Suzie LeBlanc

02 Early 01b Leblanc Noel02 Early 01a ConstantinopleMetamorfosi – Impressions Baroques
Suzie LeBlanc; Constantinople
Analekta AN 2 9142

La Veillée de Noël
Suzie LeBlanc
ATMA ACD2 2523

Featuring the music of Barbara Strozzi and her mentors and contemporaries (Monteverdi, Kapsberger, Rossi, Merula and Landi), the incomparable soprano Suzie LeBlanc has teamed up with a most remarkable ensemble. In this recording, Constantinople looks to the early baroque with its well-established technique of infusing early and contemporary Western music with Persian musical traditions. And the repertoire of 17th-century Venice lends itself very well to the fusion, with its own tradition of highly-ornamented stylization, resulting in an intricate and marvellous interpretation. Joining theTabassian brothers Kiya (setar) and Ziya (percussion) are Enrique Solinis (baroque guitar/theorbo), Pierre-Yves Martel (viola da gamba) and Miren Zeberio (baroque violin). Unique exchanges abound amongst the instrumentalists, particularly in the Kapsberger selections, ever shifting in rhythmic nuance. It is a delight to hear LeBlanc interpret the songs of Barbara Strozzi, a singer and composer known as much for her intellect, learning and wit as her talent and beauty. LeBlanc skillfully captures her spirit. Her profoundly moving performance of Monteverdi’s Si dolce è il tormento bears witness to a wide range of emotion encapsulated in its simple strophic form. 

This has proven to be a particularly prolific year for LeBlanc. A scholar in her own right, she has also been busy of late researching rare Christmas tunes from France and Acadia, resulting in the release of a lovely collection on her latest CD, La Veillée de Noël.


Giovanni Felice Sances – Complete Arias, 1636 - Bud Roach

02 Early 02 Bud RoachGiovanni Felice Sances – Complete Arias, 1636
Bud Roach
Musica Omnia mo0611

Bud Roach started his professional career as an oboist (he played in several American orchestras) but more recently has concentrated on singing and conducting. He is the director of Capella Intima, which in recent years has given us performances of the anonymous Giuseppe and of Gagliano’s Dafne. Both as a singer and as a director he specializes in Italian work of the early 17th century. His first recording as a tenor was of songs by Alessandro Grandi and he has now followed this up with a CD of arias by Giovanni Felice Sances, music first published in 1636. On both recordings he accompanies himself on the baroque guitar. I heard him perform these works at the Boston Early Music Festival Fringe in July 2013 and it gave me pleasure to renew my acquaintance with them. The final song on the disc (Accenti queruli) is not part of the 1636 edition: it is a chaconne which was such a prominent and influential form in the early baroque.

Roach’s voice is light but clear and distinctive; he has no problem with the high tessitura of many of the songs. Throughout he sings with real expressiveness. These songs can be seen as part of a Petrarchan tradition of erotic poetry but at the same time they show an affinity with popular song. They are now little-known and under-performed. Roach deserves credit for bringing this repertoire back to life.


Couperin – Apothéoses - Gli Incogniti; Amandine Beyer

02 Early 03 ApotheosesCouperin – Apothéoses
Gli Incogniti; Amandine Beyer
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902193

It is crystal clear that this recording is a labour of love and full of vibrancy and personality. The six instrumentalists of Gli Incogniti throw themselves into Couperin’s music, infusing it with youthful vigour and airy spontaneity.

The program is bookended by sonatas – La Superbe and La Sultane – both played with exquisite attention to detail and “French” virtuosity, i.e. a wide vocabulary of fresh ornamentation that gives one the idea that everything is being improvised. Violinists Amandine Beyer and Alba Roca are perfectly matched and dance around each other with great subtlety. Equally impressive is the continuo team: solid as a rock and adding heft and/or tenderness where needed.

