Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 3 & 5 “Emperor” (CD review)

Christoph Eschenbach, piano; Hans Werner Henze, London Symphony Orchestra; Seiji Ozawa, Boston Symphony Orchestra. Brilliant Classics 94602.

As of this writing, it was forty-odd years ago that “young” Christoph Eschenbach recorded the two Beethoven piano concertos that Brilliant Classics have re-released on the present disc. They were fine performances in their day, and they remain fine performances today. Like Master Beethoven’s works, things of beauty are joys forever.

Although I can’t recall much about Eschenbach’s recording of the Third Piano Concerto (I may never have heard it before now), I have fond memories of his Fifth. I used to own it on Deutsche Grammophon back in the old LP days but never got around to replacing it on CD. Still, it maintained a high place in my collection for many years, so it’s good to have it back where it belongs. Eschenbach combines brilliant technique and careful thought in equal measure to produce what remains one of the best “Emperor” Concerto recordings you can find.

As you probably know, Beethoven (1770-1827) composed his Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat, Op. 73, “Emperor,” in 1809, premiering it in 1811 and dedicating it to the Archduke Rudolf, his patron and student at the time. It would be Beethoven’s final piano concerto, and it would go on to become one of the man’s most-popular pieces of music. However, the work’s epithet, “Emperor,” was not of Beethoven’s doing. In fact, he might not have liked it, given his disillusionment with the Emperor Napoleon. It was most likely Beethoven’s publisher who nicknamed the piece “Emperor” or possibly the fact that Beethoven premiered it in Vienna at a celebration of the Austrian Emperor's birthday. Who knows.

Anyway, any rendition of the “Emperor” must provide a big, bold, imposing opening Allegro, and Eschenbach does just that, the whole performance full of youthful energy, virtuosity, and daring skill. That first movement is as grand as you’d want. Yet Eschenbach offers much poetry; energetic, to be sure, but lyrical as well. Maestro Ozawa keeps the tempos brisk, yet they are never fast or rushed. So both the piano playing and the orchestral accompaniment are in accord, being enthusiastic and entirely within the Romantic tradition. The interpretation is never fierce, while always maintaining that belligerent attitude the composer was famous for.

Eschenbach and Ozawa take the slow movement even slower than usual, reinforcing the romanticism of the piece. Certainly, Eschenbach captures the melancholy of the music as well as anyone ever has. Then the team produce a rousingly heroic finale to cap off a wholly satisfying reading, which never wanders off into extrovert showmanship for its own sake.

Interestingly, DG released this recording of the Fifth Piano Concerto the same year Decca released their own version with Ashkenazy, Solti, and the Chicago Symphony, which tended to overshadow Eschenbach and company. Both recordings are in the same class, though, with Decca’s sound slightly more transparent, if a tad more hard-edged. Interestingly, too, both Eschenbach and Ashkenazy went on to successful conducting careers along with their piano playing.

The accompanying work, the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 (which opens the program), is not as successful under Eschenbach, Maestro Hans Henze, and the London Symphony Orchestra, although DG’s more-robust recorded sound might make it seem so. It’s not a matter of tempos so much--these are moderate--but contrasts and emphases. In any case, it’s at least a distinctive interpretation, the performers more than willing to stamp the music with the force of their own wills. I’m not sure, though, that it’s all that playful, imaginative, or charming as it is lyrically expressive. Henze seems more intent simply on making us like the music than in allowing us to like it.

DG originally recorded the Fifth Piano Concerto in 1973 at Symphony Hall, Boston, and the Third Piano Concerto in 1971 at Fairfield Hall, Croydon, London. The Fifth seems a little closer than I remembered, yet it’s also a little clearer. I recall the LP sounding somewhat soft and reverberant. So the transfer engineers appear to have cleaned things up a bit. The orchestra could stretch deeper behind the soloist, too; it’s pretty much in the same plane. That aside, the sound comes across naturally enough, warm, a trifle dark, with a strong dynamic presence. The disc also displays a realistic piano sound, crisply articulated.

While in the Third Concerto we find the LSO a bit more clearly recorded than the Boston Symphony, we also find a small, bright edge. Again we get little depth to the image but a very wide stereo spread and an even more forward piano sound than in Boston.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (HDCD review)

Also, Messiaen: L’Ascension. Christoph Eschenbach; Erich Bergel; Houston Symphony Orchestra. HDTT HDCD261.

About a month before listening to this live recording of Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), I reviewed another, newer live recording from an even more glamorous orchestra and conductor, the Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle, which I liked largely for its lyrical grace. Here, in this HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) remastering of a 1987 recording, we find the Houston Symphony under Maestro Christoph Eschenbach. While the Houston players do not match the Berlin ensemble for sheer virtuosity, Eschenbach and his Houston players turn in a splendid performance, and one can hardly beat the realism of the sound.

As you are aware, The Rite of Spring rightfully takes its place among the most influential and controversial works of the twentieth century. I recall an interview with the composer reminiscing about its premiere: He said people booed him out of the concert hall, and he had to leave by a side door, the music so outraged the audience. Today, of course, we accept the ballet as one of the staples of the classical repertoire. Theatergoers at the premiere, apparently used to elegant, refined dance music in their ballets, had no idea what Stravinsky was up to with his savage, often ferocious beats describing some kind of ancient fertility rite. Nor did they understand the choreography of the first performance. The composer subtitled his work “Pictures from Pagan Russia,” and one can understand why.

The score’s driving rhythms helped shape the path of subsequent twentieth-century music, making Stravinsky not only controversial but genuinely revolutionary. The question these days is how to approach it in the twenty-first century when practically every conductor on Earth, including Stravinsky himself, has already had his or her way with it. Certainly, the music’s combination of lyrical charm, fire, and passion need to come into the equation, and on balance I’d say the composer had things just right (Sony) in his own recording. Other renditions have emphasised the power of the work, like Sir Georg Solti’s recording with the Chicago Symphony (Decca or JVC); or the fierceness of it, like Riccardo Muti’s performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra (EMI) or Leonard Bernstein’s with the New York Philharmonic (Sony); or the analytical aspects, like Boulez’s recording with the Cleveland Orchestra.

With Maestro Eschenbach we get a well-proportioned approach, making it a good all-around performance choice; when you add in the beautifully remastered sound, it comes close to being a top-of-the-line choice. If it only weren’t for the slight audience noise and applause, that is. You do have to like the “sound” of a live recording, and I recognize that many people do.

Anyway, in Part One: The Adoration of the Earth, Eschenbach offers up an atmospheric Introduction and Augurs of Spring, with well-developed rhythms that never seem merely like a series of starts and stops. Although the aforementioned Rattle performance has the upper hand in matters of outright beauty and skill, Eschenbach more than compensates with evenly rising tensions and monumental crescendos. This is a ballet one can easily see dancers being able to handle without breaking their necks. When the big, rambunctious moments arrive, the Houston brass and percussion sections rise to the occasion, and Eschenbach delivers the needed excitement.

In Part Two: The Exalted Sacrifice, Eschenbach continues to show his understanding of Stravinsky by never pressing forward too fast but quietly building the atmospheric suspense. Still, he never loses the pulse of the music. Indeed, it is the score’s interludes of near silence that point up the extensive outbursts all the better. It’s a fine, spontaneous, well-thought-out interpretation that bears repetition.

French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) was in addition an organist and ornithologist, that last pursuit somewhat relevant to the disc’s coupling, L’Ascension (1933). Messiaen admired Stravinsky’s Rite for its rhythms and color, and although he worked largely in a religious context, he combined some of Stravinsky’s technique with his own methods, along with the occasional sounds of birds. Conductor Erich Bergel conducts the Houston Symphony in this one, and the piece makes a fascinating comparison and contrast with Stravinsky’s music, sharing some of its pictorial bearing.

The folks at HDTT transferred the Stravinsky piece (recorded at Jones Hall, Houston, Texas, in 1987) from a 16-bit Betamax master converted using a Sony PCM501ES digital processor feeding a Digital Audio Denmark analog-to-digital converter at 24/192 resolution. HDTT remastered the Messiaen piece from a 1979 recording on analog half-track tape, 15 ips, with dbx type 1 encoding (the transfer made from an archival 16-bit Betamax backup) converted as before. So, interestingly, the source material is not particularly “audiophile”; it is HDTT’s meticulous remastering and careful disc transfer that make all the difference.

The results sound superb. You will hear a realistic sense of dimensionality, width, depth, and air, with a lifelike hall ambience. You will also hear good midrange transparency, well-extended highs, and thundering lows. Moreover, you’ll find a strong impact within a context of wide dynamics, further emphasizing the feeling of reality. However, the softest notes almost diminish into silence, tempting one to turn up the gain. I advise against it. The bass whacks in track ten, for instance, sound as though they could do some serious woofer damage. Yet there is an exceptional smoothness about the sound, which is remarkable given the amount of detail involved. Overall, we find a very natural-sounding response without being in-your-face about its focus and clarity. A small degree of audience noise from time to time is the only minor fly in the ointment, along with an unwelcome (at least, by me) burst of applause at the end.

