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Volume 26 Issue 5 - February 2021

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  • Toronto
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  • February
So, How Much Ground WOULD a ground hog hog? community arts and the Dominion Foundries end run; the vagaries of the concert hall livestreaming ban; hymns to freedom; postsecondary auditions do the COVID shuffle; and reflections on some of the ways the music somehow keeps on being made - PLUS 81 (count them!) recordings we've been listening to. Also a page 2 ask of you. Available in flipthrough format here and in print February 10.

ased on the La Folia

ased on the La Folia progression. Cords is in great form throughout this fascinating program, technically superb and with a clear, warm tone across the whole range of his instrument. On Babel, the new CD from the Calidore String Quartet, the focus is the desire “to explore the innate human drive for communication” and also to explore what happens when music substitutes for language (Signum Classics SIGCD650 Schumann’s String Quartet No.3 Op.41, written just months after he was finally able to marry his beloved Clara, and Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.9 in E-flat Major Op.117, in which Shostakovich showed music’s power to substitute for language as an act of defiance by using Jewish idioms in a work otherwise clearly acceptable to the Soviet regime, surround Caroline Shaw’s Three Essays, written for and premiered by the Calidore ensemble at the 2018 BBC Proms but inspired by Shaw’s concern at the national unrest leading to and resulting from the 2016 presidential election, and the language being used increasingly to spread confusion and misinformation. The serious intentions threaten to overwhelm the actual music, but there’s fine playing on a CD that again reflects the COVID-19 situation, the quartet saying that they hope this album “will connect us with our audiences at a time when we are prevented from performing in-person concerts.” VOCAL Machaut – The Lion of Nobility Orlando Consort Hyperion CDA68318 ( D_CDA68318) ! Guillaume de Machaut’s status as the 14th century’s greatest composer is borne out by the respect in which he was held by his contemporary musicians as well as by the list of aristocratic patrons who supported him. One such patron, King John II of France, must surely have been the Lion of Nobility alluded to in the title of this CD; his capture at the battle of Poitiers in 1356 personified the massive English victory. So it is that En demantant et lamentant comprises the longest track on this CD. (At a whisker under 18 minutes, it is an eternity by early music standards!) There are no choruses in this composition, as Machaut commences his powerful lament for King John’s fate. He sums up his own distress as he recounts his sad task, going on to describe the King’s bravery: “A lion of nobility in good times, leopard of ferocity in adversity...” Listen to the Orlando Consort as they unravel Machaut’s text, the countertenor part adding its own ethereal quality. Of course, there are other compositions. Dame, se nous m’estes lointeinne is a rarity, a monophonic composition, since Machaut is famous for his highly profound polyphonic pieces. Even stranger is his Moult sui de bonne heure nee – written from a woman’s perspective. And, yes, the lady is as passionate and romantic in her love for her lover as the male nobles are for their ladies. Overall, however, Machaut’s tribute to King John dominates this CD. Much as Machaut dominated 14th-century music. Michael Schwartz Vago Desio – Barbara Strozzi Opus 8, Part 1 Elissa Edwards; Richard Kolb Acis APL90277 ( ! Venetian singer and composer Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) is perhaps one of the most prolific composers of secular music of her time. With Vago Desio, musicologist and theorbo player Richard Kolb and soprano Elissa Edwards offer Strozzi’s eighth and last known opus, performing from an edition edited by Kolb himself (Complete Works of Barbara Strozzi, Cor Donato Editions, 2019). Vago Desio’s five arias and two cantatas are set to poetry about the intricacies of love and it is highly likely that Strozzi wrote them for herself to sing. Strozzi’s maturity as a composer is displayed throughout the opus with her powerful vocal writing style, which is lyrical, expressive, dramatic and always guided by text. Most notable is the show piece L’Astratto. The light-hearted parody cantata is sung by a distressed lover who sets out to choose an appropriate style of aria to express the pains of love. The ten-minute piece mixes aria-like phrases, short bursts of recitatives and sarcastic commentary which interrupts each of her short unsuitable attempts before finding an acceptable formula which leads to the complete aria. Vago Desio shows Kolb as a sensitive and audacious theorbo player while Edwards shines in interpretations that are gorgeously nuanced with engaging and passionate vocals. Edwards is also a specialist of expressive melodic gestures, which were essential to Strozzi’s style. As such, a concert version of Vago Desio would be welcome. The album also includes two sets of Correntes by Venetian composer Bernardo Gianoncelli with Kolb on the archlute. Sophie Bisson Vivaldi – Il Tamerlano Soloists; Accademia Bizantina; Ottavio Dantone naïve Vivaldi Edition OP 7080 ( ! Vivaldi Edition, an inspiring and noble project dedicated to the recording of nearly 450 works by Vivaldi (as found in the collection at the Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin) has introduced many previously unknown vocal and operatic works by this prolific composer, including Il Tamerlano. Based on the popular libretto by Agostino Piovene, and including several arias by other prominent composers of that time, Il Tamerlano (Il Bajazet) is full of vitality and lyricism and, of course, drama. Accademia Bizantina is simply superb. Under the dynamic leadership of Ottavio Dantone, the ensemble grabs the listener’s attention at the very beginning of the gorgeous three-movement instrumental Sinfonia and never lets go. Their nuanced phrasing and marvellous sound underscore every single aria on this album. The recording features a talented cast of singers who bring in the passion, the struggle and the vulnerability of their characters, often in the same breath. Sophie Rennert is delightful in the role of Irene; and Bruno Taddia, in the lead role of Bajazet, showcases both the vigour and the mastery of an artist who is in his prime. Enthralling music, theatrical story, stellar ensemble and cast, sophisticated performance – this recording pulls out all the stops. You will love this album for the touch of elegance and class it brings into the world of today. Ivana Popovic 36 | February 2021

