Rachmaninov: The Bells (CD review)

Also, Symphonic Dances. Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic. Warner Classics 50999 9 84519 2 0.

The first and presumably main attraction here is Russian composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninov’s (1873-1943) The Bells, a choral symphony the composer wrote in 1913, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s poem of the same name. In Poe’s poem the poet was experimenting with sound, using onomatopoeia, the imitation of sounds of real life through the sounds of words. Thus, if you read an onomatopoetic poem like “The Bells” aloud, you would be able to hear the sounds of various bells: sleigh bells, wedding bells, alarm bells, and mournful death knells. Accordingly, that’s the way Rachmaninov set up his symphony--in four movements, with a choir to sing the words along with the orchestra. It became one of the composer’s favorite pieces. To me, however, it seems rather to defeat Poe’s purpose to do the work orchestrally; I mean, you can have real bells with an orchestra. But I suppose that’s beside the point. It’s fascinating music, and Sir Simon Rattle has a delightful time with it.

Rattle also has the advantage over most other conductors of this work in that he has the magnificent Berlin Philharmonic at his disposal. The ensemble sounds gorgeous, as always, leaving no doubt in a listener’s mind that it’s one of the world’s great orchestras.

Anyway, like Poe's poem, the music of Rachmaninov’s The Bells starts out lightly and cheerfully with the sleigh bells ("The Silver Sleigh Bells") of youth and works its way through life gradually to the dark, forbidding, yet ultimately comforting bells of death ("The Mournful Iron Bells"). Rattle handles each segment of what Poe called "tintinnabulation" gracefully, tunefully, and colorfully. This is one of Rachmaninov's most expressive pieces of the music, perhaps why he liked it so much himself, and Rattle's way with it is playful when necessary, gentle, exciting, and then menacing, sorrowful, and peacefully uplifting at the end. Rattle never goes out his way to emphasize the Dies irae (“Day of Wrath” or Judgment Day) motif that so often insinuates itself into Rachmaninov's music, nor does he disguise it. With Rattle it simply exists as an integral part of the music. Overall, this is one of the best performances of The Bells I've heard, one of the most thoughtful and subtle, with no undue sensationalizing.

Insofar as concerns the coupling, it’s Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, which the composer wrote late in life (premiering the music in 1941, just a year or two before his death). Initially, he intended the Dances as a part of a ballet project that fell through. The three dances in the suite have been in the repertoire ever since, and the public probably knows them as well as they know anything the composer wrote.

Among previously available recordings, I’ve always liked Andre Previn’s account with the London Symphony on EMI, which has long stood the test of time; Eiji Oue’s rendering with the Minnesota Orchestra on Reference Recordings, which is without a doubt the best recorded version you’ll find; and Vasily Petrenko’s more-recent realization with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic for its sheer energy. While it probably isn’t the best idea to compare different interpretations to one another because each one will have its fair share of valid interpretive points, I can’t help enjoying some recordings more than others. In this case, I can’t say I liked Rattle’s version better than my previous favorites. Let me explain.

With Rattle and the Symphonic Dances we have a different story from The Bells. Rattle is one of the most civilized conductors in all of music, and he seems to be getting more understated as he gets older. I'm one of those guys who actually liked Rattle's work more with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra back in the Eighties and Nineties than with the Berlin Philharmonic, despite the Berliners being the richer, more-opulent ensemble. Rattle seemed to me more spontaneous back then, more youthfully energetic and exuberant. Which is what I sense lacking in these Symphonic Dances. They sound too civilized.

Rattle's approach to the Dances seems too cultured, too refined to me. There is neither the imagination Previn injected into them nor the sheer adrenaline rush Petrenko provided. What's more, Warner Classics didn't provide them the kind of all-out sonic splendor that we hear from Reference Recordings. So what we have from Rattle is an elegant set of Symphonic Dances that doesn't quite get the blood to pounding the way other conductors have done. Still, it's a finely polished performance and one that may well appeal to listeners seeking such an interpretation. Certainly, Rattle makes the most of the sinuously lyrical second movement, has a pleasingly relaxed manner with the alto solo and waltz tunes, and again never flaunts the Dies irae ostentatiously in the final dance.

There is no one and only "right" way to deal with any score, after all, and Rattle's graceful, intellectual rendition of the Symphonic Dances makes a welcome addition to the catalogue, whether I happen to love it or not.

As is their usual practice with most Simon Rattle Berlin recordings, Warner Classics (formerly EMI) made it during live concerts, these from 2010 and 2012. While the sound of these live affairs is never bad, it can’t quite match in naturalness what the engineers can do without an audience. The producer in this case was Christoph Franke and the engineer Rene Moeller, and they do their best with an audience present, and the sound they obtain doesn't appear as close as it sometimes can be in such affairs. There's a wide stereo spread, although orchestral depth suffers a tad, and vocals can be bright, sometimes piercing, especially in massed voices. Lows appear reasonably well extended, particularly in bass drum and organ passages; the midrange is a little too warm and soft for my taste; but treble notes glisten believably. Oddly, too, there were times when I thought the engineers might have intentionally clamped down on the dynamics too much, restricting the range a bit more than absolutely necessary. Or so it sounded to me.

Most important to the sonics, there is little or no sense of the audience's presence in the recording, which I count as a good thing. There is no obvious breathing or coughing, shuffling of feet, or handling of programs from the audience. And even better, there is no burst of applause at the end of each number to distract one from the listening experience. I attend live symphonic concerts two or three times a month and enjoy them immensely, but when I'm home I recognize it's a different occasion; I want the sound to emulate that of a real concert hall all right, yet without the intrusive noises of people around me. While this latest recording from Simon Rattle does not match the best audio reproduction I've heard from the Berlin Philharmonic, for a live recording it sounds OK.

JJP

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


Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 31 and 38 (SACD review)


Josef Krips, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. PentaTone Classics SACD 5186 119.

Now, this is the way I remember Philips recordings and the Concertgebouw sounding years ago in their glory days. Way back before digital processing and before Chailly and Decca had picked up the Concertgebouw Orchestra, there was this wonderful resonant ambiance that gave the ensemble a golden glow. The old Concertgebouw recordings, like this one, were little gems that shone radiantly in the world of classical music. It’s nice to have some of them back more radiant than ever.

From time to time I’ve mentioned that during the early 1970’s when Quadraphonic sound was a short-lived rage, companies like Philips experimented with the technique but never actually issued much of it in anything but straight two-channel stereo. Then, some thirty years later with the advent of SACD multichannel capability, PentaTone Classics began re-releasing a number of Philips’s old four-channel recordings on hybrid stereo/multichannel discs, meaning a person could play them back in two channels or four or five channels, depending on one’s equipment and one’s preference.  PentaTone re-released the current issue in 2003.

I played the Mozart from the SACD stereo layer in my regular two-channel system, and it sounded terrific. Very clean, very smooth, and, most happily, very glowing and ambient, better than I ever recalled hearing the recording before, perhaps because PentaTone remastered both the multichannel and stereo layers. I would imagine the ambient bloom I’m referring to would show up even better being reinforced by some subtle surround information in the rear channels. Incidentally, the Philips recordings were originally miked in four channels, not five or five-point-one, so that’s the way PentaTone have preserved them.

As far as the music is concerned, it’s lovely. Josef Krips was a consummate Mozartian of the old school, and his performances of Symphony No. 31 “Paris” and and No. 38 “Prague” are bouncy, charming, traditional, but reasonably impassioned, too. There is no stuffiness about them, especially not the little “Paris” Symphony, and they come across most lovingly. Compared to the several rival recordings I had on hand--Barenboim, Klemperer, Mackerras--Krips loses something, perhaps, in overall character, appearing a bit plainer than the others. However, one should not consider this a drawback, and Krips’s traditional approach should appeal to those listeners seeking conventional yet affectionate interpretations. There is no lack of warmth or enchantment in these performances for all their straightforwardness.