For further information about the various formats, configurations, and prices of HDTT products, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/storefront.php.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


JJP

Classical Music News of the Week, April 28, 2013

The Attacca Quartet Performs Quartets by Bartók, Dvorak, and Haydn in 20th Annual Lisa Arnhold Memorial Recital, Tuesday, May 7 at 8 p.m. in Alice Tully Hall

The Attacca Quartet performs quartets by Bartok, Dvorak, and Haydn on the 20th annual Lisa Arnhold Memorial Recital on Tuesday, May 7 at 8 PM in Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York City, NY. The program features Haydn’s String Quartet No. 55 in D Major, Op. 71, No. 2; Bartok’s String Quartet No. 6, Sz. 114; and Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 13 in G Major, Op. 106. The Quartet completes its two-year residency at Juilliard’s graduate resident quartet this semester.

Free tickets will be available beginning April 23 at the Janet and Leonard Kramer Box Office at Juilliard. Box Office hours are Monday through Friday from 11 AM to 6 PM. For further information, call (212)769-7406. 

Following their Alice Tully Hall recital, the Attacca Quartet has been invited to perform at the Library of Congress, Kneisel Hall Chamber Music School and Festival, and Buffalo Chamber Music Society.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

YPC Joins Stephen Petronio Company in Seven World Premiere Performances of Like Lazarus Did at the Joyce Theater, New York City, April 30-May 5, 2013
Like Lazarus Did marks the third Joyce Theater collaboration between the Stephen Petronio Company and the Young People's Chorus of New York City with seven world premiere performances of Mr. Petronio's newest work,

Like Lazarus Did, with music by Son Lux and a "living set" by Janine Antoni. YPC performed an excerpt from Like Lazarus Did with the Stephen Petronio Company and composer Son Lux at its recent Carnegie Hall gala.

In 2006, The New York Times wrote that "Mr. Petronio is trying something different: adding the Young People's Chorus of New York City to a list of high-profile collaborators that in the past has included the photographer Cindy Sherman, the rocker Lou Reed, and the fashion designer Tara Subkoff." That year the Petronio Company commissioned Rufus Wainwright to compose Bloom, which YPC premiered not only with the Petronio Company in its acclaimed Joyce Theater engagement, but also in its Transient Glory new music series. The two companies collaborated again at the Joyce in the 2009 in the world premiere performances of Nico Muhly's I Drink the Air Before Me, the title of which came from Shakespeare's The Tempest. The New Yorker wrote that "the energy from a relentless score by Nico Muhly [was] leavened by the sweet voices of the Young People's Chorus of New York City."

Before each performance of Like Lazarus Did several choristers, together with Son Lux and musicians C. J. Camerieri and Rob Moose, will form a ceremonial procession moving down 19th Street from Ninth Avenue to the Joyce. Prior to the first two performances (April 30 and May 1), in addition to the procession, 70 YPC singers will perform with the musicians in front of the Joyce Theater on Eighth Avenue.

Click here for ticket information: http://stephenpetronio.com/home/

--K. Gibson, Young People’s Chorus of New York

92Y Announce their May Performances
92nd Street Y of New York City is a world-class nonprofit community and cultural center that connects people at every stage of life to the worlds of education, the arts, health and wellness, and Jewish life. Through the breadth and depth of 92Y’s extraordinary programs, we enrich lives, create community and elevate humanity. More than 300,000 people visit 92Y’s New York City venues, and millions more join us through the Internet, satellite broadcasts and other digital media. A proudly Jewish organization since its founding in 1874, 92Y embraces its heritage and enthusiastically welcomes people of all backgrounds and perspectives.

Wednesday, May 8, 7:30 p.m. and Thursday, May 9, 12 p.m.:
Jaime Laredo, Susie Park,
Ida Kavafian, Sharon Robinson,
David Shifrin, André Watts

Saturday, May 11, 8 p.m.:
Tokyo String Quartet and Lynn Harrell, cello

Thursday, May 23, 7:30 p.m.:
Benjamin Verdery, guitar

Customers are now able to Select Your Own Seat for reserved events in Kaufman Concert Hall. Product pages have been improved to allow for easier ordering on tablet devices, more prominance for social media sharing and a cleaner layout in keeping with our recently redesigned homepage. Customers with special needs are now able to reserve wheelchair seating and wheelchair companion seats online without having to call the Box Office.

--Ashlyn Damm, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the New Century Chamber Orchestra Present a World Premiere by Featured Composer Lera Auerbach May 23-26
Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the New Century Chamber Orchestra conclude their 2012-2013 season May 23-26 with the world premiere of String Symphony “Memoria de la Luz” by Featured Composer Lera Auerbach. An abstract exploration of past memories, String Symphony is a six movement work that blurs the boundaries between the secular and sacred. Each movement incorporates extended techniques and effects for the ensemble serving as a soul searching “prayer” connecting the listener with distant memories of the primordial light. Discussing the themes of her work, Ms. Auerbach states, “I believe that music is about connection – it’s about emotional connection on the strongest emotional level that transcends our intellect, our reason.” Also featured on the program is Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll and Haydn’s Symphony No. 45.

The only purely instrumental work in Wagner’s compositional output, Siegfried Idyll was written expressly as an offering to his wife Cosima Liszt on her first birthday of their marriage.

Haydn’s Symphony No. 45 “Farewell” serves as an insight into the composer’s exploration into the symphonic genre as he sought new compositionally creative directions.

The program will be given on four evenings in different locations around the Bay Area: Thursday, May 23 at 8 p.m., First Congregational Church, Berkeley, CA; Friday, May 24 at 8 p.m., First United Methodist Church, Palo Alto, CA; Saturday, May 25 at 8 p.m., SF Conservatory of Music, San Francisco, CA; and Sunday, May 26 at 5 p.m., Osher Marin JCC, San Rafael, CA. New Century offers an Open Rehearsal Tuesday, May 21 at 10 a.m., SF Conservatory of Music, San Francisco for a price of only $8. The Open Rehearsal will offer a sneak preview of the concert repertoire, while allowing audiences to experience the musical democracy of a rehearsal without a conductor.

The concerts will also feature a From the Stage video presentation, serving as a short, dynamic visual program note to provide insight about the world premiere from Lera Auerbach and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.

Lera Auerbach is the Featured Composer for the 2012-2013 Season, a program established by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg in her first season as music director to commission new works for the chamber ensemble. Ms. Auerbach is the orchestra’s fifth Featured Composer, following Clarice Assad, William Bolcom, Mark O’Connor, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Lera Auerbach’s Featured Composer Residency is made possible in part by the Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation.

Single tickets range in price from $29 to $59 and are on sale through City Box Office: www.cityboxoffice.com or at (415) 392-4400. Open rehearsal tickets are priced at $8.

For further information on New Century, please visit www.ncco.org

--Karen Ames Communications

World Renowned Cellist Janos Starker Dies at 88
Cellist Janos Starker, a renowned concert soloist and a Grammy Award-winning recording artist, died Sunday morning at age 88.

Starker was a child prodigy. He began playing the cello in the early 1930s in Hungary at age six, and by the time he was 8 years old he had his first student.

"I played in public at 11, 12, 13, 14, and 14 was the big, dramatic break-through for me because a colleague of mine was supposed to play with a student orchestra, Dvorak Concerto," Starker remembered. "I, as a student, was in the orchestra, as a cellist. At noon the phone rang in our apartment and my teacher called and said, 'Would you like to play Dvorak Concerto?' I said 'When?' 'This afternoon.' And I said, "May I use the music?" They said, "Sure." And I played and that was supposedly one of the big dramatic successes of childhood prodigies," he says.

At age 14, Starker's teachers encouraged him to quit school so he would have more time to practice. A year later his teacher retired so Starker took over and began teaching a number of the students.

Starker says his big break came in 1939, when he performed Zoltan Kodaly's Sonata for Solo Cello--a piece known for being unplayable.

--Indiana Public Media

Conductor Nicola Luisotti Returns with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra on Friday, May 17, to Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA
Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra step out of the pit and into the bright lights of center stage at Zellerbach Hall on Friday, May 17 at 8:00 p.m. The concert begins with Giacomo Puccini’s Capriccio sinfonico. Written during his time as a student at the Milan Conservatory, this was the last orchestral piece that Puccini ever wrote and expresses a musical style like that of the preambles of his famous operas. Next comes a more modern piece, Nino Rota’s Piano Concerto in C major (1959-1962). Rota was a contemporary Italian composer most famous for writing film scores for The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, the latter of which received an Academy Award. Johannes Brahms’ passionate and lyrical Symphony No. 3 in F major completes the program. The San Francisco Chronicle praised the orchestra’s last appearance at Cal Performances in 2011 for its “robust and finely colored ensemble sound, [and] powerful sense of dramatic momentum.”

Mastro Nicola Luisotti has led the San Francisco Opera Orchestra since 2009. Luisotti has conducted with nearly every major opera company in the world, including La Scala, Paris Opera, Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera Covent Garden, and the Vienna State Opera. He has also worked with many of the world’s great orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonik, London Philharmonia, NHK Symphony, Russian National Orchestra, and the San Francisco Symphony. He was also previously the principal guest conductor of the Tokyo Symphony for three years. In 2012, Luisotti was named the music director of Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Italy. In this position, he has led a performance of Verdi’s rarely performed Masnadieri and a concert of Puccini’s Messa di Gloria. This season, he also produced a new production of Verdi’s Nabucco at Milan’s La Scala and Covent Garden. Praised by Opera Magazine for being “both an original thinker and a great respecter of tradition,” he is currently a finalist of their prestigious Conductor Award. To learn more about Luisotti, visit his official page at http://nicolaluisotti.com.

