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Volume 22 Issue 7 - April 2017

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  • April
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
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  • Arts
  • Theatre
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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!

An eclectic combination

An eclectic combination of piano works appears on Natalia Andreeva plays Piano Sonatas – Beethoven, Scriabin, Prokofiev (Divine Art dda 25140). Andreeva is a gifted performer, researcher and teacher. Her program choices are deliberate, balanced and artful. Her approach is methodical, yet inspired. For example, Beethoven’s directions in Sonata No.27 in E Minor Op.90 call for the pianist to play with “liveliness, sensitivity and expression.” Andreeva lets these instructions guide her through a beautifully considered performance of this two-movement work. She takes an especially Romantic posture in the second movement, arguing in her notes that Beethoven always wrote with pictures in his mind. Whatever image emerges from this movement is, according to Andreeva, bound to be one of love. Andreeva builds her phrases with care and balance. Their shape and motion in this sonata are elegant and very often quite exquisite. Andreeva takes her research seriously, looking for interpretive clues in diaries, letters and other original sources. In the case of the Scriabin Sonata No.10 Op.70, her sleuthing has convinced her that the key to this work’s content is the composer’s notation “radieux” in the score. For Andreeva this single-movement sonata is about light. Consequently, the delicate upper filigree and frequent trills become important textures in the mood Scriabin wants to establish. Andreeva delivers a masterful performance of this 1913 Russian work. Prokofiev’s Sonata No.2 in D Minor Op.14 is an early work in his series of nine sonatas and dates from almost the same time as the Scriabin. Andreeva’s approach to this underscores the principal traits of Prokofiev’s creative personality: harmonic adventurism, rhythmic drive, playful grotesqueness and classicism. Each movement becomes a stage for these elements as Andreeva constructs a complex picture of Prokofiev’s musical world. Andreeva is a deeply thoughtful artist and definitely worth hearing. VOCAL Bach – Matthäus Passion Berliner Philharmoniker; Sir Simon Rattle; Peter Sellars Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings BPHR140021 !!“Everyone knows it’s the great piece of music in the Western tradition,” affirms Peter Sellars with chorus master Simon Halsey in their 51-minute illuminating discussion of the St. Matthew Passion incorporating Sellars’ staging. The two sat on the stage of the Berlin Philharmonie and talked about aspects of the music and this performance. Here are some of Sellars’ thoughtful musings: “It’s not theatre, it’s a prayer, a meditation, and I invited them to dedicate the opening chorus to someone they care about, to one who is still with them or maybe someone who is not. Someone who’s leaving the world now or someone who needs their help or thoughts or some act of kindness and to make the performance itself to be the prayer that reaches that person whether they are here or gone. Bach wrote the music for us to place everything we hope and care about into the vessel of this music… . This music has been the property of the early music movement for the last 20 to 25 years and it has been handsoff. Now the actual sense of discovery of this group of musicians is quite amazing, it’s the first time they have held these scores… In this pentagonal, 360-degree hall we could do the St. Matthew Passion in Bach’s imaginary spacialization, two choruses face each other, two orchestras face each other in a communal cross where there is no proscenium. We are not standing back and admiring it but opening it and going inside, a communal event. People are not performing out but performing to each other and what you get is a community engaging with itself and working through issues together and talking it out and so equal time is spent playing and singing and listening and being receptive.” The participants in this performance of April 11, 2010, are Mark Padmore (Evangelist) and Christian Gerhaher (Jesus), together with Camilla Tilling (soprano), Magdalena Kožená (contralto), Topi Lehtipuu (tenor) and Thomas Quasthoff (bass) in the recitatives and arias. Peter Sellars is the stage director and the conductor is Sir Simon Rattle, who has said that this is the best thing he has done. In every way, this is music-making at the very highest level. It is no longer a matter of listening to and watching a group of singers before an orchestra but a depiction of the events behind the words, raising Bach’s great work to a new level of appreciation and understanding. We look forward to the Sellars, Rattle, Padmore, BPO St. John Passion that follows. If you acquire a copy of this set, I most heartily suggest that you first absorb the complete conversation between chorus master Halsey and the charismatic Sellars, a bonus on these discs. Their appreciation of what you are about to see and hear, how it was achieved and so much more, sets up the performance. As I write this I am re-watching this conversation just for the pleasure of doing so. Bruce Surtees Puccini – Turandot Nina Stemme; Maria Agresta; Aleksandrs Antonenko; Coro e Orchestra del Teatro Alla Scala; Riccardo Chailly Decca 071 3937 !! Puccini’s regretfully unfinished Turandot was premiered at La Scala in 1926 under the baton of Toscanini. It was a likely choice to celebrate Milano Expo 2015, directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff and conducted with passion and vehemence by La Scala’s new music director, Riccardo Chailly. It also features a new ending composed (in 2001) by modernist Luciano Berio that unfortunately does away with the jubilant and exuberant finale that served well for over 80 years and which one would expect after the cruel and terrifying mayhem of this fairy-tale opera. The opulent and impressive monumental, symmetrical set suggests a timeless, universal rather than explicitly Chinese milieu with an ever-present bloodthirsty crowd of identical gloomy figures in dark gowns and face masks reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. Gorgeous colours shift according to the mood of each scene and the central focus is the Emperor or the Princess elongated into divine proportions. True to the spirit of La Scala the singers are top quality. Famous Swedish soprano Nina Stemme (Turandot) has phenomenal presence in her black multi-dimensional costume, her voice impressive as it soars over the theatre in the showstopper In questa Reggia. The grand tradition of Pavarotti lives on in Aleksandrs Antonenko’s splendid Nessun Dorma. The riddle scene is a spectacular climax with both tenor and soprano in top form dramatically and vocally. Maria Agresta (Liu) was touching, beautifully singing Tanto amore, segreto with a gossamer-like ethereal vocal line. There is a commedia dell’arte quality in the comedy trio of the three Chinese ministers consistent with the surrealistic feel of this unorthodox but impressive and thought-provoking production. Janos Gardonyi Alma Mahler – Lieder und Gesange Catharina Kroeger; Monica Lonero Brilliant Classics 95469 L/R !! Alma Schindler was an aspiring composer 68 | April 1, 2017 - May 7, 2017

