Archive for April, 2007

ATELIER’S ORPHEUS by Stanley Fefferman

Monday, April 30th, 2007

Sunday, April 29, 2007
Elgin Theatre, Toronto

Think of Dresden porcelain figures animated by Disney Studios: a storyboard of cameos that comes alive with singers and dancers who are all young and beautiful and filled with glorious music.

Voilá, the Paris 1774 vintage of “Orpheus and Eurydice” as imagined by Marshall Pynkowski and Jeanette Zingg, uncorked to the incomparable sounds of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choirs’ performance of the tunes of C.W. Gluck. Intoxicating!

You might ask why anyone today would expect to find pleasure looking through a window at an entertainment suited to the taste of Marie Antoinette, set where nubile nymphs and shepherds dance without a care in gossamer attire, where deities and demons toy with a pair of lovers who twice return from death by the powers of music and love.

The window of Gluck’s opera opens onto the Orphic world where Art is shown in a dynamic marriage with Nature. Here, extremes resolve in harmonic balance. Here are displayed beauties that inspire love to cancel loss. On this stage that proclaims “L’Amour Triumphe”, the agonies and ecstasies of passion effervesce into an air of cheerfulness that the audience takes in at every breath.

Each element of this most romantic of stories is meticulously poised in classical balance. Jeannette Zingg’s choreography and Gerard Gauci’s set are all about geometrical order, but order that flows softly in the gentle, bright colours of Margaret Lamb’s costumes.

Orpheus is Colin Ainsworth, Prince Charming with a golden voice that ranges pure and effortless beyond high C’s. Peggy Kriha Dye is Eurydice. She is made to appear and fade teasingly like an apparition in the background until she enters singing “Joy inhabits”, her voice rich and flowing like birdsong above the leafy rustle of the choir.

Jennie Such is Amor, the god of love dressed like a pageboy, descending and rising in a cloud chariot, clear-voiced, all gaiety and unceasingly cheerful, making it known that all the intensities of human love are, in the balance, really not so serious.

MARION NEWMAN by Stanley Fefferman

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Thursday, April 26, 2007
Walter Hall, University of Toronto

Marion Newman’s voice flows among the deft piano stylings of Gregory Oh like a deep river moving through a delta towards the open sea.

She is equally at home performing in the idioms of Ojibwe/Odawa and Salish languages as she is in the European artsong languages of Chausson, Britten and Mahler.

Ms. Newman’s remarkably flexible vocalizations reflect the different cultural traditions of her material; her ability to go deeply into a role and remain there until the song is over gives her recital an endearing continuity.

She can be a mother singing her child to sleep, as in her own composition, “Kinanu”, in which she accompanies herself on a frame drum, her voice flattened and somewhat desaturated in the direction of parchment.

She can be the fin de siecle French lover whose song is sensitive as a butterfly but who sings in a voice rich in tones of seduction towards the erotic.

The Major work in this recital is the premiere of Barbara Croall’s song cycle in seven movements entitled “BIGIIWE” (She is Coming Home), commissioned by The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto and sponsored by Roger D. Moore.

Ms. Newman opens “BIGIIWE” with groans, yips, accompanying herself with a rattle and a string of shells; sometimes she whistles, sometimes she talks, mostly in the Ottawa language, but also in vernacular street English; sometimes she uses the voice of a European mezzo-soprano, and sometimes she simplifies to an earthy aboriginal chant free of vibrato.

Gregory Oh’s piano tinkles and thunders, jangles its scraped strings, peals out church bells and pounding, dark chords of doom. Piano and voice engage ecletic sonorities to tell the legend of the little girl Anangoons, how she is born and raised inside Anishnaabe culture, how she is separated from her mother and taken to a church school where she is shamed by the priest, and finally how she and her baby are led by a bird out of the labyrinth back to her home.

The mothering theme continued after intermission with 5 songs from Benjamin Britten’s “A Charm of Lullabies, Op.41”, settings of poems by William Blake, Robbie Burns, Robert Greene and others. These dissonant lullabies are harsh and far from charming.

There was magic in the collaboration of voice and piano during the concluding performance of Mahler’s introverted love song cycle “Funf Ruckert Lieder”. Gregory Oh clearly felt Mahler’s flowing melodies, and the warm richness of Marion Newman’s vocal colours opened space after space of feelings extenuated to the verges of pain.

KREMERATA BALTICA by Stanley Fefferman

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Presented by Show One Productions
George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto

Beethoven’s “Grosse Fugue Op. 133”, composed for 4 players, is grandly upscaled when this 27 piece Chamber Orchestra assembled by Gidon Kremer performs it. The big sound coming from a stage full of musicians surprises with its broad and deeply spaced orchestral dimensions—a kind of super audio effect. The vigorous, rising staccato of the ‘overtura’ in B flat drives with kinetic force; the slow, lyrical section in G that rides on the contemplative drone of cellos and bass is transfixing; the section before the recapitulation suggests a stately brass-like staccato procession that morphs into a river-run of organ tones.

