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Volume 19 Issue 8 - May 2014

  • Text
  • Choir
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Arts
  • Concerts
  • Theatre
  • Musical
  • Choral
  • Singers
  • Festival
Includes the 2014 Canary Pages directory of choirs.

again the choir is

again the choir is complemented by timpani– I found the preponderance of kettle drumson this choral disc to be quite striking (ifyou’ll excuse the pun) – and is otherwiseunaccompanied. The text, lamenting thedeath of a soldier of the Spanish Civil War(and by extension war itself) is by StephenSpender. I was unfamiliar with this settingand find it unlike those wonderful lyricalworks by Barber with which we are normallypresented. One might have expected to hearyet another rendition of Barber’s Agnus Dei (avocal setting based on his famous Adagio) inthis context, so I am particularly pleased to bepresented with an atypical work rather thanthe expected.For that, and a number of other reasons,this is a very strong disc, with committedperformances of some rarely heard repertoire.It is interesting that it is a Germanchoir presenting it. But that brings me tomy one reservation about this release. Imentioned that this is a disc of mostly religiousworks, but I found the emphasis onfour of the composers’ Jewish heritage in theliner notes a bit strange. Even creepy, consideringthat of the four, only Copland’s textsfrom the Old Testament can be consideredJewish. As mentioned, Reich’s is a secularphilosophical quotation, Feldman’s wordlesssetting is meant for a non-denominationalchapel and Bernstein’s is from the CatholicChurch. So of what relevance is it thatCopland was born “the son of Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn,” Reich “bornto German-Jewish parents in New York City,”Feldman “the son of Russian-Jewish immigrantsin Brooklyn” or that Bernstein was“the son of Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants inMassachusetts” – especially when all we aretold of Cage is that his father was an inventorand that Barber was born in Pennsylvania?At first I imagined a possible anti-(or pro)-Semitic agenda, but after discussions witha number of colleagues I have decided thatit is actually just a case of lazy scholarship. Ihave found that if you check the Wikipediaentries for all six composers, the biographicalsection commences with exactly the informationoffered here. So unless Wikipedia is partof a larger conspiracy, I think we can acceptthe seeming emphasis on Jewish heritagewhich marred my enjoyment of this otherwiseexcellent disc, to be inadvertent and aneditorial misjudgment.Italian composer Luciano Berio (1925-2003) is probably best known for his Sinfoniafor orchestral forces and vocal octet with itstexts by Samuel Beckett and Claude Lévi-Strauss and musical quotations from Mahler,Ravel, Stravinsky, Ives and others, and forhis series of 14 Sequenzas for solo instruments.Toronto audiences had the rare opportunityto hear all 14 of these (and one of thesix alternate versions as well) in January 2013at the University of Toronto in a marathonperformance organized by Joseph Petricand David Hetherington featuring some ofthis city’s finest musicians. The series spansBerio’s creative output from Sequenza I forflute composed in 1958 to Sequenza XIV forcello written a year before his death. Aboutmidway through, in 1976, Berio wrote hishomage to the violin, an instrument of whichhe had “tortuous” memories as a result of hisown studies as a teenager. This Sequenza VIIIis based around the dissonance of the majorsecond interval between the notes A and Band culminates in an extended ten-secondlong double-stopped A-B which in the wordsof violinist Carolin Widmann who wrote theprogram note for Universal Edition, which isquoted in the CD booklet, are “ten secondsof A-B which are an eternity.” Five years laterBerio returned to the material of SequenzaVIII and expanded it into Corale for soloviolin, two horns and strings. For