3 years ago

Volume 25 Issue 5 - February 2020

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  • 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.

David Occhipinti –

David Occhipinti – these out of infinite Various Artists Centrediscs CMCCD 27619 ( !! Eclectic musical genius, composer and guitarist, David Occhipinti has released a new project that is the culmination of his life (and musical) experiences – a journey that has afforded him an “overview” of our little blue planet, and led to a perception of the “one-ness” of humanity, and also of our diverse and fascinating artistic expressions. This enlightened POV enables Occhipinti to freely imbibe of a musical smorgasbord (classical, jazz, new music, haute cabaret and art songs) without particular concerns about boundaries or potential cultural collisions. All of the music here (which is formatted into “Suites”) has been composed by Occhipinti, and informed by his artistry and particular inclusive view. First up is Three Emilys for Solo Voice, which features the gorgeous, super-human vocal instrument of Mingjia Chen in a largely a cappella exploration, propelled by text from the pens of Emily Carr, Emily Dickinson and Emily Brontë. Carla Huhtanen is the soprano in Cubist Cummings, the third movement of which, the mystery of stillness, is chilling in its compartmentalization and use of vox nudus with harp (Erica Goodman) and marimba (Beverley Johnston), to create a stark landscape reeking of alienation. Of unsurpassed beauty is Three Songs from James Joyce – which was developed from a set of poems found in a copy of Chamber Music discovered by Occhipinti in a London book store, and is perhaps the most evocative suite on the recording. Sung by Robin Dann, the spellbinding group of support musicians, including Occhipinti on guitar, bassist Andrew Downing, cellist David Hetherington and bassoonist Nadina Mackie Jackson among other Toronto greats, invigorate these complex, dark, Celtic-inspired pieces into being. The closing collection, Three Songs for Children’s Chorus, was originally composed for and is sung here by the Cookie Choir. It perfectly parenthesizes this remarkable recording, rife with hope and the consciousness-altering music of David Occhipinti. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke Pascal Dusapin – Penthesilea Petrinsky; Montalvo; Nigl; Mechelen; Orchestre Symphonique et choeurs di al Monnaie; Franck Ollu Cypres Records CYP4654 ( !! The French composer Pascal Dusapin is known for drawing upon many contrasting styles – from the paroxysmal avantgarde to expressionist late Romanticism – throughout his impressive output. His new opera, Penthesilea is no exception. This is Dusapin’s second foray into the operatic genre, and we receive a rather restrained and meditative musical interpretation of Heinrich von Kleist’s almost absurdist verse play. The music is meditative and unrelenting in its impressionistic treatment of the text and drama. The chant-like vocal writing is often set against vast tapestries of lower register washes from the ensemble. Several lesserknown instruments – such as the dulcimer and Egyptian rattle – create familiar beacons of a rather uneasy cerebral quality. While the near 90-minute work lacks a definitive climactic arch, the adventurous novelty of the musical material provides more than adequate satiation for the ear. Adam Scime Péter Eötvös – Tri Sestry Soloists; Frankfurter Opern-und; Museumsorchester; Dennis Russell Davies Oehms Classics OC 986 ( !! In this opera by Hungarian composer Péter Eötvös – a towering figure in the contemporary classical music world – a mind-boggling number of characters weave strange relationships that are all held together by a very strong musical setting of Chekhov’s play Three Sisters. The orchestra and cast in this recording masterfully execute Eötvös’ complex and demanding score. From the opening passages all the musicians create a world-class atmosphere of artistic confidence. The orchestra provides massive percussive screeches and rugged landscapes upon which beauty and hysteria interweave harmoniously. With dozens of performances, it would be safe to say that his opera has become a standard of the repertoire – a testament to the masterful writing we are used to from Eötvös This opera is artistically sound, and the fabulous music-making by the singers and orchestra make for a compelling listen that is a must for contemporary opera lovers. Adam Scime CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Carl Maria von Weber – Chamber Music for Flute Kazunori Seo; Shohei Uwamori; Makoto Ueno Naxos 8.573766 ( !! Carl Maria von Weber, best known for his operas, Der Freischütz and Oberon, also composed chamber music, some of which is to be found on this disc. I will pay the performers, fronted by flutist Kazunori Seo, the ultimate compliment: that I felt listening to this recording that I could hear Weber’s voice throughout. Yes, you can at times hear the influence of Beethoven and of his contemporary, Friedrich Kuhlau; but the music presented here is not mere imitation but an original take on, and within the stylistic parameters of, the time. There is much to admire in the A-flat Major Sonata, the first work on this recording: the elegant phrasing in the opening movement, the dramatic dynamics and judicious use of vibrato in the slow second movement. In the second work, the Grand Duo Concertant, in which I hear the influence of Kuhlau, there is boundless but carefully managed excitement, drama and virtuosic flute playing matched at every moment by the effortless fluidity of pianist, Makoto Ueno. To me, however, the high point in the disc is the third and last composition, the Trio in G Minor, in which flutist and pianist are joined by cellist Shohei Uwamori. Weber’s artistry reveals itself like an early morning sunrise: the first movement begins with the melancholic opening theme played first on the flute and then on the piano, which adds a new and unexpected layer of understanding of the music. But when the cello follows with a second theme, the effect is breathtaking! Allan Pulker Four London Myriad Métier msv 28587 ( ! ! This is a crisp and capable ensemble, a woodwind quintet minus French horn. The material is supplied by the French and English moderns. For tuneful fun, turn to Eugène Bozza, Jean Françaix and Richard Rodney Bennett. Jacques Ibert, Claude Arrieu and Frank Bridge supply some more weight, but never too heavy. Largely 72 | February 2020