If there is any drawback to the disc at all, it’s that many of Krips’s recordings in regular stereo are available at a much lower cost, if not in as clean sound. But if it’s multichannel you’re looking for or the best possible Krips in two-channel, this is a fine route to take.

JJP

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

Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos. 3 and 4 (CD review)

Also, Sonata for Piano and Violin No. 22. Ray Chen, violin; Christoph Eschenbach, Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra. Sony 88765447752.

This disc has a lot of good things going for it. First, Mozart wrote the material, always a good sign. Second, young Taiwanese violinist Ray Chen, who has won numerous awards and made several well-received albums for Sony, does a splendid job with the music. Third, we have the renowned pianist and conductor Christoph Eschenbach along with the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra accompanying Chen. And fourth, the Sony engineers do a fine job with the sound.

Of course, the question with any album like this, no matter how good it may be, is, Do I need another one? Presumably, most classical-music fans already have one or more favorite recordings of Mozart’s violin concertos, so is it worth investing in yet another one just to see how it measures up? Which is why reading multiple reviews of new recordings comes in handy and, one also assumes, why you are reading this particular review today. Well, I’ll tell you in advance that this reviewer found Mr. Chen’s performances quite good. However, for my own money, I’m not sure I would invest in yet another recording when I already own excellent renditions from the likes of Mutter (DG, JVC, and EMI), Grumiaux (Philips), St. John (Ancalagon), and Oistrakh (EMI). But that’s just me; I haven’t a lot of money to spend on experimentation. For collectors who do have plenty to spend, however, and certainly for the many admirers of Ray Chen the disc seems a worthy investment.

Anyway, Chen starts the program with the Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216, which Mozart wrote along with all five of his violin concertos in Salzburg in 1775 when he was only nineteen years old. Mozart was more of a piano guy, so he didn’t take the violin concerto very far before he died. Nevertheless, because he died relatively young, who knows what he may have done with the genre had he lived another thirty or forty years. In any case, No. 3 is fairly typical of the form, with an Allegro, an Adagio, and a closing Rondeau Allegro. It is not particularly adventurous, but it is Mozart, which means it’s always charming. Besides, despite Mozart’s age when he composed these things, he was a prodigy, a musical genius who had been composing since his early childhood. In terms of their development and maturity, therefore, the violin concertos are more like the work of a man twice Mozart’s years.

Chen seems more in tune with the lyrical qualities of Mozart than he was in a previous recording I reviewed of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, where he seemed more relaxed than dramatic or exciting. In both instances, though, Chen shows a terrific command of the instrument, his virtuosity never in question. But in the present Mozart, his perhaps natural penchant for understatement serves the music pretty well. Chen maintains a light touch on the strings, helping the concerto to bounce along with plenty of vim and vigor, yet not so fast that it loses any delicacy. I still don't think he throws himself into the music with the passion and enthusiasm of Anne-Sophie Mutter, but he does display a good range of emotions. There is an especially deep sense of pathos in the Adagio, where Chen seems most at home. There is also a delightful spirit to the final movement, where Chen's lyrical treatment of the faster sections elevates it above the ordinary.

Probably the single most outstanding characteristic of all the music on the album, though, is the sound of Chen's violin, a 1702 Stradivarius, the "Lord Newlands." It has a rich, fresh, effervescent tone that combined with Chen's fluid playing is quite easy to like. Or love, as the case may be.

The Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218 is in the same fast-slow-fast structure as No. 3: Allegro, Andante cantabile, and Rondeau (Andante grazioso - Allegro ma non troppo). Despite its classical structure, the Fourth Concerto is more romantic and sinuous than the Third, and Chen makes the most of it. The Fourth may also be more familiar to listeners than the Third, which means listeners may have more predetermined conceptions about it. In any case, Chen retains the better part of the work's wit and sparkle, keeping the often capricious music flowing evenly. Still, I missed the degree of impetuosity found in some competing versions, leading me again to appreciate Chen's handling of the concerto's slow movement more than his work in the outer movements, as good as they are.

Now, call me an old fuddy-duddy (OK, you're an old fuddy-duddy), but I enjoyed the accompanying Sonata for Piano and Violin No. 22 in A major, K 305 best of all on the program. Here, Chen again shares the spotlight with Mr. Eschenbach, this time with Eschenbach on piano. Although this is primarily Chen's album, the Sonata rather favors the piano as much as the violin, particularly in the longer second movement. Even though the engineers appear to do what they can to emphasize the violin, Eschenbach's piano part is really what carries the piece. Be what may, the two performers together create a sweet, cheerful, bubbly concoction that foreshadows the work of Schubert a few years later.

Producer Florian B. Schmidt and balance engineer Aki Matusch recorded the album for Sony Music Entertainment at Christkirche Rendsburg-Neuwork, Germany in July 2013. The sound they obtained is ultra clear and clean due in part, I'm sure, to some relatively close miking. The clarity comes at the expense of some orchestral depth in the concertos, but for many listeners it might be a fair trade-off. The violin tone sounds natural enough, with a pleasant bloom on the strings, and the whole affair is reasonably smooth as well, with only the tiniest evidence of hardness on occasion.

JJP

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


Alexandre Tharaud: Autograph (CD review)

Bis-Encores. Alexandre Tharaud, piano. Erato 50999 934137 2 5.

French pianist Alexandre Tharaud has an extensive discography consisting of dozens of albums covering almost every major composer for the piano, including Bach, Chopin, Grieg, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie, Schubert, and a host of others but, oddly, no Beethoven. On this 2013 album Tharaud presents twenty-three short selections by various noted composers but, again, no Beethoven. He says the album, called Autograph and which he subtitles Bis-Encores, is a collection of music that sums up his repertoire and his career. Fair enough.

So, the album comprises mostly light, airy, Romantic, ethereal piano music. Maybe Tharaud sees himself as the gentle, thoughtful, sensitive type. It’s certainly not a bad way to go; although it doesn’t make the for the most-exciting of programs, it makes for beautiful listening, and Tharaud is as good at it as anyone could be at it. The material is light, airy, Romantic, and ethereal, as is the playing.

Let me give you a few examples. Tharaud begins the program with the Prelude in B minor by Bach, in an arrangement by Alexander Siloti. It has a beautifully straightforward simplicity that Tharaud executes with care. It's contemplative music at its best.

Next is the Romance sans paroles No. 3, Op. 17 by Gabriel Faure. It is lovely in its graceful lines, which Tharaud characterizes with loving care. After that is a bit of a pick-me-up with Rameau's rondo piece Les Sauvages, one of the livelier tunes on the album. Then there's Gluck's popular Dance of the Blessed Spirits, again arranged for piano by Siloti, in which Tharaud conveys a sweet and untroubled peace.

And so it goes, each little work a shining gem and, for the most part, a quiet oasis for relaxation and thought. Of course, there are also a few things like Rachmaninov's Prelude in C sharp minor No. 2, Op. 3, which in Tharaud's hands is not only powerful and dynamic but noble and exciting.

Lots of favorites: The ones I've already mentioned and also Chopin's Minute Waltz, always welcome; Saint-Saens's The Swain, always delightful; Chabrier's Feuillet d'album and Bizet's Adagietto, both enchanting; Poulenc's aptly named Melancolie; and Satie's seductively odd little Gymnopedie No. 3.

Tharaud closes the program with piece by Bach, the Andante from his Concerto in B minor, arranged for piano by Mr. Tharaud. It has a calm, tranquil tone reminiscent of Beethoven's later Moonlight Sonata, and Tharaud’s handling of it easily points up the similarities.

The fact is, Tharaud never attempts to dazzle the listener with his technical virtuosity. I suspect it's a case of been there, done that. Here, he is only trying to reveal a part of himself in music he loves and, obviously, loves to play. It is an enjoyable package.

Erato producer and balance engineer Cecile Lenoir recorded the music at the Salle Colonne, Paris, in 2013. The piano sounds warm and cozy, with a pleasing resonant bloom on the notes. Mr. Tharaud appears to be in a spacious environment miked from a moderately close distance. The results are clear yet rounded, detailed yet smooth and natural. It's a sound that appropriately fits the nature of the music.

