DeGaetano: Piano Concerto No. 1 (CD review)

Also, Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1; DVD “Journey of Passion.” Robert DeGaetano; John Yaffé, Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra. Navona Records NV5929 (2-disc set).

American composer and concert pianist Robert DeGaetano apparently keeps a low profile. Since his stage debut in the mid Seventies, he's made only a handful of recordings. One cannot count this against his piano playing, however, because he is quite gifted, at least as evidenced by the virtuosic manner in which he performs the two works on this disc.

The first movement of DeGaetano's Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 3 starts out with all the frills of a late Romantic piece and then turns more rambunctious early on. It offers a little something for everyone, as if DeGaetano couldn't quite make up his mind if he wanted to go for the pure melodies and harmonies of the nineteenth century or the dissonance of the mid twentieth century. So we hear a bit of both worlds, along with a solid forward momentum and rhythmic drive. Then, along in the midst of the piece we hear some lush Hollywood tunes emerge, and you'd think it was the 1940's all over again. While it's certainly fun, ending in a blaze of glory, it's kind of a hodgepodge of fun, so one has to prepare for it.

Next we get a second movement entirely different, made up almost entirely of percussive effects, very playful, with the piano's entrance so late we wonder if it's ever going to show up at all. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating passage. Mr. DeGaetano says his music will often sound atonal, but that's "only because there are so many tonal passages being played together, each offering their own information. It's these varied resonances that interest me because they correspond to our contemporary world." Fair enough.

The third movement Adagio takes us back into the world of the nineteenth century, very soft and dreamy and atmospheric. In the accompanying documentary, he says it represents a striving for strong personal relationships. After that, we get a finale (yes, it's a four-movement concerto) of overt passion and power that seems borrowed from Charles Ives in its hinted musical references and, again, eccentric rhythmic thrust. The whole work makes a fascinating contrast with the coupled Chopin piano concerto, which leaves no doubt where it's coming from.

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) wrote his Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11 when he was only nineteen years old, yet it has become one of the staples of the basic classical repertoire. Some critics have argued that it isn't much of a concerto at all, that the piano is so dominant, it is simply another solo piano piece with some reluctant orchestral accompaniment thrown in. That hasn't hurt its popularity, though, and you'll find recordings of it by practically every major pianist in the world.

DeGaetano's way with it is more vigorous than most, with Maestro John Yaffé and his Moravian Philharmonic players going along full bore. DeGaetano makes a grand statement, in any case, and the entire affair sounds less sentimentalized (ironically, less Romanticized) than most accounts. It's a refreshingly personal, robust interpretation of a familiar piece of music.

Producer Vit Muzik and engineer Zdenek Slavotinek recorded the music at Reduta Hall, Olomouc, Czech Republic in September 2012. The sound is quite burly and fairly close. The piano appears well embedded within the orchestral context and spread somewhat wide across the stage. The midrange is a bit veiled, although detailing is still adequate, and the lower treble can be a tad forward. The dynamics, especially those of the piano, come through well enough, so the overall effect is somewhat pop oriented and should complement most mid-fi systems nicely. Audiophiles might want something a tad more transparent, with greater air, space, and orchestral depth, but that's another story.

The set also includes a DVD containing the making-of documentary “Journey of Passion.” It’s just over sixteen minutes long, and DeGaetano’s narration provides some reflections on his Piano Concerto and his recording of it, among other things.

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

JJP

Lavrova - Primakov Duo: Four Hand Recital (CD review)

Piano music of Milhaud, Czerny, Corigliano, and Schubert. Natalia Lavrova and Vassily Primakov, duo pianists. LP Classics 1010.

Natalia Lavrova and Vassily Primakov are award-winning Russian concert pianists whose friendship and musical collaboration has led them to form their own record company, LP Classics, of which the present recording is their second release. Presumably “LP” stands for Lavrova-Primakov, but back in the old days it stood for “long-playing.” Maybe we can think of it as meaning “lovely performance,” certainly a good description of their collaborative effort on this four-hand piano recital.

The first item on the extremely varied program is Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit (“The Ox on the Roof: The Nothing-Doing Bar”), Op. 58 by French composer Darius Milhaud (1892-1970). It’s a delightfully bizarre, satiric work that Milhaud based on a number of Brazilian choro, generally quick, festive tunes full of counterpoint rhythms. Le Boeuf runs merrily along with a series of wholly charming melodies, almost all of them with up-tempo beats that have one tapping along. More important, the pianists seem totally in accord with one another, despite switching parts several times. Their playing is quite spectacular at times.

Next up is the Grand Sonata for Piano Four Hands in F Minor, Op. 178 by Czech-born Austrian composer, teacher, and pianist Carl Czerny (1791-1857), a fellow noted for his piano exercises. Czerny actually wrote piano pieces for four, six, and eight hands, so this one is among his less-ambitious works. I tease. The track makes a good change of pace, much more serious in a dignified, old-fashioned manner. Yet given the virtuosic playing of Ms. Lavrova and Mr. Primakov, it sounds spirited and joyous, Lavrova in the primary piano part, Primakov the secondary. Czerny structured the piece in four movements, the first quite energetic; the second, slow section most delicate and ethereal; the Scherzo merry yet sensitive; and the Finale slightly nervous, troubled, increasing in intensity, and ending on a strongly optimistic note. The pianists have a good time with it, showing off their pianistic skills in an imposing display of musical gymnastics.

After that is Gazebo Dances for Piano Four Hands by American composer and teacher John Corigliano (b. 1938). Corigliano's four dances go from an overture to a waltz to an adagio to a tarantella and offer the pianists another fine vehicle for their impeccable showmanship. Of course, all four dances come with Corigliano's surprises, so don't expect anything run-of-the-mill here, either in the music or the playing.

The album concludes with the Fantasie in F Minor for Piano Four Hands, D.940 by Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Written in 1828 and among the composer’s final works, the Fantasie is probably the most-important piece on the program. With Schubert we enter an entirely different musical world altogether, one filled with elegance and grace, which is exactly what Lavrova and Primakov provide, this time with Mr. Primakov taking the primary part. There is a thoughtful perception and insightful response to the playing that makes their interaction sublime.

With performing standards of the highest order and music of color and variety, the album should provide a refreshing listening experience for almost anyone, no matter one's tastes.

Producer, recordist, editor, and mastering engineer Charlie Post made the album in August 2012 at the Adelphi University Performing Arts Center’s Concert Hall, Garden City, New York. Here, we find a comfortable, spacious, room-filling piano sound, a little wider than a piano might really sound live but certainly ringing forth with a beautiful tone and clarity. It's all rich and warm and dynamic, just as we'd want a piano to sound, with a pleasantly sonorous ambient glow.

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

JJP

Classical Music News of the Week, October 27, 2013

Oberlin Music Artists Perform Works by Ravel in Exclusive NYC Engagement at SubCulture

The November 3 concert celebrates the release of Ravel: Intimate Masterpieces, a new album created by Oberlin Conservatory faculty harpist Yolanda Kondonassis, featuring acclaimed performers with strong ties to Oberlin. The November 3rd concert is at 7 p.m. and the purchase of a ticket includes a Ravel CD.

The evocative music of Maurice Ravel and the diverse talents of the Oberlin Conservatory’s celebrated alumni, faculty, and friends will take center stage for a performance of chamber works on November 3 at SubCulture, NYC.

The concert is a celebration of Ravel: Intimate Masterpieces, a new release by Oberlin Music, the commercial label of the Oberlin Conservatory. Available now through download on iTunes, the album will be available on CD October 29.

Intimate Masterpieces offers a remarkable portrait of Ravel. Through four chamber  works, Introduction et Allegro (1905), String Quartet in F Major (1903), Chansons madécasses (1926), and Cinq mélodies populaires grecques (1906), Ravel is depicted as an irrepressible independent musical voice trying to navigate the deeply polarized decades of the early 20th century.

The performance at SubCulture will showcase the musicians who took part in the album’s creation: Oberlin faculty members Yolanda Kondonassis (harp), Alexa Still (flute), and Richard Hawkins (clarinet); alumni soprano Ellie Dehn and pianist Spencer Myer; and the Jupiter Quartet, Oberlin’s artists in residence, featuring alumni violist Liz Freivogel.

Tickets for Ravel: Intimate Masterpieces in concert are $30, available by calling 212-533-5470 or by visiting www.ticketfly.com/purchase/event/388133. Each ticket includes a copy of the CD. Showtime is 7 p.m. Sunday, November 3, at SubCulture (45 Bleecker Street, downstairs) in New York City.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Universal Music Classics Launches “Yellow Lounge” in America This Fall
The classics-meet-club environment showcases vibrant live performances.  “Yellow Lounge” will be at Sonos Studio, Los Angeles, November 5; at Le Poisson Rouge, New York City, November 10; at City Winery, Chicago, November 11; and at YoungArts, Miami, November 22.

