La Scena Musicale

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Anton Nel Spectacular in Saint-Saëns Egyptian Concerto

By Paul Evans Robinson

"Anton Nel, winner of the first prize in the 1987 Naumburg International Piano Competition at Carnegie Hall enjoys a remarkable and multifaceted career that has taken him to North and South America, Europe, Asia, and South Africa."

Grantham: J’ai été au bal
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 5 in F major Op. 103 “Egyptian”*
Serpa: An Invocation
Copland: Rodeo (complete ballet score)

Anton Nel, piano*
Austin Symphony Orchestra/Peter Bay, conductor
Long Center for the Performing Arts
Austin, Texas
Saturday, February 27, 2016

Some years ago I came across a 1993 live recording of Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 5, featuring Sviatoslav Richter. I didn’t know the piece, but I figured that if a great artist like Richter thought it was worth his time to learn it, it was probably worth my time to listen to it. And what a revelation it was. At the time, I was no great fan of Saint-Saëns but hearing this concerto forced me to re-examine my prejudice.

Nearly every Saint-Saëns piece, apart from The Swan, has thousands of notes and Piano Concerto No. 5 is no different in that respect. It also has some good tunes - another Saint-Saens trademark - as well as fresh and original passages of music, especially in the second movement, and pianistic challenges that have to be heard to be believed.

What I heard this past weekend in Austin not only confirmed my affection for the concerto, but also showcased the artistry of internationally renowned pianist Anton Nel, who deservedly brought the capacity audience to its feet with his spectacular rendition of Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 5.

Anton Nel, a local favourite in Austin, heads the piano department at the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas and appears with the Austin Symphony nearly every season. A consummate artist, Nel’s vast repertoire embraces nearly everything written for the piano, and his technique beggars the imagination. He has that rare ability to lift music off the page and into the hearts and minds of his listeners. A communicator of the highest order, he imbued the peculiar modal melodies of the slow movement of Concerto No. 5 with a poetic inner life and in the last movement, his ferocious rendering of the repeated passages in the bass was electrifying.

This was great playing by any standard and must have won new friends for this rarely-played Saint-Saëns concerto. And what an inspired choice of encore - a perfectly charming rendition of Chabrier’s Scherzo-Valse. Wonderful!

Thoughtful and satisfying in nearly all respects, the evening’s program featured attractive recent works by two Austin composers.

Donald Grantham teaches composition at the Butler School of Music and over the years he has produced a significant body of work. J’ai été au bal is a real crowd-pleaser and deserves more frequent performances. In the words of the composer, it “is a celebration of some of the popular/folk music styles of Louisiana – in particular, Cajun music and the brass band tradition of New Orleans.” It is very much in the tradition of Aaron Copland, whose ballet score Rodeo was heard later in the concert.

Both Grantham and Copland took real bits of American popular and folk music and each used them as raw material for his own evocation of Americana. In neither piece are tunes merely quoted verbatim one after the other; rather, they are transformed rhythmically and melodically and given surprising orchestral timbres to become something new and interesting. Grantham not only used authentic Louisiana songs, but also added some of the instruments typical of his sources, such as washboard and spoons. Under conductor Peter Bay the Austin Symphony played Grantham’s celebration of “all things Louisiana” with skill and enthusiasm.

Steven Serpa’s An Invocation for oboe and string orchestra was a far less ambitious piece and much less compelling. The orchestra’s principal oboist Beth Sanders played very well but the work was little more than a pretty pastoral interlude.

Copland’s Rodeo (1942) - by now one of the classics of American music - along with his other “cowboy” ballet Billy the Kid, established the style for music depicting the American West. Composers writing scores for western films owe a great debt to Copland. Listening to the music last weekend, I was struck by how enduring it is, and how deeply it expresses an important part of what it means to be an American. This dimension, which was widely understood at the time of the premiere in 1942, seems even more meaningful today. At a time when many Americans are uncertain about their future and divided about their identities, the spirit of America lives on in music like Rodeo.

Nearly every professional orchestra in America can play scores like Rodeo as ‘to the manner born,’ but Peter Bay and his musicians gave us something more. Accurate and sparkling, the performance was also extraordinarily sensitive to the unusual timbres and to the remarkable beauty of the score’s quiet moments.

Finally, in this “complete” performance of the ballet score we also had the honky-tonk piano - a wonderful touch!

Over the course of his career, Paul Evans Robinson has acquired a formidable reputation as broadcaster, author, conductor, and teacher. He has communicated the joy of music to more than a generation of musicians and music lovers in Canada and elsewhere. Paul’s reviews and articles can be found on Classical Voice North America, La Scena Musicale, and Musical Toronto. This live concert review appeared first on La Scena Musicale.


