The Classical Music Network (English) Tue, 20 Feb 2018 22:37:17 +0100 <![CDATA[Toronto - Opera Atelier’s Harmonia Sacra]]>
J. Hiraoka & J. Blumberg (© Bruce Zinger)

The title of this hour-long program, Harmonia Sacra leads one to think it will consist of sacred music, whereas it contains both sacred and secular. Sacra refers to ritual, and there is an emerging ritual arising within the performance of 10 works by Henry Purcell and Inception, the first composition commissioned by Opera Atelier, by composer and violinist Edwin Huizinga.

Some of the pieces are strictly orchestral, five require singing and, much to my surprise, only four had dancing as well. It is a work in progress and I suspect more d]]>...
Fri, 16 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society]]>
T. Lonquich (© Anna Grudinina)

“Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Africans, Americans and Europeans are today in communion one with another, at least in that heartbeat where they surrender themselves to the work of Mozart.”
Gernot Gruber, Mozart and Posterity
Okay, okay. After 65 years of studying music I feel that it is time to pick a favorite piece. For me it is the quintet on tonight’s program. It is formulated in a sacred style that should appeal to both religious people and true lovers of nature. I have heard it played on old Oehler wooden clarinets and hundreds of versions utilizing the more modern (if perhap]]>...
Thu, 15 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - The Orchestra of St. Luke’s]]>
R. Spano (©

An incomprehensible event happened during the first six minutes of the opening Mozart 40th Symphony last night. The elderly well-dressed couple to my right in Carnegie Hall opened their program and meticulously read through the written notes about the music through which they were supposedly hearing

Were this to take place during Webern or Nono or Boulez, I could understand it. But how in hell (I charitably thought) can supposedly civilized people (they carried a New York Times with them) listen to measures which, even more than the opening of Beeth]]>...
Thu, 15 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - The New York Philharmonic]]>
S. O’Neill (© Lisa Kohler)

“ of vengeance gladdens our hearts now!
So laugh I in highest delight,
Holding thee, noblest and dearest,
Feeling the beat of thy heart.”
Richard Wagner, Die Walküre, Act I

Do we sense a trend? When Maazel was here, the Philharmonic presented “The Ring Without Words”. Last season Alan Gilbert ended his final regularly scheduled season with a concert performance of Das Rheingold (there were some other further explorations of his own personal musical choices as a tr]]>...
Wed, 14 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Toronto - The Esprit Orchestra]]>
J. Nichols (© Malcolm Cook)

Just for something different, here was a concert where cell phones were welcome. For his Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds (composed in 2015) Tan Dun first composed bird sounds using six traditional Chinese instruments (guzheng, suona, erhu, pipa, dizi, and sheng). The 54-second piece was then made available for downloading, which those attending the concert were asked to do. Just before starting the 12-minutes work, conductor Alex Pauk divided the hall into four quadrants and gave specific instructions to each group for “playing” the birdsong, and this was how the piece began. The impression wa]]>...
Sun, 11 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - The Orchestra Now]]>
M. Buonarroti (by Jacopino Del Conte, around 1540)/D. Shostakovich

“Certainly he was sent into the world to be an example to men of art, that they should learn from his life and from his works; and I count among my greatest blessings that I was born in the time when Michelangelo was alive, and was counted worthy to have him for my master, and to be treated by him as a familiar friend.”
Giorgio Vasari, painter and historian (1511-1574)

Never in its three years of existence have the young musicians of The Orchestra Now sounded more vibrant, rarely has a vocal soloist been as convincing and e]]>...
Sun, 11 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - D. T. Davis’ Six.Twenty.Outrageous.]]>
J. Horner-Kwiatek, A. Greif, J. Atkins, M. Haas (© AOP Images)

“There is every reason to suppose that (Gertrude Stein) used her subjects as a painter does is models, sometimes revealing them for recognition and at other times concealing them under an elaboration of contrasts, puns, and rhythmic patterns...”
Virgil Thomson

The opera Six.Twenty.Outrageous, which had its world premiere at Symphony Space last night is a glittering production, with scintillating music, and an original concept, based upon Gertrude Stein’s words. So one hesitates in pouring water on the oper]]>...
Fri, 09 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Toronto - Die Entführung aus dem Serail]]>
(© Gary Beechey )

It has been 38 years since the COC last performed Die Entführung aus dem Serail so this production, with a well-chosen cast, was eagerly anticipated. What we got, however, is an extensive re-working under Wajdi Mouawad that adds about 40 minutes of extra dialogue and action to the work that benefits from being moved briskly along. The plot he has superimposed on the singspiel gives us his idea of the plot’s aftermath, when Belmonte and the three former captives have returned to Europe.

