7 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 2 - October 2015

Vol 21 No 2 is now available for your viewing pleasure, and it's a bumper crop, right at the harvest moon. First ever Canadian opera on the Four Seasons Centre main stage gets double coverage with Wende Bartley interviewing Pyramus and Thisbe composer Barbara Monk Feldman and Chris Hoile connecting with director Christopher Alden; Paul Ennis digs into the musical mind of pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, and pianist Eve Egoyan is "On the Record" in conversation with publisher David Perlman ahead of the Oct release concert for her tenth recording. And at the heart of it all the 16th edition of our annual BLUE PAGES directory of presenters profile the season now well and truly under way.

VOCAL Rossini –

VOCAL Rossini – Aureliano in Palmira Michael Spyres; Jessica Pratt; Lena Belkina; Raffaella Lupinacci; Dimitri Pkhaladze; Orchestra Sinfonica G. Rossini; Teatro Comunale di Bologna; Will Crutchfield ArtHaus Musik 109073 !! Twenty-oneyear-old Rossini’s early attempt at opera seria was a flop in Milan, at La Scala, and subsequently disappeared from the stage until recently when American musicologist/scholar Will Crutchfield dug it up from obscurity and reconstructed the score to be performed in Pesaro (Rossini’s birthplace) where it became a well-deserved success. The story dates back to the fourth century A.D. when the Roman emperor Aurelianus led a campaign against Palmyra (in today’s Syria) with its warrior queen, the beautiful Zenobia, with whom he predictably falls in love. There are complications with the queen’s Persian lover, so it becomes a love triangle and the opera is rather long (three and a half hours), but the music is ravishingly beautiful as we hear it now, so one wonders what kind of performance it must have been back in 1813 (Verdi’s year of birth) for the picky Milanese to have rejected it. It didn’t bother the enterprising Rossini much, though. He simply took some of the best music and recycled it into his Barber of Seville. Here in Pesaro where singing is sacrosanct (and would put most big name opera houses to shame), the opera is performed with the best forces available today. The wonderful Michael Spyres, heroic Rossini tenor, ideal in the title role, is suitably imperial, yet sympathetic and compassionate with a voice of tremendous power. The stupendous Australian soprano, Jessica Pratt has no equal today in coping with the immensely difficult range and glass-shattering high notes of Queen Zenobia. She is certainly the darling of the mainly Italian, connoisseur crowd. The third principal, Arsace the Persian prince, is the youngest, Ukrainian-born mezzo Lena Belkina, who is making big waves in Europe today with her mellifluous deep notes and spectacular range. Italian soprano Raffaella Lupinacci is charming, stylish and thoroughly competent in the lesser role of Publia. Colourfully staged by Italian director Mario Martone in rich tones of burnt amber and translucent moving screens, and very ably conducted by Crutchfield, whose love of Rossini is manifest at every gesture, this production is highly recommended. Janos Gardonyi Chausson; Berlioz; Duparc Soile Isokoski; Helsinki Philharmonic; John Storgårds Ondine ODE 1261-2 !! Soile Isokoski was in Toronto last summer mentoring a program for young singers at Toronto Summer Music. It is good to have this new disc. The main work here is Les nuits d’été by Berlioz. These songs were originally published as a set for mezzo-soprano or tenor with piano accompaniment. Later Berlioz orchestrated the songs and in some cases changed their keys, making them more suitable for several singers in different voice categories. There is a modern recording conducted by John Eliot Gardiner (on Erato) which uses five different singers, including the Canadian mezzo Catherine Robbin. I myself am very fond of Janet Baker’s recordings, both the 1967 performance with Sir John Barbirolli (EMI) and the 1975 performance with Carlo Maria Giulini (BBC). It took me a while to get used to Isokoski’s interpretation, especially in the first song, Villanelle, where Baker is more impressive in giving a sense of ecstasy and where the words are much easier to follow. I think the latter point has a lot to do with the high keys in which Isokoski sings and in general I think these songs work better when performed by mezzos. But Isokoski’s renderings have their own merits and she is especially good in the middle songs, Sur les lagunes and Absence. The Duparc songs were written for voice and piano and I don’t particularly care for the orchestration, first performed in 1897. Isokoski is at her best in Chausson’s somewhat Wagnerian Poème de l’amour et de la mer. She is generally described as a lyric soprano but she also has the fullness of sound needed to override Chausson’s orchestral textures. Hans de Groot Peter-Anthony Togni – Responsio Jeff Reilly; Suzie LeBlanc; Andrea Ludwig; Charles Daniels; John Potter ATMA ACD2 2731 !! Composer Peter- Anthony Togni has brilliantly created a soundscape spanning the centuries. Togni follows in the compositional footsteps of medieval composers by borrowing, responding and drawing on Guillaume de Machaut’s medieval masterpiece Messe de Nostre Dame (ca. 1365). The surprising success of Responsio lies in the strength of Togni’s writing as he then combines and contrasts this medieval groundwork with musical ideas from the intervening centuries. The vocal quartet score features beautifully crafted four-part, chant-based writing that transcends stylistic periods, with especially dreamy harmonies and luscious counterpoint in the Machaut-based sections. The written and improvisational bass clarinet part moves the 12-section work through the musical centuries into the modern day in a part full of moving reflective passages and fragments of extended contemporary techniques. The best example is the Gloria where the vocalists German pianist/conductor Lars Vogt presents one of the classic works of the Baroque repertoire – Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous Goldberg Variations. This recording presents the complete music of ‘Les Femmes Vengées’, the opéra-comique which in 1775 restored the fortunes of composer Francois-André Danican Philidor. Porter’s much-admired orchestral music is marked by originality in its absorption of neo-classicism, and his series of string quartets also represent an important contribution to the genre Staniland’s music fearlessly explores ferociousness, beauty and mystery, helping to explain why leading American writer Alex Ross calls it ‘alternately beautiful and terrifying’. 64 | Oct 1 - Nov 7, 2015

