7 years ago

Volume 19 Issue 5 - February 2014

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easily identifiable harmonies and distinct“voices.” All of this is put in the context of a“tone poem” and “sound images,” overlappingand leading the narrative from a light,comedic touch to a much deeper, contemplativeconclusion.Méfano studied with Darius Milhaud, aswell as Boulez, Stockhausen and OlivierMessiaen. All of these influences are clearlypresent in his music, making for a fascinating,meandering journey through the music of the20th century and beyond.Robert TomasHeggie – Hear/After – Songs of Lost VoicesStephen Costello; Joyce DiDonato; NathanGunn; Talise Trevigne; Carol Wincenc;Alexander String QuartetPentaTone PTC 5186 515!!Art song is aliveand well in NorthAmerica as evidencedby this rich two disccollection of collaborationsby Jake Heggie(music) and GeneScheer (texts). The lostvoices represented are“silenced individuals whose stories deserve tobe heard,” including victims and survivors of9/11 (Pieces of 9/11: Memories from Houston).In 9/11, the duo is successful in their intentionto bring forward “the hope and newnessthat can come from grief” through excerptsobtained through 30 hours of interviews fromfirst responders, families and communitymembers. Woven throughout are echoes ofthe “Prelude” from Bach’s Cello Suite in GMajor, providing a poignant and movingundercurrent to the memories.Another of the “lost voices” is Frenchsculptor Camille Claudel (Camille Claudel:Into the Fire) whose tumultuous relationshipwith Rodin and frustrated ambitions resultedin commitment to an asylum. The duo takeas their inspiration six of her sculptures witheach movement evoking the story that eachrepresents. Performances by mezzo JoyceDiDonato and the Alexander String Quartetare absolutely stunning in their tender,exquisite phrasing.Art as inspiration is a prominent themethroughout this recording with two moresong cycles: Rise and Fall, which gives voiceto famous sculptures, and A Question ofLight, inspired by six major artworks in theDallas Museum of Art.Dianne WellsEARLY MUSIC AND PERIOD PERFORMANCEGuardian Angel – Works by Biber, Bach,Tartini, PisendelRachel PodgerChannel Classics CCA SA 35513!!Lest you think this is a lightweight, “newage”recording, the title of this brilliant newCD is shared withBiber’s Passacagliafor solo violin, thelast of his MysterySonatas. RachelPodger is well-knownas a first-rate baroqueviolin soloist, teacherand leader of manyof England’s top period instrument orchestras.On this recording from May, 2013 sheappears alone, leading us on a tour of musicfrom the Baroque era written or transcribedfor unaccompanied violin. The programincludes interesting music by the Londonvirtuoso Nicola Matteis, the long-lived Italianviolinist Giuseppe Tartini (two of his ratherobscure solo sonatas) and the little-knownDresden composer Johann Georg Pisendel.The absolute highlights, though, are a suaveperformance of the title work by Biber anda transcription of J.S. Bach’s superb A MinorFlute Partita.Podger’s playing is full of clarity, technicalassuredness and power. What is most impressiveand moving, though, is her attention todetail and understanding of the rhetoric ofthese pieces. To quibble, it might have beennice to hear a broader range of dynamics andcolours, but her sound is so mesmerizinglybeautiful and her musical ideas so clear andconvincing that our interest is keenly heldthroughout.I especially appreciated the recordingquality. Solo violin can be tricky to recordwell. This recording places us in the hall withenough distance for good perspective, thoughwe’re close enough to pick up every detail.Larry BeckwithRoyal Recorder Concertos – Music fromthe Court of King Frederik IVBolette Roed; Arte dei SuonatoriDacapo 6.220630!!With its focus on18th-century Danishmusical life during thereigns of Frederik IVand V and ChristianVI, this disc shines aprovocative light onuncommon repertoireand makes arefreshing addition to recorder music availableon CD. On a more personal note, thisdelightful collaboration between the excellentDanish recorder player Bolette Roed andPolish ensemble Arte dei Suonatori had mesmiling and humming along from its firstnote to its last.The CD opens with Graupner’s Overturein F Major, reminiscent of Telemann’s Suitein A Minor for its similar instrumentation,style and length. Though less virtuosic thanthe Telemann, it presents interpretative challengeswhich these players meet with aplomb,finding for example a perfect, improvisatorytempo giusto for the movement “LaSperanza.” Roed