Edmonton Classical Music

A comprehensive calendar of classical music concerts being presented in Edmonton, Alberta, and reviews of those concerts.

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Summer Solstice Chamber Music Festival roundup review

Summer Solstice Chamber Music Festival
Convocation Hall, University of Alberta
Yellowhead Brewery
June 21-25, 2017

Attacca Quartet (photo by Shervin Lainez)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Programs included:

Krzysztof Jablonski (piano)
Debussy: Children’s Corner
Ravel: Jeux d’eau, Gaspard de la Nuit
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
Convocation Hall, University of Alberta
June 21

Attacca Quartet
Kelly-Marie Murphy: Dark Energy
Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131
Convocation Hall, University of Alberta
June 23
Yellowhead Brewery
June 22

Robert Uchida (violin)
Timothy Chooi (violin)
Marcin Swoboda (viola)
Brian Yoon (cello)
Patricia Tao (piano)
Vitali: Chaconne for Violin and Piano
Alexina Louie: Bringing the Tiger Down from the Mountain II
Grieg: Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano in C minor, Op. 45
Schumann: Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44
Convocation Hall, University of Alberta
June 25

The Summer Solstice Music Festival, presented by the Edmonton Chamber Music Society, celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. The Festival used to concentrate almost exclusively on local musicians, but last year changed its format, bringing in a leading pianist (Charles Richard-Hamelin), and featuring one of the world’s great string quartets (the Fine Arts), alongside concerts by Edmonton’s most distinguished musicians.

This year, then, had quite an act to follow, and the Festival stuck to the new formula. The Polish-Canadian pianist Krzysztof Jablonski gave a major recital, while the Festival closed with a concert by more local musicians from Alberta and British Columbia. In between, the featured quartet was, in many ways, the antithesis of the Fine Arts, for in contrast to that venerable institution, the Attacca represent the millennial generation of highly accomplished younger string quartets.

Outside the main concerts, the Festival continued its tradition of encouraging young local musicians in pre-concert recitals, and in outreach and masterclass events spread across the city, from Callingwood Farmers’ Market to the CBC Centre Stage in the City Mall. However, it is perhaps worth pointing out that, in terms of chamber music, this was a strings and piano festival (including the young performers) with not a wind instrument in sight, except for the large Solstice Festival banner showing a cartoon clarinetist. This (apart from a couple of vocal recitals) was true of last year’s festival, too; perhaps the Festival might consider a little wind leaven in the future.

The Attacca Quartet was formed at the Julliard in 2003, though only two of the original members remain. All the current members are in their early 30s, but already the quartet has achieved a considerable reputation. They have recorded the complete string quartet works of John Adams, played all 68 of the Haydn string quartets, and are currently engaged in a complete cycle of the Beethoven quartets, paired with works by contemporary composers inspired by Beethoven. Their repertoire is happily eclectic, including contemporary string quartet repertoire and cross-overs from other genres, as one might expect from millennials.

As their name suggests (attacca, the Italian for attack, means to move to the next section or movement instantly, without pausing), the Quartet’s chief characteristic is exuberant energy. At the same time, they are wonderfully disciplined and homogeneous, their technique exemplified by the way they can, in absolute unison, glide into the first note of a phrase as if conjuring it up from some ghostly ether.

While it is perhaps invidious to pick out any of the players, nonetheless the quartet is built on the marvellous playing of the first violin, Amy Schroeder – what gorgeous tone, for example, in both the second and the final movement of the Mendelssohn String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13 that they played at Convocation Hall on June 23. The emotional lodestone of the Quartet, however, seems to be cellist Andrew Yee, who wears those emotions all through his body language as well as through his bow. There were some really effective little touches in his playing – as in the little shivering phrases in that Mendelssohn, which made the whole ambiance of the piece seem fresh and new. This was a very effective performance, constantly illuminating the work.

The Quartet had preceded it with a Canadian work, for the Festival was keen to include Canadian music to reflect Canada’s 150th anniversary. They chose Ottawa-based Kelly-Marie Murphy’s Dark Matter, inspired by the astronomical concept first postulated by Einstein. It was written in 2007 for the Banff International String Quartet competition, and it did rather sound like a competition piece. While never offending, it never really excited either, apart from the fairly obvious elements designed to show a string quartet’s worth. It’s in two halves, the first starting with hushed music suitable for a space movie sound-track and continuing in rather a cinematographic fashion, the second being much more rhythmic and energetic. I couldn’t help feeling that there had to be more arresting Canadian pieces to play – perhaps the far more striking and adventurous String Quartet No.3 (also written for Banff) by the Edmonton-born Juno-winning composer Vivian Fung, which I know is in the Attacca’s repertoire.

