2 years ago

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!

Staatsoper is

Staatsoper is captivating, providing a gritty interpretation of Janáček’s work. Featuring an onstage cage in which the majority of the large ensemble cast is contained throughout the performance as well as superb costumes, including an homage to the famous Day of the Dead, the visual plays as important a role in this opera as the music. It is fascinating to see how this production so ably serves the dramatic requirements of Janáček’s opera and reinforces just how confined and uncomfortable this Siberian prison camp is, as told by Dostoyevsky. The Staatsoper soloists, chorus and orchestra are superb throughout this short yet intense work, conveying the depth and darkness of the score without once coming across as melodramatic. One of the 20th century’s most profound and significant operatic composers, Janáček displays his mastery in full force in From the House of the Dead, and this production is highly recommended to all who enjoy this Czech master’s works. Matthew Whitfield Zemlinsky – Der Traumgörge Josef Protschka; Pamela Coburn; Janis Martin; Hartmut Welker; Hessischer Rundfunk Youth Chorus; RSO Frankfurt; Gerd Albrecht Capriccio C5395 ( !! In 1907, Alexander Zemlinsky’s new opera Der Traumgörge was set to premiere at Vienna’s Court Opera. But after its conductor, Zemlinsky’s mentor Gustav Mahler, abruptly resigned as music director of the opera house, the production was cancelled. Zemlinsky was already well-established as a composer, pianist, conductor and teacher (his students included Schoenberg, Korngold and Alma Schindler, who later married Mahler). But it took almost 75 years for Der Traumgörge to get its first performance. This version, recorded live at a concert performance in 1987, seven years after the much-delayed premiere, has long been unavailable. Now, with Zemlinsky’s music finally getting the attention it deserves, Capriccio has reissued it. The psychological undercurrents of Der Traumgörge’s libretto by Leo Feld resonate with Freudian profundity. Görge the Dreamer, who lives in a world of fairy tales, sets off on a quest to find the princess he’s been fantasizing about. Instead he encounters a troubled woman, Gertraud. When she is brutally attacked for being a witch, Görge rescues her and brings her back home. Finally he figures out that she is the woman of his dreams after all. Conductor Gerd Albrecht shows an incisive grasp of Zemlinsky’s opulent late-Romantic style. The terrific cast of singers get right to the heart of this inspired music. With the only other recording of this opera, James Conlon’s from 2001, unavailable, it’s disappointing that Capriccio did not include the libretto with this release. Otherwise, it’s a most welcome reissue. Pamela Margles Clytemnestra Ruby Hughes; BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Jac van Steen BIS BIS-2408 SACD ( !! The maverick Welsh soprano Ruby Hughes is the star of this alluring collection of song cycles which opens with five songs by Gustav Mahler based on the poetry of Friedrich Rückert, sung with admirable sensitivity and a clear, light voice. There are of course landmark recordings of these lieder that are richer in tone and emotionally more compelling, by the likes of Janet Baker, Christa Ludwig and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; nevertheless Hughes offers a youthful and well-considered take on these intimate songs. The Viennese premiere of Alban Berg’s Altenberg Lieder