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Volume 23 Issue 3 - November 2017

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  • Toronto
  • November
  • Jazz
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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!

Serenade Thomas Hampson;

Serenade Thomas Hampson; Maciej Pikulski Pentatone PTC 5186 681 (pentatonemusic.com) Dominick Argento – The Adree Expidition Brian Mulligan; Timothy Long Naxos 8.559828 (brian-mulligan.com) !! Poor baritone – the undisputed “viola of voices.” You see, among orchestral instruments, the violas get no respect. All the best jokes about musical instruments start with something like this: “What do you call 100 violas at the bottom of the ocean….” Seemingly, baritones get the same dismissive treatment. You’ve heard the Three Tenors, you know of the Celtic Tenors. There are superstar sopranos, diva sopranos – even an occasional mezzo star (Magdalena Kožená, Frederica von Stade and many others). But when, oh when, have you heard about a baritone superstar? A part of this neglect is rooted in the repertoire – baritones are usually the villains, scoundrels, humourless fathers or sour priests. But the true mystery to me is why a baritone (one of the loveliest voices you are likely to hear, and for me THE best voice for chanson, lieder and any other voice-andpiano music) has never reached the levels of adoration that other voices have. Here to prove my point, two gentlemen poles apart in their careers. Thomas Hampson, arguably the “old guard” baritone, with several decades, and some 170 CDs to his name, is pitted against Brian Mulligan, a young and already accomplished graduate of the Juilliard School, here making his recording debut. Even their choice of music underlines the elegant divergence in their approaches: Hampson recorded his first record exclusively dedicated to French songs by opera composers, while Mulligan chose new vocal works by the American, Dominick Argento. Both are passionate, lyrical, thoughtful singers. Both fully understand the works they sing – no empty soundmaking typical of some sopranos here. Both have the benefit of intelligent accompaniment by great piano players: Hampson with the phenomenal Maciej Pikulski, and Mulligan with the equally redoubtable Timothy Long. So maybe the recording quality will give one of them an edge? Alas, the PentaTone transparent recording is matched here by the more present Naxos studio job – both excellent. So the contest is a complete draw, as both singers are wonderful, unabashed, triumphant and resounding baritones! The king of voices (in my small universe) proves again its power and beauty, showcased by both a seasoned and a novice singer, delivering the most satisfying vocal music of the past and the present and leaving the listener with an urgent need to hear more. Now, about those violas… Robert Tomas Robert Aldridge – Sister Carrie Zabala; Phares; Morgan; Jordheim; Cunningham; Florentine Opera Chorus; Florentine Opera Company; Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; William Boggs Naxos 8.669039-40 !! Moby-Dick, The Grapes of Wrath, Little Women, The Scarlet Letter… The list of new operas based on classic American novels keeps growing. In 2012, the Naxos recording of Robert Aldridge’s Elmer Gantry, with a libretto by Herschel Garfein, won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. That same year, Aldridge and Garfein completed Sister Carrie, based on Theodore Dreiser’s novel. It was premiered and recorded in 2016 by Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera