La Scena Musicale

Friday, 3 December 2010

Pianist Stewart Goodyear’s recital action-packed

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

In more ways than one, pianist Stewart Goodyear is a knockout: he’s both visually entertaining to watch and acoustically dynamic to hear; his playing is near perfect but hard to be pinned down for what exactly is missing.

That was the case in his solo recital at Koerner Hall Nov. 28, when an all-Beethoven program was on the menu, featuring Piano Sonata No. 17, Op. 31, No. 2, the Tempest; Piano Sonata No. 21, Op. 53, the Waldstein; Piano Sonata No. 14, Op. 27, No. 2, the Moonlight and Piano Sonata No. 23, Op. 57, the Appassionata.

Goodyear is a fine pianist with confidence and exuberance on stage. However, coming away from this particular recital felt a bit like leaving the movie theatre after watching a great action film that offers lots of terrific action but little plot. His Beethoven, albeit solid, lacked certain humanity and came across hard at times. His superlative fingers have a tendency of making everything sound homogenous after a while, despite the contrast in dynamics and colours.

That being said, Goodyear displayed a total control at the keyboard starting with the arpeggio opening of the Tempest, followed by those infamous descending two-note slurs piano students practise a whole calendar year to master.

His flawless technique can be described as being military precise, alarmingly swift and crisp like a double-edge razor. This exact skill set dominated the entire program, particularly in the outer, faster movements of the sonatas in which Goodyear produced much excitement and evoked many listeners to head-bob like pigeons in the audience. One man looked like he was being electrocuted on cue from his seat during the pianist’s lightning interpretation of the Moonlight’s presto agitato, and just about everybody jumped up to their feet when Goodyear finished the Appasionata in a do-or-die manner in the fast-as-you-can coda by smacking his feet and ejecting the bench away from the piano as he stroke the final chord with such force that he nearly fell off sideways, but didn’t.

Goodyear also showed off a gentler side of his playing in the slower, less turbulent movements. The adagio from the Tempest saw some of the most sensitive playing from him in the concert while the popular first movement of the Moonlight reflected an ominous sense that all hell will break loose. Goodyear followed this with a sweet and delicate ray of sunshine in the Moonlight’s allegretto, and later in the Waldstein’s rondo, which conveyed a clear texture of an angelic and playful flair layered with long sustaining trills and explosive passageworks.

The recital was dramatic, to say the least, and sometimes that’s what makes a performance breathtaking.

Labels: ,

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Christian Tetzlaff delivers victory in Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

It was a concert that began and concluded with mild ecstasy. British conductor Mark Wigglesworth whipped up a decent performance from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra by opening with a subdued and rather grave reading of Wagner's Prelude to Parsifal and ending with a colourful and tightly focused account of Rachmaninoff's expressive third symphony.

But what really counted for most listeners at Roy Thomson Hall Dec. 1 was German violinist Christian Tetzlaff's exciting showdown in Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major.

In this day and age, performing a piece as feverish as the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto — which easily puts the Bieber fever to shame, by the way — is, in a nutshell, hard. Just about every violinist has tackled the work in private or in public and just about every interpretation has been heard live on stage or otherwise.

So it was hugely refreshing to see the petite- and slender-looking Tetzlaff, whose demeanor resembles that of a neat pharmacist or banker, taking some risks on stage.

Tetzlaff was gutsy without being reckless. His approach was extreme and came with clear articulation and unapologetic execution. There were elements of unpredictability and unevenness in his playing throughout the three movements and perhaps that was what made the partnership between orchestra and soloist sound rocky and slightly under-rehearsed at times.

That being said, it was those questionable, exotic moments in various passages that made all the big climaxes more thrilling, punchy and exuberant. The cadenzas, played without taking too much time lingering in between the harmonics, built up a kind of an erratic momentum that was intense yet serenely graceful. In contrast, Tetzlaff delivered a sweet, nostalgic voice on mute in the melancholic second movement.

In the end, there was a sense of a battle won in overcoming the sheer emotional turmoil from what could only be some kind of a violinistic genius on stage.

The program repeats at Roy Thomson Hall Dec. 2.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Peter Hofmann : In Memoriam

German tenor Peter Hofmann (b. 22 Aug 1944 - d. 29 Nov. 2010)

The celebrated German heldentenor Peter Hofmann died of pneumonia in the early hours of Tuesday, in a hospital in Upper Franconia in Germany. Hofmann was born in Marienbad on the German-Czech border in 1944. He made his debut as Tamino in Lubeck, but soon switched from lyric tenor to the Wagnerian repertoire. His most celebrated work was as Siegmund in the legendary 1976 Bayreuth Centennial Ring directed by Patrice Chereau. His Act 1 Die Walkure scene with American soprano Jeannine Altmeyer is still considered unsurpassed by many, for its vocalism but also for the sexual energy and chemistry between the two artists. It was captured four years later on video. Hofmann sang and played guitar in a rock band as a young man, before he started studying to become an operatic tenor. He had a parallel career singing pop and soft rock throughout the 80's. His 1982 album, "Rock Classics" released on the CBS label, went platinum on the charts. In addition to Siegmund, he was a celebrated Tristan, Parsifal, Lohengrin, and Walter von Stolzing in Bayreuth, Met, San Francisco. His career was cut short in the early 1990's when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's. He ended his career in musical theatre, singing the title role in Phantom of the Opera 300 times. Although he developed Parkinson's as early as 1994, he made it public in 1999 and officially announced his retirement from singing in 2004. He is survived by two sons from his first marriage to soprano Deborah Sasson, and a daughter from his second marriage, as well as his brother Fritz.