provides a lovely cadenza inthe first movement of Scheibe’s Concerto aquattro, and a serene, easygoing yet beautifullyexpressive adagio. In vivid contrast,Graun’s Double Concerto in C bursts out ofthe gate with its virtuosic passagework anddecidedly “yang” character. Graupner’s FMajor Concerto and the suite from the musiccollection of Princess Charlotte Amalie,arranged by Maciej Prochaska, are twolittle gems.The performances offer much variety ofmood and colour, and thoughtful attentionto details in the original scores provides aspringboard to refined and imaginative interpretation.The instrumental balance is good,the booklet notes are excellent and the packagingis quite beautiful. Way to go, Denmark!Alison MelvilleHouse of DreamsTafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; JeanneLamonTafelmusik TMK1020DVDCD! ! Alison Mackayplays violone anddouble bass withTafelmusik. She hasalso devised severalelaborate and imaginativeaudiovisualprograms for bothTafelmusik and theToronto Consort. Anearlier such programfor Tafelmusik,The Galileo Project, was released inMarch 2012. A month before that date Houseof Dreams was first performed at Banff. Ithas since been shown elsewhere in Canada(including Toronto), in the US, Australia andNew Zealand.House of Dreams is structured aroundone palace (in Paris) and four houses (inLondon, Venice, Delft and Leipzig) whichare important to the story that Mackay haswritten. In the London section, for instance,we are taken into Handel’s house and wecan see and hear his music with, as background,reproductions of the paintingswhich we know he owned. The musiciansplay on the DVD without scores (an impressiveachievement in itself) and there are manylovely moments of musical and dramaticinterchange, such as the item in the Handelsection with the violinists Cristina Zachariasand Thomas Georgi. I have to say though thatoccasionally there is an unconvincing overinsistenceon the players’ part in their attemptto bring out how much they are enjoying this.And it may be my imagination but were therenot also moments of self-parody?The DVD comes with a CD which containsthe soundtrack (of the music, not the narration).I was especially taken with the slowmovement of Vivaldi’s Lute Concerto(Lucas Harris), the Sweelinck harpsichordsolo (Charlotte Nediger) and the “Allegro”from Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins(Jeanne Lamon and Aisslinn Nosky). The54 | February 1, 2014 - March 7, 2014

performances are superb throughout but Icannot pass over the wonderful woodwindplaying (John Abberger and Marco Cera, oboe,and Dominic Teresi, bassoon).Hans de GrootConcert notes: Tafelmusik presents “IntimatelyBach” at Trinity-St. Paul’s CentreFebruary 1 and 2, and Handel’s Saul atKoerner Hall on February 21 to 23.Handel – SerseStéphany; Joshua; Daniels; Summers;Harvey; Sherratt; Wolf; Early OperaCompany; Christian CurnynChaconne CHAN 0797(3)!!Serse (aka XerxesGreat King of Persia)was first performed in1738, at a time whenHandel still believedhe could win Londonaudiences over tothe Italian drammaper musica. For thishe drew on Venetian poet Nicolò Minato’slibretto and Pier Francesco Cavalli’s music,originally performed back in 1655.Xerxes attempted to invade Greece, butwas defeated, not least when attempting tocross the Hellespont. After his first bridgewas washed away, he beheaded the engineersand gave the Hellespont waters 300 lashesfor good measure. Little wonder Minato andHandel were so focused on the volatilityof Xerxes.From the start one notices the carefreenature of this new performance; duringHandel’s lifetime Serse was only performedfive times and contemporaries commented onthe lacklustre quality of the original singers.This time, however, the interpretations areoutstanding. Anna Stéphany, in the title role,is enchanting as a ruler subject to all mannerof events, notably the unexpected over whichhe has no control, and the almost whimsical,which reflect his own character. This is not,on the face of it, a king setting out to conquerthe known world.Throughout Serse all the performers maintainthis lighthearted quality. For example,Elviro, a servant of Xerxes’ brother Arsamene,is depicted as a panicky and nervous individual.Bass-baritone Andreas Wolf takesfull advantage of this in his singing. There isdefinitely a liveliness to this version of Serse –over all 94 (!) of its tracks.Michael SchwartzHandel – BelshazzarClayton; Joshua; Hulcup; Davies; Lemalu;Les Arts Florissants; William ChristieLes Arts Florissants Editions 001!!When Handel came to London in 1710, hewas primarily a composer