7 years ago

Volume 22 Issue 4 - December 2016/January 2017

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  • December
  • Toronto
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In this issue: a conversation with pianist Stewart Goodyear, in advance of his upcoming show at Koerner Hall; a preview of the annual New Year’s phenomenon that is Bravissimo!/Salute to Vienna; an inside look at music performance in Toronto’s health-care centres; and a reflection on the incredible life and lasting influence of the late Pauline Oliveros. These and more, in a special December/January combined issue!

Solveig’s Song,

Solveig’s Song, respectively, reflect this most poignantly. There’s plenty of raw folk energy as well though; March of the Trolls (Lyric Pieces Book V, Op.54) and In the Hall of the Mountain King (Peer Gynt Suite No.1) leave no doubt about the dark side of Nordic myths. !! This new recording Homages: Bach- Busoni; Mendelssohn; Franck; Chopin; Liszt (Decca 483 0255) by Benjamin Grosvenor is youthful, powerful and profoundly exciting. At age 24 Grosvenor seems already to have conquered everything. Completely unhindered by technical challenges, he probes the alternating quiet and explosive episodes of Romantic works that look to the past for inspiration. Busoni’s arrangement of Bach’s Chaconne from BWV1004 is titanic yet floats soul searchingly through its many still moments. He plays Mendelssohn’s Fugue: Allegro con fuoco from Op.35 No.5 at an impossible speed with unbelievable clarity. Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-sharp Major Op.60 is voiced so superbly that it often sounds like two separate pianos. With selections from Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage, Grosvenor reaches the pinnacle of his Homages to conclude an astonishing program that sets the heart racing. !! Pianist Kirill Gerstein is as eloquent in interview as he is at the keyboard. The notes in Liszt – Transcendental Études (Myrios Classics MYR01) are insightful answers to questions about the transcendental nature of these études. Gerstein argues that their extreme difficulty leads to a heightened technique that transcends the traditional requirements of playing the instrument. He then describes Liszt’s intention that this transcendence go beyond the physical and technical. Likening the performance of the cycle to the disciplined movement of Tai Chi, Gerstein describes his own experience in overcoming the technical challenges of these pieces. For him, it was as if he combined the discipline and exertion of a martial art with meditation to find that the transcending experience lay not just in the music but in the actual execution. This becomes very clear as the performance reveals his virtuosic ease with the most difficult passages of Feux follets, Ricordanza and Wilde Jagd. And when Liszt’s moments of resolution or repose occur, Gerstein is so obviously playing from someplace deeply and internally transcendent that his assertions about the experience become remarkably credible. It’s a beautifully performed set of the Études and equally well recorded. !! Deeper quests for meaning are becoming less rare among performers of all ages. In Johann Sebastian Bach – French Suites (Deutsche Grammophon 479 6565) Murray Perahia titles his notes “A Personal Devotion” and describes his lifelong love of Bach ignited by a performance of the St. Matthew Passion under Pablo Casals in the early 1960s. What moved the young Perahia was the humanity of Casal’s approach. It rejected the strict mechanical conventions of the time and channelled the composer’s voice through more modern sensibilities. Perahia himself was greatly discouraged by the preference for the harpsichord and rejection of the piano as a legitimate instrument for Bach’s keyboard music. After two years of harpsichord study, he decided to return to his first keyboard love and bring to it some of the harpsichord technique he’d acquired. This hybridization has