Archive for November, 2007

The Naked Emperor 2007 Debut reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Saturday, November 24, Kobayashi Hall, Toronto

Emiko Hsuen, artistic director of this new ‘indy’ artist event, describes it as “appealing to an audience of multiple generations, as well as a way to give back to the community through charity.

The specific charity supported by this eclectic concert performed before an audience of 300 is the Canadian Music Therapy Trust Fund.

Ms. Hsuen, a singer/songwriter, and her co-producers, singer/songwriter Francesca Blandizzi and Hubert Razack, a guitarist/composer, also performed this evening.

Ms. Blandizzi and Mr. Hubert co-produced the event which consisted of a program of classical, blues, folk, world, jazz, and spiritual compositions, including original material by this talented trio of entreprenuers. Chantal Ferris choreographed a couple of lively dance numbers interpreted by a company from the Woodbridge School of Dance.

The entire program was enthusiastically received and a few deserve special mention for the vivid, outstanding quality of their energy. Hubert Razack and Benjamin Stein, for their eerily wonderful folksong “The Hanged Man” by Jadely; the astonishingly durable duo of Peggy Mahon with Danny McErlain for their jazz medley; Yuka Koreeda for her delicately oriental playing of a keyboard work by Claude Debussy; and not least, Emiko Hsuen for her outstanding vocal of Schubert’s “Sulieka II, Op. 31., D.717.

For an enlarged view of these and other images in a slide show please click here.

Looking forward to the continuing flow of this excellent intiative, we imagine in years to come a tighter sense of continuity will emerge, a venue where the hum of climate control is quieter might become available, and that The Naked Emperor will maintain its orientation towards benevolence in matters of the arts.

Music in the Afternoon:Anton Kuerti/Teng Li reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Thursday, November 15, 2007, Walter Hall, Toronto.

Anton Kuerti is a virtuoso who gets better and better. He played a program of sonatas that epitomized classical values — delicacy, clarity, and precision. At the same time, his Haydn was romantic, the Beethoven had flamboyance, the Schubert was deep and spacious, the Brahms (with Violist Teng Li) was poignant with dying.

Haydn’s “Sonata No. 38 in F Major, Hob. XVI No. 23” was among his first works published by Artaria following Haydn’s new contract with his princely patron in 1779 that allowed Haydn compositional independence and the income from sales of his music. One hears in this work an appeal to a broader, more varied audience than Haydn had at court. The melodies have a simple charm and the ornamental runs are dazzling in a popular way. The slow movement anticipates the melancholy loveliness of Chopin.

Beethoven’s “Piano Sonata No.6 in F Major, Op.10, No. 2”, is an early work from the composer’s first period in Vienna (1796-99). Beethoven had been working out a radical approach to sonata form to enhance its dramatic possibilities by making the recapitulation less of a symmetrical return and more of a triumphant transformation in a tragic or melodramatic mode. Kuerti’s playing is masculine: the forceful melodies are backed by left-handed thunder. However, in this particular sonata, the mood is not tragic but whimsical and good-natured.

Franz Schubert’s “Sonata in C minor, D.958 (Op. Posth.)” is one of three piano sonatas from the composer’s last year of life (1828). The C minor expresses the composer’s idea of cyclical return through links between the movements that one hears in thematic, rhythmic and harmonic materials. Kuerti’s account focuses our attention on the divine melody in the opening ‘Allegro’, the gorgeous depth of feeling in the ‘Adagio’, and the sense of ‘gap’ or open space in the soft-spoken humanity of the closing ‘Allegros’.

The “Sonata for Viola and Piano in E flat Major, Op.120, No. 2” was issued in 1895 after Brahms had declared the end of his work as a composer. Written for clarinet and piano, Brahms adapted it for viola at the suggestion of Joseph Joachim. The rich ‘autumnal’ tones of Teng Li’s viola were pleasing to the ear and appropriate to the season. The timing of this duo was perfectly synched to mirror the extraordinary compositional artistry that one admires in Brahms’ music.

Quatuor Arthur-Leblanc at Music Toronto reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Tuesday, November 13, presented by Music Toronto.

An evening that has a performance of Shostakovich in it is a good evening. Quatuor Arthur-Leblanc, Music Toronto’s quartet-in-residence this season, gave a refreshing account of the “String Quartet No. 4 in D. Op.83.

This quartet was composed in 1949, while Shostakovich was enduring official censure for his “formalist distortions and anti-democratic tendencies alien to the Soviet people.” It is said he sought refuge from depression by working on this quartet. Shostakovich chose to delay its release until 1953, 8 months after the dictator’s death.

We hear, after a richly lyrical opening by two violins in unison, the low register strings set up a drone that grinds like a murmuring crowd being worked up and down by news of daily impositions. One feels an odd sadness, like witnesses at the funeral of a stranger.

