Bach: Violin Concertos (CD review)

Violin Concertos BWV 1041 and 1042; Concerto for Violin and Oboe; Sonatas for Harpsichord and Violin BWV 1016 and 1017. Janine Jansen and friends. Decca B0019301-02.

When I first received this album, I asked myself, Didn’t I already review this thing? I mean, didn’t Janine Jansen record the Bach violin concertos years ago? I must have been thinking of someone else, Hilary Hahn, perhaps, Julia Fischer, Anne Akiko Meyers, or Lara St. John. Or maybe it’s just that I assumed a violinist of Ms. Jansen’s stature had already done them. In any case, Mr. Jansen is a fine violinist, and I enjoyed her zesty, alert Bach interpretations.

In fact, she never fails to provide anything but stimulating, energetic, compassionate performances of whatever she’s performing, and the Bach is no different. This should come as no surprise as the Dutch violinist and violist has been playing and studying the violin since she was six. In 2001 she appeared with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, performing the Brahms Violin Concerto, and in 2005 she opened the BBC Proms. She has toured internationally, recorded a number of albums for Decca, and plays on a “Barrere” by Antonio Stradivari, on extended loan from the Elise Methilde Foundation.

Following her customary recording practice, Ms. Jansen plays with a small ensemble of accompanists, this time a group of friends: Ramon Ortega Quero, oboe; Jan Jensen, harpsichord; Boris Brovtsyn, Cindy Albracht, Fredrick Paulsson, Julia-Maria Kretz, Tijmen Huisingh, and Monica Urbonaite, violins; Nimrod Guez and Pauline Sachse, violas; Maarten Jansen, cello; and Rick Stotijn, double bass.

Anyway, about the program: Bach wrote his two Violin Concertos, No. 1 in A minor, BWV1041 and No. 2 in E major, BWV1042, between 1717 and 1723, about the time he was writing the Brandenburg Concertos, so if you hear any similarities, especially in the opening movement of 1042, you know why. Ms. Jansen begins the music with BWV1042, probably the earlier of the two concertos despite the catalogue number. Here, she exhibits an incisive technique, pacing the work at a reasonably zippy pace yet never so fast as we hear from many period-instruments’ groups. She observes tempos that should keep most listeners involved and inspired. She also maintains a style that eschews too much flourish or ornamentation, preferring to keep herself pretty much in accord with the surrounding ensemble rather than completely dominating it. In this regard, it’s a somewhat self-effacing performance with wonderful tone, a performance that serves the music well.

Ms. Jansen’s rendering of the opening Allegro is bracing without being in any way hurried. The central Adagio is haunting enough if a tad less inspired than, say, Menuhin's rendition. Still, a minor quibble. The little Allegro assai that concludes the piece seems less weighty than the preceding movements, but that is hardly Ms. Jansen's fault, and she handles it in an appropriately playful fashion.

Next comes the Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041, which is, for me, a more dramatic work than 1042, with a lovelier central section, an Andante of exceptional strength. Here, Ms. Jansen seems to take great care to ensure the work's structural integrity. The entire composition seems of a single piece, with the violin, too, taking its part within the music's structure rather than overpowering it. So, we've got vigorous yet relaxed readings of both concertos, ultrasophisticated yet with no undue ostentation. While perhaps one may sense a certain hesitancy in regard to ultimate tension and characterization, the readings more than compensate with their sheer comfort level and beauty. Besides, it's always a pleasure listening to Ms. Jansen's virtuosity on the violin.

The couplings for the album do not include the more-usual choice, the double violin concerto. Rather, it includes, first, the Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C minor, BWV 1060, a reconstruction of a transcription of a double harpsichord concerto. It is quite rhapsodic for a Baroque composition, and the oboe contributions sound particularly pleasing.

The final tracks on the program contain the Sonatas for Harpsichord and Violin Nos. 3 and 4, BMW 1016 and 1017. These are lovely works of four movements each, alternating slow and fast sections. Although Ms. Jansen's violin is clearly in the fore, for that matter the two players share the music almost equally. It's all quite charming, actually, and I can't imagine a listener not responding favorably to the interpretations.

Decca’s recording team made the album in Andreaskirche, Berlin, Germany, in June of 2013. A pleasant ambient bloom goes a long way in making this a most-realistic and most-listenable experience. There is not a lot of depth to the ensemble, yet the degree of hall resonance helps make up for it. The sonics are very smooth, slightly warm, and, while not exactly audiophile in their transparency, quite natural. Ms. Jansen's violin sounds nicely integrated into the ensemble, and as with the performances it never dominates her companions but becomes a part of the whole.

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

JJP

Stephanie Blythe: As Long as There Are Songs (CD review)

Stephanie Blythe, mezzo-soprano; Craig Terry, piano. Meyer Sound/Innova 875.

Most readers probably know that mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe is an opera star who has favored audiences worldwide with her voice on stage and in recordings for the past several decades. What some readers may not know is that she also sings popular music, with a voice that combines the best qualities of Ethel Merman and Kate Smith. Indeed, her fondness for Kate Smith led Ms. Blythe to perform in 2013 works made famous by Ms. Smith on the PBS television show Live from Lincoln Center - Celebration: Stephanie Blythe Meets Kate.

On the present album, As Long as There Are Songs, Ms. Blythe sings fourteen popular tunes from The Great American Songbook, with one exception mostly songs from the 1920’s through the 1950’s. She demonstrates throughout the program that she is more than just a good opera singer but a good pop singer as well. She doesn’t sound like a typical opera singer trying to do pop material but a serious pop entertainer who could easily carry a Broadway show. She is, in fact, quite versatile and appears able to handle any tune from any genre, new or old, with ease.

One of my favorites on the program is "White Cliffs of Dover" (1941), the famous World War II song by Nat Burton and Walter Kent. Ms. Blythe sings it with heartfelt sentiment and waves of rhapsodic notes. It's quite moving.

And so it goes, through "Look for the Silver Lining," "Always," "Love," "How Deep Is the Ocean," "The Man That Got Away," “When You Wish Upon a Star,” and "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams." Show tunes, jazz, torch songs, Ms. Blythe does it all with equal success. And I would be remiss not to applaud Craig Terry on his sensitive and agreeable piano accompaniment.

Then there's also the bluesy and poignant medley of "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home" and "One for My Baby" by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen. Sinatra's got nothing on Ms. Blythe.

The program ends with the most-recent number, Gordon Jenkens's "This Is All I Ask" (1965), a wonderful throwback to those earlier songs, and one with which Ms. Blythe practically knocks down the house. She puts most of today’s pop divas to shame. 

Probably the only thing I didn't like about the product was the booklet insert. Not the content of the booklet, which is quite informative, but the shape. It's a single piece of paper folded in thirds; but it's not folded to stretch horizontally but up and down. For the life of me, I couldn't find my way around, further complicated by having the back printed in the opposite direction from the front. I dunno. It’s certainly a minor quibble.

Producer Evans Mirageas and engineers John Pellowe and Miles Rogers recorded the album for Meyer Sound Laboratories in 2013 at Meyer Sound Lab’s Pearson Theatre, Berkeley, California. The location greatly impressed Ms. Blythe when earlier she sang there live; it’s a relatively small hall that provides an ideal acoustic for both intimate and grand vocal gestures. Moreover, Meyer Sound Laboratories captured the sonics using no filtering, spatial enhancements, or compression, providing a most lifelike presentation. Perhaps what many readers may not realize is that most recordings these days use a good deal of compression in order to minimize the dynamic range--the differences between softest and loudest notes--making musical recordings easier for some listeners to enjoy on car radios and iPods. However, such recordings are not always the most natural-sounding affairs. Meyer Sound’s recordings are, therefore, more realistic than most.

How does all this translate to what we actually hear on the disc? Obviously, it translates pretty well. We do hear the venue, and it does affect what we hear of Ms. Blythe’s voice. The hall appears slightly dry, meaning it doesn’t have the billowy resonance of some venues. This means we hear Ms. Blythe’s voice more nearly as it probably sounds rather than embellished by the ambient acoustic of the concert hall. What we get instead is an ultraclean, ultra-clear voice, with a truly astonishing dynamic range. I’m not sure everyone recognizes how much of a range the human voice can produce, from the gentlest whisper to the most earsplitting crescendo, and here we find it all.

Whether everyone will appreciate the sound is another story, though; it is different from what one usually hears on a vocal album, less smooth, less warm, and more real. The sound may not complement all loudspeakers, either, especially not brighter speakers that could aggravate the delicate balance of the high end. In any case, if you have a good playback system, you should appreciate the sound. The voice glistens with clarity, and the piano accompaniment remains natural and unobtrusive. Both benefit from a quick transient response, too, although, as I say, it could be a bit jarring if you’ve been listening to more compressed sound all these years.