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

JJP

Classical Music News of the Week, February 23, 2014

Pianist Benjamin Hochman Performs a Program of Contemporary Variations as Part of
92Y Concerts at SubCulture, Monday, March 10th, 7:30 PM

As part of 92Y Concerts at SubCulture, pianist Benjamin Hochman performs a program of variations at the newly opened Bleecker Street venue Monday March 10 at 7:30 pm. The recital includes the world premiere of Frederic Variations by Tamar Muskal and additional works selected demonstrate Mr. Hochman’s passion for the compositional technique and championship of contemporary composers. With its fine acoustics and intimate setting, SubCulture produces a unique concert experience that will allow Mr. Hochman to make a personal connection with the audience through commentary from the stage.

Mr. Hochman’s commitment to performing works by contemporary composers extends to his recordings. In November 2013 he released Homage to Schubert for the Avie record label pairing two late Schubert piano sonatas alongside musical tributes by György Kurtág and Jörg Widmann. In 2010 he performed on a recording of chamber music by Lawrence Dillon with the Daedalus Quartet. His debut solo recording for the Artek record label released in 2009 featured works by Bach, Berg and Webern’s Variations, Op. 27, a work he says fascinated him by wielding great power of expression from a minimum of material, and which he says planted the seed for this all-variations program.

Monday, March 10th, 7:30 p.m. (doors open 7:00 p.m.)
SubCulture, 45 Bleecker Street (downstairs), New York, NY 10012
92Y Concerts at SubCulture presents

Knussen: Variations, Op. 24
Berio: Cinque variazioni
Muskal: Frederic Variations (world premiere)
Rzewski: 36 Variations on “The People United Will Never Be Defeated!”

Tickets: General Admission $30; Premium Access $35 (priority entry to the venue) available from 92y.org

For more information: www.BenjaminHochman.com

--Ashlyn Damm, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Soprano Kristine Opolais Returns to the Met in April for Madama Butterfly, Then Jets to London for Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden
A dramatic singer of the highest caliber, Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais brings one of her signature roles—the vulnerable, passionate Cio-Cio-San—to Anthony Minghella’s exquisite cinematic production of Madama Butterfly at the Met in April. Then it’s back to Covent Garden in June for a highly-anticipated new production of Manon Lescaut, where she’ll take on the challenging title role opposite Jonas Kaufmann.

When Kristine Opolais stepped into the role of Cio-Cio-San at the last minute, making an unexpected Covent Garden debut in the London opera house’s 2011 production of Madama Butterfly, critics and audiences alike were mesmerized by the performance, calling it “a finely calibrated mix of formality and vulnerability” (The Guardian) that “deserved all of the thunderous applause and foot-stamping it received at the end” (Daily Express).

Since this dazzling debut, Ms. Opolais has built a reputation as an exceptional dramatic soprano, bringing natural vitality to the deep pathos of opera’s great heroines. Ms. Opolais began a busy 2013-14 season with one of Verdi’s most challenging roles, Desdemona in Otello at Hamburgische Staatsoper. She also reprised some of the formidable parts that have earned her a devoted international following including Rusalka and Eugene Onegin’s Tatiana at Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich. Also in Munich, she will be anchoring an exciting new production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito in February.

New York audiences are anxious to see her again, following her 2013 Met debut in La Rondine, where critics praised her as “an affectingly natural actress” possessing a “plush voice with a throbbing richness that lends a touch of poignancy to every phrase she sings” (The New York Times) and “an aura that defines a star” (The New York Observer). Her reputation as a superlative Puccini soprano in combination with one of the most stunning stage productions in the Met’s repertoire makes her April run a must-see event.

She continues her Puccini affair across the pond at Covent Garden in June/July 2014, starring in the title role of Jonathan Kent’s exciting new staging of Manon Lescaut, where she heads up an all-star cast that includes Christopher Maltman and Jonas Kaufmann.

For more information about Kristine Opolais, click https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kristine-Opolais/309344273722

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Pianist Brian Ganz, Guest Conductor Micha Dworzyn'ski and the National Philharmonic Pay Tribute to Poland at March Concerts
Pianist Brian Ganz and the National Philharmonic under the direction of Guest Conductor Micha Dworzn'yski will honor Polish WW II war hero Jan Karski, who revealed the Holocaust to the Allies, on the hundredth anniversary of his birth at the Music Center at Strathmore. The recognition of Karski will be led by Polish Ambassador to the United States, Ryszard Schnepf. The concert will feature the first Washington performance of the Bajka (Fairytale) Overture by Stanisaw Moniuszko, generally considered the father of the Polish national opera, as well as Ganz’s “Extreme Chopin” interpretation of the Polish composer’s Piano Concerto No. 1. The concert will take place at Strathmore on Saturday, March 8 at 8 pm and on Sunday, March 9 at 3 pm. Children between the age of 7 and 17 are free.

Guest Conductor Maestro Dworzyn'ski is the recently appointed music director of the Krakow (Poland) Philharmonic. Dworzyn'ski has received numerous accolades for his commitment to the
international promotion of composers from his native Poland. He studied in Warsaw with Antoni Wit and in Berlin with Christian Ehwald and, at 21, was appointed Assistant Conductor of the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Under Dworzyn'ski’s direction, the concert will begin with a dynamic musical narrative of the Bajka (Fairytale) Overture by Moniuszko, first performed in 1848. Moniuszko’s music is filled with patriotic folk themes of the people from the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Ganz as soloist will follow the Bajka. Ganz, a familiar face at the Strathmore, is nearing the halfway point in his decade-long “Extreme Chopin” quest to perform all of Chopin’s approximately 250 works. “The Concerto No. 1 was the first work of Chopin for piano and orchestra I ever performed,” Ganz notes, adding that the concerto is his favorite among the works for piano and orchestra of the composer, who was a major contributor to Poland’s culture.

For more information or to purchase tickets visit nationalphilharmonic.org or call 301-581-5100.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Virtuosic Accordionist Martynas Returns for Additional U.S. Tour Dates with David Garrett in March
A recent graduate of London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Music, 23-year-old Martynas revitalizes the accordion with his self-titled debut album, out now on Decca/Universal Music Classics.  Already a #1 chart-topping release in the UK and a Top 5 Billboard Crossover record in the U.S., Martynas’ album runs the gamut of genres, from pop covers to tango, classics and beyond.  The record highlights Martynas’ dynamic range while reflecting the breadth of his own broad musical taste for an exploration of all the accordion has to offer.

“Yes, I want to change the image of the accordion,” Martynas explains, “but I’m also trying to show all the different possibilities I have as a performer. All the arrangements are brand new and the pieces have never been played this way before. It’s exciting for me to be breaking some rules.”

The Atlantic recently proclaimed, “Accordions: So Hot Right Now – once considered glamorous and sexy, then forgotten, the instrument is making a comeback.”  On the classical side, Martynas tackles such iconic selections as Habanera from Carmen, Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and Gardel’s Por una cabeza, featuring violinist David Garrett. Martynas kicked off an extensive U.S. tour with Garrett in January, and will return to play more major cities in March. On the pop side, Martynas tackles new arrangements of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” and Katy Perry’s “Hot N’ Cold”; “Ai Se Eu Te Pego (Nossa Nossa),” a rousing Brazilian party anthem, featuring Martynas on vocals, and “Temptation,” a seductive, jazzy cover featuring Bria Skonberg on trumpet and vocals, along with additional vocals by Martynas (Skonberg recently landed on Downbeat Magazine’s Rising Stars Critic’s Poll for 2013).

For more information, click http://martynasmusic.com/

--Olga Makrias, Universal Music

Lorin Maazel Steps in for Daniele Gatti Conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in a Program of Schubert and Mahler Friday, March 7 in Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall
Cal Performances announced today that conductor Lorin Maazel has graciously agreed to step in for maestro Daniele Gatti in a performance by the Vienna Philharmonic of Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759, “Unfinished” and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G major on Friday, March 7 at 8:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA. Due to a tendinopathy (acute tendon inflammation) of both shoulders—on advice of his medical staff and with deep regret—Maestro Gatti has canceled all his professional engagements for the next two months.

