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Volume 21 Issue 7 - April 2016

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  • April
  • Toronto
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directors. Acclaimed

directors. Acclaimed choreographer Sasha Waltz was the Staatsoper’s unlikely but brilliant choice to direct, and with her emphasis on the poetry of movement to underline the drama – exquisitely composed scenes with dancers mingling with the singers – there is constant motion adding excitement and visual splendour. There is musical splendour of the highest order as well. A superb cast: Peter Seiffert, a strong heldentenor as Tannhäuser, his voice rich, sensitive and expressive with no sign of fatigue through the gruelling four hours. Ann Petersen is a glorious Elizabeth both in joy and later in her suffering. Peter Mattei, probably today’s greatest lyrical baritone is a noble, elegant and aristocratic Wolfram. René Pape (Landgraf) and Marina Prudenskaya (Venus) are also memorable in their lesser roles. Maestro Barenboim conducts the entire score from memory with forward thrust and quickening of pulse in the resplendent and joyful scenes of the second act, broadening into sustained slow tempi in the tragic but sublime third. Wonderful performance, highly recommended. Janos Gardonyi Ravel – L’Heure espagnole; Don Quichotte à Dulcinée Lombardo; Druet; Antoun; Barrard; Courjal; Le Roux; Orchestre National de Lyon; Leonard Slatkin Naxos 8.660337 !! Maurice Ravel loved a challenge. Why else would he embrace the prospect of writing a new take on the comic Italian opera in French, on a Spanish theme? The Spanish Hour, filled with flirtation, comical characters and cuckolds, is far from being a bedroom farce. It is, instead, a great example of Ravel’s musical genius, especially when it comes to orchestration. While he pays homage to the Spanish musical idiom, he also respects the distinct musicality of the French language, whether scoring the straightforward observations of Ramiro, the rapid plotting of Concepción, or the over-the-top buffoonery of Gonzalve and Don Inigo. The result is playful, poetic and impressionistic. The accompanying work, three songs of Don Quixote sung to Dulcinea, has a much less happy theme – and history. It is the very last thing Ravel composed (in 1933) and was commissioned by the celebrated film director, G. W. Pabst for a new film version of the story of the knight of La Mancha. Alas, as they say in the film biz, it ended up on the cutting room floor and was replaced by Jacques Ibert’s four songs on the same theme. This insult galled Ravel to the point of considering a lawsuit against the producers, but he eventually gave up on this…quixotic pursuit. The film’s loss is our gain, as these songs remain a popular vehicle for baritone voice, as rendered here by François Le Roux, one of the leading exponents of French chanson. Robert Tomas Alec Roth – A Time to Dance Ex Cathedra; Jeffrey Skidmore Hyperion CDA68144 !! Alex Roth’s A Time to Dance is divided into four major sections, each representing a season and time of day, with each featuring a different soloist: soprano for Spring Morning, tenor in Summer Noon, alto for Autumn Evening and bass in Winter Night. Adding choir and orchestra, the hour-long cantata, uses almost the same instrumentation as Bach’s Magnificat; thus the two works were paired for the cantata’s premiere performance by Ex Cathedra in 2012. With texts drawn from biblical verse as well as well-loved poets such as Blake, Dickinson, Donne, Manley Hopkins, Marlowe and Yeats, a fertile groundwork is provided for a great variety of expression in