8 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 1 - September 2015

  • Text
  • September
  • Jazz
  • Toronto
  • Musical
  • Sept
  • Quartet
  • Concerto
  • Orchestra
  • Symphony
  • Violin
Paul Ennis's annual TIFF TIPS (27 festival films of potential particular musical interest); Wu Man, Yo-Yo Ma and Jeffrey Beecher on the Silk Road; David Jaeger on CBC Radio Music in the days it was committed to commissioning; the LISTENING ROOM continues to grow on line; DISCoveries is back, bigger than ever; and Mary Lou Fallis says Trinity-St. Paul's is Just the Spot (especially this coming Sept 25!).

the same age as Grieg

the same age as Grieg when he wrote the concerto) takes a very slightly slower tempo with the piece than we normally hear. His collaboration with Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo produces a very balanced performance that never feels rushed despite the many passages of mounting energy. After the powerful finish to the first movement, Perianes performs the following Adagio with a remarkable tenderness and tentative voice. The overall effect is one of fragility that leaves the beauty of the main theme lingering in the memory. In the final movement he recalls the thematic material with familiar phrasing and marches confidently toward the frenetic build-up that closes the concerto with its thunderous chords. The disc then moves into a selection of just 12 of Grieg’s 66 Lyric Pieces. Written throughout his composing career, these span nearly four decades of his life. Perianes makes careful choices insofar as he wants to demonstrate the wide variations of character and mood these little pieces represent. And in contrast to the concerto, Perianes now plays from an entirely different place, one of intimacy, introspection and fantasy. His approach to the Lyric Pieces is steady and mature. He avoids overindulgence in any expressive technique. Still there is plenty of tastefully applied rubato and dynamic freedom to support the emotional program that Grieg indicates in his titles. March of the Trolls is played at a noticeably faster speed than most often heard but this seems to emphasize the sinister nature of the imagery. The mid-section, by contrast, is played with exquisite touch and Perianes manages to somehow leave it suspended in the air. His performance of Nocturne is wonderfully Debussy-like, but his finest two pieces are Homesickness and At Your Feet. With careful dynamics and beautifully placed hesitations he conveys a palpable sense of longing to the listener. Perianes is a sensible young artist who avoids the temptingly flashy in favour of fidelity to a composer’s intent. British pianist Stephen Hough has also released a selection of Grieg – Lyric Pieces (Hyperion CDA68070), though considerably larger, numbering 27. Hough is twice the age of Perianes and so one immediately expects an interpretive approach that reflects both that experience and maturity. While these traits are certainly evident, what really emerges is the fact that Hough lives in a world of much wider dynamic energy where rubato and phrase end pull-backs are powerful devices that he uses most effectively. Erotikon demonstrates this best and shows that Hough’s boundaries for expressive devices are set at very generous distances. To Spring seems to disappear into an emotional void as he finishes the piece. Butterfly shows his remarkable and articulate dexterity. He plays Bell Ringing with a touch that never fully engages the percussive nature of the piano hammer, and thereby makes the strings speak with no audible beginning. His Little Bird characterization is brilliant for all its nervous energy. And his March of the Trolls is wild and threatening before it melts into the beauty of the mid-section theme. Here, as in many other instances, Hough is able to pull the main musical idea further forward, out of the surrounding harmonies, than most pianists care to do. It’s consistent with his assertive interpretive style and works very well. Janina Fialkowska takes a very different approach in Grieg – Lyric Pieces (ATMA Classique ACD2 2696). One searches in vain for some Eastern philosophical term to describe her artistic posture. The effect is, however, one of perfect calm, where no statement is rushed and there is no