Lorin Maazel is well known to Cal Performances audiences. He was last on campus when he brought his Castleton Festival Opera company to Zellerbach Hall for its West Coast premiere in March of 2011. The company brought two Benjamin Britten chamber operas The Rape of Lucretia and the comic Albert Herring.

The concert conducted by Lorin Maazel opens the Vienna Philharmonic’s residency, Friday-Sunday, March 7-9, at Cal Performances which also includes two additional concerts. On Saturday, March 8, Andris Nelsons, music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducts Haydn’s Symphony No. 90 in C major and Brahms’s Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn and Symphony No. 3 in F major. A matinee concert on Sunday, March 9 will feature Franz Welser-Möst, music director of The Cleveland Orchestra and Vienna State Opera, at the podium, in a program of Mozart’s Symphony No. 28 in C major, Staud’s On Comparative Meteorology, and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6 in A major.

In this, the Vienna Philharmonic’s second residency since its Berkeley debut in 2011, musicians from the Orchestra will participate in events that are free and open to the public, including talks, master classes, open rehearsals, and a chamber music concert. The two-day symposium provides a platform for an exploration of music and culture designed to connect Bay Area audiences with an international group of leading scholars, writers, and thinkers. UC Berkeley is represented by distinguished professors Thomas Laqueur (Department of History); Adam Hochschild (Graduate School of Journalism and author of To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion); Nicholas Mathew (Music); Niklaus Largier (German); and Martin E. Jay (History), among others. Visiting scholars include Michael P. Steinberg (Brown University, History, Music, and Director, Cogut Humanities Center), Christian Glanz (University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna); Alfred Poser (Deputy Director, Vienna Library in City Hall, Vienna); Hans Petschar (Head of the Visual Archives, Austrian National Library); Clemens Hellsberg (Chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra); Oliver Rathkolb (Department of Contemporary History, University of Vienna, and author of The Paradoxical Republic); and Christian Meyer (Director of the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna).

Clemens Hellsberg, also the Vienna Philharmonic’s longtime historian, will give a 30-minute talk before each of the three concerts. The talks are free to event ticket holders and are created to deepen concert-goers’ experience.

For further information regarding the three concerts or the schedule of the symposium, master classes, open rehearsals, and other residency events, please go to calperformances.org.

Ticket information:
Tickets for the Vienna Philharmonic concerts on Friday and Saturday, March 7 and 8, at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, March 9, at 3:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall range from $35.00 to $200.00 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 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

American Bach Soloists Announce 2014-15 Season
Five performances of Handel’s Messiah; Messiah Video Project; Bach’s St. Matthew Passion;
Handel’s Acis and Galatea; 2015 Jeffrey Thomas Award Winner.

Artistic & Music Director Jeffrey Thomas and American Bach Soloists (ABS) announce the 2014-15 season, which will include five performances of Handel's Messiah and three subscription concert weekends featuring Bach's St. Matthew Passion, Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major, and the solo cantata Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, along with Handel's Acis and Galatea, works by Vivaldi, and Leonardo Leo’s Concerto for Violoncello in A Major featuring the 2015 Jeffrey Thomas Award winner, Gretchen Claassen. Packed with Baroque masterpieces and rarities, the new season promises musical delight and discovery. Thomas is especially pleased to present a roster of frequent ABS performers and new artists during ABS’s 26th season.

Subscriptions:
Subscription renewals for the 2014-15 season go on sale March 1 with new subscriptions available on April 21. The three-concert subscriptions range from $69 - $168. Messiah tickets may be purchased along with a subscription and range from $92 - $251. To purchase a subscription, call (415) 621-7900 or visit americanbach.org.

Single tickets:
Single tickets for subscription series concerts range in price from $27 - $66 or for Messiah from $27 - $97 and go on sale July 1. For tickets or more information about the new season, please visit americanbach.org.

--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

Enter the Imagination of Violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins with Two Powerful Music Video Performances Directed by Filmmaker William D. Caballero
Kelly Hall-Tompkins dazzles in Imagination, a unique music video project pairing two diverse works in beautifully shot performances by up-and-coming director and cinematographer William D. Caballero. The combination of Eugène Ysaÿe’s fiery and angular Violin Sonata in E major, No. 6 and the lush and whimsical “Pure Imagination,” from the beloved childhood classic film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, in a new jazz arrangement by Hall-Tompkins, showcases the multitude of facets of this stunning artist’s vibrant vision.

Following her most recent recording, In My Own Voice, Hall-Tompkins takes her “voice” a step further, exploring the music video genre which is still underutilized in classical music or jazz.  “I’m from the MTV generation,” says Hall-Tompkins, “I believe this is a way to use a familiar medium to attract new audiences,” noting also that the popular music industry is moving away from CDs toward digital media and YouTube. A third video being released features Hall-Tompkins speaking about the project.

Click here to view the videos:

Violin Sonata in E major, No. 6, Op.27, by Eugène Ysaÿe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7zWJ4E4fIE

“Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory:

--Shira Gilbert PR

Irondale Ensemble Project & American Opera Projects Present Lines of Freedom
Color Between the Lines & Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom
In repertory: works of musical theater that pay tribute to the heroes who fought for the end of slavery.  8 performances only!

February 20-March 1
Irondale Center, 85 South Oxford St., Brooklyn, NY 11217
Tickets $25 | Senior/Students $15 | Matinees $15
Buy Tickets:
Freedom Package - See both shows for $40
Freedom Matinee Package - See both matinees for $25

With two original shows, Irondale Ensemble Project and American Opera Projects partner for the Lines of Freedom Festival to celebrate the contributions and achievements of the African American community.


--Matt Gray, AOP News

Mezzo-Soprano Carla Dirlikov Becomes the First Singer to Win the Sphinx Medal of Excellence
The Medal of Excellence will be presented in Washington, D.C. by Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor at a black-tie gala on March 19th.

Mezzo-soprano and rising opera star Carla Dirlikov is one of three musicians chosen this year to be honored by the Sphinx Organization, a national training program that endeavors to involve Black and Hispanic young people in classical music performance. Sphinx annually identifies emerging Black and Latino classical musicians who “demonstrate artistic excellence, outstanding work ethic, a spirit of determination, and leadership potential.”

Ms. Dirlikov, whom Opera magazine described as having “the most compelling voice of the evening, one that grabbed the heartstrings with its dramatic force and musicality,” has been a tireless national and international advocate for the arts. The U.S. State Department recently conferred upon her the title of Cultural Envoy, the duties of which include promoting American culture overseas, giving master classes and teaching music to orphans and poverty-stricken youth.

Sphinx Founder and President, Aaron P. Dworkin, said of Ms. Dirlikov, "The Sphinx Medal of Excellence represents the highest award bestowed upon emerging artists of color. The honor represents extraordinary achievement during early stages of one's career, and we could not be more proud of this year's honorees. This year also marks the first instance when a singer was selected as a result of the process, which is very exciting. We congratulate Carla Dirlikov on this well-deserved honor and celebrate her talent and incredible accomplishments through this award.” The other award winners are pianist, organist, vocal coach, and conductor Damien Sneed of Augusta, GA and Cuban born percussionist Pablo “Pedrito” Martinez.

Ms. Dirlikov says, “To be chosen by their panel from among the thousands of deserving and dedicated musicians throughout the country is a milestone in my personal journey; but even more, it is a great responsibility to live up to the faith they have placed in me to further music and the arts in this country.”

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 (CD review)

Also, Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Natasha Paremski, piano; Fabien Gabel, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. RPO SP 044.

