My review of Philippe Jaroussky's Toronto début is on the Star's entertainment website this morning. You can check it out here.
To share the pleasure of last night's concert a little more, here is Jaourssky singing his encore aria, "Alto Giove" from the opera Polifemo, by Nicola Porpora, with Ensemble Artaserse in what looks a lot like the royal opera theatre at Versailles:
Here is the review I've filed for tomorrow's Star:
It’s nice to have a 229-year history, but the question for Russia’s Mariinsky Orchestra always remains, what can you do for us tonight?
Thrill, entertain and provoke was the answer for an enthusiastic audience at Roy Thomson Hall on Friday evening.
The program represented a deep, sharp sliver of modern history made up of three Russian pieces premiered between 1910 and 1926. The orchestra, led by jet-setting longtime music director, Valery Gergiev, was brilliant. The piano soloist, veteran Russian powerhouse Alexander Toradze, was unorthodox.
Even in a city as richly blessed with symphonic music as Toronto, there are few concerts in a season that open the ears and eyes as widely as this one did.
An all-purpose band that accompanies opera and ballet as well as giving its own concerts, St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre musicians have visited 43 countries on dozens of tours since Gergiev took over in 1988.
This program, representing the core of the 20th century Russian canon, is something these musicians can likely play from memory, but nearly every note left the stage with the clear immediacy of a freshly energized ensemble.
In Igor Stravinsky’s 1919 version of his 1910 ballet suite, The Firebird, Gergiev and his orchestra played up the tension between sensuality and rhythmic drive to great effect.
Equally compelling was Dmitri Shostakovich’s sardonic Symphony No. 1 – an expertly structured piece a then-19-year-old wrote for his conservatory graduation.
The conductor stood on the floor at the orchestra’s focal point, without a podium or a baton. He didn’t keep time. Instead, Gergiev relayed his instructions with gently fluttering hands, more veteran choir director than orchestra leader.
The resulting sound was fluid, transparent and utterly compelling.
Less of a sure thing was the evening’s concerto, the fearsomely difficult Piano Concerto No. 3, a touring showpiece Sergei Prokofiev wrote for himself in 1921.
Toradze marked his performance with exaggerated contrasts. He played the loud, brash passages with extroverted panache, but quieter sections sounded as if he were challenging himself to play the piano as discreetly as possible, to not wake the neighbours during a late-night practice session at home.
(Ironically, Prokofiev himself was kicked out of his Paris apartment for making too much noise at the keyboard.)
Through much of the concerto, Toradze’s piano became just one more shade amidst the orchestral colours, which is not the point of programming a solo showpiece.
It did, however, cast this warhorse of a composition in a new light, and that was worth the price of admission, as well.
I've been hugely enjoying Janina Fialkowska's new Liszt Recital album from ATMA Classique, which is a treat from beginning to end. This is one of the year's definitive tributes to Franz Liszt, whose 200th birth anniversary falls on Oct. 22.
The disc's programme is a mix of fireworks and fireside, with the extravagant Valse-caprice No. 6 and Valse de Faust (a memory of Gounod's opera) bookending Liszt's respectful transcriptions of six Chopin songs, Gretchen (a transcription of the middle movement of his Faust-Symphonie) and Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude.'
Failkowska achieves something extraordinary in her blend of flawless technique, complete control and a feeling of genuine spontaneiety. Her playing is never strident or showy or, in moments of total reflection, slack. This is much, much more difficult to achieve than it sounds.
Rather than being in the presence of an ego, the album left me with the impression of being in the presence of a (very) good and faithful servant of the composer.
The piece that has affected me the most is Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, which I listened to a lot as a tween (it was an Angel LP by Georges Cziffra, if I remember properly). Fialkowska's interpretation is positively ethereal.
The piece is one of a set inspired by the 1830 collection, Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, by French poet Alphonse de Lamartine, which, a couple of years later, deeply affected a 22-year-old composer madly in love with the Comtesse d'Agoult. (Liszt wrote the 10 pieces in this set piecemeal, and didn't get them published until 1853.)
The poem goes on (at length) in signature Romantic style how, after great inner turmoil and unhappiness and some time spent savouring the manifold pastoral charms of the countryside, the Grace of God has calmed and comforted the soul. "Un nouvel homme en moi renaît et recommence," writes Lamartine (A new man is reborn in me).
For those of you who can read French, here is the final, breathless, stanza:
Conserve-nous, mon Dieu, ces jours de ta promesse,
Ces labeurs, ces doux soins, cette innocente ivresse
D'un cœur qui flotte en paix sur les vagues du temps,
Comme l'aigle endormi sur l'aile des autans,
Comme un navire en mer qui ne voit qu'une étoile,
Mais où le nautonier chante en paix sous sa voile !
