Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 (CD review)

Also, Scriabin: Etudes. Lang Lang, piano; Yuri Temirkanov, St. Petersburg Philharmonic. Telarc CD-80582.

Whatever faults I might have found with Chinese pianist Lang Lang's 2001 rendition of the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto I should probably attribute to the sound of the recording as much as to the artist. Recorded live in August of 2001 at a Proms Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London, the interpretation is at once lively and volcanic, reticent and withdrawn. Certainly, Lang Lang is a pianist of contrasting temperaments, and he displays it in abundance in this performance, for good or for bad. Personally, I found the performance from both Lang and the orchestra somewhat underpowered compared to the best I've heard, including the composer's mono rendition; but I suspect Lang's fans will find it just right.

As to the performance more specifically, Lang begins it in a relatively staid, reserved manner, and he doesn't begin to allow it to come alive until the final moments of the first movement and then the concluding movement. He executes the slow, second movement Adagio beautifully, however, from beginning to end, and by the time he finishes the entire concerto, things bode well for the Scriabin Etudes and the little Chinese folk song that follow.

The thing is, I've never been keen on live performances, and this disc reminded me why. Audience noises in the concerto constantly intrude upon the serenity of the quieter passages, and then the sound engineers subject us to a burst of applause at the end. Additionally, the piano's image seems sometimes small and distant, sometimes large, wide, and close, with little rhyme or reason as to why. The orchestra often appears soft or muted, to the point you'd think it had disappeared entirely, when suddenly it bursts forth with a strong, dynamic force, making you wonder where it had been all along. Now, understand, I'm all for a wide dynamic range, as long it sounds natural, the way one might hear it at a real, live event, not from a recorded one. Ironically, for a live recording, this one didn't sound to me "live" at all except for the audience noise.

Telarc recorded the Etudes in a studio, and they come off much better than the Rachmaninov in almost every way. Most important, the sound is not only quieter but seems better balanced than in the Rachmaninov concerto. Oh, yes, and then there's Telarc's booklet insert, which is one of those foldout affairs that opens up to nearly two feet across your lap, making reading it a chore.

I've never considered it my job to tell people what to buy, only to provide my reactions to recordings; still, I have to admit that if I were a first-time buyer looking for a stereo version of the Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto, I'd stick to the tried-and-true recordings from Martha Argerich (Philips), Vladimir Horowitz (RCA), Byron Janis (Mercury), Leif Ove Andsnes (EMI), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca), and if you don't mind monaural sound, the composer's own authoritative version (RCA).


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

Of Kings & Angels (CD review)

A Christmas Carol Collection. Mediaeval Baebes. QOS 009CD.

It's that time of year again. Well, it's that time of year if you're reading this around Christmas time, anyway. The musical ensemble Mediaeval Baebes present a holiday celebration of seventeen Christmas carols on their album Of Kings & Angels.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mediaeval Baebes, Wikipedia describes them as "a British ensemble of female musicians founded in the 1990s by Dorothy Carter and Katharine Blake. It included some of Blake's colleagues from the band Miranda Sex Garden, as well as other friends who share her love of medieval music. The lineup often rotates from album to album, and ranges from six to twelve members. As of 2010, the group sold some 500,000 records worldwide, their most successful being Worldes Blysse with 250,000 copies purchased."

The current members include Katharine Blake, Esther Dee, Clare Marika Edmondson, Sarah Kayte Foster, Emily Alice Ovenden, and Josephine Ravenheart, with several additional musicians accompanying them on medieval instruments and vocals. Mediaeval Baebes are a talented group of singers who in various configurations have been singing together for nearly twenty years. Surely, practice makes perfect, and they are just that, their voices blending in heavenly harmony, the solos just as radiant.

Most listeners will find the majority of the carols familiar: "I Saw Three Ships," "We Three Kings," "The Holly and the Ivy," "Ding Dong Merrily on High," "Good King Wenceslas," "Away in a Manger," "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," and "Silent Night." But then there are less familiar items, like "Ther Is No Rose of Swych Vertu," sung in Middle English; "In the Bleak Midwinter," with words by Christina Rossetti and music by Gustav Holst; "Gaudete," sung in Mediaeval Latin; "Veni, Veni Emmanuel," based on a Latin text; and so on.