Monday, 29 February 2016

Cette semaine à Montréal (29 fév à 6 mars) / This Week in Montreal (February 29–March 6)


Le violoncelliste Yegor Dyachkov et le pianiste Jean Saulnier présentent un métissage de musique folklorique et « sérieuse » à l’époque romantique. Œuvres de Brahms, Dvořák et Janáček. Le 3 mars, 19 h 30.


Cellist Yegor Dyachkov and pianist Jean Saulnier will play a mix of folk and “serious” music from the Romantic era. Works by Brahms, Dvořák and Janáček. March 3, 7:30 pm.



Une occasion d’entendre des musiciens de l’OSM en formation intimiste. Avec Andrew Wan () et Olivier Thouin (violons), Neal Gripp (alto), Brian Manker (violoncelle) et Todd Cope (clarinette). Au programme : Trio en do mineur op. 9 no 3 de Beethoven et Quintette pour clarinette en la majeur de Mozart. Concert animé par Edgar Fruitier. Le 29 février, 20 h.


Here’s an opportunity to hear OSM musicians in small ensemble formation. Andrew Wan and Olivier Thouin, violins; Neal Gripp, viola; Brian Manker, cello; and Todd Cope, clarinet. On the program: Trio in C minor, Op. 9, No. 3 by Beethoven and Clarinet Quintet in A major by Mozart. Edgar Fruitier will host the concert. February 29, 8:00 pm.



La Société d’art vocal de Montréal s’associe à l’Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal dans la production d’un concert en hommage à Lionel Daunais, figure marquante de l’art lyrique d’ici. De 1930 ­jusqu’au milieu des années 1970, Lionel Daunais, compositeur, parolier, interprète, réalisateur, metteur en scène et administrateur, a exercé une grande influence sur la scène musicale québécoise. La Société d’art vocal fait la promotion de tous les répertoires de la musique vocale et l’Atelier lyrique, dirigé avec brio par Chantal Lambert, offre aux jeunes artistes canadiens des stages professionnels combinant formation et expérience scénique. Mise en scène par Marie-Lou Dion, la production Daunais dans tous les tons, accompagnée par le pianiste Marc Bourdeau, contribue à préserver et diffuser le patrimoine musical canadien. Salle de concert du Conservatoire, 6 mars, 15 h.


The Société d’Art Vocal de Montréal collaborates with Opéra de Montréal’s Atelier Lyrique in a concert dedicated to Lionel ­Daunais, a prominent figure in the city’s lyric art scene. As a composer, lyricist, performer, director, producer, and administrator, Daunais heavily influenced music in Québec from 1930 through the middle of the seventies. The Société d’Art Vocal promotes all vocal music repertoires and the Atelier Lyrique, lead with brio by Chantal Lambert, provides young Canadian artists with professional internships that combine training with stage experience. Staged by Marie-Lou Dion, the production Daunais dans Tous les Tons, accompanied by pianist Marc Bourdeau, preserves and diffuses Canada’s musical heritage. Conservatory concert hall, March 6, 3 pm.



Ayant commencé sa carrière de soliste dès l’âge de 5 ans, Maxim Vengerov a remporté de nombreux concours et a très vite atteint les sommets. En 2009, il délaisse l’archet au profit de la baguette de chef d’orchestre. Il reprend sa carrière de violoniste en 2011 et n’a cessé depuis d’accumuler les succès. Au programme : Brahms, Ysaÿe, Franck, Paganini. Avec Patrice Laré au piano. Une présentation de la Société de Musique de chambre de Montréal. Grand Théâtre de Québec, 3 mars, 20 h, Roy Thomson Hall, 11 mars, 20 h, Maison symphonique, concert gala-bénéfice, 13 mars, 20 h.


After giving his first professional solo violin concert at the age of 5, Maxim Vengerov won numerous competitions and very quickly rose to the top. In 2009, he replaced his bow with a conductor’s baton. But in 2011 he took up his violin career again. Since then, he has continued to exemplify success. The Montreal Chamber Music Society presents Vengerov and pianist Patrice Laré performing Brahms, Ysaÿe, Franck, and Paganini. Grand Théâtre de Québec, March 3, 8 pm, Roy Thomson Hall, March 11, 8 pm, Maison Symphonique, benefit concert/gala, March 13, 8 pm.

