Classical Music News of the Week, June 30, 2013

PARMA Music Festival, August 15-17

The 2013 PARMA Music Festival, the cross-genre/multiple venue festival announced earlier this year to take place Thursday-Saturday August 15-17, 2013 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is already generating buzz. The Festival will feature Grammy Award-winning clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, Portsmouth indie rock icons Tan Vampires, the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra, soul music from Qwill and the Dejas, cellist Ovidiu Marinescu, and much more, including multiple world premieres, a composers’ conference, and more than one genre-bending experiment.

Here’s Sonic Scoop (“Creative, Technical & Business Connections For NYC's Music & Sound Community”) weighing in:

“An energetic wave of classical – from new to historic to experimental — is beaming out of the Northeast. It’s not south nor southwest — but there’s a similar sense of musical adventure afoot. With a whole new generation of dressed-down classical music fans emerging, PARMA has wisely decided to give them a forward-thinking festival of live performances, all their own. The result is a curator that’s extremely in synch with its audience, sensing the readiness for a progressive presentation of classical and all its rich guises. PARMA’s work encompasses an extraordinarily wide cross-section of styles and presentations, and you’ll hear and see this diversity and eclecticism throughout the Festival.”

The city-wide musical showcase is the brainchild of PARMA Recordings, a New England-based music company specializing in orchestral, chamber, choral, and commercial recordings as well as distribution, product design, strategic marketing, and licensing and publishing. Other Festival highlights include: 10 diverse daytime and evening concerts; listening parties; and panels held at multiple venues in Portsmouth over the three days; 17 year old harp virtuoso Anna DeLoi (winner of the PSO’s recent Student Concerto Competition); live electronica pioneers fiveighthirteen, the New England String Quartet; the newly-formed all-star PARMA Orchestra (including players from the New York Philharmonic, the American Composers Orchestra, and the Boston Philharmonic), a world premiere by legendary American composer Lukas Foss; troubadour Sarah Blacker; Seacoast musical ambassador Dan Blakeslee; and much more! And, it all takes place in what the Miami Herald calls, “New England’s most appealing city.”

The festival is being produced by PARMA Recordings in collaboration with Portsmouth Music and Arts Center (PMAC), Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra (PSO), the Society of Composers, Inc. (SCI), Boston New Music Initiative (BNMI), The Music Hall, Great Bay Academy of Dance (GBAD), Classical NH, and New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR).

The Festival at a Glance:
There will be 10 concerts (four presented by the Society of Composers (SCI), one featuring top PARMA artists, one combining local and international artists, a family-oriented orchestral concert, a piano bar cabaret night, a Licensing showcase, and the main event at The Music Hall) featuring contemporary music at seven venues over three days.

The Festival will also serve as the official host for the 2013 Region 1 Conference of the Society of Composers Incorporated (SCI), one of the largest composer-service organizations in the country. Contemporary classical composers from all over the world will be converging on Portsmouth – their works will be performed by a wide array of modern music ensembles.

All but the main event are free – the closing concert at The Music Hall’s landmark Historic Theater has a modest $10 ticket. For more information: http://www.parmarecordings.com/festival/

--PARMA Recordings

Young People’s Chorus of New York City Joined by Young Voices of Melbourne for Transmusic Concert at 92nd Street Y, Sunday, June 30, at 4 P.M.
Concert highlights music of Australia, America, and other world cultures.

Continuing its Transmusica series of concerts of cross-cultural and transformative music designed to build bridges to other world cultures and communities, the Young People's Chorus of New York City and its artistic director/founder Francisco J. Núñez will be joined by the Young Voices of Melbourne (Australia) at the 92nd Street Y Sunday afternoon, June 30, at 4 p.m., the first stop on the Australian choir's six-city tour of America. The joint performance will blend and highlight the music of Australia, America, and other countries in an exciting intermingling of voices and world cultures.

Fifty-two members of the Young Voices of Melbourne under their director Mark O'Leary will sing a program that includes stories of early Australian settlers, folk heroes, and its indigenous people written by some of the country's leading choral composers. Among them are Stephen Leek's arrangement of Botany Bay about a convict about to be sent to an Australian penal colony, Joseph Twist's Rain Dream about a child who has never experienced rain; and of course, “Waltzing Matilda,” Australia's most familiar song, in an arrangement that incorporates the native language of the Nyungar people of western Australia.

Under Francisco J. Núñez, the program of the Young People's Chorus of New York City includes music that shaped the American songbook, from “Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal” from the time of the colonists, through spirituals like “Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel,” to music from the Broadway stage and jazz clubs of modern times. YPC's June 30 program offers a thrilling showcase of the choreographed American songs the chorus will perform for Chinese and Japanese audiences in a month-long tour of China and Japan this summer, its fifth Asian tour.

Afterwards, both youth choirs will join together for an international blending of voices in several songs, including Sesere Eeye, a folk song from Queensland's Torres Straight Islands, and the YPC anthem “Give Us Hope.”

Previous YPC Transmusica concerts have highlighted music from Indonesia and Hispanic countries in Latin America, Europe and South America.

Tickets, at $15 for adults and $5 for those under 18, are available now at the 92nd Street Y box office or by calling 212-415-5500.

--Angela Duryea, Young People’s Chorus of New York

American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy at San Francisco Conservatory of Music July 12-21, 2013
The Festival features two performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor led by ABS Music Director Jeffrey Thomas; Biber’s rarely performed Missa Salisburgensis receives its North American premiere; Baroque cellist Tanya Tomkins in Distinguished Artist Recital; and Handel’s dramatic oratorio Esther in concert with ABS Academy soloists.

The American Bach Soloists return to San Francisco’s Conservatory of Music for the 4th annual ABS Festival & Academy—San Francisco’s Summer Bach Festival—from July 12-21. With their most ambitious Festival to date, music director Jeffrey Thomas and ABS are pleased to offer an extraordinary line-up of concerts, recitals, and free educational events that will engage and thrill audiences. In the tradition of the great summer music festivals around the world, the ABS Festival & Academy has quickly developed into an attraction, offering “moments of sheer magic” (Orlando Sentinel) every summer in San Francisco.

The Festival kicks off on July 12 with an opening night dinner at Dobbs Ferry Restaurant in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood followed by the inaugural Chamber Series concert featuring the members of ABS performing works by J.S. Bach, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, Heinrich Schütz, and Antonio Vivaldi. This program of intimate delights from the Baroque chamber repertoire will demonstrate why San Francisco Classical Voice observed, “ABS boasts some of the greatest period-instrument players in world.”

Among the many highlights of this year’s Festival, The Glories of Salzburg on July 13 will present a rare opportunity to experience Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s colossal Missa Salisburgensis. This magnificent 53-part polychoral extravagance for 9 different groups of instruments is one of the largest-scaled surviving works from the Baroque period. First performed in Salzburg's stunning cathedral by "choirs" of trumpets, timpani, trombones, strings, cornettos, viols, recorders, oboes, continuo instruments, and two eight-part vocal ensembles, this performance—the North American premiere with the instrumentation Biber composed for—will feature the combined forces of the American Bach Soloists and Academy members. Other works by Biber, one of the most celebrated and demanding composers of the 17th Century, will be also performed [This event is sold out].

The two Festival Sundays (July 14 and 21) are reserved for a beloved Festival tradition: Maestro Thomas leading the ABS Academy Orchestra, the American Bach Choir, and instrumental and vocal soloists from the Academy in performances of Bach’s monumental masterpiece, the Mass in B Minor. Examiner.com observed, “every time Thomas brings it [Bach’s Mass] before an audience he always seems to have new things to bring out through performance,” and Fanfare Magazine wrote “Thomas’ direction seems just right, capturing the humanity of the music… there is no higher praise for Bach performance.” Demand for these performances is always extremely high, so advanced ticket purchase is strongly encouraged.

Handel's rarely performed dramatic oratorio Esther, a work that represents the birth of the English oratorio tradition, will be performed on July 19. Originally composed for the Duke of Chandos in 1718, Handel returned to his score in the 1730s as the enthusiasm of his London audiences for Italian opera began to wane. This moving work is a marvelous combination of thrilling choruses and arias, accompanied by a beautiful mélange of instruments including a triple harp. Culminating in a glorious musical paean of rejoicing—the most grandly scaled final chorus in all of Handel's oratorios and operas—Esther became one of the composer’s most popular works and was performed throughout the rest of his career. ABS Academy vocalists will be featured in roles including Mordecai, Haman, King Ahasuerus, and his Queen Esther. The ABS Festival Orchestra and the American Bach Choir will be conducted by Jeffrey Thomas.

