Yasmin Levy
4QRecords FQT-CD-1821

Israeli singer Yasmin Levy has been performing since 2002 and for her latest release, “Sentir,” has somewhat cast herself in the role of musicologist. Taking up the mantle of her father, who was a cantor and Ladino preservationist who died when she was just a baby, Levy has collected and reinterpreted a handful of folk songs from that ancient culture. Ladino is a Judeo-Spanish language dating back to the 1492 diaspora that has been gradually dying out but is enjoying a bit of a renaissance as young musicians, such as the respected Israeli jazz bassist, Avishai Cohen, and local singer Aviva Chernick integrate these songs into their modern repertoire. Historical stuff aside, this is an album that can be enjoyed purely from a musical standpoint. And since the liner notes have the lyrics translated into English and French, we even get to understand what the songs are about, which, for the most part, is love and loss. The album has a pan-Latino/Middle Eastern feel to it as Levy and producer Javier Limon have fused many of the songs with flamenco attributes. Also there's a lilt to much of the music that reminds me of Argentinean tango and the more passionate moments veer into Portuguese fado territory. There’s even a Canadian component on “Sentir” as Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah gets reworked with Spanish lyrics and flamenco-esque touches, which, rather than adding fire, render it bland and easy-listening. In general, the instrumental work on the album is precise and pretty, so what gutsiness there is comes from Levy as her warm, emotive voice alternates between a purr and a plea.

02_Kurt_ElliingThe Gate
Kurt Elling
Concord CJA-31230-02

Kurt Elling's singing is not for everyone. When a musician with the fertile imagination and daring that Elling possesses commits to an idea sometimes what comes out isn't so pretty. A crooner he is not. And not everyone will agree with all of his choices. But Elling has the skills and range to pull off incredible musical feats. He and the band can take a song – like Norwegian Wood on his latest album “The Gate” - and start it off on familiar Beatles’ ground and move it to a place that is way off the original path into fresh, interesting territory. But Elling isn't all cerebral, cold-blooded improvisation. He has a big ol’ mushy side too, and can rip your heart right out of your chest when he wants to, as he does on an ultra slowed-down version of Earth, Wind & Fire’s After the Love Is Gone. And on Herbie Hancock's Come Running To Me, when Elling gets up in his high register he produces some of the sweetest sounds that ever came out of a man. Of course a singer on a journey like this can’t do what he does without solid yet boundary-pushing musicians with him, most notably pianist and arranger Laurence Hobgood, guitarist John McLean, saxophonist Bob Mintzer and Grammy-winning alpha producer, Don Was.

01_fricsayThe deservedly honoured Hungarian conductor Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1973) led the RIAS Symphony Orchestra from its inception in 1949 until 1963. In 1950 he signed an exclusive contract with DG and although he made a few recordings with the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, it is with the RIAS that his recorded legacy rests. At the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest he had studied with Bartok, Kodaly and Dohnanyi all of whom he acknowledged as having the greatest influence in his interpretation of his county’s music and, of course, on the entire repertoire, orchestral music, concerti, and certainly opera. Audite has released a three CD set containing the complete RIAS recordings of Bartok performances from 1951 through 1953 (Audite 21.407, 3 mono CDs). There are no duplications of any performances that have been issued by DG. Included are concerto performances with his landsmen violinist Tibor Varga and pianists Géza Anda, Louis Kentner and Andor Földes, each of whom were his first choices... they shared the same musical language. The three well-filled CDs contain the Violin Concerto No.2; Piano Concertos 2 & 3 and Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra; Two Portraits, op.5; Cantata Profana (Fischer-Dieskau, RIAS Kammerchor & St. Hedwig’s Cathedral Choir); Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Dance Suite BB86; and the Divertimento for String Orchestra. It would be no exaggeration to state that these are all definitive performances, played with complete understanding and verve, heard in excellent sound from the archives of Deutschlandradio who licenced them to Audite.

