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Volume 23 Issue 1 - September 2017

  • Text
  • September
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Orchestra
  • Musical
  • October
  • Recording
  • Composer
  • Symphony
  • Theatre
In this issue: a look at why musicians experience stage fright, and how to combat it; an inside look at the second Kensington Market Jazz Festival, which zeros in on one of Toronto’s true ‘music villages’; an in-depth interview with Elisa Citterio, new music director of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; and The WholeNote’s guide to TIFF, with suggestions for the 20 most musical films at this year’s festival. These and other stories, in our September 2017 issue of the magazine!

conclusion that

conclusion that doesn’t leave the listener wanting for more. This is an exemplary recording, one that can rightfully take its place alongside more established performances. An Italian-born conductor leading an American orchestra in music from the late Romantic period – proof indeed that fine music-making does indeed transcend international boundaries – highly recommended. Richard Haskell Mahler 5 Minnesota Orchestra; Osmo Vänskä BIS BIS-2226 SACD (mnorch.org) !! The conductor Osmo Vänskä has an enviable reputation as an orchestra builder, having previously transformed the provincial Finnish orchestra of Lahti into a major player with his survey of the complete works of Sibelius in an acclaimed series of recordings on the BIS label. In 2003, Vänskä became the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra and turned his attention to wellregarded box sets of the complete Beethoven and Sibelius symphonies, also on BIS. The present recording is the first in a projected series of the complete Mahler symphonies, with Symphonies Six and Two due to arrive shortly. I must admit I was initially a bit dubious about the project; a Mahler cycle is a pro forma bid for the big leagues and a potentially ruinous gamble from entities whose Mahler tradition is often negligible. I need not have worried. As Mahler was fond of saying, “Tradition is laziness.” This is a fresh-faced, supremely confident performance that cleans away many a cobweb from the customary overheated interpretations of this popular work. Vänskä lets the music flow naturally without resorting to dramatic excess at structural transitions, and his orchestra responds with admirable assurance and precision to his subtle tempo modifications. The refinement of the string section in particular is exemplary, allowing the delicate arc of the Adagietto movement to be stretched to a near-record duration of 13 minutes. Special praise is due to the experienced team from BIS for producing an exemplary, richly detailed studio recording in an age in which cheaply sutured “live” performances predominate. Daniel Foley Richard Strauss – Oboe Concerto; Wind Serenade; Wind Sonatina No.2 Alexei Ogrintchouk; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Andris Nelsons BIS BIX-2163 SACD bis.se !! Alexi Ogrintchouk, principal oboist of the venerable Concertgebouw Orchestra since 2005, headlines this new recording of two late works by Richard Strauss. Chief among them is the Oboe Concerto of 1945, which the composer was encouraged to write by the occupying American soldier and, by chance, professional oboist John de Lancie. Strauss, then in his 80s, was cool to the idea at first, but he liked to keep busy even as his cozy world collapsed about him. The resulting 25-minute, single-movement Concerto, while not technically difficult, is exceedingly prolix and taxes the endurance of the soloist to the utmost. Ogrintchouk, blessed with a tone both sweet and secure, is more than up to the task and receives outstandingly sensitive support from the orchestra and conductor Andris Nelsons in this recording nicely cobbled together from three live performances. The disc also includes a performance of the composer’s skilful Serenade in E-flat Major, composed at the age of 18. While it is a minor work, its inclusion here does presage in a curious way the retrogressive, four-square melodic profile of his late style. Personally I was drawn to this recording by the presence of the Wind Sonatina of 1944-45. Subtitled “The Happy Workshop,” it is a companion work to the even stranger Sonatina of 1943, “From an Invalid’s Workshop.” Both are scored for an ensemble of 16 wind instruments, including rare assignments for the clarinet in C and basset horn. The moniker of “Sonatina” is truly droll, as the Second Sonatina is a symphonically conceived, multi-movement 40-minute work. Here the senescent Strauss revels in his expertise in the slippery art of sidestepping chromaticism. The performance, presumably captured under studio conditions, is simply glorious and is captured in pristine sound across a wide and detailed sonic spectrum. Ho boy is it good! Daniel Foley Schmidt – Symphony No.2; Strauss – Breathing by the Fireside Wiener Philharmoniker; Semyon Bychkov Sony Classical 88985355522 !! After Mahler and Strauss, my favourite late Romantic among German and Austrian composers is Franz Schmidt (1874-1939). Virtuoso pianist, Vienna Court Opera Orchestra cellist, and distinguished teacher of several subjects at the Vienna Conservatory, Schmidt composed in every major genre. Of his four symphonies the Second (1913) is charming, grand and dark in turn. The Vienna Philharmonic under the masterful Semyon Bychkov shines in this Sony release, especially the strings from the first movement’s opening “bubbly stream” onwards. The brass section predominates later with horns that amaze; contrapuntal ingenuities and vivid contrasts of tone colour abound in woodwinds from the piccolo on down. Bychkov, the orchestra and the recording team achieve admirable pacing and balance, for example where everything gears down darkly till only soft tam-tam strokes are heard before the opening passage’s return. I believe there are subtle allusions to composers with Vienna associations. In the second movement, an ingenious theme and variations, the first chord references that of Brahms’ Haydn Variations in key, chord, and melody; the finale fugato begins with the E-flat major two-note horn call of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony (Bruckner was Schmidt’s counterpoint teacher). Though ingrained in Viennese musical life, Schmidt became his own joyous and tragic compositional personality, and comments like “sounds like Richard Strauss” are tiresomely shallow. In any case the disc includes the interlude known as Dreaming by the Fireside from Strauss’s opera Intermezzo (1924), allowing comparison. Roger Knox Ives – Three Places in New England; Orchestral Set No.2; New England Holidays Seattle Symphony; Ludovic Morlot Seattle Symphony SSM1015 (seattlesymphony.org) ! ! This Naxos recording is the third in a series paying homage to the music of Charles Ives, recorded live by the Seattle Symphony conducted by Ludovic Morlot. The disc opens with the St. Gaudens in Boston 76 | September 2017 thewholenote.com

