La Scena Musicale

Friday, 17 December 2010

Le Messie de Handel à Montréal

par Julie Berardino

Que serait la saison des fêtes sans le Messie de Handel ? Heureusement, nombre d’ensembles montréalais vous offriront leurs versions de ce classique tant aimé !

Tout d’abord, réunissant quelque 300 chanteurs et musiciens, Le Messie de Handel vous est offert dans sa presque totalité par l’orchestre philharmonique du Nouveau Monde, sous la direction de Michel Brousseau. Nombre de choeurs de chez nous collaboreront à cet événement magnifique; le Chœur de l’Orchestre philharmonique du Nouveau Monde, les Chanteurs de Sainte-Thérèse, le Chœur Tremblant et le Chœur classique d’Ottawa ! Les solistes sont soprano Maria Knapik, la mezzo-soprano Renée Lapointe, le ténor Antoine Bélanger et le baryton-basse Alexandre Sylvestre. L’événement vous sera présenté le samedi 18 décembre prochain à  20 h à l’Église St-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal et le dimanche 19 décembre à 15 h à l’Église de Saint-Jovite de Mont-Tremblant.

Le réputé Ensemble Telemann, spécialisé dans le répertoire baroque, vous présente quant à lui cet événement le 17 décembre à 20 h à l’église St-Joachim de Pointe-Claire ainsi que le 18 décembre à 20 h à dans la splendide église St-James de Montréal, sous la direction de Rafik Matta. Les solistes sont Pascale Beaudin, soprano ; Erin Grainger, alto; Michiel Schrey, ténor et Nathaniel Watson, baryton-basse.

Le 20 décembre prochain à 19 h 30, à la Cathédrale Christ Church de Montréal, découvrez  « le son, la passion et l’intimité » de l’orchestre de chambre de McGill ! Le Messie est cette fois dirigé par Patrick Weddet présenté en collaboration avec le Chœur de la cathédrale Christ Church. Les solistes sont Suzie Leblanc, soprano ; Daniel Taylor, contre-ténor ; Alexander Dobson, basse ; Rufus Müller, ténor.

L’orchestre symphonique de Longueuil nous offrira également cette œuvre magnifique à la Cocathédrale Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue de Longueuil, en compagnie de L'Ensemble vocal Polymnie et avec Marc David au pupitre.  Entendez les solistes Claudine Côté, soprano ; Mikah Meyer, contre-ténor ;Thomas Leslie, ténor ainsi que Calvin J. Powell, baryton.

Rappelons au passage que cette œuvre d’une infinie richesse a été écrite à Londres, en 1741, sur un livret de Charles Jennens. Bien qu’aujourd’hui extrêmement populaire, cet Oratorio, originalement écrit pour Pâques, était fort controversé en son temps !

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Thursday, 16 December 2010

Sir Andrew and the TSO offer Scintillating Messiah

TSO Conductor Laureate Sir Andrew Davis (Photo: Jim Four)

Customarily December is Messiah month in Toronto. As usual, the offerings range from the TSO's modern-instrument version, billed as "Toronto's Biggest Messiah", to the more intimate baroque version with period instrument put on by Tafelmusik. There's also the ever-popular Sing Along Messiah at Massey Hall that attracts a participatory-minded audience, and this year there's a special one for children. This year there is also something new at the venerable TSO Messiah. Not only is TSO Conductor Laureate Sir Andrew Davis making a welcome return, he is bringing along his own re-orchestration for the occasion. In the program notes and in the podcast on the TSO website, Sir Andrew points out that he certainly is not the first to do this, his predecessors include none other than Mozart(!), followed by Sir Eugene Goossens, Ebenezer Prout, Sir Thomas Beecham et al. He explains that it took him ten months of intense work to complete the re-orchestration. To be sure, Sir Andrew hasn't so much make radical changes as to use some unlikely instrument combinations to create a variety of tone colours in keeping with the spirit of the piece. There were some unusual instrumental choices - one would hardly expect a marimba to make an appearance in Messiah! Other choices include the high bell sound of antique cymbals and a reed instrument called a Pifa. Davis uses these to add tone colours, and as his annotations make clear, to add an occasional humorous touch, such as the bleating of sheep in the choral section 'All we like sheep have gone astray...' I find the changes made by Davis effective and occasionally evocative. For those already very familiar with Messiah, this new orchestration represents a refreshing re-imagining of this piece.