02_schmidt-isserstedtAnother conductor of note from about the same time was Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt (1900-1973), the German conductor who, in 1945 was invited by the military authorities to form an orchestra for the North German Radio in Hamburg. In six months the NWDR Symphony Orchestra was a reality and Schmidt-Isserstedt conducted their first concert in November 1954. The very next year he made a series of LPs released by Capitol and referred to as The Capitol Recordings. These discs have virtually disappeared but TAHRA has unexpectedly issued them on three CDs (TAH 694-696, mono). Mozart, we are told, was the conductor’s favourite composer and it is appropriate that Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is the first work on the first disc. It is interesting that no matter how many times we have heard this little serenade it doesn’t become tiresome or ho-hum. This sparkling performance is freshly appealing, reflecting a real joy of music-making. Noticeable immediately is the very high quality of the sound, articulate and dynamic in a very suitable acoustic (possibly the Musikhalle, the liner notes mention no venue). The Haydn Symphony No.94 follows and then the Schubert 5th. Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto, again we are told, was the conductor’s favourite and many soloists enjoyed playing it with him. Here Ventsislav Yankov is the soloist in a pensive performance of unusual beauty. There is a moment in the first movement cadenza when the piano disappears and fades up a second or two later. The tempi in Brahms Second Symphony are well judged in a performance that is lyrical above all and never ponderous. I put this recording right behind Bruno Walter’s 1953 New York Philharmonic recording as my preferred version. Extended excerpts from Rosamunde are followed by six extracts from The Ring. The playing throughout is of the very highest calibre from all sections but the strings are exceptionally sonorous as are the brass. Not a set for everyone but I am pleased with it.

03_hungarian_quartetThe Hungarian Quartet recorded two complete Beethoven cycles for EMI, in 1953 and in 1966 with a change of second violin and cello. Testament has issued a 2 CD package containing two Beethoven Quartets, the op.59 nos.2 & 3 and two Bartok Quartets, nos.5 & 6 (Testament SBT2 161 2 CDs at a reduced price). They were recorded on two consecutive evenings, July 6 & 7 1955 in the Freemasons’ Hall in Edinburgh. The personnel is as in the 1953 cycle. These are exciting performances, excelling their studio versions of all four quartets. The sound is clear with some audience fussing here and there and the recording is missing deep bass. Otherwise, it’s a winner.

04_getzWith his seductive, smooth sound and innate sense of phrasing it was a sure thing that tenor sax man Stan Getz would be in the forefront of the Cool Jazz era that arrived in the early fifties. His career took off and he recorded extensively with groups bearing his name, backing soloists and with some bands of the day. Norman Granz of Jazz at the Philharmonic fame recorded the Stan Getz Quintets in nine sessions from 1952 through 1955. Backing Getz were selectively Bob Brookmeyer (valve trombone), Tony Fruscella (trumpet), Duke Williams or John Williams or Jimmy Rowles (piano), Jimmy Raney (guitar), Bill Crow or Teddy Kotick or Bobby Whitlock or Bill Anthony (bass), Frank Isola or Al Levitt or Max Roach (drums). Over the years some of these tracks were scattered across the Verve catalogue but now they all have been assembled, including three unissued tracks, remastered and issued in a 3 CD package of an extraordinary sophisticated design (Verve B0014657-02). Inside is the kind of repertoire and seductive performances one would hear in a small bar or the basement of a jazz club. Very nostalgic listening.

61bFinding Your Voice
by Brian W. Hands
Bastian Publishing
146 pages, illustrations; $16.95

• It seems inevitable for singers to suffer from vocal problems at some point, whether it’s merely a cold, or something lingering, like nodules on their vocal chords. If they happen to be in Toronto, they are likely to end up in the office of laryngologist Dr. Brian Hands, whose practice includes singers from the Canadian Opera Company as well as visiting recitalists. When Hands treats a singer, as he explains in this concise guide to vocal care, he looks not just at the voice but at the singer’s whole lifestyle and general health. Since he sees the voice as a mirror of the soul, for him it actually reflects a singer’s spiritual and emotional state. This holistic approach might be too probing for a singer who is just trying to get through a performance. But fortunately this book is full of advice about dealing practically with all kinds of problems.

“Think of yourself as a vocal athlete,” Hands advises, considering prevention as much as treatment. So that means avoiding parties because of the temptations to talk too loud, eat and drink too much and stay out too late. As well, he advises, “find non-vocal ways to train or discipline children or pets.”

