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Volume 20 Issue 4 - December 2014

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the high standards set

the high standards set by his predecessor,Charles Dutoit. For their newest release, theorchestra has issued acomplete set of theBeethovensymphonies, havingpresented them singlyduring the past sixyears. Six of themwere recorded livebetween 2008 and 2014 and along withexcerpts from Egmont and the Creatures ofPrometheus, it’s a handsome collection onthe Analekta label.There are innumerable recordings ofBeethoven’s complete symphonies, so whatmakes this one stand apart from the others?For one thing, it’s Nagano’s lack of sensationalism.Despite this conductor’s sometimeexuberant persona, his interpretationsare known for their intelligence and clarity,and this is nowhere more evident than in thiscollection. The Symphony No.1 is a case inpoint. From the first hesitant measures, thelistener immediately senses that indeed, thisis what Beethoven would have wanted. Thisgroundbreaking work is presented in an energeticand articulated manner, the phrasingalways carefully nuanced.On the other hand, Symphony No.3 issuitably heroic, my only quibble being aslightly brisker tempo in the opening movementthan I’m used to. When comparingthis to the more measured interpretations byEuropean conductors it may come across astoo hurried. But this is a minor point, and thecareful phrasing coupled with the exemplaryperformance by the brass and woodwindsmore than makes up for it.The much-beloved “Pastoral” is all gentleness,the strings demonstrating a particularwarmth and resonance.What more can be said about the greatSymphony No.9? This particular performancewas recorded for the inaugural concertin the new Maison Symphonique de Montréalin September, 2011 and features sopranosAdrienne Pieczonka and Erin Wall, mezzoMihoko Fujimura, tenor Simon O’Neill andbass Mikhail Petrenko along with the OSMChorus and the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir.While the approach is noble and confident,to my ears, it doesn’t break any new groundin interpretation – but this is not necessarilya bad thing, and the soloists all deliver solidperformances.But how do they handle my favouritesymphony, the glorious No.7 written in 1812?Not surprisingly, Nagano and the OSM live upto expectations. The performance is magnificent– energetic and robust – at all timesdisplaying a wonderful cohesion of soundparticularly evident in the joyful finale.Bravo to Maestro Nagano and the musiciansof the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.You have proven that there is indeed roomfor yet another set of the complete Beethovensymphonies – and the rousing applause at theconclusion of the live performances is a clearindication that others felt the same.Richard HaskellMahler – Symphony No.9Gewandhaus Orchestra; Riccardo ChaillyAccentus Music ACC 20299This is the sixth ofChailly’s live performancesof Mahlersymphonies thus farreleased on Blu-Rayvideo discs (andDVD). Each release(since the Secondand Eighth) containsa discussion of theparticular symphony,together with selectedrehearsals and concert excerpts to illustrateChailly’s rethinking of performance practicesand where he believes Mahler’s intentionswere misunderstood.We observe Chailly and Mahler scholar andauthor Henry-Louis de le Grange discussingthe work and weighing all the clues that led totheir considered opinion that this symphonyis not one of resignation and farewell asLeonard Bernstein, for one, would have it. Inthis performance, Chailly’s first movementreflects the metre of the first movement of theFourth Symphony; the second movement isfaster than usual with a sense of fantasy andthe third, Rondo-Burleske, is pleasingly brisk.His last movement is for listeners who areweary of the hand-wringing performances,especially those of Bernstein who helpedresurrect Mahler in the 1950s, that treat thesymphony as a tragic resignation, anotherAbschied. Chailly’s is a mighty performance,very positive and life-affirming.These are Chailly’s own insights and afterseveral listening sessions I am inclined toagree. There is no positive right or wrong,simply different points of view. This is a brilliantperformance, exceptional on every level,and deserves to be heard and reheard.Bruce SurteesInvocationHerbert SchuchNaïve discoveries V 5362Since he firstattracted attentionby winningthree importantcompetitions – theCasagrande, theLondon InternationalPiano Competitionand the International Beethoven Competitionin Vienna, Romanian-born pianist