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Volume 25 Issue 1 - September 2019

  • Text
  • Theatre
  • Composer
  • Arts
  • Quartet
  • Festival
  • Symphony
  • Musical
  • Jazz
  • Toronto
  • September
Vol 1 of our 25th season is now here! And speaking of 25, that's how many films in the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival editor Paul Ennis, in our Eighth Annual TIFF TIPS, has chosen to highlight for their particular musical interest. Also inside: Rob Harris looks through the Rear View Mirror at past and present prognostications about the imminent death of classical music; Mysterious Barricades and Systemic Barriers are Lydia Perović's preoccupations in Art of Song; Andrew Timar reflects on the evolving priorities of the Polaris Prize; and elsewhere, it's chocks away as yet another season creaks or roars (depending on the beat) into motion. Welcome back.

A new double album

A new double album presents Schnabel’s works in chronological order, an edifying curatorial decision and one that reveals the breadth of his compositional development, starting with the Three Fantasy Pieces of 1898 – written when the composer was just 16 years old – and ending in 1947 with seven austere, Webern-like miniatures. It is in the early pieces that we glimpse a refined era of waltzes and foxtrots, elegantly wrought with an audible fondness for the Austro-Hungarian imperial ballroom. Schnabel’s Dance Suite of 1920/21 is beguiling in its invitational charm and expressivity; quirky and yet intriguing in a slightly mangled mode. How delighted his audiences might have been, after hearing him stride through late Beethoven piano sonatas in recital, to finish the evening with encores of the pianist-composer’s own! The Sonata of 1923 probes a darker, dissonant world. Shadowy spectres of Charles Ives seem to rush in at the resolute opening. Now far off from waltzes-of-old, Schnabel’s oeuvre can proclaim a newfound dimension. Jenny Lin is a contemporary titan of the keyboard, already boasting an impressive discography. This latest addition only reaffirms her bravery and fierce commitment to all things new and different. Possessing a truly unique pianistic skill set, Lin manages the character and style of old Europe remarkably well in this recording, considering how distant Schnabel’s music sits from the sights and sounds of 2019. Lin’s singular devotion to Germanic literature, (she has an undergraduate degree in the subject), must come to bear when interpreting these pieces. There’s a lingua franca here that few artists of today would comprehend and, moreover, command with such conviction. Not many could pull off a feat of one such disc, let alone two. Such accomplishment urges the question: what will she tackle next? Adam Sherkin Stefan Wolpe Volume 8 – Music for Two Pianos Quattro Mani Bridge Records 9516 (bridgerecords.com) ! ! German, Jew, Communist, American, activist, modernist and eminent teacher, composer Stefan Wolpe and his impressive catalogue of works should probably be better known today. Volume Eight from Bridge Records’ projected complete recordings forms the most recent release to date, featuring Wolpe’s music for two pianos. This disc runs the gamut of styles, presenting Wolpe’s stern and structured March and Variations and Two Studies on Basic Rows, (both from the 1930s). These works are punctuated by the Ballet Suite in Two Movements: The Man from Midian, (1942) which is filled with rousing populist gestures and extramusical inspiration. These two extremes of Wolpe’s art – aptly represented and admirably executed by pianists Steven Beck and Susan Grace of Quattro Mani – lend themselves well to the dual keyboard medium. The most arresting and remarkable work on the record, Two Studies on Basic Rows, is delivered with analytical focus and an informed musical intelligence. The complexity of the Passacaglia, (the final track on the album), is so well conceived that the brightness and fury at the heart of Wolpe’s art can distinctly shine through. The Man from Midian ballet suite serves as a welcome bit of fun – nearly 30 minutes in length – that takes the listener on a kind of mid-century musical romp through various styles, political commentary and Judaic narrative, all channelled via the mind of a relatively unknown 20th-century composer who just might have something important to tell us in our 21st-century reality. Adam Sherkin VOCAL Schubert – Die Schöne Mullerin Thomas Meglioranza; Reiko Uchida Independent 004 (meglioranza.com) !! Thomas Meglioranza is a young American baritone with an impressive background of recitals, oratorio singing, even opera, and together with California pianist Reiko Uchida has formed a duo mainly for lieder recitals. To date they have issued three recordings with considerable success and international acclaim. This new disc of Die Schöne Müllerin is their fourth recording and comes with a recommendation from the legendary Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau praising their “healthy and beautiful sounding way of performing these difficult songs”. The selection of the piano was of paramount importance as Meglioranza’s personal preference for this cycle was an early keyboard sound. After much research and deliberation the final choice was a Zierer, a Viennese fortepiano from 1829 that had a “rustic twang” and a lovely, crisp and nonintrusive tone. The Schöne Müllerin is a particular favourite of mine being the most melodious, very emotional and probably the happiest of all of Schubert’s cycles. My first acquaintance with it was hearing the song Wohin? (Where to?) as a child and it made a tremendous impression on me. The story is very romantic: boy gets girl, boy loses girl. The water motive runs through the entire cycle; the brook (lieber bächlein) becomes a friend and confidante of the young man and some of the most beautiful songs are dialogues with the brook (e.g Die Neugerige and Der Müller und der Bach). My favorite moment is in the song Ungeduld where the young lover sings his heart out, declaring Dein ist mein Herz in glorious fortissimo, that’s certainly understood by anyone who has ever been in love! Meglioranza’s fine baritone, intelligent singing and impeccable German diction, thoroughly inside the poetry, with sympathetic and stylish accompaniment by Ms. Uchida, does deserve Fischer Dieskau’s praise and mine too. Janos Gardonyi Donizetti – Il Castello di Kenilworth Pratt; Remigio; Anduaga; Pop; Orchestra/ Coro Donizetti Opera; Riccardo Frizza Dynamic 37834 (naxosdirect.com) !! A double rarity: an all-but-forgotten opera and a nonupdated production – the Tudor-era costumes actually reflect the period of the opera’s events. Andrea Leone Totolla’s libretto, derived from Walter Scott’s novel Kenilworth, pits the Earl of Leicester’s love for his secret wife, Amelia, against his ambition to gain the throne by exploiting Queen Elizabeth’s love for him. When Elizabeth arrives at his castle, Leicester has his squire, Warney, confine Amelia in a remote room. Warney professes his love for Amelia; spurned, he plots her death. Leicester’s and Warney’s separate schemes begin to unravel when Amelia manages to escape and encounters Elizabeth (foreshadowing the confrontation of Mary and Elizabeth in Maria Stuarda). All four 62 | September 2019 thewholenote.com

