La Scena Musicale

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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Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: October 8 (Schütz)

1585 - Heinrich Schütz, Köstritz, Germany; composer and organist

Wikipedia
Biography

"Also hat Gott" sung by the Calmus Ensemble (Musica Sacra International, Leipzig 2008)


"Meine Seele" sung by Knabenchor Hannover (2006)

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Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Gilels, Kogan and Rostropovich in Historic Chamber Music Recordings

Review by Paul E. Robinson

Haydn: Piano Trio in D major Hob.XV:16 (Moscow, 1951 and London, Feb. 28, 1959)
Haydn: Piano Trio in G major Hob.XV:19 (Moscow, 1952)
Mozart: Piano Trio in G major . 564 (Moscow, 1952)
Mozart: Piano Trio in B flat major K. 254 (Moscow, 1952)
Beethoven: Piano Trio in B flat major Op. 97 “Archduke” (Moscow, 1956)
Beethoven: Piano Trio in E flat major WoO38 (Moscow, 1950)
Tchaikovsky: Piano Trio in A minor Op. 50 (Moscow, 1952)
Saint-Saens: Piano Trio in F major Op. 18 (Moscow, 1953)
Schumann: Piano Trio in D minor Op. 63 (Moscow, Aug. 8, 1958)
Shostakovich: Piano Trio in E minor Op. 67 (London, Feb. 28, 1959)
Borodin: Piano Trio in D major (Moscow, 1950)
Faure: Piano Quartet No. 1 Op. 15 (Moscow, 1958)
Brahms: Horn Trio in D minor Op. 40 (Moscow, Feb. 25, 1951)
Doremi DHR-7921-5 (5-cd set)

I will never forget my first experience with Emil Gilels. It was at Massey Hall in Toronto – in 1956 or 1957, I believe – and Gilels was the first Soviet artist of stature to be allowed to concertize in the West. I was a young piano student at the time and I simply could not believe my ears when Gilels tore into Stravinsky’s Petrouchka like a man possessed. The power and virtuosity were staggering. I dubbed him ‘the mad Russian’ at the time, but like so many others I had completely mischaracterized this remarkable musician.

Gilels was the first to come to Canada. He was followed by Oistrakh, Kogan, Rostropovich and many others. It was an incredible parade of talent. We had known many of these artists only through recordings. By the time they were allowed to accept engagements outside what was then the Soviet Union, they had become legendary figures. In almost every case, the reality surpassed the legend. Wherever they went, these great musicians enriched the cities they visited and the people they met.

Like all the Russian musicians, Gilels was considered authoritative in music by Russian composers and that was the music he was always asked to play. Over time, however, it became clear that Gilels loved the music of Brahms and Beethoven and played it as well as anyone alive. His recordings of the Brahms concertos with Jochum and the Berlin Philharmonic are universally recognized as among the best ever made. It was also soon apparent that he had a special affinity for chamber music, and that he welcomed the opportunity to play it.

One of Gilels’ most highly-acclaimed recordings was the Brahms’ Quartet in G minor with the Amadeus Quartet for DG. This new release from Doremi of Gilels chamber music recordings from the 1950s demonstrates that his chamber music mastery went back a long way, and that it was well documented by the Russian Melodiya record company. These recordings were never given wide circulation in the West, but they are most welcome even after all these years.

While it was Gilels’ participation in these recordings that first got my attention, one can hardly ignore his distinguished colleagues, Kogan and Rostropovich. The trio was formed in 1949 and lasted for more than ten years. These recordings provide a vivid documentation of this great partnership.

It’s difficult to know where to begin a commentary on such a large body of work contained in a single boxed set. Overall, I would say that the standard of performance and musicianship is incredibly consistent throughout, and the performers seem authoritative in every musical period and every style. Haydn and Mozart are played with lightness and elegance with virtually all repeats observed (the first repeat in the first movement of Haydn’s Trio No. 16 is omitted in the London recording), Schumann and Tchaikovsky with passion, and Shostakovich with searching intensity.

More particularly, I loved the jaunty, relaxed style of the first movement of Mozart’s K. 564 and the noble and exciting playing in the fourth movement of the Schumann Trio Op. 63. And while there have been fine recordings of the Tchaikovsky Trio, this is one of the best. The pianist tends to dominate in most performances because the part has so many virtuoso elements and so many big fat chords. Gilels makes the most of every one of them but there is no way he is going to drown out the likes of Kogan or Rostropovich. This is big-boned playing in a piece that absolutely demands it.

