The Classical Music Network (English) Mon, 21 May 2018 13:01:36 +0200 <![CDATA[New York - The New York Phillharmonic]]>
S. Bychkov (© Chris Christodoulou)

“Music can go further than poetry, for it is capable of grasping the most secret memories of the inner world, which are inaccessible to words.”
Friedrich Hegel, paraphrased by Milan Kundera in The Curtain

The quote above should apply directly to Dmitri Shostakovich’s most popular symphony, the Fifth. So many million words have “described” the piece in terms of history, politics, Stalinism, esoteric meanings that one forgets that this is–above all–a piece of great music. And when Semyon Bychkov conducts the work, even in a flawed New ]]>...
Thu, 17 May 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[New York - Artek’s Artemisia: Light and Shadow]]>
A. Gentileschi, self-portrait as Mary Magdeline/S. Chalfy

One initially could classify the latest offering from Artek as a triptych. Except that the triptych assumes a religious allusion, and Artemisia: Light and Shadow is a charming, wicked, stunning and totally secular study of an early Baroque painter.

Instead, one must classify this hour-long study as an honor to the triumvirate Muses of painting, drama and music.

Entering the Flea Theater auditorium, one sees the stage divided into three, with drapes as a semi-division. On one sid]]>...
Tue, 15 May 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[New York - The Cecilia Chorus with Orchestra]]>
John Singer Sargent’s Dame E. Smyth/M. Shapiro

The usual lauds for The Cecilia Chorus are twofold. First, as they showed last night, they are a terrific group. And under Mark Shapiro, their voices are transparent, they can give off some ear-splitting fortissimos without an iota of blatancy, and they are...well, sometimes ravishing.

The second laud goes to their chutzpa. Or, to the church-going, their audacity. Yes, Cecilia does its Messiah and Elijah. But they commission some extraordinary works like Tom Cipullo’s Credo for ]]>...
Fri, 11 May 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[New York - Pianist E. Ax]]>
E. Ax (© Lisa-Marie Mazzucco)

Emanuel Ax, the ever-amiable pianist – one may say New York audiences beloved son – is a rather ubiquitous presence on the stages of this city where he has been residing since his early teens ( he was born in Lvov, later schooled in Warsaw, Poland and arrived to the States almost six decades ago). He performs here each season as a soloist with the orchestras and for the last three years he has been also presented by the Carnegie Hall in solo recitals. It seems to me that approaching 70 in just one year, Mr. Ax is going from strength to strength and to this day shows remarkable pianistic skills combine]]>... Thu, 10 May 2018 00:00:00 +0200 <![CDATA[New York - The New York Philharmonic Orchestra]]>
N. Znaider (© Lars Gundersen)

The year 1866 was a Russian blockbuster. That was the year Fyodor Dostoevsky, taking refuge from debt-collectors, from his wife, from his volatile mistress, was finishing The Gambler, where the theme was that of the author himself, the gambling addict in the fictional German town of Roulettenburg (a.k.a. Bad Homburg).

1866 was the same year that Pytor Ilych Tchaikovsky, already conflicted but dreaming of a tranquil future, finished his First Symphony. More than music, this first great truly Russian symphony started with two movement titles which were as personal t]]>...
Thu, 10 May 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Montreal - The Toronto Symphony Orchestra]]>
P. Oundjian (© Jaime Hogge)

In what has become an annual tradition, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Peter Oundjian, returned to Montreal’s Maison symphonique Sunday afternoon and delivered a triumphant performance of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony. This was a newly revised version of the original 1887 Nowak edition prepared by Paul Hawkshaw. He is compiling new editions of the 1887 and 1890 versions for the New Anton Bruckner Collected Works Edition being published by the Austrian National Library in Vienna. Hawkshaw discovered that the 1887 Nowak edition had been based on a single copyist score and not the]]>...
Sun, 06 May 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[New York - The London Symphony Orchestra]]>
S. Rattle (© Johann Sebastian Hanel)

Kein’ Musik ist ja nicht auf Erden
Die uns’rer verglichen kann werden...

