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:
An all-Italian cast and orchestra (period-performace La Venexiana, which started out as a madrigal group) led by Claudio Cavina, presented a fantastic interpretation of Claudio Monteverdi's 1640 "musical drama" Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (Ulysses is Back and There's Going to Be Laundry) at the Cité de la musique in Paris last Wednesday, closing the centre's 5th Biennale of Vocal Arts. It is streaming on the web for free at medici.tv, and is well worth a peek and listen.
(La Venexiana presents this touring show again at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on Sunday, and at the Stuttgart Baroque Festival on Sept. 14.)
It's a semi-staged effort, with a split orchestra sharing the stage with the singers as a few sheets of fabric. Yet it has all the emotional and musical power of a fully staged performance.
Here is a strangely compelling blend of old and new by La Venexiana, recorded in 2009: Monteverdi's "Il lamento della ninfa:"
QUATUOR FRANZ JOSEPH Hyacinthe Jadin, Op. 1 String Quartets (ATMA) **** First of all, you're forgiven if you thought Hyacinthe Jadin was a woman. You're also forgiven if you've never heard of this French composer, born into a family of Flemish musicians working in the court of Louis XVI and who came of age and died of tuberculosis (aged 24) during the First Republic. There are two dates cited for his birth, but the correct one likely is April 27, 1776.
Hyacinthe's more famous and longer-lived brother deserves brief mention in English-language reference texts, and Hyacinthe only rates a short mention in my Dictionnaire de la musique.
So you're forgiven, yet again, for thinking that there probably isn't much to appreciate. Wrong again.
Montreal period-instrument Quatuor Franz Joseph has been championing Jadin's string quartets for years. They recorded the first three (out of a total published output of 12) -- all dedicated to Joseph Haydn -- in 2008, but ATMA has only just released them.
In short, these four-movement pieces are gorgeous, and given their full due in muscular, engaging interpretations by the Quatuor.
This is music that would have been unusual, and likely not appreciated, in the France of 1795, the year this set of three quartets was published. They are written in a style closely reminiscent of Haydn's, featuring carefully elaborated musical subjects. The young Jadin was a devotee of Sturm und Drang expression, which was not the French way.
Public performances of chamber music did not really begin to happen until a generation after Jadin's death in 1800, so this was music for private consumption -- yet written for advanced players. This, and the fact that public life in France was a mess during the Directoire (which issued a new decimal-oriented calendar, among other wild things) means that Jadin, a prodigy who was among the first keybaord teachers hired at the founding of the Paris Conservatoire in 1795, was a victim of historical circumstance.
Thank goodness there are people like Quator Franz Joseph to right history's wrong. Click on the bold-face name of the performers at the top of the review to read and hear all about this wonderful album.
Veteran French pianist Jean-Claude Pennetier is a fan of Jadin's piano sonatas. Here he is at a fortepiano playing Sonata No. 4, in F-sharp minor, Op. 4 No. 2, which was published the same year as the three Haydn-dedicated quartets (this is from a Harmonia Mundi disc from the mid-1980s):
The annual Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute offers several opportunities for the public to hear fine, free, period performances. The whole thing culminates in a Grand Finale concert at Grace Church-on-the-Hill, where all the students and all the teachers get to make a big, glorious noise.
It usually happens on the hottest day in June. We'll see if that's the case this year on the 15th -- the concert starts at 7:30 p.m. and is so popular that you have to reserve your free ticket well ahead of time.
Today, at noon, is something a bit smaller-scale, featuring a stage full of faculty members. Here's Tafelmusik's brief drescription:
A casual noon-hour concert of baroque chamber music by members of the TBSI faculty with works by Piccinini, Telemann, Bach, Handel and Rameau.
Peter Harvey, baritone Claire Guimond, flute, John Abberger & Marco Cera, oboes, Dominic Teresi, bassoon, Geneviève Gilardeau & Chris Verrette, violins, Christina Mahler, cello, David Sinclair, double bass, Lucas Harris, theorbo, Olivier Fortin, Borys Medicky & Charlotte Nediger, harpsichord & organ
For more details on the public concerts offerd in conjunction with the summer music school, click here.
