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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 17, No. 7 April 2012


April 1, 2012

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Beethoven: The Middle Sonatas
Stewart Goodyear, piano
Marquis 7 74718 15112 4 (CD1: 51 min 47s / CD2: 64 min 41s)

Beethoven is habit-forming—just ask Stewart Goodyear. This new release represents the Canadian pianist’s second installment in his quest to record all the Beethoven Sonatas. The big news is that Goodyear will attempt the super-human feat of playing all 32 sonatas in a single day—that’s a total of 103 movements and 10 hours of playing time! The event will take place at Koerner Hall in Toronto on June 9, co-produced by the Luminato Festival and the Royal Conservatory of Music. You could say Goodyear’s Ottawa appearance when he played all the sonatas in three days in July 2010 was a bit of a trial run and stamina builder. In the meantime, you can take it in smaller doses. This double-disc set contains six sonatas, including a magical reading of Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight” and a mercurial Op. 31, No. 2 “Tempest.” Other pianists may have similar bravura technique or flair for drama, but Goodyear’s version is particularly winning for its clarity, elegance without sentimentality, idiomatic (but never idiosyncratic) interpretation, and its strong sense of architecture. Recorded in Glenn Gould Studio in fall 2010, the sound is clear and warm. The booklet contains informative notes (English only) written by the artist himself. This is a welcome addition to the discography of Beethoven Sonatas and one of the most significant releases in the (still young) 2012.             Joseph K. So  

Rachmaninoff: Concerto No. 4/Scriabin: Prometheus – The Poem of Fire
Alain Lefèvre, piano; Orchestre symphonique de Montréal/Kent Nagano
Analekta AN 2 9288

The fast pace at which conductor Kent Nagano drives the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal at the opening of Rachmaninoff’s Fourth Piano Concerto is a good harbinger for this first complete recording of the work’s original 1926 version. Pianist Alain Lefèvre seamlessly takes up the tempo and plays flowing lines with clear articulation. The slow second movement is played with romance and ends in heartfelt arpeggios.
Rachmaninoff made two different cuts in 1928 and 1941 to arrive at 824 bars. The Nagano and Lefèvre partnership shows that the original 1016-bar version was no mistake, a masterpiece in fact. Lefèvre traverses the difficult third movement with alacrity, with only a couple of bars in the middle lacking focus.
The CD is coupled with a fine performance of Scriabin’s Prometheus: the Poem of Fire. Recorded live at Maison symphonique, this official first recording at Montreal’s new concert hall is vibrant and exposes the full spectrum of orchestral sound.             Wah Keung Chan

Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana/Leoncavallo: Pagliacci
Placido Domingo, Tatiana Troyanos, Teresa Stratas, Sherrill Milnes, Vern Shinall; The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus/James Levine
Sony DVD 88697910089 (152 min)

From the Met video archives comes this double-bill of Cav ‘n Pag, as it’s affectionately called. It’s good to have all the principals in top form, in an opulent production. The Zeffirelli production may appear a little quaint now, but it set the standard for operatic realism three decades ago. In glorious voice—save for one minor crack near the start of Pagliacci—Domingo does double-duty, doing full justice to both Turridu and Canio. His intensity as the Clown in the confrontation scene is a perfect match for the incandescent Nedda of Teresa Stratas, in one of her best roles, and in much fresher voice than the 1994 telecast opposite Luciano Pavarotti. The late and much lamented Greek-American mezzo Tatiana Troyanos was a rather mature Santuzza, capturing the dark, tragic quality of this character perfectly. Sherrill Milnes was a terrific Tonio, with none of the vocal problems that plagued him a few short years later. Also noteworthy was the Silvio of Canadian baritone Allan Monk, his star in the ascent at that time. Videographic technique has come a very long way in 34 years. Back in the “dark ages” of 1978, the picture was fuzzy and dim, the sound somewhat murky, and there were no extreme close-ups we’ve come to expect. But we are fortunate to have these great artists documented in their primes. Lots of photos are reproduced in the inside cover, but there is almost no text other than the track listings and a brief synopsis of each opera. This is a must-have release for fans of these great artists.             Joseph K. So

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