Each song is a little gem, but I found a number of them of particular interest. "The Holly and the Ivy" stands out for the sweet spirit of the ensemble, as well as the precision of its execution. They project the song with exactness and heart, a winning combination. "Ther Is No Rose," Veni, Veni," and "The Angel Gabriel" appealed to me for the beauty of the ensemble's a cappella harmony, which needs no support or accompaniment to sound celestial. "Ding Dong" is joyful and zesty; the combination of Rossetti and Holst is nigh irresistible; "Away in a Manger" benefits from the complement of a delightful zither; "God Rest Ye" gets a more nineteenth-century treatment than we usually hear; "Silent Night" profits from not sentimentalizing it; and Benjamin Britten's "Corpus Christi Carol" is almost not a carol at all, yet works perfectly well for its symbolism.

Certainly, this is not your usual Christmas album, yet it's one that should please both classical and popular-music fans. Very enjoyable.

Mediaeval Baebes recorded the album in 2013 at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge and Bellissima Studios, with Katharine Blake producing and musically directing the music and Ms. Blake and Rob Toulson engineering and mixing it. The sound is quite clear, the solos a bit close and the upper midrange a tad forward. I liked that the supporting vocals were fairly dimensional and not necessarily in the same plane as the lead singer. Too often, however, individual instruments appear highlighted, somewhat lessening the sound's natural or lifelike effect. I also detected a very slight high-frequency background noise, not exactly a hiss but more of a steady-state whine, that accompanied much of the music. Fortunately, these are minor concerns, and most listeners will no doubt find the sonics quite attractive.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, November 23, 2014

Sacred Music in a Sacred Space's Inspiring Advent Lessons and Carols Returns on November 30

The acclaimed music series from the Upper East Side's Church of St. Ignatius Loyola begins the Advent-Christmas season with a beloved tradition, reprising its immensely popular "Advent Lessons & Carols" on Sunday, November 30 at 3:00 pm (980 Park Avenue between 83rd and 84th Streets). The concert is open to the public by free will offering. No tickets are required.

Join the Choir of St. Ignatius Loyola for its inaugural musical event of the holiday season—a meditative "Advent Lessons and Carols" service that celebrates the complex role of the Blessed Mother through music and readings. Artistic Director K. Scott Warren has hand-selected inspiring motets to complement a series of Biblical readings and poems and favorite sing-a-long carols in this modern interpretation of the traditional service that peaked in popularity during the 1920s.

This is a service of prayer and song that invites us into the stillness of Advent, a foil to the bustling holiday pace throughout the city. The musical selections, which will be performed by the Church's superlative professional choir conducted by Warren, include Francis Poulenc's Salut, dame sainte from Quatre petites prières de Saint-François d'Assise; Angelus ad virginem by composer Paul Halley (former Music Director at New York's St. John the Divine); Franz Biebl's Ave Maria; Magnificat by Robert Parsons; and Morton Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium.

Poetic readings include an excerpt from Eternal Feminine by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest who once lived in the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola parish house; and Denise Levertov's The Annunciation. The service will also include familiar Christmas carols for all to sing, prayers and seasonal biblical readings.

Designed to celebrate Mary's humility and courage from the moment of the Annunciation through the rest of her life, the service announces the beginning of the holiday season not with trumpets (there will be plenty of those later in the month!), but with a quiet space for reflection on the most sacred aspects of Christmas.

The "Advent Lessons and Carols" is the first event of a very musical December at the church. The Grammy-award-winning male chorus Chanticleer performs its beloved "A Chanticleer Christmas" concert on Friday, December 5 at 7:00 pm and Sunday, December 7 at 4:00 pm (tickets $35-$85, assigned seating) and the St. Ignatius Choir and Orchestra join forces with the Parish Community Choir and Children's Choirs for the Church's joyous Christmas celebration, "Heavenly Light," on Sunday, December 14 at 3:00 pm and Wednesday, December 17 at 7:00 pm (tickets $35-$85, assigned seating).