Thursday was opening night, and Roy Thomson Hall was near capacity, with a sense of occasion and anticipation in the air. As always, in addition to the TS forces there was the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, surely a national treasure. Of the quartet of soloists, two were making their TSO debuts - the up and coming Canadian soprano Andriana Chuchman, and the excellent British tenor Toby Spence. The vocal standouts for me were the two men. Keeping tight control over his vibrato, Spence was every inch the English oratorio tenor, singing with gorgeous, firm, plangent tone, heroic when required but capable of lovely mezza voce. His 'Ev'ry Valley' was the early highlight of the evening. Given his type of voice, one would never have guessed that he is also an excellent Strauss singer - his Henry in the rarely performed Strauss opera Die schweigsame Frau which I saw last summer in Munich was absolutely marvelous, and we all know that Strauss doesn't give his tenors an easy time of it! As expected John Relyea was terrific as the bass soloist, his stentorian tones supplying the necessary gravitas; the fire and brimstone in 'Why do the nations...' backed by the powerful agitated strings was particularly impressive.

Chuchman has a high lyric soprano of beauty, freshness and purity, and she sang beautifully.Perhaps there wasn't a lot of depth of expression when it came to the text, and one wished for more clarity in her diction, but all this should come with time and more experience. The one weak link was mezzo Jill Grove. She unexpectedly struggled in a piece that should be ideal for her low mezzo/contralto voice. Her opening aria 'But who may abide...' in particular found her struggling with the register break and sounding pushed and generally uncomfortable. 'He was despised...' was also disappointing, sounding small and threadbare. As expected, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir was in its glory when it comes to Messiah. Davis lavished care and affection for the work and it showed. The appreciative audience gave the performers vociferous applause and repeated standing ovations at the end, a marvelous start to the series of performance that continues on Dec. 18, 19 (mat.), 20, and 21.

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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Simone Dinnerstein a complete artist in Goldberg recital

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

(photo: Telarc)

For the near-full house of people who ventured out to Koerner Hall Dec. 12 in spite of the cold, crummy weather, the reward was a mesmerizing performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations featuring American pianist Simone Dinnerstein.

Watching Dinnerstein play this work, written for a two-manual harpsichord in 1742, on a Hamburg Steinway was like watching a mother breastfeed her newborn baby in public. The bond between the two was inseparable, the act intimate and private, and the experience as an observer was one of awe.

Dinnerstein, who became famous, for the lack of a better word, a few years ago when she self-produced a CD of the Goldberg, is a rare sort of rising superstar. In her late 30s, she’s a mature artist who gets the listeners’ attention not by dashing her incredible chops, but by displaying her extraordinary tenderness towards and deep understanding of the music.

Her Goldberg, all repeats accounted for, was graceful, introvert and expressive. There was considerable rubato a la Schumann, most notably in the aria and aria da capo. Her ornamentation was modern and bubbly in variations like 10 and 14. Her chosen slow tempi were solemnly slow, but thoughtful, fluent and made those fleeting toccata-like variations with serious hand-crossing business that much more thrilling and virtuosic to hear and watch. Variation 28 with 32nd-note trills in both hands was especially feathery and exquisite.

Overall, Dinnerstein is a complete artist with total sensitivity. Nothing was rushed — everything was well thought out and executed with the utmost motherly care. She played the Goldberg without an intermission, only taking small breaks on stage to take care of a cough and drink some water and orange juice prepped for her by the piano. Her coughs sounded like she could have cancelled the concert to get well, but, boy, weren’t we lucky she didn’t.

