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Volume 19 Issue 5 - February 2014

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for solo piano, Prélude

for solo piano, Prélude (2006) and Ballade(2005), and the piano trio Je sens un deuxièmecoeur (2003) by Kaija Saariaho.Messiaen wrote a wealth of solo pianomusic, much of it based on his extensiveand exacting transcriptions of bird songs,most notably the seven-volume Catalogued’Oiseaux (1956-58) – indeed Wikipediaidentifies him as a French composer, organistand ornithologist – so it is of interest thatthe first of the preludes, his first acknowledgedworks, is entitled Le Colombe (TheDove). The set is more reminiscent of theplacid and exotic world of Debussy thanof the exuberant ecstasy of the Messiaenwe would come to know in later years butthere are certainly moments that foreshadowthings to come. Of greater interest tome however is the piano quintet movementwritten for the 90th birthday of his publisherAlfred Schlee at Universal Edition. Althoughonly three and half minutes in length, thisquintet is particularly significant not only asMessiaen’s last work, but as his only workfor a chamber ensemble written after theiconic Quatuor pour la fin du temps, whichhe wrote for the resources available to him(violin, clarinet, piano and a cello with onlythree strings) while interned at a Germanprisoner-of-war camp in Silesia (1940-41).Pièce is divided into 14 very brief contrastingsections mostly alternating between angularun peu vif unisons in the strings with bienmodéré piano phrases. The exception is alongish passage in the middle where stringsand piano join forces in a chattery depictionof a fauvette des jardins (Garden Warbler),thus confirming that Messiaen maintained hispassion for birds right up to the very end.Saariaho’s solo piano pieces are darker andmore sombre than Messiaen’s but, to my wayof thinking, do fall into the French tradition,at least if we consider Chopin and his influenceto be an integral part of that history.Cheng gives us the first recordings of thesetwo works. On the other hand, the trio forviola, cello and piano – a darker variant ofthe traditional piano trio – has appeared on atleast two previous recordings, including onefeaturing Toronto violist Steven Dann, cellistAnnsi Karttunen and pianist Tuija Hakkilareviewed in this column in November 2012.At that time I mentioned that Je sens undeuxième coeur was based on themes fromSaariaho’s second opera Adriana Mater butnoted that it is “an effective chamber worknot dependent on the programmatic inspirationfor appreciation.” In the notes to thecurrent recording famed opera director PeterSellars paints a different picture: “We arein a country that is on the verge of war. […]a young woman dares to step out onto hersmall balcony dreaming of freedom, of liberation,and of pleasure, to sing “I unveil myskin.” The gesture of unveiling is provocativebut innocent […] This intensely personalsong is the opening of the opera, and formsthe content of the first movement.” He goeson to describe the “impetuous music of risingdanger” depicting an abusive boyfriend atthe door in the second movement. In thethird her sister dreams that war breaks outand “imagines the surreal atrocity that transformsa city at war.” In the anguished fourthmovement war actually does break out andthe drunken boyfriend batters down the doorand rapes her. The final movement, “I feel asecond heart beating next to mine,” providesthe musical image of the double heartbeatof a woman carrying a child which Sellarscalls “one of the most poignant and satisfyingmoments in the history of music.” Perhapsthe programmatic nature of the work doesbenefit from the telling… All in all this is animportant release on a number of counts,not the least of which is its excellent soundquality and high performance standards.We welcome your feedback and invitesubmissions. CDs and comments should besent to: The WholeNote, Centre for SocialInnovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. TorontoON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visitour website where youcan find added features including direct linksto performers, composers and record labels,“buy buttons” for online shopping and additional,expanded and archival reviews.David Olds, DISCoveries Editordiscoveries@thewholenote.comVOCALSalieri – FalstaffJohn Del Carlo; Teresa Ringholz; RichardCroft; Stuttgart RSO; Arnold ÖstmanArtHaus Musik 102306!!This recordingis not exactly new.It gives us a liveperformance from theSchwetzingen Festival,which dates from1995. The DVD wasfirst released in 2000(it is still available inthat format). So we are dealing with what isessentially a repackaging.Although in the early 17th centuryMonteverdi’s opera had both serious andcomic elements, in the 18th century thesetended to be divided between opera seriaand opera buffa. That division was not absoluteand several of Handel’s operas (mostnotably Partenope and Serse) were in partcomic. It was not until Mozart, however,that the serious potential of comic operawas brought out. Antonio Salieri’s Falstaffwas first