Tafelmusik has posted exceprts from its fabulous Galileo Project show on its YouTube channel. Here is the "Allegro" movement from Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Violins in A Major, Op. 3 No. 5:
NOTTURNA Johann Gottlieb Janitsch, Sonate da camera, Vol. II (ATMA) ****
Montreal period-performance oboist Christopher Palameta (who spent three seasons with Tafelmusik in the mid-2000s) and his wind-focused chamber ensemble Notturna are back with a second volume of Chamber Sonatas by German Baroque composer Johanan Gottlieb Janitsch.
As was the case for the first album, in 2009, this outing is a pleasure in the choice of music as well as the interpretations. (For full details of the album and audio samples, visit ATMA's website by clicking on the group's name at the top of this review.)
This may be Vol. II, but the musical material sounds like the pick of the crop. Four of the five pieces on the disc are world-premiere recordings.
Palameta and his consort perform with breathtaking elegance. One of the hallmarks of this music, most of which dates from Janitsch's later years (he lived from 1708 to 1763), is that the instruments need to blend with each other seamlessly -- which is not easy to achieve when you have the very different timbres of transverse flute, oboe d'amore, cello and harpsichord to combine.
All five of the sonatas collected here feature a mix of transverse flute, oboe and oboe d'amore over continuo. The three Sonate da camera were most likely written to be performed at the composer's weekly Friday salons at his home in Berlin, where he worked as one of the musicians in the Prussian court of Frederick the Great.
This is gorgeously crafted music, following a slow-fast-fast, three-movement form that was popular in Germany at the time. Notturno's careful work only serves to make the music more beautiful. Janitsch's craft becomes more impressive the more one listens.
The final two pieces are titled Sonate de chiesa, but were not meant to be performed in church. Unlike the typical Baroque Sonata de chiesa, which has four movements, these have three, with the middle movement a delicately executed fugue.
And if you're not really in a listening mood, the pieces make a fine, breezy backdrop for a summer's day.
As François Filiatrault eloquently points out in the accompanying booklet, music was an integral part of Shakespeare's plays -- as references, as actual songs to be performed and as background music played by an offstage consort. In this new album, Canadian countertenor Daniel Taylor brings together his favourite collaborators in his Theatre of Early Music for a rich, 21-track sampler of all things musically Shakespearean.
Of course, we get the title song -- performed this time by tenor Charles Daniels instead of Taylor. Also present is veteran soprano Emma Kirkby in this beautiful-sounding recording made in London's Henry Wood Hall last June. Taylor sings solo for eight of the songs, including the gorgeous opener, "By Beauteous Softness," set by Henry Purcell and accompanied by Elizabeth Kenny on lute.
Taylor's voice, still lush, has darkened over the past few years, adding an even deeper lustre to the melancholy he clearly cherishes. Although the selection of songs covers all moods and occasions, the preponderance is for introspection, if not outright lament. And no one does this as well as Taylor these days.
Kenny is a pleasure in a solo Galliard by John Dowland. Fabulous soprano Carolyn Sampson brings a powerful, lithe delicacy to "If Music be the Food of Love," in another Purcell setting. Baritone Neal Davies does well in the ensemble songs as well as in his one solo: John Dowland's "If My Complaints Could Passions Move."
Taylor has ceded one song -- Robert Johnson's setting of "Where the Bee Sucks" -- to fellow countertenor Michael Chance, if for no other reason than to show how rare is the depth of a voice like Taylor's.
My only wish from the booklet, which includes all the lyrics, would have been to give a little bit of context or history for each song.
Overall, this is a carefully crafted, nicely performed outing that could, ideally, have used a bit more variation in tempo and mood. That said, there could hardly be finer accompaniment to a rainy summer afternoon.
