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Volume 22 Issue 1 - September 2016

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  • September
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • October
  • Festival
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  • Musical
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Music lover's TIFF (our fifth annual guide to the Toronto International Film Festival); Aix Marks the Spot (how Brexit could impact on operatic co-production); The Unstoppable Howard Cable (an affectionate memoir of a late chapter in the life of of a great Canadian arranger; Kensington Jazz Story (the newest kid on the festival block flexes its muscles). These stories and much more as we say a lingering goodbye to summer and turn to the task, for the 22nd season, of covering the live and recorded music that make Southern Ontario tick.

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this brevity with heightened intensity and sense of mystery. Merdinger’s performance of the Debussy Estampes is a credit to her stylistic versatility, moving convincingly from Schubert and Brahms into the impressionistic tonalities of Pagodes and Jardins sous la pluie. The closing tracks with Concert Paraphrase on Verdi’s Rigoletto and the Hungarian Rhapsody No.12 reveal a pianist unbound, exercising the virtuosity and disciplined abandon required by Liszt. A wonderful compilation of performances from a Mozartwoche (Mozart Week) in Salzburg is what you’ll find on this DVD from Unitel Classica. Beethoven; Schubert; Mozart – Sir András Schiff; Cappella Andrea Barca (Cmajor 736508) contains the Beethoven Piano Concerto No.1 in C Major Op.15, Schubert Symphony No.5 in B-Flat Major D485 and Mozart Piano Concerto in E-flat Major K482. Recorded at the Mozarteum, these performances are extraordinary and produced to the highest standards. Camera shots of performers including Schiff himself are creative yet unobtrusive. Audio is perfect. The hall is glorious and the playing, well, it’s just divine. Schiff’s ensemble is rather small, numbering only 40. But these forces are historically appropriate for the music. The orchestra never sounds less than perfectly balanced and capable of musical gestures from the most intimate to the majestic. Schiff conducts, sometimes from the keyboard. His instrument is a Bechstein concert grand that responds in the most subtle ways to his pianissimo touch, yet naturally has the power to fill the hall. He formed this group in 1999. They play and breathe with remarkable unity. The experience of this recording can only be surpassed by seeing them live – and what a privilege that would be. Until then keep the DVD player close at hand. Boris Giltburg is a pianist who thinks pictorially. His recent disc Rachmaninov – Études-tableaux Op.39; Moments musicaux (Naxos 8.573469) contains his own liner notes in which he describes the images and scenes evoked by each of Rachmaninov’s Études-tableaux. Giltburg creates the tableaux before us, the mists, the forests, everything he imagines. And he does it masterfully. He whimsically describes No.6 in A Minor Op.39 as Rachmaninov’s dark retelling of Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Despite being études, the technical challenges pose no difficulty and Giltburg seems eager to get beyond them in order to mine the emotional core of each piece. The beauty of the Moments musicaux, Op.16 give Giltburg much more expressive latitude with tempi and he uses this to great advantage in the slower pieces No.1, No.3 and No.5 where a Barcarolle provides some respite before the Maestoso iteration of No.6 in C Major. Giltburg is a superb technician and an emotional player who indulges in no excesses and so, remains credible. He’s perfectly at home with the complexity of Rachmaninov’s short form works. We often think of Rachmaninov as a big scale composer, recalling his piano concertos and their vast sweep of musical ideas. Rachmaninov – Piano Sonata No.1, Variations on a theme of Corelli (Blue Griffin Recording BGR327) reminds us that this is also true of his piano sonatas. Pianist Jin Hwa Lee begins