Labels: ,

Sunday, 28 November 2010

This Week in Toronto (Nov. 29 - Dec. 5)

German violinist Christian Tetzlaff plays Tchaikovsky at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra this week (Photo: Alexandra Vosding)

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has a surefire program this week - a winning combination of Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff! Back in town is the terrific Christian Tetzlaff playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major Op. 35 Also on the program is the Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 3 in A Minor Op. 44 and Wagner's Prelude to Parsifal. British conductor Mark Wigglesworth is at the helm. The energetic Mr. Tetzlaff has great musicality and technique to burn, so this is my choice of exciting event this week. Two performances, Wednesday Dec. 1 and Thursday Dec. 2, both at 8 pm. For more information, go to

Toronto opera fans will likely remember bass-baritone Pavlo Hunka, who has sung many times with the COC, in such roles as Falstaff, Hunding, and Golaud, among others. He is back in Toronto this week for the launch of the 6 CD set of Mykola Lysenko Art Songs. This lavishly produced and beautifully illustrated box set is the brainchild of Hunka, a UK born singer to a Ukrainian father and English mother. It is the lifelong dream of Hunka to introduce Ukrainian art songs to the world, through the recording of the approximately one thousand classical songs composed by Ukrainian composers. This release follows the 2 CD set of Stetsenko songs released in 2006. I recently interviewed Hunka about this project, and you can read about it in Fall/Winter 2011 issue of The Music Scene, available for view and download at Well, the launch takes place on Sunday Dec. 5 at 4 pm, at RCM's Koerner Hall. The centerpiece of the launch is a concert with the participation of sopranos Monica Whicher and Krisztina Szabo, baritone Russell Braun, and bass-baritone Pavlo Hunka. They will be singing selections from the collection of 124 songs of Lysenko. For more information, go to

Tafelmusik presents a program of concertos and symphonies of Mozart and Haydn this week with British harpsichordist Richard Egarr as the guest orchestra leader and soloist at the fortepiano. The symphonies are Mozart's No. 1 K. 16 and Haydn's No. 44 in E Minor, "Trauersymphonie". The two concertos are Mozart's No. 12 K. 414 and Haydn's No. 11. There are four performances, Dec. 1, 2, 4 and 5 at their usual venue, Trinity St. Paul Centre. The Wednesday Dec. 1 performance is "Wednesday Night Talkback" where the audience has an opportunity to meet Maestro Egarr after the show. For ticket information and the various start times, go to

With Christmas drawing ever closer, many organizations, particularly choral groups, are gearing up! The excellent choral group, Pax Christi Chorale is presenting Bach's Christmas Oratorio 1 and 4, Cantata 140 "Wachet Auf. " Howard Dyck, retired since last May as the conductor of the Grand Philharmonic Choir in a memorable Verdi Requiem, is the guest conductor. The soloists are soprano Agnes Zsigovics, mezzo Iasmina Pataca, tenor Cory Knight and baritone Matthew Zadow. I am only familiar with Zadow's voice. He was a student of Canadian baritone Bruce Kelly, and I heard Matthew as a fresh-voiced Count in Opera York's Le nozze di Figaro about five years ago. He has since relocated to Belgium, so it is good to have him performing on this side of the pond. Two shows on Saturday 7:30 pm and Sunday 3 pm at Grace Church on the Hill. Go to for more information.

The Amadeus Choir under conductor Lydia Adams is putting on the ever-popular Messiah at the Metropolitan United Church in downtown Toronto. With a choir of 115 strong voices, their choral performances are always enjoyable. Soloists are soprano Jennifer Taverner, mezzo Jennifer Enns, tenor Patrick Huang and bass-baritone Giles Tomkins. The performance is on Friday Dec. 3 at 8 pm. Go to for more information.

For something different - definitely un-Christmasy - is An Evening of Kurt Weill presented by students of the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music. On the program are cabaret songs. One doesn't often get to hear young voices singing Kurt Weill - perhaps because the world-weary quality of some of the songs are often associated with mature voices. So this is definitely worth hearing. Performances on Friday Dec. 3 and Saturday Dec. 4, both at 7:30 pm -

On Sunday Dec. 5 at 2:30 pm, Aldeburgh Connection is presenting The Year of Song: a Schumann Celebration. The concert celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Schumann. On the program are two fine singers, soprano Erin Wall and baritone Philip Addis. Usually, 1840 is referred to as Schumann's "year of the song." A sufferer of bipolar affecting disorder, Schumann was on his manic high in 1840 and he produced some of his greatest works on that year. I assume some of these songs from 1840 will be on the program. As usual, Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata at the piano. No program details at the website -