Even though I’ve spent many years looking over the monthly release lists for almost all the major record companies and their distributors and received a considerable heap of product for review, it always surprises me how little I know about who’s who and who’s doing what in the music industry. Maybe I’m just dense, or maybe it’s just too hard to keep up with the ever-changing face of the classical music world. In any case, I admit that when the present disc arrived, I did not recognize the name of young Russian-born American pianist Natasha Paremski. After hearing the album, that has certainly changed. She is a talent to be reckoned with, a bright and upcoming star who can hold her own in the company of any pianist. Nor did I recognize the relatively young French conductor Fabien Gabel, currently the Music Director of the Quebec Symphony Orchestra. Hopeless, I know I am. Well, at least I was able to identify London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Thomas Beecham’s old ensemble, so I guess I’m not a complete loss.

Maybe it was a part of his Russian temperament, I don’t know that, either, but Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-93) never seemed satisfied with much of his work, including his popular Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23. He finished it in 1875, revising it in 1879 and again in 1888. It’s possible the composer was just overly sensitive to the criticism that came before and after the concerto’s première, or possibly he didn’t care for the way the first performers played the piece. Who knows. On this disc Ms. Paremski plays the Concerto with Maestro Gabel and the RSO, and I can’t help thinking the composer would have been happy with the results.

Many of the biggest, most-popular piano concertos, the ones from Beethoven, Brahms, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninov, for instance, have a brawny quality about them that might at first blush seem best suited to a masculine performer. However, Martha Argerich among other female pianists pushed that idea aside long ago. I doubt that anyone could accuse Ms. Paremski of not being strong enough in her presentation, which gets off to a grand, bravura start and never lets up. As important, she is able to lend a poise and refinement to the softer moments, something lacking in many competing recordings.

Ms. Paremski handles the second-movement Andantino with a quiet grace and then in the finale goes out with a burst of passion and fire. It may not be the absolute most attention-getting performance ever committed to disc, but Ms. Paremski does everything right, everything one could ask of her in this music, without ever drawing attention to herself with any undue bravura despite her obvious virtuosic piano skills. The performance is fun, exciting, intense, Romantic, and well recorded.

Coupled to the Tchaikovsky we find the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1934) by Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943). Tchaikovsky predicted that Rachmaninov would be his logical successor, and surely Rachmaninov's symphonies and piano concertos, as well as the Rhapsody prove Tchaikovsky's prescience correct. Again, we find the Paremski, Gabel, RSO combo at the top of their game, producing an affectionate yet red-blooded account of the score. If anything, Ms. Paremski is even more joyously enthusiastic in the Rachmaninov than in the Tchaikovsky.

What's more, Maestro Gabel's conducting supports Ms. Paremski admirably, never upstaging her or her role in the music making, and the RPO play with their usual elegance, producing a rich accompaniment that impeccably complements the performances.

Producer Andrew Walton of K&A Productions and engineer Mike Clements recorded the music at Henry Wood Hall, London in December 2012. The sound is as big and bold as the music. There is a very wide frequency range involved and even wider dynamics. The perspective is somewhat close, yet it's also smooth and natural, with a fine sense of orchestral depth and bloom. Although the piano looms a bit large, to be sure, it also displays a sweet, resonant warmth. Occasionally one notices a slight stridency in the upper strings, but it isn't intrusive. Like the performances, the sound is lush without ever being gushy or sentimental.

JJP

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


Britten & Holst: Orchestral Works (CD review)

Andre Previn, London Symphony Orchestra. EMI 7243 5 62616 2.

Fritz Reiner, Bruno Walter, Leonard Bernstein, Thomas Beecham, and Leopold Stokowski in the late Fifties and Sixties. Otto Klemperer, Herbert von Karajan, and Bernard Haitink in the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, and beyond. And then, too, there was Andre Previn and in the late Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties. I’m not sure many of us realized at the time that we were experiencing some kind of golden age of recorded stereo music. I know I didn’t. Looking back, these men are now among my favorite conductors, and they produced some of my favorite recordings. Thank goodness for CD’s and our ability to preserve their legacy.

The selections on this EMI “Great Recordings of the Century” disc represent some of Previn and the London Symphony’s very best work. From English composer and pianist Benjamin Britten (1913-76) come his Sinfonia da Requiem, “Four Sea Interludes,” and “Passacaglia”; and from English composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934) come his Perfect Fool ballet and “Egdon Heath,” all of the music recorded between 1973 and ‘74.

Of the bunch, it’s the “Four Sea Interludes” from the opera Peter Grimes that stand out for me. Beautifully recorded and colorfully rendered, these short tone pictures were long a reference standard in the LP days. Although EMI had released them on CD before (at the time coupled with Britten’s Spring Symphony), the company (now Warner Classics) remastered them in 2003 using EMI’s “Abbey Road Technology,” and they sound smoother and more revealing than ever.

For anyone who likes, say, French composer Claude Debussy’s La Mer or English pastoral music in general, Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes” (“Dawn,” “Sunday Morning,” “Moonlight,” and “Storm”) are a must, a beautiful evocation of the sea, the sky, the mist, the coastline, and nature. Previn perfectly judges the pace for each section and creates vivid little symphonic pictures. The Sinfonia da Requiem may be quite a bit heavier, but it sounds so well recorded, it’s worth a listen. In contrast, the Holst ballet music from The Perfect Fool is light and festive, and Previn makes it a delight.

Then, the disc concludes with Holst’s somber tone poem “Egdon Heath,” a moody affair depicting a passage from Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native that describes the apparently desolate moor. Holst said this work was “his finest achievement.” Perhaps so, it’s certainly lyrical and poetic in Previn’s hands, but don’t be surprised if it achieves its aim and you find yourself a little depressed.

Again, I can’t say enough for the recorded sound. It is warm and detailed, polished and refined, rounded in all the right, natural ways, yet revealing, too, with a wonderful sense of depth and stereo imaging. Oddly, however, there appeared to my ears a volume imbalance between the Britten and Holst pieces that required I turn down the Holst slightly. Maybe it was just me.

JJP

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


Sarasate: Carmen Fantaisie (XRCD24 review)

Also, Zigeunerweisen; Saint-Saens: Havanaise; Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. Ruggiero Ricci, violin; Pierino Gamba, London Symphony Orchestra. JVC JVCXR-0227-2.

This disc has “audiophile” written all over it. It features some of the most virtuosic violin music ever written, performed in brilliant style by some of the most-talented players of their era, and recorded in some of the best state-of-the-art Decca sound of the late Fifties. It’s a heady combination, done up in some of today’s best state-of-the-art remastering and transfer techniques. Expensive, but maybe worth every penny.

Spanish violinist and composer Pablo Martín Melitón de Sarasate y Navascués (1844-1908) dazzled audiences for decades with his playing and left the rest of us several basic-repertoire violin items performed brilliantly on this disc by violinist Ruggiero Ricci, with Pierino Gamba the London Symphony Orchestra in accompaniment.

Ricci's handling of Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy (based, of course, on music from Bizet’s opera) is one of vigor, precision, and sheer brilliance. While Ricci’s version does not display the sultry sensuousness of Perlman's account with Lawrence Foster from a decade or so later, which remains my favorite interpretation, Ricci's reading probably makes a more vivid and more-lasting impression. His sheer virtuosity and showmanship carry the day, making this a classic performance in anyone's book.

Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen ("Gypsy Airs") comes next, with again Ricci reaching for the stars. He imparts plenty of atmosphere and color to the familiar Hungarian violin tunes, making this rendition among the best you'll find anywhere. Similar to the Carmen Fantasy, Zigeunerwisen tends to sound like the collection of bits and pieces that it is, yet what glorious bits and pieces they are, with Ricci making the most of each little showpiece. The violin sounds soulful, mournful, melancholy, bright, exciting, tuneful, and zesty by turns.

Rounding out the album are two works by Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921): the Havanaise and the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso. As with the Sarasate music, they are pieces that show off the skills of the performer, and again Ricci shines in the process with intensely rhythmic playing. Throughout all of the performances, Maestro Pierino Gamba's accompaniment with the LSO demonstrates only the finest collaboration, never upstaging the soloist yet always supportive and sympathetic.

