La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 17 April 2010

This Week in Toronto (April 19 - 25)

The Flying Dutchman (c. 1896) by Albert Pinkham Ryder

The big news this week on the vocal front is the arrival of the spring operatic season. The Canadian Opera Company presents a revival of its production of The Flying Dutchman. This is the first opera conducted by Johannes Debus since his appointment as the COC Music Director. The title role of Dutchman is Russian baritone Evgeny Nikitin, who is making his company debut. All the other soloists are returnees to the COC – bass Mats Almgren, a wonderfully menacing Hagen, is Daland; soprano Julie Makerov, who sang the title role in Rusalka last season, returns as Senta; mezzo Barbara Dever, last heard in Eugene Onegin, is Mary; and Robert Kunzli, last heard in From the House of the Dead, is Erik. Tenor Gordon Gietz, originally scheduled as the Steersman, has been replaced by COC Ensemble tenor Adam Luther. For traditionalists, this production is controversial, but by Regietheater standards, it is quite mild. You can decide for yourself - the show opens on Saturday April 24 7:30 pm at the Four Seasons Centre. The opera is performed without an intermission. For ticket information, go to If conceptual re-imaginings of Wagner isn’t for you, Opera Atelier offers a new but entirely traditional production of The Marriage of Figaro, sung in English. OA with its baroque sensibilities and historically informed stagings are always pretty to look at, with singers who can act and look believable on stage. The ensemble cast is made up of OA regulars plus two debutants. Baritone Olivier Laquerre is Figaro, and soprano Carla Huhtanen is Susanna.Frequent OA guest Peggy Kriha Dye is the Countess, with baritone Phillip Addis making his company debut as the Count. Rising mezzo Wallis Giunta is Cherubino. The Tafelmusik Orchestra is conducted by David Fallis. The show opens at the Elgin Theatre at exactly the same time as the COC Dutchman, with additional performances on April 25, 27, 28, 30, and May 1. Go to for information and tickets. Other vocal presentations include Native Earth/Indie(n) Rights Reserve’s Giiwedin which continues this week, with performances on April 20, 22, 23, and 24 at the Theatre Passe Muraille. For choral music fans, the Pax Christi Chorale presents the Mozart Requiem, a piece that I never get tired of hearing. Also on the program are motets by Bach and Rheinberger. Soloists are soprano Laura Albino, mezzo Julia Dawson, tenor Sasha Bataligin, and baritone James Levesque, under artistic director Stephanie Martin. The performances take place Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 3:00 pm at Grace Church on the Hill, 300 Lonsdale Road. For more information, go to Duo pianists James Anagnoson and Leslie Kinton, faculty members of the Royal Conservatory of Music, gives a concert on Saturday, April 24 at 8 pm at the St. James Church in Caledon East. For more information, go to
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Sibelius Festival continues this week with performances on April 21 and 22 at 8 pm in Roy Thomson Hall. On the program are Symphonies No. 5, 6, and 7. In addition, Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto plays Serenades for Violin and Orchestra. Danish conductor Thomas Dausgaard leads the TSO forces. I attended the opening night performance last Wednesday. Conducting entirely from memory, Dausgaard showed impressive understanding of the Sibelius symphonies and fully justifies his reputation as a specialist in this repertoire. Under his baton, the orchestra played with exceptional clarity, precision, and remarkable lyricism. I wasn’t very familiar with Symphony No. 1 and didn’t quite know what to expect. Under Dausgaard, it was one continuous lyrical outpouring, making me wanting to revisit this work as soon as possible. The more familiar Symphony No. 2 can seem rather heavy along the line of Brahms and Bruckner, but Dausgaard’s conducting was well-considered and full of chiaroscuro, with a particularly luminous third movement and Finale. There was even an encore (Valse Triste), a rarity in symphonic concerts! Dausgaard began with super-hushed pianissimos, thankfully the boisterous, applause-minded audience quieted down quickly. It was a fitting end to an enjoyable evening. On Saturday April 24th 1:30 and then again at 3:30 pm, French Canadian conductor Alain Trudel leads the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra in Britten’s The Young Persons’ Guide to the Orchestra. Peter Oundjian is the narrator of this one. For more information and tickets, go to


Friday, 16 April 2010

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Sunday, 11 April 2010

Lortie not Himself in Chopin Recital

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

I was one of the few people who didn’t give Louis Lortie a standing ovation at Koerner Hall this afternoon.

I have a deep respect for Lortie, who has long been a favourite pianist of mine, and not because he's Canadian. I have attended many of his concerts and masterclasses and he has never let me down before. Just last March, when he played Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, I quietly shed a few tears during the moving adagio.

However, Lortie was a very different pianist in an all-Chopin recital today. He struggled with some of the most rudimentary things such as memory lapses, which, as human as he is, just should not happen at his virtuoso level.

The program, built around Chopin’s four ballades and key-matching nocturnes (except for the third ballade in A-flat major), flopped from the beginning with the pairing of the G minor Nocturne, Op. 15, No. 3 and the G minor Ballade. Playing them as one continuous piece, the ballade’s solemn and weepy opening introduction in octaves felt out of place after Lortie gave the mazurka-like nocturne a groovy, jazzy treatment. Maybe the gentle Op. 37, No. 1 Nocturne in the same key with its choral middle section would have worked better.

The coupling of the F major Nocturne, Op. 15, No. 1 with the F major Ballade was more successful in character, as was the case between the F minor Nocturne, Op. 55, No. 1 and the F minor Ballade. However, instead of the cheerful A-flat major Nocturne, Op. 32, No. 2, Lortie chose the E-flat major Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 2 and the C minor Nocturne, Op. 48, No. 1 to precede the A-flat major Ballade.

