Mozert: Suite Carmen in a G-String (SADD review)

Lft. Sir Cedric Noel Vivien Barnstable III, Upper Freedonia Baroquen Orchestra. Hecca-Goode Records IRS401k.

It's always a pleasure to welcome yet another recording from Maestro Vivien Barnstable in his pursuit of chronicling the entire oeuvre of the redoubtable fifteenth-century composer, accordionist, batboy, and student of the sweet science, Wolfpuck Amaryllis Mozert. That the composer's entire musical output amounted to but one composition seems irrelevant under the circumstances.

As a child, young W.A. (1717-1843) was so poor he couldn't afford parents. He lived first with a poor but honest woodcarver, Guippetto Polendina, whose only other friend was a talking cricket. When the state took Guippetto away for psychiatric care, young W.A., together with another homeless waif, Arne Schwarzenegger, went to live with a single man, Uhp Baum, and her husband, Adam Baum. By the time they were old enough to leave home (W.A. and Arne, not Uhp and Adam), the Baums asked them if they would like to change their names before venturing forth into the world. Young W.A. said, "Yes, I'll be Mozert," and young Arne declared, "I'll be Bach." The rest is history.

At the time young Wolfpack began in the music business, he didn't know a clef note from a notepad. Fortunately, he studied hard, and with the help of Clef Notes he soon wrote on his most-famous composition, The Nutquacker, premiered in 1716 by Maestro Aflack Duckworth. He followed that with the piece we find recorded here, Suite Carmen in a G-String, Take 5, BMW 536i, written posthumously in 1844 and redacted from the opera Lady Windermere's Fan Club, the tale of a poor but honest woodpecker. As an aside, W.A.'s only other music of distinction was a contemporary work, The Four Seasonings, premiered to great acclaim in 1983 by the Spice Girls. Of course, The Seasonings are a matter of taste.

Anyway, the Upper Freedonia Baroquen Orchestra are a hysterically informed ensemble who play not only on period instruments, but on several commas and an exclamation point. More important, Sir Vivien throws himself into the music with Gay Abandon (not to be confused with her cousin twice removed, Guy Renounce). The resulting experience is an experience to be experienced. At least once, especially the way the conductor goes out on a sneeze in the final Allegra con motocross.

And now, we go to our unofficial judge at ringside, Harold Lederman, for the official results. Harold, how do you score the performance? "OK, Jim, I have it 119-111, Barnstable. I thought he kept up a fast, aggressive pace throughout the show, with a clean, effective pizzicato and a balanced rest. Jim!" Thank you, Harold.

In terms of sound, producer Moses Horowitz (whose grandfather invented the top-loading Hoover), executive producer Jerome Horowitz, assistant producer Samuel Horowitz, and audio engineers Louis Feinberg, Joe Besser, and Joseph Wardell recorded the music in May, 1643, at Huntz Hall, Cardigansheer Shire, Wales, Czech Republic, using Doppelganger 747 open-ended cylindrical containers and Loomis B-29 cotton-fibre interconnects. The then-state-of-the-art equipment produced horrid results, naturally, which the present Hecca-Goode remaster has done nothing to improve. If you listen carefully to the MP-3 technostructure through non-spurious stereophile receivers, you will hear little but unintelligible noise; yet behind the discordant signals you may also note a conspicuous disquietude, attributable no doubt to the maladroit proclivities of the Hecca-Goode remastering technicians, whose rubato is clearly as dark as their hair. Incongruous coiffures aside, the soniferous impulses display a salient objectivity, marked by an extraneous absence of nugatory auditory oscillation.

It sounds OK.

Or, better yet, in the immortal words whence cameth the Beard of Avon calling:

"Fen be upon thy cudgel
Whose power is in the first proportion,
Advanced above pale envy's threatening reach.
As when the golden sun trembles at her earthly wait
And faster bound to Aaron's slavish weeds."

Write on, dude.

JJP

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

Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf (SACD review)

Also, Beintus: Wolf Tracks. Mikhail Gorbachev, Sophia Loren, Bill Clinton. Kent Nagano, Russian National Orchestra. PentaTone Classics 5186 011.

