La Scena Musicale

Monday, 27 January 2014

Le mois de l’histoire des noirs fêté en grand avec Porgy and Bess


Par Marc-Olivier Laramée
Photo : Yves Renaud

Porgy and Bess de Gershwin est présenté par l’Opéra de Montréal dans le cadre de la 23e édition du Mois de l’histoire des Noirs. Cette production est un hommage parfait à ce compositeur ainsi qu’aux grandes figures de l’histoire des Noirs. Avec une distribution exclusivement d’origine afro-américaine, l’Opéra de Montréal a visé juste. Les chanteurs, le chœur invité Montréal Jubilation Gospel Choir, jusqu’au metteur en scène sans oublier le chef d’orchestre Wayne Marshall, tous ont la passion du style de l’opéra de Gershwin.

Nous attendions sans contredit l’air le plus connu de l’œuvre : Summertime, popularisé par Ella Fitzgerald et Louis Armstrong. La soprano canadienne Chantale Nurse, dans le rôle de Clara, une jeune mère chantant cette berceuse, l’entonna dès les premières mesures de l’opéra. Cette interprétation a été nettement moins riche et profonde que voulu. Laisser un rideau semi-transparent lors de la première scène a définitivement assombri cet air. Par contre, les décors surprennent par leur envergure. Tout au long de l’opéra, les changements de décors et d’éclairages furent impressionnants.

Au plan lyrique, les voix d’hommes remportent la palme. Le baryton américain Kenneth Overton, dans le rôle de Porgy, a rendu une performance remarquable. Il avait un défi de taille, chanter l’entièreté de l’opéra à genoux, son personnage étant infirme. Avec une voix puissante et riche, jointe à un talent pour le jeu, Overton est un must. Sa partenaire, la soprano canadienne Measha Brueggergosman, dans le rôle de Bess, est tout aussi talentueuse. On retrouve chez elle une voix pure et agile, combinée à une présence scénique grandiose. Son interprétation de Summertime à la fin de l’opéra est meilleure que celle de Clara.

Toujours en ce qui a trait aux voix d’hommes, Lester Lynch, baryton américain, interprétant le rôle de Crown, fait preuve d’une majesté et d’une puissance dignes des plus grands chanteurs. La seule remarque le concernant sera la scène de viol l’impliquant avec Bess; des puristes de l’opéra pourraient trouver la scène non pertinente. Pour terminer au chapitre des hommes, le ténor américain Jermaine Smith dans rôle de Sportin’ Life, est un très bon acteur, sa voix par contre n’est pas à la hauteur de son jeu.

L’artiste la plus connue au Québec de cette production, la soprano canadienne Marie-Josée Lord, dans le rôle de Serena, confirme son talent de chanteuse. Elle interprète un très bel air au moment de l’exposition de son défunt mari.

Dès les premières notes de l’ouverture, nous avons été captivés par la précision des attaques et le style jazz étonnamment bien interprété par l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. D’ailleurs, l’ensemble de la performance de l’orchestre est remarquable, supérieure en certains points à celle de l’Orchestre Métropolitain traditionnellement associé à l’Opéra de Montréal. Une passion pour Gershwin émane sans contredit du chef Marshall du Royaume-Uni. Pas une seule attaque des chanteurs, chœur ou orchestre ne lui échappe.

Mention spéciale au chœur Montréal Jubilation Gospel Choir : il fallait un chœur de ce genre pour rendre hommage à cette œuvre. Une puissance vocale bien différente du chœur habituel a donné un souffle nouveau et enivrant à Porgy and Bess.

Porgy and Bess, Opéra de Montréal
25, 28, 30 janvier ainsi que 1er et 3 février à 19 h 30, salle Wilfrid-Pelletier
Toutes les représentations sont à guichets fermés.




