La Scena Musicale

Friday, 31 October 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: October 31 (Everding)

1928 - August Everding, Bottrop, Germany; opera director and administrator

Wikipedia
Obituary (The Independent, UK, Feb. 1999)

Wolfgang Brendel sings "Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja...." from August Everding's production of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (Munich, 1983)

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Thursday, 30 October 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: October 30 (Warlock, Mintz)

1894 - Peter Warlock, London, England; composer and music critic

Wikipedia
Peter Warlock Society website

Capriol Suite for String Orchestra, parts 1-3 (Chamber Ensemble Muenster, 1994)



1957 - Shlomo Mintz, Moscow, Russia; violinist and conductor

Wikipedia
Shlomo Mintz webpage

Shlomo Mintz plays Paganini's Violin Concerto No. 1, 1st mvt., on "Il Cannone", Paganini's own 1742 Guarneri violin (Limburg Symphony Orchestra, Yoel Levi conducting, Maastricht, Netherlands 1997)

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Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Idomeneo and Boris Godunov in San Francisco

Seeing Mozart’s Idomeneo and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov back-to-back at the San Francisco Opera on the evenings of October 21 and 22, I did not expect to be struck by the similarity of their themes. What could this Enlightenment opera, penned in Munich in 1781, have to do with the darkness and gloom of unenlightened czarist Russia of 1869?
More than you might think. Both operas deal with the perennial issue of the order of the soul and the order of the city. Both operas ask the central questions: what is the ruler’s relationship to the divine and what difference does that relationship make to his rule; and what is the relationship between the moral character of the ruler and the political order? Not surprisingly – since the family is the foundation of the polis – both operas also deal with families and the relationships within them.
I was left to dwell upon these themes because the excellence of both productions left me free to plumb the meaning of the operas themselves. There were no distractions from poor production values, bad casting, awkward acting, or flubbed notes. More will be said about the obverse of each of these, but the main point is that both evenings were opera at its finest – as one has come to expect of the San Francisco Opera.
Although I am a Mozart fanatic, Idomeneo remains relatively unknown to me. In fact, it was pretty much unknown to everyone from the time of its last performance in 1781 until some point in the 19th century. San Francisco didn’t see its first production of Idomeneo until 1977; the current production was first offered in here in 1989.
For those used to the teeming life in Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro, the reasons for Idomeneo’s neglect are fairly easy to divine. In the vein of opera seria, Idomeneo is a somewhat heavy classical drama based upon the fictional story of Idomeneo returning from the Greek conquest of Troy. He almost perishes at sea, but is saved by his vow to Neptune to sacrifice the first person he sees on land. That person turns out to be his son Idamante (a part written for a castrato that is now sung by a mezzo-soprano).
Thus the dramatic tension in the opera is centered on whether or not Idomeneo will kill his son. If he does not, will the gods destroy Crete? That sounds exciting but, in fact, most of the major action takes place off stage – the ship wreck, the storm, the monster’s attack on Crete, and Idamante’s slaying of the monster – we are only told about these events. Instead, the characters mostly soliloquize over the dire situations in which they find themselves. In other words, most of the drama is interior. This makes the on-stage action static. The poor director (John Copley) is left having the characters occasionally lurch in one direction or another to express the profundity of their emotions. It is hard to imagine what else he could do – although it would be a director’s job to figure exactly that out. Nonetheless, this is already mature Mozart, and it is so musically rich and sophisticated that one can only be pleased that it has made its rather late entry into the repertoire.
Back to the story: Idomeneo immediately regrets his terrible vow, but seems to have been placed in this situation because he was willing to sacrifice someone else’s life for his own. The tension this sets up is only resolved when others prove willing to sacrifice themselves, rather than see Idamante slain. In a marvelous scene in Act III, Idomeneo realizes his culpability, “I alone sinned,” and offers his own life for his son’s. Idamante, in turn, is clearly willing to give his life to save the people of Crete as he goes out to slay the monster (whose destructive presence seems the embodiment of the dislocation in the relationship between the gods and man). Then Idamante announces that he is ready for Idomeneo to take his life as the necessary sacrifice. Ilia, King Priam’s daughter, who is in love with Idamante, intervenes and offers her life in his place.
With this, the spell of Idomeneo’s vow is broken and Neptune relents. The disembodied Voice proclaims: “Love has triumphed.” However, Idomeneo has forfeited his right to rule. By offering to sacrifice someone else in his stead, he dislocated his relationship with his own son – thereby suggesting that it was wrong to offer anyone in his place. He has lost his legitimacy. Idamante replaces him as king. Thus, order is restored. The legitimacy of the new order, sanctioned by the gods in a presage of Christian kingship, is established by the ruler’s willingness to self-sacrifice. This does not strike me so much as an Enlightenment message as a Christian one.
It would be difficult to praise the orchestra and its conductor, Donald Runnicles, too highly. I would be tempted to call them the stars of the evening were it not for the vocal excellence on display. The playing was echt Mozartian – alert, highly nuanced, especially in the winds and strings, vivacious, lyrical and dramatic as the moment required.
Alice Coote, the British mezzo-soprano, was a standout in the key role of Idamante, which she not only sang well but acted with unflagging concentration and conviction. She was beautifully matched by the Austrian singer Genia Kuhmeier, a completely believable Ilia, who looked and sang just as a Mozartian soprano should. Kurt Streit has a well-deserved reputation for this role as Idomeneo. His anguish and anger at Neptune were completely convincing. Alek Shrader as Abace stood as a peer with the principals, though he is only 25 years old – about the age of Mozart when the opera was finished. Iano Tamar as Elettra sang expressively of her unrequited love for Idamante. Hers is not a big voice, however, and she was swamped in the third act quartet.
There is a good deal of great choral music in Idomeneo and the chorus excelled. Design-wise, the set and costumes emulated the 18th century and how the 18th century might have conceived of ancient Greece. The mix worked well. The set was suitably archaic looking, with fragments of classical pediments strewn about. The scene of the ruins from the monster’s depredations had a delicious hint of Italian futurism about it. In short, the production was a success that in many ways transcended the limitations of the stilted opera seria genre.
Boris Godunov offers another troubled ruler. At the beginning of his reign as tsar, Boris prays, “may I be good and just like Thee.” This does not appear, however, to be something God can grant or Boris’s conscience allow – because his reign is based upon an act of murder. Unlike Idomeneo, who was only willing to sacrifice someone for himself, Boris actually did so in having the Tsarevich Dimitri killed so that he, Boris, could rule. The consequences of this horrible deed are played out in this original 1869 version of Mussorgsky’s opera.
This is one of the truly great portraits of a tortured soul. It is made all the more moving because Boris actually tries to be a good ruler and a good father to his son Fyodor and his daughter Xenia. All is for naught. The opera teaches that regime change cannot be based upon regicide. Boris’s act inevitably gives rise to a pretender, Grigory, a renegade monk who tries to pass himself off as Dimitri, who had been killed 12 years earlier at the age of 7. The appearance of the pretender intensifies Boris’s anguish to the point that he begins to hallucinate; the murdered child appears to him in one of the great ghost scenes of opera. “Oh cruel conscience, too savagely you punish me,” cries out Boris.
Before Boris goes mad, he delivers a prayer for “my innocent children.” That this scene and its music can bring tears to one’s eyes is a measure of Mussorgsky’s achievement in presenting the full scope of Boris’s tragedy by showing Boris in his full, though flawed humanity. In counseling his son, he sings, “Keep your conscience clear for it will be your power and strength.” In other words, no one realizes better than Boris that the good order of the ruler’s soul is the foundation of his political strength.
I have not seen Samuel Ramey since he sang Mefistofele 20 years ago at the SF Opera. He was still a young man then. Now he is 66 years old. It seemed to tell a bit in the coronation scene when his voice wobbled a bit. However, that was the only hint, for he had no trouble rising to the big scenes or in delivering a truly searing and terribly moving portrayal of Boris. He has a tremendous sense of stage presence, and his nuanced portrait of the increasing toll Boris’s conscience takes on him was haunting. From the point at which Prince Shuisky tells him of the pretender through to Boris’s death, Ramey was riveting. He played the prayer scene with heartbreaking authenticity. The scene in which the holy fool refuses to pray for Boris because he is “Tsar Herod” was joltingly effective.
The rest of the principals were outstanding as well. John Uhlenhopp as Prince Shuisky was the incarnation of unctuous treachery. Vsevolod Grivnov was superb as Grigory, the pretender, with almost a nasal whine in his voice from envy. Russian bass Vladimir Ognovenko almost stole the show with his performance as Varlaam, the vagabond monk. I was not surprised to see in his bio that he has sung Boris.
The set was stark simplicity itself – a raked stage that wraps up in the rear to the ceiling, and out of which doors opened for various entrances and exits. The gray setting put everything else in high relief. It made the appearance of the icons and rich court costumes in the coronation scene all the more impressive. In a nice touch of irony, Boris was dressed in shocking white. The general darkness and lighting were entirely appropriate to the interior drama that was being played out. The orchestra and chorus once again covered themselves in glory, this time under Russian conductor Vassily Sinaisky.
It seems there is no escaping the connection between the order of the soul and the order of the city. As good a reminder for why we go to the opera, as it is a guide for our own lives.
(Idomeneo plays again on October 28th and 31st, Boris on October 30th, November 2nd, 4th, 7th, 12th, and 15th.)
Robert R. Reilly

