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Volume 15 Issue 9 - June 2010

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Fung, cello. From 2006

Fung, cello. From 2006 to 2009 the quartethad a residency at San Francisco State University(where they studied with the AlexanderQuartet), and they were recently namedthe graduate quartet-in-residence at the JuilliardSchool.For their debut disc, this young group haschosen to perform works by two composersin their teens and early 20s (indeed, neithercomposer ever got to be very old): Mendelssohn’sQuartet in A Minor Op. 13, Schubert’sQuartettensatz in C Minor D. 703, andMendelssohn’s Octet Op. 20, written whenthe composer was just 16.In this clearly recorded CD, the Afiarashave tapped into the youthful vitality displayedin these scores. Tone is bright andtempos are perky; intonation and balance areexcellent. As well, in the more introspectivepassages (such as the second movementof the Quartet in A minor) playing is delicateyet warm.In the Octet, the Afiaras are joined by theirmentors, the Alexander Quartet, and the twogroups merge seamlessly into one gloriousensemble. This is exciting playing – a richperformance that does full justice to Mendelssohn’syouthful masterpiece.Colin EatockEditor’s Note: At a recent Mooredale Concertwhere they performed with renownedflutist Robert Aitken, the Afiara Quartet waspresented with the ,000 2010 Young CanadianMusicians Award. The quartet will returnto Mooredale Concerts on October 31 toperform with co-winner of the award, pianistWonny Song.Liszt - Années de Pelerinage SuisseAndré LaplanteAnalekta AN 2 9980André Laplante bynow can be referredto as Canada’s ‘nationaltreasure’. Heis a well establishedartist especially inthe Romantic repertoireand has a worldwidereputation withcritics comparing him sometimes to Richterand Horowitz. This new recording for theAnalekta label tackles Liszt in an ambitious,rarely recorded program of the first book ofthe 21 year old Liszt’s romantic wanderingswith Countess Marie d’Agoult.Liszt met the Countess in 1832 in Paris,a married woman 6 years older, but this didnot prevent one of the century’s most famousand productive love affairs from developing.Three years later Marie left her family andran off with Franz to Switzerland, later toItaly. There were 3 children born out of thisunion, among them Cosima who eventuallymarried Richard Wagner.As we listen, the pieces vary in characterfrom invocations of natural beauty (Lacde Wallenstadt), literary associations withByron, Schiller, Goethe, Senacour (Valléed’Obermann), to force of nature (L’Orage),pastoral melodies (Pastorale, Eglogue)and homage to Swiss history (Chapelle deGuillaume Tell).Many of the pieces even appear improvised.We can just see after a day of admiringthe majestic Swiss countryside, Lisztcomposing on the piano and playing to hisobject of affection. Often the quiet, selfsearching beginnings develop into passionwith great intensity.To capture the many layered complexitiesof this set, Laplante is the ideal choice andthis recording shows it. Being an unassuming,introspective personality, his performanceshave insightful sensitivity, but neverovert emotionalism, dazzling power and virtuositythat never is meant to show off andrich imagination characteristic of a greatartist.Janos GardonyiFantasy - A Night at the OperaEmmanuel Pahud; Rotterdam PhilharmonicOrchestra; Yannick Nézet-SéguinEMI Classics 4 57814 2During my periodin music retail manyyears ago, I wasonce asked by a customer,“I need a discof operatic arias,but I don’t want thesinging, only themusic”(!). I’ve undoubtedly told this storybefore, and I repeat it now only because itties in so well with this new EMI recordingtitled “Fantasy – A Night at the Opera” featuringflutist Emmanuel Pahud with the RotterdamPhilharmonic under the direction ofCanadian conductor par excellence YannickNézet-Séguin.As the name suggests, this disc comprisesan attractive collection of opera arias as arrangedfor flute and orchestra. While the operasfrom which they are derived are familiar,such as Verdi’s La Traviata, and Bizet’sCarmen - the arrangers are decidedly less so,and contrary to what one might think, not alldate from the 19th century. For example, theFantasy on Mozart’s Magic Flute, was composedby Robert Forbes (born in 1939), andthe paraphrase from Tchaikovsky’s EugeneOnegin was written by Guy Braunstein, bornas recently as 1971. Also included on the discis a sensitive (and unarranged) performanceof the lyrical Dance of the Blessed Spiritsfrom Gluck’s 1762 opera Orphée et Eurydice.Not surprisingly, Pahud has no difficultyin meeting the technical demands of thevirtuosic and high-spirited writing inherenthere, while the