The Attacca closed their Convocation Hall concert with a performance of one of the most complex of Beethoven’s late works, his String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131. Interestingly, this was the work that featured centrally in the critically-acclaimed 2012 Yaron Zilberman movie A Late Quartet, and the Attacca’s second violin, Keiko Tokunaga, worked on that film, coaching actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

It was a fine performance, played with reverence and affection, but it didn’t quite have the impact that they had achieved with the Mendelssohn. Perhaps significantly, they were at the most effective in the presto, where their youthful brio and energy enlivened the music. Otherwise they weren’t really intense enough, and I did wonder whether this most difficult of music to interpret simply does need the life-wisdom of long experience, the kind of area where the Fine Arts, for example, has always excelled.

The day before (June 22) they had given the Festival’s traditional concert in the relaxed and informal surroundings of the Yellowhead Brewery, complete with beer on tap and excellent pub food. The Attacca obviously thrive in this kind of setting. They opened with John Adams, all energy, and they gloried in the first movement of Haydn’s Op.76 No.5 (they played the minuetto as an encore at Convocation Hall) – this is music they clearly love. In the second half (which I alas, couldn’t stay for) they played one of their party pieces, an arrangement of Star Wars music. And they gave the audience a splash of contemporary music in the first half.

That contemporary music suggested that the quartet prefer music with a largely tonal base, strong rhythmic activity, and a touch of minimalism (all of which, of course, characterize the music of John Adams). They premiered a new work (there were no program notes, so I don’t know its title, other than it contained the words dreams) by first-violin Amy Schroeder, written the week before, that had more than a nod to Michael Nyman, a fluent and attractive work apart from the ending, which seemed to rather peter out. A piece by cellist Andrew Yee evolved into rather a beautiful passage that appeared to be based on (or inspired by) Mahler. Michael Ippollito’s Smoke Rings (in the version for quartet) is initially built on a pulsing repeated note that returns at the end – an atmospheric, almost visual work, that was quite striking. The Attaca described the music of the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Caroline Shaw as a ‘game-changer’ – highly debatable, inventive and attractive though her music is (and her cross-over into popular music is hardly a new idea). Valencia (named after the orange), with its minimalist elements and rhythms and glissandi, entirely suited the Attacca.

It was an enterprising move for the Solstice Festival to bring in this quartet, especially as many of the audience had probably never heard of them. It worked, bringing a real enthusiasm to the core of the festival.

The Festival opened with a recital by the Polish-Canadian pianist Krzysztof Jablonski, and for me this was rather the odd concert out. For a start, it had no Canadian content (which, in the context of the Festival, was a pity), and even though the program consisted of four of the masterpieces of the repertoire – and visually picturesque ones at that – there was something inherently predictable about the playing. Jablonski’s technique is not in question (all the works included bell passages, and in all four cases these were wonderfully played), but these were very laid-back, undemonstrative performances played from memory, Jablonski contemplating the inner working of the piano rather than the audience.

That might have worked for some repertoire, but not for this. Debussy’s Children’s Corner missed its playfulness, and even the elephant was a very shambling one. There was really no subtlety of touch in the Ravel (Jeux d’eau and Gaspard de la Nuit), and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition really only came to vigorous life in the louder and bigger passages, and in the ‘Great Gate at Kiev’, where one could sense the antecedents of Prokofiev’s piano writing.

The closing concert featured a clutch of more local musicians. The young and up-and-coming Canadian violinist Timothy Chooi played that arch-Romantic piece masquerading as a Baroque composition, Vitali’s Chaconne, and the third Grieg Violin Sonata (in C minor, Op.45). Some may remember his appearance with his older brother Nikki in an ESO concert in 2013. I wrote then: “has not (yet) achieved the same depth of violin colour [as his brother], but his virtues showed…: rock steady technique … the kind of virtuosic playing that delights audiences”. That violin colour has definitely deepened since then (a kind of lovely burnished walnut in the opening of the Grieg); just occasionally his technique faltered in the Grieg, where perhaps pianist Patricia Tao could have afforded to let the music breath a little more, but then one remembered he is still studying. Like his bother, he is a violinist to watch.

Cellist Brian Yoon, who joined the ESO this February, gave a rather haunting short work by one of Canada’s best composers, Alexina Louie, Bringing the Tiger Down from the Mountain II for cello and piano. The title is derived from a Tai-Chi position, and it is a virtuoso work, including sensa misura elements (no bar lines, so the cellist can choose the shape) and double-stop glissandi. It is mostly wistful, but breaks out into more rhythmic energy, largely lyrical (at times using step-like progressions in the solo line like constellations in the sky), and the performance by Yoon and Tao was a convincing one.

