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Volume 19 Issue 2 - October 2013

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Wagner – Das

Wagner – Das RheingoldRené Pape; Nikolai Putilin;Stephan Rugamer; Mariinsky Orchestra;Valery GergievMariinsky MAR0526!!When ValeryGergiev andhis MariinskyOrchestra mounteda new productionof Wagner’s monumentalRing Cyclein 2003, the eventmarked the return ofRussians performing opera in the originallanguage rather than in the vernacular.The entire project was acclaimed, leadingto the company taking their production toGermany, Japan and elsewhere, including theRoyal Opera House, Covent Garden and NewYork’s Met.The critics were not unanimous but, asI seem to recall, the sets contributed to adiversity of opinions. However, in an audiocycle, our sole concern is the performance,not the production.These new recordings were made in theMariinsky concert hall in two sessions, twoyears apart. From the first minutes it iseminently clear that this will be a powerfulperformance and as the story unfolds Gergievand his cast let us know that, except for theteasing Rhine Maidens, these characters are apack of disingenuous narcissists, not modelsof good behaviour and fine sensibilities. Theirmétier is deceit and deal-making and dealbreaking.We know that is bad karma as theywill find out by the end of the complete cyclewhen only the Rhine Maidens survive to havethe last laugh.As with any music he conducts, Gergiev isabsolutely faithful to the score, a quality thathas pros and cons. In Stravinsky, for example,his performances are outstanding but hisMahler symphonies are glaringly unidiomatic,a quality much admired by many. Gergiev’sorchestra is easily up to Wagner’s demands;accurate, dynamic and secure, together withbeing finely balanced. The only familiar voiceis the German bass René Pape as Wotan;the other soloists are Russians who all bringtheir characters to life, singing without anydiscomfort in German, except for a glaringlapse from Alexei Markov (Donner) whorepeatedly sings “Donner, de Herr” instead of“Donner, der Herr” as he summons the mists.A miserly observation indeed, one that doesnot detract from this extraordinarily excitingbeginning of this ambitious undertaking towhich I now look forward with the highestexpectations.I mentioned the quality of the orchestrawhich is captured in demonstration qualitysound by a Russian team under the supervisionof ex-Decca, award-winning producerJames Mallinson who also does the samefor the London Symphony’s and ChicagoSymphony’s own recordings. The layout fromleft to right and front to back is the ultimatein realism for orchestra and singers ... a touchablereality.I have since received a copy of DieWalküre which was issued earlier this yearand reviewed by Janos Gardonyi in April. Isomehow missed his review at the time butas I read it now I see that he was as enthusiasticas I. Do check it out. A few commentsthough ... Jonas Kaufmann’s Siegmund isfar ahead of what we saw from the Met twoseasons ago. Although Gergiev displays muchempathy with the characters, he keeps everythingpertinent and free from any hyperbolicheart-on-the-sleeve moments that divertour attention from the linearity of the plot.Performances such as this demonstrate, tome at least, that not a note of Die Walküre iswasted or superfluous. As in Das Rheingold,the recorded sound is wondrous; a convincingargument that a recorded concert performanceis sonically superior to a live operahouse recording. There is a world of differencebetween the sound of an orchestra inthe pit from the expansive freedom and airon the stage. We look forward to Siegfried andGötterdämmerung to be released towards theend of 2014.—Bruce SurteesBritten – Peter GrimesJohn Graham-Hall; Susan Gritton;Christopher Purves; Felicity Palmer;Catherine Wyn-Rogers; Teatro alla Scala;Robin Ticciati Opus Arte OA 1103 D!!The year 1945 sawthe premiere of whatmany consider thegreatest of Englishoperas to date,Benjamin Britten’sPeter Grimes. Theharrowing tale of afisherman whoseapprentices suffermysterious deaths atsea was quickly takenup internationally,with Milan’s La Scala mounting a productionin 1947. The present DVD brings us their lateststaging, featuring a predominantly Englishcast and production team. John Graham-Hall plays the demanding leading role ofGrimes as a paranoid wreck of a man withlittle suggestion of the commanding malevolencethe late Jon Vickers brought to the role.Though his reedy voice is bright enough tofill the hall and his interpretation is effectivein its own terms, Graham-Hall has a bit oftrouble finding his notes at times, especiallyif a large interval is involved. The supportingcast is rock solid however, with Susan Grittonas Ellen Orford and Christopher Purves asCaptain Balstrode both excelling in theirroles as Grimes’ only friends amongst thehostile hypocrites