As a doctor, Hands treats the voice divorced from its ability to interpret music. So his glossary defines messa di voce as a vocal exercise rather than the expressive device singers value. But it’s this scientific approach that make this informative book so valuable for all “voice users,” not just singers, but actors, broadcasters, lawyers, auctioneers, teachers and therapists, as well as anyone interested in how the voice works. n

Pamela Margles can be reached at bookshelf@thewholenote.com.

61aLotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey
by Lotfi Mansouri with Donald Arthur
Northeastern University Press
344 pages, photos; $44.95

• While Lotfi Mansouri was general director of the Canadian Opera Company, he wrote a sunny memoir called An Operatic Life. Now, almost thirty years later he has followed up with this far more detailed, but decidedly bittersweet, chronicle of his life. It’s a candid and probing look at the world of opera. And it’s especially compelling because, right from his lonely, privileged early years in his native Tehran, Mansouri has led a thoroughly fascinating life.

Mansouri certainly left his mark on the COC, as he proudly points out, calling the chapter on his twelve years in Toronto “From Provincialism to World-Class.” Under his leadership, the COC Orchestra and the COC Ensemble were established, a splendid home for offices and rehearsal spaces was built, and the CBC began broadcasting COC performances on radio and television. But his most far-reaching legacy – he credits his wife Midge with the original idea – is the invention of Surtitles, which have revolutionized the way opera is presented throughout the world.

Mansouri set up a Canadian Composer’s Program, though it was cancelled by his successor, Brian Dickie. He produced R. Murray Schafer’s Patria 1 (misidentified as Patria II, quite a different opera altogether), and commissioned Harry Somers’ Mario and the Magician. So it’s not just discouraging, but downright perplexing to read what he has to say about his attempts while in Toronto to find a composer for A Streetcar Named Desire (André Previn’s score was a great success for him later in San Francisco). After Stephen Sondheim(!) turned it down, “I checked out Canadian composers, of course, but most of them were academic navel-gazers … My composer had to understand smoky jazz and genteel decay. With all respect, Toronto could never inspire that kind of music – Canadians are too hygienic.”

Though his time in Toronto was “exciting, joyous and highly collaborative,” his frustrations over trying to get a new opera house built here drove him to the San Francisco Opera in 1988. Although he had spent a good deal of his directing career there, he had no inkling of the far more insidious frustrations that awaited him. The earthquake that wreaked havoc on his early seasons was nothing compared to the betrayals that eventually forced him out.

The issues weren’t merely personal. It was his traditional approach to presenting opera, which for Mansouri meant “to read between the lines without neglecting to read the lines,” that was attacked by those who wanted to see a director’s personal stamp on a production. Mansouri, who started as a singer, felt his own work as a director was being written off as not just old-fashioned, but, even more disturbingly, as lightweight. So at the heart of this book lies a plea for staging operas by using the score as the starting point, not the director’s vision.

Mansouri is a born storyteller. Among his many delightful anecdotes, my favourite tells how the irascible conductor Otto Klemperer, who had been hideously rude to Mansouri, fell asleep with his head on Mansouri’s shoulder during a dress rehearsal. “No amount of training can prepare anyone for a situation like that.” At least he keeps laughing – and making us laugh – in this wonderful memoir.

59_secretlife_1The Secret Life of Musical Notation
by Roberto Poli
Amadeus Press
264 pages, illustrations; $24.99 US

• At first, pianist Roberto Poli was simply questioning certain performance directions which he found confusing. How, he wondered, had composers actually intended performers to interpret markings that seemed to either contradict each other, like a hairpin < to pianissimo, or repeat each other, like a hairpin > with decrescendo written underneath.

Poli began to suspect that in the past the hairpins hadn’t been used just to indicate dynamics, as is usually assumed today. In fact, he realized that they could be indicating flexibility in the timing, or the shaping of a melody. With this, he was inspired to re-examine traditional ways of interpreting a number of musical signs, including stretti, pedalling, and sforzandi markings, though for reasons he doesn’t explain he doesn’t look at tempo markings, which, especially in the case of Beethoven, can be equally baffling.

At every step of this fascinating study, Poli has consulted original scores and documents. He has also looked at the instrument the composer wrote for, and the size of the room where the work would have been performed. This is all familiar territory to period instrument players. Yet Poli expresses no inclination to give up his modern piano in favour of an historical instrument. Instead, he advocates more freedom, suggesting that interpretations of composers’ markings have become too rigid during the past century. “Decades of traditions,” he writes, “have been instilling a sense of overexactness in our reading habits – a way of evaluating notation that is remote from how a composer probably imagined it.”