produced a style of Baroque piano playing that has all the lightness of the period instruments but brings to it the emotional palette of our present day. Perahia’s playing is consequently a product of considerable forethought. His application of the whole range of the piano’s expressive capability is carefully measured. He pedals very lightly, articulates L/R L/R immaculately and communicates superbly. !! Alain Lefèvre is one of Quebec’s best-selling recording artists. A recent stay in Greece was the inspiration behind his newest CD Sas Agapo (Analekta AN 2 9297). Lefèvre is widely known for his creative and improvisational gift as well as his formidable keyboard technique. Combined, they ensure that his performances are highly engaging and entertaining. Sas Agapo is a collection of programmatic expressions for the piano – a musical album of Aegean experiences. Lefèvre’s inspirations are both visual and emotional. Something as simple as watching an elderly couple enjoying a seaside picnic becomes the creative kernel for Promenade à Kavouri. The piece is melancholic yet light and drifts between numerous short episodes punctuated by beautifully placed dissonances. The opening track Sas Agapo is highly stylized to reflect the modal nature of traditional Greek music. Its charged rhythms are instantly captivating and Lefèvre’s repeated keyboard runs are part of the electrifying experience of listening to this piece. Romance, personal loss and the general future of humanity are some of the other musings that take shape in this recording. Its conclusion is the wonderfully colourful and impish character piece Grand Carnival in which Lefèvre shows off some of his most impressive skills as composer and performer. Concert note: On January 21 Alain Lefèvre is featured in André Mathieu’s Rhapsody romantique as part of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s “Canadian Legacy” concert at Roy Thomson Hall. !! The Goldberg Variations are most often heard performed on piano, and we’ve come to assume that new recordings of the work will, naturally, be played that way. So, while harpsichord performances have narrower appeal, it’s a delight to encounter one so completely engaging and satisfying as in Bach – Goldberg Variations, Mahan Esfahani (Deutsche Grammophon 479 5929). Here’s a performance with enough zest and colour to rival your favourite piano version. Esfahani achieves this several ways. He plays with a clean and agile technique. He is tastefully impressive with his elaborate ornamentations. His phrasings benefit from tempo relaxation at critical points in the melodic line. And perhaps most of all, he’s just not in a rush to get to the end. Esfahani loves to explore the inner voices of these variations, challenging enough on a harpsichord, but skillfully managed with clever use of changing registrations between the instrument’s two keyboards. The recording appears to be made with large parts of the work (possibly all of it) played direct to recording without stopping for more than a second or two between variations to change keyboard stops (sounds). Performers who do this argue for the impact of the interpretive continuity this creates. Efahani’s performance bears this out once again. A fascinating feature of this recording lies in a brief note from the harpsichord technician who describes his tuning approach and explains his choices for sweeter major thirds in the keys of G and D, the home for most of the variations. !! Before playing Nada in Hamburg – Johannes Brahms (MEII Enterprises 261 43930) one has to accept Nada Loutfi’s stylistic premise that the young Brahms played very much lighter pianos while in Hamburg. This would require a distinct departure from conventional approaches. Accents would be shorter, there would be more staccato and a great deal less use of the sustain pedal. Loutfi argues that modern interpretations overload and misrepresent the sound Brahms L/R L/R 78 | December 1, 2016 - February 7, 2017

