La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Lully : Psyché

Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra and Chorus
Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs
Cpo 777 367-2 (3CD: 173 min 42 s)
***** $$$$
Après un excellent Thésée, l’équipe du festival de Boston propose ici sa récente production de Psyché, nouvel inédit de Lully. Créé en 1678, cet opéra résulte du remaniement d’une fastueuse tragédie-ballet donnée quelques années plus tôt, ce qui lui confère une place à part dans la production du Florentin. Transformé en opéra par l’insertion de nombreux récitatifs, Psyché conserve néanmoins de nombreuses traces de ses origines : les choeurs y tiennent un rôle mineur, au profit des petits ensembles vocaux et bien sûr des danses, presque tout le cinquième acte étant occupé par les entrées successives du grand ballet final, véritable apothéose qui réunit sur scène la plupart des dieux de l’Olympe et leur suite (mais aussi des polichinelles!). Fait inhabituel également, l’action dramatique est entièrement construite autour de deux héroïnes : Vénus (Karina Gauvin) poursuit la nymphe Psyché (Carolyn Sampson), jalouse de l’intérêt que son fils Amour et son mari Vulcain lui portent. Les deux chanteuses, malgré que ce répertoire ne leur soit pas souvent associé, s’en tirent avec honneur, l’une composant une Vénus fougueuse, l’autre une Psyché toute en finesse (et sans accent anglais!). Dans l’ensemble, si l’intrigue reste mince, elle donne prétexte à de forts belles pages, comme cette grande plainte italienne, à elle seule un petit opéra, avec marche d’ouverture, concert des flûtistes sur scène, lamento et ballet des porteurs de flambeaux. En dépit des faiblesses qu’accusent certains petits rôles, ce coffret, à défaut de DVD, préserve l’éloquence et la magie du spectacle qui avait séduit l’été dernier.

- Philippe Gervais

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Messiaen Chamber works

Hebrides Ensemble
Linn CKD 314 (73 min 59 s)
**** $$$$Ceux que la curiosité attire vers Messiaen mais qui craignent les rigueurs de l’avant-garde devraient prendre le pari de ce disque. D’abord pour le choix des œuvres, qui s'étalent du tout début (1932) à la toute fin (1991) de la carrière du compositeur. Ensuite pour l’instrumentation, familière et engageante. Enfin, et surtout, pour la calme précision de l’interprétation. Les habitués du Maître trouveront que le Quatuor pour la fin du temps n'inspire pas le recueillement mystique qui lui est si caractéristique, et qu’il souffre de problèmes d’équilibre (le souffle de Martin à la clarinette va parfois jusqu'à dominer le timide violoncelle de Conway), mais ils applaudiront à l’exécution de Thème et variation et du Merle noir, sans oublier les rares Fantaisie (récemment redécouverte par la veuve du compositeur) et Pièce pour piano et quatuor à cordes.

- René Bricault

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MARIA: The Barcelona Concert & Malibran Rediscovered

Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano
Decca DVD 0743252 (CD1: 79 min; CD2: 68 min)
****** $$$$
Now twenty years into an exceptional career, the mature Cecilia Bartoli remains a unique artist at the height of her powers. This latest venture focusing on Maria Malibran finds Bartoli in superb form, her charismatic personality as fresh and spontaneous as ever. With her wide-ranging voice and stunning technique, it's natural for Bartoli to gravitate towards the legendary Malibran. As in her previous projects, a tremendous amount of research has gone into this as evidenced by the film included in this release, Malibran Rediscovered – The Romantic Revolution. This documentary gives us a fascinating glimpse into Bartoli the singer, the artist, the scholar, and the person. Like Malibran, Bartoli is the daughter of singers, and both made their debuts as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia – if you don't count Bartoli's Shepherd Boy in Tosca at the age of 8! Her technique, with its remarkable range and incredible flexibility, is said to resemble Malibran’s, though of course no sound record of that exists. The camera captures Bartoli and filmmaker Sturminger to the museums, examining historical documents on Malibran, to a coaching session with Christopher Raeburn, to meetings with Bartoli's remarkable parents, and to Malibran’s grave. Extremely interesting are snippets of Bartoli singing “Casta diva” from Norma; even more amazing is her “Sempre libera” (!) from La traviata, albeit with a B natural in lieu of the interpolated E-flat at the end.