Originally born out of the Berlin/European club scene, “Yellow Lounge” is a classics-meets-club environment; its mission to present a new generation of vibrant artists tied to the classical tradition who break musical and cultural boundaries, in visually innovative and alternative spaces. With sold-out events already under its belt all over the world including London, Amsterdam, Vienna and Seoul, Yellow Lounge is now poised for its American launch. Yellow Lounge kicks off in major cities across America in November at eclectic venues including The Sonos Studio in Los Angeles (11/5), Le Poisson Rouge in New York City (11/10), City Winery in Chicago (11/11) and at the National YoungArts Foundation (YoungArts) in Miami (11/22). Yellow Lounge at YoungArts will inaugurate a new lounge/space designed by Frank Gehry as part of YoungArts’ new multidisciplinary arts campus.

Universal Music Classics has partnered with various like-minded presenters who share the common goal of bringing "classics" to a younger, wider and energized audience. Presenting partners of Yellow Lounge include The Sonos Studio in Los Angeles, WFMT Radio and City Winery in Chicago, Le Poisson Rouge in New York City, and the National YoungArts Foundation with Classical South Florida Radio 89.7 in Miami. All shows are open to the public with ticket prices of $20 or less, and will feature a guest DJ.

New York City’s Yellow Lounge will host banjoist Béla Fleck – winner of 15 Grammy Awards and nominated in more categories than any other artist in Grammy history. His most recent recording - his debut as composer-performer and first for Deutsche Grammophon/Mercury Classics --The Impostor, was released in August. The album showcases Fleck’s title concerto for banjo and symphony orchestra, as well as “Night Flight Over Water” for banjo and string quartet. For The Impostor concerto, the banjoist teamed with conductor Giancarlo Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony (who commissioned the work); for Night Flight Over Water, a work commissioned by Butler University, Fleck partnered with genre-bending quartet Brooklyn Rider. Brooklyn Rider will join Fleck on stage at Yellow Lounge in New York City as well.

Brooklyn Rider has been credited for “re-creating the 300-year-old form of the string quartet as a vital and creative 21st-century ensemble” by NPR.  Their most current album – A Walking Fire - was released in April on DG/Mercury Classics, and co-branded with In a Circle, the imprint started by Brooklyn Rider violinist Johnny Galdnelsman in 2008. The New York Times said, “Brooklyn Rider stands out for its consistent refinement, globe-spanning stylistic range, do-it-yourself gumption and integration of standard repertory works into the mix.” A Walking Fire features a seminal string quartet by Béla Bartók, alongside new works by contemporary Russian-American composer Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin and Brooklyn Rider’s Colin Jacobsen.

--Olga Makrias, Universal Music Classics

Jazz and Classical Nutcrackers “Duke It Out” December 7
Music Institute of Chicago welcomes families for Music/Dance Concert and Instrument Petting Zoo.

The Music Institute of Chicago welcomes families for “Duke It Out,” a concert showcasing both traditional and jazz-inflected versions of The Nutcracker Suite, Saturday, December 7 at 10 a.m. and 11:45 a.m., preceded by an open house at 9 a.m., at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston.

Duke it Out pairs the classical (Tchaikovsky) and jazz (Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn, transcription by James Stephenson) versions of the holiday favorite, performed by Music Institute Ensembles-in-Residence Axiom Brass and Quintet Attacca. Providing a visual illustration of the two musical versions are dance students, ages eight to 18, from Foster Dance Company, the performance ensemble of Foster Dance Studios, and Chicago-area professional dancers, totaling approximately 60 dancers. Choreography is by Ronn Stewart, Sarah Goldstone and Phil Brooks.

This morning of music for families, which is sponsored by First Bank & Trust, begins at 9 a.m. with an open house in the Nichols Concert Hall lobby. Kids can enjoy playing a variety of instruments at the Music Institute Instrument Petting Zoo, parents can talk with faculty and staff, and everyone can take advantage of special discounts on lessons and classes.

The Music Institute of Chicago’s family open house (9 a.m.) and Duke It Out (two performances: 10 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.) take place Saturday, December 7 at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. Tickets are $5 per person, available at brownpapertickets.com/event/492630 or 847.905.1500 ext. 108. For more information visit musicinst.org.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

American Bach Soloists to Release New CD of Handel’s Laudate pueri Dominum Featuring Mary Wilson on December 3, 2013
Beloved ABS collaborator sings a dazzling program that includes Handel’s Silete venti and Gloria.

The American Bach Soloists are pleased to announce the imminent release of "Handel: Laudate pueri Dominum” featuring Mary Wilson. ABS music director Jeffrey Thomas directs the orchestra of ABS—“some of the greatest period-instrument players in the world” (San Francisco Classical Voice) and one of their most cherished collaborators, the sensational American coloratura soprano Mary Wilson, in a program of bravura works by George Frideric Handel.

"Handel: Laudate pueri Dominum" features three challenging works for soprano and chamber ensemble that place extraordinary demands of virtuosity and expressiveness on soloist and orchestra alike. Written in 1707 when the composer was living in Italy, “Laudate pueri Dominum” is a startling example of Handel’s ability to absorb and make use of foreign traditions to fuel his unique vision and compositional voice. The psalm setting is a veritable catalogue of Italian musical forms, all masterfully employed by Handel. The Gloria for coloratura voice, two violins, and basso continuo is also from Handel’s early period. Discovered in 2001, this exquisite liturgical work is at times expansive and elegant, but its vigorous sections for the soprano soloist are what often amaze hearers. The composer’s thrilling virtuoso motet Silete venti (“Silence, ye winds”) comes from later in Handel’s career when he was living in London and writing operas for the lyric stage. Opening with what appears to be a typical French ouverture, the soprano makes her entrance in the work by bidding the winds—elemental and instrumental—to be silent so her Christian soul can peacefully enjoy its repose. In May 2013, Wilson’s performances of Silete venti with ABS astonished audiences with the breathtaking ease and precision of her singing. Maestro Thomas was commended for programming the overlooked gem with an ideal interpreter like Wilson: “Silete venti is a wonderful work, and the fact that it is a misfit for modern-day concert programs makes its absence from the repertoire a shame. Thank goodness for ABS!” (SFCV)

"Handel: Laudate pueri Dominum" featuring Mary Wilson is the latest recording to join ABS’s critically lauded discography of nineteen titles, including a six-volume series of cantatas by J.S. Bach, full recordings of the St. Matthew Passion and Mass in B Minor, and recordings concentrating on the music of Corelli, Haydn, Beethoven, and Schütz. Handel: Laudate pueri Dominum featuring Mary Wilson will be released nationally December 3 and available for pre-sale on iTunes on November 15.

You can find more information on American Bach Soloists at http://americanbach.org/.

--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello Announce First Major Recording Together: Romantic Love Duets on Warner Classics
“Pérez and Costello possess full-bodied voices and enjoy letting them bloom with Italianate leisure.”
--Los Angeles Times

Richard Tucker Award-winners Stephen Costello and Ailyn Pérez – dubbed “America’s fastest-rising husband-and-wife opera stars” (Associated Press) – look forward to collaborating on their first album together: a recording of romantic love duets by Verdi, Puccini, Bernstein, and others, to be recorded with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Patrick Summers’s leadership in December. The album is slated for release in spring 2014, and it will be the couple’s first release as exclusive recording artists for Warner Classics.

Pérez explains: “Given our great love for our art and each other, I’m really looking forward to joining our voices in some of my favorite roles and operatic duets.”

Costello adds: “To be on a label for which so many incredible artists have recorded is a huge honor. I am also honored to share this album with two great artists – my wife, Ailyn Pérez, and Maestro Patrick Summers. I am truly humbled!”

Described by Vanity Fair as “a match made in verismo heaven,” theirs is a love story that is the stuff of opera itself. The young American soprano and tenor met at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts, where an onstage romance in Puccini’s most beloved opera kindled the flames of a real-life passion. This season, Pérez and Costello appear in performance together across the globe, headlining in La traviata in London, Berlin, Hamburg, and San Francisco, and giving concerts in New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.

They are the only married couple to boast having two prestigious Richard Tucker Awards on the mantelpiece: Costello took home the “Heisman Trophy of opera” in 2009 and Pérez won in 2012, becoming the first Hispanic singer to do so in the award’s history. When they performed together at the 2012 Richard Tucker Gala, which was broadcast nationally in the U.S. and is still available for on-demand streaming, the New York Times’s Anthony Tommasini admired their “palpable chemistry.”

