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Volume 26 Issue 7 - May and June 2021

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Meet some makers (of musical things) - a live filmed operatic premiere of a Handel oratorio?; 20 years of Summer Music in the Garden, short documentary film A Concerto is a Conversation; choirs Zooming in to keep connection live; a watershed moment for bridging the opera/musical theatre divide; and more than 100 recordings listened to and reviewed since the last time.

2014. Elegy was written

2014. Elegy was written in 1980 and revised for Kanellakis in 2006 when Kontogiorgos was writing the commissioned guitar suite that gives the CD its title, the four-movement Kaleidoscope consisting of multi-coloured fragments that shift and dance as if viewed through a kaleidoscope. The darker Emotions from 2018 completes a recital of performances that can be considered definitive, Kanellakis having worked closely with the composer. Mirror Images, the latest album from violinist, violist and vocalist Violeta Vicci, features world-premiere recordings of solo works by Ragnar Söderlind, Imogen Holst and Jean-Louis Florentz, plus related works by Bach and Ysaÿe and six interspersed improvisations (two of them vocal) by Vicci (Gramola GRAM98010 naxosdirect. com/search/gram98010). Bach’s Partita No.3 in E Major (with hardly any repeats, lasting just 14 minutes for all seven movements) and Ysaÿe’s Sonata in A Minor are given competent if somewhat mundane performances; the Söderlind is the brief Elegia II and the Florentz an equally-brief Vocalise. By far the most interesting work, though, is the 1930 Holst Suite for Solo Viola, which also draws the best playing from Vicci. VOCAL John Eccles – Semele Academy of Ancient Music; Cambridge Handel Opera AAM Records AAM012 ( ! What looks like Handel, sounds like Purcell and is a world premiere recording? If you guessed the answer to be the latest release from the Academy of Ancient Music, you win! Any mention of the words “opera” and “Semele” together immediately turns minds to Handel’s frequently performed 1744 masterwork, but there is another older, lesser-known Semele living in the operatic world, written in 1707 by the English composer John Eccles. Eccles’ Semele provides fascinating insight into how opera in England might have developed after Henry Purcell’s death had Handel not moved to London in 1712, for this Semele’s musical vocabulary is indeed a slightly more advanced and refined adaptation of Purcell’s own lexicon; if one were to select a pinnacle of the English Baroque, they would be hard-pressed to find a more representative example than this. Despite his indebtedness to Purcell, Eccles achieves even greater depths of expression and extremes of emotion than his predecessor, utilizing similar forms and expanding their structure, so that Semele ends up being more than double the length of Dido and Aeneas, for example, but without once feeling overspun. What is most remarkable about Semele is the way in which music and text receive equal attention. The delivery of William Congreve’s libretto and forward motion of the drama is never interrupted, suspended or usurped by over-composition. Director Julian Perkins and the Academy of Ancient Music in turn keep the opera moving forward, selecting tempi that lend the necessary affect to these dancebased arias and overtures while keeping the text constantly intelligible. With world premiere recordings being issued with ever-greater frequency, it can be challenging to find those works that contribute something worthwhile to the canon, much less provide an eye-opening exploration of something revelatory, but Semele does just that. The saying “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” is correct more often than not, but in this case, we are grateful that those behind this recording could, and did. Matthew Whitfield L’homme armé – La Cour de Bourgogne et la musique Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal; Andrew McAnerney ATMA ACD2 2807 ( ! The Court of Burgundy’s powers extended well beyond the borders of the modern French region. Its musical brilliance obviously affected the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal: with eight composers on one CD, it is difficult to think of a major Burgundian composer not included here. At the heart of the CD is the Missa L’homme armé, itself set 40 times from roughly 1460 to 1560. Track one is the Anonymous/Morton interpretation, featuring not only the original words to L’homme armé but also a contemporary twist willing on a crushing defeat (in three passionate and imploring voices) for those fearsome Ottoman Turks on their way to destroy Christendom. Not everything, though, is so belligerent. Listen to the ethereal Kyrie Eleison from Antoine Busnois’ own Missa L’homme armé, uplifted by the sackbut playing of the Studio. Then be inspired by the delicate performance of Gilles Binchois’ Motet Asperges me. It may have been Binchois who taught and inspired Johannes Ockeghem, who in turn did teach Josquin des Prés. This comes out in this CD: in addition to the pieces by Binchois, the Studio performs Ockeghem’s Sanctus, a full-blooded performance combining sometimes stark singing with the Studio’s sackbuts. As for Josquin, he is remembered by two compositions. First, Agnus Dei is performed admirably, notably in its soprano part. Then there are the five parts of Ave verum corpus. Josquin relished the more complex structure: the Studio rises to the challenge with its appropriately celestial singing. Josquin was a contemporary of the revolution in music printing. His sheer musical genius and the printing press ensured his influence on composers for at least a century. Michael Schwartz And the sun darkened New York Polyphony Bis BIS-2277 ( ! For as long as music has been written down, the Catholic Church has played an essential role in the development of the art form. Whether directly, as in early monodic plainchant and Palestrina’s polyphony, or tangentially, for example in post-Reformation works by Tallis in England and Bach in Germany, the influence of the Catholic Church has provided inspiration to composers for centuries. New York Polyphony’s And the sun darkened surveys a range of Catholic-centric works, ranging from the 15th century to the 20th. With such an enormous body of material to work with and choose from, this release focuses its attention on music for Passiontide, the last two weeks of the Lenten season, using this specific and narrow segment of the liturgical year as its theme. The focal point of this disc is the world premiere recording of Loyset Compère’s Officium de Cruce, a multi-movement motet cycle based upon a set of devotional texts focused on the Cross. A contemporary of Josquin who followed a similar career path, Compère was a Franco-Flemish composer who worked in Italy for the Duke of Milan (where Josquin would arrive a decade later). Officium de Cruce is expressive in its simplicity, exploring the text’s facets through spacious and effective settings, and New York Polyphony’s poised performance is a fine 32 | May and June 2021

