5 years ago

Volume 22 Issue 4 - December 2016/January 2017

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  • December
  • Toronto
  • Arts
  • January
  • Symphony
  • February
  • Jazz
  • Performing
  • Choir
  • Orchestra
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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!

L/R composer Ēriks

L/R composer Ēriks Ešenvalds, begins with Twelve O’Clock Chant, a selection from The Spice-Box of Earth, the 1961 publication which established Cohen’s reputation as a lyric poet. This is followed by I Lost My Way from the poet’s Book of Mercy, and the third, The Road Is Too Long, is from Cohen’s Book of Longing. Wandering Heart is also the first composition to be commissioned from the fund named in honour of Chor Leoni’s founding director, the late Diane Loomer. The choir does honour to the memories of these artists, with the melodic clarity and honesty of expression this group of men are known for. In addition to Wandering Heart and two other pieces by Ešenvalds, the album also features music by Mendelssohn, Paul Mealor, Robert Moran, Kim André Arnesen and Morten Lauridsen. Artistic director Erick Lichte describes a common theme, with the selections representative of distances physical, spiritual and emotional, especially focusing on those “separated by the vast distance of death and how love can bridge this expanse.” Very timely indeed. Dianne Wells Bellini – I Capuleti e i Montecchi Christof Loy; Joyce DiDonato; Olga Kulchynska; Opernhaus Zurich; Fabio Luisi Accentus Music ACC20353 !! I Capuleti e i Montecchi gives us the story that we know as Romeo and Juliet. The libretto was written by Felice Romani for a musical setting by Nicola Vaccai in 1825. Bellini took over that libretto for his opera in 1830. There are a number of points where Romani’s libretto differs from Shakespeare’s play. Tybalt (Tebaldo) is not Juliet’s cousin but her would-be lover. This has useful implications for the opera since it needs a tenor. That cannot be Romeo, since his part is sung by a mezzo. Romani also linked the family feuds in Verona to the historical warfare between the Guelfs (the Capulets) and the Ghibellines (the Montagues). The Zürich production adds a social dimension: the Capulets are posh in their dinner jackets; the Montagues are working-class yobs with cloth caps. But the most striking difference lies in the sequence of events in the final scenes of the two works. In Shakespeare’s play, Romeo travels back from Mantua to Verona, gains access to Juliet’s tomb where she lies in a drugged sleep and, thinking that she is dead, takes poison and dies. Juliet wakes up and finds Romeo dead besides her. But in the Romani libretto Romeo is dying but not yet dead when Juliet wakes up. This allowed Bellini to compose a heart-rending duet, surely the finest part of the opera. Joyce DiDonato is spectacular as Romeo and there are fine performances from the young Ukrainian soprano Olga Kulchynska as Giulietta and the French tenor Benjamin Bernheim as Tebaldo. Hans de Groot Wagner – Parsifal Schager; Kampa; Pape; Koch; Tómasson; Staatskapelle Berlin; Staatsopernchor; Daniel Barenboim BelAir Classics BAC128 !! Dmitri Tcherniakov is one of the most original, phenomenally gifted directors of our time. His collaboration with Daniel Barenboim in Berlin has already produced happy results and this is his latest and his first effort in Wagner. The composer is at his most elusive, complex and spiritual here in a work that Liszt referred to as “a revelation in music drama” transcending everything written before. Harry Kupfer’s previous incarnation of Parsifal in Berlin was a postapocalyptic, stunningly beautiful staging, but Tcherniakov moves on an entirely different