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Volume 23 Issue 2 - October 2017

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  • October
  • Toronto
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In this issue: several local artists reflect on the memory of composer Claude Vivier, as they prepare to perform his music; Vancouver gets ready to host international festival ISCM World New Music Days, which is coming to Canada for the second time since its inception in 1923; one of the founders of Artword Artbar, one of Hamilton’s staple music venues, on the eve of the 5th annual Steel City Jazz Festival, muses on keeping urban music venues alive; and a conversation with pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, as he prepares for an ambitious recital in Toronto. These and other stories, in our October 2017 issue of the magazine.

VOCAL Pour

VOCAL Pour L’éternité: Bach – Cantatas 4; 106; 9; 181 Bilodeau; Lachica; Gagné; Santini; Montréal Baroque; Eric Milnes ATMA ACD2 2406 (atmaclassique.com) ! This CD contains recordings of four cantatas: two very early ones, composed when Bach was working in Mühlhausen (including the earliest one, the beautiful funeral cantata Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, and two later ones which date from Bach’s Leipzig period. Two things stand out: firstly, that following the theories and the practice of Joshua Rifkin and Andrew Parrott, the choral sections are sung by the soloists one to a part (which is probably historically correct and produces a real gain in clarity) and secondly, that the soloists are all young singers at the beginning of their careers; they were the winners of a competition held in 2014. Tenor Philippe Gagné is the only one whom I have heard in concert. He is very good and so are the other three: Odéi Bilodeau, soprano, Elaine Lachica, alto, and Drew Santini, baritone. I found the baritone especially impressive. In the 18th century it was expected that instrumentalists could play more than one instrument. Here we find that that practice is not entirely obsolete: Margaret Little plays viola and viola da gamba, Susie Napper plays cello as well as viola da gamba, Mélisande Corriveau plays cello and recorder and Matthew Jennejohn plays both oboe and cornetto. There are now a number of complete recordings of Bach’s cantatas. Montréal Baroque has never presented their cantata recordings as a complete cycle but I hope that is what they will become. Hans de Groot Handel – Parnasso in festa Various soloists; La Cetra Barockorchester & Vokalensemble Basel; Andrea Marcon PentaTone PTC 5186 643 (pentatonemusic.com) ! For those of us convinced by the comic Adam Sandler movie that wedding music usually consists just of bad karaoke, here is an antidote: music written for the royal marriage of Princess Anne, the second daughter of King George II of England, and Prince William IV of Orange. Well, let’s say adapted, as Handel used mostly existing music from his oratorio Athalia, not yet heard in London at that time. Only nine passages were new ones, but the text was suitably changed. Depicting the dogged pursuit of the nymph Thetis by King Peleus (that resulted in nuptials and the birth of Achilles), the libretto is probably by Giacomo Rossi, but its full provenance was never confirmed. The central event, the Celebration at Parnassus, home of Apollo and the muses, is the wedding. Though not a musical drama, the piece is filled with philosophical observations and dialogues on the nature of virtue and love – a perfect wedding present! This recording qualifies as such a gift, as La Cetra under Andrea Marcon is one of the best Baroque ensembles around. The celebrated countertenor