--American Bach Soloists

Nuns Continue #1 Reign Six Weeks Straight On Billboard Classical Traditional Chart with Their Captivating Music And Story
The Benedictines of Mary’s Angels and Saints at Ephesus is featured in The Wall Street Journal and Good Morning America.

The Benedictines of Mary continue their steady hold at #1 on Billboard’s Classical Traditional Chart for six straight weeks with their new recording, Angels and Saints at Ephesus. With their gimmick-free, radiant singing, “these isolated singers don’t know they created a niche hit with their recordings of ancient chants and hymns, or that it’s their second release to reach No.1 on the Billboard chart,” reported The Wall Street Journal in an extensive feature on June 14th. Their unusual and inspiring story was also picked up Good Morning America, and continues to garner the attention of the public at large.

With Angels and Saints, the Sisters once again share their genuine love of music-making with the world, while maintaining their monastic life – something uncharacteristic for a singing group topping the Billboard charts. Founded in 1995, The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, are a young, monastic order of Sisters; they sing together eight times a day as they chant the Divine Office in Latin. The order’s Prioress, Mother Cecilia, vacated her seat in the horn section with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in Ohio to enter religious life, despite her conservatory background where music was emphasized over religion. A graduate of The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, in Houston, Texas, she has arranged the songs on Angels and Saints at Ephesus. Sr. Scholastica, the Order’s sub prioress also designed the album’s artwork.

Released on May 7th from Decca/De Montfort Music, Angels And Saints At Ephesus nabbed significant debut slots on an impressive four Billboard Charts total, including Heatseekers, Christian and Classical Traditional and Classical Overall – the latter chart showing a significant jump last week to #6.

--Olga Makrias, Universal Music

Donato Cabrera Appointed Music Director of California Symphony
Donato Cabrera, a rising young conductor well known to Bay Area audiences through his stellar work with both San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera, has been appointed Music Director of California Symphony. The announcement was made on Sunday, June 23 by President of the Board of Directors Tom Overhoff at the 14th annual Virtuoso al Fresco Food and Wine Classic, which benefits the California Symphony’s education programs. Founded in 1986, California Symphony enters its 27th season and is recognized for its wide range of orchestral repertoire, with an emphasis of works by American composers, and for its passionate cultivation of talented young composers through its Young American Composer-in-Residence Program. Maestro Cabrera signs an initial three year contract and leads the orchestra in six of the eight concerts during the 2013-2014 season opening September 29.

In remarks made at the announcement, President of the Board of Directors Tom Overhoff and Dick Jarrett, Board member and Chair of the Search Committee stated, “The appointment of Donato Cabrera as Music Director of the California Symphony truly represents a new era in our history. A committee made up of board members, musician representatives and patrons conducted an extensive nationwide search, narrowing the field from nearly 100 to 7 finalists, all of whom were superb conductors. The committee unanimously selected Donato. We are confident that Maestro Cabrera will lead us to our goal of becoming one of the nation’s very finest regional orchestras.”

Talking of Maestro Cabrera’s March 2013 guest appearance with the California Symphony, Georgia Rowe of the San Jose Mercury News said that they were a “perfect match” adding that Cabrera conducted with “impressive energy and meticulous focus” drawing “vibrant, dynamic playing from the ensemble.” Maestro Cabrera will continue to serve as Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, Wattis Foundation Music Director of the SFS Youth Orchestra, as well as Music Director of the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra and the New Hampshire Music Festival.

--Brenden Guy, Karen Ames Communications

Merola Opera Program Summer Festival Present Schwabacher Summer Concert
It wil be presented at Everett Auditorium, San Francisco, CA, on July 18, with a free community performance on July 20 at Yerba Buena Gardens.

The Merola Opera Program’s Summer Festival continues with the popular Schwabacher Summer Concert at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 18 at the Everett Auditorium and offered to the community for free at 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 20 as part of the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival. Conducted by Kevin Murphy and directed by Roy Rallo, the Schwabacher Summer Concert features extended scenes from six operas: Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Verdi’s Don Carlo; Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri; Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor; Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz; and Verdi’s Otello. Tickets for the concert at the Everett Auditorium are affordably priced and range from $25 to $40 with a special student price available.

A native of Syracuse, New York, Kevin Murphy has been director of music administration at the New York City Opera since September 2008. He is also an acclaimed coach and accompanist. In addition to his collaboration with his wife, Heidi Grant Murphy, he has worked with an array of today’s leading opera artists, including Michelle DeYoung, Bejun Mehta, Gary Lakes, Nathan Gunn, Olaf Bär, Bryn Terfel, Marcelo Alvarez, Placido Domingo, Frederica von Stade, Renée Fleming, Paul Groves and Cecilia Bartoli.

Internationally acclaimed stage director, Roy Rallo, has staged numerous productions for Merola, including Il barbiere di Siviglia in 2011 and the Schwabacher Summer Concert in 2009, 2010 and 2012. Rallo’s past work includes a new production of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos for the Opéra National de Bordeaux and a new music-theater piece, the Methusalem Projekt, for the Nationaltheater und Staatskapelle Weimar.

Tickets for the July 18 Schwabacher Summer Concert are $25 and $40, in addition to a student price of $15.* Tickets for all performances may be purchased by calling San Francisco Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330 open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday or online at www.sfopera.com.

*Student tickets must be purchased in person at the Box Office window, located inside the War Memorial Opera House at 301 Van Ness Ave. Valid student ID is required.

For more information about Merola, please visit www.merola.org or phone (415) 551-6299

--Karen Ames Communications

Composer A. J. McCaffrey Wins  $15,000 Underwood Emerging Composer Commission from American Composers Orchestra. Composer Nina Young Wins Annual Audience Choice Award
American Composers Orchestra (ACO) is pleased to announce that composer A.J. McCaffrey has been named the winner of ACO’s 2013 Underwood Commission, bringing him a $15,000 purse for a work to be premiered by ACO in the 2014-2015 season. Chosen from six finalists during ACO’s 22nd Underwood New Music Readings on April 8 and 9, 2013, in one of the most coveted opportunities for emerging composers in the United States, A.J. won the top prize with his work Thank You for Waiting.

In addition, for the fourth year, audience members at the Underwood New Music Readings had a chance to make their voices heard through the Audience Choice Award. The winner this year was composer Nina Young, for her piece Remnants. As the winner, Nina was commissioned to compose an original mobile phone ringtone which is available to everyone who voted, free of charge.

“A.J.’s orchestral writing impresses at every level – the clarity of his sonic concept, the deft handling of often viscerally dense counterpoint, and above all, the energy that he gets from the ensemble through his orchestrational approach,” said Underwood New Music Readings mentor composer Christopher Theofanidis. Joan Tower, also a mentor composer this year, added, “A.J. McCaffrey is a composer with extraordinary chops. I am hoping his newly commissioned work will push the envelope further by taking musical risks that could create a formidable piece for orchestra.” Mentor composer and ACO Artistic Advisor Laureate Robert Beaser praised A.J. as well, saying, “A.J. is a composer who combines prodigious craft with a quirky sensibility. He produces works in a variety of styles – always surprising and arresting.”

Upon winning the Underwood commission, A.J. McCaffrey said, “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with ACO. I witnessed first-hand how well they tackle new music during the Readings this past spring, and I cannot wait to begin composing for them. It is overwhelming to be chosen – ACO had a fabulous group of pieces and composers to choose from and I am humbled to have been selected.”

A.J. McCaffrey is a songwriter and composer of instrumental, vocal and electronic music. With backgrounds and interests in theater, fine arts and literature, and an upbringing that fostered a love for a wide variety of musical styles, A.J. writes music that strives to tell a story. His works are theatrical in nature, employing harmonically rich and lyrically striking sound worlds to create moving, dramatic narratives. A.J.’s music has been commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Tanglewood Music Center, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. In addition to ACO, his works have been performed by the New Fromm Players, Radius Ensemble, Atlantic Chamber Ensemble, and members of the Chiara Quartet, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Alarm Will Sound, and Scottish Chamber Orchestra. A fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center and Aspen Music Festival and School, A.J. has been a featured composer on BMOP's The Next Next series, Tanglewood's Festival of Contemporary Music, and the New Gallery Concert Series.