Poli looks at works by composers from Haydn to Prokofiev. But his main focus is on Chopin. As it happens, there’s an exhibit of original scores and letters from Chopin’s time on display at the Royal Ontario Museum. To celebrate Chopin’s 200th birthday, the ROM has pulled out some precious items from its rarely displayed collection of scores and instruments, including a splendid piano made by Pleyel, whose instruments Chopin favoured because of their clear bass register, transparent tone and sensitive action.

Poli’s quest for greater interpretive insight unfolds like the plot of a captivating mystery story. His ideas about what lies behind the notes on the printed page are made all the more persuasive by the many musical examples included in this book. n


Fryderyk Chopin & the Romantic Piano is on view at the Royal Ontario Museum in the Samuel European Galleries until March 27.

59_weinzweig_book_scanWeinzweig: Essays on His Life and Music
John Beckwith and Brian Cherney, editors
Wilfred Laurier University Press
416 pages plus CD, photos; $50.00

• The many facets of Canadian composer John Weinzweig’s life and work revealed in this collection of essays reflects the breadth of his impact on Canadian music. He created a lasting body of adventurous works, promoted Canadian music with untiring ferocity and taught many generations of composers.

Sixty years ago, as co-editor Brian Cherney points out in a discussion of Weinzweig’s irrepressible activism, Weinzweig declared that Canada’s composers “have a special distinction. We are the most unpublished, unheard, unperformed and unpaid composers in the Western world.” He devoted his life to changing that situation.

Weinzweig, who died in 2006 at the age of 93, was a rebel. But even though his pioneering use of serial techniques pushed Canadian music into the modernist ethos, he didn’t impose his own style on his students. His strongest influence was in the way he approached composing as a process of creative thinking. Throughout this book we read how he would tell his students “We don’t do it this way anymore,” when he felt the music they were writing was not daring enough. Especially in his later years, he would complain about how conservative the younger generation of composers was. Nonetheless, as John Rea observes, even when Weinzweig didn’t accept the ideas being put forward by his younger students, “he would teach others to be as eager and enthusiastic as him and, yes, teach them also to be and to become just as impatient.”

Weinzweig referred to himself as a “radical romantic.” In an essay about how to play his music, Robert Aitken writes about “his spry wit, intense irony, twinkling eyes yet steadfast seriousness of purpose.” By the end of the final essay, co-editor John Beckwith’s affectionate Weinzweig As I Knew Him, a vivid portrait has emerged from the various perspectives explored in this superb book.

This book has been produced with uncommon care, right from the cover art, through the documentation on Weinzweig’s compositions and recordings, to the enclosed CD of his music. Throughout the text there are photos of items such as a page from his first piano teacher Gertrude Anderson’s hand-written account of his early years, and a portrait by Harold Town, whose rejection of realism, as Robin Elliott shows, parallels Weinzweig’s own unswerving rejection of tonality.

01_haimovitz_matteoThe latest release from cellist Matt Haimovitz whose Matteo (Oxingale OX2018) celebrates 300 years of Italian cello, his own cello that is, a Matteo Goffriller built in 1710. I have often realized that there is more of a common sensibility between so called early music and contemporary music than with the stylistic periods which fell between the two. Haimovitz seems to share this opinion. The disc intersperses some of the earliest pieces written for solo cello - six of the seven Ricercare composed by Domenico Gabrielli in 1689 – with works firmly rooted in the music of our time. I was quite surprised when the first track, Gabrielli’s Ricercare 7, began and what I heard was the opening phrase of Bach’s Solo Cello Suite No. 2. It turns out that the first three bars of the Gabrielli, whole notes D, A and F, may, according to the liner notes, be heard as accompaniment to “an imagined melody” and in this case Haimovitz imagined the opening of Bach’s suite and subsequently improvised on that before joining Gabrielli in the fourth bar. Luciano Berio’s Sequenza XIV (2002) takes pride of place as the first contemporary work on the disc. Dedicated to Rohan de Saram, it draws extensively on the Kandyan drumming tradition of the dedicatee’s Sri Lankan heritage. The most recent work is a 2010 contribution from Haimovitz’s McGill colleague Brian Cherney whose Capriccio references many great solo cello works in a true celebration of the instrument with signature nods (in nomenclature) to Bach, Haimovitz and Goffriller along the way. Works by Luigi Dallapiccola, Salvatore Sciarrino and Claudio Ambrosini complete the disc. The playing is heartfelt and convincing, with glorious sound throughout.