David Hansen is nothing short of sensational as Apollo, and PentaTone sets a new standard for clarity in the recording of a period performance. Robert Tomas Rossini – Sigismondo Gritskova; Aleida; Tarver; Bakonyi; Sánchez-Valverde; Arrieta; Camerata Bach Choir Poznan; Virtuosi Brunensis; Antonino Fogliani Naxos 8.660403-04 ! By the age of 23 Rossini had written 13 operas, including two masterpieces inspired by and under the spell of his muse/ innamorata Maria Marcolini, the greatest mezzo at the time. Not all were successful, but resourceful fellow that he was, he recycled some of the music later and no one knew the difference. As I was listening to Sigismondo I couldn’t help but recognize several melodies of the Barber of Seville, one in particular, the famous crescendo of the La calunnia aria first appearing here. Sigismondo was Rossini’s last opera for Venice, an opera seria written for Marcolini, who was supposed to be King of Poland. A travesti role, it is here sung by Margarita Gritskova, singing up such a storm with a voice of phenomenal range, power and emotion that one can certainly get an idea what La Marcolini must have been about. Naxos’ latest release in this series of Rossini's complete 39 operas is a winner on many counts: soprano Maria Aleida (as Aldemira, the King’s wife whom he expelled from the court but on second thought wants her back badly) gives an extraordinary vocal display that’s quite a match for Gritskova. Rossini excelled in writing for female voices; their duets are simply heavenly and rival Bellini. Tenor Kenneth Tarver, familiar to us in this series, is the villain who planned the murder of the Queen and is so severely tested in the high-flying tessitura that I felt Rossini planned to murder him instead. Antonino Fogliani can hardly be bettered in his magisterial handling of the score. Most enjoyable, highly recommended. Janos Gardonyi Franco Faccio – Hamlet Paul Cernoch; Claudio Sgura; Julia Maria Dan; Dshamilja Kaiser; Weiner Symphoniker; Paolo Carignani Cmajor 740608 ! In 1887, Franco Faccio conducted the world premiere of Verdi’s Otello, set to a libretto by Arrigo Boito. More than 20 years earlier, Faccio and Boito had collaborated on a different Shakespearian opera, Amleto (Hamlet). Wellreceived at its 1865 premiere, a poorly performed revised version flopped in 1871 and Faccio, disheartened, withdrew the work. It remained unperformed until 2014 in Albuquerque, with the 2016 Bregenz (Austria) Festival production recorded here. What a wonderful discovery! Faccio’s Hamlet, with its intense, powerful score that anticipates verismo, deserves to be welcomed to all the world’s major opera houses. The fiery “Get thee to a nunnery” duet between Hamlet and Ophelia foreshadows the Santuzza-Turiddu duet in Cavalleria Rusticana; the dreamy music of Ophelia’s mad scene is hauntingly beautiful; and the poignant, stirring strains of her funeral procession could easily be mistaken for a Mascagni intermezzo. Boito’s skillful libretto tightens Shakespeare’s play but retains all the famous episodes, adding a remorse aria for Gertrude to match the aria on Shakespeare’s prayerful text for Claudius. Heading the excellent cast is Pavel Černoch, superb as Hamlet with his dark, focused tenor and rock-solid high notes. Thankfully, stage director Olivier Tambosi eschews the grotesqueries common at Bregenz, although he introduces some inexplicable movements by silent courtiers into the otherwise traditional, un-updated mise-en-scène. Another puzzling touch – large images of eyes on most of Gesine Völlm’s period costumes. That aside, this DVD is an absolute mustsee-and-hear for every opera lover. Michael Schulman 64 | October 2017 thewholenote.com

