The main event in last night’s programme at the TSO was the first act of Die Walküre in concert performance but it was preceded by The Ride of the Valkyries and, more substantially (if not louder) Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra Op.6. It’s an interesting piece; post tonally expressionist with obvious homages to both Wagner and, especially, Mahler. Sir Andrew gave it one of the best introductions of the kind that I have heard; situating it not just in the Viennese musical lineage but also drawing helpful parallels with the visual arts; Klimt, Kokoschka etc. He also produced a reading of great clarity from the orchestra. It’s easy for a big piece of this kind to dissolve into a sort of aural mush and thereby give the “I don’t like this modern stuff” crowd ammunition that it’s just “noise”. Here the various strands, the references and even the musical jokes of the three movements were clearly delineated. Lovely stuff.
Most music lovers have probably heard the music from Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat in either orchestral or chamber arrangement but it’s rare for the work to be given in its full staged form but that’s how it was presented (more or less) last night at Koerner Hall by the Toronto Summer Music Festival in association with LooseTEA Music Theatre. That form includes a narrator, an actor (originally three actors, nowadays usually just a single actor/narrator) and dancer. Plus, of course, the band; violin and bass, clarinet and bassoon, cornet and trombone, piano.
I’ve been taking another look at the Glyndebourne production of Berg’s Lulu that I first reviewed in April 2011. I think a reappraisal is in order. It’s a 1996 production directed by Graham Vick with Andrew Davis conducting and Christine Schäfer in the title role. When it first appeared it got rave reviews with Gramophone awards and the like.
Sir Andrew Davis is in town conducting his own orchestration of Handel’s Messiah. In the modern world this is probably as close as it gets to Sir Malcolm Sargent and the Huddersfield Choral Society. He conducts the TSO with brass and woodwinds that Handel never saw and lots of percussion including snare drum, sleigh bells, tambourines and marimba. He also has the not inconsiderable heft of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.
It’s forty years since Sir Andrew Davis first conducted the TSO and to celebrate the fact the TSO programmed a run of Verdi Requiems with Sir Andrew conducting. I caught the last performance last night. It’s in some ways a curious piece; very operatic and not especially liturgical but it does have its subtleties; the very quiet opening and the tenor solo Ingemisco for example but there’s also some moments of drama that are far from subtle. The Dies irae is appropriately loud, even terrifying and it’s used as an accent before the Lacrymosa and during the Libera me. It’s quite a compelling 90 minutes or so.
The Toronto Symphony announced its 2015/16 season line up this morning. From a choral and vocal music perspective the items of most interest were:
A “semi-staged” Mozart Requiem to be directed by Joel Ivany. That’s scheduled for January 21st to 23rd next year with soloists Lydia Teuscher, Allyson McHardy, Frédéric Antoun and Philippe Sly. Bernard Labadie will conduct. I’m very curious to see what Joel does with this.
Handel’s Messiah in the extremely non-baroque Andrew Davis orchestration. He will also conduct. The soloists are Erin Wall, Liz DeShong, Andrew Staples and John Relyea. This one is being recorded live for the Chandos label. It runs December 15th to 20th this year.
Barbara Hannigan appears as both soprano and conductor. On October 7th and 8th she has a program of Nono, Haydn, Mozart, Ligeti and Stravinsky.
Russell Braun shows up with Erin Wall for a performance of Vaughan-Williams Sea Symphony on October 21st and 24th and again during the New Creations Festival where he will sing Brett Dean’s Knocking at the Hellgate.
Barbara Hannigan – copyright Musacchio Ianniello Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
The 2003 Royal Opera House recording of Die Zauberflöte has a terrific cast and it has Sir Colin Davis conducting. The production is by David McVicar and it’s one of those that make one wonder how he ever got a “bad boy” reputation. It’s perfectly straightforward though rather dark (emotionally and physically) and has a vaguely 18th century vibe. In places it seems a bit minimalist, as if the director couldn’t really be bothered with things like the Trials. The interview material rather suggests that McVicar was a bit overawed by doing Mozart with the great Sir Colin and tried very hard to match his rather old fashioned theatrical sensibilities.