The centerpiece of this release is the Barcelona concert, in which Bartoli sings an intriguing program combining rarities of Garcia, Persiani and Hummel with bel canto standards like the Willow Song and Prayer from Rossini's Otello, and “Ah! Non giunge” from Bellini's La sonnambula. (Sadly missing is “Casta diva”) Everything is performed with her unique brand of stupendous technique and singular artistry. The camera work is exemplary throughout, with the possible exception of the grainy, home movie-like short glimpses backstage, but even that has a cinema verité fascination. A desert-island disc that I will return to again and again, this is an absolute “must-have” release, not just for admirers of Cecilia Bartoli but for lovers of great singing.

- Joseph K. So

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Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 2 & 7

Minnesota Orchestra / Osmo Vänskä
BIS SACD-1816 Hybrid SACD (75 min 49 s)
***** $$$$
It has been a banner year for collectors who aim to acquire fifty or more recorded cycles of the Nine. Boxed sets have been arriving steadily and most of them reflect an advanced level of Beethoven performance even if the interpretations seem to be increasingly generic. This is the concluding installment of the Minnesota cycle and it is plainly a cut above the rest. Instead of recording live concerts in rapid succession, BIS took the traditional route to excellence: rehearsal followed by concert performances and then into the studio. Symphonies Nos 2 and 7 come out sounding as fresh and vital as previous issues. All credit is due to Osmo Vänskä for taking the Bärenreiter Urtext Edition to heart while eschewing idiosyncratic stylistic trends. The result is fundamental Beethoven, never lacking in profundity and never neglecting the robust good humour of its creator. The orchestra deserves as much recognition. The playing is exemplary throughout but the ability to render perfect piano passages (as here) is something that is embedded in an ensemble’s musical DNA. There have been fine Beethoven cycles from New York (Bernstein/Sony), Cleveland (Szell/Sony) and Chicago (Solti/Decca) but taken as a whole, Minnesota can now claim the US national title on the basis of consistent inspiration, dedicated musicianship and the highest quality of recorded sound.

- Stephen Habington

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Today's Birthdays in Music: December 13 (Belmont, Lhévinne)

1879 - Eleanor Robson Belmont, Wigan, England; founder of Metropolitan Opera Guild 


Wikipedia
Biography (Metropolitan Opera Guild)


1874 - Josef Lhévinne, Orel, Russia; pianist

Wikipedia

Josef Lhevinne plays Chopin's Etude No. 12, Op. 25 (Welte piano roll)


Josef and Rosina Lhevinne play Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos, K.448, 3rd mvt. (1939 recording)

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Friday, 12 December 2008

Olivier Messiaen – La liturgie de cristal

Un film d’Olivier Mille
Juxtapositions (107 min plus bonus)
***** $$$$
Musicien de la couleur, rythmicien maîtrisant les moindres inflexions d’une pulsation, ornithologue fasciné par ses « petits serviteurs de l’immortelle joie », pédagogue captivant qui a inspiré toute une génération de compositeurs, Olivier Messiaen reste l’une des figures musicales dominantes du XXe siècle. Ce film d’Olivier Mille, produit en 2002 pour Arté, trace un portrait de Messiaen en trois segments. Dans « Les oiseaux et la nature », on voit Messiaen à l’œuvre alors qu’il retranscrit des chants d’oiseaux et explique, fort éloquemment, comment il les « adapte » pour être perçus par l’oreille humaine. Dans « Les couleurs, les rythmes et l’enseignement », on se glisse dans sa classe de composition, où ses propos clairs et nuancés (on aura rarement perçu Debussy avec autant de justesse) fascinent autant que la profonde connivence qui unit maître et élèves. Le dernier segment, « La foi, la religion », permet de mieux apprécier l’œuvre pour orgue, mais aussi l'immense opéra Saint François d’Assise (qui sera présenté par l’OSM en décembre), somme d’une vie de travail, de dévotion. Des images magnifiques prises au mont Messiaen en Utah se mêlent à des documents d’archives, assurant une narration cohérente, sinon linéaire, soutenue par de nombreux extraits musicaux. (On aurait toutefois souhaité que les pièces et les interprètes ne soient pas identifiés seulement au générique final.) Les bonus comprennent des entrevues avec des compositeurs (dont Pierre Boulez, Gilbert Amy et George Benjamin) et des musiciens qui permettent de mieux mesurer l’influence de Messiaen. À noter que le film sera présenté à l’Auditorium Maxwell-Cummings du MBAM le 30 novembre (entrée libre).

