Beethoven - The Ideals of the French Revolution
Maximilian Schell; Adrianne Pieczonka; Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal Chorus; Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal; Kent Nagano
Analekta AN 2 9942-3


The first of these two CDs contains The General, an allegory in the form of a soliloquy with music. The text is based on the writings of General Romeo Dallaire who was head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during 1993-4. Beethoven’s entr’acte music for Egmont is heard between the spoken passages conveyed with compassion and conviction by Maximilian Schell, a perfect choice to portray the alienated general whose explicit orders were to merely observe the continuing brutality and slaughter.

The concept for this 21st century utilization of Beethoven’s 200 year old scores came from conductor Kent Nagano who continues to prove that he is a sensitive musician who habitually sees beyond the score to find the composer. In the notes, musicologist Paul Griffiths, who wrote the text, explains how he achieved his goal to blend words and music into a tale, using neither names nor location, not of victory but defeat. He wrote new words for Beethoven’s oddity, Opferlied, for soprano, chorus and orchestra, opus 121b, with which The General ends.

The second CD has a lyrical, beautifully balanced and finely nuanced performance of the Fifth Symphony, the orchestra sounding, to my ears, better than they ever did under Dutoit. Perhaps it’s that they recorded in the Place des Arts, their home. The disc is rounded out with the Egmont Overture and two excerpts plus the Opferlied, again sung by Pieczonka as heard on the first disc. This only makes sense if Analekta also intends to release this disc separately.

Excellent sound throughout this most unusual and attractive package, which is, we hope, just the first Nagano/OSM recording from Analekta.

Bruce Surtees

4; Waltzes; Mazurkas; Barcarolle
Ingrid Fliter
EMI 5 14899 2

Brahms - Variations Op.21; 24; 35
Olga Kern
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907392


Two recent CDs feature repertoire from the romantic period, performed by artists who both made their Toronto debuts in recent months – Ingrid Fliter who performed with the Toronto Symphony in January and Olga Kern who was featured with the Moscow Virtuosi under Vladimir Spivakov’s baton at Roy Thomson Hall in May.

I admit I had never heard of Ingrid Fliter before I was introduced to this all-Chopin recording on the EMI label. Ms Fliter is a native of Argentina, where she was the laureate of several competitions, and where she made her debut in Buenos Aires at the age of 16. She later continued her studies in Freiburg and Rome and, in 2000, was the silver medalist at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw. Could she possibly be the next Martha Argerich? Admittedly, an all-Chopin disc is an easy way to my heart, but I find this one particularly outstanding. The program itself is finely balanced, featuring three major works – the B minor sonata, the Barcarolle, and the fourth Ballade, interspersed with various mazurkas and waltzes. In addition to her flawless technique, the playing is noble and poetic, at all times displaying the subtle nuances ever present in the music of Chopin. Martha, I do believe you have a successor!

I was more familiar with the name Olga Kern whose disc on the Harmonia Mundi label features three sets of Brahms’ variations, Op. 21, 24 and 35. Gold medalist at the 11th van Cliburn competition in 2001, Kern studied in her native Russia, where she initially won acclaim as the prize-winner at the Rachmaninov competition at the age of 17. Since then, she has earned a reputation as an artist of international stature. The earliest set of variations on this disc, the Op. 21, dates from 1853, the year Brahms toured with the violin virtuoso Remenyi, so it was perhaps not surprising that this music has a decidedly Hungarian flavour, even to the point of using a Hungarian theme as the basis. Kern plays with a strong assurance, displaying a formidable technique that we might expect from a Russian-trained pianist. More familiar are the variations on a theme by Handel, and the two sets of variations on a theme by Paganini, the latter used by Rachmaninov 70 years later. This must be among the most difficult piano music Brahms ever wrote, requiring an almost super-human technique – as challenging for the pianist as Paganini’s etudes are for the violin. Not surprisingly, Ms Kern effortlessly captures the ever-changing moods of the music, from the delicacy of Variation 5 in the first set, to the robust bravura of the first variation in the second. In all, these are two most satisfying discs – great music superbly performed – who could ask for more?

Richard Haskell

Karajan - In Concert
Berliner Philharmoniker;
Herbert von Karajan
Deutsche Grammophon 00440 073 4399

Karajan or Beauty as I See It
A Film by Robert Dornhelm
Deutsche Grammophon 00440 073 4392


From audio recordings alone it can be hard today to understand why Herbert von Karajan so dominated his age. Now, almost twenty years after his death, his unified textures and seamless phrasing have lost favour to a less mannered, more historically informed style. Yet those who heard him live tend to consider the experience transformative.

