Archive for March, 2007

ST.LAWRENCE STRING QUARTET with DAVID FINCKEL and WU HAN by Stanley Fefferman

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Music Toronto Presents
St. Lawrence String Quartet
David Finckel and Wu Han
Jane Mallett Theatre, Toronto

The performance of Prokofiev’s “Sonata for Cello” by David Finckel and Wu Han was outstanding. They sailed through the space of the “Sonata” maintaining a perfect marriage of pitch, timbre, tone, and time that left the audience exhilarated and rippling with humour.

Finckel’s deep opening solo cello tone wowed. Wu Han’s succeeding piano theme, nice and slow, with a soft, light touch, led into a strong cello pizzicato and a thick toned bowed melody. Piano and cello joined in a unison passage tonally aligned in both high and low pitches. This first ‘Andante grave’ picked up velocity in the second theme, a kind of Bachian figure that swirled playfully into a melody quite Romantic, contrasting the cello’s organ tones and the piano’s crystal chimes.

The second movement’s dancey piano theme reminds that a late Prokofiev motif can be as vividly alive with personality as the tunes from “Peter and the Wolf” he’d written thirteen years earlier, before enduring two crushing state sponsored denunciations for ‘formalism’. This movement and the ‘Allegro’ that followed, are energetic, romantic, funny, and as performed, ornamented with a sense of intimate communication. What we hear in this collaboration is totally assured playing.

Shostakovich wrote his ‘String Quintet in G Minor, Op. 97” a few years following his first rebuke for composing outside the state/public accepted standards of what music was supposed to be. Wu Han joined the St. Lawrence String Quartet, opening the ‘Prelude’ movement with a harmonious passage in counterpoint conversation with Lesley Robertson’s viola. Enter Geoff Nuttal’s violin, enter Christopher Costanza’s cello, enter Scott St. John, and a loud, energetic, ensemble, high contrast passage swells and subsides into a sleepy cello lullaby that develops the second movement ‘Fugue’. The fugal writing reflects both Bach and Beethoven. Shostakovich’s melodic penchant is Russian Romantic folk-inspired. Wu Han’s piano sings solo, the voice of the individual in the string collective: a metaphor of the composer’s Stalin-survival strategy.

The ‘Scherzo’ is a manic, collective, gypsy stomp of glassy piano and gossipy strings edged with the composer’s signature acidulous humour. The ‘Intermezzo’ walks a sad ruminative melody along a cello bass-line. Piano and first violin keen low and high creating an eerie space into which the strings pour the tears of a people. The St. Lawrence’s playing of the ‘Finale’ tones down the expected ‘here come the clowns’ mood so loved by Soviet crowds back in the day, substituting a mood of genuine ‘pastoral’—a blend of nostalgia and satire—a slightly discordant note that questions the present order.

Order of any kind is dissolved and reconstituted by R. Murray Schafer’s “String Quartet No. 3 (1981)”. The empty stage goes dark and remains so for some time. As the lights dim up, Costanza and his cello solo centre-stage doubling an A that goes out of tune: various unpleasant, squeaky, scratchy, sirenic, klaxonic sounds slide around the space. Offstage, Nuttal’s first violin wails and enters from the back of the house. Viola enters stage right. St. John enters the house rear right also playing through to the stage. The movement is marked ‘slowly but with great passion.’

Then the St. Lawrence String Quartet goes barking mad. As if performing the “Balinese Ramayana Monkey Chant” they simultaneously saw away ‘energetico’, shouting and barking repetitive, disjunct sonorities that gradually reveal a method in the madness as the music morphs into something a bit closer to Orff’s “Carmina Burana”. The third movement, is, as it is marked, ‘Slow; calm; mystical’. Ghostly sonorities, unison lazy fly buzz, drone and slide: very Zen and chamomile music that feels like it could levitate you and let you float away.

First violin rises to his feet doing a New Orleans funeral march step. As he fades away into the wings, the three remaining strings drone and hunched over their instruments, freeze to stone. A very successful performance to judge by the happy extraverted energy of the audience in the lobby.