Company. It’s 1900. Carrie (mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala) leaves her job in a Chicago shoe factory, becoming the mistress of salesman Charlie Drouet (tenor Matt Morgan). Besotted with her, restaurant manager George Hurstwood (baritone Keith Phares) steals ,000 from the restaurant safe, abandons his wife and children, and tricks Carrie into joining him on a train to New York. Tracked down, Hurstwood avoids prosecution by returning ,000, promising to repay the balance. Suddenly impoverished, he becomes depressed and reclusive. Carrie leaves him, finding work as an operetta chorister (the dress-rehearsal scene is hilarious). Hurstwood, unemployed and homeless, is severely beaten leading homeless replacement-workers during a labour strike. The opera ends with a chorus of homeless men, Hurstwood’s suicide and Carrie, now a star, singing in the operetta production-number, Why I’m Single. Naxos describes Aldridge’s two-anda-half-hour score as “richly melodic and unapologetically tonal.” Drawing upon the energy and bright colours of Broadway musicals (although a darker palette would have been more appropriate), Sister Carrie succeeds as very accessible, highly theatrical entertainment. Michael Schulman The Yeats Project Sarah Jerrom Independent SJ2016CD (sarahjerrom.com Love Songs of James Joyce Donna Greenberg Independent (donnagreenberg.com) ! ! Lots of poetry to music here. Sarah Jerrom sets her sights on William Butler Yeats in The Yeats Project, while Donna Greenberg sets James Joyce’s words to music in Love Songs of James Joyce. Though both similarly use established poetry, each collection is original in setting, style and length. Sarah Jerrom has an almost otherworldly approach to her ethereal compositions, combining jazz, improvised, contemporary and classical music. These are detailed, wellthought-out settings to ten Yeats’ poems, which fit her vocal stylings with complex melodies, wide pitch jumps and subtle tonal colours. She has arranged her work for an allstar nine member chamber band of strings, woodwinds, brass and rhythm section, each member an improvising star in their own right. By treating her instrumentalists as equals, Jerrom creates perfect poetic musical settings. The opening of He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven is a heart-throbbing introduction to an exploration of love through words and sound. In sharp contrast, A Coat / That Reed-Throated Whisperer features a more wide-ranging vocal line effectively matched by a very low pitched clarinet. I love the exciting free improvisation atonal section at the beginning of Meru leading to an almost spooky melody with shots and heldnote band backup. The Lake Isle of Innisfree/ Stream and Sun at Glendalough is as epic as its poetry in length, meandering improvisations and moods. Sailing to Byzantium is a more traditional jazz tonal tune with bouncy drum and piano groove, clarinet solo and vocal line swells and scat. So much reflection, talent and respect for music, words and performers make The Yeats Project a memorable concentrated listening experience. Donna Greenberg has chosen 13 unrelated poems from James Joyce’s Chamber Music (1907) to compose a song cycle that tells the story of unrequited love. She too touches many styles from classical to jazz to folk to tell her musical story, creating interesting accessible music. Her songs complement her voice perfectly, while superstar jazz pianist Mark Kieswetter performs and arranges for piano, voice, strings, winds and harp. The vocal and piano performances 74 | November 2017 thewholenote.com

