3 years ago

Volume 25 Issue 6 - March 2020

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FEATURED: Music & Health writer Vivien Fellegi explores music, blindness & the plasticity of perception; David Jaeger digs into Gustavo Gimeno's plans for new music in his upcoming first season as music director at TSO; pianist James Rhodes, here for an early March recital, speaks his mind in a Q&A with Paul Ennis; and Lydia Perovic talks music and more with rising Turkish-Canadian mezzo Beste Kalender. Also, among our columns, Peggy Baker Dance Projects headlines Wende Bartley's In with the New; Steve Wallace's Jazz Notes rushes in definitionally where many fear to tread; ... and more.

Saint-Saëns – Piano

Saint-Saëns – Piano Concertos 3 & 5 Louis Lortie; BBC Philharmonic; Edward Gardner Chandos CHAN 20028 ( !! Camille Saint-Saëns was an exceptionally gifted pianist, admired by his contemporaries for his dexterity and grand style. Yet despite his significant output of piano music, it’s only the works for piano and orchestra – including five concertos – which seem to have stood the test of time. To be certain, recordings of these compositions are by no means scarce, but this one featuring Louis Lortie and the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Edward Gardner, is a particularly worthy addition to the catalogue. The majestic Piano Concerto No.3 from 1869 has been often overshadowed by the others – particularly the second – but the pairing of Lortie and the BBC orchestra is a sublime one. From the mysterious opening measures with the arpeggiated piano passages, Lortie demonstrates a flawless technique, his delivery strongly self-assured. The wistful second movement Andante is but a calm interlude before the buoyant and joyous third movement Allegro non troppo. Piano Concerto No.5 – written in Luxor between 1895 and 1896 and suitably named the “Egyptian” – has always proven more popular. The piece is a true study in contrasts – the opening Allegro alternates between slow and fast segments; the central Andante begins with an introductory blast before settling into its more lyrical section and the piece ends with an energetic Molto allegro, the opening of which simulates the sound of a paddlewheel boat up the Nile. Interspersed with the concertos are the popular Rhapsodie d’Auvergne and the less familiar Allegro appassionato, both from 1884, and each a satisfying melding of piano with orchestra in under ten minutes. In all, Lortie proves once again he is a pianistic supernova, one who can easily conquer the most demanding repertoire. The clarity of his interpretation and his elegant touch – along with a solid backing from the BBC Philharmonic – combine to make this a stellar recording. Richard Haskell Rubinstein – Music for Piano Four Hands Vol.2 Duo Pianistico di Firenze Brilliant Classics 95965 ( !! Pianists Sara Bartolucci and Rodolfo Alessandrini, collectively known as Duo Pianistico di Firenze (Piano Duo of Florence) have been garnering the accolades of the classical world since 1990, mining the overlooked, rarely performed or forgotten piano repertoire of the Western art music canon on a series of recordings, concerts and artistic residencies. Here, on this sprawling 2019 double CD released on the Brilliant Classics label, the Italian duo mightily dig in to the little-known, four-hand piano work of Russian composer Anton Rubinstein (1829–1894). A touring piano soloist, composer and educator (he is perhaps best known as the teacher of Tchaikovsky), Rubinstein’s work here, similar to some of the best-known pieces of JS Bach, is didactically pedagogical by design. As founder of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, Rubinstein’s 20-movement long Bal Costumé is not a high-water mark of Russian pianistic virtuosity (for which Rubinstein was known), but rather is intentionally welcoming and accessible to amateur and student pianists, a collection of tuneful miniatures meant for parlour performances for attendees at a costume ball. Although Rubinstein the pianist would become celebrated for his virtuoso performances, he too included Bal costumé in his concerts, performing with Anna Yesipova or Monika Terminskaya, garnering accolades for the popular Toréador et Andalouse, movement seven from this suite. Captured here as the complete suite, this recommended CD set features the beautiful four-hand touch, playing and simpatico interaction of Bartolucci and Alessandrini seamlessly weaving together a unified tapestry of sound that is worth adding to one’s classical CD collection. Andrew Scott Four Elements Vol.2 Fire Yu Kosuge Orchid Classics ORC 100108 ( !! This disc is Volume 2 of Yu Kosuge’s four-CD series Journey of the Four Elements. Fire begins intimately and after the pianist’s long, well-chosen program of late 19th-/early 20th-century compositions closes with grandeur. In Tchaikovsky’s January: At the Fireside, she conveys a family event’s togetherness well, along with imagined romantic passions. By contrast, five pieces from Max Reger’s Dreams at the Fireside evoke solitude. Here the composer remembers piano works from his youth: for example, piece No.2 references Brahms’ well-known Intermezzo No. 2, Op.118 in A Major. Reger adds complex harmony and voiceleading, but fortunately Kosuge clarifies the tonal structure well. Next, a storm arrives in the guise of Liszt’s symphonic poem Prometheus (arr. Ludwig Stark). Sizzling “lightning flashes,” a difficult fugue and bravura alternating octaves followed by cascading chords, present technical challenges that Kosuge masters ably. Among succeeding short pieces, Debussy’s brief Les soirs illuminés par l’ardeur du charbon (1917) is a welcome, evocative novelty discovered only in 2001; while the Feux d’artifice (Preludes, Book II) ranks with the best recordings I have heard. Kosuge’s touch is even and crisp, her grasp of the fitful harmonic base secure. The disc’s pièce de résistance is five numbers from Stravinsky’s piano version of his great Firebird Suite (1919). Brilliant handling of the Infernal Dance’s syncopations and cross-rhythms, a mysterious mood with magical tremolos in the Lullaby and astonishing bell-like sonorities at the finale’s tremendous climax cap this marvellous CD. Roger Knox Sergei Prokofiev – Piano Sonatas 3; 8; 9 Freddy Kempf BIS BIS-2390 SACD ( !! Sergei Prokofiev’s music is a study in dramatic contrasts, not the least because the composer always seemed to look forward while harking back to the past. He was a brilliant piano virtuoso whose work was redolent of melodicism wedded to a tonality that was Mirrored Glass Taktus Featuring the music of Ann Southam and Philip Glass Album Launch Party @ the Tranzac Club Tuesday, March 10th, 7pm Solo Sessions Volume 1 Brenda Earle Stokes Solo Sessions Vol. 1 is a stunning mix of standards, originals and arrangements of materials recorded in a single 4-hour session by Sarniaborn, NYC-based jazz pianist and vocalist Brenda Earle Stokes 78 | March 2020