There isn't a video available to go with the new disc, so here is a diversionary treat both upbeat and humorous featuring Carolyn Sampson, singing "I Myself Shall Adore" from Handel's Semele at the BBC Proms last year with Harry Christophers and the Sixteen:
This week's Tafelmusik concerts, which begin Wednesday at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre, should close the season with a high-voltage, violin-focused programme led by Italian violinist Stefano Montanari. Unfortunately, the visitor has injured himself, so he will be conducting, not leading on his instrument, but it should still make for a great concert experience. Montanari has been increasing the number of concerts he conducts, and will lead the orchestra in Opera Atelier's new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni next fall.
Because we won't see him play, I thought I'd share some music of Henry Purcell he performed last year with Montanari's regular ensemble, Accademia Bizantina, and countertenor Andreas Scholl. Here are a Sonata (No. 8, in G Major) and Chaconne, followed by Scholl singing "Here the Deities Approve" with continuo.
(This concert was a prelude to the making of Scholl's recent all-Purcell album, O Solitude, just as this week's Tafelmusik's concerts are a prelude to the recording of a new album here.)
TORONTO — Sometimes you get lucky. I came here to see how the Toronto Symphony was faring a decade after its troubled times, and that, it turns out, would have been satisfying enough.
But the timing also allowed me to catch up with the acclaimed early-music ensemble Tafelmusik at the Trinity-St. Paul’s Center, a converted church near Toronto University, on Thursday. And it was a superb evening: a revival of the group’s magnum opus, “The Galileo Project,” created in 2009 to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy, tied to the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s development of the astronomical telescope.
Since 1609 was also the year Monteverdi’s landmark opera “Orfeo” was published, and since Galileo was, in the narrator’s words, an “amateur member of a professional family of lute players,” many musical avenues were open, and the project — programmed and scripted by Alison Mackay, Tafelmusik’s double-bassist — took most of them. Especially in the first half, the program offered some of the Baroque era’s choicest morsels, including selections from “Orfeo” and from Lully’s “Phaeton.”
The second half, with the added agenda of representing composers involved in what the narrator called “the most famous arts festival of the 18th century,” the Festival of the Planets in 1719, celebrating a royal wedding in Dresden, had drier moments in works by Georg Philipp Telemann, Jan Dismas Zelenka and Sylvius Leopold Weiss. (The 32 oboists and bassoonists of the festival were gamely represented here by 2 oboists and a lone bassoonist.) But the culmination came — as it only could, in an event steeped in intellect and imagination — with Bach: the Sinfonia from the Cantata No. 1, “How Brightly Shines the Morning Star,” introduced by snippets from Kepler’s “Harmony of the Worlds.”
All of this was woven into a theatrical production designed by Glenn Davidson and directed by Marshall Pynkoski. The narration incorporated texts by and about Galileo and Newton, poetry by Ovid and Shakespeare, and modern commentary; and a stream of colorful astronomical images were projected onto a round screen, as if viewed through a giant telescope.
The actor Shaun Smyth was an excellent narrator, and in an anonymous 18th-century “Astronomical Drinking Song,” a purposefully mediocre singer. He and the players not anchored to large instruments moved about the stage — sometimes circling in orbits, occasionally breaking into near-dance, always interacting with one another — and occasionally wandering into the auditorium.
That the musical performance, through it all, was of the highest order hardly needs saying. As usual Jeanne Lamon, Tafelmusik’s music director, led from the violin. Charlotte Nediger, on harpsichord, and Ms. Mackay, on bass, were also solid presences, and the bursts of virtuosity were too widespread and numerous to list.
But what was truly remarkable, for a band of 17 playing a kaleidoscopic variety of repertory, was that it was all done from memory: necessarily, given the almost constant movement and the occasional semidarkness. It said much for the professionalism of the enterprise that an understudy, replacing an ailing violinist, could step seamlessly into the mix.
This production, which has traveled to China and Malaysia, to Mexico and California, and is bound for Australia, the Netherlands and Spain, has yet to find its way to New York. That can’t happen soon enough.