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Lebrecht Album of the Week - Rudi Stephan, Albéric Magnard (accentus)

3/5 stars

These two composers are joined by tragic deaths on opposite sides of the First World War. Stephan, a Munich avant-gardist, was the only soldier in his German unit to die in a September 1915 battle with Russian troops for the Galician town of Stryi. Magnard, a French traditionalist, was either shot or burned to death defending his home from German troops in September 1914.

Only 28 at the time of his death, Stephan was little known outside German new music circles and not well liked within them. A young man of strong opinions and no tolerance for sycophancy, he had to pay for his performances and drew little encouragement from the few reviews. On the evidence of his Groteske for violin and piano, written in 1911, he was familiar with the frontier sounds of his times – Berg, Debussy, possibly Bartók – but the voice is entirely his own and the voice never less than urgent. There is every reason to believe he would have flowered into a major talent.

Magnard, more than 20 years older, was in mid-career, nearing 50, with four respectable symphonies in the bag – conservative works reminiscent more of Schumann and Brahms than of his French contemporaries and steeped in romantic naturalism. His 1901 sonata for violin and piano is charming and civilised with two deliciously languorous slow movements. This was not a man who set out to change, or challenge, the world. Many of his scores were consumed in the conflagration of his death.

Judith Ingolfsson and Vladimir Stoupel bring the tragic pair vividly to life in the transparent acoustic of Berlin’s Jesus-Christus-Kirche. There’s an irresistible lyricism to Ingolfsson’s violin lines and no concession to sentimentality. These are lovely accounts of two rare works that you’ll really want to hear. The one regret is that there are just 55 minutes of music on this disc, too little music for a whole album.

—Norman Lebrecht

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Sunday, 28 February 2016

This Week in Toronto (Feb. 29 - Mar. 6)

My Toronto Concert Previews for the Week of Feb. 29 to Mar. 6

~ Joseph So

Toronto Symphony Orchestra's New Creations Festival 2016

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is presenting its annual New Creations Festival.  It's a cluster of concerts dedicated to new music, featuring both Canadian and international composers and performing artists.  As a classical music lover who has been attending live performances for over fifty years, I admit that I love my warhorses. But I totally recognize that for classical music to survive and thrive into the future, we need new works that reflect 21st century aesthetics and audience sensibilities. Just last season, I heard a striking work presented by the TSO New Creations Festival, the concert performance of  British composer George Benjamin's opera, Written On Skin.  This season from March 5 to 12, the TSO is putting on three performances of six premieres, co-curated by TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian and Australian composer Brett Dean. On Saturday March 5th 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall, we'll hear composer Anthony Pateras' Fragile Absolute, a work of wind instruments, percussion, electronics and celeste.  Also Brett Dean's Viola Concerto where the composer is the soloist. Canadian composer Kevin Lau's intriguing Concerto Grosso for Orchestra, String Quartet and Turntables (!) - the DJ is Skratch Bastid. The fourth item on the program is Gyorgy Kurtag's The Answered Unanswered Question. The only Kurtag I've heard is his interesting and very intense Kafka Fragments staged by Against the Grain two seasons ago. There will be pre-concert, intermission and post-concert chats.

If Baroque (and Classical) is more your thing, be sure to attend a concert of works by Vivaldi, Paganini, Rossini and Haydn, featuring TSO musicians, a nice counterbalance to a week of new music. TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian shares conducting duties with RBC Resident Conductor Earl Lee. Soloists are concertmaster/violinist Jonathan Crow. Teng Li (viola), Joseph Johnson (cello), James Gardiner (trumpet), Steven Woomert (trumpet), Michael Sweeney (bassoon) and Sarah Jeffrey (oboe).

Violinist Vilde Frang and pianist Michail Lifits

I remember my disappointment when Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang cancelled her TSO dates last season, although she was brilliantly replaced by Jonathan Crow.  Hopefully this time she's going to show up for a recital with pianist Michail Lifits at Koerner Hall on Wednesday March 2nd 8 p.m. On the program are works by Schubert, Faure, and Witold Lutoslawski.

Scottish pianist Steven Osborne (Photo: Eric Richmond)

Music Toronto brought Scottish pianist Steven Osborne to Toronto for his debut back in 2007. He's back once again for a recital on March 1st 8 p.m. at the Jane Mallett Theatre. He is playing Schubert, Debussy and Rachmaninoff on this occasion.

