05_migotMigot - Suite à trois; Le livre des danceries

Robert Cram; Trio Hochelaga

ATMA ACD2 2543

Intense in his spirituality, drawing on the rich diversity of French music, and inspired by the Touraine landscape, Georges Migot (1891-1976) could not fail to achieve fame as president of La Spirale, the Parisian society dedicated to offering performances of new French works.

Migot’s Trio of 1935 commences with the Modéré, an intense - and clashing and disjointed - movement. It is almost a duel between piano and violin. It is followed by an Allègre. Both movements make great demands on the skills of cellist Paul Marleyn and violinist Anne Robert; their skills ensure that this recording matches up to the description of the Trio as one of the most arresting pieces of French chamber music.

Third movement is the Danse, where Stéphane Lemelin’s piano-playing comes into its own, as intense as the string parts, but more disciplined as the piano is denied the liberty that the latter enjoy as they invoke France’s varied heritage. Last is the Final: no instrument dominates and Migot allows each to test its player’s skill. This is an intense suite of chamber music, a challenge to preconceived ideas of classical ensembles.


In very different spirit is the Livre des Danceries where flautist Robert Cram introduces a sprightly quality which is eventually taken up by the piano part in the second - Gai - movement. At last, the CD’s pianist can relax! Next is Réligieux, longest of the four movements, drawing on melodic religious sources. And then Conclusion, from the earliest bars a celebration of the other movements and an exciting way to round off Trio Hochelaga’s vigorous interpretations.

04_english_violaEnglish Music for Viola

Eniko Magyar; Tadashi Imai

Naxos 8.572407

There is something about the viola’s tonal quality that makes it seem quintessentially English; appropriately so, given that it was an Englishman – Lionel Tertis – who almost singlehandedly established the viola as a legitimate solo instrument in the early 20th century. Tertis had connections with most of the music on this outstanding debut CD by the London-based Hungarian violist Eniko Magyar.

The Bliss Sonata is the most challenging of the works, with a turbulent, restless and dissonant start and a passionate third movement. It was written for, and dedicated to, Tertis, who gave the first performance in 1933.

A year earlier, Tertis had transcribed Delius’s Third Violin Sonata and had played it for the ailing composer at the latter’s home in Grez-sur-Loing. Written in 1930, it is Delius at his distinctively lyrical best.

The seven attractive miniatures by Frank Bridge date from 1901 to 1908, when Bridge was in his 20s. Most were originally written for violin or cello; only two – Pensiero and Allegro appassionato – were written specifically for the viola, Bridge’s own instrument, and were published as the first titles in the Lionel Tertis Viola Library in 1908.

Magyar plays her c.1700 Grancino viola (on loan from the Royal Academy) with warmth, sensitivity, and a superb technique, and is ably and sympathetically supported by pianist Tadashi Imai. The recording quality and booklet notes are both excellent.

03_elgarElgar - Violin Concerto

Nikolaj Znaider; Staatskapelle Dresden; Sir Colin Davis

RCA Red Seal 88697 60588 2

Nikolaj Znaider has not yet attained universal fame but, be assured, he is on the way. He is an exclusive RCA recording artist and has several fine concerto discs including the Brahms and Korngold with Valery Gergiev, the Beethoven and Mendelssohn with Zubin Mehta, the Nielsen and Bruch with Lawrence Foster, and the Prokofiev No.2 and Glazunov with Mariss Jansons. This new recording of the Elgar is clearly one of the finest versions this concerto has enjoyed.

Connoisseurs know well the historic recording with the teen-aged Yehudi Menuhin and Elgar conducting the London Symphony Orchestra from 1932. Although Fritz Kreisler premiered the concerto in 1910 it was the Menuhin/Elgar that had the music world talking.

Znaider impresses me with a seemingly effortless command of his instrument and his silky, singing tone. A performance aided by the authoritative collaboration with consummate Elgarian Colin Davis, under whom one could believe that the German orchestra was a traditional English ensemble steeped in the tradition. Not that I have auditioned the others recently but I believe that this performance is not bettered by any version that I have previously heard.