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Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Sondra Radvanovsky: La Rad Is La Fab at COC Recital

The fabulous soprano Sondra Radvanovsky at COC Vocal Series Recital (All Photos: Chris Hutcheson / )

by Joseph K. So

Canadian Opera Company Free Concert : Vocal Series
Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre
December 14, 2010

Verdi and Puccini
Sondra Radvanovsky, soprano
Liz Upchurch, piano

"O mio babbino caro" (Lauretta - Gianni Schicchi)
"Vissi d'arte" (Tosca - Tosca)
"D'amor sull'ali rosee" (Leonora - Il Trovatore)
"Ecco l'orrido campo...Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa" (Amelia - Un ballo in maschera)
"Senza mamma" (Suor Angelica - Suor Angelica)

I should begin by explaining the title of my review. Historically, great female opera singers are sometimes given specific endearing nicknames by their fans: for example, the legendary Maria Callas was known as La Divina, while the magnificent Joan Sutherland was La Stupenda to her legion of admirers. Fans of soprano Sondra Radvanovsky have dubbed her affectionately as "La Rad" - short for her last name, but I dare say also for her radiant vocalism. Well, "La Rad" today gave a truly stunning recital of operatic arias at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Simply put, "La Rad" is simply "La Fab" for "the fabulous" or more correctly in Italian, La favolosa.

Opera aficionados have long considered her to be the premiere Verdi soprano of our time. Her Verdi roles have included Violetta, Elena, Trovatore Leonora, Elvira, Lina, Luisa Miller, Elisabetta, and most recently Amelia and Aida, with most of these still in her active repertoire. Sondra Radvanovsky's dark-hued, luscious and silvery timbre is ideally suited to these most exacting of Verdi heroines. Not only is the voice beautiful, it's also the largest in front of the public today - at least I haven't encountered any major singer with her volume since the heyday of Regine Crespin and Gwyneth Jones. But Radvanovsky never uses volume for its own sake, as she possesses an amazing technique which allows her to fine the voice down to the softest pianissimos and a long breath-line that recall Spanish diva Montserrat Caballe in her prime. Those lucky enough to get into the recital today were treated to a stunning vocal display not heard in these quarters in a very long time.

With COC Ensemble head Liz Upchurch offering solid support at the piano, Radvanovsky designed a program with arias that have special meaning to her. It began with the perennial chestnut 'O mio babbino caro' from Gianni Schicchi, a piece with which the soprano won her first voice competition at the age of 16. 'Vissi d'arte' followed, sung with refulgent tone and exemplary legato. She sang Tosca for the first time recently and will reprise the role at the Met in January. Then it was her calling card - Leonora's great 'D'amor sull'ali rosee' from Il Trovatore. Her soft singing and long breath line were nothing short of amazing in this piece - it makes one really look forward to her Met in HD appearance in this role later in the season. Amelia is her newest Verdi role, which she has just sung at the Chicago Lyric. Her 'Ecco l'orrido campo' and 'Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa' were full of dramatic urgency and pathos. The recital concluded with 'Senza mamma' which ended in the most remarkable fil di voce one ever hopes to hear.

The concert was followed by a Q & A in which Radvanovsky fielded questions from the enthusiastic audience with humour and grace. The hour concluded with a standing ovation followed by an autograph signing session. Married to Canadian Duncan Lear, Ms. Radvanovsky has called southern Ontario home for the better part of a decade, so it was unfortunate it has taken such a long time for this exceptional artist to appear with the COC. Let's hope COC Intendant Alexander Neef will make up for lost time by bringing this exceptional singer back at the earliest possible opportunity.

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Leila Josefowicz Brings Signature Style to Toronto Recital

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

(photo: Deborah O'Grady)

Leila Josefowicz, the Mississauga-born violinist, and pianist John Novacek opened their Dec. 10 recital at Koerner Hall with Johannes Brahms’ popular Sonatensatz. Ms Josefowicz, her long blond ponytail and red and purple dress swaying to the rhythmic pulse of the C-minor scherzo, immediately drew in the audience with her commanding stage presence and obvious virtuosity. Unfortunately, the piece was largely spoiled by some technical troubles on her 1724 Guarnerius Del Gesu, which squeaked and grinded boisterously.