A.J. McCaffrey holds degrees in music composition from Rice University, The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and the University of Southern California, and has studied with Richard Lavenda, James MacMillan, Donald Crockett, and Stephen Hartke. A passionate educator, he is an instructor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Composer Fellowship Program and the Longy School of Music at Bard College’s Masters of Arts in Teaching Music.

--Christina Jensen PR

Stravinsky: The Firebird, complete (SACD review)

Also, Fireworks; Tango; Scherzo a la russe; The Song of the Nightingale. Antal Dorati, London Symphony Orchestra. Mercury SACD 470 643-2.

Maestro Antal Dorati’s recording of the complete Firebird ballet on this hybrid SACD from Mercury is self recommending. Recorded in 1959, it has been among my two or three top choices in this repertoire for nearly half a century. Presented on this disc in a new three-channel mix and in the two-channel stereo CD transfer supervised by its original recording director, Wilma Cozart Fine, in the early Nineties, the sound is exceptionally lucid, dynamic, and well spread out. Indeed, it is one of the best-sounding discs of any kind you’ll find, a real sonic treasure. There is some very slight background noise during the quieter moments, but it is hardly an intrusion and not at all objectionable. The performance itself impresses one as ideally balanced, with the colorful music fully realized, the drama intact, and the lyrical beauty clearly presented.

Accompanying the Firebird are three short works, Fireworks, Tango, and Scherzo a la russe, all nicely recorded in 1964. But the big surprise for anyone who hasn’t heard it is The Song of the Nightingale. It is nothing short of astonishing. For me, there has only been one other performance the Nightingale worthy of mention alongside Dorati’s, and that is Reiner’s earlier account on RCA Living Stereo. Yet Dorati’s recording actually has the clearer, more overtly spectacular sound.

If you’re not familiar with the piece, The Song of the Nightingale was an opera Stravinsky helped score, from which the composer excerpted the symphonic suite we have here. He always liked the suite best, saying “a perfect rendering could only be achieved in the concert hall.” The work recounts the story of a nightingale in the court of a Chinese emperor, a bird whose favor gets displaced by a mechanical bird.  When the machine breaks down and the emperor becomes so dejected he almost dies, the real bird must return and right the situation. It’s a fairy tale, and Stravinsky’s fairy-tale music fits it perfectly. More important, Dorati’s light, airy, fairy-tale direction perfectly underpins every facet of the performance.

For those folks who own SACD players and ancillary equipment, the recording us, as I said before, available in three-channel stereo, just as Mercury originally recorded them. Otherwise, you listen as I did, to the regular two-channel layer. Remastered in DSD (Direct Stream Digital), the results are not just satisfying, they’re outstanding.

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

JJP

An Evening with Dave Grusin (UltraHD CD review)

Monica Mancini, Patti Austin, Gary Burton, Jon Secada, Nestor Torres; Dave Grusin, Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra. FIM LIM UHD 065 LE.

An Evening with Dave Grusin is not so much a live concert or even a musical event as it is a celebration. It celebrates over half a century of music from composer, arranger, and pianist Dave Grusin, whose work includes everything from the scores to The Graduate, The Midnight Man, and Three Days of the Condor to classical and jazz compositions, earning him Academy Award nominations, Golden Globe nominations, Grammy nominations, and several Grammy award wins. On this 2009 live performance album remastered by FIM/LIM, Grusin acts as conductor of the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra and as host, with the guest stars listed above joining in. He makes his own best fitting tribute to himself in the music he plays and leads.

Among the tunes that most appealed to me were the opening item (heard in part below), Grusin’s own “Fratelli Chase,” a lively pop-jazz piece with a good deal of sparkle. Then there’s a lovely combo of Grusin’s music to On Golden Pond and a spirited hornpipe medley. A few tracks later we find an effectively sultry Porgy & Bess medley.

For more jazz than not, pioneering vibraphonist Gary Burton joins in as soloist on Bernstein/Sondheim’s “Cool” from West Side Story. Following that is more from the musical as Jon Secada and Patti Austin do a duet of “Somewhere,” Secada does “Maria,” and flutist Nestor Torres solos in “I Feel Pretty.”

Right in the middle of the concert, almost out of left field, comes a suite from Grusin’s movie score for The Milagro Beanfield War. It’s the best, and longest, piece on the program, full of musical invention, lustrous melodies, and delightful playing. It’s a light, lilting, lyrical work most of the way that, frankly, took me by surprise as I hadn’t remembered how good the movie’s music was, it had been so long since I’d seen the film.

The album ends with Henry Mancini’s familiar theme to TV’s Peter Gunn, with Gary Burton soloing, and then Grusin’s “Memphis Stomp,” which brings things to a roaring close. With great sound, great music, and great performers, it doesn’t matter that most of it comprises short bits and pieces or that the whole thing is so short; it’s what we expect of a pop-concert album, and Grusin provides it in spades.

Producers Larry Rosen and Phil Ramone and engineer Eric Schilling made the recording at the James L. Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami Dade County, Miami, Florida, in December, 2009. Producer Winston Ma and engineer Michael Bishop remastered the album in 2012 using Ultra High Definition 32-bit mastering technology and the PureFlection replication process.

The sound exhibits a terrific dynamic range and impact, with very deep bass and a quick, clear, clean transient response. The extended treble works well with the high end, showing off the cymbals and such. Instruments appear realistically spread across the soundstage, although orchestral depth is modest. The separation of instruments makes up for any lack of depth, however, and there is plenty of air and space around them. Vocals seem fairly well integrated with the orchestra, maybe a little close but natural to a pop concert. They also sound smooth and lifelike. Because it’s live, expect a touch of audience noise during performances and, of course, the inevitable eruptions of applause after every number.

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

JJP

Lalo: Symphonie Espagnole (CD review)

Also, Namouna, Suites 1 and 2; Scherzo in D minor. Alexandre Da Costa, violin; Carlos Kalmar, Orquesta Sinfonica de Ratio Television Espanola. Warner Classics 2564 65711-4.

Is it just me, or does it appear as though certain composers go in and out of vogue every few years? It seems like twenty or thirty years ago, everybody was recording Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole. Then, either I didn’t notice or nobody appeared interested in the man or his music. OK, you’re right; it’s probably just me. In any case, this new Warner Classics disc from Canadian violinist Alexandre Da Costa pleased me and brought back a ton of old memories.

The French composer Édouard-Victoire-Antoine Lalo (1823-1892) wrote a number of works, but people today probably know him best for his Symphonie Espagnole in D minor, Op. 21, for violin and orchestra (1874). Interestingly, Tchaikovsky also liked the piece, and when he heard it and played it through himself, it so influenced him that he dropped everything and wrote his own violin concerto. But that’s another story. The one here is about Da Costa’s performance of the work, and how he and Maestro Carlos Kalmar view it.

The accompanying booklet note advises that a listener first hear a few other recordings of the work before trying Da Costa’s interpretation, suggesting that the listener will find Da Costa’s version much less hurried, much less fierce. So I did just that: I put on Yan Pascal Tortelier’s EMI recording with Louis Fremaux and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and listened to the opening Allegro non troppo. Tortelier was, indeed, faster and more overtly exciting. However, I also noticed that Da Costa was remarkably versatile, both in the lyrical as well as the more bravura passages. He takes his time developing the music, providing plenty of color as well as a deep sense of melancholy. You’ll find little that is in the light French tradition here, even though Lalo was French. Da Costa’s rendition is thoroughly Spanish inflected, filled with strong emotions and high drama.

Da Costa says, again in the booklet note, that “a conductor once told me, ‘If you play fast and you accelerate, it just shows fear. If you play slower and hold your tempo, it shows strength.’ That’s the key for me when I play Spanish music.” This style is particularly evident in the second-movement Scherzando, which comes off beautifully and is probably the most Spanish-sounding music on the disc.

Lalo’s Intermezzo, a kind of habanera, is full of power and passion. The composer said he wanted the work to be foremost a violin solo soaring above a conventional symphony, and that’s the way Da Costa and Kalmar play it.

