Lately, the water-cooler talk at CBC Classical has been all about the nominees in the four classical music categories at the 2013 Juno Awards, which will be handed out in Regina this weekend.
We asked four of our resident experts to each analyze one category and predict a winner.
Classical album of the year: solo or chamber
Michael Morreale, associate producer of CBC Radio 2's Tempo, jumped at the opportunity to break down the solo or chamber music category for us.
1. Levant, Amici Chamber Ensemble (ATMA/Naxos).
"Levant is an evocative collection of music inspired by the exotic sound world of the Middle East. Many of these melodies are as old as civilization itself, and are expertly presented by the Amicis. Will it win? Only if the jury are willing to step outside their comfort zone of recognizable classics."
2. Debussy: Solo Piano Music, Angela Hewitt (Hyperion/Harmonia Mundi).
"Angela Hewitt marks Debussy’s 150th anniversary with this collection of some of the composer’s most beloved gems. The performances are everything we’ve come to expect from Hewitt: crisp, precise and colourful. Combine that with Hewitt’s own fabulous liner notes, and what more could you ask for?"
3. Canadian Brass Takes Flight, Canadian Brass (Opening Day/Naxos).
"Canadian Brass call this recording a 'state of the union' that shows off where their membership stands (it’s changed since, but no matter). Is the track listing very similar to their several 'best of' recordings from the '80s? Yes. Does that at all take away from how guiltily enjoyable these tunes are? Absolutely not."
4. Bartók: Works for Violin and Piano, Vol. 1, James Ehnes (Chandos/Naxos).
"Ehnes looks like Steve Jobs on the CD cover. He’s wearing a black turtleneck against a white background, with a high-tech gadget by Stradivari in his arms. Ehnes shows his ability to think differently by pairing Bartók’s folksy rhapsodies and thoroughly modern sonatas."
5. Ravel, Shostakovich, Ives: Piano Trios, Triple Forte (ATMA/Naxos).
"In a field of veterans, Triple Forte are the new kids on the block. They are a trio of strong players, and these three piano trios from the 20th century are well articulated. A nomination for a first recording as a group is impressive. A win would be even more impressive, albeit surprising."
Prediction: "Ehnes hammers away at this deeply challenging music with determination and grit. It’s a thrill to listen to, and is my pick for most deserving of the win."
(Supplied by Chandos)
Classical album of the year: large ensemble or soloist(s) with large ensemble accompaniment
Tom Allen, host of Shift on CBC Radio 2, has surveyed the nominees in the large ensemble category and goes out on a limb with his prediction. Having started his musical life as a trombonist, he's comfortable with large ensembles — the larger, the better.
1. Logos Futura, Antonio Peruch, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (FisarmonicArt).
"In many ways, Antonio Peruch's recording of three accordion concertos he commissioned for himself represents the Canadian experience. Peruch came here from Italy, composer Allan Gilliland from Scotland and the late Malcolm Forsyth from South Africa. The third piece is by Violet Archer, whose parents came to Canada with the family name Balestreri. We are a nation of immigrants, and to have our music played on this most portable of instruments is satisfying, indeed. The disc is bold and powerful and represents a great achievement, but ... [continued]."
2. Fugitive Colours, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Gryphon Trio, Bramwell Tovey (Canadian Classics/Naxos).
"Jeffrey Ryan is, and has been for a very long time, a captivating composer and always worth listening to. That his music here is teamed up with the irrepressible Gryphon Trio, Tovey and the VSO makes this recording all the better. As the title suggests, it is full of colour and brilliance. If this wins, it would be a very good thing, but at the risk of a blistering op-ed piece from the Gryphon's pianist on his own Parker News Network, I'm going to say I don't think it will. However ... [continued]."
3. Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto, James Ehnes, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy (Harmonia Mundi).
"The great Tchaikovsky Concerto and some well and lesser known material makes this a delightful disc. James Ehnes is a tremendous musician and Ashkenazy brings his usual charm and emotion, proving once again how wrong the ferocious critic Hanslick was when he said this music was 'long and pretentious' and brought on 'the revolting thought that music can exist which stinks to the ear.' I could understand a Juno committee picking this one, but it faces some fierce competition from ... [continued]."
4. Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 20 & 21, Jan Lisiecki, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Christian Zacharias (Deutsche Grammophon/Universal).
"A most attractive combination — the aged and austere record label that is for many the label of record, opening its doors to the fresh and brilliant young phenom from Calgary. Jan Lisiecki does justice not just to Canada and Deutsche Grammophon, but to Mozart, for whom these two concerti, written just 30 days apart, were the peak of his Vienna popularity. This deserves to win, but ... [continued]."
5. The Galileo Project, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Jeanne Lamon (Tafelmusik/Naxos).
"I think this one should and will. This delightful multimedia project — a recording, a film, a website and a fantastic (and justly praised) stage show — is the creation of Tafelmusik bassist Alison Mackay. It sounds wonderful, tells a terrific story and shines new light on truly ageless music. That Mackay has turned her 32 years with this orchestra into the source for such exciting and youthful discovery is just another delight. This is a great Canadian recording and sets a new standard for what an orchestra can do."
(Supplied by Tafelmusik)
Classical album of the year: vocal or choral performance
For analysis on this category, we approached Denise Ball, executive producer of CBC Radio 2's In Concert and Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.
1. I Saw Eternity, Elora Festival Singers, Noel Edison (Canadian Classics/Naxos).
"This splendid disc brings together a wide range of sacred works by a dozen living Canadian composers. The Elora Festival Singers, a 25-voice professional choir led by Noel Edison, has long been considered one of Canada’s finest ensembles, and here the choir gives nuanced, thoughtful performances of repertoire ranging from Peter Tiefenbach’s lyrical Nunc dimittis to Ruth Watson Henderson’s gripping Missa Brevis."