swiftly and effortlessly switch stylistic tonalities of the centuries while the bass clarinet either supports the singers or works in musical opposition. The section ends with an unexpected yet gratifying bass clarinet blast! Suzie LeBlanc (soprano), Andrea Ludwig (mezzo-soprano), Charles Daniels (tenor) and John Potter (tenor) are a cohesive vocal quartet with voices that blend tightly together in ensemble and shine as soloists. Bass clarinetist Jeff Reilly is a master of his instrument and the music and also acts as the recording’s producer. Tiina Kiik EARLY MUSIC AND PERIOD PERFORMANCE François-André Danican Philidor – Les Femmes Vengées Debono; Beaudin; Staskiewicz; Thompson; Figueroa; Dobson; Opera Lafayette; Ryan Brown Naxos 8.660353 !! Like the Singspiel in Germany and Austria and the Ballad Opera in England, the 18th-century French opera comique used spoken dialogue. These works were rather lightweight until Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Beethoven’s Fidelio brought a new seriousness to the Singspiel. As for the opera comique, it was not until Bizet’s Carmen (1875) that the full potential of the genre was revealed. François-André Danican Philidor, now perhaps better known as a chess player than as a composer, wrote a number of comic operas. Although it is good to have a recording of Les femmes vengées (1775), there are problems with its presentation. The booklet that comes with the CD carries a synopsis of the plot but no libretto. There is a note saying that the text can be accessed through the Internet, but, when I tried to do so, I received a reply that the libretto is not yet available. Clearly Naxos wanted the disc to be reviewed as early as possible but it was a mistake to send out review copies before it was possible to consult the text. Moreover, the CD contains only the music of the opera, not the spoken dialogue. I understand the reason for this: the inclusion of the dialogue would have meant two CDs and doubled the cost. But the effect of this is that we do not have the opera here but a series of ariettes and vocal ensembles. Opera Lafayette, a company from Washington, D.C., was founded in 1995 and specializes in French opera ranging from Lully to Felicien David. They have a recorded a number of works, all on Naxos, including Philidor’s Sancho Pança. The singing on this recording is good and the artists include three Canadian singers: Pascale Beaudin (soprano), Antonio Figueras (tenor) and Alexander Dobson (baritone). I know Beaudin from a summer course at CAMMAC a few years ago: she is a fine singer and an outstanding teacher. She has previously recorded a disc of songs by Francis Poulenc, part of a fivedisc set of Poulenc’s songs (ATMA). Dobson is well-known from his appearances in Toronto theatres and concert halls. It is good to find him in this international context. Hans de Groot Livre de Luth de Gioseppe Antonio Doni Sylvain Bergeron ATMA ACD2 2724 !! This lovely album has the poetry and wisdom needed to fuel the imagination of all romantics out there. But that is not all – it is also a fine display of Sylvain Bergeron’s mastery on a 14-string archlute and a testament to the abundance and variety of Italian lute music from the onset of the 17th century. Gioseppe Antonio Doni was most likely an amateur lute player, possibly of noble descent, who compiled the manuscript of early 17th-century lute pieces into the collection known today as The Doni Lute Book. This collection, well known among lute players but relatively obscure among larger music circles, consists