performed in January 1799, a littlemore than seven years after Mozart’s death.Yet it is a comic opera that shows little of thecomplexities which we find in Don Giovannior Così fan tutte. Nor is Falstaff’s story asinterestingly treated as it is by Verdi, Nicolaior Vaughan Williams.I found much of Salieri’s opera decidedlyunfunny and much of the music ratherroutine. There are a few exceptions such asMr. Ford’s jealousy arias (beautifully sungby the tenor Richard Croft) and the finalscene in which Falstaff is confronted witha ritual scene of torment (with the sopranoTeresa Ringholz very fine as the Queen ofthe Fairies). It is not a coincidence that it isexactly those scenes which carry a threatwhich move beyond what is merely comic.Hans de GrootHaydn – Lord Nelson MassMary Wilson; Abigail Fischer; KeithJameson; Kevin Deas; Boston Baroque;Martin PearlmanLinn CKD 426!!Written whenHaydn was in hismid-60s and at atime of great uncertaintyfor Europe,the premiere of thismass must havebeen an emotionallycharged one forthe citizens of Vienna – the threatened invasionby Napoleon’s army having been recentlythwarted by British Admiral Horatio Nelson.With the start of the Kyrie featuring a terrifyingmilitary outburst of trumpets andtimpani followed by a jubilant rejoicing choir,the audience must have been deeply movedby the dramatic effect. Two years later, Haydnpresented this work to the conquering herowhen he visited the Esterhazy palace.Boston Baroque certainly captures thecharacter of those times, deftly alternatinghuge dynamic ranges that switch from jubilantand boisterous celebration to reflectiveand prayerful gratitude. And the current dayperformers were affected by equally upsettingevents. Rehearsals for the recording tookplace at the time of the Boston Marathonbombing, giving a much too realistic experienceof the original title of the work (Massin difficult, uncertain or anxious times).Particularly poignant is the soloist’s quartetfor the Agnus Dei. Following the Mass onthis recording, Martin Pearlman leads theorchestra in a lively, fast-paced and vigorousrendition of Haydn’s Symphony No.102,another exuberant offering most welcomeand uplifting to the spirit.Dianne WellsVerdi – Messa da Requiem, Live at theHollywood BowlDi Giacomo; DeYoung; Griglo; D’Arcangelo;Los Angeles Philharmonic and MasterChorale; Gustavo DudamelCmajor 714708! ! Young Dudamel’sidea of bringingVerdi’s Requiem intothe open air, to anunlikely venue withquestionable acousticswas a risky undertaking.It was riddled52 | February 1, 2014 - March 7, 2014

with technical problems from the very beginning,but somehow it came off surprisinglywell and turned out to be a huge success. Andwith good reason too.Young he may be yet he is not a showman,but a very serious, dedicated and astute musician.He conducts the entire mass withouta score and without a baton, using hishand gestures (like Karajan did), not at alleasy when controlling the vast forces at hisdisposal. He says he wants to have the piece inhis hands, close to his heart. Using carefullymaintained slow tempi ensures every detail ismoulded to perfection, but he never lets thetension sag – Verdi would have hated that! Heis also fully aware of the tremendous dramaticaspects of the work: witness the sudden deepsilence after the gigantic outburst of “DiesIrae” when the clouds disperse to open up toclear blue sky, with trumpets sounding fromhigh above and one really feels God is comingto pass final judgment.There is a fine quartet of soloists, eachhaving their memorable moment: Juliana DiGiacomo is heartbreaking in “Libera me,” thepart actually written first where the sopranoreigns supreme; Michelle DeYoung shineseternal light in “Lux Aeterna.” Vittorio Grigolois certainly no easy-going Duke of Mantua(where I saw him last) but deeply moving inhis tenor solo at “Ingemisco” and IldebrandoD’Arcangelo, with his very suitable name,is a seasoned veteran in the basso role whoprovides a solid foundation to the numeroussolo assemblies Verdi had always excelledin writing.Janos GardonyiBusoni – Doktor FaustHenschel; Begley; Hollop; Jenis; Kerl;Fischer-Dieskau; l’Opéra National de Lyon;Kent NaganoErato 2564 64682-4!!Ferruccio Busoni(1866-1924) wascelebrated by hiscontemporaries as anastounding pianistand valued teacher butconsidered himselfabove all a composer.It was not until the1980s however that his compositions beganto attract the international attention theydeserve. Busoni rightly considered his operaDoktor Faust as the summation of his life’swork. His interpretation of the Faust legendtakes its inspiration not from Goethe but fromthe origins of this mythical figure in Medievalpuppet plays. He wrote and publishedhis own libretto in 1916 and devoted theremainder of his life to its composition.Sadly, he died just short of the completion ofhis masterpiece, which he entrusted to hisstudent Philipp Jarnach to fulfill for the 1925premiere.In 1982 the musicologist AnthonyBeaumont reconstructed two more scenesintended for the ending of the opera frompreviously unavailable sketches and this“complete” version was issued on the Eratolabel