6 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 9 - Summer 2016

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It's combined June/July/August summer issue time with, we hope, enough between the covers to keep you dipping into it all through the coming lazy, hazy days. From Jazz Vans racing round "The Island" delivering pop-up brass breakouts at the roadside, to Bach flute ambushes strolling "The Grove, " to dozens of reasons to stay in the city. May yours be a summer where you find undiscovered musical treasures, and, better still, when, unexpectedly, the music finds you.

Plenty of piano students

Plenty of piano students have played the four-hands Dolly Suite Op.56 by Gabriel Fauré. This performance is well-paced. Messieu Aoul and Le pas espagnol are especially admirable for the coordinated energy and execution they require. The highlight of the CD is a four-hands arrangement of George Gershwin’s An American in Paris. It’s an autobiographical work recounting Gershwin’s own time there in the mid-1920s. It features some obvious references early in the work to the set of authentic Parisian taxi horns Gershwin had purchased during his trip. Lowenthal and Brown seem most at home in this piece, really feeling the deep melancholy of the blues section, as well as the jazzy syncopations that drive so much of the music. Ernst Krenek was one of the 20th century’s most stylistically complete composers whose vocabulary gave him creative access to both historical and contemporary expression. On Ernst Krenek – Piano Music, Volume One (Toccata Classics TOCC 0298), Ukrainian-born Stanislav Khristenko performs a well-balanced program of Krenek’s compositions. The Piano Sonata No.4 Op.114 (1948) is a work in which Khristenko demonstrates Krenek’s ability to move seamlessly between ideas that are tonally centred and others that aren’t. Khristenko not only captures the neo-romantic essence of Krenek’s language, but also the unsettling elements of the composer’s early life that express themselves in the edgy phrasing he uses to evoke the changed world emerging from the two world wars. Khristenko’s choice of the George Washington Variations, Op.120 (1950) is especially entertaining for its use of all of Krenek’s favourite devices. Deployed as they are, they move an opening 19th-century military march through a metamorphosis of clever changes in which Khristenko never lets go of the initial musical idea. Krenek held a lifelong devotion to the music of Franz Schubert. He spent years coming to understand the genius of Schubert’s music, its design and balance, especially as present in his lieder. Krenek’s decision to complete Schubert’s Piano Sonata in C Major D840 is based solely on the existence of sufficient thematic material in the final two movements to make credible development possible. Naturally, it’s difficult to listen to this Schubert without also listening for some Krenek. Khristenko is also currently working on recording the complete works of Krenek as well as a recording of Soler sonatas. It can be understandably difficult to get terribly excited about a recording of an upright piano, especially if it’s old, really old, say 1834. So why would Alex Szilasi record Chopin Berceuse, Barcarolle & Impromptus (Hungaroton HCD32473) on an old Pleyel upright? Evidently this one is special – Chopin played it. Pleyel Company archives show that Chopin played it at the factory in Paris and selected it for the Russian ambassador. He liked this particular model so much that he ordered one for himself. Both instruments were delivered to adjacent apartments at the ambassador’s residence where Chopin was a frequent guest. While Chopin’s piano was eventually lost, the other instrument has survived fully authenticated. This is its recording debut. Chopin favoured the Pleyel piano for its soft tone. It was doublestrung in