of almost 100 pieces by several different composers, including Doni’s teacher and lute virtuoso Andrea Falconieri as well as Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, Giuseppe Baglioni and Archangelo Lori. According to the liner notes, Sylvain Bergeron first encountered the book in his early days as a lute student and has continued to enjoy the collection ever since. For this recording Bergeron chose 25 compositions from the manuscript and grouped them into five sets, according to tonality and mood, thus creating a musical portrait of characters and colours. All sets but one contain Toccatas (some of them virtuosic and with daring modulations) and among many Correntes, there are some that are alluring illustrations of dreamy tenderness. The relative simplicity of these pieces brings out the delicacy of Bergeron’s marvellous sound – here is the refined and astute player who brings tales from the past to his captivated audiences. Ivana Popovic Rameau – Les Indes galantes Les Talens Lyriques; Christophe Rousset Alpha 710 !! It has always surprised me that, whereas musicians are concerned with the use of baroque performance practices in their realizations of 18th-century music, so few directors are interested in the use of baroque stage conventions. Of the operas I have seen, those directed by Gilbert Blin at the Boston Early Music Festival provide the only exceptions. In this production of Rameau’s Les Indes galantes, it is always clear that this is a modern conception by the director, Laura Scozzi. The opera opens with Hébé, the goddess of youth, dressed in a very revealing slip. She is joined by a troupe of nude dancers who give physical expression to their sense of joy. But on two occasions, an apple is tasted, a not too subtle warning that the fall is imminent. The fall arrives when Bellone, the goddess of war (the part is scored for a baritone) arrives on an all-terrain motorized vehicle. He is followed by a motley crew of ecclesiastics and men in football shirts. The male dancers are then given chainsaws and they move away. The main scenes in Rameau’s opera present us with exotic worlds: Turkey, Peru, Persia, America. In this production we see these worlds in terms of modern tourism in which faraway countries are linked through air travel. At the very end of the opera the dancers return and they are now joined by a very pregnant woman, also nude. Is there a suggestion here that we have moved beyond experience to a higher innocence? Christophe Rousset conducts with real bite, unlike William Christie, stylish but sedate, in the earlier CD (Harmonia Mundi), in which Rousset played the harpsichord continuo. The outstanding singer is the French-Algerian soprano Amel Brahim-Djelloul. We hear her as Hébé, as the Inca princess Phani and as the slave-girl Fatima. The Canadian baritone Nathan Berg is good in the role of the Inca priest Huascar. Hans de Groot CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Brahms – The Piano Concertos Daniel Barenboim; Staatskapelle Berlin; Gustavo Dudamel Deutsche Grammophon 479 4899 !! Seventy-twoyear-old virtuoso Daniel Barenboim as soloist with conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Staatskapelle Berlin make this live recording an important event. I have been moved by the sense of yearning and struggle, the feeling of sheer obsessive physicality in music-making that predominate. In the Concerto No.2 in B-Flat Major the piano echoes the opening horn-call’s ending, two Oct 1 - Nov 7, 2015 | 65

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