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Volume 22 Issue 7 - April 2017

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  • April
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Symphony
  • Arts
  • Theatre
  • Quartet
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  • Choir
  • Musical
In this issue: Our podcast ramps up with interviews in March with fight director Jenny Parr, countertenor Daniel Taylor, and baritone Russell Braun; two views of composer John Beckwith at 90; how music’s connection to memory can assist with the care of patients with Alzheimer’s; musical celebrations in film and jazz, at National Canadian Film Day and Jazz Day; and a preview of Louis Riel, which opens this month at the COC. These and other stories, in our April 2017 issue of the magazine!

violinist Michelle Seto

violinist Michelle Seto who, I see from the personnel list on the Mozart disc mentioned above, is still a core member of Les Violons du Roy.) Check-in at the camp – a rustic lodge on the edge of Lake MacDonald – was on a Sunday afternoon and our first musical gathering took place that evening. It was my first experience of playing in a large ensemble and I approached it with equal amounts of excitement and trepidation. The music set before us was the opening chorale from the St. John Passion. Although the repeated note that constitutes most of the cello line is quite straightforward, I was concentrating on it with all my energy to the exclusion of my surroundings. When from behind the orchestra the choir suddenly burst forth with Herr, Herr, Herr, Herr unser Herrscher it was a truly glorious moment and I found myself thinking “Wow, this is amazing!” I’ve been hooked on making music with others ever since. The Berlin production is semi-staged, but as Rattle explains it is more of an elaboration of the text, a ritualization rather than a theatrical presentation of the story. Although written by Bach for church performance on Good Friday, the St. John Passion goes far beyond the bounds of the usual church service and caused, if not scandal, at least disgruntlement among the conservative congregations of Bach’s time, so it is a work which has no natural forum in church due to its theatrical aspects nor the opera house where its liturgical nature is forbidden. This is well explained in the interview and also in the enlightening introduction provided by Simon Halsey, director of the Berlin Radio Choir, who puts not only the original but also this somewhat contemporary interpretation of the work into context. Frequently judged for its anti-Semitic sentiments placing all the blame for Christ’s death on the Jews, this presentation of the Passion takes a more universal approach in which the blame is shared with everyone. Halsey points out that the onus is on each of us to take a stand and speak out against injustice when we see it and likens the situation to the events that led to the First and Second World Wars. (Sellars goes farther, comparing it to the current affairs of his American homeland.) The Berlin Philharmonie where the performance takes place provides a theatre-in-the-round and Sellars has used this to good advantage. The orchestra – playing on modern instruments, but well informed by historical practices – is divided in two and the instrumentalists move to prominent spots when used as soloists. The continuo consists of cello, organ, lute, contrabass, bassoon and contrabassoon, and this is supplemented with viola da gamba and two violas d’amore as the score requires. The choir, 90 voices strong, is dressed in black and called upon to make some dramatic movements, including writhing on the floor and a making hand gestures. Although off-putting at first, the effects gradually draw us in and become an inherent part of the drama as it unfolds. All of the vocal soloists are outstanding, but particular mention must be made of Mark Padmore (Evangelist), Christian Gerhaher (Pilate) and Roderick Williams (Jesus) who is blindfolded and in uncomfortable positions through much of the action. It is worthy of note that all the vocalists, soloists and choristers (!) alike sing for the entire two hours from memory, and Rattle conducts without a score. This is a stunning production and I highly recommend it. Concert note: On April 1 the Guelph Chamber Choir presents the St. John Passion with James McLean (Evangelist), Daniel Lichti (Jesus), Gordon Burnett (Pilate) and Orchestra Viva under Gerald Neufeld’s direction at the River Run Centre in Guelph. On April 2 it will be presented in Toronto by the Choir of St. Peter and St. Simon-the- Apostle Anglican Church with Lenard Whiting (Evangelist) and members of the Canadian Sinfonietta, Robin Davis conducting. We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website “thewholenote. com” where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples and direct links to performers, composers and record labels. David Olds, DISCoveries Editor It’s been quite a while since the terrific 2012 debut CD of Toronto’s Windermere String Quartet, but their second CD release turns out to have been well worth the wait. The ensemble’s name is usually followed by “on period instruments,” but their repertoire has never been restricted to works from the Classical period and their regular concert series frequently features world premieres of new works by Canadian composers. Their sophmore CD, Inner Landscapes (Pipistrelle PIP 1216) follows this same pattern, with Beethoven’s Quartet in F Minor Op.95 and Mendelssohn’s Quartet in A Minor Op.13 acting as bookends to Traces of a Silent Landscape, a 2011 work by Canadian composer Robert Rival that was commissioned by the quartet. The Beethoven and Mendelssohn works both receive exemplary performances, with intimate and sensitive playing that never lacks strength and power when needed. The Mendelssohn in particular has an achingly beautiful slow movement and a simply dazzling Presto. All the hallmarks of this ensemble’s playing are here: a judicial use of vibrato; delicate nuances; excellent dynamics; finely judged tempos; and an overall balance that always allows the identity of the individual instruments to be clearly felt. The Rival quartet, which was inspired by a snowshoe trek in Algonquin Park in the dead of winter, is a striking and very effective work, quite modern in style but with clear traditional roots. One gets the immediate impression that the quiet, wispy nature of the music is not only perfectly suited to the particular sounds that these TERRY ROBBINS period instruments produce but was also inspired by them, a feeling confirmed by the composer, who says that while composing the work he had in mind “…the subdued, airy quality of gut strings and the sparing use of vibrato, in particular.” The delicate ending of the final Forest’s lullaby is quite stunning. Rival also paid tribute to the two works with which his new work would be premiered – and which accompany it on this CD in a re-creation of that recital – by starting with a slow fugue; both the Beethoven and Mendelssohn quartets incorporate fugues in their slow movements. What continually impresses me about this ensemble is the way they can convey depth, conviction and an emotional range and intensity without ever overwhelming you with either volume or gesture. It’s very easy to imagine that the Beethoven and Mendelssohn works sounded like this at their premieres, but very difficult to imagine that they sounded better. Recorded at the wonderful St. Anne’s Anglican Church in Toronto’s west end with the always-reliable Norbert Kraft as engineer, the sound is exemplary, catching every delicate nuance in another outstanding CD from the Windermere players. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another five years for their next one. Concert note: The Windermere Quartet presents “Mozart by Any Other Name” including works by Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Rossini, Joseph Kraus and Mozart at St. Olave’s Anglican Church on April 2. 64 | April 1, 2017 - May 7, 2017

