7 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 5 - February 2016

  • Text
  • February
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Arts
  • Symphony
  • Orchestra
  • Performing
  • Musical
  • Violin
  • Quartet
2016 is off to a flying start! We chronicle the Artful Times of Andrew Burashko, the violistic versatility of Teng Li, the ageless ebullience of jazz pianist Gene DiNovi and the ninetieth birthday of trumpeter Johnny Cowell. Jaeger remembers Boulez; Waxman recalls Bley's influence, and Olds finds Bowie haunting Editor's Corner. Oh, and did we mention there's all that music? Hello (and goodbye) to the February blues, and here's to swinging through the musical vines of the Year of the Monkey.

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make a career. That dream came true for young American soprano Kristin Lewis, who simply enchanted the audience in a heartbreaking, gloriously sung performance as Aida. She even burst into tears in the midst of final applause. The other young lady, the lead mezzo (Amneris), Anita Rachvelishvili (see The WholeNote November 2015 for my review of the Tsar’s Bride from Berlin), perhaps stole the show with “the authority of her performance and warm, burnished tone and sheer vocal power” (Kenneth Chalmers) and made a big impression. Fabio Satori’s Radamès was somewhat less convincing as a glorious hero and lover than in his subsequent misfortune, but he surely hit those high notes! George Gagnidze was an energetic, rather youthful Amonasro and Matti Salminen’s Ramfis, the high priest, a stately figure. But the great basso, nearly 70, was having serious difficulties with his voice. Conductor Zubin Mehta, quite dapper and almost 80, conducted without a score according to Italian tradition, with minimal movements, and gave a sensitive, solid, well-detailed reading to impressive sonic effect, his trademark. The top credit however is for German director Peter Stein, who contrary to the usual grand-opera bombast, sees the opera more intimately, as a set of confrontations between a few individuals in unique settings, turning every stage set into a stunning work of art with glorious colours and strong geometry accentuated by backlighting and silhouettes. The designers Ferdinand Wögerbauer (sets), Nanà Cecchi (costumes) and Joachim Barth (lighting) created a thoroughly integrated, visually beautiful experience worthy of Verdi’s masterpiece. Janos Gardonyi Shostakovich – Suite on Poems by Michelangelo; Liszt – Petrarch Sonnets Dmitri Hvorostovsky; Ivari Ilja Ondine ODE 1277-2 !! Dmitri Hvorostovsky is a pure artist and a natural-born talent. Born and educated in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, a place not renowned for being a fertile cultural ground (despite having also been the birthplace of the French novelist Andreï Makine), Hvorostovsky shot to international stardom after defeating Bryn Terfel in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 1989. This success came on the heels of triumphs at the Toulouse Singing Competition in 1988 and the Glinka Competition in 1987. Since then, he has been present on all major opera and concert stages in the world – predominately in Verdi roles. He created an unforgettable portrayal of the Marquis de Posa in Don Carlo, but was equally acclaimed for Simon Boccanegra, Rigoletto, Un ballo in maschera and La Traviata. When he appeared for the first time in Tchaikovsky operas – The Queen of Spades, and especially, Eugene Onegin – critics proclaimed that he was born to sing those roles. This album shows a different side to Hvorostovsky – that of a lieder singer. When Shostakovich set the poems of Michelangelo (in translation by Abram Efros) to music in 1974, he knew he was a dying man. A year earlier, in addition to a serious heart condition that he had lived with for most of his life, he was also diagnosed with terminal cancer. The music he composed is full of anger and resentment, expressing a battle he ultimately lost a year later. Chillingly, Hvorostovsky had himself been diagnosed with a brain tumour early in 2015, but has since returned to the stage. As you listen to the stark, ominous music on this disc, spare a kind thought for this great Russian baritone, whose struggle may be ongoing. Robert Tomas Weinberg – The Passenger Breedt; Saccà; Kelessidi; Rucinski; Doneva; Wiener Symphoniker; Teodor Currentzis ArtHaus Musik 109179 !! This DVD’s booklet contains a lengthy encomium by Weinberg’s friend and muse, Shostakovich, calling The Passenger “a masterpiece, both in shape and style.” Unsurprising, as Shostakovich’s own “shape and style” pervade Weinberg’s compositions, including this one. Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996), a Polish Jew who fled to the USSR in 1939, completed The Passenger in 1968. His memorial to Holocaust victims, among them his parents and sister, was never staged until 2010 at Austria’s Bregenz Festival, the production preserved here. It has since been performed many times in other countries. The set is on two levels: above, a ship deck in 1960, where Lisa and her husband Walter are bound for Brazil; below, wartime Auschwitz, where Lisa had been an SS guard. On board, Lisa thinks she recognizes Martha, supposedly killed in Auschwitz. Shaken, she reveals her Nazi past to Walter – and to us, the audience, in the Auschwitz scenes where most of the opera unfolds. Here, extended passages of poignant lyricism are punctuated by brutal orchestral outbursts and the onstage brutality of the guards. Did Martha really survive, or is the veiled, silent passenger an apparition of Lisa’s haunted conscience? In the opera’s epilogue, alone on stage, an unveiled Martha sings “… never forgive … never forget …” If not quite “a masterpiece,” with its wellsung, effective music and potent drama, The Passenger will surely wrench guts and jerk tears. A bonus documentary provides details about Weinberg and this unforgettable production. Michael Schulman Alice Ping Yee Ho – The Lesson of Da Ji Toronto Masque Theatre; Larry Beckwith Centrediscs CMCCD 22115 !! In her music theatre work The Lesson of Da Ji, Hong Kong-born Toronto composer Alice Ping Yee Ho has struck a fine if not always easy cultural balance between features of classical Beijing (Peking) opera and the European masque tradition, as interpreted in 21st century Canada. It is no mean feat to present eight Canadian voices supported by the string tonalities of the Chinese zhongruan, erhu, pipa and zheng. It is even more complex when all that is seamlessly meshed with the sonority of the European baroque lute, harpsichord, viola da gamba, violin and recorders, plus a percussion battery. Ho does just that admirably, presenting along the way a bracing new hybrid soundscape to enjoy. Her skillfully orchestrated score hangs directly on Canadian playwright Marjorie Chan’s libretto. It tells the chilling tale of the famous concubine Da Ji of the Shang Dynasty (c.1600 to 1046 BCE), homing in on her illicit love affair with a musician and the bloody revenge enacted by the jealous King Zhou. It’s the sort of court drama common to both Chinese and Eurocentric opera traditions. The composer once noted that “colours and tonality are two attractive resources to me: they form certain mental images that connect to audiences in a very basic way.” The Lesson of Da Ji follows that dictum, and her approach works to convey character, place, mood and imagery, even via the audio CD medium. My guess is that a video presentation – or better yet a live production where the multiple visual and choreographic elements are at work – would make for an even more involving evening of theatre. Commissioned by the Toronto Masque Theatre in 2012, The Lesson of Da Ji immediately won critical acclaim, as well as the 2013 Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Original Opera. The release of the recording of this hour-long opera in two acts within just a couple of years of its premiere reflects the work’s enthusiastic initial reception. It may well also mark the beginning of its acceptance by a wider public in Canada, as well as in the composer’s country of birth. Andrew Timar EARLY MUSIC AND PERIOD PERFORMANCE Chaconne – Voices of Eternity Ensemble Caprice; Matthias Maute Analekta AN 2 9132 58 | February 1, 2016 - March 7, 2016

!! There is a difference between the chaconne and the passacaglia – or so textbooks tell us. In the chaconne a theme is repeated over and over again in the bass, while in the passacaglia the repeated theme does not need to be in the bass. Matthias Maute, in the booklet that comes with his recording, is inclined to play down the distinction, saying that the repetition of a harmonic motif is essential to both forms. One of the most famous of all chaconnes is that written by J. S. Bach for solo violin. Here it constitutes the final item on the recording, arranged (not altogether convincingly) for two recorders and cello. Many of the other items are earlier and they include works by Monteverdi, Landi and Falconieri. Among the most famous of chaconnes are the variations on the popular tune, La Follia, and this recording gives us two examples of such variations: by Falconieri (again) and by Vivaldi. There are two other kinds of music here: instrumental versions of seven 16th-century Czech folksongs (arranged by Maute) and seven very short, unaccompanied vocal chaconnes by Maute. The latter are expressive and haunting. They are beautifully sung by the sopranos Dawn Bailey and Jana Miller and alto Maude Brunet. Elsewhere there are eight instrumentalists and the playing is of a high order. Warmly recommended. Hans de Groot Las Cuidades de Oro – Baroque Music from the Spanish New World L’Harmonie des Saisons; Eric Milnes ATMA ACD2 2702 !! The importance of Spanish music of the 17th and 18th century has long been recognized, but it