The concert closed with the ESO’s concertmaster, Robert Uchida, and the Assistant Principal Viola of the Calgary Philharmonic, Marcin Swoboda, joining Chooi, Tao, and Yoon, for what was a scintillating performance of Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44. The colours of the string player were remarkably matched, and one would have thought they had been playing for years together, instead of being grouped jut for this festival.

Chooi had suggested to the audience that it was a very varied concert, and on paper, maybe. But what was interesting was how much the pieces – apart from the Louie – had in common. They were all essentially salon works, a particular kind of 19th-Century Romanticism, and the concert conjured up those wonderful heavy velvet curtains, the deep colours of rich wall-paper, the ornate oil lamps with their tall glass chimneys, of the mid-19th Century urban salon. With such a passionate and convincing performance of the Schumann, this was a rousing way to end a most enjoyable Festival.

Opera Nuova song recital review/personal column: traditional (arr. MacMillan), Nichols, and Moore

Saturday, June 17th, Robertson-Wesley United Church

Program:

Tsimshian traditional, arranged by Sir Ernest MacMillan
Three Songs from the West Coast
Ken Nichols         Letters from Home
Ben Moore         Dear Theo

Performers:

Chris Donleavy (tenor)
Michael Eusebio (tenor)
Ross Mortimer (tenor)
Brittany Rae (soprano)

Francis Armstrong (piano)
Julian Evenshen (cello)
Marie Krejcar (violin)
Christie Park (violin)
Jenna Sabolsky (viola)

Ken Nichols (photo Manitoba Arts Council)

For reasons that will become clear, this is less a review than a kind of personal column. For Opera Nuovo’s recital of song cycles at Robertson-Wesley United Church on Saturday June 9th was so interesting, and so uniformly entertaining, that it deserved more than just a mention.

Opera Nuova, of course, is the Edmonton-based company that, every summer from May through June, operates a training program, admired across Canada, for young singers just starting on – or about to start on – an operatic career (59 of them this year).

As part of that program, Opera Nuova puts on a series of events in a Summer Musical Theatre Festival, where the participants in the program have the opportunity to perform. This year there have been a series of song recitals deliberately reflecting the diversity of Canadian immigration for Canada’s 150th anniversary, and two main-stage productions (Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience, and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin), with two more still to come: Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, and Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel (June 23-30, at Festival Place, Sherwood Park).

Saturday’s concert was titled ‘Letters Home’, and was built around a new song-cycle of the same name by Manitoban composer Ken Nichols, who celebrated his 80th birthday last year – the song cycle was commissioned to celebrate that anniversary, and was premiered in Brandon last July.

That’s where the personal column comes in, for I wrote the words for this song cycle – some 30 years ago. I had met Ken when we were both taking part in the Banff Centre’s Music Theatre program (we wrote a one-act opera together there), and he had taken me down to the area around Picher Creek in Southern Alberta where he grew up.

It is, for those of you who don’t know it, one of the most beautiful places in Canada – the rolling undulations of the Rocky Mountain foothills, with the massive mountains slicing up perpendicular so close on the west, the flat endlessness of the prairies to the east, Waterton National Park and Montana to the South, and the Oldman River winding through it. It’s so beautiful that Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) bought a ranch there in 1919 (and regularly visited it before selling it in 1962).

It was, and still is, ranching country – cattle ranching, and Nichols’ relatives told me stories of how, when sent to move some cattle from one place to another, he was so often forgetful, as he was usually daydreaming up some music. He himself told me ranching stories, of, for example, riding alone over a ridge, and looking down and seeing grizzlies and their cubs romping among the stubby little trees, or sitting as a boy listening when an Elder from the nearby indigenous reservation called by.

I loved the country, and, new to Canada, I was fascinated in particular by the history of the early immigrants – of whom the Southern Alberta ranchers were among the very first. While at Banff, I read as much as I could find, from historians to original accounts. I drew on this – or rather, I was inspired by this – for the set of prose poems for Ken Nichols that are the text of his song cycle. I handed them over, and then promptly forgot about them, and he said them aside, as it turned out, for three decades.

It’s a very strange thing, hearing settings of your words from 30 years ago. I can’t remember virtually any of the actual words of the many operas and texts for composers I have written over the years – it’s a blank area for me, though I can always remember the general feel of a piece, the ethos, and often the structure. And I couldn’t remember a single word from this one.

