4 years ago

Volume 24 Issue 1 - September 2018

  • Text
  • September
  • Jazz
  • Toronto
  • Musical
  • Symphony
  • Quartet
  • Orchestra
  • Festival
  • Theatre
  • Violin
In this issue: The WholeNote's 7th Annual TIFF TIPS guide to festival films with musical clout; soprano Erin Wall in conversation with Art of Song columnist Lydia Perovic, about more than the art of song; a summer's worth of recordings reviewed; Toronto Chamber Choir at 50 (is a few close friends all it takes?); and much more, as the 2018/19 season gets under way.

part of the heritage of

part of the heritage of New Orleans, where this concert was recorded. Earlier, the nearly 26-minute Residue allows each member enough space for a multiphonic, multi-faceted solo. Brief celesta-like pings set up the track that soon has the horn players digging deep into their instruments’ innards as driving keyboard-pounding, sky-high graceful trombone blasts and seemingly limitless reed variations not only allow each to isolate almost any timbre and all its extensions, but create such passion that just when it appears that the track couldn’t get more intense, it does. By the finale, Swell and Jordan are exchanging briefer and briefer sound patterns at high-pitches that spin out into a graceful textural summation, with a concluding drum roll and cymbal splash leading back to the blues. Young enough to be Jordan’s grandson, but sometimes playing in the same free jazz style, is tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, whose trio plays at the Market Square stage on September 15. Radiant Imprints (Off CD 038, which features him in a duo with drums/mbira player Chad Taylor, proves that he’s his own person though, since he mixes ecstatic outbursts with well-paced melodies. Almost half the tracks whoop and howl as both players push past buoyant multiphonics to reed snarls and snorts and ambulatory drum pacing whose splayed extensions touch on John Coltrane’s most outré improvising as they slip in and out of various keys and pitches. But while Trane is an acknowledged influence, pieces such as Imprints and Radiance confirm that the duo can move past these restrictions. The latter features an expansive bass drumtinged intro, which presages a saxophone groove that relates to premodern tenacious tenor players like Ben Webster and Arnett Cobb. As the tenor slurps and swings, the irregular vibrations and note extensions operate as almost dual call-and-response. Imprints has the same sort of relaxed feel, but with flutter-tongued dips from mid-range to the horn’s darker registers for added emphasis during solos. By the mid-point, Taylor’s backbeat meets up with the saxophonist, who works in a quote from A Love Supreme and exits with pure air blown through his instrument. Another distinguishing feature is on tracks such as First Born, when Taylor uses the glockenspiel-like resonance of the mbira with the facility of a guitarist to set up and stretch out the accompaniment to Lewis’ dissonant but artful interpretations. If mbira and saxophone seems an unusual combination, so too is a trio of trumpet, piano and percussion, featured at the GJF on September 15 at Cooperators Hall. This afternoon gig on a double bill with the Dutch-Canadian Groven, Lumley & Stadhouders group, is the GJF debut of the 1538 trio of pianist Satoko Fujii, and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, who have both played the GJF before, with drummer Takashi Itani. This Is It! (Libra Records 203-049, the trio’s CD, convincingly demonstrates how easily the unfazed Itani adds his talents to the duo, which after decades of playing together anticipates each other’s every move. Named for the Celsius melting point of iron, this CD justifies the title. For instance, the drummer’s timed side ruffs on Prime Number push Fujii’s staggering chord exploration