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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 3, No. 3 November 1997
Henryk Szeryng and Charles Reiner: Recital
Palexa (Pelleas Distribution)

H.SzeryngCD.jpg (19584 bytes)Apart from a rather pale rendition of the Brahms Sonatensatz, this recital presents violinist Szeryng and pianist Reiner in fine form. The familiar warhorses on this eclectic programme include the Bach Solo Partita in E, the Beethoven Sonata No. 7 in C minor, and the Spanish Dance from Falla's La Vida Breve, and some of them have been recorded better elsewhere by the same artists. Of greater interest are the lesser known items: Manuel Ponce's Sonata Breve, Darius Milhaud's Le Printemps, and an electric performance of Karol Szymanowski's Notturno e Tarantella. The big problem with this disc is the poorly recorded sound. The concert was taped live in Pittsburgh on December 6, 1979, and the close-miking introduces harshness in Szeryng's usually gorgeous tone. This disc has historical interest, but the poor sound will turn many listeners off. Alan Horgan

Mozart: Don Giovanni
Sir Georg Solti / London Philharmonic Orchestra
London 455 500-2 (Polygram)

DonGiovanniCD.jpg (3973 bytes)This is Solti's second Don Giovanni and one of the last recordings he made before his recent death. I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the result. The London Philharmonic does a perfectly adequate job. Monica Groop's Zerlina provides unalloyed pleasure, effortlessly negotiating the high tessitura. Despite minor legato problems, her timbre is clean and pleasant. Her Masetto is Italian Roberto Scaltriti, barely thirty but sounding much older. Sardinian bass Mario Luperi is suitably dark and resonant as the Commendatore. Herbert Lippert's two difficult Don Ottavio arias are competent but not perfectly enjoyable. Michelle Pertusi's Leporello is fine on a purely technical level, but he sounds older than the Don. He is neither his master's victim nor accomplice, just his cowardly shadow. At the top of this opera's food chain is Bryn Terfel's Don Giovanni. Terfel has one of the richest, most distinctive voices in the business. His recitative is strikingly expressive, his piano whisperings are frighteningly erotic and his middle voice is lovely. Only his lower range is marred by a buzzy vibrato. Unfortunately Terfel's Don is psychologically one-dimensional, a bully with a psychotic temper. His roaring and sadistic belly-laughs are way over the top. Having seen Terfel live I can imagine he might make this work on stage, but it is nerve-racking on disc. If Terfel's Don is too strong, Renée Fleming's Donna Anna is too weak. If Anna is the vengeful impetus behind the drama's progression, then Fleming is much too girlish and sweet. Her anger is too belcantoish ‹ she needs to darken her rage. In Fleming's "Or sai chi l'onore" a perceptible vibrato in the upper notes struck me as an unwelcome vocal development. That said, her "Non mi dir" was clear and pure. The Donna Elvira of Ann Murray was quite good but not free from isolated whoops, strange phrasing and whininess in "Mi tradì", of all places. There is no single perfect Don Giovanni on the market, though there are several fine ones (Fürtwangler, Giulini, Haitink, Davis, Solti I, Muti, Krips). Solti II is more than a curiosity and provides moments of memorable drama, but anyone who demands a prolonged, polished lyrical experience will find this rough going. Philip Anson

Héritage du XXe siècle / A twentieth century legacy.
Francine Voyer, flûte. Carmen Picard, piano
Série classiques UMMUS (UMM 311)
Heritage du...CD.jpg (19456 bytes)C'est à un véritable festival de musique néo-romantique que nous convie cet excellent disque enregistré à la Salle Claude-Champagne au mois de janvier dernier. En effet, Mesdames Voyer et Picard nous offrent ici des oeuvres de Poulenc (Sonate, 1957), de Hindemith (Sonate für Flöte und Klavier, 1936), de Hétu (Quatre Pièces Op. 10, 1965), de Muczynski (Sonata for flute and piano Op. 14, 1961) et finalement de Prokofiev (Sonate Op. 94, 1943). La principale caractéristique de ce disque est de proposer un assortiment de cinq esthétiques musicales qui, bien que fort différentes, se rejoignent quant à la forme. À ce chapitre, on peut dire mission accomplie si l'on considère la rigueur avec laquelle semble avoir été traité le caractère distinct de chacun des compositeurs en présence. L'équilibre sonore entre les deux instruments témoigne de la grande complicité qui règne au sein de ce duo chevronné. De plus, les deux interprètes démontrent un sens inné pour le phrasé musical ainsi que pour les contrastes subtils que requièrent ces pièces. Une perle qui plaira sûrement aux amateurs de musique du XXe siècle. Jean-Claude Thériault
Vierne, Ropartz, Messiaen
Anne Robert, violon
Sylviane Deferne, piano
CBC Records MVCD1110 (Denon)