Conserve-nous ces cœurs et ces heures de miel,
Et nous croirons en toi, comme l'oiseau du ciel,
Sans emprunter aux mots leur stérile évidence,
En sentant le printemps croit à ta providence;
Comme le soir doré d'un jour pur et serein
S'endort dans l'espérance et croit au lendemain;
Comme un juste mourant et fier de son supplice
Espère dans la mort et croit à ta justice;
Comme la vertu croit à l'immortalité,
Comme l'œil croit au jour, l'âme à la vérité.
The full magic of Fialkowska's performance comes from being able to earnestly render Liszt's caresses and sighs with a determined energy, and to carefuly dissimulate the technical hurdles (and there are many) with a gauzy, ethereal peace.
(It helps that Fialkowska recorded on one of Canada's finest concert instruments, a Hamburg-built Steinway at the Palais Montcalm in Quebec City.)
Because Fialkowska's performance is not available on YouTube, I listened to many well-known names looking for something that could rival her interpretation, to share here.
The best I could come up with is a 1948 recording by the late, great French pianist Raymond Trouard (1916-2008), on a funky sounding Pleyel grand. Trouard had as one of his teachers Emil von Sauer, a student of Liszt's.
UPDATE, OCT. 14, 2011: Ben Dunham, editor of Early Music America, wrote a complaint to the Star that I had not obtained permission to reproduce a pdf of the article by Christopher Hogwood here. Since the article is intended for members only, and I hadn't asked for permission, I have removed the link. Non-members or non-subsribers should email email@example.com if they would like to request the article.
I apologise for the poor quality of the image, of Sun of Composers, a 1799 engraving by Augustus Kollmann published in the German Musical Times (Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung).
It shows J.S. Bach at the centre, surrounded by Haydn, Handel and Graun in a holy trinity. Radiating out in primary and secondary leaves are the lessers, which include Gluck, Mozart, Pleyel and Telemann. Next to Mozart is Leopold Kozeluch (a Germanized form of Kozeluh), someone I had never heard of.
It's a beautiful lesson in how the rankings of today will likely mean nothing at all a century (or two) from now.
Period performance master Christopher Hogwood has written an essay on Kozeluh in the current edition of Early Music America. Born in Bohemia in 1747 and living to the age of 70, Kozeluh's life began in the dying days of the Baroque world, and ended in the stormy musical waters of Beethoven's time.
Hogwood believes that the composer should be better known, if, for nothing else, as a key bridge figure of 18th century music.
You can read the article in PDF form here -- it is accessibly written and filled with interesting details.
What caught my eye, in particular, was how Kozeluh resolutely held out as a champion of the amateur musician, writing music that enthusiastic part-timers could prepare for their at-homes -- the sort of fans and supporters that went from being the bedrock of music creation and publishing to being totally left behind by anyone considering themselves to be a "serious" composer in the 20th century (I've read more than one disparaging musicological remark about late-19th and early-20th century composers who wrote art music for popular consumption).
Hogwood has just completed editing all 50 of Kozeluh's keyboard sonatas for Bärenreiter. The first volume is out, and the others are forthcoming. No other editions exist, but you can check out some scanned samples i the Petrucci library here.
From what I can see and hear, there's a lot to like.
Here is a very nice example, a Symphony in G minor with an elegant sense of proportion, development and structure, performed by the London Mozart Players, under Matthias Bamert:
I'm off for the next 10 days, and don't expect to be posting, unless I'm so bowled over by something that I have to share it. But I can't leave without putting in a plug for some unduly neglected works.
Photo: Mark Thompson
The unaccompanied cello suites by J.S. Bach have not only inspired performers and listeners, they have also inspired composers.
German composer Max Reger (1873-1916) is a case in point. He wrote three suites for unaccompanied cello (at the same time as a three-suite set for solo viola) just before World War I.
I've tried living with Reger's works for piano and organ, but find that I usually end up getting motion sickness from his endless chromaticism. But the cello suites are different. They are neo-Baroque, tightly structured and tonally anchored. It also looks like they are also ferociously difficult.
It's different to study and work with a piece of music versus just listening to it, but my impression is that these pieces by Reger deserve to be recognized as something special.
I've pieced together a recital for you, with the help of German cellist Guido Schiefen (pictured). I would prefer hearing more lyrical interpretations, but he does an amazing job in laying out the gorgeous structure of these pieces:
There's been a flare-up of of the old I'm-an-artist vs Selling-out-to-the-Man debate in the classical world in the last few weeks, ignited by highly respected violinist Gidon Kremer.
