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Volume 27 Issue 2 - November 2021

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  • November
  • Toronto
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  • Jazz
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Live events on the up and up while creative live-and livestreamed hybrids continue to shine. October All-star Sondheim's Follies at Koerner Hall headlines the resurgence; Zoprana Sadiq brings MixTape to Crow's Theatre; Stewart Goodyear and Jan Lisiecki bring piano virtuosity back indoors; Toronto Mendelssohn Choir's J-S Vallee in action; TSO finds itself looking at 60 percent capacities ahead of schedule. All this and more as we we complete our COVID-13 -- a baker's dozen of issues since March 2020. Available here in flipthrough, and on stands commencing this weekend.

y a gracious rondeau.

y a gracious rondeau. All of them contain attractive thematic material and ample opportunity for the soloists to display their technical ability. The two violinists – Russian-born Yury Revich, playing on a 1709 Stradivarius, and Libor Ježek, deputy leader of the Czech Chamber Orchestra – are joined by violist Pavla Honsová and together they comprise a formidable trio, delivering polished and assured performances in solid partnership with the CPCO. The Symphony Op.11/1 is the first in a pair of symphonies first published in Paris in 1779. Again, the spirit of Haydn is ever-present – this could almost be a precursor to the “Paris” symphonies, and the performance – like the music itself – is refined and elegant. A delightful recording of music deserving greater attention – Marie Antoinette would surely have approved! Richard Haskell Stimme aus der Ferne – A Voice from the Distance Andrea Botticelli Independent 01 (andrea-botticelli.com) ! Canadian pianist Andrea Botticelli developed an interest in historical instruments early on, and since then, has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants for her work and research into early performance practices. In this recording, titled A Voice from the Distance, she again opens the door to the past, presenting works by Schubert, Czerny and Schumann on a replica of an 1830s Viennese pianoforte. The disc opens with Schubert’s Sonata in A Major D664, music composed during the summer of 1819 when he was all of 22.This genial score is clearly that of a youthful composer and Botticelli displays particular warmth of tone and a fluid sense of rhythm and pacing. The music of Czerny is not often encountered today, but during his lifetime, he was renowned as a composer and pedagogue. His Variations on a Theme by Rode Op.33 is a fine example of his creative ability, the five variations a true study in contrasts and certainly not without considerable technical challenges. Schumann’s charming suite, Papillons Op.2 from 1831, is intended as a musical depiction of a masked ball. Once again, Botticelli demonstrates a real affinity for the music and throughout the listener is struck with the robust and full sound she achieves on the instrument. Added bonuses are Clara Schumann’s Notturno from her Soirées musicales Op.6 and the eighth movement from Schumann’s Novelletten Op.21 which bring the CD to a fitting conclusion. This disc is a delight. Not only does Botticelli deliver a compelling performance – breathing new life into traditional repertoire – but she proves without a doubt that Romantic-period repertoire is as satisfying to the ear when played on an early pianoforte as it is on a modern concert grand. Richard Haskell Chopin – Complete Nocturnes Jan Lisiecki Deutsche Grammophon 4860761 (deutschegrammophon.com/en/catalogue/ products/chopin-complete-nocturneslisiecki-12377) ! Recently I watched an orchestral concert from Zurich recorded some years ago. The soloist was Jan Lisiecki. He played an encore, Chopin’s Nocturne Op.48 No.1 in C Minor. The piece begins with a deceivingly simple