Prior to the overture we are treated to a scene in Europe celebrating the recent escape from bon]]>...
Wed, 07 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - Baritone M. Goerne & Pianist D. Trifonov]]>
D. Trifonov/M. Goerne (© Dario Acosta/Marco Borggreve)

“So I praised the dead…more than the living...for all the evil under the sun does not cease.”
From Johannes Brahms’ Four Serious Songs, words from the Book of Ecclesiastes

During the middle of Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe song cycle last night, as the poet describes a Cologne Cathedral image, pianist Daniil Trifonov, Ye Most Perfect Accompanist, came out of the shadows. His Steinway became a cathedral organ, the music of Schumann was transfigured into a mid-19th Century Bach chorale and Bach variations in]]>...
Tue, 06 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Melbourne - New Production of Tristan and Isolde]]>
L. Abrahmsen, N. Cooper (© Robin Halls)

The immensity of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde cannot be underestimated. Its expansive emotional palette, the sweeping journey across sea and land, the astonishingly huge singing role of Isolde in particular and not least, the sheer length of the score all make for a heavy-duty opera which tests the inventiveness of the cast and creative team as well as the stamina of the audience. Melbourne Opera’s delayed first night – the indisposition of the soprano forcing a re-schedule – was well up to task and was enthusiastically received by a large audience.

The monumenta]]>...
Mon, 05 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Toronto - Land’s End Ensemble ]]>
J. Lowry, B. Root Sandvoss & S. Ruberg-Gordon (© Shaun Robinson)

Toronto’s New Music Concerts hosted Calgary’s Land’s End Ensemble in a meaty program that they, along with flutist Robert Aitkin and clarinetist James Campbell, had performed at the Rozsa Centre, University of Calgary, two days previously.

The main work on the program was Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 (billed here as Kammersymphonie) as another instalment in an ongoing revisit to a few keys works from the Second Viennese School, widely regarded as the birthplace of so many of the ever-controversial modern “isms”. The wo]]>...
Sun, 04 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Toronto - Mercadante’s I due Figaro]]>
B. Kalender (Codrut Tolea)

Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870) composed about 60 operas that were performed by some of the top singers of his day in many of the most prestigious opera houses. He has fallen into deep shadows cast by his contemporaries Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and the young Giuseppe Verdi. The website Operabase, that tracks most of the planet’s opera performances, currently lists just four works with a total of 12 performances, one of them a belated world premiere. (The list includes this single performance by Toronto’s ever-venturesome Voicebox: Opera in Concert).

I due Figaro (“The Two Fi]]>...
Sun, 04 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - The Attacca String Quartet]]>
The Attacca Quartet in the crypt (© Tristan Cook)

“The way upward and download is one and the same.”
Heraclitus (500 B.C.)
“Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), from Four Quartets

Ludwig van Beethoven’s penultimate string quartet, written in physical and probably spiritual pain, has so many external revelations that its performance in the underground crypt of an uptown New York church seems instinctual. The Hera]]>...
Thu, 01 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - Pianist S. Hough]]>

S. Hough (©

On March 25, one-hundred years ago, Claude-Achille Debussy took his last painful cancerous breath. This year, then, as these funerary centenaries go, we will be filled with more Debussy breathlessness. But with pianists like Stephen Hough, we need not regret the absence of a Gieseking or Richter to do the deeds. With Hough playing from early and late Debussy and two miscellany, we could relax (if that be the word) and enjoy the show.

Debussy didn’t monopolize this recital. For reasons that seemed irrational on paper, Mr. Hough added major works by Schumann and ]]>...
Tue, 30 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Los Angeles - Bernstein’s Candide]]>
K. Grammer (© Ken Howard)

What is it? Leonard Bernstein’s œuvres are simply “eclectic”, but where is Candide positioned? Is it opera? Broadway©? operetta? musical? LA Opera sets out to erase those question marks by addressing it in one zingy answer: turn to Francesca Zambello’s vision in this pastiche of quirky charisma.

James Conlon never expected to conduct Candide, though he led the operetta’s (we’ll classify it this way moving forward) “Overture” over 40 times...what a treat for him. The Queens-born New Yorker grew up in Leonard Bernstein’s backyard, and so there’s a keen c]]>...
Sat, 27 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Genova - Norma]]>
M. Devia (© Marcello Orselli)

There was electricity in the air at the opening night of a new production of Norma at Genova’s Teatro Carlo Felice. It seemed the numerous fans of soprano Mariella Devia had made a pilgrimage to witness the artist’s Norma. German, Japanese, Spanish and especially French was heard in the foyer.

The pilgrimage was richly rewarded, as this was a performance that was as close to perfection as can be. The sets, composed of stylized reeds, were intriguingly evocative, and thanks to Luigi Biondi’s brilliant lighting, the mood varied between sombre, ferocious and outright scary. ]]>...
Wed, 24 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - D. Lang’s the whisper opera]]>
D. Lang (© Armen Elliott)

“On the stages, Tony Arnold comes and goes/
Singing whispers, hymns and ostinatos.”

T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (Revised)

Next to David Lang’s the whisper opera, Michael Colgrass’s famous work, As Quiet As, sounds like a John Philip Sousa march.