is only in recent years that we have been introduced to the riches that have been preserved in Latin American archives, in Colombia and Peru, in Chile and Guatemala, in Bolivia and Mexico. It is clear from the music on this recording that there were rich polyphonic traditions in Peru (in the San Antonio Abad Seminary in Cuzco, at the shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Candelaria in Copacabana and in the Cathedral at Lima) and in Bolivia (in the Cathedral of La Plata, now Sucre). Some of the composers featured were Spaniards whose careers developed in the New World, others were born in Latin America and one (Alonzo Torices) never left Spain, although some of his works have been preserved in the Guatemala City Cathedral archives. Most of the texted works on this recording are in Spanish but one is in Latin and one in Quechua, the official language of the Inca Empire. The recording is carefully planned: the musical language shows a great deal of variety and the documentation is excellent. The rhythms are incisive and the standards of playing and singing are high. I particularly enjoyed the two duets sung by the sopranos Hélène Brunet and Elaine Lachica. Hans de Groot CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Brahms – Double Concerto; Symphony No.4 Pinchas Zukerman; Amanda Forsyth; National Arts Centre Orchestra Analekta AN 2 8782 !! Pinchas Zukerman, who retired after 16 years at the helm of the NACO, has certainly left his mark on the Canadian musical scene. His promotion of musical training for young musicians surely will be his most lasting legacy, alongside the hundreds of concerts and live recordings he generated. A case in point is a new Analekta disc recorded live. The Double Concerto by Brahms is like one of those amazing perfect recipes from The Joy of Cooking. Get the right ingredients, follow the recipe exactly and presto: it always works. You need one virtuosic violinist (Zukerman fits the bill perfectly), one cellist who can keep up (Forsyth more than keeps up here!) and an orchestra that knows not to overstep. It helps that Zukerman and Forsyth pair up frequently for this piece and have a definite rapport, developed over their years of playing together. So this Double Concerto hits all the right buttons – it is unrestrained, powerful and tsunami-like in delivery, while shimmering with sans pareil melodic lines. There are virtuosic passages the likes of which Heifetz and Rostropovich made us expect from soloists. Real aural pleasure, if not breaking any new ground. Alas, it is in the Symphony No.4 that we understand why Zukerman will be remembered as a solo virtuoso, rather than a team player. His reading of the score seems muted and slowed down, as if he expects the orchestra will not to be able to keep up. The result is still Brahms, majestic, but somewhat leaden and heavy-footed, as if the will to live were slowly trickling out of the music. After 40 years of virtuosity, it may be the most honest pronouncement from Zukerman – he is a solo act. Robert Tomas My Cup Runneth Over – Complete Piano Works of R. Nathaniel Dett Clipper Erickson Navona Records NV6013 ( !! While we have enjoyed many opportunities to hear the choral music of Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943), this is the first ever recording of the prolific composer’s complete piano works which encompass quite a range, both in period and style. Pianist Clipper Erickson, who completed his DMA at Temple University researching Dett’s work, raised funds for this recording project through a Kickstarter campaign. Recorded in Germany for Navona Records and distributed by Naxos, the disc provides an enjoyable and significant dose of music history for professional and layman alike. Canadian-born Dett’s styles range here from popular dance music and jazz to spirituals, romanticism and impressionism, with rags and salon suites alongside works influenced by Liszt, Dvořák, Debussy and Grainger. And like some of the aforementioned influences, Dett had both education and talent to seamlessly incorporate folk idioms into art music. His piano pieces explore diverse themes: the love of nature (Magnolia), the Deep South (In the Bottoms), Rosicrucian philosophy (Enchantment), the poetry of Rabindrath Tagore (Cinnamon Grove) and scripture (Eight Bible Vignettes). Erickson, an accomplished pianist, performs with great sensitivity to these themes and an obvious admiration for the great composer. Kudos to Erickson for his initiative and to those who BACH IN TIME: Let There Be Beauty Poetry by Patricia Orr Bach’s organ music played by Patricia Wright CD and poetry book (add for mailing) “thoughtful… a fascinating meditation… stylish…full of expressive intimacy” – Organ Canada, November, 2015 Available from Estore or through Metropolitan United Church 416-363-0331 ext. 26 February 1, 2016 - March 7, 2016 | 59

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