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Volume 25 Issue 7 - April 2020

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After some doubt that we would be allowed to go to press, in respect to wide-ranging Ontario business closures relating to COVID-19, The WholeNote magazine for April 2020 is now on press, and print distribution – modified to respect community-wide closures and the need for appropriate distancing – starts Monday March 30. Meanwhile the full magazine is right here, digitally, so if you value us PLEASE SHARE THIS LINK AS WIDELY AS YOU CAN. It's the safest way for us to reach the widest possible audience at this time!

Rubinstein – Piano

Rubinstein – Piano Sonatas Nos.1 and 2 Han Chen Naxos 8.573989 ( !!“Van the Second.” That’s what Franz Liszt called Anton Rubinstein, referring to his fellow pianistic titan’s resemblance to Beethoven’s unkempt, leonine looks and pile-driving keyboard aggressiveness. Like Beethoven, Rubinstein also composed in all genres but, unlike “Van the First,” he’s rarely performed today outside his native Russia. The music on this CD dates from 1850- 1855, when Rubinstein, in his early-to-mid-20s, was immersed in early Romanticism. As a teenager studying in Berlin, Rubinstein even met Mendelssohn, who is channelled in the restless, urgent first movement of Piano Sonata No.1. It’s followed by a soulful prayer, a pensive waltz and another chorale melody that ends the fourth movement, and the sonata, in grandiose fashion. Sandwiched between the two sonatas, both lasting nearly half an hour, are the lovely, gentle Three Serenades, flavoured with subtle echoes of Chopin. Piano Sonata No. 2 is in three movements, the first two recalling Schumann in their inward, almost downcast, reflectiveness. The sonata ends much as the CD began, with a dramatic, Mendelssohnian surge of stormy energy. Pianist Han Chen, born in Taiwan and now living in New York, was himself in his mid-20s when, in 2018, he recorded these works in King City, Ontario, with expert producers Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver, fine musicians themselves. Chen successfully conveys the music’s varied moods, from tender to agitated to triumphant. I found all these attractive works, though derivative, a pleasure to listen to. I think you may, too. Michael Schuman Debussy – Études; Children’s Corner Aleck Karis Bridge Records 9529 ( !! Claude Debussy’s two books of Études from 1915 are less well known than many of his other piano compositions and until recently, had been neither widely performed nor recorded. Written three years before his death, they are regarded by some as his last testament to his works for piano solo, the form itself having been long embraced by such composers as Clementi, Czerny, Liszt and Chopin, to whom they are dedicated and whose music Debussy adored. The two sets are technically challenging – even the composer himself professed to struggling with certain passages – but any difficulties are met with admirable competency by the American-based pianist Aleck Karis on this Bridge recording featuring both sets and the charming Children’s Corner Suite. Beginning with the first étude in Book 1, Pour les cing doigts, Karis displays a precise and elegant touch, his interpretations at all times thoughtfully nuanced. Indeed, these pieces, ranging in length from two minutes to just under seven, are true “studies” in contrast. The first, a tribute to Czerny, features repeated melodic progressions, while number four is moody and mysterious, and the sixth, Pour les huit doigts, a relentless perpetuum mobile. The disc concludes with the familiar Children’s Corner Suite from 1908, a heartfelt depiction of childhood from a far simpler time. Opening with Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum, Karis’ playing is refined and sensitively articulated, with just the right amount of tempo rubato. The atmospheric Jimbo’s Lullaby would induce even the most obstinate pachyderm into slumber, while The Snow is Dancing and The Little Shepherd are true musical impressions that surely would have delighted his beloved daughter Chouchou. Rounding out the set is the popular Golliwog’s Cakewalk, all bounce and joviality, which brings the disc to a most satisfying conclusion. Richard Haskell Rachmaninov; Liszt Luiz Carlos de Moura Castro Independent n/a ( !! The Brazilian pianist Luiz Carlos de Moura Castro, who plays with extraordinary virtuosity and passion, is so self-effacing that his only presence apart from the occasional entry in a digital classical music encyclopedia is on recordings, happily as brilliant as this one he produced himself. The works by Rachmaninov and Liszt – two of the greatest piano virtuosos of all time – with which he is represented here on a breathtaking-sounding Fazioli F308, are a testament to Castro’s pianistic genius. The Liszt Piano Concerto No.2 in A Major, like everything Liszt, demands the highest level of virtuosity with its astounding octave leaps and high pianistic drama. Castro gives an overwhelmingly powerful and authoritative reading of it. His fingerwork has a steely energy to it which is remarkable. He is well supported by the Société d’Orchestre, Bienne under Jost Meier, who conducts the concerto with extraordinary and empathetic understanding of its difficult score. Rachmaninov’s concertos are all very difficult to play and also reflect the composer’s complete technical command of the piano. Concerto No.3 in D Minor is uncommonly taxing and No.2 in C Minor is filled with bravura. Castro brings to life both of these – as well as Liszt’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, a work almost as capricious as anything Paganini himself wrote – with the Slovenia Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra, the fiery Ligia Amadio conducting brilliantly. Raul da Gama Percy & Friends Richard Masters Heritage HTGCD 179 ( ! ! “Let us go then, you and I, / When the evening is spread out against the sky…” Let us listen then, of summer evenings, nightingales and shepherd’s hey; of rainbow trout, bridal lullabies and colonial songs. Pianist Richard Masters offers an attractive new disc, celebrating varied solo piano pieces from an unexpected cohort: Roger Quilter, Henry Balfour Gardiner, Cyrill Scott, Norman O’Neill, Frederick Delius and Percy Grainger. Such English-speaking expatriates who were, at one time, all in school together at the Hoch Conservatory, Frankfurt, became known as the Frankfurt Group, not including Frederick Delius. The other five revered Delius and often subsumed him in various articles written about the composers during their time: the New English School was profiled as an adventurous collective of young musical artists, Anglocentric and German-despising. The 17-track record from Masters, in combination with his fine liner notes, transports the listener to a gentle world of breezy morning strolls and wholesome sips of afternoon tea. This aesthetic never seeks to poke or to prod, nor to unseat the status quo; here is a unique strain of harmonic connectedness, always sumptuous in its tonal narrative. From such discarded chests of keyboard music emanates a sincerity of lyricism, generously set against tableaux of perfumed sonic spaces. With comely confidence and a slightly perceptible dash of American Southern charm, Masters cajoles you and me, as he brings this New English School of the early 20th century back to life. Adam Sherkin 54 | April 2020