That isn’t quite fair. The whispers–and the instrumental hushes, tinkles, half-notes and breaths–never attempted the Colgrass series of orchestral metaphors. Rather, Mr. Lang’s program note explained that he had previously written concert pieces “whose powe]]>...
Wed, 24 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - The Cleveland Orchestra (2)]]>
F. Welser-Möst and Cleveland Orchestra (© IMG Artists)

“Being cut off from the world, I had no choice but to be original.”
Franz Joseph Haydn

“Cut off:” meant Esterházy Palace in the remote rural area between Austria and Hungary, where the snows are fierce (I was snowbound there for a night), the summers are torrid, and where The Seasons took shape.

From last night’s performance with Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus, all four seasons were cheerful, lusty, desolate, pleasant and grand. Haydn might have belittled pictorialism in m]]>...
Wed, 24 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - The Cleveland Orchestra (1)]]>
F. Welser-Möst (© Roger Mastroianni)

"...the music faded into the silence of eternity...
the last sleep which is our inalienable birthright."
Pitts Sanborn, New York World-Telegram, November 19, 1931

I have quoted this above phrasing many times over the years, as it perfectly expresses the magical effect of the last measures of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 (Sanborn was a treasure-trove of musical thought), but never have I felt such a kinship for this little snippet of newspaper wisdom as today, after hearing this extraordinary performance by the Cleveland Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
Tue, 23 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - Revival of Il trovatore]]>
(© Karen Almond)

Sir David McVicar is well astride his path to becoming the closest thing the Met has to a house director. In the dead of an unusually cold winter, one might ask how much gloom New York can stand after coursing through his dark, subdued productions. Alongside his new production of Puccini’s Tosca, which premiered on New Years’ Eve and replaced the late Luc Bondy’s baleful effort, we have a revival of his gritty, Napoleonic-era production of Verdi’s middle period masterpiece – often called “the last bel canto opera.” McVicar’s mostly disappointing double bill of ...
Mon, 22 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[New York - J. Kaufmann & H. Deutsch]]>
J. Kaufmann (© Julian Hargreaves)

Jonas Kaufmann has attained superstar status – at least on one side of the Atlantic. Following his appearances in the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Parsifal some years ago, he all but disappeared from American stages. His most recent Met engagement, as Cavaradossi in the company’s new Tosca, was cancelled months ahead of time. This followed cancelled Met appearances in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Bizet’s Carmen. Enraged arts administrators all over America have been loathe to hire him, despite his remarkable talent, for fear of being left high and dry.]]>... Sat, 20 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0100 <![CDATA[Toronto - Revival of Rigoletto]]>
R. Wood & A. Christy (© Michael Cooper)

Seeing this production on its second appearance in Toronto (first staged here in 2011) increases the fondness of my memories of the COC’s earlier Rigoletto, with its design by George Tsypin, premiered in 1992, then repeated in 1996 and 2004. In the current production the handsomeness of Michael Levine’s designs is all for naught, given Christopher Alden’s approach which manages to be both finicky in its attention to irrelevant detail and sloppy in its disregard of the work’s taut dramatic action. Alden can’t be bothe]]>...
Sat, 20 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Lucca - La Wally]]>
S. Farnocchia (© Alessia Santambrogio)

La Wally is the only opera by Alfredo Catalani (1854-1893) to have gained general recognition, thanks to the aria “Ebben? Ne andrò lontano,” rendered popular by Wilhelmenia Fernandez in Jean-Jacques Beineix’s 1981 film, Diva. Originally composed in 1878 by Alfredo Catalani as a separate piece, Chanson groenlandaise, this aria is the opera’s most melodious piece and its theme is used as a leitmotif several times throughout the opera. The opera was premiered in 1892, one year before the composer’s death, at La Scala, and it was performed shortly after in the same year his n]]>...
Fri, 19 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Milano - New Production of Die Fledermaus]]>
(© Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano)

Astonishingly, this is the first performance ever of Die Fledermaus at La Scala. Being an operetta may be the reason it wasn’t previously admitted to the high temple of opera. This, despite that abundant verismo mediocrities have often been performed (and several even premiered) at La Scala. Instead of cosmopolitan late 1800s Habsburg Vienna, this production is set at the present time, in the posh alpine resort of Kitzbühel, where the international jet set and a more louche nouveau riche clientele mingle. Eisenstein’s home is impressively modern with a Giacometti statue, a transparent Philip]]>...
Fri, 19 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Toronto - The Toronto Symphony Orchestra]]>
A. Anantawan, P. Oundjian (© Jag Gundu)

The TSO’s 14th annual Mozart festival came to a bravura close with this program, performed four times in 44 hours as Peter Oundjian pointed out in his introductory remarks.

The program opened with two single movements from separate works for violin and orchestra, featuring Adrian Anantawan. He is noted as the violinist who has managed to pursue a successful career despite being born with no right hand. The question that arises is: just how well does he play? Judging from these two movements, really very well. The Adagio K. 261 (composed as an alternative slow moveme]]>...
Fri, 19 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0100