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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Fantastique

tsofantastiqueThe 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.

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Dolce la morte

655646189239_cover_smallSuzanne 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.

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