Lately I have had the pleasure of going through several complete sets of Beethoven Piano Concertos by leading pianists such as Barenboim, Zimmerman, Pletnev, and others. Each is special in its own way. Because his unassuming, self effacing demeanour, I really did not have high expectations of a new DVD set played by Murray Perahia (Medici Arts/BBC 3085298, 2 DVDs). However, as I write this I am of the opinion that this set is the best of all... for pianistic command, musicality, beauty of phrasing, and rapport between soloist and conductor. These 1988 performances were transmitted live from The Royal Festival Hall, showcasing the young and deservedly esteemed Perahia with the ever perfect Neville Marriner and his Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. None of the other versions generates the sense of forward motion and excited expectancy that often has the listener (figuratively) on the edge of his, or her, chair. This edition easily eclipses the Sony CDs of Perahia’s collaboration with Haitink and the Concertgebouw recorded in 1983-86. When I want to hear any of these concertos this is the set I’ll turn to.

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One of the colossal masterpieces of the Romantic era, Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, remains a particular favourite. Even though I have heard it countless times, live and on record, I was tempted to acquire yet another performance. This one was recorded live during a performance in Stuttgart on November 2nd, 1960 with a dream cast of distinguished soloists; Fritz Wunderlich, Maria Stader, Marga Höffgen, and Gottlob Frick. The Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir, the Stuttgart Bach Choir, the Stuttgart Singing Teachers Association Choir are conducted by Hans Müller-Kray (DG 4766382 2CDs). What a treasure this turned out to be! To my ears this is a total performance that achieves a level of comprehension that transcends excellence. It glows from within. Quoting from Hans Hey, now president of the Gottlob Frick Association, who remembers this performance... “Normally the soprano and tenor are prominent in the ensembles but this time everything was well balanced, just like a string quartet... it was just as it should be: mutual respect, listening to one another making music together.” For readers who may not know the soloists, they were Germany’s best of the era and all steeped in the Bach tradition which accounts, I believe, for their perception what this work is about. Muller-Kray un-erringly draws four soloists, three choirs and orchestra together in this exceptional performance. In excellent sound, this appears to be a co-production with the SWR.

For many classical music lovers who listen to FM radio, WBEN-FM is the station of choice. I listen to it in my car and recently I heard, not on the same day, outstanding performances of two long time favourites, Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony and Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, opus 45. I sat in my driveway waiting for the extros to identify the recordings. As it turned out, they were both NaxosTchaikovsky was played by the Liverpool Philharmonic under Vasily Petrenko (8.570568) and the Rachmaninov featured the Royal Philharmonic conducted by Enrique Batiz (8.550583). I acquired both discs and found them to be all that I expected both in the high octane performances and wide-open, dynamic sound. I recommend them enthusiastically.

discs! The

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Pierre Monteux, one of the finest and revered conductors of the last century, had a long association with the Boston Symphony, starting in 1919. In his 1947 book, “The Other Side of the Record”, Charles O’Connell, RCA’s producer and conductor argued that Monteux’s music making was superior to Toscanini’s! Pierre Monteux in Boston 1951-58, West Hill Radio Archives (WHRA-6022, 8 CDs priced as 5) brings us some solid reasons to agree with O’Connell. These were halcyon days for Monteux as he guested in Boston after a 27 year absence. Included in this treasure trove of live performances in astonishingly good sound are lots of Tchaikovsky’s including the last three symphonies and the Hamlet Overture, Le Sacre du Printemps, Petrushka (a suite and also complete in stereo), Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, Schumann’s Third, and Prokofiev’s First. Also works by Bartok, Debussy, Wagner, Szymanowski, Elgar, and others. The aristocrat of conductors with the “Aristocrat of Orchestras” – self recommending I would think.

A true legend but not a household name in the celebrated elite group of 20th century violinists, Paul Makanowitzky did not make many recordings but he has a most devoted cult following. Recently on EBay a three LP set sold for US$6,500! Makanowitzky had the élan of the French School with the expressivity of the Russian School. He was born in Sweden to Russian immigrants in 1920 and studied in Paris, aged four, with the mega pedagogue Ivan Galamian. Later with Jacques Thibaud and Nadia Boulanger. The ex child prodigy became a war hero as a volunteer in the USAF in WW2. After the war he enjoyed a brilliant career as soloist with American orchestras. In 1954 teamed up with fellow Boulanger alumnus, Noël Lee who was based in Paris. As a duo, they were critically acclaimed and their performances were always a hot ticket everywhere. For the French label Lumen they recorded the complete Bach, Beethoven and Brahms violin sonatas, the Bach set winning the 1959 Grande Prix du Disc. DOREMI’s new 4 CD set contains the Beethoven (1955/6) and the Bach(DHR7946/9). The musical revelations are both striking and satisfying in their communication of heartfelt and sincere music making. Listeners will be surprised at the refreshing sweetness and purity of tone. The engineer for the Lumen LPs was the iconic André Charlin, whose work is faithfully transmitted here. (1958) sonatas

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Under the Canopy

The Huppah Project

Independent HP0001 (www.thehuppahproject.com)

