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Volume 19 Issue 6 - March 2014

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VOCALSchubert –

VOCALSchubert – WinterreiseJan Kobow; Christoph HammerATMA ACD2 2536The best liveperformance of DieWinterreise I everheard took place inEdinburgh manyyears ago. The singerwas a young Germantenor, at that timecompletely unknownto me. His name was Jonas Kaufmann. Iunderstand that Kaufmann’s recording ofWinterreise has just been released; I cannotwait to get my hands on it.Winterreise was composed for a high voice.When sung by a lower voice, the songs haveto be transposed. There is nothing wrong withthat but the character of the songs changes.When performed by a singer with a darkvoice like Hans Hotter or Thomas Quasthoff,there is a correspondence between the darknessof the songs and that of the singer’svoice. But when we hear a tenor, the brightnessof the voice and the sadness of the songsgive us a poignant contrast. This tenor, JanKobow, is able to cope with the high tessituraof these songs but he also has a very evenlow register. The pianist Christoph Hammer isalso very good; he plays not a modern grandbut a fortepiano of the period (an early 19thcentury Brodmann).The accompanying booklet is informativebut the English translation is full of mistakes:“re majeur” is D major, not D flat major; Cminor, not B minor, is the relative minor ofE flat major; and so on. I also regret that thewanderer of the poems is called “a hiker.”Of the available recordings with a tenor,I think my personal preference is withChristoph Prégardien, but that may changeonce I hear the new Kaufmann!Hans de GrootSchoenberg – Gurrelieder (reducedorchestra by Erwin Stein)Stig Andersen; Anne Schwanewilms; LilliPaasikivi; Fernando Latorre; ArnoldBezuyen; Jon Frederic West; OrquestaSinfónica de Bilbao; Günter NeuholdThorofon CTH2606/2Schoenberg’smagnum opus of1911, as written,requires many moremusicians on stagethat the regularsymphony orchestraemploys, plus sixsoloists and an enormouschoir. Erwin Stein, a one-time studentof the composer, arranged the work forfewer players in order that it would reach awider audience. He did this in consultationwith Schoenberg in 1922/23. In addition torequiring smaller orchestral forces Stein alsoreduced the choir and did some transposingto make it less demanding. Schoenbergapproved Stein’s work, realizing the practicalityof making performing Gurreliederless demanding. In fact, in 1929 Schoenbergconducted Stein’s version of the songs from“Part 1” for broadcast on Berlin radio.The strings in the original number 84, inStein’s version 60; flutes 8 vs. 4; oboes 5 vs.3; clarinets 7 vs. 4; bassoons 5 vs. 3; horns10 vs. 6; trumpets 7 vs. 4; trombones 7 vs. 4;harp 4 vs. 2. The two timpanists, six percussionistsand single celeste remain untouched.However Stein introduces a piano. That is afinal total of 156 players versus 102. Still, thatis a formidable number to which must beadded the six soloists and the choirs.In this first recording of the reduced forcesversion conductor Günter Neuhold showsthat he understands the work; the orchestrais right there and I hear no reason to be pickywith any member of the ensemble. So howdoes it sound? There is clarification in thecrowded passages and the only downside (tomy ears) was the absence of the richness andtexture of the larger version. But the lines areeasier to follow now, although I missed thecomplex flavours of the original to which Iam accustomed. Listeners less saturated withthe original will be well pleased. The recordedsound is translucent and very impressive.Recorded in concert in Bilbao at the PalacioEuskalduna on March 8 and 9, 2012 theenthusiastic applause from the audience afterthe glorious sunrise scene is well deserved.Bruce SurteesBritten – Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh beachAlan Oke; Giselle Allen; Britten-PearsOrchestra; Steuart BedfordArtHaus Musik 102179The troubledAldeburgh fishermanPeter Grimes hasrowed home at lastin a unique productionpresented onthe pebbly shores ofthe Suffolk villageby the festival thatBenjamin Brittenestablished therein 1948. Lackinga facility largeenough in the town to accommodate thelarge chorus and sets for the presentation ofthis most celebrated of Britten’s stage works,Aldeburgh Music boldly proposed to celebratethe centennial of the composer’s birth with”Grimes on the Beach.” Compromises aside (apre-taped orchestra and headset microphonesto amplify the soloists), the weather co-operatedand the risk proved well worth the effort.The three evening performances ofJune 2013 have been expertly assembled byMargaret Williams into a cinemascope formatfilm which amplifies the concert experiencewith close-ups, cutaways