Vivaldi – Luce e Ombra Myriam Leblanc; Ensemble Mirabilia Analekta AN 2 9137 ( ! Light and shade. One of those many contrasts brought out by Vivaldi in his exceptionally thorough output. For this CD soprano Myriam Leblanc and the Ensemble Mirabilia have paired two apparently conflicting emotions. From the start Leblanc displays a real range of emotions. There is a jarring interpretation of Gelido in ogni vena reflecting the coldness identified in its title. This is supported by the ensemble’s flute, Baroque triple harp and cello. No one can be in doubt of the icy quality of Vivaldi’s score. Exactly personifying Vivaldi’s contrasts is the chirpiness of Ercole Sul Termodonte. This draws on the flute-playing of Grégoire Jeay, which in turn forms an excellent and equally challenging accompaniment to the soprano. The musicians have made a balanced selection from the Red Priest’s works. Arsilda, regina di Ponto continues the lively tones of light (rather than shade) around which this CD is formed. Again, the Baroque flute is prominent, but it should not disguise the intensity of the other parts. This CD shows how deeply the musicians have looked into Vivaldi’s repertoire. The Ombra aspect of Luce e Ombra is brought to our attention by the very appropriately named All’ombra di sospetto. Listen to the intensity of Leblanc’s performance. This reviewer congratulates her on her first recording and wishes her many more. Michael Schwartz Solfeggio: Handel; Vivaldi; Vinci; Bach; Mozart Hélène Brunet; L’Harmonie des saisons; Eric Milnes ATMA ACD2 2808 ( ! Solfeggio is Canadian soprano Hélène Brunet’s first solo album. In collaboration with the excellent period ensemble L’Harmonie des saisons, and under the direction of Eric Milnes, Brunet offers a total of 13 pieces by celebrated composers Bach, Handel, Mozart and Vivaldi. Solfeggio is a well-balanced album, mixing rite-of-passage pieces such as Bach’s Schafe können sicher weiden and Mozart’s Alleluja with other Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi favourites. Brunet also offers two world-premiere recordings of arias by Leonardo Vinci, an Italian composer better known for his opera compositions. Solfeggio opens with Handel’s dynamic aria Scoglio d’immota fronte, which sets the tone for the rest of the album. Brunet’s impeccable technique is matched only by the beauty, warmth and fullness of her timbre in all of her vocal registers. Vivaldi’s Juditha triumphans is especially noteworthy, for the lone harpsichord accompaniment serves to highlight Brunet’s beautiful tone before she launches into a fully accompanied aria that requires great vocal gymnastics. The eponymous title, Mozart’s Solfeggio No.2, is an etude most likely written for Constanze Mozart in the early 1780s. The Solfeggio pieces (five in total) all require precise technique, which Brunet demonstrates in spades when she sings trills at very slow speed and sings the most lyrical of high notes. Solfeggio should garner Brunet well-earned praise and a place of choice amongst other notable singers of the Baroque and Classical traditions. Sophie Bisson Lieder: Robert Schumann; Johannes Brahms Elīna Garanča; Malcolm Martineau Deutsche Grammophon 4839210 ( ! The great Latvian mezzo-soprano, Elīna Garanča, is already a legend in our time and for the last 20 years has conquered most opera repertory, moving towards more and more complex dramatic roles. Her opera recordings are numerous and all have become runaway bestsellers. This time however, she is turning towards the German lieder repertoire in contrast to opera. Here she can scale down her voice, become soft and intimate, where “three notes on the piano and an intricate melody can mean the world” (Garanča). For this purpose she teamed up with Scottish pianist Malcolm Martineau, himself a sensitive and brilliant accompanist ideal for the Romantic sound world of these songs. Composers chosen were Schumann and Brahms, whose careers intertwined in more ways than one (e.g. the love triangle of Robert and Clara Schumann with the young Brahms!). The opening selection is Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben, a series of eight songs chronicling, step by step, a woman falling in love with a man. Beginning with love at first sight (Seit ich ihn gesehen) and admiration of her lover (Er, der Herrlichste von allen) to renouncing her girlish pleasures and finally total surrender (An meinem Herzen), engagement (Du Ring en meinem Finger), marriage and presumed consummation. Emotionally each song is a world in itself and Garanča always finds the right expression and mood through her wonderful intonation, inflection and her perfect German diction. Similarly for the other 13 love songs, although “Brahms is more down to earth, earnest and What we're listening to this month: FLIGHTS OF FANCY Jan Järvlepp Fusing European and American traditions, composer Jan Järvlepp’s FLIGHTS OF FANCY pairs the excitement of rock and jazz rhythms with classical music forms. Nature Fie Schouten The compositions on this CD belong together since each work is inspired by nature or natural phenomena. Each track guides the eye upwards. Once/Memory/Night: Paul Celan Ensemble for These Times Four chamber premieres honoring the centennial of Romanian-born writer Paul Celan (1920-1970) whose poetry addresses loss, disempowerment, and survival under a brutal regime. One Fine Morning Denise Leslie Romantics! Premiering Valentines' Day is my video featuring Bob McAlpine on guitar performing Little River Band's classic, "Reminiscing" from ONE FINE MORNING! Enjoy! February 2021 | 37

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