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Volume 26 Issue 2 - October 2020

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  • Classical
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Following the Goldberg trail from Gould to Lang Lang; Measha Brueggergosman and Edwin Huizinga on face to face collaboration in strange times; diggings into dance as FFDN keeps live alive; "Classical unicorn?" - Luke Welch reflects on life as a Black classical pianist; Debashis Sinha's adventures in sound art; choral lessons from Skagit Valley; and the 21st annual WholeNote Blue Pages (part 1 of 3) in print and online. Here now. And, yes, still in print, with distribution starting Thursday October 1.

There’s more Bach

There’s more Bach music in transcription on Volume One of Johann Sebastian Bach Cello Suites arranged for guitar (Naxos 8.573625 by Jeffrey McFadden, the outstanding Canadian guitarist who is Chair of Guitar Studies at the University of Toronto, and whose debut recording in the early 1990s was the first CD in the prestigious Naxos Guitar Laureate Series. It’s not unusual for recorded works to take a year or two to reach CD release, but both the McFadden arrangements (which remain unpublished) and the recording here were made in 2009. Still, there’s no doubting the quality and effectiveness of both the arrangements and the performance of the three Suites No.1 in G Major BWV1007, No.2 in D Minor BWV1008 and No.3 in C Major BWV1009. Recorded at St. John Chrysostom Church in Newmarket by the always-reliable Norbert Kraft (with whom McFadden studied) the sound quality on a charming disc is, as usual, exemplary. Volume Two is apparently scheduled for release this month. There certainly seems to be no shortage of outstanding young guitarists these days. Classical Guitar is the debut release from guitarist Alex Park, and offers exemplary performances of a range of short pieces both familiar and unfamiliar ( The Gigue from Ponce’s Suite in A Minor provides a bright and brilliant opening to a recital that ranges from Conde Claros by the 16th-century Spanish composer Luis de Narváez and John Dowland’s Allemande (My Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe) through Handel’s Sarabande & Variations and Debussy’s The Girl with the Flaxen Hair to the traditional Irish tune Spatter the Dew. Four standard classical guitar pieces – three of which display Park’s dazzling tremolo technique – complete the disc: Tarrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra; Albéniz’s Leyenda; Villa-Lobos’ Prelude No.2 (given a performance more fluid than many); and Agustín Barrios’ Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios. The publicity blurb for the CD release noted that Park has “a superb sense of dynamics, tempo and phrasing, performing with deep expression.” Add terrific technical assurance and you have a pretty good description of the playing here. The Russian duo of violinist Anna Ovsyanikova and pianist Julia Sinani is in top form on Les Saisons Françaises, a quite delightful recital disc of late 18th- and early 19th-century French music by Debussy, Lili Boulanger, Ravel and Poulenc (Stone Records 50601927780963 There’s warmth and a lustrous violin tone in the 1917 Debussy Violin Sonata in G Minor and a beautifully clear and bright performance of Boulanger’s Deux Morceaux – Nocturne and Cortège. Two works that are less often heard are the real gems here though: Ravel’s single-movement Sonata for Violin and Piano No.1 “Posthume” and Poulenc’s three-movement Sonata for Violin and Piano. The Ravel work was written in 1897 while the composer was still a student but wasn’t published until 1975, almost 40 years after his death. It’s a really lovely piece that combines Romantic and Impressionistic styles and