To listen to an excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

The Sound of Alison Balsom (CD review)

Alison Balsom, trumpet; various conductors and ensembles. Warner Classics 50999 0 19162 2 5.

Now that Warner Classics have acquired the EMI catalogue, it appears one of the first things they’ve done is reissue some of EMI recording star Alison Balsom’s biggest hits in the elegantly packaged new release The Sound of Alison Balsom. It’s a retrospective of Ms. Balsom’s Baroque trumpet work from 2002 to 2012, accompanied by various individuals and ensembles, period and modern. Fans of Ms. Balsom will no doubt already have most of these recordings, but folks new to her playing may want to use the disc to catch up on what they’ve been missing.

For those few of you who may not know her, British trumpet soloist Alison Balsom has been playing trumpet professionally since 2001. She is now a multiple award winner with eight albums to her credit; she was the former principal trumpet of the London Chamber Orchestra; and she’s a Visiting Professor of Trumpet at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. What’s more important, she is a darn fine trumpet player. On the present record’s liner notes she credits legendary jazz great Dizzy Gillespie as her inspiration, so if you hear any signs of casual, easy, improvisational, modern-jazz inflections in her playing, well, you know where it probably came from.

The program here consists of short Baroque pieces from English composer Henry Purcell (1658-95), German organist and composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Italian violinist and composer Giuseppe Torelli (1650-1708), German composer George Frideric Handel (1685–1759), Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1750), and Italian composer Benedetto Marcello (1686–1739). Her accompanists include Quentin Thomas, organ; Colm Carey, organ; Alastair Ross, harpsichord; Lestyn Davies, countertenor; Edward Gardner and the Goteborg Symfoniker; Thomas Klug and Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen; Jonathan Morton and the Scottish Ensemble; and, most recently, Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert. Throughout the selections, Ms. Balsom demonstrates the smooth, fluent, mellifluous style that has made her famous.

Things begin with five tunes from Purcell's King Arthur, which come across with considerable pomp, vigor, and enthusiasm, Ms. Balsom's trumpet effortlessly pouring forth her usual golden notes in abundance. If that sounds like hyperbole, just give it a listen.

Next come several numbers from Bach: a Sarabande, an Aria, a Badinerie, and Andantes from various suites, plus the Concerto in D (after Vivaldi). The Sarabande and Badinerie are particularly interesting as they are unaccompanied solos yet sound like small ensembles unto themselves.

After the Bach comes Torelli's Trumpet Concerto in D, its three movements lively and enlivening yet most refined. Following that is a selection apiece from Handel's Giulio Cesare, Albinoni's Sonata da chiesa, transcribed by Ms. Balsom, and Marcello's Oboe Concerto in C minor. The program concludes with three more numbers from Handel: the overture from Atalanta, the Birthday Ode for Queen Anne, and the Amadigi di Gaula, arranged by Ms. Balsom. This is exquisite, well-chosen music, exquisitely well played.

The album provides a healthy seventy-seven minutes of playing time, nearly the limit for a compact disc, so you get more than your money's worth right there.

The folks at Warner Classics have done up the packaging most lavishly, enclosing the disc in its own sleeve within a hardcover book with a thirty-two page bound insert. The only minor snag was trying to get the disc out of its sleeve without leaving fingerprints on the playing surface. In any case, I wonder if the company is planning to do up all of its new releases so elaborately.

The sound, originally recorded by EMI in a number of different locations from 2002-2012, is uniformly good, if not always as absolutely transparent as some audiophiles might prefer. Still, it is nicely dynamic in all the selections, with in each case a pleasant, natural hall resonance to provide a realistic ambience. While the sound is a little one-dimensional much of the time, it also sounds well extended, which helps to make up for any slight deficiencies.

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

JJP

Classical Music News of the Week, November 24, 2013

Merola Opera Program 2014 Summer Festival Features Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Mozart’s Don Giovanni in Addition to Schwabacher Summer Concerts and Merola Grand Finale

Merola extends beyond summer activities to offer events throughout the year.

André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Mozart’s Don Giovanni highlight the Merola Opera Program’s 2014 summer season. The summer festival also includes the annual Schwabacher Summer Concerts – one of which is offered free to the public at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts – and the festive, season-ending Merola Grand Finale. Throughout the summer, the Merola artists will participate in master classes and behind-the-scenes events which are open to Merola members.

Merola has commissioned an orchestral reduction of Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire from Peter Grunberg, based on the play by Tennessee Williams. A Streetcar Named Desire opens the festival July 10 and 12, 2014 and features director José Maria Condemi and conductor Mark Morash. The annual Schwabacher Summer Concert, conducted by Eric Melear and directed by Roy Rallo, will be presented July 17 and 19, 2014. The season continues with Mozart’s Don Giovanni, directed by James Darrah and conducted by Martin Katz, on July 31 and August 2, 2014. Maestro Ari Pelto leads the annual Merola Grand Finale August 16, 2014.

Merola’s Spring Benefit Gala anchors the company’s off-season activities. This year’s event, “A Night in New Orleans,” will be held April 12, 2014 at the Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco. December 7 Merola presents Opera and Ornaments: A Merola Opera Program Holiday Concert featuring Kristin Clayton and Bojan Knezevic at the Lafayette Library Community Hall. In the spring of 2014, Merola will co-present four Schwabacher Debut Recitals with San Francisco Opera. Details will be released at a later date.

New community offerings include a family-friendly event at The Walt Disney Family Museum February 8, 2014 as Merola takes a look at the use of classical music in Disney’s films. Disney music expert Ross Care will discuss several of Disney’s “classical” works and Merola 2012 tenor Casey Candebat will sing several arias following the presentation of the popular 1946 cartoon, “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met.” At the start of the fall opera season, the company launched Merola Goes to the Movies, a free program to screen operas and opera-related films at the Koret Auditorium in the San Francisco Public Library Main Branch. Upcoming events include Verdi’s Otello featuring Plácido Domingo November 3, the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera January 11, 2014, and Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Flute March 29, 2014.

For information about Merola Opera Program’s events, please visit www.merola.org.

--Karen Ames Communications

Washington Symphonic Brass Presents Holiday Concert at the Music Center at Strathmore
National Philharmonic Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski will lead the Washington Symphonic Brass (WSB) in a holiday concert at the Music Center at Strathmore on Sunday, December 22 at 4 pm.

The critically acclaimed 17-member brass and percussion ensemble will ring in the holidays with arrangements of season favorites, including A Christmas Fanfare arranged  by WSB Director Phil Snedecor and French, Finnish, Polish and English carols.

About the Washington Symphonic Brass
The Washington Symphonic Brass is composed of professional musicians in the Washington/Baltimore area who have assembled to play some of the great literature
written for large brass ensemble and percussion.  Members of the WSB have performed
with many of the nation's best orchestras, such as the National Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony, among others.  The group performs throughout the Washington and Baltimore metropolitan area and its repertoire covers five centuries.

To purchase tickets to the Washington Symphonic Brass concert on December 22, 2013 at 4 pm at the Music Center at Strathmore, please visit nationalphilharmonic.org or call the Strathmore box office at (301) 581-5100. Tickets are $28-$50; kids 7-17 are FREE through the ALL KIDS, ALL FREE, ALL THE TIME program (sponsored by The Gazette). ALL KIDS tickets must be purchased in person or by phone.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Cal Performances celebrates the Kronos Quartet’s 40th Birthday December 7 in Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA
The ensemble is in residence on UC Berkeley campus, offering a symposium, master classes, and talks with students and the community.

Cal Performances presents a celebration of The Kronos Quartet’s 40th birthday on Saturday, December 7, at 8:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA. For the concert, the Kronos Quartet will offer Berkeley audiences a program spanning more than four decades, including two Bay Area premieres: Another Secret eQuation, by California composer and frequent Kronos collaborator Terry Riley, and Philip Glass’s Orion: China, arranged for Kronos by Michael Riesman and featuring pipa player Wu Man. Indie rock guitarist Bryce Dessner joins Kronos to perform his 2009 commission, Aheym, just released to critical acclaim. The birthday concert brings audiences full circle, ending at the starting point, with the work that inspired David Harrington to found Kronos in 1973 in the Bay Area: George Crumb’s composition for electric string quartet, Black Angels (1970) composed in response to the Vietnam War. In addition to strings, the 13 movements of Black Angels draw upon an arsenal of sounds, including shouting, chanting, whistling, whispering, gongs, maracas, and crystal glasses. The performance will include an appearance by San Francisco writer Daniel Handler.

