For Mark Morris’s Edmonton Journal review of the Edmonton Opera production of Richard Strauss’ Elektra, click here.
For Mark Morris’s Edmonton Journal preview of the Edmonton Opera production of Richard Strauss’ Elektra, click here.
Edmonton Classical Guitar Society
Judicaël Perroy (guitar)
Muttart Hall, Alberta College
Friday, March 3
Fernando Sor: Fantaisie élégiaque
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Suite Populaire brésilienne
Johannes Dubez: Fantaisie sur des motifs hongrois
J.S. Bach: Second Lute Suite, BWV 997
Agustin Barrios: Choro de Saudade
Isaac Albeniz: Cataluna and Sevilla
The Edmonton Classical Guitar Society has an enviable record of bringing both Canadian and international classical guitarists to Edmonton. They are, for the most part, familiar names to the guitar aficionados who form the majority of the Society’s regular audiences, but not, I think, to a wider general public.
I have long thought that their concerts would be enjoyed by a much wider musical audience (such is the nature of the instrument), but here, I suspect, there is something of a disconnect. That lack of name recognition amongst a wider public perhaps works against their attending. If so, they should not worry: I haven’t yet been to a Society concert that hasn’t met its high standards, and provided an enjoyable musical evening.
Last Friday (March 3) Alberta College’s Muttart Hall saw the return of the French guitarist Judicaël Perroy. Now in his 40s, he was a child prodigy, and came to international attention when he won the 1997 Guitar Foundation of America Competition. He has been subsequently celebrated both as a recitalist and as a teacher (five of his pupils have been first prize winners at the GFA competition). He has done that teaching in France, but only two days before this concert, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music announced that he has been appointed to their faculty, starting his own studio there this Fall.
His style is generally introverted, thoughtful, almost with a sense of isolation. The colours are softer – there was virtually no bright attack or edge in this concert. The clarity in passages demanding different simultaneous voices – often of different colours and shades – is outstanding, and a real pleasure to listen to. At times – and well before the Bach – I was reminded of the sound of the lute.
He opened with Sor’s well-known Fantaisie élégiaque, a ruminative performance until the fuller broken chords near the end, much less bold than some I have heard, but very persuasive, especially in the lovely tone in the bass line.
Johannes Dubez’s Fantaisie sur des motifs hongrois (Fantasy on Hungarian Themes) is less well-known. Dubez was a 19th-century Austrian virtuoso on both the guitar and harp, and the Fantaisie includes music based on a piano work by Benjamin Egressy, the well-known Hunyadi-March (from the opera Hunyady László (1844) by Ferenc Erkel), and the equally recognizable Rákóci March. It’s a kind of guitar-recital-meets-salon music, pleasant enough, but unremarkable, though I can see its variety will appeal to performers.
I’ve always felt, too, and perhaps unfairly, that guitar of the Paragyuan virtuoso and composer Agustin Barrios, currently popular in guitar recitals, appeals more to performers and guitar players than to general audiences, and this performance of his Choro de Saudade, while authoritative (and pleasant enough) didn’t alter my bias.
With Bach’s Suite, BWV 997, originally written sometime before 1741 as the Partita in C minor for lute, the recital moved into a different musical world. It is a substantial work, with a powerful da capo fugue for the second movement, with the opening 48 bars reprised after a middle section. This was a compelling performance, with translucent voicing in the fugue, and an effective variety of colours and tones in the closing Double.
Two popular Albeniz works closed the recital, and the only slight disappointment was Perroy’s performance of Villa-Lobos’ Suite Populaire brésilienne. Written between 1908 and 1912, this suite reflects Villa-Lobos’ own experience of playing the guitar with Rio street musicians. Here Perroy’s rather laid-back, introverted style was a disadvantage, for while these little works have an appealing simplicity, they nonetheless need a little more colour and a little more sense of the dance to have their full effect.
The Edmonton Classical Guitar Society’s next recital on Friday, April 7th features another French guitarist. Thibaut Garcia won the 2015 Guitar Foundation of America International Artist Competition, and his recital is part of the North America tour, one of the GFA competition prizes.