The centenary of Karajan’s birth this year has inspired record companies to make even more recordings by him available. These two video releases are especially valuable for allowing us to not just hear but see him at work.

The two-disc set Karajan in Concert contains filmed concerts with his orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, recorded in the 1970’s, with Karajan both conducting and directing the innovative filming. In a gripping performance of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 2 with Alexis Weissenberg, the intrepid camera peers over the pianist’s shoulder, sweeps around the players and pans out to the renowned Berlin Philharmonic Hall. Karajan conducts every work from memory, without a score. That’s just as well, since he keeps his eyes closed. The one-hour documentary portrait of Karajan made by director Vojtech Jasný in 1970 shows how the real work was done in lengthy rehearsals, where Karajan keeps his eyes wide open. He even tells jokes.

Robert Dornhelm’s recent one-and-one-half hour documentary Karajan or Beauty as I See It lets the historic footage and interviews with prominent musicians who worked closely with Karajan speak for themselves. In interview, pianist Evgeny Kissin says that Karajan opened hidden potential in him. Daughter Isabel von Karajan recalls seeing her father in tears only once – after a performance with Kissin. Both René Kollo and Christa Ludwig recall how, when they started having vocal problems, he dumped them, even though they were still in their prime and had worked together for years. Dornhelm cleverly cuts between footage of Leonard Bernstein and Karajan rehearsing the Berliners to highlight their contrasting conducting styles, Bernstein uninhibited and Karajan thoroughly disciplined.

A few of the historical clips appear in Jasný’s documentary as well, but Dornhelm, freed by Karajan’s death, is able to present a more well-rounded portrait. So it is disappointing that he skims so lightly over key controversies in Karajan’s career, such as his ties to the Nazis, his later problems with the Berlin players and, above all, his distinctive orchestral sound, which today remains the most important aspect of his legacy.

Pamela Margles


La Pellegrina - Intermedii 1589
Leclair; Mauch; Bertin; van Dyck; Novelli; Fajardo; Capriccio Stravagante Renaissance Orchestra; Collegium Vocale Gent; Skip Sempé
Paradizo PA0004


Beautifully performed in its own right, this set will be of particular interest to those who wonder about the beginnings of opera. The play La Pellegrina was performed along with these Intermedii for the wedding of Ferdinando de’ Medici and Christine de Lorraine, Princess of France (Florence 1589). With music composed by the likes of Marenzio, Malvezzi, Caccini, Peri, Archieli, Cavalieri and Bardi, it is easy to see how the Intermedii may have been the highlight of the festivities. The Intermedii, which began as a pleasant diversion performed as staged madrigals and dances between the acts of a play, eventually grew to become the main attraction of an evening’s entertainment at the opulent houses of the Medici dynasty. Over time, as the music, dance, machinery and stage design of these vignettes became more and more elaborate, the form naturally expanded to create some of the first extended musical dramas. Many of the texts for the 1589 Intermedii featured in this set were written by Rinuccini and Striggio, who went on to create the librettos for the first operas composed by Peri, Caccini and Monteverdi. The Collegium Vocale Gent along with Capriccio Stravagante provides an excellent interpretation and insight into this genre. Director Skip Sempé adds an interview discussing the historical and musicological justifications for the orchestration, vocal style and ornamentation, modern performance and recording of these works. Executed magnificently, this is a rarified view into one of the most extravagant performances of the period.

Dianne Wells

Fine old recordings re-released

By Bruce Surtees

CDIt must be remembered that when George Szell came to prominence in the United States in the mid 1940s (and his mid-forties) he was a highly respected conductor and musician in Europe. He had a very solid grip on his repertoire which soon expanded to new works which he was debuting and championing. However, all that most music lovers around the world today know about Szell’s artistry they have divined from the recordings made by Columbia in Cleveland from the late 1940s on. In an interview with Szell as an intermission feature in one of the weekly broadcast concerts, he stated that Columbia allowed him to record items that he requested only if they were not in conflict with Ormandy or Bernstein. Those he did make revealed meticulously prepared performances which could be misinterpreted as a somewhat objective. The lean balances of those LPs and then CDs only reinforced that impression.
Read more: Sept 08 - OLD WINE IN NEW BOTTLES