The San Francisco Opera Orchestra was founded in 1923. Today, the orchestra has nearly 70 professional musicians and plays a full season of opera and concert performances. In addition to performing with the opera orchestra, the orchestra’s members play in numerous Bay Area ensembles including the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. Artists also teach at local institutions, including the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, UC Berkeley, San Francisco State University and St. Mary’s College. Members also maintain active studio recording careers, are featured in music festivals and run private teaching studios. To learn more about the orchestra, visit their official page at http://sfopera.com/About/People/Orchestra.

Tickets for the San Francisco Opera Orchestra on May 17 at 8:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall range from $20.00-$80.00 and are subject to change. Tickets are available through the Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall; at (510) 642-9988; at www.calperformances.org; and at the door. Half-price tickets are available for UC Berkeley students. UC faculty and staff, senior citizens, other students and UC Alumni Association members receive a $5.00 discount (Special Events excluded). For select performances, Cal Performances offers UCB student, faculty and staff, senior, and community rush tickets. For more information about discounts, go to http://calperformances.org/buy/discounts.php or call (510) 642-9988.

Friday, May 17, at 8:00 p.m.                
Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
Bancroft Way at Telegraph Ave., Berkeley

Program:
Puccini: Capriccio sinfonico
Rota: Piano Concerto in C major
Brahms: Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90

Tickets: Range from $20.00-$80.00, subject to change, and are available through the Cal Performances Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall; at (510) 642-9988; at calperformances.org; and at the door.

--Joe Yang, Cal Performances

The Bach Sinfonia Presents ¡Nuevo Mundo Barroco!: Latin Flair meets Baroque Music Majesty on Cinco de Mayo
On Cinco de Mayo, The Bach Sinfonia will present rarely-heard South American Baroque music, including the first hearing in the USA of works by 18th-Century Cuban composer Esteban Salas, on Sunday, May 5 at 3 p.m. at the Cultural Arts Center at Silver Spring, Montgomery College,7995 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20910.

2012 Grammy nominees for their album The Kingdoms of Castille, soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani and Baroque guitarist and lutenist Richard Savino are featured soloists.  Highlights of the performance include Padillas Mass for Double Choir as well as selections from the Beatus Vir and Misa a San Ignacio from the Paraguaian/Bolivian composer Domenico Zipoli.

Throughout the late 16th and 17th centuries South America and Mexico experienced a great rise in wealth as gold-fueled Spanish colonialism and Spanish missionaries established a distinctive musical culture. At first based on European models, the compositions created in the “other Americas” became more influenced by local musical forms, creole languages and newly trained indigenous composers. When Spanish power waned in the early 18th century, the relaxing of European training for cathedral directors led to a new generation of baroque composers with even stronger national identities, and a rich independent musical tradition throughout South America and Central America.

Program:
Ignazio Balbi (1720-1775) [Italy/Bolivia]: Trio Sonata
Francisco López Capillas (c. 1608-1674) [Mexico]: Cui Luna, Sol Et Omnia
Capillas: Alleluia—Dic Nobis Maria
Rafael Castellanos (c.1725-1791) [Guatemala]: Oygan una Xacarilla
Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla (c.1590-1664) [Mexico]: Misa Ego Flos Campi
Juan de Araujo (1646–1712) [Peru]: Los coflades de la estleya
Esteban Salas (1725-1803) [Cuba]: Vayan unas especies
Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726) [Paraguay/Bolivia]: Beatus vir         
Zipoli: Misa a San Ignacio
Antonio de Salazar (c.1650–1715) [Mexico]: Tarara tarara qui yo soy Antonyio
Tomas de Torrejon (1644-1728) [Peru]: A este sol peregrino           
Juan Garcia de Zespedes (c.1616-1678) [Mexico]: Convidando está la noche   

--Jennifer Buzzell

Lara Downes Launches The Artist Sessions, Progressive Classical Music Series at Yoshi’s Jazz Bar
The iconic San Francisco venue is the location for Downes’s series, blending musical innovation with intriguing themes and fascinating conversation (and cocktails).

California-based Lara Downes, widely acknowledged as a trailblazer in reinventing the solo and chamber piano show, will present the first in her new concert series, The Artist Sessions at the famous Yoshi’s Jazz Bar in San Francisco. The monthly series will present some of the world’s leading classical musicians in innovative contexts – in short, every concert will have its ‘story’.

First up is Lara herself, alongside guests the San Francisco Quartet and Rik Malone, host of Classical KDFC. The evening will be based around music of exile and Lara’s own new album Exiles Café (on the Steinway label) – the album was CD of the Week simultaneously on WQXR and WFMT and shortly afterwards on Classical KDFC. Downes is in the midst of an extensive North America tour of Exiles Café.

Also on the bill for later in the series are Christopher O’Riley (May 29), Gabriel Kahane (Sept 5), Awadagin Pratt (Oct 17), Theo Bleckmann (Nov 14), Dan Tepfer with Lara Downes (Dec 12), Alexandre Da Costa (Jan 16), Mohammed Fairouz (Feb 27), Zuill Bailey with Lara Downes (March 11), Anthony de Mare (March 25) and Matt Haimovitz (April 6). Cocktails and supper will be offered during the performances, as will full dinners in the adjacent award-winning new-style Japanese restaurant.

Yoshi's is one of the foremost venues for music in the U.S. Originally opened by Yoshie Akiba, her husband Kaz Kajimura, and chef Hiroyuki Hori as a restaurant, it soon became as well-known for its jazz. What started as a sideline to entertain diners became the main event. Showcasing international stars such as Chick Corea, Ravi Coltrane and Jack DeJohnette, it has become a pacesetter on the US jazz scene. The Artist Sessions aims to do the same from the classical music standpoint for Yoshi's San Francisco.

Watch Lara Downes's new music video, Tango from the Exiles Cafe - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cy7-CJmtN3U

--Inverne Price Music

The Cunning Little Vixen
Sunday, April 28 at 2 p.m.; Tuesday, Apr 30 at 8 p.m.; and Thursday, May 2 at 8 p.m. at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 60 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York City, NY.

“An opera about Walt Disney by Philip Glass recently had its premiere, and any year now we might see Les contes de Tintin or Fledermaus und Robin. But for now, the only major operatic work to be based on a cartoon is The Cunning Little Vixen, a 1924 piece by quirky Czech master Leoš Janác(ek, that debuted in Brno. The composer was no callow hipster courting cool. He was 70, with two more incredibly innovative stage works to come, when he turned a daily newspaper strip dealing with forest-animal adventures into a funny, racy, rueful meditation on life’s brevity and transcendence—and, obliquely, his own love for a younger woman. The titular Vixen wreaks barnyard havoc, becomes a squatter and discovers the joys of sex. The humans around her go through life and love travails, and a frog gets the last word.

New York City Opera used to showcase Vixen in spiffy Maurice Sendak sets. Now, Juilliard Opera’s Anne Manson, who’s conducted almost all of Janácek’s orchestral works, leads a promising cast. ‘Half the piece is orchestral music—its emotional content drives the action forward,’ says Manson. ‘What’s so extraordinary is this human/animal borderline zone, pointedly not differentiated musically. But the animals know they’re living in the present, whereas the humans—until that extraordinary surge at the end—are guys sitting around in bars, bemoaning the past.’” --David Shengold, Time Out

--Schwalbe and Partners

8-15 Full-Time String/Orchestra Positions Needed in Las Vegas for Fall
Clark County School District in Las Vegas Nevada will be hiring 8-15 full-time string/orchestra specialists for the 2013-2014 school year. All MS positions are full time, one school, no travel positions. Most high school positions are also full-time, one-school positions (with very few two school exceptions). All positions are certified teaching placements.

CCSD is the fifth largest school district in the country, and one of the largest Fine Arts departments in the USA. The Clark County Schools have been recognized for 14 consecutive years as "A Best Community for Music Education." If interested, please visit www.ccsd.net and explore the Web site. If CCSD looks like a good fit for you, the on-line application process can be started from this page.

If after you visit the website you have questions please contact Dr. Rick McEnaney, Coordinator at: rmcenaney@interact.ccsd.net

--Clark County School District

Bach: The English Suites (CD review)

Richard Egarr, harpsichord. Harmonia Mundi HMU 907591.92 (2-CD set).

The fact is, nobody is quite sure how or why these keyboard pieces got the nickname “English.” Bach probably wrote them early on in his career, maybe around 1715-1723, and they’re among the composer’s earliest keyboard suites. Bach didn’t even call them the “English Suites,” and they didn’t acquire the name until the nineteenth century when one of Bach’s biographers, Johann Nikolaus Forkel, declared that Bach had written them for an English nobleman. However, Forkel never backed up his claim, so who knows. The funny thing is that these suites have more in common with French suites of the period than English, particularly in their preludes.

