3 years ago

Volume 25 Issue 5 - February 2020

  • Text
  • Composer
  • Performing
  • Orchestra
  • Arts
  • Theatre
  • Musical
  • Symphony
  • Jazz
  • Toronto
  • February
Visions of 2020! Sampling from back to front for a change: in Rearview Mirror, Robert Harris on the Beethoven he loves (and loves to hate!); Errol Gay, a most musical life remembered; Luna Pearl Woolf in focus in recordings editor David Olds' "Editor's Corner" and in Jenny Parr's preview of "Jacqueline"; Speranza Scappucci explains how not to reinvent Rossini; The Indigo Project, where "each piece of cloth tells a story"; and, leading it all off, Jully Black makes a giant leap in "Caroline, or Change." And as always, much more. Now online in flip-through format here and on stands starting Thurs Jan 30.

esults are strikingly

esults are strikingly similar yet could also not be more different. Both recordings are of the highest musical quality, starting with the sound of the orchestras. Each ensemble is sleek and streamlined, with an overall transparency of sound that is now expected from both modern and period orchestras alike; no longer is the Beethoven standard one of deep, heavy, vibrato-filled tone, but it is rather characterized by its agility and precision, as players and conductors attempt to apply historical principles to their modern instruments and ensembles. Both discs feature thoughtful and precise interpretations that are themselves similar in many ways. Beethoven intended to be quite clear about his expected tempi and dynamics and years of scholarly investigation and research have resulted in scores that are more faithful to the composer’s wishes and intentions than at any other time in post-Beethoven history. We should, therefore, expect overall consistency between slightly differing interpretations, as we discover with these two discs. What is far more worthwhile to uncover are the differences between these two Beethovenian essays, the most apparent of which is the choice of keyboard instrument. Kodama, as one might expect, plays a grand piano and has the backing of a full symphony orchestra, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, to provide balance. This is a standard modern approach in which “loud” is loud and “soft” is soft, and we hear this on disc as we would in a concert hall. Brautigam, however, plays a fortepiano, which began a period of steady evolution in Beethoven’s time, culminating in the late 19th century with the modern grand. It is perhaps easiest to think of the fortepiano as a harpsichord-piano hybrid, for it bridged the gap between these two instruments. The sound is closer to that of a modern piano due to the strings being struck rather than plucked, but its lack of size and power results in a timbre that is far more subdued and subtle than any modern piano. Brautigam’s fortepiano is, therefore, a perfect match for the Köln Academy Orchestra, a period instrument ensemble, whose own instruments are significantly less strident than their modern counterparts. If Nagano and Kodama’s concertos are built for the concert hall, Brautigam’s are conceived for the chamber hall or theatre. While this decrease in overall volume is not perceptible over a mastered audio disc, it is noticeable that the “loud” is not as loud and the “soft” not as soft, simply due to the fortepiano’s reduced size and inherent limitations; it increases one’s desire to focus as it cuts out the dynamic extremities of the modern piano and shifts one’s attention to subtle changes in volume and articulation. Choosing or recommending one of these recordings over the other is an impossible task. When viewed through the widest lens, both are superb studies featuring exquisite playing and impeccable musicianship, and the differences become almost secondary. Perhaps the best approach is to acquire both and absorb the slight stylistic differences produced by the instrumental choices, especially if one is familiar primarily with either modern or historical performances. In the