this performanceon the Oberlin Music label (LucianoBerio – Huang RuoOC 14-01) violinistDavid Bowlin isjoined by the OberlinContemporary MusicEnsemble under thedirection of TimothyWeiss in a rareopportunity to hear the two versions back toback. It is quite an exhilarating experience.American-based Huang Ruo, whosewebsite defines him as composer, conductor,pianist and folk singer, was born in Chinain 1976, the year the Chinese CulturalRevolution ended and, incidentally, the yearBerio composed his violin Sequenza. Afterwinning the Henry Mancini Award at theInternational Film and Music Festival inSwitzerland in 1995, Huang moved to theUSA where he did his undergraduate studiesat Oberlin Conservatory and then completedmasters and doctoral degrees in compositionat Juilliard. We are presented with twoworks here, again one for violin alone andone for solo violin and large ensemble, butin this instance the composition processwas reverse to that of Berio in that the FourFragments for solo violin were extrapolatedfrom the existing Violin Concerto No.1“Omnipresence.” Although we are told thatHuang’s music takes equal inspiration fromChinese ancient and folk music, as well asWestern avant-garde, rock and jazz, I findthese particular pieces to be firmly groundedin the modernist Western Art Music traditionwith only occasional melodic suggestions ofhis homeland in the solo lines. The result isextremely effective, with none of the downfallsoften associated with “hybrid” art. SoloistDavid Bowlin is in fine form in all of the offeringsand has obviously made this repertoirehis own. My only qualm about this releaseis the three-paneled cardboard packaging,which is simply too tight to be able to removethe disc without gripping it with fingers onthe playing surface of the CD.I would have thought with the 40th anniversaryof Shostakovich’s death just overthe horizon (2015) that there would beno unearthed treasures left in his catalogue.It was therefore a pleasant surpriseto receive Shostakovich – Six Romances;Scottish Ballad;Michelangelo Suitein what purported tobe world premiererecordings featuringCanadian baritoneGerald Finleyand the HelsinkiPhilharmonicOrchestra under Thomas Sanderling’s ’ direction(Ondine ODE 1235-2). It turns out thatin the case of the Six Romances on Verses esby English Poets it is the version for largeorchestra which had disappeared after thepremiere in the 1940s that has not beenrecorded before. It also uses the originalEnglish texts for which Shostakovich hadused Russian translations, so this is new ontwo counts (although conductor Sanderlinghad recorded the English version before usingShostakovich’s chamber orchestration). Thecomposition dates from the same period asthe Eighth Symphony and bears some resemblanceto that mammoth work. To my ear itis also reminiscent of the oratorio The Songof the Forests which Shostakovich wrotein 1949. Annie Laurie, A Scottish Balladis Shostakovich’s 1944 orchestration of an1835 setting by Lady John Scott (Alicia AnnSpottiswoode) of William Douglas’ lament onunrequited love.Shostakovich wrote the Suite on Poemsby Michelangelo Buonarroti for bass andpiano using Russian translations in 1974,the 500th anniversary of the birth of thegreat Renaissance artist. Orchestratingit the following year was one of his verylast projects. The orchestral version waspremiered several months after his deathconducted by his son Maxim. This recordinguses Michelangelo’s original Italian texts andthere is an extended essay by Finley in thebooklet which discusses the intricate processof Setting Michelangelo to Shostakovich. .Finley was obviously very involved and dedicatedto this project and his fine bass-bariall,these are welcome additions to the canon. n.tone voice makes the music shine. All inWe 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 and additional,expanded and archival reviews.David Olds, DISCoveries Editordiscoveries@thewholenote.come.com76 | May 1, 2014 – June 7, 2014 thewholenote.com