A Song Is Born
Mitch Smolkin
Advance copy


The smooth, silky and velvety voice of Toronto-based actor and singer Mitch Smolkin is the major draw and aural focal point of “A Song Is Born”. Sure, he has assembled a fine collection of artists to back him up including guitarist Levon Ichkanian, Marcelo Moguilevsky, Cesar Lerner, Boris Sichon, Paul Brody and singer Aviva Chernick. One can’t really go wrong with such an esteemed group of artists, but Smolkin’s voice captured my attention in every cut.
Read more: Sept 08 - Pot Pourri


Words We Both Could Say
Shannon Butcher
Independent SB2008

You Go To My Head
Janelle Monique
ZaFeMusik ZAFE2007


Debut discs from several young singers have made their way over the WholeNote transom this summer. This month we have two examples, with more to come in future issues.
Read more: Sept 08 - JAZZ AND IMPROVISED

By Terry Robbins

Reviewing contemporary music can be a bit like being handed a copy of War and Peace in the original and being asked what you think of it when you don’t speak Russian; if you’re not fully conversant with the composer’s individual language then how can you judge? Music is different in one critical respect, of course, in that regardless of the particular musical language the composer uses, something should be communicated by the music itself. Does it actually say anything?
Read more: Sept08-ExtendedPlay


From Courts on High
St. Michael’s Choir School
Independent 6671 ( )


A Toronto treasure for 70 years, the venerable “St. Mike’s” youngsters are back in the recording scene with a new CD, their first major release since “Christmas Garland” of 1999.
Read more: Sept08 - VOCAL


Hommage à Messiaen
Pierre-Laurent Aimard
Deutsche Grammophon 477 7452


As Olivier Messiaen’s music cuts deeper and deeper into the mainstream classical canon, his name is becoming inextricably bound with pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard. As a student of both Messiaen and his wife Yvonne Loriod this interpreter has been groomed for the job of providing definitive renditions of all the composer’s pianistic material. This disc commemorates Messiaen’s centenary with early solo piano selections from 1928 to 1950.


Beethoven - The Symphonies
Berlin Philharmoniker; Claudio Abbado
Deutsche Grammophon 477 5864


This is Claudio Abbado’s third complete Beethoven cycle and his second with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Recorded 2000-2001, it features all the fine production and execution that listeners have come to expect from Deutsche Grammophon. It does not, however, offer anything new. It has almost all the force of Karajan’s 1963 Beethoven cycle but little else to distinguish it from that older, much loved set of renditions. Certainly the ensemble is in top form but Abbado’s vision is one of lyric clarity that doesn’t distinguish itself from among The BPO’s Beethoven recording history.

Read more: Sept 08 - Classical and Beyond

Current Date


by David Olds

CDThrough the long and lazy days of summer I found myself drawn to a number of vocal discs which on the surface have very little in common with each other. The first is the new album by Toronto’s own darlings of “punk baroque” I Furiosi, their first for the prestigious Dorian Sono Luminous label. Crazy (DSL-90902) features the pure tone of soprano Gabrielle McLaughlin in a variety of settings by Jonathan Eccles, G.F. Handel, Godfrey Finger, Thomas Arne, Alessandro Stradella and John Blow which all seem to explore some aspect of madness (although it’s hard to be sure as the “eco-friendly” program notes – i.e. no paper used - to be available only on-line at the Dorian website after the September release were not yet posted at time of writing). While these songs involve fairly sparse accompaniment, they are interspersed with instrumental selections in which Furiosi violinists Julia Wedman and Aisslinn Nosky and cellist/gambist Felix Deak are joined by James Johnstone (harpsichord), Stephanie Martin (organ) and Lucas Harris (theorbo and guitar). The full and energetic sound achieved at times belies the size of the ensemble. Highlights for me include an aria from Handel’s Giulio Cesare, Arne’s To Fair Fidele’s Grassy Tomb, an aria “con violines” from Stradella’s Susanna, Vivaldi’s trio sonata “La Folia” and the viol da gamba solo Deth by Tobias Hume. One unexpected treasure is the final selection, an intriguing arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne. I must confess I cringed when I saw it on the track list thinking this was not something I was going to want hear in “period style” but from the opening plucked arpeggios on the cello through the entry of the oh-so-unlike Leonard Cohen high and crystalline soprano voice and the long haunting violin lines, I was drawn in and convinced. I’m left wondering what they would do with Cohen’s Halleluiah.

Read more: September 08 - Editors Corner
Back to top