level. Briefly: The setting is a deserted, Gulag-like cold and forlorn place, wooden barracks lit by bare lightbulbs giving it an incandescent glow. The knights look like prisoners, sick and frustrated. Then suddenly the young Parsifal arrives like a hippie, in gym shorts, running shoes and a hood, with a backpack as the holy fool (fal parsi) who will undergo a spiritual transformation withstanding the temptation of Kundry, the eternal woman, and thereby able to retrieve the Holy Spear and cure the suffering Amfortas, redeem Kundry and restore the Order of the Holy Grail. Barenboim conducts the over-five-hours long monumental work completely from memory (Gatti did it too in New York!) and he certainly achieves the revelation Liszt was talking about. In the third act, time seems to stand still giving a meaning to the text of “here time turns into space” proven by Einstein some 50 years later. Add to this the glorious singing performances of Andreas Schager (Parsifal), unlikely looking but with a total empathy to the role and a powerful, flexible heldentenor voice; of soprano Anja Kampe, similarly endowed with a voice of subtlety and a most sympathetic, compassionate portrayal of the accursed Kundry. Wolfgang Koch (Amfortas), René Pape (Gurnemanz) and Tomas Tómasson (Klingsor) establish a world standard that will be hard to surpass for years to come. Arvo Pärt – The Deer’s Cry Vox Clamantis; Jaan-Elk Tulve ECM New Series ECM 2466 Janos Gardonyi !! A mixture of the new and old recorded here by Estonian choir Vox Clamantis, this CD includes the worldrecording premiere of Habitare fratres in unum and the largely plainchant And One of the Pharisees, which had its world premiere in California in 1992. There is a variety of Pärt’s music here: from the innocenceevoking Drei Hirtenkinder aus Fátima to the ode to a gittern, Sei gelobt, du Baum. (Google the latter via!). Serendipitously, I started my day reading St. Patrick’s fourth-century prayer, The Deer’s Cry, and the title track contains a purity I would compare to David Lang’s I Lie. The Alleluia-Tropus is different than my recording by Vox Clamantis with Sinfonietta Riga: at a decade’s distance, this a cappella version is 25 seconds longer and less dance-like, perhaps the liturgical pace being more fitting for the intercession of St. Nicholas of Myra. Most notable to me, however, was Summa, a tintinnabulous piece containing the Apostle’s Creed in Latin. While it is recorded here a cappella, as originally written, I only have the string versions of it, which convey swells of movement (indeed, I made a little film with it accompanying a murmuration); the choral is more plodding and deliberate in its affirmation of belief – I could picture Joan of Arc reciting it defiantly, atop the pyre as she awaits the lighting of the wood. The CD ends with Gebet nach dem Kanon, a fitting closing prayer to the collection.The liner notes are Pärtesque: sparse, multilingual and presuming knowledge of his work and liturgical music history. But if you enjoy looking up information (e.g. the Russian scriptures have different versification at times: Drei Hirtenkinder is about the West’s Psalm 8:2), there’s a wealth of enlightenment available. Artistic director Jaan-Eik Tulve has applied the 81-year-old composer’s personal tutelage faithfully, and Pärt devotees will be enraptured, the faithful and secularists alike. Vanessa Wells Concert note: On February 2, Soundstreams presents the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir in favourites by Arvo Pärt and selections from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers along with works by Torontonians Omar Daniel and Riho Esko Maimets at St. Paul’s Basilica. 80 | December 1, 2016 - February 7, 2017