This concert is the first of two Kronos programs in Cal Performances’ 2013-2014 season. The group returns on April 6 in a program marking the outbreak of World War I. World War I Chronicles (working title), a new work for quartet and film by composer Aleksandra Vrebalov and filmmaker Bill Morrison, will have its world premiere.  The Quartet and Cal Performances have enjoyed a long and rich relationship. The ensemble first performed in Zellerbach Hall in 1990 with 17 concerts following, the most recent being a pair of concerts in fall 2012. Over the years, programs have included Bay Area, West Coast and world premieres, including works by Terry Riley, Osvaldo Golijov and Steve Reich, among many others. In addition, this season the ensemble is Cal Performances’ Artists in Residence. The residency will include interacting with UC Berkeley students and the larger community through a symposium, musical events, and talks. The musicians will engage with UC Berkeley’s Department of Music, Berkeley High School, The Crowden School, Oakland School for the Arts, and other youth orchestras.

Terry Riley’s Another Secret eQuation written for Kronos in 2009, features special guests Pacific Boychoir Academy directed by Kevin Fox and the Young Women’s Chorus of San Francisco directed by Susan McMane.  Another Secret eQuation is dedicated to the memory of physicist Hans Siegmann of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and the husband of Katrina Krimsky, who played with Riley in his seminal work In C.

Ticket information:
Tickets for the Kronos Quartet 40th birthday concert on Saturday, December 7, at 8:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall range from $30.00-$90.00, 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 http://www.calperformances.org; and at the door. For more information about discounts, go to http://calperformances.org/buy/discounts.php.

--Rusty Barnes, Cal Performances

National Philharmonic Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski Awarded Knight’s Cross by the Republic of Poland
National Philharmonic Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of  Poland by Polish Ambassdor Ryszard Schnepf on Friday, November 15 at the Polish Embassy in Washington, DC.

The Order of Merit is granted by the President of Poland to foreigners or Polish citizens living abroad for distinguished contribution to cooperation between Poland and other countries. Maestro Gajewski has appeared as a guest conductor for major orchestras in his native Poland, including the Warsaw, Wroclaw, Lodz, and Silesian Philharmonic.

Maestro Gajewski was among three prominent guests who were granted Orders of Merit, including Congressman John Dingell (D-Mich.), the longest serving member of the U.S. Congress, and multicultural media executive Mr. Walter Kotaba.

The ceremony took place at the celebration of the anniversary of Polish independence at the Polish Embassy. The week of November 11 marked the independence of Poland from 123 years of partition by Russia, Germany and the Austrian Empire.

Piotr Gajewski is widely credited with building the National Philharmonic to its present status as one of the most respected ensembles of its kind in the region. In addition to his appearances with the National Philharmonic, Maestro Gajewski is much in demand as a guest conductor. In recent years, he has appeared with most of the major orchestras in his native Poland, as well as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in England, the Karlovy Vary Symphony in the Czech Republic, the Okanagan Symphony in Canada and numerous orchestras in the United States.

Gajewski attended Carleton College and the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music, where he earned a B.M. and M.M. in Orchestral Conducting. Upon completing his formal education, he continued refining his conducting skills at the 1983 Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts, where he was awarded a Leonard Bernstein Conducting Fellowship. His teachers there included Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, Andre Previn, Gunther Schuller, Gustav Meier and Maurice Abravanel.

Gajewski is also a winner of many prizes and awards, among them a prize at New York's prestigious Leopold Stokowski Conducting Competition and, in 2006, Montgomery County's Comcast Excellence in the Arts and Humanities Achievement Award.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

First Flute with Sir James Galway, an Online Learning Method for Beginners & Beyond
International launch Monday, December 2, 4-6 pm, Merkin Concert Hall, Kaufman Music Center, New York City, 129 W. 67th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam. With Sir James Galway, Lady Jeanne Galway, Christopher O’Riley, and students from Special Music School and Lucy Moses School at Kaufman Music Center.

Free and open to the public: www.firstflute.com

Legendary flute master Sir James Galway makes his expertise widely available with First Flute, for beginners and beyond, an online interactive series of lessons geared for flute students and music lovers of all ages. One of the most beloved and recognizable classical musicians performing today, Sir James shares his invaluable technical advice, practice methods, and secrets for success with flutists seeking to perfect their skills — all delivered with his signature warmth and panache.

Conceived and developed by Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway, First Flute demonstrates the couple’s passion for music education, and their dedication to access to music education for all. While maintaining a busy International touring and recording career, Sir James now devotes as much time as possible to mentoring and teaching, his technique and style considered invaluable to flute players worldwide. In addition to offering frequent masterclasses and residencies around the world, Sir James and Lady Galway host the Galway Flute Festival & Academy annually near their home in Switzerland, attracting over 100 flute players from across the globe.

For Sir James, First Flute is the realization of a long-held desire to make his method and expertise available to a larger public: “So many flute players, of all levels, have reached out to me over the years for advice,” comments Sir James, continuing, “Many gifted players are missing some basic fundamental elements that could improve their playing for a lifetime. I am thrilled that I can share this advice, in a systematic way, with a much wider audience through First Flute.”

These fifteen online lessons, called Foundations, include proper posture and fingering, tips and cautions, your “Practice Room” — with downloadable sheet music — and repertoire, in addition to an extensive glossary of musical terms, biographical information on composers, and exclusive concert footage.

The International launch on Monday, December 2, from 4-6pm, which is co-presented Kaufman Music Center and takes place at Merkin Hall in New York City, will include performances by Sir James, Lady Galway, and concert pianist and NPR “From the Top” host Christopher O’Riley, who will also interview Sir James about First Flute. The event will feature a video presentation, a performance by young flutists from Special Music School and Lucy Moses School at Kaufman Music Center, and exhibitions from several flute companies – Haynes Flutes, Nagahara Flutes and the New York Flute Center – to be followed by a reception.

The launch event is free and open to the public. Attendees must RSVP to RSVP@FirstFlute.com

--Shira Gilbert PR

Young People’s Chorus of New York City Celebrates the Holidays
“Saks Fifth Avenue Holiday Windows Unveiling”
Monday, November 25, at 6:30 p.m.
611 Fifth Avenue at 49th Street, NYC

Come and sing along this Monday when the Young People's Chorus of New York City joins violinist Joshua Bell and singer/songwriter Frankie Moreno in a festive outdoor performance of holiday music, celebrating the unveiling of this year's holiday windows at Saks Fifth Avenue. The program also includes the debut of Saks's Snowflake Spectacular, a dramatic light show projected onto the façade of the building.

"Songs of the Season"
Saturday, December 7, at 3:30 and 7:00 p.m.
92nd Street Y at Lexington Avenue, NYC

The Young People's Chorus of New York City will give two performances of one of its most popular concerts of the year - "Songs of the Season" - featuring many holiday favorites and some exciting new music, including two world premieres. The first is a piece commissioned from composer Jim Papoulis for chorus and boomwhackers entitled Gnothi Safton (Know thyself), and the second is a new tutti piece commissioned from Matt Podd, Adam Podd, Jerry Colker, and Sarah Kervin to close the program, called Looking for the Light, which will be sung by all 360 choristers.

Tickets:  3:30 Matinee - $15, $25, and $50
Tickets:  7:00 Evening - $20, $30, and $60
At the 92nd Street Y box office or by calling 212-415-5500

“WQXR Presents Musical Gifts:  Joshua Bell and Friends”
Tuesday, December 10, at 6:00 p.m.
WQXR's The Greene Space
160 Varick Street (entrance on Charlton St.), NYC

The Young People's Chorus of New York City will join violinist Joshua Bell in a new arrangement of Silent Night by Francisco J. Núñez in a holiday concert at the WQXR/WNYC Greene Space hosted by WQXR's popular Elliot Forrest.  This "radiant" arrangement of Silent Night is included on the new holiday CD "Musical Gifts from Joshua Bell and Friends," which is available here. Others to appear on the program are singer/songwriter Frankie Moreno and pianist Frederick Chiu.

Remaining tickets are $40 (includes a treat and a drink) and can be purchased on the WQXR Web site.

“Winter Holiday Concert”
Friday, December 13, at 6:00 p.m.
Young People's Chorus of New York City at Washington Heights (YPCWH)
P.S. 366, Washington Heights Academy
202 Sherman Ave, New York, NY 10034

The young singers of YPCWH, the year-old community program of the Young People's Chorus of New York City at Washington Heights, will give a free winter holiday concert for the community on December 13. Conducted by Maria Peña, their program of holiday favorites will include Dormi, Dormi and Donde esta Santa Claus.