principals, together, then express their anguish at the sudden turn of events. Unlike Scott’s novel, in which Warney kills Amelia, and unlike Donizetti’s other Tudor operas, this one eventually ends happily. Warney’s murder attempt is foiled; Leicester’s love for Amelia leads him to confess his deception to Elizabeth; she forgives him and blesses his marriage. This production from the 2018 Donizetti Festival in Bergamo, Donizetti’s home town, features a bare-bones set, minimal props and no scenic backdrops, all on a postagestamp-sized stage. What makes it very worth watching is Donizetti’s melody-drenched, rhythmically energized score, ably sung by sopranos Jessica Pratt (Elizabeth) and Carmela Remigio (Amelia), and tenors Xabier Anduago (Leicester) and Stefan Pop (Warney). The Donizetti Opera Chorus and Orchestra are energized, too; bravo to conductor Riccardo Frizza. Michael Schulman Laura Kaminsky – As One Sasha Cooke; Kelly Markgraf; Fry Street Quartet Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0127 (brightshiny.ninja) !! In the five years since As One was premiered, it has been performed, apparently, more frequently than any other new opera in North America (though it has yet to reach Toronto). No surprise there, judging by this recording. For one thing, it’s timely, following the journey of a young woman, Hannah, as she transitions from male to female. It’s concise, just 75 minutes long. The cast is minimal – two singers, a string quartet and a conductor. The music is alluring, if unprovocative, ranging from lyrical to sharpedged, and the libretto is at once poetic and hard-hitting. The role of Hannah is split between Hannah before, a baritone, and Hannah after, a mezzo-soprano. Both sing throughout, an inspired twist which allows composer Laura Kaminsky and librettists Kimberly Reed (whose real-life story this is) and Mark Campbell to present Hannah’s transition as an ongoing process. This recording, the first of the complete opera, assembles the terrific musicians from the original production. Kelly Markgraff is endearingly open-hearted as Hannah before, and Sasha Cooke makes a powerfully convincing Hannah after. The Fry Street Quartet responds with irresistible immediacy to Hannah’s fraught challenges. Conductor Steven Osgood effectively balances Hannah’s hard-won moments of tranquility with dramatic urgency. As One is a deeply moving tale of one rather extraordinary transgender woman’s complicated path to self-discovery, yet its appeal is universal. It will surely resonate profoundly with anyone who has ever grappled with who they are and where they belong. Pamela Margles Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser – An opera by Lisa Bielawa Various Artists; Lisa Bielawa Orange Mountain Music OMM7017 (orangemountainmusic.com) !! Composer Lisa Bielawa conceived the idea of the young teenage heroine Vireo, who is lost in the world of visionaries, witch hunters, psychiatrists and artists in her auditory and visual hallucinations. Set to the libretto by Erik Ehn, the 12-episode, over-two-hour opera directed by Charles Otte was originally made for television and online viewing. There is no stage here – sets include forests, indoors, a monastery, and even the Alcatraz Prison. The singers and musicians share the action locations equally, all shot by a single camera as the opera weaves almost cryptically from 16th-century-France witchcraft all the way to the present day. Bielawa’s dense score includes tensionbuilding interval repetitions, nods to minimalism, descending chromatic lines, percussion effects, piano chords and even touches of familiar children’s songs. The Kronos Quartet sets the opening musical stage with violin solo to full quartet to the San Francisco Girls Chorus singing to the clear, beautiful voice of Rowen Sabala as Vireo. Sabala was herself still a teenager performing in this production and her work is amazing, from her troubled gyrations and twitches, interchanges between her mother (Maria Lazarova), Doctor (Gregory Purnhagen), teenage cohort Caroline (Emma MczKenzie), and real/imaginary witches. Though too numerous to mention, all the singers and musicians perform and look convincing. Highlights include piano clunks as the Doctor moves his scary, lengthy medicinal needle towards Vireo; the piccolo making bird sounds sets the stage as the action moves back in time in Beginner: The Cow Song segment, though distressing, breaks into humour as a hilarious horn band performs in front of a cow while the others grab a grilled meal. Up to nine identical frames at once visually build the girls’ tensions in Boarding School. Sharp bright and dark lighting, atonal music, and hurdy-gurdy solo in Alcatraz build tension and grief. Orchestra members dressed in lab coats and characters in circus costumes fuel the busy Circus, featuring a successful stereotypical Queen-of-Sweden operatic performance by Deborah Voigt until the calming final solo departure of Vireo into the forest in My Name is Vireo. The libretto is shown on the DVD yet the clear CD production makes understanding words with music manageable. Whether one watches the DVD film or listens to the CD, the detailed intense magic of music, sound, and visuals are uniquely compelling, troubling and entertaining! Everyone involved in the production and performances deserves a standing ovation. Tiina Kiik What we're listening to this month: thewholenote.com/listening Beethoven String Quartets, Op.18, nos. 4-6 Eybler Quartet “The Eyblers treat every moment as if the ink were still wet on the page, such is the intoxicating freshness of their delivery." - The Scotsman Hindemith: Complete Works for Violin & Piano Roman Mints,violin; Alexander Kobrin, piano The “fascinating and technically brilliant” (The New York Times) Russian violinist explores Hindemith’s Works for Violin and Viola d'Amore Liszt – 12 Etudes d'exécution transcendante Sheng Cai For his debut album at ATMA Classique, Sheng Cai tackles Franz Liszt's Etudes d’exécution transcendante, pieces that represent a pinnacle of the piano repertoire. thewholenote.com September 2019 | 63