--Andrew Ousley, Warner Classics

Acclaimed Early Music Ensemble Apollo’s Fire Returns to Cal Performances on Saturday, November 9 at 8:00 p.m. in First Congregational Church, Berkeley, CA
A pre-performance talk with music director Jeannette Sorrell will be held Saturday, November 9 at 7:00 p.m. in First Congregational Church.

Baroque ensemble Apollo’s Fire returns to Cal Performances with its “vibrant, life—affirming approach to early music” (BBC Music Magazine) for an evening of J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 3, 4, and 5, as well as Johann David Heinichen’s Dresden Concerti on Saturday, November 9 at 8:00 p.m. in First Congregational Church. Led and founded by dynamic conductor, music director, and harpsichordist Jeannette Sorrell, Cleveland-based Apollo’s Fire is “a superb ensemble that pairs vigor with finesse, enlisting period instruments to play baroque fare in a rigorously informed style” (The Washington Post).

Apollo’s Fire was founded in 1992 by Jeannette Sorrell. She studied conducting under Robert Spano, Roger Norrington, and Leonard Bernstein, and harpsichord with Gustav Leonhardt in Amsterdam.  Sorrell sought to bring together a group of artists who enjoyed drama and rhetoric. She was also inspired by the baroque ideal that music should evoke passion from its listeners.  Since its founding, Apollo’s Fire has become a worldwide phenomenon and has performed at such illustrious venues as London’s Wigmore Hall, Madrid’s Royal Theatre, and Bordeaux’s Grand Théàtre de l’Opéra. The ensemble has received many awards, including the 1995 Noah Greenberg Award from the American Musicological Society and the 1998 Northern Ohio Live Achievement Award for Classical Music. Apollo’s Fire has released 20 CDs with the British label AVIE. The most recent of their recordings, Sacrum Mysterius: A Celtic Christmas Vespers, debuted at No. 11 on the classical Billboard Chart in December 2012.

Ticket information:
Tickets for Apollo’s Fire on Saturday, November 9, at 8:00 p.m. in First Congregational Church are $42.00 and are subject to change. Half-price tickets are available for UC Berkeley students. Tickets are available through the Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall; at (510) 642-9988; at www.calperformances.org; and at the door. For more information about discounts, go to www.calperformances.org/buy/discounts.php.

--Christina Kellogg, Cal Performances

Meyer Sound Announces High-Definition Recording Showcasing the Company’s Groundbreaking “Constellation Acoustic Technology”
Meyer Sound, world leaders in acoustic research and audio engineering, announces a new recording venture with the debut release of “as long as there are songs,” a collection of American popular music performed by legendary American mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe and pianist Craig Terry.

Stephanie Blythe, Craig Terry and audio pioneer John Meyer set out to create a dramatically different listening experience in which audiences have an exceptionally accurate sense of being “in the room” at a live performance. This recording is as authentic to the original performance as is possible with today’s recording technology – a natural, unprocessed sound which stands in stark contrast to the high compression and limited bandwidth techniques used on nearly all standard commercial recording releases. Listeners will hear the full extent of the artists’ performance as this recording incorporates the full breadth of dynamic range, articulation, ensemble, sound tone and expression.

Since the mid 70s with the recording of “Gould conducts Gould,” John Meyer has been devoted to building audio technology that faithfully reproduces and delivers sound of the highest quality to audiences worldwide. His 2007 recording of Zakir Hussain’s “Golden Strings of the Sarode” was nominated for a Grammy. Meyer Sound’s patented cutting-edge Constellation acoustic system enabled the creation of a custom acoustic space for the recording, ironically, one in which Blythe and Terry could record “old school” in the same room without close-field microphones or headphones.

Full takes were recorded natively at 24/96 resolution capturing the energy and passion of the artists performing as if for a live audience. In yet another departure from conventional contemporary vocal recording, engineer John Pellowe used no post-process filtering or compression during either the capture nor mastering process. Blythe and Terry’s musical artistry allowed producer Evans Mirageas to incorporate a third of the songs as entire, unedited takes and make only minimal edits to the remainder of the material.

Recorded on site at Meyer Sound’s Pearson Theatre in Berkeley, CA in December 2012, the recording is now available on innova Recordings.

--Karen Ames Communications

Cantus: Song of a Czech: Dvorák and Janácek for Men’s Voices
On October 29th, the acclaimed nine-member men's vocal ensemble Cantus will release their 16th studio recording, Song of a Czech: Dvorák and Janácek for Men’s Voices. Produced by the Grammy-winning team of Blanton Alspaugh and John Newton from Soundmirror, Song of a Czech focuses on the works of Antonín Dvorák and Leoš Janácek, two of the giants of Czech musical history who were also great personal friends.

Both composers wrote music for male chorus, taking similar inspiration from folksongs of their native lands of Bohemia and Moravia, and from all over Eastern Europe. Janácek dedicated his “Four Male Partsongs” to Dvorák, who dubbed them "a gift with great promise, and in these times a truly special one.” These lifelong musical conversations between two of the most beloved Czech composers undoubtedly played an integral role in shaping the national choral sound, and even the development of European choral music in the 20th century.

With this new recording of repertoire by these “Bohemian brothers,” Cantus explores literature rarely heard outside of Eastern Europe, lending their trademark warmth, blend and exemplary musicianship to these fascinating and rarely recorded treasures of the choral canon.

About Cantus
Acclaimed as “the premier men’s vocal ensemble in the United States” (Fanfare), Cantus is known world-wide for its engaging performances of music ranging from the Renaissance to the 21st century. The Washington Post has hailed the ensemble’s sound as having both “exalting finesse” and “expressive power” and refers to the “spontaneous grace” of its music making. As one of the country’s only two full-time vocal ensembles, Cantus has grown to prominence with its distinctive approach to creating music. Working without a conductor, the members of Cantus rehearse and perform as chamber musicians, each contributing to the entirety of the artistic process. To learn more about Cantus and see complete touring information, please visit: http://www.cantussings.org/.

--Rebecca Davis PR

A Playlist Without Borders (CD review)

Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. Sony Masterworks 88883 71092 2.

Remarkably, as of this writing the Silk Road Ensemble has been in business for some fifteen years.  How is that possible? I just reviewed their first album only...some fifteen years ago. Anyway, as you probably know, and quoting from their Web site, “Inspired by the cultural traditions of the historical Silk Road, the Silk Road Project is a catalyst promoting innovation and learning through the arts. Our vision is to connect the world’s neighborhoods by bringing together artists and audiences around the globe.”

They are “an internationally minded performing arts nonprofit with cultural and educational missions to promote innovation and learning through the arts. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma founded the Project in 1998 taking inspiration from the historical Silk Road trading routes and using the Silk Road as a modern metaphor for sharing and learning across cultures, art forms and disciplines.”

Further, “The Silk Road Ensemble draws together distinguished performers and composers from more than 20 countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas. Since the Ensemble formed under the artistic direction of Yo-Yo Ma in 2000, these innovative artists have eagerly explored contemporary musical crossroads. Their approach is experimental and democratic, founded on collaboration and risk taking, on continual learning and sharing. Members explore and celebrate the multiplicity of approaches to music from around the world. They also develop new repertoire that responds to the multicultural reality of our global society.”

There have been up to sixty members of the Silk Road Ensemble, but most of them do not work together at the same time. The lineup of musicians on the current album, A Playlist Without Borders, includes Kinan Azemeh, clarinet; Jeffrey Beecher, bass; Mike Block, cello and voice; Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, oud, acoustic and electric bass; Nicholas Cords, violin; Sandeep Das, tabla; Patrick Farrell, accordion; Johnny Gandelsman, violin; Joseph Gramley, percussion; Colin Jacobsen, violin; Siamak Jahangiry, ney; Kayhan Kalhor, kamancheh; Dong-Won Kim, percussion; Yo-Yo Ma, cello; Wu Man, pipa; Cristina Pato, piano, gaita; Shane Shanahan, percussion; Mark Suter, percussion; Wu Tong, sheng, bawu, suona; and Kojiro Umezaki, shakuhachi.

Obviously, the program of A Playlist Without Borders contains varied items representing varied countries and cultures. There are seven items involved, totaling a healthy seventeen tracks and seventy-six minutes of music. You may not like all of it, but there’s a little something in here for everyone.

The first selection is one of the longest, "Playlist for an Extreme Occasion," an eight-movement piece by jazz pianist and composer Vijay Lyer. It begins with a vibrant rhythmic thrust and then moves on to a number of other dance forms and variations. Lyer says he wanted the music "to connect with audiences in any situation and communicate a real joy in creating music in the moment." Thus, there is a sort of infectious improvisational jazz style to the largely up-tempo tunes. They're easy to like.