Common from Three Places in New England. Here, the ensemble invokes a moving and wistful mood as befits music honouring fallen Black soldiers in the Civil War. The raucous Putnam’s Camp is a true Fourth of July celebration while the mysterious Housatonic at Stockbridge is a personal and sensitive musical depiction of the mystical river flowing through New England. More patriotism follows in the Orchestral Set No.2 and New England Holidays, where the orchestra’s exemplary winds and brass are heard to great advantage, particularly in the middle movement of the set, The Rockstrewn Hills Join in the People’s Outdoor Meeting. New England Holidays is a study in contrasts, from the icy New England landscape of Washington’s Birthday in February, to the reverential Thanksgiving where the orchestra is joined by the Seattle Symphony Chorale. In all, this CD is a wonderful representation of Ives’ music, the well-selected program further enhanced by the SSO’s polished performance. As to whether or not a Frenchborn conductor has an affinity towards American music, the answer is most decidedly “Oui!” Morlot may hail from Lyon, but this performance has “America” written all over it – highly recommended. Richard Haskell George Antheil – A Jazz Symphony; Piano Concerto No.1 Frank Dupree; Adrian Brendle; Uram Kim; Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland- Pfalz; Karl-Heinz Steffens Capriccio C5309 CD !! In 1945, the American composer George Antheil (1900- 1959) published his memoirs titled Bad Boy of Music. Antheil had attended the Sternberg Conservatory in Philadelphia and later studied with Ernest Bloch. He composed six symphonies and two piano concertos, in addition to operas, ballets, chamber music and a song cycle plus some 30 film scores including In a Lonely Place, Bogart’s 1950 film noir. All this in addition to writing a regular newspaper column for the lovelorn and authoring a layman’s guide on forensic endocrinology. He collaborated with actress Hedy Lamarr to invent a guidance system for torpedoes that was adopted by the Navy in WWII. His compositions always attracted attention, most particularly the shocking Ballet Mécanique (1925) a work for orchestra, mechanical pianos and an airplane engine. Here is the original 1925 version written for Paul Whiteman of A Jazz Symphony for three pianos and orchestra, a year after Gershwin’s original Rhapsody in Blue and before Ferde Grofé’s orchestration of that piece. It is a crazy, 12-and-a-half-minute potpourri of many ideas and tunes that enter and leave usually without further development. Antheil briefly quotes from Petrouchka and Varèse comes to mind. Of course, this is not jazz but it utilizes many jazz instruments and figures. A hoot. The Piano Concerto No.1 (1922) is equally entertaining and is clearly from the same hand. Bright, original and entertaining, including brief quotes from Le Sacre. To the naive boy from a village in Spain, Madrid was Capital of the World where, eventually, he meets an admired bull fighter and is ultimately fatally knifed. The suite is in three scenes, The Tailor’s Shop, Meditation and Knife Dance and Farruca. Antheil’s Rhumba is orchestrated in the by-now-familiar mode, providing a suitably festive closing-out for this very unusual, interesting and entertaining program. Bruce Surtees Copland – Symphony No.3; Three Latin American Sketches Detroit Symphony Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin Naxos 8.559844 !! Aaron Copland’s life encompassed nearly the entire 20th century. During it he was exposed to a crossfire of many European modern