"A City Singing at Christmas"
Thursday, December 19, at 7:00 p.m.
St. Patrick's Cathedral
Fifth Avenue and 51st Street, NYC

A program of traditional and contemporary Christmas hymns and carols by the Young People's Chorus of New York City, St. Patrick's Cathedral Choir, the St. Agnes Cathedral Choirs of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, and the New York Symphonic Brass in the majesty of the Cathedral of St. Patrick.

Admission is free. Come early for best seats.

For more information, click http://www.ypc.org/

--Katharine Gibson, oung People’s Chorus of New York City

Classical Expressions (HQCD review)

Music of Khachaturian, Granados, Saraste, Rachmaninov, Schubert, Debussy, and others. Richard Amoroso, The Not-So-Classical Chamber Ensemble. HDTT DTR1.

In their own words, “Direct-to-Tape Recording Company (DTR) was founded in 1979 with the goal of capturing the sound of a performance as you would hear it if you were there.

Although the recording media have changed from the open reel and cassette tapes we originally used in 1979 to PCM digital in 1982 and later to Digital Audio Tape (DAT) and now to hard disk recorders, our philosophy has remained the same. DTR recordings are normally recorded with two microphones to capture a natural sound and the acoustic space of a performance. We use no equalization, compression, limiting, or other electronic tricks and gimmicks that can spoil the sound. Very few splices (if any) are used within each movement or piece in order to capture the musical ‘soul’ of a performance. The results of these efforts are recordings which duplicate, as closely as possible, the sound you would hear if you were at a live performance.

The music we are recording (primarily classical, jazz, and light classical) is served best by our recording techniques. By using only two microphones we avoid the myriad problems which occur with multitrack recording.”

Now the folks at HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) have begun remastering some of DTR’s material, apparently making it better than ever (although I can only assume this because I had no standard-issue DTR disc on hand with which to make comparisons. I can only say that DTR’s recording techniques produce quite realistic outcomes and that HDTT’s processing produces an excellent remastering. For the audiophile, the HDTT product seems well worth investigating.

The present recording, Classical Expressions, features The Not-So-Classical Chamber Ensemble lead by Richard Amoroso. To suggest that they are a somewhat unusual ensemble for playing classical music would itself be somewhat unusual. Maestro Amoroso is not only the leader of the group but the chief arranger and cellist. Other members at the time of this recording included Ronald Amoroso, classical accordion; Patrick Mercuri and Regecca Mercuri, mandolin and guitars; Walter Pfeil, harp; Nick Mastripolito, piano; Nick D’Amico, marimba; John Leitham, string bass; and Harvey Price, percussion. They are all experienced musicians who either perform regularly in major symphony orchestras or teach music at major universities or both. So, of course, they perform well. It’s just that their blend of instruments (cello, accordion, mandolin, guitar, harp, piano, marimba, bass, and percussion in various combinations) can produce some musical results that are a little odd.

Fortunately, they don’t call themselves the tongue-in-cheek “Not-So-Classical Chamber Ensemble” for nothing. While their sound seems better suited to pop music, their enthusiasm, gusto, and pure musicianship carry the day. The sound may be a tad quirky for classical music, but different is not necessarily bad. They are, in fact, quite a lot of fun to listen to, and they have chosen to perform numbers on this album that complement their sound and style.

You can judge for yourself the quality of the performances from the opening track (reproduced below at much lower audio quality), Aram Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance" from his ballet Gayaneh. Yes, the instrument amalgam produces some bizarre-sounding results if you're used to hearing this material in symphonic form, but, again yes, it is definitely a kick to enjoy. The performers sound as they're having as good a time as the listener, too.

And so it goes through a dozen brief tracks, some no more than three or four minutes each, which is the only real shortcoming of the album: it's only about thirty-three minutes long. Still, each item is of interest for one reason or another. In part this is because of the ingenuity and creativity of the players, and in part because each item uses a different arrangement of instruments, from solos to duets to trios to full ensemble.

A good example of the diversity on the program is the second track, "Nostalgia," by Eloysa Barroso, originally a piano piece, here arranged by Laurindo Almeida for two guitars. It's sweet and light and impeccably performed.

Walter Pfeil, formerly the principal harpist with the Minneapolis, Baltimore, and St. Louis Symphonies, demonstrates his skills in a solo performance of "Whirlwind" by Carlos Salzedo. It's gorgeous, and it pretty much stole the show for me.

The album continues through short works by Enrique Granados ("Orientale - Spanish Dance No. 2"); Pablo de Sarasate ("Zapateado," another showstopper); Sergei Rachmaninov ("Prelude in G," arranged by Richard Amoroso); and so on.

Among my favorites, besides "Nostalgia": Maurice Ravel's "Piece in the Form of a Habanera," delightfully transcribed for cello and harp; George Gershwin's "Prelude II," arranged for cello and guitar, a wonderfully bluesy little work; and Claude Debussy's "Girl with the Flaxen Hair," improbably but beautifully transcribed for cello and accordion.

Finally, for a bit of excitement, we have Schubert's "The Bee," Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" and Zequinha's "Tico Tico." The album presents an unusual assortment of tunes, as I've said, played on an unusual merging of instruments, yet it works. I just wish the program were longer.

Producer and engineer Bob Sellman recorded the music for DTR in 1981 using a direct-to-tape method that involved two Schoeps microphones and open-reel recording equipment. As a booklet note points out, Sellman used “no compression, equalization or limiting during its recording or editing. No splices or edits were made within any pieces.” HDTT remastered the original tapes in 2013, and I listened to it on an HQCD. The sound is about as realistic as you're going to find. There's an especially good sense of depth and space that lends to the illusion of being in the same room or hall with the performers. There's reasonably good transparency to the midrange, a well-extended high end, quick transient response, and plenty of air around the instruments. Never will you hear anything hard, shrill, bright, edgy, or dull. You may, however, hear a very slight tape noise in the background, but unless you're playing the music way too loud, you shouldn't notice it.

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

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

JJP

Handel: Messiah, The Dream Cast (CD review)

Various artists. Decca B00002042-02.

If you were a really big record company, like Decca, and you had a vault full of old recordings, as Decca has, you, too, would probably want to think of ways of repackaging and selling your stuff again. So it is with this Messiah, made up of bits and pieces of Decca’s older Messiahs. The gimmick works better than you might expect.

Using seventy-seven minutes’ worth of highlights, the folks at Decca present us with ten different bands, choruses, and conductors, and seven different soloists, each doing a separate movement of George Frideric Handel’s familiar work. The problem I foresaw, and which I daresay you also see, was how all of these seemingly disparate elements were going to hang together; I mean, period and modern instruments, big and little ensembles, fairly recent (2001) and not-so-recent (1966) recordings. Yet it does work, sort of.

In the first place, the Decca engineers have apparently doctored the audio slightly so that most of the pieces at least sound similar. Unfortunately, this seems to have taken the bloom off some of the proceedings, dulling a few of the older period-instrument recordings in particular to take the edge off them and put them better in line sonically with their smoother, modern-instrument counterparts. They have also tried to match the playback levels as well as possible to ensure fluid transitions between movements. The result is not exactly of audiophile quality, but it’s listenable.

As to the music, at the very least you get to hear a variety of recordings, any one of which you might want to go out and buy as a complete set, which is, I’m sure, what the Decca brass are counting on. In any case, to name a few of the participants, you’ve got John Eliot Gardiner and his English Baroque Soloists opening the show, followed by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy, Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert, Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony, Richard Bonynge and the English Chamber Orchestra, Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony, Sir Charles Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and so on. Marriner and the Academy players perform the “Hallelujah Chorus,” and Sir Colin Davis and the LSO close the show. Soloists include Arleen Auger, Jerry Hadley, Anne Sofie von Otter, Leontyne Price, Joan Sutherland, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Bryn Terfel.

Imposing.

I dunno, though. It may be a dream cast, as the subtitle proclaims, but it’s also more than a tad disconcerting. Just when you get to like one singer or group, up pops somebody else. I’d say it’s a novelty more than anything. Nevertheless, it’s not a bad novelty.

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

JJP

Jazz at the Pawnshop (UltraHD CD review)

The Fifth and Ultimate Version. Arne Domnerus and friends. LIM UHD 071 (3-CD set + DVD).

