7 months ago

Volume 28 Issue 5 | April & May 2023

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April and May is Canary Time in the world of WholeNote -- the time when choirs in larger than usual numbers refresh the info in our online "Who's Who" to inform prospective choristers and audiences what they have to offer. Also inside: There's a new New Wave to catch at Esprit; Toronto Bach Festival no 6 includes a Kafeehaus; another new small venue on the "Soft Seat Beat" (we assume the seats are soft!); an ever-so Musically Theatrical spring. And more.

Soirée de Vienne Rudolf

Soirée de Vienne Rudolf Buchbinder Deutsche Grammophon 486 3072 ( products/soiree-de-vienne-rudolfbuchbinder-12855) ! Vienna reveres her composers. I remember strolling along the beautiful chestnut tree-lined Ringstrasse with a statue of Johann Strauss playing the violin and others of Schubert, Bruckner and more. Now imagine five of your favourite composers namely Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann and Johann Strauss having been invited to some music-loving aristocrat’s Salon to fill the evening with piano playing. Rudolph Buchbinder is the very accomplished Viennese pianist who takes us into such an evening. The pieces that follow show the light side of each composer; the purpose is to entertain, not compete. And who should we begin with if not the quintessential Viennese: Johann Strauss II to set the tone – a Concert paraphrase or potpourri from Die Fledermaus followed by the Pizzicato Polka, the very essence of good humour played with infinite charm and delicacy. Schubert is next with the March Militaire, again a rather humorous piece I last heard played by 100 teenagers collected from all over Berlin and conducted by none other than Lang Lang. Schubert is further represented by Four Impromptus, which are mandatory for any aspiring piano student. My big accomplishment was playing No.4 in A-flat Major with those rather difficult cascading runs and a grand melody emerging in between. I loved playing my heart out with the passionate middle part. These impromptus are easy compared to those of Chopin, particularly the magnificent Fantasie-Impromptu in C-sharp Minor Op.66. And so it goes. Chopin Waltzes and Nocturnes, a Beethoven Bagatelle and Schumann’s Liebeslied. Oh, then my favourite Strauss waltz: Voices of Spring – I wish it comes soon! Janos Gardonyi Liszt – Harmonies Patriotiques et Religieuses Eva Polgar Hunnia Records HRCD2101 ( ! In contrast to Liszt-the-magicianof-the-keyboard’s turbulent side of his heyday, this interesting new recording shows his quiet and contemplative persona. It came about that the aging Liszt, disappointed that by order of Pope Pius IX he was unable to marry his beloved Princess Carolyne, a divorcee, he took religious vows and withdrew to a monastery near Rome. He actually lived in a cell with minimal furnishings and an old beat-up piano with the middle D key missing. Eva Polgar, a very talented and celebrated Hungarian pianist praised for her intelligent interpretations and emotional power, here performs pieces that resonate with the deep-seated Catholicism and patriotic aspect of Liszt’s late works. This new style is most noticeable by strange unearthly harmonic progressions bordering on the atonal, like the very first piece, Sursum Corda Erhebet eure Hertzen (Lift up your Hearts) and the Coronation Mass, composed for the coronation of Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. Religion notwithstanding, his love for his homeland is manifest in the Hungarian Rhapsodies, here represented (and gracefully performed) by No.11 a quiet, gentle piece that only turns into a lively Hungarian dance at the very end. Liszt’s wandering around the Eternal City inspired some works I love most on this album, namely Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este, an impressionistic piece depicting the play of water of the hundreds of beautiful fountains of the unbelievable Baroque gardens of Villa d’Este in Tivoli. Another lovely piece, Legend No.1, is where St. Francis of Assisi preaches to the birds, an exercise of trills and a real test for the flying fingers of our master pianist. Janos Gardonyi Consolations Antoine Malette-Chénier ATMA ACD2 2855 ( ! There are perhaps no more beautiful sounds in European art music then the classical pedal harp, particularly so when the instrument is masterfully played, exquisitely recorded and gorgeously captured within a naturally resonant acoustic environment such as the Église St-Benoît in Mirabel, Quebec. Further, there are few more intimate musical experiences than the solo performance. Here, with the artist alone and exposed, one traverses a performative tightrope as both artist and listener, edging on the precipice of exhilarating beauty and potential pitfall. Thankfully, it is the former, rather than the later, that is the case on this fine 2022 recording from the Quebec-based harpist, Antoine Malette-Chééénier. Principal harpist for the l’Orchestre Symphonique de Trois-Rivières and a graduate of McGill, the University of Montreal, Yale and the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Lyon, France, Malette-Chénier brings experience, considerable education and training, as well as valuable artistic interpretation to Consolations, his first disc of solo harp pieces for the ATMA Classique label. In addition to achieving his “central desire… to touch souls, to communicate heart to heart” by prefiguring music that resides at the nexus of romance, Christian spirituality and beauty, Malette-Chénier has also used this platform to shine a light on the compositions of fellow harpists Albert Zabel, Charles Schuetze and Henriette Renié, programming their exquisite (and new to me) music alongside such better-known 19th-century composers as Robert Schumann and Franz Liszt. The album’s title, Consolations, comes from the 1830 Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve poetry collection, Les consolations, which provides the needed conceit for Malette-Chénier to delve into the themes of romantic spirituality and divine power that he mines so gracefully here. Andrew Scott Things Lived and Dreamt Francine Kay Analekta AN 2 9004 ( ! There are relatively few Czech composers regularly featured within the Classical canon, and the majority of these are renowned for their largescale orchestral and choral works. Antonín Dvořák’s symphonies, Bedřich Smetana’s Má vlast and Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass are all examples of such composers and their expansive, oft-performed music. In addition to these great works, each of these composers also wrote a variety of piano music, featured here on Canadian Francine Kay’s Things Lived and Dreamt. With repertoire by Dvořák, Smetana and Janáček, as well as Josef Suk and Vítězslava Kaprálová, this recording provides a comprehensive overview of 19th- and 20th-century Czech piano music. Each selection on this disc is notable for its expressive power and poignancy, from Janáček’s solemn and profound Sonata 1.X.1905 – written after the composer witnessed the killing of an unarmed Czech protester by a German soldier – to the levity of Dvořák’s Humoresques, which are both delightful and ingenious little pieces. Suk’s Things Lived and Dreamt is a Schumannesque diary portraying people, places and events through lyrical movements that express far more in three or four minutes than some composers can in 30 or 40. Kaprálová’s April Preludes is a highlight of this recording, a stunning suite of pieces by a quite unknown composer. Kaprálová studied 64 | April & May, 2023

