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Volume 19 Issue 7 - April 2014

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  • April
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Theatre
  • Arts
  • Choir
  • Musical
  • Symphony
  • Ossington
  • Bloor

Quite a few years ago,

Quite a few years ago, franklyalmost half a century ifI care to do the math, Ibuilt my classical record collectionby scouring the bargainbins on Yonge St. at Sam theRecord Man and A&A Records.At the time it was possible tofind some superb recordings for 999 cents to.99, including as I recall, my firstexposure to Schubert liederas sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Boulez conducting theDomaine Musical Ensemble inworks of Gilbert Amy and AntonWebern, Honegger symphoniesperformed by Ansermet and theOrchestre de la Suisse Romandeand the Bartok Quartets withthe Fine Arts Quartet (well, that3-LP set may have been .99) toname just a few highlights. Whattakes me back to those memoriesis a new recording of the BachBrandenburg Concertos featuringthe Freiburger Barockorchester(Harmonia Mundi HMC 902176.77). 7).My first recording of theseiconic works came from thosesame bargain bins and inadvertentlyintroduced me to the worldof period performance practicein, as far as I know, one of itsearliest incarnations. Featuringthe Schola Cantorum Basiliensis ontwo Heliodor LPs this was an ear-opening,if not quite life-changing, event for me. I’dnever heard anything like it before and I washooked, although it would be a good manyyears before I figured out what it was thatmade it so special. Of course period performanceis almost de rigueur these days, thanksin large part to the influence of the Scholawhich Paul Sacher founded in Basel in 1933,but back in the 70s it was quite a new ideato most of the musical world. Since thattime as I say, historically informed performancesabound and Toronto’s own Tafelmusikhas played a major role in establishing thisas the norm. Their own 1995 Juno awardwinningrecording of the Brandenburgs,recently re-released on their own TafelmusikMedia label (TMK1004CD2), is itself a benchmarkagainst which others are to be measured.I’m glad to have the luxury of nothaving to choose between an embarrassmentof riches and am simply able to enjoythem all. I’m happy to have had an excuse torevisit my favourite recordings – includingthe thrilling modern-instrument performancefeaturing the CBC Vancouver Orchestraunder Mario Bernardi with soloists includingDISCOVERIES | RECORDINGS REVIEWEDDAVID OLDSRobert Aitken – thanks to thisnew release from Freiburg, whichincidentally is just across theborder from Basel. I particularlyenjoyed the crisp attacks and wellbalancedrecording throughoutthe two discs, the wonderful (andwondrously in tune!) naturalhornsin the First Concerto andof special note, the harpsichordcadenza by Sebastian Wienand intheFifth. This is a welcome additionto my collection.The Canadian Music Centre’sCentrediscs label is busier thanever it seems, and this monthhas three new releases featuredin these pages. The one I havechosen for myself, Cobalt (CMCCD20014), is an eclectic offeringfeaturing mostly large-scale musicby the chameleon-like JocelynMorlock performed by fivedifferent orchestras. The exceptionis a dark and brooding pianotriowritten for Duo Concertante(Nancy Dahn, violin and TimothySteeves, piano) with guest cellistVernon Regehr, Asylum, atribute to and meditation onSchumann’s life and music. Theopening track, Music of theRomantic Era, written for andperformedby the Windsor Symphony, isa pastiche whose inspiration was the concernthat classical music is disappearing from ourlives. It would be fun to hold a contest to seehow many sources of the familiar and almostfamiliarphrases found therein can be identified.The title track is a sort of concerto grossofor two violins and orchestra, a lyrical reflectionon