The  Hidden Heart is a DVD of a 2001 TV documentary by Jake Martin concerning Benjamin Britten, his compositions and his relationship with Peter Pears (EMI 50999 21657191). Following the immediate success of Peter Grimes in 1945, Britten was acclaimed and music lovers around the world waited for his next opera. Then came The Rape of Lucretia in 1946, Albert Herring in 1947 and The Beggar’s Opera in 1948. The relationship between the composer and his tenor was no secret but it was against the law in Britain in those days. “The Hidden Heart” leads us through their lives to the last opera, Death in Venice. Some of their private correspondence is read and it is their last words which close this exceptionally well fashioned appreciation of their special relationship. Film clips of Britten, the operas, rehearsals, and many new and archival videos around The War Requiem are featured in this memorable presentation. Get It.

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A recent Britten- Pears DVD from the BBC archives (DECCA 0743257) contains a formal Winterreise produced by John Culshaw in 1970 with Britten accompanying off-stage and also three of the songs filmed in rehearsals at home. Many of Britten’s arrangements of folk songs are heard in a recital before a select audience in 1946. For me, these little songs were worth the price of the disc... The Foggy Foggy Dew; The Ploughboy; O Waly, Waly; Oliver Cromwell; and many others. Oh, by the way... Decca has assembled their Britten recordings into several packages: Operas, volume 1 on 8CDs (4756020): Operas, volume 2 on 10CDs (4756029): Choral works on 10CDs (4656040); and a mainly instrumental collection of 7CDs (4756051). Check out the contents with your dealer or on the Decca site at http://www.deccaclassics.com.

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Last year’s MET production of Peter  Grimes, as seen live in high definition on movie screens around the world, is available on an EMI DVD exactly as seen live, plus interviews and behind the scenes activities (EMI 509921 741494, 2 DVDs). Donald Runnicles conducts with Anthony Dean Giffey perfectly cast as the unfortunate Grimes. Watching at home is quite an experience, arguably better than sitting in the opera house, especially with the (optional) English subtitles to clarify the text.

Among the foremost violin exponents of the 20th Century, Christian  Ferras (France 1933-1982) holds a special place. He had a rather short career but while his playing was well in the league of the superstars of the era, Heifetz, Oistrakh and Francescatti, he suffered from severe depression which eventually led him to end his life. His achievements from an early age were so sensational that EMI placed him in their top line-up along with Menuhin and Oistrakh. His success was such that the powerhouse DGG picked him to assume the top position on their roster. In short time he recorded the four most popular concertos of the repertoire, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Beethoven and Sibelius with Karajan and his Berlin Philharmonic. These marvellous recordings remained in the active catalogue for over forty years. DOREMI’s 2cd set of four live concerto performances from Paris confirms his place in the violinists’ pantheon (DHR-7880/1). The Mendelssohn E minor (1965) is beautifully communicative; Tchaikovsky (1968) impassioned; Mozart K.219 (1955) pure and stylistic while Jean Martinon’s intriguing, post-Berg 2nd concerto (1968) is brilliant. Derived from recently discovered pristine radio archives, this is an attractive collection.

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The illustrious Zino  Francescatti (France 1902-1981) had a totally different kind of career and personal life. For more than half a century he was a frequent and favourite guest of almost every important orchestra in the world. We know him from his many Columbia recordings with the New York, Philadelphia and Cleveland orchestras but none with Boston, with whom he often performed. DOREMI has corrected this in Volume 3 of their Francescatti discs (DHR-7888) with Charles Munch conducting the Tchaikovsky (1958, stereo) and Brahms Double (1956) with first chair cellist Samuel Mayes. Hear Francescatti in his prime and his distinctive sonority and characteristic artistry. I have reservations about the sound but the three bonus tracks from The Bell Telephone Hour of 1952 are very good.

 

Silvia  Marcovici (Romania b.1952) had a sparkling career during the last three decades of the century. Lesser known than the above, judging from these live performances she well deserved prime billing on a major label but was only heard on a number of lesser ones, except for the Sibelius on BIS and the Glazunov with Stokowski on Decca. Marcovici’s complete mastery of the instrument is amply conveyed playing seven concertos in the new DOREMI set (DHR-7942-4) containing 2 CDs and a DVD. Her characteristic sensitivity and warmth illuminate the Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Beethoven, and Saint-Saëns No.3 on the CD. On the DVD she plays Lalo, the Bruch no.1 and the Bartok 2nd to perfection, made all the more enjoyable by her striking, charismatic stage presence.

 

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Click above thumbnails to jump to reviews below.


