This is not intended as a a political blog though, art being what it is, it sometimes is. That said, these are not normal times and sometimes a political stand has to be taken. We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and condemn in the strongest terms the current aggression by the fascist regimes in Moscow and Minsk as well as their enablers and supporters in the United States and elsewhere.
Of the Sea
My review of Ian Cusson and Kanika Ambrose’s new opera Of the Sea is now up at Opera Canada.
Jessye Norman – The Unreleased Masters
Decca have just released a 3CD set of previously unreleased recordings made by the late Jessye Norman between 1989 and 1998 with various orchestras and conductors.
The first is a series of extracts from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde recorded in Leipzig in 1998 with Kurt Masur conducting the Gewandhaus Orchestra. Besides the Prelude there’s most of the Isolde/Brangäne scenes from Act 1 (Hannah Schwarz is Brangäne). Then comes the huge Act 2, Scene 2 duet; “Isolde! Geliebte! – Tristan! Geliebte!” etc, with Thomas Moser as Tristan, and finally, and inevitably, the “Liebestod”. It all sounds really good with the duet properly ecstatic and the “Liebestod” very moving. It’s a studio recording made in many takes so that challenging final scene doesn’t have to be sung after many hours on stage which no doubt contributes but it’s all very fine and a good record of Jessye in the role.
Dark with Excessive Bright
I’ve listened to and liked a lot of Missy Mazzoli’s operatic and vocal music but hadn’t had much exposure to her purely instrumental writing so was interested to get hold of a copy of her new SACD release Dark with Excessive Bright.
The title track was originally composed as a concerto for double bass and string orchestra but here it’s given in two reworkings for solo violin; one with string orchestra and the other with string quintet. The soloist is Peter Herresthal and in the orchestral version he’s accompanied by Bergen Philharmonic conducted by James Gaffigan. I think all the hallmarks of Mazzoli’s music, excet perhaps the use of electronics, are present in this piece. There’s a baroque sensibility combined with 20th century minimalism but in the context of the 21st century’s embrace of individual voices rather than dominant fashions. So, largely tonal chords are recycled n different, fairly repetitive rhythmic patterns, but it never gets dull or new agey. I think I like the arrangement for string quintet even more. Here it’s players from the Arctic Philharmonic conducted by Tim Weiss accompanying. The textures are lighter and it seems to have more clarity. Good stuff.
Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres), played by the Arctic Philharmonic and Weiss, is fascinating. There are rococo loops, slow at first, then wilder, playing over a hurdy gurdy like wheezing, droning sound. It gets louder and more insistent and quite ominous before fading away into nothingness. Continue reading
Theatre Smith-Gilmour’s production of Metamorphoses 2023 opened last night at Crow’s Theatre. It’s an 80 minute show, written and directed by Michele Smith, (with, it’s clear, a lot of input from the cast) taking various stories from Ovid. Most of them involve women (or goddesses) revenging themselves on men for various failings ranging from being smug to violent rape. It’s also very concerned with gender fluidity. The principal narrator is Tiresias and along the way we also meet Hermaphorditus and Caenis.
Here’s what I know about so far for April.
On April 6th at 1.30pm in Walter Hall, Music in the Afternoon is presenting a concert featuring Marion Newman, Melody Courage, Evan Korbut and Gordon Gerrard in a mix of classical song and contemporary works on Indigenous themes including music by Ian Cusson, Bramwell Tovey and Tomson Highway.
Later that day, at 7.30pm at Koerner Hall, Opera Atelier have the first of three performances of Handel’s The Resurrection. This is the fully staged version of the production that streamed during lockdown. There are further performances on the 8th at 7.30pm and the 9th at 2.30pm.
Tuesday’s lunch time concert in the RBA featured some of the people involved in Against the Grain Theatre’s new, updated version of Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle which opens next week at the Fleck Dance Theatre. There was an excellent descripttion of what the project was all about from Gerald Finley (Bluebeard) and Stephen Higgins (conductor and arranger – the orchestration is reduced to a seven person chamber ensemble).
Ex California semper aliquid novi
From the good people of Silicon Valley, who brought us the iPod and the iPad and the iDontknowwhatelse, we now have iSing Silicon Valley; a choir of young women. Their new album is titled love and light and features the choir with, on some tracks, harpist Cheryl Fulton and soprano Estelelí Gomez in settings of Latin texts ranging from Hildegard of Bingen to contemporary composers. It’s all sort of in the range of plainchant to polyphony with young bright vibrato-less voices with maybe a New Agey touch (though that may be guilt by association),
It’s pleasant enough listening though a little unvaried. The choir is very decent, the harp is a nice touch and Gomez has a rather beautiful voice. Plus it’s a well engineered recording made at Mont La Salle Chapel in Napa last summer. The acoustic suits the music. It’s due for a digital only release on 14th April 2023 in MP3 and standard and hi-res FLAC formats. I listened to the 24 bit, 96kHz version.
Catalogue number: Avie AV2602
Voicebox: Opera in Concert’s most recent production is Joseph Bologne, Chévalier de St, Georges’ 1780 opéra comique, L’amant anonyme. It was given in OiC’s usual style; i.e concert dress but some blocking, a few props and no music stands. The dialogue was given in English with the musical numbers in French with surtitles. Accompaniment was a 10 piece chamber reduction of the original score by Stephen Hargreaves. David Fallis conducted.
Little Match Girl Passion
On Saturday evening the Toronto Mendelssohn Singers gave a very beautiful, carefully constructed and thought provoking concert. To start with it was at the Church of the Holy Trinity which, as most Torontonians will know, is a sort of social hub servicing the spiritual and material needs of Toronto’s homeless as best they can. All the more ironic as it sits in the shadow of that iconic temple of consumer capitalism the Eaton Centre.
field studies is a CD of chamber music by Canadian composer Emilie Cecilie Lebel. There are five tracks on the record; each around twelve minutes long, scored for various small forces and recorded in different locations.
The pieces are all different but they have one thing in common. They make a few notes go a long way! evaporation blue, which opens the album is typical. It’s scored for piano and harmonica; both played by Cheryl Duvall, and it’s very sparse with the notes typically given long time values. It’s quite evocative in a slightly tense kind of way. It’s also recorded with a lot of resonance which has to be deliberate since it was recorded at Revolution Recording in Toronto.