7 months ago

Volume 27 Issue 3 - December 2021 / January 2022

  • Text
  • December
  • Quartet
  • Jazz
  • January
  • Musical
  • Toronto
  • Symphony
  • Theatre
  • Arts
  • Composer
  • Thewholenotecom
Many Happy Returns: the rebirth of Massey Hall -- from venue to hub; music theatre's re-emergence from postponement limbo; pianist Vikingur Ólafsson's return visit to to "Glenn Gould's hometown"; guest writer music librarian Gary Corrin is back from his post behind the scenes in the TSO library; Music for Change returns to 21C; and here we all are again! Welcome back. Fingers crossed, here we go.

VOCAL La Grazia delle

VOCAL La Grazia delle Donne Miriam Leblanc; Ensemble La Cigale; Madeleine Owen Analekta AN 2 9159 ( ! Eight books of compositions? Little, if any support from the Church? Or from a spouse? And a woman? This was Barbara Strozzi, understandably the best known female composer of her time (1619-1677). It is her compositions that occupy pride of place on this CD. Lagrime mie combines the passion of Myriam Leblanc’s soprano singing, the anguished lyrics of Pietro Dolfino and the supportive yet inspiring playing of Ensemble la Cigale to form a masterpiece of the Italian Baroque. Masterpiece, too, is the deserved description for Strozzi’s other piece on the CD, Hor che Apollo, as the same musicians master perhaps even greater achievements with this latter text and score. It is clear from the very first two tracks, Isabella Leonarda’s Purpurei flores and Sonata prima, that this CD brings together the best in female Baroque vocal writing along with one instrument in particular which is at last allowed to display its versatility – the Baroque recorder. Full credit, indeed, to Leblanc and recorder-player Vincent Lauzer. The prominence given to the two composers above should not detract from the others’ contributions. Prodigiously talented, Vittoria Aleotti mastered the harpsichord at a phenomenally early age. The results are very apparent as Leblanc interprets three of her songs, all very short but all very moving in their musical and lyrical context. This CD proves the presence of female singers and, above all, female composers in the Renaissance. It challenges preconceptions. Michael Schwartz Rossini – L’Equivoco Stravagante Antonella Colaianni; Patrick Kabongo; Giulio Mastrototaro; Emmanuel Franco; Gorecki Chamber Choir; Virtuosi Brunensis; Jose Miguil Perez-Sierra Naxos DVD 2.110696 ( search/2110696) ! The little town of Bad Wildbad, a spa, is located in the Black Forest in Germany, a very scenic holiday spot with a small, intimate opera house and a relaxed, but keen, enthusiastic audience. This performance was for the Wildbad Rossini Festival’s 30th anniversary in 2018. L’equico Stravagante (Curious Misunderstanding) is Rossini’s first opera, written when he was only 19, his first step toward becoming a master of bel canto and an amazing career of wealth and fame and 39 operas. It is a two-act dramma giocoso, a farce format that Rossini got very good at, but it ran into difficulties at the premiere in Bologna because its somewhat risqué libretto offended public taste! It was cancelled after three performances and disappeared into oblivion until its present day revival. Risqué because the heroine was accused of being a castrato and a deserter to avoid military service; a curious misunderstanding indeed! It’s a silly story, but offers good theatricals and lots of funny situations. The small stage is practically bare; with ingenious lighting effects and shifting panels as a backdrop but filled with a youthful, energetic cast, headed by the primadonna mezzo-soprano Antonella Colianni and primo tenore Patrick Kabongo, all superb voices and buoyant, delightful music. Most