La Scena Musicale

Friday, 20 May 2016

Lebrecht Weekly - Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphonies 2 and 8 (Onyx)



4/5 stars

Unless you live in England – and, in most of the country, even if you do – you will have few opportunities to hear live performances of the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, the dominant national composer between Elgar and Britten. A passing violinist may offer The Lark Ascending and a string orchestra might play VW’s setting of the Tudor tune ‘Greensleeves’, but the meat of this great composer, his symphonic work, is seldom served and then only with apology.

There has only ever been one live cycle of the symphonies – by the late Richard Hickox – and the recorded versions – Boult, Previn, Handley, Hickox, Slatkin, Paul Daniel – are not always distinguished by the best of British orchestral playing. So the heart soars – yes, lifts right out of its chamber and into summer skies – at the glorious first sound of two symphonies that herald a full new cycle from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Manze.

The dawn-like opening of the 1914 London Symphony testifies that Liverpool is an orchestra playing at peak confidence and conviction, all sinews strained in the good cause. The symphony is no more a portrait of London than Haydn’s was, rather an evocation of a time and a place, in that order. Nor is it helpful to consider VW an English composer when his principal influences were Ravel, Sibelius and Renaissance polyphony. He was English by heritage, language and tradition, immersed in Anglican melody, but he was cosmopolitan to the core, atheist, egalitarian and profoundly humane.

He was a composer touched by great ideas and the London Symphony was his first near-masterpiece. I have not enjoyed a performance as much as this since John Barbirolli’s, and the playing here is in every measure richer and more vivid than those post-War recordings, certainly the liveliest available. The eighth symphony, written towards the end of VW’s long life, is his shortest and, in some ways, most experimental, playing as it does with tuned gongs, tubular bells and other exotica. It’s sunny, melodic and intellectually undemanding, intended for enjoyment, going nowhere in particular. And it has got some of the best brass playing you will hear all year.

—Norman Lebrecht

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Review: Chants Libres - The Trials of Patricia Isasa

Rebecca Woodmass, coloratura soprano (young Patricia). Photo: Mathieu Dupuis

Last night’s world premiere of Kristin Norderval’s The Trials of Patricia Isasa at the Monument-National was a resounding success, to say the least. The opera, libretto by Naomi Wallace and dramaturg Bibbi Moslet, is based on the true story of Patricia Isasa, who was only 16 when she was abducted in her hometown of Santa Fe, Argentina by the military Junta without trial. Daringly cerebral, The Trials of Patricia Isasa depicts not the events of her imprisonment itself but Isasa’s reckoning with the past decades later as she tries to find justice for herself as well as the 30,000 other “disappeared.”

Presented as part of the Opera America conference, Chants Libres’ The Trials of Patricia Isasa certainly falls under the conference’s theme “Global Strategies, Local Actions.” Insofar as the story is localized in one woman’s experience of Argentina’s “Dirty War,” the theme of delayed justice in instances of large-scale state failures continues to be globally relevant in the 21st century.

Artistic Director Pauline Vaillancourt states that she took on this project to honour Isasa’s courage, a woman “who, thirty years after the fact, accepted to break down the protective barriers she had erected to forget her past, to systemically unearth the monsters of her youth, essentially buried in her work as an architect.”

Rebecca Woodmass, coloratura soprano (young Patricia) and Kristin Norderval, soprano (Patricia Isasa). At the bottom: the Ensemble Kô, chorus (ghosts of the disappeared). Photo: Mathieu Dupuis

Indeed, the impact of Isasa’s imprisonment on her architectural designs is made painstakingly apparent on stage. As the Adult Patricia shows the Young Patricia a sketch for a library, the projected image of the sketch is superimposed upon a picture of the station in which she was held. Young Patricia criticizes her future self, stating, “Looks like a jail. Where’s the door?”

The most powerful moments of the opera are the conversations between the Young and Adult Patricia, played by sopranos Rebecca Woodmass and Norderval. Woodmass was particularly luminous in her role as the young, idealistic Isasa, and was generally well-matched to Norderval. Though she sometimes overpowered the composer-performer, it was fitting within the context of the narrative; Patricia’s memories proved to be a powerful force in rekindling her hope and desire to rebuild both her life and the city she loves.

