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Volume 20 Issue 9 - Summer 2015

  • Text
  • Festival
  • Jazz
  • August
  • Toronto
  • Quartet
  • Musical
  • Concerts
  • Trio
  • Violin
  • Flute
  • Summers

surprises in its

surprises in its orchestra-emulating scoring. The second movement features Hamelin at his very best. This is a touching, lyrical rendition. The bending and stretching of lines leads to a melody played with so much musicality and feeling that words escape me. Gigue in G Major is a robust contrapuntal dance. Clocking in at slightly over one minute, Hamelin plays energetically with imaginative splashes of Mozart-inspired musical humour. High production quality and thorough liner notes complete this perfect package. Hamelin’s exquisite Mozart makes this the go-to music of the summer! Tiina Kiik Berlioz – Intrata to Rob-Roy; Reverie et Caprice; Harold en Italie James Ehnes; Melbourne Symphony Orchestra; Sir Andrew Davis Chandos CHSA 5155 !! The Intrata to Rob-Roy was written as an introduction to Rob-Roy but was so badly received in the first and only performance in 1833 that Berlioz burned the score after the concert. Fortunately there was another copy, but Berlioz had also used two of the melodies in a new work, Harold in Italy, the following year. The two themes are easily recognized and it is rather pleasant to hear them in their earlier setting, particularly as they are given to the winds whose playing is quite angelic. The Reverie et Caprice (1841) is Berlioz’s only work for solo violin and owes its existence to the initial failure of Benvenuto Cellini. It was a soprano aria that was replaced before the first performance. Clever Berlioz transcribed it for violin and orchestra which he then gave to his concertmaster in a longer concert format. A lifetime addiction to Harold in Italy gives me some license to be critical of any performance and it gave me great pleasure to realize from the opening pages that this orchestra has the texture for Harold. In the first movement, as the melancholy Harold, inspired by Byron’s Childe Harold (the viola), wanders in the mountains, Sir Andrew Davis is not simply beating time but moving the episodes along. The Pilgrims’ March has a comfortable swagger with the viola weaving comfortably through the procession. The Serenade is an appropriately jaunty scene of an Abruzzo and his amore. The last movement, Orgy of the Brigands, should describe just that, with fond memories of the previous episodes. These are not an unruly bunch but take their brigandizing seriously in an orderly, professional manner. The viola (Harold) is not intended to be part of any event but is merely a wanderer, which is possibly why Paganini, who commissioned the work, found it not to his taste (at the time). James Ehnes’ take on this role is ideal, imparting quiet enjoyment at the events around him. Quite perfect. British conductors have an established tradition as great Berlioz interpreters and Davis may soon join them. The sound is extraordinarily fine, impressive as a CD but if you have the multi-channel equipment, the SACD layer is encoded with five-channel surround sound. Bruce Surtees Chopin Volume 4 – Waltzes; Nocturnes Louis Lortie Chandos CHAN 10852 !! The early waltzes that Chopin composed were meant to be small personal gifts and tributes – most of them were not even intended for publication. That changed somewhat after the composer’s visit to Vienna in 1831. The precocious 21-year-old reported back to Warsaw with breathless astonishment: “Waltzes are regarded as works here!” By “works” he meant recognized musical pieces, worthy of publication. That he could have doubted that astonishes us equally – these are not throwaway ditties, despite their slender size. Somehow, Chopin managed to squeeze