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Today's Birthday in Music: October 29 (Vickers)

1926 - Jon Vickers, Prince Albert, Canada; opera and concert tenor

Biography (Encyclopedia of Music in Canada)
Interview

Jon Vickers sings:

 "In des Lebens" from Beethoven's Fidelio


"Comfort Ye, My People" from Handel's Messiah (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Thomas Beecham, 1959)

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Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: October 28 (Naida Cole)

1974 - Naida Cole, Toronto, Canada; pianist

Naida Cole website
Biography

Naida Cole plays Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (NHK Symphony Orchestra, conducted by George Judd, Tokyo, 2003)

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Monday, 27 October 2008

Today's Birthday: October 27 (Paganini)

1782 - Niccolò Paganini, Genoa, Italy; violinist, violist, guitarist, composer

Wikipedia
Legendary violinists

Jascha Heifetz plays Caprice No. 24 (accompanist Emanuel Bay)


Leonid Kogan plays Paganini's variations on the theme "Di tanti palpiti" from Rossini's Tancredi

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Sunday, 26 October 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: October 26 (D. Scarlatti)

1685 - Domenico Scarlatti, Naples, Italy; composer

Wikipedia
Baroque composers

Luc Beauséjour plays Scarlatti's Sonata in d minor, K. 1


Sinfonia in C major: allegrissimo (Europa Galante, directed by Fabio Biondi)

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Saturday, 25 October 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: October 25 (Bizet, J. Strauss II)

1838 - Georges Bizet, Paris, France; composer and pianist

Wikipedia
Grove's Dictionary biography

Julia Migenes Johnson sings the Habanera from Carmen (1985 film)


Minuet from L'Arlésienne Suite No. 2 (Bulent Evcil, flute, with the Instanbul State Symphony Orchestra)



1825 - Johann Strauss II, Vienna, Austria; violinist, conductor, composer

Wikipedia

Herbert von Karajan conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in "Unter Donner und Blitz" (New Year's Eve concert, Vienna 1987)


Kiri Te Kanawa sings "Klange der Heimat" (Czsárdás) from Die Fledermaus (Covent Garden 1984, Placido Domingo conducting)

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Friday, 24 October 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: October 24 (Gobbi, Studer)

1913 - Tito Gobbi, Bassano del Grappa, Italy; opera baritone

Wikipedia
Associazione musicale Tito Gobbi

Tito Gobbi and Maria Callas perform the final scene of Act II of Puccini's Tosca (Covent Garden, 1964)


Gobbi sings "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1956, Carlo Maria Giulini
conducting)



1955 - Cheryl Studer, Midland, Michigan, U.S.A.; opera soprano

Wikipedia
Home page

Cheryl Studer sings "Allmacht Ge Junfrau" from Wagner's Tannhäuser (Bayreuth, 1990)

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Thursday, 23 October 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: October 23 (Lortzing, Rorem)

1801 - Albert Lortzing, Berlin, Germany; composer, actor and singer

Wikipedia
Albert Lortzing website

"Heil, sei dem Tag" from Zar und Zimmerman (with Hans Sotin; Hamburg State Opera production, conductor Charles Mackerras, 1969)



1923 - Ned Rorem, Richmond, Indiana, U.S.A.; composer

Wikipedia
Official website

Rorem's Romeo and Juliet for flute and guitar, 8th mvt. (Ryu Cipris, flute, and Max Zuckerman, guitar, Baltimore, 2006)


Anne Hogan sings three songs by Ned Rorem (Dublin, 2008)

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Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: October 22 (Liszt)

1811 - Franz Liszt, Raiding, Hungary; pianist and composer

Wikipedia

Claudio Arrau plays "Jeux d'eau à la Villa d'Este" from Les Années de Pèlerinage (Boston, 1983)


Martha Argerich plays Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1, 1st mvt. (Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnanyi conducting, Berlin 1981)

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Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: October 21 (Canteloube, Solti)

1879 - Joseph Canteloube, Annonay, France; composer

Wikipedia

Kiri Te Kanawa sings "Bailero" from Chants d'Auvergne (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Carl Davis conducting, London 1989)



1912 - Georg Solti, Budapest, Hungary; conductor

Wikipedia
Official website

Solti conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra in Beethoven's Egmont overture (Cagliari, Italy, 1996)

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Monday, 20 October 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: October 20 (Ives, Pogorelić)

1874 - Charles Ives, Danbury, U.S.A.; composer

Charles Ives Society official website

The Unanswered Question (New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein conducting; William Vacchiano solo trumpet)



1958 - Ivo Pogorelić, Belgrade, Serbia; pianist

Wikipedia

Pogorelić plays Chopin's Polonaise Op. 44

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Sunday, 19 October 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: October 19 (Gilels)

1916 - Emil Gilels, Odessa, Ukraine; pianist

Biography and pictures

Emil Gilels plays:

Prokofiev's Sonata No. 3, Op. 28 (live at the Moscow Conservatory, 1978)


Tchaikovsky's Piano Concert No. 1, 3rd mvt. (conductor Zubin Mehta, New York 1979)

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Saturday, 18 October 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: October 18 (W. Marsalis)

1961 - Wynton Marsalis, New Orleans, U.S.A.; classical and jazz trumpeter, composer

Wikipedia

Wynton Marsalis and Kathleen Battle perform Handel's "Eternal Source of Light Divine"


Wynton Marsalis performs with the Lincoln Center Orchestra

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Friday, 17 October 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: October 17 (Panerai, Howells)

1924 - Rolando Panerai, Campi Bisenzio, Italy; opera baritone

Wikipedia

Rolando Panerai and Margherita Rinaldi sing "Sì, vendetta" from Verdi's Rigoletto (1969)



1892 - Herbert Howells, Lydney, England; composer, organist, teacher

Wikipedia
Short biography and picture

"Saviour of the World" and "Eternal Rest" from Howells's Requiem (Segovia, Spain, 2007)

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Thursday, 16 October 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: October 16 (Alsop, Hvorostovsky)

1956 - Marin Alsop, New York, U.S.A.; conductor

Wikipedia
Official website

"The Maestra Begins" (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra webumentary)



1962 - Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Krasnoyarsk, Siberia; opera and concert baritone

Official website

Dmitri Hvorostovsky sings "In the silence of the night" by Rachmaninov

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Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Norgard: String Quartets 7, 8, 9 and 10

The Kroger Quartet
Dacapo 8.226059 (70 min 54 s)
***** $$$$

La notion de postmodernisme musical est immanquablement liée, dans l’esprit des mélomanes comme des professionnels, aux diverses musiques « néo-modales » récentes de Glass, Pärt ou Gorecki. Mais d’autres compositeurs relativement faciles d'écoute et indéniablement postmodernes se réclament de l’avant-garde post-sérielle dont ils sont issus. Pensons à Vivier, Ligeti ou Takemitsu dans leurs œuvres tardives. Per Norgard est de ceux-là. Quarts de tons, glissandi continus, intervalles disjoints, doubles-cordes sul ponticello, voix doublant les instruments, voilà autant de techniques modernistes auxquelles il a recours dans ces Quatuors. Pourtant, cette musique dégage un calme étrange, mi-introspectif mi-résigné, qui s’avère aussi touchant que typique. Et les talentueux Kroger travaillant en étroite collaboration avec Norgard depuis des années, les difficultés techniques de ces pages de musique se sont transmuées en poésie.