and speciallycommissioned atmospheric videos accompanyingthe four orchestral interludes. Thetitle role is sung by the redoubtable AlanOke in his first appearance in this role, ablyabetted by Giselle Allen as the ever-sympatheticEllen Orford. The cast also includesDavid Kempster as Balstrode, Robert Murrayas Bob Boles and Catherine Wyn-Rogers asMrs. Sedley.Britten stalwart Steuart Bedford prerecordedthe students of the Britten-PearsOrchestra in a raw yet energetic studiosession. The excellent chorus is drawn frommembers of Opera North and the Guildhall.The static, multi-purpose set consists ofa number of oddly angled fishing boatsthat serve as pub, church and shacks asneeded while the costuming is vintage1945 dowdiness. The overall solidity of thevocal ensemble and the exceptionally cleardiction make for a most engaging eveningbest enjoyed indoors, comfortably far fromthe crashing waves and pesky seagulls of therugged North Sea.Daniel FoleyGeorge Benjamin – Written on SkinChristopher Purves, Barbara Hannigan;Bejun Mehta; Victoria Simmonds; AllanClayton; Royal Opera; George BenjaminOpus Arte OA 1125 DComposer GeorgeBenjamin and Britishplaywright MartinCrimp’s latest projectis the opera Writtenon Skin, producedto great acclaim in2012. It recounts thelegend of the 12thcentury Catalan troubadourGuillem deCabestaing and hisfatal ménage à trois,represented here by the principal roles ofThe Protector (baritone Christopher Purves),his wife Agnès (Canadian soprano BarbaraHannigan) and The Boy (countertenorBejun Mehta). The Protector has hired TheBoy (incongruously much balder than hisemployer in this production) to craft a manuscriptabout this medieval lord’s mighty realmand deeds (“written on skin” refers to thevellum upon which medieval calligrapherscrafted their illuminated manuscripts). Soonenough Agnès and The Boy fall in love andAgnès realizes how cruel her husband reallyis. The Protector himself also falls under hiserotic spell. The affair ends quite messily withthe husband killing The Boy and serving uphis heart to his wife, who elects to throwherself off a balcony rather than submit to hermisogynist husband ever again.To the left of the stage a group of contemporaryscholars in lab coats act as puppetmasters, putting these characters from thepast through their paces. The narrative of thispsychodrama is abstract and freely poetic,with the characters referring to themselves in54 | March 1 – April 7, 2014 thewholenote.com

the third person throughout and the actionshifting rapidly between past and present.Benjamin’s chromatic vocal writing is consistentlymellifluous and his sensitive andradiant orchestration never fails to impress.Mehta’s eerie male soprano perfectly conveyshis otherworldly, angelic character, Purves’insightful interpretation lends an elementof humanity to his nefarious character andHannigan’s moving portrayal of a womancoming to self-awareness is both vocallygorgeous and dramatically incisive.In an age when contemporary Britishoperas too often resort to shock-and-schlocktactics it is a pleasure to encounter such aconcise and sophisticated jewel of an opera.Daniel FoleyEditor’s Note: Composer George Benjaminand soprano Barbara Hannigan will be thefeatured guests at all three concerts of nextyear’s Toronto Symphony Orchestra NewCreations Festival where an opera-in-concertversion of Written On Skin will be performedwith surtitles on March 7, 2015.CLASSICAL AND BEYONDBeethoven – Piano Sonatas Opp.22; 31/3;101Angela HewittHyperion CDA67974It’s no surprise thataccomplished musiciansdevelop suchacute discernmentof their composers’muses. One simplycomes to expect thatongoing intimacy withthe creative utterancesof someone like Beethoven will produce adeep and evolving understanding of how themusic must be played. It transcends academicdebate and argument about historical authenticity.It’s a conviction that doesn’t waver. It’sjust “right.”Hewitt plays three sonatas which offera historical progression clearly marked byBeethoven’s evolving compositional formand musical language over 17 years. Theunmistakable echoes of Haydn and Mozart,the classical turns of phrase and stylisticornaments place the Op.22 solidly at the endof the 18th century. But by the time we hearthe Op.101 there are serious rumblings in thedepths and a hint of recklessness that we havecome to recognize as the Beethoven of thefifth and ninth symphonies.It must, however, be tempting to takethe classical bait of the early work and playit as though we need to be reminded thatHaydn and Mozart are standing behind us.Hewitt in fact does the opposite. With appropriaterecognition of the classical architecture,Hewitt unleashes the spirit of the youngBeethoven and shows us how the composerat mid-life has