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Volume 17 Issue 3 - November 2011

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ecause of the strenuous

ecause of the strenuous requirements onsingers. For example the tenor has to sing54 B-flats, 19 high Cs and two C-sharps!Therefore it is doubly welcome to have thissuperb new EMI release conducted by today’smaestro of maestros of opera, AntonioPappano. With carefully studied pacing thislong, unwieldy score becomes beautifullycoherent with dramatic excitement, tumultuouscrowd scenes, expansive pastoralinterludes and exhilarating ballet music ofthe finest kind. This recording bolsters ournational pride with two of the principalsbeing Canadian, baritone Gerald Finley(Tell) and Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Hedwige),both in fine characterization, superior voiceand impeccable French accent. But probablythe greatest strength of the recordingis American tenor John Osborn’s heroicallyconquering this most gruelling role of therepertoire, Arnold Melchtal.All other principals are exemplary andform a true team effort of this surprisinglysatisfying, rarely performed work.—Janos GardonyiMark-Anthony Turnage – Anna NicoleEva-Marie Westbroek; Gerald Finley;Royal Opera House; Antonio PappanoOpus Arte OA 1054 DOpera is probablythe most democraticart form, contraryto its “elitist” reputation.Centuriesago, the librettistsand composers figuredout that livesof courtesans, prostitutesand comfort women are as worthy ofbeing immortalized as the kings and nobleswhose pleasure they serve. Enter AnnaNicole. The story of a rather Rubenesquewoman famous … well, for being famous andfor her enhanced chest, is pure tabloid fodder,sordid and vulgar. It is also tragic, notthe least because of its final outcome.Richard Thomas (who also created JerrySpringer – the Opera) seizes upon all thetabloid angles, but never loses sight of ourtragic heroine. The choir, on-stage from theoverture on, initially is just a Greek chorus.It quickly becomes a flock of media vultures,ready to report on the slightest non-eventand to destroy Anna Nicole’s camera-seekinglife in the process. You cannot help feelingas sorry for the fame obsessed small–towngirl as you would for Cio Cio San. Largecredit goes to Eva-Maria Westbroek’s sensationalperformance; Gerald Finley, who isclearly Covent Garden’s audience favourite,lends his beautiful baritone to the role of thesleazy lawyer Stern and Susan Bickley isforced to be a modern-day Cassandra, predictingthe gloom.Turnage’s music, never very easy, gainson second hearing and is ably assisted by arhythm section including John Paul Jones (ofLed Zeppelin, I kid you not!). Should you seeit? Yes! Besides, where else can you hear asoprano aria Get me the f**k out of here!?—Robert TomasEARLY, classical & beyondBeethoven – In the Breath of TimeOrchestre Symphonique de Montreal;Kent NaganoOSM OSMCD7437The MontrealSymphony hasmuch to be happyabout these days.Conductor extraordinaireKentNagano is now inhis sixth seasonas music directorand the orchestra is sounding great. Thisis in part because of its new hall, whichopened in September and is proving tobe an acoustical gem. Furthermore, theensemble has begun to record on its ownlabel , OSM. This latest offering , a two-discset titled In the Breath of Time, is anotherin the series featuring music by Beethoven,specifically symphonies six and eight, inaddition to the Grosse Fuge as arranged byFelix Weingartner.As fine an ensemble as the MSO is, thereare no surprises here, nor is there anyground-breaking. Instead, under Nagano’scompetent baton, the orchestra concentrateson solid musicianship, performing witha particular warmth and sensitivity. The“Pastoral” symphony is a delight — here arethe familiar bird-calls, the peasant dancesand the joyful mood of life in the country asBeethoven witnessed it. The more traditionalSymphony No.8 is approached with a suitablespirit of nobility and the monumentalFuge — all 17 minutes of it — with thegrandeur it deserves.In keeping with the overall theme oftime and change, the second disc concludeswith a brief spoken word trilogy titledDeclaration of INTERdependence, writtenand narrated by David Suzuki. While therecitation is moving and poignant, it’s themusic itself that makes this such a satisfyingrecording — a fine interpretation offamiliar repertoire by one of Canada’s mostrenowned orchestras.