pianissimo melody, but soon another melody in a major key insinuates itself in the bass line, barely noticeable at first, but keeps mounting with tremendous chords. The pace quickens with a formidable crescendo masterfully controlled and developed into fortissimo. At that point the piano roars and seems to explode and Lisiecki becomes a lion, a total master of the instrument. When it was over, the audience, the orchestra and the conductor were spellbound, the applause deafening and for me Lisiecki then became one of my piano heroes. Lisiecki was a teenager at that time, a lanky boy from Calgary, very tall with bushy hair. Now he is literally conquering Europe. Deutsche Grammophon picked him out very quickly at age 15 and this is his eighth recording for the Gesellschaft, having already recorded the Concertos and the Etudes of Chopin. Now he turns to the Nocturnes, the composer’s most intimate and some of the most beautiful and best-loved pieces ever written for solo piano. Perhaps his Polish origins give Lisiecki a natural affinity to Chopin; with his youthful energy, impeccable technique, exquisite touch and profound insight he certainly does justice to these masterworks. Some highlights are of course the famous and popular Op.9 No.2 in E-flat Major, the Op.15 No.2 in F-sharp Major with its haunting, chromatic melody and agitated mid-section, the tremendous Op.27 No.2, in D-flat Major with a grand melody and passionate outbursts, and the wistful, yearning Op.37 No.2 in G Major with its barcarolle-like mid-section and more. Happy listening! Janos Gardonyi Brahms – Piano Concerto No.1; 16 Waltzes Emmanuel Despax; Miho Kawashima; BBC Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Litton Signum Classics SIGCD666 (signumrecords.com) ! Brahms’s Piano Concerto No.1 is a renowned masterpiece, frequently performed by orchestras and soloists since its premiere in 1859. Expansive and majestic, this work combines classical-period form with distinctly Romantic harmonies and progressions to create a captivating and largescale concerto that ranks among the finest works of its time. This recording, featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra and pianist Emmanuel Despax, acknowledges the weightiness of Brahms’ writing, choosing an approach to tempo and style that accentuates the depth and density of the concerto’s progressions and development. For example, the first movement, marked Maestoso, is performed in 24’28”, a minute or two slower than many modern recordings (but faster than Glenn Gould’s infamous 25’37” performance of the same with Leonard Bernstein), while the following two movements fit within the slower averages. Rather than coming across as drab and dull, however, the melodiousness that is revealed by this slightly lugubrious opening tempo is captivating and made utterly logical by the clarity revealed in the fleeting piano part towards the middle of this first movement – every keystroke is audible, resulting in gestures made up of distinct yet rapid notes rather than a murky approximation of the notated score. Expression is paramount in late-Romantic music, and Despax’s pacing allows for great clarity and sincerity in his interpretation. Despax is joined by pianist Miho Kawashima for the 16 Waltzes, presented here in their original version for piano four hands. These are short works, the longest lasting only 2’01”, yet their beauty is remarkable. An essay in compositional dexterity, the diversity present in these 16 pieces, all based on the same form, is a delight for the listener; it is difficult to take in only one of these charming, bite-size pieces at a time. Covering both the orchestral immensity of the Piano Concerto No.1 and the levity of the 16 Waltzes, this disc is highly recommended to anyone who appreciates Brahms’ music and the pluralities present therein: joyful solemnity and tragic sweetness. Matthew Whitfield 40 | November 2021 thewholenote.com