Thankfully, an audible tuning of the violin backstage after this first number took care of the problem and Josefowicz and Novacek returned to stage for a wonderful performance of Shostakovich’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 134.

This is a piece well suited to Josefowicz’s signature interpretive style — fiery, radical and at times hostile. With a seasoned keyboard whiz like Novacek as a partner, Josefowicz confronted the pessimistic work with austere warmth that, without prettifying things, turned the bleakest moments into a prose that does away with unnecessary adjectives and punches one in the face with potent verbs and nouns.

After intermission, Josefowicz continued her stride in 20th-century and new music compositions in Igor Stravinsky’s Duo Concertant for Violin and Piano and Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tuur’s Conversio for Violin and Piano (1994). Tuur was a progressive rocker with Estonian-American conductor Paavo Jarvi, son of conductor Neeme Jarvi and brother of conductor Kristjan Jarvi, Josefowicz’s ex-husband.

The five-movement Duo Concertant is a sonata-like structure that allowed Josefowicz and Novacek to show off superb chamber musicianship by feeding off of each other’s parts like great actors do in live theatre. The pair’s dead-on co-ordination in Tuur’s Conversio, first championed by Gidon Kremer, sparked a variety of textures the composer was quoted as describing in the program note as “abstract dramas in sound” and “in the manner of a block of sculpture.” From the militaristic opening chords to bits and pieces of musical motifs that mimic a broken dialogue between a cat and a dog, Josefowicz and Novacek were at one in all dissonances and ended the piece with a sense of unusual suspense.

The final work on the program was Franz Schubert’s Rondeau Brilliant, D. 895, Op. 70, the composer’s only published work for the violin. The playing here from the duo was magnificent and high-voltage in style. There weren’t too many syrupy and sentimental moments one tends to associate with Schubert’s music, but a driven energy and clear sense of musical purpose from both players were the ingredients that made the steak juicy.

Josefowicz and Novacek offered a jazzy rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile for an encore — the only piece Josefowicz performed from memory in this recital.


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Sunday, 12 December 2010

This Week in Toronto (Dec. 13 - 19)

Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky (photo courtesy of

With Christmas fast approaching, this is the week to have a delectable holiday musical feast. However, top on my list is a free Canadian Opera Company noon-hour recital given by Sondra Radvanovsky at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre. In my book she is the foremost Verdi soprano of our time. She is singing selections of arias from her extensive repertoire, with Liz Upchurch at the piano. This is going to be the hottest ticket this week, and if you entertain the thought of getting a seat, be there to line up at least one hour ahead. In the same venue on Thursday Dec. 16 at noon, mezzo Krisztina Szabo with collaborative pianist John Hess will give a free noon hour recital of a Tribute to Gyorgy Kurtag. For details of these two concerts, go to

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is presenting its Messiah. Billed as Toronto's Biggest Messiah, which it certainly is given the size of the orchestra and choral forces, it boasts a stellar lineup of soloists include soprano Andriana Churchman, mezzo Jill Grove, tenor Toby Spence, and bass John Relyea, backed by the great Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. TSO Conductor Laureate Andrew Davis is at the helm. Opening night is Thursday Dec. 16 8 pm. There will be a pre-curtain chat with Rick Phillips. The concert is repeated Saturday Dec. 18 at 8 pm and Sunday Dec. 19 at 3 pm. On Friday Dec. 17, the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra under the brilliant Alain Trudel will offer its "winter concert" with a program of Mozart, de Falla, Khachaturian, and Tchaikovsky, with violinist Ema Nikolovska playing the first movement of Khachaturian's violin concerto. For details and tickets, go to

If you prefer a more intimate Messiah, be sure to attend the Tafelmusik version. It features an equally excellent cast of soloists in soprano Christine Brandes, countertenor Daniel Taylor, tenor Rufus Muller and baritone Brett Polegato. Performances on Dec. 15, 16, 17, 18 7:30 pm at Trinity St. Paul Centre. As usual, it's the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra under Ivars Taurins. Details at