The Andante begins gravely but soon gives way to a lovely, flowing melody on the violin, which Da Costa appears to take great joy in playing. Lastly, the performers provide a thrilling Rondo finale in grand fashion where they demonstrate their mastery of Spanish romanticism.

As a coupling, Maestro Kalmar and his orchestra offer two suites (of five movements each) from Lalo’s oft-neglected ballet Namouna. Its lighter moments are its best ones, and Kalmar brings out what must be the best in the score. While neither the suites nor the concluding Scherzo in D minor are among the most-memorable music you can find, it is all pleasant enough, with a ton of atmosphere and theatrics.

Producer and engineer Phil Rowlands recorded the music in 2012 at the Teatro Monumental, Madrid, Spain. The results he obtained sound excellent, very clean and very clear, with a quick, well-focused transient impact, a wide dynamic range, good midrange transparency, and well-extended highs. The stereo spread is also impressive, as is the overall clarity, if it also sounds a trifle hard. The orchestra is a tad close, but the violin sounds especially natural, with good bite and resonance. Compared to the aforementioned EMI-Tortelier recording, however, the Warner sonics could use more depth and greater warmth. Still, without the side-by-side comparison (which the Warner booklet invites, understand), the sound of the Warner Classics is quite fine.

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

JJP

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 (CD review)

Also, The Voyevoda. Yondani Butt, London Symphony Orchestra. Nimbus Alliance NI 6217.

Maestro Yondani Butt, if you remember, is the Macau-born conductor with the Gramophone Award and the PhD in chemistry. His more-important qualification as a musician, however, is his lyrical, sensitive bent, which served him so well in two previous recordings with the LSO I reviewed of Beethoven and Wagner. He is no less lyrical or sensitive on the present Tchaikovsky disc, if that is what you’re looking for in Tchaikovsky.

Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) wrote his Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 in 1888, conducting the premiere the same year. In various guises a similar theme reappears in all four movements of the work, a theme the composer described as "a complete resignation before fate, which is the same as the inscrutable predestination of fate." But things are not all that dark, and before long the mood picks up. As the work progresses, we hear the character of the theme become more positive, as though Tchaikovsky were voicing an increased optimism with regard to fate, the symphony becoming more affirmative and optimistic as it goes along. Whether or not Tchaikovsky meant to conclude the work on a wholly positive note is a question critics and listeners have been arguing for years.

Now, here’s the thing: Compared to the recordings I had on hand by Mariss Jansons, Riccardo Muti, Bernard Haitink, and others, Maestro Butt is slower in every movement every time, sometimes considerably slower. Nowhere do we hear this better exemplified than in the introductory Andante segment of movement one, which Butt advances at a snail’s pace. A listener will, of course, find rewards in the later outbreaks of the Allegro con anima, so like Butt’s previous recordings, this is one of contrasts, sometimes extreme contrasts. He is big on lyricism and grace, but he doesn’t always play up the big parts to much effect, even in contrast. If Butt’s intention was to show the world how poetic Tchaikovsky could be and how sensitive to Tchaikovsky’s tone he could be, then he surely succeeds immeasurably. However, it’s at the expense of losing out on some of the work’s excitement. Be forewarned.

As we might expect, Maestro Butt is at his best in the slow Andante cantabile movement. Here, the changing tensions work to Butt’s advantage, the conductor handling the alternating moods deftly and creating a sense of restrained passion throughout with a sweetly flowing line.

Likewise, Butt’s treatment of the third-movement Valse has a lovely lilt to its step, a reprieve from the shifting tones of the previous movement. Then, the finale brings with it the requisite triumph and joy. Or does it? Butt seems to inject an air of hesitant unhappiness into the proceedings, making us question whether the composer wanted to end things on an optimisitc note or not. Still, I’d rather hear Tchaikovsky performed with a few more thrills and a bit more thunder than Butt provides, more of a red-blooded “Russian” account.

Accompanying the Fifth Symphony we find Tchaikovsky’s tone poem (or as he called it, “Symphonic Ballad”) The Voyevoda, Op. 78, which one should not confuse with the opera of the same name Tchaikovsky composed some years earlier, based on a different source. Tchaikovsky, ever despondent, would call the music “rubbish” and destroy the score after its premiere. Fortunately, a fellow musician saved it. It’s really quite colorful, and Butt brings out all the Romantic atmosphere and flair in it. I don’t know why Butt wasn’t this persuasive in the symphony. 

Producer Chris Craker and engineer Simon Rhodes recorded the music at Abbey Road Studios, London, in 2012. Nimbus has a long and distinguished history (going back over forty years) of producing natural, realistic-sounding recordings, and this one will not disappoint the listener in that regard. The sound is very smooth, if a trifle soft, and easy on the ear. The stage sounds wide, with reasonably open and airy sonics, even though a tad recessed. Hint: Turn up the gain. The recording displays pretty good dynamics and an adequate amount of definition without having to get bright or forward to do it. While the sound may not be the most transparent you’ll hear, it remains well balanced and, as I say, fairly lifelike. Let’s say it’s comfortable sound, pleasantly listenable.

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

JJP

Classical Music News of the Week, June 23, 2013

27th Annual Mendocino Music Festival--July 13 to 27th--One of the Most Beautiful Music Festival Experiences in the Whole World

Established in 1986, the Mendocino Music Festival is an exciting blend of fine music by outstanding performers in one of the most enchanting sites in Northern California. Days and evenings are filled with Festival Orchestra concerts, Big Band, chamber music, jazz, world music, blues, bluegrass and popular contemporary music. Over 30 performances are complemented by music workshops, open orchestral rehearsals and culinary events showcasing the local beers, wines and foods of Mendocino County.

The festival runs from July 13 to July 27th.  Highlights include:

Opening Night Concert James D’Leon, piano
Saturday July 13 at 8:00 PM, Tent Concert Hall
The Festival opens with fiery and lyric themes from Verdi, the jubilant music of Prokofiev, and the Romantic favorite, Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto. James D’Leon, who thrilled everyone in last season’s piano series, returns to perform the Rachmaninoff.

Sunday, July 14, 2013 8:00pm, Tent Concert Hall
A Grammy nominee and member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Kaukonen has been the leading practitioner and teacher of fingerstyle guitar, one of the most highly respected interpreters of American roots music, blues, and Americana, and at the forefront of popular rock-and-roll. He is well known as a founding member of two legendary bands, The Jefferson Airplane and the still-touring Hot Tuna.

Alison Brown Quartet
Sunday, July 14, 2013 2:00pm, Tent Concert Hall
The Alison Brown Quartet is bluegrass plus. Their sound has been likened to a combination of bluegrass, country, and jazz. Brown is a banjo virtuoso who has earned a Grammy as well as bluegrass music’s highest accolade for an instrumentalist: the International Bluegrass Music Association Banjo Player of the Year in 1991.

POCO Benefit for MMF
Wednesday, July 17 8:00 PM, Tent Concert Hall
POCO is “All Fired Up” with their new album of that name, and plans to rock their trademark blazing instrumentals and soaring harmonies at a fabulous benefit concert made possible by the generosity of an anonymous POCO fan.

Umi no Hi: A Celebration of Japan’s Ocean Day
Sunday, July 21 - Day-long series beginning at 2:00pm
Twentieth-century Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu dreamed of swimming in an “ocean that has no east, no west.” His dream of an international culture has inspired director-musician Susan Waterfall to bring together traditional and modern Japanese music in celebration of Takemitsu’s legacy and Japan’s July national holiday, Ocean Day.

The Festival‘s performance events include:
Classical Program – opening Festival Orchestra performance, conducted by Allan Pollack, of works by Verdi and Prokofiev, and the Romantic favorite Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with pianist James D’Leon; Orchestra East and West, with guitarist Shin-Ichi Fukuda; Rossini’s opera Il Signor Bruschino; and, with the Festival Chorus, works by Bruch, Bernstein, Beethoven and Mozart. The Classical Program includes chamber music and piano lecture-concerts.

JAZZFest features the perennial Big Band Night and a double bill of Hot Club of San Francisco and Julian Pollack Trio. The Festival’s educational events include a Peer-to-Peer Jazz Workshop, free to high school students, and performance by the Thelonious Monk Institute Performing Arts High School All-Star Jazz Sextet, consisting of prize winning high school musicians from around the country.

