No monument stands over Babi Yar

CSOR 901 1901.201912110227452020 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 acts 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.

…let me explain

letmeexplain…let me explain is a new CD of Canadian art song (mostly) from soprano Christina Raphaëlle Haldane.  The first set consists of three arrangements of Acadian folk songs by by Carl Philippe Gionet.  The three are quite different.  L’Escaouette is fast, high, rhythmic and very high energy.  Tout Passe is much more elegiacal while Wing Tra La is very playful.  They are sung quite beautifully with piano accompaniment from the arranger.  Ahania’s Lament is a longish piece in which Blake’s text is set by Samy Mousa.  It’s a tough sing with a lot of high exposed passages against a minimal accompaniment.  It’s a piece that it’s easy to get drawn into.  It’s a good vehicle for Haldane’s crystalline upper register.  Piano accompaniment by M.Gionet again.

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Bliss it was

CHSA5242The latest release on the Chandos label from Sir Andrew Davis consists of three works by Sir Arthur Bliss; The Enchantress, Meditations on a Theme by John Blow and Mary of Magdala.

The Enchantress was written for Kathleen Ferrier and premiered in 1951.  The text is a free adaptation of the Second Idyll of Theocritus by playwright Henry Reed.  The preface to the score tells us that:

 

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Schumann and Wagner

pregardiengeesI’ve been listening to Christoph Prégardien and Michael Gees’ new Schumann and Wagner recording for a number of reasons.  I was very impressed with Prégardien when he appeared at Toronto Summer Music in 2018.  I’m not familiar with the Schumann Op.90 Lenau Lieder und Requiem.  I don’t think I have ever heard a tenor sing the Wesendonck Lieder.  And, this is the first SACD of a song recital to come my way and I wanted to see if it made any appreciable difference.

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Summer Night

summernightSummer Night is a CD of songs by Healey Willan produced by the Canadian Art Song project and due to be released on the Centrediscs label next month.  Willan is best known as a composer of church and choral music but he also wrote over 100 songs and song arrangements, many of which have not been published, let alone recorded.  There are 28 songs on the CD ranging in composition date from 1899 to the late 1920s.  Most are original settings of the text though a few are arrangements of existing songs; either traditional or by Burns.

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King Arthur recreated

king arthur gabrieliPurcell’s King Arthur is a problematic work.  It was originally written as a sort of praise poem for Charles II showing the inevitable ascent to glory of the Stuarts from earliest days.  Unfortunately Charles died and his brother lost his job before the piece could be given.  The staunchly Protestant court of William and Mary wasn’t much in favour of a celebration of crypto-Catholic Charles by openly Catholic Dryden and it wasn’t until Dryden and Purcell needed a new commercial project that it reemerged with various cuts, insertions and reworkings to get it past the censorship.  No reliable record exists of what was actually performed in that first commercial run so for their new CD release Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort have used a mixture of considerable erudition plus impressive musical nous to reconstruct something that is plausibly like what audiences in the 1690s might have heard.

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The Palace of the Dreamking

potdkPeter Greve is a Dutch composer of works for various forces all of which could, I suppose, be considered tone poems as they all have thematic/storyline elements.  The “stories” for the pieces on the CD can be found here.  Stylistically Greve is eclectic but very satisfying to listen to.  The Palace of the Dreamking, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a Nordic feel to it particularly in the opening passages.  It’s tonal and almost Sibelius like but then it gets agitated, percussive and more dissonant but for returning to a more elegiac mood.  He has a real gift for melody too.

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