WINSTON CHOI IN CONCERT by Stanley Fefferman

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Sunday, March 25, 2007
Mooredale Matinee Concerts
‘WATER IMAGES’ & Beethoven
with Winston Choi, piano; Minghuan Xu, Violin; Rafael Hoekman, cello
Walter Hall, Toronto.

This Moordale Concert showcased pianist Winston Choi playing solo as well as in duo and trio combinations. Clarity is the keynote of Choi’s presentation style, which he emphasizes by organization and dramatic, high contrast playing. The solo portion of his programme is organized around the theme of water. It begins with two lovely Schubert songs transcribed for piano by Liszt. “Auf Dem Wasser Zu Zingen” has opposing melodies running from both hands, the right flowing lightly in ripples, the left as if outlining the turbulence in darker and quite forceful tones. “Die Forelle”, that loveliest of melodies, Choi played brightly and with surprising force.

Debussy’s “Poisson d’or” rippled and rolled, fishily twisting, swirling and clearly leaping out of Choi’s arpeggiated runs, still dramatic despite his agreeably softer touch on the keys. Choi’s lyrical sense emerged further in the light, flowing opening and crystalline impressionistic high-register runs of “The Fountain of the Acqua Paola” by Charles Griffe. John Ireland’s “Amberley Wild Brooks”, a very open sounding piece, was played exactly as it should be.

“Orage”, a stormy composition by Liszt, thundered from the start, opposing melody and bass rumbles reminiscent of Chopinesque melodrama favoured in films about the 1940’s wartime era. The highlight of the solo program was a piece by young composer Misha Zupko called “Rain”. Drops fall singly, ripple out, fall and ripple repeat in various intervals setting a unique rhythmic pattern, fast and slow, loud and soft, but always the tone is pleasing and holds the drama of the event in focus.

Minghuan Xu joined Choi in the prolific Omar Daniel’s “Wild Honey” for Violin and Piano”(2000), a dramatic piece in three movements. The first movement balances a Sati-like repeated sequence of single, long-held notes from the piano, against the violin’s melody and drone. The combination creates an effect of spatial masses of sound that is satisfying. The second movement opens with a sustained violin note that sets the piano off on a wild, shifting rhythmic run, a kind of perpetuum mobile that climbs in terse, jerky, opposing chunks of of sound. The final movement is meditative, fluty, wheezy, breathy, buzzy, like winged insects whose flight holds the attention rigid until the intensity breaks into a dance.

Following intermission, Rafael Hoekman made it a trio and we heard Beethoven’s” Piano Trio Op. 97” subtitled ‘The Archduke’. Choi sounds the familiar theme delicately––violin and cello answer. The first movement develops the drama, but tenderly and with humour, especially in the pizzicato exchanges before the recapitulation. The cello introduces both themes of the ‘Scherzo’ placed in the second movement. Choi’s ensemble work in tone and timing is terrific. The sonorous and slow “Andante Cantabile” was linked to the bouncy “Allegro” full of folkdance, humour and a robust sense of well-being that was very much appreciated by the audience.

CECILIA STRING QUARTET by Stanley Fefferman

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Thursday, March 22
Music Toronto presents
CECILIA STRING QUARTET
Jane Mallett Theatre, Toronto

This ensemble develops a lot of excitement. Their programme includes dramatic pieces built on extreme contrasts of mood, tempo, and dynamics. Kelly-Marie Murphy’s 4th String Quartet anatomizes the action of the heart as it moves from the sustained ethereal notes of spiritual contemplation that float and melt ‘morendo’ to the staccato, presto, full-tilt adrenalin rush of nervous panic—from calm Komorous to frantic Katchaturian, so to speak.

Beethoven’s 2nd ‘Rasumovsky’ quartet opens with the drama of a chord that drops like one shoe and holds a pause until the next one follows. This motive develops into a theme that drives forward brusquely with locomotive force, into the next ‘Adagio’ movement which Caitlin Boyle’s viola introduces with a melody as sweet and innocent as music’s patroness, Cecilia, singing in prayer on her wedding for exemption from her conjugal duties.

Shostakovich’s 9th Quartet is typically by turns tortured, airy, enigmatic, solemn, harsh, bouncy, melancholy, and also manages to rock like Heavy Metal. Prominent in the ‘Scherzo’ is a passage that recalls the galloping theme from the “William Tell Overture” going like a heart in mild tachycardia, above 130 bpm.