(No music is there on earth
Which may be compared with ours…)
from Symphony No. 4 by Gustav Mahler

New York loves Mahler and this month is but a small example. The LSO is here for three concerts. On their night off, we Mahlerians can go down the street to Carnegie Hall where the Bavarian Radio Symphony with Mariss Jansons presents the 7t~h. Later in May the MET Orchestra will offer the 5th under the baton of Noseda and just over the lin]]>...
Fri, 04 May 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Toronto - The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra ]]>
B. Weil (© Mio Schweiger)

The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, boosted up to 40 players, closed its 39th season with a further foray into the 19th century and the works of Beethoven. This marked the end of Elisa Citterio’s first season as music director, and it is worth noting that the orchestra’s first music director, Jeanne Lamon, was concertmaster for the occasion.

This program was bound to be popular, featuring two of Beethoven’s sunniest compositions. Yes, there is the storm in the “Pastoral” Symphony but the sun quickly reappears. The Violin Concerto has a moment or two where the composer’s well]]>...
Thu, 03 May 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Melbourne - Massenet’s Don Quichotte]]>
F. Furlanetto (© Jeff Busby)

Continuing the theme of imported stars for this Melbourne season, Opera Australia gave Massenet’s infrequently performed Don Quichotte with Italian super-star basso Ferruccio Furlanetto. Frequently dismissed as old-fashioned and out of taste, Massenet’s opera is like so many of his other works, rarely heard. That is, until a stellar performer who can act as well as he sings, can breathe life into a somewhat two-dimensional comic book character. In collaboration with San Diego Opera, this 2009 production, originally staged w]]>...
Thu, 03 May 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Toronto - Donizetti’s Anna Bolena]]>
K. Alkema & S. Radvanovsky (© Michael Cooper)

The third of Donizetti’s “Tudor Trilogy” has finally arrived in Toronto, the other two having been performed here in 2010 (Maria Stuarda) and 2014 (Roberto Devereux), in productions from the Dallas Opera under the direction of Stephen Lawless.

When I first got to know this opera I was struck by its melancholy aspect and, in fact, I dismissed it as unwarrantedly droopy when the COC performed it in 1984 with Joan Sutherland. For whatever reason (a venue that ensures greater immediacy certainly helps), this production vividly presents the various reasons w]]>...
Sat, 28 Apr 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Toronto - The Beautiful Helen]]>
A. Fisher, B. Kalender (© Gilberto Prioste)

Opera in the vernacular, once the most common way it was heard worldwide, is almost taboo nowadays. As late as the 1990s, non-German operas were sung in Goethe’s tongue throughout Germany’s opera houses with the exception of that country’s top companies in its biggest most cosmopolitan cities. I remember a sold-out Turandot in Nuremberg where the enthusiastic public enjoyed “Niemand schläft” rather than “Nessun dorma”. Understanding what is happening on stage, without twisting one’s neck and constantly reading surtitles, makes the experience more natural. The energy in Madrid’s Te]]>...
Fri, 27 Apr 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[New York - D. Trifonov & Friends]]>
D. Trifonov & Kremerata Baltica (© Stephanie Berger)

Carnegie Hall invested in a 27 year old Russian pianist and offered him the unprecedented gift of curating a seven-concert series called Perspectives. The last segment of that series took place in late April and early May. In the two April performances Trifonov and his illustrious colleagues presented works by Chopin, several of which were already recorded by the Deutsche Gramophone Chopin “Evocations”, albeit this time both of the piano concertos received their Carnegie Hall premieres in the new ultra-streamlined “orchestration” by Yevgeni Sharlat, who eschewed the original con]]>...
Wed, 25 Apr 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Cleveland - The Cleveland Orchestra]]>
(© Roger Mastroianni/Courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra)

Olivier Messiaen’s Turngalîla-Symphonie is a very strange beast indeed. I first became aware of it back in the 60s when the energetic young conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa, made a recording of it that created quite a buzz.