Russia Cast Adrift Dmitri Hvorostovsky Delos DE 1631 (delosmusic.com) ! The relationships between composers and their favourite interpreters are responsible for some of the best vocal music ever written. Sometimes they are romantic in nature, as in the case of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. On many occasions, they are simply a meeting of two musical geniuses – both attuned to a secret chord within, as with Gerald Finley and the late Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. Georgy Sviridov found his muse in Dmitri Hvorostovsky. They met for the first time just four years before the composer’s death in 1994. The occasion was an auspicious one: Hvorostovsky was performing Russia Adrift, a “poem” for voice and piano, immortalized in performances by the redoubtable Elena Obraztsova. Upon hearing Hvorostovsky’s version, the composer was enchanted and a beautiful friendship followed. In the remaining years, Hvorostovsky became “the” voice for Sviridov’s music. The one project the composer did not finish before his death was an orchestral version of Russia Adrift. Here it is recorded by an orchestra and folk-instrument ensemble, in a version completed by Evgeny Stetsyuk. The words of Sergei Yesenin, the once-blacklisted Soviet poet from the 1920s, are filled with nostalgia for the Russia of yesteryear. Given the present situation in that great nation, those words acquire additional poignancy. Hvorostovsky’s voice does not betray any traces of the serious health crisis he has been undergoing of late. The album closes with a spine-tingling song, The Virgin in the City, from the vocal poem Petersburg, written especially for him. Robert Tomas Stephen Chatman – Dawn of Night University of Toronto MacMillan Singers; Hilary Apfelstadt Centrediscs CMCCD 24617 (musiccentre.ca) ! As a choral singer, I have always enjoyed the works of Stephen Chatman. Infusing softness of tone with luscious harmonies, his music always sounds deceptively simple, yet, as both he and conductor Hilary Apfelstadt point out, it requires a fair amount of preparation for a chorus to get it right. After all, the heartfelt texts Chatman chooses, such as those by Sara Teasdale, Walt Whitman, Christina Rossetti and poet/wife Tara Wohlberg, require an elegant and sensitive touch, which he applies with great care in order to enhance the essential meaning. The benefit of collaborating with Chatman, who worked as co-producer of this recording, clearly shows in the exquisite performance by the MacMillan Singers led by Apfelstadt. For pieces using piano, Laura Dodds-Eden provides a vibrant and robust accompaniment. There is also in these pieces beautiful writing for other instruments; for example, poignant trumpet interludes played by Anita McAlister in Reconciliation (from Whitman’s Drum Taps), gorgeously pulsing harp and intoning cello provided by Angela Schwarzkopf and Jenny Cheong in Dawn of Night, and Clare Scholtz’s soaring oboe in June Night and Dreams Offer Solace. Recorded at Toronto’s Grace Church on-the- Hill, this recording must have truly been a labour of love for students and mentors alike. Dianne Wells CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Beethoven Anton Kuerti Concertmasters AKR2017CD-1 Beethoven – Profound Passion: Diabelli Variations Anton Kuerti Concertmasters AKR2017DVD-1 (antonkuerti.com) ! An icon in the world of Canadian classical music, Anton Kuerti has enjoyed a long and distinguished career, not only as a performer and pedagogue, but also as a concert organizer, artistic director and social activist – a true Renaissance man! Among his extensive recordings, the music of Beethoven has always been a focus (he won a JUNO for three recordings of Beethoven sonatas in 1977), so perhaps it isn’t surprising that he’d return to music by “the great mogul” in this two-disc set featuring Piano Sonatas 21, 23 and 26 in addition to the famous Diabelli Variations. Sonata No.21, the Waldstein, from 1804, is surely one of Beethoven’s most formidable, both in terms of technique and nuance. Not only is Kuerti’s impressive technique clearly evident from the outset, but the sound he creates is warm and lyrical. The tranquil, gentle second movement gracefully merges into the expansive third movement Rondo, where Kuerti gives full weight to the piano, clearly allowing the music to speak for itself. The tempestuous mood of the Appassionata is artfully conveyed, but done so with dignity and never to excess. Phrases are well articulated and while the tempos are perhaps more leisurely than the listener might be accustomed to – particularly in the third movement – they never lag. The programmatic Sonata No.26 “Les Adieux” from 1810 is one of Beethoven’s most challenging through the contrasts of emotions, but again, Kuerti easily meets the demands, delivering a polished and elegant performance. The second disc is devoted entirely to the Diabelli Variations, a simple tune that Beethoven fashioned into one of his most famous compositions. Kuerti brings a special sensitivity to this performance, crafting each one with particular care – a true study in contrasts. The variations appear again as the sole work on a worthy companion to this set, a DVD titled Profound Passion. The introduction states that while this monumental piece has long held a particular fascination for Kuerti, its length may prove too daunting for the average listener and, without a proper explanation, it may not receive the appreciation it deserves. Hence, Kuerti provides an informal but lucid program guide prior to the performance, using various musical examples. Once again, the final performance is stellar – and for those who enjoy watching a pianist’s hands, this DVD is a treat. Either singularly or together, these recordings are a fine tribute, both to an outstanding Canadian artist and to music written by a composer at the height of his musical creativity. Highly recommended. Richard Haskell Mendelssohn – Symphonies 1-5 Chamber Orchestra of Europe; Yannick Nézet-Séguin Deutsche Grammophon 00289 479 7337 ! It is a genuine pleasure to take a deep dive into these remarkably diverse and interesting symphonies, especially when they are played (and sung) with such enthusiastic vigour and passion as they are here. Photos of Canada’s latest star, the charismatic Montrealer Yannick Nézet-Séguin, adorn the cover and several of the inside pages of the booklet; quotes from the maestro pepper the informative liner notes, such as “what I always admire in Mendelssohn, over and over again, are his abilities as a melodist.” You can’t argue with success and it’s clear that thewholenote.com October 2017 | 65

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