The major pieces – Couperin’s Apothéoses de Lulli et Corelli – are works of tremendous scope, based on Couperin’s intended philosophical desire to reunite the tastes and styles of Italian and French instrumental music. They are programmatic, multi-movement masterpieces and the performances on this disc are very fine. My only argument is with the tempos of some of the more transparent movements. There is a driving quality to the group’s playing that is immensely attractive most of the time; however, some of the ethereal, transparent movements need more dreamy air and space – and could simply be slower.

Special mention must be made of the gorgeous, sensuous gamba playing of Baldomero Barciela and Filipa Meneses in La Sultane. Their performance of this sonata is worth the price of the CD alone.


Stradella – Duets - Susanne Rydén; Emma Kirkby; Sergio Foresti; Harmonices Mundi; Claudio Astronio

02 Early 04 Stadella DuetsStradella – Duets
Susanne Rydén; Emma Kirkby; Sergio Foresti; Harmonices Mundi; Claudio Astronio
Brilliant Classics 94343

Alessandro Stradella’s private life has created a wave of speculation although it is clear that he was killed in Genoa in 1682. His untimely end deprived Italian music of an exceptional composer. On this CD, however, we enjoy the voice of the singer who is for many both the face and the voice of early music, Dame Emma Kirkby. She appears on eight duets, commencing with the lively Cara labbra che d’amore. More intense is Pazienza, finirá l’influenza with its sombre stringed introduction and continuo. Here Susanne Rydén and bass Sergio Foresti convey a message of hope, even though Foresti’s bass and the continuo still combine to produce a certain overshadowing darkness. Kirkby displays a real intensity with her interpretation of Ahi, che posar non puote, a duet with Foresti, where her skills are at their finest.

 For Rydén, one of the most testing pieces must be Fulmini, quanto sa quel sembiante severo – the musical elements portraying the arrows of emotion are clearly recognizable. For Kirkby the test of how to demonstrate pictorial qualities in music comes in Ardo, sospiro e piango, where dissonance is used to evoke musical sighs. Dietro l’orme del desio is another highly demanding duet. Many of the classic Italian devices are employed to great effect; for example, in one passage, in addition to difficult notes, pauses underline the meaning and rhythm of words.

 There is no doubt that listening to this recording confirms the loss to music when we think what Stradella might have gone on to compose and also Dame Emma Kirkby’s place in early music.

Bach – The Art of the Fugue - Angela Hewitt

02 Early 05 Hewitt BachBach – The Art of the Fugue
Angela Hewitt
Hyperion CDA67980

Four years ago, Hyperion released all of Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt’s recordings of Bach’s solo keyboard works as a 15-disc boxed set. It was a huge project, but it didn’t include Bach’s monumental late work, The Art of the Fugue. Hewitt has now tackled this set of 18 fugues and canons, which she describes in her detailed booklet notes as “completely overwhelming, both intellectually and emotionally.”

Hewitt’s stylistic trademarks are here – dancing rhythms, nuanced touch and sparkling clarity. She colours each voice so distinctively, you can hear right into the complex textures. But her greatest achievement is to reveal the spiritual depth that suffuses this work. It becomes not just an exploration of all the things counterpoint can do, but an exploration of just about everything that music can possibly do – and then some.

Bach never specified the instrumentation for this work. Hewitt makes as convincing a case for performing it on a modern piano as any I have heard, especially with an instrument as responsive as her Fazioli.

Bach’s score ends, enigmatically, part way through the final fugue. Most performances either stop there, or add on a completion in Bach’s style. Following the original edition, Hewitt stops mid-fugue, pauses, then plays Bach’s “deathbed” chorale prelude Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein (When in the hour of utmost need), which C.P.E. Bach copied into the score after his father’s death. It makes for an intimate and moving finale.