The mood of the ‘Andantino’ is also subdued, relieved by a lyrical note of yearning for a better life. This brings a feeling of commiseration with a vast melancholy that is carried in waves on the outpouring of Ryan Molzan’s cello.
The two final movements, played as one, introduce an edgy, pulsing, busy, metropolitan sound, complex and impersonal as traffic. The Arthur-Leblanc bring a lightened-up touch to the work, making it more easily bearable than the anguished Borodin account.

The linked final ‘Allegretto’ rises on a Jewish folk-song theme towards an energetic conclusion that suggests a positive social vision before the personal returns in an eerily high passage that glances back to the first movement, as the first violin shrills against a slow, sustained cello pizzicato and their combined voices fade out.

The same light touch, somewhat dramatized and impassioned, drove their performance of Schubert’s “Quartet in D Minor, D. 810, known as “Death and the Maiden.” The annunciatory pair of opening chords á la Beethoven flow in soft rhythms towards the verge of melody. The movement seems to be about the contrast lyric and turbulent feelings.

The second movement is a set of variations based on a theme Schubert wrote for a song he called “Death and the Maiden”, based as it was on a text of a dialogue between a young woman and ‘Death’ who woos her successfully into his arms. The playing here is graceful rather than morbid, and catches fire in the final variations as a bridge to the driving syncopations of the brief ‘Scherzo’.

The ‘Finale’ reflects the cyclical strategy of this period of Schubert’s work, repeating the turbulent rhythms of the first movement in a dance tempo that is a bit more cheerful than the notion of Death dancing off the stage with the maiden in his arms.

The evening ended as it began, with a surprise. The first one was André Prévost’s “Vivace” movement of his first string quartet (1958). This is a work of Shostakovian complexity and irony, full of varied textures, densities, glissandos, and dissonant swirls and percussive sonics. The encore was an energetic “Tango” by Astor Piazzolla.

“An Unfinished Life” by Brian Cherney reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Tuesday, November 7, 2007, Metropolitan United Church, Toronto.

Brian Cherney’s “An Unfinished Life,” premiered this evening, is scored for a narrator (Marilyn Lightstone), 4 soloists (The Hilliard Ensemble), a 21 person (Tafelmusik) chamber choir, a chamber orchestra (6 of Canada’s finest players), and conductor Ivar Taurins.

Cherney’s composition is a setting of texts (letters, diaries, poems) written and collected by Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jewish writer who died in Auschwitz, 64 years ago, on November 30, 1943.

Known for his meticulous construction and quiet intensity, Cherney has created an inspired work that is equal to the time-conquering spirit of Etty Hillesum and the awesome abilities of the players.

Etty Hillesum should not be seen as a wanna-be-Anne Frank. She was 28 in 1942 when she chose ‘not’ to go into hiding, ‘not’ to dodge the common fate of her people but to accept her share of it “in faith and gratitude that life is so beautiful.”

Marilyn Lightstone’s narration of texts chosen for setting by Cherney is part of the musical design. Her voice of Etty, so full of life and feeling, curiosity, wonder, and practical determination, amplified in a mike that echoed in the stony vastitude of the church venue, is sometimes lost when she speaks in concert with the voices of orchestra, choir and other narrators.

However, as the work continues, the muffling echo effect is absorbed into the deliberate element of chaos that Cherney creates with his multilingual texts and multiple voices. What becomes absorbing at the sound level is the ‘multichannel’ interplay Cherney and Taurins get out of the whole ensemble. Voices seem to emerge into the space from different locations, at different angles, as if they were utterances of different, discrete points of view.

This is a kind of musical imaginativeness is on a par with stunning lines of text such as “I would like to be able to swim away in my tears,” and Etty’s observation that “A line from Rilke has as much reality as a cheese coupon”. This much imagination in text, score, and performance is without a doubt a life-enhancing experience.

The Hilliard ensemble (counter-tenor David James) opened up a new channel in the evening’s sonic life with their recital of songs in Latin by Palestrina (1525-1594) in tandem with songs in Hebrew by Rabbi Solomon Rossi (1570-1630).

Renaissance polyphony was largely sacred polyphony intended for church services and accordingly had to be serious and had to be sung so that the text was always clearly understandable. Palestrina’s music was bound by rules and he was famous for the strictness of his adherence to them. Rossi employed the prevailing rules, but for composing synagogue motets. While the music of both composers follow the same rules, the sounds of Latin, so consonantal, angular and devotional, creates a different feeling from the Hebrew that is soft, open, emotional.