and Tamura’s mercurial grace notes into harmonic proximity so that the result is a unique squirming theme. And the drummer performs a similar gluing on Riding on the Clouds, but this time his prod is temple bell-like echoes, in sync with the trumpeter’s distantly strained tones and the pianist’s minimized chromatic movements. Swoop, however, proves that the three don’t have to operate at a hushed level, with Fujii’s high-frequency key pummelling and percussive arpeggios and Itani’s nerve beats and cymbal clashes creating a showcase where frequentlyrepeated note patterns define progress. These concerts and others confirm that the GJF offers maturity tempered with experimentation – and it’s these qualities which draw fans to the city every September. Old Wine, New Bottles Fine Old Recordings Re-Released BRUCE SURTEES Rafael Kubelík (1914-1996) was one of the finest conductors of the last century. He was the son of Czech violinist and composer Jan Kubelík (1880-1940), with whom he studied violin. At 14 he entered the Prague Conservatory studying violin, piano, composition and conducting, graduating at the age of 19. As a pianist he served as accompanist to his father, whom he adored, on a United States tour in 1935. In 1939 he became music director of the Brno Opera until November 1941 when the company was shut down by the occupying Nazis. The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, however, was permitted to continue playing and Kubelík became its principal conductor. He refused to conduct Wagner during the occupation and declined to give the Hitler salute to the Nazi Reichsprotektor. He left Prague for obvious reasons and disappeared into the countryside. In 1945 he conducted the Czech Philharmonic’s first post-war concert and he helped found the Prague Spring Festival, a perennial event. Following the Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia he moved to England. Kubelík was music director of the Chicago Symphony from 1950 to 1953, the Royal Opera House from 1955 to 1958 following Solti, then the Bavarian Radio Symphony from 1961 to 1979 following Eugen Jochum. During these appointments and after, he was a sought-after guest conductor in Europe, North America and Australia where I first heard him. I retain a vivid memory of that concert. In his earlier years Kubelík recorded for EMI. Following his tenure in Chicago, where he recorded for Mercury, he appeared on other major labels with various orchestras but most significantly for DG. His entire catalogue of DG recordings has been assembled in Rafael Kubelík Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon (4799959, 64 CDs, 2 DVDs, 120 page booklet). The works of the many composers represented in this set include the celebrated edition of the complete Beethoven Symphonies with nine different orchestras: London Symphony (1); Berlin Philharmonic (3); Concertgebouw (2); Bavarian RSO (7); Israel Philharmonic (4); Boston Symphony (5); Orchestre de Paris (6); Vienna Philharmonic (7); the Cleveland Orchestra (8) and finally back to Munich for his Bavarian RSO (9). The two Sevenths were recorded four years apart and the same movements are within seconds of each other. Discs 27 to 36 contain the complete Mahler symphonies with the Bavarian RSO, recorded in 1967-70 in the Herkulessaal, Munich. Many times over this cycle, the performances leave the attentive listener with a new or better understanding of the composer. Quoting Daniel Barenboim, “I often thought I was missing something in Mahler until I listened to Kubelík. There is a lot more to be discovered in these pieces than just a generalized form of extrovert excitement. That is what Kubelík showed.” Deservedly, there are 11 CDs of the music of Dvořák, including what many regard as the definitive collection of the complete symphonies 74 | September 2018