influences, but miraculously he could still achieve his own voice, a distinctive style that’s unmistakably American. Interestingly he began like Stravinsky, by writing for the ballet, a good way to make his music accessible to the public and become popular, so by the time he wrote a purely orchestral piece like Symphony No.3 right after the war in 1946, a joyful, optimistic work, it was instantly well received. The entire symphony is full of inspiration: the hymn-like quiet beginning, the rip-roaring Scherzo punctuated by whistles on the piccolo which is like a group of wild horses storming out of the paddock, and the peaceful third movement where we can feel the vast prairies and the overarching sky. This insinuates itself into the tremendous Fanfare for the Common Man that introduces the fourth movement, with those shattering chords by the brass interrupted by thundering cannons. I am suddenly aware how this music has already become embedded into the soul and as conductor Jaap van Zweden aptly put it, “into the DNA of every American.” Now this new recording with the gorgeous, spacious sound of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, a band very much underestimated and under one of the best American conductors, Leonard Slatkin, I like it even better than the previous benchmark issue with Bernstein. As an added bonus the Three Latin American Sketches with Mexican influences shows Copland’s lighter side and versatility. Janos Gardonyi Randall Thompson – Symphony No.2; Samuel Adams – Drift and Providence; Samuel Barber – Symphony No.1 National Orchestra Institute Philharmonic; James Ross Naxos 8.559822 ! ! A trio of American composers – Randall Thompson, Samuel Adams and Samuel Barber – are featured on this Naxos American Classics CD, the second in a series of recordings performed by top conservatory students of Maryland’s National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic conducted by James Ross. Despite being written during the Great Depression, Thompson’s Symphony No.2 from 1931 is anything but angst-ridden. The opening movement is lively and spirited, owing much to the jazz rhythms of the 1920s. The lush second movement Largo is warmly Romantic, while the third and fourth movements are marked by a mood of buoyant optimism, the strings melding perfectly with the stirring brass, particularly in the gregarious finale. Drift and Providence by Adams is a musical voyage inspired by the Pacific Ocean. The 32-year-old composer explained that in creating the piece, he recorded sounds of the ocean, transformed them digitally, then transcribed them for instruments. With a sparing use of electronic media, the result is highly atmospheric music. Despite an initial mixed reception at its 1936 premiere, Barber’s Symphony No.1 ultimately gained greater favour and was the first American symphonic piece to be presented at the Salzburg Festival. More strident than Thompson’s symphony, the piece is well constructed, with the orchestra deftly handing the four contrasting sections. This is a fine recording – how appropriate that an orchestra of gifted young American musicians would perform music by American composers who had not yet reached the age of 35 – and do it well. Recommended. Richard Haskell thewholenote.com September 2017 | 77

Volume 26 (2020- )

Volume 26 Issue 1 - September 2020

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2020)

Volume 25 Issue 9 - July / August 2020
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Volume 25 Issue 3 - November 2019
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