2 years ago

Volume 26 Issue 2 - October 2020

  • Text
  • Classical
  • Artists
  • Choral
  • Concerts
  • Performances
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  • Toronto
  • October
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.

unassuming recording,

unassuming recording, Dinnertsein seems to have evolved a new kind of homemade listening: she has managed to capture the immediacy and depth of experience – of character – that a one-on-one house recital can deliver. Here we glimpse the personal, as procured by the pandemic. Even the three Glass Etudes, (music and a composer that this particular reviewer is often bemused by), speak in an honest and poignant mode, somehow changed by our planet’s new energy, reshaped by a hushed and isolated atmosphere surrounding Glass’ simple patterns and motifs. Dinnerstein’s Schubert is always formidable and especially unique. Her performance here of the mighty last Sonata in B-flat Major D960 bears no exception, possessing an inescapable message of radiance and poetry, humanity and continuance. Ultimately, Dinnerstein’s musicianship is one born of integrity. Through forced pause and quietude she has, indubitably, discovered new aspects to her art. Let us hope for more such recordings, as we marvel at her courage and savour the nourishment it brings us in these weary, unwanted times. Note: The recording’s title was inspired by William Wordsworth’s The Prelude, a poem Dinnerstein became familiar with during lockdown. It refers to “A character of quiet more profound than pathless wastes.” Dinnerstein muses: “Perhaps I had been parted too long from my better self by the hurrying world, as Wordsworth puts it.” Adam Sherkin MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Shostakovich – Piano Quintet; Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok Trio Wanderer; Ekaterina Semenchuk Harmonia Mundi HMM902289 ( ! The public, generally, does not leave a performance (or a deep listening session to a recording) of the work of the late Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich whistling tuneful melodies. But who made tuneful whistling the barometer for success in classical music anyway? Certainly not the legions of Shostakovich admirers, for whom this 2020 release – of his Piano Quintet in G Minor Op.57 (1940) and Seven Romances on Poems by Aleksander Blok Op.127 (1967) by Trio Wanderer (Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian, violin; Raphaël Pidoux, cello; and Vincent Coq, piano) – will be most welcome. For the quintet, the trio is joined by violinist Catherine Montier and violist Christophe Gaugué and the Romances are sung by the commanding mezzosoprano Ekaterina Semenchuk. With the piano quintet, Shostakovich presents a test of technical prowess and historical understanding to the musicians, as they deftly negotiate the multiple lexicons that comprise the composer’s influences and, ultimately, his style. For example, contained within the quintet’s five-part structure (Prélude: Lento; Fugue: Adagio; Scherzo: Allegretto; Intermezzo: Lento; Finale: Allegretto) are motifs, broad musical themes and harmonic junctures revelatory of Shostakovich’s unabashed modernism (his so-called “ambivalent tonality” and deep admiration of Stravinsky), placed in compelling historical flux with Baroque gestures (counterpoint abounds, and there is even a G-major Tierce de Picardie that concludes the opening Prelude), along with the general, and lifelong, influence of Russian folk songs. This is the much-discussed polystylism of Shostakovich; the quintet handles such musical shapeshifting between genre and historical junctures with musicality, precision and seeming ease. Equally compelling is the Seven Romances