the Piano Sonata No.1 with control and clarity while bracing for the enormous physical demands of the opening movement’s second half. Her command of the music is impressive and her musicality eloquent. It shows in the slow second movement where her touch changes the opening colours most effectively. Lee masters the extreme contrasts of the final movement, lingering in the reposes before moving out into the larger, wilder passages we associate with Rachmaninov’s style. She understands this work as a whole, a complete unit, and holds it together as such. The Variations on a Theme of Corelli again demonstrate how well Lee understands Rachmaninov. Gone here is the deep Romanticism we associate with the concertos, and in its place a studied intellect moving creatively from one variation idea to the next. At Variation 15 Lee uses the nocturne-like interlude to regroup before launching into the last five and concluding with the Coda, ending on a few soft simple chords. She’s a powerful and thoughtful player with an excellent debut recording. Pianist, scholar and critic Phillip Evans is an acknowledged authority on the piano music of Bartók. His series of Bartók CDs received high praise from the New York Times. On Phillip Evans plays Bartók (ARTEK 00642) he revisits the Sonata (1926), a work of Bartók’s middle period. He describes it as a “new kind of piano virtuosity: huge chords, often rapidly repeated, large leaps and intricate embellishments.” Evans, even in the slower second movement, uses Bartók’s strong rhythms to propel the music. There’s a relentlessness about this music and Evans never wavers in applying it. The Six Romanian Folk Dances are smaller scale works. Evans plays them with sensitivity and imagination. The Stamping Dance is especially beautiful for the haunting way he manages to suspend the melody above the accompaniment. Improvisation on Hungarian Peasant Songs Op.20 is more adventurous in its treatment of the material. Evans plays the now familiar rhythmic chord clusters with requisite consistency but is always ready to yield to a melody, even if only a fragment. Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm is, according to Evans, more than just a set of dances. Using various combinations of four, two and three, Bartók builds a series of increasingly intricate and engaging “dances” that offer unique rhythms to start but add intriguing melodic fragments and even some Gershwinesque harmonies as well. In Piano Renaissance (jean-baptistemueller.com) Swiss pianist Jean-Baptiste Müller presents a program of his own compositions written in Baroque, Classical and Romantic styles. Müller is undeniably an excellent performer who has, nevertheless, chosen a less travelled path to advance his work. His record of festival and competition awards and public performances all point to his comprehensive grasp of the standard piano repertoire. His ability to present original ideas in such accurate historical modes is curiously impressive. Fuge in d is a four-voice fugue in the style of Bach as is the Chorale “Trockne meine Tränen mir in Deinem Lichte,” whose harmonic and voice part embellishments advance with each iteration of the chorale. Müller’s concert history shows numerous performances of works by Antonio Soler. This explains his familiarity with the style of the period and the remarkable kinship with his three Hommages à Soler that he performs on this disc. Valse de la Confrérie du Sabre d’Or is Chopin throughout and his ability to write so convincingly in that voice is amazing. Vika Variationen is, however, a fusion of the baroque and romantic and less tidy in its identification of style. But then, that’s perhaps where we face our contemporary dilemma. We are predisposed to keep our historical musical styles separate, wince a bit at mixing them and wonder profoundly why anyone would want to write something original using them. It seems somehow inauthentic. There’s no denying the quality of these compositions or the beauty of their performance. This disc is sure to get your attention and evoke a lingering curiosity. 60 | September 1, 2016 - October 7, 2016 thewholenote.com