moods. Poulenc apparently destroyed several earlier attempts at a violin sonata, his only surviving work in the genre being the sonata composed in 1942-43 at the request of, and with the help of, Ginette Neveu. Following Neveu’s tragic death at the age of 30 in a 1949 plane crash, Poulenc revised the finale, reducing the length and reworking the violin part. Both versions of the movement are included here. The composer himself was disparaging about the work – it is ”alas not the best Poulenc,” he said, and “Poulenc is no longer quite Poulenc when he writes for the violin” – but at this remove it seems a gorgeous and quite idiomatic work. Given performances like this it makes you wonder why it isn’t firmly established in the standard repertoire. The CD Joshua Bell: At Home With Music (LIVE) presents eight performances from the PBS-TV special Joshua Bell: Live At Home With Music broadcast on August 16. Described as “A musical soirée of intimate performances from home, while sharing a behind-the-scenes look at family, Bell’s own musical inspirations, and more,” the CD features the soprano Larisa Martínez (Bell’s wife) and pianists Peter Dugan, Kamal Kahn and Jeremy Denk (Sony Classical 886448695332 The first movement of Beethoven’s Spring Sonata provides a lovely opening to a program that includes Kreisler’s arrangement of Dvořák’s Slavonic Fantasy in B Minor, Wieniawski’s Polonaise de Concert in D Major Op.4, Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Major Op.9 No.2 and Heifetz’s arrangement of Summertime from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Martínez is the vocalist in Ah, ritorna, età dell’oro from Mendelssohn’s Infelice, Quando m’en vo from Puccini’s La Bohème and a Medley from Bernstein and Sondheim’s West Side Story. Playing the 1713 Huberman Stradivarius with an 18th-century bow by François Tourte, Bell exhibits a full-blooded, all-in approach that doesn’t for a moment imply any lack of subtlety or nuance. It’s simply captivating playing. VOCAL Monteverdi – Complete Madrigals Delitiae Musicae; Marco Longhini Naxos 8.501505 ( ! Claudio Monteverdi is such an important figure in the history of Western music that it is easy to overlook the majority of his prolific oeuvre in favour of those few works that are frequently heard and even more frequently mentioned in musical history texts as the thin line that separates the Renaissance from the Baroque. Of course, such neat-and-tidy divisions are largely artificial and can only be made with significant hindsight and generalization; amid this oversimplification of the musical-historical spectrum, we sometimes need to be reminded to look beyond the Vespers and Orfeo, and turn our gaze to such smaller-scale material as the religious motets and secular madrigals. Whether expertly familiar with Monteverdi’s madrigals or a total neophyte, one cannot find a better starting point than Delitiæ Musicæ’s latest release – a 15-disc survey of the complete madrigals – which summarizes and concentrates the composer’s essential characteristics into countless pieces ranging anywhere between two and five minutes in duration, and provides a musical biography tracing the career of this great Italian composer. This immense five-year project (all 15 discs were recorded between 2001 and 2006) was undertaken by conductor Marco Longhini and the Delitiæ Musicæ ensemble, established by Longhini to perform unpublished masterpieces of early Italian music. This focus on musicology-based performance serves the listener well, as the chronological order of presented material, combined with thorough and enlightening program notes, allows one to track and contextualize the subtle (and sometimes notso-subtle) changes that take place over time. For example, the unaccompanied 54 | October 2020

