3 years ago

Volume 25 Issue 6 - March 2020

  • Text
  • Composer
  • Performing
  • Arts
  • Faculty
  • Orchestra
  • Musical
  • Symphony
  • Theatre
  • Jazz
  • Toronto
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.

VOCAL Schumann –

VOCAL Schumann – Myrthen Camilla Tilling; Christian Gerhaher; Gerold Huber Sony Classical 19075945362 ( !!“To my beloved Clara on the eve of our wedding from her Robert.” So wrote Robert Schumann on a specially bound set of 26 recently composed songs dedicated to Clara, collectively titled Myrthen for the myrtle branches and flowers that traditionally adorned bridal wreaths. In it, Schumann drew from nine poets, with Rückert, Goethe, Heine and Robert Burns (in translation) accounting for 19 of the songs. Schumann specified those to be sung by a woman or a man, suggesting a young couple’s ongoing relationship. Here, the appropriately light-and-bright voices of soprano Camilla Tilling and baritone Christian Gerhaher are ably supported by pianist Gerold Huber. Myrthen begins with the well-known Widmung (my favourite among Schumann’s 250-plus songs); others in the set that will be familiar to many are Der Nussbaum, Die Lotosblume and Du bist wie eine Blume. Of those less-often encountered, the tender Lieder der Braut and Hochländisches Wiegenlied, the sprightly Räthsel and Niemand, and the plaintive Aus den hebräischen Gesängen are particularly gratifying. The wistful, concluding Zum Schluss promises, almost prophetically, that only in heaven will the couple receive “a perfect wreath.” Robert and Clara married in 1840, after years of obstruction from Clara’s father. Sadly, their marriage ended in 1856 with Robert’s early death in a mental asylum. Myrthen, Robert’s wedding gift to Clara, thus represents an enduring, significant, poignant testament to what is surely classical music’s most enduring, significant and poignant love story. Texts and translations are included. Michael Schulman A Voice of Her Own – Musical Women Who Persisted 1098-1896 Toronto Chamber Choir; Lucas Harris Independent n/a ( !! Sacred and secular music require two wholly different mindsets and the singers of the Toronto Chamber Choir, with Lucas Harris as artistic director, have the wherewithal to do both in spades. Both genres demand an immersion of sorts into the music itself. The performance by this choir does more than simply tick all the boxes; it soars impossibly high, taking the music to another realm altogether. Another challenge – admirably handled by the choir – is the fact that the music spans almost 800 years of evolved tradition. The program itself is an inspired one and is quite representative of women composers who, as the title suggests, emerged with high honours in a world dominated, at every level of art and its commerce, by men. This recording gets off to a glorious start with music by the ecstatic mystic, Hildegard of Bingen (1098- 1179). In the extract from Ordo Virtutum, where the monastic nun adapted the language of visions and of religious poetry, the choir’s interpretation is resonant and retains the exquisite purity of the music. From the soaring intensity of the anonymous 17th-century composition Veni, sancte Spiritus by the nuns of Monastère des Ursulines de Québec through songs from Gartenlieder by the prodigiously gifted Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847) to the deep melancholia of Clara Schumann’s (1819-1896) work, the musicians and choristers achieve unmatched levels of elegance and refinement. Raul da Gama Whither