2. Schumann: Liederkreis, Gerald Finley, Julius Drake (Hyperion, Harmonia Mundi).
"German lieder may be an acquired taste. And yes, it’s a rather rarified art form with a small but hardy band of admirers. But if anyone is going to sell potential listeners on the power and appeal of German romantic art song, it’s the Canadian baritone Gerald Finley, accompanied here by the superlative collaborative pianist Julius Drake. This release features song cycles based on 19th century German romantic poetry. Finley’s velvety sound, dramatic flair and incomparable diction combined with Drake’s intelligent and unerring support from the keyboard are a winning combination."
3. Prima Donna, Karina Gauvin, Arion Baroque Orchestra, Alexander Weimann (ATMA/Naxos).
"Gauvin, also featured in the Messiah recording from Tafelmusik, is truly one of Canada’s great prima donnas. And this recording shows why. Accompanied by the splendid period instrument Ensemble Arion led by Alexander Weimann, Gauvin performs music written for and inspired by the 18th century Italian opera star and Handel’s muse, Anna Maria Strada del Pò. This recording shows Gauvin at her glittering best. She’s a vocal athlete with a brilliant technique in complete service to the music, and Weimann’s band is with her every step of the way."
4. Opera Arias, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Les Violons du Roy, Bernard Labadie (Naive/Naxos).
"Why the cover art captures contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux looking like a crow having a bad hair day is a mystery. But look away and just listen and you’ll understand why Lemieux is considered one of the greatest contraltos of the day. With Bernard Labadie leading Les Violons du Roy, Lemieux explores some gems of late 18th century opera with suppleness, verve and a lusty sound full of true passion."
5. Handel: Messiah, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, Ivars Taurins (Tafelmusik/Naxos).
"Ivars Taurins leads a crisp, spirited performance of this classical favourite. The orchestra, playing on period instruments, blends beautifully with the excellent Tafelmusik Chamber Choir. And this recording also features four first-rate soloists: soprano Karina Gauvin, countertenor Robin Blaze, tenor Rufus Müller and baritone Brett Polegato."
Prediction: "Every one of these discs is a potential winner, but I’m going with Gauvin. A previous Juno winner, Gauvin is simply breathtaking on this recording — a Canadian prima donna assoluta and one of the greatest vocal artists of our day."
(Supplied by ATMA Classique)
Classical composition of the year
Michael Juk is a music producer at CBC Vancouver. For many years, he was in charge of CBC Music's commissions file, so he's the perfect person to comment on the classical composition category.
1. Echoes of Time, Alexina Louie (Analekta/Select).
"For those familiar with Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, this piece is an intriguing companion. Echoes of Time featuring the Gryphon Trio with clarinettist James Campbell is strikingly reminiscent of Messiaen’s quartet, and in fact imports material in the manner of a hip-hop sample from it to create a completely new work. It takes a composer who is comfortable in her own skin, as Louie clearly is, to wear the unique language of another composer's music without irony or obvious mimicry."
2. Mutation, Denis Gougeon (ATMA/Naxos).
"Rich, brooding and menacing can all describe the mood of Gougeon’s Mutation. This composition has already picked up the 2011 Conseil québécois de la musique Opus Prize for composition of the year. Gougeon’s taut, propulsive writing makes full use of the skilled instrumentalists in Montreal-based Nouvel Ensemble Moderne."
3. The Lord of the Rings Symphony: Six Movements for Orchestra & Chorus, Howard Shore (Howe/Harmonia Mundi).
"Clocking in at almost two hours, this major work by Grammy-winning film composer Howard Shore dwarfs the other compositions in this category, in total running time and other ways too. The epic score employs orchestra, chorus, vocal soloist along with occasional hints of Celtic flute to underline poignant and hummable melodies. This one is probably a long shot in a category that has historically identified compositions with greater compositional rigor. Shore’s symphony may well be vindicated in the marketplace by more downloads and listens than all of the other nominated works combined."
4. Trio for Violin, Viola and Cello, R. Murray Schafer (Centrediscs/Naxos).
"At 80, Schafer is arguably Canada’s most successful serious music composer, with four previous Juno Award wins for classical composition of the year, more than any other Canadian composer. This piece is a welcome addition to the miniscule repertoire available to string trios, a chamber music configuration that suffers somewhat by lack of sonorous heft. To his credit, Schafer never allows this inherent weakness to be felt and, in fact, compensates by always leaving the impression of the ensemble sounding larger than it really is."
5. Violin Concerto, Vivian Fung (Naxos).
"Vivian Fung was born in Edmonton in 1975 and received her first validation as a young composer at the age of 19 when conductor Gerard Schwarz gave her a commission to write for the New York Chamber Symphony. Inspired by the fertile and well travelled territory of Balinese gamelan, Fung’s Violin Concerto engages the listener with lively rhythms, delicate and swirling orchestral colours and a pyrotechnical cadenza for the soloist. An added bonus is the excellent sound of this recording featuring the Itzhak Perlman protégé, Kristen Lee, and the progressive, contemporary music outfit from New York, the Metropolis Ensemble."
Prediction: "Vivian Fung’s Violin Concerto will be hard to beat. Her writing is lucid and sophisticated and this piece will likely be in demand on orchestral programs for years to come."
(Supplied by Naxos)
Do you agree with our predictions? Let us know in the comments below.
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