HerbertSchuch has been regarded as an artist lessfocused on flash and pizzazz and more onthoughtful and sensitive interpretation. Thisis certainly the case with his newest CD,Invocation. As a basis for the recording – histenth – he used his fascination with bellsand their sonorities, reflected in the inclusionof three 20th-century works: TristanMurail’s Cloches d’adieu, Messiaen’s Clochesd’angoisse and La vallée des cloches by Ravel.Apart from Bach transcriptions by FerruccioBusoni and Harold Bauer, the other compositionsare all by Franz Liszt, resulting in amost intriguing program.What makes this disc particularly appealingis the juxtaposition of musical styles. It openswith a Busoni transcription of Bach’s choraleIch ruf zu dir, her jesu Christ BWV639,music of quiet introspection. In total contrastis the short piece by Tristan Murail from1992, music showing distinct influences ofMessiaen with its tone clusters and use ofpolymodality. We’re then back in the 19thcentury for three movements from Liszt’sset of Harmonies poétiques et religieuses.The third and seventh, Benédiction de dieudans la solitude and Funérailles are largescalecanvases that should be undertaken byonly the most capable of Liszt players, butShuch handles the technical requirementswith apparent ease, achieving a wonderfullysonorous tone throughout. The piecesby Messiaen and Ravel are moody andmysterious, and Shuch’s refined interpretationdemonstrates a compelling sense ofrhythm and nuance.Eclectic and thoughtfully programmed,Invocation is a tribute to a wide range ofpiano music performed in a manner thatcombines sensitivity with brilliance – andas such, it is a most welcome addition to thecatalogue.Richard HaskellMODERN AND CONTEMPORARYThe Transfigured Nightingale – Music forClarinet and PianoJerome Summers; Robert KortgaardBlue Griffin Records BGR339bluegriffin.comClarinetistJerome Summershas completed his“Nightingale” trilogyof recordings, a projecthe began in 1994. Thisone, TransfiguredNightingale,comprises mostlyworks transcribed for clarinet, with theexception of Brahms’ Sonata in E-flat Op.120,No.2. Included on a mere technicality (it wastranscribed for viola by the composer), it’sreally here because Mr. Summers loves it, andwhy not? Late Brahms is balm to the soul ofthose who play the nerdiest of woodwinds,the exploding cigar of the orchestra.Summers handles the instrument withease. His tone on most of the material issmooth and velvety. Michael Conway Baker’sCanticle for Ryan (originally for violin)and Marek Norman’s Just Think (originally78 | December 1 2014 - February 7, 2015

a setting of a poem by Robert Service) areeffective if sugary vehicles for Summers’fluid cantabile. Two Shostakovich symphonicextracts offer an austere counterpoint tothese selections. I particularly like hearingthe scherzo from the Ninth presented as asolo piece with piano. Taking it at just underfull-on Russian March Hare tempo, Summerssounds like he’d fit in with any orchestra inthe country.Pianist Robert Kortgaard provides agreement,support and bundles of musicality.He and Summers agreed to a stately set oftempi for the Op.120, playing the part of eldergentlemen rather than impersonating theyoung Richard Mühlfeld, Brahms’ “nightingale.”Also included is Rachmaninov’s cellosonata, in Summers’ own transcription. At ahefty 36-plus minutes, it argues better for thecello than the Brahms does for the viola.Max ChristieBrian Current – Airline IcarusHuhtanen; Szabó; Thomson; Dobson; Sirett;Ensemble; Brian CurrentNaxos 8.660356Airline Icarusby composer BrianCurrent and librettistAnton Piatigorskywas initially commissionedin 2001 andunderwent a seriesof developments in the ensuing decade. Thisintense, 45-minute chamber opera transportsthe listener through an emotional journeyas it depicts the reactions of passengers andcrew on a doomed commercial flight. Thework was inspired by the tragic crash of aKorean airliner that was struck by a Sovietmissile in 1983 and descended for nearly 15minutes before impact.The opera’s award-winning composer,conductor and music director, Brian Current,presents a cohesive vision for this impressive,multi-layered work that incorporatesthe myth of Icarus, whose wings meltedafter flying too close to the sun. It serves as areminder that our technological advances canhave devastating results.The idea for Musicfrom Armenia for Celloand Piano, a DivineArt CD ( cellistHeather Tuach and theArmenian-Canadianpianist Patil Harboyan, began with a 2012recital by the duo in Newfoundland thatincluded Alexander Arutiunian’s Impromptu,the short work