There were many highly pleasurable moments: The ensemble work of the introductory bars of Beethoven’s last movement, and the finale which definitely created a ‘Wow’ effect; Rebecca Wenham’s cello work in the second movement of Shostakovich, and in tandem with the viola during the final movement of the Murphy. The close collaboration of violinists Saran Nemtallah and Sharon Lee; The electrifying pizzicato passage just before the recapitulation of Shostakovich’s finale.

The audience received their offering with wild enthusiasm, and as an encore, the Cecilia replayed their highlight—Kelly-Marie Murphy’s second movement–marked ‘Aggressively.’ The Cecilia Quartet demonstrated skillful technique and timekeeping in presenting this demanding programme, as well as a willingness to get emotionally involved with the dramatic turns of the music. Their depth of interpretation and coherence of effect will certainly develop in the interval before we get to hear them on this stage next season.

THE VIOLIN IN CARNATIC MUSIC: by Subhadra Vijaykumar*

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

*(scroll down for bio)

The European violin has been Indianized in many ways during the past 200 years to produce South Indian classical music.

The Indian classical violinist’s playing posture is different from that of his Western counterpart. The Western violinist stands with his feet at a right angle and holds the violin between the left collarbone and chin, the instrument at a perpendicular slant to the body. The left hand provides the other support to the instrument.

The South Indian violinist sits cross-legged on the floor and balances the instrument between his chest and the ankle bone of his right foot, on which rests the scroll of the violin. This posture facilitates the free movement of the left hand along the fingerboard, particularly in producing the gamakas (graces) integral to the Carnatic mode. It also necessitated appropriate changes in bowing technique, the changes being duly made.

In the Western system, the four strings are tuned in the order E A D G from right to left, each five tones apart. However, in the Carnatic system, the tuning is not absolute but relative. Beginning with the fourth string (the E string being the first string) the tuning is as follows: tonic, dominant, tonic octave higher, dominant octave higher (the tonic being variable in Carnatic music).

Carnatic music system revolves around vocal music. Therefore, any instrument with unique qualities can best complement vocal music. The violin, because of its unique qualities, has earned its place as an accompanying instrument and also as a solo instrument. The instrument can be tuned to any pitch that the vocalist chooses. The bow lends continuity to the instrument, a necessary ingredient for vocal music.

The tonal quality and the volume that it produces enable it to blend with the human voice. The area of operation is small, thus making it possible to play any speed to match the vocalist with ease. Its range includes 3 octaves, which is the normal range for a good vocalist. It can produce all subtle nuances, graces (gamakas), modulations, and all the microtones (srutis) which characterize our music. It can paint any musical phrase evoked by any other instrument.

The phenomenal potentialities of the instrument enable it to approximate the human voice very closely. In other words, it can kindle the bhava that the voice produces with the same intensity. So it has inspired and helped the vocalist and other instrumentalists. All these qualities have earned the violin the place it deserves and enjoys.

It must be noted that these are additional merits in comparison to other instruments, so over the years, apart from being an accompanying instrument, the violin has emerged as a solo instrument in the hands of virtuosos in no less measure than when compared to any other solo instrument.

History of the Indianization of the Violin

About two hundred years ago, during the British rule over India, the Violin first made its entry into the annals of South Indian classical music, that is, Carnatic music, chiefly through three persons. They were: Varahappa Iyer, Baluswami Dikshitar, and Vadivelu.

Varahappa Iyer, a minister of the Tanjavur Maratha court in Southern India, was a highly placed official, well-versed in English, who had an in-depth knowledge of music. On his visit to the British governor’s residence in Madras, he had the opportunity to see the various Western instruments in his collection. His close friendship with the Governor enabled him to try them out. Although he was initially awestruck at the range (spanning 7 octaves) of the piano, he instinctively realized that it was the violin that was eminently adaptable to our system of music. A brief period of practice increased his familiarity with the instrument to the extent that the governor gifted it to him. With time, he became proficient enough to provide accompaniment to vocal music. In recognition of his meritorious service, a lane in Tanjavur has been named after him.