in March 1913 was the cause of a legendary riot. Though only two of the five songs of the cycle were programmed, a member of the audience soon bellowed out that both the composer and poet (the whimsical picture-postcard texts were authored by Peter Altenberg) should be sent to the insane asylum. In fact, the poet was already there! Fisticuffs ensued and the remainder of the concert was abandoned. The effect on Berg was devastating. A complete performance of this astounding composition, which presages advances in chromaticism (including some proto-serial elements) that foreshadow those of his mentor Schoenberg, would not take place until 1952, long after his death. This is a most worthy contribution to the limited roster of recordings of this great work. Clytemnestra, a 25-minute song cycle by the Welsh composer Rhian Samuel, is a vivid, blood-curdling setting of Aeschylus’s tale of the murder of Agamemnon by his wife. Commissioned by the BBC Wales Orchestra in 1994, Samuel’s libretto is constructed solely from Clytemnestra’s point of view. This is a garish, unabashedly cinematic work, massively orchestrated and incorporating some provocative electric bass guitar solos, compellingly brought to life in a riveting performance from both soloist and orchestra under the direction of their principal guest conductor Jac van Steen. Daniel Foley Apparition Agata Zubel; Krzysztof Książek CD accord ACD 263-2 ( !! The 20th century was a time of immense creativity, with the fundamental building blocks of musical composition and interpretation disassembled and reconstructed by some of Western music’s most legendary figures. Apparition explores a number of lesserknown and underappreciated composers from this period, including Barber, Crumb and Szymanowski. This disc opens with Maurice Ravel’s Shéhérazade, an art song triptych based on the renowned Arabic folk tales of One Thousand and One Nights, most famously set to music by Rimsky-Korsakov. Ravel’s songs feature characteristic exoticism, combining “oriental” material with impressionistic harmonies and long vocal lines, expertly interpreted by Zubel and Książek. These traditional, almost Debussian works are sharply contrasted with George Crumb’s Apparition, a set of songs which combine the familiar with the avant-garde. Within this cycle, Crumb gives the singer her expected role, singing texts set to tunes, with a few exceptions such as the three Vocalises, which utilize the timbral aspect of the voice independent of textual tethers. The piano part, however, is a demanding essay in extended techniques throughout the cycle, as the pianist is required to utilize every part of the piano to produce percussive, shimmering, and rattling effects. The remainder of this disc’s contents fall between these two stylistic extremes: Szymanowski’s Songs of a Fairy Tale Princess, Barber’s Opus 13 songs, and Fernando Obradors’ Canciones all align themselves more closely with Ravel than Crumb, bringing the 19th-century tradition of art song forward into the 20th. As a whole, Apparition is a well-thought-out and equally well-performed survey of piano-voice repertoire from the last century and well worth a listen, especially for those who appreciate the radical genius of George Crumb. Matthew Whitfield David Lang – The Loser Rod Gilfry; Conrad Tao; Bang on a Can Opera Ensemble; Lesley Leighton Cantaloupe Music CA21155 ( ! ! When I hear a line like, “Strangely enough I met Glenn on Monk’s Mountain, my childhood mountain, which is also 56 | April 2020

