5 years ago

Volume 20 Issue 3 - November 2014

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It’s an idea soobvious

It’s an idea soobvious that youhave to wonderwhy the market isn’talready flooded: aDVD that features aworld-class soloistgoing through amajor concertoalmost bar by bar,explaining the problemsand challenges,and discussing waysof addressing them. DVDs of masterclassesare occasionally issued, but I don’t know ofanything quite like the Learning from theLegends series (, which has recently started its cataloguewith two 2-DVD sets featuring Lara St. Johnplaying and dissecting two of the mostpopular violin concertos in the repertoire: theBruch G Minor and the Mendelssohn.The Bruch set came my way recently, andit’s absolutely fascinating and engrossing.DVD1 features St. John playing the concertowith pianist Eduard Laurel, but with thework broken up into short segments, often ofonly a few bars. The violin music appears atthe foot of the screen, and St. John discussesjust about everything you can think of beforerepeating the section: technical challengesand problems; interpretation; performanceissues; tips and advice; fingering; bowing;practising and learning the solo part. The firstmovement dissection takes 45 minutes; thesecond 33 minutes, and the finale 43 minutes.DVD2 has the uninterrupted performanceof the concerto by St. John and Laurel,a piano-only accompaniment, and a selectionof short help sections from St. John: TheImportance of Finding a Teacher; PracticePhilosophy; and eight short TechnicalExercises.St. John’s relaxed and friendly presentation-styleis perfect, and her commentaryalways apposite and perceptive. The camerawork is almost entirely close-up, with everypossible angle of fingering and hand positionshown clearly.It’s absolutely indispensable stuff forstudent violinists, and offers fascinating andrevelatory insights for anyone interested inhow concert performances are built. Sheetmusic for St. John’s own edition of the solopart is available for download through thepublisher’s website.Quebec’s Quatuor Fandango was formedsix years ago as a student ensemble at theConservatoire de musique in Gatineau.Uarekena, their debut CD, presents anattractive program of short works andsome excellent ensemble playing (ATMAACD2 2707).TERRY ROBBINSThe disc opens with Comme un Tangoand closes with Carnaval, two short piecesby Patrick Roux, the quartet’s teacher andmentor in Gatineau. Dušan Bogdanović’sIntroduction and Danse was inspired by themusic of Eastern Europe and Sérgio Assad’stitle track reflects his Brazilian heritage.Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite is followed by LeoBrouwer’s Paisaje cubano and Jürg Kindle’sBerimbao, the latter named after the Africaninstrument that consists of a steelstring struck with a stick. Thereare some particularly interestingsound effects in theBrouwer and Kindle pieces –and yes, you can play the guitarwith a pencil!The recorded sound is warmand resonant, the balance excellentand the playing terrific. Thegroup rightly points out that theguitar quartet is a relatively recentaddition to the list of performingensembles, and the repertoirecontinues to grow, both in originalcompositions and arrangementsand transcriptions. This CD is awelcome addition to the quartetdiscography, and a debut disc tobe proud of.Given that the outstandingHyperion series The RomanticViolin Concerto has mostly highlightedlesser-known composers, theselection of Max Bruch for Volume 17(CDA68050) may, at first glance, seema bit surprising. The huge popularity of theConcerto No.1 in G Minor, however, overshadowedthe two later concertos, both in Dminor, which Bruch wrote for the instrument.The Violin Concerto No.3, Op.58 is the mainfeature here. It’s a long work, with absolutelygorgeous music throughout, and a particularlylovely slow movement. The melodiesare perhaps less immediately memorablethan those in the G minor concerto, whichmay help to explain why the work neverreally established itself, but it’s easy to seewhy Bruch grew so annoyed and frustratedwhen violinists always preferred to play theearlier concerto.If there is a bit of a surprise here, it mightbe the choice of the Scottish Fantasy, Op.46as the accompanying work, instead of theeven less-heard and perhaps more obviousViolin Concerto No.2; still, it’s such a lovelyand familiar work that it’s hard to complain,and it shows, perhaps, the difference thatstrong melodies that stay with you after justone hearing can make to a work’s impact.The English violinist Jack Liebeck is insuperb form in both works, with MartynBrabbins and the BBC Scottish SymphonyOrchestra providing excellent support.Joshua Bell joins the Academy of St. Martinin the Fields as soloist and music director inperformances of the two solo violin concertosby J. S. Bach on his latest CD, Bach (SonyClassical 88843 08779). The Concerto No.1in A Minor, BWV 1041 and the ConcertoNo.2 in E Major, BWV 1042 are both givenbright, sympathetic readings with beautifulplaying from all the participants.The slow movements are heartfeltwithout ever being overplayed, andthe finales have a genuine dancefeel to them.It’s hard to understand nowhow anyone could ever havefelt that any of the Bach soloSonatas & Partitas needed apiano accompaniment, but in themid-19th century both RobertSchumann and Felix Mendelssohndid just that, Schumann supplyinga piano part for all six works, andMendelssohn – who was mainlyresponsible for the revival ofBach’s music in the first place –writing an accompaniment forthe great D minor Chaconne.The Chaconne is included herewith the Mendelssohn accompaniment,but Bell takes it a stepfurther by using an orchestralarrangement of Mendelssohn’spiano part that he created withthe Philharmonia Orchestraviolinist Julian Milone. Bell openlyadmits that the Bach original cannot beimproved upon, but appreciates that it doesgive him another way to experience the workand the opportunity to play it with his friendsin the Academy. It’s an interesting experiment,and one that is repeated with theGavotte en Rondeau from the E major Partita,this time with Schumann’s accompanimentgetting the Milone treatment. A lovely readingof the Air from the Orchestral Suite in DMajor completes an excellent CD.Strings Attached continues at thewholenote.comwith Escape to Paradise: TheHollywood Album, a disc featuring thenewly appointed conductor of the NationalArts Centre Orchestra Alexander Shelley andviolinist Daniel Hope, plus Terra Incognito,a disc by the Colombian-born Canadianguitarist and composer Arturo Parra.78 | November 1 - December 7, 2014

