02_saint_ceciliaTo Saint Cecilia

Les Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble; Marc Minkowski

Naïve V5183

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

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

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

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

Michael Schwartz


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

Naïve V5212

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

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

Dianne Wells

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

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

Paradizo PA008 (www.paradizo.org)

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

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

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

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

Michael Schwartz

02_scarlatti_petricScarlatti - 18 Sonatas

Joseph Petric

Astrila AST232652-1 (www.josephpetric.com)

The keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti have long been a challenge and a treat for accordionists. Though difficult to execute, the fluidity of melody, contrapuntal intricacies, and rhythmic stability translate well to the instrument. Toronto virtuoso and international accordion star Joseph Petric shines in the 18 Sonatas featured here. Although many will be unknown to the general public, a number are familiar to me (and likely other accordionists) from student days.

Instead of the term “transcription” (which is frequently used in classical music), Petric uses “adaptation” in his liner notes to explain his musical approach and interpretation. His choices of somewhat narrower range of dynamics, and slower tempos succeed as the gifted performer has contemplated each musical nuance with care – Sonata K 209 in A Major is especially beautiful in its lyricism and motion.

Scarlatti's harpsichord sonatas were written for an instrument that creates sound by plucking a string. Sound is created in an accordion by moving the bellows, forcing air to vibrate a reed. Occasionally a less than optimal tonal quality surfaces here – this may be a bellowing issue or just an adaptation factor but this is overshadowed by Petric’s brilliant playing in the florid sections. Stylistically however, I longed for a more solid rhythmic sense which would provide a boundary within which to further explore his unique ideas.

Joseph Petric makes it sound so easy but believe me its not! His very individual take in “18 Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti” will have accordionists and non-accordionists alike listening, contemplating and enjoying for a long time.

Tiina Kiik

03_stamitz_aitkenStamitz - Flute Concertos

Robert Aitken; St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra; Donatas Katkus

Naxos 8.570150

These four (C major, G major and two in D major), of Johann Stamitz’s fourteen concertos for flute and orchestra, were probably composed in the 1750s for the flute virtuoso Johann Wendling. They demand reconsideration of the standard music school wisdom on the “rococo” period as a kind of transitional netherworld where composers produced inane music, which inexplicably laid the ground work for Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. These concertos are poised and mature. The writing for the flute is superb, equally expressive in the virtuosic outer movements and in the slow middle movements. The orchestral writing is equally impressive; and the pair of horns in both D major concertos (not just the second as the notes suggest) are masterfully employed. The middle movement of the C major concerto, with its stern repetitive Beethovenian dotted rhythmic motif, is poignantly tragic; and the virtuosity required throughout of both the soloist and of the orchestra, far from being exhibitionism, is central to the meaning of this music.

Robert Aitken is exemplary, his sound robust, even in the most extreme register transitions, and at times tender; his articulation sets the standard. The orchestra is virile in the tutti passages and engagingly rhythmic when accompanying the flute. The cadenzas, composed by Aitken, are stylistically consistent and contain some lovely touches, like the orchestra joining the flute in the trill at the conclusion of the cadenza in the slow movement of the first D major concerto.

Allan Pulker

Concert note: Robert Aitken is featured in Alice Ping Yee Ho’s Dance Concerto for solo flute, strings and percussion with Chinese dancer William Lau and the New Music Concerts Ensemble at Betty Oliphant Theatre on February 14.

04_schubert_fraySchubert - Moments musicaux; Impromtus

David Fray

Virgin Classics 694489 0

In his short career, the young French pianist David Fray has gained a reputation for eccentricity, mostly due to his intense stage presence and singular vision. Inevitably, Glenn Gould comes to mind. In fact, Bruno Monsaingeon, who made a series of important films on Gould, has produced a documentary on Fray, called J.S. Bach – Sing, Swing and Think. Fray scored his first international success in Canada, at the 2004 Montreal International Music Competition, and recorded his very first disc, which included Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasie, on the Canadian ATMA label.

In this recording of Schubert’s six Moments musicaux, the first set of Impromptus, and the rarely heard Allegretto in C minor, Fray tends to favour subtle dynamics and restrained tempos. He can certainly be dramatic. But instead of creating sharp contrasts and sudden climaxes, he builds up tiers of sound. This is particularly effective in extended passages like the shimmering triplet runs in the first part of the Impromptu No. 2 in E flat Major and with motifs like the heart-wrenching inner-voice dissonances in the second part. He treats even the most fleeting lines like cantabile melodies, shaping them with an imaginative variety of colours, textures and harmonic details.

In his program notes Fray calls Schubert ‘a close friend’. In his playing Fray shows Schubert to be the most generous and humane friend possible. I find myself returning to this exquisite disc frequently, and feeling richly rewarded with each listening.

Pamela Margles

05_chopin_fialkowskaChopin Recital

Janina Fialkowska

ATMA ACD2 2597

Polish sausage is loved for its deep flavours that linger long after the blush of its immediate gratification to the palette. Our reluctance, however, to use food as a frequent metaphor for art means that the only place you’ll ever see Chopin likened to Kolbassa is… well, right here.

Janina Fialkowska is a Canadian pianistic stalwart – more amazing still because of her recovery from a 2002 cancer surgery that threatened her career. Her performance of the Chopin standards in this recording is remarkably strong. Her masculine keyboard energy is undiminished and her feminine subtleties as seductive as ever. This Yin and Yang are so beautifully balanced in her interpretations that one quickly forgets the performer while being drawn deeply into the swirling emotions that make Chopin’s music unique.

Stepping out of the way of the music is something Fialkowska does with clever and manipulative grace. One easily takes the bait offered by her technical perfection and is drawn toward the fiery melancholy of Chopin’s world.

Most unusual in these performances is the jarring pull-apart of the three-four rhythm in the C sharp minor Waltz (Op. 64 No.2) and the D Major Mazurka (Op. 33 No.2). The irregularity of the left hand “oom-pa-pa” is taken to its absolute limit without ever compromising the pulse of the music. This is a high risk interpretation but carried off convincingly because Fialkowska’s Polish roots run deep and true – and her musicianship is impeccable.

The audio balance of this recording leaves just the perfect amount of room space around the piano. And although the Steinway Fialkowska uses sounds a bit brighter and harder in the mid range than we generally hear from these instruments, this disc should definitely be a part of your Chopin collection.

Alex Baran

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