- René Bricault

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Today's Birthday in Music: October 15 (K. Richter)

1926 - Karl Richter, Plausen, Germany; conductor, organist, harpsichordist

Biography and pictures

Karl Richter plays:

J.S. Bach's Toccata in G minor, BWV 915


Excerpt from Handel's Organ Concerto, Op. 4, No. 1 (with the Munich Bach Orchestra, 1971)


Karl Richter directs the Munich Bach Choir and Orchestra in "Kommt, ihr Töchter" from J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion

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Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Tavener: Piano music

Ralph van Raat, piano
Naxos 8.570442 (61 min)
*** $

Les oeuvres pour piano de Tavener, malgré l'extrême diversité qu'elles présentent à l'égard de la durée, du style, de la forme, et même de la qualité, ont des traits typiquement surexploités à notre époque: absence de développement macrocosmique, pastiche, répétitions, références néo-tonales. Palin fait exception. De loin la plus intéressante pièce du recueil, et la plus ancienne, elle joue non seulement avec une forme palindromique (« en miroir », d’où le titre), mais aussi avec le contraste entre d’obsessifs unissons répétés et des nuages d’accords atonaux délicatement arpégés. Pour ceux qui apprécient l’approche pianistique du jeune van Raat, sachez qu’il se trouve au sommet de sa forme, et offre sans doute là sa meilleure prestation sur disque à ce jour.

- René Bricault

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Bach : Motets BWV 225-230

Nederlands Kamerkoor / Peter DijkstraChannel Classics SACD 27108 (67 min 4 s)
****** $$$$

Un grand chef de chœur est né : le Néerlandais Peter Dijkstra, chef invité depuis deux ans du Nederlands Kamerkoor fondé en 1937. On a rarement entendu un ensemble de 26 personnes chanter avec une justesse et une unanimité telles que chacune des quatre parties semble ne compter qu’une voix ! Au delà de la pureté décantée généralement recherchée dans ces œuvres (par Herreweghe, notamment), la ferveur religieuse est aussi évidente que la somptuosité vocale qui en émane. Le chef explique qu’il s'en est tenu à la basse continue (orgue et violoncelle), de façon à laisser s’épanouir la ligne vocale comme s’il s’agissait d’un chant a cappella, mettant du même coup en relief chaque mot du texte. À cet égard, on est tout de suite saisi par les trois komm distincts qui ouvrent le motet BWV 229 « Komm, Jesu, komm ». Le mot s’inscrit chaque fois dans un espace merveilleusement capté et une émotion approfondie par la répétition. On reste rivé à sa place dans l’attente de la suite, où rien ne déçoit.

- Alexandre Lazaridès

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Today's Birthday in Music: October 14 (Zemlinsky)

1871 - Alexander von Zemlinsky, Vienna, Austria; composer and conductor

Wikipedia
Alexander Zemlinsky Foundation website

Sonata for Cello and Piano in A minor, 2nd mvt. (Norman Fischer, cello and Jeanne Kierman, piano at Rice University)


Extract from Zemlinsky's opera Es War Einmal


Frühlingsbegräbnis, cantata for soprano, baritone, mixed chorus and orchestra (Junge Philharmonie Zentralschweiz, Akademiechor Luzern, conductor Thüring Bräm, Zug, Switzerland, 2006)

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Monday, 13 October 2008

Met in HD: Salome




Karita Mattila as Salome frolicking with the head of Jochanaan in the Final Scene

Photo: Marty Sohl





Following the glittery opening gala with Renee Fleming, the Met in HD season came up with a real blockbuster - Karita Mattila in the title role of Salome. The Finnish soprano created a sensation at the Met in 2004 when she took it all off at the end of the Dance of the Seven Veils. Reportedly videotaped for telecast at the time, it never made it to the home screen, nor anywhere else for that matter. Given that nudity is such a big deal in America - remember the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction"? - perhaps one shouldn't be too surprised that management had cold feet.

So when it was announced that the 2008-9 Met in HD season included a reprise of Mattila as Salome, I for one was curious to see how the Met would handle the nudity issue. Peter Gelb announced beforehand that there would be no nudity shown to the movie audience. The opera house audience, on the other hand, got to see a split second of Mattila in the buff, before attendants hastily wrapped her up in a black robe. For a nanosecond, the cinema audience caught her bare back, before she turned around coyly covering her bosom. The camera lens then discreetly switched to focus on something much less interesting. Frankly, what's the big fuss all about? Afterall this is the 21st Century, and nudity in opera is old news! Both Deborah Voigt and Catherine Malfitano as Salome took it all off, albeit with a flesh coloured body suit. Maria Ewing did them one better, ie., no body suit. Just last July at the Munich Opera Festival, I saw Angela Denoke sang a good five minutes or longer completely topless, and the audience didn't blink an eye....

What of the actual performance? In a single word - stupendous. Mattila fully embodies Salome musically and dramatically. Strauss was quoted as saying the ideal Salome should have the body of a 16 year old and the voice of an Isolde. No fortysomething can be expected to look like a teenager, and Mattila, now considerably more zaftig than four years ago when she last sang the Judean princess at the Met, certainly does not. It makes no difference - one is blown away by her total commitment to the role. I have never seen a more fearless and unselfconscious Salome. She was not shy to show off her flexibility, at one point doing the split like she did in Manon Lescaut last February. At one point in the Dance, with Mattila being hoisted by chorus boys, I felt like I was watching a Broadway musical. There were no holding back vocally by Mattila either. This kind of " singing with one's capital" is a little worrisome, but the voice is in such remarkable shape that there's never any fear that she would not make it. Her Salome was a complex and endlessly fascinating mix of the worldly and the naive, the calculating and the innocent. It was a performance for the ages.

Others in the cast rose to the occasion as well. I was particularly impressed with the Herod of Kim Begley, who sang the role with more beauty of tone than I have encountered previously. Herod is one of those roles often assigned to long-in-the-tooth tenors in the downside of a career, so it was good to hear it sung, not yelled. However at one point he did sound tired, but fortunately, a long rest during the Final Scene allowed him to rally and end impressively. Finnish bass-baritone Juha Uusitalo used his burly voice and equally rugged appearance to good effect. Canadian tenor Joseph Kaiser was a clarion-voiced and unusually involved Narraboth in his several scenes with Mattila. Dressed to kill, Hungarian mezzo Ildiko Komlosi did well in the thankless role of Herodias. All the smaller roles were well taken. The conducting of Patrick Summers was impressive, bringing out all the fire and brimstone in the score while not overlooking the quieter, truly spine-tingling moments. His conducting here was equal to the spectacular Salome I saw with Kent Nagano last July. The "updated" sets and costumes are sort of par for the course when it comes to Regietheater productions these days, although some of the action contradict the text. The ending has an unusual twist - when Herod commands "Kill that woman", Salome willingly submits to the sword.

Because it was a single act piece, there were no intermission features, only a short intro by Deborah Voigt. I thought it was a little bizarre that Mattila didn't respond at first to attempts by Voigt for a pre-curtain interview - was this real or a set-up? In any case, I don't blame Mattila- who wants to talk moments before singing such a grueling role? I saw the show at the Cinema #1 Scotiabank Theatres in downtown Toronto. Everything went off without a hitch. Next up - Doctor Atomic with Canada's own Gerald Finley on November 8th.

