3 years ago

Volume 23 Issue 7 - April 2018

  • Text
  • April
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Musical
  • Symphony
  • Arts
  • Performing
  • Choir
  • Theatre
  • Orchestra
In this issue: we talk with jazz pianist Thompson Egbo-Egbo about growing up in Toronto, building a musical career, and being adaptive to change; pianist Eve Egoyan prepares for her upcoming Luminato project and for the next stage in her long-term collaborative relationship with Spanish-German composer Maria de Alvear; jazz violinist Aline Homzy, halfway through preparing for a concert featuring standout women bandleaders, talks about social equity in the world of improvised music; and the local choral community celebrates the life and work of choral conductor Elmer Iseler, 20 years after his passing.

Tchaikovsky –

Tchaikovsky – Pathétique Park Avenue Chamber Symphony; David Bernard Recursive Classics RC2059912 ( !! Tchaikovsky’s great Symphony No.6 being performed by a chamber ensemble? I admit I had my doubts as to whether this New York-based group numbering roughly 50 members could do full justice to the composer’s symphonic swan song. Admittedly, the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony under the direction of conductor David Bernard has earned an enviable reputation since its formation in 1999, and its three First Prizes in the American Prize Competition in Orchestra or Performance (2011, 2012, 2013) and an extensive tour to the People’s Republic of China should be ample evidence of its musical heft. Rest assured – the PACS may not have the numbers usually associated with orchestras who perform this daunting repertoire, but it delivers a thoroughly convincing performance. Following the lugubrious opening measures, the Allegro non troppo of the first movement is spirited and elegant, the well-balanced phrasing clearly articulated, featuring a deft interplay between woodwinds and strings. The second movement “waltz” (in 5/4 time) is all grace and charm, while the brisk third movement march provides a perfect showcase for the ensemble’s stirring brass section before the anguished and despairing finale. My only quibble is the occasional lack of the luxuriant sound found in other recordings, due to the PACS’ smaller string section. And at times, the brass section – as ebullient as it is – tends to overshadow the strings. Yet neither of these minor faults detracts from an otherwise fine performance. While this may not be a touchstone recording of the Sixth Symphony, it has a certain energy and style all its own and is a worthy companion to existing performances by much larger orchestras. Recommended. Richard Haskell Bruckner – Les 9 Symphonies Orchestre Metropolitain; Yannick Nézet- Séguin ATMA ACD2 2451 ( !! This box of ten CDs comprising Les 9 Symphonies sports a gold trim that gives it a rather deluxe look and manages to fit quite a bit of detail in its Spartan-looking 24-page booklet. Significantly, for an Anton Bruckner box, it lists the version and premiere details, which are critical as Bruckner was known to be a sort of serial reviser of his symphonic work. For dyed-inthe-wool fans – and aficionados of classical music – version is, indeed, everything and would explain idiosyncrasies of the opuses performed. Important also is to note that these magnificent versions are an enormous decade-long quest by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal to put down on record the complete symphonic work of a composer as consumed by spirituality as he was by a seemingly obsessive compulsion to refine, time and again, what he had written. The booklet notes may not explain why certain Bruckner versions of these symphonies were chosen above others and one might question – as Bruckner is said to have – Franz Schalk’s 1894 version of Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major WAB 105, which is reported to have 15 to 20 minutes of music cut from it (the composer certainly disagreed with the cuts). Still, what seems to have motivated Nézet-Séguin is certainly the mission to capture the depth of Bruckner’s mysticism and joyful recreation of the composer’s “cathedrals of sound.” This would also explain why Symphony No.7 in E Minor WAB 107 is a version premiered by the legendary Arthur Nikisch and why Symphony No.1 in C Minor WAB 101 is taken from Hans Richter’s version premiered on December 13, 1891 (which is what Bruckner seems to have approved for performance on May 9, 1868). If the determination to capture Bruckner at his most intense was the driving force behind Nézet-Séguin’s quest to complete his Bruckner cycle then he has certainly succeeded beyond belief and this box is comprehensive proof. It bears mention that at various points in time completed recordings of the symphonies have been released and reviews of Nos. 2 to 4 and 6 to 9 have also been featured within these pages, which leaves us with Nos.1 and 5. Symphony No. 1 in C Minor establishes many of Bruckner’s most distinctive characteristics, from the sense of scale to the organ-like washes of orchestral sound and the construction of long expanses from short repeated phrases. The electrifying performance with the leonine power of the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal in full throttle is shaped with fantastic conviction by Nézet-Séguin. His speeds are sometimes quite leisurely, but this only increases the symphony’s sense of scale and magnitude. This “Vienna Version” is a terrific achievement. The Symphony No.5 in B-flat Major is the first of Bruckner’s mature symphonies to survive in a single version and was his most monumental, being both longer and more finely worked out than its predecessors. It has a sense of solemnity not found in earlier symphonies, with a dramatic sense of conflict generated by the suggestion that passion is always being kept in check. What’s especially impressive about Nézet-Séguin’s performance is the way momentum is always maintained, even in the tricky last movement, where he sails through the unmannered eloquence and power that are the hallmarks of this great performance from the beginning. The devotional, awestruck intensity of the final movement is effectively captured in this recording. Indeed this and the other performances in this box almost certainly comprise the defining recordings of Nézet-Séguin’s career. Raul da Gama Kodály – Concerto for Orchestra Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta Naxos 8.573838 ( ! ! These days, when symphony orchestras are going bankrupt all over America, the nearby Buffalo Philharmonic is flourishing. This is the second recording that came to my attention by JoAnn Falletta, their music director, recorded at Kleinhans Music Hall, with fabulous acoustics and designed by one of the forefathers of modern architecture, Eliel Saarinen. Zoltan Kodály’s best and most popular orchestral works are played with such gusto, enthusiasm and flair that one wonders if Falletta has some Hungarian blood in her veins. Folk music of Hungary is unique in Europe as the Magyar tribes came from the east in the ninth century, their music and rhythms more in common with the Mongols. The two dance pieces Dances of Galánta and Dances of Marosszék are skilfully composed, colourful collections of folk tunes, sometimes melancholic or driven to a frenzy, which often demonstrate a rhythmic pulse found in Mongolian dances (said Lang Lang), not to mention Hungary having been invaded by the Mongols in the 13th century. Kodály’s Concerto for Orchestra (1940) was commissioned by and written for the 50th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony. Although less well-known than its counterpart by Bartók, it is a fascinating mixture of highstepping folk dance and Baroque passacaglia, echoing the concerto-grosso style. Sparklingly performed by the Philharmonic’s superb instrumentalists, conducted with surgical precision by Falletta and rendered in spectacular sound, I was thoroughly enchanted. The enchantment continues with “The Peacock” Variations (1939), a “very virtuoso showcase of scintillating effects” based on a folk song that became a rallying tune of the fight for freedom in the 1848 uprising of Hungary against the Habsburg oppression. Superb recording, highly recommended. Janos Gardonyi 74 | April 2018

MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Stravinsky – Rite of Spring: Ligeti – Mysteries of the Macabre; Berg – Three Fragments from Wozzeck; Webern – Six Pieces for Orchestra Barbara Hannigan; London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Simon Rattle LSO Live LSO3028 ( !! Some will want this album for the major work, the Stravinsky, while others will want to hear how the LSO will sound under their new music director, recently returned from Berlin. Still others, a lot of others, will want to hear what Barbara Hannigan is up to, particularly the outrageous Mysteries of the Macabre, which is a specialty of hers and has been recorded and videoed several times. Hannigan is astonishingly versatile, a brilliant soprano singing what sopranos sing, in addition to works by 20th- and 21st-century composers, and is developing as a conductor (often while singing!). (There is, by the way, a revealing and fascinating documentary on another DVD, Barbara Hannigan Concert and Documentary from Lucerne (Accentus ACC 20327) published in 2014. In it she explains what Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre is all about. She is the chief of the secret police who is crazy, paranoid and hysterical, who cannot speak real words and gives orders to her squad, the orchestra, in indecipherable code. A crazy but serious piece, especially coming straight after the genuinely searching fragments from Wozzeck.) The concert from January 15, 2015 opens with the Webern pieces in a performance that puts the likes of, say, a Boulez to shame. Finally to Le Sacre. The playing is measured, powerful and incisive throughout with accents and attacks quite audible, even in the ferocious but controlled tuttis. Both audio and video are most impressive and considering the repertoire, this Blu-ray disc packaged with a regular DVD is enthusiastically recommended. Bruce Surtees Alice Ping Yee Ho – The Mysterious Boot Susan Hoeppner; Winona Zelenka; Lydia Wong Centrediscs CMCCD 25018 ( !! Prolific Toronto-based composer Alice Ping Yee Ho adds to her extensive discography with these five works for flute, plus cello and/or piano, brilliantly performed by three superb Toronto musicians: flutist Susan Hoeppner, cellist Winona Zelenka and pianist Lydia Wong. Ho’s compositions often reflect her Chinese ancestry (she was born in Hong Kong in 1960). Asiatic Impression for flute, cello and electronic tape “evokes,” writes Ho, “sounds of Asiatic instruments and ancient tunes.” More “ancient” echoes appear in two works for all three players, but here they’re Greco-Roman. Seiren is the mythical songstress whose hypnotic melodies fatally lured sailors onto reefs. Ho gives the instruments roles: flute/alto flute (Seiren), cello (sailor), piano (sea), creating a turbulent tone-poem scenario. In The Mysterious Boot (subtitled Cothurnus, the boot worn by actors in tragic plays), the musicians employ many unconventional techniques, seeming to offer quirky, hypermodern commentary on an archaic drama. Ho describes Coeur à Coeur for flute and piano “as an imaginary conversation between two voices…confessing their feelings to each other.” By turns lyrical, passionate, playful, ruminative and vehement, the flute emerges as the dominant voice. Suite for Flute and Piano (1992) is an early Ho composition (the other four date from 2014 to 2017). It’s an attractive, French-sounding piece, suggesting that Ho hadn’t yet found her own dominant stylistic voice, a voice that sings loud and clear in the recent works on this highly entertaining disc. Michael Schulman Scott Johnson – Mind Out of Matter Alarm Will Sound; Alan Pierson Tzadik TZ 4021 ( !! I have read, with pleasure, books by secular-humanist philosopher Daniel Dennett on evolution (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea), religion (Breaking the Spell) and consciousness (From Bacteria to Bach and Back). So I was curious to hear this 73-minute, eight-movement work by American composer Scott Johnson (b.1952), using as musical materials the pitches and rhythms of Dennett’s spoken words, recorded at a talk about Breaking the Spell and in interviews with the composer. Johnson calls his technique, used in this and previous compositions, “speech melody,” adding that Mind Out of Matter contains “musical references ranging from Baroque recitative to retro funk grooves.” Dennett’s speaking style is conversational and Johnson’s instrumental score is conversational, too, lacking extended melodies or dramatic climaxes. Johnson repeats some of Dennett’s words and phrases many times, usually clearly heard but occasionally submerged under the colourful, ambulating music, mixing elements of classical, rock and jazz. It’s performed by Alarm Will Sound, 17 players on strings, winds, brass and percussion, including alto sax and electric guitar, conducted by Alan Pierson. In one movement, the musicians contribute a chanted chorus. In Surrender, the longest movement, Dennett asserts that religions – “ideas to die for and kill for, even if it doesn’t make sense” – have, like biological organisms, evolved by natural selection. Dennett’s books drew me to this music. If, in turn, listeners are led to read Breaking the Spell, Johnson’s composition will have helped increase their understanding of why people believe as they do. Michael Schulman The Make Project Veryan Weston Barnyard Records BR0344 ( ! ! The Make Project presents pieces realized in Toronto in 2015 by English pianist-composer Veryan Weston with Christine Duncan, Jean Martin and three ensembles, including Duncan’s 45-member Element Choir. The music is a stunning synthesis of two concepts: one is Duncan’s conduction method in which the large choir creates spontaneously in response to her hand signals; the second is Weston’s Tesselations, works he’s been developing since 2000 in which performers move through the 52 possible pentatonic scales, altering one note at a time. For Tesselations IV, Weston has added 52 corresponding texts, all from women writers and each containing the word “make,” which triggers the shift to the next scale. The authors range through the centuries, from Julian of Norwich to Margaret Atwood, and include telling words whether on creativity (Simone de Beauvoir: “On paper, I make time stand still”) or politics (Emma Goldman: “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal”). The first piece, the four-minute Hidden Meanings, has a nine-voice women’s a cappella choir creating luminous layers of words and voices with overlapping texts. The second, Hidden Words, is an eight-minute instrumental improvisation with Weston, producer/drummer Martin and four strings (violinists Josh and Jesse Zubot, violist Anna Atkinson and bassist Andrew Downing) that possesses a spiky, Webern-esque clarity. Then the forces assemble – the musicians, the Element Choir, solo voices Felicity Williams and Alex Samaras – for the 32-minute Tesselations IV (Make), a work of great depth and scale that moves through April 2018 | 75

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2020)

Volumes 16-20 (2010-2015)

Volumes 11-15 (2004-2010)

Volumes 6 - 10 (2000 - 2006)

Volumes 1-5 (1994-2000)