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Sunday, 26 January 2014

This Week in Toronto (Jan. 27- Feb. 2)

This Week in Toronto (Jan. 27 - Feb. 2)

- Joseph So

Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka


The second production of the Canadian Opera Company's winter season opens this week - Verdi's Un ballo in maschera, starring Canada's prima donna Adrianne Pieczonka in her first-ever Amelia. Pieczonka has been in front of the public for a quarter century, and she's still in her prime. It was just announced this weekend that she is the recipient of the $20,000 Paul de Hueck and Norman Walford Career Development Award. The only opera singer who has received this award previously was the venerable mezzo Judith Forst. Pieczonka is celebrated in Wagner and Strauss, but she's also a noted singer in the Italian repertoire, portraying heroines the likes of Desdemona, Amelia (Simon Boccanegra), Alice Ford, and Tosca to acclaim. Now she's adding the Ballo Amelia to her growing list of Verdi soprano roles. She's partnered by American tenor Dimitri Pittas. No stranger to Canadian audiences, Pittas was the Duke of Mantua in the COC Rigoletto several seasons ago, and more recently one of three tenors singing Rodolfo last fall.  With his Italianate sound he will make an idiomatic Riccardo.  The rest of the cast includes Roland Wood (Renato), Elena Manistina (Ulrica) and Simone Osborne (Oscar).  I attended a working rehearsal of this "concept" production from the Staatsoper Berlin a few days ago, and can honestly say it's like nothing I've seen before. It'll be interesting to see how it's received by the Toronto audience. That said, it's important to keep an open mind. Verdi himself changed the setting from Sweden to Boston for political considerations, so why not have it set in the American South during the Kennedy era? Opening night is Sunday Feb. 2 at 2 pm at the Four Seasons Centre.  http://www.coc.ca/Home.aspx

It's unfortunate that the Ballo opening directly conflicts with Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie put on by VoiceBox (Opera in Concert). (Of course if you are willing to attend a later performance of the Verdi, then problem solved!)  Kevin Mallon conducts the Aradia Ensemble with a strong cast including tenor Colin Ainsworth, mezzo Allyson McHardy, soprano Meredith Hall, bass Alain Coulombe and baritone Benjamin Covey. Sunday Feb. 2 2:30 pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre.   http://www.operainconcert.com/Hippolyte.html

Meanwhile, the other COC production Cosi fan tutte continues. This visually lovely Atom Egoyan production with excellent musical values will delight every Mozart fan.  Performances this week on Jan. 29 7:30 pm and Feb. 1 at 4:30 pm.  On Tuesday Jan. 28 noon at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, members of the COC Ensemble Studio will sing excerpts from Cosi, in anticipation of their special performance on Feb. 7.  This is a good chance to hear these artists in an opera that is ideally suited to these young voices. It's only an hour so we'll only get snippets of the opera. Be sure to line up an hour in advance to ensure a seat.

Baritone Luca Pisaroni

The fine Italian baritone Luca Pisaroni is returning to Toronto for a recital at Koerner Hall on Wednesday Jan. 29.  Mr. Pisaroni was previously here in a joint recital with Canadian tenor Michael Schade, replacing the originally scheduled Thomas Quasthoff when he decided to retire from the stage. Now we get to hear Pisaroni in a solo recital, in an evening of Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt, Bellini and Tosti. At the keyboard is pianist Wolfram Rieger.   http://performance.rcmusic.ca/event/lucapisaroni


Legendary songwriters Simon and Garfunkel


The Toronto Symphony Orchestra goes pops this week with three performances of Sounds of Simon and Garfunkel. Michael Krajewski leads the TSO in the greatest hits by the legendary song writing duel, interpreted by singers A J Swearingen and Jonathan Beedle. This will be one of those feel-good, nostalgic throwback events, a real winter's tonic for pop fans of a certain age, including yours truly! Jan. 28 8 pm and Jan. 29 2 pm and 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.   http://tso.ca/en-ca/Concerts-And-Tickets/Events/2013-2014-Season/Sounds-of-Simon-and-Garfunkel.aspx


Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Jeanne Lamon is presenting Intimately Bach, an almost all Bach program, with the sole exception of a concerto by Gregoire Jeay. Five performances, on Jan. 29, 30, 31, Feb. 1 and Feb. 2, this last a matinee, at the Trinity-St. Paul's Centre. http://www.tafelmusik.org/concert-calendar/concert/intimately-bach


Alcan Quartet


Music Toronto is presenting the Chicoutimi PQ-based Alcan Quartet on Thursday Jan. 30 8 pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre. This group is named after its principal patron, Alcan the aluminum company. On the program are works by Mozart, Alessandro Annunziata, and Beethoven. The musicians are violinists Laura Andriani and Nathalie Camus, violist Luc Beauchemin and cellist David Ellis. They have toured extensively in North America, Europe and Asia. http://music-toronto.com/quartets/alcan.htm


























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Cette semaine à Montréal : le 27 janvier au 2 février

Par Renée Banville

Coup d’œil sur les séries du Conservatoire de musique de Montréal
Les 29 et 30 janvier, 19h30, La Musique d’aujourd’hui présente un concert retentissant: Triptyque. Quasar s’allie à deux ensembles parmi les plus dynamiques de la nouvelle génération, La Machine et Quatrix. Une coproduction de Quasar et du Conservatoire de musique de Montréal en codiffusion avec Le Vivier. Au programme: le dernier quatuor de saxophones de Wolf Edwards, le triptyque de Frédéric LeBel et l’œuvre phare de Louis Andriessen, Worker’s Union réunissant les 15 musiciens. Studio multimédia. www.conservatoire.gouv.qc.ca 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will get the Opera McGill treatment with staging by the program’s director Patrick Hansen as part of the centenary celebration of the composer’s birth. Andrew Bisantz conducts the McGill Symphony, with choreography by Nicola Bowie. Jan 29, 30, 31 & Feb. 1. Pollack Hall. www.music.mcgill.ca
- Wah Keung Chan

Les Violons du Roy: un triple rôle pour Richard Lester
Le violoncelliste britannique Richard Lester, musicien menant une brillante carrière internationale, se joindra aux Violons du Roy en temps que chambriste, soliste et chef. Il interprétera un concerto de Boccherini, des œuvres de Mozart et des arrangements pour cordes d’un quintette et d’un quatuor de Beethoven. Salle Bourgie, 31 janvier, 19h30.
Bernard Labadie sera aux commandes pour célébrer le 300e anniversaire de la naissance de Gluck et le 250e anniversaire de la mort de Rameau, en présentant le Don Juan de Gluck et la suite de l’opéra Les Boréades de Rameau. Salle Bourgie, 7 et 8 février, 19h30. www.violonsduroy.com 

La Création de Haydn à l’église Saint-Jean-Baptiste
Le Chœur Classique de Montréal et l’Ensemble Sinfonia, sous la direction de Louis Lavigueur, présentent Die Schöpfung (La Création) de Haydn, un des grands oratorios du répertoire qui figure parmi les monuments de la musique classique. Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste, 1er février, 19h30. www.ensemblesinfonia.com 

Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur
Pour le premier concert de 2014, la Chapelle recevra le 2 février à 15h30 le Trio Frontenac, formé de Darren Lowe, violoniste, Blair Lofgren, violoncelliste et Suzanne Beaubien, pianiste. Œuvres de Chausson, Prokofiev et Franck. Le 6 février à 20h, nous entendrons un récital du pianiste Pavel Kolesnikov, Premier prix en 2012 du Concours international de piano Honens de Calgary. Il interprétera des œuvres de Rameau, Debussy et Chopin. www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/chapellebonpasteur 


