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Volume 19 Issue 3 - November 2013

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VerdiAnna Netrebko;

VerdiAnna Netrebko; Orchestra Teatro RegioTorino; Gianandrea NosedaDeutsche Grammophon 4791052The Verdi AlbumJonas Kaufmann; Orchestra dell’Opera diParma; Pier Giorgio MorandiSony Classical 88765492042Domingo/VerdiPlacido Domingo; Orquestra do laComunitat Valenciana; Pablo Heras-CasadoSony 88883733122!!The music of Verdi,nearly 200 years on isstill the litmus test ofopera singers of the21st century.It is something to begraduated to, somethingthat revealsthe true mettle ofcontenders and somethingthat strikes fearin the hearts of thosesingers. Let’s call ita rite of passage forthe vocalists. One ofthe reasons, but byno means the onlyone, is the fact thatVerdi always wrote forthe divas (and divos)of the day — singersblessed with that extrahigh E, smoothercoloratura and a moredramatic glissando.Unlike the mastersof Bel Canto, there was nothing superfluousin Verdi’s writing, no extra trills to enhancethe experience. Instead, the full vocal rangewas exploited and the dramatic range of theperformers was used to the fullest effect.These days, the Verdi repertoire is not onlythe most consistently performed on the worldstage, but also what separates the wheat fromthe chaff. When it comes to the female voice,Verdi demands a full soprano, somewherebetween the lyric and dramatic, and as fortenors, well, they need to be “helden tenors”with power to spare.The current reigning diva of the Met, AnnaNetrebko, having wrestled the mantle fromAngela Gheorghiu, has finally released herfirst Verdi album. The thoughtful selections,from Macbeth to Giovanna d’Arco, DonCarlo and Il Trovatore, take her voice throughsome major hoops, showing the growingconfidence of the Russian soprano. Shetruly is the “prima donna assoluta” howevermuch one may hate such superficial judgments.In perfect command of her voice,Netrebko does justice to all her predecessors,Verdi’s favourite divas: Erminia Frezzolini,Marianna Barbieri-Nini, Rosina Penco andSophie Cruvelli. A graduation from the lighterPuccini and verismo roles bodes well for thesoprano’s future both at the Met and in therecording studio.Jonas Kaufmann, surely the brightest starof the new generation of tenors, comes tothe music of Verdi from a point of reverence.His lovely voice, so effective in his nativetongue in the renditions of Schubert, Mahlerand Mozart, at first seems intimidated by theVerdi repertoire. The culprit, I presume, is hisknowledge of Verdi’s arias in German at first,making a transition to Italian that much moredifficult. Fortunately once he gets throughhis initial jitters he proves once again that heis the one to watch, exuding both confidenceand the bravado necessary to dominate thestage in Verdi productions of the future.Placido Domingo could have easilysuccumbed to the “superstar syndrome”so readily embodied by the late LucianoPavarotti: sing it all, sing it badly (or at leasttoo long) and damn the torpedoes. Instead,Domingo carefully observes the changes tohis voice over the decades, moving his repertoiredown his range, tackling the baritonewith some tenor flourishes. Not having heardhim live in over five years, I cannot vouch forthis voice outside the recording studio, buthere it sounds as though Domingo is in fullcontrol of his abilities, beautifully navigatingthe treacherous waters of Verdi’s writing. Hemay be the lion in winter, but his roar stillsends shivers down the spine.The good news in all this is that the musicof Verdi has a most competent cast of characters,both young and old, beautifully bringingthe music of the Italian master to our ears onthe 200th anniversary of his birth!—Robert TomasStephen Chatman –Magnificat: Songs of ReflectionUBC University Singers; Graeme Langager;UBC Symphony Orchestra;Jonathan GirardCentrediscs CMCCD 19313! ! Students at UBCare fortunate to haveone of Canada’smost popular choralcomposers closeat hand. StephenChatman, multipleJUNO nominee anda Member of theOrder of Canada, is Professor and Chair ofComposition at the UBC School of Music. Inthis recording, the UBC University Singersand Symphony Orchestra begin with hissetting of the Magnificat, a work commissionedin 2010 by the Vancouver ChamberChoir. Chatman begins the piece with thetraditional Latin text, and then sets thefollowing sections in the six official languagesof the Vancouver Winter Olympics: French,Spanish, German, Chinese, Russian andEnglish. The 40-voice choir handles thelinguistic