El Dorado

Caroline Leonardelli

Centaur Classics CEN1021

Ottawa-based harpist Caroline Léonardelli’s fourth album to date offers an enticing mix of old and new: a program of beloved French standards by Debussy, Tournier and Damase book-ended by compositions by Canada’s leading composer for the harp.

Devising convincing music for the so-called “naked piano” involves technical and conceptual challenges exasperating enough to discourage many a composer. Marjan Mozetich, however, composes in a style ideally suited for the instrument and has contributed greatly to its repertoire. His El Dorado was commissioned in 1981 for harpist Erica Goodman by Toronto’s New Music Concerts and was followed by several further works for the instrument. There is a pronounced minimalist influence detectable in the evocative oscillations of Mozetich’s early works which have since given way to a more supple and idyllic approach. Originally scored with string orchestra and formerly available on a now deleted CBC recording of the premiere performance, El Dorado is admirably revived here in a budget-conscious arrangement featuring the Penderecki String Quartet and double bassist Joel Quarrington. The album also features the third (!) recording of Mozetich’s 1988 cycle of four solo pieces, Song of Nymphs, in an exceptionally scintillating performance. Among the French solo pieces placed between these Canadian works Marcel Tournier’s Féerie stands out for its rhapsodic and dramatic sweep, a welcome antidote to the comparative bucolic placidity of its neighbours. The recording boasts outstanding sound engineered by celebrity tonmeister Anton Kwiatkowski.

Daniel Foley

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Quos Ego - Complete Piano Works of

Zoltán Kodaly

Mary Kenedi

Echiquier Records ECD009 (www.marykenedi.com)

Zoltán Kodaly, Hungary’s Composer Laureate of the latter half of the 20th century, is mostly known by his orchestral, chamber and choral works. His piano music was mostly neglected, so this collection performed by acclaimed Toronto pianist of Hungarian origin, Mary Kenedi, is welcome. Although by no means complete, it is still rewarding to follow the composer’s evolution from his youthful attempts towards his mature style.

The 9 Pieces for Piano, Op.3 date back to 1907, when the 25 year old Kodaly in Paris fell under the spell of Debussy. The talented, somewhat rebellious young fellow experimented by mingling impressionism with radical new rhythms and original harmonies of the pentatonic scale, which is the basis of Hungarian folk idiom. His predominantly serious mood is sometimes relieved with humorous pieces showing Kodaly’s lighter side that later became so irresistible in his famous Hary Janos singspiel.

In the 7 pieces, Op.11 one can see how much Kodaly developed in less than 10 years. Themes are more meaningful, full of feeling and the ideas previously experimented with have become integrated into the music’s message. Some of the pieces are based on haunting, lamenting melodies of Transylvania, that foreboding, mysterious region of the Carpathians where much of Kodaly’s research took place. Ms Kenedi’s firm, authoritative hands are most impressive in No.18 Rubato where she carries the assertive, long melodic line with wonderful atmosphere. The pièce de resistance is the well known Dances of Marosszek (1927) in its original version, a formidably difficult, colourful bravura piece that reminds me of Liszt’s piano transcriptions. Here Kenedi pulls out all the stops and brings this disc to an exciting close.

Perhaps due to the recording, some harsh tones are noticeable that detract from the otherwise very fine performances.

Janos Gardonyi





Remembered Voices

Ralitsa Tcholakova; Elaine Keillor

Carleton Sound CSCD-1012

As a violin and piano recording, this one is immediately evident as being at the top of the genre. Performers are first rate, and playing with a passion. Audio production is unusually well done, with none of the bizarre qualities one finds so often nowadays, either of the violinist sounding as if she is larger than the accompanist, or the listener being right inside the piano.

Excellent choices were made for the music on this CD, with special emphasis on Bulgarian iconic figure Pantcho Vladiguerov, who is represented by the Chant from his larger Bulgarian Suite, the widely-known Rhapsody Vardar, a Humoreske, plus an encore arrangement of Dinicu’s Hora Staccato.

Tcholakova and Keillor show an admirable commitment to Canadian repertoire, beginning with Gena Branscombe’s unjustly neglected A minor Sonata, well represented in this performance. Violet Archer’s Fantasy and Prelude and the Prelude and Allegro are equally well served. But the best is saved for last: we get to hear the violin version of the late Patrick Cardy’s Liessel, Suse, Ilze, and Gerda, and Mary Gardiner’s monumental Remembered Voices, here finally blossoming in a hall vastly superior to the Heliconian Club.