Anyway, the German organist and composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) wrote his six keyboard suites, BWV 806–811, for harpsichord, which Richard Egarr plays on this splendid two-disc set from Harmonia Mundi. Egarr has been the conductor of the Academy of Ancient Music for most of the past decade, but he also continues making solo recordings like this one.

If you've heard any of Egarr’s past work, whether conducting, playing solo, or in accompaniment, you know he favors lively rhythms and expressive phrasing. There is nothing genteel, sedate, or old fashioned about his Bach. The Suites bounce along with maximum zest, yet they never betray their essentially aristocratic origins. Egarr shows great imagination in his interpretations, which in the hands of a few other musicians I’ve heard can seem a lot alike.

Each suite begins with a substantial prelude (becoming longer and more complex as the suites go on), followed by six or seven dance movements--allemandes, courantes, gavottes, gigues, minuets, passepieds, and bourrees. While the melodies pour forth graciously from all the suites, it’s the final three I favor most for their smoother, more-flowing lines. And it’s No. 5 in E minor I like best of all for its noble heart and No. 6 in D minor for its sheer grandness and drama.

Most of all, though, it’s Egarr’s spirited presentations that make it all come alive. The performances and recording sparkle.

A number of years ago, it was 1978 to be exact, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi released one of the best-sounding harpsichord albums I had ever heard, Bach’s Goldberg Variations with Gustav Leonhardt. Since then, the album has been my standard of comparison for other harpsichord recordings. Richard Egarr recorded this Bach program in 2011 at Potton Hall, Suffolk, England, and it holds up pretty well next to Leonhardt’s disc. Both recordings have a reach-out-and-touch-it quality, although the older Leonhardt recording sounds a tad richer, perhaps because of the miking and engineering involved, perhaps just because of the nature of the different harpsichords used. In any case, the sound of Egarr’s disc is vibrant and clear, miked at an ideal distance for realistic listening.

However, be aware that a harpsichord is a fairly bright instrument compared to the mellowness of a modern piano. So, yes, the instrument can appear little zingy. Frankly, when played too loudly, the sound got on my nerves. But, then, that’s just me; I’ve never cared overmuch for solo harpsichord playing, period. Heard at a normal, natural playback level for the instrument, though, Egarr’s harpsichord sounds quite lifelike, with a glowing high end and plenty of snap in its transient response.

In the booklet insert Egarr writes an informative little essay on the Suites, and the folks at Harmonia Mundi provide the jewel case with a light-cardboard slipcover.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

The Bolshoi Experience: Highlights from Russian Operas (SACD review)

Alexander Vedernikov, soloists, chorus, and orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow. PentaTone Classics SACD 5186 089.

I would never think of recommending a disc of music I didn’t much care for just because it sounded good, but in the case of The Bolshoi Experience, I admit I didn’t care for much of the content, yet the sound was so good, it was hard to resist.

The album contains selections from Glinka’s A Life for the Czar; Alexander Dargomyszki’s Russalka; Tchaikovsky’s Lolanthe, Queen of Spades, and Mazeppa; Rachmaninov’s Aleko; and Borodin’s Prince Igor. While the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra perform the pieces well, of course, with robust and spirited renditions by the Bolshoi singers and musicians, the arias and such themselves tend to be a little offbeat and even downbeat, with the exception of the familiar Prince Igor Polovtsian Dances that conclude the program. I’d say it’s a collection for the opera connoisseur rather than the casual listener like myself.

Ah, but the sound is splendid. The 2005 hybrid SACD release delivers regular two-channel stereo, SACD two-channel, and SACD five-channel sound. I confess I couldn’t hear much difference between the regular stereo and SACD two-channel stereo layers, to which I listened, although there did appear to be what may have been a touch more dynamic impact in the SACD version. However, that aside, the recording in both formats is splendid.

Not only is the audio balance nigh-well perfect, the imaging and dimensionality are quite convincing.  We get genuine depth in this recording, with the orchestra slightly in front of the soloists, and the soloists slightly in front of the chorus. I hope I don’t sound too clichéd in saying you’ll feel as though you’re in the concert hall listening to this one. Moreover, I’m sure the five-channel version, which I did not hear, would give a listener an even greater sense of reality with a little surround ambience. So, nice sound, even if I found the music a bit tiring.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

Monteverdi: Selva morale e spirituale, Volume III (CD review)

Harry Christophers, The Sixteen. CORO COR16109.

If you don’t know by now, The Sixteen is the name of a United Kingdom-based choir and period instruments orchestra, founded by Harry Christophers in 1979, that has been making records and winning awards for over three decades. Since 2001 The Sixteen have been releasing their material under their own record label, CORO.

On the present recording, a choir of about twenty individuals joins about half as many instrumental players to perform the third volume of Selve morale e spirituale by Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). The title translates to something like “a moral and spiritual forest,” and it contains a collection of liturgical works the composer wrote late in his career, around 1641. This third program in The Sixteen’s series includes twelve selections, including some with full choir, some with a doubling of strings, and one solo number. It’s a varied and, as always from this source, enjoyable anthology.

As we would expect, The Sixteen execute each of the numbers superbly, their singing clearly articulated, their phrasing precise, and their musical expression uniquely strong. They begin the program with the second Laudate Dominum, two psalms for eight voices, two violins, and organ. It exemplifies Monteverdi’s dictum: “recitar cantando” (“speak through singing”), meaning it’s essential for the singers to interpret the words intuitively, giving them more freedom of expression. Thus, a given set of words might have different inflections each time the singers perform them.

The first and second of Monteverdi’s settings for the Magnificat, the hymn of the Virgin Mary in Luke, 1:46–55, beginning “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” used as a canticle at evensong or vespers, are especially impressive. This is so even though the composer left the parts for altos and bass out of the first section when he sent it to the printers. Here, the voices of The Sixteen typify their blending together as one, producing the effect of a single instrument. It’s not accidental that Monteverdi spent the last thirty years of his life as choirmaster of St. Mark’s in Venice, the center of much of the ceremonial and liturgical life of the city. One can hear in the music how the Church must have used the piece on special occasions.

In the middle of the program we find the solo Pianto della Madonna “Iam moriar, mi fili,” sung by soprano Grace Davidson. It is something of a showstopper, exquisitely beautiful.

And so it goes through over seventy-six minutes of music. The singing is creative, dramatic, perfectly attuned to the needs of each selection, and precisely executed without sounding academic or stuffy. Favorites? Certainly, the first Magnificat that closes the show in a grand, formal manner; but also Beatus vir (Secondo) and E questa vita un lampo for their vitality and imagination; and Fonfitebor tibi Dominine (Secondo) for the simple, straightforward expressiveness of its three voices in solo and combination.

The CORO producers made the album at St. Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London, in May and November of 2011. The sound they obtained there is quite lovely, the voices a trifle forward but smooth and natural, while remaining clear and detailed. The limited orchestral support is likewise realistic, and the two groups appear well integrated, neither totally dominating the aural setting. A light, agreeable hall resonance reminds one that the music is liturgical in nature, after all.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

Noah (CD review)

Noah Stewart, tenor. Various orchestras and conductors. Decca 2775385.

Let me begin, unfairly or not, with a few minor quibbles. First, the American tenor Noah Stewart may have a fine voice, but it seems rather presumptuous of the album’s producers to call this, his very first recording, simply Noah, as though they expected everyone to know exactly who Noah Stewart was and how important he had become. I mean, not even the Beatles released the “White Album” with just their name on the cover until well into their career as a group. Second, while, as I say, Mr. Stewart possesses a fine operatic singing voice, the album doesn’t really give him much of a chance to display it, the album being composed mainly of pop material. Third, the songs seem almost randomly assembled, willy-nilly, from gospel to popular to folk to stage to classical. And, fourth, the fourteen numbers on the disc only amount to some forty-six minutes, about right for a pop album but hardly what we expect from a classical album, even if it is a crossover release. There, now that I’ve gotten that off my mind, I can continue in a more positive vein.

Stewart, born in Harlem, NY, in 1978, attended the Juilliard School before rising to prominence in the 2011 production of Madama Butterfly. According to his biography, in 2012 his album Noah, the one reviewed here, reached number fourteen on the UK Albums Chart and number one on the UK Classical Album Chart. I can understand it’s rise on the pop chart, but I’m not at all sure why it rose so high on the classical chart, as it contains only two selections that could one could even vaguely consider “classical.” Oh, well, it’s the music that counts, and he does a nice job with it.

Stewart possesses a big, strong, firm, well-controlled voice. The opening number, “Without a Song,” demonstrates the clarity of his singing. The traditional “Deep River” shows his versatility as a popular entertainer. Puccini’s “Recondita Armonia” finds him in more vocally gymnastic form, and he negotiates the hurdles pretty well, if perhaps with a few too many trills. Nevertheless, he keeps the thrills intact, despite the reverb the sound engineers apply to the proceedings.

And so it goes. With a number of different orchestras, choruses, and small ensembles accompanying him from one selection to another, we get perhaps a more-varied assortment of material on the program than one can easily digest. It’s almost like a “greatest hits” album, if one could say the man has greatest hits. Among other tunes are “Camps de Oro,” a lovely “Cara Mia,” and effecting renditions of “Hallelujah,” “Nearer My God to Thee,” and Shenandoah.”