into a space of three to four minutes compositions with their own mutable rhythms and containing micro-movements within their minute frames. To master Chopin’s waltzes, one needs an equally mutable, mercurial talent. Louis Lortie, the incredibly accomplished Montrealer now residing in Berlin, possesses such talent. For many of us, Lortie is not the first name that comes to mind when you think of master pianists. Yet it is enough to start listening to him play these waltzes to realize the magnitude of his gift. They virtually cascade from his fingers, simultaneously inviting us into a reverie whilst invoking a desire to dance along. Only on a couple of occasions does Lortie rush the tempi, perhaps as if he could not believe that the impulsive, romantic Chopin had really marked them as “moderato.” Robert Tomas Mahler – Symphony No.2 “Resurrection” Catherine Wyn-Rogers; Ailish Tynan; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Gerard Schwarz Artek AR-0061-2 I must admit to a certain leeriness when I first laid eyes on the hideous artwork that adorns this recording. Gerard Schwarz and Gustav Mahler facing off, mano a mano, in some sort of grudge match? Has the conductor noted for his advocacy of neglected American music turned a new leaf? As it turns out, the provenance of this live recording is misleading. Though bearing a 2015 copyright, it is actually unreleased material from a Mahler cycle intended for the RLPO Live label, an enterprise launched shortly before Schwarz’s five-year reign in Liverpool that began in 2001. A sponsorship has now brought these tapes back to life. And what of the interpretation? A decent first movement, distinguished only by the unusually broad tempo afforded the secondary theme, followed by a so-so Menuetto. Suddenly from the Scherzo onward the orchestra rallies and everything thereafter is admirably compelling. When we finally arrive at the finale the rafters are shaking! The sonic quality captured in Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall is most impressive (courtesy of David Pigott, a member of the horn section) and the contribution of the choir is simply outstanding. There remain a few anomalies: the second disc contains only the finale, though the fourth movement vocal solo is designated to be followed without a break by the finale. Usually the break between discs (if needed) occurs after the first movement, where Mahler specifically asks for an extended silence. The editing of the booklet is also frustrating. Schwarz’s accomplishments receive a four-page paean, while the generic description of Mahler’s work rates a mere two, with the remainder devoted to dreary accounts of the secondary roles the singers have appeared in over the years and a page’s worth of white space. Judicious pruning would have easily made room for the pithy, indispensable lyrics for the vocal sections of the work. Recommended nonetheless. Daniel Foley Rachmaninov – Piano Concertos 2 & 3 Stewart Goodyear; Czech National Symphony; Heiko Mathias Förster Steinway & Sons 30047 !! Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 owes its existence to a renowned neurologist by the name of Dr. Nikolai Dahl. At the time, the young composer was despondent over the failure of his first symphony in 1897. But under the good doctor’s guidance, he regained his confidence and creative urge – and the result was the most famous of his four piano concertos. To many people’s ears, the piece has almost become too well known since its premiere in 1901. But this fact certainly didn’t deter Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear on this Steinway recording featuring both the second and third concertos performed with the Czech National Symphony, with Heiko Mathias Förster 84 | June | July | August, 2015 thewholenote.com