the luminous cobalt blue of the nightsky, the properties of cobalt the element(poisonous, magnetic and radioactive), andkobold, the mischievous goblin that inspiredits name. Jonathan Crow and Karl Stobbeare the soloists with the National Arts CentreOrchestra under Alain Trudel. Disquietis a short homage to Shostakovich whichexplores “a sense of oppression and urgency,such that I imagine would have been theperpetual emotional state of Shostakovich andhis contemporaries.” The haunting work isperformed by the CBC Symphony Orchestra,again under Trudel’s direction. BramwellTovey leads the Vancouver Symphony in thenature-inspired Oiseaux bleus et sauvages, anod to Messiaen with some moments reminiscentof John Adams.Perhaps the most curious work on the discis Golden, written in memory of Morlock’steacher Nikolai Korndorf and performed bythe Pacific Baroque Orchestra and oboistPhilippe Magnan. The piece starts with quietpercussive sounds and disjointed whisperedphrases and gradually grows into dirge-like,quasi-medieval textures in the strings andsolo oboe. The final piece Solace also foundit’s inspiration in early music, Josquin’s MissaL’homme armé. The orchestra, the stringsof the Vancouver Symphony, is divided intosubgroups: an “early music” ensemble playingmusic based on Josquin’s mass; a group of“ethereal” violins playing long harmoniesover top the tutti; and a concertante violinand cello. It is the soloists that are most prominentand while the background is based inmedieval music, the soaring melody of theviolin, echoed effectively by the cello, is to myear quite reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’The Lark Ascending in its quiet grandeur. Allin all this is a wonderfully lyrical disc and agreat reminder that we do have an importantbody of orchestral work in this country. Now,if we could just get our orchestras to play itmore often… (I know I always say that, butthat doesn’t make it any less true!)Another disc that took me back to the earlydays of building my record collection, specificallythe discovery of Django Reinhardt,Stéphane Grappelli and the Quintet of the HotClub of France, is a delightful eponymous discby Les Petits Nouveaux (lespetitsnouveaux.bandcamp.com). There’s not much informationincluded with the self-produced CD butsurfing the web I have gleaned that this gypsyjazz group was formed in 2009 when Swedishguitarist Mikko Hildén was studying themanouche stylings of Django Reinhardt underthe tutelage of Drew Jurecka at HumberCollege. Les Petits Nouveaux is currently atrio with another original member, Montrealviolinist Aline Homzy and, since 2011,Toronto guitarist Andy Mac. The disc is mix ofgypsy jazz standards (including Reinhardt’sgently swinging Douce Ambiance on whichthe group is joined by mentor Jurecka onbass clarinet) and original compositions, onefrom each member: Hildén’s El Cafecito,Homzy’s Siva Macka and Mac’s particularlyidiomatic Ville Belle. At just a half an hour inlength this disc falls somewhere between EPand full-length offering (and is priced onlineaccordingly at just ), but it serves as a satisfyingintroduction to the group, and to theidiom if you’re not familiar with it. A veryeffective treatment of Gene de Paul’s classicI’ll Remember April brings this little gemto a close.The final disc that has been in rotation onmy system this month is a meditative projectwhich is based in the song of Chassidicniggunim and Sephardic Jewish traditions.Song of the Grasses features Siach HaSadeh, aclarinet and double bass duo (Yoni Kaston andJoel Kerr) complemented with violin (DanielFuchs), cello (Gaël Huard), harmonica (JasonRosenblatt) and oud (Ishmail Fencioglu) asthe repertoire requires. The quiet flowingclarinet over the subtle supportive bass linesis a constant delight throughout the 15 tracks,but for my ears it is the percussive melodies70 | April 1 – May 7, 2014 thewholenote.com