Many people reading these letters have voiced support for the position of the artists. The veneration of Art has been the norm since the rise of the artist as an independent entity in the post-Goethe world.
While I appreciate and can even sympathise with this position, I think it's wishful thinking. I'll try to explain what I mean with a minimum of words.
In a world where everything is a commodity -- from the morning coffee to the over-the-counter sleep aid -- music, poetry, sculpture are also commodities. Someone needs to want to buy it. Do do that, the artist needs to create desire.
That desire can be personal as well as collective, such as when a city or state decides to nurture its artists so it can boast of a rich cultural life. It is a form of vanity.
Desire is best fed by stroking our vanity. It works for Rolex, GoodLife Fitness and organic white asparagus as well as for the Verbier Festival, where we can rub programme notes with the finest and brightest on a sun-dappled Alpine slope.
Any child contemplating a career in the arts, even if they are the most talented creature ever to walk the face of the Earth, should, I believe, be informed, early and often, that they will need to create and maintain desire in order to survive as an artist.
Some of it is by effective schmoozing. Some of it is by clever programming. The bulk of it, of course, is through strict self-discipline and a total devotion to the project at hand, so that they are only ever offering their very best for public consumption.
Each festival, competing with hundreds of other festivals and thousands of leisure-activity options, needs to spin their own webs of desire to thrive.
It all sounds a bit crass and crude, I know, but, if we look back over the patron-artist dynamic over the centuries, has it ever really been any different?
I guess what I'm trying to say is that no artist should ever be allowed to take his or her audience for granted. Conversely, especially in the age of fragmented audiences and easy file sharing, we should never take our artists for granted.
Having stated my position, and acknowledging that the Art vs. Commerce debate is here to stay, here is the argument from the other side:
Last month, before the start of the Verbier Festival (which is currently streaming many of its concerts on www.medici.tv for free), Kremer withdrew. The Festival said it was because of illness. British music critic Norman Lebrecht revealed that it was because Kremer was sick and tired of the celebrity spin cycle associated with the business -- and high-profile festivals in particular.
The two are actually writing about slightly different aspects of the same thing.
Luisi's main point:
We see many young, gifted musicians who reach the most important music places in the world, pushed by managers and sought after by presenters who must constantly offer “fresh meat” to the audience: the next Netrebko, the next Pavarotti, the next Bernstein, the next Rubinstein, the next Oistrakh. They are “the nextes” and they don’t have time to be themselves, to develop to be themselves – many of them will disappear soon (we already have seen how many have disappeared after a couple of CDs, after concerts in Salzburg, Verbier, after productions in Milano, New York or London) although they might have talent and skills for a serious career.
This is the reason I appreciate this wonderful Gidon Kremer letter, because it is fresh, ironical, true and it comes from a real artist which constantly worked on himself trying to improve himself, refusing to be pushed by whomever.
Kremer's main point:
Many festivals these days unfortunately allow mixing self-enchantment with entertainment – (be it crossover or “events”) and they succeed to remain a magnet for all those, who want to be seen or hailed.
Yes I am a bit ironic and with a bitter feeling in saying these words;
REAL artists like those that we still remember, haven’t vanished completely. But the “greenery” of Verbier rather contributes to forgetting them and hails mystifications and substitutes of those, who truly served ART. Opposing such a tendency, I simply want to find peace with myself. Lately being warn out by so many dissatisfying partnerships, I simply need a rest. I do hope this will be the best remedy for the hype that surrounds many of us.
Kremer and Luisi have many, many allies. But would Kremer be able to write any of these things if here were a 21-year-old conservatory graduate looking for his first professional gig?
I'll leave the last word for this side of the argument to a seemingly unlikely sympathizer of Kremer's, music producer Kwame:
Last night, Sir Thomas Allen described "The Estuary," one of six song setting of poems by Ruth Pitter (1897-1992) by Michael Head (1900-1976) as 'The most perfect depiction of a river I've ever heard."
I had never heard the song, published in 1945, before, and found the interpretation enchanting.
When I got home last night, I did a bit of research and discovered that there's only one recording of it in existence in current CD catalogues: a 2002 EMI CD (no. 208285) with Jonathan Lemalu and pianist Roger Vignoles.
There isn't a hint of it on YouTube or anywhere else where I'd be able to plunder a copy to share here.
There's little of anything available from this prolific composer, who wrote in a spare, tonal style stuck somewhere at the turn of the 20th century.