Here’s the thing: If you who are reading this consider yourself an audiophile but you don’t own some version of Jazz at the Pawnshop, trust me, you’re not really an audiophile. It’s been around now in various formats for some four decades, so you’ve had plenty of chance to hear and obtain it. The recording has developed something of a cult following among those in the know, and for good reason. Now the folks at LIM (Lasting Impression Music, a subsidiary of FIM, First Impression Music) have remastered it for the fifth and probably not last time in a rendering they understandably claim is the best ever. It’s hard to argue with them; the performances are first-rate and, more important, the sound is terrific.

But why so many versions? LIM’s owner and producer Winston Ma explains it in a booklet note: After Proprius Music released the album in the late Seventies, it became almost an instant hit on LP, followed by a two-disc CD set in 1984. Proprius (and American AudioSource) continued to rerelease the set on CD for the next few years, and then in 1997 Winston stepped in. Sensing a good thing, his company remastered the recording in an HDCD 24k gold format. Subsequently, he decided to remaster it in every new and improved disc format that came along, including XRCD and SACD, even obtaining the original tapes for the second disc that folks for many years thought lost. Then, in 2007 he did it all over again in K2 HD, convinced that K2 was a superior Redbook CD format over all others. Sure enough, there was a sonic improvement. This most current iteration of the product, the “Fifth and Ultimate Version,” is in UltraHD, the format Winston believes as far advanced as conventional compact discs can go. What’s more, the new set contains a third disc of tunes that recording engineer Gert Palmcrantz discovered in his archives in 1990, later released as Jazz at the Pawnshop 2, plus a DVD of interviews. In terms of sound and substance, Winston’s latest UltraHD set is, indeed, the best yet issued. Unless you want to argue the superiority of vinyl over silver disc, which is another story entirely.

So, what’s the fuss all about? Jazz at the Pawnshop is some pretty good jazz in some pretty astounding sound. The album’s producer and engineer visited one of Sweden’s most-celebrated jazz venues, the Stampen (or The Pawnshop because of a pawnshop that used to be there), and found its acoustics ideal for recording. Then they set up their equipment to record live several of Sweden’s most-celebrated jazz musicians, a quintet that included Arne Dominerus, alto sax and clarinet; Bengt Hallberg, piano; Larss Erstrand, vibes; Georg Riedel, bass; and Egil Johansen, drums. After two evenings of recording, they came out with tapes of some of the best and most realistic-sounding jazz that anyone had ever heard. The subsequent LP and CD releases took off among audiophiles eager to demonstrate just how accurate their stereo equipment was when playing back music that live would have been largely unamplified.

The three discs in the LIM set contain six music tracks each and a couple of introductions. The numbers run high to jazz standards, starting with Philip Braham’s “Limehouse Blues.” The quintet play well together, with Dominerus’s sax tending to dominate the ensemble but with plenty of room for the other members to shine and solo as well. Because it’s live, in the background we hear quite a lot of room noise, the clinking of glasses, shuffling of feet, occasional applause, audience comments, and conversation. One goes into Jazz at the Pawnshop for the music, certainly, but also for the vivid sound, which involves experiencing the ambience of the small club itself.

And so it goes throughout the eighteen selections, like the traditional “High Life,” Louis Armstrong’s “Struttin’ with Some Barbeque,” Johnny Hodges’s “Jeep’s Blues,” George Gershwin’s “Lady Be Good,” Charlie Parker’s “Barbados,” Morgan Lewis’s “How High the Moon,” Matt Dennis’s “Everything Happens to Me,” Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow,” Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time,” Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellow Mood,” Bill Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train,” and Harry Warren’s “Jeepers Creepers,” among others.

The package concludes with a DVD containing brief interviews with two of the music’s participants:  Lars Estrand and Georg Riedel, the interviews playable with or without subtitles.

In keeping with the importance of such an undertaking, LIM have packaged the four-disc set rather elaborately. The glossy, hard-cardboard case opens up in four sections, an inner sleeve fastened to each segment, within which lie the discs, each in its own static-free liner, the whole affair further housed in a handsome slipcover. The only trouble with this arrangement is that it leaves no place for the thirty-page booklet insert except loose inside. Open up the package, and you’re likely to have the booklet fall in your lap. Apart from that minor oversight, it’s a nifty layout.

Producer Jacob Boethius and recording engineer Gert Palmcrantz made the album on location at the Stampen (Pawnshop) Jazz Club in Stockholm, Sweden in December of 1976. The club’s excellent acoustics and the simplicity of the miking probably led to the results that have been pleasing audiophiles all these years: Neumann U47, KM56, and M49 microphones, two Dolby A361 noise-reductions units, two Nagra IV recorders, a Studer mixing board, and two old Ampex loudspeakers with built-in amplifiers. Remarkable, given that sonically this antique array puts most of today’s state-of-the-art digital equipment to shame.

I had on hand the original Proprius set from AudioSource, CDP 7778/9, for comparison, putting one Proprius disc and one LIM disc into separate CD players (Sony and Yamaha), adjusting for output and switching them out occasionally to be sure I was listening to the sound of the discs and not the machines.

The first thing I noticed was that both the Proprius and LIM exhibit an outstanding dimensionality, space, and air. You can hear in and around the instruments in a most convincingly lifelike manner. Both display exemplary transient quickness, too, and strong dynamic impact. Where the new LIM scores over its rival is in its overall greater smoothness, marginally superior, more-truthful warmth, more-extended high-end response, and tauter, crisper bass. These characteristics lend the LIM product an upper hand in listenability as well as naturalness. Then, after a while I could sense that the LIM rendered a more potent force on drums and displayed slightly wider dynamics. The more I listened, the less of a contest it became, with the LIM sounding better to me in almost every sonic category. Given the already high quality of the Proprius discs, that's quite a compliment to the LIM. Of course, we should not expect less, given the extremely high cost of the new LIM set, but maybe that's yet another story. 

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

JJP

Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 (CD review)

Also, Bartok: Piano Concerto No. 2. Lang Lang, piano; Sir Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic.  Sony 88883732252.

Sony’s release of the Prokofiev and Bartok piano concertos is these days kind of a quaint, old-fashioned, and highly welcome throwback. It’s a studio recording featuring a superstar soloist, a superstar conductor, a superstar orchestra, and a pair of superstar composers. It’s the sort of thing the big record companies used to produce almost on a monthly basis but now appear only in a blue moon. Economic conditions being what they are, about the only way to put together a star-studded cast is to record live, something that doesn’t always favor the best-sounding album. Whether the listener actually likes the new Sony disc seems almost beside the point; buyers need to prove to the record companies that there is still a profitable market for such items.

The superstar soloist is the relatively young Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang, possibly the most well-known young pianist on the world stage today. Although Lang Lang has never impressed me as much as he has other people with his up-and-down, sometimes bland, sometimes mannered, sometimes exaggerated readings, there is no question he has the measure of the Prokofiev and Bartok pieces on this disc. The superstar conductor is Sir Simon Rattle, a man whose work seems to me a little less energetic and electric than it once did but whose maturity and close attention to detail still produce music worthy of hearing. The superstar orchestra is the Berlin Philharmonic, an ensemble beyond reproach that continues to dazzle the listener with its rich, lustrous perfection. And the superstar composers are Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) and Bela Bartok (1881-1945), two of the most-prominent innovators of the twentieth century.

The Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26 comes up first, and the performers do their best job with it. The composer completed it in 1921 from sketches he began in 1913. Of his five completed piano concertos, the Third is among the most lyrical and melodic, doubtless contributing to its popularity. It begins slowly and softly, quickly building up a head of steam with the piano’s entry and becoming ever more rhapsodic and tempestuous through its three movements. If I still prefer Martha Argerich’s performance with Claudio Abbado (DG) and Byron Janis’s with Kiril Kondrashin (Mercury) for their greater involvement and dynamism, Lang Lang’s treatment of the work is, nevertheless, refreshing.

The concerto gets off to an easygoing start but quickly picks up a head of steam, which Lang Lang carries out admirably. While he seems a little more cautious with it than some musicians, it blends nicely with the lyricism that comes after it. Then, too, we can probably thank Maestro Rattle for the careful, meticulously warm yet detailed accompaniment. The Prokofiev Third is, after all, one of those concertos where the orchestra plays almost as big a part as the soloist. I enjoyed Lang Lang's virtuosic skills quite a bit here, even if he doesn't seem as attuned to the work's more playful passages as he could be. Still, the finger work is so dazzling, one can't argue with the results.

The work's second-movement theme and variations sounds particularly pleasing, Lang Lang and Rattle both taking their time to develop the music. It's nicely airy and ethereal in the outer sections and properly rambunctious in the faster segments. Maybe Lang Lang approaches it a bit more Romantically than some other pianists, but it's an effective, seductive Romanticism, punctuated as it ought to be with outbursts of modern dissonance.