02_shed_toca_locaThe latest release from contemporary trio Toca Loca ­– Gregory Oh (Toronto) and Simon Docking (Halifax), pianos; Aiyun Huang (Montreal), percussion – entitled Shed (www.henceforthrecords.com) includes works from Canada, Japan, Switzerland and the USA all composed since 2002. Dai Fujikura’s Half-Remembered City for piano four-hands was written for a husband and wife piano duo and conceived as a depiction of intimacy in the way that the pianists have to manoeuvre and intertwine at the keyboard to realize the score, sometimes caressing adjoining notes and at others seemingly locked in territorial combat. At times comic in live performance, I am pleased to report that this disc proves you don’t have to see it played to be enthralled. All the works are strong and individual. Heinz Holliger’s Ma’Mounia for percussion solo and quintet of flute, clarinet, horn, cello and piano is kind of a signature tune for Huang who won the Geneva International Music Competition in 2002 where it was the required work. Frederic Rzewski’s Bring Them Home continues that composer’s political engagement in a set of variations on a 17th century Irish anti-war song Siuil A Run “that speaks of the past but turns our eyes to the present.” The highlight for me is Andrew Staniland’s Adventuremusic: Love Her Madly for two prepared pianos, five pieces of wood, five temple bowls and tape. It opens with driving rhythms somewhat reminiscent of Rzewski’s classic Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues but over 15 minutes develops into a disturbing portrait of climate change as we hear the sounds of processed voice and temple bowls juxtaposed with disintegrating polar ice sheets. “Shed” will be launched with a performance at the Open Ears Festival in Kitchener-Waterloo on April 30.

03_glass_housesOn March 17 at Glenn Gould Studio Christina Petrowska Quilico releases Music of Ann Southam - Glass Houses Revisited (Centrediscs CMCCD 16511), a re-working of the “fiendishly difficult etudes” the pianist was working on with the composer at the time of her death last November. (You can read Christina’s tribute to Ann elsewhere in these pages.) Originally composed in 1981, the title Glass Houses refers to minimalist composer Philip Glass, the best known proponent of this style at the time, and to choreographer Christopher House with whom Southam worked extensively. The mostly ebullient, busily joyful pieces were revised in 2009 for Petrowska Quilico and further edited by her with the composer’s permission for this recording in 2010. The disc features nine “favourite” selections from the set of 15, arranged with four lively pieces on either side of the solitary “broody and moody” track, Glass Houses No.13. Overall they are a weaving and embroidering of various melodic motifs that, in Southam’s words “reflect the nature of traditional women’s work – repetitive, life-sustaining, requiring time and patience.” One can only imagine the patience and diligence required of Petrowska Quilico to master these complex and exhilarating gems, and master them she has, as you can hear for yourself on March 17. There is a public memorial celebration of the life and music of Ann Southam being planned for April 21.

04_jane_coopCelebrated Vancouver pianist Jane Coop will make a rare Toronto appearance at Mooredale Concerts on March 20 performing works by Beethoven and Scriabin. We somehow overlooked her most recent CD - A Century of Piano Classics (www.skylark-music.com) - when it was released in 2009 so I’m pleased to have this opportunity to bring it to your attention. The disc includes an early Beethoven sonata from 1797, Chopin’s Ballade No.4 (1842) and four late works by Brahms from 1893. The century in question was an important one in the history of the piano, seeing it expand from a five octave instrument to its current 88 keys thanks in great part to the vision and virtuosic demands of the composers mentioned above and others such as Schumann and Liszt. Coop excels at this repertoire as this welcome disc attests. Recorded at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at UBC, the sound is clear and resonant.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: The WholeNote, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4.