I first heard Aviva Chernick in concert with her band Jaffa Road, in the packed Brigantine Room at last fall’s Ashkenaz Festival at Harbourfront. That same weekend saw the release of her latest (and second) CD, “Under the Canopy”. Part of “The Huppah Project”, this CD is a collection of Jewish wedding music, sung entirely in Hebrew, with instrumental accompaniment. Many of the lyrics come from the Song of Songs or other liturgical texts, with either traditional music or music composed in our own era, and at least one song is from 1950s Israel. All are arranged by Chernick and/or ensemble members Aaron Lightstone, who plays ud, guitar and saz, and Jeff Wilson (drums, percussion, cornet). Chernick is the one who shines in this recording and is definitely one to watch on the Toronto music scene. She sings with a purity and clarity of vocal tone that carries this genre well, and to my knowledge is one of the only female vocalists in Toronto specializing in Jewish music of this sort (ie. non-klezmer, Hebrew based). Other back-up musicians include Ernie Tollar (ney) and George Sawa (qanun), who are featured in Heviani el Beit Hayayin (To the Vinyard’s house), a traditional Moroccan song. Visit www.avivachernick.com for more about this artist’s activities.

Karen Ages


Concert note: Aviva and her band Jaffa Road will be giving a CD release concert at the Lula Lounge, March 25 (see www.jaffaroadmusic.com).


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Musica Latina

Quartetto Gelato

Linus 2 70104 www.quartettogelato.ca


Quartetto Gelato returns with a soulful collection of Latin American selections. Both joy and tragedy have resulted in personnel changes for this much loved Canadian ensemble. Cellist Kristina Cooper has left for marriage and parenthood. The untimely death of founding member oboist Cynthia Steljes is extremely gripping – both as a musician and individual she was a bright light in the musical community and is deeply missed. It is with gratitude that we note the superb playing of these two on Meditango and BesameMMucho in this new release.

New QG members cellist Carina Reeves and clarinettist Kornel Wolak join violinist/tenor Peter De Sotto and accordionist Alexander Sevastian to continue the ensemble’s musical journeys. The tight ensemble playing, astute musicality and sheer happiness illuminate each track. The selections featured should be familiar to most listeners. Tico Tico is a rhythmic joy to listen to with Sevastian’s florid accordion work. Wolak melts the aural senses in Um a Zero while De Sotto charms his way through Manha De Carnival. I wish that cellist Carina Reeves could be heard in the forefront more often - her supportive playing is superb but her elegant performance as a lead instrumentalist is underutilized. A number of special guests are featured including the wonderful Penderecki String Quartet.

Quartetto Gelato’s music is extremely appealing. It is the choice of repertoire combined with an esoteric musical approach that makes the unmistakable sound so lovely. Yes, you have probably heard most of the tunes on “Musica Latina” thousands of times before. You just haven’t heard them the Quartetto Gelato way!

Tiina Kiik


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Like Light Off Water

Daphne Marlatt; Robert Minden;

Carla Hallett

Otter Sound OB 105 (www.LostSound.com)


Capturing the historical essence of a west coast fishing community, Daphne Marlatt’s long poem Steveston was published in 1974 as a much-acclaimed book with photographs by Robert Minden. For this recording, Marlatt reads passages from that work as well as the postscript added to the 2001 edition. With an evocative soundscape composed and performed by Minden and Carla Hallett, the images of a “boom and bust” town at the mouth of the Fraser River centered around fishing boats and cannery and the psychological states of its inhabitants are brought to life with qualities ranging from eerie trepidation to awestruck wonder. The quality and pacing of Marlatt’s voice is superb and a striking similarity between her speaking voice and Hallett’s singing makes for a beautifully seamless transition in the narrative flow. Minden’s photographic talent translates very well to the evocation of visual imagery through sound. The music is sparse but highly effective with mechanical noise set against the rippling and twinkling of water and light, together with haunting depictions of mysterious and erotic undercurrents mixed with the gentle beauty of the night sky. Pure poetry, pure sound, shifting the listener’s consciousness to the depths of pure feeling.

Dianne Wells


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 Mombâcho

Mike Janzen and Friends

Signpost Music SP43-102 (www.mikejanzen.ca)

 

Michael Janzen completed his Masters in Composition at the University of Toronto in 1997. Under the first name Mike, Janzen is a gifted composer, jazz pianist, organist, vocalist and heaven knows what else. This self-produced sophomore release is a work of art with respect to all musical processes from start to finish: composition, personnel, performance, and having a John “Beetle” Bailey’s killer mix doesn’t hurt. Every tune is a winner, from Where it Goes to Swankometer. It’s obvious that Janzen considered his band carefully, and he had his work cut out for him with such a deep pool of talent to choose from on the Canadian scene. Bass-wise, one can’t go wrong with the luminous George Koller, the only musician other than leader to appear on every track. Drum duty primarily belongs to Ben Riley with guests Davide DiRenzo and Larnell Lewis. Special guesting are Phil Dwyer on tenor saxophone, Kevin Breit on guitar, Alan Hetherington on percussion and a 13-piece string section led by Lenny Solomon on the deservingly titled Beauty. The sweet Almost Tango is an 8-minute suite of sheer amusement, with another highlight being the romping instrumental rendition of Mrs. Robinson. Besides playing the piano, organ and Rhodes on “Mombâcho”, Janzen lends his voice to Bruce Cockburn’s All the Diamonds and his own Masaya. While singing the odd tune is not unusual for an instrumentalist, having a voice as velvety as Janzen’s certainly is.