In the final Allegro Lang Lang is at his best, playfully dancing along on the keyboard while the Berlin orchestra bounces along in glorious partnership. This is the Prokofiev that always comes to mind when I think about the man's music. It is energetic, exuberant, witty, rhythmic, poetic, rhapsodic, clearly into the twentieth century yet easily accessible. And Lang Lang, Rattle, and the Berliners give us the best of everything.

The second selection on the program is Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which doesn’t come off quite as well as the Prokofiev but is still quite good. In the Bartok, Lang Lang shows off his technical dexterity to even greater fashion than in the Prokofiev, possibly because the work demands it. The pianist's hands are ever on the move; I don't think there's a moment in the opening movement that the soloist is at rest. It's also a little harder to come to grips with Bartok's pulsing rhythms and relentless forward drive than it was with Prokofiev's more-forgiving, more melodic concerto. So if Lang Lang seems a bit more distant to me in the Bartok, it's probably not the pianist's fault so much as it is the composer's.

A brief Presto interrupts the long, slow, sweeping second-movement Adagio before it settles back into its peculiar languor. Its opening passages allow the soloist to rest his fingers for a minute, and then Lang Lang reenters the scene on a quietly poetic note. He is almost eerily plaintive in these parts and most effective.

The concerto's Allegro molto takes it out in a blaze of glory, with first Rattle and his players and then Lang Lang leading the charge. It makes a fitting conclusion for a fiery yet well-tempered program.  The album deserves attention.

Producer Christoph Franke and engineer Rene Moller recorded the music in February and April of 2013 at the Philharmonie, Berlin. We hear good depth to the orchestra, a good ambient bloom to the hall, a good breadth to the image, and a good integration of the piano and orchestra. The dynamic range is wide, the bass and treble strong, and the impact more than adequate. However, it's not one of those recordings where the sonics knock you out. It's much more natural than that, especially if you set the playback at an appropriate level for maybe a tenth row center seat. Then, the sound is really quite impressive, the recording one of the best from the Berlin Philharmonic I've ever heard; and it's got a most realistic piano sound, too, not overly close or excessively distant. Although the sound doesn't display the kind of transparency we hear on some audiophile recordings, it's hard to fault Sony's work on any count, it's so lifelike.

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

JJP

Classical Music News of the Week, November 17, 2013

American Bach Soloists Announce Messiah Tickets Now on Sale

Wednesday, December 11 & Thursday December 12, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. in San Francisco's magnificent Grace Cathedral.

“What stood out above all, in this annual rite that drew a huge crowd, was the sense of being addressed directly, personally, confidingly. Conductor Jeffrey Thomas brought it all together, melding his ABS forces with precision and intuitive responsiveness to Handel’s capacious 1742 masterwork.” --Steven Winn, SFCV

Shawnette Sulker soprano - Eric Jurenas countertenor
Aaron Sheehan tenor - Mischa Bouvier baritone
Performed on period instruments with the American Bach Choir, Jeffrey Thomas conductor

For more information, click here: http://americanbach.org/seasons/13-14/Messiah.htm

--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

National Philharmonic Chorale to Perform Handel’s Messiah at the Music Center at Strathmore
In celebration of the holidays, National Philharmonic Chorale Artistic Director Stan Engebretson will conduct the National Philharmonic in Handel’s Messiah on Saturday, December 14 at 8 pm and Sunday,  December 15 at 3 pm at the Music Center at Strathmore. The concert will feature the National Philharmonic’s nearly 200 voice all-volunteer Chorale, as well as soloists Rosa Lamoreaux (soprano); Magdalena Wór  (mezzo-soprano);  Robert Petillo (tenor); and Kevin Deas (bass).

Handel’s Messiah, among the most popular works in Western choral literature, was first performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742. The composer’s most famous work is divided into three parts that address specific events in the life of Christ. Part one is primarily concerned with the Advent and Christmas stories; part two chronicles Christ's passion, resurrection, ascension and commitment to spreading the Christian message; and part three is based primarily upon the events chronicled in the Revelation of St. John. The National Philharmonic and Chorale, in addition to a stellar cast of soloists, will perform the complete work, which includes such favorites as “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” “And the Glory of the Lord,” and, of course, the famous “Hallelujah Chorus.”

A free pre-concert lecture will be offered at 6:45 pm on December 14 and at 1:45 on December 15 in the concert hall at the Music Center at Strathmore. To purchase tickets to National Philharmonic’s Messiah concerts on December 14 and 15, please visit nationalphilharmonic.org or call the box office at (301) 581-5100. Tickets start from $28. Kids 7-17 are FREE through the ALL KIDS, ALL FREE, ALL THE TIME program (sponsored by The Gazette). ALL KIDS tickets must be purchased in person or by phone.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Violinist Nicolo Eugelmi Moves on from the Fine Arts Quartet
After four years with the Fine Arts Quartet, violinist Nicolò Eugelmi looks forward to his Vancouver residency and new recording and chamber music projects.

Described as “a player of rare perception” (The Strad) and “the ideal soloist” (La Presse, Montreal), violist Nicolò Eugelmi has performed to critical and public acclaim in the world's finest venues, including Carnegie Hall, the St. Petersburg Philharmonia, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and the Berlin Philharmonie, among many others. For the last four years, Eugelmi has performed with the distinguished Fine Arts Quartet, touring extensively throughout Europe and North America, with as many as 100 concerts a year. Now, says Eugelmi, it is time to explore different challenges:

“As part of the Fine Arts Quartet, from 2009-2013, I had the opportunity to perform a rich and diverse repertoire, collaborate with great artists, and see the world. Over time, however, the nonstop schedule became too much. It seemed that as soon as we returned from one tour, we were flying off for the next one and, recently, it became evident that it was time to move on. I have always embraced new challenges, and as I transition into a new solo career— which for a violist is mainly chamber music and occasional solo appearances—I look forward to renewed collaborations with friends and colleagues around the world.” Notably, Eugelmi succeeded his own mentor in the quartet's lineage, Gerald Stanick, with whom he earned his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees at the University of British Columbia.

Last week, Nick returned to Vancouver as Artist-in-Residence at UBC from November 8-16, where he performed Bach’s Concerto BWV 1053R with the UBC Chamber Strings, a reconstruction by musicologist Wilfried Fischer of the lost Bach Viola Concerto based on BWV 49, 169, and 1053, in addition to viola and chamber music masterclasses. Other upcoming projects include concerts with members of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and violinist David Kim, and a new recording with clarinetist Patrick Messina and pianist Nina Tichman in Paris.

Nicolò Eugelmi has performed as soloist with the Vancouver, Edmonton, and Montreal Symphony Orchestras, and l'Orchestre Métropolitain, under conductors Mario Bernardi, Jon Washburn, Jacques Lacombe, Jean-Claude Casadesus, and Charles Dutoit. He has given numerous Canadian, North American, and world premieres, including John Harbison's Viola Concerto (1988), Gavin Bryars' The North Shore, Imant Raminsh's What Voices in an Unknown Tongue, and his own commission from the late Jacques Hétu, Concerto pour Alto et Orchestre, Op.75. Musical collaborators have included Joseph Kalichstein, Menahem Pressler, Martin Beaver, Andrew Dawes, Paul Neubauer, the Vlach Quartet Prague, and Talich Quartets, among many others. Mr. Eugelmi held the positions of Associate Principal Violist with the Vancouver and Montreal Symphonies and Principal Violist with the Canadian Opera Company.

Born in Canada to an Italian father and German mother, Eugelmi’s extensive discography includes Brahms Sonatas and Songs, named a “Strad Selection” by the prestigious magazine, and Brahms Lieder with contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux, a Juno Award nominee and Prix Opus winner as well as a Gramophone Editor's Choice.

For a complete bio and additional information please see: www.nicoloeugelmi.com

--Shira Gilbert PR

Minnesota Opera World Premiere Production of Silent Night Broadcast Nationwide on PBS December 13
Conducted by Michael Christie, Silent Night was written by Kevin Puts, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music, with libretto by Mark Campbell and based upon the Oscar-nominated film Joyeux Nöel. “With this remarkable debut, Puts assumes a central place in the American opera firmament,” said Opera News. “Michael Christie is a director open to adventure and challenge,” said The New York Times.