I thought I'd reproduce "The Estuary" poem anyway, just because it's so right for a beautiful summer's day. A bit earlier in the recital, Alen had suggested Frank Bridge's 1911 four-movement orchestral suite, The Sea as a must-listen. So, to accompany the verse, here is conductor Sir Richard Hickox and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales from a 2002 Chandos CD (no. 10012).
The Estuary, by Ruth Pitter:
Light, stillness and peace lie on the broad sands, On the salt-marshes the sleep of the afternoon. The sky's immaculate; the horizon stands Steadfast, level and clear over the dune.
There are voices of children, musical and thin Not far, nor near, there in the sandy hills; As the fight begins to wane, so the tide comes in, The shallow creek at our feet silently fills:
And silently, like sleep to the weary mind, Silently, like the evening after the day, The big ship bears inshore with the inshore wind, Changes her course, and comes on up through the bay,
Rolling along the fair deep channel she knows, Surging along, right on top of the tide. I can see the flowery wreath of foam at the bows, The long bright wash streaming away from her side:
I can see the flashing gulls that follow her in, Screaming and tumbling, like children wildly at play, The sea-born crescent arising, pallid and thin, The flat safe twilight shore shelving away.
Whether remembered or dreamed, read of or told, So it has dwelt with me, so it shall dwell with me ever: The brave ship coming home like a lamb to the fold, Home with the tide into the mighty river.
This final video clip includes a personal favourite that Allen put on his programme last night: "My Own Country," the last of "Three (Hilaire) Belloc Songs," from 1927, by Peter Warlock, as sung by Benjamin Luxon (it's the third of the first three songs on this clip).
Everyone who attended the tribute concert to Maureen Forrester in Stratford yesterday received a lavish coffee table-worthy programme filled with background, anecdotes, written tributes and pictures commemorating a particularly generous life.
I didn't have a chance to look at it until I got home last night.
Among the many beautiful tributes inside is one from Colin Firth. I hope no one minds that I'm going to reproduce it here, in its entirety:
Maureen's son, Daniel, and I were roommates while studying acting at the Drama Centre in London in the early 1980s. When he first came to stay at my family home in Winchester, I decided to force a piece of music on him -- a piece by Frederick Delius that had enthralled me since I was a child. To my surprise, Danny recognized it immediately. Not the piece, but the voice. It turned out to be that of his own mother. He then checked the record sleeve and discovered that at the time of the recording his mother was pregnant -- with him. I'd spent years in love with the voice of the woman who was singing with my future friend inside her!
Daniel was subsequently adopted by my family and was in frequent demand as a holiday guest. This became a reciprocal arrangement and I came to experience Maureen's hospitality, her generosity, her formidable intelligence, her trust, her eccentricity, her candour, her experience and her wisdom. I stayed in her home on Lake Muskoka and to my delight the adoption exchange continued for some years. All that was missing in this wonderful new relationship was that I had never heard Maureen sing live.
That changed in 1986 when I was visiting some old friends in Missouri, and one of them excitedly mentioned that Maureen Forrester was singing Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde that evening in the university auditorium at the end of the street. That night, Maureen sang magnificently -- thrilling her audience, not only with her voice, but also with her wit, warmth and her mighty energy. Following the performance, I proudly took my friends backstage where she was surrounded by adoring fans. As I approached, I became somewhat concerned that -- out of context -- she might not recognize me immediately and there would be an awkward moment. I needn't have worried as the howl of delight and surprise, which she let out from across the room when she saw me, would have filled the Royal Albert Hall.
That may have been the last time we met. That cry of welcoming recognition is my abiding memory. From the same voice that had camptivated me onstage a few moments before and in my home as a child. All those things, as well as her words of advice and encouragement, are gifts I will always carry: her friendship, her acceptance, her voice, her family and my cherished lifelong friendhip with Daniel.
What could possibly go better with this than "One Charming Night," from Henry Purcell's Fairy Queen, as recorded by Forrester with the Vienna Radio Orchestra and conductor Brian Priestman:
One charming night Gives more delight Than a hundred lucky days: Night and I improve the taste, Make the pleasure longer last A thousand, thousand several ways.
John Terauds started at the Toronto Star as a freelance writer in 1988, and has been on staff since 1997. He began writing on classical music in 2001, and has been the full-time classical music critic since 2005.
He is also the organist and choir director at St. Peter's Anglican Church, a parish founded in 1863 in downtown Toronto.
If he's not listening to, writing about or playing music, it means he's either asleep, unconscious, walking his dog -- or all of the above.
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