If there is one performance in the set that best demonstrates the rarified artistry of these three musicians, it is the Tchaikovsky. In this piece, Tchaikovsky takes us on a journey through a vast range of human emotion and Gilels, Kogan and Rostropovich give everything they have to make the trip unforgettable.

From the opening bars we hear the playing of three remarkable soloists, but as the music unfolds and the tempo ebbs and flows, we hear something else – almost like three great jazz musicians riffing off each other, reveling in the music they’re playing and building the tension. When the great familiar melody comes back at the very end of the piece, these three musicians go all out to make it grand and thrilling before falling back into the sense of gloom and despair which closes the piece. Along the way we have a wonderful give and take between Kogan and Rostropovich in the waltz variation and incisively characterful playing by Gilels in the mazurka.

One of the biggest surprises and delights for me in this set was the performance of Brahms’ Horn Trio. The hornist is Yakov Shapiro and the man is a supreme artist on his instrument. He plays with the vibrato that one has long associated with Russian and French performers and it is a style of playing that has almost disappeared. But perhaps that style needs to be reconsidered. I’ve always felt that in most performances of this piece the horn doesn’t blend well with the violin or the piano and it is often too loud. But just listen to this 1951 performance; Shapiro not only plays with vibrato but he manages to match and blend perfectly with Kogan’s vibrato. I couldn’t believe how wonderful this sounded, and I began to think about what Brahms had in mind. Does anyone know if the french horn player at the first performance played with vibrato? And what about the horn parts in the Brahms’ symphonies?

Finally, I can’t emphasize enough what a splendid job Jacob Harnoy has done in remastering these recordings. There are no clicks and pops from the original 78s or LPs, and one never gets the feeling that artificial means have been used to dampen the surface noise. In other words, nothing comes between us and the music-making. The technicians at Melodiya in the 1950s knew something about making good recordings. We must thank Jacob Harnoy and Doremi for making them available to us after all these years, and in the form in which they were meant to be heard.

Doremi has already issued the Emil Gilels Legacy Volumes 1-7 and a CD featuring Kogan and Gilels playing Beethoven Sonatas. At http://www.doremi.com/ you will find a complete Gilels Discography compiled by Ates Tanin.


Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar and Sir Georg Solti: his Life and Music, both available at http://www.amazon.com/. For more about Paul E. Robinson please visit his website at http://www.theartoftheconductor.com/

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Music with a Moral: Weill’s 7 Deadly Sins Timely Programming by TSO

Review by Paul E. Robinson

I remember well the opening of Roy Thomson Hall (RTH) in Toronto in 1982. At last the Toronto Symphony (TSO) would have a fine modern hall to replace the legendary, but aging Massey Hall. How disappointed I was to see and hear a facility that seemed to be designed by fools - and we were stuck with it.

I conducted at RTH myself on several occasions – including the Canadian premiere of the Sibelius Kullervo Symphony in 1986 – and the experience only served to confirm the impressions I had formed as a member of the audience; the sound had no presence, no bass response and the high end was extremely hard-edged.

Some tinkering was done with the hall’s acoustics over the years, but not until 2002 did the hall’s owners face reality and close the hall for six months to make major changes. Just last week I returned for the first time since the makeover – officially called the “Roy Thomson Hall Enhancement Project” – to hear for myself whether the project had been successful. I came away with mixed impressions.

The TSO concert I heard featured Ute Lemper in the Kurt Weill-Bertold Brecht stage piece The Seven Deadly Sins. The program also included the Symphony No.11 (The Year 1905) by Shostakovich. The concert was repeated a few nights later at Carnegie Hall in New York. Maestro Peter Oundjian and the TSO deserve full credit for putting together a demanding and slightly offbeat programme to showcase themselves in New York. It wasn’t the original programme. The Weill was a late substitute for Benjamin Yusupov’s Viola Tango Rock Concerto featuring Maxim Vengerov - also an imaginative choice.