The jury is probably still out on Mr. Stewart. It’s hard to find anything seriously to fault, yet he doesn’t give us nearly enough to work with. The closing “Amazing Grace” and “Silent Night” close the show in quiet yet powerful fashion. While it’s all quite pleasant, don’t we have Andrea Bocelli for these kinds of things?

To compound the eccentricity of the disc’s somewhat scattershot collection of tunes, Decca recorded the album all over the place: MG Sound, Vienna; Sarm Studio, London; Germano Studios, NY; The Johann Strauss Hall, Vienna; GOSH! Studios, Vienna; Hit Galaxy Studio 2, Vienna; Air Studios, London, and The Pool Studio, London, the company releasing the product in England in 2012 and in America in 2013. The sonic results vary from one track to the next but sound typically “pop,” meaning the voice is always front and center, with various accompaniments busy in the background. The highest, loudest notes can get a touch bright, fuzzy, and raspy on some tracks, and there is a very wide dynamic range with which to contend, so keep an eye on the volume control. The overall sound is OK but nowhere near what we have come to expect from Decca’s opera recordings over the years.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

Classical Music News of the Week, April 20, 2013

British Maestro Sir Colin Davis Dies at 85
    
Sir Colin Davis, the great British maestro and the London Symphony Orchestra's longest-serving conductor, died last Sunday at age 85 after a short illness. "He was internationally renowned for his interpretations of Mozart, Sibelius, and Berlioz, and music lovers across the world have been inspired by his performances and recordings," read a statement on the London Symphony's Web site. "He will be remembered with huge affection and admiration by the LSO, and our thoughts are with his family at this time."

Mr. Davis' career began as a clarinetist, then as a freelance conductor, before taking positions at the BBC Scottish Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra and Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. He was the LSO's principal conductor from 1995 to 2006, when he became its president, and maintained close relationships with the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Dresden Staatskapelle, and Royal Opera House.

His discography is extensive, but he is especially known for his Philips recordings of operas by Mozart, Britten, Verdi, and Puccini and complete symphonies of Brahms, Sibelius, and Schubert on the RCA label. He was knighted in 1980 and received awards from the governments of Italy, Germany, France, Finland, and Bavaria.

--Michael Huebner, the Birmingham News

Two Sensational Vocal Soloists Headline American Bach Soloist’s Apollo & Dafne, May 3-6
Jeffrey Thomas leads Handel’s Apollo & Dafne with soprano Mary Wilson and baritone Mischa Bouvier in the title roles. The program will also include Handel’s Silete venti and a collection of arias from Bach Cantatas.

American Bach Soloists’ 2013 subscription series closes May 3-6 with a thrilling vocal showcase featuring soprano Mary Wilson and baritone Mischa Bouvier singing works by Handel and Bach. Central to the program is Handel's dramatic cantata Apollo & Dafne. Written in Venice when the composer was 24 years old, the cantata tells the story of Apollo, who in his vanity suggests that even Cupid’s bow is no match for his own. Challenging Apollo’s boastfulness, Cupid shoots his arrows and Apollo falls prey to rapturous yearnings for the unsuspecting Dafne. To escape the amorous god’s advances, she transforms herself into a laurel tree and, to some of Handel’s most expressive and exquisite music, the chastened Apollo declares that his tears will water Dafne’s leaves and her branches will crown the heads of great heroes. Though Apollo & Dafne predates most of the composer’s operas and oratorios, the cantata’s central conflict is operatic in scope and it is a superb vehicle for two charismatic vocal soloists. ABS music director Jeffrey Thomas will conduct Wilson, Bouvier, and the American Bach Soloists—“the best American specialists in early music” (The Washington Post)—in this rarely performed, yet formidable Handelian masterwork.

Following her ABS December performances of Handel’s Messiah and Laudate pueri—which were nothing less than phenomenal—ABS is proud to present coloratura soprano Mary Wilson again in this program. Wilson, who has been hailed by the Arizona Daily Star as “simply amazing, with a voice that induces goose bumps and a stage presence that is mesmerizing,” will also sing Handel’s motet for soprano soloist and orchestra, Silete venti. The work calls for a vocalist of great virtuosity who is capable of both long, soaring lines and intricate passagework; Handel wrote for precisely the kind of extraordinary artist we find in Mary Wilson.

Baritone Mischa Bouvier, recently praised by San Francisco Classical Voice for his “immensely sympathetic, soulful voice” and “rare vocal and interpretive gifts,” was discovered by ABS during the 2010 American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy. In addition to singing the title role in Apollo & Dafne, Bouvier will also perform a trio of bravura arias by J. S. Bach, including the buoyant and charming “Doch weichet, ihr tollen, vergeblichen Sorgen!” (“So yield now, ye foolish and purposeless sorrows!”) from Cantata 8. ABS flutist Sandra Miller, 'cellist William Skeen, violone player Steven Lehning, and organist Corey Jamason will also be featured in these arias.

 Handel: Apollo & Dafne, HWV 122
Handel: Silete venti, HWV 242
J.S. Bach: Arias for Bass
“Laß, o Welt, mich aus Verachtung” from Cantata 123
“Das Brausen von den rauhen Winden” from Cantata 92
“Doch weichet, ihr tollen, vergeblichen Sorgen!” from Cantata 8

Mary Wilson, soprano
Mischa Bouvier, baritone
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor
American Bach Soloists

Friday, May 3, 2013, 8:00 p.m.
St. Stephen’s Church, 3 Bayview Avenue at Golden Gate, Belvedere, CA

Saturday, May 4, 2013, 8:00 p.m.
First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way at Dana, Berkeley, CA

Sunday, May 5, 2013, 4:00 p.m.
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 1111 O’Farrell Street at Franklin, San Francisco, CA

Monday, May 6, 2013, 7:00 p.m.
Davis Community Church, 412 C Street at Fourth, Davis, CA

--American Bach Soloists

Conrad Tao to Curate Three-Day Festival and Release Full-Length Debut Album in June
UNPLAY Festival planned for June 11-13, Voyages album to be released June 11.

On June 11th, 2013, Conrad Tao will celebrate his nineteenth birthday by kicking off the UNPLAY Festival, a three-day event conceived and curated by the pianist/composer. He will also release his debut full-length album on EMI Classics, entitled Voyages, featuring works by Ravel, Rachmaninov, and Meredith Monk, as well as Conrad’s own compositions vestiges, for solo piano, and iridescence, for piano and iPad.

The three intimate evenings of the UNPLAY Festival (June 11-13, http://unplayfestival.com/), held in Brooklyn’s powerHouse arena, will broadly examine the musician’s changing role in contemporary culture. Themes will include the ephemeral nature of performance, the places where the past and the present collide and conflict, and the historical narratives surrounding classical music (including which works are considered “standard repertoire” and why). Performers will include Conrad himself, Face the Music, Iktus Percussion, Sideband, thingNY, Todd Reynolds, and more.

Voyages, Conrad’s full-length debut album on EMI Classics (following his 2012 Juilliard Sessions EP) continues to develop the festival’s themes of change and progression, examining the shifting and unpredictable nature of movement in our lives.  Says Conrad: “whether it be the surreal dream images of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit or my own vestiges, the restless motion of Meredith Monk’s Railroad (Travel Song), or the various moods of Rachmaninov’s preludes, the most interesting transformations of our lives come about not so much in getting from point A to point B, but rather in what happens between the two points.”

At eighteen years old, Conrad Tao has already accomplished more than most musicians do in a lifetime.  The Illinois native maintains a full international concert schedule, performing with the world’s great orchestras and in concert halls from New York to Moscow to Hong Kong to Sao Paolo. He has been named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts and a Gilmore Young Artist,  was the only classical musician on Forbes' 2011 30 Under 30 list, and last year received an Avery Fisher Career Grant.  His compositions have won him eight consecutive ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards, as well as a commission from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Conrad currently attends the Columbia University/Juilliard School joint degree program in New York.

For more information: www.conradtao.com

--Andrew Ousley, EMI Classics

The National Philharmonic Presents Wagner Celebration at Strathmore
The National Philharmonic, led by Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski, will present an all-Wagner concert to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the German composer on Saturday, June 1 at 8 pm at the Music Center at Strathmore, North Bethesda, MD. In addition, Maestro Gajewski will give a free talk as an introduction to the all-Wagner concert on Thursday, May 16 at 7:30 pm at the Goethe-Institute in Washington, DC.

Wagner novices and aficionados alike can enjoy the June 1 concert of selections from each of the composer’s 10 best-known operas. Highlights include the Prelude to The Flying Dutchman, an opera about redemption through love; “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walküre, heard in many popular movies such as Apocalypse Now and commercials; the stirring curtain-raiser Prelude to Die Meistersinger; and the intense Prelude and Liebestod (“Love-Death”) from Wagner’s vaunted music-drama about the immortal lovers, Tristan and Isolde.

The program will also include the following excerpts: the Prelude to Act III from the romatic opera Lohengrin; the Prelude from Tannhäuser; “Entry of the Gods into Valhalla” from Das Rheingold; “Forest Murmurs” from Siegfried; “Siegfried’s Funeral Music” from Götterdämmerung that is used as a musical theme in the movie Excalibur, a retelling of the legend of King Arthur; and “Good Friday Spell” from Parsifal.