characterized by cascading warmth often spiked by the force of dramatic rhythms and broad dissonances. All of this is heard in these Piano Sonatas especially the last two – No. 8 and No. 9. Prokofiev’s work always demanded fingers of flexible steel and those on Freddy Kempf’s hands seem to embody this to perfection. From the first dramatic rendering of the Piano Sonata No. 3 in A Minor Kempf plays like a man possessed, and his breathtaking variety of touch means that the less hard-driven passages of No.8 and No.9 have an unparalleled degree of subtlety and nuance. His muscular style is eminently suited to such tempestuous music. The Piano Sonata No.3 in A Minor is the shortest and from Prokofiev’s earlier attempts at the form, while No.8 in B-flat Major and No.9 in C Major are much longer and infinitely more intricate. Yet all three live and breathe in sharply characterized music that demands a sense of structure and momentum. Kempf embraces their wide tonal range, sharply drawn contrasts and intricate detail with sublime energy and a wonderful sense of occasion. Raul da Gama Canadian Organ Music on the Organ of Coventry Cathedral Rachel Mahon Delphian Records Ltd. DCD34234 ( !! On the surface, this disc appears to be an interesting international essay: Canadian organ music played on an English cathedral organ, performed by a Canadian organist working in the UK. It seems straightforward enough but, if one looks into the historical relationship between Canada and Coventry, a much deeper and meaningful relationship is quickly uncovered. In 1940 the Coventry organ was destroyed by German air bombers, reducing the entire medieval building to a pile of rubble. At the same time, the (Royal) Canadian College of Organists was collecting donations from its members to assist with the rebuilding of damaged English instruments. In the end, the decision was made to dedicate the entire amount of raised funds to Coventry, paying for a major part of their new instrument. It is therefore no surprise that there is a large brass maple leaf on the west-end floor of the Cathedral, commemorating Canada’s generosity. It is with this historical backdrop in mind that organist Rachel Mahon selected her program. The first work, Healey Willan’s monumental Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue bridges both countries; born in England, Willan later moved to Canada and eventually became known as the “Dean of Canadian composers.” Mahon treats this tripartite tome with the focus it requires, blending rhapsodic virtuosity with careful attention towards the structure of the composition. Gerald Bales’ Petite Suite and Ruth Watson Henderson’s Chromatic Partita are smaller pieces, but no less satisfying to hear on this magnificent organ, while Rachel Laurin’s Symphony No.1 is simply breathtaking in its immensity and dramatic content. This disc merits repeated listening for numerous reasons, both historical and immediately practical. Mahon, recently appointed the next director of music at Coventry, is a superb performer with a keen ability to craft a satisfying program, and her debut recording is highly recommended. Matthew Whitfield Aphorisms – Piano Music of Carl Vine Lindsay Garritson Independent ( !! The music of composer, pianist and conductor Carl Vine so often evokes the lucidity and sun of this artist’s home country: Australia. The world premiere recording of his Fourth Piano Sonata (2019) is included on a new disc by American pianist, Lindsay Garritson, a disc entirely devoted to Vine’s varied piano catalogue. Pianists tend to revel in performing Vine’s music; it is idiomatic and expressive – Romantic at heart yet fresh and buoyant, unmistakably of our time. (American composer Lowell Liebermann’s aesthetic seems a close relative to Vine’s.) Garritson throws herself headlong into the fulsome soundscape of Vine’s newest piano sonata, in a whorl of an opener to the record, demanding the listener’s attention. Her heart is clearly devoted to every single note of this album, with a seemingly special affection for The Anne Landa Preludes (2006). These programmatic, deeply expressive pieces are aptly suited to Garritson’s musical sensibility as she relishes their expansive resonating lines and tolling chords, born of a personal mode of expression. After these (12) preludes, the record returns to sonata form, in a rhapsodic performance of one of Vine’s most popular works from his early period, the Piano Sonata No.1 of 1990. After five Bagatelles, including the haunting Threnody (for all of the innocent victims), Garritson treats the listener to Vine’s Toccatissimo (2011), a robust and thrilling finale to this attractive new album by a self-assured young pianist, with a career on the rise. Adam Sherkin What we're listening to this month: Suite Vincent Greg Runions Big Band Featuring Dave Barton, William Carn, Tara Davidson, Mike Cassells, Brian Dickinson, John MacLeod, Brian O'Kane, Andrew Rathbun and Artie Roth Woven Dreams Lara Driscoll Lara Driscoll, Chicago based French-American pianist with “captivating style and uncluttered finesse” and “magical touch... musical solos” releases debut jazz trio album Woven Dreams. Latin Romance Ensemble Vivant Beautiful, joyful, interpretively clairvoyant performances. A sparkling tapestry of Brazilian/Argentinian/ Cuban/Latin inspired works including the world premiere of John Burke’s evocative Art Tango, La Despedida. Something More Lynne Harrison Songs that delve deep into love, life and the human spirit. “I knew instantly Lynn was a special artist.” (John Apice, “Americana Highways”) March 2020 | 79

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