Boogie Blues & Bluegrass includes the House Jacks, the original a cappella rock band, plus a workshop with them for singers.

The World Series features pianist Susan Waterfall’s multi-media concert, Ocean That Has No East No West: The Life and Legacy of Toru Takemitsu, with Takemitsu’s student Shin-Ichi Fukuda; Cherish the Ladies, celebrating 25 years of Celtic music; and Pedrito Martinez with his rhumba Afro-Cuban sounds.

For complete listing and schedule please visit www.mendocinomusic.org or call 707 937-4041.

--Direct Contact PR

Cal Performances Presents Grammy-Winning The Goat Rodeo Sessions with Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Bluegrass Superstars Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, and Aoife O’Donovan,
Saturday, August 24, at 8 p.m. at the Berkeley’s Greek Theatre
Legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma is known for his superb musicianship and his driving curiosity which sends him searching for new musical traditions in which to participate.  In 2011, Ma joined forces with four bluegrass virtuosos: Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Edgar Meyer (bassist), Chris Thile (mandolin), and guest vocalist Aoife O’Donovan to create a new brand of string ensemble. While each artist is a prominent figure in his own musical sphere, they came together as a unified band on a remarkable cross-genre project and in the process created a Grammy Award-winning album, The Goat Rodeo Sessions, a testimony to the success of the collaboration. The ensemble reunites on Saturday, August 24 at 8:00 p.m. at Cal Performances’ Greek Theater to perform works from the album. The music feels both new and familiar—it is composed and improvised, uptown and down home, funky and pastoral and above all, uniquely American.

The four string musicians had played together in various combinations but never all together. One of the frequently asked questions is how the ensemble came up with the humorous title. Many of their songs had working titles using the word “rodeo.” One of the definitions of a goat rodeo is a chaotic situation, often one that involves several people, each with a different agenda/vision/perception of what’s going on. The group thought that described their collaborative style.  “Everybody could be a leader or everybody could be a follower at various times,” Ma says. “How can we ever get any work done when we're laughing all of the time…for me, that’s the goat rodeo part…” (All Things Considered, NPR).

Tickets for The Goat Rodeo Sessions with Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, and Aoife O'Donovan on Saturday, August 24, at 8:00 p.m. at the Greek Theatre range from $35.00 - $125.00 and are available for sale to the public on Monday, June 18 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.

--Joe Yang, Cal Performances

Handel’s Esther at Amerian Bach Soloists Festival, Friday, July 19, 2013, 8:00 p.m.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music ~ 50 Oak Street at Van Ness

Rarely performed, Handel's Esther represents the birth of the English oratorio. Originally composed as a masque for the Duke of Chandos in 1718, Handel returned to his score in the 1730s, when the enthusiasm of his London audiences for Italian opera began to wane. This moving work is a marvelous combination of thrilling choruses and arias, accompanied by a beautiful mélange of instruments including a triple harp. Culminating in a glorious musical paean of rejoicing - the most grandly scaled final chorus in all of Handel's oratorios and operas - Esther became one of Handel's most popular works and was performed throughout the rest of his career. ABS Academy vocalists will be featured in roles including Mordecai, Haman, King Ahasuerus, and his Queen Esther. The ABS Festival Orchestra and the American Bach Choir will be conducted by Jeffrey Thomas.

ABS Festival events are selling quickly. Biber's Missa Salisburgensis on July 13, 2013 is completely sold out. Some tickets remain for other performances including Bach's Mass in B Minor; chamber works by Bach, Schütz, Schmelzer, Telemann, and others; Tanya Tomkins, violoncello (Distinguished Artist Series), Bach, Vivaldi, and others.

All performances are in beautiful Concert Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak Street near Van Ness, San Francisco, CA. For more information: http://americanbach.org/sfbachfestival/index.html

--American Bach Soloists

Young Voices of Melbourne Joins YPC in Transmusica
From almost halfway around the world, the Young Voices of Melbourne (Australia) led by Director Mark O'Leary will join the Young People’s Chorus of New York City in an exciting intermingling of Australian and American cultures in YPC's June 30 Transmusica concert at the 92nd Street Y.  The program, featuring such favorites from down under as Botany Bay and Waltzing Matilda, will also be an exciting preview of the YPC tour program the choristers are taking to Asia next month.

You won't want to miss this entertaining afternoon of great singers, great music, and the opportunity to wish YPC a good trip!).

Transmusica
Sunday, June 30 at 4 p.m.
92nd Street Y, Kaufmann Concert Hall, New York City
Tickets are $5 for all under 18 and $15 for adults

Purchase tickets now at the 92nd Street Y or by calling 212-415-5500.

--Young People’s Chorus of NYC

Top 5 Finalists Announced for the Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition
The five final contestants will compete on June 22 for the Pierre S. du Pont First Prize of $40,000
June 20, 2013 . . . The results are in! Almost, that is. Out of the ten incredible organists chosen to compete in the inaugural Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition, five talented contestants have moved past the preliminary round to compete for the $40,000 Pierre S. du Pont First Prize. The finalists are Thomas Gaynor (New Zealand); Jinhee Kim (South Korea); Baptiste-Florian Marle Ouvrard (France); Adam Pajan (USA) and Benjamin Sheen (UK). The five will play for the top prize on Saturday, June 22 on the famed Longwood Organ.

The Longwood Organ is the largest residential organ in the world, with a whopping 10,010 pipes and a beautiful console. This kingly instrument is not easy to wrestle with musically, but these valiant performers have proved their chops. All of the contestants performed varying repertoire, which ranged from Bach to Elgar to Rossini to Debussy to Dukas, to name just a few composers.

Tickets are sold out to watch the intense final round on Saturday, June 22. More information at www.longwoodgardens.org.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckelSweet Media

LAGQ: Latin (UltraHD CD review)

Carmen suite and others. Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. FIM LIM UHD 070 LE.

The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (LAGQ) is probably the best guitar ensemble since the Romeros. Which isn’t hard to understand when you consider that in 1980 Pepe Romero oversaw their formation. Since then, the LAGQ have recorded a slew of albums, winning a Grammy in 2005 for Best Crossover CD, Guitar Heroes. They recorded the present album in 2001 for Telarc, and FIM remastered it to the best possible audiophile standards in 2012. If you like guitar music, you’ll like the LAGQ.

Although Matthew Greif replaced Andrew York in 2005, the group has remained pretty much the same for over thirty years, this Telarc/FIM disc featuring original quartet members John Dearman, William Kanengiser, Scott Tennant and Andrew York. The fellows generally play on guitars using nylon strings in order to reflect the sounds of numerous other instruments and effects. Indeed, on some occasions they appear to be imitating the sounds of an entire symphony orchestra.

On LAGQ: Latin the quartet performs seventeen tracks, starting with Sting’s Latin-inflected tune Fragile in an arrangement that includes Tim Timmerman on percussion. The LAGQ’s rendition is gracefully touching. Next is Eduardo Martin’s Hasta Alicia Baila (“Until Alicia Dances”), a sort of Cuban rumba with an infectious beat.

Then we get the centerpiece of the album, a suite of numbers from Bizet’s Carmen. It’s delightful and should please guitar fans as well as Bizet admirers. The opening Aragonaise shows true panache, the Habanera has a lovely lilt, Seguidilla displays a sweet gentleness, the Toreadors provides a thrilling energy, the Entr’acte is simply gorgeous, and the Gypsy Dance closes the suite in a colorfully spirited fashion.

Following the Carmen Suite, we find a whole series of Cuban, Spanish, Central, and South American numbers. One fascinating item is Leo Brouwer’s Cuban Landscape with Rain, containing--you guessed it--the sounds of rain from the guitars. There is also a delicious performance of Aaron Copland’s Paisaje Mexicano (“Mexican Landscape”) that is quite lyrical. And so it goes, each tune a little gem, each one beautifully, expertly executed by the LAGQ.

The program ends with a reimagining of the second movement from Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez that floats softly, poetically, as on a light breeze.

Telarc Record’s producer Robert Woods and engineer Robert Friedrich made the recording at Studio A, O’Henry Studios, Burbank, California in 2001, and FIM producer Winston Ma and the recording’s original engineer Robert Friedrich remastered it in 2012 using the Ultra High Definition 32-bit mastering system and FIM’s PureFlection replication process.

