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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 4, No. 2 Octobre / October 1998
E-mail: | Web: (c) La Scena Musicale 1998
Les Disques / CDs
Politique de critique: seulement les meilleurs des nouvaux disques que nous reçevons chaque mois sont abordés ici. Nous critiquons tous les bons DC que nous recevons, mais nous ne reçevons pas toutes les nouveautés. Donc si une nouveauté n’est pas mentionnée, cela ne veut pas dire qu’elle est inférieure.
Review Policy: We review all the good CDs we get, but we don’t get every new release. Only the very best of the new recordings we receive each month are reviewed in the printed version of LSM. If a new release is not mentioned in print, it does not imply it is inferior. You will find many more CD reviews on our website ( ).
**** Excellent
*** Yes / Oui
** Maybe / Peut-être
* No / non
$ < $10
$$ $10-15
$$$ $15-20
$$$$ >$20

Mozart : Don Giovanni
Claudio Abbado / Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Deutsche Grammophon 457-601-2
** $$$

CD-DGiovanni.jpg (20651 bytes)Abbado’s new Don Giovanni was recorded in January-February 1997 in Ferrara’s Teatro Communale at the time of live performances. The chamber orchestra produces superbly refined sounds but, from the overture on, Abbado’s conducting is only sporadically dramatic, lacking propulsive force and narrative continuity. The star of the show is Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel in his first recorded Leporello - much less overacted than his Don Giovanni with Solti. His sniffs, laughs and sneers make the character come vividly alive. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo’s plummy baritone makes an excellent Masetto, assertive enough to play the Don or Leporello.Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski makes a fine Donna Elvira, expressing both the shrewish and vulnerable sides of her character. Patricia Pace’s Zerlina is excellent -- saucy, expressive, feminine but not feeble. The rest of the cast is merely adequate. Bref, a good recording for half the cast and for orchestral sound, but not for overall dramatic impact.

Ernest Chausson : Symphony in B flat Op. 20
Jérôme Kaltenbach / Orchestre Symphonique et Lyrique de Nancy.
Naxos 8.553652

Conductor Kaltenbach gives this familiar French repertoire a lushly operatic reading, not surprising since he is the director of the Opéra de Nancy. The orchestra is responsive, professional and idiomatic. French violinist Laurent Korcia delivers a very fine performance of Chausson’s Poème. Historical note: this recording was made in the Salle Poirel (Nancy, France) where Ysa

Mahler : Das Lied von Der Erde
James Levine / Berlin Philharmoniker
Deutsche Grammophon 439-9948-2
** $$$

CD-GustavMahler.jpg (22376 bytes)This live recording (interrupted by only one tiny cough) dates back to a live 1992 performance in the Berlin Philharmoniker's home auditorium. The Grosser Saal is not the best recording location in the world. On this disc, the singers sound much closer than the orchestra. Levine keeps the orchestra down, giving the two soloists breathing space. Tenor Siegfried Jerusalem, now at the end of his Wagnerian career, certainly needs the help. The killer tessitura of the role finds him pushed to his vocal limits and his bellowing in "Der Trunkene im Frühling" is tiresome. Jessye Norman, on the other hand, sounds fine, though slightly less plush than in her prime. Her rich hybrid mezzo-soprano/soprano (call it mezzprano) voice creates a unique atmosphere. Levine’s conducting tends to be slow, and his Berlin Philharmoniker excels in sound effects rather than a visionary reading.

Tchaikovsky : Symphony No. 5
Glazunov : Violin Concerto

Stokowski / London Symphony & London Philharmonic Orchestras
Phase 4 Stereo. London 455-157-2
*** $$$