The Glenn Gould Studio’s hand-picked Steinway is on its best behaviour. No fewer than three sound engineers did the microphone wizardry. All photos are posed, with none showing the actual recording sessions.

An excellent CD.

John S. Gray

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Manhattan Music

Canadian Brass; Eastman Wind Ensemble

Opening Day Records OD 7368

The Eastman Wind Ensemble (EWE) is a celebrated student ensemble at the University of Rochester with a tradition of very high standards honed through extensive rehearsals. Tuba player Chuck Dallenbach of the Canadian Brass was a student at the Eastman School of Music in the 1960s, where he shared lodgings with the producer of this recent souvenir album, fellow tubist Dixon van Winkle.

The title track, British composer and conductor Bramwell Tovey’s Manhattan Music, is a brash and bountiful set of seven variations which somehow manages to hang together quite nicely. Originally commissioned for the Canadian Brass, Tovey has recast the work for wind ensemble since leading the premiere with the Vancouver Symphony in 2005. A subsequent suite carved from Leonard Bernstein’s controversial Mass wrests the most attractive sections of music from this sadly dated 1971 work, while sparing us the cringe-worthy theatrical scenario. The arrangement by Michael Sweeney highlights the quintet most effectively. Rayburn Wright’s Shaker Suite tills the familiar ground appropriated long ago by Aaron Copland but falls short of Copland’s level of inspiration. Jeff Tyck’s eclectic, over-the-top New York Cityscape suite brings the proceedings to an appropriately rambunctious close. Mark Scatterday conducts the fine-sounding, slightly slap-happy ensemble with vigour.

The perplexing liner notes include a pleonastic encomium touting the virtues of the 1950s Mercury record label (marketer of some two dozen EWE Frederick Fennell albums back in their glory days) and a stint of shameless pimping for the founders of ArkivMusic, who, it seems, will burn you a copy of this disc for a fee should you happen to hear of it.

Daniel Foley


Oppens plays Carter - Elliott Carter at 100 The Complete Piano Music

Ursula Oppens

Cedille CDR 90000108

In 1997 Charles Rosen recorded all of Elliott Carter’s piano music for a disc called “The Complete Music for Piano”. At that time, the composer was over ninety years old. Now, some ten years later, Ursula Oppens offers “The Complete Piano Music”, with six new works. All shorter than the earlier pieces, none is a masterwork like Night Fantasies. But what they lack in monumentality, they compensate for in warmth and charm, especially the lovely Matribute and the ebulliently virtuosic Caténaires. Both are recorded here for the first time.

Oppens has long been recognized as a singularly eloquent interpreter of contemporary music. She has worked closely with Carter for many years, and was one of the four pianists responsible for commissioning Night Fantasies, along with Rosen, Paul Jacobs and Gilbert Kalish. In fact, she gave the premiere performance at the Bath Festival in 1980.

Oppens’ luminous performances of Mozart piano concertos with Mark Morris’ dance troupe during last summer’s Luminato Festival in Toronto attested to the breadth of her musical scope. This stands her in good stead here as she illuminates Carter’s complex textures with musical insight, revealing the poetry in this expressive music. This is a disc to treasure, and would serve as a fine introduction to a seminal composer of our time.

Carter just turned one hundred, and is still composing brilliantly - a miracle of creative activity surely unmatched in the history of music. I hope the next complete piano recording offers even more new works.

Pamela Margles




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Nicole Lizée - This Will Not Be Televised

Various artists

Centrediscs CMCCD 13508

Not all CDs were created equal. This CD wipes a smile across my beard. After listening to it over and over, it’s apparent: Nicole Lizée knows the good stuff. I began doing anthropological studies by having this recording playing in the background and watching people’s reactions. What I deduced is that “This is not background music” could have been an easy alternate title to “This Will Not be Televised”.

The title composition is a wonderfully creepy musical adventure. The music goes in so many interesting directions. In the liner notes of this 2008 Centrediscs release, it’s mentioned that this piece was named a Top 10 recommended work at the 2008 International Rostrum of Composers. I would agree that this piece sets the bar for great contemporary music!

The piece RPM blends turntables with a larger orchestra. I love this sound, and I think the symphony orchestras of the future should make it standard to include an entire turntable section. It’s very difficult to describe the magical combination of turntables and ensemble that Lizée has achieved. It is obvious that every sample she uses is carefully chosen and appropriately placed. I love the sense of play in this music, from the live mimicking of skipping records, to the nostalgic use of cheesy 1980s heavy metal albums. When I close my eyes, a lot of this music is the soundtrack to the cartoon in my mind.