Ori Dagan

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 Alex Ernewein

With Terry Clarke; Kelly Jefferson;

Jake Langley; Keiran Overs

Independent TAERCD08 (www.alexernewein.com)

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When this CD was recorded in May of 2008 at Canterbury Sound Studio in Toronto, Alex Ernewein was 14 years old and quite the debut album it is. Wise enough to surround himself with four of the top musicians on the scene who give him all the support he needs, and then some, this is a very impressive display by any standards. There are eleven selections, wisely mostly familiar, ranging from the Rodgers & Hart standard My Romance to Monk’s Straight No Chaser and there is one original, a piano solo called Improv Suite One. The line-up varies throughout the album and Ernewein moves comfortably from piano to Fender Rhodes to Hammond B3.

The music was improvised on the spot and any imperfections are a worthwhile trade-off against the spontaneity of the music. You will hear more of young Mr. Ernewein.

Jim Galloway

 

 After Hours

Jeff Dyer; Bill Brennan

Independent 0209135

(www.myspace.com/jeffdyerbillbrennanduo)

Pour yourself a drink, put on “After Hours” after hours and you will enjoy an eclectic, varied program of choice standards and genuine originals. Newfoundland’s Bill Brennan is a pianist, percussionist, composer and producer who can be heard on some 80 albums to date. Wonderfully warm and very witty, Brennan’s work proves he is the consummate accompanist; no wonder, considering he has previously backed up Cab Calloway, Placido Domingo and Dizzy Gillespie.

Apart from five vocal/piano duets, seven tracks feature the superb Jim Vivian on bass, Michael Billard on drums and Patrick Boyle on trumpet and flugelhorn. But the spotlight is on Jeff Dyer’s full-bodied, emotionally raw singing style that suggests a natural, experienced talent. The baritone’s larger-than-life voice is not technically faultless, but this does not get in the way of the singer’s captivating, earnest delivery. Fans of the old standards will enjoy authentic readings of Lucky to Be Me and the like, but even more intriguing are Dyer’s spicy originals. Iona is a haunting, poetic ode to a Newfoundland ghost town, whereas the sentimental Time is a Dragon is a “smooth jazz” offering. In contrast, Nicaragua is a composition devoid of words but rich with intensity, trumpet doubling the voice. Dyer’s musical setting of John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields is inspired and respectful. Come to think of it, any time is appropriate to relish this recording, a healthy marriage of traditional and contemporary vocal jazz.

Ori Dagan

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Extended Play – FACE OFF

By Ken Waxman

 

Sonic battles involving musicians who play the same instrument facing off against one another are part of a tradition that goes back to Kansas City jam sessions. This sort of competition isn’t unique to jazz. Probably the first cutting contest took place when one medieval troubadour restrung his lute to best others playing Greensleeves.

Now that improvised music is international however, players can test themselves against musicians from other countries. That’s what four Canadians do here. Two, former Torontonian reedist Quinsin Nachoff and ex-Burlington trumpeter Darren Johnston do so in group situations. Two others – both Montrealers: guitarist Antoine Berthiaume and drummer Michael Lambert – go mano a mano.

 

 Results are particularly spectacular in q’s case. On Base (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 178), his partner is New York guitarist/composer Elliott Sharp whose instrumental prowess involves equal facility in blues, noise, rock, jazz, improvised and notated music. Raging over 11 free improvisations, the two use the tactile capabilities of guitars’ attachments and properties as much as its strings to tell stories. In cahoots not conflict, Sharp and Berthiaume crunch, crash and pan across the sound field, combining watery flanges, slurred fingering and twanging resonation into pulsations that are simultaneously wedded to electronic distortion and acoustic elaborations. When Sharp’s bottle-neck facility is mixed with clawing oscillated tones, Station could be Delta Blues on Mars. Freed on the other hand, manages to work inchoate fuzz-tone delay and dial twisting into lyrical sprays of sound. The duo’s essence is best expressed on Essence. Here one intermittently plunks bass strings alongside jagged resonation created by scratching strings below the bridge, until the piece concludes with throbbing drones reaching needle-in-the-groove concordance. (www.actuellecd.com) 01_base
02_meditation  Similarly blending rhythms so there is no perceptible transition between one and another’s improvising on Meditations on Grace (FMR Records CD 256-0108) are percussionists Michael Lambert and Boston’s veteran Rakalam Bob Moses, both of whom are also visual artists. Overlaying a Pop-Art-like jumble of beats they reference ethic rhythms as frequently as those associated with conventions of so-called legit music and jazz. Cunningly blending in double counterpoint the throbs and tinkles available from cross patterning and inverted sticking, octave jumps, staccato runs, march tempos and sudden rebounds, they understate, but never abandon heart-beat rhythms. Meanwhile bell trees are sounded, maracas shaken, ride cymbals scratched, steel pans popped and tension lugs tightened and loosened to produce multi-colours. Subtlety is the watchword here with whisks and brushes in use more than sticks and mallets. Cognizant of each other every second, one drummer produces rim shots when the other ratchets; or one bluntly whack the bass drum when the other pounds Indian tom-toms. Chromatically shifting the tonal centre, they advance left-and-right in tandem. Gauge the joy in the proceeding, by noting the ecstatic shouts frequently heard from the participants. (www.fmr-records.com)
 This joy is also apparent on In Between Stories which features Darren Johnston’s United Brassworkers Front (Evander Music EM 040). This Bay- area band of two trumpets, two trombones, tuba, guitar, bass and drums plays mostly Johnston’s compositions, while echoes of Balkan marches, brass chorals, Dixieland and mariachi music abound. As burbling tuba provides the pedal-point bottom, shuffle drum beats and walking bass lines add an R&B feel. Johnston is surprisingly expressive and romantic on the sardonic Long Live the Yes Men, yet breaks up the initially stately In Between Stories with splattering triple-tonguing, jazz shakes and rubato slurs. Chunky rhythm guitar licks and half-honk/half-hip-hop from tuba adds to the transformation. Elsewhere Johnston’s arranging skills showcase polyphonic undulations, ensuring the massed brass braying is neither protracted nor gratuitous. (www.evandermusic.com) 03_united_brass_works
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 Brass band-inflected jazz is also the raison d’être on Quinsin Nachoff/Bruno Tocanne Project’s 5 New Dreams (Cristal CD 0824), although clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Nachoff’s co-leader is a French drummer, as are the two trumpeters and another saxophonist. Eschewing chordal instruments the unbridled power of Tocanne’s drumming manages makes the band evoke drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. With nearly every tune a foot-tapper, Tocanne’s ruffs and flams encourage doubled brass triplet, so that the trumpeters often sound like an intertwined Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Lionel Martin often confines himself to ostinato slurps from the baritone saxophone, except for some flutter-tongued exchanges with Nachoff. Otherwise space is left open for the Canadian who makes good use of it. On Soulèvement he plumbs his tenor saxophone’s depth with a wide vibrato and irregular diaphragm breaths, buzzing upwards into waves of altissimo before Tocanne’s press rolls surgically cut off the exposition. In contrast, Goodbye Lullaby benefits from the baritone saxophone’s bass undercurrent as Nachoff shades the andante melody with coloratura and moderato clarinet obbligatos. (www.imuzzic.net)