- Lucie Renaud

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Schnittke : Die Klavierkonzerte

Ewa Kupiec, Maria Lettberg, piano; Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin / Frank Strobel
Phoenix Edition 103 (72 min 25 s)
***** $$$$
Serait-ce la première intégrale des concertos pour piano de Schnittke ? (Excluons la Music for piano and chamber orchestra de 1964, qui n'est pas à proprement parler un concerto.) Précisons d'emblée qu'un gouffre stylistique sépare l’œuvre de jeunesse des deux concertos suivants. Le « premier » (ils ne sont pas numérotés), en effet, ressemble davantage à Bartok qu’à Schnittke lui-même. Qu’à cela ne tienne, on tirera plaisir de l'excellente prise de son et de la fougueuse interprétation. Les jeunes interprètes ont le don d’illustrer tout le délire qui irrigue ces pages. Leur élan casse-cou provoque bien quelques erreurs de synchronisation rythmique, quelques trébuchements dans l'articulation, mais l’enthousiasme des musiciens s’avère contagieux et l’auditeur se fait indulgent. Il existe de meilleures versions du Concerto pour piano et cordes, mais pas dans un programme globalement mieux réussi. Gardez l’œil sur Kupiec, son jeu devrait s'affiner avec l'âge.

- René Bricault

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The Art of George Szell Volumes 1 & 2

New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra / George Szell
Previously unissued broadcast concerts 1943 – 1957

Volume 1: Beethoven: Symphony No 7; Weber: Overture to Oberon; Mendelssohn: Symphony No 4; Schumann: Symphony No 4, Wagner: Overture to Tannhäuser; Smetana: The Moldau, Overture to The Bartered Bride, Quartet in E minor (orch Szell); Brahms: Symphony No 2; Strauss: Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche; Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol; Sousa: The Stars and Stripes Forever; Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No 1; Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue
West Hill Radio Archives WHRA 6018 (291 min)

Volume 2: Haydn: Symphony No 97; Mozart: Overture to the Marriage of Figaro; Beethoven: Symphony No 6; Weber: Overture to Euryanthe; Schubert: Symphony No 9; Wagner: Prelude and Good Friday Spell from Parsifal; Brahms: Piano Concerto No 2; Lalo: Symphony Espagnole; Franck: Symphony in D minor; Sibelius: Symphony No 2
West Hill Radio Archives WHRA 6019 (299 min)

***** $$$
Vintage performance on compact disc of both studio material and as here, live concerts, has become a reliable growth sector for the classical recording industry. West Hill Radio Archives of Don Mills score a major coup with these sets of first-ever releases of truly historical importance. Here is Szell caught on the fly at the outset of his conducting career in America, drawing out the best from two very fine orchestras.

Posterity has not been kind to George Szell. He has been saddled with the reputation of a ruthless tyrant. In reality, Szell was a supremely gifted musician who approached his art as a matter of life or death. A martinet perhaps, but he ran his own orchestra in Cleveland like a good regiment and established a tradition of excellence which is maintained to this day.

The performances in both sets are vital and thrilling. Precision is razor-sharp without any sacrifice of lyricism or poetry. Szell’s 1943 debut concerts with the NYPSO and in Cleveland are documented in Volume 1. This is the real deal in real time: nitpicking musical criticism would equate to gratuitous impertinence.

We are indebted to Lani Spahr for the quality of this edition. He served as producer, annotator (the booklet notes are superb) and audio restoration engineer. The sound quality of the 1940s concerts is as good as any afforded Toscanini or Walter from sources of the same period. Imaging for the concerts from 1953 and 1957 is predictably finer. At no point is the audio less than serviceable. It is also heartening to discover that Mr Spahr is a renowned performer on period oboes. The giants of bygone days are often scoffed at by advocates of the authentic brigade but Spahr lavished respect and affection on this project.

WHRA has also made strenuous efforts on behalf of the inimitable Charles Munch in Boston. Three Munch boxes of previously unissued material are now on the market. The most recent, Charles Munch in Boston, The Early Years (WHRA 6015), has been sampled and found to be just as essential as the Szell collection. The seven CDs are packed with performances of spontaneous flexibility and the odd repertory duplication makes for fascinating comparisons to Szell live.

