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Volume 25 Issue 8 - May / June 2020

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  • Choir
  • Performing
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  • Toronto
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"COVID's Metamorphoses"? "There's Always Time (Until Suddenly There Isn't)"? "The Writing on the Wall"? It's hard to know WHAT to call this latest chapter in the extraordinary story we are all of a sudden characters in. By whatever name we call it, the MAY/JUNE combined issue of The WholeNote is now available, HERE in flip through format, in print commencing Wednesday May 6, and, in fully interactive form, online at Our 18th Annual Choral Canary Pages, scheduled for publication in print and flip through in September is already well underway with the first 50 choirs home to roost and more being added every week online. Community Voices, our cover story, brings to you the thoughts of 30 musical community members, all going through what we are going through (and with many more to come as the feature gets amplified online over the course of the coming months). And our regular writers bring their personal thoughts to the mix. Finally, a full-fledged DISCoveries review section offers cues and clues to recorded music for your solitary solace!

soprano voice dominates

soprano voice dominates this CD. Listen to the variations in her voice as she literally runs a gamut of emotion in determining Armide’s relationship towards Renaud in Gluck’s Armide. And then there is the opera Demofoonte by the tragically shortlived Maxime Sozontovitch Berezovski (1745-1777). This is a work which does not survive in completeness; what does survive is a disturbing unravelling of events which is deeper in intensity than many betterknown and complete operatic works. The two arias recorded here bring home not just this complexity of plot but also the extent to which Gauvin’s expertise is tested. In fact, Gauvin’s singing does not monopolize this CD. Listen to the Ouverture from Le Faucon by Dimitri Stepanovitch Bortnianski. It offers a genteel introduction to the subsequent complexities of the relationship between Don Federigo and Elvira. This CD introduces listeners to music which is almost unknown. Enjoy, incidentally, not just its soprano and instrumental qualities but also some deeply researched and sometimes rather amusing program notes. Michael Schwartz Wagner – Die Walküre Soloists; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Antonio Pappano Opus Arte OA 1308D ( ! Ever since Patrice Chereau’s centennial revival in Bayreuth in 1976, dozens of Ring productions have proliferated all over the world. In fact every major opera house has created one, all different concepts exploiting every possible angle: historic, sociological, psychological, philosophical etc. Rings are named after the various cities and/or the directors or the conductors. Now we have a Met Ring (Lepage/Levine), Berlin Ring (Kupfer/Barenboim), Stuttgart Ring (Zagrosek), St. Petersburg Ring (Gergiev), Vienna Ring (Rattle/Adam Fischer), Valencia Ring (Zubin Mehta), not to mention our own from Toronto. This production from London (2018) heralds a new, and judging by this Walküre, a momentous one directed by Keith Warner. From the staging point of view it is a sound and light extravaganza, using all possible audiovisual technology culminating in the third act Ride of the Valkyries with films in the background combined with shadow play of the warrior maidens and superb choreography. The magic fire that envelops the stage is a spectacular finale. Pappano’s conducting is nothing less than magnificent. He absorbs himself thoroughly in the score, and no detail is missed. There are moments of ecstasy like the first act love-duet between Siegmund (Stuart Skelton) and Sieglinde (Emily Magee) in waves and waves of passion as the “world never heard before” (Sir Simon Rattle), and at the climax when Siegmund triumphantly pulls out the sword from the ash tree, wow! Or Wotan’s final embrace of his daughter Brünnhilde, a moment at which I almost cried when I first heard it. The entire cast is phenomenal headed by