Mikhail Gorbachev? Sophia Loren? Bill Clinton? What goes on here? PentaTone Classics assembled an all-star cast of narrators for their coupling of Prokofiev's perennial favorite, Peter and the Wolf, written in 1936, and Jean-Pascal Beintus's newer work, Wolf Tracks, which premiered in 2002. The PentaTone disc, which won a Grammy in 2004, is a plea for cooperation and understanding among the peoples of the world and the environment they share. It's really quite a sweet notion, and the coupling of the two compositions effectively demonstrates the viability of the idea. Now, if we could just force the governments of the world to listen and behave themselves, maybe we'd get somewhere.

Mr. Gorbachev introduces the disc, comments in between the two works, and concludes with an epilogue. Ms. Loren sweetly narrates Peter, and Mr. Clinton narrates Wolf Tracks. Together, they make a formidable team. Of course, despite the disc's well-meaning intent, it is probably for Peter and the Wolf that most people would buy it, and, fortunately, it is a decent account. Ms. Loren injects a note of warmth and humor into the piece, and Kent Nagano and the Russian National Orchestra play with conviction, grace, and wit. Never does Nagano let the work flag, and never do the characters it portrays seem anything but well defined and recognizable. Although I still have a special fondness for the old (1957) Vanguard recording of Peter, wonderfully narrated by Boris Karloff, it's not a bad account from this newcomer, if gentler and less menacing.

The companion piece, Wolf Tracks, is a more debatable proposition. If somewhat lightweight, it's nevertheless a pleasant enough appeal for tolerance, as Peter's grandson learns about the importance of wolves and all creatures in the great scheme of things. I enjoyed it, along with Mr. Clinton's homey touch at narration, but it isn't the kind of thing I might find myself going back to. It was kind of a one-off proposition for me.

The 2003 audio from PentaTone reminds me of some of Telarc's albums, and the recording comes to us as a hybrid Super Audio CD (SACD), so it contains both a multichannel layer and an ordinary two-channel layer. One can play it on an SACD player or in stereo only on an ordinary CD player. As one might expect, it sounded fairly good in the two-channel SACD stereo mode to which I listened, the narration perhaps a little close but the orchestra opening up well behind it, both left-to-right and front-to-back. Frequency response, bass, transient impact, and such are what we have come to admire from SACD's, perhaps a tad warm, soft, and veiled but natural enough regardless.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, March 30, 2014

Music Institute Presents Organist Nathan J. Laube May 17, Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Its Skinner Organ

The Music Institute of Chicago celebrates the 100th anniversary of its E.M. Skinner organ by presenting acclaimed young organist Nathan J. Laube in concert Saturday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, Il.

The program includes Bach's Cantata 29, "Wir danken dir," BWV 39; Mendelssohn's Variations Sérieuses, Op. 54; Schumann's Studien für den Pedalflügel, Op. 56; Widor's Symphonie pour Grand Orgue, Op. 42, No. 5; Rachmaninoff's Prelude in G Minor, Op. 28, No. 5; Saint-Saëns' Fantaisie pour Orgue, Op. 101; Mozart's Adagio und Allegro in f-moll für ein Orgelwerk, KV 594; and Dupré's Prélude et Fugue en sol-mineur, Op. 7, No. 3.

A star among young classical musicians, Nathan J. Laube has quickly earned a place among the organ world's elite performers. His brilliant playing and gracious demeanor have thrilled audiences and presenters across the United States and in Europe, and his creative programming of repertoire spanning five centuries, including his own virtuoso transcriptions of orchestral works, have earned high praise from critics and peers alike. In addition to his busy performing schedule, Laube is dedicated to mentoring the next generation of young organists, and in the fall of 2013, he joined the faculty at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York as assistant professor of organ.

In a recent article in The Economist, Laube talks about the resurgence of the organ as a concert instrument. Following a recent live recording of an organ concerto with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, he said, "It was amazing to see a full house of symphony-goers jump up after what must have been for many a first exposure to the instrument in a concerto role."

The Music Institute's E.M. Skinner organ, Opus 208, was completed June 1, 1914 by the Ernest M. Skinner Company in Boston and underwent a complete historic restoration between 2005 and 2007.

Organist Nathan J. Laube performs Saturday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. Tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $10 for students, available at brownpapertickets.com/event/477613 or 847.905.1500 ext. 108. For more information visit musicinst.org.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Take2 Publishling Launches New Spielberg Book
So why is this important, and why am I announcing the upcoming launch of The Take2 Guide: Steven Spielberg here among the classical music news items of the week? Well, any new book about Spielberg is important because he's one of America's, nay, one of the world's, great film directors. But I'm announcing its launch here because it includes several articles by yours truly on the man's work.

