5 years ago

Volume 22 Issue 5 - February 2017

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  • February
  • Toronto
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In this issue: an interview with composer/vocalist Jeremy Dutcher, on his upcoming debut album and unique compositional voice; a conversation with Boston Symphony hornist James Sommerville, as as the BSO gets ready to come to his hometown; Stuart Hamilton, fondly remembered; and an inside look at Hugh’s Room, as it enters a complicated chapter in the story of its life in the complex fabric of our musical city. These and other stories, as we celebrate the past and look forward to the rest of 2016/17, the first glimpses of 2017/18, and beyond!

Praetorius standard, and

Praetorius standard, and the Balulalow text, written by the three 16th-century brothers and poets, the Wedderburns, is nothing like Britten’s version: where the Ceremony of Carols setting swells like waves off the North Sea coast, this one glides along like crosscountry skis. Of course, my hero Pärt’s Nunc Dimittis is divine, as is Rachmaninoff’s Vespers. There’s harp accompaniment with a touch of the medieval in the traditional The Snow It Melts the Soonest, and the countertenors in Rebecca Dale’s premiere, Winter, reminded me of those in the Talla Vocal Ensemble. Ola Gjeilo offers up a Holstbased In the Bleak Midwinter, and it’s not so Christmasy that you can’t enjoy it now. Perhaps most interesting are the featured Vasks pieces: three Plainscapes movements and The Fruit of Silence, the text of which was penned by Mother Teresa. All four convey the Latvian composer’s concern for and focus on environmental issues. This is a simply lovely, contemplative mood-setting release, with pristine choral and instrumental blending. Vanessa Wells EARLY MUSIC AND PERIOD PERFORMANCE Johann Gottlieb Goldberg – Beyond the Variations Rebel; Jörg-Michael Schwartz Bridge Records 9478 ( L/R !! Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, namesake of Bach’s famous Variations, was a highly talented musician. His life (1727-1756) was tragically short, but this CD, with five of Goldberg’s sonatas, shows us just what we were deprived of. Jörg-Michael Schwarz, playing a 1668 Jacobus Stainer violin, sets the scene with some beautiful playing in the Adagio of the B-flat Major Sonata. In the Allegro he is joined by Karen Marie Marmer playing a 1660 Stainer in a highly spirited Allegro. A Ciacona, at times stately and at others very lively, ends the sonata. Goldberg’s Sonata in G Minor is thoughtful and involves the basso continuo much more than in the preceding sonata. There is a richness to John Moran’s cello playing in the Adagio before the violinists interpret the Allegro with a real passion and zest. The final movement of this sonata is the somewhat conventional Tempo di Menuetto. Enter the viola of Risa Browder. The Largo in the Sonata in C Minor is indeed dignified, as the viola adds an element of complexity to the sonata. This is sustained in the cheerful Allegro and Giga. The Sonata in A Minor features an Alla Siciliana movement, a dreamy composition which brings out both the violin playing and Goldberg’s own skills as a composer. It is movements like this and the following Allegro assai which bring home what was lost to us when Goldberg died so young. Finally, there is the Sonata in C Major with its majestic Adagio worthy of any great Baroque composer. The Gigue which concludes the sonata also concludes this CD – again, an inspired introduction to the music of someone who could have generated a lifetime of wonderful music. Michael Schwartz Mi PalPita il Cor: Baroque Passions Dominique Labelle; Musica Pacifica Navona Records NV6056 ( !! This is a CD devoted to love – and not necessarily happy love. The sleeve notes list the manifestation of love to be discovered on this recording as “sighs, laughter, angry outbursts and lassitude.” Venetian-born Agostino Steffani’s Guardati o core opens the CD – a frolicking aria with words warning not to be won over by Cupid because you end up with trouble, sorrow and difficulty. Oh, and