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Volume 23 Issue 3 - November 2017

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  • Toronto
  • November
  • Jazz
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  • Musical
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  • Performing
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  • Bloor
In this issue: conversations (of one kind or another) galore! Daniela Nardi on taking the reins at "best-kept secret" venue, 918 Bathurst; composer Jeff Ryan on his "Afghanistan" Requiem for a Generation" partnership with war poet, Susan Steele; lutenist Ben Stein on seventeenth century jazz; collaborative pianist Philip Chiu on going solo; Barbara Hannigan on her upcoming Viennese "Second School" recital at Koerner; Tina Pearson on Pauline Oliveros; and as always a whole lot more!

middle movement offers

middle movement offers Kartvelishvili another opportunity to reveal the depth of her musicality. With an allusion to a Schumann lied, the movement is fairly withdrawn until she builds it to a near climax in the second half before returning to a quiet ending. Kartvelishvili plays with both impressive might and tender conviction. Florian Wittenburg is a German-born contemporary composer. He is active throughout Europe but his academic and early career years were spent in the Netherlands. Don’t Push the Piano Around (NurNichtNur 117 01 26) is his latest disc and it adds to an already substantial discography and body of works. Pianist Sebastiaan Oosthout performs on this disc and reveals a strong affinity for Wittenberg’s music. Wittenberg is highly creative and takes his artistic inspiration from everything around him. As a composer, he revels in playing with patterns and sequences. Whether animal sounds, words, or the spelling of a name, Wittenberg is quick to place his subject into changing structures where he plays with progressions and variants. Oosthout’s grasp of Wittenberg’s language gives him access to the deep emotion of the music, especially in several of the Quotes. Litany for one pianist is particularly effective as a thoughtful and searching work, in which Oosthout is required to whistle along with a few specific notes he plays. But the most captivating of Wittenberg’s works on this disc is the opening track Eagle prayer. It’s based on the call of an African fish eagle, notated and harmonized in a highly engaging and creative way. This is an intriguing recording worth hearing. It’s uniquely gratifying to hear the work of piano duos when they have performed together for many years. Peter Hill and Benjamin Frith have been crafting their sound for more than three decades into an impressive single voice. Their newest recording, Russian Works for Piano Four Hands (Delphian DCD 34191) is an example of how remarkable the combination of such talents can become. They have moved far beyond simply playing together and evolved a unified conception of making music. This disc presents the music of three composers for whom folk music played an inspirational role. While Rachmaninov’s Six morceaux Op.11 quotes no folk material, it’s written in a style that recalls the dance and energy of folk traditions. Rachmaninov was just 21 but his writing already shows the now-familiar ability to think in large-scale terms. He uses the entire range of the keyboard without hesitation and draws on its dynamic power, amplified under the hands of two players. Hill and Frith are superb in meeting the contrasting demands of this piece, from the gentlest moments of the Romance to the magnificent ending of Slava. The selections from Tchaikovsky’s Fifty Russian Folk Songs quote directly from folk material, although much of it very briefly; there