As part of music director Riccardo Muti’s final tour with the orchestra, the Chicago Symphony is coming to Toronto in February for the first time since 1914. It’s at Koerner too, so it’s a chance to see one of the world’s great orchestras in a really good acoustic. The dates are February 1st and 2nd 2023 and the programmes are:
February 1st: Beethoven Symphony No. 7 and Prokofiev Symphony No. 5
February 2nd: Beethoven Coriolan Overture and Symphony No. 8, Liadov The Enhanted Lake and Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition.
Last night’s TSO program, conducted by Gustavo Gimeno, kicked off with three short pieces by Canadian composers. All were impressive. The first two; Adam Scime’s A Dream of Refuge and Bekah Simms’ Bite are reflections (to some at extent at least) on the pandemic. The Scime piece is lighter and brighter. There is uncertainty there but ultimately it seems to speak of hope. The Simms piece wis much darker with heavy percussion and blaring brass. A sense of uncertainty permeates the string writing. It’s quite disturbing. Roydon Tse’s Unrelenting Sorrow was written for those who have lost loved ones. It’s quite melodic and has strong contrasts between dramatic and more lyrical passages. Sorrowful perhaps but not unrelentingly so.
Almost six years to the day since his last appearance Bryn, now Sir Bryn, Terfel made it back to Koerner hall for a much anticipated recital; this time accompanied by Annabel Thwaite. The first set, partly setting up a Shakespeare theme for the evening, consisted of four songs by Schubert including “Trinklied” and “An Silvia”. It was followed by three of the the Quilter Shakespeare settings; “Come Away, Come Away, Death”, “O Mistress Mine” and “Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind”. The first half concluded with the Vier ernste Gesänge of Brahms. I think it’s fair to say that what we were hearing was not the Bryn that his considerable following in the hall expected. The artistry of interpretation was still there but something was up with the voice. It didn’t have the bloom I remembered and in places, especially with high notes, it just wasn’t happening. Was he a bit under the weather or was it the toll of the years and lots of Wagner? I don’t know but I really hope it was the former.
Yes, a real live concert at Koerner Hall; the first of 2022. Owing to the current restrictions it was quite a short concert with no interval (although the time it took the stage crew to set up for the second half there could have been!). The first piece was the premier of Goodyear’s Piano Quintet. It’s a very complex piece riffing off Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Stewart describes it better than I ever could:
“My piano quintet was commissioned by the Penderecki String Quartet (who played it with Stewart last night – JG) and the Canada Council for the Arts. It was composed in 2020 and pays homage to the spirit of Beethoven. The first movement is a passacaglia on the almost atonal eleven-note sequence from the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The second movement is a Ländler, fused with gestures of rhythm and blues and calypso. The third movement is a fast toccata, sampling themes of Beethoven similarly to a hip-hop track. The last movement starts as a lament and ends with a glimmer of hope, the inspiration directly taken from the challenges of the pandemic and the need for Beethoven’s spirit during these tumultuous times.”
It’s a highly virtuosic piece requiring a lot of extended technique from the players and it’s pretty demanding on the listener. I would need to listen to it a couple more times to really “get” it.
It’s July 29th 1951; the opening night of the first Bayreuth Festival since the end of the war. Noted anti-Nazi Wilhelm Furtwängler will conduct the Festival Orchestra in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony from the Festspielhaus. It will be broadcast live by Süddeutsche Rundfunk(*) and will be relayed by stations in Germany, Austria, France and Sweden. You are sitting in front of your valve radio because commercial transistor models are not yet on the market. You can’t record it to listen to later because tape reorders are almost as rare in 1951 as transistor radios.
Inevitably, this year’s Krehm memorial concert was presented virtually. It premiered last night and is available on the Canzona Chamber Players Youtube channel. It’s in two parts. In the first Rachel Krehm is the soloist in the Schoenberg arrangement of Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. I initially thought that Evan Mitchell’s tempi were on the slow side but they grew on me and Rachel sings expressively and rather beautifully. I like the chamber arrangement of these pieces precisely because the singer doesn’t have to force her voice over a big orchestra and can be more Lieder like.
I’m late to the party on this one. I had set aside time on Sunday to watch Russell Braun, Carolyn Maule and Miriam Khalil’s recital from Koerner Hall (one of the Mazzoleni Songmasters series) when first broadcast. For whatever reason I couldn’t get it to mirror onto the big screen in a watchable way so I ended up watching it on my laptop yesterday. So it goes.
March 12th at 8pm. ARC Ensemble plays Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 and English Songs. An all Beethoven programme featuring Monica Whicher in the songs. That’s a free livestream on the Koerner Hall performance page.
March 21st at 1pm. To the Distant Beloved. Miriam Khalil, Russell Braun and Carolyn Maule perform Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte and a world premiere piece by award-winning Iranian Canadian composer, Afarin Mansouri, commissioned by Canadian Art Song Project. This one is $10 with tickets/codes available from the RCM box office.
There were, of course, many Beethoven 250 events planned for 2020 and few of them happened. One, planned for Vienna, was to stage all three versions of Beethoven’s only opera; Leonore (1805), Fidelio (1806) and the final form that modern audiences mostly know, Fidelio (1814). As far as I know the only one that went ahead was a production of the 1806 version at the Theater an der Wien that was filmed in an empty house and has just got a release on Blu-ray and DVD. Now, it happens that the 1805 Leonore was staged and recorded by Lafayette Opera in New York the year before. So we can look at all three versions and the evolution of the piece despite the Vienna cancellations. For those who want more details on the New York production, it was reviewed by Patrick Dillon in the summer 2020 edition of Opera Canada and there will be a review, by myself, of the recording in a future edition (probably soon).
Opera Lafayette’s March 2020 production of Beethoven’s 1805 precursor to Fidelio; Leonore, was reviewed by Patrick Dillon in the Summer 2020 edition of Opera Canada. It’s now been released on DVD and Blu-ray. Watching it on video I think tends to highlight further the weaknesses described by Patrick. It can’t seem to make up it’s mind what it is; musically or dramatically. Is it a Singspiel or something grander? The dramatic focus drifts, somewhat bathetically, from the domestic comedy of the Leonore/Marcellina/Jacquino love triangle to the “faithful and virtuous wife” theme to, almost, entering more involved philosophical/political territory before relapsing into a sort of cop out ending. The (very real) strengths of the final version of Fidelio are not much in evidence here.