6 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!).

hanging in a basket

hanging in a basket suspended high in the air. Janos Gardonyi Adrianne Pieczonka sings Strauss; Wagner Adrianne Pieczonka; Brian Zeger Delos DE 3474 !! The songs by Richard Strauss, some of the most beloved solo vocal compositions in the repertoire (next to Mahler’s), come with an almost-insurmountable caveat: They have been recorded sublimely by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf with Gerald Moore on piano. Those reference recordings are still capable of defeating any artist and Pieczonka must acknowledge their supremacy. So rather than dwell on comparisons, let’s judge this recording on its own merits. First things first, Pieczonka is one of the best Wagnerian singers of our era. She proves that with Wesendonck-Lieder, a poetic account of Wagner’s infidelity to his wife Minna. As for the rest of the album, there are two forces conspiring against Pieczonka’s rendition of Strauss: the awkward, excessively close miking by Anton Kwiatkowski in the CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio; and the hesitant, almost withdrawn piano playing of Brian Zeger. As if refusing to be an equal partner, Zeger hides behind and blends with Pieczonka’s voice. This voice, opulent and beautiful, works best when coaxed and engaged by an equal partner, be it orchestra or piano solo. Here it sounds unusually shy and reluctant. That is too bad, because we now deserve a new reference recording and Pieczonka definitely has the talent to create such a disc. Robert Tomas Aria – Nicholas Isherwood performs John Cage Nicholas Isherwood BIS BIS-2149 !! To say that for many music lovers the music of John Cage is an acquired taste is to gloss over the intellectual charge contained within it. Cage was a fearless experimenter and many of his compositions were more of a “project” than a piece of music. Take the title piece Aria, augmented with bizarre tape snippets (Fontana Mix), as restored in 2009 by Gianluca Verlingieri. The sheer audacity of the piece, given it was created in 1958, “for a voice in any range” is enough to give us pause. This album takes us through 43 years of music and includes Cage’s settings from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. It may come as a surprise, given his post-modern inclinations that Cage treated the human voice in the very same way the composers of the Baroque did – as yet another instrument, to be tuned and used to its limits. His favourite instrument was actually the voice of Cathy Berberian, for whom Aria was written. On this recording, Isherwood proves himself to be an attentive custodian of Cage’s music. In the unpublished Chant with Claps, his folksy rendition brings to mind some of the recordings of Appalachian songs by Custer LaRue and emphasizes the improbable: John Cage, the composer, the experimenter, the rebel, the visionary was also a balladeer. This is a great education for the ears – wide open. Robert Tomas Charles Heller – Tramvay Lider Charles Heller; Bram Goldhammer Independent ( !! Riding transit at rush hour or late at night is rarely fun (save the rare times one encounters live music and dancing on a subway car). A sea of weary, sallow faces (is it the lighting?) can certainly make one feel equally grey and tired but it must have been far more grim during the Great Depression in Toronto. One streetcar conductor, Shimen Nepom, member of a far-left group known as the Proletarian Poets, decided to mine his oftentimes frigid and tedious journey by turning his experiences into a set of Yiddish poems entitled Tramvay Lider (Streetcar Songs), published in 1940 by the Toronto Labour League. Seventy years later, composer Charles Heller learned of Nepom through Gerry Kane, a columnist with the Canadian Jewish News who remembered meeting Nepom when he was a young boy riding the streetcar with his father. Heller then researched the poems, set them to music and now performs them eloquently, yet characteristically on this recording, accompanied by pianist Bram Goldhammer and cellist Rachel Pomedli. The music evokes the clattering tracks, the ringing bells, the bitter winds, but best of all, the poignant stories of the great variety of people who rode the College streetcar back then. Dianne Wells Songs from the Rainshadow’s Edge – a song cycle by Benton Roark Arkora Redshift Records TK444 (redshiftmusic. org) !! Anyone who has lived in Vancouver will be familiar with the term “rainshadow” which, in turn, conveys the elusiveness of sunshine. This lends a rather dreamy, mystical aura to the area and the rainshadow’s edge mirrors that same misty, shimmering border between contrasting states of the psyche. Scored for soprano, flute, viola, bass, electric guitar, percussion and narrator, drawing