Browsing: La Scena Online

I had serious qualms about listening to, let alone reviewing, a symphony that purports to describe our present situation. We all know by now the effects this pandemic has wrought on our lives, and we also remember the lives it has taken. Music has limitations in conveying such losses in abstract form. Mostly, one feels, it shouldn’t try. But if you are a composer called Tchaikovsky it will take more than a public health crisis to stop you relating to an historic event, be it Napoleon or cholera. Alexander Tchaikovsky, 75 years old this month, is a nephew of the…

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Among composers of the post-War avant-garde, Ligeti is now the most performed. You can go from one end of the year to the other without hearing a note of Boulez or Stockhausen, but Ligeti – who died sooner than the other two, in 2006 – is somehow freshest in mind. His opera Le grand macabre is practically made-for-TV with its post-modern anarchic comedy and his violin concerto is a back-to Bartok contemporary classic. These piano studies, written in the 1980s and 1990s when Ligeti had fallen out with the didactic avant-gardists, are fiendishly difficult to play and irresistibly easy on…

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Half a century after Bartok and Kodaly toured the Hungarian plains with an early Edison phonograph in search of authentic Magyar music, students of the Franz Liszt Academy carried on collecting in their footsteps, not always willingly. Under Communism in the 1950s and 1960s, it was safest for a composer to champion ‘the people’s music’ – the more so if the composer was Jewish and easily stigmatized, as were all of those included in this fascinating album by the Offenburg String Trio. Of the five names selected only Sandor Veress (1907-1992) is internationally known, and that’s because he spent the…

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Update: Canadian actor Christopher Plummer passed away today at the age of 91 at his home in Connecticut. The following article was originally published on June 1st 2016. Preposterous ass, that never read so far To know the cause why music was ordain’d! Was it not to refresh the mind of man After his studies or his usual pain? (The Taming of the Shrew, 3.1.10-13), Lucentio William Shakespeare’s words have inspired legions of composers for generations. From operas like Otello, to ballets such as Romeo and Juliet, and orchestral works like Mendelssohn’s overture A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the great and the…

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The first soloist I ever heard play Elgar was the French cellist Paul Tortelier at the Royal Festival Hall – elegant, expressive and chastely romantic, half an hour of unblemished beauty. I was a kid and that must have been 60 years ago. Since then I’ve heard maybe one other French cellist attempt an Elgar concerto, but never, until now, a violinist. Renaud Capucon is a revelation in many ways. He shifts the accent from phlegmatic to something more Gallic and the dynamics to a whispering tendresse. There is so much individuality in this account that I kept wondering why…

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John Luther Adams: The Become Trilogy Seattle Sympho­ny/
Ludovic Morlot Cantaloupe CA2116 (3 CDs) Composers grow middle names to protect themselves against rivals of similar plumage. There were so many Bachs around in J.S.’s time that he was mostly known as Sebastian to ward off all the useless Johanns. Here, too, the opera composer John Adams stamped 10-league boots on the domain and our Luther had to use his middle name to carve out a claim. Pretty big terrain he has staked, too. Adams went to Alaska after college in the late 1970s to work in environmental protection. His music derives,…

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Godfrey Ridout: The Ascension 
(Cantiones Mysticae No. 2); Two Etudes; Concerto Grosso; George III His Lament CBC broadcasts by various performers Centrediscs CMCCD 28220 Total time: 57 minutes Godfrey Ridout (1918-84) stood for neoclassical and sometimes British-inspired ­lyricism at a time when the academic winds at the ­University of Toronto were blowing in other directions. He made worthy contributions to the repertoire, some presented in this anthology of archival CBC radio recordings. The ­Ascension, the soaring second of the three Cantiones Mysticae, is here given an ­honorable but acoustically recessed ­performance by Janet Smith (who, like many high ­sopranos, is…

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Géométries Nathan Giroux, composer and pianist Studio Frontenac, 2020 Total time: 40 minutes Montreal pianist, composer and sound artist Nathan Giroux released his first album in December. Entitled Géométries, it comprises original compositions influenced in particular by the impressionism of Debussy, Ravel and Satie. The Préludes are strongly marked by this style. The third is reminiscent of the music of Yann Tiersen in the film Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain. With each new track, Giroux takes us a little further along the eddies to a dreamy and carefree world. The next cycle, Géométrie, opens with music akin to that from…

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Penderecki: String Quartets Nos. 1-3; String Trio; Quartet for Clarinet and String Trio; Der ­unterbrochene ­Gedanke Quatuor Molinari; 
André Moisan, clarinet ATMA ACD22736 Total time: 63 minutes It is well known that Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020) started creative life as an avant-gardist and ended up in quite another place. Montreal’s Quatuor Molinari here outlines his progress chronologically. We begin in 1960 with the nervous and non-harmonic plucking and tapping of the six-minute String Quartet No. 1. In its successor score, eight years later, the Polish master adds three minutes along with fierce tremolos, forceful pulses and ­wailing glissandi that might be…

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Gayané Chebotaryan : Piano Trio. 
Arno Babadjanian : Trio pour piano, violon et violoncelle. Astor Piazzolla : Las cuatro ­estaciones porteñas Trio de l’Île Divine Art 25211 Total time : 54 minutes I was already familiar with the Trio de l’Île from live performances and aware of the level of cooperation they achieve on stage. Now the players are on disc with this first album released by Divine Art. Comprising violinist Uliana Drugova, cellist Dominique Beauséjour-Ostiguy and pianist Patil Harboyan, the group presents piano trios by 20th century composers, but not figures we would call modern or contemporary. In two Armenian composers, Gayané Chebotaryan…

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