Girl You’re Living a Life of Crime is a pop-based piece, reminding the listener that the composer is also a multi-instrumentalist in the successful Montreal pop outfit Besnard Lakes. This piece certainly is not a standard pop tune though as it messes with the idea of tape-splicing and in the end the musicians create a shaky ostinato and eventually drive it off a cliff.

This CD does such a genuine job in celebrating jazz music, improvisation, pop music, contemporary music and everything in between. Lizée’s music clearly reflects the many identities of Canadians, and the next generation of its composers. Her fearless approach is engaging and I highly recommend raising children on this music…

Richard Marsella

 

 

 

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 Schumann - Kreisleriana; Fantasie

Henri-Paul Sicsic

(www.henripaulsicsic.com)

For those who believe, the bible tells us that the Lord created the world in six days – it took Robert Schumann only four to write his famous piano set Kreisleriana in 1838, not bad for a mere mortal! The equally famous Fantasie Op.17 - arguably his most famous piano work - took considerably longer, almost two years from conception to completion. Both pieces require extraordinary technique, a deeply rooted sensitivity, and most importantly, a keen understanding of Schumann’s own complex personality. Fortunately, all these qualities are in abundance in this recording featuring French-born pianist Henri-Paul Sicsic, released on a private label. Originally from Nice, Sicsic studied in his native city where he was awarded a first prize with highest honours in piano, a first prize in chamber–music, and a diploma in orchestral conducting. Between 1986 and 1992, he taught at Rice University, Houston, and then at the University of British Columbia before accepting a position with the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music in 2007.

Schumann wrote of his Kreisleriana: “My music seems so wonderfully complicated, for all its simplicity.” Indeed, the set is truly a study in contrasts, as emotionally complex as Schumann himself. Not surprisingly, Sicsic rises to the challenges admirably – how effectively he conveys the contrasting moods within, playing with a solid self-assurance, while treating the more languid movements with a quiet introspection. Similarly, his treatment of the Fantasie is always boldly coloured, from the noble and grand opening measures to the tender finale, music clearly written with his beloved Clara in mind. In all, this is a fine performance by an artist the Music Faculty should be rightly proud to have on staff!

Richard Haskell

Concert Note: Henri-Paul Sicsic joins Jacques Israelievitch, Teng Li and Shauna Rolston for piano quartets by Chausson and Fauré in a Faculty Recital at Walter Hall on February 6. The quartet can be heard live in a preview showcase at noon on February 3rd on Classical 96.3 FM.

 

 

 

 Debussy - Preludes for Piano Books 1 & 2

Ivan Ilic

PARATY 108.105

We are fortunate to have this recording come out this particular time. Although Debussy’s Preludes have been recorded a number of times previously, I find this issue far more successful. Many earlier releases have been discontinued or suffer from outdated recording quality or somewhat unengaged playing. This new high quality disc on the French Paraty label played on a magnificent Steinway by young American artist of Serbian origin, Ivan Ilic, is now an outstanding recommendation.

Debussy, like his predecessor Chopin whom he admired tremendously, also wrote 24 preludes in two books. While Chopin’s Preludes are short pieces of emotional states and based on varying techniques, Debussy’s Preludes invoke impressions of an imaginary universe and are generally longer and more complex than Chopin’s. Nature, in form of water, fog, winds and landscapes figure heavily, but some capricious humour and dances also occur.

Due to the many images of varying moods, impressions and atmospheres, it requires a pianist of phenomenal technique, utmost sensitivity and playing with élan, colour, restrained but pronounced emotional engagement and an extraordinary imagination. All these are presented here in abundance, with the natural resonances of the Steinway just as Debussy intended it. Each piece has its own atmosphere and structure that the pianist never fails to bring out. As random examples, Ce qu’a vu le Vent d’Ouest is a very dynamic piece simulating the powerful, menacing wind, perhaps the loudest in the series, but even here the pianist never pounds the piano. It comes as a breathtaking climax. Or La Cathedrale engloutie with its archaic harmonies and long sustained pedal notes suggesting the texture of deep water. I could go on…

Janos Gardonyi

Concert Note: Ivan Ilic performs music of Debussy and Canadian premières of works by Brian Current, Keeril Makan and John Metcalf at Glenn Gould Studio on February 19.