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Le Cabaret du soir qui penche

Guy Mauffette, concepteur et animateur
Gala Records Gal-111 (67 min 56 s)
***** $$$

Nombreux sont ceux qui ont gardé la nostalgie du « Cabaret du soir qui penche », l’émission hebdomadaire diffusée entre 1960 et 1973 par la radio de Radio-Canada et qu’animait - dans le plein sens du mot : donner une âme - le regretté Guy Mauffette. Mauffette s’est éteint le 30 juin 2005 à l’âge de 90 ans. Sa voix, un rien étouffée mais habitée par toute sorte de nuances, symbolisait pour ses fidèles auditeurs le Québec culturel naissant de l'époque. Plutôt que de restituer une émission en particulier, ce disque propose une anthologie où se croisent les interventions poétiques, humoristiques, méditatives de Mauffette, des chansons (Brassens, Leclerc, Ferré, Ferland), un texte de Sacha Guitry, des morceaux de Mozart et Kreisler, sans oublier « Petite fleur » de Sidney Béchet, le lancinant indicatif de l’émission. Les notes de programme, très substantielles, sont signées Renée Legris; les accompagnent un poème et des croquis de Mauffette ainsi qu’une « chronologie sélective » complète. Quelque chose de la magie du « Cabaret » s’est peut-être perdu ici, mais on retrouvera avec émotion l’atmosphère des samedis soir d’antan.

- Alexandre Lazaridès

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Ravel: Shéhérazade / Debussy: Proses Lyriques / Dvorak: Song to the Moon, Rusalka

Marianne Fiset, soprano; Marie-Ève Scarfone, piano
Orchestre de la francophonie canadienne / Jean-Philippe Tremblay
Analekta AN2 8761 (45m 38s)
**** $$$

Soprano Marianne Fiset was propelled to fame in a most dramatic way last year, when she won the Grand Prize of the Montreal International Music Competition, as well as the Jean Chalmers Prize for the best Canadian artist, the Joseph Rouleau Prize for the best artist from Quebec, the Poulenc French Song Award and the People's Choice Award – talk about a clean sweep! That magical evening, the audience was swept away by the beauty of her tone and her impeccable musicality. Part of her win involved a debut recording contract. Here we have the result – she sings Ravel's popular Shéhérazade and Debussy's Proses Lyriques, with the famous “Song to the Moon” from Dvorak's Rusalka thrown in as a bonus.

The centerpiece of this disc is the Ravel cycle. The tessitura of Sheherazade, often sung by mezzos, is quite low. However, it does not pose any difficulty for Fiset's lyric voice, which is remarkably even throughout its range. This cycle, together with the four Debussy songs, shows off her purity of tone and sweet timbre. Given that Fiset is at the beginning of her career, she naturally excels in pure vocalism while still having a way to go in interpretative nuance, which I am sure will come with maturity and more stage experience. As well, one wishes for a bit more chiaroscuro in her singing. Marie-Eve Scarfone is a sympathetic and supportive collaborative pianist. But the most enjoyable piece is the aria from Rusalka, which she sings here as gorgeously as she did at the Competition. At 45 minutes, this disc is lamentably short – it could easily have included more operatic arias, such as her “Dove sono” from Le nozze di Figaro. Still, this is an auspicious debut disc and, let's hope, first of many to come.

- Joseph K. So

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Schubert : Sehnsucht

Matthias Goerne, baryton; Elisabeth Leonskaja, piano
Harmonia Mundi HMC901988 (65 min 05 s)
***** $$$$

Le titre de ce premier volume d’une éventuelle « Édition Schubert de Matthias Goerne » (Sehnsucht ou « Désir », emprunté à un lied composé sur un texte de Schiller) semble annoncer une anthologie thématique. Goerne a enregistré Schubert chez d’autres éditeurs, dont un Winterreise où s'est révélée une perception assez singulière de l’univers schubertien (Hyperion, 1997). La voix n’y est pas « belle », mais le baryton allemand en use avec une habileté et une sensibilité très fines rappelant spontanément Fischer-Dieskau, l'un de ses maîtres à chanter. Plus de dix ans après, la voix s’est assombrie, et Goerne la manie avec un art encore plus subtil. Quinze lieder écrits entre 1814 et 1828 sur des textes de Mayrhofer, von Leitner, Schiller et Goethe - de « An Emma » D.113 au long et magnifique « Der Winterabend » D. 938 – évoquent ici une quête d’absolu en des tableaux qui deviennent méditation sur la nature et la destinée humaine. Dès la première minute, on est conquis, dans le monde idéal entrevu, ailleurs. La grande Leonskaja est une partenaire idéale.

- Alexandre Lazaridès

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Vivaldi : Orlando Furioso

Anne Desler, Marina De Liso, Lucia Sciannimanico, mezzo-soprano; Nicki Kennedy, soprano; Luca Dordolo, tenor; Thierry Gregoire, alto; Martin Kronthaler, baryton-basse
Coro da Camera Italiano & Modo Antiquo / Federico Maria Sardelli

Cpo 777 095-2 (3CD : 166 min 53 s)
***** $$$$

L’extraordinaire série d’enregistrements des opéras de Vivaldi se poursuit chez Naïve. Voici Orlando Furioso, « drame musical » datant de 1727, l’un des plus grands chefs-d’œuvre de l’histoire de l'art lyrique. Vivaldi enrichit d'une musique complexe et vibrante d’originalité une trame scénique assez typique du genre. Son génie mélodique est à son plus haut niveau de maturité et les interprètes, sans être très connus, sont tous excellents. Cette version intégrale dure près de 170 minutes. Un enregistrement très important, donc, pour mieux connaître et surtout mieux apprécier l’histoire de l’opéra baroque.

- Frédéric Cardin

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The man who said **** to TV

My big hero of the financial crash is Marcel Reich-Ranicki who, given an achievement award on German's second TV channel, ZDF, thrust it back at the presenter and denounced the whole of public television as 'rubbish'.

Reich-Ranicki, 88, is Germany's foremost literary critic and, as a result of his hour-long weekly discussion programme on the screen, a national figure. No respecter of reputations, he has fallen out with every leading author from Gunter Grass down when their books fell below his exalted standards. Now he has publicly bitten the hand that fed him - and the result is an attack of rabies panic among German media bosses.

In an effort to mitigate the shock of rejection, the awards show host Thomas Gottschalk offered to stage a televised debate between Reich-Ranicki and the heads of public television - an offer accepted with alacrity by the executives and, after appropriate reflection, by the critic himself. That is going to be one fun show.

The focus of Reich-Ranicki's attack was on the dumbing down of public broadcasting, the reliance on reality shows, talent contests and talentless celebrities. Gottschalk admitted in a subsequent interview that if television were made to the critic's rules, he would be unemployed.

Beyond the confines of a German spat, however, this has lessons for all of us who ply a trade in the creative arts. All my writing life, I have accepted persuasion from publishers and career makers to go on TV whenever asked, and on the BBC without a second thought. Now, I hardly ever accept without strict guarantees.

Television has become a dishonest medium, distorting facts to fit the visual image and contorting ideas into cliche. Information programmes, so called, are voyeuristic garbage and even sport has been subsumed by the cult of celebrity.

The time has come for all creative people to join the Reich-Ranicki rally and denounce public television for the rubbish it is - until the dustcarts come along and the act is cleaned up.

Let's all say No to TV.

Sign below to join the rally. 

Source: Artsjournal

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Today's Birthday in Music: October 13 (L. Mitchell)

1949 - Leona Mitchell, Enid, Oklahoma, U.S.A.; opera soprano

Wikipedia
African American Registry biography

Leona Mitchell sings:

"Je dis rien que rien ne m'épouvante" from Bizet's Carmen (Metropolitan Opera, 1987)


"O patria mia" from Verdi's Aida (1995)

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Sunday, 12 October 2008

Capital Brassworks : Gabriel’s Sister

Karen Donnelly, trompette; Capital Brassworks / Alain Cazes
Capital Brassworks Records
**** $$$

Formé d'une quinzaine de musiciens, dont bon nombre font partie de l’Orchestre du Centre national des arts (CNA), l’ensemble de cuivres Capital Brassworks est devenu depuis sa création en 1999 une institution musicale importante à Ottawa.