who, in 1900, became a student of Alexander von Zemlinsky (who also became her lover). In December 1901 she became engaged to Gustav Mahler, who did not allow her to compose. He was the composer of the family; she was to be the loving companion and understanding partner of her husband. Such an attitude seems insensitive and draconian but it would not have been uncommon at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1910, at a time of great personal stress, Mahler relented and helped his wife revise five of her songs for publication. After his death two further publications followed: four songs in 1915, five in 1924. The performance of the Alma Mahler songs is complemented with Patrizia Montanaro’s Canto di Penelope, in which the protagonist “rejects the role that has been assigned to her by the myth and lays claim to her own autonomy as a woman, a mother and a head of household.” The oblique relevance to the story of Alma is clear. It is time to move past the notion of Alma Mahler as Gustav’s wife and to listen to the songs in their own right. Several of them are certainly arresting, with surprising harmonies. They are beautifully sung by the soprano Catharina Kroeger. The pianist Monica Lonero is especially fine. I note that in November soprano Barbara Hannigan and pianist Reinbert de Leeuw will perform in Koerner Hall works by members of the Second Viennese School and that the concert will include not only works by Alban Berg and Anton Webern but also songs by Hugo Wolf (a forerunner?) and Alma Mahler. It will be interesting to see how her work will stand up in that context. Hans de Groot Sibelius – Kullervo; Kortekangas – Migrations Lilli Paasikivi; Tommi Hakala; YL Male Voice Choir; Minnesota Orchestra; Osmo Vanska BIS BIS-9048 SACD !! The early 1890s found Sibelius engrossed in the Kalevala and other verses of Finnish poetry that were to become the subject matter of so many of his most celebrated and memorable works. Kullervo, published in 1892, was Sibelius’ first grand symphonic opus. It was his first setting of stories from the Kalevala and is packed with new ideas, revealing first glimpses of many of the composer’s trademark orchestrations, his poetic spirit and his depiction of northern vistas. The work is a symphonic poem in five parts scored for symphony orchestra, male voice choir, mezzo-soprano and baritone. The story tells of a clan massacre, seduction, incest, revenge and suicide. This performance is instantly pleasing, particularly the male choir. Interestingly, between 1892 and the composition of the First Symphony in 1898-99 Sibelius wrote just about all of his mighty tone poems, Op.8 to 27. The first performance of Kullervo in Canada using Sibelius’ final revisions was in Roy Thomson Hall on May 3, 1986. The soloists were Ritva Auvinen, soprano, and Esa Ruuttunen, bass, with the Laulun Ystävät (from Turku, Finland), the Toronto Finnish Male Choir, the Toronto Estonian Male Choir and the CJRT Orchestra conducted by Paul Robinson. It was truly a gala event for the city and the who’s who, too. Olli Kortekangas, born in 1955, studied music theory and composition at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki under the direction of Einojuhani Rautavaara and continued his studies in Berlin with Dieter Schnebel. His music has been featured in concerts and at festivals around the world and he is currently working on several domestic and international commissions. Migrations, scored for orchestra, male choir and mezzo was commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra. The English-language text was written by Sheila Packa, a Minnesotan poet of Finnish roots. “I believe that immigration affects families deeply, particularly in relation to borders, language and landscape…many