Ticket information:
Advent Lessons and Carols – November 30, 2014: Free will offering (no ticket necessary)
Chanticleer Tickets – December 5 & 7, 2014:  Tickets $35 - $85
Heavenly Light Annual Christmas Concert – December 14 & 17, 2014:  Tickets $35 - $85

Order online: www.smssconcerts.org
Phone:  212.288.2520

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

92nd Street Y December Concerts
Wednesday, December 3, 2014, 7:30 PM
The Return of the Violin: Screening and Discussion
with Joshua Bell, Sigmund Rolat and Budd Mishkin
92Y Buttenwieser Hall

Sunday, December 7, 3:00 PM
Alisa Weilerstein & Inon Barnatan
Musicians of the NY Philharmonic
92Y Kaufmann Concert Hall

Saturday, December 13, 8:00 PM
The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio
92Y Kaufmann Concert Hall

Sunday, December 14, 11:00 AM
Leon Fleisher in Conversation
92Y Weill Art Gallery

Monday, December 15, 7:30 PM
Schoenberg Before Schoenberg

Wednesday, December 17, 8:15 PM
Can We Be Silent? Artists on Prejudice, Racism and Persecution
92Y Buttenwieser Hall

Tickets are available at www.92Y.org/concerts or 212-415-5500.

--Ely Moskowitz, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Distinguished Concerts International New York Names Eph Ehly Recipient of DCINY's Educator Laureate Award
Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) is pleased to announce that conductor Eph Ehly will be the recipient of the DCINY Educator Laureate Award. Celebrated as a conductor and educator worldwide, Ehly will receive the award on Sunday, November 30th, at the start of DCINY's performance of Messiah … Refreshed! at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center. Co-founded by Iris Derke (General Director) and Jonathan Griffith (Artistic Director and Principal Conductor), DCINY's 8th season will begin in January 2015.

Named "one of the most sought-after choral conductors/clinicians" by the American Choral Directors Journal, Eph Ehly is renowned as a conductor, author, and lecturer. Ehly has appeared in 48 states, as well as Canada, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, and several countries throughout Europe, and presented on more than 100 college and university campuses. DCINY's Maestro Jonathan Griffith--the recent winner of the 2014  American Prize in Conducting--comments: "Dr. Eph Ehly has been a major influence in my life, not only musically but also personally.  Much of who I am today as a conductor goes back to the early days of my doctoral studies at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and specifically with my daily contact with Dr. Ehly. It is a sincere privilege to honor this wonderful and giving musician and human being."

After 27 years of service--and conducting over 80 All-State Choirs, and over 600 festival ensembles--Dr. Ehly retired from the Conservatory of Music, University of Missouri-Kansas City. He also served an Interim Professorship at the University of Oklahoma in 2006-07. More than 90 Doctorate and 100 Masters Degree students have graduated under his supervision. He imparts a lifetime of wisdom and expertise in his popular memoir, "Hogey's Journey," published by Heritage Press, and Hal Leonard Publishing Company released a series of video master classes which feature Dr. Ehly's philosophies in conducting and rehearsal techniques. He has received numerous important teaching awards and fellowships.

Distinguished Concerts International New York is driven by passion, innovative vision, a total belief in its artists, and unwavering commitment to bringing forth unforgettable audience experiences. Having presented numerous sold out concerts and world and US premieres, DCINY also created a mentorship program for young conductors and the DCINY Premiere Project which commissions new works.

For more information on upcoming concerts and events, visit www.DCINY.org

--Shira Gilbert PR

Mediaeval Baebes Kick Off the Holiday Season with a Free Performance at Rough Trade, New York City on November 30 at 2pm
The Baebes, whose angelic voices and an eclectic mix of ancient instruments wend their way through Christmases past, all the way back to that sacred night in Bethlehem, will perform selections from their newest album Of Kings and Angels followed by a post-performance signing.

Fans of Christmas tunes and early music aficionados alike will be enchanted by the Mediaeval Baebes' sophisticated takes on 17 carols including "Good King Wenceslas," "Ding Dong Merrily on High," "We Three Kings," "Away in a Manger," "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," "Silent Night," "The Holly and the Ivy," and many more. The vocal quintet known for their angelic voices, innovative arrangements and poetic beauty re-imagines classic carols as they may have been heard on a snowy Christmas in 13th century England or on the balmy Middle Eastern night of Jesus's birth. Earthly roots stretch up to the heavens, where it all began, offering a graceful antidote to the commercial frenzy of the modern holiday season.

Join the Baebes at Rough Trade NYC (64 North 9th Street, Brooklyn) on November 30 at 2pm for a free, non-ticketed in-store performance of selections from Of Kings and Angels and post-performance signing. For more information on store location or event, please call 718-388-4111.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

American Bach Soloists Present Messiah in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral
Beloved holiday tradition and perennially sold-out event features outstanding soloists and period instruments.