the playing is elegant and the ensemble finds admirable unity of pitch and articulation, no small task among such diverse voices, and they play the spirited small works with great verve, as if they were having a heck of a time doing so. I really like this group, their relative youth, the way the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and I particularly like Bridge’s Divertimenti, H.189. Easily the longest selection on the disc, the composer allows an idea to develop and subside into a new one in each of the four movements. One is led to suppose each movement stands on its own, but he follows a format for a multi-movement work meant to be performed as a whole, like a miniature symphony. The second movement, Nocturne, is a dialogue for flute and oboe. Rather daringly, given the sparse character, this stands as the longest movement. Naturally, the scherzo which follows is a duet for clarinet and bassoon. Mr. Bridge is a staunch egalitarian. Max Christie Joy & Desolation Alexander Fiterstein; Tesla Quartet Orchid Classics ORC100106 ( !! Get ready, the youth are marching, and they hear the beat of a drummer we should all listen for. Clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein and the Tesla String Quartet have released a sharp-looking package of chamber works for that particular and popular grouping, the clarinet quintet. After paying homage to the founder of the movement, Mozart, in his Quintet K581, they embark on a path through the 20th century: Gerald Finzi’s Five Bagatelles (arranged by Christian Alexander) and a late-millennial work by a pre-boomer, Soliloquy by John Corigliano. Lastly comes a brief and fairly recent work by Argentine composer Carolina Heredia: Ius in Bello (Laws of War) (2014). I appreciate the care and skill the group employs in recreating Mozart’s beloved chamber work; it will certainly not disappoint. The colour of Fiterstein’s clarinet brightens the rich sound of the quartet, whose lead voice (in this instance, violinist Michelle Lee, although she alternates on the disc with Ross Snyder), offers a gorgeous counterpoint to the woodwind. They score points as a group for not attempting to reinvent the work; instead they bring a clear sensibility about the use of nuance (tactful and restrained) and attention to prevent vibrato from creeping into the colour. Kudos. My skepticism about the value of the Bagatelles melted on hearing it improved by the piano part being replaced by the individual string voices. Here the (subtle) vibrato in all the voices turns what is a somewhat pedestrian duo into a touching choral ensemble work. Corigliano provides the “desolation” referred to in the disc’s title with a haunting elegy to the composer’s late father. Heredia’s short and edgy work is a refraction of the conflict-filled world of today. Max Christie Brahms – String Quartet Op.67; Piano Quintet Op.34 Kiril Gerstein; Hagen Quartett Myrios Classics MYR021 ( !! Brahms was happiest at the piano and reluctant to venture into the unknown territory of chamber music involving instruments with which he was not entirely familiar. Many such forays into the unknown were cautiously undertaken. Moreover Brahms had a habit of destroying pieces he did not approve. Considering all of this it is remarkable that his mature chamber work is among the greatest of the 19th century. The String Quartet No.3 in B-flat Major is one of three quartets which give credence to his view that (for Brahms) the quartet remained a proving ground for experiments of striking originality. It harks back to the