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.
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.
My recently acquired media player plays SACD disks. I recently acquired a review copy of one such. It’s the Chandos recording of Berlioz’ L’enface du Christ recorded by Andrew Davis and the Melbourne Symphony. It comes with three “tracks”; standard (more or less) CD which will play on a CD player and both stereo and surround tracks in SACD format. Now “standard CD” for Chandos is a bit higher definition than most CDs. 24 bit at 48kHz versus 16 bit at 44.1 kHz. Is there a detectable difference?
I’m a bit surprised that Berlioz’ 1838 opera Benvenuto Cellini hasn’t come my way before. It’s got all the operatic elements; romance, politics, murder (and the Pope) etc and some really rather good music. There’s a lovely duet between Cellini and his girl, Teresa, in the first act and Cellini’s aria Sur les monts les plus sauvages is long and demanding in the way that Rossini writes long and demanding tenor arias. The plot maybe has a few holes. One might expect that after the pope has decreed that Cellini will be hanged if he doesn’t finish a statue by nightfall that he might just get on with it rather than running around fighting duels and stuff but there you have it. It’s French opera after all.
It’s that time of year again at UoT when the respective winners of the Norcop song prize and the Williams Koldofsdky prize for accompanying collaborate in a lunchtime recital. This year’s winners were mezzo Simona Genga and pianist Jialiang Zhu who gave us a program of songs by Schoenberg, Freedman, Berlioz and Santoliquido. The Vier Lieder Op. 2 of Schoenberg are extremely lyrical though with a rather complex and involved piano part. They played to the strengths of both musicians. Taken at fairly slow tempi they allowed Simona to show off the beauty and ease of her voice all through the registers combined with terrific breath control and spot on German diction while Jialiang had something fairly virtuosic to display her skills.
That’s what Laurent Pelly said about the idea of a Frenchman directing a French opera adaptation of a Shakespeare play for an English audience during Shakespeare 400. Maybe he has a point but I think his 2016 production of Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict probably gets as much as there is to be got out of a curiously uneven work.
Against the Grain Theatre have announced the line up for their 2017/18 season. First up is a workshop of a Handel mash up called BOUND. It’s a collaboration with composer Kevin Lau and will explore aspects of the refugee crisis through Handel’s music as well as contemporary real life stories. It’s the beginning of a three year concept to production cycle. The workshop cast will include soprano Danika Lorèn, tenor Asitha Tennekoon, counter-tenor David Trudgen, baritone Justin Welsh, bass Michael Uloth, mezzo-soprano Victoria Marshall and soprano Miriam Khalil. It will play at the COC’s Jackman Studio on December 14, 15, and 16, 2017.
I suppose it’s a bit odd to go out to a symphony concert on a cold night out of interest in one twenty minute piece on the program but that’s what I did last night. The item of interest was Henri Dutilleux’ Correspondances and the attraction was that the soloist was Barbara Hannigan. It’s an unusual piece. The five texts include, conventionally enough, three poems; two by Rilke and one by Prithwindra Mukherjee. The two longer texts are letters; one from Solzhenitsyn to the Rostropoviches and one from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother. The music is atmospheric and covers a wide range of moods from ecstatic to despairing. It’s heavy on percussion and makes considerable demands on the vocal soloist. Parts of it lie very high and it really needs the exquisite attention to each syllable of the text that is Hannigan’s trademark. Little shifts in the vowels, the occasional drop into something approaching Sprechstimme and so on. I thought the TSO and Peter Oundjian were really quite impressive here too. The piece got the clarity and transparency it needs. That said, it’s one of those pieces that few people, I think, will fully appreciate on one hearing. Fortunately there is a very good recording of Hannigan singing it with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and Esa-Pekka Salonen.
The piece was bookended by Sibelius’ Swan of Tuonela and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. The Sibelius was extremely well played with some lovely playing in particular from the cor anglais. The Berlioz isn’t a piece I much care for and both of us were a bit under the weather so we skipped out after the Dutilleux. If you missed last night’s performance it’s on again tonight at 8pm.
Photo credit: Malcolm Cook.
Great idea. Create a sort of spooky, short opera program in a funky location and use it as a fundraiser for your next major project. That was Darknet at Mây last night. Jennifer Krabbe, singing Berlioz, rounded us up in the bar and ushered us downstairs into an installation created by Alessia Naccarato and Noah Grove. It was dark. It was eerie. We were offered masks. Cairan Ryan sang The Cold Song from Purcell’s King Arthur while writhing on the floor. Jonathan MacArthur sort of emerged from some sort of primeval goo singing Aria by John Cage and Beth Hagerman gave us one of Lulu’s arias. Then we were rounded up and ejected into the light again. Loved it.
I really wasn’t at all familiar with Berlioz’ Béatrice at Bénédict before last night’s opening of a production by Metro Youth Opera at the Daniels Spectrum. All I knew was that it had something to so with Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and a reputation for being rather tedious. For the record it’s basically the Shakespeare play shorn of all the darker elements; no Don John, no fake funeral, resulting in a RomCom in which the title characters, after much verbal sparring, are finally brought to admit that they are in love and get married along with Claudio and Héro. Further compressed a little (Somarone is axed) for this production it runs a pleasingly untedious two hours or so.