You'll get a better idea of the book here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uICYfl4aajg&feature=youtu.be

And here:
http://www.digiaction.com/take2/guide/available.html

--JJP

Twenty-nine Artists from Ten Countries to Participate in Twelve-Week Intensive Merola Opera Program
Conductors Mark Morash, Eric Melear, Martin Katz and Ari Pelto lead performances this summer, including André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire, Schwabacher Summer Concert, Mozart's Don Giovanni, and Merola Grand Finale.

Twenty-three singers, five apprentice coaches and one apprentice stage director, representing ten countries, will participate in the 57th season of the Merola Opera Program from June 2 to August 17. More than 900 artists vied for the 29 coveted spots in the 2014 summer program. Offered free of charge for all participants, the prestigious Merola Opera program is unique in the industry in many ways. Merola is the only young artist program to provide financial support to developing artists for five years following participation. In the past year alone, more than $150,000 was distributed to more than 100 artists supporting varied needs from coaching to language classes to audition travel. In addition, only Merola graduates are considered for participation in the San Francisco Opera's Adler Fellowship program. Selected through an extensive world-wide audition and application process, nearly one third of this season's artists come from countries outside the United States, including: Canada, China, Taiwan, Italy, South Korea, Russia, Iran, Poland and Israel. This year, the program will have three returning Merola artists, Casey Candebat (Merola 2012), Sahar Nouri and Rhys Lloyd Talbot (both Merola 2013).

The 2014 Merola artists will participate in an intensive 11-week training program—12 weeks for the apprentice coaches and the apprentice stage director—which will include master classes with opera luminaries Warren Jones, Jane Eaglen, Eric Owens, Steven Blier and Carol Vaness. Guest teachers Patrick Carfizzi, Eric Weimer, Alessandra Cattani, Deborah Birnbaum and Chuck Hudson provide training in voice, foreign languages, operatic repertory, diction, acting and stage movement. Merola members will enjoy the opportunity to sit in on select master classes for a behind-the-scenes look at the training process.

Performance is a key element of the program throughout the summer. Participants will appear in public performances during the Merola Opera Program summer festival, which includes two staged operas, a scenes program and a concert. The 2014 festival opens with André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire, with a new reduction of the orchestral score by Peter Grunberg commissioned by Merola, directed by Jose Maria Condemi (Merola 1999, 2000) and conducted by Mark Morash (Merola 1987) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 10, and 2 p.m. Saturday, July 12, at Everett Auditorium. The season continues with the Schwabacher Summer Concert, conducted by Eric Melear (Merola 2002) and directed by Roy Rallo at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 17 at Everett Auditorium and 2 p.m. Saturday, July 19 in a free outdoor concert at Yerba Buena Gardens. Mozart's Don Giovanni, led by director, production designer and visual artist James Darrah and conducted by world-renowned pianist and conductor Martin Katz, will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 31 and 2 p.m. Saturday August 2 at Everett Auditorium. The festival concludes with the annual Merola Grand Finale with the orchestra led by internationally acclaimed conductor Ari Peltothe and directed by apprentice stage director Omer Ben Seadia at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, August 16 on the main stage of the magnificent War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA.

Tickets for all performances may be purchased starting May 5 by calling San Francisco Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330. The box office is open Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This season, Merola is proud to announce its new Student Membership Program, which will provide up to 40 full memberships to Bay Area high school upperclassmen and college students. Each membership includes tickets to Merola's productions, master classes and special events. Interested students can find the application on line by visiting www.merola.org. Deadline to apply is April 18.

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

--Karen Ames Communications

DCINY Presents "The Drop of Dawn"
The music of Grammy Award-winning composer Christopher Tin features the world premiere of "The Drop that Contained the Sea" and Tin's Grammy Winning "Calling All Dawns."

Sunday, April 13 at 8:30 PM | Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, NYC.