So in writing about it here, I am writing as if a stranger to my own past. The basic premise is simple: a series of letters written to home by very differing immigrants starting out life in southern Alberta at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. There’s a wife of a pioneer who has taken possession of, and is breaking, his section – she has joined him, and is appalled at the pioneer living conditions and the mud and turf hut that is their first home. There’s an Italian immigrant, writing to his mother to tell her to stop asking him to return, as for him this new land is the land of opportunity. There’s the rancher’s wife, rich enough to order her dresses from fashionable city couturiers. There’s an RCMP officer, who came out west with the force, and is now about to retire from it. And, in a duet, there is a homesteader couple, singing with thanksgiving of their new life.

These have been hauntingly set by Nichols, for soprano and tenor with a string quartet and piano (in the Brandon premiere Nichols added a double bass), and in a generally tonal idiom. The solo lines are based on patterns of speech, dramatic, almost operatic when needed. The sophisticated and evocative writing for the instrumental forces is in darker minor keys, with shades of modal scales. I was reminded of the similar combination of human and natural environment, and similar forces, in Vaughan Williams’ On Wenlock Edge and Warlock’s The Curlew. Letters Home comes out of the same general tradition, a kind of Prairie equivalent, with at times something of the austerity of both those earlier cycles.

Particularly arresting – and beautiful – is the duet between the two homesteaders that ends the cycle. The performance was semi-staged rather effectively by Opera Nuova’s Directing Intern, Martin Galba, with suitable items regularly emerging from a central travelling trunk, a reminder of immigration itself, the journeys across the sea, and the fleeting nature of human existence. It was also well sung by tenor Ross Mortimer and especially soprano Brittany Rae, whose natural acting utilized both voice and stage presence.

To rediscover my words after 30 years (I was abroad, alas, for the Brandon premiere) in such wonderful settings was more than I could possibly have expected. Thank you, Ken, and thank you Opera Nuova.

In this I am, of course, biased, but for the rest of the concert I can put on my critic’s hat. It opened with Three Songs from the West Coast, arranged by the father of Canadian composition, Sir Ernest MacMillan. In 1927 he travelled to the West Coast with the folklorist Marius Barbeau, and transcribed over 70 traditional songs of the Tsimshian People. He arranged three of the songs for high voice and piano, which some will know from the Jon Vickers recording – the vocal lines are entirely Tsimshian, as MacMillan didn’t change a note of his transcriptions, merely adding the piano accompaniment.

The three songs – the first the celebration of a new chief’s first dance, the second a lullaby, the third in which the singer chastises idle gossipers – are, for me, some of the most memorable Canadian music ever written. But these days, of course, there is a contentious aspect to them, as the question of appropriation raises its head. Opera Nuova came up with the perfect solution, which was to sing the songs in their original language, and not in the English translation that Vickers largely uses. This respected both the origins of the songs (and the songs themselves), and they were very effectively sung by Chris Donlevy, whose strong, slightly dark toned tenor suited them admirably – and somehow he managed to create the aural effect that he was singing in the outdoors, which again entirely worked.

MacMillan himself wrote of these songs, in his rather reticent 1920s language, that “if my arrangements do no more than bring to the attention of our musical public music of an interesting type which would probably not be otherwise heard, they will not be entirely abortive.”

Quite – and the same might be said of Opera Nuova’s revival of them, a celebration of an indigenous Canadian music joining hands with the classical tradition – the kind of bridge the world could sure use now.

The final work in the concert was equally intriguing, and was by a composer I had not come across before. American Ben Moore was born in 1960, and is primarily a composer of vocal music (there are two operas). His Dear Theo is a brilliant conception: a setting of a judicious choice of Van Gogh’s revealing letters to his brother Theo (it also exists in a version for chorus).

Fascinating, too, was the portrait of the painter that emerges, from his fears, to his pride in what he is painting, from his thoughts on children, to the poignant ending (“I must leave a souvenir”). In works of this kind the music really comes second to the words, but here the settings achieve exactly what they set out to do, giving the singer a wide range of sometimes dramatic emotion, and it was very convincingly sung by tenor Michael Eusebio – not the least in his excellent diction, allowing us to hear those remarkable writings.

The entire concert was clearly greatly appreciated by the audience – and rightly so, for this was just what a festival should be doing: introducing three works, all fascinating in their own ways, that the audience would probably never otherwise hear, and doing so in style.

Summer Solstice Chamber Music Festival preview

The Edmonton Chamber Music Society’s summer festival, the Summer Solstice Festival, runs from Thursday June 21 through Sunday June 25. Artists include the

Attacca Quartet (photo by Shervin Lainez)

exciting young American string quartet, the Accatta Quartet, pianist Krzysztof Jablonski, Canadian violinist Timothy Chooi, and the ESO’s concertmaster, Robert Uchida. The festival includes many Canadian compositions, for Canada’s 150th anniversary, and masterclasses and outreach events.