that opens this disc. Theenthusiastic audience reaction to the pieceencouraged the performers to search theArmenian cello and piano repertoire formusic that would make for an appealing andinformative CD. They certainly succeeded.Armenia was under Soviet Russian rulefrom 1920 to 1991, and the music here isessentially what you would expect from thatbackground (Arno Babajanian’s Vocalise, forexample, is very similar to Rachmaninov’s),but the significant aspect of the CD is itsrecognition of the importance of the documentationand preservation of Armenianfolk music.The crucial figure in this respect wasGomidas, described in the excellent bookletnotes as the founder of Armenian classicalmusic and ethnomusicology, working inmuch the same manner as his direct contemporaryBéla Bartók in Hungary. Most of histen short folk songs here are arrangements bycellist Geronty Talalyan of the string quartetversions by Sergei Aslamazian, and they’rehighly entertaining.The one major work on the CD is theSonata for Cello and Piano Op.35 by HaroStepanian, who graduated from the LeningradConservatory and also collected Armenianmelodies from his homeland; the influencesof both his Russian training and hisArmenian folk music research are evident in aTERRY ROBBINSvery attractive and effective work.The whole CD is a fascinating portrait of amusical heritage perhaps most widely representedfor most people by the music of AramKhachaturian, who openly acknowledged his– and Armenian music’s – debt to Gomidas.The performances are rich and full of nuance,and the balance andrecorded sound are ideal.Chamber Works is aquite exceptional newCD featuring membersof Camerata Pacificaplaying music by theAmerican composerJohn Harbison, who turns 76 later thismonth (harmonia mundi usa HMU 907619).Violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, violistRichard O’Neill and cellist Ani Aznavooriancombine for the six-movement String Triofrom 2013, a striking work of strengthand depth.Paul Huang is outstanding in the FourSongs of Solitude for solo violin, written forHarbison’s violinist wife. Technically challenging,these are lyrical pieces (“songs, notsonatas or fugues,” stresses the composer)with a definite edge.Songs America Loves to Sing, a set often popular American melodies for flute,clarinet, violin, cello and piano, rounds out amarvelous CD. The final track, AnniversarySong, ends with a wheezy harmonica contributionin Happy Birthday To You. It’s simplyterrific stuff!One of the real benefitsof reviewing CDs is theexposure to composers –especially contemporaryones – who are new toyou. Seven Deadly Sins,the new Naxos AmericanClassics CD (9.70204)of music for violin and piano by Paul Reale,who turned 71 this year, leaves me wonderingwhy I haven’t encountered his music before.I’ve obviously been missing something. Theterrific Jessica Mathaes (another name newto me) is the violinist here on her second CD,and Colette Valentine the equally impressivepianist.The Seven Deadly Sins suite was written in2009 for Mathaes especially for this recording(made in 2012) and offers humorous observationsof their effect on the human condition.Composers’ Reminiscences is a suite forsolo violin written in 2000, but substantiallyrevised for this recording. The seven short butchallenging pieces are described as “impressions”(and not imitations) of the styles ofBartók, Puccini, Paganini, Webern, Corelli,Ives and Haydn, but to be honest it’s difficultto differentiate between the two approaches.The Sonata for Violin and Piano, “CelticWedding” is another work that has beenextensively revised, this time from the 1991original, for its publication in 2007.The CD ends with the all-too-brief HolidaySuite, three very short pieces celebratingThanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s; thelatter features Auld Lang Syne mixed withthe soul of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. “Thisis good-time music,” says Reale, “melodydriven, and devoid of pretension.”That’s also a pretty good description ofthe entire CD. This is immediately accessiblemusic written with craft, bite, intelligenceand humour, and given outstanding performances.Surprisingly, only the Celtic Weddingis available in sheet music form. It’s a pity;this is music that cries out for – and wouldbe greatly appreciated by – a much wideraudience.Strings Attached continues with new discs by AnneAkiko Meyers, Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Weber,the Ensō String Quartet and Nigel December 1 2014 - February 7, 2015 | 79

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