7 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 9 - Summer 2016

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  • Festival
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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.

are all kinds of animals

are all kinds of animals on stage, chickens, a donkey plus a beautiful black horse that carries in the torero Escamillo (Aris Argiris) who sings his big entry number on horseback. The production deserves praise for giving a chance to young singers who are attractive, enthusiastic, look the part, relaxed and athletic with fine, strong voices. American tenor Bryan Hymel is no Alagna or Kaufmann, but has a strong, attractive voice and a certain vulnerability of character that makes him a believable Don José. His Flower Aria gets the biggest applause, deservedly. The role of Carmen is certainly what makes or breaks this opera and ROH chose mellifluous British mezzo Christine Rice who puts in an energetic and compelling performance and develops her character nicely from a seductress to tragic, defiant heroine, but the seconda donna, Maija Kovalevska (Micaela), an already highly accomplished Latvian soprano of wonderful stage presence, is a nice surprise and a joy to hear and behold. Most likely known by the famous duet Au fond du temple saint between the two male principals, Bizet’s second most famous opera has shared the fate of Carmen by being a disastrous failure on its premiere, so totally unappreciated by the French petit bourgeoisie that it pushed its genius composer into an early grave. Nevertheless Les Pêcheurs de perles remains an exotic, atmospheric, gorgeously melodic score, coming to us from the resplendent 18th-century San Carlo opera house of Naples that has a 250-year tradition of singing excellence. Fabio Sparvoli’s visionary staging, all in shades of beautiful blues, evokes sultry Arabian Nights. There is an ever-present ballet of sinuous dancers representing the spirits of the sea, sometimes playful, sometimes menacing as in the third act when it all turns into bloodthirsty madness. The heroine is a beautiful priestess enslaved by the Brahmins to keep her chastity on pain of death, but she defies her fate by falling in love, bringing on the wrath of Brahma, the creator god, and the morbidly superstitious mob of the pearl fisher community. Italian spinto soprano, Patrizia Ciofi, famous for her supple, light, wonderfully expressive voice, deserves the highest praise as the priestess Leila, a role ranging from religious chant to dreamy love song in the night, a love duet and later tempestuous rage fighting for the life of her beloved. The lover, Nadir, is Russian lyric tenor sensation, Dmitry Korchak, who delivers the romance Je crois entendre encore, one of the most beloved melodies ever written and even turned into a pop song. Uruguayan baritone Dario Solari is a powerful and noble Zurga who gives up the girl he loves and brings death on himself by letting the lovers escape. Conducted with great expertise by the 80-year-old master, Gabriele Ferro. Beautiful story, enchanting music, eye-popping scenery. A moving performance. Janos Gardonyi Nielsen – Saul & David Reuter; Riis; Petersen; Kristensen; Staugaard; Resmark; Royal Danish Orchestra and Opera Chorus; Michael Schønwandt Dacapo 2.110412 !! This exciting DVD presents Carl Nielsen’s remarkable opera Saul and David (1901) recorded live at the Royal Danish Opera, in a production celebrating Nielsen’s 150th birthday. It offers a stellar cast, Michael Schønwandt’s brilliant conducting, David Pountney’s provocative stage direction and optional English or Danish subtitles. The work’s availability on DVD should gratify both Nielsen fans and novices. Bass-baritone Johan Reuter is outstanding as the conflicted