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Volume 23 Issue 6 - March 2018

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  • Toronto
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In this issue: Canadian Stage, Tapestry Opera and Vancouver Opera collaborate to take Gogol’s short story The Overcoat to the operatic stage; Montreal-based Sam Shalabi brings his ensemble Land of Kush, and his newest composition, to Toronto; Five Canadian composers, each with a different CBC connection, are nominated for JUNOs; and The WholeNote team presents its annual Summer Music Education Directory, a directory of summer music camps, programs and courses across the province and beyond.

Panayiotis Demopoulos’

Panayiotis Demopoulos’ latest recording Brahms, Demopoulos, Mussorgsky (Diversions ddv 24166 divineartrecords. com) is his third and includes one of his own compositions, Farewells for Piano. The work is a tribute to his two principal teachers in the UK. It’s structured in four parts, each representing a farewell offered in one of the four seasons. Demopoulos writes that the work has no explicit program beyond its title. The four short pieces are very modern in their language and surprisingly abrupt in mood change. The main work on the CD is the Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition. Demopoulos uses the 1931 edition edited by Pavel Lamm that corrected the numerous and questionable portions of the 1886 version edited by Rimsky-Korsakov. The 16 short pieces that comprise the Pictures encompass the entire expressive spectrum and call upon the pianist to be everything from sprite to superhero. It is Mussorgsky’s demand for contrast on such an enormous scale that presents performers with the daunting task of playing the piece complete in live performance. At least the recording studio offers the respite of breaks between takes. However Demopoulos did it, it’s breathtaking. By the time he’s portrayed little chicks, the busy market place, the realm of the dead and arrives at the Great Gate of Kiev, awe is all that remains. VOCAL Secret Fires of Love Daniel Thomson; Terry McKenna; Thomas Leininger; Studio Rhetorica; Robert Toft Talbot Productions TP1701 (belcantohip.com) !! The love song has been a mainstay of vocal music, through its incarnations as performed by minnesingers or troubadours, followed by lieder or chanson artists, to John Cusack with a boom box above his head in Say Anything, to the seemingly ubiquitous Ed Sheeran. Throughout this time, it grew steadily louder: the meekest of instruments, the lute, has been supplanted by the guitar (sometimes electric) while the harpsichord yielded to the pianoforte and synthesizers. One thing, seemingly, has been lost: the contemplative, almost meditative quality that permeated the Renaissance and Baroque songs of courtly love. The intimate connection is still there in modern music, the sweet pain of love still exerts its pangs, but the whisper has turned to a shout. No wonder – in our crazy 24/7 world, who really does take time to smell the roses? Robert Toft, that’s who! The music scholar from Western University in London brings together a stellar cast to survey the love songs of the Italian and English Renaissance and Baroque. The unique talents of Daniel Thomson, Terry McKenna and Thomas Leininger recreate the very intimacy, closeness and wonder of music played and sung pianissimo, requiring us to tune out the world and meditate alongside. Thomson, an Australian countertenor, is having “his” moment: his muscular, precise voice is pure joy. McKenna, a Canadian lutenist, coaxes his “meek instrument” into a commanding performance. Leininger, a German master of the harpsichord, makes one long for the days before the invention of the