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Volume 26 Issue 1 - September 2020

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  • September
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Choral Scene: Uncharted territory: three choirs finding paths forward; Music Theatre: Loose Tea on the boil with Alaina Viau’s Dead Reckoning; In with the New: what happens to soundart when climate change meets COVID-19; Call to action: diversity, accountability, and reform in post-secondary jazz studies; 9th Annual TIFF Tips: a filmfest like no other; Remembering: Leon Fleisher; DISCoveries: a NY state of mind; 25th anniversary stroll-through; and more. Online in flip through here, and on stands commencing Tues SEP 1.


World-premiere recordings of French Romantic guitar sonatas by Antoine de Lhoyer, Louis-Ange Carpentras and Alexandre Alfred Rougeon-Beauclair are featured on Napoleonian Guitar Sonatas, with Montreal guitarist Pascal Valois (Centaur CRC 3733 Valois is dedicated to reviving enthusiasm for the guitar’s role during the Romantic era, performing 19th-century repertoire on period instruments and employing contemporary stylistic practices, including improvised ornaments and cadenzas. One such practice here is that of not using right-hand fingernails, the bare fingertips resulting in a much softer and smoother sound. The guitar used is a French model built in the late 1820s by the Mirecourt luthier Cabasse-Bernard. While the Carpentras Sonate brillante Op.1 (1816) and the Rougeon- Beauclair Sonate Op.4 No.1 are both for guitar solo, in the two de Lhoyer Sonates pour la guitare avec un violon obligé Op.17 (c.1801) Valois is joined by Montreal violinist Jacques-André Houle. The violin, though, tends to distract from, rather than enhance the guitar writing, especially being set so far back in the balance – presumably not to overwhelm the softer instrument. Valois’ playing is accomplished, clean and sensitive throughout music that offers a fascinating insight into the early 19th-century classical guitar world. The Diogenes Quartett is the central ensemble on the new CD Max Reger Clarinet Quintet & String Sextet, being joined by clarinettist Thorsten Johanns in the Clarinet Quintet in A Major Op.146 and by violist Roland Glassl and cellist Wen-Sinn Yang in the String Sextet in F Major Op.118 (cpo 555 340-2 Despite the advanced tonal nature of his music, Reger had a strong affinity with earlier musical eras in addition to his deep Romantic roots, and the equivalent works by Mozart and Brahms were clearly the inspiration for his own Clarinet Quintet. Despite being completed in 1915 the work shows no influence of the Great War, a contemporary review of the October 1916 premiere referencing “the deep, holy peace of a mild autumn evening, which the last rays of the setting sun dress in gold.” Shades of Brahms indeed. The large, complex String Sextet from 1910 is full of the features that have tended to make Reger’s music misunderstood and under-appreciated over the years, but is a deeply satisfying work with a really beautiful slow movement. Playing throughout is of the highest quality on a terrific CD. There’s another CD of the Franz Schubert 3 Sonatas (1816), this time with violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved and Julian Perkins on square piano (Athene ath 23208 Skærved always excels not only in his playing but also in his exploration of and critical approach to the original musical sources, and this CD is no different, with 12 pages of fascinatingly detailed and informative notes illuminating every aspect of the performances. The German violin is by Leopold Widhalm I (1722- 1776) with a very early Tourte bow probably from around 1770-80. The square piano is by Clementi & Co., London, 1812. Skærved’s playing here is warmer than in some of his period performances; he’s not afraid to use vibrato, but a clear sense of period style is always present. The keyboard obviously lacks the fuller sound we might be accustomed to, but the tonal subtlety and nuance more than compensate. The performers admit to viewing the score as “a map that offers options rather than answers,” resulting in some interesting choices on repeats and frequent moments of surprise, particularly at the end of the Sonata No.2 in A Minor where, following the short, sharp final violin chords, the piano resonance is left to die away for fully 13 seconds. Peter Sheppard Skærved is also the first violinist in the Kreutzer Quartet, the performers on Edward Cowie: Three Quartets & A Solo, a new CD of music by the multi-disciplined English composer born in 1943 (Métier Records msv 28603 An author, lecturer, academic, visual artist, natural scientist, conductor and composer with two doctorates including studies in physics and mathematics, Cowie produces music which is a fusion of science, the natural world and visual arts. “I am more inspired,” he says, “by natural history than by musical history.” Certainly the natural world is central to the quartets here: the