio in G minor,as well as interesting figures like the lateBritish composer Minna Keal (misspelledby Blackwell as Keel). They give the storybreadth, steering it away from becomingmaudlin by creating a musical context forthe world Blackwell’s characters live in. Butthe confusing mixture of fact and fiction, asin the bizarre episode with violinist JoshuaFelder, distracts from the story. In any case,this is a highly enjoyable novel that kept mehappily reading until the surprising – andsatisfying – end.YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS HAS just releasedsome of its most interesting recenttitles in low-priced paperbacks – amongthem The Oboe by Geoffrey Burgess andCanadian musicologist Bruce Haynes; JohnWorthen’s Robert Schumann; and this biographyof Jean Sibelius by Andrew Barnett.After the revelatory performances of Sibelius’smagnificent symphonies by the TorontoSymphony under Danish conductor ThomasDausgaard in April, and their broadcaston CBC, this excellent study of his life andworks is especially welcome.Sibelius was a melodist in an age whencomposers like Arnold Schoenberg, whowas born just nine years later, were seekingout new languages, sounds and techniques.Throughout his long life, Sibelius steadfastlyresisted the influence of serialism andthe avant-garde, so that by the time he diedin 1957 he was decidedly out of fashion. Buttoday composers enthusiastically celebratehis influence.Barnett, chairman of the UK SibeliusSociety, takes a detailed and critical lookat the music, showing how Sibelius’s emotionallife and personal experiences shapedhis rugged lyricism. Barnett points out his“trademark” motifs like the descending fifth(right in the opening of the Violin Concerto),and the ‘S-motif’, like an elongatedturn (heard throughout Finlandia). He offersinsights into the myths and landscapesof Sibelius’s homeland, Finland, where thecomposer spent his whole life.Though Barnett doesn’t offer muchpsychological insight into Sibelius’s debilitatinginsecurities, he documents Sibelius’sself-destructiveness. As Sibelius wrote inhis diary, he needed to drink “in order to beable to live at all,” adding at a later date that“alcohol is the only friend that never letsone down.” Describing how Sibelius made abonfire of his late work, including the eagerly-awaitedeighth symphony, Barnett writes,“What he had in mind was a scorched earthpolicy with regard to many of his scores.”Barnett then quotes Sibelius’s long-sufferingwife Aino, who commented, “Afterwards,my husband’s manner was calmer and hisspirits were brighter. It was a happy time.”The select bibliography and discographyhave not been updated since the originalpublication in 2007, and Winter Fire by WilliamTrotter is still absent from the list ofrelevant fictional works. But Barnett paintsa lively portrait of this complicated man,and provides the historical context for hiswork, which opened the way for Finland tobecome the musical powerhouse it is today.Read more online at thewholenote.com.48 thewholenote.comJune 1 - July 7, 2010

Editor’s CornerDISCOVERIES / RECORDINGS REVIEWEDTSO principal cellist Winona Zelenka hasjust released her recording of Bach’s SixSuites for Solo Cello (Marquis 81509). Idon’t think it’s justbecause I am anavid amateur cellistthat these piecesnever seem to losetheir vitality, nomatter how manydifferent versionsI hear. From firstexposure to PabloCasals’ historic recordings in my formativeyears, through the thoughtful interpretationsof Paul Tortellier, Pierre Fournier, JacquelineDu Pré, Janos Starker and Yo-Yo Ma,to larger-than-life performances by Rostropovich,Misha Maisky and Yuli Turovsky andat the other end of the spectrum the historicallyinformed approach of Anner Bylsma,Pieter Wispelwey and Sergei Istomin, thereis always something exhilarating in hearingthe suites anew. Like so much of Bach’smusic, it never seems to get lost in translation– among my favourite transcriptions areGöran Söllscher’s for 10-string guitar andMarion Verbruggen’s for alto recorder andvoice flute. And let us not forget Yo-Yo Ma’smulti-disciplinary approach “Inspired byBach” which led to the creation of Toronto’sMusic Garden, films by François Girard andAtom Egoyan, and collaborations with choreographerMark Morris, skaters Torville andDean and Kabuki actor Tamasaburo Bandoproduced by Toronto’s Rhombus Media.Zelenka’s is not the first recording by aTSO principal – Daniel Domb’s 1993 Mastersoundrelease is still among my favourites- and evidently this is not the first to beperformed on this