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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 17, No. 9 June 2012


June 1, 2012

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Bach: Goldberg Variations
David Jalbert, piano
ATMA Classique ACD2 2557 (76 min 54 s)
University of Ottawa Professor David Jalbert delivers a convincing interpretation of the Goldberg Variations, a mainstay of the piano repertoire for the last half-century, after having been disregarded for a long time. The discography is impressive. Originally for harpsichord with two keyboards, its transposition to piano entails considerable difficulties due to the overlapping of hands. Jalbert effortlessly plays through these, and in fact, distinguishes himself particularly in the virtuoso variations, while the slower, more introspective ones, such as some of the Canons, are less captivating. The carefully placed succession of tempi contributes to unity in diversity, and the repeats are respected everywhere except in the Aria, the magical and calming finale. The repeats are sometimes distinguished by precise and discreet ornaments, as cultivated in the Baroque period. Such rippling trills! The only reservation would be a certain lack of fluidity, as though the vertical or harmonic reading of the score had overtaken the polyphonic framework. Alexandre Lazaridès

Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique
Orchestre de la Francophonie/Jean-Philippe Tremblay
Analekta AN 2 9998 (53 min 44 s)
Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique is an important work which has left its mark on orchestral music. Dozens of recordings can be found on the market. Here, the young director, Jean-Philippe Tremblay, and the Orchestre de la Francophonie offer their vision of the colossal five-movement work. In 2010, they surprised many with their complete Beethoven symphonies. Is there another surprise in store for us? With the first few bars, we realize that here is an orchestra full of dynamic and impassioned young musicians. Despite their youth, they deliver a very good interpretation of the French composer’s symphony, in large part due to the excellent work of their director. By guiding and supporting them from start to finish, he gets the best out of each musician. Eloquent expressions of this include the exemplary harp playing in the second movement and the timpani’s explosion of sound in the last movement. The sound recording is faultless, allowing us to appreciate the sound of each of the many instruments. Philippe Michaud

Chilcott: Requiem; Salisbury Motets; Downing Service; Pilgrim Jesus; The Nine Gifts; Jesus, springing
Laurie Ashworth, soprano; Andrew Staples, tenor; Jonathan Vaughan, organ; Wells Cathedral Choir; The Nash Ensemble
Hyperion CDA67650 (79 min 39 s)
Bob Chilcott, a British choral maestro, has also composed his own pieces for a number of years. Just as John Rutter, Chilcott prefers a decisively tonal and melodic method, almost angelic, in order to reach a greater number of people. This sometimes borders on artless bliss, and overall inevitably leads back to Fauré. However, the strong attraction of the suggested moods is undeniable, as is their emotive power for the average person. The four Salisbury Motets and a few independent pieces are also on the recording, all cruising in this heavenly musical universe tinged with innocence. The interpretations are of high quality, the sound recording rich and full. Frédéric Cardin

Chopin: Ballades, Nocturnes, Berceuse, Barcarolle
Louis Lortie, piano
Chandos CHAN 10714 (75 min 16 s)
In this second, on the whole less convincing volume of Chopin’s works by Louis Lortie on Chandos, the program alternates eight pieces with the four massive Ballades. The pieces alternate according to their tonal similarities; occasionally approximate, although always appealing. The listener here finds the hallmark of the virtuoso pianist that characterizes Lortie, a widely acclaimed pianist, and his attention to sound quality. If it is perfection—essential for Chopin—that is wanted, then this recording will be a pleasure. Yet, the Chopin heard here is more a master of the keyboard than its poet; the notes unfurl without really speaking to us, as though emotional eloquence was deemed to be too much, or at least held in check, perhaps by a sense of modesty. Even if such a choice were justified, the fact remains that what lies beyond the notes themselves, the mystery of the composer—his soul, some would say—still needing to be discovered, is not present. Alexandre Lazaridès

Christoph Graupner: The Seven Words of Christ on the Cross
Ingrid Schmithüsen, soprano; Claudine Ledoux, alto; Nils Brown, tenor; Normand Richard, bass; Les Idées Heureuses/Geneviève Soly
Analekta AN29122-3 (2 CD: 125 min 16 s)
Graupner’s cycle of seven cantatas (1683-1760) was first performed during Lent in 1743. Now, as a world premiere, Les Idées Heureuses presents these little-known cantatas. Was the undertaking worth it? Graupner’s music, in spite of its quality and good taste, never quite reaches the quintessence of a Bach or the creativity of a Telemann. Halfway between the great German tradition and the new sensitive style, Graupner still remains a major figure in Baroque music. In this intimate piece, we are invited into the heart of a religious service where each of Christ’s words is highlighted by some very personal poetry. No dramatic operatic choirs here—the vocal and instrumental resources are stripped to their simplest expression. We have a very careful performance, in spite of some hesitation from the bass and a rather lacklustre sound. In addition, the libretto is disappointing, due to the evident lack of resources. There are no photos or write-ups on the soloists, who certainly deserve better. The sacred texts as a whole, unfortunately, are available only on the net. In short, an unsatisfactory production by Analekta. René F. Auclair