To read Mark Morris’ full preview for the Edmonton Journal, click here.

For full details of the festival, click here.

Edmonton Symphony Orchestra Carmina Burana review

Bill Eddins (photo courtesy of ESO)

Performances on Friday June 16 and Saturday June 17 of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana marked the final concert of Bill Eddins’ 12-year tenure as Music Director of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

The ESO was joined by a whole raft of choirs – creating a chorus of well over 200 – and Orff’s most popular work was preceded by evocative compositions by two former composers-in-residence with the orchestra, Robert Rival’s Northwest Passage Variations and Estacio’s new Trumpet Concerto.

 

You can read Mark Morris’ full review in the Edmonton Journal here.

Edmonton Symphony Orchestra all Beethoven concert: review by Isis Tse

William Eddins                                 photo: ESO

 

Winspear Centre

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

 

 

 

BEETHOVEN: Overture from Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (“The Creatures of Prometheus”), Opus 43

BEETHOVEN: Romance for Violin No. 2 in F major, Opus 50 (Eric Buchmann, violin)

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 8 in F major, Opus 93

BEETHOVEN: Romance cantabile in E minor
Elizabeth Koch (flute), Matthew Howatt (bassoon), Bill Eddins (piano)

BEETHOVEN: Concerto for Piano, Violin and Cello in C major, Opus 56 “Triple”
Robert Uchida (flute), Rafael Hoekman (cello) Bill Eddins (piano)

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s “Immortal Beethoven” concert on Wednesday, May 17, featured, as the title suggests, an all-Beethoven program. Two days earlier, Metro Cinema (at the historic Garneau Theatre) had partnered with the ESO to co-present the film “Immortal Beloved” in anticipation of this concert.

The works on the program were certainly some of the less commonly played works, mainly from Beethoven’s middle period. The program began with the Overture from The Creatures of Prometheus, Beethoven’s only complete ballet. Beethoven isn’t a composer who comes to mind when one thinks of ballet, but the work had been relatively well-performed during the composer’s lifetime.

The concert featured many ESO members as soloists, beginning with associate concertmaster Eric Buchmann with Romance for Violin No. 2. The delicacy and youthful phrasing of the Romance shine in Buchmann’s performance. While the piece is largely free of the angst which we could come to associate with Beethoven, the dynamic and mood contrasts in the piece could have been more dramatic, particularly in the arpeggiated sections.

While Beethoven’s middle period is often nicknamed his “heroic” period, these selections present a more light-hearted, humorous side of the composer. His Eighth Symphony quickly followed his Seventh, but bears little resemblance to its famous predecessor. At the time of its premiere, the Eighth was met with confusion by audiences. According to his student Carl Czerny, Beethoven’s response to the lukewarm reaction of audiences as compared to the popularity of the Seventh was because the Eighth “is so much better”.

The orchestra delivered on the charming aspect of Classicism. However, the transformations of the first theme, the unusual harmonies, and the strange silences of the first movement weren’t given the special treatment needed to bring them to light. In the middle of the movement, the building harmonic and dynamic intensity leads towards the resolution with the forte-fortissimo (fff) restatement of the first theme in the bassoons, cellos, and basses; however, it was not quite punctuating enough to truly resolve the tension.

The second movement, rather than being a traditional slow movement, is a quaint Scherzo. The incessant rhythmic ticking of the winds, captured wonderfully in this performance, is a reference to his friend Johann Nepomuk Maelzel, who had invented the metronome. The third movement, a minuet and trio, is a nod to Mozart and Haydn; Beethoven had generally used the faster Scherzo form in the third movements of his previous symphonies. The minuet featured lyrical and sensuous lines, with the accompanying trio showcasing delicate chamber music playing. The finale is a showcase of Beethoven’s humour, with the out of key C-sharp (in the key of F major) punctuating the music, until it brings the movement to the unlikely key of F sharp minor. The drama of this C sharp is lost within the texture, making the resolution sound too easy. The extended, spirited coda, which reinforces the tonic F major with out-of-proportion exuberance, brought the symphony to a close.

The second half of the program began with Romance cantabile in E minor, showcasing more of the ESO musicians’ expressive and delicate playing as soloists: Elizabeth Koch (principal flute), Matt Howatt (acting principal bassoon), and Bill Eddins. The concert concluded with the rarely performed Triple Concerto, featuring concertmaster Robert Uchida, principal cellist Rafael Hoekman, and Bill Eddins on piano. With the soloists’ entrances in the first movement, it was clear that this would be a melodious, gentle rendering of the Concerto.