world of Mozart and Haydn. Yet throughout, the cycle of nostalgia is muted and it serves only to allow Brahms’ interplays and musical tensions to be resolved with greater impact. Schumann once described Brahms’ chamber music as “symphonies in disguise” and the Piano Quintet in F Minor is typical of this. It combines the resonances of orchestral music with the differentiated textures of chamber music and is a masterpiece of Brahms’ maturity. Kirill Gerstein offers a legendary interpretation of the Piano Quintet. With high drama, impulsive accelerations, ominous pauses which shrink to a whisper, and moments of deliberation, the work explodes to life. The Hagen Quartett play with such a high level of empathy that at times it’s possible to imagine these works were written almost exclusively for them. Raul da Gama Saint-Saëns – Symphony No.1; Symphony in A Major; The Carnival of the Animals Utah Symphony; Thierry Fischer Hyperion CDA68223 ( !! The output of Camille Saint-Saëns was an impressive one, yet for some reason, a great many of his pieces lie in relative obscurity today. Among these are two symphonies – both early works – and both overshadowed by the lavish “Organ” symphony of 1886. Critics tend to dismiss them as derivative, but they remain fine examples of a young composer’s first forays into symphonic writing as evidenced here on this splendid Hyperion recording featuring the Utah Symphony conducted by Thierry Fischer. From the majestic opening measures of the Symphony in E flat from 1853, it’s clear that the orchestra is in full command of this buoyant and optimistic music. The martial mood of the first movement is continued in the second movement Scherzo, followed by a lyrical Adagio. The Finale: Allegro Maestoso is exactly that – majestic and ceremonious music, where the Utah’s formidable brass section is given ample opportunity to demonstrate its prowess, and the triumphant conclusion performed with great panache. The Symphony in A Major is an even earlier work, composed c.1850 when the composer was all of 15. There are echoes of Beethoven and Mendelssohn here, particularly in the sunny third movement Scherzo and the jubilant Allegro molto finale. Again, the orchestra delivers a stylish and convincing performance under Fischer’s sensitive baton. Interspersed between the two symphonies is the popular Carnival of the Animals. The musical menagerie with its braying, squawking and clucking is proof indeed that the dignified 53-year-old composer – forever sporting a beard and a frock coat – had a keen sense of humour after all. Bien fait! This is a wonderful recording showcasing two of Saint-Saëns’ less wellknown orchestral works along with one of his most familiar – a welcome addition to the catalogue. Richard Haskell Second Wind Dave Camwell Navona Records nv6253 ( ! ! The saxophone was patented by Adophe Sax in 1846, after a great deal of music had already been written. And it was not until the mid- to end- of the 20th century that its repertoire diversified. Dave Camwell’s Second Wind contains an exciting variety of works written for the saxophone but also includes several pieces by Bach, Vivaldi and Handel which have been arranged for the instrument. Music history contains many examples of re-orchestration: Bach performed many of his works with different instrumentation and Robert Schumann added piano accompaniment to Bach sonatas. Camwell has further revised Schumann’s arrangements by adding two saxophones (the other played by February 2020 | 73

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