transitions well and there are somewonderful changes of cultural idiom for theorchestra. A fourth year student (at the timeof recording), soloist Bahareh Poureslamimanages the voice of Mary with lovelyexpressiveness ranging from tender anticipationto soaring joy and divine rapture.Following with a collection of “songs ofreflection” the choir performs (sans orchestra)Chatman’s settings of contemplative poetryby Christina Rossetti, Sara Teasdale and WaltWhitman, as well as two from FitzGerald’sRubaiyat and John McCrae’s In FlandersFields. Themes of love, loss and longing,followed by transcendence and peace, findtender expression through skilful compositionand artful nuance in the choir’sperformance.—Dianne WellsEARLY MUSIC & PERIOD PERFORMANCEPassaggiVincent Lauzer; Mark EdwardsATMA ACD2 2637!!Having justrecently enjoyed a CDof late 16th and 17thcentury music forthe cello, it’s timelyto hear Passaggi, arecording of repertoirefrom the same era butthis time for recorderand keyboard. This disc includes diminutions,sonatas, sinfonias, canzonas and Frescobaldi’sextravagant Cento Partite for harpsichord,and features two players familiar to Montréalaudiences, Vincent Lauzer and Mark Edwards.They work well as a team and play thisprogram with affectionate invention.Edwards’ alternation between organ andharpsichord is often witty, for example inBerardi’s Canzona and Schmelzer’s sonatas,and his take on Frescobaldi’s Cento Partiteis impressive. I particularly enjoyed his laidbackambling through the sections displayingthe savoury nature of the temperament he’schosen. Lauzer provides impressive displaysof nimble fingerwork, for example in theNotari canzona and the Schmelzer, and playswith a sweet sound. It’s also very good tohear him employ the g alto recorder, thefavoured “solo” recorder of the era, as well asthe soprano. He creates some nice changesof colour and volume with the use of alternatefingerings, but in the 17th-centurypieces I miss the ornamental affetti describedby musician/composers of the time, whichare commonly heard in baroque violin andcornetto performances of this repertoire. Theyprovide a broader expressive palette to thewind player and assist in making a greaterdistinction between diminution practice andthe “seconda prattica” of the 17th century.That aside, this is an enjoyable musicalexploration of some wonderful music, fromtwo of North America’s fine younger generationof players. Kudos to all involved!—Alison Melville68 | Novemberr 1 – December 7, 2013

Bach – Keyboard WorksHank!!It took performers like WandaLandowska — and more recently, WilliamChristie and Kenneth Gilbert — to take theharpsichord out of the museum and put itinto the concert hall or the recording studio.Among the instrument’s most recent championsis the Montreal-based performer andpedagogue Hank Knox, whose talents areadmirably showcased on this recording onthe label featuring selectedworks by J.S. Bach.Early keyboard instruments have been abig part of Knox’s life for many years. Hestudied harpsichord with Kenneth Gilbertin Paris and also at McGill University,where he currently directs the Early Musicprogram. A founding member of the ArionEnsemble, Knox has also performed, touredand recorded with the Tafelmusik BaroqueEnsemble and the Studio musique anciennede Montréal, and this newest release is furtherevidence of his deep affinity for music fromthis period.What a wonderful program this is! Thedisc features some of Bach’s most formidableworks for solo keyboard, including theToccata in E minor, the great ChromaticFantasy and Fugue, the Fantasia in C minorand the French Overture BWV831. From theopening chords of the Toccata, it’s clear tothe listener that Knox is in full commandof this repertoire, the playing confident andself assured. The challenging ChromaticFantasy — a true “tour de force” among Bach’ssolo compositions — displays not only hisredoubtable technique, but also a deeplyrootedmusicality.Published in Leipzig in 1735, the Overturein the French Manner was undoubtedlyBach’s way of transferring the French orchestralsuite to the keyboard. Knox has no difficultyin conveying the subtle nuancesrequired of the music, from the stately“Ouverture” to the brisk “Echo,” bringing thismost satisfying disc to a close.