Baluswami Dikshitar (1786-1859), son of Ramaswami Dikshitar and brother of Muthuswami Dikshitar, lived at Manali. The Dikshitar family was patronized by Manali Muthukrishna Mudaliar (Dubash – interpreter to the British governor, Pigot). Mudaliar introduced Baluswami Dikshitar to Western music at the performance of the European band attached to the East India Company. Dikshitar learned to play the Western violin for 3 years. Later, he began trying out Carnatic music on the violin and so developed his skills and playing technique that he was appointed State Vidwan of Ettayapuram in 1824.

Vadivelu (1810-1845), the youngest of the Tanjavur quartet (all of whom were students of Muthuswami Dikshitar) was a composer and a vocalist. He was the Asthana Vidwan at Travencore, during Swati Tirunal’s (1813-1837) reign. The Maharaja encouraged Vadivelu to take up playing the violin. Suitably impressed, he presented an ivory violin to Vadivelu in 1834. Vadivelu is credited with introducing short passages on the violin for classical dance performances.

Indian musical instruments were classified into 5 classes, of which Tara, or string instrument, played with the bow is of relevance. In those days, though bowed instruments like Ek Tar, Dilruba, and Esraj were prevalent, only instruments like Flute, Sarangi, Vil-yazh, and Veena were used in South India to provide support to the voice. The timbre, potentiality of the violin, and its ability to blend with the voice gave the instrument an edge over all other instruments as the most ideal accompanying instrument.

After the introduction of the violin by Baluswami Dikshitar and others, the efforts of the next generation of violinists, like Tanjavur Sivaramakrishna Iyer, Annaswamy Sastri (grandson of Shamma Sastri), Fiddle Subbarayar etc. helped the role of the violin to grow further. Gradually the violin took precedence over all others as the main melodic accompanying instrument to vocal music and has come to stay.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Subhadra Vijaykumar comes from a family with rich musical traditions. She holds a first class diploma in Carnatic violin from the prestigious Bharatiya Music and Arts Society’s Music College in Mumbai, India. She is presently under the guidance of internationally renowned soloist and maestro, Professor T. N. Krishnan. She has performed in major venues across, Toronto, the far East, and England. With over ten years of teaching experience, Ms. Vijaykumar now teaches at the Mississauga campus of The Royal Conservatory of Music.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT BELOW

www.rcmusic.ca/communityschool
tel 905 8917944
The Royal Conservatory of Music
850 Enola Ave ( Cawthra & Lakeshore )
Mississauga, ON

SCHUBERT:SOURCE & INSPIRATION by Stanley Fefferman

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

Friday, March 16, 2007
Art of Time Ensemble presents
SCHUBERT:SOURCE & INSPIRATION
Enwave Theatre, Toronto

The packed house on both sides of 30 looked like “The WholeNote” meets “Now Magazine”. Alex Pauk, conductor of Esprit Orchestra (devoted exclusively to new music) rubbed shoulders with Aislinn Nosky, violinist with Tafelmusik (“devoted exclusively to baroque music). Folk-guitarist Kurt Swinghammer chatted with Dave Matheson formerly of Moxy Fruvous, next to Omar Daniel, composer of chamber and operatic music. All gathered at Harbourfront’s Enwave Theatre to hear Franz Schubert’s “Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat, D. 929, cleverly presented by Art of Time’s Andrew Burashko as the inspiration for 10 new songs composed and performed by Canadian singer/songwriters.

It was wonderful to belong to an audience that absorbed the Schubert’s gorgeous “Trio” skillfully played by Burashko on piano, internationally renowned Erica Raum on violin, and Winona Zelenka, the TSO’s principal cellist. Burashko had chosen Schubert as ‘the’ inspirational composer because his music frequently ‘breaks into song’, as in the theme from Trio No. 2’s “Andante” that goes “ da da dadada dada dada dada dum”. This was the favoured song starting point for most of the offbeat, multitalented, intellectually interesting composer/performers.

Andy Maize, singer with countryfolkrock band “Skydiggers” backed by Michael Johnston on piano breathed a couple of wistful love ballads around the ideas of “I want you back” and “I want to love you in silence”. The songs were generally in tune with the “Trio” but didn’t reference a particular aspect I could catch.