Au Ladies’ Morning Musical Club: le Trio Jean Paul
Formé en 1991, héritier de la grande tradition européenne de poésie et musique de chambre, le Trio Jean Paul d’Allemagne a choisi son nom d’après Jean Paul, un des grands poètes de son pays dont on dit qu’il aurait été le favori de Schumann. Détenteur d’un premier prix au Japon, en Australie et en Allemagne, le Trio Jean Paul établit avec aisance une passerelle entre le répertoire classique et romantique. Il a aussi créé des œuvres de plusieurs compositeurs contemporains. Troisième fois au LMMC. Salle Pollack, 2 février, 15h30. www.lmmc.ca 

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Monday, 20 January 2014

Austin Symphony Plays & Records Neglected Music by Edward Burlingame Hill



Grieg: Peer Gynt: Prelude to Act I
Hill: Concertino No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra Op. 44 (1938-39)
Grieg: Peer Gynt: Suite No. 1
Hill: Divertimento for Piano and Orchestra (1926)
Grieg: Peer Gynt: Suite No. 2
Hill: Concertino No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra Op. 36 (1931)

Anton Nel, piano
Austin Symphony Orchestra/Peter Bay

Long Center for the Performing Arts
Austin, Texas
January 11, 2014

Orchestras all over America are having a difficult time balancing their budgets in tough economic times and one isn't surprised to see many of them playing it safe - programming largely repertoire that audiences know and love to keep their box offices busy. Not the case in Austin, Texas! Yes, the Austin Symphony (ASO) gives its audiences a healthy dose of the "familiar" classics...but to its credit, it also occasionally steps out on a limb to promote neglected music - in this case, "made in America!" 

Last week, the ASO programmed three works by Edward Burlingame Hill (1892-1960), a more than “relatively” unknown American composer. While Hill (photo:right) spent most of his life teaching at Harvard, he was able to get some performances of his work by ensembles of the stature of Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony. He is also remembered as a teacher of classical superstar Leonard Bernstein, and composers Roger Sessions and Elliott Carter, among others.

While Hill apparently successfully nurtured the musical genius of others, his own music has disappeared almost without a trace.

Last season the Austin Symphony gave Hill’s Symphony No. 4 its world premiere! This season, in programming three of his works in one concert, the Austin Symphony and conductor Peter Bay were setting out on a Burlingame Hill adventure and inviting audiences to take that journey with them.

Austin Symphony Spearheading Hill Revival?
A cursory scan of orchestral programming around the country gives no hint of a Hill revival. In fact, there isn’t one! The Austin Symphony is singlehandedly leading the charge. Not only is the ASO performing Hill’s music in concert, it is also releasing a "live recording" CD of the four Hill pieces it played - the Austin Symphony’s first commercial recording!

In his program notes for last week’s ASO concerts, Karl Miller claimed that the neglect of Hill’s music “had more to do with circumstances as opposed to the quality of the music.” I am already on record as having being unimpressed with last season’s Symphony No. 4, and while the three works for piano and orchestra performed last week each had some memorable moments, I came away from that concert more convinced than ever that Hill was, at best, a minor composer.

To offset the unfamiliarity of the Hill pieces to his audience, conductor Peter Bay alternated the three Hill pieces with some incidental music written by Edvard Grieg for Ibsen’s play, Peer Gynt.

Interestingly, both Grieg and Hill were miniaturists; that is to say, they were at their best in short pieces. Unfortunately, while Grieg is one of the greatest miniaturists in the history of music, Hill’s miniatures often give the impression that they are short because the composer couldn’t think of anything more to say. Taking the comparison further, while Grieg gives us one inspired melody after another – especially in Peer Gynt – Hill demonstrates no lyric gift at all.

American Classical in the Jazz Era 
In his program notes and pre-concert talk, Karl Miller also emphasized the influence of jazz on Hill’s music, noting that the jazz in question was “very early” jazz. To my ears, Hill seemed to miss the point of jazz music entirely. Significantly, the evening’s soloist, pianist Anton Nel (photo:right) chose Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk as an encore. In this charming piece Debussy showed that he not only understood the jazz music of his day, but he also understood how it could be used to wonderful effect in a classical piece - but then, Debussy was a musical genius and Hill was not.

