Joshua Bell: Bach (CD review)

Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; Air; Gavotte en Rondeau. Joshua Bell, violin; Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Sony Classical 88843 08779 2.

I said recently that I'm always a little suspicious of albums that feature the name of the star soloist over that of the composer he or she is playing. There seems to me a good deal of hype from the recording company and more than a touch of egotism on the part of the star involved. Fortunately, when the star is as far beyond reproach as Joshua Bell, it probably doesn't matter. In this case, all we get on the album's cover are the words "Joshua Bell: Bach." It's as if it doesn't even matter what he's playing; so long as we know who's involved, that should be all that counts. I admit I'm still a little put off by it, but I can't deny the results are decidedly agreeable.

So, the first things on the program are Bach's two Violin Concertos, No. 1 in A Minor, BWV 1041 and No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1042. Bell, as soloist and leader of the orchestra, takes both of them at a modest clip. There is no rushing about here to outpace the historically informed crowd. Nor is the reading too slow or sluggish. Instead, Bell takes a middle ground, providing a stylishly elegant interpretation that does the music proud.

The question, I suppose, is whether these performances are significantly better or at least different from a dozen other recommendable performances to warrant the disc or download purchase. Certainly, one can say that Bell is a commanding performer, his Bach concertos projected with authority. The articulation one hears in every note by the soloist and the orchestra is a cause for joy. So, yes, one senses a strong presence involved, and there's surely nothing wrong with that. Still, I'm not sure he erases memories of old favorites like Menuhin, Grumiaux, Kuijken, Meyers, Hahn, Zehetmair, St. John, and others. But that isn't the point, I'm sure. Mr. Bell is a modern star, and he will not disappoint his fans or Bach fans with his performances. And it goes without saying that the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, seemingly pared down a bit for the occasion, perform with their usual impeccable finesse.

While I enjoyed Bell's control in the concertos, I liked the accompanying short pieces even more. First, there's the Chaconne, played in Mendelssohn's violin-and-piano arrangement with a further orchestral augmentation made by Julian Milone. Bell calls it an "arrangement of an arrangement" or a "homage to a homage." Whatever, it's delicious, subtle and refined, the orchestra never an intrusion on the detailed intricacy of the work, Mr. Bell's virtuosic musicianship always at the service of the music.

Following the Chaconne is the famous Air from Bach's Orchestral Suite in D Major, and ending the show is the Gavotte en Rondeau from the E Major Partita in an arrangement inspired by Robert Schumann's piano accompaniment. Bell handles these closing numbers with an exquisite sensitivity, making them a delight.

As I say, there is not much one can complain about here. The performances are first rate and the sound is fine. However, there is one minor personal annoyance I should mention that I'm sure most other folks wouldn't even notice. Now, understand, I realize that Mr. Bell is a superstar musician and all, and I recognize that he, his publicist, the orchestra, and the record company want to capitalize on his popularity. But I wonder if it's really necessary to have full-page pictures of the man on the booklet cover, the booklet back, the inside of the disc case, the back of the disc case, and two more within the notes? Plus several more pictures of what I take to be his hands. I mean, aren't six full-page pictures something like overkill in so small a product? Well, OK, picky, I know.

Adam Abeshouse produced, recorded, mixed, and mastered the album, so if you don't like the sound, you know who to blame. He made it at Air Studio, London in April 2014. The sound is a trifle close, but at the same time it's extremely clear and well delineated. The violin appears well incorporated with the orchestra, not too far out in front or too recessed. What's more, the instrument has a realistic resonance around it, making the strings easy on the ear. There isn't a lot of dimensionality or depth to the orchestra, though; it appears pretty much in the same plane as the violin. As to dynamic range, it is quite wide, probably more so than you would expect from a recording of Bach. In any case, it's all pleasant enough and should please most listeners.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


The Year Before Yesterday (CD and Blu-ray review)

Percussion music of Kraft, Naidoo, Griswold, Pereira, Schankler, and Deyoe. Los Angeles Percussion Quartet. Sono Luminus DSL-92180 (2-disc set, CD & BD).

