Rod Williams sings Winterreise

winterreisewilliamsPresto Classical lists over 100 recordings of Schubert’s Winterreise for (almost) every voice type accompanied on pianoforte, fortepiano, string quartet and probably more.  It’s also frequently performed live and I’ve certainly seen it done multiple times in settings ranging from the most formal of Liederabend to staged with projections and all manner of things.  So why bother with another new recording?  Well it’s largely because I’m a fan of English baritone Roderick Williams who has just had a Winterreise recording, with Iain Burnside at the piano, released on the Chandos label.

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The Tower and the Garden

The Crossing must be one of North America’s most interesting and accomplished choirs.  They specialise in difficult contemporary music that is a million miles away from most of the new music that is being composed for the (lucrative) amateur choir market.  Their latest CD; The Tower and the Garden, is due for release on the Navona label on February 12th.  I really like it.

There are three pieces on the disk.  The first is an a cappella setting of Walt Whitman’s A Child Said, What is the Grass? by Tolvo Tuley.  It’s worth reading the text in advance because this piece builds up in layers like renaissance polyphony or, perhaps more aptly, a piece by John Tavener.  There are certainly echoes of the Greek Orthodox tradition here but only echoes.  What really strikes is that the tension that keeps building and really doesn’t resolve.  It’s as uncomfortable and enigmatic as Whitman’s answer to the child’s question; “the beautiful uncut hair of graves”. Throughout the choir display an astonishing control of textures and dynamics.

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Rocking Horse Winner – the recording

rhwTapestry Opera’s original 2019/20 season was to have included a remount of Gareth Williams’ and Anna Chatterton’s Rocking Horse Winner which premiered to positive reviews in May 2016. This is quite unusual as all too often, new Canadian operas, even the successful ones pretty much disappear after an initial run. Needless to say the staged show didn’t happen but, happily, Tapestry decided to make an audio recording instead.

Three of the four principals from 2016; Asitha Tennekoon, Keith Klassen and Peter McGillivray reprise their original roles while Lucia Cesaroni replaces Carla Huhtanen as Ava.  This time around the house is represented by Midori Marsh, Alex Hetherington, Stephen Bell and Korin Thomas-Smith.

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Take the Dog Sled

773811283206 copyAnd now, as they say, for something completely different.  Take the Dog Sled is a short piece in eight movements by Canadian composer Alexina Louie scored for instrumental ensemble and Inuit throat singers.  The movements have titles like Bug Music and Sharpening the Runners on the Dog Sled.  The style is mostly a kind of high energy playful minimalism with quite a lot of percussion and percussive effects from other instruments.  It’s often quite onomatopoeic.  There are also some quite beautifully, hauntingly evocative passages.  The throat singers are used sparingly but to good effect.

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From Ocean’s Floor

fromoceansfloorLinda Buckley is an Irish composer whose music combines, among other things, traditional Irish vocals, classical instruments, of more or less conventional form, and electronics to create an entirely unique sound world.  This new album starts off with the most substantial and, to my mind, most interesting, piece; Ó Íochtar Mara (From Ocean’s Floor).  The four movements combine Iarla Ó Lionáird singing in the traditional sean nós style with string quartet (Crash Ensemble) and Buckley herself on electronics.  Each movement sets a poem in Irish with an accompaniment that is quite sparse and never overwhelms the vocalist.  It’s mostly electronic drones with the strings kicking in in similar vein.  It’s very beautiful and quite haunting.  The vocals are sung with a great sense of the proper style and it’s an object lesson in how to combine folk vocals with classical instruments without making it sound like Victorian parlour music.

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Shostakovich Songs and Romances

songsandromancesI’ve listened to a lot of music for voice and piano and a lot of music by Shostakovich but it was only on listening to this new album by Margarita Gritskova and Maria Prinz that I realised that I had hardly heard any of Shostakovich’s art songs; except for a few with orchestra.  So I was glad to discover the interesting collection on this CD.  There are twenty songs taken from twelve different works.  (most of DS’ song cycles seem to require multiple voice types.  I guess labour was cheap in the USSR).  The pieces are drawn from right across Shostakovich’s career from Op.4 to Op.145.  The evolution of style is as clear as in his chamber or orchestral music.

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Langridge’s Grimes

grimes-langridgeEarlier this month I was reviewing a new CD recording of Britten’s Peter Grimes for Opera Canada (you should be able to read it in the issue that’s currently at the printers).  It’s a rather good performance from the Bergen Philharmonic with Stuart Skelton in the title role.  In digging into previous recordings while writing that review I came across a 1995 recording with Philip Langridge in the title role.  I was familiar with his ENO performance which was brilliant and is captured on DVD but there are serious issues with that recording so I was delighted to be able to have another listen.

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Jurowski and Das Lied von der Erde

jurowski - DLvdE - smVladimir Jurowski is a notable Mahler interpreter so a new recording of Mahler’s great symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde is welcome; especially when Jurowski’s own Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin is combined with soloists as fine as Sarah Connolly and Robert Dean Smith.

What one gets is some superbly lyrical and detailed orchestral playing. It doesn’t emphasise the dramatic but it’s exciting enough and “big” enough to tax the soloists in places. I’m always a bit torn about whether I prefer the majesty of Mahler’s original scoring or the greater intimacy of Schoenberg’s chamber reduction. Certainly the full orchestral version requires really top notch soloists and this recording has them. Connolly is especially good and sounds absolutely ravishing in the Abschied. She seems totally in control with delicate singing, great articulation of the text and no sense of strain. Robert Dean Smith sounds suitably ardent and is very clear though showing some signs of strain in Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde but then who doesn’t?

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The Voices of Our Ancestors

tvooa_cover smallThis CD contains three works by Thea Musgrave. Two are fairly recent but the first, and to my mind the most interesting, dates back to 1973. It’s called Rorate coeli desuper!  It’s a setting of text by the 16th century Scots poet William Dunbar interspersed with short Latin sections.  The text is given, as sung, in Middle Scots and Latin but no translation.  It’s a wonderfully varied and eclectic piece scored for five soloists and SATB choir.  It is, I suppose, a sort of modern polyphony with lots of extended vocal techniques including droning, chattering, hissing and a very high soprano duet that imitates bird song.  The text is wonderfully evocative.  Here’s one verse as an example:

Done is a battle on the dragon black,
Our campion Christ confoundit has his force; The gates of hell are broken with a crack, The sign triumphal raisit is of the Cross,
The devils trymmillis with hiddous voce,
The souls are borrowit and to the bliss can go, Christ with his blood our ransom does endorse: Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro.

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Songs of Love and Sorrow

ODE1356-2 copySongs and Love and Sorrow is a new CD of music by Peter Lieberson played by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and its chief conductor Hannu Lintu.  There are two works on the album.  The first is The Six Realms; a cello symphony in six movements heavily influenced by Tibetan Buddhism.  The soloist here is Lieberson’s close friend Anssi Karttunen.  Curiously this work was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as part of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project and premiered by them with Yo -Yo Ma conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste.  For more information on the piece see the Composer’s Notes.

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