song cycle, where the great and sought-after Semenchuk, singing in the composer’s (and poet Blok’s) native Russian, shines. A recommended recording. Andrew Scott Shostakovich – Symphony No.11, Op.103 “The Year 1905” BBC Philharmonic, John Storgårds Chandos CHSA 5278 CD/SACD ( ! Shostakovich wrote this symphony during 1956-1957 to commemorate a horrific event from the year before his birth. On January 9, 1905 between 10,000 and 20,000 workers and their families, suffering the miseries inflicted upon them by Russia’s rush to industrialize, converged upon Tsar Nicholas II’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg with a petition. The Tsar was not there and had left no one in the palace to receive any petition. On Bloody Sunday, the Tsar’s cavalry dutifully cut down 200 of their undefended countrymen. If you are not familiar with this symphony, it has a program. The first movement depicts the serenity and mood of the spacious palace square. The second movement, titled The Ninth of January, begins quietly and devolves to the determined brutality and slaughter of the workers. The Tsar wins the day. The third movement contains an adagio that depicts the growing resolve within the survivors. The fourth is enigmatic. There are unmistakable overtones of an impending final confrontation, then the triumphant jubilation of the closing pages of the finale moves the listener 13 years ahead to the day that Tsar Nicholas II, the last Tsar, and his family (minus one) were themselves slaughtered. This movement is titled The Tocsin, a warning bell. Was the composer intending the finale with its statement of victory really as a reference to a historical event, or a warning of another, yet-to-be victory? Finnish maestro John Storgårds is the principal guest conductor of the BBC Philharmonic and one of the busiest around. As the saying goes, he was born to conduct this symphony. He totally embraces the entire work from the tranquility and the real sense of open space in the opening adagio to the jubilant fourth movement. Not one note is wasted. The second movement is all the more powerful due to Storgårds’ appropriate, unhurried tempi and balances between strings, brass and percussion. He leans on the brass to powerful effect. The third movement, In Memoriam, allows Storgårds to broaden the tempo to meaningful declarations. The final movement concludes with a jubilant celebration reinforced with four sonorous church bells in the orchestra, an organ and high spirits. The sound from Chandos is extraordinary. I was listening to the SACD layer in stereo and there were the musicians and the orchestra. I could “see” the flute, the basses, the timpani, the cellos, in truth every instrument exactly where they were in real three dimensions. But they remain in the fabric of the ensemble. No fatigue. Perfect dynamics. Get a copy. See for yourself. Bruce Surtees Fin du Temps Estellés; Iturriagagoitia; Apellániz; Rosado IBS Classical IBS72020 ( ! Clarinetist José Luis Estellés is joined by violinist Aitzol Iturriagagoitia, cellist David Apellániz and pianist Alberto Rosado on this recording of the two best-known, thematically linked quartets for these instruments: Quatuor pour la fin du Temps by Olivier Messiaen, and Toru Takemitsu’s compositional response, Quatrain II. Recently, Messiaen, a Catholic mystic, has come under posthumous criticism for at least passively upholding a stance of anti- Semitism. These days it might be too controversial to even discuss the religiosity that fills his music. It’s safe to say both he and Takemitsu attempted the impossible: to demonstrate timelessness with the essentially time-bound art of musical performance. The more recent piece almost succeeds in 60 | October 2020

