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Volume 21 Issue 6 - March 2016

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  • Toronto
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From 30 camp profiles to spark thoughts of being your summer musical best, to testing LUDWIG as you while away the rest of so-called winter; from Scottish Opera and the Danish Midtvest, to a first Toronto recital appearance by violin superstar Maxim Vengerov; from musings on New Creations and new creation, to the boy who made a habit of crying Beowulf; it's a month of merry meetings and rousing recordings reviewed, all here to discover in The WholeNote.

highlight the stylistic

highlight the stylistic differences of each composer. He’s an adventurous and intelligent musician who brings obvious rationale to a convincingly expressive keyboard style. South Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho won the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition last year, taking top prize after five rounds of competitive performance. 163 pianists began the odyssey that is now the world’s oldest piano competition – six emerged as finalists. Winning this event is a career-making achievement, especially at age 21. This recording, Seong-Jin Cho – Winner of the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition (Deutsche Grammophon 479 5332) is Cho’s live performance at the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall in October last year. He delivers all the bombast and meets the blazing technical demands of the repertoire with confidence. It’s also a very moving listening experience for its mature approach to the familiar fragilities that Chopin requires. Cho spends critically important fractions of seconds delaying passing notes and dissonances to intensify each moment of uncertainty. The Préludes Op.28 contain a universe of emotions beautifully portrayed with complete conviction. The Piano Sonata No.2 in B-flat Minor Op.35 demonstrates Cho’s command of Chopin’s rich vocabulary. This is particularly evident in his treatment of the third movement’s central passage where the simple melody moves slowly, unhurried and with minimal accompaniment. Cho lingers courageously creating a powerful contrast to the gravity of the surrounding Marche funèbre. The recording ends appropriately with the Polonaise in A-flat Major Op.53 (Polonaise héroïque) upon whose closing chord the audience erupts in cheers and applause. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco occupies that sparse region of Italian composers whose works were not principally operatic. Perhaps best known for his guitar and film works, his small body of piano compositions is often overlooked. Claudio Curti Gialdino’s recent disc, Castelnuovo-Tedesco Piano Music (Brilliant Classics 94811) offers a fine example of how this composer blended his own voice with the French and Russian influences of the early 20th century. The repertoire represents the composer’s early work before he fled fascist Italy in 1939, to settle in the US. Alt Wien Op.30 has a strong feel of Ravel’s La Valse about it. While it’s not nearly as deconstructionist, it does share a similar scale and language. The work’s unique feature is the anti-rhythmic way the composer has cast the dances of the opening and closing movements. Gialdino captures this wonderfully by holding back the Waltz and Fox-Trot, never letting them emerge as quite the dances we expect. Despite its programmatic title, Le danze del Re David Op.37 is a freely impressionistic collection of eight rhythmic caricatures. It’s clever writing and fine playing. Gialdino brings a distinctive bounce to this set that is very appealing. He goes even further in his performance of Piedigrotta Op.32 (Rapsodia napoletana). Here, an underlying sense of Russian grandness supports a series of five colourful vignettes that concludes with some serious keyboard muscle. Gialdino plays a Kawai in this recording, and I suspect it might be less than full concert size. It’s brightly voiced and delivers the music well. Eric Huebner is a versatile musician with eight recordings to his credit. Many of them are ensemble performances of contemporary music, so it’s a thrill to hear what he does on this new solo CD Eric Huebner Plays Schumann, Carter and Stravinsky (New Focus Recordings FCR159). Huebner’s performance of the Schumann Kreisleriana Op.16 is competent and direct with memorable tenderness flowing through the Sehr langsam movement. It is, however, his playing of three movements from Stravinsky’s Petrouchka that really tempts one to reach for superlatives. While many pianists begin the Danse Russe at full throttle, Huebner holds back throughout this section and saves his energy for the maniacal marathon of playing required for La semaine grasse. His clarity and endurance are truly impressive. Better still is the intervening movement, Chez Petrouchka, which I have never heard played with such impish energy and mysticism. He uses the silence between notes to powerful effect and adds unexpected hesitations to rests. It’s a brilliant performance. The recording also includes the rather dense Night Fantasies by Elliott Carter. Huebner is very much at home with this material. It’s unstructured and leaves the performer to create an episodic map that makes interpretive sense for the listener. Its length requires intellectual discipline to sustain interest and Huebner has no difficulty doing this, effectively conveying Carter’s world of half wakefulness in the middle of the night. The dynamism of dual piano performance asserts itself powerfully in American Intersections (Two Pianists Records TP1039220). Nina Schumann and Luis Magalhäes have performed together since 1999. Their latest recording seeks to reflect the melting pot of influences that defines American music, Blues, Latin, Ragtime, etc. Souvenirs Op.28 is Samuel Barber’s collection of dances for piano four hands. Schumann and Magalhäes, however, play an arrangement for two pianos and take advantage of the opportunity for the richer performance that this offers. They adhere faithfully to Barber’s strong romantic leaning without neglecting his frequent modernist flirtations. William Bolcom’s Recuerdos is a three-part set of homages to composers like Nazareth and Gottschalk. The Paseo opens and closes with a sublime Latin-influenced rag that is utterly captivating. But the show-stealer is the final homage to Delgado Palacios, in which the duo brings explosive energy to Bolcom’s Valse Venezolano. When Leonard Bernstein arranged Copland’s El Salón México for two pianos in 1941, it soon eclipsed the version for single keyboard. This recording of the piece captures every orchestral nuance and turn of phrase. It’s a terrific performance. Frederic Rzewski echoes the powerful pulse of American industry in Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues. The pounding episode that opens the piece surrenders to a mildly dissonant blues segment beautifully played, which then blends back into a combined machine-pulsed blues to close the piece. Hallelujah Junction by John Adams is a complex and difficult piece. Schumann and Magalhäes perform this superbly. There’s a devilishly complex rhythm just before the slower middle section which they handle flawlessly. The work’s relentless drive to its finish seems no challenge at all to this very gifted pair. Peter Hill’s latest recording project is JS Bach – The French Suites (Delphian DCD34166). Hill is perhaps best known for his recordings of contemporary repertoire, his books on Stravinsky and Messiaen, and his master classes at major music schools around the world. His recording of the Bach French Suites is, therefore, especially interesting. Hill plays this music with a great deal of affection. While Bach’s pedagogical intent is always clear in the twoand three-voice counterpoint, Hill reaches further to find the beauty in every melodic fragment. He’s not the least shy about using the piano’s expressive potential to colour the main ideas. He’s quite disciplined about the regulated speed at which this baroque repertoire 66 | March 1, 2016 - April 7, 2016 thewholenote.com