David Olds
DISCoveries Editor

01_emma_kirkbyOrpheus in England - Dowland & Purcell
Emma Kirkby & Jakob Lindberg
BIS CD-1725

Orpheus is famed in classical mythology for his music which charmed and soothed all those who heard: be they gods, demons, humans, animals, elements, vegetation or even rocks and stones. The two English composers featured on this recording shared this ability. Recognized as “the English Orpheus” by his patron, John Dowland was sought in the European courts as both composer and performer of the finest songs for voice and lute. Performing this music with all its bittersweet tenderness requires a purity of tone from the singer combined with a deft and light touch from the lutenist. And whose sensibilities are better to deliver this more expertly than Emma Kirkby and Jacob Lindberg handling the gamut from bright pastoral delights like By a fountain where I lay to the melancholic despair of In darkness let me dwell? Interspersed are solo lute offerings such as The Earl of Essex, his galliard and Lacrimae.

While the second Orpheus Britannicus featured generally made use of larger musical forces, many of Henry Purcell’s tunes lend themselves well to Lindberg’s own transcriptions for solo lute, such as the Echo dance of the furies from Dido & Aeneas and Lillibulero. Kirkby’s diction and pacing add superb dramatic content to From Silent Shades as well as her brilliant emotive vocal ebbs and swells in Music for a while. The listener is indeed transported to a time of grace and beauty through music’s true power.

02_baroque_tenorsThree Baroque Tenors
Ian Bostridge; The English Concert; Bernard Labadie
EMI Classics 6 26864 2

Castrati were some of early opera’s superstars; they eventually found their supremacy challenged by the rise of the tenor, often showcased by composers such as Handel. This CD features Ian Bostridge interpreting music for three star tenors of Handel’s day – John Beard, Francesco Borosini and Annabile Po Fabri. The pieces selected reflect this showcasing, not least with Handel’s Where congeal’d the northern streams and Vivaldi’s La tiranna e avversa sorte, the latter’s musical score combining with its lyrics to drive home the determination of Tamese to rule.

Ian Bostridge chooses two consecutive pieces to show how Gasparini and Handel each depict the torment of the defeated Bajazet. Gasparini exploits the tenor register to full effect; Handel is more contemplative – contrast Bajazet’s resignation with the immediately following piece, Arne’s militaristic Rise, Glory, rise, where even loud drums can not extinguish Ian Bostridge’s inspired interpretation.

Even Handel’s frenetic D’un barbaro scortese receives Bostridge’s attention, demonstrating just how much energy could be generated by a leading baroque tenor. It should not, however, be thought that this collection is only about classical dignitaries laying down commands for mere subjects. William Boyce’s Solomon depicts plaintive scenes of love drawn from the Song of Solomon. In short, every known emotion features in the baroque tenor’s repertoire. And in Ian Bostridge’s.

03_schubert_goerneSchubert - Nacht und Traume
Matthias Goerne; Alexander Schmalcz
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902063

It’s a joy to have a recording capture your attention in its opening measures and hold it effortlessly for an hour. These Schubert Lieder sung by baritone Matthias Goerne with pianist Alexander Schmalcz do so because the performers know the seductive power of Romantic lyricism and how to use it.

While death is the subject of most of these poems, Schubert has written melodic lines that are anything but relentlessly bleak portrayals of this spectre. There are a couple of wonderfully grim items on the program to be sure, but most are surprisingly lovely and accurately reflect the poets’ emotional intentions.

Goerne’s voice is smooth, pleasantly dark for the range and of medium heft. He’s generally light for the mid and upper registers, which is exactly how these Lieder should be sung. His lower range opens a powerhouse where we hear his opera stage voice several times as in Totengräberweise, D. 869 and especially in Totengräbers Heimweh, D. 842.

Goerne and Schmalcz, moreover, present an artistic collaboration that raises the piano to a status of lyrical partnership. Schmalcz is a wonderfully sensitive accompanist. He knows when Schubert hands off a melodic line by sending the voice in an unexpected direction. Through some masterful touch of the keyboard he somehow produces a near tonal match to Goerne’s baritone voice and creates a wonderful aural effect.

True fans of Schubert lieder who still hold Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as torch-bearer for the genre will recognize some of his vocal and interpretive technique in Goerne’s performance and so they should… Goerne was one of his students.