in Prague and Paris, passing away at the age of 25 while fleeing the Nazi occupation. Despite her young age, the April Preludes are strikingly mature and complete, demonstrating a mastery of late-Romantic technique that stretches the limits of tonality through dissonance and bitonality. A testament to the greatness of Czech music, Kay’s recording is fertile ground for those who are interested in the Czech symphonic tradition – from Dvořák’s Humoresques to Kaprálová’s April Preludes, this disc goes from strength to strength. Matthew Whitfield Sonatas by Medtner; Rachmaninov; Scriabin Kenny Broberg Steinway & Sons 30198 ( ! The music of three Russian composers – Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Medtner – all of whom worked against the backdrop of a particularly turbulent political scene, and each with dissimilar ideals, are presented here on this Steinway & Sons recording featuring American pianist Kenny Broberg. Born in Minneapolis, he was the silver medalist at the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and won bronze at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 2019. Rachmaninov completed his Piano Sonata No.2 in 1913 and although the piece was well received, he revised it in 1931, shortening the length and simplifying many of the difficult passages. The original must have been daunting indeed, as technical challenges still abound from the very beginning. Nevertheless, Broberg demonstrates a formidable technique, delivering a polished and exuberant performance. No less daunting is the Scriabin Sonata No.5 Op.53 from 1907. Scriabin, a piano virtuoso, infused his music with mysticism resulting in a thoroughly modern style which closely paralleled Symbolist literature of the period. The one-movement piece – barely 12 minutes in length – has long been regarded as among his most difficult. A younger contemporary of Rachmaninov and Scriabin, Medtner was born in Moscow in 1880. His Sonata Op.25 No.2 “Night Wind” written in 1912 is his most extended of the genre. The score is archly Romantic with a second movement Allegro molto sfrenatamente which is no less demanding than the first – the night wind never ceases. The third movement Danza Festiva proves a rousing conclusion that Broberg performs with great bravado. In all, a fine recording by a young artist from whom we can hope to hear again. Richard Haskell Arc II: Ravel; Brahms; Shostakovich Orion Weiss First Hand Records FHR1128 ( ! This FHR CD titled Arc II featuring American pianist Orion Weiss, is the second in a projected three-disc set, all of which aim to address the ways composers come to grips with the emotion of grief. A native of Cleveland, Weiss studied at the Cleveland Institute and the Juilliard School and has an impressive list of awards including winner of the Classical Recording Foundation’s Young Artist of the Year. The disc opens with Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, an homage not only to the French Baroque tradition, but to fallen friends in the First World War. Weiss’ playing is elegant and thoughtfully nuanced where he artfully captures the spirit of the early clavecinists. Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Schumann from 1854 was written when the composer was all of 20, shortly after his introduction to the Schumann family and just four months prior to Schumann’s attempted suicide. The piece is very much a study in contrasts which ultimately lead to a gentle finale. In complete contrast is the Piano Sonata No.2 by Dmitri Shostakovich, composed in 1943 and dedicated to the composer’s teacher and friend Leonid Nikolaev who perished that year in the mass evacuation from Leningrad. The opening movement is raw and emotional with Weiss easily handling the formidable technical demands, while the second movement largo is clearly a haunting epitaph for his late friend. The finale opens with a sombre theme followed by nine variations and a quiet conclusion. The final two choral preludes from Brahms Preludes Op.122 written shortly after the funeral of Clara Schumann round out a wellchosen program, masterfully performed – we can look forward to the third disc in the series. Richard Haskell MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Mahler | Guđnadóttir | Elgar – Music from and inspired by the Motion Picture Tár Cate Blanchett; Sophie Kauer; Dresdner Philharmonie; London Contemporary Orchestra; London Symphony Orchestra Deutsche Grammophon 486 3431 ( products/tar-hildur-gunadottir-12805) Hildur Guđnadóttir – Women Talking Various Artists Decca B0037031-02 ( artist.html?a=hildur_gudnadottir) ! Listening to and critiquing music written for film – in other words, a “soundtrack-only” What we're listening to this month: The WholeNote Listening Room Hear tracks from any of the recordings displayed in this section: Plus Watch Videos Click to Buy Better Days Ahead Kate Weekes For her fourth album Better Days Ahead, Kate Weekes unearths 10 original songs ranging from Appalachian-influenced murdersuicide ballads to anthemic folkpop to whimsical waltzes. Haydn Op. 77 & Mozart K. 614 Rosebud String Quartet Performed with remarkable chemistry and depth, these late quartets were recorded at the Domaine Forget International Music Festival in Saint-Irénée, Charlevoix, Quebec Albertine en cinq temps - L'opéra Catherine Major, multi-interprètes In this opera, based on the eponymous play by Michel Tremblay, 6 great Quebec lyrical voices portray Albertine at various stages of her life. April & May, 2023 | 65

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