needs to proceed and reserves his subtle ritardandos exclusively for phrase endings. He also makes a practice of lightening up on the touch at the same time. The combined effect of these creates a reverent and respectful closing punctuation. Hill’s ornamental technique is tasteful and well considered. It’s always clean and of just the right length. His playing overall is somewhat understated and he makes the Steinway concert grand sound both delicate and fragile. He rarely rises beyond mezzo forte, even in the Gigue of Suite No.5 in G Major where it could credibly happen. This is also true of the Mozart Suite in C K399 which many have played much more aggressively. Hill’s performance is beautifully articulate, completely unpedalled and has a meditative quality about it. VOCAL Handel – Acis and Galatea Boston Early Music Festival; Paul O’Dette; Stephen Stubbs CPO 777 877-2 !! There have been several fine recordings of Acis and Galatea in the recent past. I myself am especially fond of the recording conducted by John Eliot Gardiner with Norma Burrowes and the late Anthony Rolfe Johnson in the main parts (on Archiv). Still, this new recording is something else. It is fast-paced and light on its feet. The singing and the playing are exceptional. I especially enjoyed the tenor Jason McStoots, who sings Damon, the lovely oboe playing by Gonzalo X. Ruiz and the virtuoso sopranino recorder obbligato by Kathryn Montoya in Hush, ye pretty warbling quire! It was also a pleasure to hear our own Dominic Teresi, the principal bassoon of Tafelmusik. The recording seeks to reconstruct the first performance of 1718 and uses not a choir in the modern sense of the word but a group of six singers, five of whom are also soloists. The minimum number of orchestral players needed is seven; this recording uses ten, presumably because an archlute, a theorbo and a double bass have been added. The recording includes the chorus Wretched lovers, which signals the arrival of the Cyclops Polyphemus and marks the shift from rural innocence to impending violence. Here the directors have not been altogether consistent as that chorus is a later addition and is generally thought to have been added in 1739. The record also includes a substantial bonus in the cantata Sarei troppo felice (1707), beautifully sung by soprano Amanda Forsythe. Hans de Groot Johann Simon Mayr – Saffo Brown; Schafer; Yun; Papenmeyer; Ruckgaber; Preis; Bavarian State Opera; Franz Hauk Naxos 8.660367-68 !! Johann Simon Mayr was born in Bavaria in 1763 but moved to the northern Italian city of Bergamo in 1787. He spent the rest of his life there and in Venice. Saffo was his first opera: it was commissioned by the then new La Fenice in Venice and first performed there in 1794. From our perspective Mayr can be seen as a transitional figure, transitional that is between the reforms of Gluck and the revolutions of Rossini. That Mayr is to some extent still working in the opera seria tradition is most obviously seen in the fact that the role of the male protagonist was written for a castrato, in this case the famous Girolamo Crescentini. On these CDs it is beautifully sung by the soprano Jaewon Yun. The plot would seem to lead logically to Sappho’s suicidal leap from a rock but in the opera she is saved at the last moment by the lover who had previously rejected her. The happy ending is also a standard item in most, though not all, opere serie. On the other hand, gone are the da capo and exit arias. The tenor has become important (as had already been the case in Mozart’s Idomeneo and La clemenza di Tito), the chorus is now more substantial and many of the recitatives are given orchestral accompaniments (there are precedents for that, including, again, Idomeneo). Mayr wrote almost 70 operas. Someday I would like to hear some of the others, especially if they are as well sung and played as Saffo is on this recording. Hans de Groot Rossini – Il Signor Bruschino de Candia; Lepore; Aleida; Alegret; Orchestra Sinfonica G Rossini; Daniele Rustioni Opus Arte OA 1109 D !! For your next vacation, why not go to Pesaro on the sunny beaches of the Adriatic and if you are an opera lover, to the Rossini festival, a really fun destination judging by this video. Venice is not too far away either where the 20-year-old Rossini spent his first creative period writing operas for a near bankrupt theatre company that took a chance on the young fellow with no previous experience in writing anything, let alone opera. Amusingly, the elders of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro did much the You can find enhanced reviews of all discs below the yellow line in The WholeNote listening room. The reissue of an all-but-forgotten album of music from revered conductor Gerard Schwarz, made in his earliest days as a stunning trumpet virtuoso. Ches Smith: The Bell Dynamic chamber music compositions written for masterful improvisers. With drummer Ches Smith, pianist Craig Taborn and violist Mat Manieri. "This dazzling debut album features pure, emotionally eloquent vocals, refreshingly eclectic selections and stylistic arrangements that are sure to leave you smiling." Critically acclaimed world-jazz group AVATAAR explores rhythmic hypnotism, cinematic sonic landscapes and soaring melody through a seamless marriage of ancient and modern musical sounds. thewholenote.com March 1, 2016 - April 7, 2016 | 67

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