Then there is the example of Maurice Ravel and his Piano Concerto in G major. This piece not only illustrates the influence of jazz on classical music, but also demonstrates an ability to handle large forms. Hill’s three works for piano and orchestra - none of which lasted much more than 10-12 minutes - seem more like “sketches” for a concerto than finished pieces.

Strangely, each of the Hill pieces has a grandiose tune that would have been more at home in a bigger piece. The grandeur fails to flow from what has come before, and never reaches its full potential. The piece is over before we can appreciate what all the huffing and puffing is about.

That said, Concertino No. 2 did have a slow section of uncommon beauty, and Concertino No. 1 had some striking harmonies and orchestral textures. While he tossed off the demanding piano parts with his usual mastery, pianist Anton Nel was, unfortunately, guilty of trying to oversell these modest pieces. One tired of his continual tossing of both arms in the air after nearly every phrase.  

In spite of my reservations, however, I did welcome the opportunity to hear these three pieces by Edward Burlingame Hill, especially in such well-prepared performances. The concert helped to flesh out my appreciation of what American composers were writing in the 1920s and 30s, and how they were influenced, for better or worse, by jazz and other home-grown music. This was a period when many young American composers were going to Europe to learn their craft but trying to create a sound and a style that was truly American.

Aaron Copland was spectacularly successful in this regard, and not long afterwards, Leonard Bernstein. And the figure of George Gershwin towers over most of the others. Gershwin understood jazz from the inside out, had a unique gift for melody, and was well on his way to being able handle large forms too, when he died suddenly at the age of 38. I would venture to say that as long as there are symphony orchestras Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris and the Concerto in F will continue to be played – and often.

Whether or not Grieg’s popular Peer Gynt Prelude and Suites were programmed to balance the unfamiliar Hill pieces, their inclusion was definitely appreciated by the audience. Peer Gynt may be overly familiar, but it is wonderful music that deserves to be part of a “main series” program not just a Pops concert. The musicians of the Austin Symphony were in top form playing this music, and conductor Peter Bay found the essence of each of these short pieces. The strings played with remarkable warmth, and the winds and percussion sparkled.

Something more…
For their recording of the four Hill pieces, the Austin Symphony engaged some of the best producers and engineers in the business. Blanton Alspaugh and John Newton operate a Boston-based recording company called Sound Mirror. The company’s personnel literally travel the world recording soloists, choirs and orchestras. Among the orchestras they have recorded are the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Mariinsky Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Houston Symphony, the Nashville Symphony and the Toronto Symphony. Recordings produced by Sound Mirror have been issued on most of the major labels including Philips, DG, Telarc, Chandos, Naxos, and Pentatone. In 2013, Blanton Alspaugh won a Grammy as Classical Producer of the Year.

Anyone interested in hearing more music by E.B. Hill will find only a handful of commercial recordings available, but there are some internet offerings here.

For more on Karl Miller, an authority on neglected American composers and their music, visit the website for his record label Pierian.

Paul Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music. For friends: The Art of the Conductor podcast, “Classical Airs.”

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Sunday, 19 January 2014

This Week in Toronto (Jan. 20 - 26)

This Week in Toronto (Jan. 20 - 26)

- Joseph So

Pianist Louis Lortie

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is in full swing this week with four concerts. French Canadian pianist Louis Lortie is in town to play and conduct an all-Mozart program with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.  He's playing the Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major, K, 482. Jonathan Crow, the TSO Concertmaster, is soloist in the Violin Sonata No. 18, K.301/293a. Rounding out the program is Serenade No. 10, the "Gran Partita".  Wednesday Jan. 22 and Thursday 23 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.  On Saturday Jan. 25 8 pm and Sunday Jan. 26 3pm, Quebec Symphony Orchestra conductor Fabien Gabel is in town for an (almost) all French program of Thomas, Debussy, Ravel, Berlioz, Satie, Saint-Saens, plus Wagner, a bit of a potpourri. The centerpiece is the Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major with soloist Ryan MacEvoy McCullough. http://www.tso.ca/en-ca/Home.aspx



