2020 started with news of yet another anti-semitic atrocity in the United States. My musical 2020 started with a new recording of that finest of all musical act of resistance to anti-semitism, Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 13 in B-Flat minor “Babi Yar”. It’s a setting of poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko for orchestra, bass soloist and men’s chorus and it’s powerful stuff. It’s often performed at consistently high energy and volume and seething with anger. Riccardo Muti treats it rather differently. The recording, featuring bass Alexey Tikhomirov, the Chicago Symphony and the men of their chorus, doesn’t lack drama or intensity but it’s also often intensely lyrical. When require, Tikhomirov and the chorus produce some gorgeously beautiful, even delicate, singing and the orchestra do the same. There’s not much of the blaring brass one associates with the Leningrad recordings of the Shostakovich symphonies. Instead there’s some wonderful playing, especially by the low brass. The motif in the fourth movement, curiously reminiscent of the Fafner scene in Siegfried, features a sort of duet between tuba(?) and timpani to great effect. This is very fine music making.
The recording, on the CSO’s Resound label, is exemplary. The textures are crystal clear and the overall ambience feels like a proper symphony hall. This is the memorial for Babi Yar.
Last night’s TSO concert was a collaboration with Barbara Hannigan’s Equilibrium Young Artists project with EQ providing the quartet of soloists for Mozart’s Requiem. But before we got to the Requiem there was a performance of Mozart’s Symphony no. 39 in E-flat Major. It was enjoyable. A somewhat reduced scale TSO played as well as they usually do when Sir Andrew Davis is on the podium and he took us through an irreproachable reading of the works essential tuneful and easy to listen to four movements. It made a pleasant “overture”.
The opening concert of the 21C festival featured an all Osvaldo Golijov programme presented by Against the Grain Theatre. It was preceded by a very informative conversation between Joel Ivany and the composer. My main takeaway from that is that Golijov writes for people not instruments. If the people he has in mind for a piece play a certain combination of instruments that’s what he will write for and if circumstances demand it he will readily make changes. We saw that last night when cantor Alex Stein was unable to perform in K’vakaret (for cantor and string quartet) and Juan Gabriel Olivares stepped in on clarinet instead.
A comparatively rare excursion into purely instrumental music for me last night but the prospect of Sir Andrew Davis conducting Beethoven’s seventh symphony was irresistible.
The “garage piece” was the overture to King Stephen. Probably the most notable thing about this is that it was composed for a play by von Kotzebue who had just turned down Beethoven’s idea of writing the libretto for an opera on the life of Attila the Hun. It’s not a fabulous piece but it was efficiently despatched.
A few things from the in box that might interest readers:
So what do you get when you mash up contemporary classical music, experimental electronic music, staging, art installations and other stuff? That’s what FAWN’s Convergence Theory concerts are about. There’s one at Victory Social Club on January 25th. Details are here. To quote Artistic Director Amanda Smith “As much as Convergence Theory is about exposing more people to new, Canadian classical music, it is also my intention for classical audiences to be introduced to the exciting and plentiful artists of Toronto’s underground experimental electronic music scene. This way we can celebrate the parallels, as well as the individualities of both genres.”
The second half of January kicks off with the COC’s revival production f Rossini’s Barber of Seville, this time starring Emily D’Angelo as Rosina. There are eight performances running to February 7th.
. Sunday 26th at 2pm there’s a concert in the Mazzoleni Songmasters series. It’s called Sirens and features Leslie Ann Bradley, Allyson McHardy and Rachel Andrist in a suitably watery and alluring program.
Verdi’s Il Trovatore is always pretty grim. It’s hard to lighten up an opera with multiple executions, suicide and babies being barbecued. David Bösch in his Covent Garden production (remounted and recorded in 2017 with Julia Burbach directing), probably wisely, doesn’t even try. This is as grim as Grimsby on a wet Sunday in February with extra gratuitous violence. The setting is some roughly contemporary civil war. The Conte di Luna’s troops are a scruffy lot but they have a pretty cool looking tank. The gypsies are a bit gayer though Azucena’s caravan is disturbingly plastered with baby dolls reflecting her obsession. It’s all quite dark. Really only Leonora (and her maid) stand out as they wear white in contrast to the greys of pretty much everyone else. The story is told straightforwardly enough and the sets and costumes do provide some kind of moral differentiation between the two camps with Leonora sort of standing above and apart from the violence.