2 years ago

Volume 26 Issue 1 - September 2020

  • Text
  • Ensemble
  • Classical
  • Concerts
  • Singers
  • Choral
  • Jazz
  • Toronto
  • Musical
  • September
  • Choir
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.

the autumnal Der Einsame

the autumnal Der Einsame im Herbst, a rollickingly lively Von der Schönheit and the prolonged and deeply moving finale, Der Abschied. This album brings Iván Fischer’s estimable survey of the Mahler symphonies to a close, with the notable and deliberate omission of the Eighth and incomplete Tenth symphonies. Daniel Foley Zemlinsky – Der Zwerg Philip; Tsallagova; Magee; Mehnert; Orchestra and Chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin; Donald Runnicles Naxos 2.110657 ( ! Watching Alexander von Zemlinsky’s one-act opera Der Zwerg (The Dwarf; 1921), I was soon persuaded of his dramatically relevant gifts: attractive melodic contours, compelling dialogue and ensembles, enchanting orchestration. This DVD features strong individual and group contributions, plus Tobias Kratzer’s innovative staging. The latter includes an added Prologue with Arnold Schoenberg’s Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene (1930) music, adding historical and biographical context. Given the plot of Oscar Wilde’s fairy tale The Birthday of the Infanta, one expects the unexpected; the Dwarf is a surprise “birthday present” to entertain the Infanta Donna Clara who ends up both playing with and mocking him. In Kratzer’s modern-dress version the Dwarf exists in two guises: a singer/composer (tenor David Butt Philip) and a speaking actor of small size (played by Mick Morris Mehnert). This choice is highly effective, with brilliant coodination between the two cast members, and also with two women leads who have to interact precisely with each. Vocally, I was taken with both Philip and stellar soprano Elena Tsallagova as Donna Clara, while the warmth and concern her attendant Ghita (Emily Magee) conveys contrasted effectively. I recommend the women’s fine flower chorus with glittering harp and percussion near the opening; soon trendy choristers are manouvering their pink phones to take selfies with the Infanta! Later, music-induced feelings warm between the Infanta and the Dwarf; do not miss Zemlinsky’s soaring lyricism as vocal lines and complex instrumental harmonies entwine. Roger Knox Korngold – Violanta Annemarie Kremer; Michael Kupfer- Radecky; Norman Reinhardt; Orchestra and Chorus Teatro Regio Torino; Pinchas Steinberg Dynamic 37876 ( ! Vienna, 1914: the exotic, erotic and ecstatic sonorities of Salome and Der Rosenkavalier are in the air and the Straussadmiring 17-yearold Korngold inhales and transforms them into his own personal style, composing both the comedy Der Ring des Polykrates and the tragedy Violanta. In 1916, Bruno Walter conducts the operatic double-bill’s world premiere in Munich; that same year, performances follow in Vienna and 11 German cities. Violanta opens with spooky, harmonically indeterminate ninth-chords spanning over four octaves; the suspenseful, feverish atmosphere will continue throughout the one-act opera’s 82 minutes. Soprano Annemarie Kremer is convincingly ferocious as Violanta, persuading her husband Simone (baritone Michael Kupfer-Radecky) to murder Alfonso (tenor Norman Reinhardt), the seducer she blames for her sister’s suicide. But when Alfonso arrives, Violanta admits to herself, and to