Dvořák: Quartet Op. 106 / 6 Cypresses / 2 Waltzes
Cecilia String Quartet
Analekta AN 2 9892 (58 min 4 s)
The Cecilia String Quartet is a young ensemble with the wind in its sails. It has already garnered several prestigious prizes, including first place at the 2010 Banff International String Quartet Competition. The Quartet’s debut album with Analekta is devoted to Dvořák. Apart from the String Quartet No. 13 in G major, Op. 106, accounting for almost the entire one-hour recording, there are also a few short pieces—Cypress B. 152 and Waltzes Op. 54. After the first few minutes, it is clear why this ensemble of four women has been so highly recognized. The musicians are able to listen to, and above all, to communicate with each other, thereby providing us with a remarkable interpretation of the Czech composer’s works. Each musician plays with brio, yet without stealing the show from the others. In short, this album is a delight to the ears. Philippe Michaud

Johann Sebastian Bach: Nouveaux Concertos Brandebourgeois, reconstructed by Bruce Haynes
Bande Montréal Baroque/Eric Milnes
ATMA Classique ACD2 2565 (63 min 44 s)
These “new” concertos are actually adaptations of vocal and instrumental pieces by Bach reconstructed by the late oboist Bruce Haynes. These concertos “discovered on the Plateau Mont-Royal” (a tongue-in-cheek quote from gambist Susie Napper when they were released in 2011) are far from being a joke! The painstaking work involved in the transpositions and the judicious choice of the various pieces are in line with the famous cantor’s work. In these arrangements, Haynes respected the instrumental forms of the original six concertos. He pushed the envelope by adapting the choirs and solos’ vocal parts of some of the cantatas into a concerted feast, particularly well performed by the woodwinds, the arias thus getting another go-around. A case in point is the famous Cantata BWV 78’s duo turned into an upbeat dialogue for recorders. Known for their singing power, the viols produce a nice effect in the last concerto, based on an aria taken from Cantata BWV 80. The alto part from Cantata BWV 74 has completely morphed into many instrumental voices and we are stunned by how well it all turns out. This is a very pleasant achievement. René F. Auclair

The Flute King: Music from the Court of Frederick the Great

Emmanuel Pahud, flute; Trevor Pinnock, harpsichord; Jonathan Manson, cello; Matthew Truscott, violin; Kammerakedamie Postdam
EMI Classics 50999 0 84230 2 3 (CD 1: 67 min 56 s, CD2: 78 min 29 s)
The title of this latest album alludes to both Frederick the Great—an avid music fan and actually a flute soloist, for whom 2012 marks the tercentenary of his birth—and Emmanuel Pahud, Swiss flute soloist deemed by many king of his instrument. On top of his undoubted talent as a virtuoso, Pahud also possesses the gift of being a musician able to discern not only the style of an earlier period—say, from the end of the Baroque period to the beginning of the Enlightenment movement— but also that of a composer. Furthermore, the booklet notes of his current album that he has signed for the occasion shed light on a man with a brilliant mind, who grasps the complexities of the rapport between music and society. He wanted to show this with music and two CDs. The first one brings four concertos together. C.P.E. Bach’s concerto Wq. 168/H. 438 feels fuller, more inspired than those of Benda, Quantz or Frederick II that follow. We hear accents pointing to other times. For these concerted works, Kammerakademie Postdam provides the soloist solid, but sometimes stiff, support. The second CD includes sonatas for solo flute (C.P.E. Bach) and others for flute and basso continuo (Anna Amalia, Abbess of Quedlinburg, Agricola, Frederick II, C.P.E. Bach). Above all, the trio sonata The Musical Offering, from which the theme was given to Johann Sebastian Bach by “the flute king” in 1747, stands out by far. Always true to form, Pahud deserved a more eloquent basso continuo. Alexandre Lazaridès

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 20 & 21
Jan Lisiecki, piano; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Christian Zacharias
Deutsche Grammophon 4790061 (59 min 35 s)

The very young Polish-born Canadian Jan Lisiecki and German veteran Christian Zacharias have pulled off a rare tour de force: trivializing two Mozart masterpieces. The feat is all the more surprising considering Lisiecki is highly sought after and a winner of many international contests, while Zacharias, definitely a better pianist than conductor, is as fine a student of Mozart as he is of Schumann. Abrupt transitions, unjustified decelerations and accelerations, banal phrasing and arpeggios lacking eloquence abound. Slow movements suffer from this in particular. The Andante’s triplets of K. 467 take after metronomic pounding without evoking the breath and vital pulse of this sublime page whatsoever. In the Concerto in D Minor, romance begins so quickly that all emotion is drained from it while the middle portion spins without end as if it were an exercise in speed. The orchestra’s woodwinds are sharper than acid and the audio maps ill-defined. Lisiecki and Zacharias have done better, much better elsewhere. Alexandre Lazaridès