DCINY (Distinguished Concerts International New York) expands its collaboration with innovative young composer and two-time Grammy Award-winner Christopher Tin with an exhilarating night of Tin's music at Carnegie Hall. The Drop of Dawn on Sunday, April 13 at 8:30 pm, unites two large-scale, multi-lingual choral and orchestral works: the world premiere of "The Drop That Contained the Sea," and a performance of Tin's acclaimed "Calling All Dawns," whose opening movement, "Baba Yetu," made history as the first piece of music written for a video game to win a Grammy Award. Performing with the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Singers International, which features outstanding choruses chosen from across the US, Canada and England, and conducted by DCINY Artistic Director Jonathan Griffith, is an array of spectacular singers and world music artists including mezzo-sopranos Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek (of Anonymous 4) and Charity Dawson, tenor Saum Eskandani, Indian Classical vocalist Roopa Mahadevan, Mongolian pop star Nominjin, and Portuguese fado singer Nathalie Pires. "The Drop That Contained the Sea" will also be released on CD and iTunes on May 8, with pre-orders available starting April 13 on ChristopherTin.com.

"The Drop That Contained the Sea" is a fascinating collection of works composed between 2012 and 2014, commissioned by DCINY and other organizations. "The title comes from a Sufi concept," says Tin, explaining, "In the same way that every drop of water contains the essence of the sea, inside every human is the essence of all of humanity."  Different sections evoke water in different forms, such as clouds, rain, and snow, and are arranged in the order that water flows through the world, from snow to mountain streams, streams become rivers, and rivers pouring into the ocean. Each of the 10 pieces is sung in a different language, starting with Proto-Indo-European, the ancestral root of most modern languages, and spanning out to others including Bulgarian, Xhosa, Sanskrit, and Lango.

A 12-part song-cycle in three movements, "Calling All Dawns" journeys from joy to darkest sorrow and mystery, and back to triumph and exultation. Movements named day, night and dawn correspond with the phases of life, death, and rebirth. A total of twelve different languages are represented, including Swahili, Mandarin, Hebrew, Irish, and Farsi, with texts both sacred and secular. Calling All Dawns' first movement, "Baba Yetu," was originally composed for the video game Civilization IV but soon took on a life of its own, going on to winning a Grammy Award – a first for a piece of music written for a video game.  Time Magazine hailed the "rousing, anthemic theme song" with Higher Plain Music calling the album "a masterpiece … pure and absolute musical hedonism."

Tickets $20 - $100 at  www.carnegiehall.org, 212-247-7800 or at the Carnegie Hall Box Office.

--Shira Gilbert PR

Celebrating 100: James Conlon Conducts His 100th Opera, Billy Budd, for Britten 100/LA
Music Director James Conlon reached two significant milestones with the LA Opera production of Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd this spring. As the 100th opera that Mr. Conlon has conducted in his career, Billy Budd also marked the finale of Britten 100/LA: A Celebration, a year-long, city-wide festival spearheaded by Mr. Conlon that observed the 2013 centenary of the composer's birth with performances, conferences, and exhibitions.

"Conlon ends Britten's first centennial with a performance of his greatest opera that will be hard to surpass," reviewed Southern California Public Radio KPCC. The Los Angeles Daily News called his performance "exceedingly powerful, diverse in its orchestral coloration and dramatically evocative," while the Los Angeles Times said that Mr. Conlon "conducts with unerring conviction" as "the force behind LA's Britten celebrations."

Although the Britten 100/LA began in 2013, Mr. Conlon's dedication to Britten and his legacy reaches further back. For the past three years, he has led a performance cycle of many Britten works, including five other operas (Albert Herring, Noye's Fludde, Rape of Lucretia, and The Turn of the Screw in Los Angeles, and A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Met Opera), three church parables (The Burning Fiery Furnace, Curlew River, and The Prodigal Son), and sundry orchestral and choral works (including Cantata misericordium, Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, War Requiem, and the Violin Concerto) across the US and Europe.

--Shuman Associates PR

Jessye Norman, Dionne Warwick, 3WB, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Candice Glover, and Wolf Blitzer Join Washington Performing Arts Society's Musical Celebration of Marian Anderson
On April 12, 2014, one of the nation's leading independent arts producers and recent recipient of the National Medal of Arts, Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS), will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Marian Anderson's groundbreaking Easter Sunday performance at the Lincoln Memorial, a landmark moment in the Civil Rights movement, with an all-star concert, "Of Thee We Sing," hosted by Jessye Norman, the celebrated American soprano and longtime friend of WPAS and of Ms. Anderson.