him, that she has always loved and desired him. They join in a rapturous duet before Violanta, shielding Alfonso from Simone, is pierced by Simone’s sword and dies. Hans Müller’s libretto was set during Carnival in 15th-century Venice. Surprisingly, Violanta wasn’t staged in Italy until this January 2020 Turin production, needlessly updated to the 1920s by Pier Luigi Pizzi, typical of today’s breed of opera directors who simply can’t leave well enough alone. Pizzi’s set and costumes, though, are suitably lurid – black, white and blood red. Bravo to conductor Pinchas Steinberg, who draws from the 11 vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra a truly impassioned performance of Korngold’s impassioned, hyper-Romantic, very, very beautiful music. Michael Schulman Shostakovich – Symphony No.13 “Babi Yar” Oleg Tsibulko; Russian National Orchestra; Kirill Karabits PentaTone PTC 5186 618 ( ! In the absence of a memorial marking the scene of one of the many great atrocities committed by the Nazis in WWII, Dmitri Shostakovich erected his Symphony No.13, “Babi Yar” (1962). Initially, Shostakovich set only the title poem by his younger compatriot Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Later, he encouraged the poet to provide more, ending up with a total of five movements, all of them choral settings. This is post-Stalin Shostakovich, a time when the composer allowed his musical utterances to be “modern,” encouraged by the “Khrushchev Thaw.” His choice to set a poem that more or less accuses his compatriots of anti-Semitism was nonetheless full of personal risk, given how poorly the poem had been received by critics and the Russian public. Disturbing echoes can be found when one reads the text in today’s context, as nationalists again repeat the phrases that disguise hate. The music that accompanies the part of the text echoing Anne Frank’s diary is heartrending. On this recording the chorus, orchestra and soloist are uniformly excellent. Oleg Tsibulko has the classic Russian basso voice, warm and powerful. The recording was made in a studio, but one hears a reverberant hall. At times overbearing, as one might expect given the subject matter, there are lighter moments. The second movement, for example: Humour is a celebration of how mirth and mockery always triumph over tyranny; it’s a scherzo where Shostakovich pulls out all his favourite tricks. The text of the other poems veers between subversion and sloganeering, treading a line between orthodoxy and rebellion. The most interesting is the final poem, A Career. Its ambiguity is matched quite cleverly to the most tonal and tuneful music in the symphony. Trust Shostakovich to loose the arrows of irony toward an unsuspecting target. Max Christie After Silence VOCES8 Voces8 Records VCM129 ( ! Multiple-award winning British vocal ensemble, VOCES8, has just released a two-CD collection rife with diverse works from Bach, Mahler, Monteverdi, Byrd, Britten, Dove, Fauré and more. Known for their eclecticism, the ensemble performs in a cappella format, in collaboration with a wide variety of orchestras and specialized ensembles, as well as with noted soloists. The title of this ambitious project refers to a quote from Aldous Huxley, “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible, is music”. The program here is divided into four sections: Remembrance, Devotion, Redemption and Elemental, with each 44 | September 2020