Top marks are also due the production and sound engineering, naturally balanced and detailed. One caveat, the timing for this concerto is less than 50 minutes - RCA should have included an appropriate filler.

02_mendelssohnMendelssohn - Piano Trios

Emanuel Ax; Yo-Yo Ma; Itzhak Perlman

Sony Music 88697 52192 2

Menahem Pressler, the pianist who for more than half a century was the driving force behind the Beaux Arts Trio, is inclined to take a jaundiced view of piano trios cobbled together on a temporary, ad-hoc basis. “Three fine fellows do not make a trio!” he pointedly remarked.

Yet when the “three fine fellows” happen to be Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma and Emmanuel Ax, Pressler’s concerns may be set aside. Although this group hadn’t played in public before last year and has given only handful of concerts, their collective interpretation is decisive and secure, banishing any hint of the wimpy playing that sometimes finds its way into Mendelssohn performances.

The two Mendelssohn trios on this disc are paired on countless recordings – but they’ve probably never been played or recorded better than they have here. From the outset of the D Minor Trio, the group’s playing is taut, nuanced and intricately interwoven. The dramatic first movement is nicely contrasted with the introspective second. The third movement is all coyness and charm; and the last movement is effervescent, with muscular outbursts.

Perhaps the group might have taken the opening movement of the C Minor Trio a little faster – but the tempo they chose provides some breathing room for the expressive range of this movement: the sotto voce string passages, and surprising outbursts from the piano. The second movement is all sweetness; and the third scampers lightly, as a Mendelssohnian scherzo should. The finale does not lack grandness, but there’s a spring to the rhythm that propels the music forward.

I’m reminded of one other thing Pressler has said about piano trios: the heart of the ensemble is the piano. Violinists and cellists may not like this proposal – but it’s well borne out on this recording, which is solidly founded on Ax’s superb playing.

01_aux_armesGossec - Aux Armes, Citoyens: Royal and Revolutionary Music for Winds

Les Jacobins; Mathieu Lussier

ATMA ACD2 2595

Absolute monarchy, revolution, terror, Napoleon, restored monarchy - François-Joseph Gossec lived through all of this over his 95 years. And he orchestrated La Marseillaise.

Despite name and title, this CD features both royalist and revolutionary music. So, with our six period-woodwind instrumentalists, we aristos can ride with the Grande Chasse de Chentilli to the accompaniment of clarinets, horns and bassoons. Then, revolutionaries, we lower our flags as we remember assassinated Deputy Feraud.

Back on course we hear La Marseilaise. Gossec’s arrangement starts at a quick revolutionary pace but ends in a more stately, Royalist, tempo. Gossec hedges his bets...

And so to five revolutionary airs under Mathieu Lussier’s artistic direction. Ça ira leads. It inspired the French revolutionaries (and one English officer who actually made it his regimental march). In fact, most of this suite is rather un-revolutionary in its tempo - but still a wonderful opportunity to hear authentic Baroque woodwind solos. We arrive at the battlefield with four short pieces. Clarinets, bassoons, and horns boost our morale as we march, playing spiritedly as we engage our foe at close quarters, and with dignity as victory is ours.

More relaxing are Gossec’s Andante and Chasse d’Hylas et Sylvie. Gossec’s interest in the clarinet, new in France when he was composing in the early 1770s, is ably demonstrated by Jane Booth and Martin Carpentier.

Gossec’s hymns to liberty are more reflective than brash; the same is true of his Simphonie à 6. What Les Jacobins have done here is to publicise the vast store of undiscovered French revolutionary music.

06_hvorostovsky_radvanovskyVerdi - Opera Scenes

Dmitri Hvorostovsky;

Sondra Radvanovsky

Delos DE 3403

Among Giuseppe Verdi’s gifts to the opera repertoire is a welcome body of duets for baritone and soprano. Unless baritones can cultivate a credible upper range to allow for occasional forays into tenor repertoire, they often languish for opportunities at musical dalliance with sopranos.

Moreover, matching vocal colour and weight in a baritone/soprano duo can be tricky… but happily not impossible, as this recording demonstrates so well. Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s long career and vocal gifts have placed him in that small group of must-hear Verdi baritones. Pairing him with the beautifully matched voice of Sondra Radvanovsky makes for a wonderfully compelling recording of Verdi opera excerpts.