Son dernier enregistrement met à l'honneur la trompettiste canadienne Karen Donnelly, soliste de l’Orchestre du CNA depuis 1996. À la trompette piccolo, au cornet à piston comme au flugelhorn, Mme Donnelly se révèle ici une interprète d’un raffinement extrême. Tout y est. Le son, au vibrato bien dosé, est toujours lyrique et chaleureux. L'étourdissante virtuosité ne vise pas à épater la galerie mais sert toujours la musique. Et sur ce fond d'intense musicalité se déploie un répertoire très varié : œuvres pour brass bands du 19e siècle, airs d’opéra romantiques, chanson des Beatles, musique latine, ballades…

Un choix qui fait briller la soliste, mais qui confine souvent l’ensemble de cuivres dans un rôle d’accompagnateur. Capital Brassworks, dirigé ici par Alain Cazes, l’éminent chef et pédagogue montréalais, révèle toutefois de belles qualités (jeu d’ensemble, justesse, richesse de son), que gênent à peine de rares coquilles, par exemple chez les cors dans le Trumpet Voluntary. On peut néanmoins reprocher au disque une austérité excessive, un manque de relief; la sobriété de la soliste dans Napoli et Tico Tico, notamment, appelle quelques explosions d’énergie, plus d'étincelles, quoi.

- Louis-Pierre Bergeron

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Debussy : Complete Works for Piano, Volume 3

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano
Chandos CHAN 10467 (71 min 54 s)
***** $$$$

L’auditeur sent d'emblée la présence d’un maître du clavier qui sait camoufler parfaitement la mécanique sous la musique qu’il en tire. Et comme la prise de son est ici à la hauteur de l'exécution, le plaisir est double. Le troisième volume de l’intégrale des œuvres pour piano de Debussy par Jean-Efflam Bavouzet comprend des pages qu’on peut qualifier de mineures, la plupart datant du début des années 1890 (Nocturne, Rêverie, Mazurka, etc.), et d’autres bien inscrites au contraire dans le répertoire (Suite bergamasque, Arabesques, Children’s Corner). Toutes cependant sont traitées par le pianiste avec la même rigoureuse recherche du son ample et profond. Dans un programme plus composite qu’il n’en a l’air, cela crée une unité sonore témoignant d'un talent affirmé. On pourra cependant exprimer des réserves à l’égard d’une dynamique certes généreuse, mais qui ignore les dégradés et les effets de pédale qu’un Arrau, un Zimerman ou un Michelangeli ont trouvés, de leur côté, pour transmettre subtilement les variations atmosphériques propres à Debussy.

- Alexandre Lazaridès

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Mahler: Symphony no. 6

Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Bernard Haitink
CSO-Resound SACD 901807 (2 CD : 90 min 41 s)
**** $$$$

Heureusement, ou peut-être malheureusement, Bernard Haitink se retient de tomber ici dans les élucubrations psychologiques ou les épanchements passionnels. S'il existe une musique où ce risque est partout présent, c'est bien l'univers symphonique de Mahler, en particulier sa « tragique » Sixième. Haitink offre au contraire à l'auditeur une lecture d'une parfaite intelligence musicale. Bien malin celui qui dénicherait une version de cette symphonie où les décisions spécifiques du chef s’intègrent aussi naturellement à la structure globale de l’œuvre. Et si peu de mahlériens mettront ce disque au premier rang de leur palmarès personnel, tous auront intérêt, ne serait-ce que pour approfondir leur discernement musical, à en faire une écoute très attentive. L’étiquette « personnelle » de l’orchestre de Chicago rivalise ici d’ingéniosité en matière de captation sonore.

- René Bricault

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Mahler: Symphony No. 7

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic / Gerard Schwarz
Artek AR00432 (76 min)
** $$$$

Pauvre Philharmonique de Liverpool. Les musiciens se démènent comme ils peuvent pour réaliser une interprétation… qui ne veut rien dire. En effet, Schwarz cherche systématiquement un tempo précis et différent pour chaque nouveau motif au début de l'œuvre, ce qui détruit la continuité narrative tout en empêchant les musiciens de s'exprimer avec passion – pour ensuite abandonner l'idée et garder un rythme aussi constant que monotone (on songe en particulier ici à la fin du 3e mouvement). En voulant à tout prix imprimer sa personnalité à la Septième, le chef obtient exactement le contraire. De plus, la qualité de l'enregistrement, malgré sa louable précision, manque de fondu, de brillance, bref d'un mastering digne de ce nom.

- René Bricault

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Anthem Challenge Winner is Canadian Gold

Colin Oberst's Canadian Gold is the new Hockey Night in Canada Theme the CBC announced last night on national TV following thousand of public votes. Oberst collects a cheque for $100,000 and half of the lifetime royalties, with the other 50 per cent invested by the CBC in minor hockey across the country.

Obertst's final version was produced by Bob Rock who added the celtic bagpipe opening. Some commenters expressed dissatisfaction with the Rock's version. Listening to both the final and original versions, I find that the original without the bagpipe intro more effective.

Listen:
Previous news: HNIC Anthem Challenge Themes Not up to the Original

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Today's Birthdays in Music: October 12 (Vaughan Williams, Pavarotti)

1872 - Ralph Vaughan Williams, Down Ampney, England; composer

Wikipedia
Ralph Vaughan Williams Society webpage

VaughanWilliams Symphony No. 6.  Colin Davis conducts the Juillard Orchestra and the Royal Academy of Music Orchestra (BBC Promenade Concert, 2005)


"The Lark Ascending" (Jean Pougnet, violin; London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Adrian Boult; 1950 recording)



1935 - Luciano Pavarotti, Modena, Italy; opera and concert tenor

Wikipedia

Luciano Pavarotti sings:

"Ah mes amis" from Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment (live Metropolitan Opera performance, 1972/73 season)


"Marechiare" by Tosti (with James Levine at the piano; recorded at the Metropolitan Opera House, 1988)

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Saturday, 11 October 2008

Naturally Beethoven

Les Vents de Montréal / André Moisan; David DQ Lee, contre-ténor; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, piano
ATMA Classique ACD2 3004
***** $

Atma Classique lançait récemment la collection Naturally, une série de six disques présentés dans un emballage éco-responsable de carton recyclé. Si ce soudain élan vert est prétexte à la réédition à prix modique d’excellents disques du catalogue, tant mieux !
Naturally Beethoven propose du maître allemand une sélection hors du commun, en majorité des œuvres arrangées pour ensemble de neuf instruments à vent (hautbois, clarinettes, bassons et cors par paire, et contrebasson). Autorisée par le compositeur lui-même, la présente version de la Symphonie no 7, op. 92 révèle ce chef-d’œuvre sous un jour nouveau. L’ensemble à vent s’avère le véhicule parfait pour capter l’énergie, la fièvre de cette musique que Richard Wagner a appelée une « apothéose de la danse » et Romain Rolland, une « orgie de rythme ». Il met en valeur toute une variété de dynamiques et de timbres que l'oreille a normalement du mal à distinguer dans la masse sonore du grand orchestre. Les bassons et contrebasson, entre autres, émettent des sonorités d’outre-tombe qui colorent parfaitement la marche funèbre du deuxième mouvement. Rarement aurons-nous entendu une 7e si bien rythmée, si enlevée, si acrobatique !

Le Septuor, op. 20 pour vents et cordes (ici dans un arrangement pour vents seulement) s’inscrit, avec sa structure en 6 mouvements, dans la lignée des divertimenti de Haydn et de Mozart. Voilà un Beethoven jeune, imaginatif et confiant, dont la musique ne laisse en rien présager le compositeur tourmenté des années ultérieures. Les Vents de Montréal, sous la direction d’André Moisan, montrent ici leur folle virtuosité et un sens de l’ensemble et de la justesse remarquables. Une mention à Simon Aldrich pour la belle cadence du finale. En complément de disque, on trouvera deux mélodies pour contre-ténor rarement entendues. David DQ Lee et Yannick Nézet-Séguin, qui l'accompagne au piano, s’y révèlent de sensibles interprètes. Lee possède une belle voix, bien conduite dans les piani, et Nézet-Séguin réussit à tirer de la partie de piano relativement simple une singulière profondeur.