The sound is, not surprisingly, sublime, one of the better guitar recordings I’ve heard. Not only is it ultra clear and ultraclean, it’s ultrasmooth as well. Each plucked or stroked note stands out transparently, with its own richness and warmth. As important, the dead-quiet spaces between the notes sets off each sound in sometimes startling contrast.

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

Wagner: Overtures (CD review)

Alexander Rahbari, Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra. Naxos 8.557055.

Over the years the folks at Naxos have provided the classical-music public some solid, well performed, reasonably well recorded, and fairly priced discs. The present album, however, isn’t necessarily one of them unless you are specifically looking for something out of the way.

The strongest virtue of this collection of early Wagner overtures is that it offers up some little-known, little-heard music by the composer. Beyond that, I’m afraid it can get a little dicey. Pleasant, but dicey.

The most popular item on the album is the opening work, Richard Wagner’s “Rienzi” overture, the composer’s first big hit as it were, which he premiered in 1842. Maestro Alexander Rahbari and the Malaga Philharmonic give it an appropriately swaggering performance, emphasizing all the pomp and ceremony that Wagner could muster. There is definitely a reason why Rahbari starts the program with this number.

The other four works, though, are not so well known, and for a reason; they aren’t as interesting as the opening piece and certainly not as important as Wagner’s much-later material. Written mostly in the 1830’s, before people even knew who Wagner was, the disc’s early Wagner works show a marked inclination toward melodrama, borrowings from other composers; and, while pleasing enough, they lack the kind of invention we would later expect from Wagner. Nevertheless, they make intriguing mementos of the composer’s past and should be of value to anyone interested in the composer’s early efforts.

After “Rienzi” comes “King Enzio,” which Wagner wrote in 1832 as an overture to a play by Ernest Raupach. Beethoven’s Fidelio appears to have influenced the composer, yet Wagner’s piece seems a pale imitation by comparison. Still, Maestro Rahbari does it justice, I’m sure, in a first-time recording, and makes it seem a moderately engaging piece. “The Ban on Love,” 1836, sounded a bit too insipid for my taste, however, with the exception of some tambourines and castanets in the opening, which are admittedly kind of fun. “The Fairies” overture, 1834, has the promise of Weber but soon leaves that prospect behind and becomes slightly wearisome. “Christoph Columbus,” 1840, another rarity, fares better than most of the other early overtures and gives us some idea of Wagner’s future creativity.

The disc ends with “Faust,” an overture that Wagner began as the first movement of a proposed Faust symphony begun years earlier but revamped in 1855. It’s no “Rienzi,” but it does foreshadow the bigger, better things to come. Franz Liszt liked Wagner’s Faust overture so well he wrote his own, more famous Faust Symphony, encouraging Wagner to do some revising of his own. Anyway, the result in Wagner’s overture is more than listenable and quite engaging by itself.

Although Maestro Rahbari gives each reading a competent, if sometimes seemingly perfunctory, reading, the Naxos engineers do him no favors with their close yet reverberant and somewhat veiled sonics. The Malaga Philharmonic appears to be producing a smaller sound than that which eventually reaches our ears, but thanks to a magnification of the mid and upper bass, the whole thing appears bigger than it should be and a bit muffled. While the result is not exactly akin to throwing a blanket over the speakers, if you happen to have something on hand such as Klemperer’s superb old EMI set of Wagner orchestral music, you’ll immediately hear a greater transparency from the EMI recordings despite their age.

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

JJP

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3 (CD review)

Also, Symphonic Dances. Leonard Slatkin, Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.573051.

Russian pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) completed his Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 44 in 1936. It would be his last symphony. These days, we see it as something of a transition for the composer, being less overtly Romantic than his Symphony No. 2, Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3, or the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. The Third Symphony is also more concise than his previous works, pointing toward the greater modernity he would reluctantly adopt. Still, it is most definitely Russian in flavor, especially noticeable in the finale’s dance rhythms, and surely it is still Romantic in spirit. Leopold Stokowski conducted the Third Symphony’s premiere in 1936 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Stokowski’s much-later recording of it for EMI with the London Symphony is still the one to own. Nevertheless, this new rendering from Naxos with Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is no slouch.

The Third Symphony received an odd reception at first. Critics thought that it was still too Romantic in nature, that the composer had never gone beyond the Romantic period, beyond the Second Symphony or the Second and Third Piano Concertos. The public at large, on the other hand, found the Third too modern and not Romantic enough. They expected more of the lush, spacious tunes found in the aforementioned works. Poor Rachmaninov: He couldn’t win for losing. I suppose that battle continues to this day; most critics expect modern composers to produce new, imaginative, innovative material, and many in the public just want something they can whistle on their way home from the concert hall.

Another unusual feature about the Third Symphony is that Rachmaninov wrote it in only three movements. However, the second movement is really a combed Adagio and scherzo, so maybe that gives the work a traditional four-movement arrangement after all. The first-movement Allegro holds many surprises, the two-part Adagio is conservative but committed, and the third-movement Allegro vivace is exhilarating.

Maestro Slatkin catches most of the passion and drama of the first movement while sustaining its lyrical qualities at the same time. He does not linger on or draw out the movement as much as Stokowski did, preferring to step along at a fairly quick gait. Regardless, the movement never seems short of breath, and Slatkin does emphasize the big themes with a gracious hand, making them appear as broadly lyrical as ever.

In the second movement Adagio, Slatkin slows down appropriately and takes his time defining the music’s poetic features. When an allegro vivace section breaks out, Slatkin handles it with a zesty good humor before things settle back to the sweetness of the opening.

Then Slatkin concludes the symphony with all the dash and élan the finale requires. Some conductors allow the movement to sink into the sentimentality of a Hollywood epic, but Slatkin ends it in a straightforward blaze of glory, the veiled Dies irae theme sounding appropriately ominous and resplendently optimistic at the same time.

As a companion piece, the disc includes Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, written in 1940 and among the composer’s last works. Slatkin pulls this quasi-symphony off pretty well, too, but unfortunately for him he has stiff competition from the justly celebrated Reference Recordings disc with Maestro Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra. That recording is so overwhelming colossal, it tends to dwarf everything that comes up against it. Be that as it may, Slatkin brings a nobility and dignity to the score that I often find lacking in other recordings, the conductor ending the piece on a triumphant note, this time with the Dies irae (again) hardly disguised. In all, we get fine, grand, bold, powerful, poetic results from Slatkin and his Detroit forces in both the Third Symphony and the Symphonic Dances.

The Detroit Symphony was one of the stars of early stereo in the late Fifties and early Sixties, thanks to their participation in a number of fine recordings on Mercury Living Presence. This time out, Naxos recorded the music at the Detroit Symphony’s home, Orchestra Hall, in 2011-2012, and the orchestra’s star still shines. Interestingly, though, while the new Naxos digital recording is good, it is not really an improvement over the old Mercurys, which hold up to this day as some of the finest recordings you can find.

Anyway, the Naxos sound has fitting power and strong impact, with a reasonably wide dynamic range. It’s also ultrasmooth, with a mild resonance providing a warm glow around the music. Midrange transparency suffers slightly (especially compared to those old Mercury discs), but it remains pleasing all the same. Bass extension is taut and deep; and even though highs can seem at times a tad soft, they show good extension when necessary. What’s more, the left-to-right stereo spread sounds impressive, with a decent localization of instruments and a modest orchestral depth.

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

JJP

Emerson String Quartet: Journeys (CD review)

Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence; Schoenberg: Verklarte Nacht. Emerson String Quartet, augmented by Paul Neubauer, viola II, and Colin Carr, cello II. Sony Classical 88725470602.

The Emerson String Quartet is not the oldest string quartet in existence, but surely it is among the most well known. Formed in 1976 and with only a couple of personnel changes, the group has released over thirty recordings and won three Gramophone Awards and nine Grammys for Best Chamber Music Performance and Best Classical Album. Did I also mention they are among the best at whatever music they attempt?

The Quartet as comprised here includes Philip Setzer, first and second violin; Eugene Drucker, first and second violin; Lawrence Dutton, viola; and David Finckel, cello. Joining them for the two sextets on the disc are Paul Neubauer, second viola; and Colin Carr, second cello.

