La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Daniil Trifonov Shines at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Daniil Trifonov Shines at the TSO

Joseph So

Daniil Trifonov receiving audience accolades (Photo: Joseph So)

Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini / Daniil Trifonov (piano)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 ("Choral") 
Jessica Rivera (sop.) / Andrea Ludwig (mezzo) / David Pomeroy (ten.) / Tyler Duncan (bar.)
Toronto Mendelssohn Choir / Noel Edison, director
Peter Oundjian, conductor
Roy Thomson Hall / Thursday September 25, 2014

Any performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony is an occasion, and the performances currently at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is no exception.  And with the added attraction of star pianist Daniil Trifonov in Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, it's really icing on the cake, Never mind the combination of these two totally disparate works on the same evening seems to lack rhyme or reason. But with such a wonderful pianist as Daniil Trifonov, who am I to complain?

I attended opening night on Thursday September 25.  It was quite a good turnout, and the knowledgeable audience was respectful and well behaved, unlike the stargazing attendees bent on breaking Joshua Bell's concentration on opening night with their unruly applause. The Rachmaninoff Rhapsody is an extremely challenging work, but for the Warsaw Competition Silver Medalist Daniil Trifonov, it was a virtual cakewalk. He combined bravura technique, singing tone, and uncommon sensitivity in his playing, but never showing off his virtuosity at the expense of the music. The slow section leading up to the big theme was played with great expression, lots of soft pedals, perhaps rather ultra-Romantic, but with Rachmaninoff it's allowed! Over all, it was a remarkable performance and Trifonov deservedly received thunderous applause.  Surprise, surprise - the Russian pianist rewarded the audience with an encore, something that never used to happen in symphonic concerts. Staying with the same composer, Trifonov played - wonderfully I might add - Rachmaninoff's transcription of a Bach Partita.

TSO's Beethoven 9th ("Choral") on September 25th 2014 (Photo: Joseph So)

The second half was the centerpiece of the evening, the 70 minute Symphony No. 9. Peter Oundjian explained the unusual placements of the musicians, with the basses and celli on the left and the second violins on the right. Members of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir were also not arranged in sections the normal way, by voice types, but are all mixed together, and singing without the score.  I am curious about the thought processes behind that. Whatever it was, it worked!  The choir sang beautifully, if quite loudly, perhaps to match the orchestra. I find the torrents of sound from the orchestra and the choir impressive in terms of decibels, but the downside was it put the quartet of soloists at a disadvantage. 

TSO and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (Photo: Joseph So)

I think I've heard Beethoven 9th at least fifty times (actually probably a lot more) over the last 48 years of concert going, and I admit that I'm partial to helden-voices in this piece. I guess I've been spoiled by the likes of Dame Gwyneth Jones, Jon Vickers, Dame Margaret Price, Matti Salminen, and more recently Jonas Kaufmann. There is a reason why big voices are essential in this piece, given the size of the orchestra and the size of the choir often used.  It certainly applies to this performance. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir makes a big sound when asked, and when you pair it with the TSO under Peter Oundjian, there is no sparing of decibels here. The quartet of soloists - Jessica Rivera, Andrea Ludwig, David Pomeroy and Tyler Duncan - all have fine voices and they sang well, but none of them can be considered dramatic singers. Perhaps it was the overhang in the mezzanine, even sitting in my prime media seats in the middle of the mezzanine, I found in the climaxes, the soloists didn't have much impact.  I would have preferred a darker, more bass-like sound from the baritone Tyler Duncan. The soprano Jessica Rivera sounded quite angelic but her lyric voice was under-powered most of the time, even in that one line where the soprano gets to show off her purity by rising to a high note dolcissimo at the end of the phrase. The mezzo soloist in this work has always been problematic as Beethoven simply didn't write anything showy for her.  Mezzo Andrea Ludwig did the best she could with a thankless part. Tenor David Pomeroy managed his lines well in a bright if somewhat lean sound.