As with any piano trio, the balance of the instruments was an issue; both Uchida and Eddins are certainly team players, but Hoekman, in the lower registers especially, struggled to be heard in the large hall. The Largo showcases the trio’s heartfelt playing, with a seamless transition into the lively, joyous finale. The audience was glad to hear the energy from these soloists, and they were met with a standing ovation.

The Winspear was nearly fully packed for this concert. It was refreshing to see such a large turnout, especially given that it was a Wednesday. Groups of schoolchildren in attendance received special recognition from Bill Eddins; hopefully, these young children will be supporting classical music in their futures.

Edmonton Symphony Orchestra: Tchaikovsky, Langgaard, and Sibelius

Winspear
Friday May 12 (repeated Saturday May 13)

Simone Porter
photo: Jeff Fasano Photography

Simone Porter (violin)
Alexander Prior (conductor)

Program:

Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto
Langgaard: Symphony No. 4 “Fall of the Leaf”
Sibelius: Symphony No. 7
 

 

 

 

 

To read Mark Morris’ review in the Edmonton Journal of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s concert on Friday May 12 – Alexander Prior’s last concert with the ESO before taking up his position as their Chief Conductor this September –  featuring the marvellous young American violinist Simone Porter, click here.

2017 Early Music Festival review

Saturday, May 6 (afternoon) First Presbyterian Church, Edmonton
Program:

Vivaldi: Trio Sonata in C major, RV 82

Renée Pérez Rodríguez (archlute) Stephanie Wong (harpsichord)

Vivaldi: Chamber Concerto in G major, RV 554
Telemann: Viola Concerto in G major, TWV 51:G9
Alessandro Marcello: Oboe Concerto in D minor, S.Z. 799
Vivaldi: Concerto for 2 violins in A minor, RV 522

Divertimento Chamber Ensemble

Fortunato Chelleri: Suite in E
J.S. Bach: Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041
Arrangement of Buxtehude: Passacaglia, BWV 161

La Folia Baroque String Ensemble

 

Saturday, May 6 (evening) First Presbyterian Church, Edmonton
Program:

Corelli: Concerto grossi and sonatas Geminiani: sonatas

Naomie Delafield (baroque violin)
Laura Veeze (baroque violin)
Gabriele Thielmann (baroque violin)
Louise Stuppard (baroque violin)
Ronelle Schaufele (baroque viola)
Josephine van Lier (baroque cello)
Joëlle Morton (baroque bass)
Marnie Giesbrecht (harpsichord)

 

Sunday May 7 First Presbyterian Church, Edmonton
Program:

Arrangements of J.S. Bach:

Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor, BWV 867, from Well-Tempered Clavier Fantasia in G minor BWV 572
aria “Schafe können sicher weiden” (“Sheep May Safely Graze”) from the Hunting Cantata, BWV 208
Brandenburg Concerto No.6, BWV 1051 Sonatina (Molto adagio) from the cantata Actus Tragicus, BWV 106
Partita No.2 for violin in D minor, BWV 1004
Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582
Sonata No.3 for viola da gamba and harpsichord, BWV 1029

Elizabeth Rumsey (treble and tenor viols)
Joëlle Morton (tenor viol)
Debra Lonergan (bass viol)
Josephine Van Lier (consort bass viol)
Marilyn Fung (G violone)
Jeanne Yang (harpsichord)

The Early Music Festival presented by Early Music Alberta has now been running since 2011, and has happily settled down into a successful formula with a healthy audience base. Alongside the major concerts, the three-day festival held in the downtown First Presbyterian Church includes dance and performance workshops for those new to period practice, masterclasses, and pre-concert talks. In other words, it consciously aims at both those who are early-music aficionados, and those new to such period music.

“Early music” for Early Music Alberta encompasses quite a range of eras, for much of their music-making is of baroque music, rather than Renaissance or medieval works. I couldn’t, unfortunately, attend the main opening early music concert on the Friday (May 5), where Edmonton’s professional early music choral group, the Scona Chamber Singers, gave a program of English choral music from the Tudor period. The rest of the festival was, indeed, of Baroque music.

One thing that the Festival (and Early Music Alberta) really has encouraged is the playing of early music by Edmonton musicians, both amateur and professional, often on original instruments or their copies. That was reflected in this year’s Festival, with the Saturday afternoon concert especially devoted to local amateur groups.