introduction to Compère and his works. In addition to music by Compère’s contemporaries Josquin, Willaert and de la Rue, And the sun darkened contains two striking works by much more recent composers. Cyrillus Kreek’s Psalm 22 (1914) is a striking and evocative setting by one of Estonia’s greatest musical figures, while Andrew Smith’s Psalm 55, written in 2011, synthesizes old and new harmonic languages to produce a remarkably organic blending of medieval, Renaissance and modernist lexicons. Far more than just a seasonal listen, And the sun darkened is a worthwhile exploration of fascinating composers and musical works expertly and sensitively performed by New York Polyphony, well worth listening to regardless of the time of year. Matthew Whitfield Pietro Antonio Cesti – La Dori Ascioti; Enticknap; Mazzulli; Baráth; Accademia Bizantina; Ottavio Dantone Naxos 2.110676 ( search/2110676) ! Making peace, the Nicaean and Persian kings pledge the marriage of their infants, Dori and Oronte. In Egypt, Ardete’s wife accidentally kills the king’s baby daughter, also named Dori. Ardete ransoms Nicaean Dori from her pirate kidnappers, bringing her to Egypt where the king, unaware of his daughter’s death, believes this Dori to be his. Years pass. Oronte, now betrothed to Dori’s sister Arsinoe, visits Egypt. Inevitably, he and Dori fall in love. Fleeing Egypt to follow him, Dori is captured and, disguised as a man, becomes Arsinoe’s slave “Ali,” while Egyptian prince Tolomeo, in love with Arsinoe, disguises himself as Arsinoe’s female slave “Celinda.” All this happens before the curtain rises! The ensuing comedy-drama of concealed identities is no less convoluted until all ends joyfully. La Dori was a 17th-century hit, with over 30 productions throughout Italy. This 2019 production in Innsbruck, site of its premiere in 1657, is as unrealistic as the libretto, with timelessly indeterminate sets and costumes, stage director Stefano Vizioli contributing innumerable comedic touches. Cesti’s richly melodic, often beautiful score mixes frivolity with pathos, vigorously performed by Accademia Bizantina conducted by Ottavio Dantone. Mezzosoprano Francesca Ascioti (Dori), countertenor Rupert Enticknap (Oronte) and sopranos Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli (Arsinoe) and Emőke Baráth (Tolomeo) head the excellent cast of eight soloists. With its fine music and singing, La Dori is a pleasure to listen to and its silly goings-on make it great fun to watch as well. Michael Schulman Gounod – Faust Michael Fabiano; Erwin Schrott; Irina Lungu; Royal Opera House; Dan Ettinger Opus Arte OA1330D ( search/oa1330D) ! The Faust legend and the idea of man bargaining with the devil has always fascinated artists, writers and composers. Goethe’s metaphysical play inspired Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner and Busoni towards various musical forms, but Gounod’s opera became so beloved and successful that for 150 years it never left the stage in France and even in England where it became Queen Victoria’s favourite opera. So it’s no surprise the ROH would create a lavish, over-the-top and “theatrically exuberant” new production in the hands of their star director, David McVicar. The original German medieval tale is catapulted into the French Second Empire, in fact into Gounod’s lifetime with opulent sets and costumes. A real extravaganza. The adaptation had some interesting, albeit questionable, features such as the beautiful village waltz in the second act turned into a wild, frantic cabaret can-can and the famous ballet later in the fourth act seen as a horrifying, infernal nightmare that I am sure Gounod never intended. Musically however we are amply compensated with a superb cast, chorus and orchestra. With brisk tempi, young and energetic conductor Dan Ettinger is thoroughly engaged with full control of the score. American tenor Michael Fabiano (whose debut disc I reviewed here in November 2019) as Faust has some difficulties acting as a decrepit old man, but quickly becomes a dashing young lover with a voice to match. Particularly his third act Cavatina, Salut, demeure chaste et pure is wonderfully sung with the concluding high C almost ethereal. With Russian soprano Irina Lungu (Marguerite) they make a wonderful couple and their love duet is sheer delight. Mephisto, the devil, a rather youngish Uruguayan powerful bass-baritone, Erwin Schrott, is very friendly and debonair in the first half of the opera, but gradually turns dark and menacing as the action descends into a terrible tragedy. Interesting and thought-provoking, this new production is a visual delight. Janos Gardonyi What we're listening to this month: Duo Shu Nanyi Qiang (piano) & Yi-wen Zhang (cello) Works by Fauré, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Dvořák, Gao and Bartók that calm and soothe the mind, reflect on yearning for homecoming, and charm the spirit L'homme armé Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal; Andrew McAnerney A musical journey into the music of the Court of Burgundy in the 15th century, a program of motets by the first Franco-Flemish polyphonists. Boundless Sirens Choir Prince Edward Island's award winning women's vocal ensemble have debuted their first full-length album of a cappella choral music. Available at Cavatine Duo Stephanie & Saar Beethoven's Quartet Op. 130/ Grosse Fuge transcribed for piano duet alongside Schubert's F Minor Fantasie “Grand, Majestic. Truly Resonates. A highly distinctive disc” Gramophone May and June 2021 | 33

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