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 Homage

James Ehnes

ONYX 4038

David Fulton has spent years assembling an astonishing collection of instruments by the great Cremonese makers, and Canadian violinist James Ehnes has selected nine violins - 6 Stradivari, 2 Guarneri ‘del Gesu’ and a Pietro Guarneri - and three violas for a dazzling recital programme designed to showcase the specific qualities of each instrument. Several, like the 1709 Stradivari ‘La Pucelle’, have never been recorded before, and one - the 1715 Stradivari ‘Marsick’ - has been Ehnes’ concert instrument since 1999. Seven different bows from Fulton’s equally superb collection of bows by Tourte and Peccatte were used in the recording, each hand-picked to complement the strengths of the particular instrument.

In addition to a CD, the ONYX release includes a 100-minute DVD which features the entire 21-piece CD recital, with Ehnes describing the instrument and its qualities before each track, plus selection options and a 30-minute Extras chapter that includes the audio comparison tracks from the CD and extended commentary clips by Ehnes and Fulton.

Ehnes hardly moves when he plays, but the close-up camerawork still manages to make it difficult to see exactly what he’s doing at times, especially his deceptively effortless bowing. The filming of the instruments is beautiful, though, and Ehnes is in spectacular form, with the opening track, Bazzini’s La Ronde des Lutins, worth the price of the set on its own.

The violinist remarks in his outstanding booklet notes that “the difference in tone between instruments is often very subtle indeed”, especially when it’s the same player, of course, and it will take a professional ear to identify significant differences between the instruments. Still, a wonderful record of a remarkable project.

Terry Robbins

 

 

 

 Sibelius - Compositions for Piano

Heidi Saario

Independent

(www.CDBaby.com/heidisaario)

As a young boy, I used to delight in leafing though my grandmother’s old sheet-music from the 1920s, and one piece I recall in particular was the Sibelius Romance Op.24 #9. I can still envision it – the heavy yellowed score with the bright orange cover, and the title in a bold black script across the front. Admittedly, I had forgotten all about the piece until I came across it on this disc of piano music by Sibelius played by Heidi Saario on the Aspasia label. A native of Finland, Saario moved to Canada six years ago in order to undertake graduate-work at the Glenn Gould School. Since completing her studies, she has made a determined effort to promote the piano music of Sibelius, a genre too often overlooked. After all, the composer is much better known for his vibrant and nationalist tone-poems and symphonies than for his small output for the piano.

In the past, certain critics have dismissed Sibelius’ piano works as nothing more than salon-music. Unfair! While perhaps not great, these miniatures nevertheless seem well-crafted, containing a charm all their own, and as such, have much to offer the listener. What is particularly striking is the wide variety of moods achieved on a relatively small scale. These range from the gentle introspection of the Berceuse Op.104 #1 to the robust virtuosity of the finale from the Piano Sonata in F major. Saarios’s playing is polished and self-assured, at all times displaying a real affinity for the music. Is it the Nordic blood? Quite possibly - for although these pieces cannot honestly take their place beside those by a Beethoven or a Chopin, her elegant and heartfelt interpretation makes them particularly endearing, and well worth investigating. Recommended.

Richard Haskell

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 Be Thou My Vision

Oriana Women’s Choir; William Brown

Independent WRC8-8072

While this fifth recording by Oriana consists of popular hymns, anthems and psalm settings, it is a treat to hear them set for women’s voices with six new arrangements commissioned by the choir by John Beckwith, Eleanor Daley, Derek Holman, Leonard Enns, Jon Washburn and Ruth Watson Henderson. Added to the stellar list of Canadian composers represented on this CD are psalm settings by Srul Irving Glick, two of which are sung in Hebrew. The women’s voices blend superbly and this repertoire is performed with skilful beauty thanks to the direction of William Brown, with expert accompaniment by James Bourne on piano or Michael Bloss on organ. Two absolute gems stand out on this recording: Fairest Lord Jesus arranged by Leonard Enns and All Things Bright and Beautiful in an arrangement by Mack Wilberg. Both employ the services of Leslie Newman, flute and Clare Scholtz, oboe with parts creatively interwoven through the fabric of these well-known melodies. Add to that the light-hearted There’s a Little Wheel A-Turnin’ in my Heart (arr. Robert A. Harris) and a heartfelt Kumbaya (arr. Paul Sjolund) at the end of the recording; this is an offering sure to inspire the spirit.