Gilbert and Sullivan, arranged by Kevin Hocking: H.M.S. Pinafore
Directed by Kim Mattice Wanat
Musical Direction by Simon-Marc de Freitas
Ralph: Cam Kneteman
Josephine: Isabel Davis
Sir Joseph Porter: Evan Westfal
Captain Corcoran: Ian Fundytus
Dick Deadeye: Josh Thayer
Buttercup: Robert Herriot
Capitol Theatre, Ford Edmonton Park
Sunday, February 26, 2017
Last week Opera Nuova, at the suggestion of Ford Edmonton Park, added a winter production to its annual activities with a new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore at the Park’s Capitol Theatre (February 22 – February 26).
Opera Nuova is, of course, best known for its extensive spring/summer program for young opera professionals just starting their careers. Central to that are the productions (four this May and June) in which those young singers take part, and recently the venues have included Fort Edmonton Park.
It was a bold move to add a production in February, but Fort Edmonton’s instincts were right. The production was so successful that Opera Nuova added an extra matinee to accommodate the demand.
It helps, of course, that Gilbert and Sullivan is always popular, and H.M.S. Pinafore especially so. This production, though, wasn’t entirely Gilbert and Sullivan (or, for that matter, entirely H.M.S. Pinafore), because director Kim Mattice Wanat decided to use a very successful adaptation of the opera by the Australian publishing company Essgee Entertainment. Its 1994 version of The Pirates of Penzance was a huge hit, and the top-selling music video in Australian history. It then produced The Mikado in 1996, and H.M.S. Pinafore a year later.
The changes are quite extensive: new dialogue, re-orchestration for a small band, the addition of a couple of well-known songs from other G&S operas, and the considerable development of the character of Dick Deadeye.
Absolute purists may baulk, but much of this works pretty well. It has become customary to use G&S dialogue to make contemporary comments – here including a couple of well-aimed Trump digs – and that makes sense, especially as that’s exactly what Gilbert was doing in the original. The couple of favourite songs from other G&S operas that were inserted into the music were judiciously chosen. Sullivan’s score arranges very easily, and the orchestration here – for a more modern sounding band of piano, keyboards, double bass, and drum kit – didn’t really interfere with the enjoyment of the music. The fairly constant cymbal beat may have got a little wearisome, but only once did the arrangements seem forced: in the 1940s swing style close to Act 1, that seemed to diverge both from the rest of the music, and from the production.
The expansion of the role of Deadeye Dick was more problematic. Essgee’s original purpose was to provide a starring role for a popular Australian actor, and one can see the reasoning. However here, in what was very much an ensemble production, the role seemed incongruous. Baritone Josh Thayer made a brave attempt at carrying off the part, almost if he had strayed from the Pirates of the Caribbean, but he seemed slightly uncertain of the role’s relationship with both the ordinary sailors and the officers, and he was vocally outmatched in this cast.
Almost all that cast were young alumni of Opera Nuova’s training program, and were consistently entertaining, without a weak link. At the Sunday matinee I attended, soprano Isabel Davis perhaps took the vocal honours for a smooth and confident performance, and the most surprising musical moment was the duet between Captain Corcoran, played with a nice touch of bluff naivete by baritone Ian Fundytus, and Buttercup.
For Buttercup was played by Robert Herriot, better known as an opera stage director who has regularly worked for both Opera Nuova and Edmonton Opera. It’s certainly not the first time that the role has been played as a cross-dressing one, but quite why Buttercup should be Captain Corcoran’s brother, and needed to be disguised as a woman, wasn’t really clear, especially as the original works well enough. I can see that in the Australia of the 1990s there might have been a certain frisson in having a kind of Dame Edna of Gilbert and Sullivan, but without any overt gender-bending commentary (or indeed jokes), it did seem a bit odd.
Nonetheless, to hear the Corcoran-Buttercup duet with two male voices was surprisingly effective, and overall Herriot enthusiastically entered into the spirit of the role. The same might be said of the whole production, for it was enormous fun. Mattice Wanat’s direction was fast-paced, making neat use of the relatively small stage (she also designed the simple but effective set), and the chorus, again of mainly local, mainly young singers, was excellent. They also carried off some quite complex dancing, skillfully choreographed by Marie Nychka.