CD-Tchaikovsky.jpg (24631 bytes)Decca / London’s 1962 introduction of “Phase 4 Stereo” was an exciting innovation for hi-fi buffs. Using the latest 10 and 20 channel mixers, Decca engineers gave the orchestral sound a sense of shifting movement and depth. The “Phase 4” repertoire tended to “sound spectaculars,” heavy on brass and percussion and the big romantic overtures and symphonies. Today all this tomfoolery has been banished to the movie theatre, so one listens to these wild stereo experiments with a sense of forbidden pleasure. The Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 was recorded in a German castle in 1966. The vigour and massiveness of the sound is stunning, a revelation after years of anemic but politically correct modern orchestral playing. The occasionfor the Glazunov Violin Concerto was Stokowski’s 90th birthday concert in 1972 at the Royal Festival Hall, so the live sound is less controlled and a bit shriller than the Tchaikovsky symphony. The concerto is played with predictable Romantic indulgence by Romanian violinist Sylvia Marcovici. What fun to revel in the sheer tasteless exuberance of Stokowski’s Sturm und Drang und Schmaltz after all these years.

Cherubini : Symphony in D
Howard Griffiths / Zürcher Kammerorchester
CPO 999-521-2
*** $$$($)

Luigi Cherubini is best remembered for his operas Médée (1797) and Lodoïska (1791). The latter opera’s overture is the highlight of this disc, played with vigorous instincts by this Swiss ensemble specializing in rare repertoire. Cherubini’s Symphony in D major was commissioned by the London Philharmonic Society in 1815 but fell into neglect soon after its premiere. The work is not of much musical interest, lacking structural complexity and dramatic development. Griffiths and the Zürcher Kammerorchester play their hearts out, and this is probably the best recording of the work on the market. The acoustic of the Swiss radio studio is very detailed (you can hear the musicians shifting in their seats. The orchestra’s big power is faithfully captured, there is a slight room echo, but the signal has not been homogenized or filtered.

William Walton : Henry V
Andrew Penny / RTE Orchestra
Naxos 8.553343
*** $

CD-Walton.jpg (22178 bytes)The music for Henry V was the 10th of Walton’s 15 film scores. This Naxos recording is an adaptation by Christopher Palmer of the movie music, with dramatic readings from Shakespeare's Henry V and Henry IV. The nine scenes carry us through the world of Olde England: Falstaff at the Boar’s Head Inn, the noisy embarkation of troops for France, the battle scene at Harfleur (“Once more into the breach, dear friends”), and so forth, returning to the bustle of post-bellum London. The musical jewel is Walton’s atmospheric Night Watch, well-played by the Irish RTE Concert orchestra. The rest of the music is interesting but disjointed. There is so much narration that it almost qualifies as an audio book. Movie music and theatre buffs will definitely want this disc.

Mozart : Opera and Concert Arias
Véronique Gens, soprano
Ivor Bolton / Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Virgin 7243 5 45319 2 7
*** $$$

CD-Mozart-Vnronique.jpg (23086 bytes)French soprano Véronique Gens is a fine young singer well-suited to interpret Mozart arias with an original-instrument band like the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Her voice is not huge and her timbre is more pleasant live than on this recording, but she performs with musical conviction. Unfortunately her Zerlina, Donna Elvira, and Countess all sound rather alike. The concert arias are more successful. The pianoforte accompaniment by Melvyn Tan and the small original-instrument band is pleasant. Compared to Kathleen Battle or Margaret Price’s Mozart, Gens’s interpretations seem a bit anemic, but Mozart fans should still give her a try.

Beethoven : Piano Concerto No. 5 & Violin Concerto
Jos van Immerseel, fortepiano / Vera Beths, violin
Bruno Weil / Tafelmusik (Sony SK 63365)
** $$$

This 1997 recording of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 is a big improvement over Tafelmusik’s dreary 1996 recording of the Beethoven Piano Concertos Nos. 3 & 4 (SK 62824) with the same conductor, pianist, fortepiano, producer and engineers. It would seem the new recording benefits from the acoustic of the Kursaal in Bad Tölz. The fortepiano sounds clearer and less sticky, though Immerseel’s fingering is still often sluggish and leaden. As before the bassoons are feeble, but the band sounds louder, richer, better balanced, almost modern. The Violin Concerto is the reason to get this disk. Vera Beth is an intelligent artist, getting the maximum out of her Strad under difficult authentic conditions. The resulting performance is spontaneously enjoyable, transcending the technical limitations of a period instrument band.