Given his wonderful playing on the Mozart concerto DVD reviewed here last month, I was delighted to see that this month’s offerings included a new CD of Henning Kraggerud playing Nordic Violin Concertos with Bjarte Engeset conducting the Malmö Symphony Orchestra (Naxos 8.573738). The Violin Concerto Op.28 by Johan Halvorsen is paired with the Violin Concerto Op.33 of Carl Nielsen, with the well-known Romance of Johan Svendsen completing the disc. The concerto by the Norwegian Halvorsen (1864-1935) has an interesting story. He was an outstanding violinist and a self-taught composer, and his violin concerto was introduced by the 18-yearold Canadian violinist Kathleen Parlow in the Netherlands in 1909. After only a handful of performances by Parlow the work was not played again during Halvorsen’s lifetime. When he retired in 1929 he destroyed several of his manuscripts, his wife stating after his death that she believed the concerto to be among them. But in 2015 the score and parts were discovered in Parlow’s papers in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music Library, where they had resided since 1963. Kraggerud gave the first modern performances in Norway last July, making this world premiere commercial recording in Sweden a short while later. It’s a lovely work, full of lyrical themes and redolent of Norwegian folk music, with more than a hint of Hardanger fiddle music. The solo part is technically demanding, but Kraggerud is clearly in his element with a work which will hopefully find a place in the regular repertoire. The Nielsen concerto, written just a few years after the Halvorsen in 1911, continues to be a work which should be much better known, but hopefully this is changing, Haggerud’s terrific performance here coming not long after Baiba Skride’s equally excellent 2015 recording. A lovely performance of the Svendsen Romance rounds out an outstanding CD. If you love the Elgar Cello Concerto then you should really try to hear the new Super Audio CD Elgar & Tchaikovsky from the outstanding cellist Johannes Moser with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under Andrew Manze (PentaTone PTC 5186 570). Moser is simply superb in the emotional work that essentially marked the end of the 62-year-old Elgar’s compositional activity. Written in 1919, it is essentially a lament for the composer’s Edwardian world that was destroyed by the First World War, and Moser beautifully captures the very soul of the music. Moser notes that both Elgar and Tchaikovsky were looking back to a brighter past – Elgar to the pre-1914 world and Tchaikovsky to the music of Mozart, using an original theme written in Mozartian style as the basis for his Variations on a Rococo Theme Op.33. It’s the original version that is performed here, and not the modified and altered version by the cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen that constituted the original 1877 publication and is still frequently heard in the concert hall. Moser’s performance makes you wonder why anyone would ever want to hear the Fitzenhagen version again. Three shorter Tchaikovsky works for cello and orchestra complete the CD. The Nocturne from Six Pieces for Piano and the famous Andante cantabile from the String Quartet No.1 were both transcribed by the composer, and the Pezzo capriccioso Op.62 is a lovely original work. Manze and the orchestra supply great support throughout a simply lovely CD. There’s more excellent quartet playing on Landscapes, the latest CD from Germany’s Schumann Quartett in a program of works by Haydn, Takemitsu, Bartók and Pärt (Berlin Classics 0300836BC). It’s clear that these are works that the quartet – brothers Erik, Ken and Mark Schumann and Estonian violist Liisa Randalu – has played and cared about for some time. Haydn’s String Quartet in B-flat Major Op.76 No.4, the “Sunrise” makes for a lovely opening to the CD, the emerging radiance of the opening particularly well captured. Landscape I by the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu acknowledges the Schumanns’ family roots – their mother is Japanese – and is a somewhat bleak piece with a decidedly meditative stillness about it. Bartók’s String Quartet No.2 Op.17 is an expressive post-Romantic piece written during the First World War when the composer was forced to take a break from his Hungarian folk-song collecting. The folk-music element is clearly present in a work dominated by an air of melancholy. The final piece, Fratres, by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, was prepared with the composer and recorded in July 2016 in a church near the Estonian capital of Tallinn. It’s one of several instrumental versions of this very effective work. The enigmatic Nigel Kennedy is back with another non-classical CD in My World, a program of his own compositions on the German label Neue Meister (0300878NM). Launched just over a year ago, the Berlin label features “…music by artists and composers who recognize no boundaries between the classical L/R Like the review? Listen to some tracks from all the recordings in the ads below at The L/R Puccini: Turandot Available at L’Atelier Grigorian 70 Yorkville Ave., Toronto & Le Mozart Noir Le Mozart Noir is an award-winning film that uncovers the mystery around Joseph Boulogne, Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a Black eighteenth-century violinist and composer. New Era: Music by Mozart, Danzi and Stamitz / Andreas Ottensamer Available at L’Atelier Grigorian 70 Yorkville Ave., Toronto & Bruckner: Complete Symphonies / Danile Barenboim Available at L’Atelier Grigorian 70 Yorkville Ave., Toronto & April 1, 2017 - May 7, 2017 | 65

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