Hvorostovsky brings tremendous vocal security and experienced dramatic delivery to his various roles. Radvanovsky matches him measure for measure and the results are stunning. The recording’s producers have wisely selected Un Ballo’s Act 3 Scene 1 duet by Amelia and Renato to open the CD. Beautifully executed, this track firmly holds the listener’s attention for the balance of the disc.

In addition to the duets, 3 solos let us enjoy the voices in their own spotlight. Radvanovsky performs “Song to the Moon” from Dvorak’s Rusalka in a way the composer must have imagined a Slavic voice should sing it. Her semi-spoken ending is especially poignant. Further, Hvorostovsky sings Mozart’s “Deh vieni” from Don Giovanni, lightening his approach as much as possible but perhaps leaving us appreciating the more natural airiness of his Italian counterparts.

However, one cannot fault the authentically Russian colour and tone of Hvorostovsky’s voice. While artfully managed in the Verdi repertoire, it flowers fully and richly in another recent recording of Tchaikovsky Romances (DELOS DE3393).

Radvanovsky finally closes the live performance with a powerfully and flawlessly executed “Vissi d’arte” (Tosca). The audience in the Moscow Conservatory’s Great Hall reportedly applauded for twenty minutes after this concert – and they had every reason to do so.

Concert Note: Sondra Radvanovsky and Dmitri Hvorostovsky are featured in “An Italian Opera Spectacular” at Roy Thomson Hall on March 20.

05_berlioz_benvenutoBerlioz - Benvenuto Cellini

Wiener Staatspernchor; Wiener Philharmoniker; Valery Gergiev

Naxos 2.110271

One could be hard pressed to give an unbiased judgment on this “controversial” production of Berlioz’ first opera and undoubted masterpiece. Controversial, as director Philipp Stölzl created a fun filled futuristic fantasy extravaganza, placed in a New York-like setting filled with helicopters, robots and even a whale. So one could ask: what has this got to do with 16th century Rome? However, if you think about it, swashbuckling Cellini was himself no ordinary person, but one whose life story could fill a novel, and the first truly Romantic hero, ahead of his time. Obviously no ordinary treatment would do and so the director created a vastly different, anachronistic but constantly fascinating and innovative theatrical experience. Perhaps he went overboard a bit with the robots, but his imagination really knew no limits. In this respect he emulates the composer, young Berlioz who also “pushed the envelope” musically with extremely difficult singing roles, double, triple, quadruple choruses and cross rhythms etc.  

To control this mammoth task a master conductor is required, of course. About 30 years ago it was Sir Colin Davis who rediscovered and recorded the opera, but now it is the incomparable Valery Gergiev who can propel his orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, into the Berliozian stratosphere.

Burkhard Fritz as Benvenuto is a strong heroic tenor and copes well with the vocal demands of the role, while Maria Kovalevska as his beloved Teresa enchants us with her lovely voice and physical beauty. English baritone Brindley Sherratt is very capable and convincing as Balducci, the Pope’s treasurer. In the supporting cast American soprano Kate Aldrich is superb as Ascanio and Russian bass Mikhail Petrenko creates a hilarious cameo role as the Pope. The production is a visual stunner and comes together wonderfully, particularly at the carnival scene with a Brueghelesque feel about it. And just wait till you see the ending which is like a Vesuvian eruption with a giant foundry engulfed in flames, smoke and molten iron!

04_winterreiseSchubert - Winterreise

Mark Padmore; Paul Lewis

Harmonia Mundi HMU 907484

Known primarily as a baroque tenor, Mark Padmore turns out be a first class lieder singer. This is a personal opinion and I am well aware of opponents who would argue that Schubert must be sung by a singer whose native tongue is German. Padmore, who sings in the original key, communicates Wilhelm Müller’s lyrics with disarming, heartfelt sincerity. The tenor possesses a tender, floating voice that illuminates the cycle with a fresh and contagious approach. He projects the texts in such a way that he seems to be singing directly to the listener and not to an anonymous audience. There is not another version that comes even close to this one. One can only marvel at its daring originality and compassion.