the music. The piece opens with the bass and choir singing from Ecclesiastes (To everything there is a season). Through Roth’s deft characterization, soprano Grace Davidson evokes the beauty of spring; tenor Samuel Boden the romance and sensuality of summer, alto Matthew Venner the ripeness of autumn and bass Greg Skidmore the gravity of winter. All come together for the marvellous Epilogue followed by an exuberant After-dance in which Roth expects the singers to hand-clap as well as actually dance. The other pieces included on the recording are a little more conventional and reserved, though still lovely; Roth’s Magnificat and Nunc dimittis is set for a smaller choir with a chamber organ part for left hand only; Men and Angels, for unaccompanied choir, showcases Ex Cathedra’s thoughtful and meticulous delivery. Dianne Wells CLASSICAL AND BEYOND In Search of Chopin A film by Phil Grabsky Seventh Art Productions SEV182 !! Traditionally, the lives of classical composers haven’t fared all that well on film. We have only to think back to Miloš Forman’s acclaimed Amadeus which, in the opinion of many music lovers, left something to be desired in its portrayal of Mozart as a childish jokester who also happened to be a musical genius. And certain biographies currently posted online seem questionable in quality. In Search of Chopin is something very different, a sensitive documentary by Phil Grabsky on the Seventh Art label and the fourth in his series of DVDs focusing on the lives of great composers. Through the use of exquisite photography, a well-delivered narration by Juliet Stevenson and readings by David Dawson of selected correspondence, In Search of Chopin takes the viewer on a 39-year journey, from the composer’s beginnings in Żelazowa Wola, Poland, to his untimely demise in France in 1849. Commentaries from those connected with the Chopin Institute in Warsaw and from musicologist Jeremy Siepmann further add to this compelling biography and from the beginning, I was struck by a wonderful sense of intimacy. The viewer becomes a privileged visitor to the rooms where Chopin lived and created – in Warsaw, in Vienna, at Nohant and his city of exile, Paris. Yet the film is more than a mere life story; indeed, it views the composer through his music more than most documentaries do. Interviews with renowned pianists such as Ronald Brautigam, Lars Vogt, Daniel Barenboim and Leif Ove Andsnes shed light on the composer’s output in new and revealing ways. Furthermore, the numerous musical examples seem particularly generous in length while those performed by Nelson Goerner, Kevin Kenner and Janusz Olejniczak in concert on an early Erard instrument with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century provide the viewer with a sound very close to what Chopin would have heard during his lifetime. Adept editing and attractive bonus features further add to the appeal of this exemplary biography, a worthy tribute to the “poet of the piano.” Highly recommended. Richard Haskell Mendelssohn – A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Hebrides Overture; Fair Melusine Overture Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Radio Choir; Thomas Dausgaard BIS Hybrid SACD 2166 !! Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg on February 3, 1809, and a no more prophetic name than Felix (Latin for “happy”) could have been given him if his music tells the tale. His ebullient Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written when he was 17 and was followed 17 years later by more miniatures to comprise a suite of Incidental Music. That he chose 76 | April 1, 2016 - May 7, 2016 thewholenote.com