Moritz Moszkowski – Complete Music for Solo Piano Volume One Ian Hobson Toccata Classics TOCC 0572 (toccataclassics.com) ! Moritz Moszkowski composed in all genres, but he’s remembered today, if at all, for his 250-plus piano pieces, still occasionally sourced for recital encores. This CD, the first in a projected comprehensive compilation, presents Moszkowski’s earliest piano works, all dating from 1874-1877, when the composer was in his early 20s. The playful opening Conservatoristen- Polka, humorously labelled “Op.½,” and identified as composed by “Anton Notenquetscher” (Note-Squeezer), references a much-reprinted satiric poem by Moszkowski’s older brother Alexander. Among the disc’s other 13 pieces, three are fairly substantial, at over nine minutes each. Fantaisie (Hommage à Schumann), Op.5, successfully echoes Schumann’s style and its extremes of assertiveness and tenderness, with lyricism prevailing. In Fantaisie- Impromptu, Op.6, warm, gently rippling melodies slowly build to a fortissimo climax, marked grandioso. Humoreske, Op.14, is a buoyantly cheerful, virtuosic essay in dotted rhythms and rapid runs. Of the shorter pieces, I particularly enjoyed the reflective, Schumannesque Albumblatt, Op.2, the sentiment-laden Melodie (the first of the Skizzen, Vier kleine Stücke, Op.10) and, most of all, Con moto (the second of Trois Moments Musicaux, Op.7), in which episodes of urgent plaintiveness are offset by beautiful, serene, hymn-like reassurances. Ian Hobson’s many recordings include all of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas and Chopin’s complete piano works. He also conducted Moszkowski’s orchestral music on the fine CD I reviewed in the December 2020/ January 2021 edition of The WholeNote. In Hobson’s very capable hands, future Moszkowski CDs promise many more hours of enjoyable discoveries. Michael Schulman Ravel & Saint-Saëns – Piano Trios Sitkovetsky Trio Bis BIS-2219 SACD (bis.se) ! The subtle colours and evanescent textures of Ravel’s piano music are often compared to those of his older contemporary Debussy, but, in fact, Ravel got there first. Like in Jeux d’eau from 1902, his Piano Trio in A Minor (1914) which features rippling liquid arpeggiated figurations derived from Liszt, is imbued with a singular new delicacy. The four wistful movements of the trio seek to convey an increasingly wide range of vivid sensations, aural and visual to create what is, in effect, a miniature tone poem. In one of their best recordings, the Sitkovetsky Trio interpret this piece with idiosyncratic brilliance. The variety of touch and the extraordinary control of dynamics that violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, cellist Isang Enders and pianist Wu Qian bring to this performance balance limpid tonal clarity and questing energy. The other work on this scintillating album is Camille Saint-Saëns’ Piano Trio No.2 in E Minor Op.92. A child prodigy with Mozartian potential, the composer remarked that he lived in music “like a fish in water.” That is eminently clear from this Piano Trio, which, like his concertos, is pleasant on the ear but murder on the fingers. Like their Ravel, the Sitkovetsky Trio’s Saint-Saëns sounds startlingly fresh. Qian’s enthusiastic pianism displays great technical assurance and a sense of tremendous forward momentum. Sitkovetsky’s and Enders’ playing is sinewy and dramatic. Together the trio also give this work a spirited reading. Raul da Gama Sibelius – Luonnotar; Tapiola; Spring Song Lise Davidsen; Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; Edward Gardner Chandos CHSA 5217 (naxosdirect.com/ search/chsa5217) ! Jean Sibelius – together with Grieg and Dvořák – was largely responsible for the late-19th-century upsurge of musical nationalism. Sibelius’ greatest achievements were to reassert the Finnish ethos as something distinct from both Russia and Sweden – something that made him a cultural figurehead in Finland. This could be attributed to his splendid compositional technique, and a special skill that enabled him to unite the heroic imagery of the Finnish epic Kalevela and the sounds that characterized Scandinavia with the influences of the greater European tradition. Though Sibelius’ output is dominated by his seven symphonies, by the time he had written the first of these he had already honed his craft with a series of orchestral pieces on national themes written during the 1890s. This album includes two of these: Rakastava (The Lover) Op.14 and the tone poem Vårsång (Spring Song) Op.16. It also includes two other tone poems, Luonnotar Op, 70 and, arguably Sibelius’ greatest tone poem – Tapiola Op.112, Finlandia notwithstanding. The Bergen Philharmonic and Edward Gardner’s account of these works has a truly magisterial authority; Gardner’s control of the imagery of the works – in fine gradations of mood and colour – is utterly convincing. Lise Davidsen’s luminous soprano is heard on Luonnotar and the album’s longest work Pelléas och Mélisande – incidental music for Maurice Maeterlinck’s play. Orchestra and soprano have rarely sounded so beautiful and profoundly absorbed as in these stellar works. An album to die for. Raul da Gama this is home Brian Wendel Independent (brianwendelmusic.com) ! For Brian Wendel, principal trombonist of the Vancouver Symphony and a faculty member at the University of British Columbia, the concept of “home” is as much spatial and geographic (now residing on Canada’s West Coast after having grown up in Massachusetts and having lived in New York City as a Juilliard student) as it is metaphoric (identifying repertoire so familiar and comfortable to be thought of as a musical home in which one is capable of expression, creativity and a mature statement of identity). For Wendel, This is Home, is just that; a thoughtful collection of music that includes J.S. Bach, Prokofiev, Enrique Crespo’s Improvisation and Scriabin. United not by era, theme or even tunefulness, the pieces chosen instead put forth a compelling statement of where Wendel draws inspiration and gives voice. Often presented in duo format with pianist Carter Johnson, Wendel also plays solo on the Bach and Crespo selections, a format that I do not associate with “classical” music (instead, the albums by George Lewis and Albert Mangelsdorff come to mind here), but would be intrigued to hear more of from this extremely capable and fine musician. Although a thorny and difficult instrument, in the right hands (such as Wendel’s) the trombone ranks among the most expressive instruments in music, underscoring and highlighting sublime passages of music heard many times before (such as Bach’s Cello Suites) while giving a unique voice and perspective to both the new and the less familiar. Andrew Scott thewholenote.com November 2021 | 41

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