—Richard HaskellTchaikovsky – Symphonies 4–6Mariinsky Orchestra; Valery GergievMariinsky DVD MAR0513; Blu-ray BDMAR0515Philips issuedCDs of thesethree symphonieswith Gergiev conductingthe ViennaPhilharmonic in liveperformances from2002, 1998, and2004. Although theywere very well received in some quarters, Ifound them to be quite perfunctory. Hereis a wiser Gergiev in 2010 with his ownorchestra live from the Salle Pleyel in Parisand the performances are polished, spectacularand substantial.The first movement of the fourthsymphony sounds eccentrically slow onfirst hearing but after listening to allthree symphonies it now fits perfectlyinto Gergiev’s new understanding andappreciation of Tchaikovsky’s music. Thefifth symphony is unusually stirring from thefirst notes to a hectic, triumphant finale. Thesixth can be driven too hard as Gergiev didin the Vienna recordings but here it unfoldswith unusual respect and sensitivity. That isnot to imply that it is not thrilling, which itassuredly is, but there is an atmosphere ofinevitability throughout heard in no otherperformances that I know of. The tragiclast movement, Tchaikovsky’s valedictoryaddress, is played with intense passion andis quite final. I “[d]o not go gentle into thatgood night,” he seems to say.There is a bonus in which Gergiev talksabout Tchaikovsky’s orchestrations withinteresting observations. Not an overly largeorchestra, about 50 players, the texturesand balances are never obscured. For me,these extraordinary, vital performancesset a new standard. Perfect sound andthrilling dynamics throughout make thisBlu-ray disc an uncontested first choice.Enthusiastically recommended.—Bruce SurteesRussian FavouritesAlexander SevastianAnalekta AN 2 9929Russian Favourites showcases QuartettoGelato accordionist Alexander Sevastian ina number of Russian solo accordion worksand arrangements.The accordion specific works areimportant examples of “classical” 20th62 thewholenote.comNovember 1 – December 7, 2011

century Russianaccordion repertoire.Compositionalacumen and themonster virtuosicstrength of theRussian playerscreated a challengingcollection. HereVyatcheslav Semionov’s Don Rhapsody No.1is a prime example. In just under fiveminutes, it showcases almost everything theaccordion can do. Massive chords, lyricalmelodies and blasting sound walls are allcontrolled brilliantly by Sevastian. The workis saved from becoming a musical parodyof itself primarily thanks to the composer’sclever compositional skills. Original worksby Shenderyov, Korolyov, Panitsky andZolotaryov are also featured.Sevastian himself arranged works byRachmaninoff, Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky.The success of any arrangement for theaccordion from Romantic piano repertoireis tricky. The piano is a percussioninstrument — finger articulation causesa hammer to hit a string which causes itto vibrate. Pedals figure prominently too.Lots of sound source possibilities. Theaccordion is a wind instrument — the bellowsforce air through metal reeds causingthem to vibrate once buttons or keys aredepressed. There is only one sound source.That’s why sometimes an arrangementlike Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise sings withits inherent flowing melodic beauty whileMussorgsky’s “The Gnome” from Picturesat an Exhibition stumbles with too manysimultaneously vibrating reeds.Sevastian is a sensitive and accomplishedperformer in this crowd-pleasing jewel.—Tiina KiikStrings AttachedWhen i saw the artisticpairing on the latest CDby James Ehnes, theViolin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2and the Viola Concerto by BélaBartók (Chandos CHAN 10690),my expectations sky-rocketed:not only was Ehnes playing, butthe conductor was the terrificGianandrea Noseda with the BBCPhilharmonic. A dream team!For years, the Violin ConcertoNo.2 was assumed to be the onlyone that Bartók wrote, untilthe discovery of an earlier twomovementconcerto, written in1907–08 for the young violinistStefi Geyer, to whom Bartókwas romantically attached. Thescore remained unpublished andin her possession until her deathin 1956. Ehnes is terrific in thelush, romantic first movement, aswell as in the