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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 17, No. 8


May 1, 2012

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Allan Bevan: Parlez-moi
Concerto Della Donna/Iwan Edwards; Josée Poirier, flute; Pamela Reimer, piano
(66 min 22 s)

Here’s an album sure to please fans of choral singing. Concerto Della Donna’s women’s choir recorded it at Montreal’s Oscar Peterson Concert Hall in June 2011. This choir’s mission is to introduce to its audience traditional, classical and contemporary works taken from a classical and secular repertoire. The fifteen tracks on this record can be grouped into three overlapping categories: sacred and secular works, which composer Allan Bevan put to music, as well as arrangements of works composed by others. The purity of these women’s voices supported by the very present piano accompaniment favours a meditative atmosphere and conveys the diverse emotions contained in this poetry. Francine Bélanger

American Music
Quatuor Diotima
Naïve V 5272 (67 min 03 s)

This record offers an impressive glimpse into three essential currents in 20th century American music. Samuel Barber’s Quartet in B Minor, op.11, whose famous Adagio often appears in cinema and pop culture, exemplifies Romanticism. Avant-garde expressionism is represented by George Crumb’s Black Angels, where the Diotima Quartet was able to use Baccarat crystal, giving off a beautiful effect. It is a work that remains at once subtle and explosive. Minimalism also makes an appearance with Steve Reich’s Different Trains, a fascinating journey through many eras and atmospheres, linked through a theme of trains. What’s new is that the Diotima Quartet was able to re-record the accompanying music with new sonic effects and new voices. In all its aspects, this disc is a true re-reading. The journey, fascinating in itself, is made even more memorable by the scintillating and passionate performance of the Diotima Quartet. Essential American music, in all its facets. Frédéric Cardin

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos BW 1046-1051
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra/Jeanne Lamon
Tafelmusik Media TMK1004CD2 (CD1: 42 min 03 s, CD2: 51 min 24 s)

Sony initially published this performance in 1994 and the following year it took the Juno for Best Classical Album (Large Ensemble). Since then, we’ve been accustomed to a more “Italian” approach, a sunnier version of Brandenburg, such as Diego Fasolis’s (Arts, 2006), in which sonic sensuality and an intoxicating rhythm lend a subtle lustre to these masterpieces. For this, imagination and knowledge of baroque style must be put into play. Jeanne Lamon and the Tafelmusik ensemble aren’t always, or fully, up to this challenge, but they do succeed in rousing listener’s attention through a pleasing rhythmic candour, without being truly captivating. However, this rigorous beat does have a setback, a heaviness that restrains, for example, the thrilling elevation in the initial movement of Concerto No. 5. Reserved for just strings, the third and sixth are especially lacking in dynamic fluidity, whereas the Adagio of Concerto No. 1 doesn’t achieve the desired poetic grace. The vivacity of the period instruments is not fully mastered. The winds in particular are handled uneasily; the trumpet in the Concerto No. 2 seems at times on the brink of losing control. Nevertheless, this reissue by the Tafelmusik Media label will easily find its place in the record collection of Bach lovers. Alexandre Lazaridès

Bach: Johannes-Passion BW 245
Les Voix Baroques, Arion Baroque Orchestra/Alexander Weimann; Jan Kobow, tenor (the evangelist), Stephan MacLeod, bass (Jesus), Joshua Hopkins, bass (Peter), Nathaniel Watson, bass (Pilate)
ATMA Classique ACD2 2611 (CD1: 32 min; CD2: 74 min 47s)