called Suicide Mountain, since it is especially suited for suicide and every week at least three or four people throw themselves off it into the void,” and find myself, despite myself, laughing, I know I’m experiencing the misanthropic comedy of Thomas Bernhard. In this case I’m listening to the nameless narrator of Bernhard’s novel, The Loser, who, as many Canadian readers know, is obsessed with the Glenn mentioned above, last name Gould. Aside from pianistic virtuosity, though, this “Glenn” is ultimately fictional, serving as a paragon of perfection against which Bernhard’s frustrated narrator measures his own failures. David Lang’s opera adaptation of the novel, sung by baritone Rod Gilfry, offers an outstanding musical correlative to Bernhard’s centri-fugal prose. The melodies, deceptively simple, gain complexity through gradual repetition and subtle layering over time, much like Bernhard’s text itself, and the minimalist accompaniment from the note-perfect Bang on a Can Opera Ensemble captures the inner echoes of the narrator’s solipsistic musings. Considering Bernhard once wrote that “a prize is invariably only awarded by incompetent people who want to piss on your head,” it somehow feels wrong to apprise The Loser, but Lang, Gilfry and company’s interpretation is brilliant, deserving full praise. Can someone please convince them to perform it in Toronto, maybe at, say, Glenn Gould Studio…? Adam Seelig Sarah Slean Sarah Slean; Symphony Nova Scotia; Bernhard Gueller Centrediscs CMCCD27820 ( !! Tonal/atonal classical, popular and musical theatre genres meet amicably in this ambitious Canadian collaboration by vocalist/actress/ poet/composer Sarah Slean, Symphony Nova Scotia and composer Christos Hatzis. Hatzis’ three-song/movement Lamento was written for a Symphony Nova Scotia/ Slean concert in April 2012. Based on Purcell’s aria When I am Laid in Earth from Dido and Aeneas, his self-described exploration of the Baroque stepwise descending “lamento bass” creates grief-stricken sounds of loss of loved ones, mental illness and suicide. The opening When This is Over features heartbeat-reminiscent drum beats, Slean’s lower vocals with clarinet contrasts, huge orchestral sound, a cappella sections, and modern/pop/dance grooves shifts. My Song nicely uses fluteplayed daybreak bird songs, waltz feel, singalong vocal melody and loud closing musical theatre-like finale build. The complex yet accessible Despair is wrought with heartwrenching atonal wide-pitched vocals/instruments, contrasting dynamics, instrumental interludes, eerie squeaks, Baroque/Purcell effects and gloomy repeated vocal “remember me” finale. In his final season, Bernhard Gueller conducted SNS in Ecstasy (2018) by Hatzsis (music) and Slean (text), a three-movement musical portrayal of the intellectual and mystical human mind. Slean’s clearly articulated higher vocals drive Love, and likewise Logos, with its contrasting calm and intense dance sections. Bhakti is a calmer atonal/tonal work with unexpected orchestra member whispers, held notes and Slean’s a cappella vocal finale. Performers, compositions and CBC live performance recordings are exquisite. Dramatic music fans definitely will love this. And everyone else, take a listen! Magical! Tiina Kiik CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Telemann – Recorder Sonatas Caroline Eidsten Dahl; Kate Hearne; Christian Kjos LAWO LWC1181 ( !! If virtuoso recorder playing is your thing, then Caroline Eidsten Dahl really delivers on this CD. Of the 34 movements, 18 are fast and she plays them at tempos that leave even the listener breathless! Her virtuosity is particularly extraordinary in the second movement of the Sonata in C Major, TWV41C2 and the first movement of the Sonata in C Major, TWV41C5. (BTW, C major is the perfect key for alto recorder virtuosity because of fingerings and because it lies in the middle of the instrument’s twooctave range.) To focus one’s attention solely on the recorder soloist, however, is to miss much that makes this recording outstanding and Telemann’s composing remarkable. The fact is that this is a collaboration by three equal musicians, and that these “solo” sonatas are in reality trios. If you focus your listening on the cello part, played by Irish cellist Kate Hearne, you can hear it, sometimes just as virtuosic as the recorder, as the lower part of a duo. And the harpsichord, played by Christian Kjos, not only fills in the harmonies implied by the other two parts, but also supplies harmonic momentum and adds sparkling melodic solos when opportunities arise. In the short movements of these nine sonatas – the shortest is 47 seconds, the longest three and a half minutes – one can gain insight into the composer’s mind, crafting each movement into a unique miniature masterpiece. This disc offers so much, not only to recorder aficionados but also to music lovers, musicians and composers. Allan Pulker Schumann – Piano Trios Vol. 1 Kungsbacka Piano Trio Bis BIS-2437 SACD ( ! ! The piano trio – namely, a combination of piano, violin and cello – has a curious history with composers of historical note, many of whom either wrote very few or none at all. One may attribute such a lack of attention to the apparent balancing issues when writing for this combination of instruments. Others will mention the string quartet taking hold of composers’ attention as the most favourable chamber music combination. An exception to this trend would be Haydn who wrote no less than 45 piano trios in his impressive output. Haydn aside, it remains true that the most celebrated composers in history paid little attention to this genre: Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms and Dvořák all writing less than ten. Robert Schumann belongs to this group, having written three piano trios and a Fantasiestücke (Fantasy Pieces, also with the piano trio instrumentation) in his lifetime. In this latest release, the Swedish Kungsbacka Piano Trio has included Schumann’s Piano Trios 1 and 2, and the Fantasiestücke in an impressive volume that contains masterful interpretations of these works. The Kungsbackas have earned a welldeserved international reputation since their formation in 1997. Their latest recording is an excellent example of how the ensemble continues to deliver world-class musicianship and expressiveness to listeners around the world. This recording does great justice not only to the works recorded, but to the genre itself – reminding us that this instrumental combination is indeed worthy of any composer’s attention if performed by the right musicians. The members of the Kungsbacka Trio have an impressive ability to merge their sound into a single instrument, a quality that brings a sonorous lyrical element to the music not present in other recordings of this kind. This high quality recording leaves the listener wanting more – a pleasing thought since there will be a second volume coming soon. Adam Scime April 2020 | 57

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