In comparison with the version by Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten I was really surprised to find that Padmore and Lewis’s is interpretatively superior in every respect. Paul Lewis is a perfect partner. He is highly respected as a Beethoven and Schubert exponent and, as we now witness, proves an ideal collaborator in this genre.

While I remain enchanted by the timeless, sublime versions of the three Schubert song cycles sung by Herman Prey that I wrote about in the December issue - Winterreise was particularly moving as interpreted by that late German baritone accompanied by Helmut Deutsch (CMAJOR 700208) – Padmore’s new recording is perfectly balanced, clear and enjoyable, making his Winterreise a stand out. Harmonia Mundi promises that the other two cycles will follow.

03_mozart_maniaciMozart Arias for Male Soprano

Michael Maniaci; Boston Baroque;

Martin Pearlman

Telarc TEL-31827-02

Michael Maniaci apparently does not mind being a Canadian. In one interview he admitted that frequent performances in Toronto (with Opera Atelier and others) convinced some of his fans that he must be a Canuck. He may not be one by birth, but he certainly was born to share his rare gift with us.

Male soprano has the same ring to it as narwhal – a rare, almost mythical creature, barely known and even less understood. By an accident of nature, Maniaci’s larynx did not grow to a full size in puberty and produces sounds that best can be described as unusual. Much higher than a countertenor, much more robust than a boy soprano, his voice is one of a kind, possibly approximating what castrati might have sounded like. It is a perfectly pitched instrument, with a lot of agility and great technique.

For his first solo album, Maniaci chose music written by Mozart especially for castrati, including the celebrated “Exsultate, jubilate”. This voice takes some getting used to – at first, Alleluja! sounds strange and not entirely convincing. Once you get over the shock of the unknown however, especially in the Lucio Silla arias, this new interpretation triumphs over pre-conceived notions. Our initial resistance to what is in effect a return to Mozart’s preferred interpretation is a testimony to the way in which performance standard shapes our listening ability. So, open up your ears (and minds) to Michael Maniaci’s unique voice and indulge in what could be considered full period performance of the familiar music.

02_bach_violinBach - Violin and Voice

Hilary Hahn; Matthias Goerne; Christine Schafer; Münchener Kammerorchester; Alexander Liebreich

Deutsche Grammophon 477 8092

The twelve arias on this disc have been selected by violinist Hilary Hahn because they all feature a prominent part for solo violin. She has searched through Bach’s cantatas, the St. Mathew Passion and the B- Mass to put together a lovely, surprisingly well-balanced program.

But the concept behind this disc, evident right from the title, “Violin and Voice”, overplays the role of the obbligato violin in these arias. It’s not the leader here – its job is to comment on what the singers are singing. Fortunately, Hahn proves to be a sensitive ensemble player. Responding to the singers and never intruding on the vocal lines, she lightens her sound, restricts her vibrato, and sharpens the edges of her phrases.

The Münchener Kammerorchester under Alexander Liebreich offers buoyant support. But the key to the success of this venture lies in the heartfelt, dramatic singing. Baritone Matthias Goerne’s yearning intensity in “Welt, ade”, with soprano Christine Schäfer singing the chorale part, is matched by Hahn’s expressive obbligato. Schäfer is equally affecting, with an engaging honesty that illuminates these mostly religious texts. Her poignant “Erbarme dich”, given here in Mendelssohn’s transposition, blends exquisitely with Hahn’s lyrical, stylish playing.

The highlight for me is the impassioned performance by Goerne and Schäfer of the duet “Wann kommst du, mein heil?”, with Hahn providing beguiling elaborations on the operatic dialogue between Jesus and a soul longing to join him.


01_meashaNight and Dreams

Measha Brueggergosman; Justus Zeyen

Deutsche Grammophon 289 477

Has it really been twelve years since soprano Measha Brueggergosman made us sit up and take notice when she sang the title role in James Rolfe’s Beatrice Chancy here in Toronto, followed by her appearance a year later at the Millennium Opera Gala? Since then, this native of Fredericton, New Brunswick has rightfully gone on to international fame, appearing regularly on concert stages throughout Europe and North America. Her newest disc - the fourth altogether and second for Deutsch Grammophon - appropriately titled “Night and Dreams” is inspired by all things nocturnal.