- Louis-Pierre Bergeron

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Nielsen: String quartets vol. 2

The Young Danish String Quartet
Dacapo SACD 6.220522 (63 min 59 s)
***** $$$$

Le Young Danish String Quartet avait épaté la critique avec son premier volume des quatuors de Nielsen. Ce deuxième volume est un triomphe qui vient confirmer les mérites exceptionnels du quatuor et deviendra sous peu la nouvelle version de référence. Tous les éléments convergent ici pour forger un équilibre presque parfait des textures polyphoniques. Interprètes et techniciens de son se montrent également sensibles aux timbres individuels et au fondu collectif. Les exubérants Young Danish se sont soigneusement préparés, cela est manifeste dans la précision partout présente, notamment lors des difficiles changements métriques et des passages rapides. La qualité de la conception formelle et l’intelligence du phrasé méritent également des éloges. Ajoutez à cela l’habituel régal auditif du Super Audio, et voilà une indiscutable réussite musicale.

- René Bricault

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Launch Pad

Penderecki String Quartet
Centrediscs CMCCD 13308 (71 min)
**** $$$

After three decades together, the Penderecki String Quartet has released its first full album of new Canadian composing. “Launch Pad” features the works of five composers, written between 1999 and 2006. Laurie Radford’s Everything We See in the Sky was written for string quartet and digital signal processing. This piece explores energy, volume, and emotion through a wide variety of technical and tonal techniques. The first sounds on the piece are jumpy, dissonant chords played over atonal runs, which creates an aharmonic glissando effect in all the instruments of the quartet. Pitor Grella-Mozejko’s The Secret Garden (Music for Agnieszka Hollan), and Daniel Janke’s String Quartet No. 1 provide colour, but are not as powerful as the closing track, Jeffrey Ryan’s String Quartet No. 3 sonata distorta. This piece was written for Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata, a tale of jealousy and murder surrounding two musicians and lovers performing Beethoven’s works. Ryan uses melodic motifs to create feelings of love, jealousy, and madness, playing with themes from Beethoven to tie the music to the story. Overall, “Launch Pad” is a well-constructed album marked with unique and musically intriguing moments.

- Andrew Buziak

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Arts Cuts Explained in Gazette

Arthur Kaptainis, writing in today's Montreal Gazette, explains some of the impact of the Conservative government's Arts Cuts, especially championing the $4.7 million PromArt program:
I can live without the Canadian Memory Fund, and so can you. Cutting PromArt, however, is bad policy. By all means keep it in mind Tuesday

Kaptainis also takes issue with the $3.8 million for culture.ca:
Another big line item is $3.8 million for culture.ca, an online encyclopedia of Canadian culture broadly defined (wildlife photo galleries, family genealogies and homework tips, as well as arts links). Quite a nifty site, though not something I would expect to gobble so much money. Anyway, you have probably never heard of it.

We have heard of it, and three years ago, we participated in a discussion they organized for an online arts events database, which would have made it more relevant. LSM's online classical music calendar is the largest Canadian database on the arts events, and we were ready to lend our expertise. Sadly, those plans never materialized, although there was talk of a partnership with the Canada Council. Kaptainis probably has never heard of culture.ca because of poor marketing. Culture.ca was initially rolled out with billboard advertising, but there was no sustained marketing in arts publications or PR to arts writers.

Kaptainis however takes to task Margaret Atwood:
Her acceptance speech in Montreal after winning the $10,000 Blue Metropolis International Literary Grand Prix in April 2007 was a similar fulmination against the supposedly troglodyte tendencies of the Harper government. That speech came a day or two after the same government announced a $30-million hike to the annual budget of the pre-eminent arts fund, the Canada Council. My impression then was that the great lady was not aware of the news, widely enough reported. My belief now is she does not care.

My feeling is that Atwood cared about the Canada Council, and the fact that then Heritage Minister Bev Oda did not honour the promises she made during the 2006 election campaign to honour the $300 million increase to the Canada Council budget that the Martin government had made before calling the election.

- Wah Keung Chan

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HNIC Anthem Challenge Themes Not up to the Original

CBC's process to select the new Hockey Night in Canada Theme is coming to an end. On Thursday, October 9, the two finalists were announced on CBC-TV. Beaumont, Alberta elementary school music teacher Colin Oberst's Canadian Gold goes up against 13-year-old Toronto, Ontario native, Robert Fraser Burke's Sticks to the Ice.

On repeat listen, neither theme possesses the immediate attention grabbing feel of the original HNIC theme, now being used on CTV. My choice is Canadian Gold for its celtic feel bag-piped opening. However, it's melodic themes in the middle section reminds me of the opening music for a western TV series, of riding a horse over a mountain range, and not the excitement of a hockey match. Although Sticks to the Ice has a viable trumpet melody, it comes only mid-way in the 52 sec composition; the slow build opening renders it ineffective as an effective hockey theme.

The winner of the CBC Anthem Challenge, which ended at midnight Oct 10 from public vote, will be announced tonight (Oct. 11) on Hockey Night in Canada. The telecasts so far has been very professional and makes for good TV. Given the superiority of the original theme, the CBC may want to make this Anthem Challenge an annual event.

- Wah Keung Chan

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Today's Birthdays in Music: October 11 (De Lucia, Bridgetower)

1860 - Fernando De Lucia, Naples, Italy; opera tenor

Wikipedia

Fernando De Lucia sings "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore




1780 - George Bridgetower, Biala, Poland; violinist



Biography and more

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Friday, 10 October 2008

Sallinen: Symphonies 3 et 5

Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz / Ari Rasilainen
CPO 9999702 (62 min 40 s)
*** $$$$

En supposant qu'il soit possible de « condenser » la musique savante instrumentale d’une nation en une seule œuvre prototypique, celle du Québec ressemblerait à celle de la Finlande, les symphonies de Sallinen contribuant au rapprochement. On y sent le souffle des grands espaces d’un Gilles Tremblay, le ludisme sophistiqué d’une Linda Bouchard, l’obsession mélodique d’un Claude Vivier, mais surtout la puissante nostalgie d’un Michel Longtin (dont les affiliations finlandaises ne sont plus à prouver), en particulier dans la mystérieuse Troisième. Mais au contraire du triste destin affligeant les œuvres orchestrales de l’avant-garde québécoise, les standards de qualité internationaux sont ici atteints en matière d’exécution et de captation sonore – de justesse, mais atteints quand même.

- René Bricault

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Jiří Kylián’s Car Men

Un film de Boris Paval Conen et Jiří Kylián
Nederlands Dans Theater; Concertgebouworkest / Bernard Haitink

Musique de Bizet / Han Otten, Debussy
Arthaus 102 101 (61 min)
***** $$$$

Trois ballets du grand chorégraphe néerlandais Jiří Kylián. Le plus ancien, La Cathédrale engloutie (1983), tire son nom du Prélude no 10 pour piano de Debussy. La pièce se trouve bel et bien sur la trame sonore, mais c’est le bruit des vagues qui domine, un leitmotiv tumultueux entraînant un quatuor de jeunes danseurs dans une suite de roulades, de figures au sol qui rendent bien les mouvances de la mer et exploitent habilement les interactions possibles avec un, deux, ou trois partenaire. Silent Cries (1987) est un spectacle solo où la ballerine (Kupferberg) pratique une forme d’introspection pantomimique en se servant d’une vitre maculée – reflet de sa psyché –, qu’elle touche, essuie, se réappropriant par là son identité. Cela sur la musique du Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune de Debussy. Mais le moment fort de ce DVD est Car Men (2006), un dérivé de l'opéra en quelque sorte. Ce film en noir et blanc de 26 minutes tourné dans une mine désaffectée en République tchèque a été réalisé en collaboration avec le cinéaste Boris Paval Conen. Il met en scène quatre artistes du NDTIII (une division du Nederlands Dans Theater formée de danseurs de plus de 40 ans) personnifiant Carmen, Don José, Escamillo et Micaëla. Le résultat est fascinant. Il rappelle Fellini pour la faune bizarre et le ton clownesque; Cocteau pour la poétique de l’image et les séquences inversées; Mack Sennett pour le slapstick et les poursuites folles du temps du muet. On reconnaît des bribes de la musique de Bizet, transformée électroniquement par Han Otten. La corrida est de la partie, mais c’est Carmen qui incarne le torero pendant qu'une voiture remplace le taureau. Les raccords mouvements-musique sont d’une précision inouïe. Pour ceux qui apprécieront, nous recommandons aussi Black & White Ballets (Image ID9251RADVD), six autres chorégraphies signées Kylián.