While meeting and mastering the daunting technical difficulty of this piece, Kremer’s ensemble transforms Beethoven’s most intimate, introspective reflection on his total deafness into a cinematic widescreen THX short feature. Not a bad thing.

Gidon Kremer makes his first appearance of the evening as soloist in a transcription for violin of Schumann’s “Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129”. This piece, like the Beethoven, is the externalized expression of great suffering. Schumann composed it in 1850, at the onset of the period that lead to his madness, suicide, and final incarceration.

“Op. 129” opens with a dark, turbulent melody through which runs a strain of melancholy sweetness like dark spalting, the product of decay. Kremer follows the virtuosic course of the concerto, but he clearly has a firm grip on the reins, controlling the advance and retreat, the revelation and concealment of tension and elation. Kremer keeps the orchestra with him, letting them shine in the orchestral passage before his final cadenza and the shift to a quicker dance like tempo that closes the concerto on a fresh and vivacious note.

The second half of the concert is devoted to having fun with beautiful music played for the audience’s pleasure. It begins with a suite of pieces celebrating spring and ends with encores that include Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”.

Victoria Poleva’s “Warm Wind” buzzes, flits and burbles on vibraphone and windy strings, streaked and scratched with bow strokes that resemble the expressionist brushstrokes of Oscar Kokoschka. Kremer and the Kremerata merge “Warm Wind” with a theme from Beethoven’s “Violin Sonata No. 5 in F major, Opus 24”, the ‘Spring Sonata’. This trips along sweetly, transforming into the locomotive percussive drive of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”, featuring Andrii Pushkarov floating poetically above his vibraphone like one of Chagall’s musicians.

Follow here seasonal tunes from Mother Russian including Tchaikovsky’s ‘April’ from his “Seasons, Op. 37b”, which gives the concert it’s first blush of Disney, redeemed by a very sexy composition by Astor Piazzolla “Primavera Portena” that tapers off into Kremer’s little joking musical reference to Vivaldi’s “The Seasons”. Piazzolla’s smooth, sentimental and funny “Three Pieces for Violin and Vibraphone” brought the programme to a close with a triple fugue involving violin, viola, and vibraphone.

As if the audience were not happy and high enough, Kremer sent us up with a carefully orchestrated medley, variations on “Happy Birthday” that moved to the rhythms of a Strauss waltz and a Russian Cossack dance.

DAVID MORRIS & SONNERIE by Stanley Fefferman

Friday, April 13th, 2007

Thursday, April 12, 2007.
Presented by Music Toronto at Jane Mallett Theatre Toronto.

The pianoforte played by the light-fingered virtuoso David Owen Norris, is a still, small voice. It’s silvery timbre skirts the brooding thunder of the darker toned grand piano and voices feelings bounded by a sense of delicacy. In a concerto scored for two violins and a cello, as in J.C. ‘London’ Bach’s “Concerto in E-flat”, the excellence of the pianoforte’s ‘soft, gentle and low’ voice is clearly heard in the stately flow of the ‘Andante’s’ poignant theme that so brings to mind Mozart’s 21st Concerto theme, known as the “Elvira Madigan”. These works of Bach and his pupil Mozart share the power of giving music the intimations of speech. Even in Bach’s third movement, a dance-like ‘Allegro’ in which the gaiety is not personal, one has the feeling of a human voice telling a story, albeit in a foreign tongue.

Mozart at 15 showed his appreciation for Christian Bach’s music and his friendship by arranging a Bach “Sonata in D” as his own “Concerto in D, K.107/1”. Mozart’s second movement ‘Andante’ progresses in the formal patterns of a courtly dance, but develops a rarified feeling, as though the dancers were moving from the ballroom to the garden, flowing with the breezes among ponds, fountains, marbles and parterres, exhilarated beyond personal emotion into an uplifted state of mind. The power of Mozart’s muse can be read in the faces of the players, particularly the cellist, Joseph Crouch, who was visibly ‘a-mused’ during the cadenza. The brilliant ‘pizzicato’ accompaniment of the ‘Menuetto’ is further testimony to the ‘zen-like’ power of music played without force.

The concert also has a time-sensitive aspect that should be noted here. The Bach, the Mozart, and two other compositions in the programme were written between 1769 (“Concerto in A” by Philip Hayes) and 1772 (Concerto in D Op.1.No.5) by James Hook. These are the first known piano concertos. The Hayes and the Hook are graceful and witty pieces. The finale of the Hook is an especially good-humoured, high-stepping dance with marked overtones of Scottish reels and bagpipe drones.

The other time-sensitive element belonging to this period of the late 18th century is the emergence into the mainstream, particularly through Hungarian court circles, of Roma, or ‘Gypsy’ dance music. Their influence appears famously in Haydn’s ” ‘Gypsy Rondo’ Trio”, and later in Schubert’s “Quintet in D”, and Brahms’ “Piano Quartet, Op. 25”. As played by Norris and the excellent Sonnerie violinists—Monica Huggett and Hèlén Plouff, this is music to lift the spirits in pure fun and enjoyment—high contrast of tempo and mood that shift with winks and a grin from the lugubrious to the riot of perpetual motion. It was a concert you leave with a light step, humming a tune.