VOCALMozart – Opera & Concert AriasKarina Gauvin; Les Violons du Roy; BernardLabadieATMA ACD2 2636While Mozart’sconcert arias werenormally composed asadditions to an operascore or as substitutionsfor other arias,the two representedon this recording werecomposed specificallyfor concert performance: Misera, doveson, composed for Countess Baumgarten andCh’io mi scordi di te?…Non temere, amatobene which was originally intended for insertionfor performance in Idomineo. However,the version Gauvin performs was adaptedfor the farewell concert of Nancy Storace,a singer much adored by Mozart. Gauvin’ssuperb purity of tone and dramatic interpretationshine in this aria. The orchestrationcalls for piano obbligato, deftly handledby Benedetto Lupo. One can imagine Storaceand Mozart thoroughly enjoying the breakawaypassage where the orchestra withdrawsto feature the two.Another wonderful exchange betweeninstrumentalist and singer occurs in Nonpiù di fiori from the opera La Clemenza diTito with André Moisan’s gorgeously expressivebasset horn obbligato. The opera ariasfeatured are also marked by a superb sensitivityto the deeply emotive undertones inMozart, especially Susanna’s deeply movingAct IV aria Deh vieni non tardar from TheMarriage of Figaro. This recording demonstratesthat Karina Gauvin shares a trait withMozart: the ease and grace with which itfalls on the ear of the listener belies the truecomplexity and supreme artistry inherent inthe crafting of a truly exquisite performance.Dianne WellsSchubert – Wanderers NachtliedMatthias Goerne; Helmut Deutsch; EricSchneiderHarmonia Mundi HMC902109.10This is the eighthvolume in MatthiasGoerne’s epic projectto record Schubert’ssongs and cycles.Goerne meets everyexpectation of deliveringthe drama andemotion of the texts by Rückert, Goetheand other poets, especially as he masters sowell the musical vehicle in which Schuberthas set them.But these performances transcend preoccupationwith technical and stylistic correctness.At this stage in the singer’s relationshipwith his composer one begins to ask just howdeeply one artist has ventured into the soulof the other? There is, in Goerne’s singing, asense of ownership of Schubert’s ideas, andwith that, an exercise of interpretive licensequite unlike anything other Schubert singershave ever done.The single item that will stop listenersin their tracks is the title lied, WanderersNachtlied, oddly buried partway throughthe second disc. The speed and dynamics ofthis interpretation are not just unconventional,they are wildly unorthodox. Firstimpressions are shock and incredulity. HowGoerne sustains the pianissimo and daringlyslow tempo is technically stunning. Evenmore so is the realization that this is not aself-indulgence but a bold re-invention ofSchubert’s original impulse. It’s unlikelythat the composer ever intended this liedto be sung this way, but Goerne does it andmakes it work, credibly and movingly. Simplymasterful. Goerne has a unique artisticconviction that informs all his singing. It’swhat will make his Schubert recordings aninterpretive benchmark.Alex BaranVerdi – AriasKrassimira Stoyanova; MunchnerRundfunkorchester; Pavel BaleffOrfeo C 885 141 AIn my journey lastyear through all ofVerdi’s 26 operas Ifound one thing incommon. The mostinteresting character,in conflictbetween her love andother, higher moralissues is nearly always the woman: Traviata,Aida, Luisa Miller, Amelia, Elisabetta…, thelist is endless. Verdi was very partial to thelead sopranos, even his wife was one. It wastrue “he murdered sopranos,” he was sodemanding and non-compromising: ”Payattention to the quality of the voice” heso ordered Boito while selecting the rightsoprano … “to the intonation and above all tothe intelligence and feeling.”Intelligence and feeling could be the trademarkof Krassimira Stoyanova, Bulgarianborn,who quickly rose to fame as leadingsoprano of the Vienna State Opera and isnowadays one of the most sought-after soloistsworldwide. This new album is her thirdsolo release, the previous two having wonsome prestigious awards.The ambitious program takes us to the verycore, the heart of Verdi, to roles of high vocaldemands and intense emotional complexity.All of them are a rare treat for a Verdi-philesuch as me. Stoyanova’s range is amazing:from the young and innocent Giovannad’Arco through the tortured and victimizedheroine Luisa Miller to the pinnacle of vocalgrandeur of Don Carlo, in the supremelydifficult and challenging aria Tu che levanità. Certainly no stranger to these pages, Ireviewed her Desdemona back in April 2007,in a DVD of Verdi’s Otello.Janos GardonyiGreatest Hits, Vol.1Elmer Iseler Singers; Lydia AdamsIndependent EIS 2013-01(elmeriselersingers.com)Recorded andreleased to mark the35th Anniversaryseason of the ElmerIseler Singers, this discfeatures some of thechoir’s most requestedperformance pieces.This may be, afterall, a choir with one of the longest historiesin Canadian choral music. In a previous lifeas the Festival Singers (founded long beforein 1954) the 20-voice professional chamberchoir took on the name of its founder in 1979.Directed by Lydia Adams since 1998, the choirhas continued to perform and record a varietyof works whilst serving as a champion ofCanadian choral composers.This latest offering was expertly recordedby Keith Horner and Robert DiVito in whatHorner describes as the “spacious acoustics”of Toronto’s Grace Church on-the-Hill.Peppered amongst favourites by EleanorDaley, Healey Willan, Allister MacGillivray,Paul Halley, Leon Dubinsky and Rita MacNeilare traditional Mi’kmaq and Inuit chantsarranged by the conductor, traditionalAmerican songs and spirituals, with a littleSchubert and Mendelssohn added for goodmeasure. As always, the choir is impeccableand soloists Anne Bornath, Gisele Kulak,Andrea Ludwig, Alison Roy and NelsonLohnes shine forth with gorgeous clarity, asdo guest artists Shawn Grenke, piano andClare Scholtz, oboe.Dianne WellsDerek Holman – Ash RosesMireille Asselin; Lawrence Wiliford; LizUpchurch; Sanya EngCentrediscs CMCCD 19914The Canadian ArtSong Project wasfounded in 2011by tenor LawrenceWiliford and pianistStephen Philcox with amission to build on therich legacy of Canadiansong, especially artsong, through performance, recording,commissions and editing. There is no finerexample of Canadian art song composers tofeature than the English-born and longtimeCanadian resident Derek Holman. Holmanhas written a prolific number of choral worksin addition to his opera, oratorio, keyboard,chamber and orchestral compositions. In AshRoses, two song cycles and two collections arefeatured in this first all-Holman recording.thewholenote.com May 1, 2014 – June 7, 2014 | 77

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