believe that speaking a new language brings out different parts of the self.” Migrations is a narrative poem in seven parts: four sung movements, Two Worlds, Resurrection, The Man Who Lived in a Tree and Music That We Breathe, separated by three instrumental interludes. A suitable disc mate for the Sibelius. The brilliant YL Male Voice Choir was founded in Helsinki in 1883 is deservedly one of the most prominent male choirs in the world. The recorded sound is superb. Bruce Surtees In the Stream of Life – Songs by Sibelius Gerald Finley; Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Edward Gardner Chandos SA-CD CHSA 5178 !! Jean Sibelius, the long-lived national Finnish composer, was in fact brought up in a Swedish-speaking home, studied in Berlin and Vienna and the bulk of his song output was set to Swedish and German poems. Despite that, he came to symbolize Finnish music the same way Edvard Grieg did the Norwegian national school. Incidentally, Grieg was for many years the artistic director of the Bergen Philharmonic heard here, one of the oldest orchestras in the world, ringing in 250 years of continuous existence. Which brings us to Gerald Finley, everybody’s favourite baritone. This Montrealborn, Ottawa-raised artist, currently living in the UK, received particular attention from the sadly departed (in 2016) Einojuhani Rautavaara, another great Finnish composer. It was Finley for whom Rautavaara composed his brilliant Rubaiyat and orchestrated seven of Sibelius’ songs – In the Stream of Life – originally composed for voice and piano. In fact, these orchestrations turned out to be Rautavaara’s swan song and this world premiere recording was only concluded in the week of his funeral. Finley navigates the complex harmonies of Sibelius’ (and Rautavaara’s) music and the treacherous linguistic ground with mastery and elegance that we have come to expect from him. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra’s playing deserves kudos as well, especially in the tone poem Pohjola’s Daughter. It may be of interest that the current principal conductor in Bergen, Edward Gardner, led the English National Opera in the artistically rich, financially disastrous period from 2007 to 2015. Five stars. Robert Tomas Patrick Hawes – Revelation; Beatitudes; Qaunta Qualia Elora Singers; Noel Edison Naxos 8.573720 !! Patrick Hawes is a modern British composer and organist living on the Norfolk coast, whose compositions are inspired by nature, literature and his deep Christian faith. His approach to choral music, at least in this recording, is sublimely gentle and tonal. Even with a subject matter such as the Book of Revelation, he eschews such fiery terrors as the “four horseman of the apocalypse” and the “gnashing of teeth,” instead selecting verses that convey anticipation, awe and reverence. Although there are flashes of drama in the antiphonal section Coming with the Clouds and flashes of lightning and thunder appear in From the Throne, the overall impression conveyed in the scoring of this lovely a cappella setting inspires rather than terrorizes. The voicings in Epilogue: The Alpha and the Omega are both mystical and jubilant. Following this work is Hawes’ setting of The Beatitudes, transcendently peaceful with music that provides a soothing balm equal to the text. The piano accompaniment performed by Leslie De’Ath is beautifully subtle in its support of the voices. Another notable accompaniment is John Johnson’s alto sax on one of the five stand-alone choral works, Quanta Qualia. This time, the instrumental part is written as a blissful voice to enhance and highlight some ecstatic soprano passages. The Elora Singers deliver a pure April 1, 2017 - May 7, 2017 | 69

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