end, these discs demonstrate one irrefutable truth: after 250 years, Beethoven’s music is still vibrant and thrilling, even to those who have heard these works many times before. Matthew Whitfield Piano Works by Clara and Robert Schumann Margarita Hohenrieter Solo Musica SM312 ( !! I am quite a fan of pianist Margarita Höhenrieder, particularly playing the Schumanns. However, my immediate and continued focus of attention on first hearing this disc was not on the repertoire, not on the pianist, but on the piano. Attending to its authenticity, Höhenrieder tells the story of how this recording came to be. “After just a few notes on the exceptionally fine Pleyel grand piano in Kellinghausen, north of Hamburg, in a collection of Eric Feller’s, I found myself plunged into a different century. The pianoforte was built in Paris in about 1855 and professionally restored using historical materials and methods. It is absolutely uniform with the instrument that Chopin possessed and of typically French elegance – in sound as well as in appearance. It reflects the soul of the Romantic era. Apart from that, it offers an authentic testimony to the sound of the instruments that Fryderyk Chopin and Robert and Clara Schumann played.” The technique then required to play this piano differs from today’s. The sound from this old instrument is finely articulate and does not produce the same overtones and resonance, nor the volume. Such instruments were expected to be heard in a room or salon having only a fraction of the volume of today’s concert halls. Moreover, a suitable room for a perfect recording is certainly essential. In this case a private salon in Zug, Switzerland from January 16 to 18, 2019 was just that. Our pianist was right; what we hear here takes to us back to a different century. I hope that Solo Musica plans to record Chopin with Höhenrieder playing the same instrument. That would be something to hear. Bruce Surtees Chopin – Late Masterpieces Sandro Russo Steinway & Sons 30125 ( !! Italian pianist Sandro Russo revives the elegance and grandeur of the 19th-century piano tradition in this recording of late Chopin works. Having previously recorded several major piano works from the Romantic repertoire (as well as those of lesser-known composers), on this album Russo highlights every aspect of Chopin’s inner world. A selection of pieces that includes both intimate forms such as the mazurka and berceuse and the monumental Third Piano Sonata, this album feels like a personal memento. Noble forces are at work here, generating the sound aesthetics of beauty and adroit virtuosity, a combination that is well suited to Chopin’s music and is the essence of Russo’s artistic expression. Three mazurkas on this album are a perfect example of Chopin’s mastery of expressing the grand gestures in small-scale works. Mazurka in C Minor Op.56 in particular is a microcosm of understated emotions of melancholy and surrender, yet it contains innovative musical language that at times seems different than anything Chopin had written previously. As a contrast, the Sonata in B Minor Op.58 is as big as it can get. This complex piece is a macrocosm of amplified emotions, an unrestricted cascade of brilliant phrases that command attention and challenge the performer both musically and technically. Sandro Russo is immaculate in both, bringing a fresh approach while keeping with the tradition of the grandiose Romantic era. Ivana Popovic Alkan – Symphony for Solo Piano; Concerto for Solo Piano Paul Wee BIS BIS-2465 SACD ( ! ! Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-88) was a true maverick amongst the great French musicians of the mid-19th century. A child prodigy from a family of exceptionally talented Jewish musicians (the Morhanges), Valentin, using his father’s given name of Alkan as his surname, performed brilliantly in fashionable Parisian salons beginning in 1826, a practice that soon attracted an invasion of foreign pianists including Liszt and Chopin. In 1838, 66 | February 2020