Overall, then, this Opera Nuova production happily met its goals, providing opportunities for local young singers, and a most enjoyable winter’s entertainment for the audiences. Let’s hope this becomes a regular fixture in the Edmonton calendar.
In the meantime, Opera Nuova will be back at Fort Edmonton in the summer with a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience (directed by Herriot), and G&S purists do not have to wait too long to hear a version of H.M.S. Pinafore that will presumably be closer to the original, for Edmonton Opera are presenting it next year, again directed by Herriot.
Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Ilyich Rivas
Paul Jacobs (organ)
Winspear Centre, Edmonton
Friday, February 24, 2017
Bach, arranged Mahler: Suite from the Orchestral Works of Johann Sebastian Bach
Poulenc: Concerto for Organ, Timpani, and Strings
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6 ‘Pathétique’
One might have expected the success of Friday’s Edmonton Symphony Orchestra concert at the Winspear to depend on the guest soloist, the popular American Grammy-winning organist, Paul Jacobs, whom we last heard with the ESO back in 2014 (in a rare performance of Alexandre Guilmant’s Organ Concerto).
Fine indeed was Jacobs’ return to the Winspear, but the outstanding contribution came from a young Venezuelan-American conductor making his debut with the ESO. Ilyich Rivas is only 23, and already he has conducted many of the major European orchestras, as well as opera at Glyndebourne and Opera North. The Guardian once said of him: “He is strikingly, almost disconcertingly good…we need to keep an eye on him”, and judging by Friday’s concert, one can only agree.
His style is the antithesis of the flamboyant arm-waving and body swaying we have sometimes come to expect from young visiting conductors. His body movements are minimal, economical, and the expression is notably in the hands, batonless in the Mahler arrangements of Bach that opened the concert.
Those Mahler arrangements – of music from Bach’s orchestral suites in B minor and D (BWV 1067 and 1068) – were written for a Carnegie Hall concert in 1909, with the New York Philharmonic Society (of which Mahler was then the conductor). Mahler himself conducted from a Steinway doctored to sound like a harpsichord at that premiere, and the original concert was the start of a series where Mahler made an historical survey of classical music, starting with Bach.
The arrangements (which include the well-known Air in D Major), for string orchestra, harpsichord, wind, brass, and timpani, might be described as discretely Edwardian, rather than a wholesale rewriting for a late-Romantic orchestra. The exception is the writing for the organ, which Mahler uses as a second bass in the first two movements: the Winspear’s Davis organ, in the capable hands of Jeremy Spurgeon, gently shook the audience seats like some senatorial comment on the popular uprising of the strings.
This was the first time the ESO had played the work, and it led very naturally into Poulenc’s magnificent Concerto for Organ, Timpani, and Strings. Here Jacobs – playing from memory – made the Davis sound like one of those powerhouse French last 19th-century organs. The concerto is a marvellously compact work of enormous energy and a wide range of emotions, and if this performance did not quite capture as much joyful exuberance as some I have heard, the long opening build-up was very effective, and Jacob made the last movement sound really martial. Tempi were almost ideal, and a word of praise, too, for an ESO instrumentalist who often gets overlooked, timpanist Barry Nemish. Jacob followed this stirring performance with an equally rousing Bach encore, letting the Davis’ organ trumpets ring through the auditorium.
What had been noticeable in both the Bach/Mahler and the Poulenc was the fine sound Rivas got from the strings, with a range of colours and idiomatic phasing. That came to full fruition in an impressive performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, the ‘Pathétique’, full of tension and energy. I don’t think I have heard the orchestra play quite so well – gorgeous woodwind (beautifully phrased clarinet playing), and the strings reaching a new level. Perhaps it was a little too good, as the brass (as one had suspected before) could not quite emulate the crispness and the accuracy of the rest of the orchestra.
This was also the first time I have heard this orchestra play a genuine pp, in the very opening of the symphony (so quiet they were almost drowned out by audience coughing near me). That first movement was interpretively interesting, too, as Rivas unfolded it rather as if it were a Sibelius first movement, ideas organically emerging, the build-up of tension constantly promising release. But, of course, it’s not Sibelius, and that expectation of release is not fulfilled – instead there is the return of that gorgeous big tune.
