The Toronto Symphony have a new CD out. It’s a couple of Berlioz works recorded under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis at Roy Thomson Hall in September 2018. The first piece is the rarely heard Fantaisie sur la Tempête de Shakespeare for which the orchestra is joined by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. It’s an early piece inspired by one of Berlioz’ unrequited passions (like everything else by Berlioz!) and was considered daringly modern in its day. It’s said to be the first piece to introduce a harp to the symphony orchestra and it also includes piano four hands. It’s very colourful and rather brash which is territory that Sir Andrew excels in. There’s great clarity to both the singing and the playing.
Suzanne Farrin’s Dolce la morte sets poems by Michelangelo inspired by his relationship with Tommaso de’ Cavalieri dealing with the joy and complexity of desire and spiritual fulfillment. They are really intense poems and Farrin has scored them for counter tenor and seven piece chamber ensemble. The music is complex and intriguing. The vocal line consists mainly of long, high legato lines that play around with pitch in a variety of ways. The instrumental accompaniment is often also quite high and somewhat drone like with percussive insertions and places where the strings sound uncannily like another voice. It’s haunting and quite disturbing and definitely the sort of music one doesn’t fully “get” on first hearing but which makes one want to come back to it.
I got hold of the recent Chandos recording of Berlioz’ L’Enfance du Christ largely because I wanted to take a look at the Super Audio CD format. On that subject my thoughts are here. But it was also a chance to listen to a piece I was entirely unfamiliar with. I’m glad I did. It’s quite beautiful music; lyrical rather than dramatic, except perhaps in the early sections where Herod is having a hissy fit. I can see why it’s not done very often though. It calls for seven soloists plus chorus and a big orchestra.
Heimweh is a CD of Schubert songs from young German soprano Anna Richter and pianist Gerold Huber with a bit of help from clarinettist Matthias Schorn. It’s an interesting combination of the familiar and the less familiar with a bit of a leaning to the more lyrical, less dramatic end of the Schubert canon. Familiar material includes Der Hirt auf dem Felsen and the three parts of Ellens Gesang but there’s material that I’m much less familiar with too like Der Zwerg and Viola. I guess thirteen minute long songs about snowdrops just don’t get programmed that often. There’s also the slightly odd Abschied; where the piano accompanies spoken text.
Sirènes is an album of pieces by Montreal composer Ana Sokolović. The first pice, which gives the album its title, is written for six unaccompanied female voices. It’s performed here by the vocal ensemble of Queen of Puddings Music Theatre conducted by Dáirine Ní Mheadhra. The six ladies in question are Danika Lorèn, Shannon Mercer, Magali Simard-Galdès, Caitlin Wood, Andrea Ludwig, and Krisztina Szabó. It’s an interesting piece and very Sokolović. The text is bent and twisted into sound fragments which are “sung” using an array of extended vocal techniques. The overall effect is of a shimmering, fluttery and quite absorbing sound world.
Terezín/Theresienstadt is a CD of music composed in the concentration camp at Terezín in what was then Czechoslovakia. Virtually the entire Czech intelligentsia; certainly those of Jewish or Communist persuasion, were imprisoned in a kind of “show camp” to demonstrate to the world that the Nazis weren’t as bad as made out. Nine of the ten composers featured on the disc ended up on a “Polentransport”; a one way ticket to Auschwitz. No story is more poignant than that of Ilse Weber, a nurse in the hospital. She chose to accompany the sick children of the camp on their final journey and reportedly sang to them in the gas chamber.
Christian Gerhaher’s recording of Mahler Lieder with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal under Kent Nagano is his first recording of the great Mahler cycles with orchestra. The disc contains Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, the Kindertotenlieder and the Rückert Lieder. This is singing of the highest class with great beauty, no lack of power and intense attention to the text. It’s hard to imagine a singer being more in this music than Gerhaher. Being Gerhaher, it’s quite individual and quite restrained (much less exuberant than Fischer-Dieskau) but without sounding unduly mannered. It sounds exactly right and yet no-one else would sing these songs quite the same way. The accompaniment from the Montreal orchestra is also very fine with great clarity of texture and lovely playing of the important woodwind solos.
The recording quality is excellent with a judicious balance between voice and orchestra and a limpidity that does justice to the clarity of the orchestral playing. Full texts and translations are provided.