This new version of St. John Passion seems marked with uniformity. After a listen, the audience tells itself that as a whole the work seems to aspire to play notes rather than render the spirit of this Passion, the spirit each conductor has to conceive on his own in order to transmit to listeners. He can’t, therefore, be certain of having followed the expected drama, which would have taken him from the prayer to the terror, while leaving hope at the door, a hope which the final choir, “Ruht wohl” leaves in a problematic state. Already, in the introduction “Herr, unser Herrscher” of the 1724 version, performed by ATMA, the listener would have trouble finding his way through the polyphonic density, from where erratic vocal missiles seem to emerge, the strings being similarly lost to the ear. One could listen to the total sound, and not find any one musician responsible for this state of things. Moreover, greater fervour is desirable, and at times greater virtuosity on the part of the soloists, who are restrained by a focus on an unimaginative, although even pace; a remark applicable to even the eleven choir members who could, as it happens, easily exchange ranks with no harm done. The abundant discography of Bach’s masterpieces holds many memorable recordings, and it’s safe to believe, or fear, that this addition will have little significant impact. Alexandre Lazaridès

French Impressions: Saint-Saëns, Franck, Ravel
Joshua Bell, violin; Jeremy Denk, piano
Sony Classics (66 min 58 s)

Many musicians have taken up French romantic music since Ravel and César Franck’s time. Now, it’s Joshua Bell and Jérémy Denk’s turn to take an interest in the genre, and interpret its charms. These two internationally renowned virtuosos have come together to put out this high-quality record. Their rendition is fair, marked with high sensibility, and perfectly communicates the composers’ romantic souls. The three sonatas presented allow one to appreciate the role of the musicians, who communicate with one another and complement each other through a perfect mastery of their instruments. Francine Bélanger

Julian Wachner: Triptych, Concerto for Clarinet
Philippe Bélanger, organ; Scott Andrews, clarinet; Orchestre Métropolitain; McGill Chamber Orchestra; Julian Wachner, dir.
ATMA Classique ACD2 2319 (52 min 22 s)

It’s difficult not to think of Messiaen when listening to Triptych for organ and full orchestra by Wachner (who conducts excellently here, by the way): splendour, dignity, outstanding tone combinations, sophisticated chromatic exploration, albeit polarized—but also a certain personal “je ne sais quoi”. Among its other qualities there is a rich backdrop, wavering between a glimmer and a tingle. This is in stark contrast with Concerto for Clarinet, in which neo-classicism, tinged with minimalism and a kind of pseudo-jazz leave an almost juvenile aftertaste. It’s not that the writing is poor, but it’s an unworthy add-on. The recording, unsurprisingly, favours a chamber ensemble rather than a full orchestra. After all, succeeding in perfectly capturing the organ as well as a full orchestra is a difficult feat, and ATMA manages quite honourably. René Bricault

Caroline Léonardelli, harp; Mathew Larkin, organ
Centaur Classics CEN1110 (69 min 18 s)

Here is a sensible and refined collection of works for harp and organ, be they originals or transcribed. The album starts with an agreeable performance of Aria in Classic Style, by Marcel Grandjany, quintessential figure in 20th century harp. A delicate soloist is revealed when we move on to the second movement of Glière’s Harp Concerto. A rather discreet arrangement of Mahler’s Adagietto follows, which could have been more vivid, emotively speaking. Two Légendes follow, each from a little-known composer. The first of these, by German composer Rudolf Ewald Zingel (1876-1944), is a truly charming piece, reminiscent at times of the harp passages in Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. The second, by Alfred Holy (1866-1948), a harpist whom Mahler conducted, is pretty and a bit romantic, but a bit impersonal. The disc ends with Concerto for Harp by Leo Sowerby (1895-1968) in its version for organ. It’s a piece that, more than the others, truly highlights the organ, giving it some very welcome space to impress listeners. Caroline Léonardelli is a high-calibre harpist, and Mathew Larkin makes a laudable, yet subtle contribution. Frédéric Cardin

Michael Matthews: Preludes & Bagatelles
Daan Vandewalle, piano
Ravello records RR7819 (60 min 2 s)