Canadian violinist Karen Gomyo

Another interesting chamber recital at Koerner Hall features Canadian violinist Karen Gomyo, with cellist Christian Poltera and pianist Juho Pohjonen on Friday March 4th 8 p.m.  They are playing Haydn's Piano Trio in E Major, plus works by Janacek and Dvorak. Go to this link for details -

Pianist/composer Adam Sherkin

Canadian pianist and composer Adam Sherkin is giving a noon hour recital on March 3rd at the Lower Bluma Lobby of the St. Lawrence Centre. The recital is called Preludes of the North, in which Sherkin plays excerpts of Rachmaninoff's Preludes Op. 32, plus his own composition, Postludes from Adlivun (2014).

Tenor Benjamin Butterfield

Canadian tenor Benjamin Butterfield is making a rare recital appearance in Toronto on Monday Feb. 29th 7:30 p.m. at Walter Hall on the campus of the University of Toronto. He is singing the great Schubert song cycle Die schone Mullerin, with collaborative pianist Steven Philcox. Butterfield teaches voice at the University of Victoria. It's been ages since I last heard the lyric tenor - I think the last time was in Janacek's Cunning Little Vixen at the COC over ten years ago.  I look forward to hearing him.

Soprano Mireille Asselin (Photo: Matthew Fried)

An interesting recital for voice fans is Le travail de peintre, a concert that's part of the Royal Conservatory of Music Glenn Gould School's Mazzoleni Masters Series. It features soprano Mireille Asselin, baritone Brett Polegato, and pianists Peter Tiefenbach and Rachel Andrist. On the program are works by Poulenc, Debussy, Faure, Wolf and others, centered around the theme of music inspired by paintings and painters. This recital series is curated by GGS faculty soprano Monica Whicher and pianist Rachel Andrist. Concert takes place on Sunday March 6th 2 p.m. at the Mazzoleni Hall, Royal Conservatory of Music.

On March 1st and 2nd  8 p.m. at the Trinity St. Paul's Centre, Talisker Players is presenting Spirit Dreaming, a program that features the music of 20th century composers inspired by native cultures around the world.  Works sampled include those by Ravel, Somers, Beckwith, Villa-Lobos and others. Soloists are soprano Ilana Zarankin and mezzo Laura McAlpine, as well as actor/director Andrew Moodie who will be reading tales of creation myths from various indigenous cultures. For details, go to

Daedalus Quartet

The 119th season of the Women's Musical Club of Toronto continues with the Daedalus Quartet on March 3rd 1:30 p.m. at Walter Hall. I am told that there's going to be an announcement of the 2016-17 season before the start of the concert!  I'm looking forward to finding out what delights WMCT is bringing to its loyal audiences. The Daedalus Quartet is made up of violinists Min-Young Kim and Matilda Kaul, violist Jessica Thompson, and cellist Thomas Kraines. They will be playing a program of Jean Sibelius, Johannes Brahms and James MacMillan.  More details at their website -

Very intriguing is this concert by the Orpheus Choir on Sunday March 6th 4:30 p.m. at the Metropolitan United Church.  Bach's B Minor Mass is paired with The Sound of Eternity, the Canadian premiere of a film by Bastian Cleve that interprets the Bach's work. According to Orpheus Choir's website, "Cleve's 27 short episodes move from Alpine mountains to glaciers to peaceful valleys and pulsating metropolitan cities.....this breathtaking choral and cinematic tour-de-force offers a powerful meditation on the circle of life."  Soloists are soprano Jennifer Krabbe, mezzo Anita Krause, tenor Charles Sy and baritone Geoff Sirett. Orpheus Choir is joined by Chorus Niagara and the Talisker Players.

Soprano Anne Marie Ramos 

The COC winter season may be over, but there are still plenty of operas in town, albeit smaller in scale. Opera York is presenting Don Pasquale on March 3rd and 5th 7:30 p.m. at the Richmond Hill Performing Arts Centre. Michael Robert Broder sings the title role. Anne Marie Ramos is Norina, Dion Mazerolle is Dr. Malatesta, and Jonathan MacArthur sings Ernesto. Geoffrey Butler conducts and Renee Salewski is the stage director.

Toronto City Opera's two productions that opened last week continue this week. L'Elisir d'amore is on March 3 & 5 7:30 p.m., and Die Fledermaus on March 6 at 2 p.m. at the Bickford Centre.

Opera By Request is presenting La traviata on March 4th 7:30 p.m. with three well known soloists - soprano Allison Arends is Violetta, Ryan Harper sings Alfredo and Andrew Tees is Germont, plus soloists and chorus of the University of Toronto Scarborough Concert Choir, Lenard Whiting, director. William Shookhoff, music director of OBR, is at the piano. The concert takes place at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in York Mills, 2737 Bayview Avenue. Phone 416 455-2365 for reservations and information.

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