particular cello. Zelenkais playing an instrument crafted in Cremonain 1707 by Joseph Gaurnerius currentlyowned by Toronto arts patrons Edwardand Amy Pong. It was previously owned byJanos Starker and although not identified onthe Mercury Living Presence CD reissue ofStarker’s Bach Suites, I think I do recognizethe distinctive sound of the instrument as beingthe same Zelenka is using. In the extensiveliner notes she shares with us her ownpersonal journey through the suites whichstarted around age 10 with lessons with anotherTSO cellist, Bill Findlay, and listeningto Casals’ recordings with her father.She describes the different approaches of herlater teachers, Vladimir Orloff, Janos Starkerand William Pleeth and talks about her ownpath of balancing these influences and incorporatingthe “period” ideas she has encounteredduring her professional career. The resultis a warm and invigorating treatment ofthese timeless suites in a full modern soundwith clean lines and tasteful ornamentation.Concert note: Winona Zelenka will performthree of the suites in a matinee concert atGlenn Gould Studio on June 6.The Polocki Manuscript was discoveredin 1962 inside the covers of a Greek Catholicmissal dated 1680. It is an invaluabledocumentation of popular styles in 17 th centuryPoland containing more than 200 songsand dances, many of which had been previouslylost in obscurity. It was published ina modern edition in 1970, a copy of whicheventually made its way into the hands ofMagdalena Tomsinska, lutenist of the Kitchener-Waterloobased Renaissance ensembleGreensleaves (www.greensleaves.com).The result is a delightful CD entitled PolishPopular Music of the XVIIth Century(Chestnut Hall Music CHM091115) whichfeatures Tomsinska along with core membersMarilyn Fung (violada gamba) andShannon Purves-Smith (recordersand viols), with arrangementsandadditional instrumentsplayed byMichael Purves-Smith plus a quartetof guest vocalists. From slow and statelypavans to light and frolicking dances, lovesongs and sacred texts, the disc provides welcomeinsight into the culture of a bygonetime and place. The disc was sponsored inpart by the Consulate General of the Republicof Poland in Toronto. The Consulate isalso involved in the presentation of “PolishPeoples’ Republic - so far away and so closeby...” an exhibit commemorating another bygoneera – Polish culture during the Sovietyears - prepared by the Polish Institute ofNational Remembrance in cooperation withthe University of Toronto. It runs until June18 at the Vivian & David Campbell ConferenceFacility, Munk School of Global Affairs,1 Devonshire Place.A Voice Not Stilled is the title of a SinfoniaConcertante for piano and orchestra by MichaelEaston. It is also the title of the mostrecent disc by Toronto pianist Mary Kenediwhich features a live recording of the Europeanpremiere of the work (Echiquier RecordsECD-010 www.MaryKenedi.com).Extensive liner notes tell the story of thisprogrammatic composition, based on a melodywritten by a victim of the Holocaust,Gabriella Kolliner, as remembered by hersurvivor brother many years after her deathand transcribedby a nephew whonever knew her.Young Peter Kollinerhoped to oneday compose aset of piano variationson “Gabi’sTheme” to honourhis aunt, but latermet Easton, a celebrated British-Australiancomposer, who was moved by the storyand asked permission to use the theme himself.What he created was an extended homageto the composer-turned-doctor who perishedat Auschwitz, integrating the themein a number of dramatic and moving waysin the course of the four movements of thework: In the Beginning, Flight into Darkness,Music in the Silence of the Night andA Voice Not Stilled. “Gabi’s theme” is notthe only musical reference here. The secondmovement incorporates the Jewish prayer KolNidre in a clarinet solo and the third movementmakes very effective use of a hauntinglybeautiful line from Schumann’s PianoQuartet with “Gabi’s Theme” interwovenas a counter melody. The final movement,which begins in calm reminiscent of a Griegsunrise, gradually builds to ecstatic runs inthe piano over rising orchestral accompanimentand then ends quietly, poignantly withouta final cadence, after a number of iterationsby the piano of the signature theme.Kenedi is in fine form in this live performancewhich was greeted by a standing ovationat the House of Culture in Teplice, in theCzech Republic on April 21, 2005 and theJune 1 - July 7, 2010 w w w.t h e w h o l e n o t e.c o m 49

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