Canadian composer Michael Matthews composes relatively traditional music, which is nonetheless well handled and particularly evocative. Working toward developing a broader tonality, he affirms that he is following in the style of Scriabin and Messiaen. To this list of influences, we might add Dutilleux, or even Jacques Hétu, since Matthews’s musical world seems more classical, more rooted in a specific piano tradition. The 14 Preludes, the main work on the recording, are worthy of interest. The composer openly shows he is taking a historical perspective (Chopin, Scriabin…) in dealing with the ensemble and has developed a piano style, which, by turns is virtuoso and introspective. The result is convincing, possessing its own character and personality. The program opens with selections from Bagatelles, which evoke Beethoven’s famous corpus and attempt, here too, to revive the neglected practice of short pieces. Belgian pianist Daan Vandewalle plays these colourful partitions, with their varied and surprising piano textures, convincingly. Éric Champagne

Muses Nine
Becky Billock, piano
Musesnine records (60 min 42 s)

They are women; they are American; they are composers; they have written pieces for piano. Pianist Becky Billock has brought together eight of her compatriots in a charming and unpretentious recital for this disc. Far from advocating for feminism, Becky Billock offers these pieces from a common sensitivity that feeds her spirit as a performer. Among the eight muses, few are big-name stars, except possibly Amy Beach and Libby Larsen, but what a panoply of creative women artists from different generations, ranging from 19th century composers (Marion Bauer and Amy Beach) to Molly Joyce, barely 20 years old! Each brings her own interesting, sensitive and well-mastered world. Becky Billock’s performance of these little-known works is, one should point out, full of finesse. Her playing is as poetic as it is athletic when the need arises (especially in Libby Larsen’s fierce Mephisto Rag, a Scott Joplin-style version of Liszt’s most famous Mephisto Waltz). There is something for everyone here, piano music fans and inquiring minds of every kind. Éric Champagne

Nuevo Chamber
The Musical Art Quintet
Classica Revolution Records (60 min 37 s)

The Musical Art Quintet is an ensemble formed in San Francisco in 2008, whose stated goal is to develop a type of new “classical” sound, openly influenced by different rhythms and traditions in world music. The influences for the tracks, almost all of them composed by the bass player, are more often than not Argentinian and some form or other of tango. Folk music and popular music have long been present in the repertoire of learned musicians; there’s nothing new here. However, we find a few audacious references to Fela Kuti, the king of Afrobeat or to Ray Baretto, latino jazzman. The result is more reminiscent of a few “crossover” ventures undertaken by the Kronos Quartet than a genuine new voice for music. Cultural crossovers will be essential in the future of studied Western music–that much is clear. But it will need to be taken further in terms of rhythmic and harmonic innovation, without necessarily just copying the academic atonal trends of the previous century. That being said, the result is agreeable, and respectably played. The perfect record for a breakfast on the porch. Frédéric Cardin

Pärt: Creator Spritius
Theatre of Voices; Ars Nova Copenhagen; Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, organ; NYYD Quartet; Paul Hillier, dir.
Harmonia Mundi HMU807553 (75 min 03 s)

This album allows us to peruse a representative collection of Arvo Pärt’s body of work for vocal chamber music. Several short pieces are included, such as Veni Creator, Psalom, Solfeggio and Morning Star (a recent work), but a much more substantial piece, Stabat Mater, makes an appearance. We go from extreme simplicity to a complexity made up of tensions and relaxations, depending on the piece. Stabat Mater is well known, and new nuances are present here, under the attentive and benevolent light of the artists of the fabulous Theatre of Voices, among others. Another success for Harmonia Mundi and Arvo Pärt. Frédéric Cardin

Solo Traverso: Musique baroque pour flûte traversière
Grégoire Jeay, traverso; Sylvain Bergeron, archlute
Fidélio FACD035 (64 min 02 s)