It opened splendidly with a Vivaldi trio sonata (in C major, RV 82) played on a relative rarity, the archlute, by René Pérez Rodríguez, with Stephanie Wong on the harpsichord. The archlute is much as the name might suggest – a basic lute body with and extended neck and strings to give a wider range of lower notes. The trio sonata was originally written for lute, violin, and continuo, but it worked well in this arrangement, particularly in the slow movement where the contribution from the harpsichord was less pronounced, and the particular richness of the archlute could come across.

The Divertimento Chamber Ensemble, who followed, is a group of amateur musicians who come together to play early music on modern instruments, here including a decidedly anachronistic saxophone. It was played by Rafael Tian, very effectively in the opening Vivaldi Chamber Concerto in C major, RV 554, where he made the instrument sound analogous to organ pipes.

The rest of their program was entertaining, too, with the amateur status of the ensemble primarily obvious in the inevitable occasional lapses of intonation. Joe Dupis was the soloist in a Telemann viola concerto, played with gusto. The two different movements of Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto in D Minor, S.Z. 799, were given to two different instruments: the oboe (Verona Goodman), and then saxophone – an interesting contrast. Vivaldi’s Concerto for 2 Violins in A minor, RV 522, was played with great enthusiasm by the whole ensemble, with Carlene Friesen and Anele Mhlahlo effective soloists – the latter, a student at Burman University in Lacombe, had stepped in at relatively short notice to take over from a soloist who was unavailable.

The second half of the concert was given by La Folia Baroque String Ensemble, a group of Edmonton amateur musicians who play on original instruments or copies, under the musical direction of a professional, the artistic director of the Festival, Josephine van Lier. The Festival always tries to include some less familiar work, and La Folia opened with the Suite in E by Fortunato Chelleri, an Italian composer who worked in both Italy and Germany. The music – essentially a dance suite – was pleasant enough, but not in truth that memorable. Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041, however, needs little introduction, and received a committed performance from Lois Harder, who besides being an enthusiastic amateur musician, is Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta. The performance was nicely paced, too, in the outer movements, though surely a little slow in the middle movement – Harder could accommodate the tempi van Lier had chosen, but it made for rather a plodding-sounding ensemble. With an effective arrangement of a Buxtehude organ Passacaglia (in D minor, BxWV161) to close, La Folia showed that the art of amateur music making is happily alive and well in an age of streaming downloads and ear buds.

The concert on Saturday evening (May 6) was devoted to the concerto grosso, with works mainly by the master of the form, Arcangelo Corelli, and two by Francesco Saverio Geminiani, the Italian composer who later worked in England, and is perhaps best known for his treatise The Art of the Violin (1731). The all-string (plus harpsichord), and all-women ensemble was made up of Albertan musicians specializing in early music.

I unfortunately was unable to stay for the second half of what was a substantial concert, but there was plenty to enjoy in the first half, with some notable playing in particular from violinist Laura Veeze, a member of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. The opening Corelli’s Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.2, a work full of lyrical, sometimes almost sentimental, music, got the evening off to an excellent start, and there was wonderfully lively and enthusiastic playing in Corelli’s Op.6 No.4. Most enjoyable music making.

The final evening on Sunday (May 7) recreated a concert given in Toronto in 2015. Van Lier reassembled the consort of distinguished international early music players who had played in that concert, from the States, Switzerland, and Canada. They formed a relative rarity: a so-called ‘low consort’ of viols. Viol consorts usually consist of treble, tenor, and bass, but the ‘low consort’ has two tenors, two basses, and a violone, a bass instrument that was the forerunner of the double bass. The overall sound of the ‘low consort’ is, as one would expect, a little darker and richer than the standard consort, creating a warm sound that still retains that particular viol edge to the tone. This ensemble, too, was very homogeneous in that sound, despite the range of instruments – closer together in tones and colours than, say, a modern string quartet. Again, all the musicians were women – in itself welcome, but this was not a gender-neutral festival!

If we perhaps particularly associate a consort of viols with 16th-century music, the instruments continued to be used until well into the 18th century (Louis XIV particularly liked their sound), and this concert consisted entirely of Bach works, arranged for this particular combination of string instruments.

The opening sonatina from the funeral cantata Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106, didn’t need too much arranging, as the original is for two alto recorders, two violas da gamba, and bass continuo. It worked well for the da gamba ensemble, though I confess I did rather miss the sharpness of the recorder against the strings of the original – the effect was to submerge the importance of that tune, making the whole thing more funereal.

The organ Fantasia in G minor BWV 572 didn’t work quite so well – the ensemble was too homogeneous in its sound to successfully recreate the various colours of the organ pipes – but the famous aria “Schafe können sicher weiden” (“Sheep May Safely Graze” from the Hunting Cantata, BWV 208), where the consort was joined by harpsichord, was very attractive indeed, those colours being all to the advantage. Similarly the clarity of different voices, and the pizzicato section of the Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582, made for some attractive music-making.