is, however, no mistaking the focus that Hill and Frith bring to this work. Their touch and tone are wonderfully connected to the often dark modal nature of the melodies. Stravinsky’s Petrushka is brilliantly played throughout. Flawless execution is matched by complete immersion in the music. The piano duo delivers the Russian Dance with all the wild energy it requires and Petrushka’s Death with the contrasting gravitas the composer intended. Hill and Frith are true masters of their art. VOCAL Rossini – William Tell Gerald Finley; Malin Byström; John Osborn; Royal Opera Hous; Antonio Pappano Opus Arte OA 1205 D !! I first heard William Tell in the spring of 1972, in Florence. That production was billed as the first complete performance since the 1830s. It was clear where a major problem lay. The principal tenor role is long, loud and high. Nicolai Gedda, who was Arnoldo in 1972, had totally lost his voice by the last act. Since then performances have become more frequent (in Toronto we recently heard a concert performance by the Turin opera) and singers are more able to cope with the demands that their roles impose. It is also notable that, whereas the 1972 performance had been in Italian, companies are now giving it in French, the language in which William Tell was composed. John Osborn has no trouble with the notorious tenor part, while Gerald Finley is magnificent in the title role. A blot on the 1972 performance was the soprano who sang Mathilde, the Habsburg princess. Malin Byström is much better but her high notes are shrill and unpleasant. There are good performances from Eric Halfvarson as the patriarch Melcthal, from Sofia Fomina in the travesti role of Tell’s son and from “our own” Michael Colvin as a very unpleasant army commander. The DVDs come with a booklet and an interesting essay by Jonathan White, who argues convincingly that the opera is primarily about the occupation of the land and the enslavement of its citizens. That emphasis finds physical expression in a prominently displayed uprooted tree, an emphasis that is reinforced by the excellent chorus. Hans de Groot Lori Laitman – The Scarlet Letter Claycomb; Armstrong; MacKenzie; Belcher; Knapp; Gawrysiak; Opera Colorado; Ari Pelto Naxos 8.669034-35 !! Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic American novel, abridged into libretto form by David Mason, premiered in 2016 as a two-act opera composed by Lori Laitman. Strict and stifling moral codes in a c.1600 Puritan community result in the punishment of young Hester Prynne and torment the secret father of her child, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, as well as her long-lost husband (now returned under an assumed name). Operatic fodder indeed, but strangely juxtaposed with a rather dismal and restrictive setting. Laitman’s challenge as a composer to reconcile the two is an interesting conundrum. She does indeed provide highly dramatic moments, such as the crowd’s raging at Prynne and the taunting of Dimmesdale by Mistress Hibbons, the town witch (sung by the formidable mezzo Margaret Gawrysiak). As Dimmesdale, tenor Dominic Armstrong’s talents are showcased with long, dramatic episodes of hysteria and guilt. Also remarkable is baritone Malcolm MacKenzie, as the husband bent on revenge. Prynne, on the other hand, proving to be much more stalwart of character, is given a much calmer, gentler musical portrayal. Soprano Laura Claycomb shines in the lullaby sung to daughter Pearl; as a singer, she manages some amazingly high notes without ever sacrificing Prynne’s aura of tenderness. The Opera Colorado Chorus does an excellent job standing in judgement of all. An interesting project indeed and well executed. Dianne Wells 72 | November 2017