Dianne Wells

 

 Bellini - La Sonnambula

Bartoli; Flórez; D’Arcangelo; Orchestra La Scintilla; Alessandro De Marchi

Decca 478 1084

The raison d’être of any recording of Bellini’s La Sonnambula, one of the most charming bel canto operas, is a great coloratura soprano. This recording offers something different – a great coloratura mezzo. Cecilia Bartoli is a remarkable singer, commanding a huge range, stunning agility, and overwhelming dramatic inclinations. But her idiosyncratic mannerisms – excessive breathiness, quiet cooing noises, heavily aspirated coloratura – are cloying, especially when she is allowed to indulge in them as often as here. While she makes great efforts to lighten and soften her voice, her rich mezzo with its tightly-wound vibrato is the wrong colour for the sleepwalking Amina. And transposing three scenes down to accommodate her lower range makes the recording more about Bartoli than Bellini.

No transpositions are needed for tenor Juan Diego Flórez, who gives one of the finest performances of Elvino on record. Flórez sails through this difficult part with accuracy and élan, confirming his reputation as the finest bel canto tenor on stage today. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo gives a warm, commanding performance as Rodolfo, though the smaller roles are taken by singers of lesser talents. The Orchestra La Scintilla of the Zurich Opera House provides authentic period instrument accompaniment, and is beautifully conducted by Alessandro De Marchi. Though there is much here to enjoy, those looking for a recording of the opera in modern sound would be better off with Natalie Dessay in the title role on a recent Virgin Records release.

Seth Estrin

Concert Note: Orchestra La Scintilla accompanies Cecilia Bartoli in a program celebrating the life and art of the great 19th century opera singer Maria Malibran, a superstar of her era and inspiration for such composers as Rossini and Donizetti, at Roy Thomson Hall on March 1.

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 Harrison Birtwistle - The Minotaur

Tomlinson; Reuter; Rice; Watts; Langridge; Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus; Antonio Pappano

OpusArte OA 1000 D

Harrison Birtwistle’s most recent opera created a sensation when it was premiered at London’s Royal Opera House last spring. This DVD, recorded during the run, shows why – and why Birtwistle is generally considered the leading composer of his generation in England.

In this telling of the ancient Greek myth, the Minotaur - half human, half beast – develops a soul. By the end, he comes to realize that he must die unloved because his actions are so vile. As John Tomlinson sang the Minotaur’s dying aria, I actually felt sympathy for this lonely guy just looking for love – Tomlinson’s acting is as riveting as his singing.

Ariadne is not merely devious here. She is complicit in her half-brother’s murderous rampages. She does help Theseus into the labyrinth to kill the Minotaur, but only after the beast has dispatched the twelve young Innocents sent from Athens as annual tribute. And not without bargaining with Theseus – the robust Johan Reuter – to take her away with him. Christine Rice’s nuanced performance justifies the composer keeping Ariadne on stage for the whole opera.

Birtwistle’s pacing is expert. His angular but lyrical vocal lines have a natural flow, and he sets David Harsent’s poetic libretto so that the voices can project over the colourful, often violent orchestrations. The staging is powerful, although during the graphic on-stage rape and slaughter of the youths I did wish I was seeing this opera from a seat in the Royal Opera House instead of up close on this DVD.

It is heartening – and rare – to be able to watch a composer and librettist come on stage to accept cheering curtain calls. When Theseus claims that only the shedding of blood can stop bloodshed, little does he understand how futile that is. This landmark production reminds us how opera can so effectively provide searing commentary on our times.

Pamela Margles

 

 

 

 

 

 


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To jump to a review, just click the above CD covers.


December 2008 marked the 100th birthdays of two very significant 20th century composers, Olivier Messiaen and Elliott Carter. Carter is still very much alive and continues to make significant contributions to the repertoire. You can read Pamela Margles’ comments on some of his recent works in her review of Ursula Oppens’ recording of his complete (at least to this date) piano works elsewhere in these pages, and next month we will feature a review of Toronto’s New Music Concerts centenary tribute to the American master. As for Messiaen, who died in 1991, there is a wealth of material being released to celebrate his centennial. I would highly recommend La Fête des belles eaux, a new Ensemble d’Ondes de Montréal release (ATMA ACD2 2621). This work is scored for six ondes Martenot, one of the first commercially produced electronic instruments, and one which Messiaen used extensively. Due to the rarity of the ondes this breathtaking work is seldom performed. In addition the CD includes four Feuillets inédits (late, unpublished works) for ondes and piano performed by Estelle Lemire and Louise Bessette and an arrangement of the first movement of Ravel’s String Quartet for four ondes Martenot. I find the haunting sound of the ondes particularly well-suited to Ravel. 01_messiaen

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We are still four years away from Benjamin Britten’s Centenary year, but Bruce Surtees’ Old Wine in New Bottles column in this issue brought to mind my own favourite pieces of this British master. In February 2002 I wrote in these pages: “Two recent recordings of Benjamin Britten’s complete works for solo cello are welcome additions to the available discography of these highly regarded but all too rarely heard masterpieces. All three solo suites were written for Mstislav Rostropovich … [and] with this in mind, all subsequent recordings must be measured against Rostropovich’s classic 1968 Decca performance, marvellously remastered for CD release in 1989. I’m pleased to report that both of the current releases pass muster with flying colours… Both the Norwegian Truls Mørk (Virgin Classics 45399) and Dutchman Peter Wispelwey (Channel Classics CCS 17198) bring a wealth of technique and experience to their interpretations, and they both seem to have made these pieces their own.”