pianoforte. Arriving a few weeks late for Valentine’s Day, nevertheless this will be the best gift for the one you love. Robert Tomas The People’s Purcell Michael Slattery; La Nef ATMA ACD2 2726 (atmaclassique.com) !! As with his 2012 recording, Dowland in Dublin, tenor Michael Slattery has collaborated again with La Nef to present the music of a beloved composer, reworked and transformed in fresh and novel ways that prove most pleasing (and accessible) to a modern listener. Though Henry Purcell enjoyed an elevated position as composer at the court of Charles II, his theatrical music, based on popular song and dance forms of the time, was clearly loved by the more common folk. As well, there has been a long tradition of re-arranging Purcell’s sublime melodies for public use, beginning with Playford’s collection The Dancing Master in 1651. Each piece selected for this recording has been individually stamped by either Slattery or a member of La Nef, without compromising the original intent of the music. Baroque cellist Amanda Keesmaat and cittern player Seán Dagher infuse their arrangements of instrumental suites from The Fairy Queen and King Arthur with playful interplays and folksy articulations. Flutist Grégoire Jeay and tenor Slattery take turns providing arrangements of the songs, with stunning results. The recording ends with Slattery’s reworking of Dido’s Lament in which a vacillation between the minor and major key provides a surprisingly dramatic and rather surreal effect, poignantly enhanced by the tenor’s artful and subtle delivery. Dianne Wells The Verdi Album Sonya Yoncheva; Münchner Rundfunkorchester; Massimo Zanetti Sony Classical 88985417982 ! ! “A high C that takes no prisoners,” muses Presto Classical editor Katherine Cooper wittily about the final note on this disc. And neither does Verdi. In fact, he “murders” sopranos so the legend goes (even though he married one). Bulgarian dramatic soprano Sonya Yoncheva is his latest intended victim. I’m happy to report that she is alive and well after her sensational debut at the Met’s Tosca and this, her latest CD issued on February 2, has already won an award. The final high C comes from Abigaille’s hair-raising cabaletta in the second act of Nabucco, young Verdi’s first breakthrough success. Verdi is the ultimate challenge for the soprano. Not just for the voice, but a certain quality the great master insisted on: beauty of tone, intelligence and feeling. Right at the outset in Leonora’s opening cavatina (Il Trovatore, Act I), Yoncheva’s handling of the wonderful soaring tune that culminates in a heartrending fortissimo makes her rich vocal colour and emotional intensity immediately manifest. In the ensuing cabaletta, her voice becomes light as a feather by contrast. Her stunning high register further impresses in Come in quest’ora bruna from Simon Boccanegra: the heroine sings her heart out to a shimmering spring morning in Genoa on the Ligurian Sea, and I shiver in delight whenever I hear it. But the real test is far more difficult: the tragic, the defiant, the anguished, the women in despair (Odabella in Attila, Luisa Miller, Lina of Stiffelio, Desdemona or Elisabetta in Don Carlo), where Yoncheva’s congenital empathy and effortless mid- and low register dominate. And then there are those iconic prayers sung in hushed near silence like Ave Maria from Otello... and more. Massimo Zanetti of Tutto Verdi fame conducts with zest and vigour. A daring new issue by a singer with a great future. Janos Gardonyi Into the Deepest Sea! Sarah Wegener; Gotz Payer SWR2 8553374 (sarah-wegener.de) !! For the profound beauty of Brahms’ Meine Liebe ist grün Op.63 No.5 to have its greatest impact on the senses, its majestic beauty 72 | March 2018 thewholenote.com