- Stephen Habington

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Today's Birthday in Music: December 12 (Tan)

1953 - Margaret Tan, Singapore; pianist

Wikipedia
Some Notes on Margaret Leng Tan

Margaret Tan plays John Cage's "In the name of the Holocaust" on prepared piano


Margaret Tan performs Guy Klucevsek's "SweetChinoiserie" on toy piano and other instruments (Lincoln Center, N.Y., 2008)

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Thursday, 11 December 2008

Richard Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Copenhagen Ring)

Johan Reuter (Wotan I), James Johnson (Wotan II, Wanderer), Michael Kristensen (Loge), Stephen Milling (Fasolt/Hunding), Christian Christensen (Fafner), Sten Byriel (Alberich), Bengi-Ola Morguy (Mime), Randi Stene (Fricka), Anne Magarethe Dahl (Freia), Susanne Resmark (Erda), Stig Andersen (Siegmund/Siegfried), Gitta-Maria Sjöberg (Sieglinde), Iréne Theorin (Brünnhilde), Gisela Stille (Waldvogel), Guido Paevatalu (Gunther), Peter Klaneness (Hagen), Ylva Kihlberg (Guntrune), et al; Royal Danish Opera Chorus / Philip White; Royal Danish Orchestra / Michael Schønwandt
Stage Director: Kasper Bech Holten
Video Direction: Uffe Bogwartd, Peter Bogwartd
Decca 074 3264 (7 DVDs – 920 min)
*** $$$
Perchance, the numerical rating above reflects a split decision. As a performance of the towering central works of Richard Wagner, this production (box-titled as The Copenhagen Ring) might earn a charitable two stars based on orchestral performance and the energy displayed on stage. But, as a succession of evenings of riveting musical drama it is plainly worth double that. Billed as the first feminist Ring, Kasper Bech Holten focuses on Brünnhilde and stretches the cycle over a 20th-century framework – the entire 20th century. Wagner’s music is essentially complete (and performed well) and we hear most of the text but Holten radically revises character depiction and plot details and introduces a new layer of symbolism from end to end. As a Wagner performance, this can only enhance our admiration for the monumental artistic achievements of Barenboim/Kupfer (Warner) and Boulez/Chéreau (DG) in Bayreuth.

The composer’s meticulous (and often impractical) stage directions have been under constant modification since the 1950s. Holten’s is the most radical revision to date and he pulls up just short of parody. And yet he succeeds in realizing his artistic vision. The scene-setting Das Rheingold is typically the weak link in any performance of the cycle. This one exploits our curiosity and grips the attention throughout. To ring in some conspicuous changes to the ‘preliminary’ evening: 1) The opening scene is set in a drinking lounge where Alberich is getting hammered. The Rhine Maidens are bargirls who tease their way to catastrophe. Instead of mineral deposits, the Rhinegold is physically personified as a naked youth swimming languidly in the aquarium window of the bar. In a drunken jealous rage, Alberich slays him and cuts out his heart with a broken bottle. This is the ‘gold’ that is stolen to cast the spell in forging the ring. 2) John Reuter’s performance as Wotan (in Rheingold only) inspires an instant cautionary dictum: “Beware of an aroused, debt-ridden Wilhelminian dude with a spear in his hands.” He removes the ring from Alberich along with a forearm causing bloodshed of Texas Chainsaw Massacre dimensions. More gore follows… 3) Loge is depicted as a chain smoking yellow-press journalist who ends up knowing too much. Wotan slaughters him before he gets a chance to deliver his crucial, prophetic valedictory.

And so it goes. In Die Walkure, it is Sieglinde who draws the sword out of the tree and Wotan allows Hunding to scuttle away from the duel unharmed. Götterdämerung opens with ropeless Norns singing from the audience and the Gibichung are depicted as ruthless masked gunmen from the Serbian corner of the Balkan triangle. In the end, Brünnhilde declines to submit to immolation and departs with her off-stage newborn child (Yikes! The Wälsung walk among us! Well, maybe in Denmark.)