conducting. Since concluding his studies at the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School, this Toronto-born artist has earned an international reputation, and this CD provides ample proof. From the opening measures, his approach to the familiar repertoire is bold but elegant, demonstrating a flawless technique that never succumbs to empty virtuosity. Absent too, is any trace of overt sentimentality, something that is all too easy to do with Rachmaninov. The poignant and wistful Adagio and buoyant finale also prove to be a perfect pairing of artist and orchestra, with the CNS performing with a confident assurance under Förster’s baton. In many ways, the Concerto No.3 from 1909 is an extension of the second, but even more so – larger in scope and perhaps even more technically demanding. Nevertheless, Goodyear and the CNS rise to the occasion with a polished performance certainly equalling – but not necessarily surpassing – established recordings by Argerich and Ashkenazy. Again, soloist and orchestra produce a warmly romantic sound, particularly in the second movement Intermezzo where the delicate interplay between strings and soloist is particularly admirable. These are fine performances all around – kudos to Goodyear, Förster and the musicians from Prague for tackling this familiar music and for doing it justice in a very compelling way. Richard Haskell Great Ballets from the Bolshoi – The Nutcracker; Sleeping Beauty; Giselle; The Flames of Paris Bolshoi Ballet BelAir Classics 306103 !! The scores of the two Tchaikovsky ballets, particularly The Nutcracker, should be familiar to ballet enthusiasts and Adam’s Giselle to a lesser degree. The choreographer in all three is Yuri Grigorovich, a name that may be familiar to patrons of the “Live from the Bolshoi” ballets shown as special events at the Cineplex theatres that show the “The Met: Live in HD” operas. However, The Flames of Paris, Stalin’s favourite ballet, may be known of in name only. It was “a classical ballet with music by musicologist and composer Boris Asafyev based on songs of the French Revolution, and originally choreographed by Vasili Vainonen.” It was premiered in November 1932 by the Kirov Ballet and the Bolshoi mounted it in July of 1933. Its original agitprop elements were communist propaganda showing in no uncertain terms the decadence of capitalism leading inevitably to chaos. Of course, the revolutionaries slaughter the aristocrats and there is general rejoicing. In 2008, the original choreography and staging were reconstructed for the Bolshoi by Alexei Ratmansky, who added a love story and expanded the choreography with his own. The company has very recently toured with it to much acclaim, from Hong Kong to London. The 2010 live production is seen here. The Russians’ astronomical standards of ballet are on full display in every piece. Not only is every dancer in perfect form but each is also of uniform size, which is visually impressive in itself. All the dispositions and angles achieved by the ensemble, once seen, cannot be imagined being done differently. Not only are the visual elements stunning; the sets, the choreography, the costumes and the orchestral renditions all exceed every expectation. There are four different conductors with possible variations in the orchestral personnel, always producing a very Russian sound which could easily and comfortably compete with the best studio productions from elsewhere. The power and authority of the playing is constantly thrilling. The sound is stunning, and in terms of musical reproduction supremely satisfying to even the most critical and jaded ears. So you don’t care to watch ballet? Then don’t watch and simply listen. You will never hear finer interpretations and productions of this music anywhere in the recorded repertoire. Bruce Surtees MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY 20th-Century Women Composers Trio des Alpes; Lorna Windsor Dynamic DCS 7717 !! This is inspired programming, with the works on this disc thoroughly complementing each other. All three composers represented here were born within a quartercentury of each other. They each write in an expressive style that marks the transition from romanticism to modernism. None are musical innovators. But as women, they are rightly regarded as pioneers today. Amy Beach, who was born in Boston in 1867, is the most well-known composer here. Her Trio for violin, cello and piano is a complex, virtuosic work, which ends with a memorable flourish. Swiss soprano Lorna Windsor’s performance of four art songs are engaging enough to make me want to explore more of Beach’s enormous song repertoire. English composer and violist Rebecca Clarke enjoyed what she called her “one whiff of success” when she introduced her Viola Sonata in 1919, and then, soon after, this lovely Trio. Flamboyant, intense, driven, this is an exciting work, especially as performed by the Swiss-based Trio des Alpes. The youngest composer here, Frenchwoman Lili Boulanger (sister of the influential teacher and composer Nadia), was only 25 when she died in 1918. The Trio des Alpes brings out the moody expressivity of her two contrasting pieces for piano trio, the first, D’un soir triste, plaintive, the second, D’un matin de printemps, exuberant. These fine pieces are too rarely heard, making this thoroughly enjoyable disc particularly significant. Pamela Margles Shostakovich – Piano Quintet; String Quartet No.2 Takács Quartet; Marc-André Hamelin Hyperion CDA67987 !! This recording of Shostakovich’s chamber works is an absolute delight – hauntingly beautiful, insightful and, above all, highly sentient to the mix of turmoil and soaring of Shostakovich’s life as expressed through his music. Chamber music was perceived as an act of bourgeois elitism in Stalin’s Soviet Union, even though it was precisely the form that allowed the most intimate connections between composer, musicians and their audience. So it is no surprise that Shostakovich composed eight symphonies before his second string quartet was premiered in 1944. Interestingly enough, 13 more string quartets followed in rapid succession. String Quartet No.2 in A Major shows little connection to the stormy events of the Second World War (as opposed to his symphonies), appearing to be much more personal. It was composed in a mere 19 days and includes wonderful folk melodies, syncopated rhythms and minor modes of Gypsy/Jewish inflections. The Takács Quartet’s playing is robust and energetic in the first movement and deeply touching in the Recitative, where violin improvisatory lamentations are supported by the rest of the ensemble playing soft seventh chords. Outstanding solos are intercepted with close-knit ensemble sound in the third and fourth movements, which end majestically yet uncharacteristically in the minor key. The Piano Quintet in G Minor premiered in 1940, becoming one of the most beloved piano quintets of all time. It contains five movements, with the emotional tension peaking in the ethereal Intermezzo and ending with a cleverly innocent Finale. Pianist Marc-André Hamelin is dominantly powerful in percussive sections while adding sublime textures to the ensemble sound in contemplative parts. Highly recommended. Ivana Popovic thewholenote.com June | July | August, 2015 | 85

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