slow movement, which shows Bruckner’soriginality as a melodist who makes digressionsand then picks up the thread again.The scherzo incorporates a ländler (Austrianfolk-dance) as the trio section (anticipatingMahler), while the finale has an unusualpassage where a polka combines with a windchorale, exquisitely-played. Overall, I recommendthis disc highly: crank up the volume,perhaps listen a movement at a time, andenter Bruckner’s unique sound world!Roger KnoxStravinsky – FirebirdVarious Composers – Les OrientalesLes Siècles; François-Xavier RothActes sud ASM 06Last month Ienthused over thisgroup playing thereconstructed scoreof Le Sacre duPrintemps as heard atthe riotous premierein Paris on May 29,1913 (Actes sud ASM 15). Les Siècles is anorchestra of young musicians culled from thefinest French ensembles. They have access toand play instruments from all periods and soare perfectly able to replicate the palette ofthe Ballets Russes orchestra at that time. Welisten with new ears.To conductor Roth’s credit, as one listensto these Stravinsky scores the rhythmicenergy, regardless of the tempo, makes it veryclear that these are ballet scores. In his laterrevisions and suites, Stravinsky had his eye onthe concert hall. Here we hear exactly whatthe composer had in his mind over 100 yearsago when he was in his late 20s and an enfantterrible in the making with Firebird, althoughby Le Sacre he was pretty well there. In theseperformances, we hear for the first time theinterplay between instruments, particularlythe winds, adding unsuspected nuancesto the mix.To open the program, Roth and Les Sièclesare on their mettle with a reconstructionof another Michel Fokine ballet of the day,the exotic divertissement Les Orientales,including music by Glazunov, Sinding,Arensky and Grieg.An inseparable aspect of these discs is theastonishingly detailed and translucent soundof these vital live performances, truly a “youare there” experience that will ignite the mostjaded listeners. You will not hear performancesto match these anywhere else. If youcare to read the Le Sacre review it can befound at audiophile recordings belong in everyaudio dealer’s demo room and of course, inyour collection if you have any regard forStravinsky.Bruce SurteesProkofiev – Romeo & JulietMariinsky Orchestra; Valery GergievMariinsky MAR 0552This magnificent production, recorded livein March 1913 replicates the January 1940Russian premiere of Romeo and Julietchoreographed by Leonid Lavrovsky. Themise-en-scène is delightfully dated but everyaspect of this production is as virtually flawlessas a live performance can be. PrincipalDancer and soloistDiana Vishneva isJuliet with PrincipalDancer VladimirShklyarov as Romeo.Ilya Kuznetsov isTybalt and AlexanderSergeyev is Mercutio.The power and energygenerated from thepit is astounding andthe picture is breathtakingly opulent.Enthusiastically recommended!The 1940 production had a twisted history.The often stormy encounters betweencomposer and choreographer and othersbegan in November 1934 when Prokofievvisited Leningrad to consider with dramatistAdrian Piotrovsky the subject for a new ballet.Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was selected.By January 1935 Prokofiev had drafted ascenario for a five-act production and profferedthis to theatre director Sergey Radlov,who suggested some dramatic themes for theproduction. By May a four-act scenario wasagreed upon … with a happy ending! In 1941Prokofiev wrote that “There was quite a fussat the time [1935-36] about our attempts togive Romeo and Juliet a happy ending; in thelast act, Romeo arrives a minute earlier, findsJuliet alive and everything ends well. Thereasons for this bit of barbarism were purelychoreographic: living people can dance, thedying cannot.”From 1936 on, Romeo and Juliet becamean artistic football as well as an incidentalpolitical one. Dismissals and somearrests, including Piotrovsky and Dimanov,who was the official from the CentralCommittee who had endorsed the happyending, were not uncommon. Out withDimanov and the happy ending! These vehementbattles continued unabated right upto and beyond January 1940. In the meantime,in December 1938 the ballet with thetragic ending (as recorded here) had sevenperformances at the Regional Theatre in Brno,Czechoslovakia. All’s well that ends well…Bruce SurteesMODERN AND CONTEMPORARYMetropolisHarringon/Loewen DuoRavello Records RR7889New Canadian saxophone music istaking flight recently, much as a result ofthe commissioning efforts of Winnipegbasedsaxophonist Allen Harrington. Prairiecomposers Gordon Fitzell, Michael Matthewsand Diana McIntosh are featured on this discwith pianist Laura Loewen.Harrington’s debut recording begins with abang: literally, with the saxophone screechingand popping whilstthe pianist hits thestrings with malletsinside the instrument.Fitzell’s Metropolis is akind of sonic experiment,or lexicon ofextended techniquesfor both instruments;the piece is always in motion, despite its fragmentedform and sparse texture.I find the crystalline sound and staticdrama of Sudbury composer Robert Lemay’smodernism more successful: this composerhas written many works for saxophone – andalso uses every technique available – but Oranalways has a clear motivation.Harrington and Loewen show their years ofcollaboration successfully in the more traditionalworks on the disc: Srul Irving Glick’sSonata and Matthews’ The Skin of Night highlighttheir sensitivity to lyrical passages – hisalto saxophone sound has a warm intensity inthe middle range and she has a dramatic andarticulate touch on the piano.Being the only Canadian to place atthe Adolphe Sax Competition (in 2006),Harrington is a strong soloist. But it is hiscollaborative efforts with Loewen that areimpressive; the recording (done at the BanffCentre) masterfully captures both instrumentsin equality. The saxophone and pianorepertoire will continue to grow as this duocontinues to inspire Canadian composers.Wallace HalladayAmerican Chamber MusicJames Ehnes; Seattle Chamber MusicSocietyOnyx 4129In addition to thegreat European traditionof chambermusic, Americancomposers have alsomade significantcontributions to thegenre, beginning withthe works of ArthurFoote in the 19th century. American chambermusic is alive and well 150 years later, andthis recording is a fine representation ofrepertoire from the 1930s and 40s withmusic by Copland, Ives, Bernstein, Carter andBarber performed by Canadian violinist JamesEhnes and musicians of the Seattle ChamberMusic Society.While some of the music on this CD mightnot be all that well known, it’s all worthinvestigating. Copland’s Violin Sonata from1943 is a study in contrasts, with its buoyantopening movement, a restrained march andthe rhythmical finale performed here withmuch panache by Ehnes and pianist OrionWeiss. Leonard Bernstein was still a studentat Harvard when he composed his Piano Trioin 1937, its exuberance very much the musicof a 19-year-old prodigy. The most November 1 - December 7, 2014 | 79

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