of the fishing village. Themassive choral passages so vital to this workare commanding, though it would be wise toturn on the English captions as the diction ofthe Italian chorus is sometimes a bit mushy(oddly, there are no Italian subtitles offered onthis disc).The orchestra pit at La Scala is larger thanmost, allowing a luscious string section tobloom under the assured leadership of therising young British conductor Robin Ticciati.Perversely, director Richard Jones has optedto move the time frame of this fishy tale fromcoastal Britain of 1830 to the urban blight ofU.K. council housing of the 1980s. The moneysaved on costuming was evidently passed onto movement co-ordinator Sarah Fahie, whogingers up the strutting local yobs and miniskirtedstrumpets with some risible disco-erabooty shaking. The only visible evocations ofthe sea are limited to incongruous flocks ofstuffed seagulls perched hither and yon. Setdesigner Tom Pye contributes clever articulatedboxes which sway effectively from sideto side in the strobe-lit storm scene. Videoand sound quality are both excellent. Despitemy reservations about the wacky stage directionthis is a production well worth a look.—Daniel FoleyConcert Notes: The Canadian OperaCompany presents seven performances ofPeter Grimes from October 5 to 26 at theFour Seasons Centre. James Ehnes performsBritten’s Violin Concerto with the TorontoSymphony Orchestra under StéphaneDenève’s direction on October 10 and 12 atRoy Thomson Hall. (See Editor’s Corner inour June 2013 issue for a review of Ehnes’recording of this concerto with the BournemouthSymphony.)Poulenc – La Voix HumaineFelicity Lott; Graham JohnsonChamps Hill Records CHRBR045! ! La Voix Humaine,the third and lastopera written byFrancis Poulenc, isbased on the play byJean Cocteau and wellknown as the solitary“tour-de-force”for any sopranogifted with an actingability. The piece is abit of a curiosity, asPoulenc apparentlydetested all “mechanical” forms of communication,preferring face-to-face encounters.The lonely voice of a woman, whose lover’scruel comments we can only imagine, is asurprisingly relevant tale now, in the age oftext-message and Facebook breakups. Theinherent inability (as Cocteau insisted) oftwo human beings to fully communicatecauses the piece to be touching, irritating andsorrowful in parts.The novelty of this recording is that iteschews the traditional Poulenc orchestrationin favour of solo piano accompaniment.It is the first time (since Poulenc’sown performances, accompanying DeniseDuval over 50 years ago) that permission60 | October 1 – November 7, 2013 thewholenote.com

has been given for La Voix Humaine to berecorded with piano accompaniment. RosineSeringe, the composer’s niece, has granteda special dispensation to Felicity Lott andGraham Johnson — as a token of decades ofspecial friendship between the artists and thePoulenc Estate — for this work to be produced(according to Champs Hill Records).Does it change the work significantly?I would insist that yes, it is a different LaVoix Humaine — a lonelier, sadder, but by nomeans less satisfying experience.—Robert TomasSounZSCApes: From Our LandsToronto Children’s Chorus; Elise BradleyMarquis MAR 439!!Following in thefootsteps of JeanAshworth Bartle (whofounded the TorontoChildren’s Chorus andshaped its sound for29 years), Elise Bradleyemigrated from NewZealand in 2007 totake the helm. This recording honours herjourney with a collection of songs from bothNew Zealand and Canada, including Maorichants alongside compositions celebrating thetraditions of Canadian First Nations peoples.Other Canadian favourites such as Song ofthe Mira and songs by Eleanor Daley and SrulIrving Glick, are paired with New ZealanderDorothy Buchanan’s Peace Song as well asmany other compositions, sacred and secular,from both countries.One continues to be struck by the disciplinedcare that goes into shaping the soundof young voices in this choir as well as thejuxtaposition of seasoned musicians recruitedto accompany, teaching excellent musicalityto the choristers by example. In this recordingthe children perform with (amongst others)organist Christopher Dawes, TSO principaloboe Sarah Jeffrey and clarinettist JoaquinValdepeñas. Elise Bradley hopes to sharethis music by taking the choir to her nativecountry in the near future; I’m sure they willenjoy the partnership (and the chorus) just asmuch as we do here.