A couple of years before the present album, the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet had a popular and critically acclaimed release with their multi-Grammy nominated Rupa-Khandha. This newer album from 2014, The Year Before Yesterday, is a sort of sequel to that success; and because a big part of both albums' success is the high quality of the sound, Sono Luminus is again issuing it in a two-disc set that includes both a standard compact disc and a high-definition Blu-ray disc.

The performances include a wide variety of percussion instruments, with the LAPQ playing them with consummate skill. The members of the LAPQ are Justin Dehart, performer and teacher at Chapman University Conservatory of Music; Matt Cook, drummer and percussionist; Cory Hills, performer and composer of over seventy-five compositions for percussion; and Nicholas Terry, a percussionist specializing in contemporary classical music. All of them are highly skilled artists well versed in the ways of modern percussion performance.

The album opens with a three-movement piece called Fore! by one of America's best-known composers of percussion music, William Kraft (b. 1923). Much of music utilizes marimba, chimes, vibraphone, and drums and provides a wealth of expression. Like most modern music, it seems more about descriptive phrasing than actual melody, but the rhythms are so infectious, the playing so good, and the recording so lifelike, it will have most listeners entranced for its duration. While I found most of the album fascinating, this item was my favorite selection on the program.

Next comes the title tune, The Year Before Yesterday, by South African composer Shaun Naidoo. Of interest, Mr. Naidoo holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Composition from the University of Southern California, a Masters degree in Composition from USC, and a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Theory and Piano Performance from Rhodes University in South Africa. One can see why the quartet chose this number as the title song. It is, indeed, a "song," a sweet and melodious tune punctuated by a series of finely etched impressions from the LAPQ.

After the title tune comes Give Us This Day, a five-movement work by Erik Griswold, whose Web site describes him as an "eclectic composer-pianist" who "fuses experimental, jazz and world music traditions to create works of striking originality." It combines orchestral percussion, "found objects," and toy instruments to produce a work that is both rhythmically driving, moody, and meditative by turns. The LAPQ give it an added vitality through their always precise yet vigorous playing. I especially loved the sound of its central movement, "Cold Steel." I saw maybe one of "The Expendables" in the title, Arnold or Sly.

Concluding the program are three short pieces: Mallet Quartet by composer and percussionist Joseph Pereira, Principal Timpanist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic; Blindness by composer, pianist, accordionist, and electronic musician Isaac Schankler; and Lullaby 5 by composer, conductor, and guitarist Nicholas Deyoe. Two vibraphones and two marimbas do combat in the Mallet Quartet, a remarkable set of rhythmic vibrations. The LAPQ make the four instruments do and sound like almost anything they choose. Amazing variety. Blindness is probably the quietest and most-sensitive piece on the program and Lullaby 5 the most ambitious despite its seemingly tranquil intertwining of instruments.

Producer Dan Merceruio and engineer Daniel Shores made the album in 24bit, 192kHz Surround Sound at Oliphant Hall, Chapman University, Orange, California in January 2014. Sono Luminus released the recording in this two-disc set on a standard CD in two-channel stereo and on a Blu-ray disc in high-definition multichannel (5.1 DTS  HD MA 24/192kHz, 7.1 DTS HD MA 24/96kHz, and 2.0 LPCM 24/192kHz). Since I have my Blu-ray player connected to my home-theater system in another room from my music system and since my music system has the superior speakers, I listened primarily to the standard CD in the music room. Afterwards, I listened to the Blu-ray disc in 5.1, 7.1, and 2.0 through my 7.1 home-theater system. Sonic comparisons between the two systems are unfair because, as I say, my two music-room speakers are far better than the seven speakers and subwoofer in the theater room. So, be aware that I took my impressions of the music's sound mainly from the two-channel CD. Fortunately, that was probably enough, and one can only imagine that the Blu-ray sound over the same quality system would be even better.