The production is of variable vocal quality. Stunning performances from James Johnson and Stig Andersen really carry the show in Die Walküre and Siegfried. Also notable are The Alberich of Sten Byriel, Stephen Milling as Hunding, Guido Paevatalu (Gunther) and Peter Klaveness, who presents an unforgettable psychopathic portrayal of Hagen.

Mostly Wagner, part scary movie, this set is not recommended for those approaching the Ring for the first time. It offers terrific entertainment value but other productions remain closer to the spirit and intent of the composer. According to taste and inclination, viewers may regard it as corruption of the highest operatic art. But it deserves to be viewed.

- Stephen Habington

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Variés : Four American Quartets

Fine Arts Quartet
Naxos 8.559354 (62 min 27 s)
** $
Les compilations de musiques diverses n'ont qu'un intérêt, celui de la découverte. À moins d'une préférence marquée du mélonmane pour tel ou tel ensemble instrumental, la webradio, dans son infinie variété, les rend caduques. De plus, le répertoire n’impressionne guère ici: le Premier Quatuor de Ralph Evans sonne comme du mauvais Bartok à « tonalité élargie » (avec un demi-siècle de retard !); Philip Glass, fidèle à lui-même, donne dans un simplisme soporifique; George Antheil, dans son Troisième Quatuor, change de chapeau en passant du futurisme révolutionnaire de sa jeunesse à un folklorisme teinté d’humour; et le rapiéçage que sont les Echoes de Bernard Herrmann, malgré leur matériau solide et touchant, trahissent l’absence de conception formelle de ce spécialiste de musique de film. Bravo tout de même au Fine Arts Quartet pour son honorable prestation.

- René Bricault

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Schubert : Piano Sonata in A, D.959 / 6 Moments musicaux

Martin Helmchen, piano
Pentatone classics PTC 5186 329 (67 min 18 s)
**** $$$$
Lauréat du concours Clara Haskil en 2001, Martin Helmchen possède une technique à la fois impeccable et discrète, dont une certaine sécheresse semble être le revers. Son interprétation de la grande Sonate en la de Schubert en souffre. L’exécution obéit au métronome, sans cultiver les moments où la suspension du temps est l’enjeu de la pulsation rythmique. Le pianiste, même s'il le fait avec intelligence et goût, opte pour une interprétation objective – les notes d’abord - particulièrement dommageable dans le deuxième mouvement; le cataclysme central tient ici de la prouesse au lieu d’évoquer une plongée dans les abîmes. En revanche, les fausses miniatures que sont les Moments musicaux surprennent agréablement, à l’exception peut-être du dernier, trop évasif. Le pianiste respire ici plus largement et prend son temps; il aménage les épisodes centraux en rêverie qu’on souhaiterait sans fin, à l’image des « divines longueurs » toujours bien calculées de Schubert.

- Alexandre Lazaridès

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Today's Birthdays in Music: December 11 (Berlioz, E. Carter)

1803 - Hector Berlioz, La-Côte-Saint-André, France; composer

Wikipedia
Hector Berlioz website

"Un bal" (2nd mvt.) from Symphonie Fantastique (Orchestre de Paris, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, 1970)


"Gloire à Didon" from Les Troyens (N.Y. Metropolitan Opera, 1983)



1908 - Elliott Carter, New York, U.S.A.; composer

Wikipedia
Elliott Carter at 99 (Los Angeles Times, August 2008)

Interview with Elliott Carter (2008)


Quintet for Piano and Strings (Part 1) (Arditti Quartet with Ursula Oppens, piano; Amsterdam, 1999)

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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

To Russia with Love

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone
Moscow Chamber Orchestra; Style of Five Folk Ensemble / Constantine Orbelian
Delos DV 7005
***** $$$$
Recorded live in St. Petersburg, Russia on September 15, 2006, this DVD consists of a program of Russian folk and contemporary songs which Dmitri Hvorostovsky has since taken on tour all over the world, including a concert in Toronto last season. To my eyes and ears, Hvorostovsky is the most significant baritone today, pace Bryn Terfel and a number of other wonderful singers. Others may have a more varied repertoire or an even more powerful stage persona, but none can beat the Siberian for his resplendent quality of tone and rock-solid technique with its amazingly long breath line. When DH came to Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall, the audience was heavily Russian, and as in this video, the singer was offered bouquets galore from his adoring female fans. The soulful romances on the program were archetypically Russian, pretty much all written in the minor key, on the joys and pains of love and love lost. The baritone was his usual spectacular self, offering up volleys of refulgent tone. In no time the audience was eating out of his hand. If one were to nitpick, there was a stylistic sameness to it all – experiencing them in a single sitting is like eating a whole box of marzipan. Leading the Moscow Chamber Orchestra was DH’s frequent collaborator and conductor of choice, Constantine Orbelian. The Style of Five Folk Ensemble contributed several terrific instrumental arrangements of folk tunes, allowing the baritone brief rests between numbers. Three encores were given, including “O Sole Mio”, and of course the obligatory “Dark Eyes”, a showstopper that is indelibly linked to Hvorostovsky. His fans will want it all, as will any lover of great singing.