John Lundgren as a powerful, larger-thanlife Wotan, a very complex character, a god torn between his duty to the law he created and the love for his daughter, Brünnhilde (the wonderful Nina Stemme) whom he has to punish. A gripping Walküre, highly recommended. Janos Gardonyi Offenbach – Les contes d’Hoffmann Soloists; Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra; Carlo Rizzi Cmajor 752808 ( ! Often spoken of disparagingly in his day, Jacques Offenbach clearly knew what he was doing. With equal measure of sardonic humour and lyricism, he triumphantly invented the whole idea of the operetta, paved the way for Lehár and Sullivan, and eventually came to be called (by Rossini, no less) “the Mozart of Champs Élysées.” Fusing dialogue and show-stopping pieces, Offenbach also created the can-can dance and laid the ground for the modern musical. But in 1881 he also produced his first and last opera – Les Contes d’Hoffmann – his only through-composed work without spoken dialogue; replaced by a sombre libretto instead. Three acts recount three tales by the German Romantic writer E.T.A Hoffmann. Tobias Kratzer’s spectacular staging adds a prelude and background to the story (Act 1) followed by the three acts conceived by Offenbach. The first concerns the inventor and his mechanical doll, Olympia who seduces Hoffmann. The second involves Hoffmann’s other passion, the consumptive singer Antonia, preyed upon by the evil Dr. Miracle. The third tells of Giulietta, who tries to trick Hoffmann into selling his soul. The final act presents Hoffmann, liberated, returning to his muse. The sweep of Offenbach’s score is supremely caught by Carlos Rizzi in a reading that tingles with frenetic energy while bringing out the lushness of Guiraud’s recitatives. John Osborn is in his richest voice, summoning the impetuous ardour of Hoffmann. Nina Minasyan excels in the bravura arias. Overall, the casting is inspired and outstanding. Raul da Gama Respighi – La bella dormente nel bosco Soloists; Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Lirico di Cagliari; Donato Renzetti Naxos 2.110655 ( ! The legendary Ottorino Respighi’s La bella dormente nel bosco (The Sleeping Beauty) was first conceived in 1922. The version presented here by the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari has been enhanced from the original by Respighi’s inspired orchestrations. Although he died in 1936, this fresh, emotional and fantastic rendering of the original fairy tale about the Princess who pricks her finger on a spindle, and falls into a comatose state until she is awakened by her Prince, is as new and exciting as if presented on Broadway today. Brilliantly directed by Leo Muscato (with video direction by Tiziano Mancini, Donato Renzetti as conductor and a lively book by Gian Bistolfi), this production features a broad-palleted mis en scene, which is a delectable feast for both the eyes and ears. Featured performers include the versatile Veta Pilipenko (the Queen, Old Lady and Frog); the impossibly lovely Angela Nisi as the Princess; baritone powerhouse Antonio Gandia as the Prince and the venerable Vincenzo Taormina as the King. Clever, bombastic and magical costumes (perhaps reflecting a bit of the Comedia Del’Arte) by Vera Pierantonio Giua and choreography by Luigia Frattaroli complete this thoroughly entertaining and spiritually uplifting operatic pastiche. Written in three acts, the piece opens with a conceptual, almost surreal appearance of birds on swings and frog-like ladies (or ladylike frogs!), and ends with the expected kiss as the diaphanous princess rises up from her crescent moon bed, and into the arms of her Prince, followed by a joyous, dance-infused number by the entire cast. Huge kudos to the Teatro, for not only presenting this nearly lost treasure of one of the world’s foremost 20th-century composers, but also doing it to perfection! Lesley Mitchell-Clarke Ted Hearne; Saul Williams – Place Vocalists; Place Orchestra New Amsterdam Records NWAM137 ( ! Although the drama of Place is somewhat diminished without a visual staging (i.e. a possible DVD of a presumptive film version), its power is not diminished 42 | May and June 2020