While cutting contests may be a relic of the past, international musical cooperation continues to set high standards.

 

 

 

 

 

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Shostakovich; Weinberg; Ichmouratov

I Musici de Montreal; Yuli Turovsky

Analekta AN 2 9899

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Though the name of Shostakovich is printed in the largest typeface on this engaging release from the ever-reliable I Musici ensemble, in truth his music serves as bookends for some lesser-known works, most importantly the Chamber Symphony No. 1 by the Polish-Jewish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996). Weinberg (sometimes spelled as Vaynberg) fled to Russia in 1939 during the Nazi decimation of Warsaw; the remainder of his family would later perish in the Trawinki concentration camp. During his evacuation in Tashkent he met Dmitri Shostakovich. Impressed by his talent, Shostakovich later encouraged the younger man to move to his Moscow neighbourhood in 1943. They subsequently became very close friends, and while Weinberg was never formally a student of Shostakovich his own music was closely modelled on that of his mentor, though in the case of his Chamber Symphony (a late work from from 1987) evidencing a more neo-classical and abstract approach betraying little evidence of his harrowing life experiences.

The young composer, clarinettist and conductor Airat Ichmouratov was born in 1973 in Kazan, Tatarstan and now enjoys a busy concert life in Montréal. His Fantastic Dances for piano trio (his own Muczynski trio) and strings was commissioned by I Musici in 2007. It is an affectionate tribute to both Shostakovich and Weinberg incorporating klezmer elements and includes a recasting the second movement of Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony as part of a demented waltz. The ghost of Gustav Mahler also makes a perplexing cameo appearance in the Ravel-derived grand finale.

The Shostakovich works include the youthful Prelude and Scherzo Op. 11, notable for its hard-driven second movement, as well as string orchestra arrangements of the Elegy from the opera Lady Macbeth of Mzensk and the sardonic Polka from the ballet The Age of Gold. Excellent sound and intriguing programming make this one a winner.

Daniel Foley

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Elliott Carter - 100th Anniversary Release

New Music Concerts; Robert Aitken

Naxos 8.559614

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Elliott Carter’s one hundredth birthday is being celebrated this year on a scale previously unthinkable for a living composer - especially a composer whose music was for long considered excessively complicated and difficult. Carter is now recognized as America’s greatest composer - and not just because he has been around the longest. Amazingly, he is still composing.

This CD/DVD set of late works is a standout. It was recorded live in Toronto in 2006 at two concerts given by New Music Concerts. The most significant works are the two beautifully performed ensemble pieces, Dialogues and Mosaic, both presented in audio and video formats. But what particularly draw me on this disc are the virtuosic pieces for solo instruments, especially the exquisite wind pieces. The jazzy, playful Steep Steps is performed with remarkable versatility by the lone non-Canadian performer, American bass-clarinettist Virgil Blackwell, the dedicatee of the piece. In Gra clarinettist Max Christie shapes contrasting layers into a single eloquent voice. Scrivo in Vento, written for New Music Concerts artistic director, flutist Robert Aitken, provides an intense, expressive exploration of the instrument.

I especially enjoyed Aitken’s pre-concert interview with Carter on the DVD. You can feel the affectionate relationship between these two long-time friends. Carter is genial, witty, and brilliant - and quite mischievous. Aitken handles him deftly, but Carter doesn’t make his job easy. Asked about the genesis of a piece, he says, “I’m interested in the music – I’m not interested in where it came from.”

Superb recorded sound, exemplary booklet notes, and snazzy camera work contribute to a terrific set, not just for Carter aficionados but for those wanting to know more about the music of our time.