need to say anything until the music is ready. Her expression at the keyboard hints at understatement and reservation yet never lacks in rubato or dynamic expression. She plays with a subtle containment that is entirely satisfying even if we never hear the piano rattle mechanically under a maniacal fortissimo. Her opening track Arietta reflects this standard as does Sylph, and she never wavers from it. Norwegian Dance sustains an entrancing left-hand drone while her right hand, with complete independence, plays out the folk tune. Brooklet is an example of brilliant, articulate playing which she carries even further in Puck for a memorable impish, elfish effect. She underscores Grieg’s German musical education in At Your Feet, reminding us of how Brahmsian this piece can sound. Finally, her March of the Trolls is completely unlike either the Hough or Perianes performance. Fialkowska takes the piece at a slower, more march-like pace. She also leaves plenty of breathing space around the beautiful central theme of the slow section. Fialkowska’s Lyric Pieces are very different and uniquely hers. Karim Said – Echoes From An Empire (Opus Arte OA CD9029D) has programmed his first recording with a remarkable purpose in mind: to survey the music that was written during the protracted demise of the Austro- Hungarian Empire and explore its message about the passage of the old and the advent of the new. To that end he performs works spanning the years 1903 to 1927 from Berg, Webern, Janáček, Enescu, Bartók and Schoenberg. Now 27, he shows a remarkable understanding of the music of this period and what its composers were doing in this era of profound transition. He plays as if he were a seer of some kind. The sonatas by Berg and Janáček are fine examples of this, especially the second movement of the Janáček, titled Death. The transcendence of this is powerful and reaches far beyond the mere notes and the composer’s other markings. Similarly, his performance of Bartók’s Three Rondos on Slovak Folk Tunes seems so perfect a cultural iteration that Said’s birthplace, Amman, Jordan, seems a universe distant. Enescu’s Suite No.2 in D Op.10 is a remarkably beautiful composition in its richness of form and melody. Said plays the opening Toccata with all the majesty its tempo marking designates. The following Sarabande is performed with such a delicate touch that the sounds of the instrument seem pure velvet. The closing Boureé is an energized finale that sparkles with virtuosity. We need to hear more from this young pianist. His touring schedule leaves him little time for recording. But record more he certainly must. The decision to record the Liszt B Minor Sonata may say more about a performer than the actual performance. Hearing the final product, however, seals the judgment. On Liszt piano music (Orpheus OR 3906-1828) young (mid-20s) Spanish superstar Félix Ardanaz presents this Everest of the piano repertoire in a way that allows one to forget about its technical demands and focus instead on both the emotional and intellectual brilliance Liszt wrote into it. With three of its six themes presented in the first 18 measures alone, Ardanaz identifies and presents the ideas with the clarity needed to help the listener follow Liszt’s plan through the ensuing half hour of playing. So much of this performance is astonishing, but little more so than Liszt’s treatment of one of his opening ideas as a fugal subject midway through the work, followed by a seemingly impossible piu mosso direction. Ardanaz delivers this effortlessly. No subtlety escapes him, whether a brief tender Adagio or an explosive passage whose power falls under his complete control. Ardanaz also includes both Mazeppa and Mephisto Waltz in his program. Astonishing throughout, this is definitely a “musthave” disc. Before the awe over Félix Aradanaz begins to settle, it’s worth briefly mentioning his recording of French harpsichord repertoire on The French Harpsichord (Orpheus OR3906-1811). The transition between instruments is clearly the issue here and not much rationale is offered either in print or online as to why he does this. Very few pianists undertake such a bold recording choice but nothing seems beyond his reach. Ardanaz clearly understands the 64 | Sept 1 - Oct 7, 2015