The first of the selections on the program is the Souvenir de Florence, Op. 70 by Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), which he wrote for string sextet in 1890 and premiered in 1892. He called it a “souvenir of Florence” because he composed a part of the second movement while visiting the city. As with Schoenberg’s Verklarte Night that follows on the disc, we often hear Tchaikovsky’s piece adapted for chamber orchestra, but there’s something a little more intimate about these original sextet arrangements.

The first movement is somewhat stormy, tumultuous in fact. The Emersons attack the opening not just with verve but with absolute rigor. The movement quickly settles down into a rapturous melody that the Emersons infuse with an even further enlightening energy. It’s still quite lyrical but on a spirited scale, especially in that drawn-out second subject with its delicious counterpoint.

The slow second movement, the Adagio cantabile e con moto, is serene, the Romantic centerpiece of the work. The Emersons capture its delicately rhapsodic nature without giving in to the temptations of sentimentalizing it. They bring out all its most lovely contrasts, the strings almost literally singing their parts. It is sublime.

The final two movements, marked Allegretto moderato and Allegro con brio e vivace, increase in tempo and gusto, sounding far more rhythmically vital and “Russian” than the rest of the work. In the Emersons’ hands, these sections bounce along at a zippy yet never breathless pace, the third movement sounding particularly folksy in its presentation. The finale begins with a quick dance tune that the Emersons handle in vivacious style, producing a sunny, warm-hearted result.

The final number on the disc is Verklarte Nacht (“Transfigured Night”), Op. 4, a single-movement sextet written by the Austrian composer and painter Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) in 1899, one of his first important works. Apparently, his inspirations were a poem by Richard Dehmel and his feelings for a young woman, Mathilde von Zemlinsky, whom he would eventually marry. Audiences at first did not appreciate the piece, finding it too eccentric, too avant-garde for them. Today, we recognize Schoenberg’s occasional dissonances as a part of the work’s beauty. Besides, it was only the start of Schoenberg’s modernism.

Anyway, the Emerson players perform Verklarte Nacht with great urgency and drama, charging it with notable expression through their nuance and coloring. One has little trouble following the music’s interrelated themes (especially with the words to Dehmel’s poem reproduced in the accompanying booklet) as its story unfolds in a miniature tone poem. The Emersons emphasize the warmth, stillness, passion, and pathos of the poem, their playing again immaculate.

Sony recorded the Quartet at LeFrak Concert Hall, Queens College, New York, in 2012. The miking puts the players fairly close, creating a wide left-to-right stereo spread; meaning you’re not far away from them. There is nothing hard, bright, or edgy about the recording, though. The sound is smooth and natural, with a pleasantly warm ambient glow around the notes that in no way detracts from the acoustic detailing. For a small chamber work, its sound is impressively big and luxuriant.

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

JJP

Classical Music News of the Week, June 16, 2013

Chicago Duo Piano Festival Celebrates 25 Years July 12-21, the Annual Event Featuring Four Concerts Open to the Public

The Music Institute of Chicago’s annual Chicago Duo Piano Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary July 12–21 at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, in Evanston. In addition to offering students coaching, lectures, master classes, and recitals, the Festival includes four public performances at Nichols Concert Hall featuring special guest Ukrainian piano duo Olga and Yuri Sherbakov in their Chicago debut, festival Founders/Directors Claire Aebersold and Ralph Neiweem, and Music Institute piano faculty, all performing duo piano repertoire.

Public performances
Gala Opening Concert—Friday, July 12 at 7:30 p.m.
Chicago Duo Piano Festival Founders/Directors and Music Institute faculty piano duo in residence Claire Aebersold and Ralph Neiweem perform a program including Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, in celebration of its 100th anniversary, along with works by Schubert and Ravel.

Faculty Recital—Sunday, July 14 at 4 p.m.
The program includes Music Institute faculty and guest artists Mio Isoda and Matthew Hagle performing Debussy’s En blanc et noir, Xiaomin Liang and Jue He playing a two-piano arrangement of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, and Andrea Swann and Fiona Queen performing Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion.

Faculty Extravaganza Concert—Tuesday, July 16 at 7:30 p.m.
In this popular event, members of the Music Institute faculty offer a varied selection of four-hand and two-piano repertoire. Performers include Maya Brodotskaya and Irene Faliks, Inah Chiu and Sung Hoon Mo, Alexander Djordjevic and Mark George, Elaine Felder and Milana Pavchinskaya, Mio Isoda and Matthew Hagle, Katherine Lee and Soo Young Lee, and Xiaomin Liang and Jue He.

Guest Recital: Olga and Yuri Sherbakov (Oleyura Duo)—Friday, July 19 at 7:30 p.m.
Olga and Yuri Sherbakov (Oleyura Duo), a brilliant wife and husband duo from Odessa, Ukraine, making their Chicago debut, are 1st prize winners at the Rome International Competition for Piano Duos in both two piano and piano, four hands categories. They have been featured at the San Francisco International Festival, The First International Piano Duo Festival in Israel, Internazionales Festival Deutsche Musik, Festival of Greek Culture, Festival Musicale delle Nazioni, and Saint-Petersburg Piano Duo Festival. They have performed in prestigious halls in Kiev, Jerusalem, Rome, Moscow, Venice, St. Petersburg, Oslo, and Tel-Aviv and have appeared as guest soloists with The Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra, The Israel Chamber Orchestra, The Crimean Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Orchestra of the Norwegian National Opera. They are professors at Odessa State Academy of Music. They teach master classes in Ukraine and abroad. They are founders and artistic directors of the International Piano Duo and Chamber Music Festivals “Crimea Dialogues” and “Odessa Dialogues.” They have performed frequently as guests and soloists with the Odessa Philharmonic Society.

For the Chicago Duo Piano Festival, Olga and Yuri Sherbakov perform works by Ukrainian and Russian composers, including Rachmaninoff's Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos.

Chicago Duo Piano Festival
Called a “duo piano mecca” by Pioneer Press, the Chicago Duo Piano Festival was founded in 1988 by Music Institute of Chicago faculty members Claire Aebersold and Ralph Neiweem. Its mission is to foster a deeper interest in the repertoire, performance, and teaching of music for piano, four hands and two pianos, in a fun and supportive atmosphere. The Festival offers coaching, master classes, concerts with special guest artists, and student recitals for students age 12 through adult. Registration details and a schedule are available at chicagoduopianofestival.org. Fees are $495 for full participants and $265 for auditors. Early registrants receive greater consideration for repertoire requests. The enrollment deadline is May 28, 2013.

The Chicago Duo Piano Festival concerts take place July 12, 16, and 19 at 7:30 p.m. and July 14 at 4 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. Tickets for each concert are $30 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for students and are available at musicinst.org or 847.905.1500 ext. 108. For even more information: http://www.musicinst.org/chicago-duo-piano-festival

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

PARMA Music Festival August 15-17 in Portsmouth, NH
PARMA Recordings is pleased to announce the 2013 PARMA Music Festival on August 15-17, 2013 in Portsmouth, New Hamphire, featuring Grammy-winning clarinet virtuoso Richard Stoltzman, marimba soloist Mika Stoltzman, the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra (PSO) and the PARMA Orchestra with conductor John Page, and many more. The Festival will also serve as the official host for the 2013 Region 1 Conference of the Society of Composers Incorporated (SCI), one of the largest composer-service organizations in the country.

Daytime and evening performances, listening parties, and panels will be held at multiple venues in Portsmouth over the three days, highlighted by a closing concert event at The Music Hall on Saturday, August 17 featuring the world premieres of “Elegy For Clarinet & Orchestra” (1949) by Lukas Foss with Richard Stoltzman and the PSO, and “Streams” (2010) by Martin Schlumpf with David Taylor, Matthias Müller, and the PARMA Orchestra. Both orchestras will be conducted by Mr. Page.

“If you’ve got a tux, leave it at home – and if you don’t, well that’s perfect, because you’ll be all set,” says PARMA Recordings CEO Bob Lord. “This isn’t about a scene, or a ‘seen-and-be-seen’ for that matter, this is all about the music itself. PARMA’s work encompasses an extraordinarily wide cross-section of styles and presentations, and you’ll hear and see this diversity and eclecticism throughout the Festival.”