Pamela Margles

 

 

 

 Late Beethoven - Commentary and Performance

Luisa Guembes-Buchanan

Del Aguia DA 55306 (www.beethovenpianoworks.com)

 

Although Beethoven lived to age 56, he wrote his last piano sonata at the age of 52 – a period when his everyday existence was marked by deteriorating health and total deafness. Nevertheless, he was still able to rise above the complexities of his daily existence, creating some of his finest music, where he pushed the boundaries of tonality and form as he never had before. This fine 6-disc set on the Del Aguila label featuring pianist/musicologist Luisa Guembas-Buchanan and cellist Philip Weihrauch is an examination of the products of Beethoven’s final years, taking as its premise that these late works have numerous stylistic qualities in common. And what a wealth of music is included! Not only are there five late piano sonatas (#28 through #32) but also the Diabelli Variations, 11 Bagatelles Op.119 and 6 Bagatelles Op.126, in addition to numerous smaller pieces all from the sketchbook, plus the two Cello Sonatas Op.102 – enough to keep a Beethoven connoisseur happy for weeks!

I admit the name Luisa Guembas-Buchanan was not one familiar to me. Originally from Lima, Peru she studied in her native city at the Conservatorio National de Musica, and later at the Manhattan School of Music before concluding her studies at New York and Boston Universities. Since then, she has held teaching positions at Amherst College and the New England Conservatory, where she has assumed the dual role of musicologist and pianist perhaps not unlike that of Charles Rosen 40 years ago. The scholarly notes she provides in the attractive 60-page booklet are impressive (they are in both English and German and even contain end-notes), but there is certainly more to Ms. Gumbas-Buchanan than scholarship. To anyone who might initially dismiss this recording as an example of a musicologist who “also happens to play the piano”, this is clearly not the case! From the serene and reflective opening measures of the Sonata Op.101 to the bravura of the Diabelli Variations, Guembas-Buchanan demonstrates an effortless command of this demanding repertoire. Her playing is noble and majestic, coupled with a flawless technique - quite clearly an artist who not only performs admirably, but possesses a deep understanding of the music and is keen to share that knowledge with others.

The two Cello Sonatas presented here, Op. 102 #1 and #2 were composed during the summer of 1814, the very beginning of Beethoven’s late period. Just as in the works for solo piano, Beethoven was also “pushing boundaries” through his use of counterpoint and extensive modulations. Together with cellist Philip Weihrauch, Guembas-Buchanan approaches the music with a bold assurance and both demonstrate a deep affinity for the music.

The pleasure in this set is indeed two-fold – apart from the illuminating information provided, it is also great listening - a treat both for Beethoven scholars and those who simply love and admire the music of “the great mogul”.

Richard Haskell

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 Grigory Sokolov – Live in Paris: Beethoven; Komitas; Prokofiev

Directed by Bruno Monsaingeon

Ideale-Audience DR 2109 AV 127 (www.ideale-audience.com)

 

If I mention the name Grigory Sokolov and you give me a blank stare, I wouldn’t be surprised. The reclusive Russian pianist, winner of the 1966 International Tchaikovsky Competition, regarded as a true successor to the giants, Gilels and Richter and who gives about 60 recitals a year to sold out houses in Europe, is almost unknown in North America. He hasn’t recorded much as he distrusts recordings unless they are made live and in one take. So this DVD is likely as close as you will get to seeing him live.

The remarkable program starts off with 2 Beethoven early sonatas (Nos.9 & 10) played with an exquisite lyrical and romantic touch and a fine dynamic and emotional range. A more complex work, the Pastoral Sonata (No.15), is a true adventure especially the 2nd movement with its understated yet poignant ostinato staccato left hand and the beautifully shaded virtuoso Rondo finale.

Sokolov’s phenomenal gift is getting inside the composer’s head and intuitively finding the right style although he never plays anything the same way twice. The 6 Armenian dances by Komitas that follow all sound similar yet different from one another. They are languid, soft, using exotic oriental rhythms to a mesmerizing, hypnotic effect.

The final work is the monumental and fiendishly difficult Sonata No.7 by Prokofiev. The masterful interpretation winds up with ‘Precipitato’, a monstrous physical effort with an incessant toccata in steady ff and yet the pianist still manages to increase the crescendo to an overwhelming culmination.

The ecstatic audience simply refuses to leave and Sokolov tirelessly keeps giving encores one after the other, five in all. Much more can be said, but let the music speak for itself.

Janos Gardonyi

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 Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto;

Souvenir d’un lieu cher

Janine Jansen; Mahler Chamber

Orchestra; Daniel Harding

Decca 4780651

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The Dutch violinist Janine Jansen is rapidly rising to the very forefront of the international ranks, and this outstanding CD, her second full concerto recording, clearly demonstrates why.

Recorded live in July 2008 at the Festival Via Stellae in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, it is Jansen at her best: intelligent, articulate phrasing; stunning technique; a full, warm tone; and a rich sweetness with that characteristic underlying steely strength.

I had high praise for the Vadim Gluzman recording of this concerto last year, and if you ever needed proof of the need for contrasting interpretations, then this is it. There may perhaps be less sheer excitement here at times, but Jansen presents a beautifully thoughtful, introspective and fully committed performance that I actually find more satisfying. Nothing is rushed or glossed over, and the somewhat slower tempos are well-balanced in the overall structure. Clearly Jansen and Daniel Harding are of one mind here, a sentiment borne out by even a cursory glance at the DVD footage of their rehearsals and performance for this recording that is currently viewable on YouTube.