The next presenter, John Southworth, cabaret pop/New Wave rock musician, based his first song squarely on the “ Andante “ melody. In an engaging but somewhat macabre mood, he sang a song of ‘good morning’ to dead people. His second songs’ lyrics, delivered in a falsetto, were muffled under a blanket of synthed keyboard and xylophone harmonies, but the melody had a motivic connection with the Schubert.

Sarah Slean adapted the “Andante” theme to an ecological tango called “Lonely Side of the Moon” which she sang from the piano in a beautiful, husky, cabaret Marlene Dietrich style. Her second song deviated from the task and stole a 4-note figure from Schubert’s other piano trio, the “B Flat”. Entitled, “The Rose”, Sarah’s song is an affecting outpouring about dying.

Rock guitarist, Danny Michel is a witty guy. He wondered why he tunes his guitar offstage and memorizes his music, while classical players tune right in front of you and play from ‘cheat sheets’. Based his nostalgic tune about an empty road that leads to a Guatemalan chicken box on the slowed chords of Schubert’s ‘famous’ theme. Michel instant-recorded the guitar track for recall digital playback so he could add a guitar solo of a few bars of the melody over the chords. His second tune was a sad song about a Yukon town ‘eliminated’ when the mine shuts down, to which he added electronic effects by diddling the strings with the barrel of a ball-point pen.

Martin Tielli, eclectic guitarist and mocksinger with the Rheostatics, was joined by Rheomates Rob Piltch on guitar and Jon Goldsmith on piano in Tielli’s tune called “Aluminum Flies” which he sang in falsetto making wry faces. One was reminded that Schubert was in the last stages of  syphilis while he was composing his second and final “Trio”.

All of the evening’s songs had their own tickly panache. The variety of unique approaches to Schubert was heartening. If there was a common theme, besides the “Andante’s” “ da da dadada / dada dada dada dum” it was that updating Schubert’s energy puts him closer to Tom Waits than it does to Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, Rogers or Arlen. This underbelly view of a classical/romantic icon is interesting.

OCTAGON review by Stanley Fefferman

Friday, March 16th, 2007

Thursday, March 15, 2007
Women’s Musical Club of Toronto presents
OCTAGON
Walter Hall, University of Toronto

The Palladian light of Haydn shines through the bars of Beethoven’s “Septet, Op. 20”. It is a Serenade serenely performed in a garden for the elite who take their ease under porticos or stroll where carven marble fountains gleam. The parts are spaciously arranged so each instrumental voice shines briefly, like stars out of the general firmament of the orchestration. Most notable are the subtly graded tones of Joel Quarrington’s bass whose quiet utterance resonates like a force field yards from the stage.

Mayumi Seiler’s first violin parts are often gracefully echoed by the liquid crystal voice of James Campbell’s clarinet. As Beethoven’s score develops a contrapuntal relation of strings and winds (including horn), themes and motifs are passed between string ensemble and each of the winds in turn: the reassuring strands of George Zuckerman’s bassoon, the weightless voice of Ken MacDonald’s smooth horn lightly blown. The innovative Theme and Variations of the 4th movement allows Rivka Golani’s cutaway viola to exchange a pair of mellow opinions with Carole Sirois’ cello, followed by elegant asides from violin to clarinet, and clarinet to bassoon, while Quarrington plucks a walking bass line.

The final movement begins at an almost funereal pace with a horn solo that the violin picks up and whips lightly into a high spirited presto finale. This is Beethoven in the mood of Mozart.

Schubert’s “Octet”, with its second violin part played by Ben Bowman, is the more opulently scored piece, as if the setting had moved from the garden to the gilded concert hall richly carpeted and draped, with plush carved furnishings along the panelled walls. The opening movement, like Beethoven’s is a sonata form Adagio-Allegro, but Schubert changes key within the theme instead of setting a second theme. The clarinet introduces the Andante with a slow, lovely minor key melody supported by an independent bass part that recalls his “Trout” Quintet.

The lively Scherzo is rich with full-voiced string and wind choirs, a walking bass-line accompaniment for the cello, and rounds of wind solos circling the delightful clarinet. This movement seemed to be the audience favourite, though to judge by their collegial glances and happy grins, the musicians enjoyed the songlike light operatic 4th Theme and Variations.