The sound from the CD alone appears state-of-the-art. The all-important transient response is very quick, combined with a wide dynamic range and strong impact. The instruments stand out clearly and sharply, as though they were in the room with you. What's more, even though the recording seems a mite close-up, there is still plenty of space and air around the instruments and a relatively long decay time on the notes so you get a realistic presence in the music. From the Blu-ray disc one gets the additional ambience of the surround channels and presumably greater definition from the higher bit rates involved.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Classical Music News of the Week, October 19, 2014

Andreas Scholl, Julian Wachner to Perform Bach and Handel with Philharmonia Baroque

Renowned German countertenor Andreas Scholl makes his sole Bay Area appearance of the 2014-15 season in a series of concerts with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra led by guest conductor Julian Wachner. Four performances take place around the Bay Area at Bing Concert Hall (Wed, Nov 5), Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco (Fri, Nov 7), and First Congregational Church in Berkeley (Sat and Sun, Nov 8-9). Tickets are available through City Box Office and Stanford Live and start at just $25.

"I'm thrilled that my friend Andreas Scholl, who has worked with the Orchestra before, will be back to sing a Bach cantata and Handel arias," remarked music director Nicholas McGegan. Scholl, who last appeared with Philharmonia over a decade ago in the St. John Passion, will sing Bach's moving Cantata No. 170, "Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust," as well as Handel selections including "Va tacito" from Giulio Cesare and "Dove sei" from Rodelinda. Writing of a 2010 recording, BBC Music Magazine noted that "few can equal the sheer beauty of tone" which Scholl displays.

Julian Wachner, who appears at the San Francisco Opera in October to conduct Handel's Partenope, is director of music and arts at Trinity Wall Street in New York City and music director of the Washington Chorus. He leads the Orchestra in a program of instrumental works featuring the natural horn, including Bach's beloved Brandenburg Concerto No. 1, Telemann's Concerto in F major for violin, oboe, and two horns, and the Sinfonia to Bach's Cantata No. 42. Hailed from The New Yorker to the Los Angeles Times for his dynamism and joyous originality, Wachner is a specialist in Baroque interpretation. He is leader of the Baroque Orchestra & Choir at Trinity Wall Street, recently nominated for a Grammy for its recording of Handel's Israel in Egypt.

When/Where:
Wednesday, Nov 5 @ 7:30 PM
Bing Concert Hall, Stanford

Friday, Nov 7 @ 8:00 PM
Calvary Presbyterian Church, San Francisco

Saturday, Nov 8 @ 8:00 PM
First Congregational Church, Berkeley

Sunday, Nov 9 @ 4:00 PM
First Congregational Church, Berkeley

Tickets are priced $25 to $100 and may be purchased through City Box Office: www.cityboxoffice.com or call (415) 392-4400.

Tickets for the November 5 performance at Bing Concert Hall are available through Stanford Live: live.stanford.edu

--Ben Casement-Stoll, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

Sacred Music in a Sacred Space's N.P. Mander Organ Recital Series continues with David Enlow, November 2, 2014 at New York City's Church of St. Ignatius Loyola
New York City's breathtaking, majestic Church of St. Ignatius Loyola once again comes to life with Sacred Music in a Sacred Space's N.P. Mander Organ Recital Series. The second recital on the 2014-15 series features acclaimed organist David Enlow on Sunday, November 2 at 3:00 pm.

Last month, Organ Canada wrote that Enlow "understands the music he performs, respects its narrative but manages to delve further into the score with his incredible sense of expressiveness and sense of musical form." With this unique program, David Enlow conjures up the myriad colors and textures of orchestral music, all on one powerful instrument. Works included on the program include several of Enlow's own transcriptions, including the world premiere of his arrangement of Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 (movements I, II and VI). The N.P. Mander organ adds another layer of drama to the overtures of Strauss's Die Fledermaus and Verdi's La Forza del Destino, also transcribed by Enlow. Rounding out the program are Franck's Grand Pièce Symphonique and Enlow's transcription of Debussy's Petite Suite.

The N.P. Mander organ—at 5,000 pipes, 30 tons, and 45 feet high—is the largest tracker-action pipe organ in the New York metropolitan area. This massive, kingly instrument bellows beneath the massive vaults at St. Ignatius Loyola. To witness David Enlow acting as one-man orchestra and taking the organ to its limits will be a treat to any audience member.