Must I Wander Will Liverman; Jonathan King Odradek ODRCD389 ( !! Wanderlust – both literal and figurative – lies dormant in the human genetic makeup. It is often awakened, especially among artists, and takes flight into both real and imagined landscapes often with breathtaking results. From Wandrers Nachtlied, Goethe’s poetry set to song by Nikolai Medtner, to lieder from Mondnacht penned by Robert Schumann; from Songs of Travel by Ralph Vaughan Williams to King David by Herbert Howells and At the River by Aaron Copland, Whither Must I Wander captures the timeless beauty of man’s propensity for real and imagined travel. The music is interpreted by Will Liverman, an outstanding lieder singer blessed with a warm-toned baritone. Liverman shows himself to be an artist of the first order. His performance here eschews melodrama and his interpretations are understated yet powerfully convincing. Howells’ King David is typical. Although Liverman is still young, and will surely mature, his singing already combines an authoritative vocal sound with accomplished interpretative insights into the music. Liverman has an outstanding relationship with pianist Jonathan King. Together the two parley with the familiarity of old friends. The singer is aware of when to recede from the spotlight, making way for King to embellish melodies. The pianist, for his part, always rises to the occasion; his playing is full of adventurous handling of harmony and tone. Together with Liverman’s vivid storytelling, this makes for a profoundly dramatic and characterful performance Raul da Gama A Howl, That Was also a Prayer Ekmeles New Focus Recordings FCR245 ( !! New York-based contemporary new music vocal ensemble Ekmeles is spectacular in their first solo release. Featuring commissions by Christopher Trapani and Canadian Taylor Brook, and a third work by Erin Gee, the six singers perform these innovative 21st-century works with precision and understanding. Brooks’ nine-part microtonal a cappella Motorman Sextet is based on David Ohle’s 1972 cult novel. The opening party-like vocal chatter sets the stage. The clear-spoken narrative by different voices features atmospheric backdrops like multi-voice unison spoken words, dynamic swells, held notes, high voice staccatos and atonal harmonic touches. Gee sound-paints new dimensions to my favourite pastime in Three Scenes from Sleep, taken from a larger piece. No words here; just voice-created clicks, pops, rustles, held notes, rhythms, high-pitched intervals and the final closing more-song-like held-low note which musically illustrate the unconscious sleep state. Trapani’s End Words features live voices with prerecorded vocal fragments and electronics. The three movements, based on texts by Anis Mojgani, Ciara Shuttleworth and John Ashbery respectively, are driven by tight ensemble performance. The first movement electronics add another voice to the clear ensemble articulations and swells with low drum-like thunder manipulations, squeaky electronic birds and plucked string effects. The closing third movement is unique with the opening electronic bell sounds leading to a strong electronic “duet” with the almost spoken vocals. Director/baritone Jeffrey Gavett leads Ekmeles in an exciting futuristic musical direction. Tiina Kiik Ogloudoglou – Vocal masterpieces of the Experimental Generation 1960-1990 Sara Stowe metier msv 28593 ( ! ! English soprano Sara Stowe is a versatile and inventive musician with repertoire ranging from contemporary concert music 80 | March 2020