in 1988. The Erato firm was absorbedby Warner Music in 1992 and this importantrecording became unavailable. Happily,further corporate restructuring has broughtit back to life in Warner’s new “Erato OperaCollection” launched in 2013. This reissuefeatures the Opéra de Lyon production underthe direction of Kent Nagano with DietrichHenschel in the lead role, Kim Begley asMephistopheles and Eva Jenis as the Duchessof Parma among others. Though the interpretationsare immaculate and the sound isvery fine the repackaging offers only a briefsynopsis and no libretto is provided, thoughwith some sleuthing an English translationof the Jarnach version can be located on theinternet.The incomparable Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau first made this work famous in acompelling 1970 recording conducted byFerdinand Leitner with the Bavarian RSO onthe Deutsche Grammophon label. Fischer-Dieskau (Henschel’s teacher from long ago)also appears in the cast of the Erato production,though his is merely a speaking role atthis late point in his career. The landmark DGrecording has also long been in limbo thoughI am happy to report it too has resurfaced indigital form on iTunes. Were it not for somemajor cuts to the score (not necessarily a badthing) and the damage done by the woefullywobbly Hildegard Hillebrecht as the Duchessit would still stand as my preferred interpretationof this strangely beautiful drama.The Beaumont additions are provided asfillers at the end of the third disc of the Eratoset, with suggestions of programming thetracks to either avoid or include them clumsilysketched out, though there is no discussionof the history of the reconstruction in thedocumentation. Rather than ending with themelodramatic death of Faust in dismal E-flatminor the Beaumont version ends with hismystical redemption through reincarnationin a luminous C major. Take your pick then,though it seems to me that on the opera stagedeath wins every time. The Beaumont editionhas evidently failed to catch on; the recent2001 Metropolitan Opera and 2006 ZurichOpera productions revert to the 1925 Jarnachversion. Both featured baritone ThomasHampson in a temperamental interpretationof the title role, with the latter performanceavailable as an ArtHaus DVD previouslyreviewed here by yours truly (March 2008).Daniel FoleyHonegger – Jeanne d’Arc au bucherRadio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart desSWR; Helmuth RillingHänssler Classic CD 098.636!!German conductor Helmuth Rilling isknown here mainly for his authoritativeperformances of Bach. But his repertoire is,in fact, remarkably broad and adventurous,and his recorded output is prodigious. In thislive recording he undertakes a magnificentwork whose rarity inour concert halls isbaffling.The two leadingparts, Joan andBrother Dominic, arespoken rather thansung. But for the rest,French composer Arthur Honegger drew on amixture of musical styles, from jazz and folksong to Gregorian chant and Bach chorales.These make for many wonderful moments,but the most moving is near the end, whenthe Virgin, sung by Canadian soprano KarenWierzba, soars radiantly over the huge choirand orchestra as Joan is burned at the stakeand ascends to heaven.Rilling brings out the disparate moodsof the work – the irony, absurdity, humour,mystery and profound spirituality. But thesedisjointed elements don’t always cometogether in the unified vision that Honeggerand his librettist Paul Claudel sought.Sylvie Rohrer as Joan and Eörs Kisfaludy asDominic are affecting but unidiomatic, andmomentum is sapped by the slow pace oftheir extended dialogues. It’s the GächingerKantorei Stuttgart, founded by Rilling in 1954,that steals the show, especially with the soloistsfrequently overpowered by the massiveforces behind them.The booklet essay and soloist biographiesare in French and English, but the libretto isgiven only in French, without even a synopsisin English.Pamela MarglesMéfano – MicromégasIsshiki; Dupuis; Isherwood; Trémolières;Ensemble 2e2m; Pierre RoullierMaguelone MAG 111.170! ! Philosophical treatisefrom the 18thcentury as a librettofor a quasi-operaticwork? A preposterousidea, right?Not if the librettist isVoltaire himself andthe music is suppliedby French composer Paul Méfano (b.1937).After all, Candide proved to be one of the bestsources for the musical theatre of the 20thcentury. Alas, Micromégas – action lyrique en7 tableaux – is not a straightforward story, butrather a series of musings on loosely-relatedtopics of existence, colour, microscopicuniverse and human destiny. The cast of charactersis more of a group of ideas, expressedthrough abstract, yet frequently amusingobservations from the world of philosophyand, ever-important in the 18th century,science. In typically Voltairean fashion, thelast line of the work, delivered by Saturnien,is “I was right to doubt it!”This is the milieu in which Méfano developshis complex landscape of musical themes,assigning motifs to ideas and quasi-characters,endowing them with particular, February 1, 2014 - March 7, 2014 | 53

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