Renaissance-style polyphony on the first disc undergoes dramatic transformations by the seventh, to the extent that Monteverdi himself developed a new term to define the form: “Concerto.” By the ninth disc, we hear viol consorts and instrumental ritornelli that begin pointing forward to the developments of Baroque composers and, by the 15th disc, we have arrived at the starting point for the next generation of musical minds, with arioso passages, early recitative, and a basic cantata structure. These connections between contextual understanding and listening are enormously important, especially when immersing oneself in as vast a body of work as we find here. But these are audio discs and the most important component in deeming this collection successful is how it sounds and, in short, it sounds very good. One of Delitiæ Musicæ’s great stylistic attributes is their ability to convey affects and expressions without being overly musically dramatic; the great swells and sweeps that are utilized in some Renaissance recordings are avoided here, taking the notes on the page as they come and avoiding the imposition of interpretation over composition. This approach makes even greater sense when we reach the “invention” of the concerto, as instrumental forces are added and augmented, and rhythmic complexity increases exponentially. Although some may be apprehensive at the prospect of tackling over 15 hours of Monteverdi, this is a collection that is meant to be savoured over time, rather than devoured in a binge-listening marathon. With plenty of textual information and excellent musical performances, these discs will fascinate all who listen, whether already steeped in this master’s music or simply interested in learning more about one of Italy’s great cultural figures. Matthew Whitfield Thomas Tallis – Spem in Alium; James MacMillan – Vidi Aquam ORA Singers Harmonia Mundi HMM902669.70 ( ! Among my favourite music albums are those that reach to bridge historical eras and cultural landscapes, yet using similar musical forces. This impressive ORA Singers release is an example. The album presents a substantial banquet of Tudor choral music, chief among them Thomas Tallis’ magnificent 40-part Spem in Alium, 450 years old this year. It is complemented by Vidi Aquam (2019) by Sir James MacMillan – also for 40 voices – an impressive 21st-century painterly commentary on the Tallis. Spem in Alium (Hope in Any Other) was composed for eight choirs of five voices each. They interweave in many-layered, structurally complex ways on paper, and in performance in physical space. A high-water mark of the musical aspirations of the English Renaissance ruling class, as a composition it has long been acknowledged by its students as an apotheosis of European vocal polyphony. Listening to Spem in Alium can be an emotional experience. Beginning with a single voice, other voices join in imitation as the music passes around the eight choirs, a study in constant change and metamorphosis, like a great river in motion. After brief tutti sections, the choirs sing in antiphonal pairs, throwing their voices across the space between them, all flowing together in the work’s powerful sonic tsunami finale. English writer and actor Stephen Fry observed in a video message, “There was a plague around in Britain when Tallis wrote his music and there is a plague around now… ‘Spem’ translates as ‘Hope’; and this is about Hope for our future, and the future of the arts.” Amen. Andrew Timar Handel/Mozart – Der Messias Soloists; Philharmonia Chor Wien; Les Musiciens du Louvre; Marc Minkowski Unitel Edition 803408 ( ! In 1789, Mozart’s loyal patron, Gottfried van Swieten, asked the composer to write a German arrangement of Handel’s Messiah. Van Swieten had in his possession the original Messiah score as well as the Ebeling/ Klopstock German translation used by CPE Bach for a 1775 performance. With these primary sources, Mozart arranged Der Messias by first augmenting the woodwinds and brass sections with two flutes, two clarinets, one bassoon, two horns and three trombones. Mozart then skillfully wrote contrapuntal conversations between soloists and instruments, seamlessly introduced and featured the clarinet, a new instrument, and filled in passages with harmonies that are unmistakably classical. The resulting sonorities inject Der Messias with vibrant colours and enriched textures that are undeniably Mozartean in style. Important revisions include considerable cuts to the libretto (Thou art gone up high and Let all the angels of God are excluded), new music (noticeably for If God be for us which he writes as a recitative), and, most startling, the changes in vocal parts: Mozart not only reduced the alto and tenor solos, he often reassigns them to the soprano (He shall feed his flock, All they that see him, Thy rebuke hath broken His heart); the quartet of soloists, and not the chorus, sings the entrance of For unto us a Child is born; and, most shocking, the alto aria But who may abide is given to the bass and the famous soprano aria Rejoice is sung by the tenor. American director Robert Wilson’s staging of Der Messias includes surrealistic imageries that are difficult to decipher (exploding iceberg video, seated headless man with lobster on a leash, dancing haystack) and caricatured characters that contribute to desacralizing the work. Mozart’s version includes compositional techniques that make this work “operatorio-like,” from deliberate libretto cuts and enriched textures to register changes in solos, and, most telling, a delayed chorus entrance to the first “Wonderful” in For unto us. Wilson’s minimalistic and incoherent staging not only shows a lack of understanding of both the stories told in Messiah and Der Messias but denies Mozart his grand vision for Handel’s Messiah. Performance practice purists will most certainly bristle at Der Messias – it is eerie to hear Handel sound like Mozart. However, the original discomfort soon transforms into pure enjoyment as Mozart weaves together a different, but convincing and powerful Der Messias that is worth listening to many times over, albeit with your eyes closed. Recorded in Salzburg for the 2020 Mozartwoche, Der Messias is directed by Marc Minkowski with an original sound orchestra from Les Musiciens du Louvre and the Philharmonia Choir Vienna. Sophie Bisson Mozart – Die Zauberflöte Portillo; Fomina; Sherratt; Burger; Wettergreen; Glyndebourne Chorus; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; Ryan Wigglesworth Opus Arte OA1304D ( ! Reviewing a new production of any opera in 250 words is a challenge, but even more so when the material is as genre-defining as Mozart’s The Magic Flute, here recorded at Glyndebourne in 2019. This presentation is fascinating, with Roald Dahl-esque sets and costumes accompanied by the magnificent Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. From the outset, the music is stunning in its energy and crispness, rhythmically vital yet expressive and constantly transparent. The orchestra is in fine form, accompanying with a sensitivity and articulateness which allows October 2020 | 55

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