"Night Thoughts" by Wu Man uses several percussive and wind instruments to produce a distinctively airy and meditative sound. "Saidi Swing" by Shane Shanahan uses a traditional Arabic rhythm that is quite invigorating. And so it goes through the rest of the tracks, with traditional Turkish, Iranian, Gypsy, and even Cajun music.

The final number on the program, called "Briel," is by avant-garde American composer John Zorn. It's one movement from his longer "Book of Angels," and while it is hardly what we might call "classical," it has a definitely cinematic feel to it, beginning in a kind of Native American mode and then turning to any number of other influences including Jewish klezmer and conventional jazz. It is probably the most joyous track on the album. I'd liked to have heard more of it.

The Silk Road Project, Inc. made the recording for Sony Masterworks at Futura Studios, Roslindale, Massachusetts in March 2013. The sound is relatively close and well delineated, but not exactly natural in terms of width or depth. It's a little more pop oriented than that. Still, the definition is fine, without being forward or aggressive, and there is a pleasantly warm acoustic bloom around the instruments. Frequency response, dynamic range, and transient impact seem adequate to the occasion.

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

JJP

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 (XRCD review)

Pierre Monteux, Boston Symphony Orchestra. JVC JM-XR24015.

I confess I had never heard conductor Pierre Monteux’s Tchaikovsky Fourth before I got this disc a few years ago, nor did I even know he had recorded it. To my knowledge it has never appeared in RCA’s “Living Stereo” series, only in an early regular edition. I suspect, however, that Monteux recorded it at the same time he did the Tchaikovsky Fifth and Sixth, recordings I have at least heard of although, again, never listened to. The upshot is that I had no regular Monteux recording with which to compare this JVC premium remastering. Let me just say it’s pretty good.

Tchaikovsky’s Fourth is one of those warhorses that has never struck me as being all that worthy of its fame. The first two movements, frankly, have always left me unimpressed. The Scherzo, nevertheless, is quite lively and charming, and the Finale is everything one buys a high-priced stereo system to reproduce. This final movement is grand and exciting, full of bombast and brilliance in equal measure. And Monteux, whom I generally think of as a most-refined conductor specializing in the French impressionist repertoire, comes through splendidly, maybe not making the first two movements any more tolerable for me than anyone else but driving through the Finale with rousing vigor and spirit. Interestingly, my heretofore favorite recording of the Fourth has been Haitink’s 1970’s reading with the Concertgebouw on Philips, and Monteux’s timings are almost exactly the same as Haitink’s. With the exception of the sound quality, the two interpretations could be brothers, or close cousins at the least.

The sonic quality of this JVC XRCD is about what one would expect from a painstaking transfer of an RCA recording from the late Fifties (this one recorded in 1959). The RCA engineers were doing some of their best work with the Chicago Symphony at the time, and by comparison the Boston acoustics often produced a brighter, thinner sound than their Chicago counterparts. There is no exception here, the Boston recording being a bit top-heavy; and while producing a wonderfully extended high-end for triangles and symbols, it tends to render violins a mite hard and forward. Bass could also have been deeper. That said, the audio quality is nevertheless quite good: clean, relatively quiet if played at reasonable levels, dynamic, transparent, dimensional, and alive. Several of the loudest passages seemed to me to distort slightly, but it may have been my imagination.

Although I still prefer the more natural and resonant Concertgebouw acoustics, I cannot deny the sheer spectacle of the Boston recording in this JVC remastering. Whether it’s worth its high asking price, that’s for you to decide. I can tell you, though, that if Monteux interests you in this particular material, you can still find it from RCA at a modest price in a regular edition (which also includes Symphonies 5 and 6). However, if you want No. 4 alone and remastered to audiophile standards, this JVC product looks like the only way to go. Just don’t complain afterwards about the cost; you probably wouldn’t want it any other way.

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


JJP

Jonas Kaufmann: The Verdi Album (CD review)

Jonas Kaufmann, tenor; Coro del Teatro Municipale di Piancenza; Pier Giorgio Morandi, Orchestra dell-Opera di Parma. Sony Classical 88765492042.

Twenty-odd years ago, there was no doubt who the greatest tenors in the world were. Domingo, Pavarotti, and Carreras were riding so high that they united as The Three Tenors, further solidifying their dominance in the operatic world. Before them, we had tenors like Carlo Bergonzi, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Nicolai Gedda, and Mario Del Monaco, the fellows I grew up with in the old LP days. Now, things are different. The record companies don’t seem to be producing as many full-length operas as they used to, and there do not appear to be any clear-cut kings of the hill in the world of tenors. So I suppose that German tenor Jonas Kaufmann has as much a shot at the title as anyone.

His credentials: Kaufmann has a fine tenor voice, not really a lyric tenor, but having more weight, something of a cross between a spinto tenor and a dramatic tenor. He’s also blessed with handsome good looks, with stylishly long hair on his head and a stylish stubble on his face. If this were the Fifties, Hollywood would snatch him up for a romantic musical. As of this writing, he is in his vocal prime, being about forty-four years old, he’s been performing on the world stage since 1995, and he has over a dozen record albums to his credit.

But does that make him the greatest tenor currently before the public? Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on your taste in tenors, I suppose. Anyway, I don’t have nearly enough experience listening to opera to make any fair evaluation of Kaufmann as a singer, so I’ll limit myself to some general observations about the twelve Verdi selections he sings on this album. For instance, it’s easy to hear the man’s voice has range, power, and flexibility. It’s also easy to hear his voice is slightly coarser and deeper than a lot of tenors; thus, the characterization above that he is more of a dramatic than a lyric tenor. Nevertheless, it seems to work reasonably well in these arias, despite their being in Italian and not the man’s native German. (Most of Kaufmann’s early success has come in Wagner.) My only serious quibble is that the program features mainly Verdi standards, things most of us, even we opera novices, already have on disc by our own favorite tenors. I dunno; maybe this collection will grow on me if I give it a chance. As it is, I’m not sure it represents Kaufmann at his best.

So, the album begins with one of Verdi’s most recognizable creations, “La donna e mobile” from Rigoletto, which you can listen to below. It's a good song to begin the proceedings since it's not only familiar, it has all the wham and pizzazz you could want. It's the vocal equivalent of an overture, a curtain raiser, and Kaufmann belts it out with authority.

Next up is a number more to my liking: "Celeste Aida" from Aida, although for me it still needs a lighter, airier touch. That said, Kaufmann produces some welcome vocal contrasts, handling the piece neither too gently nor too robustly.

To repeat, I know next to nothing about opera. Yet I sense more of the baritone in Kaufmann's voice than the tenor. Not that this is a bad thing. It demonstrates the man's vocal range, which is clearly quite wide and stable.

And so it goes through the program, with selections from Un Ballo in Maschera, Il Trovatore, Luisa Miller, Simon Boccanegra, Don Carlo, La Forza del Destino, I Masnadieri, and Otello. There's quite a lot of different material in here, familiar or not, and Kaufmann makes the best of it. I wish I could say the same for the orchestral accompaniment, though, which seems a bit thin and flabby to me.

Favorites? The aforementioned "Celeste Aida"; "Di quella pira" from Il Trovatore, only because the piece is so ingrained in the basic repertoire, and because Kaufmann carries it out with such theatrical flair; "Quandole le sere al placido" from Luisa Miller because it's so very romantic, and Kaufmann sings it with such heartfelt enthusiasm; "Dio, che nell' alma infondere" from Don Carlo because Kaufmann's voice sounds so good in combination with Franco Vassallo's baritone; and "Niun me tema" from Otello because of the passion Kaufmann expresses in these closing passages from the opera.

I think most folks are going to like what they hear on the album. No doubt, it will please Kaufmann's fans. How much it may impress die-hard opera lovers, however, I couldn't guess.

Sony Classical recorded Mr. Kaufmann at the Auditorium Niccolo Paganini, Parma, Italy in March, 2013. The sound is big and bold, a lot like Kaufmann's voice. The voice is well out front, clean and clear, with a fine sense of bloom. The orchestral accompaniment seems to fade closer and farther away with the changing dynamics, but it's not objectionable. Occasionally, the voice tends to get a bit bright, almost harsh, like, obviously, on big fortes and climaxes, but again this is not particularly objectionable, and in any case some speaker systems may mitigate the situation. In all, this is probably the kind of pop-like sound that most listeners expect, and a sound that probably complements most home playback systems.