notable are Rossini’s beginning efforts of ensemble writing: duets, trios, quartets, and a beautiful quintet: Speme soave, ah, scenda. The first act finale is a real showstopper with the whole cast on stage, all singing up a total mayhem. This feature will appear in many of his later operas and become a Rossini trademark. We must emphasize the Overture, a remarkably mature work conducted by the young, convivial José Miguel Pérez-Sierra with vigour, hugely enjoying himself. Janos Gardonyi César Franck – Hulda Soloists; Opern-und Extrachor des Theater Freiburg; Philharmonisches Orchester Freiburg; Fabrice Bollon Naxos 8.660480-82 ( search/866048-82) ! It shouldn’t have taken until 2019 for Hulda to receive its first-ever complete performance, recorded here. César Franck finished his magnum opus in 1885, but died before its 1894 premiere in an abridged version, as were all its few subsequent productions. Set in 11th-century Norway, Charles Jean Grandmougin’s lurid, blood-spattered libretto was based on an 1854 play by Norwegian Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, 1903 Nobel Prize-winner. Hulda (soprano Meagan Miller) vows revenge on her family’s murderers, Aslak (bass Jin Seok Lee) and his sons. Forced to marry Aslak’s son Gudleik (baritone Juan Orozco), at the wedding feast she entices the king’s emissary, Eiolf (tenor Joshua Kohl), who fights and kills Gudleik. Hulda and Eiolf declare their love but when Eiolf betrays her with his former lover Swanhilde (soprano Irina Jae Eun Park), Hulda conspires with Aslak’s remaining sons to kill him, and Eiolf’s warriors to attack them in return. Her vengeance complete, she commits suicide. Franck’s surging, vehement score, influenced by his much-admired Wagner, features the use of leitmotifs, fervent arias, ecstatic Tristan-like love duets and many opulent choruses and dances, the orchestra often in the foreground. Conductor Fabrice Ballon drives the 15 soloists, chorus and orchestra with unremitting urgency, maintaining momentum throughout the opera’s 162 minutes. Regrettably, the 3CD set omits the French-language libretto or English translation, offering only an act-by-act synopsis (Wikipedia provides a better one). Nevertheless, I was delighted to finally hear Franck’s incandescent Hulda just as he had intended. Michael Schulman American Originals: A New World, A New Canon Reginald Mobley; Agave Acis APL20445 ( ! For countertenor Reginald Mobley, this is a deeply personal project. In his booklet notes, he describes his early years studying music as a person of colour, when he was convinced that “nothing worth hearing and knowing in classical music was ever written by anyone who looked like me.” How better to expose what he rightly calls the “whitewashing of music history” than by highlighting some remarkable, largely unknown composers of colour? And so we have this adventurous survey of vocal and instrumental works from across the Americas, dating from the Baroque to the 20th century. In six gorgeous songs – and two instrumental song arrangements – by Florence Price (whose music is finally starting to receive the attention it deserves), Mobley and the versatile musicians of Agave convey the impassioned vision underlying the composer’s evocative imagery. The Brazilian priest José Mauricio Nuñes Garcia’s exquisitely Mozartian Te, Christe, solum novimus leaves me wanting to hear more from this composer (his magnificent Requiem is featured in Paul Freeman’s landmark Black Composers Series on Sony Classical). A virtuosic performance of Baroque composer Esteban Salas y Castro’s Taedet Animam Meam reveals its sublime intensity. It’s hard to understand why his music is so rarely heard outside his native Cuba. 38 | December 2021