Soloists (l. to r.) baritone Tyler Duncan, tenor David Pomeroy, mezzo Andrea Ludwig, soprano Jessica Rivera (Photo: Joseph So)

Beethoven 9th, however its greatness, is a rather episodic work, and its up to the conductor to hold it together. It is a showcase for many sections in the orchestra, particularly the brass - I can't quite think of another work requiring the amount of trilling from the horns, for example! There were plenty of individually brilliant playing tonight. The only thing wanting was perhaps a stronger sense of the overarching architecture of the work from beginning to end. The finale was taken extremely fast by Oundjian, making for a sonically brilliant ending, but didn't contribute to the total cohesion of the work.  If I'm sounding curmudgeonly, it is because I've been cursed with so many great memories of this work in the concert hall over nearly half a century. But I'm the first to say that every performance of Beethoven 9th is an occasion, and I'm happy to have been there to witness it.   

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Friday, 26 September 2014

COC Ensemble Unveils New Artists for 2014-15

Meet the Young Artists (COC Ensemble Studio 2014-15)

Iain MacNeil (bass-baritone) “Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo” (Mozart / Così fan tutte)
Charlotte Burrage (mezzo)  “All’afflitto è dolce il pianto” (Donizetti / Roberto Devereux)
Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure (tenor) “Vainement, ma bien-aimée” (Lalo / Le Roi d'Ys)
Karine Boucher (soprano) “O mio babbino caro” (Puccini / Gianni Schicchi)
Clarence Frazer (baritone) “Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen (Korngold / Die tote Stadt)
Andrew Haji (tenor) “Questa o quella ” (Verdi / Rigoletto)

Jennifer Szeto, piano
Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre
September 23rd 2014

(l. to r.) Jennifer Szeto, Andrew Haji, Karine Boucher, Charlotte Burrage, Clarence Frazer, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, Iain MacNeil (Photo: Karen Reeves)

September is an eagerly anticipated month by Toronto opera lovers. Not only does it mean a new Canadian Opera Company season, it also signals a new crop of young artists joining the COC Ensemble Studio. There are three new members this year - soprano Karine Boucher, tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, and baritone Iain MacNeil. Also new to the Ensemble is pianist Jennifer Szeto. Today's concert was supposed to showcase all the Ensemble artists, but illness struck and sadly soprano Aviva Fortunata, tenor Owen McCausland and bass-baritone Gordon Bintner were unable to sing. But do not despair, as there will be plenty of opportunities to hear them in the next few months. The three new members were winners of last year's inaugural "Centre Stage" - 2013 Ensemble Studio Competition. Today's concert was the first public performance of the three young singers at the COC, not counting the invitation-only President's Council Season Opener two weeks ago.

Given the absence of three singers, the truncated program was shorter than usual. It started with Brockville bass-baritone Iain MacNeil singing Guglielmo's aria from Cosi fan tutte. Possessing an ingratiating stage presence and a solid, well-schooled instrument with an attractive timbre even throughout its range, MacNeil sang the Cosi aria with nice tone and an easy top. Woodstock-native mezzo Charlotte Burrage, a second year Ensemble member, gave us Sara's aria from Donizetti's Roberto Devereux.   Burrage has a lovely lyric mezzo with a rich timbre as well as a fairly pronounced but not obtrusive vibrato, which she had under good control in the soft, arching cantilena lines of this beautiful aria. Quebec soprano Karine Boucher was next, with Lauretta's "O mio babbino caro."  Hers is a really gorgeous lyric soprano, with a shimmering quality that is special. Last year I heard her sing a lovely Marietta's Lied from Die tote Stadt. To be honest, I wish she had chosen something more challenging - and longer - than the 2 minute "O mio babbino caro" which is really meant for a soubrette, but the audience loved it.  Let's hope she will sing something meatier in the next concert.