Maestro Gajewski’s talk on May 16 at the Goethe-Institut at 812 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC, will explain the role of the orchestra in Wagner’s operas and the musical themes that drive the drama. For more information on this lecture, presented by the Wagner Society of Washington, DC in partnership with the Goethe-Institute, please visit http://www.wagner-dc.org.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Sousa: Music Wind Band, Vol. 11 (CD review)

Keith Brion, The Royal Swedish Navy Band. Naxos 8.559690.

The folks at Naxos continue their relentless march toward recording every march that American “March King” John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) ever wrote with this eleventh volume in their series of Sousa discs. Again it’s bandmaster Keith Brion leading the charge, this time with the Royal Swedish Navy Band. The music may be less familiar this time out, but Brion’s performances are as vigorous and authoritative as ever.

Maestro Brion has been doing this sort of thing for a very long time as a frequent conductor of concerts throughout the world and as the leader of his own New Sousa Band. And speaking of a very long time, a booklet note tells us that the “Royal Swedish Navy Band has its roots in the 1680’s and has operated uninterruptedly since then.” Now, that’s old.

Anyway, given that Naxos are pretty far along in their Sousa series, most listeners will probably find a lot of the material in Volume 11 unfamiliar. Nevertheless, there are some pleasing things here, not the least of which is the number that opens the show, the Mother Hubbard March. Sousa based it on a selection of nursery rhymes, and it sounds entirely delightful. You can hear a snippet of it below.

The program proceeds through twelve more items, most of them marches like Keeping Step with the Union, Wolverine, Globe and Eagle, On Parade, Liberty Loan, and Guide Right. Yet along the way we also hear several fantasies, settings for popular tunes, like In Parlor and Street (the longest piece on the disc at over eighteen minutes), In Pulpit and Pew, and Sweet Adeline. They are a bit unusual for Sousa and all the more charming for it.

As always, Maestro Brion’s conducting seems impeccable. He imbues each work with vitality, excitement, and full-throated military flair. What’s more, the Royal Swedish Navy Band, which employs thirty full-time professional musicians, play the music with polish, dexterity, and enthusiasm. Let’s just say they’re darned good at what they do.

Favorites? Well, as opposed to hearing just marches, I found it refreshing to hear the fantasies. In addition, there’s a pleasant little overture called Tally Ho that is quite melodious, and there’s Bonnie Annie Laurie, built around the old Scottish ballad, which closes the show in high style. Probably the most rousing march, though, is We Are Coming, one that will definitely get the blood to racing.

I also found Brion’s booklet notes on each selection worth reading. They reveal his personal involvement with the tunes.

Although I often find recordings of wind bands sounding overly warm and veiled, shrouded in resonance, it’s not so here. Naxos recorded the music at the Admiralty Church (Ulrica Pia), Karlskrona, Sweden, in 2010, and they obtained excellent results. The band sounds beautifully open and airy, with remarkably good midrange transparency for such an ensemble. Transient response and dynamic impact also sound good, making for a lifelike sonic presentation.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

Bridge: The Sea (CD review)

Also, Enter Spring; Summer; Two Poems for Orchestra. James Judd, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.557167.

Frank Bridge (1879-1941) is one of those composers whom people may know better today as the teacher of Benjamin Britten than as a leading exponent of the British pastoral movement of the early twentieth century.

Be that as it may, Bridge followed a career in Romanticism until the First World War changed his disposition and outlook on music. From rich, flowing, descriptive tone poems his music took a turn toward harsher, more dissonant, more modern paths, and subsequently his popularity declined. Critics nowadays tend to praise his later, more-mature works, but that may be a reaction against Romanticism itself, which is only just beginning to make a comeback in contemporary classical music. Like it or not, however, it is Bridge’s early work that continues to sell and, I assume, to give people pleasure.

This Naxos disc brings together three of the composer’s best-known tone poems, The Sea, Enter Spring, and Summer, and it adds a couple of brief Poems for Orchestra, based on short poems by Richard Jeffries, for good measure.

While all of the music is delightful, the highlight of the disc is The Sea, sounding for all the world like Debussy’s La Mer. I suppose you could say of the early Bridge that he was England’s answer to France’s Debussy and Ravel, weaving intricate little tapestries of light and color, musical portraits that impressionistically and expressionistically touch the heart and soul. For instance, he divides The Sea into four movements--“Seascape,” “Sea-Foam,” “Moonlight,” and “Storm”--all of them pretty much self-explanatory. If you like the descriptive qualities of La Mer, you’ll like The Sea, which Bridge wrote just a few years after Debussy wrote La Mer, and it must have influenced him.

Maestro James Judd presents each of the pieces fluidly and meaningfully, never stopping to linger too long for sentimental reasons yet never relegating the music to the tired-warhorse bin, either. It’s a nice, forthright approach that captures most of the beauty and charm of Bridge’s work.

There are two “however’s,” though. The first “however” is that this Naxos release goes head-to-head with the justly famous 1975 recording of much the same material by Sir Charles Groves on EMI, which to my ears is more transparent sonically and more idiomatic interpretively. Moreover, the EMI disc contains not only The Sea, Enter Spring, and Summer, but the tone poems Cherry Ripe and Lament as well. The second “however” concerns the counterarguments that the budget-priced Naxos disc is cheaper by a couple of dollars than the mid-priced EMI disc, that the Naxos disc may be easier to find, and that a lot people will prefer the slightly softer, more-muted Naxos sound to the brighter, sharper-edged EMI sound.

In any case, a person can’t go wrong with the Naxos disc. It’s beautiful music, and it’s beautiful sound.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

Auerbach: Celloquy (CD review)

24 Preludes for violoncello and piano; Sonata for violoncello and piano; Postlude for violoncello and piano. Ani Aznavoorian, cello; Lera Auerbach, piano. Cedille CDR 90000 137.

Auerbach?

No, it’s not the distinguished American parapsychologist and chocolatier Loyd Auerbach. It’s the distinguished Russian-born American composer and pianist Lera Auerbach (b. 1973), who calls her present album Celloquy. No, again, “celloquy” is not a word you’ll find in the dictionary. More about that in a minute. 

Now, I have to admit that I am not too keen on most modern classical music. It appears to me that many modern composers of the past fifty or seventy-five years have concentrated more on creating their own unique musical sound worlds than on entertaining their audience. Indeed, it can even seem that practically the only orchestral composers still interested in things like melody and harmony and such are the ones working for Hollywood, people like John Williams and Hans Zimmer, composers that critics often look down upon as not really important because they take into consideration the preferences of their listeners. You know, like they actually want to produce stuff that people might enjoy. I exaggerate, of course, and I’m obviously a barbarian. I suppose one can say the same sort of thing about most modern artists; in their zeal for creativity, they feel they must move away from the past and develop something new and different, whether audiences like it or not. Audiences can catch up later.

However, Cedille Records just as often showcases modern composers who do reach out to their listeners, and such a case is that of Ms. Auerbach. Sorta. She begins the program with 24 Preludes for violoncello and piano, which she wrote in 1999. You’ll recall that a prelude, besides being a piece of music intended as an introduction, is a relatively short, independent instrumental composition, free in form and resembling an improvisation. Her preludes are obviously in the latter category, following in the tradition of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and the cycles of preludes from Chopin, Scriabin, and Shostakovich.

The composer’s 24 Preludes are nearly an hour long, some of them eerie, some of them playful, many of them melancholy, wistful, even forlorn. These latter moods work especially well with the naturally mellow, somber sound of the cello, played by Ani Aznavoorian and nicely complemented by Ms. Auerbach on piano.

Ms. Auerbach writes of her Preludes, “I wished to create a continuum that would allow these short pieces to be united as one single composition.” So each prelude is brief--one to five minutes--but forms a part of the larger, unified whole. Only listeners can determine for themselves how successful she was. I found the occasional strident contrasts among the mostly lyrical sections more distracting than frightening or enlightening. Still, the work in its totality needs the variety, and no one can like every note of every musical composition ever written.

More important is the sublime beauty of some of the Preludes, as with the excerpt of No. 12 at the end of the review. And equally important is how well Ms. Aznavoorian and Ms. Auerbach play them, both of them virtuoso performers.

Then, too, is the fact that not everything we hear is as it seems. Ms. Auerbach appears to have had a little fun with these works, throwing in teasing hints of Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Offenbach, Bartok, and the like. She even suggests she included hints of the rock band Queen in No. 17. OK, I didn’t notice it, but I’ll take her word for it.

Auerbach wrote the first of the disc’s companion works, the Sonata for violoncello and piano, in 2002. It’s in a typical four-movement structure and alternates between passages of intense delight and ones of discordant energy. Although the piece was a bit too eccentric for my taste, one can sense the emotional turmoil throughout and certainly appreciate the superb musicianship of the two performers.

The final number on the program is the little Postlude for violoncello and piano, using a prepared piano; that is, one altered by placing things on the strings to produce new sounds. The piece is actually a transformation of the Prelude No. 12 heard below but distorted in various weird ways. It’s fascinating in its own bizarre manner.