containing enervating, multi-influenced compositions. Produced by Adrian Peacock and under the artistic direction of Barnaby Smith, the recording utilized the stunning natural acoustics of the Chapel of Trinity College at Cambridge, St. George’s Church in Chesterton and St. John the Evangelist in Islington. The uber-gifted members of VOCES8 include sopranos Andrea Haynes and Eleonore Cockerham; altos Katie Jeffries- Harris and Barnaby Smith; tenors Blake Morgan and Euan Williamson and basses Christopher Moore and Jonathan Pacey. Remembrance begins with the sombre beauty of Orlando Gibbons’ Drop, Drop, Slow Tears, which initiates the emotional four-song exploration of the depth and nature of grief and loss. Through each track, the ensemble exercises not only magical dynamics, but a breathtaking relationship to A440 and heavenly intonation. The vocal blend and control of the respective vocal instruments here is nothing short of incomparable. Devotion examines filial, venal, sacred and romantic love as illustrated in Monteverdi’s heart-rending madrigal Lagrime d’amante al sepolcro dell’amata. Redemption and Elemental contain a nearly unbearable amount of beauty, but an exquisite track is Mahler’s Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen. In short – After Silence is perfection. Lesley Mithchell-Clarke CLASSICAL AND BEYOND L’Unique – Harpsichord Music of François Couperin Jory Vinikour Cedille CDR 90000 194 ( ! The harpsichord is one of those instruments that simultaneously fascinates and confounds, its plucked-string effect and resulting sound so unlike any other keyboard instrument that it is without parallel in the realm of modern instruments. Its players, too, can be considered atypical, collecting birds’ feathers to harvest and refine the quills, thereby crafting the plectra that pick at each individual string, and exploring repertoire that has often been cast aside by the more conventional pianoforte crowd. Such is the case with the harpsichord music of François Couperin, a master of Baroque keyboard music whose works have long remained in a niche category – the Ordres performed by harpsichordists and the Masses by organists – frequently recorded but less often celebrated in wider musical circles. Vinikour’s recording demonstrates once again why this is so: Couperin’s harpsichord music is inherently and essentially crafted for that specific instrument, its unique percussiveness and relative lack of resonance. It is this exclusive reliance on the harpsichord that makes these works so fascinating; in addition to being expressive, articulate and strikingly beautiful, Couperin’s conception of these pieces is so specific, both in the written score and resulting sound, that they simply do not work as well on any other keyboard instrument, a point reinforced by Vinikour’s measured approach to the Sixième, Septiême and Huitiême Ordres. Couperin, as with much of the French Baroque, can sound frenetic and indecipherable if tempi are taken too briskly and ornamentation loses its melodic intentions. Fortunately for us, Vinikour never loses sight of the melodiousness of Couperin’s music, resulting in nearly 80 minutes of utterly delightful early music. Matthew Whitfield Froberger: Complete Fantasias and Canzonas Terence R. Charlston Divine Art DDA25204 ( ! So rarely does it happen that performer, composer, instrument and instrument maker(!) equitably join in artistic synthesis. This new record, featuring period instrument specialist Terence Charlston, is a fine specimen of expertise and craftsmanship, with each of the above components keenly harmonized. Today, there remain aspects of Johann Jacob Froberger’s art that are unknown to the public at large. The Middle Baroque composer’s contrapuntal works, in particular, are relegated to small circles of listeners and scholars – neglected, despite their ingenuity. Charlston understands this all too well. He looks not only to the impressive compendium, the Libro Secondo (an autograph manuscript dating from 1649), but to a fitting choice of instrument: a copy of a South German clavichord, the MIM 2160, as reconstructed by contemporary keyboard maker, Andreas Hermert. Charlston has chosen this instrument for its timbral possibilities and expressive range, even citing a lute-like tonal profile. Infamous for pianissimo playing, the clavichord in general has long been commended for its intimate, (even private) character, lyrical and sensitive in its response to the player’s touch. Bemusingly, it even boasts vibrato, of a kind. But not a single note of this disc ever sounds too private or too furtive. In the hands of Charlston, his clavichord soars and expands before our very ears. Through this incantation of counterpoint, in turns both exotic and familiar, Charlston reveals a depth of humanity on par with the great polyphonic achievements of J.S. Bach. Adam Sherkin Beethoven – The Piano Concertos Stephen Hough; Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Hannu Lintu Hyperion CDA68291/3 ( ! Performing – and recording – the complete cycle of Beethoven’s piano concertos is a remarkable achievement for any pianist, at any stage in their creative life. But a recent release from Hyperion Records offers a singular synthesis of extraordinary solo playing, exceptional conducting and exquisite orchestral performance. Breathing vibrant, surprising avidity into all of this is Stephen Hough, with his customary elan. Hough is a tireless artist, devoted to his craft and to the betterment of our 21st-century musical world. At this autumnal stage in his career, he is beloved and with good reason: his inheritance is of that rare and reverent keyboard tradition dating back to Beethoven’s time. Presumably, the British pianist has been performing these piano concertos since his youth and yet, much of the disc’s material suggests a re-envisioned approach, a wideeyed zeal for such canonic works, always tempered, deferential and selfless. Hough brings his experience to bear: such thrilling artistry glistens through every last note – and silence – on the record. We the listeners are gladdened beneficiaries. Highlights include both final movements of the Second Concerto in B-flat Major, Op.19 and the Fifth (“Emperor”) in E-flat Major, Op.73, where Hough’s superb taste and jovial character are on full display; he relishes such jauntiness with embellishments and goodnatured glee. (In fact, he composed his own cadenza for the first movement of the second concerto.) Also of remarkable note is the Allegro moderato (first movement) of the Concerto No.4 in G Major, Op.58. Hough’s carefully synchronized reading of this music is a departure from the norm and a welcome one at that! His lyrical lines skip and soar, caper and cajole with earnest delight. After all, isn’t this music at once both so very humane and cosmic? Admirably, Stephen Hough is donating 100 percent of sales from this new album to the charity Help Musicians. An active and noted writer, he recently released an anthology of essays, Rough Ideas: Reflections on Music and More (2019). It is published by Faber & Faber in the UK and by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in North America. Adam Sherkin September 2020 | 45

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