already seen his destiny. Thereis no mistaking the volcanic potential ofthis pen when it meets manuscript. Majorkeys and scherzos notwithstanding, thisyoung composer is already shaking his fist atthe universe.Alex BaranConcert Note: Angela Hewitt is featuredin Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with theToronto Symphony on March 20 and 22 atRoy Thomson Hall.Mosaic – Classical Guitar FavouritesMichael KolkALMA ACD11232 (almarecords.com)The Toronto-basedclassical guitaristMichael Kolk providesan absolute masterclass on his secondsolo CD, Mosaic, withan outstanding recitalof short compositionsand transcriptions that stretch from Bach toLeo Brouwer, and which beautifully illustratethe guitar’s range.In addition to the Bach Prelude, Fugueand Allegro BWV998 there are two piecesby Albéniz, four by Tárrega, one by Giulianiand two by Brouwer, along with PreludesNos.2 & 5 by Villa-Lobos and Agustin BarriosMangoré’s La Catedral. Transcriptions oftwo Debussy pieces – La fille aux cheveux delin and Danseuses de Delphes – complete ahighly satisfying program.Kolk’s technical mastery and musical sensitivityare evident on every track, and areperfectly captured by the intimacy of therecording. The tone is sumptuous across theinstrument, with a rich resonance in thelower register and clarity and warmth inthe high register, where, in some hands, theguitar can tend to sound somewhat tight andthin. Not here, though! Intonation is faultlessthroughout; the use of vibrato is beautifullyjudged, and there is a virtual absence of lefthandfinger noise.The CD was recorded by producerPeter Capaldi and engineer John “Beetle”Bailey, at Glenn Gould Studio where Kolk saidit was “so quiet it was almost alarming at first.Every nuance comes out…” And what nuancesthey are! This is playing and musicianship ofthe highest order, and an absolute must-buyCD for anybody who wants to hear just howwonderful guitar playing can be.Terry RobbinsConcert Note: Michael Kolk is featuredwith the Kitchener-Waterloo ChamberMusic Society on March 25 at 8:00pm in theKWCMS Music Room.Liszt at the OperaLouis LortieChandos CHAN10793Louis Lortie and Chandos records have puttogether a wonderful Juno-nominated CD ofLiszt’s opera transcriptions. Lortie dazzles uswith smooth, elegant virtuosity in O du meinholder abendstern(Tannhauser) andSpinnerlied aus demFliegenden Hollander.His scales, arpeggiosand trills shimmerand sparkle with alight, feathery touch.The speed and flourishof his technique leave us breathless. Thebeautiful melodic lines are also performedwith warm tone and sensitivity. His phrasingis sublime and his fingers sing out the arias.What I really liked was the freedom withwhich he teased us with carefree cascadesof orchestral sound. In the Valse de L’operaFaust de Gounod Lortie flirted with themusic and the rhythms danced with devilishintricacy. His spectacular finger dexterityallows Lortie to play cleanly but with resonance.There is a natural flow that never overshadowsthe music but enhances it. He hasimmaculate control of dynamics and canperform pianissimos as gentle whispers andfortes like a full orchestra. His tone can bewarm and gentle. The only minor moments ofharsher tone were in two of the Wagner transcriptions.The Overture to Tannhauser andthe Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan undIsolde are the only pieces in which I missedan actual orchestra. However, Louis Lortie isan extraordinary Liszt interpreter who definitelydeserves that Juno nomination and awin for this CD.The program notes are also excellent. Theygive a real insight into the era when operatranscriptions were numerous.Christina Petrowska QuilicoJulius Isserlis – Piano MusicSam HaywoodHyperion CDA68025The Isserlis familyname is familiar tomost by virtue ofcellist Steven whosecareer has its ownimpressive discography.The music ofhis grandfather Juliusis, however, a recentdiscovery and makes its first recorded appearanceon this disc by pianist Sam Haywood.Haywood is a long time friend of the Isserlisfamily. It was Haywood who found the manuscriptsand early published music of JuliusIsserlis among the family papers, and it wasHaywood who set about editing, correctingand recording these works for Hyperion.Born in 1888 in Moldova (then a part ofRussia) Julius was a child prodigy who earnedhis admission to conservatories in Kiev andMoscow and the attention of the great musiciansof the day such as Taneyev. The rise ofBolshevism and Nazism in Europe severelyrestricted career options for the young pianistand composer. He was fortunate to escapethe continent with his family and settle inEngland where he spent the rest of his lifethewholenote.com March 1 – April 7, 2014 | 55

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