-Pierre Demers

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Today's Birthday in Music: October 10 (Verdi)

1813 - Giuseppe Verdi, Le Roncole, Italy; composer (according to some sources, birthdate may be October 9)

Wikipedia
Official website

Overture to Ernani (Metropolitan Opera, James Levine conducting)


Anna Skibinsky sings "Caro Nome" from Rigoletto (Teatro Verdi, 2007)


Tito Gobbi sings "Di Provenza il mar il suol" from La Traviata (1955)


Finale from Falstaff (studio performance, 1979. Gabriel Bacquier as Falstaff; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Vienna State Opera Chorus, conducted by Georg Solti)

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Thursday, 9 October 2008

Puccini : Tosca

Catherine Malfitano (Floria Tosca), Richard Margison (Mario Cavaradossi), Bryn Terfel (Scarpia), Mario Luperi (Cesare Angelotti), Enrico Fissore (le Sacristain), John Graham-Hall (Spoletta), Jef Van Wersch (Sciarrone), Tom Kemperman (un geôlier), Andreas Burkhart (un berger)
Chœurs du Nederlandse Opera et Utrecht Cathedral Choirschool
Orchestre du Royal Concertgebouw / Riccardo Chailly
Mise en scène : Nikolaus Lehnhoff
Decca 0743201 (137 min)
**** $$$$

En 1953, une Maria Callas à son zénith – entourée de l'incomparable Giuseppe Di Stefano et d'un Tito Gobbi envoûtant – enregistrait la version définitive de Tosca, insurpassée depuis au plan musical, un miracle discographique (Naxos 8.110256-57). Mais depuis l'avènement de la vidéo, l'amateur qui tient l’opéra pour une œuvre d’art totale (Gesamtkunstwerk disait Wagner) et qui en demande autant pour charmer l’œil que pour ravir l’oreille, peut satisfaire ce désir. Il a le choix entre une captation de spectacle monté par une maison d’opéra, et une version purement cinématographique. À cette dernière catégorie appartiennent deux excellents films : celui de Benoît Jacquot, mettant en vedette le trio Gheorghiu-Alagna-Raimondi (DVD Kultur D4010, 2001), et celui de Brian Large, tourné à Rome sur les lieux mêmes de l’action: église Sant'Andrea della Valle, Palais Farnese, château Saint-Ange (VHS Teldec Video, 1992). Si l'on préfère la représentation en salle, le présent DVD, gravé en 1998, est une acquisition intéressante. Malfitano y incarne un personnage qu’elle a beaucoup joué (y compris dans le film de Brian Large). Elle dégage le mélange de sensualité et de fragilité qu'on associe à Tosca. Moins charismatique que sa partenaire, Margison fait entendre une voix puissante qui insuffle de l'ardeur à Cavaradossi. Terfel, de son côté, campe un Scarpia de luxe, conjuguant le talent de comédien des Gobbi et Raimondi à une technique vocale supérieure. Ses altercations avec Malfitano laissent deviner une profonde connivence entre les deux comédiens-chanteurs (encore plus remarquable toutefois dans la Salomé mise en scène par Luc Bondy en 1997). Terfel incarne un vilain machiavélique, en parfaite adéquation avec l'oppressante scénographie. Lehnhoff opte pour des décors carcéraux presque kafkaïens qui ménagent peu d’issues; ainsi, l’escalier du deuxième acte se volatilise, forçant le saut final dans le vide. Et puis il y a cette immense hélice, dont le tranchant symbolise l'impitoyable cruauté du chef de la police de Rome… Il manque à cette production l’énergie qu'assure habituellement la présence du public (où est-il ?). Mais si la foule est silencieuse, l’orchestre du Royal Concertgebouw lui est éloquent, soulignant en un chatoiement de couleurs et de nuances les multiples états d'âme des protagonistes.

- Pierre Demers

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Richter : Mozart & Chopin

Sviatoslav Richter, piano
Medici Arts 3085208 (90 min)
****** $$$$

When Richter arrived at the Barbican Centre in London on March, 29 1989, he was unaware the concert was going to be filmed. He disliked video and refused to perform for the cameras unless the only lighting in the auditorium was a 40-watt light bulb. The result is a dark, grainy image of Richter masterfully performing Mozart’s Piano Sonatas No .4, 16, and 8, and Chopin’s Etudes. The darkness creates a surreal, yet intimate, concert experience on DVD. Richter and his keyboard are half illuminated by a floor lamp. His sheet music is the only object fully lit. The best part of the DVD is two clips of bonus footage from 1969. Rachmaninov’s Etude-Tableau Op. 39, No. 3 is a beautiful black and white performance of a young Richter effortlessly playing the complex passages. The second video is a performance of Chopin’s Etudes Op.10, No.4 and No.2. The video quality from both performances is much better than the 1989 footage and allows the viewer to see his true mastery of technique. Richter’s performance adds another fascinating DVD to the Classical Archive series.

- Andrew Buziak

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Stefano Landi : Il Sant’Alessio

Les Arts Florissants, William Christie
Virgin Classics 50999 51899999 8 (2 DVD : 162 m)
***** $$$$

À coup sûr, voilà du jamais vu en DVD : un oratorio baroque éclairé à la bougie, avec décors, costumes et gestuelle inspirés de traditions anciennes, et une distribution entièrement masculine (choeur d’enfants, trois basses, neuf contre-ténors…!) comme l'imposait l'usage en 1632 à Rome, où l’oeuvre fut créée. À l'origine de ce projet, le jeune metteur en scène Benjamin Lazar, dont le Bourgeois gentilhomme de Lully et Molière, restitué lui aussi au plus près de l’original, a remporté récemment un grand succès européen (le DVD, paru chez Alpha, n’a hélas jamais été distribué chez nous). Rejoué ici pour la première fois, Il Sant’Alessio raconte l’histoire d’Alexis (chanté par Philippe Jaroussky), un pseudo-saint aujourd’hui retiré du calendrier, réputé avoir vécu de longues années après un séjour en Terre Sainte en mendiant incognito parmi les siens dans la discrétion et l’humilité! Pour rendre hommage à cet étrange anti-héros, Landi et son librettiste ont imaginé un spectacle paradoxalement fastueux et contrasté, où le pathétique côtoie le comique : carnaval romain, choeur et danses des démons, déploration des anges, interventions d’allégories, le tout sur une musique ample et inspirée, proche de Monteverdi. Si le Diable n’a pas les graves abyssaux que son rôle requiert à tout moment, le plateau de contre-ténors en revanche est très satisfaisant, présentant des voix aux couleurs différentes mais homogènes par le style. Les rôles travestis sérieux (la mère et la fiancée d’Alexis) surprennent il est vrai, et pourront sembler peu crédibles au public d’aujourd’hui, qui pourtant fait un triomphe à ce spectacle d’une beauté et d’une cohérence incomparables.

- Philippe Gervais

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Karlheinz Stockhausen: Helicopter String Quartet

Arditti String Quartet
Frank Scheffer, réalisation
Medici Arts 3077508 (77 min)
*** $$$$

Stockhausen le mythomane a voulu contrôler jusqu'au moindre aspect de la diffusion de sa musique, incluant l’édition et la distribution - ce qui rend la plupart de ses œuvres, déjà fort chères, extrêmement difficiles à obtenir hors d’Europe. On comprendra donc que ce DVD est toute une aubaine. Ceux qui ont apprécié le Helikopter Streichquartett sur disque (Montaigne 782097) voudront assurément enrichir leur expérience de ce documentaire, où le complément visuel est important. Par contre, les effets exagérés de « caméra à la main » (pensez à la chaîne MusiquePlus) deviennent exaspérants à la longue, tant par leur nombre que par leur opacité. On appréciera le moment où Stockhausen parle de sa conception de l’espace sonore, reliant le Quatuor à son travail antérieur, et montrant bien qu’il n’est pas aussi fou qu’on tend, lui inclus peut-être, à le croire.