Schumann: Piano Concerto
Angela Hewitt, piano; Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Hannu Lintu
Hyperion CDA67885 (62 min 2 s)
Better known for her mastery of Bach, Hewitt manages very well in the romantic repertoire. Her personal aptitudes fit in without any apparent effort: her phrasing is clear, though fluid, her tempi are calm and well calculated and her timbre is soft. Perhaps even too soft; one has to be able to feel unbridled passion to impart Schumann’s principles correctly, something these fortissimi are devoid of. What is even worse is that this weakness seems to have infected the orchestra, which does not perform that much better. Having said this, the performers were aiming for an intimist approach, closer to chamber music. While this approach will not please everybody, it still succeeds to present the CD’s three works through the prism of elegance without any frills.  René Bricault

The Golden Age of String Quartets: Mozart K. 465 “Dissonance” / Haydn Op. 33, No. 2 “The Joke” / Beethoven Op. 18, No. 4
Windermere String Quartet
Pipistrelle Music PIPO112 (73 min 10 s)
Three works for string quartet by three great masters of the classical period. Each work had a difficult composition process. Mozart described his quartets dedicated to Haydn as “my six children […] the fruit of a long and difficult labour.” Haydn waited nearly ten years before writing his Op. 33. As for Beethoven, he worked for over two years on his Op. 18 before publishing it in 1801, after several rejected drafts. The musicians of Windermere (based in Toronto) have undertaken the task of performing these masterpieces. They’ve done an outstanding job in both the execution and musical understanding of these rich scores. The period instruments are played with faultless accuracy. Each note is picked apart and meticulously analyzed. Forget the traditional quartets that paint each measure with broad strokes, as well as the big, expressive vibrato of the strings. The Windermere Quartet suggests music to us rather than forcing it upon us. The overall effect is ethereal and light. The different voices are very well captured by the soundstage, clarifying the counterpoints. A highly successful debut album. René F. Auclair

William Lawes: Royall Consorts
Consort Les Voix Humaines (David Greenberg, Indrid Matthews, Olivier Brault, baroque violins; Susie Napper, Margaret Little, violas da gamba; Stephen Stubbs, Sylvain Bergeron, lutes)
ATMA Classique ACD2 2373 (2 CD: 129 min 30 s)
William Lawes (1603-1645) was regarded in his time as “The Father of Musik”. He composed magnificent pieces for the viol consort, a typically English genre. The Royall Consorts, tinged with chromaticism and harmonies that were daring for their time, were the composer’s most famous. Les Voix Humaines recorded the ten Setts, containing a total of 66 diverse pieces, arranged for two violins, two basses, and lutes. Ensembles as prestigious as Hesperion XX, Fretwork, and Rose Consort of Viols have also recorded these works, but using pardessus and bass viols. These instruments produce fragile and austere sounds. By playing on baroque violins and violas da gamba, the Montreal ensemble gives these scores new colours. The result is remarkable; in fact, this version far surpasses anything that has been done before. The strings are warm and expressive. Melancholy, tenderness, contemplation, joy, and dancing: everything comes to life as we are swept away by these divine delights. Voices reply to one another in incessant movement. The musicians, at the height of their game, are in constant fusion. A magnificent album.  René F. Auclair

Ysaÿe: Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, Op. 27
Tai Murray, violin
Harmonia Mundi (68 min 48 s)
The six sonatas of Eugene Ysaÿe date from 1924 and constitute a veritable monument of the repertoire for solo violin. They are, of course, a tribute to Bach, as are probably all works for solo strings since. The corpus of Ysaÿe is a real study in emotional extremes. Violinist Tai Murray approaches these sonatas with great intensity. She bites into arduous passages and embraces introspective episodes. Here is a fearless young artist (these sonatas are very difficult to play), but one who has reason to be bold—one to follow. Frédéric Cardin

Air – The Bach Album
Anne Akiko Meyers, violin; English Chamber Orchestra/Steven Mercurio
eOne Sphere Classique SPHCD5607 (69 min 43 s)
The peculiarity of this disc lies in the fact that the violinist has recorded both parts of the Concerto for Two Violins BWV 1043, and on two Stradivarii, at that! Aside from this feat—more technological than artistic—her performances of the repertoire presented here (Concertos 1041 and 1042, as well as arrangements of the Air on the G string and the Largo from the Keyboard Concerto BWV 1056) are carefully-done and sumptuous, but lack imagination. It is well-known territory: a young virtuoso flaunts her talent, her perfected technique, and even a sensitive musicality. But we get the feeling that we are served a recipe. Classical music suffers increasingly from this imprisonment between a rock and a hard place. Either we respect the score and risk being just one of the thousands of standout musicians, or we really dare to be different and risk bad taste; or, unfortunately, we are a flash of genius ignored by an establishment of fundamentalist purists. While waiting to find out where Akiko Meyers belongs, we cannot regard this as essential listening. Frédéric Cardin

Translation: Rebecca Anne Clark, John Delva, Karine Poznanski

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