- Joseph K. So

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Le piano absolu : L’éducation d’un prodige

Lang Lang avec David Ritz
Paris : JC Lattès, 2008 (298 p.)
ISBN13 978-2-7096-3041-2
**** $$$$
À 26 ans, Lang Lang est devenu l’une des plus grandes stars de la scène classique actuelle. Charismatique, médiatisé, véritable pont humain entre les cultures orientale et occidentale, le pianiste chinois continue de faire couler beaucoup d’encre, les articles dithyrambiques voisinant quasi quotidiennement avec les critiques lapidaires. Dans cette autobiographie, mise en forme par David Ritz (qui a déjà exploré les univers de Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin et Marvin Gaye), Lang Lang jette un regard sur son parcours atypique.

Fils d’une mère absente, qui consacre sa vie à travailler pour assurer la subsistance de la famille, et d’un père musicien devenu policier, Lang Lang manifeste rapidement des dons exceptionnels pour le piano. Ceux-ci fructifieront en partie grâce à ce père tyrannique qui abandonnera son travail pour faire de son fils une superstar en le faisant travailler de façon obsessionnelle. L'enfant n'a plus qu'un seul but : devenir le numéro 1 parmi 36 millions de Chinois qui travaillent leur instrument. Pari insensé? La route de Lang Lang a été, quoi qu’on en pense, parsemée d'embûches avant le premier prix international décroché à 15 ans, l'établissement aux États-Unis et l'ascension phénoménale qui l'y attend.

Lang Lang se livre avec une candeur charmante, dépourvue de tout misérabilisme. Le ton adopté par Ritz est précis, punch, les dialogues primant sur les descriptions. On déplorera à peine par moment le cachet très français de la traduction (quelques tournures ou choix de termes dont « cachetons » pour rendre gig, ou même le titre, grandiloquent, et qui n’a rien à voir avec l’original) et ses maladresses dans le champ musical (clé plutôt que tonalité, le Rachmaninov 2 plutôt que le Deuxième de Rachmaninov). Au final, qu’on apprécie ou non le jeu de Lang Lang, on ne peut qu’être fasciné par un tel périple.

- Lucie Renaud

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Le Piano: Les choix de Georges Nicholson

Horowitz; Gould; Arrau; Rubenstein; Haskil; Backhaus; Richter; Cortot
Disques Pelléas CD-0123 (6CD)
***** $$$$
This compilation is a fine introduction for any young pianist or new classical music lover. The collection consists of six discs (7.5 hours) of some of the most famous recordings mixed with older, less celebrated selections. Featuring performers like Cortot, Gould and Horowitz, the CDs are divided into categories: Chopin, Adagio – Rêverie, Les Femmes, Transcriptions, Glenn Gould, and Horowitz. At the moderate price of $26.99 (less than five dollars per disc) it is a great deal considering some epic recordings usually cost a premium when purchased individually. Vladimir Horowitz’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no. 1 and Glenn Gould’s recording of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C major are two recordings no pianist’s collection should be without. Les Femmes is a particularly eclectic CD of female musicians, pairing Beethoven and Bach beside Chabrier and Granados and featuring Fauré’s oft forgotten Impromptu No. 2 in F minor recorded by the talented Marguerite Long. Unfortunately, the only modern composer is Frederico Mompou, so while the collection is ideal for a new initiate, the seasoned listener may find they already own the more popular recordings.