Rotterdam Philharmonic,under Nézet-Séguin’s competent batonprovides a tasteful and strongly supportiveaccompaniment.While most of these arrangements wouldn’treally be classified as Great Music, the discis nevertheless entertaining and diverting, atrue showcase for Emmanuel Pahud’s talents,and proof indeed that Nézet-Séguin is justas at home with this lighter more flamboyantrepertoire as he is with music of a more seriousnature. Recommended.Richard HaskellThe Young Romantic - A Portrait of YundiBarbara Willis SweeteEuroArts 3079058Pianist Yundi (he hasdropped the use of hislast name Li!) is an almostmythical celebrityin China. Since winningthe Chopin piano competitionat the youngage of 18, he has capturedthe hearts of thepeople of China, andhas a busy internationalperforming schedule,much to the credit of his highly emotionaland theatrical performance style. So howthen to portray him on film, without the finishedproduct becoming an advertorial to theyoung pianist?Director Barbara Willis Sweete’s approachis brilliant – her premise seems to beto present him in a series of contrasting milieus:Yundi on tour in China versus Yundiin Berlin preparing for a recording/concertwith the Berlin Philharmonic; The youthfulserious soloist Yundi working with the seniorwitty Maestro Seiji Ozawa; Yundi as a childaccordionist versus Yundi the young classicalstar; Yundi the classical pianist performingwith Jay Chou, the pop star keyboardist; Hisfamily lovingly reminiscing about his childhoodwhile also lamenting with justifiablesadness that he just doesn’t visit them enoughnow. Only the segment with Yundi playingping pong with TSO conductor Peter Oundjianseems idiosyncratic and out of place. Beprepared to be shocked as well – Yundi practicedup to eight hours a day as a child andsome of the teaching methods employed arequestionable too!This is a beautiful flowing film that givesa well rounded portrait of the globetrottingpianist as a young man. The high Rhombusproduction standards are maintained – thevisuals, storyline and editing are seamless.Bonus tracks of Chopin performances are anadded treat. Fans and critics alike will enjoy,and also at times be disconcerted, by this superbCanadian made documentary.Tiina KiikEditor’s Note: Yundi’s latest CD releaseis the complete Chopin Nocturnes on EMIClassics (6 08391 2).The Strange Case of Delfina Potocka –The Mystery of ChopinDirected by Tony PalmerTP-DVD160This is a thought-provoking, intriguing film52 w w w.t h e w h o l e n o t e.c o mJune 1 - July 7, 2010

about an extremely controversial subject. Theargument of this DVD isset down in the enclosednotes: “It was a matterof national and socialistpride when, in November1945, the new CommunistGovernment ofPoland asked for, andreceived, the heart ofChopin previously buriedin Paris. Againstthis background, a woman called PaulinaCzernika approached the Polish Minister ofCulture, claiming to have some love lettersfrom the composer to her great-grandmother,the Countess Delfina Potocka. At first curious,but eventually alarmed, the Ministrybegan a witch-hunt against Madame Czernika.For while it was true that there was anhistoric figure called Delfina Potocka – shewas the only lover to whom Chopin dedicatedany music – these letters were said to bepornographic, anti-Semitic and thoroughlydamaging to the image of the composer asa Polish hero which the Communist governmentwished to promote. Czernika ‘committedsuicide’ on October 17, 1949 one hundredyears to the day after the death of Chopin.Or was she murdered, and if so, why? Werethe letters in fact forgeries? And what wasthe truth about Delfina Potocka?As Czernika encounters publishers andpersons in authority, we are privy to selectedpersonal, confidential and intimate detailsfrom the composer’s letters. The events revealedin the letters are enacted, in chronologicalorder, by a thoroughly believable cast.In his book Chopin the Unknown, Polishmusic scholar, conductor and composer, MatteoGlinski delves deeply into the DelfinaPotocka affair (Assumption University ofWindsor Press, 1963). Glinski’s credentialsare impeccable and of this book, RomanV. Ceglowski, President of the InternationalChopin Foundation, wrote “I think it isthe most provocative study on Chopin in ourtimes” and commended it to Chopin scholars.Glinski quotes convincing evidence of Chopin’scharacter and his “elusive secret” alllending authenticity to the Delfina letters.Is Palmer tipping his hand by entrustingthe roles of Paulina Czernika and DelfinaPotocka to the same actress in this unusualproduction?Bruce SurteesIf I Were a Bird - A Piano AviaryMichael LewinDorian Sono Luminus DSL-92103Olivier Messiaenonce opined thatbirds were probablythe greatest musiciansto inhabit