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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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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