having unwittingly fathered an illegitimate son, he withdrew from the concert circuit for some time, raising his child and devoting himself to composition. He briefly returned to the stage before becoming a total recluse for some 20 years, involving himself with creating a now lost French translation of the Bible from Hebrew sources and publishing numerous compositions. Alkan’s legacy was largely neglected until a revival of interest in the 1960s brought forth a flood of recordings. Among the five Alkan discs issued in 2019 we have this release by the admirable pianist and barrister Paul Wee, who delivers insightful and riveting accounts of the gargantuan Symphony and Concerto for Solo Piano that form the bulk of Alkan’s Douze études dans tous les tons mineurs Op.39. This is music of extraordinary energy whose obsessive rhythmic profile sweeps all before it with a Beethovenian grandeur. Alkan’s daunting technical demands are never merely gaudy examples of pianistic prestidigitation; they are rather an integral architectural component of his unique and strangely compelling voice. Daniel Foley Ravel – Jeux de miroirs Javier Perianes; Orchestre de Paris; Josep Pons Harmonia mundi HMM902326 ( !! As the clever title indicates this most enjoyable, adventurous undertaking by harmonia mundi sets the piano works of Ravel side by side with their orchestral versions as if they were mirrored. Coincidentally one set of Ravel’s piano works is entitled Miroirs from which we hear the fourth piece Alborada del grazioso, inspired by Spain, one of his main influences. Ravel was a tremendous orchestrator and he orchestrated many of his own works plus the works of others. Here we can see why and the pianist chosen is Javier Perianes, a young Spanish pianist who has already conquered many of the world’s concert stages and worked with some of the greatest conductors. An artist with unbounded imagination and a special affinity towards French impressionisme, he has beautiful touch and unlimited technical skill. The main work is Le Tombeau de Couperin, Ravel’s highly personal tribute to 18th-century French Baroque composers, Couperin, Rameau and Lully. The set of six pieces first appears in the piano version and my favourites are Forlane with an infectious, incessant and very catchy melody that’s almost hypnotic, Rigaudon an explosive, high-spirited French courtly dance and the final Toccata where the pianist literally plays up a storm. Later on come the orchestral versions of these and we will be surprised how much additional richness a brilliant orchestration can produce. The disc opens with the orchestral version of Alborada del grazioso followed by the original solo piano Tombeau. Cleverly set in between the mirrored versions of these pieces is an absolutely astounding reading of the very popular, forward-looking and jazzy Concerto in G characterized by “subtle playing of Javier Perianes and the refined sonorities of the Orchestre de Paris, conducted by Josep Pons.” I’ve listened to this disc over and over again and hopefully so will you. Janos Gardonyi The Etudes Project Volume One – ICEBERG Jenny Lin Sono Luminus DSL-92236 ( !! Another marvel of a record hits our ears from the enviable, masterful pianist – a paragon of the 21st-century keyboard – Jenny Lin. Lin has long been fascinated with the “intricate history of piano études,” examining the current state of the genre and charting its near 300-year lineage. She has themed this journey and its transpiring narratives, The Etudes Project. !! Aligning with composers of ICEBERG New Music, Lin gave its ten members absolute freedom of style and pianistic approach when crafting new etudes for her. The exceptional results were not only premiered by Lin this past October in New York but also published by NewMusicShelf in complete score, released on the same day. In addition to her Herculean playing, the fearless pianist brings curatorial prowess to bear in pairing each new etude with an existing work from the canon. Seminal music by Ligeti, Chin, Glass, Crawford Seeger, Debussy, Scriabin and – of course – Chopin is featured. Accordingly, the record frames ten diptychs, (old meeting new), as it delivers a novel focus and perspective. The staggering array of textures and colouristic effects – not to mention the technical demands – here demonstrate Lin’s utter virtuosity at the piano, founded upon tireless application of intellect, study, two ultra-keen ears and a generous musical heart worthy of any audience’s patronage and awe. Have a listen to this disc and then have another; purchase a copy of the score. The Etudes Project will repay you manifestly. Adam Sherkin What we're listening to this month: afterimage String Orchestra of Brooklyn Features works by Christopher Cerrone and Jacob Cooper that respond to Paganini and Pergolesi respectively, with the Argus Quartet and guest vocalists Mellissa Hughes and Kate Maroney. Separation Songs Eclipse Quartet Matt Sargent’s “Separation Songs,” featuring the Eclipse Quartet are “Haunting and beautiful.” ("Fanfare" magazine, five-star review). “It’s gorgeous.” ("Only Strings") Crazy Time Shuffle Demons Shuffle Demons play Lula Lounge Feb. 27th to celebrate the release of their great new CD 'Crazy Time.’ Doors 6:30. 2 Sets 8:15 start. Haydn Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2 John O'Conor In the first volume of John O'Conor's Haydn Sonatas (2017) Fanfare Magazine called his playing "focused, thoughtful, clean, transparent ... O'Conor's performance is thrilling, played to perfection." February 2020 | 67

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)