plucked on the oud and the extremely lyricalharmonica playing (it’s hard to imagine thisas the same instrument known as the “bluesharp” in Rosenblatt’s hands – the iconic TootsThielemans comes to mind) that really makesthis music special. In the program notes (onlyavailable on the website siachhasadeh.com),it states that “the songs […] were created asvehicles to reach the depths of spiritual space.Many of them have passed through fire andwater to reach us, and are not known outsideof the communities where they are still sung.While they are distinctly Jewish, they expresssomething deeply universal, something thatcan only be expressed in wordless melody,and that could be obscured by text. Here,they become platforms for improvisationand musical conversations.” The spiritualityVOCALSchubert – WinterreiseGerald Finley; Julius DrakeHyperion CDA68034Schubert – WinterreiseJonas Kaufmann; Helmut DeutschSony 88883795652Only one of thesetwo new versions ofWinterreise seemsto be able to takeseriously one ofSchubert’s mostharrowing delineationsof despair.Finley and Drakeprovide an objectlesson in renderingthese pieces as morethan mere entertainment,whereasKaufmann andDeutsch seem contentwith simply providinga well-sung songcycle. Both singers are consummate operaticartists and their pianists are both good butDrake is by far the better at conveying subtlenuances. Kaufmann is certainly an expressivesinger but does not yet really have those skillsthat can project the psychological internalizationof drama and tragedy. It is Finley andDrake who have all the essential extra skillsin the strategies of lieder singing. These qualitiesare omnipresent throughout the entirecycle. In the final song, “Der Leiermann,”Kaufmann certainly gives an engaging rendition,carefully projecting to his audience amuted picture of aimlessness. But listeningto Finley and Drake we learn how bereft andsuicidal the subject really is, making it painfullyclear that he has lost all hope and islooking for his death. Mention must be madeof the appropriate salon acoustic that crownsthe Finley, versus a much larger venue inwhich Kaufmann appears.is achieved without any New Age trappingsand the resulting contemplative journey isone well worth undertaking. It has given mea much appreciated sense of calm and somequiet stimulation over that past few weeks.We welcome your feedback and invitesubmissions. CDs and comments shouldbe sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote MediaInc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503– 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4.We also encourage you to visit our websitethewholenote.com where you can find addedfeatures including direct links to performers,composers and record labels, “buy buttons”for on-line shopping and additional,expanded and archival reviews.David Olds, DISCoveries Editordiscoveries@thewholenote.comWinterreise is Schubert’s most trenchantmetaphor of his own life and tragedy. It is adifficult piece and it is rare to hear such anunflinching probing of this sad masterpieceas Finley’s, which may indeed be the bestversion ever.Bruce SurteesWagner – ParsifalJonas Kaufmann; René Pape; Peter Mattei;Katarina Dalayman; Evgeny Nikitin;Metropolitain Opera; Daniele GattiSony 88883725589The Met is certainlyback on the righttrack following theirdubious and verycostly Ring adventurewith this stunning,awe-inspiring,memorable and byfar more economicalproduction of Parsifal, created to kick off thecomposer’s 200th birthday festivities. Why?Three reasons:To begin, acclaimed film director, French-Canadian François Girard, already known inToronto for his Siegfried for the COC, hereenvisages a “pervasively gloomy” apocalypticvision with dark clouds and swirling mists(no doubt inspired by Goya’s frescos), barrengrounds bisected with a river of blood andatavistic symbolism thoroughly in keepingwith the harrowing story of the Knights of theHoly Grail’s inner doubt and hopelessness.Next, the choice of Italian conductor extraordinaireDaniele Gatti, a wonderfullytalented musical mind who truly presidesover this incredibly complex score andconducts it entirely from memory! To myrecollection only Toscanini could do that,mainly because he was vain and refused towear glasses. My experience with Gatti so farhas been his memorable Verdi performances,but here he is on an altogether different level.With broad tempi and long melodic lines hesustains a glowing intensity rarely achievedby even the very best.Thirdly, in the title role, German heroictenor Jonas Kaufmann is an inspired choice,with a wonderful stage presence and voiceof immense sensitivity he becomes a thoroughlycommitted personification of Parsifalfor our age. The distinguished cast is superb:René Pape is synonymous with Gurnemanz,Peter Mattei is simply heartbreaking as thesuffering Amfortas and Evgeny Nikitin isterrifying as the evil bloodthirsty Klingsor. AsKundry, an almost insanely difficult femalerole, Katarina Dalayman is maternally seductivewith spectacular vocal power.This is an immortal production that willresound through the ages.Janos GardonyiFranck – StradellaIsabelle Kabatu; Marc Laho; PhilippeRouillon; Opera Royal de Wallonie; PaoloArrivabeniDynamic 37692A child prodigy,a brilliant pianoplayer and composeralready in his teens,with a career tightlycontrolled by hisfather – until heemancipated himself.No, I am not talkingabout W.A. Mozart. This unusual careerpath was also followed by César Franck. TheBelgian composer is remembered for hisorgan compositions that constitute a goodlypart of every organist’s repertoire. However,he was just as skilled as a composer of instrumentalmusic with sonatas, a celebratedpiano quintet, the Symphony in D Minorand the Symphonic Variations for piano andorchestra plus several operas.Rarely, if at all staged, Franck’s operasnevertheless deserve our attention. Stradella,his first, was never fully orchestrated and thecurrent recording represents its first publicperformance.Alessandro Stradella, the 17th centurycomposer murdered in Genoa, is only nominallyconnected to the libretto – as this is awork of fiction. Stradella seeks to woo Leonorwith his beautiful singing, but not for himself– for the Duke of Pesaro. Of course, he fallsin (reciprocated) love and the lovers elopeto Rome, pursued by the vengeful Duke. TheDuke hires assassins and instructs them tokill Stradella. Here is where this productionby Jaco Van Dormael diverges from theoriginal story: the opera actually has a happyending, as the Duke is so moved by Stradella’ssinging, he forgives the betrayal and blessesthe union of Leonor and her love. Alas, VanDormael has decided to reference the murderof the real-life Stradella and has Leonor dyingof grief. Stradella then joins her in heaven,as joyous music, hardly appropriate for thistragic ending, plays on.The staging is beautiful, though at timespuzzling – a giant wading pool is the perfectsetting for Venice flooded during the Carnival,but it makes less sense as the action moves toa church in Rome. Regardless of the dramaticthewholenote.com April 1 – May 7, 2014 | 71

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