its middle and upper registers and therefore softer than later triple-strung instruments. It responds to the gentlest touch to produce nearly inaudible pianissimos. Aggressive or heavy touch tends to cause distortion on these instruments, so Chopin would have favoured them for very specific repertoire, and certainly nothing terribly bombastic, hence this CD’s program of more tender compositions. Szilasi creates some amazing effects with the instrument. The rapid chromatic runs in the right hand through the upper octaves of the keyboard sound extremely fragile like a web of silk threads, yet they remain clear although very soft. This is best heard in the Impromptu in F-Sharp Major Op.36. The familiar Fantasie-Impromptu in C-Sharp Minor Op.72 is also a dramatic contrast to the more muscular performances commonly heard on modern pianos. Alex Szilasi has created a thought-provoking recording that gives us a glimpse of how Chopin would have heard and played his own music 180 years ago. VOCAL Alessandro Scarlatti – La Gloria di Primavera Moore; Ograjenšek; van der Linde; Phan; Williams; Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale; Nicholas McGegan Philharmonia PDP-09 !! Alessandro Scarlatti was a major composer of the early 18th century, particularly known as a composer of opera. Since then his work has virtually disappeared. La gloria di primavera is not an opera but a serenata composed to mark the birth of the Archduke Leonard, the son of the emperor Charles VI, in 1716. Structurally the work is like an opera seria, with its alternation of recitatives and arias (mostly da capo), only one duet and few ensembles. The characters are allegories of the four seasons: Spring (the mezzo Diana Moore), Summer (the soprano Suzana Ograjenšek), Autumn (the countertenor Clint van der Linde) and Winter (the tenor Nicholas Phan). The four cannot agree on who can take the credit for the birth of the baby and they agree to ask Jove (the bass-baritone Douglas Williams) to adjudicate. The singing and the orchestral playing on this CD are splendid but overall my sense is that the work does not represent Scarlatti at his best. The section near the end contrasting the devastation caused by the War of the Spanish Succession with the peace established in 1713 (the Peace of Utrecht) is splendid, but the basic plot strikes me as pretty flimsy. Hans de Groot La Pentecôte: Bach – Cantates 68, 173, 174, 184 Mauch; Bertin; Daniels; Sarragosse; Montréal Baroque; Eric Milnes ATMA ACD2 2405 !! The Montreal Baroque Festival is held every summer in the historic churches, factories and warehouses of Old Montreal, and for the past six summers recording label ATMA has partnered with them to produce a recording of Bach’s cantatas, with discerningly spare vocal forces (one voice to each part) accompanied by period ensemble. This latest in the series features cantatas Bach composed between 1724 and 1729 for Pentecost, celebrated in the liturgical calendar 50 days after Easter Sunday. Bach’s realization of the themes of the Pentecost, the tongues of flame, the rushing wind, the spreading of the word as well as Christ’s revelation of God’s love for the world in BWV68, Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt (God so loved the world) which begins with chorale and ends with a quite busy and complex choral movement on a quotation from the Gospel of John, in which the four soloists race along beautifully together. In this and many of the others featured on the disc, Bach borrows from previous works, in this case two arias from his Hunting Cantata. Soprano Monika Mauch, countertenor Pascal Bertin, tenor Charles Daniels and bass Jean-Claude Sarragosse have lovely arias throughout the cantatas and the orchestra some lovely mirroring of parts throughout. Such a gem; we hope for many more annual releases from the festival. Dianne Wells