The three pieces that comprise Souvenir d’un Lieu Cher make an obvious coupling choice, as the first piece, Meditation, is the concerto’s original slow movement which Tchaikovsky rewrote for violin and piano. The version heard here is not the usual Glazunov orchestration but a smaller and extremely effective arrangement for violin and strings by the Romanian-Dutch conductor Alexandru Lascae.

Terry Robbins

 

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 Gergiev conducts Mahler Symphonies 1, 2, 3, 6 & 7

London Symphony Orchestra;

Valery Gergiev

LSO LIVE

 

LSO LIVE, the London Symphony Orchestra’s own label, is well into its Mahler cycle recorded ‘live’ in The Barbican, their home venue. The label has been remarkably successful since its introduction in 2000 with selected concert performances conducted by Colin Davis, Bernard Haitink, Mstislav Rostropovich, and now Valery Gergiev. The discs are usually hybrid-SACD discs and are, as this Mahler cycle, state of the art technically with extraordinary dynamic range and true to life timbres. Tuttis never become congested. Acoustically, the Barbican is not an ideal venue but producer James Mallinson’s recordings are articulate with a sparkling clarity.

Valery Gergiev is one of the busiest conductors around today, in demand everywhere it seems. He has brought his Kirov Orchestra to Thomson Hall, treating us to stunning performances of Russian music, each work given definitive performances. His Le Sacre du Printemps was both illuminating and shattering ... an unforgettable performance; his Scheherazade electrifying. However his performances certainly did not reveal the essence of some non-Russian repertoire which brings us to this ongoing Mahler cycle.

It has become standard practice for conductors who ‘understand’ Mahler and ‘feel his pain’ to wear their hearts on their sleeve and subtly, or not so subtly, convey this empathy to the listener, whether live or from recordings. Leonard Bernstein comes immediately to mind. But can a conductor simply play what is written when every reading is a new decoding of the composer’s notation?

Gergiev’s Mahler may well be the most articulate on disc! There can be no doubt that the LSO is one of the very finest on the planet and under the proven eye of their current principle conductor they have turned in inspired, immaculate performances.

However, Mr. Gergiev does not, as yet, have the special insight that leads to Mahler’s anima which would have elevated these acclaimed performances from outstanding into Mahler’s inspired visions. Still, acknowledging this shortcoming, these five initial releases are so well performed and recorded that I look forward to the balance of the cycle.

Bruce Surtees

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 Extended Play – CANADIAN STRINGS

By Terry Robbins

 

 Three Sonatas for Violin and Piano - a mature work by Elgar, and early works by Richard Strauss and Ravel - are presented on an excellent disc by the Canadian duo Jonathan Crow and Paul Stewart on ATMA Classique (ACD2 2534). Elgar’s sonata, completed in September 1918, is a somewhat conservative piece that reflects the sombre effect on the composer of four years of the Great War. It has never really established a secure place in the repertoire, but is a work that really deserves to be heard more often. The Strauss sonata, written in 1887, is a passionate Romantic work clearly influenced by the chamber music of Brahms. The Ravel is an early single-movement work from 1897 that remained unknown until its discovery in manuscript many years after the composer’s death; its first public performance was in 1975. Crow, a Professor of Violin at McGill University and former concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony, plays with faultless intonation and a sweet, clear tone throughout. He has a sympathetic partner in Stewart, who is particularly outstanding in the Strauss. Recorded in Saint-Irenée, Quebec, the sound is excellent.

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 Odd Couple, the title of a new CD of American works from cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Geoffrey Burleson (Oxingale OX2015) is not a comment on the players; rather, it is taken from Matt Haimovitz’s description of the relationship between these two seemingly disparate instruments. Unsuitable partners they may be in some respects, but the music on this outstanding disc shows none of the weaknesses and all of the strengths that the cello and piano duo can display. The two central works are the sonatas by Samuel Barber and Elliott Carter, the former having its roots firmly in the Romantic tradition of the two Brahms sonatas, although firmly stamped with Barber’s own unmistakeable voice, and the latter, from 1948, harking back to the Beethoven sonatas in some respects while still looking ahead to Carter’s mature style. The opening and closing works are both world-premiere recordings: David Sanford’s 22 Part I from 1998 and Augusta Read Thomas’ Cantos for Slava, which was commissioned as part of an ASCAP award Haimovitz received in 2006, shortly after the death of Mstislav (“Slava”) Rostropovich. Thomas had worked closely with the great Russian cellist over the previous 15 years. The disc was recorded this past June at McGill’s Schulich School of Music, where Haimovitz is Professor of Cello. The sound quality is excellent, and both players are outstanding in difficult and challenging, but highly rewarding, repertoire.

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 There are two recent CDs of the Bach Goldberg Variations in the string trio arrangement by the violinist Dmitri Sitkovetsky. On the firstthe abovementioned Jonathan Crow and Matt Haimovitz team up with violist Douglas McNabney (Oxingale OX2014); the other features Vancouver’s Trio Accord - Mary Sokol Brown (violin), Andrew Brown (viola) and Ariel Barnes (cello) (Skylark Music SKY0802). As McNabney points out, Bach’s music is strong enough to transcend the many transcriptions that have been made of this work; certainly this version, which Sitkovetsky dedicated to Glenn Gould, serves the predominantly three-part keyboard writing extremely well. There are many differences in tempo and track timings here, the latter probably due to the observance - or lack thereof - of repeats as much as anything, but both recordings are extremely satisfying performances. The playing is excellent on both CDs, both from an individual and ensemble viewpoint, and the recording ambience - both were recorded in a church - is warm and resonant. On first hearing I preferred the brightness and contrast in the Trio Accord CD, whereas the Quebec-based ensemble plays with a touch more legato throughout, but on further comparison I’m not so sure; in two outstanding recordings I have a feeling that it’s Jonathan Crow and friends who come closest to the spiritual heart of this astonishing work.