Ute Lemper, the Hudson Shad Vocal Quartet, & 7 Deadly Sins

The Seven Deadly Sins is a hybrid, a ‘sung ballet’ for female vocalist, male vocal quartet and orchestra. The piece draws on themes already used by Weill and Brecht in other works such as Mahagonny and The Threepenny Opera. It is an indictment of capitalism from a Marxist point of view. It made a lot of sense to many people as the Depression began to bite in 1933 and in view of recent global economic problems, it remains relevant today. Greed, unfortunately, is a driving force in our society and it ultimately forces millions into misery, as it always has. Marxism is out of fashion thanks to the horrors of Stalinism and Maoism, but the criticism of unbridled capitalism remains as powerful as ever.

Ute Lemper is justly famous for her idiomatic performances of the music of Kurt Weill and she was in fine form in The Seven Deadly Sins. The men of the Hudson Shad Vocal Quartet were also first-rate and with their demeanour and carefully chosen gestures added to the theatrical effect. I wonder, however, if this piece doesn’t lose its edge in a concert version. In concert, the vulgarity and degradation described in the text become rather abstract. While Oundjian and the TSO gave us wonderful playing, they reinforced the ‘concert’ aspect of the piece instead of the ‘down and dirty’ that can be portrayed in the ballet version.

Shostakovich Symphony Sound & Fury Signifying Little
Shostakovich was not shy about tackling big themes. In his Eleventh Symphony of 1957, he set out to describe some of the key events of the Russian Revolution of 1905 - not to be confused with the Communist Revolution of 1917. Shostakovich (b. 1906) was not yet born, but he lived through the effects of not only the 1917 Revolution, but two World Wars and the dark years of Stalin’s tyrannical rule. At times one feels that the music in this symphony could have been more effectively used in a film. Like most ‘programme music,’ with no story or pictures attached, it often falls into sound and fury signifying very little.

There is much that is profoundly expressive in the Shostakovich Eleventh Symphony, and some of the climactic moments are tremendously exciting, but there are also pages of repetitive note-spinning and the high volume levels can become tiresome. For me the piece does not hang together as a musical structure and too much of it is hardly more than routine.

That said, Peter Oundjian had a firm grasp of the piece and maintained intensity from the first note to the last, without unnecessary histrionics. This was fine conducting, matched by superb playing from the orchestra.

I have greatly admired principal trumpet Andrew McCandless from his days in Dallas, and on this night he was at the very top of his game. So too was the always splendid timpanist, David Kent. The Shostakovich Eleventh Symphony is notable as one of the few orchestral works to give such prominence to the snare drum and John Rudolf played his part with appropriate virtuosity. Kudos also to the evening’s guest concertmaster, Jonathan Carney. The TSO is currently trying out various applicants for their vacant concertmaster position and Carney showed he can lead with style and passion. While Carney’s name was posted in the lobby for this concert, there was not a word about who he was or where he came from. For the record, he is an American currently serving as concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony and before that he was concertmaster of the Royal Philharmonic in London for twelve years.

In Spite of Renovations Roy Thomson Hall an Acoustical “Turkey”
There were so many problems with the original design of RTH that it must have been a challenge to know where to begin with the makeover.
  • It had too many seats - more than 2800 when the ideal for an orchestra is about 2000: the economics of the business being what they are, the makeover reduced the seating to 2630.
  • It was too large a space: the renovation reduced the volume by 13.5% making RTH comparable to places like Carnegie Hall.
  • It was the wrong shape - the best concert halls in the world are shaped like a shoebox, and RTH was more like an old-fashioned oval opera house: not much could be done about this problem, although the volume reduction done in 2002 somewhat altered the basic shape.
  • There was too much carpeting in the auditorium soaking up the sound: the carpet was eliminated and replaced by hardwood flooring.
  • The annoying continental seating – that is, there were no aisles except on the sides: this was scrapped and the ground floor was reconfigured to make the seating more user-friendly.

In embarking on the 2002 renovation, its owners finally admitted that the RTH acoustics were inferior and engaged one of the best acousticians in the business, the late Russell Johnson, to fix them. Had Johnson been hired at the building design stage, many of the problems would have been avoided. Unfortunately, coming to the job 'after the fact', he was impossibly handicapped by having to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

The renovation had to be done and was clearly long overdue, but RTH remains a colossal mistake. The owners of the hall embarked on the original building project without knowing what they were doing and stuck the orchestra and the city with an architectural and acoustical turkey. RTH literature (“The enhancement project altered the hall, while at the same time honoured and revalued Arthur Erickson’s original design.”) suggests they are still oblivious to the damage they have done.