ecause of the inventive way in which its principal artists – Ted Hearne (music, libretto) and Saul Williams (libretto) – have used their respective artistic specialities. This means not only words, music and vocalizations, but also their compelling, internecine method of adapting traditional and contemporary artistic styles – from hip-hop to chamber music – and infusing this event with every possible sonic element: music, noise and pregnant silences. Music and poetry collide in Place as Hearne and Williams describe the emotional effects that the gentrification of a city has when people and their cultural habitat are trampled upon in the name of money and modernization. Williams’ poetry pulls no punches, especially regarding racism. Using this poetry, Hearne creates jagged miniatures to simulate a musical disruption of the senses that mirrors the socio-political upheaval of their city. Some spiky, and often serrated, songs are like miniatures depicting human upheaval. This is characterized by extraordinary, jagged rhythmic flexibility. These episodes alternate between moments of tenderness and heartache, anger and despair. An ink-dark atmosphere pervades even when relative calmness is explored in The Tales You Tell Your Children. Occasionally brightness might break through, as in Hallelujah in White, but not for long. The glistening delicacy of the musical equanimity is broken in the finale, in the desperate plea against gentrification of Colonizing Space. Raul da Gama Editor’s Note: A performance video of Place is in the final stages of production and will likely be available on a major public platform by the time this article is published. CLASSICAL AND BEYOND L’Arte di diminuire L’Estro d’Orfeo; Leonor de Lera Challenge Classics CC72843 ( ! The outstanding L’Estro d’Orfeo quintet was founded by violinist and artistic director Leonor de Lera in 2015 to perform a “historically-informed approach in line with the aesthetics of the time,” on period instruments. Her mission was to champion the advanced instrumental virtuosity which developed in Europe during the late Renaissance to early Baroque eras. L’Arte di diminuire is dedicated to musical diminution, the interpretative art of extemporary melodic variation and embellishment, an essential improvisatory aspect of musical performance practice of that time. Simply put, in this practice musicians melodically and rhythmically subdivided a received series of long notes into shorter values. In that period and region, a written composition was routinely regarded as raw material requiring musicians to embellish the score during its performance via diminutions. Such performances gave considerable scope for virtuosic display and interpretive exploration. This album explores that practice applied to 15 period motets, popular melodies and dance forms. The ensemble has chosen scores by early Baroque composers and interpreted them by applying advanced diminution procedures, in the process highlighting the individual contributions of L’Estro d’Orfeo’s 21st-century musicians. Outstanding tracks include the madrigal Io canterei d’amor… reinterpreted via diminution by the ensemble’s viola da gamba and viola bastarda virtuoso Rodney Prada. De Lera’s four contributions are exemplars of this ensemble’s musically exciting approach to this interpretative inter-century practice. The most impressive part of the listening experience might be the freewheeling-sounding – yet always tasteful – instrumental virtuosity on display here. Prada’s mindboggling viola bastarda performances, leaping from treble to tenor to bass ranges and back with abandon, are alone worth the price of admission. Andrew Timar Flute Passion: Bach Nadia Labrie; Luc Beauséjour; Camille Paquette-Roy Analekta AN 2 8921 ( ! Only one of the compositions on this recording is actually a solo, the Partita in A Minor, which flutist Nadia Labrie plays with energy and assurance. I particularly appreciated her approach to the only slow movement, the Sarabande, as a reflective and perhaps melancholy soliloquy, which she plays with feeling but never with sentimentality. Two of the other three sonatas on the CD are called flute sonatas but are in fact ensemble pieces. The Allegro fourth movement of the Sonata in E Minor is as much a virtuosic solo piece for the keyboard, on this modern instrument recording a piano, which Luc Beauséjour plays as the complete equal to the flute, a collaborator, not a supporting actor. This is also particularly evident in the final Presto of the Sonata in B Minor. Similarly the cello part in the Andante first movement of the same sonata can be heard as the other half of a duo with the flute, and is played that way by cellist Camille Paquette-Roy. The G Major Sonata on the disc is a trio sonata, originally for two flutes and continuo. On this recording, however, Beauséjour plays the other “flute” part, leaving the bass line to the cello. While in a certain sense emancipating the cello, it somehow doesn’t work as well as a duo as, for example, the Allegro movement already mentioned. Nevertheless, bravissimi to our three collaborators for a fine addition to the recorded ensemble music of Bach. Allan Pulker Beethoven – Piano Trios Vol.1 Sitkovetsky Trio BIS BIS-2239 SACD ( ! This year marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth date and as such it has been bringing in an assortment of new releases of the great master’s works. The Sitkovetsky Trio attracts attention with their elegant interpretations of carefully selected Beethoven piano trios and the creation of a particular sound that is very much their own. I was charmed by the lovely blend of the instrumental colours and the finely detailed and thoughtful work that went into directing and following the tides of these notable compositions. The wisely chosen progression of the trios includes the early Op.1 No.3 in C Minor, middle period Op.70 No.2 in E-flat Major and the late Allegretto in B-flat Major Wo039. C minor could certainly have been Beethoven’s favourite key because it allowed for the storminess of emotions like no other. It is hard to believe that this work belongs to such an early opus as it brings in radical and innovative approaches to the chamber music of that time. The E-flat Major Trio and Allegretto show, in contrast, that Beethoven was just as much attuned to pastoral and peaceful settings and that he was unapologetically paving the way for the further development of the Romantic elements. Much appreciated is the Sitkovetsky Trio’s ability to stay within the bounds of traditional chamber music-making while adding the intensity and vitality of their own understanding. A noble companion to contemplative times. Ivana Popovic May and June 2020 | 43

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