continue with the recitativo (you’ll get immeasurable bitter pain) and the aria (“flee, then, the realm of the archerboy”) and not even Dominique Labelle’s rendition can help you. Giuseppe Sammartini was well respected for his woodwind expertise, well apparent from the dignified flourishes of his opening and more than confirmed by the first Allegro. Sammartini composed with vigour and panache. The slightly strangely specified Andante e staccato reflects a depressed lover, depressed until he or she is revived by the second Allegro. In Handel’s Arioso e recitativo, Labelle is made to sing that she “feels her heart beating for reasons she does not know.” Worse, she sings in a slightly hushed, conspiratorial tone that although her heart has been pierced by one of Cupid’s arrows, if Cupid could possibly do the same (fatally) to one of her competitors in love then she will complain no more. Again, very depressing, but how lucky that Labelle can fill the whole range of demanding emotions. Georg Philipp Telemann’s Quatuor No.3 (G Major, 1738) restores our spirits. Judith Linsenberg’s recorder-playing contributes greatly to the rather dreamy quality of the Légèrement second movement, the Gracieusement of the third merely adding to it. For those who love rural tableaux, there is the Vite with the spirited violin playing of Elizabeth Blumenstock, and the following Gai. Finally, there is another unusually specified movement – Lentement-Vite-Lentement- Vite. Once again, violin and recorder are allowed to entertain us. Dominique Labelle returns for a final flourish with the cantata from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Orphée. Enjoy the complex voice and violin combination in Que du bruit and several very short but poignant pieces. The last movement, En amour il est un moment, is a worthy representative of Baroque romance from instruments to lyrics to Labelle’s interpretation. Michael Schwartz CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Schumann – Symphonies 1-4 Berliner Philharmoniker; Sir Simon Rattle Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings 140011 (2 CDs + Blu-ray) !! Schumann was the consummate Romantic composer, whose compositions from consequential piano works, chamber music, song cycles, concertos, staged works and symphonies, etc. remain in the active repertoire. Except for the staged works that enjoy rare outings. Schumann was also a busy author, publisher and critic. I have attended many performances of one or another of the four Schumann symphonies and acquired or listened to recordings by the great and not so great conductors and orchestras. Many have been mighty achievements but very few found the composer behind the printed notes. The most popular misreadings are those that emulate Brahms. Over the years conductors had almost universally decided that Schumann lacked the skills to orchestrate and so many dutiful performances perpetuated just this. Mahler re-orchestrated all four symphonies which were recorded by Riccardo Chailly and the Gewandhaus Orchestra for Decca. In the early 1990s, conductor Florian Merz and the Klassische Philharmonie Düsseldorf recorded the four symphonies and other orchestral works for ebs. Employed were the critical editions of the scores commissioned by the Robert Schumann-Gesellschaft in Düsseldorf, which chose Schumann’s own 1851 re-orchestration of the 1841 Fourth (ebs 6088, 3CDs).The visceral Düsseldorf performances, while enthusiastic, are entirely objective. However, a genuine curiosity on a separate disc (ebs 6091) is a bold re-orchestration of the Fourth Symphony based on the original version of 1841 revised in 1891, 35 years after Schumann’s death, by Brahms and Franz Wullner. Just as orchestras and other ensembles have learned to play Mozart with reduced forces and appropriate instruments, in order to produce the overall soundscape that Schumann envisioned it is essential to know and understand what the composer had in mind. Schumann should not be performed with the entire body of the modern symphony orchestra. Mendelssohn was Schumann’s 74 | February 1, 2017 - March 7, 2017

