La Scena Musicale

Monday, 1 February 2016

Cette semaine à Montréal (1 à 7 février) / This Week in Montreal (February 1–7)

Romanticism and Exoticism with the OM

Julian Kuerti offers two visions of Oriental exoticism : the delicious tales of One Thousand and One Nights with mezzo soprano Michèle Losier, and the Symphonic Suite of Rimski-Korsakov. Maison symphonique, February 5, 7:30 pm. On tour in three neighbourhoods fromFebruary 3-6.

Julian Kuerti proposera deux visions de l’exotisme moyen oriental : le délicieux conte des Mille et une nuits avec la mezzo-soprano Michèle Losier et la Suite symphonique de Rimski-Korsakov. Maison symphonique, 5 février, 19 h 30. En tournée dans 3 arrondissements du 3 au 6 février.

Les Cycles à la Chapelle - Historique

La rentrée à la Chapelle s’amorce avec deux cycles. Le violoniste Olivier Thouin et le pianiste François Zeitouni présenteront le deuxième de trois concerts consacrés à l’intégrale des sonates de Beethoven pour piano et violon. Le 7 février, 15 h.

Olivier Thouin

LMMC en février

Le 7 février, le Ladies’ Morning Musical Club nous offre un récital peu commun au violon et à l’alto avec le lithuanien Julian Rachlin, aussi à l’aise à l’un qu’à l’autre instrument. Rachlin a étudié le violon auprès de Boris Kuschnir au Conservatoire de Vienne et auprès de Pinchas Zukerman à la Manhattan School of Music. Ses partenaires de musique de chambre incluent Martha Argerich, Yefim Bronfman, Gidon Kremer et Maxim Vengerov. Depuis 2000, il est à la tête du festival Julian Rachlin & Friends à Dubrovnik. Œuvres au programme : Beethoven et Brahms.

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Lebrecht CD of the Week - Wihan Quartet: Dvořák/Janáček (Nimbus Alliance)

The Wihan Quartet - Dvořák, Suk, Janáček (Nimbus Alliance)

Rating: 4/5 stars

It must be something in the plum juice that produces, generation after generation, a cluster of distinctive string quartets from the country constituted as the Czech Republic. There is nothing like a Czech string quartet. It’s a generic school of ensemble playing that aligns all the right accents to a witty, virile expressiveness and an almost effortless panache.

Count the present contenders on the world stage: the Panocha, the Pavel Haas, the Pražák, the Stamic, the Vlach, the Wihan, and the daddy of them all, the Talich. There are presently seven or eight Czech quartets of the highest quality out there. No other nation of ten million can match that.

The Wihan Quartet—their name belongs to the cellist of the 1891 Bohemian Quartet: Josef Suk, Oskar Nedbal, Hanuš Wihan, Karel Hoffman—are as authentic as it gets. Their sound is close to what Antonin Dvořák must have heard when he composed quartets for his son-in-law’s group, as well as his elegiac cello concerto for Hanuš Wihan.

Skip to the Adagio of Dvořák s 1895 G-major quartet, written on his return from three years in America, and you will hear exactly what I mean. The gorgeous central theme, drawn from a folk tune, sacrifices nothing of its earthiness while metamorphosing into exquisite art. These parallel lines of grit and beauty are integral to Czech sound, delivered with a seal of organic farming and at Allegro driving speeds that would be illegal in most other countries.

The first Janáček quartet, titled Kreutzer Sonata and premiered by the Bohemians in 1924, is a meditation on marital breakdown. The Wihans paper over the human cracks by playing up the bucolic night noises that Janáček employs to mitigate misery with a sense of mortal insignificance. Theirs is a step beyond the conventional psychoanalytical interpretation and it works pretty well. In the track between two major string quartets, the Wihans dash off Suk’s delicious variations on the St. Wenceslas Chorale.

Czech it out.

—Norman Lebrecht

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Sunday, 31 January 2016

Otello brings murder, mayhem, mischief and 'green-ey'd' monsters to Montreal

By Naomi Gold

FOR Montreal opera and theatre aficionados, the afterglow of new year’s will radiate through late January to early February with the creative brilliance of Otello.