simulating the “Fin du Temps” proposed by the earlier. With veiled and obvious references to Messiaen, Takemitsu’s piece seems to sit still and reflect. For contrast, turn to the sixth movement of the Messiaen, and listen to the Danse de la fureur pour les sept trompettes; it’s so rhythmically exacting to perform, and so exciting. The listener is bound by time, not released. But it’s fantastic, and fantastically presented here. Overall the recording rides on the high partials generated by the four different voices, by which I mean it is bright, but never strident. Well, except as the movement closes, where apocalyptic trumpets signal the end. One is bound to assess the performance of the solo clarinet movement: Abîme des Oiseaux. No vanity mars this performance; if there are warts in the presentation of the crescendi and diminuendi over extreme sustains, the minute wavers that mark us as human, they do nothing to diminish the clarity of intent and finely wrought performance. Max Christie Christopher Rouse – Symphony No.5 Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero Naxos 8.559852 ( ! Few works carry such weighty baggage as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. If a composer chooses to tackle the symphonic form in their output, and further manages to compose so many as five, one can choose to ignore this baggage or attempt to meet it head on. In his Fifth Symphony, American composer Christopher Rouse, who died in September 2019, decidedly chose the latter. With a Grammy and a Pulitzer to his name, the celebrated composer shows that he was not intimidated by large forms as the work balances tradition and modernity with impressive prowess. The listener is clearly provided with classical reminiscences while also being transported through a contemporary sensibility of vast turbulence and serene calm. Also on the disc are two restless pieces titled Supplica and Concerto for Orchestra. The former is lyrical and tender while the latter is a true orchestral showpiece where all players of the orchestra have their chance to shine. Already being one of the most performed composers of his generation, this disc shows that Rouse’s legacy will no doubt continue on well into the future. Adam Scime Smoke, Airs Wet Ink Ensemble Huddersfield Contemporary Records HCR24CD ( ! In the latest release by the renowned Wet Ink Ensemble – titled Smoke, Airs – the ensemble’s adventurousness and dedication to the music of our time is on brilliant display in four new works by three Americans and Canadian Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. In the title track, experimentalist vocalist Charmaine Lee creates a haunting landscape of whips and sonic shadow worlds. Interesting vocal utterances paint both uneasy and beautiful atmospheres. Bryn Harrison’s Dead Time contextualizes change within a static field in a context where the composer is clearly concerned with how our ears perceive the unfolding of variation through sameness. Kristina Wolfe’s A Mere Echo of Aristoxenus is inspired by the ancient concept of aural architecture – a piece in two movements that evokes vast Greek spaces lost in time, creating a truly unique listening environment. Lastly, Tremblay’s (un)weave is a study of our contemporary soundscape: the stop and go of the urban frantic reality and how one may find solace in such an environment. The Wet Ink Ensemble has received much critical praise in their successful history as a collective. This release will continue to heighten the group’s deserved reputation. Adam Scime Thomas Adès – In Seven Days Kirill Gerstein; Thomas Adès; Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra Myrios Classics MYR027 ( ! Composer, pianist and conductor Thomas Adès is, in truth, a child of the late 20th century. The acumen of his creativity and myriad of musical aptitude already scaled impressive heights back in the 1990s. Today, he continues to traverse the confused streams and nebulous annals of our 21st-century musical world. Neither fad nor trend nor fickleness of style can deter him; he is a teller of truths and a composer of our time. Now, inimitable pianist Kirill Gerstein has teamed up with Adès on a new record featuring keyboard works by the composer. So rarely will a collaborator embrace a composer’s catalogue with just as much dedication and enthusiasm as the composer himself. A notable consequence from such commitment is the swift advancement of performance practice, often a slow-moving process that takes decades, if not centuries, to appear. With this album, one immediately detects exquisitely formed conceptions of music, determined from various angles and experimentation of interpretation. (Adès is actively involved in two works on the album as pianist and as conductor.) Why? Why are these complex, avantgarde, texturally challenging sound worlds so irresistible? Perhaps when the genius and fortitude of a composer like Adès meets the integrity and artistic prowess of an interpreter like Gerstein, our ears are lent and lent freely, with bedazzled curiosity. Urgent and honest, we quest after the supernatural. Adam Sherkin Epicycle II Gyda Valtysdottir Sono Luminus SLE-70012/SLE-70013 ( ! Referring to the geometric model of the solar system by the ancient Greek mathematician and astronomer Ptolemy, in which a smaller circle travels around the circumference of a larger circle, cellist Gyda Valtysdottir releases a sequel to her highly acclaimed first solo album from 2017, Epicycle. Haunting, melodic and yet dissonant at the same time, the album features eight of Valtysdottir’s closest co-conspirators and inspirers from her life; “This group of people is really a musical galaxy, where the connections are endless…” Orbiting themes of Water, Air (breath) and Love, harmonies are often thick, layered and textured rather than melodic, a trademark of Icelandic composers, and offer travel without destinations, as in the gorgeously heavy Unfold. Each track takes the listener on what feels like motion through stopped time; moving, yet not moving; micro-journeys to sea, to the sky, love and to outer space. I was delighted to find Anna Thorvaldsdóttir’s Mikros on the journey, having had the fortune to attend her composition lecture last December at Banff. Equally enjoyable is the super dark and cool mix of voices and electronics on Evol Lamina, closing our orbital loop and returning our feet back to the dirt by the final, perhaps prophetically unsettling track, Octo. A deeply cinematic score at times, this album is often transporting with great lift, giving the listener long opportunities to soar, bird-like, over the Icelandic landscape and beyond, for the most part leaving us safely and gently deposited on the earthly shore. Cheryl Ockrant October 2020 | 61

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