- Andrew Buziak

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Today's Birthdays in Music: December 10 (Messiaen, Franck)

1908 - Olivier Messiaen, Avignon, France; composer, organist

Wikipedia

Turangalîla Symphony, Final (10th) mvt. (Orchestre de l'Opéra Bastille, Paris, Myung-Whun Chung conducting, 1990)


Messiaen on Birds (Yvonne Loriod, piano)



1822 - César Franck, Liège, Belgium; composer, organist

Wikipedia

Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra (Georges Cziffra, piano; György Cziffra Jr. conducting)


Renée Fleming sings "Panis Angelicus" (Mainz Cathedral, 2005)

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Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Der Tod und das Mädchen

Jerusalem Quartet (Alexander Pavlovsky, Sergei Bresler, violin; Amichai Grosz, viola; Kyril Zlotnikov, cello)
Harmonia mundi HMU901990 (51 min 55 s)
*****
The Jerusalem Quartet has revived two Schubert classics, the String Quartet No. 12 in C minor, D. 703, “Quartettsatz” and String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D. 810, “Der Tod und das Madchen” (“Death and the Maiden”). Now standard string quartet repertoire, “das Mädchen” was adapted from the piano portion of an 1817 lied of the same name. “Quartettsatz” was written in 1820 as the first movement to Schubert’s unfinished Twelfth String Quartet. The Quartet approaches both pieces with vigor, making this performance one of the quickest recorded: 8 min 57 s. While the speed never diminishes, the action eventually cools in the dreamy pianissimo section, then builds to close the piece with intensity. The opening to “das Mädchen” provides the sweetest moment of the album. Kyril’s Zlotnikov’s cello makes a strong spine for the viola and violins. He performs the bass rhythm with bold, lyrical bowing, driving the entire movement with strong technique.

- Andrew Buziak

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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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Rachmaninov: 24 Préludes

Mathieu Gaudet, piano
XXI 1622 (CD1: 39 min 47 s; CD2: 41 min 1 s)
*****
Rachnaninov’s Preludes spanned his career and are rarely performed complete. In this recording Matthieu Gaudet performs all 24, demonstrating the full range of the composer. Rachmaninov is often remembered for the complexity of his writing but the Preludes highlight his subtly. Gaudet explores this, most notably in the slower pieces. No.10 in G flat major calls for patience and a light touch; the action lies in the harmony, not the tempo or the volume.
The recording also highlights Gaudet’s control, particularly in the G minor prelude. It opens with a subtle jaunt and fades to a Chopin-esque fantasia in the middle. The ending is bold, in traditional Rachmaninov style. Gaudet does not hesitate to reach a full fortissimo in the final section. Overall, his performance on this album is wonderful and full of passion.

- Andrew Buziak

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Today's Birthdays in Music: December 9 (Schwarzkopf, Bell)

1915 - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Jarotschin, Germany; opera and lieder soprano

Wikipedia
Obituary (The Times, London, August 2006)

First part of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf documentary (1985)


"Frühling" and "September" from Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs (Georg Szell conducts the Radio Symphonie Orchestra Berlin



1967 - Joshua Bell, Bloomington, IN, U.S.A.; violinist

Wikipedia
Official website

Joshua Bell plays and conducts Haydn's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in C (Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra, July 2008)


Joshua Bell plays The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, by Debussy (with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra)

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Monday, 8 December 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: December 8 (Sibelius, Martinů)

1865 - Jean Sibelius, Hämeenlinna, Finland; composer

Wikipedia
Jean Sibelius website

Finlandia (Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Paavo Berglund)


Violin Concerto in D minor, 1st mvt. (Christian Fatu, violin, with the Kansas City Philharmonia, conducted by Andres Franco)



1890 - Bohuslav Martinů, Polička, Bohemia; composer

Wikipedia

Piano Quartet, 3rd mvt. (Carl Banner, piano, David Cho, cello, Judith Spokes, violin, Andrea Vercoe, viola; Washington Musica Viva concert, 2008)

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Sunday, 7 December 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: December 7 (Mascagni)

1863 - Pietro Mascagni, Livorno, Italy; composer

Wikipedia
Mascagni and Mussolini

Fiorenza Cossotto and chorus sing "Inneggiamo, Il Signor non è morto" ("Easter Hymn") from Cavalleria Rusticana (Herbert von Karajan conducting)


Meray Boustan and Adam Shelton sing "Suzel, buon di" ("Cherry Duet") from L'Amico Fritz (University of Arizona production)

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