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Comes Home to Canada
When Canadian writer Margaret Atwood’s chilling novel The Handmaid's Tale was first published in 1985 it was hailed as an imaginative, if somewhat paranoid, vision of the future. The notion that the religious right would decide that moral corruption is responsible for the fall of society and take over the United States, overthrowing the government and implementing a fundamentalist regime, was provocative but simply too far fetched to be taken seriously in the mid-80s.
Even four years ago, when Danish composer Poul Ruders’ acclaimed operatic adaptation of the novel debuted at the Royal Danish Opera, Atwood’s vision still seemed safely in the distant future.
Now, the Canadian premiere run of Ruders’ opera is underway in Toronto at the Canandian Opera Company and--in the age of Bush-Cheney, where industrial polluters and right wing fundamentalists are in charge of environmental and “faith-based” policies--the future seems a lot closer than it used to be.
The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a future dystopia, where pollution and radiation has rendered countless women sterile, and the birthrates of North America are dangerously declining. A puritan theocracy controls the former United States, now called the Republic of Gilead, and Handmaids of proven fertility have been enlisted to bear offspring to the childless elite. Offred, one such Handmaid, tells her story of abuse, compassion and sustained hope.
In fashioning a libretto, Paul Bentley has simplified Atwood's narrative while remaining true to its essence. And in setting the words to music, Ruders has preserved verbal clarity to a high degree, making the story easy to follow as it is acted out.
the original production, David Hurwitz wrote in Classics
Today: “Ruders’ opera is the ‘real deal’: exciting, dramatic,
lyrical, and ter
Further performances are September 29, Oct. 1, 5 and 9, 2004 at
the Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto. This starring
role is played by Stephanie Marshall, 31, a Canadian mezzo-soprano based
in London who played Offred in the English National Opera's 2003
Music in Fifths/Two Pages
Composer: Phillip Glass
Performer: Bang on a Can
These are transcriptions of two early Glass works ("Fifths," originally performed and recorded by Philip Glass with Jon Gibson and Dickie Landry in the original version for saxophones and electric organ) and ("Two Pages", originally done by Philip Glass on electric organ and Michael Riesman on piano).
As always the Bang on a Can All Stars do a... well... bang up job and bring a fresh perspective to two of the seminal works of Glass' early career.
Composer: Herman D. Koppel
Nina Kavtaradze (piano)
Aalborg Symphony Orchestra/Moshe Atzmon
This is the third volume of the symphonies of the Danish composer Herman D Koppel who lived from 1908 to 1998 and wrote seven symphonies between 1930 and 1961. Born in Copenhagen the son of Polish Jewish immigrants, Koppel fled to Sweden during World War II and his Symphony No. 3, written there, is an intensely personal work that mirrors the fears and anxieties of that period. No. 5 is more hopeful and steady but lacks the raw energy of the 3rd.
Guernica, Symphony no 4, Zapata
Composer: Leonardo Balada
Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra/Salvador Mas Conde
Balada’s Guernica, completed in 1966, during the height of the Viet Nam War, was inspired by Picasso’s large-scale mural of 1937, which has come to represent a protest piece against all wars. Balada writes in a personal modern idiom, although there are traces of his apprenticeships with Dello Joio and Aaron Copland. Neither a serialist nor neo-classisist Balada is modern in ways that are highly individual and sometimes hard to follow. But, he's an original and a little patience from the listener is well worth the effort.
Symphonies Nos: 4, 5, 6
Composer: Josef Tal
NDR RadioPhilharmonie/Israel Yinon
German-born Israeli composer Josef Tal, whose work I had never
heard from this CD, is said to have derived his musical style from
the second Viennese school and has remained an unrepentant modernist. He
has also been an innovator and pioneer, one of the first to combine a live
instrument with a studio-generated tape recording; he founded the Israel
Center for Electronic Music and imported the first Moog Synthesizer into
his adopted country. These three symphonies reveal a composer with a
strong personal voice working at the height of his powers. Very
Baltic Voices 2
Performer(s): Estonian Phil Chamber Choir, Paul Hillier
The second volume of Paul Hillier's exploration of the choral treasures of the Baltic Sea countries features sacred music from composers representing all three branches of Christianity that are practiced in the Baltic region: Orthodox (Schnittke, Grigorjeva), Catholic (Sisask, Tulev), and Protestant (Nørgård). The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir is in superb form and Hillier's choice of material is impeccable.
Music from The Hours
Composer: Philip Glass
Michael Riesman (piano)
Orange Mountain Music
Piano Transcriptions of music composed by Glass for the Virginia Wolfe-inspired film played by longtime collaborator Michael Riesman. Glass writes great music for the piano as demonstrated by his wonderful Etudes for Piano but stripped of orchestration these pieces seem slight and unfinished. Still, for us fanatics, no scrap of Glass is unwelcome.
Symphony No. 3 'Liturgique'
Mouvement Symphonique No. 3
Composer: Arthur Honegger
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
Five of the best pieces by one of the 20th Century's most underrated composers, played handsomely by the New Zealand Symphony. There may be better versions of all these pieces around but at this price you can't go wrong. Essential listening for anyone who is serious about modern music.
Composer: Frank Bridge
Enter Spring, Summer, Two Poems , The Sea
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Judd
Another underrated composer represented by some of his very best work. Young Benjamin Britten once said that upon hearing The Sea he was “knocked sideways”. And, indeed, it is a brilliant piece, filled with the mood of crashing waves and great expanses of open water. Indispensible.
Peter Grimes, Op.33
Composer: Benjamin Britten
London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Sir Colin Davis
This is Sir Colin's third recording of Peter Grimes and his experience is clearly reflected in the extraordinary performance by the London Symphony, especially in the famous Interludes that frame Britten's tragic story. This is not the best cast Davis has ever recorded the opera with but the singing is very good, even excellent, in places. (Hard to top Peter Pears and Jon Vickers). But, the orchestra shines in this recording and makes it a must-have for Britten fans.
Canticle of the Sun, Preludes for Cello Solo, In Croce
Composer: Sofia Gubaidulina
Pieter Wispelwey (cello),
Collegium Vocale Gent, Daniel Reuss
Gubaidulina’s Christian mysticism, born of her Russian Orthodox heritage, pervades most of her work but expecially in The Canticle of the Sun, which is based on a text by St. Francis of Assisi. The vocal part is restrained and reverent, with the text often presented in a coloristic and fragmentary manner. Wispelway plumbs the emotional depth of the music as he navigates music that requires not requires a staggering technique but a keen spiritual intensity. Also featured on the disc are Gubaidulina’s solo cello Preludes and In Croce for cello and bajan (Russian chromatic button accordion).
Two American Classics
Ives: Concord Sonata
Barber: Piano Sonata
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
The two best piano sonatas ever written by Americans played by the best piano player alive. Period. This is Hamelin's second recording of the Ives Concord Sonata, a piece he has played for over 20 years in performances that have often been regarded as definitive. Now, we have a new definitive recording.
Composer: Lukas Ligeti
With a name like Ligeti you'd better be good and Lukas, son of György, demonstrates that he is more than just a chip off the old block in this clever blending of traditional music from places as diverse as Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Florida, Egypt, and the Ivory Coast with the latest techniques in computer and electronic work from Stanford University's computer music lab. Haunting, original and compelling musical ideas that point toward a bright future for contemporary music.
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