Mother of Light – Armenian hymns and chants in praise of Mary Isabel Bayrakdarian; Ani Aznavoorian; Coro Vox Aeterna; Anna Hamre Delos DE 3521 ( !! When in 1997 Isabel Bayrakdarian took the MET auditions by storm, we knew something special was happening. The voice was breathtaking, light, shimmering, silvery and agile. The compliments piled up after some spectacular stage performances. I still vividly remember her star turn at the side of Ewa Podles in the COC’s Julio Cesare. A succession of JUNO-winning albums followed and then… her career seemingly stalled. When I heard her again a few years later, I realized that her voice was changing. From a light-as-mist soprano, it was becoming more dramatic, gravitating more and more towards a mezzo sound. A voice in search of the right repertoire? Well, fear not, Bayrakdarian has found it! The enchanting, exotic music of Armenia is the perfect foil for Ms. Bayrakdarian’s “grown-up” voice. It’s lush, languid, opulent and absolutely remarkable. The arrangements for cello and voice shock with their purity of melodic line and meditative quality already built in. This may very well be an album to obsess about. In the space of just a week, I must have listened to it at least ten times. The usual superb quality of Delos recordings only enhances the beauty of the experience. It will be exciting to see what will be the next steps in the recording career of this gifted artist. Robert Tomas Dolce Vita Jonas Kaufmann Sony Classical 88875183632 ( L/R !! Jonas Kaufmann has it all: one of the most beautiful tenor voices in the world and a stage presence that makes him a convincing leading man, especially when portraying a passionate lover. He is sought after by most if not all the important opera companies. He was chosen to inaugurate the beautiful and controversial Elphie, the new Elbenphilharmonie Hall in Hamburg, a billion orgy of architecture and acoustics. He has a rare quality, namely artistic integrity, which enabled him to walk away from a disastrous production of Manon Lescaut at the Met with just weeks to spare. So why, oh why did he record this crossover album? The answer is very simple: at his level of fame and success, unlike in most of classical music nowadays, these recordings are still big business. Sony Classical realized that they have on their hands a possible platinum or double platinum seller. At different times, different artists have been put under the same pressure: Caruso, Kiepura and now Kaufmann. Having repeatedly stated my bias against crossover recordings in this space, I decided to put it aside and give the disc a thorough listen. It will sell like hotcakes. The reason is simple: Jonas Kaufmann. No matter how schmaltzy the material, no matter how insipid the playing of Orchestra del Teatro Massimo di Palermo, that voice is simply superb. Shower tenors of this world, rejoice! This is your singalong album. The reason I fully support this CD is also simple. I sincerely hope it will obliterate Michael Bolton and Andrea Bocelli in the popular consciousness. If we are going to devour aural candy, it may as well be delicious! Robert Tomas CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Vivaldi Lucie Horsch; Amsterdam Vivaldi Players Decca 483 0896 !! I first heard of Lucie Horsch a few years ago when her videotaped performances began appearing on the Internet. As a teenaged finalist in the 2014 Eurovision Young Musician contest, she offered a mesmerizingly beautiful rendition of the Siciliano from the familiar C Major Concerto RV443 and tastefully took complete charge of any fiery allegro she was handed without sounding like she was being chased by a demon around an athletics track. Her playing was refreshing and delightful. This CD’s program, more varied than most others of this repertoire, features RV443 played in G on the soprano recorder, three other popular concertos and a few wellcrafted arrangements. Rousseau’s arrangement of Spring from the Four Seasons is heard here on sopranino, and excerpts from the G-Major Concerto for Two Mandolins, Nisi Dominus and the opera Il Giustino are also played on a well-chosen variety of instruments. The use of tenor recorder for the Nisi Dominus is particularly evocative. Just as in the videos of yesteryear, Horsch interprets the faster movements with technical panache, the slower ones with refined phrasing and exemplary wisdom regarding the addition of ornamentation, and most everything with an impressive musical understanding. She is accompanied by a group of excellent modern players including her father, a cellist in the Concertgebouw Orchestra. I do wish the booklet included a bit more on Vivaldi – but the celebration they make of this gifted young woman is completely understandable. Alison Melville Like the review? Listen to some tracks from all the recordings in the ads below at The L/R L/R A Land So Luminous: Music by Kenneth Hesketh and Richard Causton Ensemble and chamber music by the U.K.’s most imaginative and accomplished composers performed by The Continuum Ensemble with outstanding guest soloists. ‘doubly worthwhile’ -The Observer Transformations Tuba virtuoso Aaron Tindall has been a leader in the performance of new music for tuba. This new recording features two tuba concertos. Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra: Time/Life Available at L’Atelier Grigorian, 70 Yorkville Ave., Toronto & Silence on joue - Take 2 Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà present their wonderful double album Silence On Joue – Take 2, which brings together some of the most beautiful and evocative music from movies and television series. December 1, 2016 - February 7, 2017 | 81

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