To listen to a selection from this album, click here:

JJP

Tchaikovsky/Ellington: The Nutcracker Suites (CD review)

Steven Richman, Harmonie Ensemble/New York; various artists. Harmonia Mundi HMU 907493.

Here’s a clever, well-executed album with a clever, well-executed plan. It juxtaposes two versions of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite on the same disc: the composer’s original 1892 version, performed by conductor Steven Richman and his sixty-piece Harmonie Ensemble/New York, and a 1960 Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn jazz version performed by a fourteen-piece jazz ensemble. The comparisons and, mainly, contrasts make fascinating listening.

Of course, the Tchaikovsky original is so familiar, the album’s producers probably needn’t have included it at all. Still, it’s nice to have the original on hand to make instant comparisons, as I have done with the brief excerpts below. Besides, the Harmonie Ensemble/New York play the original so felicitously, it’s a pleasure to hear them perform it, no matter how many other recordings of it you may have in your library.

So, first up is the original Nutcracker Suite, which Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) extracted from his complete two-act ballet The Nutcracker. Interestingly, early audiences didn’t much cotton to the ballet, but they did appreciate the twenty-odd minute suite, which in turn led to today’s worldwide popularity of both the complete ballet and the suite. Anyway, the suite contains eight movements:  “Overture,” “March,” “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” “Russian Dance,” “Arabian Dance,” “Chinese Dance,” “Dance of the Reed Flutes,” and “Waltz of the Flowers.”

Maestro Steven Richman formed the Grammy-nominated Harmonie Ensemble New York in 1979, and it now comprises over sixty or so members, drawing its players from the best New York orchestras and jazz groups. The Harmonie Ensemble/New York play with refinement, style, and élan. You'd be hard pressed to find a better reading of the Nutcracker Suite than the one you find here. It's not only colorful and exciting, it sounds as precisely articulated as any you'll come across. Along with its exacting execution, you get Harmonia Mundi's usual lifelike sound, making it a double success.

The real attraction of the album, though, is the jazz version of the Nutcracker Suite devised by jazz greats Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Ellington once said "There are simply two kinds of music: good music and the other kind." This is good music.

The jazz ensemble features Mark Gross, alto sax; Scott Robinson, alto sax, clarinet, and bamboo flute; Bill Easley, clarinet and tenor sax; Lew Tabackin, tenor sax; Bobby Lavell, tenor sax; Ron Jannelli, baritone sax and bass clarinet; Lew Soloff, Bob Millikan, Steve Bernstein, and Stanton Davis, trumpets; Art Baron, Wayne Goodman, and Curtis Folkes, trombones; Hassan Shakur, bass; Victor Lewis, drums; and George Cables, piano.

Ironically, Ellington never much cared for the work he did on Nutcracker, never playing it in concert. Since its debut, fortunately, plenty of other people have played and recorded it, none of them any better than what we have here. I suppose it helps that Ellington wrote mainly dance numbers, and Tchaikovsky's piece is a ballet. The melodies flow out of the jazz ensemble with an easy feel for the manner of Tchaikovsky yet in an unmistakable Ellington style. It's the kind of traditional jazz arrangement that at once makes it appealing to jazz fans as well as to classical-music afficionados. In other words, it's accessible to just about everyone.

The Ensemble play it beautifully, too, every member of the group contributing his own lasting impression. I especially enjoyed Bill Easley's clarinet solos, Lew Tabackin's tenor sax, and Victor Lewis's work on drums. But for that matter, the whole ensemble swings. Nice work. A light-cardboard slipcover completes the package.

Audio engineer Adam Abeshouse recorded the music at Avatar Studios, New York City and at The DiMenna Center for Classical Music, Mary Flagler Cary Hall, New York City in 2010 and 2011. The sound has a nice zippy ring to it, with just the right amount of ambient bloom to make it sound real. An extended frequency response, particularly in the treble, and a clean, clear midrange help, too. While the orchestra doesn't display a lot of depth, it is wide and fairly dynamic, with a pleasant air around the instruments. The jazz ensemble is even more transparent, the smaller group coming through with great impact and sharpness of detail.

To hear a couple of brief comparison excerpts from this album, click here:

JJP

Classical Music News of the Week, October 20, 2013

92nd Street Y November Performances

Saturday, November 2, 8 PM
Jonathan Biss & Miriam Fried
Kaufmann Concert Hall, New York City
Pianist Jonathan Biss and his mother, violinist Miriam Fried, join for a program comprised of violin and piano sonatas of Janáck, Schumann, and Beethoven.

Monday, November 4, 7:30 PM
CONTACT! An Evening with Esa-Pekka Salonen and musicians from the New York Philharmonic.
92Y partners with the New York Philharmonic for CONTACT!, the New York Philharmonic’s new-music series -- three concerts at SubCulture, 92Y's new downtown venue.

November 7, 9, 10, 14, 16, 17
Hagen Quartet
Complete Beethoven Cycle
The Hagen’s rare New York City appearance with a six-concert series at 92Y marks its first occurrence performing the complete cycle of Beethoven’s quartets in North America.

Tickets are available at www.92Y.org/concerts or 212-415-5500. For more information, visit www.92Y.org.

--Ashlyn Damm, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Steven Fox Leads Program of Rarely-Heard Russian Composers November 15-19, 2013
Atherton, San Francisco, and Berkeley, CA

Steven Fox, hailed as "one of New York City's most promising young conductors," (WQXR) joins Philharmonia Baroque for a program including rarely-heard works by the first generation of Russian composers. Four concerts take place at San Francisco's SFJAZZ Center (November 15), First Congregational Church, Berkeley (November 16 & 17), and the Center for Performing Arts, Atherton (November 19). Tickets are priced from $25 to $93.

Although Mikhail Glinka has often been called the father of Russian music, he was hardly the first Russian to compose in classical forms. This program includes seminal works from the pre-Glinka generation, including Maksym Berezovsky's Symphony in C major, believed to be among the first Russian symphonies; Yevstigney Fomin's Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orpheus, one of the first operas written in Russian; and suites from Dmitry Bortniansky's operas Alcide and Le fils rival.

Tanya Tomkins --whose recording of the Bach Cello Suites was hailed as "genius" by Gramophone magazine--joins Philharmonia as soloist in Johann Facius's Concerto for Violoncello in D minor. And Glinka, with whom most histories of Russian music begin, is featured with three arias sung by the English soprano Anna Dennis, who makes her Bay Area debut.

Recognized for his leadership in returning the first generation of Russian classical composers to prominence, Steven Fox is artistic director of the New York Clarion Society and the founder of Musica Antiqua in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Friday, November 15 at 8:00 PM
SFJAZZ Center, San Francisco, CA

Saturday, November 16 at 8:00 PM
First Congregational Church, Berkeley, CA

Sunday, November 17 at 7:30 PM
First Congregational Church, Berkeley, CA

Tuesday, November 19 at 8:00 PM
The Center for Performing Arts, Atherton, CA

Tickets are priced $25 to $93, available through City Box Office: www.cityboxoffice.com or call (415) 392-4400.

--Ben Casement-Stoll, Philharmonia Baroque

AOP Chosen to Participate in Professional Development Program Led by Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and the Devos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center
American Opera Projects presents the world-premiere opera "As One" at the BAM Fisher in 2015.

The Brooklyn Academy Of Music (BAM) has announced American Opera Projects (AOP) among the participants in the BAM Professional Development Program (BAM PDP) led by BAM and the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center. The companies for this session are of mixed disciplines ranging from opera to theater to dance. AOP's participation in the program will culminate in 2015 with the World Premiere of As One, an original music theater work to be created by composer Laura Kaminsky, librettist Mark Campbell, and filmmaker Kimberly Reed.

The BAM PDP is a 9-month program that utilizes the strengths of both institutions to provide professional development training and deeply discounted theater and rehearsal studio rental to an annual selection of qualifying Brooklyn non-profit arts organizations. Through the program, supported by Brooklyn Community Foundation and The New York Community Trust, BAM and the DeVos Institute strive to help arts organizations expand their skill base, increase their institutional capacity, and build necessary foundations for their long-term success. The second cycle of the program began this fall and culminates with each Brooklyn-based company presenting a self-funded production in the BAM Fisher Fishman Space within the year following the training portion.

As One, AOP's world premiere production for the BAM PDP, chronicles a transgender person as she emerges into harmony with herself and the world around her are portrayed with compassion, candor, and humor.  The work is being written expressly for acclaimed singers mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and baritone Kelly Markgraf, who will share the role of the protagonist. They will be joined by the renowned Miró Quartet. An interactive film will be created by Kimberly Reed that serves as the production's background. As One will be AOP's second world premiere at the BAM Fisher following Out Cold/Zippo Songs (Phil Kline, composer) which was presented as part of BAM's 30th Next Wave Festival in October 2012.