Conceived when Giuseppe Verdi's music met William Shakespeare's pen, the operatic masterpiece had an agonizingly long and arduous gestation.  Although Verdi couldn't read English, he revered Shakespeare's work --referring to Macbeth (for instance) as "one of mankind's greatest creations".  On The Bard of Avon himself, Verdi wrote: "He is one of my very special poets, and I have had him in my hands from my earliest youth, and I read and reread him continually."  But by the time he was introduced to the familiar story of Othello (or The Moor of Venice), Verdi had already declared himself retired from composing opera. This was largely due to his erstwhile success with the monumental Aida which had debuted in 1871.  Moreover, with his triumphant 1874 Requiem Mass, the great composer had no interest in resuming his art when music publisher Giulio Ricordi and conductor Franco Faccio first presented Othello to him in 1879.  They persisted nonetheless, annointing Arrigo Boito as collaborating librettist, but still he refused.  The trio, along with Verdi's (second) wife Giuseppina Strepponi, conspired to coax Verdi out of his self-imposed retreat. For the next few years, Verdi intermittently expressed casual interest but promised nothing, while Boito labored over the libretto.  Five years later, in March 1884, Verdi began composing, but just sporadically.  Long stretches of inactivity were punctuated by incredibly productive bursts of creativity where he would compose with great fervor. This pattern was repeated until December 1886, when an excited Verdi wrote to Boito that his opera was all but completed. The ecstatic Boito responded: "The Moor will come back no more to knock on the door of the Palazzo Doria (Verdi's Genoa residence), but you will go to meet the Moor at La Scala. Otello exists. The great dream has become reality". Indeed, Otello debuted to unprecedented popular and critical acclaim on February 5, 1887, at Milan's La Scala.

Verdi's music functions as opera was intended: a heightened form of drama perfectly faithful to the spirit and letter of the play. Out of some 300 operas adapted from Shakespearean plays, only a pitiful 2% have seen the light of stage. The reason is self-evident: adaptations are notoriously challenging, and those difficulties are directly proportional to the original's quality. Hence, as further testament to the magnitude of his genius, Verdi counts three operas based on the Bard's plays: Macbeth (1847), Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893), adapted from The Merry Wives of Windsor.

This brand new co-production is presented as a partnership between British Columbia's Pacific Opera Victoria and l'Opéra de Montréal. It marks the end of a 16-year local drought of the iconic oeuvre. As Otello, tenor Kristian Benedikt must summon considerable vocal chops whilst executing a panoply of emotions that begin on an intense plane and devolve into insane jealousy. Soprano Hiromi Omura interprets innocent victim Desdemona, Otello's faithfully devoted wife and baritone Aris Argiris must personify evil as he sings the role of satanic Iago. Glynis Leyshon stages this new production and Keri-Lynn Wilson conducts the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal.

Otello performances take place on January 30, February 2, 4, and 6 @ 7:30 pm in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier.  For tickets/info call 514-842-2112 or visit;

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This Week in Toronto (Feb. 1 - 7)

My Toronto Concert Picks for the Week of Feb. 1 to 7

~ Joseph So

The big news for Toronto opera fans this week is the opening of the second production of the Canadian Opera Company's winter season, Marriage of Figaro.  We are getting the 2006 Salzburg production staged at the time to celebrate Mozart's 250th anniversary. Directed by Claus Guth, this intriguing re-imagining of the Mozart opera downplays the comedic elements. Instead, the austere set and Guth's dark vision give this piece an Ingmar Bergman feel. I've only seen part of a working rehearsal, and the final dress is happening Monday evening. There is however a 2006 commercial DVD starring a luminous Anna Netrebko as Susanna that's well worth watching. The COC has assembled a very fine cast, led by Austrian bass-baritone Josef Wagner in the title role. I've interviewed Mr. Wagner for an article which will appear very soon in Musical Toronto,

Austrian bass-baritone Josef Wagner (Photo: Joseph So)

Opposite him as Susanna is Canadian soprano Jane Archibald. Erin Wall and Russell Braun play the upstairs couple. The rest of the stellar cast include Emily Fons (Cherubino), Helene Schneiderman (Marcellina), Robert Pomakov (Bartolo), Michael Colvin (Basilio), Sasha Djihanian (Barbarina), and Doug McNaughton (Antonio). COC Music Director Johannes Debus is doing the superhuman assignment of conducting both Siegfried and Marriage of Figaro. He's probably spending more time at the opera house than at home! It opens on Feb. 4th 7:30 p.m. at the Four Seasons Centre, with the second performance a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.

