When the going gets weird

the-muppets-statler-and-waldorfA couple of years ago I produced a series of “best of” lists for video recordings, which I’ve updated from time to time.  One can find them on the Index of DVD reviews page.  So, for fun, I thought I’d put together a “weirdest” list.  Mostly this captures operas that are intrinsically weird but I’ve included the odd recording where the director has gone a bit nuts in an attempt to get something out of non too promising material.  So, in alphabetical order by composer, here is the “weird list”.   Continue reading

All the Schoenberg

calfThere was a sort of mini Schoenberg Fest at the TIFF Lightbox yesterday.  First up we got Topher Mokrzewski and Adanya Dunn with Claude Vivier’s Hymnen an die Nacht and five pieces from Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.  The Vivier was a very apt choice; a piece of CanCon in the spirit of the Schoenberg.  Topher may not like Schoenberg but he certain;y knows how to play it and Adanya, in my opinion, is at her considerable best in music of this type.  Good start.

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Coming up

Here’s a round up of upcoming performances of interest over the next week or so.  Sunday at 3.15pm TIFF are showing Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s films Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s “Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene” and Moses and Aaron.  The films will be preceded by a live performance of a Schoenberg piece by Adanya Dunn and Topher Mokrzewski.  More details here.

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Workshopping The Harvester again

stacie_3005bThis time last year I attended a workshop performance of a work in progress; Aaron Gervais’ The Harvester.  That time it was in piano score but semi staged.  Last night it was presented, at Gallery 345, in concert format but with chamber orchestra.  I’m not going to recap the plot etc because it’s all in last time’s review.  Let’s start by saying it’s coming along and I really look forward to seeing a fully staged version.

So, back to last night.  The concept is of a double bill of Schoenberg’s Erwartung in a chamber reduction followed by The Harvester so last night we started with half the Schoenberg (up to the discovery of her lover’s body).  The chamber reduction (by Aaron Gervais) for piano, three woodwinds, strings, horn and percussion works remarkably well.  The effect is similar (ironically) to Schoenberg’s chamber versions of Mahler’s songs.  Textures are clearer, if less lush, and the singer is less pushed for sheer volume which allows for a bit more subtlety.  It’s different but it works.  On this scale it’s a good fit for Stacie Dunlop; one of those singers who is an excellent musician and interpreter but is not a huge voice.

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Lineage

lineageLineage, performed last night at the Heliconian Club, is the latest show from Adanya Dunn, Brad Cherwin and Alice Hwang who brought us Evolving Symmetry in September.  Lineage featured German music from Schubert to Rihm so much more in my sweet spot than the French theme of the earlier show.  It was intriguingly constructed with three sets each of a pieces from Mendelssohn’s Lieder Ohne Worte and a Rihm song setting.  In between we got first Berg and then Webern, Schoenberg and Schubert.  It sounds bizarrely eclectic but the contrast between quite experimental pieces and more obviously accessible fare was very satisfying.  Also the sense that there is both a thematic unity and a tendency to experiment in a lot of German music regardless of period.

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Schoenberg meets Mahler

Megan-Quick-Headshot-240x300At Walter Hall last night to see the Faculty Artists Ensemble with Megan Quick and Andrew Haji conducted by Uri Mayer perform the chamber versions of Das Lied der Waldtaube from Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde in the Schoenberg arrangement.  The main reason for going was to get as chance to hear Megan in something more substantial than the things I’ve seen her in with UoT Opera.  Plus, a chance to hear Andrew is always very welcome.

The orchestration for both these pieces may be chamber scale but it’s heavy on the winds and it takes a fair bit of power to deal with that in a space like Walter Hall.  It was clear in Das Lied der Waldtaube that Megan has that.  Her instrument is a rich, darkish mezzo with significant beauty of tone and she has great control.  If I were to be picky, I’d say she has a tendency to focus on producing beautiful sounds at the expense of the text to some extent but I’d say that about a lot of successful singers.  It’s a matter of taste and maybe something she will feel differently about after a spell with the Ensemble Studio.  The basics are there for sure and the piece left me wanting to listen to Gurrelieder in full again.  It’s been a long time.   Continue reading

Eine Frau von Heute

I don’t usually associate Arnold Schoenberg with comedy but he did write a one act comic opera Von Heute auf Morgen which premiered in 1929.  It was an attempt to cash in on the vogue for satirical operas on modern themes characterised by Brecht and Weill and , if a bit slight and lacking Brechtian punch, it works well enough.  A bourgeios husband and wife have returned from an evening out where they have met an iold friend of the wife who has become something of a femme fatale.  There’s also a singer, inevitably a tenor, involved.  The husband is rabbiting on rather gormlessly about the charms of the “other woman” so his wife decides to teach him a lesson.  She apes the manners of a “modern woman”, neglects their child, plans assignations etc.  There’s a long phone conversation inwhich the “friend” and the singer invite them back to the bar.  By now the husband is beginning to realise what he stands to lose.  The wife realises she has won.  The other couple show up and there’s a “modern” vs. “traditional” quartet after which the “moderns” leave in disgust and the husband and wife revort to bourgeois domesticity.

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