two single-movement works, No.1 “Dungeness Nocturnes” from 1969 and No.2 “Crystal Dances” from 1977, and the four-movement No.6 “The Four Winds” from 2012, with the North, East, South and West winds representing the four seasons. It’s difficult music to describe, with an obviously contemporary sound but not completely dissonant despite a general lack of melodies and overtly tonal writing, and with a scurrying, restless feel that invokes insects and birds and is quite nocturnal at times. The solo work GAD was written in 2017 for Skærved at his request, and addresses the composer’s almost lifelong suffering from generalized anxiety disorder. All you need to know about the performances is that Cowie says that “no composer could ever be served, illuminated and translated by better or more brilliantly insightful players than the Kreutzer Quartet.” Another British composer whose name and music seem new to me is represented on Robin Stevens String Quartets & String Quintet, with the Behn Quartet and cellist Timothée Botbol (Divine Art dda 25203 For Stevens (b.1958), the String Quintet in C Minor from 1980-81 was his first major composition, revised in 2018 for this recording. It features lush melodic writing with a truly lovely slow movement. As the composer notes, “unconscious references to, and near-quotes from, 20th-century music abound.” In his early 30s Stevens was stricken with post-viral fatigue, a debilitating illness that kept him out of work for 17 years and limited his compositional activity to experimental miniatures. On regaining full health in 2007 he began a PhD in Composition, producing a major work in each of his six post-graduate years. The single-movement String Quartet No.1 uses “a handful of ideas, which are subjected to contrapuntal development of considerable complexity” in a work of “unremittingly dissonant harmonic language.” The String Quartet No.2, “Three Portraits” has three continuous sections – Impulsive One, God-Seeker and Arguer – followed by a brief Epilogue. A bequest has enabled Stevens to begin recording his considerable catalogue of works; if future performances are of the same high quality as these then his music will certainly be well served. Finally, if you’re interested in contemporary concertos for viola then you should know that the latest CD of music by the Scottish composer James MacMillan, Symphony No.4 & Viola Concerto, features soloist Lawrence Power with the BBC Philharmonic under Martyn Brabbins in a terrific performance of the concerto written for Power in 2013 (Hyperion CDA 68317 It’s a three-movement work with an ominous, uneasy first movement, a central movement of a devotional character with a lovely main theme and occasional “primal sreeam” outbursts and a sparkling finale with decided hints of Barber’s Violin Concerto at the end. It’s a significant addition to the contemporary repertoire and discography. 42 | September 2020

VOCAL Beethoven – Lieder; Songs Matthias Goerne; Jan Lisiecki Deutsche Grammophon 483835 ( ! A new disc featuring baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Jan Lisiecki is a heartily welcomed release in what has become a much-curtailed Beethoven anniversary year. This album showcases oft-neglected songs: music that is sometimes given a wide berth by performers opting for more standard cycles from the lieder repertoire. But unlikely corners of the repertoire require unlikely artistic partners as champions and this recital is a case in point for such declarations. Goerne (b.1967) is, doubtless, one of the most considerate, insightful and committed lieder singers of his generation. He seems to veritably live and breathe this repertoire, always delivering an incredible depth of expression and narrative. Lisiecki (b.1995), while not especially known for his collaborative activities, brings a similar brand of devotion to his art, embracing – with equal measure – the composer whom he interprets, and the listener to whom he performs. This is the common ground between Goerne and Lisiecki and proves an ideal starting point for a wondrous creative match. Character and conviction are paramount to the poetry and the expression thereof in these songs. Goerne commands every turn and surprise as the well-seasoned pro that he is. Lisiecki follows suit, offering his own arsenal of colours and tonal insights within some rather off-the-beaten-path piano parts. Lisiecki plays the supportive role, never overpowering nor taking the reins too willfully. It’s everything one could look for in a supportive musical partner. Thrilling results indeed, as “youth and experience unite.” Adam Sherkin Gaspare Spontini – Fernand Cortez Schmunck; Voulgaridou; Lombardo; Margheri; Ferri Durà; Orchestra e Coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino; Jean-Luc Tingaud Dynamic DYN-37868 ( ! In 1803, the 28-year-old Gasparo Spontini, having already composed 15 operas (!) in his native Italy, moved to Paris. There, as “Gaspare,” he became a favourite of Napoleon and Josephine, who commissioned