The rest of the program was made up with the Berceuse in D-flat major, the F-sharp major Nocturne, Op. 15, No. 2 and the Barcarolle, also in F-sharp major.

Overall, there was some really nice, warm sound coming from the piano, even though the instrument’s higher register seemed often overpowered by its lower counterpart. However, Lortie’s playing came across choppy most of the time due to erratic use of rubato, his chords were not always dead-on, and his running passages, albeit technically brilliant, were sometimes sloppy in their manner of care. All of this is uncharacteristic of the kind of precision player Lortie is known for.

Playing all four Chopin ballades in one concert is a major undertaking for any pianist. Throw in some nocturnes and two of the most popular pieces by the composer and it’s a daunting recital in more ways than one. After an overwhelming standing ovation, and a few shouting bravos, Lortie ended the recital on a good note, playing theD-flat major Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 2 to perfection. It was by far the best playing of the afternoon, but it was too little too late.

That being said, I still look forward to Lortie’s next recital when the pianist is likely to be more himself.

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This Week in Toronto (April 12 - 18)

Jean Sibelius (photo taken around 1889-90)

There was a time when the Toronto Symphony Orchestra featured works by Jean Sibelius with regularity, especially during the tenure of the Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste. I recall hearing Sibelius symphonies and other orchestral works like Kullervo, Karelia Suite, and of course the famous Finlandia. If you are a Sibelius fan, the next two week's programs are for you. The TSO under guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard is presenting The Sibelius Festival from April 14 to 22. On the program will be all seven symphonies plus some of his violin works played by Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto. Symphonies No. 1 and 2 will be on April 14 at 8 pm and April 15 at 2 pm at Roy Thomson Hall. Also on the program is Humoresques Nos. 1 & 2 for violin and orchestra. Symphonies No. 3 and 4 will be performed on Saturday April 17 at 7:30 pm, together with Cantique and Devotion, as well as Finlandia. The Sibelius Festival Chorus and the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra will be performing the Finlandia alongside the TSO. This is a "Casual Concert" so there will be a live band after the show in the lobby. I have attended some of these in the past and they are fun, although the change of musical styles took some getting used to. Symphony 5, 6 and 7 will be performed Wednesday and Thursday of next week (April 21 and 22). On April 16 at 7:30 pm, at the George Weston Recital Hall, the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra under French Canadian conductor Alain Trudel will be offering a mixed program that includes The Haydn "London" Symphony, Sibelius' Finlandia, Tchaikovsky violin concerto, and Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra Op. 34. For more information and tickets, go to

The Toronto Philharmonia presents Swiss pianist Teo Gheorghiu in Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2. Also on the program is Brahms Symphony No. 1 conducted by Kerry Stratton. This concert takes place at the acoustically friendly George Weston Hall, on April 15 8 pm. For more information, go to [Updated on Friday April 16th: It turned out that there were wholesale changes to the artists that were not reflected in the Toronto Philharmonia website. Kerry Stratton was busy conducting in Israel and in his place was conductor Simon Irving. Pianist Teo Gheorghiu was replaced by Korean pianist Younggun Kim. To be honest, I feel that the Toronto Philharmonia needs to do a better job communicating changes to its audience. The website was limited to a tiny homepage with no clickable links, and it was not updated to reflect the changes. Mr. Kim was excellent in the Rachmaninoff No. 2, but I also met audience members who traveled from out of town specifically to hear Mr. Gheorghiu, and they were naturally disappointed.]

On the vocal front, there are several interesting concerts this week. The presentation by Native Earth and An Indie(n) Rights Reserve of Giiwedin continues on April 13 and April 15 at the Theatre Passe Muraille. I attended opening night last Thursday, and I was impressed by this piece co-composed by Spy Denomme-Welch and Catherine Magown. With rather basic sets and a very limited orchestra, they managed to put together a work remarkable for its emotional power and eloquence. I found myself moved by it at the end of the evening. The music is evocative of many styles and totally accessible, in fact with plenty of melodies. Kudos go to conductor Gregory Oh who worked wonders with an orchestra of four - violin, cello, archlute and harpsichord! But the greatest accolades go to the committed, passionate and enthusiastic cast, led by First Nations mezzo Marion Newman, who successfully brought to life Noodin-Kwe, the fictional and symbolic 150 year old native woman fighting for her land. Yes, I believe those were real tears on her face at the end of the final scene. Also deserving of mention is bass baritone Jesse Clark as the French Canadian Indian Agent Jean. I would be remiss if I don't mention the excellent quartet of women - Catharin Carew, Nicole Joy-Fraser, Jessica Lloyd, and Neema Bickersteth - who took on multiple roles, some of them animals! Lawrence Cotton was a deliciously over-the-top Dr. Carlton. Unfortunately the tenor James McLennan (The Minister) was ill and only mimed the role, with the voice very capably supplied by Martin Houtman. It was interesting to see the composers going against operatic convention by making the tenor the bad guy! Director Maria Lamont is to be commended for her deft staging of the piece, one that is rather heavy on storyline, especially in the second act. I particularly liked the ingenious ways of her using the columns of light to suggest a forest, and then again in its final destruction. This show runs to April 24 and is well worth attending.

On April 15 noon, the Canadian Opera Company Vocal Series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre presents Pergolesi's delightful La Serva Padrona. This short opera is a staple of opera schools and rarely finds its way to the mainstage. The singers are members of the COC Ensemble Studio. Remember to show up 45 minutes early to ensure a seat. Last but not least, Canadian soprano Monica Whicher, who is on the faculty of the Royal Conservatory of Music, gives a recital on Sunday April 18 at 1 pm in Mazzoleni Hall of the RCM. Joining her will be mezzo Frances Pappas and pianist Liz Upchurch.