—Dianne WellsZimmermann – Die SoldatenLaura Akin; Gabriela Beňačková;Renée Morloc; Daniel Brenna;Tomasz Konieczny; Alfred Muff;Wiener Philharmoniker; Ingo MetzmacherEuroArts 2072588!!Salzburg’s Felsenreitschule, a 17th-centuryriding school carved into a cliff, makes abrilliant setting for this must-see productionof Bernd Alois Zimmerman’s landmarkopera. It was filmed at the 2012 SalzburgFestival, where director Alvis Hermanisstaged the non-stop action in front of aseries of archways, with live horses paradingaround behind.Die Soldaten (TheSoldiers) tells a bleak,violent story. ButHermanis avoidssensationalizing it,and instead takes apoetic approach. Soat key moments, likethe pivotal rape scene,his dramatic use ofthe bales of hay thatare strewn aroundthe stage makes theimpact all the more powerful.The cast is stellar. But it’s Laura Aikin’stour-de-force performance as Marie thatultimately grabs attention. It’s not just herfearless delivery of the treacherously jaggedvocal lines. Her characterization of a naiveyoung lady who is just trying to get ahead isutterly convincing, even when, at the end,she is so brutalized by the soldiers that herown father doesn’t recognize her. Right fromthe explosive opening chords, the ViennaPhilharmonic under Ingo Metzmacherprojects the vivid colours and textures thatmake this opera, now 50 years old, soundthoroughly contemporary.Unfortunately there are no views into thehuge orchestra, while the stage is too oftenfilmed in close-up. When Marie walks acrossa tightrope suspended high above the stage,it is filmed so closely that it’s evident she’san acrobatic double dressed as Marie, underminingthe potent image of Marie balancedprecariously on a high-wire.—Pamela MarglesEARLY MUSIC & PERIOD PERFORMANCELa Voce del Violoncello: Solo Works ofthe First Italian Cellist-ComposersElinor Frey; Esteban la Rotta; Susie NapperPassacaille 993passacaille.be!!The program of thisvery welcome new discspotlights the earliestsolo repertoire for thevioloncello, datingfrom the mid-1600sto the first half of the18th century in Italy,showcasing musicby Colombi, Vitali, Galli, Ruvo, DomenicoGabrielli, Dall’Abaco and Supriani. Not householdnames to be sure, but they all wrote somegreat music for the cello — and in Elinor Frey,they have an advocate of the first order.As one might expect from a recording ofearly Baroque music, many shorter pieces arefeatured here: ricercars, toccatas, capriccios,short sonatas and a few pieces on dance basses.Most are unaccompanied, with a few accompaniedin tasteful fashion by theorbo or guitarby Esteban La Rotta, or by the continuo team ofLa Rotta and cellist Susie Napper.The variety of this well-paced programmakes for intriguing listening, as does the useof various historical tunings and pitches — whata palette of colours! Vitali’s lovely Bergamascaand Passa galli, Giulio de Ruvo’s diminutiveRomanelle and Tarantelli, Dall’Abaco’s sonatasand Colombi’s Ciaccona were my personalfavourites the first time around, but as I revisitthis CD I’m sure that every piece will get itsturn in the limelight. What a pleasure. Frey’splaying is adroit, expressive and engaging; andshe also appears to have the happy ability tomarry her own voice to those of the composers,rather than getting in their way.—Alison MelvilleBach – Reconstructions andTranscriptions for StringsFuror Musicus; Antoinette LohmannEdition Lilac 110910-2editionlilac.com! ! When I firstlearned of this disc,I had it in my mindthat it was no morethan a compilationof Bach arrangementsalong the linesof those overly lushand romantic versionsas orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski c.1958.On the contrary, nothing could be furtherfrom the truth on this Edition Lilac label CDtitled Reconstructions and Transcriptions forStrings with music by the Leipzig cantor stylishlypresented by Furor Musicus under thedirection of Antoinette Lohmann.Formed by Lohmann in 2008, Furor Musicuscomprises a group of Dutch musicians whohave all played together in various otherensembles over the years and who wished tocontinue to perform music from the Baroqueperiod. This is a delightful disc featuring fourworks, the Orchestral Suite No. 2 BWV1067,a short fugue, the Concerto BWV1053 andseven movements from the famous GoldbergVariations, all the pieces in the form of reconstructionsor transcriptions that could haveexisted for strings.Lohmann points out that the suite — mostoften heard performed by flute andstrings — was probably based on an earlierwork written a whole tone lower andconceived for strings alone. With all duerespect to flutists, this interpretation isutterly convincing, the ensemble achievinga wonderful sense of poise and transparency.On the other hand, the concerto ismost often heard performed by keyboard,although Bach’s original intentions remainunclear. Nevertheless, Lohmann’s skilfuland elegant performance on the viola in thesolo part seems very natural, and that Bachwas a violist himself makes for a convincingargument that he may well have intendedthis concerto for his own use. The tworemaining pieces — the short Fugue BWV539and seven movements from the GoldbergVariations— are both transcriptions, andonce again demonstrate a keen affinity forthewholenote.com October 1 – November 7, 2013 | 61

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