are extremely musical, especially in My Love is a Light Attire where the subtle piano introduction leads to straightforward singing about the splendours of love, setting the stage for an emotional wash of strings and shifting harmonies. Greenberg seems to be the most in her element in the jazzier O Cool, which features an extended piano solo and nice doubling of voice and clarinet against the bass line. It is great to hear Greenberg vocalize at low pitches against low instrumental timbres in Sleep Now, about insomnia and betrayal. Though not as dense as Jerrom’s, Greenberg’s song cycle is moving, smart and lyrical. Tiina Kiik CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Beethoven: Piano Trios Vol.5 – “Archduke” Trio, Kakadu Variations Xyrion Trio Naxos 8.572343 !! Just like the Emperor Concerto, Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat, Op.97 is also aptly named. Apart from Archduke Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria to whom it was dedicated, it is also the grandest, most noble of the six works in this genre, a real Archduke of trios. It has an unforgettably beautiful opening theme that Beethoven breaks down into small fragments with everchanging instrumental combinations and moods so they become sources of further surprises. My love affair with it began in my youth after hearing the legendary Cortot/ Thibaud/Casals recording on EMI; it reverberated in me so much that I resisted listening to any later version. Until now that is, when I came across this new recording by three young women from Germany who have recorded all of Beethoven’s trios as their debut with Naxos, winning some prestigious prizes and world acclaim thereafter. I was immediately surprised by the upbeat tempo, a bit faster than I remembered, and quite taken by the youthful, exuberant and fresh spirit, where the strong personalities and virtuosity of the individual artists add a new insight, achieving a “vibrant and glowing” (Fono Forum) and intense performance. The Archduke Trio is flanked by two lesser works. First is the earlier (1803) Kakadu Variations, where Beethoven’s sense of humour is evident with its long, gloomy slow G-minor introduction that abruptly bursts into a popular ditty and a set of bravura variations. At one point one can even hear the kakadu (cockatoo) shrieking on the violin. The even earlier Trio in E-flat Major, WoO 38 from 1790 closes and adds further richness to this delightful recording. Janos Gardonyi Programs 13 & 14; Programs 15 & 16 All-Star Orchestra; Gerard Schwarz Naxos 2.110561 and 2.110562 !! It’s been three years now since the American conductor Gerard Schwarz embarked on an ambitious project: assemble 95 leading musicians from top orchestras across 22 states and record an annual series of concerts without an audience over a brief four-day period using highdefinition video cameras. The undertaking has garnered considerable critical acclaim, and since 2014, the All-Star Orchestra has made a significant name for itself both through television performances on PBS and WNET and by means of a series of DVDs on the Naxos label. The recording sessions made during the third season have been captured on two DVDs – programs 13/14 and 15/16 respectively – and together they present eclectic programs of music from the late Romantic period to the 20th century. The first of these, subtitled “Russian Treasures” and “Northern Lights,” features Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, excerpts from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet and the Symphony No.2 by Jean Sibelius. Prior to each performance, Schwarz provides an informal commentary, while various members of the orchestra offer their thoughts on the music as well, all of which makes for an engaging personal touch – and the myriad of effective camera angles throughout gives the ensemble a strong sense of presence. The performances of all three works are uniformly excellent. The individual movements from Pictures are finely crafted, while the familiar segments from the ballet – Capulets and Montagues, Portrait of the Young Juliet, Minuet and Death of Tybalt, are in no small way aided by the warm strings, a full and well-rounded brass section and woodwinds with impeccable clarity. Sibelius’ grand and expansive symphony from 1902 is treated with much aplomb, from the gentle opening movement to the jubilant finale. Programs 15 and 16 take the viewer from Northern Europe to England and America of the 19th and 20th centuries. “British Enigmas” presents Elgar’s noble and dignified Enigma Variations and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Less well known are the ethereal Symphony No.2 “Mysterious Mountain” by American composer Alan Hovhaness and the Jubilee Variations, a collaborative work by English composer Eugene Goossens and ten American composer friends. The final movement of the variations, written by Goossens himself, is a true tour de force requiring the ensemble to pull out all the stops, thus bringing the work – and the DVD – to a fitting conclusion. The viewer is left almost wishing there was a live audience present to offer a round of welldeserved applause! So to Gerard Schwarz and the ASO, a big bravo – here’s hoping this ambitious undertaking will be around for many years to come, bringing fine music-making to home audiences around the world. Richard Haskell The Tchaikovsky Project – Manfred Symphony Czech Philharmonic; Semyon Bychkov Decca 483 2320 ! ! This CD is the second release in Decca Classics’ orchestral Tchaikovsky Project that features the Czech Philharmonic and conductor Semyon Bychkov. For a lonely Romantic symphony needing advocacy, this loving version of the much-criticized Manfred Symphony (1886) is the answer. An hour long and very difficult, the work here receives extraordinary endorsements in both performance and program notes. In the Lento lugubre movement, action begins with Manfred’s gloomy descending theme in B-minor, a key associated with tragedy (as in Swan Lake). The drama is well-paced, with the orchestra holding nothing back. The music of Manfred’s beloved Astarte is an abrupt contrast, delicate strings in delightful interplay with enticing woodwinds. But the mood is temporary; through a controlled build-up, brass forceful but not blaring, Bychkov ushers in her climactic death. In the accompanying booklet, Bychkov’s rebuttals to criticisms of repetitiveness and episodic structure emphasize the work as drama. While he compares it to opera I think of ballet, for example in the light-on-its-feet second movement where grieving Manfred spots a water spirit; tremendously fast woodwind runs precede strings of supernatural virtuosity. In the following movement the ländler’s dance rhythm along with instrumental drones portray the Alpine people’s rustic life, Manfred looking on sadly. The Czechs’ idiomatic playing makes me want to get up and dance! The orchestra’s energy and aplomb through the bacchanal and ensuing fugue are remarkable, though only in heaven are the lovers reunited. Strongly recommended. Roger Knox thewholenote.com November 2017 | 75

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2019)

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