Exquisite Fires : musique de Linda Bouchard
Orchestre du Centre national des Arts
Trevor Pinnock et Derrick Inouye, chefs d’orchestre
Kevin McMillan, baryton
Marquis Classics EMI 81219
*** $$$

L’OCNA livre ici une superbe interprétation de cinq œuvres de la très prolifique compositrice québécoise Linda Bouchard. Les Exquisite Fires, qui sont en fait un tableau de neuf miniatures, m’ont particulièrement impressionné. Non seulement les pièces sont-elles excellentes, mais la maîtrise que démontre l’orchestre dirigé par Trevor Pinnock pour cette oeuvre du répertoire contemporain s'avère tout simplement magnifique. Ce fait est encore plus surprenant lorsque l’on sait que Pinnock se spécialise plutôt dans la musique des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles. C’est donc dire que la complicité qui existe entre ce dernier et Bouchard, qui n’en sont pas à leur première collaboration, est des plus étroite. La deuxième œuvre, Songs for an Acrobat, se démarque quant à elle par des rythmes enlevants et l’utilisation de la voix. Divisée en huit miniatures s'appuyant sur des textes de Maurice Tourigny, cette musique évoque des paysages, tantôt paisibles, tantôt tapageurs, où l’amour et la mort s’entrecroisent. En somme, il s’agit là d’un disque de grande qualité. -Jean-Claude Thériault

Prazak Quartet

Founded in 1972 by four students at the Prague Conservatory, the Prazak Quartet is one of the best quartets in a country with no shortage of great ones. They started touring in 1980 and managed to work outside of communist Czechoslovakia a few times before the borders opened permanently in 1989. Since then their highly anticipated appearances abroad have been more frequent, and they have made several triumphant Canadian tours.

They have also made several exquisite recordings of the quartet repertoire - ten early ones on Nuova Era and since 1994 about 15 on Praga for French harmonia mundi. Their Praga recordings have won countless Chocs and Diapasons d’Or. Their playing style is characterized by flawless intonation, rhythmic precision, orchestral richness of sound, and structural clarity. Their Haydn, Mozart and Schoenberg discs are good, but their Janácek, Schubert and Dvorak are even better. If I had to pick just one quartet to hear live and on disc, the Prazak would be it. Don’t miss their concerts in Montreal for Pro Musica on October 26 at Théâtre Maisonneauve (tel: 514-842-2112) and at Toronto’s Ford Centre on October 28 (tel: 416-324-9333).

Leos Janácek: String Quartets No. 1 & No. 2
Prazak Quartet (Praga PRD 250 108)
*** $$$

CD-PrazakQuartet-2.jpg (13378 bytes)This recording of Janacek’s two delicious string quartets takes its place among the best of the dozen-plus versions in the catalogue. Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1, inspired by Tolsoy’s novella The Kreuzer Sonata, is a dramatic work full of Janacek’s typical picturesque local colour and tragicomic sensibility. It is one of the masterpieces of programmatic writing, vividly re-enacting the harrowing novella’s tale of adultery and murder. The Czechoslovakian Prazak Quartet are masters of Janacek’s atmospheric string effects so often sadly flubbed by western ensembles. Despite recorded sound that is slightly fuzzy and over-reverberant (typical, alas, of many Prague recordings) this is a highly recommended disc.

Mozart : Prussian Quartets K. 575, K. 589, K. 590
Prazak Quartet (Praga PR250-026)
*** $$$

None of these quartets, dedicated to the cello-playing King of Prussia, are among Mozart’s best known, but the Prazak Quartet make everything they interpret seem profound. As usual, the foursome play harmoniously, with a pure and ethereal tonality, and a sprightly, umannered line. The recorded sound is clear, close and balanced. An enjoyable disc with a generous 77 minutes of music.