Quebec record label Fidélio has put out a disc dedicated to the baroque transverse flute. Famous composers such as Telemann, Quantz and CPE Bach have written admirable solo flute pieces. They knew how to fully utilize the sonic particularities of the traverso, which had its golden years primarily during the pre-classical period. For example, J.J. Quantz (1697-1773) is said to have composed over 300 concertos dedicated to the instrument! Playing on an excellent copy of the famous G.A. Rottenburgh, flutist Grégoire Jeay happily blows into this ‘wind’. The tone of this instrument is irresistible. From the first listen, we are fascinated as well as captivated by the quality of the recording, which beautifully recreates the entire sonic palate of the transverse flute. On top of hearing all these small details in the foreground, the sound reaches a superb depth, and transports the listener into a near blissful state. To be sure, the musician’s mastery of his instrument is exceptional. The solo pieces allow the flutist all the liberty needed to play, and he allows himself much liberty in his own improvisations on the theme of La Folia. The Philidor suite is less interesting, but it is alone in this. Most of these solos are fascinating. René François Auclair

Vaughan Williams: Symphony Nos. 4 & 5
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Peter Oundjian
TSO Live TSO-0311 (74 min 10 s)

In a world obsessed with appearances, it’s unsurprising to note a strong tendency among conductors to become preoccupied with precision in reading and richness in tone, to the detriment of individual expression. In fact, we sense that the demands of today’s music lovers (and patrons, public and private) don’t concern risk taking, the multiple readings of a partition, the need to explore. The result at times proves to be disappointing, as it is here in Symphony No. 4, which can’t do without passion, ardour, abandon and, most importantly, nuances in the movements of the conductor (more subtle degrees of intensity, more light ritardandi and short dramatic pauses, etc.) However, a more serene, lyrical work (and it’s worth saying, a better written work), such as Symphony No. 5 is worth a listen in this rendition. It serves as a very reasonable justification for buying this record. René Bricault

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra
Tafelmusik Media TKM 1007CD (53 min 52 s)

The celebrated Canadian Orchestra has recently created its own record label: Tafelmusik Media. Drawing from its vast discography, the ensemble is re-editing several recordings. Sony originally produced this record, devoted to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, in 1993, under the supervision of Wolf Erichson. This sound engineer had, at the time, worked closely with the ensemble and had created, if I may say so, the “sound of Tafelmusik”. Never had a baroque orchestra sounded so clear and crystalline. Years have gone by, and many so-called “authentic” versions have surfaced, while this one has, unfortunately, aged badly. Despite the excellent sonic outcome, the orchestra now seems frozen and stuck. From these Seasons, no passion reaches or consumes listeners. It all seems calculated and flat. Even Inverno seems too cerebral to make us feel any chills at all. Also, Sony has re-edited, for their part, the four original Tafelmusik albums in a budget-friendly box set, in the Vivarte series. This box set consists of The Four Seasons, and concertos and sonatas for cello with the excellent Anner Bylsma. Devotees of the orchestra should instead buy the box set, at the price of one disc. René François Auclair

The Galileo Project
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra/Jeanne Lamon; Shaun Smyth, narrator
Tafelmusik Media TMK1001DVDCD (DVD: 86 min 47 s; CD: 56 min 54 s)

This multimedia project, conceived by bass player Alison Mackay, was created as part of the International Year of Astronomy, declared by the U.N. in 2009. The concert was meant as homage to the important astronomers of the 17th and 18th centuries. Passing through Greek mythologies, as well as the writings of Galileo, Newton and Kepler, the narrator and the musicians invite us along for a fascinating musical and visual journey through time and space. Vivid images of space are projected onto a spherical screen, creating an original contrast with the musicians. They play with no partitions and can therefore move like stars around the basso continuo in amusing choreographies. The chosen works all come from the baroque period and have a more or less pertinent link with the astronomy of the time. The enthusiastic playing of Tafelmusik allows us to discover beautiful works, notably Lully’s very rarely recorded ballet suite Phaëton. However, the general production of the DVD leaves much to be desired. No French or English subtitles are included to present the pieces, and the stereo quality is only 2.0. As a bonus, two somewhat successful video clips are included. René François Auclair

Translation: Elisabeth Gillies, Karine Poznanski

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