Pianist, musicologist and educator, Luisa Guembes-Buchanan has added a new recording to her discography that currently includes Beethoven sonatas and works by Schumann and E.T.A. Hoffmann. On Schubert (Del Aguila DA 55312) Guembes-Buchanan performs the Sonata in C Minor D.958 and the Impromptu in A-Flat Major Op.90 No.4. The Sonata is Schubert’s third last, written in his final year. It’s a substantial work that takes a half hour to perform. Guembes- Buchanan launches into the opening C minor chord then commits to a steady and aggressive pace until the second theme emerges in a more tender and relaxed mood. She opens the second movement with a profoundly respectful statement of the opening idea, then navigates Schubert’s numerous key changes through to the final, somewhat hesitant reference to the opening bars. The fourth movement is busy and demands clear articulation for which Guembes-Buchanan pedals sparingly. The Impromptu in A-Flat Major Op.90 No.4 is a favourite and gratifying to hear played this well. The tempo is fast, making the many descending arpeggios very impressive. Guembes-Buchanan is an inspired Schubert interpreter. VOCAL♫ Monteverdi – Messa a quattro voci et salmi of 1650 Volume 1 The Sixteen; Harry Christophers Coro COR16142 !! Seven years after Claudio Monteverdi’s death, the publisher Vincenti, with help from Monteverdi’s pupil Francesco Cavalli, put together a volume of the composer’s unpublished works, consisting of Mass and Psalm settings, to which they added a work of Cavalli’s own. In this first volume of two devoted to this 1650 publication, Harry Christophers focuses on the salmi (psalms), his Beatus vir and Cavalli’s Magnificat, saving the Messa a quattro voci for the second volume. The psalm settings are characteristic of the gorgeous, rich harmonies, with just a smattering of highly affective dissonance; innovations resulting from the transition from renaissance to baroque that Monteverdi pioneered through his long compositional career. Harry Christophers and The Sixteen understand the repertoire well and perform the many affectations and embellishments with great beauty and exceptionally polished skill. For example, the polyphonic five-voice setting of Psalm 121, Laetatus sum (I was glad when they said unto me) is highly virtuosic and contrasts nicely with the six-voice, more declamatory Laetaniae della Beata Vergine (Litany of the Blessed Virgin) in which Mary’s many virtues are presented as somewhat of a list, but so meditative that one never feels even a hint of monotony in the repetition. With beauty such as this, Volume II is keenly anticipated. Dianne Wells Handel – Giulio Cesare Scholl; Bartoli; von Otter; Jaroussky; Il Giardino Armonico; Giovanni Antonini Decca 074 3856 Handel – Saul Purves; Davies; Crowe; Bevan; Appleby; Hulett; Graham-Hall; Glyndebourne Chorus; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; Ivor Bolton Opus Arte OA 1216 D Handel – Hercules DiDonato; Shimell; Bohlin; Spence; Ernman; Kirkbride; Les Arts Florissants; William Christie BelAir Classics BAC213 !! Until the 1960s the operas of Handel and his contemporaries, including Giulio Cesare, were generally viewed as unstageable. There was, however, a remarkable breakthrough with the production by the New York City Opera in 1966. It was a production that would not pass today’s standards of authenticity. Most seriously, the part of Caesar was transposed an octave down and given to a baritone. But the production, which I saw and remember well, certainly put the opera on the map. Other productions followed as did recordings. I, myself, am very fond of the recording conducted by René Jacobs with Jennifer Larmore and Barbara Schlick. Operagoers of a certain age will remember the time when the main function of a director seems to have been to make sure that the members of the chorus did not get in the way of the soloists. The role of the director is now taken more seriously. In many ways that is a good thing as it has led to thoughtfully conceived work (I am thinking of the COC’s recent La Traviata and of Joel Ivany’s revised Carmen). On the other hand, the now important role of the director may lead to productions which are self-indulgent and self-promoting. I fear that has been the case with the Giulio Cesare under review. It was first staged at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival in 2012. It accents heavily the contemporary relevance: when the overture is played, there is a battle taking place on the stage (the booklet that comes with the DVD makes clear that this is meant to evoke the American invasion of Iraq). The treacherous Ptolemy, Cleopatra’s brother and consort, is likened to the late Colonel Gaddafi. On the other hand, there is also a contemporary reference of a very different kind: Cleopatra’s wig, when she visits Caesar in his camp, is clearly meant to invoke Elizabeth Taylor when she played the role. Elsewhere Cleopatra enters in combat uniform with a Tina Turner wig. Much of the singing is excellent. I particularly liked Anne Sofie von Otter as Pompey’s widow Cornelia and Philippe Jaroussky as his son Sesto. It is too bad that the directorial quirks overshadow the musical qualities of the performance. Both Saul and Hercules are oratorios and were not meant to be staged. But the reasons for that are largely historical and, in the case of sacred subjects, ideological. Many of them are suitable for theatrical realization as a number of recent productions have shown. This Saul, which has the superb Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, concentrates on madness. It was first performed at Glyndebourne in 2015. The production shows how madness is a destructive force, towards others but also towards the self. In the second part Saul goes to consult the Witch of Endor and asks her to conjure up the ghost of Samuel. Samuel is sung by Saul himself: this convincingly suggests that we are dealing here with an inner debate. Of the singers, I was especially impressed by the countertenor Iestyn Davies, who sings David. Christopher Purves (Saul and Samuel), Lucy Crowe (Merab), Sophie Bevan (Michal) and Paul Appleby (Jonathan) are also very good. Hercules is a triumph, both because of the subtle conducting by William Christie and because of the imaginative staging by the late Luc Bondy. It is based on a staging at the Aix-en-Provence Festival and the Opéra National de Paris shortly afterwards. Les Arts Florissants is the excellent orchestra. A distinguishing aspect of the staging is the thewholenote.com September 1, 2016 - October 7, 2016 | 61

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2019)

Volume 24 Issue 8 - May 2019
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