--Matt Gray, American Opera Projects

Pianist and Composer Conrad Tao Commissioned by Dallas Symphony Orchestra to Composer Piece for John F. Kennedy Memorial Concert
On November 21-24, 2013, 19-year-old pianist/composer Conrad Tao will premiere his new composition The World Is Very Different Now, performed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jaap van Zweden. The piece is part of a concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22nd, 1963, and The World Is Very Different Now was commissioned especially for the event by the DSO with support by the National Endowment for the Arts and TACA.

This past June, Conrad released his debut album Voyages on Warner Classics (formerly EMI Classics), and oversaw the successful launch of his own UNPLAY Festival, a three-day event which he conceived and curated.

The title of Tao’s The World Is Very Different Now is taken from a speech given by President Kennedy. The composer explains: “The World Is Very Different Now is ultimately about memory. I wanted to explore the way this assassination was an event associated with a myriad of specific and individual memories; it is one of those epoch-making events where everyone remembers ‘where they were.’ Those hyper-real, unique memories intersect with historical narrative, the writing of which is in many ways a process of memory-formation as well. I wanted to write a piece that explored the reverberations of these many memories and experiences. I was curious to see if those remains could articulate something interesting, and at least a little unfamiliar, about both the assassination and the quote from JFK's inaugural address that gives the work its title.”

The concert is sponsored by Bickel & Brewer Foundation and also features Darius Milhaud’s short work Murder of a Great Chief of State, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, Eroica, and violinist Joshua Bell performing the Violin Concerto by Sibelius.

For more information about Conrad Tao: http://conradtao.com/

--Andrew Ousley, Warner Music Group

Ensemble: Périphérie: Distinctive Chamber Ensemble Presents Vivid Program of Music of the 21st Century
Saturday, October 26, 2:00 p.m., at Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York City.

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents the New York City debut of Ensemble: Périphérie, a bold new ensemble created to invite audiences to recognize and be stimulated by the music of our time. Ensemble: Périphérie’s program will feature music by founding composers Joseph Dangerfield and Luke Dahn, as well as Louis Karchin, Irina Dubkova, and David Gompper - all written between 2001 and 2013. The concert takes place on Saturday, October 26 at 2:00 p.m. at Weill Recital Hall.

Ensemble: Périphérie is inspired by the great French composer Henri Dutilleux, who died this past May, who said: “For me the only new music would be music that a composer of genius successfully created on the periphery of all the movements of our time and in the face of all current slogans and manifestos.” Comprised of a group of like-minded artists from across the country, Ensemble: Périphérie intends to commission new works from both emerging and established composers. The core ensemble, appearing with DCINY, includes Charles Akert, cello; Ginny Armstrong, percussion; Martha Councell–Vargas, flute; Michelle Crouch, soprano; Ann DuHamel, piano; Stephen Fine, viola; Yasmin Flores, clarinet; violinist Tricia Park; with Joseph Dangerfield conducting selected works.

The program includes Calder Cadences (2012/13), inspired by works by sculptor Alexander Calder, by Luke Dahn (b. 1976). Dahn, whose music has been performed by groups such as the Moscow Conservatory Studio for New Music, matches the four movements to four of Calder’s major works.  Described by The New Yorker as a composer of “fearless eloquence,” Louis Karchin’s (b.1951) music has been recently heard at Tanglewood’s Contemporary Music Festival. His 2012 work, Four Songs on Poems of Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet, features soprano Michele Crouch.  Widely-performed Russian composer Irina Dubkova’s (b. 1957) I Hear the Sound that has Fallen Silent (2005), is part of a Triptych entitled In the Soft Moonlight. Butterfly Dance by David Gompper (b. 1954) is based on an American Hopi Indian tune. Gompper's compositions have been performed at major venues from New York to Vienna. The Wild, by Joseph Dangerfield (b. 1977), based on the Barnett Newman abstract expressionist painting of the same name, is being premiered by the ensemble on tour this year. Described by Fanfare as “highly compelling” and “exuberant,” Dangerfield’s music has been heard internationally. A Fulbright Scholar to the Russian Federation and the Netherlands, Dangerfield is a recipient of the Aaron Copland Award (2010), among other honors. For more information: www.ensembleperipherie.com.

Tickets: www.carnegiehall.org or 212-247-7800 or in person at the Carnegie Hall Box Office

--Shira Gilbert PR

Crissy Broadcast in San Francisco: A Spatial Symphony for Hundreds of Musicians on Crissy Field
Lisa Bielawa, composer & Artistic Director
Free Performances: October 26 at 10am and 4pm & October 27 at 12 p.m., Crissy Field, San Francisco, CA

Newly added: Roundtable Discussions on October 26
1-2 p.m.: “Orchestras and Engagement”
2-3 p.m.: “The Making of Airfield Broadcasts”
Chapel at Fort Mason Center, off Bay Street at Franklin, San Francisco
Free and Open to the Public

Composer Lisa Bielawa’s Crissy Broadcast turns Crissy Field in San Francisco, part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, into a vast musical canvas in three free performances on Saturday, October 26 at 10-11 a.m. and 4-5 p.m., and Sunday, October 27 at 12-1 p.m. The hour-long massive, spatial symphony will involve more than 800 musicians, including orchestras, bands, choruses, and experimental new music groups, performing for thousands of music lovers (and unwitting park-goers). In addition, two Roundtable Discussions, free and open to the public, will be held on Saturday, October 26 at 1-2pm (Orchestras and Engagement) and 2-3pm (The Making of Airfield Broadcasts) at Fort Mason Center’s Chapel, located off of Bay Street at Franklin.

A diverse roster of professional, student, and amateur performing ensembles will bring Crissy Broadcast to life. The groups participating include the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (Crissy Broadcast Lead Professional Ensemble), San Francisco Girls Chorus, San Francisco Symphony’s Community of Music Makers, Chamber Chorus of the University of California, Golden Gate Philharmonic, Great Wall Youth Orchestra of Laney College, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Lowell High School Orchestra, Aptos Middle School Band, Presidio Middle School Panther Band, Sacred Heart Cathedral Orchestra, Berkeley High Band and Orchestra, and the Ruth Asawa/San Francisco School of the Arts.

Crissy Broadcast is part of San Francisco native Lisa Bielawa’s Airfield Broadcasts project. In May, she created Tempelhof Broadcast in Berlin on the historic airfield-turned-public-park Tempelhof Field in partnership with the Berlin Parks Department (Grün Berlin GmbH) and under the patronage of the U.S. Embassy. Approximately 5,000 people attended the three performances of Tempelhof Broadcast. Die Welt am Sonntag reported: "The result . . . was impressive. A loosely knit texture of sound, oscillating between classic and modern music, noise and avant-garde. The audience which happened to be caught in the performance by accident was compelled; throughout the whole piece groups of listeners strolled back and forth between the individual ensembles. They paused, kept a respectful distance, or came closer, drawn by their curiosity . . . Finally, all kinds of people mingled together, with dogs or ice-cream cones, with rollerblades and skateboards, moving among the musicians."

The goal of Airfield Broadcasts is to interpret and celebrate public spaces, allowing listeners to draw their own meaning and experience from them. Bielawa hopes that the project will have a palpable and sustainable impact on the city. She says, “I would like to see Airfield Broadcasts bring about new partnerships, new vitality, and new relationships between arts and civic institutions, between different generations and economic strata, between arts or music lovers and totally non-arts-identified park-goers enjoying a surprise encounter with music as a ‘happening’ in the middle of their familiar and beloved city.”

Marc Kasky, Director for Civic Engagement for Crissy Broadcasts, explains further, “As these events unfold in parks that have complex histories, one purpose of the project is to interpret these sites – to help people get a sense of the unique attributes of their own urban environment, and the breadth and inclusivity of the culture of these places.”

--Christina Jensen PR

American Bach Soloists Complete Their 24th Consecutive Season
On September 21, ABS held its eleventh annual gala, “Silver Soirée” celebrating twenty-five years of American Bach Soloists’ continued presence in the field of early-music across Northern California. This year’s event was co-chaired by former board member Jan Goldberg and Kaneez Munjee, along with Development Consultant Camille Reed, Development & Donor Relations Associate Carmen Flórez-Mansi, and Executive Director Don Scott Carpenter.

For more information, click http://americanbach.org/

New CD: ABS & Mary Wilson!
Mark your calendars now! December 3 is the official release date of ABS’s newest CD release: Handel: Laudate pueri Dominum featuring Mary Wilson. This recording, ABS’s first since 2009, celebrates the joyous meetings of American Bach Soloists, under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas, with one of their most cherished collaborators, the sensational American soprano Mary Wilson.