Hummel – Piano Trios 1 - Gould Piano Trio

03 Classical 01 Hummel Piano TriosHummel – Piano Trios 1
Gould Piano Trio
Naxos 8.573098

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) was an influential composer, virtuoso piano performer and a well-known teacher during his lifetime. He was a student of many famous teachers: Clementi, Mozart, Albrechtsberger, Salieri and Haydn. His friends included Beethoven, Schubert and Goethe. He wrote beautiful music, mostly for piano, but also explored other less popular instruments (such as trumpet and guitar), and made Weimar a European musical capital while he was active there. Hummel’s musical aesthetics were founded on a classical model of clean lines and balanced melodies, at a time that was giving birth to a new wave of bravura piano players and general discontent with musical conventions. The world’s obsession with the romantic ideals could be the main reason why Hummel’s music was forgotten after his death.

The piano trios on this recording were written over the span of 15 years and feature all the elements of the classical style but also offer a wealth of melodies and fresh musical ideas. Each trio, for example, features a Rondo as the concluding movement, but each Rondo comes with its own style, whether borrowing motifs from Turkish or Russian musical traditions or introducing scherzo elements and surprising modulations.

The Gould Piano Trio (Lucy Gould, violin, Alice Neary, cello, and Benjamin Frith, piano) clearly enjoys bringing this somewhat forgotten music to life. Most impressive are the nuanced articulation in the violin and balanced phrasing of the ensemble. This recording will be greatly appreciated by fans of the classical period who just might discover a new voice.


Beethoven – 9 Symphonies

03 Classical 02 Beethoven 9 SymphoniesBeethoven – 9 Symphonies
Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal; Kent Nagano
Analekta AN 2 9150-5

Has it really been nine years since Kent Nagano took over the podium of the Montreal Symphony? Never mind the mop of waving hair or the animated conducting style, he is a musician par excellence, and has maintained the high standards set by his predecessor, Charles Dutoit. For their newest release, the orchestra has issued a complete set of the Beethoven symphonies, having presented them singly during the past six years. Six of them were recorded live between 2008 and 2014 and along with excerpts from Egmont and the Creatures of Prometheus, it’s a handsome collection on the Analekta label.

There are innumerable recordings of Beethoven’s complete symphonies, so what makes this one stand apart from the others? For one thing, it’s Nagano’s lack of sensationalism. Despite this conductor’s sometime exuberant persona, his interpretations are known for their intelligence and clarity, and this is nowhere more evident than in this collection. The Symphony No.1 is a case in point. From the first hesitant measures, the listener immediately senses that indeed, this is what Beethoven would have wanted. This groundbreaking work is presented in an energetic and articulated manner, the phrasing always carefully nuanced.

On the other hand, Symphony No.3 is suitably heroic, my only quibble being a slightly brisker tempo in the opening movement than I’m used to. When comparing this to the more measured interpretations by European conductors it may come across as too hurried. But this is a minor point, and the careful phrasing coupled with the exemplary performance by the brass and woodwinds more than makes up for it.

The much-beloved “Pastoral” is all gentleness, the strings demonstrating a particular warmth and resonance.

What more can be said about the great Symphony No.9? This particular performance was recorded for the inaugural concert in the new Maison Symphonique de Montréal in September, 2011 and features sopranos Adrienne Pieczonka and Erin Wall, mezzo Mihoko Fujimura, tenor Simon O’Neill and bass Mikhail Petrenko along with the OSM Chorus and the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir. While the approach is noble and confident, to my ears, it doesn’t break any new ground in interpretation – but this is not necessarily a bad thing, and the soloists all deliver solid performances.

But how do they handle my favourite symphony, the glorious No.7 written in 1812? Not surprisingly, Nagano and the OSM live up to expectations. The performance is magnificent – energetic and robust – at all times displaying a wonderful cohesion of sound particularly evident in the joyful finale.

Bravo to Maestro Nagano and the musicians of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. You have proven that there is indeed room for yet another set of the complete Beethoven symphonies – and the rousing applause at the conclusion of the live performances is a clear indication that others felt the same.


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