to medieval song. A prize-winning harpsichordist and pianist at the start of her career, she then decided to learn 20th-century vocal music in Italy. One of her specialties is the songs of the outsider composer, Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988), whose reputation leapt to international prominence only at the end of his life. Ogloudoglou, titled after the song by the same name by Scelsi, is a skillfully curated album focused tightly on 11 art songs from 1960 to 1990 by what Stowe calls “the experimental generation.” She renders boundarystretching songs by Italian composers Scelsi, Luciano Berio, Luigi Nono, Niccoló Castiglioni and Sylvano Bussotti, as well as one each by the Argentine-German Mauricio Kagel and Americans John Cage and Morton Feldman. And experiment they did. Outstanding tracks for me are Nono’s cinematic, epic La Fabbrica Illuminata for voice and tape, and the more concise, though perhaps even more musically compelling, Sequenza III by Berio. The latter is beautifully rendered by Stowe – and I’ve heard Cathy Berberian, for whom it was composed, perform it live. Breathtakingly iconoclastic, perhaps even shocking when brand new, this tough song repertoire is little programmed today, at least in Canada. Stowe thus does us a favour, presenting her recital of songs by seminal later-generation high modernists with virtuoso verve. She committedly follows their demanding performance instructions and groundbreaking aesthetics, by the end winning over those who care to listen with her exhilarating musicality. Andrew Timar Paul Moravec – Sanctuary Road Soloists; Oratorio Society of New York Chorus and Orchestra; Kent Tritle Naxos 8.559884 ( !! Stories of the plight of the African slave in the US have echoed in the secrecy of the Underground Railroad for hundreds of years, the best of them recounted in prose, poetry and, somewhat recently, also in film. Musical stories – sung in the style of classic and modern blues and extended narrative jazz compositions – have also been heard. However, the operatic stage with live characters offers a distinctly different canvas where some of the most uplifting stories of the escape from slavery have been told. In this most recent one, Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell have come together as musician and librettist in Sanctuary Road, to recreate epic narratives of William Still’s book The Underground Railroad. This is a powerful work, layered with meaning, rich in detail, tragedy and triumph and, above all, cathartic pathos. All of this takes more than the stories themselves. It takes a fabulous cast, which Moravec and Campbell have found in the singers and musicians of the Oratorio Society of New York Chorus and Orchestra directed by Kent Tritle. On Sanctuary Road Still’s narratives rise to a rarefied realm thanks to compelling performances by its soloists. Soprano Laquita Mitchell is radiant, mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce- Davis is mesmerizing, and tenor Joshua Blue, baritone Malcolm J. Merriweather and bassbaritone Dashon Burton are spellbinding. Each of the soloists palpably evokes the suffering and joy of those who escaped to freedom from the American South into Canada. Raul da Gama CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Del Signor Graun Ludovice Ensemble Veterum Musica VM021 ( !! Music at the court of Frederick the Great usually conjures up images of JJ Quantz and CPE Bach – or even Frederick himself. That image is now under challenge due to this recording of music by the brothers Graun, who occupied key positions during Frederick’s rule. This CD features three sonatas by each composer. Some movements are highly spirited. Listen to the Poco Allegro from the opening to the Sonata in D by Carl Heinrich and then contrast it with the Largo from the same sonata; there is an almost hesitant entry of the flute. And some movements are genteel. The Adagio from the Sonata in G is thoughtful and measured. Then there is the other Graun, Johann Gottlieb. The Adagio from his Sonata in D demonstrates how much freedom this composer allowed his flutist, what with this movement’s forthright and almost chirpy playing, something enhanced in the following Allegro ma non molto. Joana Amorim obviously appreciates this tuneful opportunity, although it should not be allowed to overshadow Fernando Miguel Jalôto’s harpsichord playing. Contrasted as they are in their approaches, these two composers’ works are rarely performed these days. It is time for them to be restored to a more popular status. Michael Schwartz Schumann – Overture Genoveva; Symphonies 2 & 4 London Symphony Orchestra; Sir John Eliot Gardiner LSO Live LSO0818 ( !! Sir John Eliot Gardiner represents a new breed of conductors, like Norrington, Jacobs and others who began their careers in Baroque repertoire with period instrument orchestras and then through the back door, came to the classics and Romantics and modern symphony orchestras. Gardiner with the LSO and modern instruments interestingly now turns to the very Romantic music of Robert Schumann. Schumann’s symphonies have been much maligned in the past by critics saying that he couldn’t orchestrate, but actually this was caused, in Gardiner’s words, by “the late 19th century, opulent concept of Schumann” with muddied textures resulting from the over-Romantic approach of conductors of the time. Gardiner intends to rectify this by bringing “freshness, vivaciousness and clarity” and clean and transparent textures, using his previous experiences with period orchestras. The Fourth is a particular favourite of mine and also it seems a favourite of conductors. It’s compact, optimistic, forward-looking and full of surprises. Note how Schumann links the movements together with no stops between them, the “trombone sigh” in the first movement development or the mysterious transition between the end of the third and beginning of the fourth movement. I remember Solti practically dancing the lovely melody in the last movement. The Second is a turbulent affair, a work of genius; the first movement especially, a tremendous tour de force of a single strong rhythmic theme relentlessly driven with neverending variants towards a strong conclusion on the brass. Gardiner opts for fast speeds throughout (except for the heavenly Adagio espressivo) that can be very exciting, but can be detrimental to the beauty of the details. Bernstein’s magisterial reading with the VPO is still my benchmark. Janos Gardonyi Piccolo Concertos Jean-Louis Beaumadier; Prague RSO; Vahan Mardirossian Skarbo DSK3192 ( ! ! How extraordinary is this recording of the Prague Radio Symphony and virtuoso piccolo crusader, Jean- Louis Beaumadier! March 2020 | 81

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)