on texts by Huxley, Carroll, Eckhart, Sartre and composer Benton Roark, the multi-layered five-part song cycle takes the listener on a Jungian journey beyond the edge and back again. The composer, who based the work on his recollection of a state of depersonalization after a series of crises, did well in selecting the ensemble to perform it. Arkora, a selfdescribed new music collective dedicated to contemporary vocal chamber music in its many forms and led by soprano Kathleen Allan, clearly possesses the fluidity to skillfully evoke the surreal experience of “loss of self” and the struggle between inner and outer realities. Allan’s purity of vocal tone is perfection in its adaptations through the everchanging mix of genres and mysterious landscape of instrumental timbre. Dianne Wells EARLY MUSIC AND PERIOD PERFORMANCE Purcell – Dido & Aeneas Rachel Lloyd; Robert Davies; Elin Manahan Thomas; Armonico Consort; Christopher Monks Signum Classics SIGCD417 !! This new recording of Dido and Aeneas could be described as lean. The orchestra consists of five stringplayers (one to a part with the double bass doubling the cello line) and one theorbo. The chorus consists of eight singers, two to a part. (I am going by the booklet which comes with the CD. There appear to be some uncredited wind players in the Overture as well as guitars in the First Act Chaconne). By contrast the performance conducted by Nicholas McGegan (Harmonia Mundi) has an orchestra of 22 players and a choir of 33 voices. The performance conducted by Emanuelle Haïm (Virgin) has a smaller choir (14) but an even larger orchestra (26). There is a reason for the small forces used here: the earliest performance of the work that can be documented was at Josias Priest’s School for Gentlewomen in 1689. It has generally been assumed that that was the first performance of the work. In 1992, however, two musicologists published an article in which they suggested that the school performance would have been a revival and that the first performance, possibly at court, would have used larger forces. Many readers will be mainly concerned with the quality of the mezzo-soprano who sings Dido. There are several great 66 |Sept 1 - Oct 7, 2015

performances on record by Janet Baker, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Susan Graham. Rachael Lloyd, on the new recording, is good and there is a wonderful Belinda (Elin Manahan Thomas). I recommend the new recording, especially to those who prefer to hear the opera performed with the numbers that would have taken part in the first documented performance. Hans de Groot Sinkovsky Plays & Sings Vivaldi Dmitry Sinkovsky; La Voce Strumentale naïve OP 30559 !! This is a disc filled with personality. The multi-talented Russian musician Dmitry Sinkovsky plays, sings and directs his lively interpretations of Vivaldi’s oft-performed four concertos based on the seasons, as well as an operatic scene and secular cantata. There are so many recordings of The Four Seasons that I cannot claim with any authority that this is the most dramatic out there, but it is certainly the most expressive, demonstrative and exhausting performance of the piece I’ve ever heard. In the notes, Sinkovsky explains his approach as “like a real stage director in the opera house” and it shows. He’s a great player and, as it turns out, a fine singer as well. The two vocal excerpts on the disc make for a beautiful contrast and provide a nice respite from the aggressiveness of the playing in the concertos. In a cheeky bit of bravado, Sinkovsky plays the violin obbligato line as well as singing the aria Ah, ch’infelice sempre. I would love to see that in concert! Some virtuoso musical personalities are generous and irrepressible, and therefore attractive. There’s no denying that Sinkovsky’s skill, musical intelligence and interpretive senses are off the charts, but I find there’s a gentleness and warmth missing from the mix. Still, he is young and certainly his performances of The Four Seasons are well worth the price of this very fine disc. Just hold on to your hat! Larry Beckwith CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Brahms – The Piano Trios Christian Tetzlaff; Tanja Tetzlaff; Lars Vogt Ondine ODE 1271-2D !! This two-disc set of the three Brahms piano trios is very much a “family and friends” affair. Violinist Christian Tetzlaff has been performing with his sister cellist TanjaTetzlaff since their childhood in Hamburg, while pianist Lars Vogt has been a longtime musical partner for both. The result is some most conducive music-making in three of Brahms’ chamber works which have not always received the recognition they undoubtedly deserve. The Piano Trios Op 8, 87 and 101 occupied much of the composer’s time during the 1880s. As he mentioned to a friend, at