VierneCD.jpg (24448 bytes)On peut affirmer sans se tromper que le programme que nous propose CBC Records est des plus audacieux. En effet, la Sonate en sol mineur, Op. 23 de Louis Vierne qui, soit dit en passant renferme des passages lyriques d'une beauté exquise, n'en reste pas moins une oeuvre négligée du répertoire du XXe siècle. L'interprétation que nous en offre le duo Robert-Deferne est un petit bijou d'intelligence. La 3e Sonate en la majeur de Joseph-Guy Ropartz, autre mal aimé de notre siècle, est elle aussi un coup d'audace de la part de la CBC. Très chantante et même parfois mélancolique (c'est le cas dans le troisième mouvement), cette sonate est remplie de merveilleuses idées musicales et de formules rythmiques fort intéressantes.
    Le Thème et variations pour piano et violon d'Olivier Messiaen est quant à lui un très bel exemple de ce qu'il est possible d'accomplir à partir d'un simple énoncé musical. Le dialogue qui se développe entre les deux instruments gagne en intensité et en rapidité au fil des variations, créant ainsi une ambiance ambiguë de stabilité et de changement.  Jean-Claude Thériault

Schubert: String Quartet No. 15 and Quartettsatz in C minor
Carmina Quartet
Denon CO-18015 (Denon)

CarminaQuartetCD.jpg (24064 bytes)Schubert's familiar Quartettsatz is coupled with the great G major Quartet, one of the pinnacles of the entire chamber music literature. The latter is almost symphonic in its conception, testing the musicians' technical and emotional limits. The Carmina Quartet gives deeply committed and vigorous accounts of both these great works. While the youngish Swiss ensemble lacks some of the polish of the Alban Berg or Tokyo Quartets, their wholehearted involvement is most compelling. Denon's excellent sound is almost too clear. Individual string tone tends to suffer from this kind of microscopic scrutiny. Warmly recommended. ­Alan Horgan
The Carmina Quartet performs on Monday, November 10, 1997 at 8 p.m. at Théâtre Maisonneuve. Info: Pro Musica 845-0532.

Janácek: Hradcany Songs and Other Choruses
Prague Philharmonic Choir/ Dir. Josef Veselka
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Supraphon SU 3295-2211 (SRI)

JanacekCD.jpg (25856 bytes)This compilation of non-operatic choruses for female voice (many written for women's groups, in the absence of men during World War I) is distilled Janácek - folkish, lyrical, strident and succulent. The eighteen dreamy, spooky Nursery Rhymes (1927) employ a Mahlerian tonal palette. The Puccini-esque Kaspar Rucky (1916) is the banshee soprano ballad of a suicide's ghost. Wolf Tracks (1916) adds a tenor voice to a violent narrative of rural adultery. Two technical problems with this fascinating treasury of melodic and dramatic invention: a) brief notes but no song texts, and b) rough editing including many audible splices and uneven recording (AAD, 1972 &1977) with occasional distortion when full chorus sings high fortissimo. Philip Anson

Gubaidulina: Alleluia
Górecki: Miserere
Danish National Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra
Chandos 9523 (SRI)

GoreckiCD.jpg (19840 bytes)This is a strange coupling of two thematically very different works: a rejoicing Alleluia on one hand and a sad, imploring Miserere on the other. The intense themes of Gorecki's Miserere are well expressed, building from apparent calm to climaxes of wrenching anguish. The danger of exaggerated sorrow is avoided, and even at climaxes this performance has a solidity and nobility suitable to this sincere composition. Performing with sincerity is perhaps the greatest challenge to a musician, and conductor Jesper Grove Jørgensen achieves this throughout, from the calm monody of the first movement to the passion of the ninth. This disc also contains the first recording of Sofia Gubaidulina's Alleluia. The performance grows ponderous in the first movement due to interminable repetition, but later on there are moments of brilliance, particularly the piercing soprano chords in the third movement, the dark and tumultuous sixth movement, and the crystalline tension of the final movement. As with the Górecki, performance and recording are good. The choir has an impressive ability to convincingly deliver widely varying styles. Highly recommended for fans of Górecki's Third Symphony. Jonah Lynch

Chopin: Preludes Op. 28, Barcarole Op. 60, Sonata No. 2 Op. 35
Andrei Nikolsky, piano
Arte Nova (BMG)

This Chopin disc from Arte Nova Classics, BMG's new super-budget label, is worth a rave. From the first prelude, Russian pianist Andrei Nikolsky's understanding of Chopin's musical idiom is apparent. His use of tempo rubato is generous and convincing, reminiscent of Dinu Lipati's interpretations. Nikolsky interprets Chopin's dynamic markings at the level of musical intensity rather than just referring to the strength of attack, and his ability to bring out parallel motifs reveals the composition's rich, intricate structure. Nikolsky's 24 Preludes are musical poems, each expressing a shade of melancholy, joy or passion. The intimate performance is heartfelt, colourful and intense without preciosity. Full drama is unleashed in the intense first and second movements of the Op. 35. The Marche funèbre movement is expressive and the Sonata ends with a difficult triplet Presto, which Nikolsky enlivens with rare musicality. Also recommended in the Arte Nova series is Alfredo Perl's Beethoven Piano Sonatas Op. 2. The piano is closely miked and Perl uses the sustaining pedal throughout, but his Romantic-style performance is a good listen. Martin Kamela