J. S. Bach : Six Suites for Solo Cello
Pieter Wispelwey, cello
Channel Classics CCS 12298
*** $$$

CD-Wispelwey.jpg (17530 bytes)Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey’s second recording of Bach’s complete cello suites confirms him as a brilliant but eccentric innovator, who may just be on the verge of revolutionizing the way we think about cello playing. There are as many ways of playing Bach’s suites as there are cellists, but Wispelwey makes nearly every track of this 2-hour recording sound like it was written by a different composer. In his notes, Wispelwey declares the need to “imagine these pieces as fresh music, without the burden of interpretations, connotations amd obligatory associations.” He not only plays the suites as fresh music, he all but rewrites them. His phrasing in the prelude and allemagne of Suite No. 1 is so pointedly different from any other, it is not just unfamiliar, it is almost unmusical. Bach rolls in his grave, but Wispelwey plays on. The courante rushes at breakneck speed, punctuated by enormous slow deep vibrant bow strokes that set the speakers humming. The acoustic of the Valkkoog Church in Holland is exceedingly reverberant, making Wispelwey’s throbbing bow strokes almost a parody of melodramatic technique. The raw sound is gorgeous, but the vision is feverish, wilful, and slightly mad. Yet there is method to his madness. By the end of the first suite, one is intrigued, by the end of the second, one is hypnotised. The close miking captures every pant and grunt of Wispelwey’s effortful technique. With this iconoclastic interpretation of Bach’s masterpiece, Wispelwey has set himself up as the Glenn Gould of the cello. Hear Wispelwey play the complete Bach Suites on Oct. 18 at 2:30 p.m. at Toronto’s Ford Centre. Tel: 416-324-9333.

Among Friends : Trios pour piano
Trio des Iscles
CMC Centredisques CMCCD-6098
** $$$

Un répertoire d’œuvres de compositeurs canadiens interprétées par un trio français de haut calibre: voilà qui décrit bien ce disque. Parmi les moments forts que l’on y retrouve, notons la pièce-titre du disque, Among Friends , du compositeur Chan Ka Nin. Cette œuvre extrêmement variée, aux sonorités imitant parfois des techniques propres à certains instruments orientaux, s’est d’ailleurs méritée le 1er prix du Barlow International Chamber Music Competition ainsi qu’un prix Juno en 1994. On retrouve aussi sur ce disque un trio de Barbara Monk Feldman qui nous transporte dans un univers méditatif où les couleurs instrumentales sont au centre des préoccupations du compositeur. Il s’agit en fait d’une tentative pour exprimer à l’aide des sons les différents paramètres propres aux arts plastiques. Les trois autres pièces, moins connues, n’en demeurent pas moins intéressantes et brillamment rendues par le Trio des Iscles. En terminant, notons qu’il est assez rare de voir un ensemble de l'extérieur enregistrer un disque sur étiquette Centredisques. Toutefois, cette expérience est fort concluante. -Jean-Claude Thériault

Tchaikovsky : Iolanta
Valery Gergiev / Kirov Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Philips 442-796-2
*** $$$

CD-Iolanta.jpg (26228 bytes)This is a good recording of Tchaikovsky’s final opera, which tells the tear-jerking story of Iolanta, (daughter of KIng René of Provence) who has been blind from birth but doesn’t know it. Her father the King has forbidden the mention of sight, color and light in Iolanta’s presence, so she will not be aware of her disability. One day Count Vaudémont happens upon Iolanta and falls in love with her, revealing to her that she is blind. Love inspires her to want to see. The mysterious eastern doctor Ibn-Hakia vows to cure her, if she truly wants to see. When Iolanta recovers her sight, the King marries her to Vaudémont. All’s well that ends well. The Kirov regulars are all in good voice on this recording. Gennady Bezzubenkov (Bertrand) is a fine basso, Sergei Alexashkin (René) is a resonant baritone. Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky takes the small role of Robert. Gegam Grigorian (Vaudémont) is a clean forceful tenor, and Nikolai Putilin is thrilling as the philosophical Ibn-Hakai. Soprano Galina Gorchakova in the the title role will not be to everyone’s taste. Her voice is pleasant at low volumes, but when louder than mezzo-forte she sounds piercingly shrewish, not the ideal timbre for the fairy tale’s virginal heroine. The Kirov Orchestra always play impeccably for their master, Gergiev. The Philips engineers have mastered the Mariinksy Theatre’s acoustical quirks, so orchestra and voices are carefully balanced and cushioned. Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta will be performed in concert by the Canadian Opera Company Oct. 16 at 8 p.m. at Toronto’s Ford Centre. Tel: 416-324-9333.