Ms. Norman will be joined by, among others, Dionne Warwick, the vocal group 3WB (brothers Marvin, Carvin, and BeBe Winans), composer Dr. Ysaye Barnwell, actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner, journalist Wolf Blitzer, opera singers Soloman Howard and Alyson Cambridge, American Idol winner Candice Glover, vocalist Annisse Murillo, and an extraordinary choir of nearly 300 voices led by WPAS Gospel Choir Artistic Director Stanley Thurston to tell Anderson's story through music, words and images, tied together with a narrative by Tony Award-winning playwright Murray Horwitz (Ain't Misbehavin').

Inspired by both her towering artistic achievements and deep humanitarianism, the program draws on music from the classical and African-American spiritual repertoire that defined Anderson's career.

"Of Thee We Sing" will take place at Washington, D.C.'s historic DAR Constitution Hall on April 12, 2014, 7pm-8:15pm. All tickets are $5. Limited tickets are available and can be purchased through WPAS box office 202-785-9727 or www.WPAS.org.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Orion Concludes Musical Travels with German, Czech, American Music
Dvorak, Amon, Gershwin, Beethoven in St. Charles (May 25), Chicago (May 28), Evanston (June 1)

Concluding its season of "Musical Travels," The Orion Ensemble, winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, showcases music from three countries. Performances take place at Baker Memorial United Methodist Church in St. Charles May 25, the PianoForte Studios in Chicago May 28 and the Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston June 1.

The Program:
Two classical works, by composers whose dates are similar, take listeners to Germany at the turn of the 19th century. Orion's string players—Florentina Ramniceanu on violin and Judy Stone on cello—welcome guest violinist and violist Stephen Boe on viola to complete Beethoven's virtuosic Opus 9 String Trio cycle with the Trio in C Minor, Opus 9, No. 3, having performed the first two Trios on earlier programs this season. These energetic and virtuosic Trios, written in 1797, are delightful examples of young Beethoven's skills in working motivically and stretching the forms of the day to accommodate his unique style and voice.

Orion clarinetist Kathryne Pirtle joins the string players for the Clarinet Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 106, No. 2 by another German composer, Johann Andreas Amon (1763–1825). Amon was influenced by Mozart's Clarinet Quintet as well as by clarinet works he heard while studying and traveling in France and Austria. His lyrical quartet exploits the melodic and virtuosic possibilities of the clarinet, as well as its various relationships with the strings.

In a quick excursion to the early 20th century U.S., Kathryne Pirtle and pianist Diana Schmück perform Gershwin's Three Preludes. Originally written for piano alone, the effective arrangement by James Cohn for clarinet and piano keeps the jazzy energy of the original outer movements and the soulfulness of the middle prelude while adding the vast color palette of the clarinet.

Orion closes the concert with the Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 87 by Dvorak, considered one of the greatest Czech composers. In his treatise "Our Debt to Antonin Dvorak," Czech conductor Vaclav Talach asserted that Dvorak could listen to nature and turn the reality of the Czech countryside and rural life into the spiritual qualities of music. This work, for strings and piano, is full of beautiful themes, rich and varied textures and the enchanting influence of folk music of his beloved homeland.

Performance and ticket information:
The Orion Ensemble's concluding concert program of its "Musical Travels" season takes place Sunday, May 25 at 7 p.m. at Baker Memorial United Methodist Church, 307 Cedar Avenue in St. Charles; Wednesday, May 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the PianoForte Studios, 1335 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago; and Sunday, June 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston. Single tickets are $26, $23 for seniors and $10 for students; admission is free for children 12 and younger. A four-ticket flexible subscription provides a 10 percent savings on full-priced tickets. For tickets or more information, call 630-628-9591 or visit orionensemble.org.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communicatons

Sergio Tiempo Invites the Audience to Decide Which Chopin Etudes He Will Play at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall
Star Venezuelan pianist's return to the International Piano Series is programmed around his own family - as part of his wider musical family, he invites the audience to get involved.

On his last appearance at Southbank Centre's prestigious International Piano Series in 2011, Sergio Tiempo was one of the season's most popular recitalists, so his return has been eagerly awaited. And his appeal has not dimmed - in recent months he has toured China, Australia and New Zealand, as well as Latin America (where he is something of a superstar) - and audiences have, as in London, flocked to his concerts. Meanwhile some of his videos on YouTube have reached around the 750,000 page-view mark, especially his Chopin performances. And Chopin will be a centrepiece of a varied program he will bring to the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 29th April 2014 - it is a new concert program that means a lot to him, with each work chosen to represent a different member of his family.