The 2002 renovations certainly improved RTH, but it is still far from a great concert hall. The sound has much more presence than it did and the upper strings don’t sound computer generated, but they don’t have much body or warmth either. The lower strings sound as bland and undernourished as ever.

If Roy Thomson Hall remains a disappointment, it has at least become a tolerable place in which to hear and to make music; as such, it is far more successful than Salle Wilfred-Pelletier at Place des Arts in Montreal.


Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar and Sir Georg Solti: his Life and Music, both available at http://www.amazon.com/. For more about Paul E. Robinson please visit his website at http://www.theartoftheconductor.com/

Photos by Marita


























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      Today's Birthdays in Music: October 7 (Dutoit, Ma)

      1936 - Charles Dutoit, Lausanne, Switzerland; conductor

      Wikipedia
      In Conversation
      A Glance Back (La Scena Musicale, April 2002)

      Charles Dutoit talks about the music of Debussy and Ravel


      Charles Dutoit conducts the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal as Ewa Podleś sings "La Mort de Cléopâtre" by Berlioz (2003)



      1955 - Yo-Yo Ma, Paris, France; cellist

      Wikipedia
      Official website

      Yo-Yo Ma plays the first movement of Elgar's Cello Concerto (Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted hy Daniel Barenboim, 1997)

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      Monday, 6 October 2008

      Today's Birthday in Music: October 6 (Jeritza)

      1887 - Maria Jeritza, Brno, Czech Republic; opera soprano

      Wikipedia
      Interview

      Maria Jeritza sings "Vissi d'arte" from Puccini's Tosca

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      Sunday, 5 October 2008

      Bavarian State Opera's Macbeth

      by Jens F. Laurson

      As long as Zeljko Lucic and Nadja Michael take the lead roles as Mr. and Mrs. Mayhem in Munich's new Macbeth, the response will be divided equally between delight and disgust. The production has been stirring emotions and drawing a heated response from audiences and critics.

      Delight in Michael's ravishing interpretation of Lady Macbeth, a woman who finds plotting to be an (a)rousing activity. From limber acrobatics in the lowered chandelier to her wildly vibrating yet piercing voice, she played a Lady Macbeth to murder for.

      Disgust at the band of extras and chorus members that director Martin Kušej sends downstage to urinate all over the place at the opening of the third act. Choreographed urination is such a clichéd element in European Verdi direction. When 13 topless playboy bunnies with pink wigs appeared shortly after, a smart aleck yelled “bravi”, creating unusual audience merriment for a performance of Macbeth.

      At this point, the show was on the verge of being hijacked by the audience; laughter, lusty boos from every tier, and blatant chatter created a casual, irreverent atmosphere rarely encountered in modern opera houses. Slightly rowdy, perhaps, but enjoyable.

      As enjoyable as Zelijko Lucic, the Serbian baritone who sang Verdi, his voice ringing effortlessly through the round of the Staatsoper. He out-sang even the very fine Banco of Roberto Scandiuzzi whose severed head would become the play-toy of Lady Macbeth.

      And as enjoyable as the homogenously played Bavarian State Orchestra under Nicola Luisotti who got a salvo of boos. His nervous, restless reading that had all the accents in the right places and deserved more bravos than boos.

      Kušej (whose Salzburg La Clemenza di Tito is my measure of direction excellence) and his stage designer Martin Zehetgruber created many fine views: including the vast field of skulls and the walls of plastic sheets (á la Guy Ritchie’s “Snatch”).

      But too many ideas were crass, as if Kušej’s team had not filtered out the unnecessary ones, or distinguished between the obvious and the obscure. The handful of blond children who represented the witches, fate, and murdered innocents, the obsession with Banco’s severed head, the constant dressing and undressing of the chorus, all veered between gratuitous and dense. It made for a production worthy of laude and mockery alike – a curious opening for the new Bachler regime at Germany’s most important opera house.

      Photo credit: Wilfried Hoesl

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      Today's Birthday in Music: October 5 (I. Edwards)

      1937 - Iwan Edwards, Wales; choral conductor

      Wikipedia
      St. Lawrence Choir
      Motivating Young Voices (La Scena Musicale, March 2001)

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