I have always thought there was a relatively conventional four-movement symphony embedded somewhere in the rambling ten-movement, 80-minute work - and it turns out there is (sort of). Messiaen first composed movements I (“Introduction”), IV (“Chant d’amour II”, the scherzo), VI (“Jardin du sommeil d’amo]]>...
Wed, 25 Apr 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Melbourne - Revival of Tosca]]>
B. Rasheed, D. Torre, L. Moore, M. Vratogna (© Jeff Busby)

For this season’s second offering, Opera Australia again revives a massively successful production of Tosca by renowned Director-Performer, John Bell. Again, they fill the massive theatre with a younger-than-usual crowd who received the performance with cheers, whistles and stamping reminiscent of a football final.

John Bell realises the outrage elements of this “shabby little shocker” in Nazi-dominated Rome during World War 2. He emphasizes the sexual threat from Scarpia who enjoys “a woman who fights back”. From the first appearance of the Ges]]>...
Tue, 24 Apr 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[New York - Revival of Roméo et Juliette]]>
(© Ken Howard)

The Met’s revival of Charles Gounod’s second most important opera (after Faust) seems to be one of those appositely star crossed revivals. Brought back as a vehicle for the rising star tenor Bryan Hymel, it suffered the first blow when Hymel withdrew from the entire run due to a serious illness. At its opening on April 23, Hymel’s replacement Charles Castronovo also withdrew, leaving the young tenor Andrea Shin to open the revival. Castronovo came back to sing the performance of April 27 and delivered a perfectly adequate if far from thrilling performance as Roméo. The craft and technique were there, and cert]]>...
Mon, 23 Apr 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[New York - The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra]]>
R. Levin (© Clive Barda)

I have always been a fan of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, mostly because for many years it was an ensemble without a home, a strange situation among a leading orchestra for a large state in the Union. Now, the orchestra has for one of its homes – for it still performs concerts in New Brunswick – one of the finest venues on the East Coast, the Prudential Hall in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, or NJPAC for short. They have always had a bunch of excellent musicians, including many top-notch freelancers from New York City and over the years I heard them give, both in NJ and in Carnegie Hall, some ]]>...
Sun, 22 Apr 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Cleveland - F. Welser-Möst conducts Tristan]]>
(© Roger Mastroianni/Courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra)

In recent years the Cleveland Orchestra has occasionally staged opera in its concert hall despite the limitations of not having the fully-equipped stage and pit. This season, though, their three presentations of Tristan und Isolde were straightforward concerts with the singers placed on a platform constructed above the orchestra toward the rear of the stage. This was certainly a factor in the terrific balance between the orchestra and singers, often a problem when the orchestra is not in a pit. (And there are good reasons why the pit in Wagner’s own theatre in Bayreuth i]]>...
Sat, 21 Apr 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[New York - TENET & Metropolis Ensemble]]>
T. Andres/C. Shaw (© Courtesy of the Artists)

Versailles! Your brain goes giddy...and you half believe you are the dupe of an exquisite dream. The scene thrills like military music.
Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, 1869

The great front is a lumber of littlenesses…The rooms are all small except for the Great Gallery...The garden is littered with statues...Such was Louis XIV left to the pursuit of his puerile ideas of glory.
Horace Walpole (1739)

The questionable glory of Versailles, built to keep the Government of France from having]]>...
Sat, 21 Apr 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Philadelphia - The Philadelphia Orchestra]]>
S. Denève (© Bram Goots)

Principal guest conductor Stephane Denève was on the Philadelphia Orchestra podium for two weeks of programming in April that started and with a special concert event with for master cine-composer John Williams. Denève’s weekend concert series that followed included big sonic orchestra waves that rivaled Williams, with music by Prokofiev, Ravel, Strauss and contemporary French composer Guillaume Connesson. Of course, with Denève at the controls, it was so much more than just pumping up the volume.