to compose these extra pieces populated by those same scampering fairies of the Overture was brilliant. The Incidental Music is composed of the Overture that sets the stage and introduces the cast, followed by 13 pieces including the Scherzo, Nocturne, Intermezzo, Wedding March and other delights. Dausgaard’s tempi may feel slightly headlong, with an impetuosity that imbues a breathtaking expectancy even when we know the score well. This is a performance that has the listener leaning forward so as not to miss a single, unexpected nuance. Constant re-evaluation of textures in almost every chord is different in weight and balance from what we are used to, keeping us alert for what is to come. We can see those fairies being as disruptive as they are in Shakespeare. The uniquely mid-nineteenth-century quality of the score is brought out with extremely precise orchestral execution, transparent and articulate, adding a zing unlike any others. This is pure Mendelssohn and, for me, exemplary. Similarly, the two familiar overtures are meticulously prepared, drawing even a blasé listener into these interpretative revelations and performance bench marks. Bruce Surtees Concert Note: On April 9 and 10 the Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents “A Midsummer Night’s Dream & More” featuring Mendelssohn’s incidental music, Handel’s Harp Concerto, Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries under the baton of James Feddeck in his TSO debut. Miroirs: Dutilleux; Liszt Jonas Vitaud NoMadMusic NMM028 (nomadmusic.fr) !! Miroirs is a solo piano album of Romantic and 20th-century repertoire by French pianist Jonas Vitaud that stems, in part, from his work with Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) at the Cordessur-Ciel festival in 2004. The CD immediately transports us into harmonically adventurous worlds with Liszt’s Angelus, Klavierstück, Valse oubliée, Nuages gris and Dutilleux’s three Preludes: D’ombre et de silence, Sur un même accord, Le jeu des contraires (1973-1988). However, Vitaud has changed the order of the pieces and interjects a Dutilleux prelude between each of Liszt’s four late compositions. His rationale is to show parallels between the works written by these two very different composers, with Vitaud describing Liszt as a prolific virtuoso and Dutilleux as “a composer of the night.” The reordering may be confusing for a listener who is not following along with the liner notes, however Vitaud consistently conveys an acute awareness of harmonic colour and masterfully presents works that are not performed as often as they should be. The album gradually leads to Liszt’s virtuoso Mephisto Waltz before closing with Dutilleux’s musically and technically complex Piano Sonata Op.1 (1948). Dutilleux consciously defied classification and rejected a number of 20th-century compositional idioms while expanding elements of the Impressionist tradition. Many of his compositions are refined and deeply moving, such as the Choral et variations, the final movement in the piano sonata, which Vitaud delivers superbly. Particularly impressive is Vitaud’s ability to convey strength without harshness even in the most technically difficult passages, resulting in an innovative and beautifully performed CD, released to coincide with Dutilleux’s centenary. Dr. Réa Beaumont Woodwinds Woodwinds of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra RCO Live LC-14237 !! This varied, attractive program of 20th-century woodwind chamber music presented by Concertgebouw wind players is a credit to all concerned. For me the highlights are Poulenc’s Sextet (1932/39) and Jánaček’s Mládí (1924). The well-known Poulenc is played with sensitivity, and Jeroen Bal’s handling of the piano part is particularly subtle. Fine recordings of this work are numerous: the recent Berlin Counterpoint on Genuin is more energetic and virtuosic; while the London Conchord Ensemble on Champs Hill has a more reverberant acoustic. But to me, the shifting senses of nonchalance, dreaminess and high spirits in the composition are most stylishly captured in this reading. Jánaček’s late and wonderful Mládí evokes his memories of childhood in Moravia, with instrumental suggestions of speech, song, dance and play. The group projects frequent changes of activity and emotional tone confidently. Intonation is unfailingly accurate and Lucas Navarro’s oboe playing is particularly expressive. Martinů’s Sextet for Piano and Wind Instruments (1929) avoids consistent style and instrumentation. The Scherzo is to me the best movement; flutist Emily Beynon’s virtuosity and tone make it shine. Gershwin-jazzy passages burst in on several movements, and the Concertgebouw winds turn the whole into a witty, enjoyable experience. The early Sonatina for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon (1931) by Sándor Veress (1907-1992) features intriguing dissonance, attractive lyricism and vital rhythm in turn, all conveyed convincingly by the reed trio who seem throroughly at home with the work’s Hungarian folk idioms. Roger Knox MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Prokofiev – Piano Concertos 2 & 5 Vadym Kholodenko; Fort Worth Symphony; Miguel Harth-Bedoya Harmonia Mundi USA – HMU 807631 !! Among the plethora of emerging piano virtuosos a name to watch is Vadym Kholodenko, the Ukrainian winner of the 2013 Van Cliburn competition. Of special interest is his partnership with the Fort Worth Symphony including the recording of all five Prokofiev piano concertos. Kholodenko’s stylistic and technical rapport with conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya and orchestra shows in fine ensemble playing. I come to this Prokofiev Concerto No.2 (1913) with memories: Yefim Bronfman’s blazing performance with the Toronto Symphony; also novelist Philip Roth’s astounded account of Bronfman’s Prokofiev Two in The Human Stain. Khodolenko’s technique is fully sufficient yet he emphasizes expressive, lyrical aspects more, starting with the expansive opening melody. He even manages to make the cadenza’s romantic ballast sound meaningful. The perpetual motion Scherzo and heavy tramping Intermezzo have fewer expressive opportunities. The Finale does however, amid much virtuosic bravado that Kholodenko also navigates successfully. By 1932 when he wrote Concerto No.5 Prokofiev was seeking stylistic simplicity, no doubt under increasing pressure from the Soviet regime. Many passages show that he still had the ability to be both musically childlike and inventive. For example, the second movement’s clock-ticking motion becomes interesting with lightning quick scales and staccatos that pianist and orchestra make sound crystalline. In the fourth movement, the piano weaves beautifully around lyrical winds; later on, the performers achieve the required solemnity. I look forward to the other three concertos from this team. Roger Knox Bartók; Ligeti Ensemble InterContemporain; Matthias Pintscher Alpha 217 !! Though György Ligeti’s early largescale works brought him fame, his name was largely absent from North American thewholenote.com April 1, 2016 - May 7, 2016 | 77

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2020)

Volume 25 Issue 7 - April 2020
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Volume 21 Issue 6 - March 2016
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