of Italian operas.His first oratorio, Esther, dates from 1732 butit was from the late 1730s on, when Italianopera was losing its popularity in London,that English oratoriobecame central to hiswork. Belshazzar wascomposed in 1744. Thelibretto is largely basedon the Book of Danieland its central event isthe writing on the wallwhich Belshazzar, theBabylonian King, does not understand andwhich only Daniel, the Jewish captive, caninterpret.In 1745 major changes had to be madebecause the contralto, Susannah Cibber, whowas to sing Daniel, was not available. Onthese CDs William Christie gives us essentiallythe work as it stood before that emergencysurgery, but he also includes some materialthat was cut before the first performance (cutno doubt because Handel was worried aboutthe work’s length) as well as some numbersthat Handel added or changed for the 1751revival. The performance is magnificent: it issuperbly paced and the soloists, the orchestraand the chorus are all very fine. I was especiallytaken with the soprano RosemaryJoshua as Nitocris, Belshazzar’s mother, andthe countertenor Iestyn Davies as Daniel.Over the years Christie and Les ArtsFlorissants have given us many fine recordings,but this is the first set of CDs issued bythe orchestra itself. A great beginning!Hans de GrootConcert notes: While there are dozens ofperformances of Messiah in Toronto eachyear, chances to hear Handel’s other oratoriosare infrequent. But we are in luck this year:Tafelmusik is presenting Saul (February 21to 23) and the Canadian Opera Companyis giving us a staged version of Hercules,directed by Peter Sellars (from March 5).CLASSICAL AND BEYONDMozart – Clarinet Quintet; String QuartetK421Jörg Widmann; Arcanto QuartetHarmonia Mundi HMC 902168!!Ever since the finalepisode of M*A*S*H in1983, I’ve realized thatMozart’s Quintet in AMajor for clarinet andstring quartet is morethan a wonderful partof the repertoire formy instrument: it isa gift left for humanity. A luminous nearlyperfect piece, K581 seems intended to assuagegrief, to remind us that mortality is not so badafter all. Every new recording of it, indeedevery performance, is a way of sharing thedivine. In a recent release, Jörg Widmann andthe Arcanto Quartet do justice to the musicin a way that refreshes the ear with a bracingclarity in the strings and absolutely stunningplaying in the clarinet. Widmann choosesto perform on the altered basset clarinet,allowing for some extra-low notes in somepassages, but it makes little impact on theoverall effect. More telling is the blisteringtempo of the 16th-note variation in the fourthmovement. Has this man no limits?The strings adhere to a classical style: thenear-absence of vibrato, the almost nasalcolour of gut strings. Arcanto is a wonderfulensemble, playing as one, snapping backand forth between lead and accompaniment(the first trio in the third movementis Mozart’s little thank-you gift to the stringplayers, a micro quartet while the tacet clarinettistswabs his horn). Do the five get carriedaway in the variations? Is the expressionperhaps more coarse than necessary at times?Perhaps. But the violist, thank goodness, isnot given to self-indulgence, and the pieceends in a flashy coda that few could managewith such a combination of wicked speed andbeautiful style.Arcanto performs K421 on their own in thecompanion piece. Worth hearing as well, anda welcome deviation from the usual inclusionof a lesser work for the same combination.Max ChristieConcert note: Jörg Widmann is featured asboth clarinetist and composer in New MusicConcerts’ “A Portrait of Jörg Widmann” onApril 18 at Betty Oliphant Theatre.14th Van Cliburn International PianoCompetitionGold MedalistVadym KholodenkoHarmonia Mundi HMU 907605Silver MedalistBeatrice RanaHarmonia Mundi HMU 907606Crystal AwardSean ChenHarmonia Mundi HMU 907607! ! Three winnersemerged from the14th Van CliburnCompetition in May/June 2013 to proveonce again howunique and individuatedsuch pianisticbrilliance can be. AUkrainian, Vadym Kholodenko, age 26, wonthe gold. Silver went to 20-year-old ItalianBeatrice Rana and an American of 24, SeanChen, received the crystal award. In addition,the winners also received three years ofcommission-free career management. Theseperformances were recorded live in FortWorth with audiences barely able to withholdtheir applause until the final chordsfaded completely. Considered together, thesethree young artists offer intriguingly differentapproaches to their music and its February 1, 2014 - March 7, 2014 | 55

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