Perhaps that unreleased tension was appropriate, too, as the strength of this performance was in its energy, especially in the last movement, as it leads to the enigmatic ending. Indeed, it died away so effectively at the end that the audience appeared either bewildered that the symphony should disappear on such a quiet note, or stunned by what had gone before.
I do hope we see Rivas back on the Winspear podium soon.
Pro Coro Canada Conducted by Michael Zaugg and Diego Muniz
All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral, January 29, 2017
Philippe de Monte: Missa Ultimi Miei Sospiri
Mendelssohn: from Die Deutsche Liturgie
John Hooper: Sanctus
Jane Berry: Mass for Recovery: Phoenix Rising (first performance)
Pro Coro have established a tradition of devoting one of their season’s concerts to settings of the Mass Ordinary, and this year their a cappella concert, titled ‘Missae IV’, had particular significance for the 24-strong choir, as it included the premiere of a work by one of their own singers, Jane Berry.
Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Jean-Marie Zeitouni
Behzod Abduraimov (piano)
Winspear Centre, Edmonton
Friday, January 27, 2017
John McPherson: Triune (Grief/Peace/Liberation) (first performance)
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 ‘The Emperor’
Albéric Magnard: Symphony No. 4
Beethoven’s famous Piano Concerto No.5, ‘The Emperor’, completed in 1811, is usually seen – and played – as one of the great works that ushered in the age of Romanticism in music. It also, of course, represented the death-knell of the Classical age, as the young Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov reminded us on Friday in the Edmonton Symphony’s wide-ranging Winspear concert. There was a new work by the orchestra’s composer-in-residence, and a French symphony that probably very few in the audience had ever heard of, let alone heard.
For what Abduraimov gave us – entirely supported by conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni – was Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto played as a Classical concerto rather than as a Romantic prototype. Continue reading “Edmonton Symphony Orchestra: McPherson, Beethoven, and Magnard”
As Edmonton Opera no longer carries historical program notes in its opera program booklets (instead there are always interesting introductions by the director of the production), we’ve included here an historical program note on Rossini’s Cenerentola (Cinderella), as an introduction to Edmonton Opera’s new production.
Rossini: Cenerentola (Cinderella)
Saturday, February 4, 8 pm
Tuesday, February 7, 7.30 pm
Thursday, February 9, 7.30 pm
The Cinderella story has long captured the imagination of composers, notably of Massenet in his opera Cendrillon of 1899, Wolf-Ferrari in his Cenerentola of 1900, and Prokofiev in his ballet of 1940. All the musical treatments can be ultimately be traced back to a 1697 collection of stories, ostensibly by the French writer Charles Perrault, a major celebrant of the Golden Age of King Louis XIV, but quite possibly co-authored with his son. A Cinderella opera by Laruette appeared in Paris in 1759, followed by three in the early 1810s: one by Isuoard in Paris (1810), with a libretto by Étienne, set simultaneously by Seibelt for a St.Petersburg opera in the same year, and, most celebrated of all, Rossini’s La Cenerentola of 1817.
The composition of La Cenerentola must constitute something of a record. Rossini’s librettist, Jacop Ferretti, wrote the libretto in three weeks. Rossini took twenty-four days for the music. Continue reading “A Rossini Cenerentola program note”
St. Lawrence String Quartet
Geoff Nuttall, Owen Danby (violins), Lesley Robertson (viola), Christopher Costanza (cello)
Edmonton Recital Society
Muttart Hall, Alberta College
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Joseph Haydn: String Quartet No. 25, Op. 20 No. 2
John Adams: Selections from Alleged Dances
Felix Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 4, Op. 44 No. 2
The St. Lawrence String Quartet is perhaps the very model of a modern string quartet. Formed in Toronto in 1989, it quickly established itself as one of Canada’s leading young chamber groups, winning competitions along the way – notably the fourth Banff International String Quartet Competition in 1992 – and picking up a Juno award in 2000 for their CD of Schumann string quartets (EMI Classics 5 56797 2). Since then it has solidified a reputation in North America and beyond. Continue reading “St. Lawrence String Quartet”