"I have recently experienced the greatest change in my life: I have become a father!" explains Tiempo, "Among the many, many effects it has on my life, it makes me realise anew that my family relationships ARE me. I am these relationships. And as I see myself in the eyes of my baby, I can't help thinking about the way in which this strong of relationships gives meaning. Everything in music only exists in relation to something else, and it this very relation that yields meaning. So I allowed myself to dream up a slightly Freudian program in which I let the personalities of those closest to me evoke a certain piece of music. Brahms for my sister, Beethoven for my mother, Prokofiev for my niece, Villa Lobos for my baby girl, Ginastera for her mother, Piazzolla for my father, Debussy for me."

"But the audience is my other symbolic family member whom I have been in contact with since I was three years old. Therefore I have asked the audience to choose six Etudes for me by Chopin, one of the most influential composers in my formative life."

Tiempo has therefore posted online live performances of 12 of the Chopin Etudes, where listeners are invited to vote for their favourites. The six most-voted-for will be in the concert! Other works in the recital are Brahms's Intermezzo in B minor, Beethoven's Appassionata sonata, Debussy's Reflets dans l'eau from Images, four pieces from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, four Villa-Lobos works, Piazzolla's Fuga y Misterio, and Ginastera's Malambo, Op.7 for piano.

You can hear Tiempo play those 12 Chopin Etudes, and of course vote, at https://soundcloud.com/southbankcentre/sets/welcome-to-my-chopin-etudes

And you can view the programme at Southbank Centre's Web http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/sergio-tiempo-piano-72632
site at

--Inverne Price Music

Brahms by Heart (CD review)

Quartets Nos. 1 in C minor and No. 2 in A minor, Op. 51; Quartet No. 3 in B-flat Major, Op. 67; Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111. Chiara String Quartet, with Roger Tapping, viola. Azica ACD-71289 (2-disc set).

For those readers not aware, the Chiara String Quartet is a string quartet based in Lincoln, Nebraska. They are the Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's School of Music, Harvard University's Blodgett Artists-in-Residence, and faculty in residence at the Greenwood Music Camp. Joining the group's regular members--Rebecca Fischer and Hye Yung Julie Yoon, violins; Jonah Sirota, viola; and Gregory Beaver, cello--for the Quintet No. 2 is violist Roger Tapping.

The group has been performing professionally since 2000, and they are currently in the midst of recording all of Brahms's string quartets and the aforementioned quintet. Yes, they are very, very good, and, yes, they are strong in the present album. Even a lukewarm Brahms fan like me found the music making engrossing; I'm sure the serious Brahms enthusiast would love it.

While it probably seems to you, too, as though German composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) wrote about 800 string quartets, he actually published only three, the three we have in this set. Something of a perfectionist, he reportedly destroyed about twenty other quartets he had written before the Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 51 in 1873 finally satisfied him. No doubt it had something to do with his inferiority complex when he compared himself to Beethoven as he didn't write his first symphony until relatively late in life as well.

Anyway, the Chiara players are a delight in both of the first two Op. 67 quartets. A booklet note tells us that the "Chiara Quartet is moving forward by taking a cue from the past. Harkening back to a tradition that is centuries old and still common among soloists, the Chiara Quartet has adopted a new way of performing from memory or 'by heart.' After memorizing a work, the Quartet is rewarded with deeply gratifying performances in which each member feels fully present in the moment, truly performing with heart, by heart."

It must work since they sound so good together. They certainly pour strong feelings into each piece of music, playing up the contrasts in the score with gusto and emphasizing the vitality of every note. When they're moving along well, they adopt a zippy gait, and when they slow down, it's to a comfortable and meaningful pace. Whatever, memorized or not, they play together with precision, bringing both emotion and accuracy to their performances, from stormy intensity to hushed tranquility and from subtle beauty to sudden outbursts.

It would be about three more years after Nos. 1 and 2 before Brahms premiered his next string quartet, the Quartet No. 3 in B-flat Major, Op. 67, in 1876. He called the work "a useless trifle," and it is, indeed, carefree and joyous. Again, we get clean textures from the Chiara players in a piece that bears some superficial resemblance to the work of Mozart and Beethoven. Compared to Quartets 1 and 2, No. 3 seems more relaxed and better unified, too. The Chiara group revel in the lovely tunes Brahms devised, and they give special attention to the climax of each movement, building the tensions slowly but attentively.