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by Seth Estrin

Six new recital discs from a variety of great operatic singers offer opportunities to hear them in a new light – in new repertoire, with different partners, or for the first time on a recital disc.

 

 Until she recently gave up the role, the German soprano Diana Damrau was known as the most thrilling Queen of the Night on stage today. She has descended from the stratosphere into other Mozart roles, as heard on Mozart - Opera and Concert Arias (Virgin Classics 2 12023 2), and we are the luckier for it. Her sparkling high notes and effervescent coloratura is still heard to excellent effect on several tracks, but what is new here is the darkness and depth of her voice. It is rare that a single singer can sound so convincing in such a variety of Mozart parts – from Donna Anna to Donna Elvira to Blonde to Kostanze – but Damrau’s remarkable versatility makes her sound at home in each role. The period orchestra Le Cercle de l’Harmonie under Jérémie Rhorer provide expert support.

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 American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato has emerged as one of the most exciting Rossini singers in recent years, but on the recital disc Furore: Opera Arias (Virgin Classics 5 19038 2) she presents an all-Handel program. DiDonato is a sensitive stylist of baroque music, and uses her rich but clear voice to great effect. For an essentially light mezzo voice, she has unusual darkness in her lower register, and is not afraid to dip into her chest voice. She gives rich, impassioned readings of the music without romanticizing it, and she ornaments de capos elaborately but with taste. Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques help make this one of the best Handel recitals in recent years.

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 Juan Diego Florez may be one of the most celebrated tenors of his generation, but with the great bulk his repertoire coming from the work of only three composers – Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini – it must be difficult for him to come up with new arias to record. So on the disc Bel Canto Spectacular (Decca 478 0515) sampling works from those same three composers we get to once again hear his nine high C’s in the famous aria from Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment – but this time in Italian instead of French. We also get five wonderful bel canto duets, which pair him with five fantastic singers, including Placido Domingo. With a balance of usual and the unusual repertoire, this makes a charming disc that, with the variety of singers, never gets monotonous.

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 Baritone Thomas Quastoff’s operatic recital Italian Arias (Deutsche Grammophon 4777469) is unusual because it contains only arias by Joseph Haydn – a composer famous for almost everything except his operas. But several of Haydn’s many operas have been staged in recent years, and Quasthoff makes an excellent case for continuing this trend. The disc covers selections from the dramatic operas, such as Armida, perhaps the best known of Haydn’s operas, to buffo roles in comic operas such as The World on the Moon. Quasthoff, one of the finest lieder singers of his generation, is a supremely intelligent singer, but he shows himself an excellent comedian as well. With top-rate support from the Reiburger Barockorchester, this disc provides an excellent overview of Haydn’s operas – from a baritone’s perspective, at least.

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 Everything René Pape offers on Gods, Kings and Demons (Deutsche Grammophon 477 6408) will be new to listeners, since this is his debut solo recording. But Pape has for some years been considered the outstanding operatic bass of his generation, with a burnished, warm sound that is commanding without being simply a wall of dark sound. This disc showcases his versatility as an artist – the Wagner, Verdi, and Gounod tracks stand out in particular. Sometimes extended scenes can sound out of place on recital discs, but Sebastian Weigle, conducting the superb Staatskapelle Dreden, gives both the longer and shorter selections unusual shape and dimension.

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 Whether we really need another recital disc from Russian soprano Anna Netrebko is perhaps not a fair question, but her latest disc Souvenirs (Deutsche Grammophon 4777639), in what by now must be the most substantial discography of any soprano of her generation, fails to make a convincing case for itself. Netrebko presents this disc as a selection of her favourite songs and light arias from operas and operettas. It is, for the most part, a lovely if somewhat insubstantial selection. Netrebko’s dark, plangent voice is skillfully deployed to create several beautiful moments. But the voice sounds slightly looser than on earlier discs, and her diction is poorer than ever. Besides the eclectic repertoire, there is nothing here that cannot be heard to better effect on Netrebko’s earlier discs.