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02d_haimovitz Rostropovich himself never recorded the third suite in which Britten incorporated several Russian melodies. My first exposure to that piece was through a 1995 recording featuring a young Israeli-born cellist Matt Haimovitz who Leonard Rose at the Juilliard School described as “probably the greatest talent I have ever taught”. At 17 Haimovitz signed an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon and several of his recordings of standard and non-standard repertoire won international awards over the next 12 years. Three of those discs have been re-issued on DG’s budget “Trio” line. The 20th Century Cello (80004505) now comprises 3 CDs and almost 4 hours of music including all three Benjamin Britten Cello Suites along with important works by Crumb, Kodaly, Dutilleux, Henze, Berio, Ligeti and many others.
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I’m here to tell you now that the playing field has become even more crowded with the new ATMA (ACD2 2524) release of the Britten Cello Suites performed by Denise Djokic. This Halifax native who comes from a large musical family – her father Philippe is a former concertmaster of Symphony Nova Scotia - was at the tender age of 21 named by MacLean’s as one of “25 Young Canadians who are changing our World”, and by ELLE as one of “Canada’s 30 most Powerful Women”. Djokic has shown a strong affinity for modern repertoire; in her debut recording of music by Barber, Martinu and Britten (Suite No.3) for Sony Classical which won an East Coast Music Award for Best Classical Recording in 2002, and the subsequent “Folklore” on Endeavour Classics which included works by Vaughan Williams, Stravinsky, Janacek and Cassadó. On the current ATMA release, recorded at Domaine Forget last February, the cellist revisits Britten’s third suite with even more confidence and aplomb than the Sony recording from six years earlier, and adds brilliant performances of the first and second suites to complete the set. With this recording Djokic proves herself to be living up to the high expectations generated in her formative years.



My final selection for the month combines the cello playing, singing and song-writing skills of multi-talented local musician Kevin Fox. The self-stated purpose of Songs for Cello & Voice (www.kevinfox.ca) was to produce a pop record which would feature only Fox’s voice and cello. There is some overdubbing involved, but nevertheless the result is a stunning achievement. Comprised of eight original compositions and two covers - Kate Bush’s Army Dreamer’s and the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (are made of this) - the collection rises above usual “pop” fare with its thoughtful lyrics, sparse orchestration and pure, unadorned vocal stylings. The diverse offerings touch on swing, doo-wop and straight ahead pop with a fine balance of melodic flair and emotional expression. The instrumental final track cleverly invokes memories of such iconic cello pieces as Saint-Saëns’ The Swan and Bach’s solo suites without seeming unduly derivative. This is a very refreshing disc.


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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 welcome your input via our website, www.thewholenote.com.

David Olds

DISCoveries Editor

discoveries@thewholenote.com








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Dresden

by Lord Berners

forward by Peter Dickinson

Turtle Point Press & Helen Marx Books

134 pages, paper; $9.95 US

British composer Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson was decidedly eccentric - even among his notoriously odd fellow British aristocrats. He was famous for dyeing the pigeons on his ancestral estate in bright colours (aided by the woman who became Stravinsky’s second wife) and keeping a clavichord in his chauffer-driven Rolls Royce. But in fact he devoted his life to artistic activity, especially after 1918, when he inherited a title, money and estates from his uncle and became the fourteenth Lord Berners.

Berners was a fine and entertaining writer. His paintings sold well. Songs like Come on Algernon were popular. His ballet scores were commissioned by Diaghilev and set by Balanchine and Ashton, and his chamber works are still performed. He even shows up in novels, including his own Far From the Madding War (included in Collected Tales and Fantasies (Turtle Point)), as Lord FitzCricket, and his friend Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love as Lord Merlin.