King Saul. Through powerful acting and expressive singing he defines the dominant yet crisis-ridden character effectively. Morten Staugaard, as implacable Samuel, and Susanne Resmark, as the Witch of Endor, are surely highlights. Tenors Niels Jørgen Riis (David) and Michael Kristensen (Jonathan) and soprano Ann Petersen (Michal) are strong individually and in ensemble; David grows from a tentative opening to energetic emergence as the new king. This approach, to be sure, limits his vocal effectiveness in Act One, compared to David’s harp-accompanied solo and romantic duet with Michal sung by Alexander Young and Elisabeth Søderstrom on an Opera D’Oro CD of the work. Pountney’s production updates Saul and David to our contemporary world: people in apartments watching the action on television; witty choreography of instrumental preludes suggesting frustrating peace negotiations. The director describes Samuel as a religious fundamentalist, restricting us, I think, from considering adequately his prophetic vision for the people of Israel. By the end, though, tremendous performances of Nielsen’s stunning choruses and orchestral support do convey fully the people’s convictions. Roger Knox Rautavaara – Rubaiyat; Balada; Canto V; Four Songs from Rasputin Gerald Finley; Mika Pohjonen; Helsinki Music Centre Choir; Helsinki Philharmonic; John Storgårds Ondine ODE 1274-2 !! Amongst the works that took the composer’s entire life to complete, pride of place belongs to Rubaiyat. Rautavaara vowed to set Edward FitzGerald’s 19th-century translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in 1949, while still a music student. It took 63 years and prodding in the form of a commission from Wigmore Hall for a song cycle destined for Gerald Finley. Well, it was well worth the wait. Rubaiyat is nothing short of a magical piece of music. Over the years, Rautavaara’s musical style transmuted from neo-classicism, dodecaphony, serialism, neo-romantic and post-modern styles into a unique synthesis of all of these, as Kimmo Korhonen writes in detailed liner notes. The music shimmers and glistens, while creating quite a challenge for the voice – the almost continuous melodic lines, requiring circular breathing. Finley, whose voice sounds even better than in the past (a small gift that Father Time dispenses to some baritones and mezzos) excels at bringing into his interpretation the philosophical stance of Khayyam. The rich mix of orchestral and vocal colour is intoxicating. This is most definitely one of those gems that will be taken out of its box and admired frequently – both by listeners and singers. The rest of the album is by no means just filler. It contains Balada, an abandoned and then truncated opera based on texts by Lorca, and arias from Rautavaara’s latest opera, Rasputin. The young Finnish tenor, Mika Pohjonen and the Helsinki Music Centre Choir are perfect partners to Finley in this venture. Robert Tomas Jennifer Higdon – Cold Mountain Gunn; Leonard; Fons; Hunter Morris; Honeywell; Santa Fe Opera; Miguel Harth-Bedoya PentaTone PTC 5186 583 ! ! The PentaTone series continues with yet another world premiere recording, this one better known as an awardwinning novel (and a Hollywood movie starring Nicole Kidman and Renée Zellweger). A Civil War epic detailing the desertion and journey home of confederate soldier W.P. Inman and the struggles of his faithful wife Ada, Cold Mountain is much admired by both readers and filmgoers. This creates a problem of its own – the towering libretto, faithful to the book, seems to subjugate Jennifer Higdon’s music and almost relegates it to a form of soundtrack. Higdon is a well-regarded composer and recipient of a Pulitzer Prize, a Grammy and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Here, the constraints