Kevin Puts: www.kevinputs.com

On December 13, 2013, Minnesota Opera’s world premiere production of composer Kevin Puts’ Silent Night, led by conductor Michael Christie, will be broadcast nationwide on PBS. Puts won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for music with Silent Night, his first opera. Minnesota Opera commissioned Puts to write the work with librettist Mark Campbell and the opera received its world premiere, conducted by Minnesota Opera Music Director Michael Christie, in St. Paul in November 2011. Pulitzer officials described Silent Night as "a stirring opera that recounts the true story of a spontaneous cease-fire among Scottish, French and Germans during World War I, displaying versatility of style and cutting straight to the heart."

The opera is based on the screenplay Joyeux Nöel by Christian Carion for an Oscar nominated motion picture produced by Nord-Ouest Production. Silent Night includes scenes sung in German, French, English, Italian and Latin. NPR wrote, “Much of the opera is set in the trenches of a Belgian battlefield during the days before Christmas 1914. On Christmas Eve, music comes from the French and Scottish bunkers as soldiers celebrate the holiday. An opera-singing German soldier responds with a Christmas song, and before long white flags wave and a temporary truce is brokered. In the end, generals admonish their soldiers for giving in and the battlefield is emptied as snow begins to fall. As soon as Puts watched the film, he could envision the scenes unfolding onstage. His love of cinema affected the rhythm of his opera.”

When Christie led Silent Night in 2013 with Opera Company of Philadelphia, The New York Times praised maestro Michael Christie’s “supple pacing and vitality.” Maestro Christie was featured in Opera News in August 2012 as one of 25 people they believed would “break out and become major forces in the field in the coming decade.” During his tenure with the Phoenix Symphony, Christie premiered works by 16 living composers, and has championed commissions by leading and emerging composers alike, including Osvaldo Golijov, Matthew Hindson, Marjan Mozetich, Stephen Paulus, Michael Daugherty, Mason Bates, Mark Grey, and more.

For the exact time of the broadcast in your area, visit www.pbs.org.

--Christina Jensen PR

Chanticleer’s Cherished NYC Christmas Concerts Come to St. Ignatius Loyola December 8 & 9
This December, two fixtures of the New York City holiday scene—Chanticleer and the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola—team up to double your Christmas joy. The Grammy-winning ensemble, widely considered the gold standard of male choruses, brings its magical Christmas concert to the Church (980 Park Avenue between 83rd and 84th Streets, NYC) for two dates: Sunday, December 8 at 4pm and Monday, December 9 at 7pm. Tickets are $75 preferred / $60 general and can be purchased 24/7 at www.smssconcerts.org or 212.288.2520.

The Upper East Side Church of St. Ignatius Loyola’s stunning sanctuary is usually overflowing with musical abundance thanks to its venerable music series Sacred Music in a Sacred Space, overseen by visionary Artistic Director K. Scott Warren. But this Christmas season, the Church celebrates a special gift: the arrival of Chanticleer, called “the world’s reigning male chorus” by The New Yorker, to its new permanent home for the holidays in New York City.

Ticket information:
December 1 at 4pm, Advent Lessons & Carols: Free will offering (no ticket necessary)
December 8 at 4pm & December 9 at 7pm, Chanticleer Tickets: $75 preferred / $60 general
December 15 at 3pm & 18 at 7pm, A Child is Born Christmas Concert Tickets: $75 preferred / $60 general / $50 reduced.

Order online: www.smssconcerts.org
Phone: 212.288.2520  24/7 ordering and customer service

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Clare College Choir, Cambridge, North American Tour
The poised and immaculate voices of the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge embark on their first North American Tour December 9-14 2013 with dates in Princeton (NJ), Concord (NH), St. Johnsbury (VT), Cincinnati and Cleveland Heights (OH).

"Thrilling ... Superb ensemble singing of the Choir of Clare College under Graham Ross."
--Gramophone

The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge and director Graham Ross return to the U.S. with a new Advent program based around the great plainchant 'O' Antiphons. William Byrd's "Vigilate," Mendelssohn's "Say, where is He born" "There shall a star from Jacob" and Howells's "The fear of the Lord" are performed alongside traditional and less-familiar works that echo the sentiments of the Antiphons. These include the superb Roderick Williams setting of "O Adonai et Dux domus" and two world premieres: "I sing of a maiden" and "O Come, O come, Emmanuel" by Director Graham Ross.

Founded in 1971, the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge has gained an international reputation as one of the leading university choral groups in the world. Beyond its primary function of leading services three times a week in the College Chapel in Cambridge, the Choir maintains an active schedule recording, broadcasting and performing worldwide.

In addition to live performances the Choir has produced an impressive discography. The Choir's CD of John Rutter's 'Requiem', produced by the composer as is this disc, was awarded Editor's Choice by Gramophone, amongst other accolades. The Choir's partnership with harmonia mundi includes recordings of Handel's 'Messiah', Blow's 'Venus and Adonis' with René Jacobs, and, most recently, world premiere recordings of choral works by Imogen Holst, hailed for "impeccable ensemble" and "thrilling performances."

"If you ever needed confirmation of the fantastically high standard of choral singing that exists in the UK, look, or rather hear, no further than the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge." --Classical Source

North American Tour: December 9-14, 2013
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge will bring "Veni Emmanuel" on tour in December.
Dec. 9   Princeton, NJ - Trinity Church
Dec. 10   Boston, MA - TBD
Dec. 11   Concord, NH - St. Paul's School
Dec. 12   St. Johnsbury, VT - Vermont Catamount Arts Center
Dec. 13   Cincinnati, OH - St. Peter in Chains Cathedral
Dec. 14   Cleveland Heights, OH - Fairmount Presbyterian Church

For more information, click www.clarecollegechoir.com

--Sarah Folger, Harmonia Mundi

Harriet Tubman Opera Preview at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture  Artist Q&A to follow, moderated by WQXRs Terrance McKnight

AOP (American Opera Projects) and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture will co-present an evening of scenes from Nkeiru Okoye's folk opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom that tells of how a young girl born in slavery, becomes Harriet Tubman, the legendary Underground Railroad conductor. The musical excerpts will be followed by an artist Q&A moderated by WQXR's Terrance McKnight. The concert will be presented on Monday, December 9, 2013 at 6:30 PM at the Langston Hughes Auditorium: 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY 10037-1801. General admission will be $10 ($8 for Schomburg Society Members) and available by calling (212) 491-2206 or visiting www.showclix.com/event/HarrietTubman.

Harriet Tubman will include performances by soprano Sumayya Ali (Lincoln Center, Berkshire Opera, Sarasota Opera), soprano Sequina DuBose (Lyric Opera of Chicago, Opera Memphis, PAB Theater), contralto Nicole Mitchell (Lincoln Center Festival, Sarasota Opera), tenor Clinton Ingram (Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Teatro Real), and baritone Damian Norfleet (New York City Opera, Glimmerglass Opera). The evening will feature a string ensemble with music direction by Mila Henry, stage direction by Beth Greenberg (New York City Opera) and WQXR's Terrance McKnight moderating a Q&A with the artists.

For more about American Opera Projects, visit www.operaprojects.org.

--Matt Gray, American Opera Projects

Harpsichordist Davitt Moroney Performs Bach’s Partitas Nos. 1, 5, and 6 on Sunday, December 1, at 3:00 p.m. in Hertz Hall, Berkeley, CA
Renowned keyboard player and UC Berkeley professor of music Davitt Moroney will perform J. S. Bach’s Partitas Nos. 1, 5, and 6 on Sunday, December 1, at 3:00 p.m. in Hertz Hall. Recognized as “one of the most accomplished players in the world, marrying deep scholarship with a lively musical imagination” (Washington Post), Moroney continues his traversal of Bach’s major keyboard works that he began with his first concert presented by Cal Performances in 2008.

Davitt Moroney has recorded nearly 60 CDs of music of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, winning several Gramophone Awards, France's Grand Prix du Disque de l'Académie Charles Cros, and other international prizes for his performances. He has been praised by critics throughout Europe and North America for his thoughtful musicality and expressive approach to the keyboard.

Born in England in 1950, Davitt Moroney studied at the University of London, King’s College, and earned concert performance and teaching diplomas from London’s Royal Academy of Music and Royal College of Music. After completing his doctorate in musicology at UC Berkeley in 1980, Moroney moved to Paris. For over 20 years he worked primarily as a freelance recitalist in various countries. He returned to Berkeley in 2001 and is now a Professor of Music, University Organist, and Director of the University Baroque Ensemble.