Decca producer James Walker and engineers Alan Reeve and J. Timms recorded the music in September, 1959, at Kingsway Hall, London, the venue for many of Decca’s finest productions. Producer Akira Taguchi, executive producer Kevin Berg, and remastering engineer Alan Yoshida remastered the music in 2004 at Ocean Way Recording, Hollywood, California. The remastering uses XRCD 24-bit super analog processing, K2 super coding, DVD K2 laser, a K2 rubidium clock, and JVC’s extended pit cutting to ensure the best possible audiophile playback. What do you mean, How does it sound?

The remastered audio is extremely lifelike and alive: A fairly close violin, yet one with a rich, lustrous, realistic tone. A good sense of orchestral depth, with wide dynamics and a strong impact. Well-shaped percussion attacks. Quick transient response. Sharply etched yet smoothly rendered definition. And well-extended frequency extremes complete the picture. As I said up front, it's audiophile all the way and an improvement on the sometimes harder, glassier sound of the original Decca release.

Any quibbles? Well, the disc duplicates the original LP, which means there isn't a lot of material on it, about thirty-eight minutes in all. For the price of this audiophile disc, it's short measure, but thought of in terms of pure sensory pleasure, maybe it's a bargain.

JJP

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

Should you feel inclined to shop around for the disc, here are a couple of suggestions:

Elusive Disc or

New Year’s Concert 2014 (CD review)

Daniel Barenboim, Vienna Philharmonic. Sony 88843015642 (2-disc set).

As remarkable as it seems to me, another year has gone by. I’d swear that when I received this recording for review, I thought it could not have been but a couple of months since I had reviewed last Vienna New Year’s Concert. It was an entire year. Time flies when you’re enjoying good music.

As you know, the Vienna Philharmonic’s tradition of presenting a New Year’s Concert got started in 1941 and has been going strong ever since. Companies recording the concerts over the past few decades have included EMI, RCA, DG, Decca, and Sony. Moreover, in keeping with the orchestra’s tradition of having no permanent conductor, the orchestra invites a different conductor to perform the New Year’s duties each year. These conductors in recent times have included some of the biggest names in the business, including Carlos Kleiber, Willi Boskovsky, Herbert von Karajan, Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, Seiji Ozawa, Riccardo Muti, Georges Pretre, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Mariss Jansons, Franz Welser-Most, and for 2014 Daniel Barenboim.

Each year the Concert’s producers try for something a little different in the way of programming, with this year’s theme finding, well, some things a little different. Rather than the usual stuff from the Strauss family, we get some little-heard items from Johann Sr., Jr., Eduard, and Josef, plus some music from composers outside the Strauss family: Joseph Hellmesberger, Richard Strauss, Joseph Lanner, even Frenchman Leo Delibes. It makes for a more-varied program than we usually hear in these affairs, and Maestro Barenboim, always the alert musician, brings out the best in them. As does the magnificent Vienna Philharmonic, sounding as rich and resonant as ever, even if the live recording itself is not always up to audiophile standards.

Daniel Barenboim is a fine pianist, of course, but his name first came to my attention as a conductor when he recorded a series of late-Mozart symphonies with the English Chamber Orchestra for EMI in the early Seventies. They remain among my favorite Mozart symphony recordings to this day. Since then, I have admired his lively, no-nonsense approach to conducting, and it shows further in these Sony Classics discs. His New Year’s interpretations are largely free from exaggeration, with only a few appropriate nods to the crowd in the more-famous Strauss Jr. pieces.

Where Barenboim really shines on this album, though, is in the lesser-known material: Eduard Strauss’s Helenen-Quadrille, based on themes by Offenbach; Josef Strauss’s Neckerel (“Teasing”) polka and Friedenspalmen (“Palms of Peace”) waltz, commemorating the one-hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War; Strauss Sr.’s Carolinen-Galopp; Hellmesberger’s Vielliebchen Polka francaise; Lanner’s Die romantiker (“The Romantics”); Delibes’s Pizzicati from Sylvia; Richard Strauss’s Mondschelnmusik (“Moonlight Interlude”) from Capriccio; and Strauss Jr.’s  Seid umschlungern, Millionen (“Receive My Embrace, Ye Millions”) waltz, among many more, twenty-one selections in all, plus the annual New Year’s address.

It’s a more-adventurous program than in most years past, yet Barenboim would never let the event go by without providing several must-haves. Not only does he give us a wonderfully sentimental yet atmospheric Tales from the Vienna Woods, but two favorites that seem to be written into the UN Charter that must be performed every year without fail: The Blue Danube waltz and the Radetzky March, the latter closing the show as always with the audience joining in.

One minor quibble: Sony provide no timings for any of the tracks, neither on the outside of the case nor in the booklet insert. For the record, the discs provide fifty-eight and fifty-four minutes of music each, but I would have liked timings for individual selections.

Producer Friedemann Engelbrecht and engineers Tobias Lehmann and Rene Moller recorded the concert live at the Goldener Saal des Wiener Musikvereins, Vienna, Austria on January 1, 2014. What you have to understand at the outset is that record companies don’t mean these Vienna New Year’s recordings to be audiophile discs. They are documents of a celebration, and the live audience is as much a part of that celebration as the music or the musicians.

The sound this time out is typically close, although it is not so close as it has been in some years, and it’s less bright, hard, and strident. Indeed, the sound is quite smooth and warm, even a little soft, with very strong dynamics. The audience, as I say, is always present, especially between tracks, with applause, coughs, wheezes, and general shuffling of feet. That’s part of the occasion.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, February 16, 2014

The American Classical Orchestra kicks off HANDELFEST with a Family Concert on March 1, 2014 at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, NYC at 1:30 PM

Join the American Classical Orchestra for HANDELFEST, the first festival event from ACO that celebrates the music of Handel during the month of March. The festivities get under way with a family-friendly concert at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament (152 W 71st St., NYC) featuring some of Handel’s most uplifting works. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased by clicking here or by calling 212-362-2727.

A full 35-piece period orchestra opens the festival with a performance of the grandiose Music for Royal Fireworks. Soloists from Samson (Megan Chartrand and John Taylor Ward) perform some of Handel’s most famous arias including “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” “Let the Bright Seraphim,” and “Lascia Ch’io pianga.” In addition, the 70-member New York City Children’s Chorus joins for excerpts from Messiah, including “Lift Up Your Heads” and a participatory “Hallelujah Chorus.”

Handel is even slated for a guest appearance as well. The public concert is part of the ACO’s Classical Music for Kids outreach program in which ACO members perform for nearly 5,000 students at 20 New York City public schools. This family concert is the perfect way to commence this incredible festival, presented by the American Classical Orchestra.

For its first-ever festival event, HANDELFEST, the American Classical Orchestra collaborates with some of the world’s leading artists and experts for an exceptional month of music celebrating George Frederick Handel.

Following the family concert will be Handel’s Samson on March 4, 2014 at 8pm at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, NYC. The celebrated Handelian Nicholas McGegan makes his first appearance with the ACO, conducting what is widely considered one of the crowning achievements of Handel’s oeuvre. Tenor Thomas Cooley sings the title role.

Also at Alice Tully Hall on March 19, 2014 at 8pm, ACO presents Alceste, a work from Handel rarely heard in its entirety today. Eminent choreographer John Heginbotham joins the production and Cynthia Edwards (formerly of New York City Opera) stage directs. The program also features Handel’s double wind band work Concerti a due cori and the choral showcase Utrecht Jubilate. Be sure to arrive early for a pre-concert lecture by one of the world’s most venerated musicologists, Neal Zaslaw.

For more information, go to http://americanclassicalorchestra.org/

--Julia Casey, BuckleSweet Media

Second Annual PARMA Music Festival Announced
PARMA Recordings is pleased to announce the second annual PARMA Music Festival on Wednesday, August 13 through Saturday, August 16, 2014 in Portsmouth, NH. The four-day festival will include day-and night-time events and performances and will conclude with a concert at The Music Hall on August 16.

--Rory Cooper, Parma Recordings

Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival Announces 2014 Season July 2--August 25
Pianist Yefim Bronfman to be 2014 Artist-in-Residence, performing a solo recital August 19 featuring Prokofiev Sonatas and Marc Neikrug’s Passions, Reflected.