The program, titled "The Symphonic Organ," includes organ transcriptions of works from the orchestral repertoire. All tickets are $20; call 212-288-2520 or click here to purchase: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/682290

For more information, visit http://smssconcerts.org/concerts/upcoming-concerts/icalrepeat.detail/2014/11/02/89/23%7C26%7C25/YWQyMGEyMDg5YzNhMTJjOWI1NTZmZDJiYjc0YmYwMTc=/organ-recital-david-enlow

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Orion's "Rhapsody" Spotlights Chicago Composer Sebastian Huydts
Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Müller, and Enescu are also on the program in Evanston, Ilinois (Nov. 23), Geneva (Nov. 30), Chicago (Dec. 3).

The Orion Ensemble, winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, continues its 22nd season "A Taste of Chicago, A World of Romance" with "Rhapsody," a program showcasing Chicago composer Sebastian Huydts. Performances take place at the Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston November 23; First Baptist Church of Geneva November 30; and Sherwood, The Community Music School of Columbia College Chicago December 3.

This concert combines recently composed work with arrangements of audience favorites, in addition to two lesser-known but highly appealing works from great composers of the 19th and 20th century chamber repertoire. Joining Orion is guest violinist/violist Stephen Boe, a sought-after chamber musician who teaches at the Music Institute of Chicago.

The Orion Ensemble's concert program "Rhapsody" takes place Sunday, November 23 at 7:30 p.m. at Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston, Il; Sunday, November 30 at 7 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Geneva, 2300 South Street in Geneva, Il; and Wednesday, December 3 at 7:30 p.m. in the Recital Hall at Sherwood, The Community Music School of Columbia College Chicago, 1312 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Single tickets are $26, $23 for seniors and $10 for students; admission is free for children 12 and younger. A four-ticket flexible subscription provides a 10 percent savings on full-priced tickets. For tickets or more information, call 630-628-9591 or visit orionensemble.org.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Prague Philharmonic Choir Bring Dvorak's Stabat Mater to Cal Performances on Sunday, November 9 at 3:00 p.m.
Commemorating the 110th anniversary of the death of Czech composer Antonín Dvorák, Cal Performances presents the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Prague Philharmonic Choir in a rare performance of the composer's Romantic choral masterpiece, Stabat Mater, on Sunday, November 9 at 3:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall. The Philharmonic Orchestra, reunited with Chief Conductor Jirí Belohlávek since 2012, and the Philharmonic Choir, led by choirmaster Lukáš Vasilek, have long been celebrated for their interpretations of their nation's most beloved composer. "The Czech Philharmonic boasts a burnished and refined European sound, with a warm, string-dominated center, brilliant brass and inimitable, characterful woodwinds, which serve music of their native composers Dvorák, Janácek and Martinu so well" (Miami Sun Sentinel). The Orchestra and Choir are making their Berkeley debut.

A panel discussion titled "Criticism and Creativity" will be moderated by Tim Page, Professor, University of Southern California, and held on Sunday, November 9, in Hertz Hall from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. This panel is part of the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, the first program of its kind focusing on music and music criticism and bringing together national music journalists, renowned musicians, and aspiring young writers. The panel will be drawn from the 2014 participating arts writers, including Anne Midgette, Washington Post; John Rockwell, writer and arts critic; Alex Ross, The New Yorker magazine critic and author; Heidi Waleson, Wall Street Journal critic and author; Rubin Institute benefactor Stephen Rubin, President and Publisher of Henry Holt & Co., whose writing credits include having written features for The New York Times for more than a decade; and Tim Page. The panel discussion is free and open to the public. For further information and a complete calendar of events go to http://www.sfcm.edu/rubin-institute.

A pre-performance talk about Stabat Mater will be given by arts writer and critic John Rockwell at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 9 in Zellerbach Hall. The event is free to concert ticketholders.

Tickets for the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Prague Philharmonic Choir on Sunday, November 9 at 3:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall range from $36.00-$112.00 and are subject to change. Half-price tickets are available for UC Berkeley students. Tickets are available through the Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall, at (510) 642-9988, at www.calperformances.org, and at the door. For more information about discounts, go to http://calperformances.org/buy/discounts.php.