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2019)

Volume 25 Issue 4 - December 2019 / January 2020
Volume 25 Issue 2 - October 2019
Volume 25 Issue 1 - September 2019
Volume 24 Issue 8 - May 2019
Volume 24 Issue 7 - April 2019
Volume 24 Issue 6 - March 2019
Volume 24 Issue 5 - February 2019
Volume 24 Issue 4 - December 2018 / January 2019
Volume 24 Issue 3 - November 2018
Volume 24 Issue 2 - October 2018
Volume 24 Issue 1 - September 2018
Volume 23 Issue 9 - June / July / August 2018
Volume 23 Issue 8 - May 2018
Volume 23 Issue 7 - April 2018
Volume 23 Issue 6 - March 2018
Volume 23 Issue 4 - December 2017 / January 2018
Volume 23 Issue 3 - November 2017
Volume 23 Issue 2 - October 2017
Volume 23 Issue 1 - September 2017
Volume 22 Issue 9 - Summer 2017
Volume 22 Issue 8 - May 2017
Volume 22 Issue 7 - April 2017
Volume 22 Issue 6 - March 2017
Volume 22 Issue 5 - February 2017
Volume 22 Issue 4 - December 2016/January 2017
Volume 22 Issue 2 - October 2016
Volume 22 Issue 1 - September 2016
Volume 21 Issue 9 - Summer 2016
Volume 21 Issue 8 - May 2016
Volume 21 Issue 6 - March 2016
Volume 21 Issue 5 - February 2016
Volume 21 Issue 4 - December 2015/January 2016
Volume 21 Issue 3 - November 2015
Volume 21 Issue 2 - October 2015
Volume 21 Issue 1 - September 2015

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