Browsing: La Scena Online

What would you say if I gave up star ratings? They are only the vaguest approximation of a critic’s opinion and they might well be affected by the weather, or the latest Covid numbers. I’ve seen ratings that barely reflect the text of a review, just as footballers get marks out of ten that bear no relation to their influence on a game. I know some readers look no further than the star rating before making up their minds. But for those who actually read, does the rating make any difference to you? Do tell. Take the present pair of…

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As One might not be the only opera written for two vocal manifestations of the same character, but there cannot be many others. The risk involved in the undertaking lies not necessarily in the subject matter – the phenomenon of trans identity has been headline material for a while – as in the need to create drama without supporting characters. It says something about the virtues of this work of 2014 and the quality of its online Quebec premiere Friday under the auspices of the Orchestre classique de Montréal that two singers and a string quartet could hold the stage successfully…

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I chucked out a bunch of new releases this week, mostly solo recitals on esoteric instruments like the harp, the mandolin and the saxophone, though also viola, voice and harpsichord, some on so-called major labels. These recitals tend to be paid for by the soloist after a label decides they are uncommercial. Knowing that people are unlikely to buy it, why would I waste valuable time reviewing it and you reading about it? In these fragile times when every hour of life is doubly precious, artists need to think twice and think again before pushing out more and more of…

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Beethoven: Variations (Op. 34, Op. 35, WoO69, 70, 78, 79, 80) Angela Hewitt, piano. Hyperion CDA68346 Total time: 79:40 Like a little Bach with your Beethoven? Angela Hewitt obliges with a splendidly pointillistic version of the 32 Variations in C Minor, which was once in the repertoire of Horowitz and should be revived more often. The virtuoso rat-a-tat comes across impressively on Hewitt’s beloved (and bright) Fazioli piano, but so do the whispers of the calmer variations, including Var. 30, done ­tranquillemente, as the composer requires. We get incisive performances of Op. 34 and Op. 35, the latter known as…

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Reena Esmail: This Love Between Us: Prayers for Unity Barbara Croall: Giishkaapkag The Elora Singers/Mark Vourinen TESR 001 Total time: 54:06 This recording by the two-dozen strong Elora Singers under Mark Vourinen clearly aligns with the contemporary emphasis on cultural diversity. The longer work, by the Indian-American ­composer Reena Esmail, incorporates multiple languages and attempts to survey the world’s major religions in seven movements – in Indian and Western musical styles. A tall order. The score (involving an orchestra of more than 20, ­including sitar and tabla) is most convincing in the “Hinduism” section, in which soloists alternate long legato…

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Love & Death Navarra String Quartet Orchid Classics ORC100135 Total time: 80 minutes You’ll often hear me telling people a couple of generations down the line that they should ­listen to new music of our time rather than Beethoven and Mahler, which they will enjoy better once they are in their 50s. Can’t say I’ve made many converts. All the usual excuses: get home from work, make supper, put the kids to bed, veg out on the sofa, no concentration left for the squeaks and squawks of contemporary composers. Yeah, been there, done that. But I’m not ­giving up trying…

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Peter-Anthony Togni: Sea Dreams. Luminous Voices Chamber Choir/Timothy Shantz. Katie Partridge (soprano), Sarah Han-Scinocco (flute), Sarah MacDonald (flute), Tova Olson, Victor Cheng (percussion), Jeff Reilly (bass clarinet) Leaf Music LM236 Total Time: 61:39 Radiant and/or relaxing choral recordings are not exactly in short supply. There is always room for another. Here the Calgary-based and accurately self-descriptive Luminous Voices under their music director Timothy Shantz make an ­admirable case for the sacred scores of the Nova Scotia composer Peter-Anthony Togni. We start with a calmly uplifting and mostly consonant Totus Tuus addressed to the Virgin. The simple texture of a Requiem…

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Herbert von Karajan The Complete Decca Recordings Decca 483 4903 (33 CDs) There was a time, about 60 years ago, when Herbert von Karajan was called unofficially the “General Music Director of Europe.” In 1960 he was conductor for life of the Berlin Philharmonic, artistic director of the Vienna State Opera, chief conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, and a frequent conductor with the Vienna Philharmonic, La Scala and the Salzburg Festival. He was also under contact to all three of the leading record companies: EMI, Deutsche Grammophon and Decca. At Decca he had the good fortune to work…

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Beethoven: Violin Sonatas Op. 12 Nos. 1-3; Op. 24 Andrew Wan, violin. Charles Richard-Hamelin, piano Analekta AN2 8795 Total time: 69:58 This disc works well as a COVID-era blues-chaser as well as a timely reminder of how comprehensive a genius Beethoven is for everyone everywhere (notwithstanding ­contemporary ideological effusions to the contrary). All four sonatas – and indeed all movements but one – are in a major key. Not that the radiant bonhomie ever seems easily won, Beethoven being the greatest of all masters of the art of representing life in its shade as well as sunshine. Andrew Wan…

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The Spirit and the Dust Beverley Johnston, percussion; Marc Djokic, violin; Amici Chamber Ensemble Centrediscs CMCCD 27920 Duration: 67 minutes Earlier this year, the Canadian Music Centre released a recording that we strongly recommend: The Spirit and the Dust. It creates a psychedelic atmosphere with otherworldly sounds and features percussionist Beverley Johnston, violinist Marc Djokic and the Amici Chamber ­Ensemble. The sounds of the marimba and ­vibraphone occasionally transport us into a trance, making the music pleasant to hear despite the modern musical language. These appealing and accessible works are by Dinuk Wijeratne, Christos Hatzis, Norbert Palej and Richard Mascall,…

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