The voice of tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure is good example of what the Italians call a tenore di grazia, a warm, appealing, soft-grained voice of compact size, capable of lovely mezza voce.  I can see him as a very credible Nemorino and Fenton. The Le Roi d'Ys aria is ideally suited to his instrument, and Fortier-Lazure used his sweet head voice liberally to great effect. A resident of Mississauga, baritone Clarence Frazer is in his second year with the Ensemble. He chose Fritz's aria, "Mein sehnen, mein wahnen" from Die tote Stadt.  This gorgeous aria is practically a party piece for a lyric baritone, and Frazer sang it well, a few tentative moments in pitch and intonation aside. Top vocal honours of the recital went to the last singer, tenor Andrew Haji.  Now in his second year in the Ensemble, Haji has a really terrific lyric tenor, ideal in Mozart and in the lighter Italian repertoire. He showed what he could do in Italian operas by singing a wonderful "Una furtiva lagrima" which propelled him to the Grand Prize at Holland's Hertogenbosch International Vocal Competition earlier this month. Today, he sang the Duke's aria "Questa o quella" from Rigoletto, with truly lovely tone, a slight crack at the high note at the end notwithstanding. With that voice, I predict great things for Haji.

There you have it, the 2014-15 edition of the COC Ensemble.  All have beautiful voices, solid training, musicality and the desire to communicate their artistry. I look forward to hearing these fine singers over the course of the season.


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Monday, 22 September 2014

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 22 au 28 septembre

Nabucco à l’Opéra de Montréal
La 35e saison de l’Opéra de Montréal s’ouvrira avec Nabucco, premier opéra à avoir véritablement lancé la carrière de Giuseppe Verdi. La première aura lieu le samedi 20 septembre 2014 et trois autres représentations sont prévues les mardi 23, jeudi 25 et samedi 27 septembre.
 - Justin Bernard

Anastasia Rizikov à l’OSL
L’Orchestre symphonique de Laval met la musique russe à l’honneur avec la gracieuse Symphonie no 1 dite « Classique » de Prokofiev et la musique tirée du ballet Jeu de cartes de Stravinski. La toute jeune pianiste Anastasia Rizikov se joint à l’OSL pour interpréter le magistral Concerto no 3 de Rachmaninov, un sommet du répertoire pour piano. 24 septembre.
- Jacqueline Vanasse

Pentaèdre rend hommage à Schubert
La 29e saison de Pentaèdre s’amorce avec un concert rendant hommage au maître viennois célèbre pour son sens inné de la mélodie. Cependant, fidèle à son choix de se consacrer à la découverte d’un répertoire varié et souvent moins connu, Pentaèdre a ajouté à son programme des œuvres originales canadiennes et américaines. Conservatoire de musique, 24 septembre, 19 h 30.
 - Renée Banville

Place au baroque chez I Musici
Le baroque dans tous ses... affects est le titre du concert de la rentrée de l’Orchestre de chambre I Musici. Sous la direction de Jean-Marie Zeitouni, des œuvres pour cordes de Vivaldi et Locatelli feront écho aux chants de douleur, d’espoir ou de folie de Monteverdi, Haendel, Bach et Rameau chantés par la soprano Andréanne Brisson-Paquin. Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, 25, 26 et 27 septembre.
 - Renée Banville

La Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) frappe un grand coup avec son premier concert de la saison (26 septembre, salle Pierre-Mercure), qui rendra hommage aux 25 ans du Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (NEM). On y reprendra Solaris, composition du directeur artistique de la SMCQ, Walter Boudreau, que le NEM créait en mai dernier. Aussi au programme: une vidéo-musique d’Alain Thibault (God’s Greatest Gift, 1985) et City Life (1995) de Steve Reich, pour laquelle on invite le compositeur français René Bosc, qui sera responsable de la programmation électronique et des projections.
- Réjean Beaucage

Tableaux en musique avec les musiciens de l’OSM à la Salle Bourgie
Premier de la série Tableaux en musique du Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, le concert Passion russe comprend deux grandes œuvres russes romantiques de la fin du 19e siècle: le Trio no 1 d’Arenski et le Trio élégiaque no 2 de Rachmaninov, dédié à la mémoire de Tchaïkovski, dont la mort avait bouleversé le compositeur. Avec Alexander Read, violon, Anna Burden, violoncelle, Mathieu Gaudet, piano. Salle Bourgie, vendredi 26 septembre, 18 h 30.
 - Renée Banville

