La Scena Musicale

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Oboist and Musicologist Bruce Haynes Passes Away At Age 69

By Crystal Chan

The eminent oboist and musicologist Bruce Haynes passed away early yesterday morning. One of the first 20th century hautboy performers, he was a former teacher at McGill University and the Université de Montréal. He also published seven books as well as many articles and contributions to the New Grove Dictionary of Music.

A performance by Les Boréades tomorrow night at the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours will be dedicated to his memory.

His creation of six "new" Brandenburg concertos from Bach cantata movements will be performed on June 24, 2011 as part of the Montreal Baroque Festival, which was founded by his wife and fellow early musician Susie Napper. You can read more about the new Brandenburgs project in the June issue La Scena Musicale.

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Monday, 16 May 2011

Matsuev Flaunts his Forte

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

 Denis Matsuev is a powerful pianist both in terms of quantity and quality of sound. For sure his flamboyant, almost unfiltered romantic approach to the piano is not everyone's cup of tea, but there’s something genuinely satisfying to be said about an artist who knows what his forte is and flaunts it like it’s nobody’s business.

As part of his Canadian recital debut tour, Matsuev's Koerner Hall appearance May 12 began with Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in A minor, Op. 143, D. 784. The soon-to-be 36-year-old Russian pianist, who is known for robust virtuoso pieces, gave a somewhat introverted and uncharacteristic account of the first two movements but spiced things up dramatically in the third allegro vivace.

Matsuev waited for latecomers to be ushered to their seats before starting Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, the “Appassionata”. Right from the hushed theme in unison, Matsuev grabbed the attention of the largely Russian-speaking audience. He delivered this fiery sonata all the way through with a clear structure and plenty of pizazz. The andante con moto second movement was strikingly warm and modest, a refreshing sneak peak into this untamed stallion.

After intermission, Matsuev stormed into Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1 with what appeared to be a lot more liberty and a bit less focus. The performance was brilliant nevertheless and every punch and swirl was delivered with incredible force and finesse. But the music came across slightly vulgar and uncontrollable, despite a tastefully done lyrical section.

The last piece on the program was Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 36 (second edition). Considered a Rachmaninoff specialist, Matsuev gave a purposeful performance but failed to guide the audience with persuasion in his foray into the complex and richly layered music.

Despite this, Matsuev received several bouquets and an overwhelming standing ovation. He played no less than six encores, including Liadov’s Music Box, Rachmaninoff’s Prelude Op. 32, No. 12, Scriabin’s Etude Op. 8, No. 12, a transcription of Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King and a jazz improvisation.

It was a bit of overkill, especially after a heavily programmed recital. However, Matsuev is not the first Russian pianist to offer a series of encores as a way of showing his gratitude to those who came out to hear him. And those in the audience at Koerner Hall happily sat through the encores. They showed no sign of wanting to leave unless the pianist did.

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Sunday, 15 May 2011

This Week in Toronto (May 16 - 22)

Pianist Tamas Erdi

Violinist Itzhak Perlman

Two artists who are playing in Toronto this week and next are great examples of the triumph of the human spirit over life's adversities. Most music lovers are aware that violinist Itzhak Perlman suffered from childhood polio. He recovered well enough to be able to walk with crutches, and he continued on to become a great violinist and an inspiration to many. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 and won the famous Leventritt Competition the following year. Now almost fifty years later, Perlman is still in front of the public and making beautiful music. Anyone who has seen and heard him can't help but be inspired. Perlman will appear on Saturday May 21 8 pm with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as violinist and as conductor - in two Mozart works where he is the violin soloist, and leading the TSO in Dvorak Symphony No. 9 "New World" and Mozart Symphony No. 25. This is a single performance and not to be missed. For those interested in big band music in the tradition of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, the TSO is presenting A Night at the Cotton Club for three performances - Tuesday May 17 at 8 pm, and Wednesday May 18 at 2 and 8 pm.

Perhaps less familiar to music lovers compared to Perlman is 31 year old Tamas Erdi, the blind Hungarian pianist. Erdi lost his sight due to oxygen overdose from a defective incubator right after he was born. He started learning to play the piano at 5 and had his first public performance 8. He was accepted in the conservatory in Vienna at 10 and later studied with Tamas Vasary. Erdi won an international piano competition in Moscow at 17. Leon Fleisher offered Erdi a scholarship at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto where Erdi finished his studies. Erdi competed in the Van Cliburn Competition in Fort Worth, receiving the praise of audience and critics alike. Incidentally, that same year the competition was won by another blind pianist, Japanese Nobuyuki Tsujii. Erdi will play a solo recital of works by Chopin and Liszt on Tuesday May 24 at Mazzoleni Hall. OK, I know I am jumping the gun on Erdi by two days, but I want to talk about these two artists together....

The Canadian Opera Company continues with its three highly praised productions this week. Performances of Ariadne auf Naxos are on May 18 and 21; La cenerentola on May 19 and 22; and Orfeo ed Euridice on May 20. I honestly don't recall ever encountering a COC season in the past with the kind of musical qualities as the current one. By sheer coincidence, several of the COC offerings are also on the stage of the Met, and I must say our productions stand up well against the Met with their huge resources. This is a vintage year for opera in Toronto. The Free Concert Series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre continues with Beethoven and Golijov: A Vision of Eternity. Osvaldo Golijov is one of the best of current composers for voice. Here the Tokai Quartet is pairing Beethoven's String Quartet No. 14 with Golijov's Tenebrae, which requires a soprano soloist. I recall hearing this with American soprano Dawn Upshaw, who is a champion of Golijov's music. The soloist here is COC Ensemble soprano Jacqueline Woodley, who sounds deceptively like a young Upshaw. If you are at all interested in contemporary composers, this is well worth trotting down to the FSC in the rain for it! Be sure to show up one hour early for a seat.

Tafelmusik is presenting a single performance of Italianissimo, a mixed program of Mozart plus Italian Baroque conducted by violinist-maestro Stefano Montanari at Weston Hall, Toronto Centre for Performing Arts at North York. This program was given four times last week at Trinity St. Paul's Centre, the regular venue of Tafelmusik. If you missed it, you have one more chance to catch it on Tuesday at 8 pm.