ourplanet, and they haveindeed been inspiringmany a composerand musicianfor centuries. With this disc, Michael Lewinpays homage to our feathered muses witha fascinating and entertaining mixture ofworks for solo piano.Music by a rich array of composers isfound here, and the diversity works brilliantly.There are whimsical offerings byHoffman, MacDowell and Jensen; touchesof delicate melancholy by Grieg, Granadosand Schumann; and Rameau and Daquinare tastefully played on a Steinway concertgrand. Transcriptions of Glinka, Saint-Saëns, Alabieff and Stravinsky are included,of which the Danse infernale from Firebirdis most grand; and Messiaen himself is exquisitelyrepresented by The Dove, writtenwhen he was twenty. Lewin also knocks offan enthusiastic rendition of the JoplinesqueTurkey in the Straw and it fits the program toperfection.The pacing of this ‘piano aviary’ is delightfuland Lewin plays to dazzling and touchinglyexpressive effect. Highlights for me arethe Messiaen and Schumann, and his renditionsof Ravel’s Sad Birds and Cyril Scott’sWater Wagtail, but I will listen to this entiredisc repeatedly with great pleasure. Kudosalso to the designer of the booklet in whichthis CD is housed – the design with its richcolours and elegant illustrations is as impressiveas the music within.Alison MelvilleMODERN AND CONTEMPORARYTwo Roads to ExileARC EnsembleRCA Red Seal 88697 64490 2“A sense of exile”,the opening of theCD booklet notestells us, “is not alwaysaccompaniedby geographical displacement.”Hencethe title of this outstandingdisc of virtuallyunknown works by Adolf Busch –who, although not Jewish, chose to leaveGermany when Hitler came to power in 1933– and Walter Braunfels, who, while half-Jewish, chose to remain in Germany despitethe implications for his career and personalsafety.Toronto’s ARC Ensemble (Artists of TheRoyal Conservatory) specializes in revivinglong-buried and essentially-forgotten repertoire,especially the works of composerswhose lives were fundamentally altered bythe Second World War and in particular bythe Holocaust.Both Busch, now remembered primarily asa violinist and as leader of the Busch Quartet,and Braunfels were established composersin 1920s Germany. Busch’s String SextetOp.40 from 1928 (revised in 1933) remainsunpublished, however, and Braunfel’s StringQuintet Op.63, from 1945, has never beenrecorded before. Both works are stronglyin the German Romantic tradition, a factorwhich worked against both composers in thepost-war years, despite their treatment by theThird Reich.The ARC members – Marie Bérard andBenjamin Bowman (violins), Steven Dannand Carolyn Blackwell (violas), Bryan Eppersonand David Hetherington (cellos) – aresuperb throughout. Recorded in the RCM’sKoerner Hall last November, every nuance oftheir performance is magnificently capturedby producer David Frost. The recording hasthe distinction of being the first produced inthis acoustically superior new concert venue.The excellent booklet notes are by ARC ArtisticDirector Simon Wynberg. An absolutegem of a CD.Terry RobbinsOld School: James TenneyZeitkratzerZeitkratzer Productions ZKR 0010Without the necessityfor surround-soundor other methods ofsonic dissemination,James Tenney (1934-2006) composed tension-ladenpieces suchas the three here,whose crescendos anddecrescendos derive from concentrated orchestration.As the Berlin-based, ad hoc Zeitkratzerensemble of two woodwinds, twobrass, three strings, percussion and director/pianistReinhold Friedl demonstrate onthis exceptional CD, properly performing thethemes of the long-time (1976-2000) YorkUniversity music professor depends as muchon harmonic convergence as intonation, attackand acoustics.Most fascinating and mostly fortissimois 1988’s Critical Band. Based on standardpitch A and its fundamentals, this exercisein tonal expansion undulates on pitches thatconcentrate and divide as they modulate infinitesimallyand recurrently. Only when thefinal variation arrives can the capillary timbresof Matt Davis’ trumpet and HaydenChisholm’s alto saxophone be distinguishedfrom the others.Slightly lengthier, 1976’s Harmonium #2,which details the deliberate build-up andbreak-down of a chord, exposes fundamentals,as the harmonic progression expandsthrough Friedl’s intense keyboard clusters.After variants on the narrative – related tothe circle of fifths – reflect inwards ontothemselves as they advance chromatically,the resolution involves a crescendo involvingarticulating Hilary Jeffrey’s trombone reverberationsplus thick piano patterns.Distinctive, the performances are both authoritativeand inventive.Ken WaxmanJune 1 - July 7, 2010 w w w.t h e w h o l e n o t e.c o m 53

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