Schubert : Complete Songs Volume 29
Marjana Lipovsek, mezzo. Nathan Berg, baritone.
Graham Johnson, piano
Hyperion Schubert Edition CDJ 33029
** $$$

Saskatchewan baritone Nathan Berg's recordings are hard to find in Canada (two albums of Schoeck songs on Jecklin and Novalis are not distributed here). Berg makes a cameo appearance on Volume 29 of Hyperion’s Complete Schubert edition, singing the 19-minute song Einsamkeit. One gets an idea of his cavernous, virile bass-baritone, but the song is monotonous and doesn’t display the colour and dramatic range of Berg’s voice. The rest of the disc is sung by mezzo Marjana Lipovsek, who has a big opera career singing Wagner. She scales down her voice to the requirements of Schubert’s lieder and delivers some lovely songs. The highlight of the Schubert edition is accompanist Graham Johnson’s notes, full of biographical minutiae about Schubert’s love life. I can’t wait for the notes to be collected in book form. Nathan Berg sings a recital with the André Turp Society Oct. 25 at 3 pm in McGill University’s Redpath Hall. Call (514) 397-0068.

Bellini : Norma
Antonio Votto / La Scala (Gala Mono GL 100.511)
*** $$

CD-Callas-Norma.jpg (14088 bytes)This pirate recording of the Italian radio broadcast of the Dec. 7, 1955, La Scala Norma captures Callas at the height of her powers in one of her trademark roles. Her Norma grew in depth and intensity since she first performed it in 1948, and this recording is at least as good as her previous ones (Mexico 1950, London 1952, Trieste 1953, and EMI 1954). Pollione is sung by robust tenor Mario del Monaco , to the delight of the enthusiastic Italian audience. Giuletta Simionato is a strong Adalgisa and Nicolai Zaccaria an imposing Oroveso. The sonics are fairly good. No libretto, and synopsis in English only. Previously available at twice the price on a different label, this economical Gala re-issue is well worth having. Bellini’s Norma continues at the Canadian Opera Company Oct. 3,6,9. Tel: (416) 363-8231.

Brahms : Violin Concerto
Nigel Kennedy, violin
Klaus Tennstedt / London Philharmonic
EMI CDC 754 187 2
*** $$$

CD-NKennedy.jpg (14556 bytes)Recorded back in 1990 when Kennedy was at the height of his controversial fame, his Brahms Concerto with the late, great Klaus Tennstedt is one of Kennedy’s most satisfying album. Despite Kennedy’s iconoclastic appearance and behaviour, his fiddle playing was always potentially superb. Here he tackles a cornerstone of the violin repertoire and delivers a performance that deserves a place beside any in the catalogue. Kennedy is not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, as his liner notes for this album attest. “The main purpose of written music : the communication of emotion,” he declares, and his lyrical, almost schmaltzy Allegro non troppo movement is the proof. Elsewhere he is more reserved and commanding, sparing us the high jinks that made Kennedy’s Four Seasons a best-seller. The London Symphony is brilliantly supportive. Kennedy plays Toronto Symphony Orchestra performances of the Brahms Concerto Oct. 14, 15, 17 at Roy Thomson Hall. Tel: (416) 593-4828.

J. S. Bach : Cantatas BWV 8, 125, 138
Philippe Herreweghe / Collegium Vocale
harmonia mundi HMC 901659
*** $$$

The latest disc of Bach cantatas from Herreweghe offers three chorale cantatas (using a mixed choir) from 1723-1725, part of Bach's output of a cantata for every Sunday and Feast Day of the litugrical year. The texts of these three cantatas focus on death, though the music is surprisingly upbeat. The Collegium Vocale is a small, refined choir of fresh young voices who give Bach an accessible, domestic face. The soloists are unifrmly excellent.


(c) La Scena Musicale 1999