With German-born pianist Justus Zeyen providing a sensitive musical partnership, this is a wonderfully varied program indeed! While most of the repertoire dates from the mid-to-late Romantic period with songs by composers such as Debussy, Fauré, Duparc, Brahms and Wolf, there is also a lied by Mozart, a lullaby by Montsalvage, and an evocative Portuguese song, Anoiteceu, by Francis Hime. All are miniature gems, and within the overall intimate and introspective context of the whole Brueggergosman effortlessly captures the varying moods of each song. Her interpretation of Debussy’s Beau Soir – the opening track – is magically lyrical, while Duparc’s Phidylé soars with joyous intensity. In all, this is a most satisfying recording and further proof (if any were needed) of this soprano’s enormous talents.

Pamela Margles Bookshelf will return in March 2010

A wealth of material has accumulated over the holiday season as you will see from the bumper crop of reviews that follow. My own desk is stacked high with worthy offerings vying for attention. Here’s a selection of the cream that has risen to the top.

01_national_youth2009 was an ambitious year for the National Youth Orchestra under the direction of Alain Trudel, undertaking both Mahler’s Sixth Symphony and Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps. And a busy year for Trudel himself as founding director of the National Broadcast Orchestra of Canada (incorporated in January 2009 “to carry on the spirit of the disbanded CBC Radio Orchestra”), Music director and conductor of l’Orchestre Symphonique de Laval and conductor of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, a position he’s held since 2004. This year’s adventure with the NYOC is documented in an attractive package that includes 2 CDs with the above mentioned works along with Dreams of Flying by the orchestra’s administrative assistant Rob Teehan and Renaissance choral works by Orlando di Lasso and Thomas Greaves – yes, it seems the young musicians must sing as well as play. These are supplemented by a DVD featuring exhilarating performances of Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, Samy Moussa’s Cyclus and selections from Le Sacre du printemps. If the performances on this package are any indication, the future of orchestral music in Canada is in very good hands. Visit www.nyoc.org to view the podcast or purchase the discs.

02_taliskerThe Talisker Players (www.taliskerplayers.ca) have just released their first CD, Where Words & Music Meet. The disc features an eclectic program of vocal gems ranging from Beethoven’s setting of Scottish Folk Songs through Poulenc’s charming Bestiary and Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Four Poems by Rabindranath Tagore to contemporary settings by Toronto composers Stephanie Moore, Andrew Ager and Alexander Rapoport. A particular coup is the world premiere recording of Argentine-American composer Osvaldo Golijov’s haunting Tenebrae with soprano Teri Dunn. Golijov will be a strong presence in Toronto this month as Composer-in-Residence at the TSO’s New Creations Festival February 25 – March 3 at Roy Thomson Hall. Teri Dunn is also featured in Moore’s moving setting of In Flanders Fields with baritone Alexander Dobson. Dobson is joined by Vicki St. Pierre in selections from Ager’s raucous interpretation of Rex Deverell’s texts in Ellis Portal and Doug MacNaughton is featured in Rapoport’s deft setting of Carl Sandberg poems in Chicago Portraits. Norine Burgess and Geoffrey Butler share the honours in the playful Beethoven, with Krisztina Szabó centre stage in Poulenc’s miniatures. All in all a very successful debut recording for this Toronto ensemble which specializes in vocal chamber music under the artistic direction of violist Mary McGeer. The attractive packaging includes a very thorough booklet complete with libretti, artist biographies and a message from John Fraser, Master of Massey College where the Talisker Players are Ensemble-In-Residence. Concert note: Talisker’s season continues at Trinity Saint Paul’s Centre with “To the Sea in Ships” February 9 & 10 featuring Vicki St. Pierre, Keith Klassen and Alexander Dobson in music by Ireland, Sculthorpe and Hoiby.