December with ABS
December will be a busy month for ABS! On December 11 & 12, ABS presents its annual performances of Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. On Saturday, December 14, the group returns to St Stephens for An ABS Christmas. Wrapping up the intense schedule of events, ABS will perform Messiah at the Mondavi Center in Davis on the afternoon of December 15. It will be an exciting, music filled time and we look forward to seeing you!

Introducing Carmen Flórez-Mansi

We are pleased to welcome Carmen Flórez-Mansi to the ABS family, as she will be working with development and donor relations. Carmen joined the team shortly before the Silver Soirée gala and contributed greatly to the success of the event. She is a native of New Mexico and holds degrees from Immaculata College in Philadelphia with additional study at the University of New Mexico. Carmen lives in Napa with her husband, Tom, and her two sons, Thomasluke and Estevan.

--American Bach Soloists

Cal Performances Presents An Afternoon of Romantic Masterpieces with Pianist Paul Lewis, Sunday, November 3, at 3 p.m. in Hertz Hall, Berkley, CA
With a program of Romantic masterpieces including Modest Mussorgsky’s imposing Pictures at an Exhibition and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2 (“Moonlight”), Grammy Award-winning pianist Paul Lewis returns to Cal Performances on Sunday, November 3, at 3:00 p.m. in Hertz Hall. Lewis last performed at Cal Performances in 2010, devoting his program to the late piano music of Franz Schubert. With his return visit, Lewis moves more deeply into Romantic pianism. His program also includes Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 13 in E-flat major, Op. 27, No. 1; three late piano works by Franz Liszt; and Ferruccio Busoni’s transcriptions of two Chorale Preludes by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Lewis is the winner of three Gramophone Awards and is internationally regarded as one of the leading pianists of his generation. In 2010 Lewis became the first pianist to perform the complete Beethoven piano concertos in one season. In 2011, he embarked on a two-year project to perform all of Schubert’s late piano pieces. His award-winning discography for Harmonia Mundi includes the complete Beethoven piano sonatas and concertos, as well as the major works from Schubert’s last six years. Gramophone said of the recordings, “Time and time again you marvel at the confidence and sureness of Lewis’s playing, combined with the finesse and musicality he has always displayed. It’s the kind of playing, in fact, where comparisons cease to matter.”

Lewis’s recital career takes him all over the world to perform in venues such as the Berlin Philharmonie, Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, the Musikverein and Konzerthaus in Vienna, Toppan and Oji halls in Tokyo, Chan Center Vancouver, and the Royal Festival and Wigmore halls in London, where he has performed more than 60 times alone. He has collaborated with many of the world’s leading conductors, including Sir Colin Davis, Bernard Haitink, Christoph von Dohnányi, and Sir Mark Elder, and performed with such orchestras as the London, Boston, and Chicago symphonies, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the Oslo and Los Angeles philharmonics. Lewis has also toured with the Mahler and Australian chamber orchestras.

Lewis studied with Joan Havill at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama before going on to study privately with Alfred Brendel. Along with his wife, the Norwegian cellist Bjørg Lewis, he is artistic director of Midsummer Music, an annual chamber music festival held in Buckinghamshire, England.

Ticket information:
Tickets for Paul Lewis on Sunday, November 3, at 3:00 p.m. in Hertz Hall start at $32.00 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. For more information about tickets and discounts, go to www.calperformances.org/buy/discounts.php or call (510) 642-9988.

--Christina Kellogg, Cal Performances

One World Symphony Presents Sixth Annual Halloween Program: Temptation
Sung Jin Hong, Artistic Director and Conductor
Bettina May, Burlesque Artist
One World Symphony Vocal Artists

Camille Saint-Saëns: from Samson et Dalila
Paul Hindemith: from Marienleben (1948)
Giacomo Puccini: from Suor Angelica (1918)
Kaija Saariaho: Douleur (Torment) (2002)
Franz Schubert: Gretchen am Spinnrade

Two Performances:
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Monday, October 28, 2013
8:00 p.m.
Holy Apostles Church
296 Ninth Avenue at West 28th Street
Manhattan

$30 Students/Seniors with ID
$40 General

Costumes encouraged!

Throw away that raw vegan flaxseed cookie and indulge in something more... sensuous. Discordant musical passages explore the boundaries of tonality and represent the restless conscience while others caress the senses with their soft waves of melody. Camille Saint-Saëns's Samson et Dalila envelops us in decadent sound as the temptress Dalila lures Samson away from his people. In Puccini's Suor Angelica, the nun's dulcet melodies embody her enchantment with worldly pleasures. Be transported by contemporary composer Saariaho, who stretches the limits of tradition with her eerie music that draws you in like a moth to the flame. Go ahead, have your cake and eat it too.


--Adrienne Metzinger, One World Symphony

West Edge Opera Halloween Concert Update
West Edge Opera announces additional singers and program information for "Something Wicked," its inaugural concert, on Saturday, October 26 at 7:30 pm, of a series of holiday-themed presentations at the Piedmont Center for the Arts, 801 Magnolia Avenue in Piedmont.

Previously announced singers Eileen Meredith and Benjamin Bongers will be joined by mezzo-soprano Donna Olson and bass-baritone Wayne Wong for a program to include selections from The Tales of Hoffmann, Sweeney Todd, Faust, Il Trovatore, Un Ballo in Maschera, Ruddigore, and more – all choices that revolve around the supernatural, weird, devilish, or creepy elements of the plots. Pianist Kristin Pankonin accompanies the singers.

Tickets, at $25 for adults and $15 for kids under 18, available online at www.westedgeopera,org or by telephone at (510) 841-1903. Each ticket includes chocolate and a glass of wine or a soft drink. For more information, go to West Edge Opera’s website at www.westedgeopera.org.


--Marian Kohlstedt, West Edge Opera

Rouse: Flute Concerto (SACD review)

Also, Ibert: Concerto for Flute and Orchestra; Debussy: Syrinx; Martin: Ballade. Katherine Bryan, flute; Jac van Steen, Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Linn Records CKD 420.

There may be a few names here with which you’re unfamiliar. Let’s begin with Christopher Rouse (b. 1949). He’s a prominent American composer currently teaching at the Juilliard School, who has seen his music recorded by nearly a dozen record labels. Katherine Bryan is the Principal Flute of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and for the past decade or so has also been pursuing a successful solo career in the concert hall and on recordings. Jac van Steen (b. 1956) is a Dutch conductor who has been the Music Director of Het Nationale Ballet in Amsterdam, a faculty member at the Royal Conservatory of music and dance in The Hague, the Chief Conductor of the Nürnberger Symphoniker, the Music Director of the Neues Berliner Kammerorchester, the Music Director of Deutsches Nationaltheater Weimar, the Chief Conductor of the Staatskapelle Weimar, the Chief Conductor of the Orchester Musikkollegium Winterthur, the Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and currently the General Music Director of the Dortmund Philharmonic Orchestra. As for Linn Records, you may know their high-end audio products, especially the famous Linn-Sondek turntables, more than you know their recordings, but I can assure you the recordings are every bit as good as their turntables, amps, preamps, speakers, and the like.

So, the present album comes with a prestigious pedigree.

Things begin with Rouse’s Flute Concerto (1993), which he wrote as the continuation of a series of pieces based on deaths that profoundly influenced him. The Concerto was Rouse’s response to the death of a two-year-old English boy murdered by two older boys. The Concerto is sweet and largely melodic, Rouse being something of a Romantic, and it’s written in an unusual (well, unusual for a concerto) five-movement arrangement. The work appears to have now become a part of the general flute repertoire, meaning that if you are a flutist (or flautist, if you prefer), you will probably perform and maybe record the piece at some point in your career.

Ms. Bryan is a flutist of the first order, her playing sensitive and flowing. She handles the Rouse Concerto in a like manner. The flute enters almost immediately, wistful and slightly melancholy, Ms. Bryan giving it an achingly beautiful turn. Interestingly, each of the five movements provides the listener with a different mood, so after the brief, slow introspection of the first movement, handled mostly by the flute, we get a stricter tone in the second movement, in which the orchestra plays a much bigger part. Still, Ms. Bryan's flute dances along within the proceedings at a fairly good clip, the music building to something of a frenzy, I assume representing the boy's death. The central and longest movement, marked Elegia, is a serious lament on the senseless killing. Again, we hear a warm, fluid voice from Ms. Bryan's flute as the melody takes flight and hovers for its few minutes' duration, as the whole thing builds to a huge climax before falling off into quiet. The fourth movement is a Scherzo, utilizing a number of percussive effects to punctuate the flute, and it serves to highlight Ms. Bryan's skillful playing talents. The final movement provides another slow, lyrical, spiritual note, much as the first movement had, but sounding more Celtic in its mood and phrasing.