04_kozena_lettereLettere Amorose
Magdalena Kozenà; Private Musicke; Pierre Pitzl
Deutsche Grammophon 477 8764

Magdalena Kozenà is one of those increasingly rare artists, who are not afraid of their own instrument. Many singers very quickly define a niche for themselves, where their voice sounds at its best – be it bel canto, romantic repertoire, modern music or music of the Baroque. They make sure there is no chance to trip up, no danger… but also no passion. Having heard Kozenà recently at the stage of the MET as a romantic and withdrawn Mélisande, I had to adjust my ears to this recording. In a splendid collection of the early 17th century Italian songs, Kozenà just opens her mouth and lets the sound emerge, fearlessly. Maybe it’s because she has nothing to fear: her voice sounds rich, gorgeous, exciting. Kozenà herself makes a few groan-inducing statements for the liner notes: she claims it’s easy to sing these songs, as they are technically undemanding. Well, many quite accomplished artists would not be so lucky with this repertoire.

Private Musicke adds to the charm of this disc with their quirky, joyful playing. One is somewhat reminded of Custer LaRue and the Baltimore Consort, but Kozenà is simply a superior vocalist. In nothing but a goose-bump inducing tour de force, she takes us through the works of Monteverdi, D’India, Merula, Marini, Caccini and Strozzi as if it were her daily vocal exercise. If you know her as an artist, I don’t have to encourage you to buy this disc. If, for whatever reason, you have not discovered her yet, you owe it to yourself to explore it!

05_fete_gauvinFête Galante
Karina Gauvin; Marc-Andre Hamelin
ATMA ACD2 2642

Though a reissue of a recital given in 1999 in the Montreal Radio-Canada studio, this recording is well worth a second run. The original received the 2000 Opus award for Best Vocal Recording and was selected as Chamber Music America’s Recording of the Year. Fêtes galantes, or garden parties, refers to a collection of poems by Paul Verlaine inspiring some of the best loved songs of fin de siècle composers and their successors. Karina Gauvin’s voice is magical, with a depth of tone and timbre one rarely finds but which suits the emotive quality of this repertoire so well. Fauré’s Mandoline and Clair de Lune are a lovely starting point for the ever-evolving repertoire. Gauvin navigates expertly through the dizzying atmospheric nuances of Debussy, she and pianist Marc-André Hamelin ever intertwining in a mesmerizing dance of tonal spectres. The singer’s depth of expression truly transcends in Poulenc’s Metamorphosis and both singer and pianist’s precision shine in Deux poèmes de Louis Aragon and Trois poèmes de Louise Lalanne which include some lively and tongue-twisting lyrics. In Honegger’s Saluste du Bartas she manages a perfect blend of regal bearing and human frailty. And finally, in charming settings of folk music by Ravel and Vuillermoz, the garden is made complete through the inclusion of the pastorale.

06_gurreliederSchoenberg - Gurrelieder
Deborah Voigt; Mihoko Fujimura; Stig Andersen; Herwig Pecoraro; Michael Volle; Bavarian RSO & Choirs; Maris Jansons
BR KLASSIK 900110 1 DVD, 117 minutes.

I read recently that Gurrelieder is Schoenberg’s most popular work. I doubt that. The logistics of mounting a performance are daunting and quite beyond what’s possible for most orchestras or their boards or their venues. The work is scored for a larger, much larger than large, orchestra including 10 horns, eight flutes, seven clarinets, four harps, an immense array of percussion instruments including three sets of timpani and other species of drums, iron chains (I listen for them in every recording without success... they must be drowned out) and just about everything that must be shaken or struck. The complement of choruses (better: the exultation of choruses) requires three four-part male choirs, an eight-part mixed chorus plus five soloists and finally, a Sprechstimme to tie it all off.

Record companies do not finance recording sessions of Gurrelieder but arrange to bring their equipment to a live event. The first recording was issued by RCA on 28 78rpm sides of a performance on 11 April 1932 with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra and distinguished soloists, including Rose Bampton. At the same time RCA recorded Stokowski discussing the piece for the edification of the listener. Since then, every LP and CD documents a live performance.

Schoenberg began Gurrelieder in January 1900 in response to a song writing competition. What started as some songs with piano accompaniment soon got out of hand and he began sketching on specially ordered, 28 stave manuscript paper, a three part oratorio based on poems by Danish poet Peter Jacobsen telling of the doomed, Tristanesque affair between King Waldemar and Tove, a maiden who lived in Gurre. He laid it all out and worked on orchestrating it until 1903 when he abandoned the project. He began again years later, finishing the work in November of 1911. The great triumph of his life was Gurrelieder’s first performance on February 23, 1913.