Pianist Marc Andre Hamelin

Pianist Marc Andre Hamelin is making a welcome return to Toronto under the auspices of Music Toronto, this time in Schubert's Four Impromptus D935, another finger-breaker by Nikolai Medtner - Sonata in E Minor Op. 25 no. 2, and Hamelin's own composition, Barcarolle (2012). Recital on Tuesday Jan. 21 at 8 pm. http://music-toronto.com/piano/marc-andre_hamelin.htm

   
 Soprano Layla Claire

Canadian Opera Company continues with Cosi fan tutte (Jan. 24 at 7:30 pm) starring soprano Layla Claire, mezzo Wallis Giunta, tenor Paul Appleby, baritone Robert Gleadow, soprano Tracy Dahl and bass Sir Thomas Allen, conducted by COC Music Director Johannes Debus.  I attended the opener last evening and it was quite a memorable performance for a number of reasons.  First of all, it was the longest Cosi I've ever experienced, positively Wagnerian in length, clocking in at three hours and thirty-five minutes, including a fairly short intermission. Debus proved to be a most versatile conductor, adept at Strauss as well as Mozart, and everything in between! His tempi tend to be on the slow side, and as a singer-friendly conductor, he allows the soloists the more leisurely tempo in their respective arias. As far as I could tell, most if all the music typically cut in performance these days have been restored in this production, including the Act 2 aria "Tradito, schernito" a difficult aria that sits awkwardly in the passaggio. Tenor Paul Appleby sang it well if at a fairly slow clip. In fact the singing of the six principals were excellent.  Layla Claire and Wallis Giunta made a totally believable pair of sisters - they could be twins - their voices blending beautifully. Veterans Sir Thomas Allen (Alfonso) and Tracy Dahl (Despina) couldn't have been better as the pair of intriguers. Baritone Robert Gleadow showed off his perfect comic timing as Guglielmo and he sounded the best I've heard him. The production by Atom Egoyan is fanciful and heavy on symbolism, its merit dependent on one's affinity to concept staging. The funny bits were right on the mark, judging by the frequent laughter from the audience. Visually it's quite a lovely production. This show is a must for Mozart fans, and you won't get better musical qualities than this.  http://coc.ca/Home.aspx



Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe

The great American mezzo Stephanie Blythe is in town this week giving masterclasses at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music. She was supposed to be the John R Stratton Visitor last year but illness forced her to withdraw. Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka took her place last year. Blythe is finally here this week. She is giving an art songs masterclass on Tuesday at 7 pm  to 9:30 pm in Walter Hall, and an arias masterclass at noon on  Thursday Jan. 23. On Friday Jan. 24 at 7:30 pm is An Evening of English Songs, with Ms. Blythe and the students who participate in her classes this week.  Incidentally, the singer has a new CD coming out -  As Long as There Are Songs, with Craig Terry at the piano and featuring selections from the Great American Songbook.  This CD is recorded by Meyer Sound using their groundbreaking Constellation Acoustics Technology. If you are intrigued by this disc, more information is available at www.meyersound.com    For more information of this week's activities, go to http://www.music.utoronto.ca/home.htm


Soprano Charlotte Corwin

Domoney Artists Management, under the directorship of Kathy Domoney, is presenting The Star of Robbie Burns on Saturday Jan. 25 2 pm at Church of the Redeemer in the Bloor Street & Avenue Road area of downtown Toronto.  This concert celebrates the life and work of Scottish poet Robert Burns. The host is Andrew Gillies, well-known for his Shaw and Stratford Festival appearances. The first half of the program explores Burns' world through word and song. Selections from the Broadway musical Brigadoon is the centerpiece in the second half. Soloists are soprano Charlotte Corwin and baritone Benjamin Covey. Tea and shortbread will be served at intermission. For more information, go to www.domoneyartists.com