Cedille producer and engineer Adam Abeshouse recorded the music at The Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, State University of New York, in August of 2012. The sound is smooth and natural, miked at a moderate distance that provides both detail and warmth. We also hear a mild reverberation lending a soft glow to the proceedings. It’s all very soothing yet very clear and focused.

Oh, and about that title, Celloquy. Apparently, it’s an expression of Ms. Auerbach’s own devising, a clever play on the word colloquy, meaning a conversation or dialogue. In this case, I assume she refers to the dialogue between cello and piano as they express their emotions to one another in music.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture (HQCD review)

Also, Capriccio Italien; Marche Slave. Kenneth Alwyn, London Symphony Orchestra and the Band of the Grenadier Guards. HDTT HQCD276.

Maestro Kenneth Alwyn’s account of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture is one of which a person can say it has truly stood the test of time. The recording is famous for several reasons: First and foremost, the performance and sound remain topflight. Second, back in 1958 it was the first stereo recording of the 1812 ever released. Third, it was the earliest of Kenneth Alwyn’s recordings for any label. And fourth, it famously used slowed-down gunshots instead of real cannons, which is perhaps why they haven’t quite the bottom end of some other recordings, like those on Telarc’s disc with Kunzel, Mercury’s with Dorati, or EMI’s with Previn. But they’re fine as they are.

As of this writing, the only available CD’s of Alwyn’s 1812 were Japanese and Australian imports (the Japanese edition costing your firstborn), so again the folks at HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) come to the rescue, providing a remastering that belies the recording’s age. It is a topflight release.

Alwyn’s way with the 1812 is steady and exuberant from the very start. The minor drawback is that when it gets to the end, there isn’t the usual contrast and excitement one expects. Then, too, the horns are a bit shaky in places, and when the cannons come in they sound a little too thin to make much of an impact. In addition, the concluding accompaniment of bells seems a tad Raggedy Annie in the big, splashy conclusion. That said, Alwyn’s quick-paced reading manages to involve the listener from the outset and never lets go. And whether one likes the artificial cannons or doesn’t like their lack of bottom-end thump, they do sound the way I’d guess most listeners think cannons should sound, with a very dramatic roll of thunder. Moreover, the conductor provides an engaging interpretation that has entertained audiences for well over half a century; it’s hard to argue against that.

The conductor’s performances of the March Slave and Capriccio Italien that accompany the 1812 come off even better for me and must rank high on anyone’s list of top choices. The conductor never treats them as warhorses, instead developing a good deal of energy and excitement in the performances. Maybe the Capriccio will sound to some ears a mite rushed; so be it. The music comes off sunny enough, with plenty of good cheer and orchestral thrills. In the central section Alwyn seems so positively sunny and relaxed, you’d think he was conducting from the terrace of a southern Italian villa overlooking the Mediterranean. Collectors will want to have this disc in any case. I don’t blame them.

HDTT remastered the recording from a Decca LP, originally made in 1958 at London’s Kingsway Hall by producer Michael Williamson and engineer Kenneth Wilkinson. As I was listening to the HQCD, I wrote down the following descriptions of the sound: Quiet. Wide. Clean. Detailed. Well defined. Close. Solid. Rounded. Listenable. Taut. Impressive in its stereo directionality. Natural, if slightly too analytical.

The recording’s most distinguishing features are, in fact, its superior clarity, definition, transient impact, left-to-right stereo spread, and wide frequency range. There is virtually no background noise, the remastering engineer having no doubt applied a degree of noise reduction. Depth perception sounds limited, though. Bass is deep enough, although the cannons don’t have the wallop of some competing recordings. While the sound overall is not so transparent in the 1812 as that for Previn, Dorati, or Kunzel, it is just as realistic in its own, somewhat softer, flatter manner.

Let me put it another way: HDTT’s remastering is the best version of the recording we have yet to get for home listening. Period.

For further information about the various formats, configurations, and prices of HDTT products, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/storefront.php.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

Classical Music News of the Week, April 14, 2013

Berkeley Symphony Announces 2013-2014 Season
 
The season is highlighted by world premieres from Edmund Campion and Samuel Carl Adams, in addition to Bay Area premieres from Esa-Pekka Salonen and Kaija Saariaho. The programs also feature masterworks from Rachmaninoff, Brahms, Mendelssohn and Beethoven and introduce audiences to mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, pianist Alessio Bax, and violinist Anthony Marwood.

Music Director Joana Carneiro and Berkeley Symphony today announced programming for the 2013-2014 season including a world premiere by Edmund Campion, co-commissioned with Cal Performances; a world premiere work for violin and ensemble by Samuel Carl Adams; and the Bay Area premieres of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Nyx and Kaija Saariaho’s Adriana Songs.

Recognized for its exuberant spirit and steadfast commitment to presenting original and unique programs, Berkeley Symphony has received ASCAP awards for adventurous programming in eight of the past 11 seasons. The Orchestra continues this commitment with a 2013–2014 season that combines important contemporary works alongside masterworks of the standard repertoire including Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

“I am thrilled to continue the Orchestra’s passionate devotion to performing new works and to explore the relationships between composers past and present,” says Music Director Joana Carneiro. “Our audiences continue to welcome this exploration which enables us to pave the way for the repertory of tomorrow. I am honored to present two new world premieres by Berkeley composers, whom I have long admired, in addition to bringing Bay Area premieres by two of the finest contemporary composers of our generation. And with the combination of perhaps some of the most defining classical masterworks in history, our season will showcase the best of both worlds.”

For further information, visit the Berkeley Symphony Web site: http://www.berkeleysymphony.org

--Karen Ames Communications

Mezzo-Soprano Denyce Graves Performs Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody With National Philharmonic at Strathmore, North Bethesda, MD
Superstar mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves will perform Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody with the National Philharmonic, led by Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski, on Saturday, May 4 at 8 pm and Sunday, May 5 at 3 pm at the Music Center at Strathmore. The concert will also feature the composer’s Symphony No. 4 and Schicksalslied (“Song of Destiny”), performed by the Philharmonic’s nearly 200-voice Chorale.

Maryland-based mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves has garnered popular and critical acclaim worldwide for her expressive and rich voice, elegant stage presence and exciting theatrical gift. Recognized worldwide as one of today's most exciting vocal stars, Ms. Graves continues to gather unparalleled popular and critical acclaim in performances on four continents. USA Today identifies her as "an operatic superstar of the 21st Century," and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution exclaims, "if the human voice has the power to move you, you will be touched by Denyce Graves."

Her career has taken her to the world's great opera houses and concert halls. The combination of her expressive, rich vocalism, elegant stage presence, and exciting theatrical abilities allows her to pursue a wide breadth of operatic portrayals and to delight audiences in concert and recital appearances. Ms. Graves has become particularly well known to operatic audiences for her portrayals of the title roles in Carmen and Samson et Dalila and in 2012-13, she brings into her repertoire the roles of Mrs. Miller (Doubt); Herodias (Salome); Katisha (The Mikado); and Emelda (Champion). Her concert tours abroad have included performances in Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Peru, and Japan.

A work for alto, male chorus and orchestra, Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody was written in 1869 as a wedding gift for a daughter of fellow composers/pianists Robert and Clara Schumann. The Rhapsody is a setting of verses from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Harzreise im Winter poem, which portrays a suffering misanthrope who attempts to find spiritual sustenance.

Schicksalslied (“Song of Destiny”), a beloved work for chorus and orchestra, is characterized by lush harmonies and beautiful Romantic melodies. A choral setting of a poem written by Friedrich Hölderlin, the Schicksalslied  is considered to be Brahms’s greatest choral work.

The concert’s final work, Symphony No. 4, one of the cornerstones of the symphonic repertoire, has been described as “elegiac” and a “character symphony,” reflecting the introspection of Brahms’s later years.

Led by dynamic Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski, the National Philharmonic is known for performances that are “powerful,” impeccable” and “thrilling” (The Washington Post). The National Philharmonic boasts a long-standing tradition of reasonably priced tickets and free admission to all young people age 7-17, assuring its place as an accessible and enriching component in Montgomery County and the greater Washington, DC area.

As the Music Center at Strathmore’s ensemble-in-residence, the National Philharmonic showcases world-renowned guest artists in time-honored symphonic masterpieces conducted by Maestro Gajewski and monumental choral masterworks under National Philharmonic Chorale Artistic Director Stan Engebretson.

For more information, visit www.nationalphilharmonic.org.

A free lecture will be offered at 6:45 pm on Saturday, May 4 and 1:45 pm on Sunday, May 5 in the Concert Hall at Strathmore. To purchase tickets to the all Brahms concert on May 4 and 5, please visit nationalphilharmonic.org or call the Strathmore ticket office at (301) 581-5100. Tickets are $28-$81; kids 7-17 are FREE through the ALL KIDS, ALL FREE, ALL THE TIME program (sponsored by The Gazette). ALL KIDS tickets must be purchased in person or by phone. Parking is complimentary.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Merola Opera Program 2013 Summer Festival
The Festival will include Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia and Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro.  Everett Auditorium and Nourse Theatre have been added as new performance venues, joining Yerba Buena Gardens and the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, California.

Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia and Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro highlight the Merola Opera Program’s 2013 summer season which also includes the annual Schwabacher Summer Concert and the traditional Merola Grand Finale. Everett Middle School has been named as the new performance venue for the staged operas and the Schwabacher Summer Concert due to simultaneous renovations on both Herbst Theatre and Cowell Theater.

Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia opens the season at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 11 and 2 p.m. Saturday, July 13 at the Everett Auditorium at Everett Middle School and will be directed by Peter Kazaras and conducted by Mark Morash. The annual Schwabacher Summer Concert, conducted by Kevin Murphy and directed by Roy Rallo, will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 18 at the Everett Auditorium at Everett Middle School and again at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 20 in a free outdoor concert at Yerba Buena Gardens. The season continues with W.A. Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, August 1 and 2 p.m. Saturday August 3 at the Everett Auditorium at Everett Middle School directed by Robin Guarino and conducted by Xian Zhang. Maestro John DeMain leads the annual Merola Grand Finale at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 17 on the main stage of War Memorial Opera House.

Throughout the summer, the Merola artists will participate in various master classes and private coaching with such luminaries as Neil Shicoff, Jane Eaglen, Martin Katz, Warren Jones and Patrick Carfizzi, among others. Scheduled this year to be held in the historic Nourse Theatre, these master classes and behind-the-scenes events are open only to Merola members. Festival ticket buyers who wish to attend these exclusive events can join Merola as a member for as little as $10.

Led artistically by San Francisco Opera Center Director and internationally acclaimed soprano Sheri Greenawald, the Merola Opera Program is an independent nonprofit organization which operates in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera. Founded in 1957 and named for San Francisco Opera’s founder, Gaetano Merola, the Program is recognized as one of the most prestigious operatic training programs in the world. The Merola Opera Program typically receives more than 800 applications for approximately 30 positions. In addition to the public performances and master classes mentioned above, participants – who include singers, apprentice coaches and an apprentice stage director – also receive training in operatic repertory, foreign languages, diction, acting and stage movement.

Festival ticket packages will be on sale in April to Merola members and May for the general public. Tickets for all performances may be purchased by calling San Francisco Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330.

Full program details including artists and casting will be announced at a later date. Visit www.merola.org for more information.

The Rape of Lucretia
Benjamin Britten
Sung in English with English supertitles
7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 11
2 p.m. Saturday, July 13
Everett Middle School Auditorium, 450 Church Street, San Francisco, CA 94114
Tickets: $60/$40/$25

Schwabacher Summer Concert
7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 18
Everett Middle School Auditorium, 450 Church Street, San Francisco, CA 94114
Tickets: $40/$25

Schwabacher Summer Concert
2 p.m. Saturday, July 20
Yerba Buena Gardens, Mission St. between 3rd and 4th Streets
FREE

Le nozze di Figaro
W.A. Mozart
Sung in Italian with English supertitles
7:30 p.m. Thursday, August 1
2 p.m. Saturday, August 3
Everett Middle School Auditorium, 450 Church Street, San Francisco, CA 94114
Tickets: $60/$40/$25

Merola Opera Program Presents Merola Grand Finale and Reception
7:30 p.m. Saturday, August 17
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94102
Tickets: $45 Grand Tier & Orchestra Prime/$35 Orchestra/$25 Dress Circle
Reception begins at 10 p.m. in the Opera House Café
*Reception tickets are an additional $50 each

Festival ticket packages will be on sale in April to Merola members and May for the general public For information on how to become a Merola member, please call (415) 565-6427 or visit www.merola.org.

--Karen Ames Communications

Seattle Symphony Names Jeffrey Fair New Principal Horn
Music Director Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony have announced the appointment of Jeffrey Fair to the position of The Charles Simonyi Principal Horn. Fair joined the Seattle Symphony horn section as Assistant Principal in 2003, and has served as Principal Wagner Tuba for six cycles of Seattle Opera's Ring of the Nibelung. He is Professor of Horn at the University of Washington. 

"I am thrilled to appoint Jeff to this important position in the Seattle Symphony," said Morlot. "He has been a valued member of our brass family for many years; and, in this new position, Jeff will provide outstanding leadership to our orchestra's horn section. I eagerly anticipate many occasions of great music making with this incredible musician and wonderful colleague. "

Prior to moving to Seattle, Fair was Principal Horn of the San Antonio Symphony for three seasons. He has served as Principal Horn of the Eastern Music Festival and the Arizona Music Festival, and he performs regularly for the Seattle Chamber Music Festival. He completed a Master of Music degree at The Juilliard School as a student of Jerome Ashby. A native of Oklahoma, Fair received a Bachelor of Music degree, summa cum laude, from the University of Oklahoma.

--Ashley Damm, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Distinguished Concerts International New York & New York Opera Studio Congratulate Baritone Stephen Lancaster and Mezzo-Soprano Teresa Buchholz Winners of The Nico Castel International Master Singer Competition
Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) and the New York Opera Studio (NYOS) are delighted to announce the winners of the 3rd edition of the Nico Castel International Master Singer Competition. Mezzo-soprano Teresa Buchholz and baritone Stephen Lancaster were declared the female and male “Master Singers” at the conclusion of the finalist concert which took place on Monday, April 1 at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. Eight candidates performed one oratorio selection and one opera aria each on the evening’s concert.

“This year’s finalists were all superb singers,” commented jury member Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Co-Founder, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, “Our two winners set themselves apart for their excellent performances in both oratorio and opera genres.” Buchholz performed “Laudamus te” from Bach’s Mass in B minor for her oratorio selection and Meyerbeer’s “Nobles Seigneurs, Salut!” from Les Huguenots for her opera selection, while Lancaster performed “Estuans Interius” from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and “L’Orage s’est Calmé” from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. The two Master Singers were awarded $1,000 each in addition to a soloist role in a major choral masterwork with orchestra in a future DCINY season. Lancaster was also declared the evening’s “Audience Favorite” as determined by audience vote via text message at intermission.

Also on the Finals Jury were legendary artist Nico Castel, conductor Paul Nadler; conductor and pianist Lucy Arner; pianist Tom Muraco; and soprano and language coach Jennifer Ringo Conlon.

Teresa Buchholz’s recent engagements include Bloch’s Sacred Service with the Israel Philharmonic, Mozart’s Requiem at Alice Tully Hall, and Mercedes in Carmen with Opera Roanoke. Her performance of Chausson’s Chanson perpétuelle at the Bard Music Festival was deemed “gorgeously sung” by The New York Times.

Baritone Stephen Lancaster has performed the Brahms Requiem, Fauré Requiem, and Carmina Burana; and the roles of Count Almaviva, Schaunard, and Morales, and was the central region winner in the 2012 NATS Artist Awards. He will record a CD of French mélodies with Martin Katz (Centaur Records) this fall.

Founded by Iris Derke (General Director) and Jonathan Griffith (Artistic Director and Principal Conductor) Distinguished Concerts International is driven by passion, innovative vision, a total belief in its artists, and unwavering commitment to bringing forth unforgettable audience experiences. For more information on the Nico Castel International Master Singer Competition please see: http://www.dciny.org/competition.html.

--Shira Gilbert PR

Emerson String Quartet’s Final Concerts with Cellist David Finckel
The Emerson String Quartet's final concerts with cellist David Finckel will include performances in Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Houston, and at New York's Carnegie Hall on May 4th with Renée Fleming. The Quartet's final public New York City concert with Mr. Finckel will be presented by WQXR at The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space on May 6th at 5:30 pm EST.

To mark David Finckel's departure from and Paul Watkins's debut with the Emerson Quartet, all five gentlemen will perform together for the first time on May 11th at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. Paul Watkins will join Mr. Finckel and the quartet for the final selection on the concert, which will be Franz Schubert's String Quartet in C Major, D 956. The Huffington Post has featured a series of blog posts individually written by the Emerson. The Quartet's Web site, www.emersonquartet.com, has been redesigned as a reflection of the last 35 years and includes a slideshow of iconic images as well as a dedicated slideshow to introduce Paul Watkins. The final album with David Finckel, entitled Journeys, will be released in April on the Sony label and will include Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence and Verklärte Nacht.

About the Emerson String Quartet:
The Emerson String Quartet stands alone in the history of string quartets with an unparalleled list of achievements over three decades: over thirty acclaimed recordings since 1987, nine Grammy Awards (including two for Best Classical Album, an unprecedented honor for a chamber music group), three Gramophone Awards, the coveted Avery Fisher Prize and cycles of the complete Beethoven, Bartók, Mendelssohn, and Shostakovich string quartets in the world’s musical capitals. In March 2011, Sony Classical announced an exclusive agreement with the Emerson String Quartet.

Final Concerts Dates:
April 17 - Stony Brook, NY - Staller Center for the Arts
April 24 - Philadelphia, PA - Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
April 27 - Washington, D.C. - Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
April 28 - Schenectady, NY - Memorial Chapel at Union College
April 30 - Houston, TX - Stude Concert Hall
May 4 - New York, NY - Carnegie Hall
May 6 - New York, NY - The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space at WQXR
May 7 - Buffalo, NY - Kleinhans Music Hall
May 11 - Washington, D.C. - Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

--Ashley Damm, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

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.