Giaches de Wert: Madrigali a cinque voci
Cantus Cölln/ Dir. Konrad Junghänel
harmonia mundi HMC 901621 (SRI)

MadrigaliCD.jpg (17664 bytes)This selection of 25 madrigals composed between 1561 and 1595 by Antwerp-born Giaches de Wert (1535-1596) during his residence in Mantua and Ferrara (immediately preceding Monteverdi) will be of great interest to madrigal buffs. The traditional pastoral and amorous themes of the reluctant mistress, the suffering lover, flowers, kisses, tears, sighs, groans, etcetera, are predictable but de Wert's clever composition makes each madrigal interesting to hear, and probably even more fun to sing. No danger of ennui in the sprightly "Dica chi vuol", the dignified "Dido's Lament" or the concertante pieces originally composed for the three sixteenth-century women known as the "Concerto delle Donne di Ferrara". Cantus Cölln (soprano, female alto, two tenors and bass) directed by lutenist Junghägel has a well-blended, robust sound with good solo voices. Trilingual notes and texts complete this fine offering. Philip Anson

Federico Mompou: Piano Works
Stephen Hough, piano
Hyperion CDA66963 (SRI)

Here is an exquisite bouquet of Mompou's solo piano works selected and played by the masterful Stephen Hough, who also wrote the informative notes. Anyone who likes reflective, pastel-shaded piano exercises in the style of Ravel, Debussy and above all Satie will love Mompou. The Catalan composer spent many years in Paris and may well be called the Spanish Satie, though his minimalistic wit and emotion are mercifully free of Satie's sceptical irony. The 76-minute disc contains about half of Mompou's piano oeuvre, competitive with other commercially-available compilations. Until the re-release of the splendid 3-disc collection "Mompou Plays Mompou" on the Ensayo label (recorded in Barcelona by the 81-year old composer), Hough's album is a top recommendation. Philip Anson

Kurt Weill: "Lady in the Dark"
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin. Book by Moss Hart.
Sony Masterworks Heritage MHK62869

If you like nostalgia and Broadway musicals, you'll love this Sony Masterworks Heritage digitally re-mastered stereo recording of Kurt Weill's musical Lady in the Dark. The first 13 tracks are performed by the cast of the 1963 revival including Risë Stevens, Adolph Green and John Reardon, while the final six tracks (in my opinion the highlight of this disc) were recorded by the inimitable Danny Kaye to promote the original 1941 production. This means that several songs are offered twice, but the alternative versions are so different there is no danger you'll be bored. Sony engineering renders these recordings better-sounding than ever. Songs like "Jenny," "One Life to Live" and the tongue-twisting "Tchaikowsky" and a booklet of archival photos bring a bit of Broadway into your own living room. Allan Boss

Violin Virtuoso
Xue-Wei, violin; Pamela Nicholson, piano

Xue-Wei enters Jascha Heifetz territory with this collection of familiar encores, including some of the Russian master's own arrangements. This is fine lush playing full of fascinating inflection and good humour. Sampling Elgar's La Capricieuse or Gershwin's "It ain't necessarily so" should convince even sceptics. The balance between violin and piano is good and although the microphone placement may be too distant for some tastes, the recorded sound is quite acceptable. ASV's liner notes are barely adequate and the cover art is a disaster, but lovers of fine fiddling will want to savour this again and again. Alan Horgan

Schubert: Symphony No. 5 & No. 8
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/ Dir. Sir Charles Mackerras
Virgin Classics CDM 61305 (EMI)

Ton KoopmanCD.jpg (19200 bytes)Two strikingly different interpretations of Schubert's Symphonies No. 5 and No. 8. Sir Charles Mackerras conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in a rather romantic interpretation while Ton Koopman leads the Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra with more classical reserve. Koopman's crisply articulated interpretation seems more in character with the Mozartian Fifth Symphony than does Mackerras' exaggerated phrasing. Their renditions of the Unfinished Symphony are even more different. Mackerras uses a third movement reconstructed by Brian Newbould from sketches which purport to belong to Schubert's Eighth Symphony. Entr'acte Music from Rosamunde D. 797 is offered as the missing final movement because it is in the same key as the Unfinished. Amusingly, in Erato's liner notes, David Cairns discredits this very reconstruction. He supports his theory that Schubert's two extant movements offer a complete story of tragedy and peaceful resolve by pointing out that the repeated phrase at the end of the second movement was also used by Schubert in Die Burgschaft to accompany the words "O divine peace".

Schubert: Symphony No. 5 & No. 8
Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra/ Dir. Ton Koopman
Erato (Warner)

SchubertCD.jpg (14848 bytes)There is no denying that Koopman achieves an exquisitely phrased description of inescapable tragedy, resolved in the second movement with tempered climaxes and an ultimate calm. Mackerras leads a much faster first movement and his rendition of the second movement has a more violent character, less a conclusion than a continuation toward two more movements. In my opinion the Newbould scoring is obviously not Schubert and it is also doubtful that the Rosamunde music belongs here. Both the Mackerras and Koopman performances are compromised by scratchy violins, but I prefer the character of the Erato to that of the somewhat contrived and uneven Virgin recording. Jonah Lynch

(c) La Scena Musicale