Concert Note: Eric Milnes conducts Bande Montréal Baroque and a cast of rising young singers in Bach Cantatas 76, 79 and 80 at the Montreal Baroque Festival June 26. Ferdinando Bertoni – Orfeo Genaux; Lombardi-Mazzulli; Petryka; Accademia di Santo Spirito de Ferrara; Ensemble Lorenzo da Ponte; Roberto Zarpellon Fra Bernardo FB 1601729 (frabernardo. com) !! Ferdinando Bertoni’s Orfeo ed Euridice was first performed in 1776, 14 years after Gluck’s opera on the same subject. The two operas use the same libretto (by Calzabigi) and, in both cases, the role of Orfeo was first sung by the castrato Gaetano Guadagno. Bertoni was clearly aware of the Gluck opera and the two works have a great deal in common: no more da capo arias and an increased role for the orchestra and for the chorus. No one is likely to prefer Bertoni’s work to that of Gluck: it lacks the aggressiveness of the Furies or the celestial calm of the Elysian Fields or the pathos of Orfeo’s lament when he loses Eurydice for the second time. The English 18th-century musicologist Charles Burney once wrote that Bertoni’s operas “would please and soothe by their grace and facility, but not disturb an audience by enthusiastic turbulence.” The comment is a little snarky and certainly very English but not altogether unfair. Casting a singer for a role created by a castrato always involves problems. John Eliot Gardiner has both performed and recorded Gluck’s opera and has always used a countertenor in the main part. He argues that casting a female mezzo or alto constitutes a “deplorable” distortion. But we don’t really know what an 18th-century castrato sounded like and we have no guarantee that a modern countertenor comes closer than a female singer. In this recording the part of Orfeo is taken by the mezzo Vivica Genaux and she is splendid. It is probably true that Bertoni “never had sufficient genius and fire to attain the sublime” (Burney again) and that he was not a major composer like Gluck. Still, there is plenty to enjoy in this recording. Recommended. Hans de Groot Schubert – Winterreise Jesse Blumberg; Martin Katz Blue Griffin Records BGR393 ( !! It is a rare occurrence when the accompanist in a recording is more of a household name than the singer; at the same time, it is refreshing to see the older, accomplished musician supporting a younger generation of singers. Pianist Martin Katz, who is well known for his performances with Marilyn Horne, Frederica von Stade, José Carreras, Kiri Te Kanawa and Kathleen Battle, first performed Schubert’s poignant song cycle Winterreise with Jesse Blumberg at Chicago’s Collaborative Works Festival, an annual celebration of art song, showcasing up-and-coming singers. While the young baritone clearly possesses the ability to provide all the necessary dramatic aplomb, Katz underscores the performance with all the intelligent expressivity of a supremely knowledgeable and seasoned veteran. And, at the same time, both manage to present this mixture of pathos and bluster whilst never sacrificing the beauty of exquisite tone and lyricism. The richness of this baritone voice also has a lovely upper register realized in Die Nebensonnen near the end of the song cycle, finishing with the tender yet strangely detached observation of the Hurdy-Gurdy Man (Der Leiermann). A lovely and sensitive rendition of a most complex and challenging work. Dianne Wells Concert Note: Jesse Blumberg is one of four young singers featured in Bach Cantatas 76, 79 and 80 at the Montreal Baroque Festival June 26. Eric Milnes conducts Bande Montréal Baroque. Bizet – Carmen Rice; Hymel; Argiris; Kovalevska; Royal Opera House; Constantinos Carydis Opus Arte OA 1197 D Bizet – Les Pêcheurs de perles Ciofi; Korchak; Solari; Tagliavini; Orchestra e Coro del Teatro di San Carlo; Gabriele Ferro Cmajor 719508 !! This release calls itself a film, but in reality it’s a DVD of Francesca Zambello’s 2006 staging that has seen better days like Jonas Kaufmann and Anna Caterina Antonacci, big name stars, but in another video. There were movies made of Carmen very successfully in the past with beautiful Seville as backdrop, real mountains, real bullfights, but this is nothing of the sort. It is shot in HD and even in 3D, obviously aimed at the mass market, because “Carmen sells” even for people who don’t know or care much about opera. The score is cut heavily by leaving out the “boring bits” like the intermezzos between acts, some of Bizet’s most beautiful music, making a rather short opera even shorter. The staging is traditional, expertly directed with unremarkable sets that leave lots of empty space for big crowds. There You can find enhanced reviews of all discs below the yellow line in The WholeNote listening room. This recording is most extensive reconstruction of cabaret acts created by brilliant Jewish artists in the Theresienstadt concentration camp during WWII, for the first time in English! The new album by pianist, Florian Hoefner, winner of the Montréal Jazz Festival Rising Star Award 2015. “A composer-bandleader of insightful resolve.” (NY Times) 32 CDs of the Complete Works of Bartók, including never before recorded early piano and vocal works Deutsche Grammophon’s 64 CD set completes its deluxe survey of this legend. Presented in original sleeves and couplings! June 1, 2016 - September 7, 2016 | 79

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