second movementthat more approaches the styleof the mature composer. DespiteEhnes’ comment that this ismusic that has been very close tohis heart since childhood, I found the ViolinConcerto No.2, one of my favourites, to bea bit less than I hoped for. It’s a passionateand lyrical reading, true, but I felt it lackedthe contrasts and the sense of mystery thatMenuhin — who knew Bartók — used to bringto this work. The Viola Concerto was leftunfinished at Bartók’s death; unfortunately,the supposedly complete draft turned outto be just a pile of unnumbered manuscriptpages with only a couple of indications ofinstrumentation. Bartók’s friend Tibor Serly,TERRY ROBBINShimself a violist, managed tosolve the puzzle and completethe work, and Ehnes plays itwith a commitment that neverleaves its authenticity in anydoubt. Noseda does his usualterrific job of bringing the verybest out of the orchestra. Onepersonal comment: the bookletbio again uses that quote froma Toronto newspaper hailingEhnes as “the Jascha Heifetz ofour day.” Does anyone else findthis ridiculous? What’s wrongwith Ehnes being hailed simplyas one of the truly great playersof his generation? If you want toappreciate how silly this is, thenjust imagine someone releasinga historical reissue of Heifetzrecordings, and hailing him as“The James Ehnes of Yesterday.”Exactly!I know it’s a bit of a cop-outto be quoting a large chunk ofthe booklet notes in a CD review,but the opening remarksby the Quatuor Ebène for theirMozart Dissonances CD (Virgin Classics50999 070922 2 0) tell you all you needto know about their approach to the music:“Mozart — despite the surface simplicity ofhis music — is one of the most difficult composersto interpret well, if not the most difficultof all. For his works demand two thingsof performers: absolute technical assurance,as anything less than perfect intonation andarticulation would be all too clearly apparentin music that is so pure and transparent,… but above all the ability to let go andbare all.” And that’s exactly what you get onthis wonderful recording of two of Mozart’sgreatest quartets — the D Minor K421 andthe C Major “Dissonance” — and the earlyDivertimento in F K138. This is Mozartplaying at its glorious best: warm, expansive,both passionate and sensitive, intelligent andthoughtful, and full of contrast and nuance.Add the simply beautiful recorded sound andyou have a Mozart disc that will be hard toequal, let alone surpass.You would be hard-pressed these daysto find someone who would mention theFrench violinist Émile Sauret (1852–1920)in the same breath as Paganini, but suchwere his performing skills — he was givingconcerts in London, Paris and Viennaat age eight! — that contemporary criticsdetected the same hint of the supernaturalabout his playing. Sauret was another ofthat breed that essentially died out duringthe 20th century: the virtuoso performerwith compositional skills to match. Naxoshas issued a charming CD of his Musicfor Violin and Piano (8.572366) played bythe American violinist Michi Wiancko andthe Russian pianist Dina Vainshtein. Theirplaying of these attractive, well-craftedpieces, that are closer to Sarasate in stylethan to Paganini, is an absolute delight.Recorded at the CBC’s Glenn Gould Studioby the always-reliable Norbert Kraft andBonnie Silver, the sound quality displaysperfect balance and a spacious ambience.STRINGS ATTACHED continues with two viola discs:Viola Concertos by Stamitz and Hoffmeisterperformed by Victoria Chang and RussianViola Sonatas featuring Eliesha Nelson andGlen Inanga.modern & contemporaryTapestriesChristina Petrowska Quilico; CanadianUkrainian Opera Chorus; Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra;Daniel WarrenCentrediscs CMCCD-17011www.musiccentre.caChristinaPetrowska Quilico’ssignificant contributionsto the recordedcontemporaryCanadian piano repertoirecontinue toimpress. As DavidPerlman noted inOctober’s WholeNote, her 26 CDs to dateinclude many commissions. Both works onthis new Centrediscs release were written forher and recorded live.Canadian composer George Fiala’s threemovementConcerto Cantata for piano andchorus celebrates the 1988 Millennium ofChristianity in Ukraine. Not only Quilico’sNovember 1 – December 7, 2011 63

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