Versailles Spectacles, the organization in charge of a small, year-round opera season and summer musical entertainment at the Château de Versailles near Paris, today unveiled a spectacular summer festival called Venise Vivaldi Versailles, running from June 24 to July 17.
The co-producer of the festival is the record label Naïve, which will be celebrating the conclusion of a massive, 12-year project to record all of Vivaldi's music (a project that has included Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux, back when she was starting out).
The aesthetic inspiration comes from the extravagant parties thrown in and around the palace by King Louis XV (1710-1774). (Details here.)
Mezzo Cecilia Bartoli and red-hot countertenor Philippe Jaroussky present solo recitals, Jordi Savall leads a performance of Vivaldi's opera Teuzzone, William Christie leads staged performances of Lully's opera Atys, there will be several different interpretations of Vivaldi's Four Seasons -- and John Malkovich is doing a musical play on the life of Casanova.
There will be evenings of fireworks mixed with performance art and music, and even a Baroque-themed masked ball at the Orangerie on July 9.
One of my favourite of the Naïve Vivaldi recordings is La Senna festeggiante (Festival time on the Seine). There is a single, undated, manuscript copy of the score for this serenata (a secular mix of vocal and instrumental movements that's a cross between a cantata and an opera) at the National Library in Turin. The extensive background notes that came with my copy of the Naïve album -- the 12th in the Vivaldi series, and the first of his secular voal music, back in 2001 -- say that the piece was written between 1722-25, a time when Vivaldi was the favourite composer of France's ambassador to Venice, the Comte de Gergy.
You can find all of the details on this album here.
Written as the culmination of a day-long party, the Italian serenata was sort of like an English masque. La Senna festeggiante is totally over the top -- and fabulous. Unfortunately, it's too obscure to draw tourists to Versailles, so it won't be part of the summer lineup.
But that doesn't mean we can't listen to the Overture. This is from a live, 2009 performance by period-performance ensemble Il delirio fantastico led by Vincent Bernhardt:
I'm now limited to a single classical CD review per week in the Star, which is making for a bulging pile of great candidates.
Today's paper has a review for a new disc by the Tippett Quartet, but there are three more chamber-music albums that have impressed me in recent weeks. For details, click on the artist names, below. All deserve ***1/2 (out of 4):
EYBLER QUARTET & JANE BOOTH Backofen & Mozart: Theme & Variations (Analekta) Clarinettist Jane Booth and Toronto's Eybler Quartet, one of the few such ensembles in the world to work on period instruments (violinists Aisslinn Nosky and Julia Wedman, as well as violist Patrick Jordan belong to the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, and cellist Margaret Gay is a frequent guest), bring an affecting elegance to this album that features two quintets by Johann Georg Heinrich Backofen (1768-1839) -- one for basset horn and strings, the other for clarinet and strings (where Max Mendel sits in as extra violist) -- and Mozart's A-Major Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581. Booth's seamless, silken woodwind solos glide over the strings with uncommon grace. The combined effect on is an almost supernatural translucence. This is music of the ether, not the earth.
AMES PIANO QUARTET Mozart, Hummel & Beethoven Quartets (Dorian) The veteran Ames Piano Quartet is earthy, not etherial, but no less satisfying in its vigorous interpretations of three quartets: E-flat Major, K. 452, by Mozart, G-Major by Johann Nepomuk Hummel and E-flar Major, Op. 16, by his contemporary, Beethoven. All three pieces are pretty, but Beethoven's is the most compelling.
ARTEMIS QUARTET Beethoven String Quartets Op. 18 No. 1 & Op. 127 (Virgin) In its 20-year-history, Germany's Artemis Quartet has built a reputation for solid, spirited musicmaking that's gorgeously laid out in two quartets from opposite ends of Beethoven's life. They play the first one, in F Major, as if it were a big, serious, late work. They play the other, in E-flat Major, with an underlying lyricism. The juxtaposition makes these pieces -- both unconventional in their day, yet written nearly three decades apart -- sound more alike than I expected. This is a disc to listen to again and again.
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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