03_flying_bulgarsUnlike the Talisker package, Tumbling Into Light - the latest offering from local Jewish roots band the Flying Bulgars - does not come with much in the way of liner notes. Even to find out what instruments the band members play you have to visit the website www.theflyingbulgars.com. Of course fans of the band, which is now in its third decade of performing in Toronto with five previous recordings to its credit, know that current membership includes founder David Buchbinder on trumpet and flugelhorn, co-leader Dave Wall vocals, Peter Lutek various reed instruments, Victor Bateman bass, Max Senitt drums and Tania Gill piano. They are joined on this exuberant release by drummer Frank Botos, percussionist Rick Shadrach Lazar, multi-instrumentalist Tim Postgate and producer Dave Newfeld. Originally called the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, the ensemble has expanded its mandate over the decades to specialize in “original music that is rooted in the soul of the Jews… chart[ing] a course between the calm waters of tradition and exciting, uncertain seas of innovation.” This CD is a strong testament to that. Concert note: Those of you who picked up this February issue as it hit the street may have time to catch what is being billed as a multi-media, multi-disciplinary performance of “Tumbling Into Light” featuring the Flying Bulgars with Andrea Mann (dance), Bruce MacDonald (film) and Lorenzo Savoini (design) in two performances at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts on January 31.

04_in_c_remixedAnother release which requires you to visit a website (www.in-c-remixed.com) for full information features performances by the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble. In C Remixed is a two disc tribute to Terry Riley and features 18 different takes on the seminal minimalist work “In C” by artists “representing a true cross-section of musical genres… classical, pop, electronica, jazz, trip-hop, dance, techno, industrial, disco, ambient, and more” according to director Bill Ryan. It’s hard to imagine that it has been 45 years since Riley composed this masterwork in which any number of musicians using any combination of instruments work their way through 53 short phrases ingeniously designed to overlay effectively, each at their own pace, until all have arrived at the end in their own good time. This is a piece which is guaranteed to be different in each performance, yet always recognizable and always new. I must confess that I don’t think all of the artists involved in this project added significantly to the concept, but it is intriguing that musicians from such a broad spectrum have been influenced by this work and have wanted to make it their own. Among the notables are Jack Dangers, Masonic (Mason Bates), DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid, Michael Lowenstein, Glenn Kotche and David Lang. The performance they are remixing was recorded at River City Studios, Grand Rapids, Michigan last year and is included as the final track on the second disc of this set.

05_melbyAt a recent New Music Concerts event local contemporary music aficionado and patron of the arts Roger D. Moore said he was surprised that some of the pieces using sound files actually seemed to pre-date the common use of computers in music. We agreed that in the case of the 1993 composition in question that originally it would have been designated for “voice and tape” but currently the pre-recorded sounds are on digital files cued on the computer. But computer music does have a longer history than we might suspect, with composers working in the Bell Laboratories affiliated with Princeton University as early as the 1950s. One composer who has been involved with computer generated sounds for many decades is John Melby, an American who taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign until retiring Emeritus in 1997. Last January Melby’s 2008 Concerto for Violin, Piano and Computer was performed by Duo Diorama – Minghuan Xu, violin, and Winston Choi, piano – at the Music Gallery. A new Albany Records release (TROY1124) includes this work along with Choi’s performance of the 2006 Concerto No.2 for Piano and Computer and a much earlier Concerto for Computer and Orchestra from 1987 performed by the Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Joel Eric Suben. It is intriguing to hear not only the changes in computer sounds over the two decades separating the works, but also the continuity. Also interesting is the role shift from computer as soloist in the earlier work, to computer as orchestra in the recent concertos. This is not to say that Melby is simply mimicking orchestral instruments, far from it. The distinctive timbres of the invented sounds in the accompaniment leave us in no doubt that these are works for the future, not simple reflections of the past.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: The WholeNote, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website, www.thewholenote.com, where you can find added features including direct links to performers, composers and record labels, and additional, expanded and archival reviews.