of the opera bear heavily on her, stifling full creative freedom. She still delivers a score full of beautiful moments and mesmerizing violin writing, managing to endow each character with a musical signature of their own. While listening to this recording, one can only imagine how much greater the music could have been if only it were burdened with a lesser-known libretto. I have no doubt that Cold Mountain was more successful on stage. In fact, the visuals would have helped greatly and perhaps this release should have been a DVD film. For listeners familiar with the book and the movie, it will be a fine reminder of their experience. For the rest of the audience, it may remain a mystery – an opera hesitant to assert itself beyond the libretto. The cast is uniformly good, and we must add a shoutout to Toronto’s own Robert Pomakov, whose agile bass is a pleasure to hear. Robert Tomas EARLY MUSIC AND PERIOD PERFORMANCE Pardessus de Viole Mélisande Corriveau; Eric Milnes ATMA ACD2 2729 !! The elegant music featured on this recording was written for a now largely abandoned instrument – pardessus de viole. This smallest member of the viola da gamba family originated in France at the end of the 17th century and had a brief life span of just over 100 years. While pardessus de viole exemplified French aesthetics and their sophisticated musical tastes and values, it was forsaken with the arrival of the Revolution, which did not stand for the same ideals. Featured composers – Barrière, Caix D’ Hervelois, Boismortier and Dollé – are among many prominent French composers who wrote for this instrument at the height of its popularity. However the selection of pieces on this recording is mostly unpublished and carefully chosen from the microfilm collections of the Bibliothéque nationale de France. What grabbed me immediately was the sound of the “woman’s violin” (as it was nicknamed once upon a time) – pure, light yet robust at times, textured as a crossover between the flute and the violin. Mélisande Corriveau elicits an array of emotions out of her instrument. The virtuosic passages in Jean Barrière’s Sonata in G Major suit her very well but she is equally colourful in depicting the feelings of sorrow in Dollé’s Les Regrets. Eric Milnes is a resourceful and imaginative harpsichord player; together they offer a charming array of ornamentations, making this music a gesture of nobility from the past. Ivana Popovic Composed to the soul: Abel; Hasse – Concerti; Quartetti; Arie Dorothee Mields; Hamburger Ratsmusik; Simone Eckert CPO 777 911-2 !! This beautifully programmed recording offers two quartets, a concerto and an aria by the esteemed 18th-century gambist Carl Friedrich Abel, and an aria by his contemporary Johann Adolf Hasse. Not household names, perhaps, but well worth a listen. The quartets, contemporary transcriptions of two standard string quartets from 1768, make for most pleasant listening. The shift in sonic balance created by giving the first violin part to the bass viol gives a welcome depth and richness to the ensemble sound. The group’s playing is expressive and focused, and it’s also nice to hear tempos that are more laid-back than today’s breakneck norm: the humour and variety of musical gesture in the Allegro con spirito of the Quartet in B Flat, for example, isn’t trumped by the technical mastery required to play it. Michael Fürst plays the solo part of Abel’s two-movement harpsichord concerto with wit and thoughtful brilliance, and his colleagues of the Hamburger Ratsmusik are stylishly eloquent throughout. Soprano Dorothee Mields joins the group for two substantial arias, Abel’s sole surviving vocal piece, Frena le belle lagrime from Sifari (1767), and an aria from Hasse’s La Didone abbandonata (1742). As always, Mields sings with extraordinary musical grace and suppleness. The latter aria is also a contemporary transcription, giving the original obbligato flute part to the viol, which Eckert plays beautifully. Composed to the soul, indeed. I’ll be listening to this one again, and I hope you do too. Alison Melville 1753 – Livre de Montréal Yves-G. Préfontaine ATMA ACD2 2717 !! The brand-new organ in this recording is a replica of an instrument (no longer extant) built in 1753 in Paris for the Cathedral in Quebec City. It contains ten stops, all but two of which are divided, offering different timbres to the upper and lower halves of the keyboard. The repertoire features works likely known to 18th-century Quebec players, including a six-movement Magnificat from the so-called Montreal Organ Book, the manuscript transported to New France in 1724 and discovered in the 1980s. The composers of the nearly 400 pieces in this collection are not named, but a couple of dozen are definitively attributed to Nicolas Lebègue. Appropriately, a further group by Lebègue (not from the MOB) follows, alongside representative compositions from his period by Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers, Louis Marchand and Jean Henry D’Anglebert. There are 34 tracks; each piece lasts on average just over two minutes. Generally in classical French keyboard music one anticipates descriptive titles but there is only one, Lebègue’s “Les Cloches,” with its descending four-note scale suggesting bells. The rest are either liturgical pieces or fugues and other abstract types. The divided stops show to advantage in several pieces with prominent bass solos or based on dialogue between registers. Préfontaine demonstrates remarkable variety of approach and a good deal of freedom within the French baroque style, recalling the comment of a great figure in this music, François Couperin: “We write differently from what we play.” The performances are intelligently lifted off the page. The disc is well produced and a pleasure to hear. Listeners curious about how the Chapelle instrument looks as well as how it sounds may be disappointed however: front and back cover photos show portions of it, but the only artist photo shows Préfontaine at a much larger console, unidentified. John Beckwith CLASSICAL AND BEYOND The Last Concert: Mendelssohn – Incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique Berliner Philharmoniker; Claudio Abbado Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings BPHR 160081 !! Claudio Abbado was conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra from 1990 to 2002, succeeding the iconic Herbert von Karajan who had died in 1989. On an evening in May 2013 Abbado returned to conduct his last concert with the orchestra and as such it was a rather special event. What to program on such an occasion? There is no absolute answer but after hearing and seeing the concert one must agree that the choice was a right one. This wasn’t an audition for anyone but a final get-together of equals to make some music. This isn’t wishful thinking but there was a oneness between conductor and the orchestra here that produced a solidly romantic view of the shenanigans in the Mendelssohn and solidified the passing phantasmal delusions in the Berlioz. This really was a splendid event. To commemorate the second anniversary of Abbado’s death, his last concert with them has been issued by the Berlin Philharmonic June 1, 2016 - September 7, 2016 | 81

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