Salzburg production of Marriage of Figaro from 2011 (Photo: Monika Rittershaus)

Meanwhile, the critically acclaimed Siegfried continues with performances on Feb. 2 and 5, both at 6:30 p.m. This revival is receiving uniformly rave reviews - a show not to be missed! In addition, there are three noon hour recitals this week at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. The one that caught my eye features the Gryphon Trio (violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon, cellist Roman Borys, and pianist Jamie Parker) with guest soloist bass Robert Pomakov. The interesting program, Classics Reimagined, juxtaposes Mozart with Heather Schmidt's Lunar Reflections. I confess I am not familiar with the Schmidt work, and the program has no annotation. Concert on Tuesday Feb. 2 noon at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.  The program details can be found at

The Gryphon Trio (Photo: John Beebe)

If you can't make the Gryphon Trio's noon hour concert at the opera house, they are also performing on Monday Feb. 1st 7:30 p.m. at Walter Hall in the basement of the Edward Johnson Building on the campus of University of Toronto, as part of the New Music Festival. On the program are pieces by students of Allan Gordon Bell, including Candle Ice by Carmen Braden, Lunar Reflections by Heather Schmidt, In a World of Distance and Motion by Kelly Marie Murphy, and a new work by Vincent Ho. The Schmidt work is performed without the Mozart pairing.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is relatively quiet this week with only one event, Science @ the Symphony. The TSO and the Ontario Science Centre join forces "to present an exploration of sound, technology, space and mind-blowing science experiments."  It's part of TSO's Young People's Concert Series. Evan Mitchell conducts. Two performances on Feb. 6th 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. For details, go to

Conductor Bruno Weil makes a welcome return to the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir to conduct Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.  This ambitious project is selling very well - 95% according to the Tafelmusik website. Soloists are soprano Ruby Hughes, mezzo Mary Ellen Nesi, tenor Colin Balzer and bass-baritone Simon Tischler. There is currently a crowd-funding campaign going on to raise money for the recording of the Beethoven 9th drawn from this series of performances. To participate, go to  The first half of the program features the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir in Rheinberger's Abendlied, Brahms' Warum ist das Licht gegeben, and Valediction, a new Tafelmusik commision, directed by Ivars Taurins. Four performances, on Feb. 4, 5, 6 and 7 at Koerner Hall.  Times vary, with the Sunday matinee already sold out. Go to Tafelmusik website for details.

Pianist/composer Adam Sherkin

Pianist and composer Adam Sherkin is giving a free noon hour concert on Feb. 4th at the Lower Bluma Lobby of the St. Lawrence Centre, in partnership with Steinway Piano Gallery. Sherkin is not only a fine pianist, he's known for his very thoughtful and intriguing programming. This one focuses on music that the young Liszt composed on a trip through Switzerland, Italy and Austria in the 1830's. A decade later, the composer revised these pieces and published it as the Annees de pelerinage: Premiere annee. In this recital, Sherkin pairs it with his own composition, German Promises of 2011.

Annex Quartet (Photo:

Music Toronto is presenting the Toronto-based Annex Quartet in a recital on Thursday Feb. 4 8 p.m. at the Jane Mallett Theatre. On the program are works by Mendelssohn, Janacek and R. Murray Schafer.

Tenor Colin Ainsworth

On Sunday Feb. 7 2:30 p.m. at the Jane Mallett Theatre, Opera in Concert, otherwise known as Voice Box, is presenting a rarity, Salieri's Falstaff. Sung in Italian with English surtitles. Larry Beckwith conducts the Aradia Ensemble, with featured soloists tenor Colin Ainsworth (Ford), Allison Angelo (Mistress Ford) and Dion Mazerolle (Sir John Falstaff). Unlike the Verdi piece, there are two characters called Slender (Justin Welsh) and Mistress Slender (Michele Bogdanowicz)! Details at -

Mezzo Wallis Giunta and conductor/pianist Jordan de Souza

Canadian mezzo Wallis Giunta and conductor Jordan de Souza join forces to present Songbook VI, a concert of new opera works, under the auspices of Tapestry New Opera.  No details of the program is available on the Tapestry website. Maestro de Souza is also at the COC and he's slated to conduct the Feb. 23 and 25 performances of Marriage of Figaro.  Two performances of Songbook VI on Feb. 5th and 6th 8 p.m., at the Ernest Balmer Studio in the Distillery District of downtown Toronto.

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