“Bach Plus” Five-Concert Series including all six Brandenburg Concerti performed over two concerts plus a solo piano recital by Benjamin Hochman

Two all-Beethoven programs to feature the composer’s last works for cach instrument or ensemble, including a brief, rarely performed Fugue for String Quintet in D Major, Op. 137

2014 commissions include:
Festival commission and world premiere by Brett Dean, featuring soprano Tony Arnold and the Orion String Quartet

Festival co-commission and U.S. premiere by Julian Anderson, performed by the FLUX Quartet

Festival co-commission and New Mexico premiere of Lowell Liebermann’s Four Seasons Op. 123, featuring Mezzo-Soprano Sasha Cooke and the composer playing piano

Second annual Young Composers’ String Quartet Workshop, featuring works by Ryan Chase and Tonia Ko, performed by the FLUX Quartet

Artists Making Festival debut:
Alessio Bax, piano; Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano; Ran Dank, piano; Dover Quartet; Caleb Hudson, trumpet; William Kinderman, piano/lecturer; Mark Kosower, cello; Leigh Mesh, bass; O’Connor String Quartet; James Shields, clarinet; Wilhelmina Smith, cello; Pei-Yao Wang, piano; and Stephen Williamson, clarinet.

Gala to be held July 22, including a silent auction, wine auction, performance and dinner.

Subscriptions available now & single tickets on sale February 24 from www.SantaFeChamberMusic.com or by phone (505) 982-1890

--Ashlyn Damm, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

March 9 at Lincoln Center: Cameron Carpenter launches the Organ Heard 'Round The World
The genre-defying virtuoso organist gives his International Touring Organ its world premiere in two Lincoln Center concerts on March 9. A European tour, Sony debut album, and feature-length film complete the instrument’s explosive debut

Cameron Carpenter, the “extravagantly talented" (The New York Times) “smasher of cultural and classical music taboos" (The New Yorker), debuts his long-awaited International Touring Organ in two concerts at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, NYC on March 9, 2014. The unveiling concert at 2pm is followed by a Dedication Concert at 7pm, tickets $35-$200. ($100 and $200 ticketholders have access to additional private events and a champagne reception). The concerts, each with different programs, feature music by Bach, Bernstein, Demessieux, Dupré, Scriabin, Vaughan Williams and many others, including the world premiere performance of Cameron’s Music For An Imaginary Film (2013).

The simplicity of Cameron’s mandate – that a great organist, like any other great musician, should have a personal instrument upon which to perform consistently anywhere in the world – belies its ambitiousness. To make a mobile digital organ artistically and sonically equal to any of the world’s great organs is so monumental a project as to have taken nearly ten years, the emergence of maverick organbuilders Marshall & Ogletree LLC, and a historic cooperation between two of the world’s most powerful musical managements (CAMI Music LLC and Konzertdirektion Schmid) to complete.

For more information on Cameron Carpenter, click http://www.cameroncarpenter.com

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Sacred Music in a Sacred Space presents Andrew Henderson on the N.P. Mander Organ Sunday, February 23 at 3pm at NYC’s Church of St. Ignatius Loyola
Hear the spectacular N.P. Mander Organ played by celebrated organist Andrew Henderson on February 23, 2014 at 3pm. He will perform selections from Bach, Widor, Grier, and Weaver at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York City. Call 212-288-2520 or click here for tickets.

Henderson will perform Bach’s Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue, which he describes as “one of the great composer’s longest freely-composed works for the organ.” He will also perform Flourish and Reverie, a fascinating work from the great 20th century English composer Francis Grier. Henderson learned this piece specifically for this performance and says, “It requires a myriad of contrasting sounds that I believe will sound fabulous at St. Ignatius: the fanfare-like ‘Flourish’ declaimed on different combinations of reed stops (Trumpets, Oboes, Cromornes), with the expansive and hypnotic “Reverie” being written for the colorful flute stops.”

Henderson will also perform a piece composed by his former organ teacher and predecessor as Director of Music at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, organist John Weaver. Weaver is a published composer of fascinating works for the organ, including his ebullient Toccata (1959). Henderson will perform an unpublished prelude from Weaver’s Beach Spring, which is a beautiful, inventive setting of an early American hymn tune first published in The Sacred Harp, 1844.

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

--Julia Casey, BuckleSweet Media

Young People's Chorus of New York City Annual Gala
Francisco J. Núñez, Artistic Director/Founder
Monday, March 3 at 7 p.m. at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, NYC.

Don't miss this year's one-performance-only musical spectacular, featuring:
All 350 YPC after-school choristers, The New York Pops, and special guest artists Broadway's Mary Poppins Ashley Brown and NEA Jazz Master Delfeayo Marsalis.

In a musical revue featuring folk, jazz, and classical music and incredible Broadway production numbers from West Side Story, Mary Poppins, and more.

Tickets prices:  $60, $75, $100, $125, and $300.
For best seats, buy now at Jazz at Lincoln Center Box Office (Broadway and 60th Street), CenterCharge 212-721-6500, or online at www.jalc.org.

--Katharine Gibson, YPC

92Y March Concerts
Saturday, March 1, 8:00 PM
Brentano String Quartet and pianist Vijay Iyer
92Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC

Monday, March 10, 7:30 PM
Pianist Benjamin Hochman
92Y Concerts at SubCulture, NYC

Saturday, March 22, 8:00 PM
Guitarist David Russell
92Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC

Sunday, March 30, 3:00 PM
Pianist Yefim Bronfman and musicians from the New York Philharmonic

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

--Ashlyn Damm, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI Join with Mexico’s Tembembe Ensamble Continuo to Perform Baroque Music of Europe and the Americas at First Congregational Church, Berkeley, CA, on March 1
Returning to Cal Performances for a sold-out performance, Jordi Savall and his historical music ensemble, Hespèrion XXI, join Tembembe Ensamble Continuo, a Mexican group dedicated to ancient music of the New World, on March 1 at 8:00 p.m. in First Congregational Church. A perennial presence at Cal Performances and always a Berkeley favorite, Savall and his ensemble will perform “Folías Antiquas & Criollas: From the Ancient World to the New World”—a program that explores links between the early music of Europe and music created in the Western Hemisphere. “Instinct and scholarship, impeccable musicality, and a true sense of theater merge as Savall brings to life sounds that are half a millennium old,” raves the San Francisco Chronicle. “And how modern they seem, how thrilling and how new is all this music first heard so long ago.”

The composers highlighted in Folías Antiquas & Criollas include Diego Ortiz, Pedro Guerrero Moresca, Código Trujillo, Antonio de Cabezón, Juan del Enzina, Santiago de Murcia, Antonio Martín y Coll, Juan Pérez de Bocanegra, Francisco Correa de Arauxo, and Antonio Valente. The works that cannot be identified with specific authors—in particular, the folk songs and dance music—hail from throughout Latin America. Although these composers’ names are lost to history, their works—many of which include improvisatory sections created by the performers—resonate through the centuries.

Jordi Savall is a tireless performer, enthusiastic educator, and thoughtful scholar on early music. He has rediscovered and restored countless works of music from the 18th century and before, and has performed them around the world. Barcelona-born Savall is widely credited with reviving modern interest in the viola da gamba, a stringed instrument that was popular in the Renaissance and Baroque eras. In addition to leading Hespèrion XXI, Savall has created a record label, Alia Vox, and founded and directed La Capella Reial and Le Concert des Nations, two groups dedicated to historical music performance. Hespèrion XXI was founded (as Hespèrion XX) in 1974 by Savall. Taking its name from hesperia, the ancient name for the Italian and Iberian peninsulas, the 21st-century musicians of the ensemble are dedicated to reconstructing the rich music from other ages—specifically, music from the 10th to the 18th century—and thereby breathing new life into current musical thinking.  Members of Hespèrion XXI include Xavier Díaz-Latorre, theorbo and guitar; Andrew Lawrence-King, arpa cruzada; Xavier Puertas, violone; and David Mayoral, percussion.