A full list of events featuring local, national, and international artists spanning the genres of classical, jazz, rock, and more will be announced in the spring.  You can find more information about PARMA Recordings and events here: http://www.parmarecordings.com/

--Rory Cooper, PARMA Recordings

Woodstock Mozart Festival Presents 27th Season July 27-August 11; Bartók, Haydn, Mozart, Stravinsky and More on Three Programs
Three lively concert programs make up the Woodstock Mozart Festival’s 27th season July 27–August 11, 2013 at the Woodstock Opera House. Single tickets are on sale now.

The program lineup is as follows:

July 27 and 28: San Francisco Symphony Resident Conductor Donato Cabrera and award-winning pianist Vassily Primakov:

Bartók’s Rumanian Dances are the result of the composer’s exploration and collection of folk music from the mountain areas of central Europe, particularly Transylvania in Hungary.

Mozart composed his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G Major, K. 453, No. 17, for his talented pupil Barbara Ployer; the piece was appealing to the general listener of the day, yet filled with subtle interactions that demanded an extremely sensitive interpreter.

Stravinsky’s Concerto in E Flat “Dumbarton Oaks,” the last work he composed completely in Europe, was a commission to celebrate the 30th wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss and derived inspiration from Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks.

Haydn’s Symphony No. 85 in B-flat Major “La Reine” is one of the composer’s “Paris” symphonies and gained its nickname “The Queen” because Marie Antoinette enjoyed it after recognizing a tune from her Viennese childhood in its second movement.

August 3 and 4: Festival principal cellist Nazar Dzhuryn; French saxophonist and two-time Echo Klassique Award (European Grammy) Winner Daniel Gauthier, with conductor Igor Gruppman:

Mozart’s Symphony No. 17 in G Major, K. 129 is a charming three-movement Salzburg symphony scored for pairs of oboes and horns with strings.

Haydn’s Concerto in C Major for Violoncello and Orchestra, H. VIIb:1 was missing for some time and is thought to be perhaps his first cello concerto.

Mascagni’s Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, an opera that brought him worldwide popularity, is the most famous of the one-act verismo (realism) operas of the late 19th century.

Ibert, composer of Concertino da Camera for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra, often seasoned his blend of Impressionism and neo-Classicism with delightfully humorous touches.

Bizet’s Adagietto from the Incidental Music to L’Arlesienne, a melodrama by Alphonse Daudet, enhanced the dramatic action effectively.

Schulhoff, a Czech composer and pianist of German ancestry who wrote Hot-Sonate for Alto Saxophone, was one of a group of composers suppressed during the Nazi regime; he became interested in American jazz and rough-cut dance forms as a way of lampooning elitist music.

Iturralde, a noted jazz performer and orchestral soloist in Madrid, wrote Pequeña Czarda for solo saxophone.

August 10 and 11: Grammy-winning violinist Igor Gruppman, conductor, and violist Vesna Gruppman:

Mozart’s Divertimento in F Major for Strings, K. 138 is one of three such works that did not adhere to the traditional format or style of a divertimento and are more like symphonies for only strings.
Haydn’s Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp Minor “Farewell” is a product of his sturm und drang (storm and stress) period (1768–72), when he went beyond the usual bounds of classic reserve to exhibit more turbulent passions.

Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major, K. 364 (K. 320d) for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, of somewhat mysterious origins, was his last work combining symphony and concerto for multiple soloists and his only solo use of the viola.

Tickets and information:
The 2013 Woodstock Mozart Festival takes place July 27–August 11, Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at the Woodstock Opera House, 121 Van Buren Street, Woodstock. Pre-concert introductions take place one hour before each of the performances. Tickets are $30–52, $25 for students, per program and are available through the Woodstock Opera House Box Office at 815-338-5300 or at woodstockoperahouse.com. For more information about the Festival, visit mozartfest.org.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

The Best of Play Bach (UltraHD CD review)

Jacques Loussier Trio. FIM LIM 067 LE.

There is a reason why a good number of audiophile discs are either classical or jazz and why many audiophiles prefer listening to these two genres. In a nutshell, it's because the classical and jazz genres are among the only ones that use few or no microphones when playing live. What difference should that make? It means that when people hear a classical or jazz recording in their home, they have a chance to compare the sound (at least in their mind) to their remembrance of the sound of a live event. With most pop, rock, and contemporary music, home listeners have no chance of comparing a disc's sound to anything live because in reality the "sound" of pop, rock, and contemporary music depends upon the microphones and loudspeakers used at the live event. For instance, even a singer in a small nightclub using the club's PA system gives us the sound of the PA system as much as it does the singer. And it's the sound of a recording that interests audiophiles as much as or more than the music itself. That's why we call them "audio"philes.

All of which brings us to the Jacques Loussier Trio, three jazzmen who have been bringing us their jazz renditions of popular classical tunes for a really long time. Combining classical and jazz, they are an audiophile's delight. The Loussier ensemble has done Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Handel, Mozart, Ravel, Satie, Vivaldi, Schumann, you name it, and Loussier's own involvement in jazz interpretations of classical music dates back to the 1950's. So he knows what he's doing.

Pianist Jacques Loussier has worked with several different trio partners over the years. The album lists the lineup here as Loussier on piano, Vincent Charbonnier on bass, and Andre Arpino on drums.  Loussier made his first Play Bach album in 1959, and this current one, The Best of Play Bach, he made for Telarc several years ago. Now, the folks at FIM have remastered it to audiophile standards using their UltraHD and PureFlection technology.

In The Best of Play Bach we get what Loussier feels are the best numbers from his Bach series, this time recorded by Telarc in SACD multichannel surround sound but here remastered in two-channel stereo. The eleven tracks total about an hour's music and include some of Bach's most-popular tunes.

The program begins with the familiar Toccata & Fugue in D minor. If Stokowski could arrange this organ piece for full orchestra, I guess Loussier felt he could do the same for a three-piece jazz trio. In any case, it works pretty well (and you can hear a snippet of it below). It's easily recognizable as Bach yet turns nicely jazzy a few minutes in. Then it alternates between a free-form jazz and Bach motifs for most the remainder of the piece. It's quite fetching, really, whether you're a jazz fan or a classical music aficionado.

Next up is the Air on a G String, which in an earlier recording many years ago by the Loussier Trio became an international best seller, and one can see why with this newer version. It's not only jazzy, it's easygoing, seemingly improvisational, and thoroughly engaging.

And so it goes through a lovely Prelude No. 1 in C major that rocks toward the end; a resounding Gavotte in D major that will give your woofers a workout; and a sweetly affecting Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring that for me was a highlight of the set.

Three movements from Bach's Italian Concerto (Presto, Allegro, and Andante) constitute the longest sustained work on the disc.  The music is lively, imaginative, and pensive by turns.  The album then closes with a pair of virtuosic pieces: the Fugue No. 5 in D major and the Pastorale in C minor, the latter another highlight, particularly for its remarkable bass solo.

FIM (First Impression Music) and their subsidiary LIM (Lasting Impression Music) brought the music to the present audiophile UltraHD album in 2013, using the latest advances in 32-bit technology for the transfer. In addition producer Winston Ma used some new, innovative engineering he calls Pure Reflection or, putting the two words together, PureFlection. It's an improved disc reproduction process that makes replication even more precise, and which Ma goes on to explain in several pages of detail in the disc's accompanying notes. Let it suffice that the technology seems to work, and we get what Ma claims is a pure reflection of the original. I don't doubt him.

Anyway, the Jacques Loussier Trio recorded these Bach pieces for Telarc in 2003-04 in discrete multichannel SACD, although, as I said earlier, LIM have remastered it in straight two-channel stereo. Interestingly, LIM employed the same mastering engineer, Michael Bishop, who mastered the original SACD for Telarc.

Everyone at LIM did a good job with the remastering and transfer. The disc's sonics are terrifically clean and highly dynamic. The highs sound beautifully extended, and the bass can be awesomely deep. The cymbals sparkle, shimmer, and sizzle as the case may be, and the drum attack is impressive. There is also a good stereo spread, with plenty of air and space around the three instruments. Clear strings, strong impact, a well-defined piano, a full ambient bloom, and accurate imaging complete the sonic picture, and a fine picture it is.

As always, FIM/LIM have packaged the disc well in a handsome, glossy, hardbound book arrangement resembling a Digipak with the booklet notes fastened to the inside and the disc itself inserted into a static-proof liner, further enclosed by a thin-cardboard album sleeve. Just don't forget that these audiophile products aren’t cheap. Remember my warning in advance against sticker shock.

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

JJP

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.