with the Berlin Philharmonic recorded in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Berlin in 1966 and 1971/73. Happily listening through them again confirms that these could arguably be the finest versions on record. There is an always-exciting, wonderfully fresh feeling of discovery in them, with the orchestra in total sympathy with the Czech conductor. The Dvořák-fest continues with the ever-uplifting Scherzo capriccioso Op.66 with his Bavarian RSO from 1973 and two CDs of overtures and symphonic poems from 1973/74. Just a reminder, they are: My Homeland (1962), Husitská Op.67, Amid Nature Op.91, Carnaval Overture Op.92, Othello Overture Op.93, The Water Goblin Op.107, The Noon Witch Op.108, The Golden Spinning Wheel Op.109, The Wood Dove Op.110 plus the Symphonic Variations Op.78. The complete Slavonic Dances, Opp.46 and 72 are here and also the Stabat Mater Op.58 with soloists, chorus, organ and orchestra. All the Bavarian recordings were made in the Herkulessaal in Munich. To tie off the Dvořák offerings, Kubelík appears with the English Chamber Orchestra in London conducting the Legends Op.59 and the Serenade for Strings. Op.22. There are the four Schumann Symphonies from Berlin and a haunting Gurrelieder and so much more. Glancing over the contents one can only be impressed by his repertoire. Composers represented include Bartók, Berg, Bruckner, Falla, Grieg, Handel, Janáček, Mozart, Orff, Smetana, Wagner and others. The two DVDs contain revelatory performances of Mozart’s 38th (VPO), Beethoven’s Second and Leonora III (Concertgebouw), the Eroica (BPO) and the Bruckner Fourth (VPO). As a bonus: “Scenes from a musical life,” an informative biography with conversations, rehearsals, etc. Kubelík’s performances were never matter-of-fact. He drew music from the score without any excessive subjective hyperbole in tempi or accents or balances to make a point. This set will be a must-have for those who can appreciate his art. Noticeably absent are the four Brahms symphonies. He recorded them for Decca with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1956/57. Symphonies 1 & 4 are on Australia’s Decca Eloquence, available through Amazon Canada for .21. Our review in the last issue enthused over La Nilsson, containing her complete Decca/DG recordings. Now as a complement there is a DVD, Birgit Nilsson A League of Her Own, an exultation of her life and art (Cmajor 800008). This is a documentary, a solid 89 minutes with not a minute wasted on any item not pertinent to her life, development and career, with videos to the point. We see and hear her singing in many venues – the Vienna State Opera, the Salzburg Festival, the Met – and she talks about memorable incidences including encounters with Karajan, Knappertsbusch, Böhm, Rudolf Bing and producer John Culshaw. During the recording of Götterdämmerung in Vienna, Nilsson is distinctly unhappy with the recorded balance between the orchestra and her voice, stating (correctly so) that in tuttis she does not soar above the orchestra as it is heard in the studio and the opera house. She quotes another scene not involving her that further illustrates that Culshaw always favours the orchestra. Culshaw agrees that he does and there is a tacit armistice. There are interviews with many of her colleagues, including her longtime special friend Plácido Domingo. A really interesting program. Another significant DVD from Cmajor is the video of Leonard Bernstein’s controversial Tristan und Isolde from Munich, recorded live in 1981 with the Bavarian RSO and Choir (746208, 3 DVDs). The Tristan is Peter Hofmann, Hildegard Behrens is Isolde, Yvonne Minton is Brangäne, Bernd Weikl is Kurwenal. It was Bernstein’s lingering tempi that bothered many upon its CD release on Philips, particularly in the Prelude. Being there and seeing him rapt by the music, his tempo is perfect and not a whit overlong. This was a concert performance with the singers performing before a very large scrim behind the orchestra. One’s attention is held by the characters, not by any stage business. The new listener should read the plot given in the enclosed booklet. The cast clearly convey all the intended emotions, always supported by the engaged conductor. Altogether, a most welcome and illuminating release. A real treat. Another DVD of Leonard Bernstein has him directing an appropriately reduced Vienna Philharmonic in the Musikverein playing Haydn (Cmajor 746408). There are three G-Major symphonies, No.94 “Surprise,“ No.92 “Oxford” and the beautiful No.88. Adding the Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat Major makes a perfectly charming, undemanding 110-minute concert. Nothing sensational here, but does everything need to be? Over the last few years, 2008 to 2015, LSO Live has released recordings of the three Rachmaninov Symphonies with Valery Gergiev conducting, recorded live in the Barbican Centre. They now come in a boxed set as three CD/SACD hybrid discs plus one Blu-ray audio disc of the symphonies and more (LSO LS000816). Gergiev would seem to be the right person to conduct the music of his countryman, even though there are others, including Russians, who have recorded all three Rachmaninov symphonies or individual entries. Back in the day, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra were the go-to recordings and were regarded as pretty well definitive. As an aside, Rachmaninov consulted with Ormandy while orchestrating the (included) Symphonic Dances Op.45. Gergiev takes these Rachmaninov scores very seriously and offers them boldly, without apology. Being accustomed to hearing a brazen First, I was quite taken aback by Gergiev’s assertive, majestic performance. The opulent, hour-long Second, the jewel of the cycle, is simply perfect… nostalgically beautiful throughout, particularly in the first and the third movement Adagio. The Third was written some 30 years later and does not enjoy the same popularity. Also included are Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances and two Balakirev symphonic poems, Russia and his acknowledged masterpiece, Tamara. The performances are played with commanding conviction, enjoying full and brilliant sound. A winning edition. And think about this: when you acquire this set you own all these pieces three ways, on CD, on SACD and in Blu-ray 5.1 surround sound. The WholeNote Listening Room • Read the review • Click to listen • Click to buy Visit to hear what we're listening to this month! September 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)