David Olds

DISCoveries Editor

discoveries@thewholenote.com

02_saint_ceciliaTo Saint Cecilia

Les Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble; Marc Minkowski

Naïve V5183

Cecilia, patron saint of music, was martyred: her killers would surely have been more benign if they had listened to the celestial music dedicated to her. Purcell, with his Hail Bright Cecilia of 1692, shows why English music-lovers came to establish festivals dedicated to Cecilia. Listen to the tenor voice of Anders Dahlin in ‘Tis Nature’s Voice and bass Luca Tittoto in Wond’rous Machine! to hear why. There is one irony in Hail, Bright Cecilia. Purcell uses the human voice in all its beauty to sing the praises of musical instruments - which hardly get the chance to express themselves.

Handel’s A Song for St Cecilia’s Day is lively in its Overture; baroque orchestral music at its most serene. Add the cello-playing of Niels Wieboldt in What Passion Cannot Music Raise and Florian Cousin’s flute-playing in The Soft Complaining Flute and you will see how Handel gives freer rein to instruments than Purcell.

And then Haydn, with the more religious approach of the St. Cecilia Mass. The female soloists come into their own: contralto Nathalie Stutzmann and above all, soprano Lucie Crowe. Listen to the latter in Haydn’s Quoniam; if anyone can claim to be called the Cecilia of these two CDs, it is Ms Crowe.

And don’t just set aside 2 hours 33 minutes for the recording: immerse yourself in the 132-page booklet of insightful articles and sumptuous paintings.

Michael Schwartz

01_vivaldi_lemieuxVivaldi!

Marie-Nicole Lemieux; Ensemble Matheus; Jean-Christophe Spinosi

Naïve V5212

This recording features selections from the three Vivaldi operas which Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux has recorded for the Naïve label with the Ensemble Matheus directed by Jean-Christoph Spinosi - Orlando furioso, Griselda and La fida ninfa - as well as Vivaldi's Stabat Mater. Known for her extremely agile voice, unusual for a contralto, she is well able to manage the roller-coaster agitato passages better suited to a violin that Vivaldi (most unfairly) demands of singers. One is reminded, especially in the exhilarating Sorge l'irato nembo from Orlando furioso, of the fire of Marilyn Horne. It's no wonder this performance of the opera was acclaimed as the best recording of the year 2005 at the French Victoires de la Musique in Paris.

This recording also includes duets and trios with internationally acclaimed voices such as sopranos Sandrine Piau and Veronica Cangemi and countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with whom Lemieux's rich warm tones blend effortlessly. Lemieux is sublimely regal in the arias from one of the most beautiful settings of Stabat Mater. This is a singer well on her way to becoming a national treasure.

Dianne Wells

01_antico-modernoAntico/Moderno - Renaissance Madrigals Embellished 1517-2001

Doron Sheriwn; Julien Martin; Hosh Cheatham; Skip Sempé; Capriccio Stravagante

Paradizo PA008 (www.paradizo.org)

Embellished? Yes, in a phenomenon unknown even to regular early music concert-goers, works by Italian madrigal-writers (e.g. Palestrina and Cipriano de Rore) and Franco-Flemish composers (e.g. Josquin) could sometimes be converted into instrumental versions, often in the composers’ own life-times.

Skip Sempé explains that top and bass vocal parts were frequently embellished; instruments classified as baroque - violin, viol da gamba, recorder, and sackbut - were developed and played to virtuoso standards during the Renaissance - the arrangements on this CD must surely have mesmerised audiences.

The commonly expressed view that the cornetto (a hybrid instrument with a small trumpet-like mouthpiece and finger holes like a recorder, made of wood and covered in leather) was closest to the human voice in its output is borne out by Doron Sherwin’s playing - you would think initially that a female voice was in full flow. And if you have doubts as to how expressive the recorder can be, listen as Julien Martin embellishes Palestrina’s Pulchra es amica mea and Vestiva i colli. As for viols, Ancor che col partire by de Rore was embellished for consort after his death; five violas da gamba interpret the piece’s intricacy and thoughtfulness.

To describe this CD as highly original does it disservice. It is original in rediscovering embellishments, original in recording several scorings for the same piece and above all original for embracing Doron Sherwin’s inspired cornetto playing, sometimes of embellishments which he himself has written!

Michael Schwartz

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