Art Crush : nouveau groupe – nouveau genre
Formé de trois musiciens (Marc Djokic, Frédéric Lambert, Chloé Dominguez), deux artistes et deux danseurs, le nouveau groupe Art Crush se résume comme une réaction en chaîne de performances artistiques. À un concert de musique de chambre se fusionnent des éléments visuels dynamiques qui transforment l’expérience musicale en performance multidisciplinaire. Chaque pièce musicale commence par une courte chorégraphie, suivie d’une pause qui permet aux artistes de prendre la relève du rythme et de créer une œuvre d’environ 10 minutes par pièce. Une performance novatrice qui invite le public à apprécier, en plus d’un concert classique de haut niveau, deux autres disciplines classiques. Au programme: Beethoven, Dohnányi, Kreisler et Kodály. Salle Pollack, 27 septembre, 19 h 30.
 - Renée Banville

Début de saison au LMMC
Le deuxième concert de la série présentera le Quatuor Takács, un habitué du LMMC, où il revient pour la 9e fois. Formé en 1975 par quatre étudiants de l’académie Franz Liszt de Budapest, le célèbre quatuor a joué aux côtés d’artistes légendaires, tels que Jascha Heifetz et Leonard Bernstein. Salle Pollack, 28 septembre, 15 h 30.
 - Renée Banville

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Sunday, 21 September 2014

Nabucco, un air de liberté

par Marc-Olivier Laramée
Photos: Yves Renaud

La renommée de l’opéra Nabucco de Verdi n’est plus à faire, depuis sa création à la Scala de Milan le 9 mars 1842, il garantit aux maisons d’opéra une salle comble. Le 20 septembre 2014, soir de première, le public était au rendez-vous, impatient d’entendre l’air de la liberté, Va Pensiero, air qu’il aura aussi en bis.

La maison d’art lyrique montréalaise offre aux mélomanes une distribution somme toute raisonnable. Une soprano d’origine Russe vole toutefois la vedette au roi Nabucco. Il s’agit de Tatiana Melnychenko, dans le rôle phare d’Abigaille, fille du roi, assoiffée de pouvoir. Faisant ses débuts à la compagnie, elle est capable d’effectuer les prouesses vocales des aigües demandé par Verdi, dommage qu’on ne puisse pas en dire autant des graves. Elle a par ailleurs une présence scénique époustouflante.

Dans le rôle de Nabucco, un baryton verdien, l’italien Paolo Gavanelli. Celui-ci bien qu’ovationné par le public, offre une voix normale, sans plus. La chose qu’il réussit bien par contre est la finesse des passages doux, il sait transmettre toute l’émotion voulue par Verdi, grand maître de la voix. Monsieur Gavanelli connaît très bien le rôle, le tout se fait avec aisance, peut-être top.

Les rôles féminins surpassent les autres. Margaret Messacapra mezzo-soprano des États-Unis, jouant Fenena éclipse le ténor Antoine Bélanger dans le rôle d’Ismaele. Elle présente une voix riche qui sait emplir la salle. Le Grand Prêtre Zaccaria, l’ukrainien Ievgen Orlov décevra les amateurs de basse profonde, il semblait avoir la voix fatiguée.

Chez Verdi, la participation des chœurs à l’opéra n’est pas accessoire, elle en est le noyau. Bien sûr, il y a le Va Pensiero dans le dernier acte, mais tout au long de l’œuvre, le chœur de l’Opéra de Montréal livre une bonne performance.

Un opéra n’est rien sans ses musiciens et son maestro. Les musiciens de l’Orchestre Métropolitain, sous la direction du chef italien Francesco Maria Colombo, ont bien fait. Mentions toutes particulières à la flûte traversière ainsi qu’au violoncelle pour leurs solos.

Comment peut-on ne pas oublier les décors somptueux et l’éclairage parfait. Il y eut ici un travail parfait et ce jusque dans la mise en scène. On retrouve une scène en plan incliné qui donne une profondeur et une prestance aux interprètes. Un élément créatif de la mise en scène est l’ajout de spectateurs figurants sur la scène même vêtus en tenues de soirée comme l’Italie de Verdi en 1842. Ils sont présentés pendant l’ouverture de l’opéra. En expliquant qu’au moment de la création, l’Italie était sous la domination autrichienne. Ces personnages se retrouvent sur scène dans des loges et assistent à la représentation. Notez aussi que deux effets pyrotechniques dont un en particulier pourrait surprendre.