Mobley draws on seemingly endless reserves of power and beauty. But there’s something even more exciting going on here – a direct, urgent connection with the music. In this he is well matched by Agave’s vivid colours and stylish phrasing. Pamela Margles CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Scarlatti – Essercizi Per Gravicembalo Hank Knox Leaf Music LM248 ( ! Hank Knox has used the lockdown period very fruitfully. He spent ten months immersed in this, the only authorized publication by Domenico Scarlatti and, to its credit, one that has remained in print since it was published in 1739. Essercizi per gravicembalo is accurately translated as Exercises for harpsichord, underpinned by Hank Knox’s choice of a harpsichord after the Dulcken family of Flemish harpsichord makers. From the start, the combination of Scarlatti’s very lively composing, its consequently demanding playing techniques and the brilliance of Knox, create a solo harpsichord masterpiece. For example, in its complexity the Sonata in A Minor (track 3) is reminiscent of everything J S Bach could create. Perhaps Scarlatti and Bach learned by listening to each other’s works. Even the longest sonatas, such as that in G Major (track 13) do not let up in their demands on the harpsichordist. This is especially true of the significantly longer second CD. Here, the Sonata in D Major (track 29) continues to bring out the best in Knox. It is rare to find a collection of pieces so consistent throughout. Consequently, the sheer consistent joyfulness and exhilaration of these 30 Sonatas mean it is difficult to isolate any particular one as being superior to the others; we are spoiled for choice. Born in 1685, along with Handel and Bach, Scarlatti is by far the least recognized composer of these three greats. The virtuosic exuberance of his Essercizi in this rendering makes a strong case for diminishing the recognition gap. Michael Schwartz Bach – Au Pardessus de Viole (transcriptions of diverse sonatas with clavecin) Mélisande Corriveau; Eric Milnes ATMA ACD2 2826 ( ! Although relatively obscure today, it is not hard to imagine pardessus de viole being the queen of the instruments in mid-18th century France, albeit for a short period of time. The smallest member of the viola da gamba family was invented in France to counter the newcomer of that time – the violin. Its uniquely delicate sound and slender shape were particularly popular with women, inspiring a slew of new compositions and arrangements before falling off the musical radar. Multi-instrumentalist Mélisande Corriveau shines spectacularly on this recent release of selected Bach compositions adapted for pardessus de viole. An imaginative and elegant player, Corriveau ventures on a fine exploration of the contemplative aspects of Bach’s music, further enhanced by the sonic qualities of her instrument, which, interestingly, was made during the reign of King Louis XV. On the other end of this musical equation is harpsichordist Eric Milnes, an intrinsic performer with a splendid feel for balance and flourish. Here the voices are so finely attuned to the nuances of Bach’s music that we never question the fact that Bach did not write a single piece for this instrument and, in fact, may not have been aware of its existence. The album is comprised of sonatas and trios originally for violin, viola da gamba and organ, rich with counterpoint and dialogue between instruments. There is a stillness and beauty to the ensemble playing that engages the listener on a deep level. Ivana Popovic Bach – Sonatas & Partitas Fabio Biondi naïve ( xhdnab/fabio-biondi-bach-sonataspartitas) ! These timeless works receive a superb and fanciful recorded performance from one of the most interesting and adventurous violinists alive today. The Six Sonatas and Partitas were written sometime between 1717 and 1723, while Bach was employed by Prince Leopold of Anhalt- Cöthen. The sonatas are each made up of four substantial movements, including brilliant and virtuosic fugues. The partitas are jammed with a variety of dance movements and “doubles,” the D Minor Partita concluding with the justly renowned extended Chaconne. The brilliant Fabio Biondi is a celebrated violinist, conductor and the founder of Europa Galante who has made a specialty of Baroque works large and small, including recital tours with pianists, harpsichordists and fortepianists. That said, he plays on a fortified modern violin with technical prowess, confidence and a big personality that would not be mistaken for being historically informed. He made this recording a special project as he turned 60, saying in the notes that he has long felt intimidated by these towering works “so intimate, yet so universal, so close to the essence of things and so technically demanding as well.” These performances are fresh, assured, lyrical, exciting and full of vitality. Highlights include the Presto of Sonata I, the Giga and Chaconne of Partita II, the three enormous fugues, the heartbreakingly nostalgic F Major Largo of Sonata III and the Gavotte en Rondeau of Partita III. Some of the tempi are a little too breakneck, some of the ornamentation is outrageous and at times the overall sound gets a little too heavy and intense. But this is playing with a self-assured point of view, a big heart, a rock-solid technique and a humble wisdom, full of respect for how these pieces connect to the human soul. Highly recommended. Larry Beckwith Schumann – The Roots & The Flower: Counterpoint in Bloom Jens E. Christensen Our Recordings 6.220675 ( ! A prolific and highly respected composer of the Romantic era, Robert Schumann wrote in a variety of styles for a range of instruments, from solo piano to large orchestra. Tucked within Schumann’s 148 opus numbers are a few works written for the pedal piano which, rather than having the standard three foot pedals, contained an entirely separate keyboard, similar to that found on pipe organs, which was manipulated by the feet. Once a relatively common household instrument, the pedal piano has since become extinct, though separate foot pedal attachments and even complete replicas can still be found. The presence of a pedalboard is a unique similarity between the pedal piano and the modern organ which has led to a number of works for the former instrument being adapted to the latter. Schumann’s pedal piano December 2021 | 39

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2020)

Volumes 16-20 (2010-2015)

Volumes 11-15 (2004-2010)

Volumes 6 - 10 (2000 - 2006)

Volumes 1-5 (1994-2000)