Prokofiev – Piano Sonatas Nos. 6, 7 & 8 Steven Osborne Hyperion CDA688298 ( !! With three gritty, strenuous piano sonatas that run the gamut of expression in movements now dreamy and languid, now pungent and divisive, Scottish pianist Steven Osborne proves yet again that he can tackle any corner of the piano repertory with technical prowess and innate stylistic aplomb. In this new disc, Osborne rips into some of the most challenging keyboard music ever written by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. The challenges here extend far beyond the thorniness of the sonatas’ character and their assembled identity as three war sonatas, (Opp.82, 83 and 84), written during the years 1939 through 1944. These broad and complex works demand an acute understanding of modernist expression and its concept of human experience when stretched to the very edge. This edge can be extreme in some cases, compelling both listener and pianist alike to embrace the ridiculous as well as the sublime. A successful performance of such music depends on the wits (and technique!) of a multi-versed artist up to the challenge. Osborne leaves us with no doubt as to our emotional survival: we immediately jump onboard for the ride, putting ourselves in his safekeeping until the end of this disc. Therein, Osborne’s hands cast spells of colour and light that echo the deft craft of impressionist composers, betraying a kinship (rarely revealed) between the inspired music of turn-ofthe-century France and that generation of Russian modernists who emerged in the 1920s, with Prokofiev at the vanguard. Adam Sherkin Samuil Feinberg – Piano Sonatas Nos. 1-6 Marc-André Hamelin Hyperion CDA 68233 ( ! ! Wondrous and fair, is the music of Russian composer-pianist, Samuil Feinberg. Today, 58 years after his death, he remains little known outside of Russia. Nevertheless, veteran virtuoso Marc-André Hamelin has long championed the ravishing piano catalogue of Feinberg, peppering his own recital programs with his music. Now, for the first time in a truly voluminous discography, Hamelin has recorded six sonatas by Feinberg, Opp.1, 2, 3, 6, 10 and 13. Each one is a marvel of pianistic craft, gazing down from the pinnacle of early 20th-century Russian lineage. Both the first and second sonatas owe a great deal to the spectrums of resonance and open-hearted romanticism found in Rachmaninoff’s piano writing, (in particular the Sonata No.2 in B-flat Minor Op.36). These works gleam with whimsical, searching melodies, buoyed up by formidable textures. Hamelin aptly leads the adventure, taking the utmost care and cultivation. In fact, Hamelin navigates every page of these fascinating, singular pieces with splendid ease and confidence. He finds ways to personalize the expressive potential Feinberg embeds in his scores. Another highlight of the disc, Feinberg’s Sonata No.5, invites us into an eerie, unsettled world. The opening rollicks with overwrought chords that grope and sniff their way through the dark. What – or whom – might they be seeking? This disc bears repeated listening, as is so often the case with Hamelin’s artistry. Verily, today’s musical world would be a dimmer place without him. Adam Sherkin VOCAL Rossini – Zelmira Soloists; Górecki Chamber Choir, Krakow; Virtuosi Brunensis; Gianluigi Gelmetti Naxos 8.660468-70 ( !! Dating from 1822, Zelmira is the 33rd of Rossini’s 39 operas and the last one he wrote in Naples. By that time he was aiming for international attention, first step to be Vienna. Zelmira achieved great success there and later in Paris, but inexplicably it fell out of public favour and simply disappeared for nearly two centuries. By a stroke of luck in 1995, Richard Bonynge and Joan Sutherland found the score in an antique bookshop in Paris and it was quickly bought by the Pesaro Festival and triumphantly performed there with a stellar cast. The reason for the disfavour was Rossini’s attempt to reconcile Italian and German styles by devising new harmonies and orchestral effects, no doubt to please Vienna audiences, but unfortunately it was too unusual for Italians. Too bad, because it’s a tremendous grand opera with magnificent, original and highly inspired music and great opportunities for singers; particularly for the two principal tenors and the lead soprano (written for Rossini’s wife, Isabella Colbran). The story takes us to the Age of Antiquity, to Lesbos on the Aegean Sea. It revolves around the king’s daughter Zelmira, who after many vicissitudes, false accusations and even prison, saves her father, and her son, from wicked usurpers to the throne. The main villain is Antenore, secondo tenore (American tenor Joshua Stewart) with a tremendously difficult tessitura, full of powerful high notes à la Rossini. He comes to the stage first, but just you wait for the primo tenore, Ilo, prince of Troy and Zelmira’s husband (sung by Turkish virtuoso Mert Süngü), and his first cavatina – Cara! deh attendimi! – with even more hair-raising vocal acrobatics. Silvia Dalla Benetta is Zelmira. She crowns it all with her superb voice and is thoroughly enchanting in Perché mi guardi e piangi, one of Rossini’s most inspired creations. All wonderfully held together and conducted by veteran Rossinian maestro Gianluigi Gelmetti. Janos Gardonyi Leoš Janáček – From the House of the Dead Bayerisches Staatsorchester and Chorus; Simone Young BelAir Classiques BAC173 ( !! Janáček’s From the House of the Dead is a gripping dramatic work. The last opera he composed, this adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s novel premiered in 1930, two years after Janáček’s death, with an orchestration completed by two of his students. From the House of the Dead is notable for a number of reasons, including the use of chains as percussion in the orchestra (to reflect the sounds of the prisoners shuffling back and forth) and the lack of narrative content; there is no overarching storyline, but rather a number of episodic narratives relating to individual prisoners interspersed with occurrences within the prison itself. This video release from the Bayerische April 2020 | 55

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