Ms. Byran helps us understand why Rouse's Flute Concerto has entered the basic repertoire; it's sincere, direct, and moving. The composer says about the piece, "In a world of daily horrors too numerous and enormous to comprehend en masse, it seems that only isolated, individual tragedies serve to sensitise us to the potential harm man can do to his fellow. I followed this case closely during the time I was composing my concerto and was unable to shake the horror of these events from my mind."

The disc’s accompanying works are no less accomplished in Ms. Bryan's hands. The Concerto for Flute and Orchestra by Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) presents a contrast to the more-solemn Rouse piece. The Ibert is lighter, livelier, and more humorous, yet it offers Ms. Bryan an equal challenge in virtuosic demands. The album concludes with two short solo works, the first, Syrinx, by Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and the second, Ballade, by Frank Martin (1890-1974), both of which Ms. Bryan plays with a strong emotional fluency, always graceful and poignant. As with the entire program, they afford the flutist ample opportunity to show off her versatility to good effect.

Linn Records producer and engineer Phillip Hobbs recorded this hybrid two-channel stereo and multichannel SACD in October 2012 at Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, UK. The sound in the two-channel SACD mode to which I listened is wonderfully airy, focused, and glowing, everything you'd expect from an audiophile recording. Ms. Bryan’s flute appears almost in the room with the listener, the orchestra realistically providing the needed support at an appropriately lifelike distance behind her. When the orchestra does come into its own, it does so with a commendable transparency, yet there is always a compensating ambient bloom from the hall that mitigates any possible hardness or harshness that the clarity could bring with it. The orchestral depth is good, the width (or spread) is natural for the moderate miking distance involved, and the dynamic range, frequency response, and transient impact are all exemplary.

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

JJP

Ravel: Dapnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2 (CD review)

Also, Pavane pour une infante defunte; La Valse; Ma Mere l’Oye; Bolero. Paavo Jarvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Telarc CD-80601.

The music of Maurice Ravel is among the most poetic, imaginative, impressionistic ever written. It has the capacity to touch one’s soul as well as stir one’s blood. Unfortunately, while I found Telarc’s sound among the best afforded this composer, Maestro Jarvi’s interpretations left me largely unmoved.

Things begin with the Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2, which gets off to so quiet a start I wondered if my equipment was faulty. Then I realized that the output level of the disc was lower than usual, and I turned up the sound. Yet despite Jarvi’s delicate touch and lyrical vision of the work, plus Telarc’s patented big bass drum and deep low-end, none of the reading struck me as unusually inspired so much as unusually slow. The Pavane pour une infante defunte, on the other hand, appeared to move along at too brisk and lighthearted a pace to convey as much of the piece’s solemnity as I thought it deserved. I hear little of the radiance or sensuality in it that I hear under some other conductors. Nevertheless, I can easily understand how other listeners might find both the Pavane and the Daphnis performances sensitive and moving. La Valse fared better for me, though, nicely capturing the baleful irony of Ravel’s anti-waltz. I liked it a lot, and if it weren’t for the price of the disc, I could recommend a purchase for just this piece.

However, I found little joy in the Mother Goose songs that followed La Valse, finding them ofttimes more mundane than colorful; perhaps, however, this may have been a result of my own overexposure to the tales rather than any obvious deficiencies on Jarvi’s part. Then, the album concludes with the celebrated Bolero, likely Ravel’s most famous work. Yet, here, too, I found things slightly lacking.  Bolero should start slowly and repeat itself as it builds in intensity. What I found was that since Jarvi takes it at a healthy clip to begin with, the only thing it does is get louder. Ravel recommended about seventeen minutes for the piece. The four or five comparison discs I had on hand from Dutoit, Cluytens, Simon, and others, took from fifteen to seventeen minutes each. Jarvi covers the ground in a little over thirteen minutes, with a steadiness of rhythm that does no favors to the music.

Although Jarvi’s interpretations are earnest and occasionally elevated, with so much competition on the shelf for my Ravel listening, I doubt that I shall be coming back too often to the Cincinnati conductor in this material.

The major compensating feature of the collection is Telarc’s sound, which is luxurious in the extreme. The sonics are velvety smooth, well spread out, and nicely imaged, with a bass response to shake the rafters. The Telarc engineers again produce a recording worth listening to for the sake of its audio alone.

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

JJP

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Also, Schumann: Violin Concerto; Beethoven: Romances. Rachel Barton Pine, violin; Christoph-Mathias Mueller, Gottinger Symphony Orchestra. Cedille CDR 90000 144.

Have you ever wondered which pieces of today’s music people might still be listening to in a hundred, two hundred, three hundred years? Probably not much of modern pop music; I doubt that Justin Bieber, hip-hop, rap, heavy metal, and the like will survive. Maybe a few folk tunes already a century old. But classical music is another story. Much of Beethoven will endure, Mozart, Bach, and, of course, there will always be 800 new versions of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons available, no doubt played on instruments unknown to us at the present. Which brings us to the question of Mendelssohn. Possibly a few of his chamber pieces will continue; most likely the Third and Fourth Symphonies; certainly A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And probably the Violin Concerto, here rendered quite elegantly by violinist Rachel Barton Pine, conductor Christoph-Mathias Mueller, and the Gottinger Symphony Orchestra of Germany.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) premiered the Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 in 1845, making it his last big-scale orchestral work. Audiences pretty much loved it from the start, and it has remained among the most-popular staples of the violin repertoire ever since, right up there with the violin concertos of Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky. In Mendelssohn’s concerto the violin enters immediately, without introduction or fanfare, and Ms. Pine's interpretation of the piece is sweetly gentle. She does not race through the music to prove her energy and enthusiasm to the listener. Instead, she appears to view the work as an extension of the Midsummer Night's Dream music, the entire concerto sprinkled with fairy dust. She dances lightly through the notes, virtuosic, to be sure, yet with a tender, sympathetic step. When the music calls for big outbursts, certainly she's ready as the occasion demands. However, this is essentially a sensitive, contemplative account of the score.

The second-movement Andante is likewise sweet and gentle, with a touch of wistfulness, maybe nostalgia, thrown in. Ms. Pine never makes it sound sentimental, though, so we can't get too weepy-eyed over it. Rather, she keeps it grounded, simple, direct, and beautifully effective. Then, in the finale, she goes out with an appropriately cheerful, sprightly bounce, wonderfully happy and entertaining. This is Mendelssohn's music as we've always thought about it, frothy and enchanting.

The second longer item on the disc is the Violin Concerto in D minor, WoO 23 by Robert Schumann (1810-1856). It’s hardly a major repertoire item, being among Schumann’s final works and one that never saw a performance until some eighty years after the composer’s death. Ms. Pine admits in a booklet note that she had never played the music before Maestro Mueller persuaded her to learn and record it here.

While the Schumann is a fairly long and fairly dreary piece, Ms. Pine gives it her best shot. The soloist and conductor make some minor adjustments to the score, which they believe Schumann and the composition's dedicatee, violinist Joseph Joachim, would have approved. And there is no denying that Ms. Pine puts in a heartfelt performance. It's just that it's still a dour piece of music, perhaps reflecting the composer's deteriorating state of mind at the time of its composition. Yet there are sections of soaring lyricism that transcend the work's otherwise relentlessly stern countenance. Moreover, Cedille's lovely recording quality further makes Ms. Pine's interpretation a pleasurable experience.

Filling out the program are Beethoven's two little Romances for Violin and Orchestra, No. 1 in G major and No. 2 in F major, both published between 1803 and 1805 and coming slightly before the composer’s more-famous Violin Concerto in D major from 1806. Beethoven scored both Romances relatively lightly, and in Ms. Pine's hands they come off well, being typically melodic, occasionally pensive, and always flattering.

Producer Steven Epstein and engineer Bill Maylone recorded the music for Cedille in 24-bit digital at Stadthalle Gottingen, Germany in August 2012. Like most Cedille recordings, this one is quite good.  The sound is big, warm, spacious, and realistic. Orchestral depth is good, too, dynamics are reasonably wide, and definition, while not of the kind that might impress some audiophiles with its transparency, is lifelike, with a soft, ambient glow around the instruments. Ms. Pine's violin appears nicely centered in front of the orchestra but not so far forward as to be unnatural.

Finally, with a generous seventy-one minutes of playing time, the disc provides not only good interpretations and good sound but plenty of both. For me, it was worth a listen and will continue to be worth a listen for a long time to come.

To hear 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.