the time, “there was no further point in attempting an opera or a marriage.” The earliest of the trios had actually been composed in 1854 when he was all of 21, but Brahms spent considerable time revising it in 1889. Hence, the music is less that of a young composer still feeling his way than one who was looking back at 30 years of creativity. From the opening measures, it’s very clear that these performers enjoy playing with each other and do it with a strong sense of self-assurance. The broad sweeping lines in the opening Allegro and again in the Finale show a distinct elegance of phrasing while the second movement Scherzo is all lightness and grace. The second and third trios are very much the music of the mature composer, surely Brahms at his finest. And not surprisingly, the three musicians have no difficulty in capturing the myriad of shifting moods contained within – majestic, restless, elegiac and buoyant. To perform Brahms well is frequently a challenge but the combination of the two Tetzlaffs and Vogt bring it off effortlessly. The highlight for me is surely the finale to the Piano Trio No.3. How deftly the three handle the syncopated rhythms and dynamic contrasts before bringing the movement – and the disc – to a triumphant conclusion. Well done, all three – this recording is bound to be a benchmark. Richard Haskell Mahler – Symphony No.9 Budapest Festival Orchestra; Iván Fischer Channel Classics CCS SA 36115 !! Iván Fischer’s everinnovative Budapest Festival Orchestra, now in its 30th season, is a unique ensemble. Formed from a core of younger freelance musicians and a modicum of state support it thrives without a musicians’ union or job security. Fischer aptly describes the profile of the BFO as “not a dinosaur but a tiger.” This sixth instalment of their outstanding series of Mahler symphonies presents one of the finest recordings ever of the Ninth Symphony. The performance of the first movement, virtually a symphony in itself, is revelatory. It perfectly depicts Alban Berg’s description of this movement: “It expresses an extraordinary love of this earth, for Nature; the longing to live on it in peace, to enjoy it completely, to the very heart of one’s being, before death comes, as irresistibly it does.” The second movement, an archly ironic Ländler, is nattily performed with a curiously bourgeois restraint (the disruptive timpani strokes are barely audible), though all hell breaks out in the contrapuntal near-panic of the subsequent Rondo-Burleske. Time stands still in the intense longing and eventual serene acceptance of the Finale. Rarely have I heard such an exquisite balance within and between the sections of the orchestra; such unanimity of tone can only have been achieved with intensive sectional rehearsals, a luxury most orchestras have long abandoned. The orchestra is equally well served by Jared Sacks and Hein Dekker’s outstanding recording and production. At a relatively swift 75 minutes the work fits on a single disc in a hybrid SACD format. Not to be missed! Daniel Foley Busoni the Visionary III – Piano Music Jeni Slotchiver Centaur CRC 3396 !! This CD continues American pianist Jeni Slotchiver’s Busoni the Visionary series. Her wonderful playing and program notes challenge the image of Ferruccio Busoni (1866- 1924) as a chilly intellectual composer of contradictory, strange works. We have instead a well-rounded Busoni: piano virtuoso; extraordinary composer; key figure in modern music. Included is Busoni’s piano transcription of Bach’s “St. Anne” Prelude and Triple Fugue for Organ. But the Fantasia nach Johann Sebastian Bach (1909) shows innovative re-thinking of possibilities in Bach chorales, while Nuit de Noël (1908) imitates actual bells with their dissonant overtones. Slotchiver plays both with intimacy and fine gradations of touch. Busoni’s style evolved rapidly. Of the late works Ten Variations on a Prelude of Chopin (1922) is most accessible and varied, with shifts in tonal centre that create kaleidoscopic effects. Slotchiver is virtuosic in the middle and ending variations, and equally capable of projecting abrupt mood changes in one variation or quirky waltz style in another. She captures the mystic opening in Prélude et Etude (en Arpèges) of 1923, then conquers the etude’s wild arpeggios and acrobatic hand-crossing. In Toccata (1920) she emphasizes motifs from his operas, including the contemporaneous Doktor Faust. With a road map the listener can sort out this rich assemblage. Relax and remember: Busoni’s music does not resolve the contradictions encompassed by his genius (Italian and German, 19th century and modern, concertizing pianist and exploring composer), but plays with them masterfully. Roger Knox Sept 1 - Oct 7, 2015 | 67

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