The Brandenburg Concerto No.6 was especially entertaining, the intertwining flow of the ensemble really working in the opening movement, and with some sensitive playing from harpsichordist Jeanne Yang. Again, the arrangement didn’t need to stray too far from the original, which is for two violas, two viola da gamba, cello, violin, and harpsichord.

The final work in the festival was a different matter. It had been billed as Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.7 (which of course doesn’t exist), but was actually an arrangement of his Sonata No.3 for viola da gamba and harpsichord, BWV 1029. The idea for naming this as the seventh Brandenburg (there have been other candidates) comes from Peter Williams, who argued in Early Music in 1984 that the sonata had first been conceived as a concerto. An arrangement by Duncan Bruce in C minor, for the same instrumentation as the Brandenburg Concerto No.6, was published in 1992, and I assume formed the basis for this viol consort arrangement.

Inevitably, the arrangement is fairly extensive, with much of the original harpsichord writing being given to the consort, with a more continuo role for harpsichord here. Indeed, there are distinct similarities to the 6th Brandenburg, especially in the first movement, and if it doesn’t quite have the bite of that more celebrated work, it made an unexpected and welcome foil to it.

This was a most attractive concert, played with enthusiasm and authority, interesting not only for the consort itself, but also for the arrangements of Bach. There was something wonderfully mellow about it, leaving one in a comfortable, happy mood, as if one had just finished a good dinner in entertaining company with a glass of rich port – a successful ending to another successful Early Music Festival.

Review: Pro Coro: Stockhausen: Stimmung

For Mark Morris’ Edmonton Journal review of the Pro Coro’s New Music Edmonton concert of Stockhausen’s Stimmung, click here.

The concert – presenting one of the seminal works of the 20th Century – is being repeated on Saturday, May 6, at 7.30 pm in  Holy Trinity Anglican Church (Upper Hall), 10037 84th Ave, Edmonton

Early Music Festival preview

For Mark Morris’ Edmonton Journal preview of this year’s Early Music Festival, presented by Early Music Alberta from Friday May 5 to Sunday May 7, click here.

Details at the Early Music Alberta website.

Edmonton Symphony Orchestra new season, 2017-2018

Alexander Prior photo by Buffy Goodman

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra has announced its 2017-2018 season, its first under its new Chief Conductor, Alexander Prior.

To read Mark Morris’ summary of the season and its highlights in the Edmonton Journal, click here.

 

Interesting repertoire includes:

Concertos:

Beethoven:         Violin Concerto                 Andrew Wan (violin)         Nov 8

Berg:                     Violin Concerto                 Robert Uchida                   Nov 24

Bruch:                   Violin Concerto No.1       Andrew Wan (violin)       Sept 1

Dvorak:                 Cello Concerto                  Daniel Hass (cello)           Mar 18

Elgar:                     Cello Concerto                  Andreas Brantelid (cello) Mar 23

Estacio:                 Trumpet Concerto           Robin Doyon                      Mar 18

Grieg:                    Piano Concerto                 Katherine Chi (piano)      Sept 16

Kabalevsky:        Violin Concerto                 Eric Buchmann (violin)   Jan 13

Korngold:            Violin Concerto                 Blake Pouliot (violin)       Feb 24

Mozart:                Concerto for Two Pianos                                               Oct 11
Sara Davis Buechner, Williams Eddins (pianos)

Prokofiev:           Piano Concerto No. 1      Ilya Yakushev                     April 28

Prokofiev:           Piano Concerto No. 3      Luca Buratto (piano)       Nov 5

Ravel:                    Piano Concerto in G        Angela Chang                   Jan 26

Saint-Saëns:       Cello Concerto No.1        Stéphane Tétrault            Sept 29

Symphonies:

Beethoven:          Symphony No.9                                                               Jun 1

Dvorak:                Symphony No.9 New World                                         Oct 28

Glazunov:            Symphony No.4 The Lyrical                                         Sept 29

Haydn:                  ‘Surprise’ Symphony                                                      Jan 13

Hindemith:          Mathis der Maler symphony                                       Nov 24

Rachmaninov:     Symphony No.1                                                              Mar 23

Vaughan Williams:    Symphony No.8                                                      Mar 10

Orchestral:

Adams:                 Harmonielehre                                                               Sept 16

Britten:                 Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes                   Mar 23

Janacek:               Taras Bulba                                                                    Sept 16

Liadov:                  The Enchanted Lake                                                    Jan 26

 

Details and brochure: edmontonsymphony.com

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