teacher and both scored their works for the classical-size orchestra of, say, 50 players tops, to achieve the transparency and voicing intended. Rattle explains so much on this subject, making the enclosed Blu-ray disc so valuable in the understanding and background of so many facets of these works. Also by believing Schumann’s marked tempos and natural orchestral balances, the music can be incredibly profound without being heavy or slow. A fascinating and most informative part of Rattle talking about Schumann is the story of the Fourth Symphony and the reason for his decision to use Schumann’s original 1841 version…the one considered unplayable by many orchestras. No doubt about it, this is an absolutely essential package for all Schumann appreciators and others. The set contains CDs but the exemplary sight and sound of the live performances on the Blu-ray disc moves the viewer right into the Philharmonie. Bruce Surtees Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker; Symphony No.4 Mariinsky Orchestra; Valery Gergiev Mariinsky MAR0593 !! There are those who think The Nutcracker is a children’s ballet. There are others whose only experience of the ballet is the constant and dreadful repetition of its greatest hits in shopping malls at this dark time of year. To both groups: listen to the Mariinsky Orchestra under Valery Gergiev perform the entire score, paying particular attention to the Waltz of the Flowers and the Intrada to the Pas de Deux immediately following. The rating “adult entertainment” could well be applied to these passionate expressions. Gergiev is known for eccentric technique but also for wringing amazing performances from the players he leads. Mariinsky is his house band, so they have lots of practice following his tiny obscure gestures. They can turn on a dime out of an outrageous Presto, they phrase as a choral unit, the strings are encouraged to emote, and on this recording at least one hears observance of the composer’s more subtle dynamic indications. Although arguably chestnuts, they’re delicious, and so much fresher than the overcooked versions we are often fed while choosing gifts. The remainder of disc two is Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. The symphony predates the ballet by a good 14 years, from the period before and immediately following his failed marriage. Pit bands love to perform concert music, an assertion audibly demonstrated here. Delicacy and ferocity alternate, melancholy gives way to joy and returns. The relationship between conductor and players is so solid, lending brilliant assurance to the performance that wildly (romantically) swings through the gamut of expression and tempi. They perform, understandably, as artists who love and treasure their heritage. The Canzonetta is breathtaking in its lyricism, and then one can almost imagine a choreography for the Scherzo movement involving two opposing teams of folk dancers, the strings versus the winds. Max Christie Strauss – Elektra; Der Rosenkavalier (Suites) Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; Manfred Honeck Reference Recordings FR 722 SACD ( !! Some of us may remember back in the 50s something called “Opera without Words” (Stokowski was good at these) specially created for folks who couldn’t stomach all the singing but were more comfortable with the orchestra. Until now Elektra had escaped such treatment even though Strauss is one of the most symphonic of all opera composers and well suited for orchestral excerpts and suites (e.g. Dance of the Seven Veils etc.). But in Elektra the voices and the action are so closely intermeshed that the total devastating impact has to come from seeing or at least listening to the complete score. Nevertheless Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck, newly appointed music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, did decide to extract most of the orchestral score into a 35-minute suite. Certainly done with love and expertise and a thorough empathy with the opera, the particularly gruesome story with its moments of dark forebodings, evil lurking in the shadows, bloody murders, piercing shrieks and animals tortured is well brought out, as well as moments of filial and brotherly love, ecstasy and exuberance. Unfortunately, to fully appreciate program music like this, an audience not familiar with the opera will have to read the printed notes and that can be pretty annoying at a concert. Der Rosenkavalier however is an entirely different story and the Suite created by Arthur Rodzinski is a wonderfully enjoyable concert piece. We are still blessed with the memory of Karajan and even more Carlos Kleiber’s sublime performances, a hard act to follow, but Honeck’s main strength is the beautiful, spacious orchestral sound and sumptuous hidden details he brings out with somewhat slower tempi. Janos Gardonyi Rachmaninov – Symphony No.1; Balakirev – Tamara London Symphony Orchestra; Valery Gergiev LSO Live LSO0784 !! Rachmaninov’s Symphony No.1 certainly didn’t have the smoothest entry into the world. At its premiere in March of 1897, the (possibly) inebriated conductor, Alexander Glazunov, had already expressed his doubts about it and gave a less-than-stellar performance. As a result, the scathing reviews were enough to shatter Rachmaninov’s confidence as a composer for four years. Since that time, the piece has come to be better regarded and is presented here as the last in a cycle of the complete symphonies featuring the London Symphony and Valery Gergiev. From the menacing chords that open the first movement, it’s clear that Gergiev and the LSO have full command of this challenging score – and challenging it is. Rachmaninov rarely ever again demonstrated such raw emotion in his orchestral writing and the sometimes strident tone can be a bit of a challenge. Nevertheless, the LSO delivers a suave and polished performance despite brisker tempos than we might be accustomed to. The warmly romantic strings meld perfectly with the stirring brass, particularly in the second and fourth movements and the bombastic finale is approached with much panache without ever resorting to empty virtuosity. An added bonus is Balakirev’s Tamara, a work the composer considered his finest. Based on a sultry love-poem by Mikhail Lermontov, the score is an exercise in oriental exoticism so favoured by Russian composers of the period. Gergiev and the LSO offer up a convincing performance of this sensuous music, from the mysterious beginning to the tumultuous finale before quietly fading away. Are there shades of Scheherazade here? Quite possibly. Under Gergiev’s skilful baton, the result is a wonderful blending of cultures, rounding out this outstanding three-disc cycle. Highly recommended. Richard Haskell Stravinsky – The Firebird; Nikolaev – The Sinewaveland Seattle Symphony; Ludovic Morlot Seattle Symphony SSM1014 !! The Firebird brought the world’s attention to Igor Stravinsky, who at the time of the premiere of the ballet was an unknown composer not yet 30 years old. His first collaboration with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the score is broadly romantic, full of tricks practised by Ravel and Debussy. The ballet itself is rarely performed, perhaps owing too much February 1, 2017 - March 7, 2017 | 75

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