En conclusion, une grosse production où les chœurs et deux sœurs permettent de garder en haleine le public.

L’Opéra de Montréal présente Nabucco de Verdi, les 20, 23, 25 et 27 septembre 19h30.
Salle Wilfried-Pelletier de la Place des Arts
Durée 2h40, 2 entractes.
Distribution : Nabucco : Paolo Gavanelli / Abigaille : Tatiana Melnychenko / Zaccaria : Ievgen Orlov / Fenena : Margaret Mezzacappa / Ismaele : Antoine Bélanger / Anna : France Bellemare / Abdallo : Pasquale D'Alessio / Grand Prêtre : Jeremy Bowes / Chef : Francesco Maria Colombo / Metteur en scène : Thaddeus Strassberger, remonté par Leigh Holman / Décors : Thaddeus Strassberger / Costumes : Mattie Ullrich / Éclairages : Mark McCullough (remontés par JAX Messenger) / Choeur de l'Opéra de Montréal / Orchestre Métropolitain
Billets et informations :

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This Week in Toronto (Sept. 22 - 28)

This Week in Toronto (Sept. 22 - 28)

Joseph So

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra kicked off its new season with three terrific concerts last week. I attended the opening night featuring the great American violinist Joshua Bell, who was just sensational in Lalo's Symphonie espagnole. Then it was the Orchestra itself taking the spotlight for two concerts over the weekend.  I went to the Saturday evening show and enjoyed tremendously the playing of Concertmaster Jonathan Crow in Scheherazade. This coming week there will be three performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony ("Choral") with soloists soprano Jessica Rivera, mezzo Andrea Ludwig, tenor David Pomeroy and baritone Tyler Duncan, conducted by TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian. Anytime the Beethoven 9th is on the program, it's a festive occasion. And the icing on the cake is the appearance of Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov in Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.  Choral forces are supplied by the venerable Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Performances on Sept. 25,26, 27 at Roy Thomson Hall.

Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov

While the Canadian Opera Company fall season won't start for another couple of weeks, the noon hour Free Concert Series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre is in full swing. You can catch the COC Ensemble Studio singers in Meet the Young Artists on Tuesday September 23.  Performing will be sopranos Karin Boucher and Aviva Fortunata, mezzo Charlotte Burrage, tenors Owen McCausland, Andrew Haji and Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, baritone Clarence Frazer, as well as bass-baritones Gordon Bintner and Iain MacNeil. At the piano is Ensemble pianist Jennifer Szeto. The roster changes from year to year of course, but this year is particularly unusual in that there are three very good tenors!  Also unusual is the absence of a coloratura soprano. I've heard all the members of the Ensemble and can attest to the fact that they all have terrific voices and uncommon musicality. For program details, go to  

ARC Ensemble

This coming week is Culture Days in Toronto, and the ARC Ensemble is giving a free concert at Koerner Hall (ticket required and sadly all tickets are already given out!) ARC stands for Artists of the Royal Conservatory, and they will be playing George Butterworth's Suite for String Quartet, and Sir Edward Elgar's Piano Quintet in A Minor, Op. 84.  Stratford Festival actor Ian Deakin supplies the narrative of a Belfast volunteer's wartime experience.  Members of the ARC Ensemble are violinists Marie Berard and Barry Shiffman, violist Steven Dann, cellist Bryan Epperson, and pianist Dianne Werner. COC attendees will know Epperson as the principal cello of the Orchestra, and Marie Berard is the Concertmaster.  Sunday September 28 7:30 pm at Koerner Hall.

The newly retired Canadian heldentenor Ben Heppner is busy with his broadcasting and giving masterclasses. He is the master-teacher in the Riki Turofsky Masterclass in Voice this coming Wednesday Sept. 24 Geiger Torel Room at the Faculty of Music, Edward Johnson Building. From 2 to 4 in the afternoon, Heppner will put several singers through their paces. With his years of experience at the highest level, the Heppner masterclass will be a great benefit to the participants. The event is free, but show up early to ensure a seat.

Tenor Ben Heppner as Host of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera

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