—Richard HaskellHaydn – Symphonies 6 & 82;Violin Concerto in GAisslinn Nosky;Handel and Haydn Society;Harry ChristophersCORO!!The energy thatemanates from thisrecent recording ispalpable. Now in hisfifth season as theartistic director ofthe venerable Handeland Haydn Society,the multi-talentedconductor Harry Christophers brings awonderfully rustic and open personality tothis terrific CD, without losing one iota ofelegance and charm.The cover promises two symphonies andone concerto, but indeed the early SymphonyNo.6, written in 1761 at the beginning ofHaydn’s illustrious career at the court of theEsterhazys, is less a symphony and more a“sinfonia concertante” featuring extensiveand virtuosic solo work from many differentareas of the orchestra. Christophers leads abrisk, smile-inducing performance of thepiece, nicknamed “Le Matin” for its warmand evocative musical “sunrise” and generallyperky spirit. Special mention goes to violinistAisslinn Nosky, flutist Christopher Kruegerand bassoonist Andrew Schwartz for theirbrilliant solo contributions.Toronto-based Nosky, who has been theconcertmaster/leader of the orchestra since2012, moves front and centre for the ViolinConcerto in G. Her trademark tone, techniqueand sense of abandon are present throughoutthis delightful and moving performance.The crowning glory is Christophers’powerful rendering of the Symphony No.82,written in the mid-1780s for performance inParis. It’s an endlessly fascinating piece, fullof contrast, humour, poignancy, sensualityand grandeur. Christophers and the orchestragive a detailed, lively and majestic performance,reminding us at every turn of Haydn’sinventiveness and wit.—Larry BeckwithBrahms – Piano Miniatures performed on aJohann Baptist Streicher fortepiano (1851)Boyd McDonaldDoremi DDR71154/5!!Veteran pianist,composer andmusicologist BoydMcDonald, nowprofessor emeritusat Wilfrid LaurierUniversity in Waterloohas, for the better partof his career, beenexploring and performing on period pianosand their ancestors of the last 200 years.A former student of Nadia Boulanger andwinner of the Leschetitzky Prize, McDonaldis a recognized authority on Brahms’ owninstrument made by Johann Streicher in 1851,on which instrument he has now releasedthis set of Brahms miniatures.While I find his performances are pleasant,the raison d’être of this set is to reveal tomodern ears the instrument that Brahmshimself used, as did Schumann and others.For historical reasons, this is an importantdocumentation of a chapter in the developmentof the keyboard instruments. Comparedto the modern piano, the sound is slim andpercussive and so may not be to everyone’staste. Heard are Four Ballades, Op.10; TwoRhapsodies, Op.79 and shorter works opp. 76,116, 117, 118 and 119.—Bruce SurteesCLASSICAL & BEYONDSchubert – Piano Sonatas D664 and D894Janina FialkowskaATMA ACD 22681!!These two sonatasare dissimilar works,coming as they dofrom very differentperiods in Schubert’slife, albeit only sevenyears apart. The earlierSonata in A Major isthoroughly pleasantwith familiar echoes of Mozart and Haydnthroughout. Altogether, it’s a finely craftedpiece with a conventional three-movementstructure and competently developed ideas.While this description sounds bland, thebeauty of Fialkowska’s approach is that sheactually understands this and refuses to makemore of the sonata than it deserves. Instead,she plays each movement with a strictno-nonsense approach leaving aside the overromanticizedinterpretations attempted bysome other pianists. She finds just the rightbalance between the technical requirementsof the music and the smaller but clearlystill-emerging voice of the composer in thismusical form.In the second sonata (G major) Fialkowskaacknowledges the more substantial content.Here, Schubert places technical demands ingreater service of the music’s developmentallowing the performer new heights of inventionand emotion. The opening movement ishuge and Fialkowska plays it with a sustainedcommitment to holding its thematic ideastogether until the triple forte ending.The succeeding slow movement weavesa tender melody around a more stormyresponse which Fialkowska never allows togrow out of control. After a light dance movement,she plays through a fourth and finalmovement that ends quietly with a tastefulsense of anti-climax.Throughout both sonatas, Fialkowska’sseasoned touch is a tribute to her matureunderstanding of Schubert’s actualintentions. Fialkowska’s Schubert is thereal McCoy.—Alex BaranStrauss – Josephslegende; Love Scenefrom Feuersnot; FestmarschRoyal Scottish National Orchestra;Neeme JärviChandos CHSA 5120! ! Richard Strauss,reigning overlord ofthe orchestral tonepoem and emergingmonarch of the operaticstage at the turn ofthe century, had beenseriously intrigued bythe prospect of November 1 – December 7, 2013 | 69

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