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When I heard that the Molinari Quartet will premiere Brian Cherney’s String Quartet No.6 in Montreal this May I was surprised to learn that he had composed so many. McGill Records recently released a CD featuring the Lloyd Carr-Harris Quartet in Cherney’s String Quartets Nos. 3-5. These works span a decade and a half beginning in 1985 and are an excellent representation of the mature work of one of Canada’s most uncompromising composers. Much of Cherney’s work is a response to trauma, both personal loss and universal tribulations, in particular the Holocaust. The Third Quartet was written in memory of the composer’s father who died in the year preceding its composition and it draws on an earlier string trio, written to commemorate his father’s 60th birthday, for some of its material. Beginning in near silence as its predecessor ended, Cherney’s Fourth seems a continuation of the Third. Written in 1994, this time the inspiration is the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The program notes mention numerical sequences at play in the fabric of the composition which hint at the influence of Elliott Carter on Cherney’s approach. This quartet too ends in the “stillness” which is a frequent aspect of this composer’s work. Although the Fifth quartet begins in quiet, almost immediately we hear cries of anguish. This work, commissioned by the Strings of the Future festival in Ottawa in 2000, does not have any stated programmatic inspiration. In form (and substance) I would liken it to the work of Polish master Witold Lutoslawski with its Episode-Interlude-Episode-Interlude-Episode structure and we hear references to Bartok’s quartets, but in an assimilative, rather than a derivative way. Cherney has absorbed the most important works of the 20th century and found his own way to carry them forward. 01_cherney_string_quartets
02_array Back in 2006, their 35th anniversary season, Toronto’s second oldest contemporary music organization Array, embarked on a recording project called Legacy (Artifact Music ART 038) to document highlights of its remarkable history. Founding members (Alex Pauk and Marjan Mozetich) and former and current artistic directors (Doug Perry, Henry Kucharzyk, Linda C. Smith, Allison Cameron and Bob Stevenson) curated this 2 CD set which features a broad spectrum of the music written for Array over the past three decades. In May 2007 the Legacy concert took place at Glenn Gould Studio with Array members Bob Stevenson, Michael White, Stephen Clarke, Rebecca van der Post, Peter Pavlovsky, Blair Mackay and Rick Sacks joined by guest artists Doug Perry and Paul Widner (both former Array members), Dianne Aitken, and Rachel Thomas thereby adding viola, cello, flute and trombone to the current instrumentation of the ensemble - clarinet(s), trumpet, piano, violin, bass and 2 percussion - to facilitate performance of works written for previous incarnations of the group. Highlights for me include the late Michael J. Baker’s La vie de Bohème for multiple clarinets, John Rea’s …wings of silence… for ensemble and tape, Marjan Mozetich’s Ice for flute, trombone, piano and viola and Stevenson’s Trace, but certainly others may find Pauk’s Magaru, John Abram’s Steiner Shimmy, Kevin Volans’ Into Darkness or Kucharzyk’s arrangement of Claude Vivier’s classic Pulau Dewata more compelling. While in recent times Arraymusic has reinvented itself as a resource centre for new music rather than exclusively a performance vehicle, this release is a welcome testament to the creative force of the Arraymusic ensemble in its heyday. The packaging is visually attractive, however the program notes are almost impossible to decipher with the director’s message printed in miniscule silver type on a white background and the extensive, though unattributed, program notes in grey on green. Had these been easier to read the Legacy would have been much better served. You can check out Array’s new developments at www.arraymusic.com.


Former Array director Henry Kucharzyk also has a presence on a new Naxos release featuring the Toronto Wind Orchestra under Tony Gomes’ direction. Northern Winds (8.572248) is an eclectic collection of Canadian compositions. The disc opens with a boisterous overture entitled High Spirits by Louis Applebaum. Applebaum wrote hundreds of compositions for a myriad of media, but it is all too rare to hear his music performed these days outside of the fanfares he created for the Stratford Festival which are still in use today. Kudos to the Toronto Wind Orchestra for reminding us of his vibrant contribution to Canadian music. Dream Dancer is an extended work by Michael Colgrass for solo saxophone (the exceptional Wallace Halladay performing) and wind orchestra with a large percussion section. The work moves from haunting slow passages through virtuosic pyrotechnics and sections reminiscent of a variety of exotic cultures with more than a nod to the Indonesian gamelan. Next we are treated to a more abstract work, Kucharzyk’s Some Assembly Required, which with its three contrasting movements gives a somewhat more avant garde approach to the wind orchestra although its rollicking final movement reminds us somewhat of Copland and Bernstein as seen through the eyes of John Adams. Gary Kulesha’s Ensembles inverts the usual fast-slow-fast structure and places its dynamic toccata-like piano and percussion movement in the middle of two slow meditations. The disc is rounded out by Harry Freedman’s Laurentian Moods, a suite of French Canadian Folksongs which unfortunately seem a bit trivial in this context and a centenary tribute to Olivier Messiaen in the form of Oiseaux exotiques featuring pianist Simon Docking.


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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

CLASSICAL AND BEYOND

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

CD

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

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

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

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

Bruce Surtees



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

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

CD

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

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

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

Richard Haskell



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

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

CD

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

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

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

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

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

Pamela Margles

EARLY MUSIC AND PERIOD PERFORMANCE

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

CD

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

Dianne Wells
Read more: Sept 08 - EARLY MUSIC AND PERIOD PERFORMANCE

OLD WINE IN NEW BOTTLES
Fine old recordings re-released

By Bruce Surtees

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

POT POURRI

A Song Is Born
Mitch Smolkin
Independent
Advance copy

CD

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

JAZZ AND IMPROVISED

Words We Both Could Say
Shannon Butcher
Independent SB2008

CD
You Go To My Head
Janelle Monique
ZaFeMusik ZAFE2007

CD

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

EXTENDED PLAY – CONTEMPORARY STRING QUARTETS
By Terry Robbins


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

VOCAL

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

CD

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

MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY

Hommage à Messiaen
Pierre-Laurent Aimard
Deutsche Grammophon 477 7452

CD

As Olivier Messiaen’s music cuts deeper and deeper into the mainstream classical canon, his name is becoming inextricably bound with pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard. As a student of both Messiaen and his wife Yvonne Loriod this interpreter has been groomed for the job of providing definitive renditions of all the composer’s pianistic material. This disc commemorates Messiaen’s centenary with early solo piano selections from 1928 to 1950.
Read more: Sept08 - MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY

CLASSICAL AND BEYOND

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

CD

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

Read more: Sept 08 - Classical and Beyond
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