- René Bricault

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Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Siegfried Jerusalem (Tristan), Waltraud Meier (Isolde), Mathias Hölle (King Marke), Uta Priew (Brangäne), Poul Elming (Melot)
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus / Daniel Barenboim
Stage Director: Heiner Müller; Video Director: Horant H. Hohlfeld

DG 00440 073 3349 (2 DVD: 235 min)
***** $$$$

Late last year, DG released the 1983 Bayreuth performance of Tristan und Isolde, an exquisite Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production conducted by Daniel Barenboim with René Kollo and Johanna Meier in the title roles. A 2007 Glyndebourne staging directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff with Jiřỉ Bělohlávek in the pit with the LPO soon narrowly surpassed this. Now, Barenboim can reclaim the benchmark for the opera on DVD in this 1995 Bayreuth collaboration with stage director Heiner Müller. Müller was the conductor’s personal choice after Patrice Chéreau pulled out of the new production planned for 1993. In the revision of his autobiography, A Life in Music (London 2002), Barenboim recalls, “He thought I was crazy since he had no experience of staging opera, little knowledge of music in general and of Wagner in particular… he was much more of a visual person than I had expected, and together with Erich Wonder, he developed a presentation of the work which heightened the claustrophobic nature of the drama to a remarkable level. Muller’s realization gave the impression that there was no way out… no way to escape the chromaticism of the score, itself a musical maze of half resolutions ad infinitum.”
What Müller and Wonder did was to erect a giant, open-ended shoe box of a set in the middle third of the stage. With adjustments of slope, a few props and colour variations, this structure serves throughout the performance. The second act is set in King Marke’s armoury with the characters knee-deep in a geometric maze of breastplates. Their movement and interaction is purposely contrived. Like the stage action, the costumes (by fashion designer Yamamoto of Paris) convey a fascinating oriental mystique.
None of this would be of any significance without musical excellence. Siegfried Jerusalem and Waltraud Meier were new to the roles when this production was first staged in 1991. Their portrayals of the doomed couple might well be considered definitive. The Act II marathon duo is truly miraculous to behold. Barenboim displays great sensitivity in the accompaniment and the principals never need to strain their voices to be heard above the orchestra. Compared to the splendid 1983 performance, the orchestra sounds even better. This is not entirely due to the conductor’s greater experience and sagacity. The collapse of the GDR a few years earlier allowed many gifted musicians (along with stage director Müller) to travel from East Germany to join the festival orchestra.

We can now claim to be afflicted with an embarrassment of choices for Tristan und Isolde. The 1983 Ponnelle version is still competitive although the picture aspect ratio is 4:3. Making a selection of a single version for a personal collection really boils down to Barenboim II vs Glyndebourne. Hardcore Wagnerians will need all three of these superb performances. And for more of Barenboim at the top of his form in Bayreuth, don’t miss the EuroArts DVD issue of the 1999 performance of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

- Stephen Habington

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Le chant des oyseaulx

Antoine Ouellette
Montréal : Triptyque, 2008
270 pp.
ISBN13 978-2-89031-618-8
**** $$$$

Antoine Ouellette, jeune musicologue et compositeur (et biologiste…) québécois, a visé haut en proposant une version « grand public » de sa thèse de doctorat. Mais on ne crée pas l'unanimité en voulant plaire à tout un chacun. Certains s'irriteront devant les concessions qu'il fait à l'« accessibilité » (légèreté de la prose, surcharge de détails, profusion d'exclamations); d'autres y verront la béquille qui tient l'ouvrage debout. On pourra se crisper devant des affirmations qui reflètent davantage les préférences et préjugés de l'auteur que l'objectivité scientifique dont par ailleurs il se réclame – mais on pourra aussi voir dans l'ouvrage d'un projet original, riche en possibilités. Quoi qu'il en soit, tous s'accorderont à dire qu'il s'agit là d'une lecture inspirante qui ouvre l'âme autant que l'oreille. Parce qu'il ratisse très large avec ses incursions dans l'histoire de l'ornithologie et de la musique inspirée des chants d'oiseaux, la zoomusicologie, la notation musicale, l'esthétique et la biologie, Le chant des oyseaulx est une invitation à redécouvrir le monde que nous habitons.

- René Bricault

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Beethoven’s Symphonies: A Guided Tour

John Bell Young
New York: Amadeus Press, 2008
224 pp. plus CD
ISBN13 978-1574671698
**** $$$$

John Bell Young begins Beethoven’s Symphonies by proposing to change his tune. Instead of his usual technical jargon, Young offers to follow the melodies and rhythms.In the first installment of the Unlocking the Master series, he approaches Beethoven’s nine symphonies methodically. Each symphony has its own chapter and each movement has its own section. True to his introduction, Young spends the majority of the text explaining shifts in tempo, form, and key signature. This information is important to understand the symphony, but it lacks deeper analysis that would articulate the wonder of Beethoven’s music. The meat and potatoes are there, but where’s the flambé? Young’s book makes up for its analytical gaps by introducing the reader to the world of classical analysis. While discussing the symphonies’ history, Young references important works from Theodor Adorno, Heinrich Schenker, and Leonard Bernstein. The book also gives essential historical context to the compositions and performances. Although Beethoven’s Symphonies lacks analysis, with the CD of excerpts it makes a fair introduction to Beethoven’s symphonies and the wide world of musical appreciation.

- Andrew Buziak

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Le Violon brisé

poèmes d’Émile Nelligan choisis et interprétés par Albert Millaire, accompagné au violon par Anne Robert
Montréal : Éditions Fides, 2008
64 pp. (CD : 68 min 21 s)
ISBN13 9782762127904
***** $$$$

Ce livre-disque est l’aboutissement d’une démarche originale qui fait le tour du Québec depuis quelques années déjà sous plusieurs formes. C’est Albert Millaire lui-même, homme de lettres et de culture, qui eut l'idée de conjuguer ainsi la poésie - sa passion - et la musique. Précédé de deux autres « récitals » consacrés à la poésie des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, celui-ci fait honneur au Rimbaud de l’Amérique française, Émile Nelligan (1879-1941). Entre des lectures sobres et touchantes de certaines des plus belles pages de ce grand Québécois, Albert Millaire laisse toute la place au violon lumineux d’Anne Robert. Les musiques de Bach (Partita no 2), Reger (Sonate op. 91 no 2), Paganini (Caprice no 13), Telemann (Fantaisie no 2), Daveluy (Sonate) et Papineau-Couture (Suite) accentuent la profondeur des textes (La Romance du vin et Le Vaisseau d’Or, bien sûr, mais aussi Soir d’hiver, Rêve de Watteau, Devant deux portraits de ma mère, Fantaisie créole, Châteaux en Espagne, Five O’Clock, etc.) sans les alourdir ou en trahir l'essence une seule seconde. Une rencontre essentielle entre deux univers qui s’attirent et s’embrassent naturellement, pour le plus grand bonheur de l'auditeur épris de beauté, celle qui bouleverse, qui nourrit et qui s’élève bien au-dessus du trivial et de l’ordinaire. Encore, svp.

- Frédéric Cardin

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Today's Birthday in Music: October 9 (Saint-Saëns)

1835 - Camille Saint-Saëns, Paris, France; composer, organist, conductor and pianist

Wikipedia

Symphony No. 3 (Organ Symphony), 3rd mvt. (Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Rik Ghesquière; Luc Ponet organ.  Antwerp 2007)


Mstislav Rostropovich plays the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto, 1st mvt. (London Philharmonic Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini conducting, 1977)


"Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Samson et Dalila; Shirley Verrett and Jon Vickers (Covent Garden, 1981)

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