Issues of balance also affected the trio of Ramos (Dion Mazerolle, baritone), Brusa (Daniel Pincus, tenor), and Facino (Vincent Ranallo, baritone), who were sometimes covered up by the density of the scoring. Their scene, a courtroom tango with full chorus (Ensemble Kô), was partially submerged by the bandoneón, an Argentine accordion traditionally associated with the dance.

Yet these small considerations aside, the production wanted for nothing. Each technical element—whether lighting, video, tape, or 3D animation—was thoughtfully integrated so that even the noise from retracting screens added to the realization of the work. Nordeval’s jazz- and tango-inflected score, handily guided by conductor Cristian Gort, accomplishes a lot with few resources.

“One of the most horrible things about torture is not so much the physical pain as the mental pain,” states Norderval in an interview with La Scena Musicale. “The fact that Patricia moved beyond that by keeping her sanity and her humanity shows real exemplary strength.” Indeed, the applause at the end of the night was as much for the performers and artistic direction as Isasa herself, who honoured the audience with her presence.

Timely, not timeless, The Trials of Patricia Isasa is a smart production, both in the manner it raises issues of personal and state responsibility for crimes against humanity and for the fitting way it recognizes the courage of a remarkable woman.


  • See The Trials of Patricia Isasa May 20 and 21, 2016 at the Monument-National in Montreal. 514-871-2224, www.chantslibres.org

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Monday, 16 May 2016

Cette semaine à Montréal (16 à 22 mai) / This Week in Montreal (May 16–22)

English follows

SMCQ – Derniers concerts de la série John Rea


Dans une mise en scène de Denis Marleau, Walter Boudreau et Plaisirs du clavecin interprètent Le petit livre des Ravalet, atypique opéra signé John Rea, Instruments anciens, bande magnétique, chanteurs et narrateur se partagent la scène. Usine C, 16 mai, 19 h. www.smcq.qc.ca


Le Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra


Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano, et Andreas Scholl, contreténor, se joignent au Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra de San Francisco pour célébrer le 30e anniversaire au podium de Nicholas McGegan, chef et directeur artistique de l’orchestre. Au programme : airs et duos d’opéras et d’oratorios de Haendel ainsi qu’une œuvre écrite par Arvo Pärt à l’intention de ces deux grandes voix. Présenté en collaboration avec le Club musical de Québec. Salle Bourgie, 18 mai, 19 h 30. www.sallebourgie.ca


Les Violons du Roy : Rencontres Inédites


Les Violons rencontreront pour la première fois Leonardo Garcia Alarcón, l’un des chefs baroques de l’heure, dans des œuvres de Haendel, incluant la Water Music et une cantate avec la soprano Joëlle Harvey. Maison symphonique, 21 mai, 19 h 30. www.violonsduroy.com



Anne Sofie von Otter, photo Ewa-Marie Rundquist

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Final concerts in the SMCQ’s John Rea series 

Directed by Denis Marleau, Walter Boudreau and Plasirs du clavecin perform Le petit livre des Ravalet, an atypical opera ­composed by Rea. Period instruments, audio, singers, and actors take the stage. Usine C, May 16, 7 pm. www.smcq.qc.ca


The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra


Mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and countertenor Andreas Scholl join San ­Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra to celebrate 30 years at the podium for Nicholas McGegan, the orchestra’s conductor and artistic director. On the program: opera arias and duos and Handel oratorios, as well as a work written by Arvo Pärt for these two great voices. Presented in collaboration with the Club musical de Québec. Bourgie Hall, May 18, 7:30 pm. www.bourgiehall.ca


The Violons du Roy – First Encounters



The Violons perform for the first time with Leonardo Garcia Alacrón, one of the Baroque conductors du jour. The program includes works by Handel, including Water Music, and a cantata with soprano Joëlle Harvey. Maison Symphonique, May 21, 7:30 pm. www.violonsduroy.com

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