--Rusty Barners, Cal Performances

The Windsbach Boys Choir Performs with the Pacific Boychoir October 24 in Berkeley, CA
The Pacific Boychoir Academy is pleased to announce the upcoming joint concert with the Windsbach Boys Choir, one of the leading boy choirs in the world. These two world-class choirs unite for a once-in-a-lifetime concert experience, Friday, October 24 at 7:30pm at First Congregational Church in Berkeley, 2345 Channing Way. Tickets are available at PacificBoychoir.org/Windsbacher.

In their 68-year history, Windsbacher Knabenchor has become one of the most popular boychoirs in Germany due to their pure, brilliant sound and invigorating performances at some of the most prestigious venues in the world. The choir will embark on a 13-day U.S. tour from October 23 through November 3 that will take them from the West Coast to the East Coast. The tour is part of a German effort to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Along the way, the boys will perform in Berkeley with the Bay Area-based and world-renowned Pacific Boychoir. Windsbacher is known for their singing of German Romantic repertoire, and will perform the music of Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bruckner, and more. Pacific Boychoir will join in a number of these pieces and also perform American folks song and spirituals.

Founded in 1946 by Hans Thamm, the Windsbach Boys Choir was brought to national and international acclaim by his successor Karl-Friedrich Beringer. In 2012, Martin Lehmann took on as conductor of the choir, and focused on creating a synthesis of musicality, precision, and purity of sound. As a result, top orchestras, such as the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the Bamberger Symphoniker, and the Akademie für alte Musik Berlin love to work with the choir. Frequent invitations to important festivals, such as the Rheingau Musikfestival and the Bachwoche Ansbach, emphasize the standing the choir has acquired in the national and international music scene. The choir's ability to deliver a beautiful, uniform tone through sacred and secular texts has drawn enthusiastic audiences in prestigious German concert halls, such as Berliner Philharmonie, Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, Herkulessaal der Münchener Residenz, as well as performance spaces throughout Europe, such as Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Tonhalle Zurich, Palau de la Musica in Barcelona and in Luzern. The choir has the unique honor of recording with Sony Classical and has released numerous recordings, including the Mozart Requiem, Bach's Christmas Oratorio, Brahms's German Requiem, and countless a cappella recordings.

 For more information, visit PacificBoychoir.org

 --Jonathan Hampton, Pacific Boychoir

One World Symphony Presents OperasodesSM Opener: New Girls
One World Symphony
Sung Jin Hong, Artistic Director and Conductor
One World Symphony Vocal Artists
Felipe Tristan, Flute

Sunday, October 26, 2014
Monday, October 27, 2014
8:00 p.m.
Holy Apostles Church
296 Ninth Avenue at West 28th Street, Manhattan

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: from Le Nozze di Figaro
Giacomo Puccini: from La Bohème
Johann Strauss II: from Die Fledermaus
Franz Lehár: from The Merry Widow

Cécile Chaminade: Concertino for Flute, Op. 107

Tickets
$30 Students/Seniors (available at door)
$40 General
Open seating. Handicap accessible.

"Who's that girl?" Just as the award-winning hit series New Girl follows a free-spirited and a lovably quirky young woman as she struggles to make her way in the world, New Girls introduces some of opera's most vivacious divas in their own life and love endeavors. Whether they are fiesty females like Adele (Die Fledermaus) or Susanna (The Marriage of Figaro), starlit scene stealers like Musetta (La Bohème), heart-melting heroines like Mimi (La Bohème) or Contessa (Figaro), or the ultimate new girl like The Merry Widow, they all have captured our hearts as they fall in and out of love, build newfound strength, and console each other.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://oneworldsymphony.org/tickets.shtml

--One World Symphony

Hopkinson Smith Performs Bach
Tuesday Nov 11, 2014 at 7:00pm

In his only New York appearance of the season, Hopkinson Smith performs his own transcriptions of J.S. Bach, Suites 1-3, BWV 1007-1009.

The Abigail Adams Smith Auditorium
417 East 61 Street (between First and York Avenues)
NYC, NY 10065

Tickets:
http://www.salonsanctuary.org
1-888-718-4253
$25 seniors/students/EMA $35 general $50 prime $100 front row series supporter

--Salon/Sanctuary Concerts

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor. Today, I'm retired from teaching and using a pair of VMPS RM40s. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.