Thousands of Miles Kate Lindsey; Baptiste Trotignon Alpha Classics ALPHA 272 ( !! Kurt Weill may be correctly described as a misunderstood genius. He was very serious about his music, yet was (and still is by many) dismissed as a “cabaret composer.” Despite the success of his collaborations with Bertolt Brecht, these works were banned in Nazi Germany and took the better part of the 1970s to reclaim their place in the repertoire. Similarly, his American works (One Touch of Venus, Street Scene, Lost in the Stars) were judged to be “not American enough” and not sufficiently “jazzy.” Here is a pairing of two artists to put both of these myths to well-deserved rest. Kate Lindsey, a classically trained mezzo, takes on Weill as if his works were more traditional German and Austrian lieder. In fact, when intermingled with songs by Alma Mahler, Erich Korngold and Alexander von Zemlinsky, the interpretative point is beautifully made. On the other hand, jazz pianist Baptiste Trotignon eschews often sketchy and reliably non-Weill arrangements and reductions and instead interprets the melodies in the best jazz tradition. The result is as fresh and surprising as you would expect: Weill the classical composer, and Weill the Gershwin rival! Although for many of us it may be hard to get the voice of Lotte Lenya out of our heads, the genius of Weill demands no less than that. Robert Tomas Musique Sacrée en Nouvelle-France Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal; Christopher Jackson; Réjean Poirier ATMA ACD2 2764 ( L/R !! This recording is a re-issue of a 1995 album originally titled Le Chant de la Jerusalem des terres froides on the French label K617. At the time, founding member Christopher Jackson (1948-2015) directed Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal. The program represents sacred music from the daily life of 17th-century French settlements in the New World. Books of plainchant brought to New France were utilized in church services, but also formed the basis of a new style, adopted in both new and old worlds, which added ornamentation borrowed from secular repertoire. Mass excerpts by Henry du Mont, based in Paris, serve as excellent examples of this practice. In addition to Gregorian chant, books of petit motets were also brought to New France. Composed for soloists (or for no more than three voices) with chamber instrumentation, this proved much easier to realize in the colonies than the grand motet, which required large forces. Composers of the form such as Nicolas Lebègue and André Campra are represented on this recording, highlighting the divinely sweet persuasion of the small ensemble. Two of the pieces, Inviolata and Ego sum panis vivus, are examples of the petit motet translated into the Algonquin Abenaki dialect to abet religious conversion of the Native population. The choir and soloists’ exquisite renderings throughout the CD bring the history to life, enhanced by organist Réjean Poirier’s performances of pieces from Livre d’orgue de Montréal. Dianne Wells O Gladsome Light Lawrence Wiliford; Marie Bérard; Keith Hamm; Steven Philcox Stone Records 506019278065 ( !! That tenor Lawrence Wiliford’s voice is perfectly suited to English repertoire is clearly illustrated on this recording. In songs and hymns by Gustav Holst, his lesser-known student Edmund Rubbra and contemporary Ralph Vaughan Williams, Wiliford displays his gift for expressiveness, sensitivity to text and challengingly high tessitura. These qualities were assimilated through his experiences singing in the church since boyhood, roles in Canadian Opera Company productions and as co-founder of the Canadian Art Song Project along with pianist Steven Philcox (who also accompanies beautifully on this recording). Because Rubbra is relatively unknown, we are grateful for the singer’s inclusion of transcendent modal songs such as The Mystery and Rosa Mundi as well as Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn for solo viola played sublimely by Keith Hamm and Variations on a Phrygian Theme for solo violin on which Marie Bérard displays her signature sweetness of tone. (Both Hamm and Bérard are members of the COC orchestra.) Also of note from Rubbra is Hymn to the Virgin and Jesukin. Upon first hearing, I spent several minutes searching through liner notes for the name of the harpist. In fact, Rubbra had cleverly composed his accompaniment by the use of spread piano chords, resulting in a “harplike rendition” played so rockingly gentle by Philcox that one is easily lulled and thus bewildered, but happily so. Dianne Wells Donizetti – La Favorite Elīna Garanča; Bayerische Staatsoper; Karel Mark Chichon Deutsche Grammophon 073 5358 ! ! This is indeed a superlative performance from Munich, to be remembered for a long time to come. It brings out all the glory that lay partly dormant in past performances, although the opera did well for the last 177 years since first performed in Paris with great success. This new production perhaps wouldn’t have happened without Elīna Garanča’s keen interest in the project; the role seems written for her and she even brought along her husband Karel Mark Chichon to conduct as if the score was written for him. A happy situation, as there is a symbiotic relationship here; the two inspire each other and it sparkles like electricity in the air. The great mezzo towers over everything, vocally, artistically and even physically with tremendous vocal and emotional range and an incredible commitment to the character she plays. Léonor de Guzman is a beautiful woman literally enslaved by the King of Castile in 14th-century Spain, trying to break out by finding true love with a young man, only to be outwitted by the King, losing everything including her life. No less memorable are the men: American lyric tenor Matthew Polenzani, as Fernand the hapless lover, is glorious in his passionate love for Léonor and displays magnificent emotional and vocal fireworks in his grand scene at the third act finale when he finds out he’s been cheated by marrying the King’s mistress. Internationally famous Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien is perfectly cast as the charming, but utterly ruthless, powerful monarch who, also infatuated with Léonor but having to give her up, is thirsty for revenge. Talented director Amélie Niermeyer has a well-thought-out konzept definitely centring on the woman. Sets are minimal but powerful and create intimacy as well as religious fervour, not to mention space and grandeur that works so well that it even invokes the Grand Opera in Paris. Janos Gardonyi November 2017 | 73

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