Ticket information:
Tickets for Jordi Savall with Hespèrion XXI and Tembembe Ensamble Continuo on Saturday, March 1, at 8:00 p.m. in First Congregational Church is sold out. Tickets may become available; check with Cal Performances’ Ticket Office at (510) 642-9988. Tickets are priced at $68.00 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 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

2014 American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy Tickets Now on Sale
The 5th Annual Festival “Bach’s Inspiration” July 11-20 presented at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Highlights include Bach’s arrangement of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater, Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, and two performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, plus a Distinguished Artist Recital by soprano Mary Wilson.

The American Bach Soloists (ABS) are pleased to announce that tickets for the 2014 American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy are now on sale. Titled “Bach’s Inspiration,” the 2014 Festival will trace the influences of Italian, French, and North German composers on J.S. Bach’s life and music. Works by Vivaldi, Handel, Buxtehude, and Bach’s forbears will be presented alongside masterworks by ABS’s namesake in a Festival line-up that promises to be the best in the five-year history of the Festival.

Festival highlights include our annual performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor along with Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, Vivaldi’s Concerto in B Minor for Four Violins, Kuhnau’s Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, and a work by Bach’s elder cousin Johann Christoph Bach, Es erhub sich ein Striet. The performances of the Mass, a popular and always highly anticipated Festival tradition, will be performed by the ABS Festival Orchestra—an ensemble comprised of ABS and members of the ABS Academy—under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas.

All Concerts held at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak Street, San Francisco.


--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

Pianist Rudolf Buchbinder Returns to Perform with the Cleveland Orchestra for the First Time in 15 Years
The “Viennese oracle” (The Philadelphia Inquirer) pianist Rudolf Buchbinder returns to perform for the first time in fifteen years with The Cleveland Orchestra led by Music Director Franz Welser-Möst on Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 7:30pm; Friday, March 7, 2014 at 7pm; and Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 8pm at Severance Hall (11001 Euclid Ave.). Rudolf Buchbinder will perform Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini at all three concerts.

Over the course of two years, Rudolf Buchbinder is performing with all of the “Big Five” American orchestras. Following his acclaimed concerts with the New York Philharmonic under Music Director Alan Gilbert in February 2013 and the Philadelphia Orchestra under Christoph von Dohnányi in March 2013, he appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Music Director Riccardo Muti in June 2013 for the first time in over thirty years. He was immediately invited back for another engagement with the CSO during the 2014-2015 season. During the 2013-2014 season, in addition to his concerts with The Cleveland Orchestra, he will perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Music Director Manfred Honeck (June 13-15, 2014). In the fall of 2014, he returns to perform with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the first time in over twenty years.

You can find more about Rudolf Buchbinder at his official Web site: www.buchbinder.net

--Christina Jensen PR

Deutsche Grammophon and Decca Release New 3-for-1 Sets on February 25, 2014
Including Claudio Arrau, Alfred Brendel, Viktoria Mullova, Jessye Norman, Beaux Arts Trio, Claudio Abbado, Vladimir Horowitz, Magdalena Kozena, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Gil Shaham.

Celebrating some of the most iconic classical artists, Deutsche Grammophon and Decca announce a new 3-for-1 limited edition series featuring three outstanding / renowned albums from a single iconic artist, for the price of just a single album.

Each of the three albums is presented with a brief new essay plus track list.  The handsome slipcase artwork underscores the iconic status held by most of these albums. These sets are Limited Editions with only 1000 available across North America.

The first five Decca 3-for-1 sets include performances by the late Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau, Austrian pianist Alfred Brendel, Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova, Grammy award-winning opera singer Jessye Norman, and renowned piano trio, the Beaux Arts Trio.

Deutsche Grammophon’s initial 3-for-1 sets will include Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, American classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz, Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena, Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, and Israeli-American violinist Gil Shaham.

--Casey Corrigan, Universal Music Classics

Britten: Cello Symphony (CD review)

Also, Cello Sonata. Zuill Bailey, cello; Natasha Paremski, piano; Grant Llewellyn, North Carolina Symphony. Telarc TEL-34412-02.

When you have a piece of music by one of the twentieth-century’s most-beloved composers, performed by one of the masters in his field, and recorded by one of the best companies in the business, it’s a combination hard to resist.

English composer and pianist Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) wrote his Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 68 in 1963, dedicating it to cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who premiered the work in 1964 and recorded it for Decca shortly thereafter. Although there have been a number of fine recordings since then, it has been Rostropovich’s disc that has held sway for all these years. Now, cellist Zuill Bailey’s performance with Grant Llewellyn and the North Carolina Symphony can hold its own among the best of them.

The thing is, however, listeners new to the Cello Symphony and accustomed to Britten’s more-accessible music like The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, the Simple Symphony, the Spring Symphony, the Bridge Variations, the Violin Concerto, even the music from Peter Grimes may find the later Cello Symphony a bit more difficult. It’s generally darker, coarser, more brooding, and more-modern sounding than most of the composer’s earlier pieces. So, the Cello Symphony never quite found the audience that some of Britten’s earlier work did. Still, there’s much to enjoy, and Bailey plays it effectively.

Britten called it a symphony rather than a concerto because he said he wanted the soloist and orchestra to play more equal parts in the proceedings than they would in a concerto, where the cello might dominate. Moreover, in keeping with a symphony, Britten gave the work a traditional four-movement symphonic structure, even though the final two movements do tend to connect with a cadenza link. It would be Britten's last major orchestral work and one he called "the finest thing I've written."

Anyway, Bailey’s sensitive yet unsentimental, no-nonsense style tends to go well with the character of the Cello Symphony. There's a good measure of gloom in Bailey's performance, the deep, mellow tones of the cello complementing the dark depression of the opening movement. And there's an almost overwhelming sense of depression in Bailey's solidly articulated lines. This might not be a true concerto, but Bailey makes us fully aware who's in charge here.

Next, we get an excitable little scherzo, only a few minutes long, filled with playful but still slightly menacing excursions from the cello. Both Britten and Bailey seem to be having a little fun here. A relatively lengthy Adagio follows, poignant and haunting, to be sure, yet still distressful, particularly in Bailey's deeply impassioned reading.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the Passacaglia that ends the symphony does so on a confident, almost happy note. This sounds more like the Britten of old, the strings singing splendidly, the cello sounding a note of optimism, and Bailey bringing the whole affair to a rich, full-bodied, highly satisfactory conclusion.

The accompanying Sonata in C major for Cello and Piano, Op. 65 derives from a 1960 meeting Rostropovich had with the composer, during which the cellist pleaded with Britten to write him a sonata. The Sonata is brief, about twenty minutes total, and divided into five movements: Dialogo, Scherzo, Elegia, Marcia, and Moto Perpetua. Pianist Natasha Paremski joins Bailey in a performance that fluctuates between a warm Romanticism and a harsher modernity. The interplay between the two accomplished soloists, especially during the more hushed moments, is quite fetching, and many listeners may find the work more approachable than the Cello Symphony.

Five/Four Productions recorded the Cello Symphony live for Telarc Records at Meymandi Concert Hall, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Raleigh, North Carolina and the Cello Sonata at Clonick Hall Studio, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Oberlin, Ohio, both in 2013.

As we might expect from a live recording, the miking in the Cello Symphony is close, with Bailey's cello dominating the sound field. This provides an extra measure of clarity but at the expense of room ambience and orchestral depth. Nonetheless, the cleanness of the recording, the wide dynamic range, and the strong transient impact compensate somewhat, making for a reasonably satisfying experience. One senses, however, that the audience is always present, not often with outright coughs, wheezes, or rustling of feet or programs but by their very presence, their breathing. Of course, the closeness of the miking also brings out some noises from the instruments and the players that one wouldn't otherwise normally notice, so there's that to consider, too. An unfortunate burst of applause punctuates the end of the performance.

The studio-recorded Sonata projects a more natural sound in terms of instrument positioning and environmental bloom. It makes for a bit more comfortable listening yet can also reflect a healthy dynamic bite.

JJP

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

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.