imagined at the time of these compositions. As if to underscore her point, she programs two pieces for the left hand, where performers generally tend to pedal more generously in order to bridge the gaps the single hand is to required leap. The Bach Chaconne for the Violin, (Étude No.5) and the Étude for piano for the left hand after Franz Schubert (Étude No.6) both require a moment for the ear to adjust but quickly establish a credibility based on Loutfi’s sensitive and intelligent phrasings. The Schubert, especially, becomes an extraordinarily beautiful technical display. From Brahms’ Eleven Chorales for Organ Op.122, Loutfi plays No.s2, 4 and 8. The organ score is for manuals alone and the parts so intricately woven that it’s often impossible to solo the chorale over the surrounding accompaniment. Nevertheless Loutfi does a wonderful job using the piano’s dynamic advantage to achieve this very feat. The Sonata Op.1 No.1 in C Major takes on a very different feel from most other performances. Loutfi’s light detached style quickly becomes the norm and draws more attention to other aspects of her interpretation. Most noteworthy is her very introspective and raptured playing of the second movement, Andante. This is quite an unusual disc that intelligently challenges some of our conventional ideas about how Brahms should be played. VOCAL Palestrina – Missa Papae Marcelli; Motets Sistine Chapel Choir; Massimo Palombella Deutsche Grammophon 4796131 L/R !! David Olds’ notes in the November Editor’s Corner set the historical backdrop for Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli. This particular recording looks back to original Renaissance sources rather than existing editions. What is more, its authenticity is enhanced as it was recorded within the Sistine Chapel, the result being a more intimate sound. So it is, with the initial Kyrie eleison and Credo, as the young boys of the Chapel bring a human, almost relaxed interpretation. Incidentally, the recording notes include some enchanting photographs of the choir off-duty and clearly happy in their choral responsibilities. More solemn is the two-part Tu Es Pastor Ovium, taken from Matthew 16:19 and composed for the coronation of Pope Sixtus V in 1585. This motet has a dominant element of mercy, especially appropriate in the Holy Year of Mercy decreed by Pope Francis for 2016. The plea for mercy is reflected in Ad Te Levavi Oculos Meos, its second part expressing that plea at its most direct. Palestrina’s works do not have to be long or complex: O Bone Iesu, at under two minutes, conveys an intensely spiritual message in a simple structure. Equally uplifting is the Sistine Chapel’s interpretation of Benedixisti, Domine, with its theme of God’s forgiveness for His people’s iniquities. Last of the longer pieces in this selection is Jubilate Deo. This tests the abilities of the Sistine Chapel Choir – and its chief chorus master Massimo Palombella – more than any other piece on the CD. It goes without saying that its rendition of the Gloria Patri will revive even the most jaded of listeners. Michael Schwartz Canzonette Spirituali, e Morali Capella Intima; Bud Roach Musica Omnia mo0701 ( !! Capella Intima is a Canadian vocal ensemble led by tenor/baroque guitarist Bud Roach and includes singers Sheila Dietrich, Jennifer Enns Modolo and David Roth. Flawless intonation, excellent diction and infectious enthusiasm (including strummed guitar) mark the group as a major contributor to the Baroque music scene. As explained in Roach’s excellent program notes, Canzonette Spirituali, e Morali (published 1657) includes canzonettas (here, spiritual songs in a popular vein), solo arias with recitative, and dialogues. Intended for the oratory rather than church worship, these musical exhortations for personal piety previously designated as anonymous are now attributed to the priest Francesco Ratis. Variety in the 22 works on this CD chosen from the Canzonette is demonstrated by some of my favourites. The opening Poverello, che farai? (Poor thing, what will you do?) is a simple strophic song warning us to change our ways. Capella Intima’s virtuosity shows in fast-tempoed Fuggi, fuggi, fuggi (“O run, run away [from this deceitful world]”). To La mala compagnia – “Bad company will lead you to the tavern, and if you don’t want to go, you’ll get a good beating” – Capella Intima adds slaps and moans! Other numbers are tender: Spera Anima (Place your hope, my soul) is emotionally affecting while Angiol del Ciel (O Heavenly Angel) lives up to its title. The accompanying booklet contains English translations but original Italian texts must be downloaded. I suggest listening to only a few pieces at a time as the texts’ meanings are crucial. Roger Knox Wandering Heart Chor Leoni Independent CLR 1611 ( !! In the wake of a much-loved Canadian icon’s recent passing, it seems uncannily prophetic to have chosen settings of Leonard Cohen’s poetry for the centrepiece of this recording. Wandering Heart, by Latvian L/R Like the review? Listen to some tracks from all the recordings in the ads below at The L/R Lucie Horsch / Vivaldi: Recorder Concertos Available at L’Atelier Grigorian, 70 Yorkville Ave., Toronto & Daniil Trifonov / Transcendental Available at L’Atelier Grigorian, 70 Yorkville Ave., Toronto & Bruckner: Symphony No 2 With the release of Symphony No. 2 performed by the OM/YNS team, ATMA Classique continues its cycle of the complete symphonies of Anton Bruckner. Wind Blown Wind sonatas from the master of British light music, top arranger with the BBC for decades... beautiful, tuneful and fun. December 1, 2016 - February 7, 2017 | 79

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