In both cases, The Hilliards weave a soft floating web of sonorities pure in tone, perfect in harmony, each of their voices clear and distinct in its flight, all coming together at points like the organ tone of a single, justly tuned instrument. Their music is so rockingly peaceful; it is like you are already dead and gone as you listen. A journey through the Hilliards’ recorded repertoire would be a good and timely one.

For this evening’s pleasure and for everything that may come out of this “Unfinished Life” concert we are grateful to The Canada Council, Soundstreams Canada, and Holocaust Education Week.

Two New CD Reviews by Stanley Fefferman

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

A live virtuoso guitar quartet with roots in England, the U.S. Madagascar, Trinidad and Spain, not to mention Canada, is what we have here in this second of a series of live recordings from International Guitar Night’s 2007 tour.

The 15 tracks of original instrumental music showcase the fire of the guitar as well as its feeling in titles like “I Miss My Family”, and “My Tribe”( (D’Gary),or my personal favourite, Brian Gore’s “Swaddle Time Blues”.

Their first album has become a favourite in my family of guitar players. IGN II is highly reccommended starting now. Click here for more details .

This is the fourth album by the remarkable Ron Davis it has been my pleasure to examine and enjoy. “Solo, Duo, Trio,” “Mungle Music,” “Shimmering Rhythm”, and now “Subarashi Live” . The thing about Ron Davis, apart from his awesome virtuosity and excellent taste in music and musical partners, is the range of his musicality.

“Subarashi Live” like the previous albums, has an underlying connection to tradition through Ragtime, Rachmaninoff, and maybe even Rameau. This means beautiful melodies sensitively drawn. Over that rides the free and unfettered spirit of the jazz improviser having every kind of fun but always keeping track. Most of the cuts are compositions by Ron himself and show the inexhaustible variety of his lore. His mostly solo rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You” is so slow it comes across like Chopin, until Sacha Boychuck joins him on clarinet and then it becomes mysterious. Click here to find a shameless plug for Subarashi Live.

Quattuor Bozzini at Music Toronto Reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Thursday, November 1, 2007.

The Bozzini played two contemporary pieces that exploit extended techniques and raw sonorities, many of them percussive and harsh. They also played a piece by Brahms that sounded, at first, to have the same raw quality as the earlier pieces, but seemed out of place and unpleasant here. Gradually, it dawned, that the Bozzini touch, so raw, made the Brahms sound fresh and new and gave much pleasure.

Claude Vivier’s “Pulau Dewata” is a Balinese inspired ‘single line’ score that does not specify any musical instruments. Since its birth in the late ‘70’s this piece has been arranged for saxophone quartet, solo percussionist and chamber orchestra. Tonight’s performance was arranged for the Quattuor in 2002 by composer Michael Oesterle and has been recorded by them.

On hearing the first few minutes of Vivier/Oesterle’s repetitive, percussive, staccato short phrases, one could easily imagine the sound of it in winds or brass or percussion—an altogether pleasant and interesting effect. There is very little in the way of melody until the very end. The musicality of “Pulau Dewata” relies on alternation and combination of thinly orchestrated queer pitches and timbres, changes in rhythms and dynamics.

The music is stark, repeatedly focuses the attention and relaxes it into a pregnant calm. The Quattuor Bozzini convey the authority of their understanding of the music and their enthusiasm for it.

Thomas Steigler’s “Namenlose Garten” [String Quartet No. 3], (2003)” is a 20 minute piece, commissioned by the Bozzini and recently recorded by them. The writing is based on eighth, quarter, and semi-tones, which allows some very smooth, glossy textures that are attractive. Even the passages of silent and almost silent bowing give the illusion of a mirrored surface. Many of the sonorities are onomatopoeic, often resembling whale sounds, and lugubrious, electronic, guttural, digestive tract sounds, sounds from the margin of the musical palette. Based on a portfolio of garden drawings, Steigler’s sonic environments are intriguing.

The themes that open Brahms’s third and last string quartet are happy, scherzo-like and polka in rhythmic interplay, and one could not quite connect with the Bozzini’s account which seem to carry over much of the high contrast, stark, not to say ‘harsh’ tones of the previous experimental pieces. However, the second movement, which is lush, slow and improvisatory, seemed to come out as a refreshing blend of Brahms and Bozzini. Passages bore their signature glassiness; disjointed timing and harsh timbres in other passages seemed to bring out new and attractive textures in Brahms’s music.

Clemens Merkel, a deft player, intrigued by getting fluty sounds out of his first violin during the third movement, in which the voice of Stéphanie Bozzini’s viola, moody and passionate, also distinguished itself. The theme and eight variations of the finale showed the Bozzini at their best. Though the main thrust of this group seems to be in New Music (they have recorded Steve Reich, Jurg Frey, Jo Kondo, Howard Skempton) I would welcome another chance to hear the sound they make playing great music of the past.