ornamentation styles and forms of early music, free as much of it is from the more firmly metered romantic repertoire he plays so well. Still he appears to have mastered the challenges of fingering, articulation and phrasing, especially of legato lines. Chaconne in D Minor by L. Marchand is an excellent example of nimble speed coupled with grand sustained chords so difficult to achieve on this instrument. Ardanaz includes works by Rameau, both Couperins, D’Anglebert and others on this disc. A very fine recording for early music followers. British pianist Philip Edward Fisher has now followed his first recording of Handel’s keyboard music with a second instalment, Handel Keyboard Suites 2 (NAXOS 8.573397). Fisher brings a balanced sensibility to this performance, having decided clearly where he will draw the line at expressive keyboard techniques. Having been written for the harpsichord, no dynamics would have been contemplated by the composer, but Fisher introduces them with subtlety and respect. The result is very satisfying. His freedom with tempi and crisp ornamental figures adds even more to the richness of the music. Handel might have been very pleased to hear this approach. Suite No.7 in G Minor contains an especially lovely and mellow Andante as well as a couple of fast movements delightful for their articulation. The fugue in the second movement of Suite No.8 is far more full-sounding on the piano than it ever could be on the harpsichord. Fisher’s performance is refreshing and his future releases worth following. VOCAL Rossini – La gazza ladra Moreno; Tarver; Regazzo; Praticò; Rewerski; Mastrototaro; Islam-Ali-Zade; Virtuosi Brunensis; Alberto Zedda Naxos 8.660369-71 !! According to the draconian laws of medieval France a servant girl was condemned to death for stealing a silver fork from her employers. She is rescued just in the nick of time however because, as it turns out, a magpie was the real culprit. The opera written by the 25-year-old Rossini is full of melodic invention, intense dramatic situations and opportunities for the voices of some seven principals. First performed in 1817 it has remained in the repertoire ever since. This new live recording from Germany’s Wildbad festival fits in nicely with Naxos’ project of the complete 39 operas of Rossini and for this I personally thanked Klaus Heymann, founder and CEO of Naxos at the time of his Toronto visit. From the ominous rattle of the kettle drums of the famous Overture, conducted with a delightful lilt by the 84-year-old Rossini authority, Alberto Zedda, he makes the whole opera throb with life in beautifully pointed rhythms, skilful pacing, breathtaking suspense (in the Trial scene) and exhilaration in the finale when the silver spoon is finally found at the top of the belfry in the magpie’s nest. The opera gets into its high gear when the virtuoso basso, Gottardo the evil mayor, gets into the act. Here Lorenzo Regazzo, possibly today’s best, rises to the challenge in the role that made Samuel Ramey famous. In the famous prison scene Ramey brought the roof down in Pesaro, where even the Italians gave him a standing ovation. The innocent victim, Ninetta, is sung endearingly with some shattering high notes by Spanish soprano Maria Jose Moreno, while her lover, American tenor Kenneth Tarver, copes heroically with the hair-raising high tessitura. The four remaining principals all have their moments to shine, but we mustn’t forget the magpie, a real bird as in most Italian productions, asserting his presence loudly at crucial moments. Janos Gardonyi Dvořák – Alfred: Heroic Opera in Three Acts Froese; Bothmer; Rumpf; Sabrowski; Mikuláš; Unger; Baxová; Prague RSO; Heiko Mathias Förster ArcoDiva UP 0140-2 612 ( !! Alfred is the earliest of Dvořák’s eleven operas. It is the only one with a German libretto. It remained unperformed until 1938, when (a few months before the German invasion) it was premiered, in a Czech translation, at Olomous. The performance on these CDs was recorded live in September 2014. It is the first performance to use the original German libretto. Of Dvořák’s operas only Rusalka has held the stage and that largely because of the soprano aria, the Song to the Moon. I have, however, good memories of a production of The Jacobin by the Welsh National opera. Alfred was new to me as it will be to most. It presents a semi-historical account of the Anglo-Saxon resistance to the Danes under King Alfred in the ninth century. The musical idiom recalls French grand opera and early Wagner (the Wagner of Rienzi rather than the composer of Lohengrin). The CD booklet comes with a short essay by David R. Beveridge, who claims modestly, “Alfred is an uneven work, and nobody will claim that we have here a neglected masterpiece.” He then compensates for that comment by adding, “Yet it contains many passages of breathtaking beauty.” I am afraid these moments passed me by. Nevertheless this recording should be of interest to anyone who wishes to explore Dvořák’s earlier work. It is given a fine performance by singers and orchestra alike. The tenor, Ferdinand von Bothmer, is especially good in the role of the (fictional) Danish commander Harald. Hans de Groot Strauss – Feuersnot Carbone; Henschel; Wawiloff; Amoretti; Teatro Massimo; Gabriele Ferro ArtHaus Musik 109065 !! A handsome suitor unwisely steals a kiss from a girl in the heat of passion whereby she vows revenge and publicly humiliates the young man by leaving him hanging in a basket just below her window. The unfortunate young fellow (actually a wizard and a powerful magician) lays a curse on the town by extinguishing all fires and plunging it into eternal darkness. The young Richard Strauss’ second, almost unknown opera was chosen by Teatro Massimo, the beautiful opera house of Palermo, Sicily to celebrate the composer’s 150th birthday. This Italian production is inspiringly directed by the formidably talented Emma Dante who engulfs the entire stage in a burst of colour and incessant movement and dancing, because this is Midsummer Night, a night of love. The opera is Strauss’ revenge on the philistine burghers of Munich who made Richard Wagner leave in disgrace and booed Strauss’ first opera off the stage. Strauss (another Richard!) also quit Munich and wrote Feuersnot (Lack of Fire) and triumphed with it in 1902, in Dresden. Sumptuous music, full of melody interspersed with sudden outbursts of waltzes, soaring into a glorious climax at the end when the lovers finally unite and embrace. Italian conductor Gabriele Ferro, 80 years young, makes the music shimmer and pulsate with passion. A cast of thousands, soloists, chorus, dancers plus an omnipresent children’s choir singing like angels, makes the show like a fairy tale. Soprano Nicola Beller Carbone, the haughty maiden, is alternately furious, mischievous and funny, eventually surrendering to love in this very taxing role. The handsome wizard cum lover Kunrad, acrobatic German baritone Dietrich Henschel, is a worthy foil to her who manages to carry a tune and roar over the crowded stage while Sept 1 - Oct 7, 2015 | 65

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