Among his most substantial recording sets are William Byrd’s complete keyboard works (127 pieces, on seven CDs, using six instruments) and the complete harpsichord and organ music of Louis Couperin (more than 200 pieces, on seven CDs, using four historic instruments). His most recent recordings include: the complete harpsichord works of Louis Marchand and Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (2007); a two-CD album of works from the “Borel Manuscript” (2008) of French harpsichord music preserved only in Berkeley’s Hargrove Music Library. He has most recently  recorded the fifth in a ten-CD series devoted to the complete harpsichord works of François Couperin (234 pieces). Moroney has given organ and harpsichord master classes at the Paris Conservatoire, the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatoire, The Juilliard School and Oberlin Conservatory, as well as in South Korea, Finland, Belgium, and Switzerland, and regularly serves as a judge of international organ and harpsichord competitions. Recent concerts include recitals in Germany, Holland, Italy, England, and Scotland, and in Berkeley with Cal Performances in the 2012-2013 season.

Ticket information:
Tickets for Davitt Moroney, on Sunday, December 1 at 3:00 p.m. in Hertz Hall are priced at $42.00 and are subject to change. Tickets are available through the Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall; at (510) 642-9988; at www.calperformances.org; and at the door.  Half-price tickets are available for UC Berkeley students. UC faculty and staff, senior citizens, other students and UC Alumni Association members receive a $5.00 discount (Special Events excluded). For select performances, Cal Performances offers UCB student, faculty and staff, senior, and community rush tickets.  For more information about discounts, go to http://calperformances.org/buy/discounts.php or call (510) 642-9988.

--Rusty Barnes, Cal Performances

Joana Carneiro and Berkeley Symphony Present Peter Wyrick as Soloist in Haydn's Cello Concerto No. 1 December 5 
Music Director Joana Carneiro and Berkeley Symphony continue their 2013-2014 season on Thursday, December 5 at 8 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA, with a program featuring the music of Australian composer Brett Dean alongside classical masterworks from Brahms and Haydn. San Francisco Symphony Associate Principal cellist Peter Wyrick, praised for his “sumptuous elegance” by Joshua Kosman in the San Francisco Chronicle, joins Berkeley Symphony as soloist for Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major with Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 completing the program.

In addition to his respected section and solo work with the San Francisco Symphony, Peter Wyrick has served as principal cellist of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and Associate Principal Cellist of the New York City Opera Orchestra. As a member of the Ridge String Quartet, he performed throughout the world and recorded the Dvorák piano quintets with pianist Rudolf Firkusny, an RCA recording that won France’s Diapason d’Or and a Grammy nomination. Mr. Wyrick has participated in Finland’s Helsinki Festival, the Spoleto Festival - both in this country and in Italy – and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. As soloist, he has also performed with the Aspen Chamber Orchestra, Queens Philharmonic, American Chamber Orchestra, Oklahoma Chamber Orchestra, Kozponti Sinfonicus in Budapest, Hungary and Silicon Valley Orchestra. A versatile performer of all musical genres, Peter Wyrick will demonstrate his artistry with Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major, a work considered to be a cornerstone of the cello repertory. Composed early in Haydn’s career sometime between 1761 and 1765, the score remained lost until its rediscovery in 1962. Following the unexpected find in a collection held at the Czech National Library in Prague, the work was given its second premiere in the same city with cellist Miloš Sádlo and Charles Mackerras conducting the Czech Radio Symphony.

Australian composer Brett Dean composed Carlo in 1997, dedicating it to the Australian Chamber Orchestra and concertmaster Richard Tognetti, who commissioned the work. Combining music for strings with excerpts sampled from the Madrigals of the pioneering late Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, the work traces a “journey between two different time zones.” Gesualdo’s life was marred by the murder of his wife and her lover and it is the intrinsic relationship between his dark background and music that is explored throughout this work.

Despite writing all four symphonies much later in this career, Brahms composed his second symphony less than a year after the first symphony and it is considered one of the most beautiful and mellifluous. In notes commenting on the picturesque seaside village of Pörtschach where he composed the work, Brahms himself noted “…the melodies flow so freely that one must be careful not to trample on them.” Although Brahms was pigeon-holed as a conservative by his critics, his music was remarkably innovative, breathing life and new directions into old-fashioned forms.

Single tickets for the concert are $15-$74. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (510) 841-2800 x1 or visit www.berkeleysymphony.org.

--Karen Ames and Brenden Guy, Karen Ames Communications

Dyad Plays Puccini (CD review)

Lou Caimano, alto saxophone; Eric Olsen, piano. Ringwood Records.

Mixing jazz with classical is not new. The Jacques Loussier Trio, for instance, have been doing it for the better part of the last fifty years. Besides, audiophiles love the idea because they mostly listen to jazz and classical, anyhow, two genres most often heard live unamplified and, therefore, best to make comparisons in the quality of home playback equipment. So, here we have the jazz duo Dyad--Lou Caimano, alto sax and Eric Olsen, piano--playing music of Italian operatic composer Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924).

OK, Puccini may be the stretch. It’s maybe easier to imagine jazz arrangements of Stravinsky, even Verdi, than the bold lyricism of Puccini. Yet Caimano and Olsen do their best and come up looking for the most part pretty good. Just don’t expect as much classical as jazz. While Dyad begin with some of Puccini’s most-famous melodies, the tunes themselves tend quickly to get lost amidst all the lively riffing. What we get is not quite classical laced with a little jazz as it is jazz laced with a little classical.

Whatever, the music is still fun and extremely well played, so who cares how we define it. Whether it will please all classical fans or all jazz afficionados, however, is another question.

A little on the matter of the duo’s name: The word Dyad derives from the Greek, meaning “two” or “a pair.” That makes sense, given there are two musicians involved.  Dyad was also a word the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras applied not only to the number two but to matter itself. Well, for sure, the musical pair Dyad do matter. They make some beautiful sounds together; and maybe credit Olsen’s wife, an operatic soprano, with coming up with the album’s theme in the first place. She commented to her husband that the sound of Caimano’s alto saxophone reminded her of an opera singer, and, thus came about Dyad Plays Puccini.

You can hear a brief snippet of the opening number below, “Musetta’s Waltz” from La Boheme. The waltz has a nice, bouncy cadence; Caimano's sax glides effortlessly; and Olsen's piano (a 127-year-old Steinway B grand) provides a sympathetic accompaniment.

"Ch'ella mi credo" from La Fanciulla del West is perhaps a better illustration of Puccini's lyrical style, and Caimano's sax here really does sound as though it's "singing." It's among the loveliest tracks on the disc.

Next, we get the Act I Overture to Madama Butterfly, and while it's not quite as effective in communicating Puccini's grand operatic style, it does offer a comely upbeat interlude. After that is "Che gelida manina" from La Boheme, one of Puccini's most recognizable melodies. However, taken out of its operatic context, I'm not entirely sure it works as well as some of the other tunes Dyad play. It seems a tad forced, as though Caimano and Olsen are trying too hard to make a square peg fit into a round hole. Still, there's much to enjoy, including the soulful alto sax and the sometimes playful piano interplay.

And so it goes through the album's ten selections, some hits, some near misses. "In quelle trine morbide" from Manon Lescaut comes off sweetly; “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi again seems a touch labored and not quite soaring enough; and "Un bel di" from Madama Butterfly presents some of the nicest interplay between the sax and piano on the program.

The standout on the set for me, though, was “E lucevan le stelle” from Tosca. It clearly bridges the gap between opera and jazz, thanks in large part for its playing it straighter than most of the other songs. It's less an outright jazz interpretation and more an operatic transcription (and a very good one) that conveys the tragedy of the opera.

The final two numbers are "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from La Rondine, a pleasant, lightweight affair that gets a bit rowdy toward the end; and the ubiquitous "Nessun dorma" from Turandot, in which Dyad make a good stab at jazzing up a perennial favorite with uncertain results. I liked the Eastern overtones it supplies, with a prominent part for Olsen's piano work; yet it doesn't always catch fire or exhibit Puccini's noble, imposing scope.

Still, this is enjoyable album, filled with grace and poise, that kept me fascinated for its duration. If I have any minor criticisms, it's that I missed having track timings on the packaging (they're printed on the disc itself, but what good is that while you're playing the disc); and I missed an enclosed booklet of notes (there are only a couple of paragraphs printed on the Digipak container).

Lou and Eric produced the album themselves with the help of audio engineer Philip Ludwig, recording it at the Ridgewood Conservatory, Ringwood, New Jersey in July, 2012. The sound is maybe the best part of the show. The engineer has miked it at just the right distance to produce a natural, realistic effect, the musicians appearing slightly recessed behind the speakers instead up-close and in your face. Detailing is lifelike, too, yet smooth and resonant, with a good sense of the room in which they're playing. Dynamics, frequency response, impact, air, and general transparency are all equally fine.

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.