Connesson’s Flammenschrift, ostensibly an homage to Beethoven and Germany (the se]]>...
Thu, 19 Apr 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[New York - The New York Philharmonic]]>
T. Fellner (© Gabriela Brandenstein)

“If God does not spare me to finish this Symphony, He must take responsibility for its incompleteness.”
Anton Bruckner
“He would never win the race to the Moon; but his would be the first of all man’s ships to set sail on the long journey to the stars.”
Arthur C. Clarke, The Wind From the Sun

Recently I was perusing some old records of the New York Philharmonic when I stumbled across this rather odd item from the year 1950:
BRUCKNER – Symphony No. 9, D minor (“Unfinished”)

This round of performances led by Br]]>...
Thu, 19 Apr 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Toronto - Revival of Monteverdi’s Ritorno]]>
K. Spicer & M. Lebel (© Bruce Zinger)

The secret to doing works like this (and maybe all theatrical works?) is to embrace if for what it is and get a cast who can do the same. The piece has a slow start, what with the opening scene depicting Human Frailty afflicted by Time, Fortune, and Love. However, as soon as Penelope delivers her anguished monologue this performance becomes a riveting event. Mireille Lebel delivers a heartfelt performance throughout, accompanied by the empathetic, dignified responses of her servant, Ericlea, performed by Laura Pudwell, herself a noted Penelope.

Ericlea can be broadly comic ]]>...
Thu, 19 Apr 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[New York - M. Hughes & Ensemble Connect]]>
M. Hughes

“…the rhythm should be observed as in ordinary singing; while a sung melody maintains its pitches, the spoken melody merely indicates the pitches and then moves up or down from them…”
René Leibowitz, Schoenberg and His School

Although Pierrot lunaire today seems like the commencement of something, it is in reality a finale to a style of musical thinking that desiccated when Schoenberg retreated to his study and developed over time the twelve-tone system of composition. It was as if the freedom of the ‘atonal’ frightened the composer, who felt the need to restrain and codify his musical inventivenes]]>...
Thu, 19 Apr 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[New York - Cellist A. Ionită & Pianist N. Sonada]]>
N. Sonada/A. Ionită

“When we play an unaccompanied Bach suite we may compare ourselves to an actor in Shakespeare's day. We create scenery (which then was non-existent), through the power of declamation and suggestion. So in Bach. The cello is a single voice, yet so voices have to be suggested.”
Pablo Casals

The young Rumanian cellist Andrei Ionită gained worldwide fame when winning First Prize at the 15th International Tchaikovsky Competition, but even before this iconic musical landmark, he had been garnering international awards. And no wonder! While he began last night’s recital with a wor]]>...
Thu, 19 Apr 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Melbourne - Revival of La Traviata]]>
(© Jeff Busby)

As a season opener, it would be hard to beat La Traviata – guaranteed full houses, lots of media coverage, sparkling score and the ideal vehicle for introducing a star soprano. This production, first aired by Opera Australia in 1994, continues to deliver “in spades”. The enormous opening night crowd were vocally enthusiastic. The glitz and glamour of the production captivates even after this extended run and the Opera Australia debut of American Corrine Winters was rapturously received.

From the first notes of the Prelude, Italian conductor Carlo Montanaro drew from the orchestra subtle]]>...
Tue, 17 Apr 2018 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Toronto - Esprit Orchestra]]>
(© Malcolm Cook)

Esprit Orchestra’s 35th season concluded with a program titled “Taiko Plus!” featuring two world premieres from Canadian composers and two works from Asian composers being given their Canadian premieres.

The concert opened with Fuhon Shi’s Concentric Circles (composed in 2009), a work inspired by the I Ching, the earliest known source of the complementary concepts of Yin and Yang. It has four linked movements: Great Yin, Lesser Yang, Lesser Yin, and Great Yang. It opens quietly with the highest notes from a double bass, builds expansively and contains a range of effects that lead t]]>...
Sun, 15 Apr 2018 00:00:00 +0200