Fernand Cortez (1809) as wartime propaganda. The contra-historical libretto by Étienne De Jouy and Joseph- Alphonse d’Esménard depicted Cortez as a Napoleon-like heroic conqueror, benevolently “liberating” the “oppressed” Mexican people while rescuing his lover, the Mexican princess Amazily, and his brother Alvar as they were about to be sacrificed by the Mexican High Priest. Fernand Cortez was a sensational hit, soon performed throughout Europe. In 1817, Spontini revised it, shifting scenes and adding the role of Montezuma. Today, however, the once-celebrated composer and his 24 operas are all but forgotten. This 2019 Florence production of the original version was its first staging in nearly two centuries. Heading the excellent cast are steely toned tenor Dario Schmunck (Cortez), the thrilling chocolate-voiced soprano Alexia Voulgaridou (Amazily), tenors David Ferri Durà (Alvar) and Luca Lombardo (Amazily’s warriorchieftain brother Telasco), baritone Gianluca Margheri (Cortez’s comrade-in-arms Moralez) and bass-baritone André Courville (High Priest). Conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud propels the energized score throughout the opera’s three hours, including two extended ballet sequences. In its dramatic vocal lines, bold orchestration, epic scenario, considerable length and vivid imagery (the Spaniards’ historically appropriate silver-grey armour contrasting with the Mexicans’ colourful costumes), Fernand Cortez anticipated the operas of Berlioz (who admired it) and Meyerbeer. It’s an important – and entertaining! – operatic landmark. Michael Schulman Verdi – Simon Boccanegra Luca Salsi; Marina Rebeka; René Pape; Charles Castronovo; Wiener Philharmoniker; Valery Gergiev Unitel 802608 ( ! Verdi’s 21st opera about a 14th-century corsair who became Doge of Genoa had a difficult time. It failed at its 1857 premiere but Verdi never to give up, revised it drastically for La Scala in 1881 where it was vindicated, but the opera never caught on with the public until 1977 thanks to Claudio Abbado and the stereo era. This present reincarnation is from the hands of German director Andreas Kriegenburg who brought it into the present with its political turmoil, civil unrest, urban chaos etc., featuring people dressed uniformly in dark suits running around with smartphones. The set is architectonic, stark and monumental in black and white and fills the wide stage of the Grosses Festspielhaus admirably while creating a sinister and foreboding effect. Now and again we catch a glimpse of the Ligurian Sea in blue that’s picked up in the colour of Amelia’s dress, the only colour in the set. Conductor Valery Gergiev, to whom the director dedicated the show, concentrates on the inner life and conflicts of each character and the lyricism of the music, although the latter gathers excitement and tremendous dynamics especially in the council chamber scene – a gripping focal point of the opera featuring Verdi’s masterful ensemble writing. The cast is superb: Luca Salsi is a strong but conflicted Simon Boccanegra with a warm lyrical voice. His pianissimo singing of the word figlia after the famous Recognition Duet is quite incredible. As his daughter Amelia, Polish soprano sensation Marina Rebeka, is a genuine treat and very strong in the high registers. American tenor Charles Castronovo is a youthful, passionate Adorno, her lover. Basso profundo René Pape, as Simon’s nemesis, is a dignified, noble Fiesco, with an impressive vocal range. A memorable musical experience with strong emotional impact. Janos Gardonyi Mahler – Das Lied von der Erde Gerhild Romberger; Robert Dean Smith; Budapest Festival Orchestra; Iván Fischer Channel Classics CCS SA 40020 ( ! “Is it really bearable? Will it not drive people to self-destruction?” Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) asked of Bruno Walter in 1909 concerning his latest work, Das Lied von der Erde. In truth, few works of art are so life affirming as this supposed “final farewell,” especially so when it receives such a compelling interpretation as we have here from the incomparable Budapest Festival Orchestra in this stunningly wellproduced studio recording. Scored for large orchestra and two vocal soloists, it is in all but name Mahler’s Ninth, and, as he presaged at the time due to his ill health, possibly final symphony. The vocal soloists include the American Heldentenor Robert Dean Smith, who shows some evident strain in the heavily scored Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde that opens the work (not an unusual occurrence in this taxing movement). Elsewhere he is much more at ease, lending a winsome charm to the delicate Von der Jugend and convincingly swaggering his way through Der Trunkene im Frühling. The German contralto Gerhild Romberger, best known for her lieder and oratorio performances, sings with a subtle intensity and purity of tone well suited to her more intimate selections, including September 2020 | 43

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