Dresden is the fourth installment of Berners’ autobiography. Like his songs, this volume is short but eloquent. It covers a period starting in 1901,when he was eighteen, and went to Germany to study for diplomatic service. He was a remarkably cultivated, observant and enthusiastic young man. “When first Richard Strauss swam in to my ken,’ he writes, ‘I could think of little else. The sight of a Richard Strauss score in a shop window was like meeting the beloved one at a street corner.” Although he thinks about writing a play when trying to write music, and, when working on the play, thinks about painting, he was by no means, even then, a mere dilettante. We see the formation of an imaginative and original early 20th century composer with a refreshingly modernist outlook.

What makes his memoir especially delightful is Berners’ highly evolved self-awareness. We get no hint of his flamboyant homosexuality, which is hardly surprising given the repressive laws in Britain when this was written, a few years before his death in 1950. But we do get suggestions of the depression – which he here calls ‘accidie’ – which plagued him in later life and apparently contributed to his creativity.

50_mozartMozart’s Operas: A Companion

By Mary Hunter

Yale University Press

280 pages, photos; $35.00 US

There’s certainly no dearth of books on Mozart’s operas, But Mary Hunter’s companion stands out for its ability to appeal to both aficionados and those just starting to explore the operas. True, her plot summaries can easily be found elsewhere. And while she assumes that readers don’t know the meaning of basic concepts like ‘aria’ and ‘recitative’, a frequently misused term like ‘rococo’ is left unexplained. Indeed, some of her definitions are not very helpful, such as describing ‘castrati’ as ‘castrated men’.

But when it comes to the history and meaning of the operas, Hunter offers informed and thought-provoking insights. Her thorough knowledge of all things Mozartean – not just the operas - illuminates this study. Her emphasis not only on Mozart’s setting of voices but also his use of the orchestra provides fruitful perspectives on Mozart’s ability to bring the librettos to life.

Opera-goers will especially appreciate Hunter’s examination of performance values as documented in historical accounts, recordings, film and video. She looks at the existing theatres where Mozart’s operas were first performed, as well as at audiences of the times, who would bring servants to cook and serve food during the performance. Needless to say, audiences tended towards ‘boisterous inattentiveness.’

Although Hunter has criticisms of director-centered performances, she emphasizes the benefits of modernizing operas. ‘If Mozart and his librettists’ characters are made to live and act in circumstances that the audience deeply recognizes, it makes Mozart an essentially modern man,’ she writes. Further, by updating Mozart’s operas, ‘every age has found its own meaning in them.’

The text is clearly laid out, with each opera discussed in a separate chapter. On each page the chapter heading is placed clearly at the top – an obvious but too-rare conven-ience for readers.

50_berliozBerlioz: Scenes From The Life And Work

edited by Peter Bloom

University of Rochester Press

270 pages, musical examples; $75.00 US

For those of us whose passion for the music of Berlioz is greater than his usual position in music history would warrant, this collection of twelve essays holds special appeal. For one thing, rather than merely offering analyses of individual works, it examines the place of his music in his own time and milieu. The emphasis on his writings about music throws light on both the music and the man.

Editor Peter Bloom has gathered essays from the heavyweights of Berlioz scholarship to pin down what makes Berlioz unique. Cultural historian Jacques Barzun, whose pioneering two volume biography Berlioz and the Romantic Century revolutionized the study of Berlioz’s music when it was published almost sixty years ago, sets the tone for this collection by linking Berlioz’s music with his life and his writings. It’s not, as is often said, his use of descriptive titles, most notably in Symphonie fantastique, that makes his music sound like no-one else’s. “Nobody but the tone-deaf”, writes Barzun, “could believe a piece of music could tell a story.” Instead, for Barzun, it’s his use of melody as a structural element that defines him.

Gérard Condé, like Berlioz both a critic and composer, reveals Berlioz’s “astonishing capacity to find equivalents in speech to the subjective effects produced by the music.” In this way he accentuates why something is done in the music rather than how it’s done.

David Cairns, translator of Berlioz’s Memoirs and author of his own biography of Berlioz, recalls how he first encountered Berlioz through the Memoirs. Cairns quotes Berlioz’s dying words, “They are finally going to play my music,” to show that he never lost his irrepressible playfulness. But Bloom, who has also written a biography of Berlioz, underscores how crotchety and spiteful Berlioz could be as well. In fact, it would seem, Berlioz needed enemies to stimulate his writing. In his Memoirs he says farewell to his friends by writing “I curse you and hope to forget you before I die.”

Through their evident passion for Berlioz, the contributors to this book all communicate their conviction that Berlioz is, as Bloom puts it, “a contender, one of the B’s, one of the best.”


The Toronto Symphony Orchestra performs The Damnation of Faust by Berlioz on February 26 and 28 at 8.00 in Roy Thomson Hall.

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