Premium seating is already sold out ~ Reserve now for best seating options.

Handel: Messiah
Mary Wilson soprano ~ Eric Jurenas countertenor
Wesley Rogers tenor ~ Jesse Blumberg baritone
Jeffrey Thomas conductor

Tuesday December 16 2014 7:30 p.m. - Grace Cathedral, San Francisco
Thursday December 18 2014 7:30 p.m. - Grace Cathedral, San Francisco
Friday December 19 2014 7:30 p.m. - Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

For more information, visit http://americanbach.org/seasons/14-15/Messiah.html

--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

The Chicago Community Trust Supports Institute for Therapy Through the Arts' Collaboration with Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago
The Music Institute of Chicago's Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA) has again received a $50,000 grant from The Chicago Community Trust to continue its long-successful clinical services in creative arts therapy for patients of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC).

For more than 15 years, ITA's licensed and board-certified therapists have provided individual and group creative arts therapy at no cost to RIC patients. Services include inpatient individual and group music therapy, a weekly creative arts therapy group for adults with aphasia, weekly drama therapy groups, and in-service trainings on the benefits of creative arts therapy for RIC staff.

"RIC patients continue to need alternative forms of therapy to successfully recover from an injury or illness," said ITA Executive Director Jennifer Rook. "These patients, staff, and those in the aphasia program have reported creative arts therapy, including drama and music therapies, has had a notable impact on rehabilitation and emotional well-being. Referrals for music therapy in the hospital have dramatically increased throughout the years as more research demonstrates the impact of music on the brain."

Institute for Therapy Through the Arts:
Founded in 1975, the Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA) empowers and energizes individuals, families, and communities to grow and heal by engaging in creative arts therapies and is one of the few comprehensive community-based arts therapy programs in the United States to offer all four creative arts treatment modalities: Music Therapy, Drama Therapy, Art Therapy, and Dance/Movement Therapy. ITA has received national recognition and distinguished itself in the use of integrated arts approaches to help children, adults, and families to improve functioning related to psychological, developmental, physical, or cognitive factors.

For more information, visit musicinst.org

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

PARMA Recordings Student Composer Competition
As a part of PARMA's continuing efforts to bring new music to the listening community and to support new performers and composers, every year PARMA's Student Composer Competition holds a call for scores for current students in composition under the age of 30. The top 10 winners from the Competition are included in the "PARMA Anthology of Music" and the Grand Prize Winner is rewarded with an additional prize.

This year, there will be 3 Grand Prize Winners, and they will all receive a reading and archival recording of an orchestral work as part of our PrimaVista program.

With no entry fee and all costs subsidized, the PARMA Student Composer Competition is a great opportunity for student composers from around the world, and we encourage you to submit your music.

2014 Grand Prize Winner Michael Mikulka had his piece To Throw premiered by the Redline Brass Quintet at the 2014 PARMA Music Festival. 2013 Grand Prize Winner Tina Tallon had her piece selective defrosting premiered by the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra String Quartet at the 2013 PARMA Music Festival. And 2012 Grand Prize Winner Quinn Dizon's small ensemble piece Awakening was recorded by Clayton Hoener, Peter Sulski, Ron Lowry, and Hannah Shields in August 2012 and is featured on Perceptions (Navona Records).

Student Composer Competition Timeline:
December 1, 2014 to January 31, 2015 – Submission period
February/March 2015 – Judging period
April 2015 – Winners announced
Summer 2015 – Reading sessions

Entrants must be 30 years old or younger and currently studying composition either at an institution or through private instruction. There is no entry fee to submit.

Submission Guidelines:
Submitted works should be no greater than ten (10) minutes in duration and orchestrated within a standard orchestral configuration of 2, 2, 2, 2 – 4, 3, 3, 1 – percussion – strings, with optional piano and harp. All costs will be fully subsidized by PARMA.

Ten (10) winners will be selected to have their works published in the 2015 PARMA Anthology of Music, and three (3) Grand Prize Winners will receive readings and archival recordings of their scores by a full symphony orchestra via PARMA's PrimaVista program.

For more information, visit http://www.parmarecordings.com/studentcomposercompetition

--Bob Lord, PARMA Recordings

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.