must unfold in a mere minute and 44 seconds. It does so here in the voice of lyric soprano Sarah Wegener. At her command even the shortest of phrases are sung with gilt-edged, almost liquid silkiness. This is, however, not only the case with Wegener’s Brahms. It’s true of her Schubert, Strauss and everything else. Throughout Into the Deepest Sea! not only does Wegener sing with utter beauty, but her interpretations of Brahms, Schubert, and indeed, the other composers, communicate very strongly the meanings of the words, as if each song speaks to her in the secret of her heart before reaching her lips. Her expressive manner of communicating pure poetry of feeling is echoed in the pianism of Götz Payer, who enters into each lied as a protagonist in his own right, playing his part in the music with vim and verve. Wegener is wonderfully adept at maintaining the emotional centre of gravity of each song, navigating with graceful beauty around the outermost extremities of its narrative, yet always returning to the beating heart of the song. Her passionate performance extends to the mystical songs of Sibelius and the pastoral grandeur of Grieg, too. Everywhere on this disc, every nuance and subtlety has been carefully considered and beautifully sung, performed with both sublime delicacy and intense contrasts. Raul da Gama CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Beethoven – Septet; Strauss – Till Eulenspiegel einmal anders! OSM Chamber Players Analekta AN 2 8788 (analekta.com) !! Ludwig van Beethoven’s Septet, Op.20 (1799) was a pivotal work. Such learned musicians as the composer’s former teacher Joseph Haydn applauded its expert deployment of four stringed and three wind instruments: violin, viola, cello, double bass, clarinet, bassoon and horn. Energy, wit and sunny moods gained it public popularity, and listeners will likely find this recording by the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal Chamber Soloists attractive. Variety in sound brings the work its distinctiveness. While artistic director Andrew Wan’s agile violin and Todd Cope’s impeccable clarinet take the lead, other instruments also have solo turns, and wonderful instrumental groupings sustained this listener’s interest. In the Adagio, instrumentalists make the most of expressive opportunities; Neal Gripp’s viola solo is particularly attractive. All players bring fine articulation to the minuet, while in the trio Cope, Stéphane Lévesque, bassoon, and John Zirbel, horn add beautiful decorative arpeggios. Cellist Brian Manker and double bassist Ali Yasdanfar contribute greatly to overall balance and tight ensemble; the finale is a tour de force. Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel (einmal anders!), abridged and arranged by Franz Hasenöhrl (1885-1970) for the above forces minus viola and cello, is a tour de force of a different kind. Premiered in 1954, it squeezes the familiar tone poem’s thematic material into less than nine minutes, including exciting virtuosity and humorous touches that in the Chamber Soloists’ capable hands remain within the bounds of taste! Roger Knox Nouvelle Vie – A Rediscovery of French Flute Music Michelle Batty Stanley; Margaret McDonald Navona Records NV5135 (navonarecords.com) !! Nouvelle Vie, by flutist Michelle Batty Stanley and pianist Margaret McDonald introduces us to some lesser-known compositions and composers working during the years of the Belle Époque in Paris. It also includes three better-known works by Philippe Gaubert, who might be considered a child of the Belle Époque, since the year of his birth was 1879. René de Boisdeffre’s Canzonetta, Op.39 No.8, provides the recording with a strong opening and is played with vivacity, precision and grace. Stanley’s articulation, something much more difficult on the flute than on most other instruments, is terrific, pretty well as good as Aurèle Nicolet – and her use of rubato at the ends of phrases and the subsequent a tempi are an inspiration! Émile Bernard’s Romance, Op.33, which, with its long, languorously lyrical phrases, could only have been written by a French composer, was also new to me, as were Émile Pessard’s Troisième and Quatrième Pièces, every bit as interesting as his delightful and better known Andalouse. Alphonse Catherine’s Barcarolle, with its nautical undulating 6/8 piano part (played exquisitely on this recording by McDonald), and his Sérénade Mélancolique, which begins evocatively, a bit like Taffanel’s Andante Pastoral et Scherzettino, are both charming and suggest that the golden age of the flute continued beyond the 1880s and 90s, since Catherine lived until 1927. Victor-Alphonse Duvernoy’s Deux Morceaux and Joseph-Henri Altès’ Romanza, Op.33 No.1, also new to me, are also wonderful. Allan Pulker Saint-Saëns – Symphonic Poems Lille National Orchestra; Jun Märkl Naxos 8.573745 !! There is a wonderful part in middle of the tone poem Phaéton: as the audacious but foolish young man dares to take Apollo’s chariot for a forbidden ride, with urgent, syncopated rhythms the horses swing into action, the chariot begins to rise upwards and suddenly vistas open up in heavenly radiance – all this depicted in glorious music. Phaéton gleefully revels in it, but his joy is short-lived. There is a brutal ending to his offending the god. This and many more delights are in store for us, like Hercules’ punishment of having to spin wool dressed as a woman, in probably the finest of Saint-Saëns’ tone poems and a favourite of Sir Thomas Beecham, Le Rouet d’Omphale: here, a delightful rondo imitates the spinning of the spool, but in the midst of all this a powerful roaring melody emerges towards a shattering fortissimo climax. This is no joke anymore. This is Hercules! Invented by Liszt and a product of Romanticism, the symphonic poem was happily brought to France by Saint-Saëns, who applied to it his considerable gifts of “melody and form” and “impeccable craftsmanship,” not to mention his vivid imagination and love of Greek mythology. All of this is coupled by Naxos’ choice of a lesserknown but excellent, dedicated orchestra and the young, imaginative and talented conductor Jun Märkl, breathing new life into these pieces. With state-of-the-art spacious sound, the brilliant and colourful orchestral palette shines through and the disc has already become Presto’s Editor’s Choice for December 2017. Janos Gardonyi Full Circle Seunghee Lee; Katrine Gislinge Musica Solis (seunghee.com) ! ! Full Circle is a collection of clarinet music performed by Seunghee Lee accompanied on piano by Katrine Gislinge. According to the liner notes, the collection represents the musical journey Lee has followed over the course of her recording career. She thewholenote.com March 2018 | 73

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