CDs, SACDs or any audio-only medium cannot convey the enormity of the work and at times the lieder-like settings reminiscent of the Old Vienna School. Jansons’ soloists do not merely sing their parts, they live them! Heldentenor Stig Andersen is a powerful and sympathetic Waldemar. Deborah Voigt, in superb voice, is perfectly cast as Tove while mezzo Mihoko Fujimura is the Wood Dove who brings the news of the death of Tove... a powerful and moving performance. Herwig Pecoraro is Klaus-Narr, the jester and Michael Volle is the peasant and the speaker, the Sprechstimme, who announces the end of the tragic story and the glory of a new day concluding with the most glorious sunrise in all music. All this is held together by Mariss Jansons who is beyond criticism, who conducts with great authority and a complete understanding of the work.

It would have been a disappointment if this, Gurrelieder’s only performance on DVD, live from the Philharmonie am Gasteig in Munich were less than the most exciting, passionate, glorious performance imaginable. Filmed in wide screen high definition video and exemplary five channel audio (with a 2 channel option) and Brian Large’s direction for TV, this production is unlikely to be equalled, let alone surpassed. Full texts enclosed, however no subtitles.

07_bridges_across_seaBridge Across the Seas
Vilma Indra Vitols; Dzintra Erliha
Duplium (www.vilmavitols.com)

The joyous spirit of music-making shows no bounds as mezzo-soprano Vilma Indra Vitols and pianist Dzintra Erliha soar and dazzle in this collection commemorating the 90th anniversary of the late Latvian Canadian composer Talivaldis Kenins.

Vitols is a familiar voice on the Toronto music scene, especially for her work with urbanvessel in SLIP and Voice-Box. She has incredible clarity of diction that only her diverse vocal colour can outshine. Latvian Erliha is brilliant especially when the programmatic nature of the works require her to draw on strength of technique and subtle musicianship to create the appropriate backdrop of mood to the vocal lines.

There is a little of bit everything in the contemporary Canadian and Latvian works performed. The songs by Erik Ross, John Hawkins and Imant Raminsh are strong. Latvian Peteris Vasks’ piano solo is a tour de force in programmatic music while his settings of Latvian folk songs (with additional flute and cello) are brief yet cunning. The real star however is Talivaldis Kenins himself. His settings of two Latvian folksongs are colourful yet deeply rooted in traditional song. Melodies for Amanda (1984) comprise five bubbly songs written for the birth of the composer’s first granddaughter. Lots of characteristic Kenins wit is apparent in the performance of these light-hearted and loving works.

“Bridge Across the Seas” is a glorious release. What a wonderful tribute!

08_schaferImagining Incense - The Choral Music of R. Murray Schafer Vol.3
Vancouver Chamber Choir; Jon Washburn
Grouse 106 (www.vancouverchamberchoir.com)

This excellent recording features several major a cappella choral works by Schafer, all written over the past 20 years. These include Magic Songs (1990), Three Hymns (from Schafer’s massive Fall into Light from 2004), Imagining Incense (2001) and Three Songs from the Enchanted Forest (1996). Musically, each piece, in its own way, demonstrates Schafer’s remarkable ability to blend sophisticated vocal techniques with an eternal sense of the voice as an essential vehicle of expression; an expression that gives more meaning than mere words can convey. There is a deep spirituality to each of these pieces, but it is a spirituality unencumbered by dogma or liturgy. These are works that attempt to explore what is holy in nature, in human existence, and in social and cultural ceremonies.

The Magic Songs and the shorter Rain Chant (a piece on a theme drawn from And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon) are ingenious original chants and the choral effects that Schafer creates in these pieces are mesmerizing and form a kind bridge between the human voice and nature in a creative way. Imagining Incense, with its description of the effects of different woods used for incense, and the hymns from Fall into Light, with their Gnostic and Hermetic texts, attempt to connect the listener with ancient ritual and devotion. All of the music on this disc confirms Schafer’s brilliant originality, craft and command of musical language.

Under Jon Washburn’s able direction, the Vancouver Chamber Choir is in top form. Their committed and energetic performances of these important pieces are a great gift.

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