Brahms didn't publish the Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111 until 1890, just half a dozen years or so before his death. The Quintet adds a second viola to the usual complement of two violins, viola, and cello. Moreover, the Quintet seems built on a more-imposing scale than the Quartets, suggesting that perhaps Brahms had intended some of the music for inclusion in a possible fifth symphony. The Chiara ensemble surely do the work justice, playing it in grand style, the melodies soaring, the intertwining of the instruments sounding richly generous and robust. The third and fourth movements with their Gypsy-like intonations are particularly beguiling. Expertly played, this is chamber music for listeners who say they only like symphonic music.

Produced and engineered by Judith Sherman and assisted by Jeanne Velonis, the Chiara String Quartet recorded the music at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, New York in April 2012. The first thing one notices about the sound is how vibrant and dynamic it is. There is nothing vague, recessed, or reticent about it, nor is it bright or edgy. It is moderately close yet not in your face. It's quite realistic, in fact, with good body and definition and plenty of air around each instrument.

JJP

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


Mozart: Youth Symphonies, Volume 1 (SACD review)

Sir Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.  PentaTone Classics 5186 112.

When director Milos Foreman and producer Saul Zantz asked Neville Marriner to conduct the music for Amadeus, their 1984 movie depiction of Mozart's life, there was good reason for the choice. These recordings are one of them.

In the early 1970's, Marriner was among the first conductors to record Mozart's early symphonies in stereo, a fairly startling and groundbreaking enterprise for the time. Back then, most people had pretty much disregarded most of the composer's youthful writing in favor of the big later pieces. Marriner showed the world the worth of some of the earlier works.

Then, in 2003 the folks at PentaTone Classics unearthed the original master tapes for a number of these Marriner recordings that Philips Records had originally done in the Quadraphonic format but never released that way. PentaTone remastered them in a series of four volumes in the two-layer, hybrid stereo/multichannel SACD format, this first volume of four containing the Symphony in G, and the Symphonies Nos. 7a, 12, and 18. Of the four symphonies, I must admit the two very earliest are charming but shallow; that is, they are tuneful, jaunty, and sweet, but they haven't a lot of substance one can remember. By contrast, Nos. 12 and, especially, 18 are more original, more complex, and more remarkable. Indeed, No. 18 is alone worth the SACD's asking price. That is, if you don't mind the somewhat hefty cost of these four-channel discs.

Needless to say, Marriner and the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields perform the works with their customary sprightly vigor and refined taste, and the PentaTone engineers remastered the Philips recordings in audio highly reminiscent of how many of us recall Philips discs sounding in the early Seventies.

The sound, which Philips recorded at Brent Town Hall, Wembly, London in 1972 and 1973, is big and warm and a tad soft in the midrange, with traces of hardness at times in the treble, nevertheless providing the relatively small ensemble with a rather larger size than their numbers would admit; nonetheless, the audio seems entirely appropriate. This is not a period-instruments group, after all, and the sound seems properly traditional. Indeed, in the two-channel SACD mode to which I listened, I found the sound quite pleasing. It's maybe not entirely of audiophile quality, but it's reasonably natural and well defined.

Again, my only hesitation here is in recommending a person spend money on a hybrid SACD for two-channel stereo alone if a person hasn't got an SACD player to enjoy the full capabilities of the SACD or surround-sound layers. On the other hand, as far as I can determine at the moment of this writing, investing in this disc (or PentaTone's complete box set) may be the best way to obtain the Marriner performances since the original Philips discs in complete sets may cost even more, if you can even find them. And if you do have an SACD player, well, the disc seems self-recommending.

JJP

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


Miraculous Metamorphoses (CD review)

Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis; Prokofiev: The Love of Three Oranges; Bartok: The Miraculous Mandarin. Michael Stern, Kansas City Symphony. Reference Recordings RR-132.

The Random House Unabridged Dictionary tells us that a metamorphosis is "1. a profound change in form from one stage to the next in the life history of an organism, as from the caterpillar to the pupa and from the pupa to the adult butterfly. 2. a complete change of form, structure, or substance, as transformation by magic or witchcraft. 3. any complete change in appearance, character, circumstances, etc. 4. a form resulting from any such change." But you knew that. The question is why Reference Recordings chose to title their album "Miraculous Metamorphoses." The answer, of course, is that each of the three works included on the disc represents a kind of metamorphosis, the music originally deriving from something quite different from what it became.

The first selection is the most obvious example of the album's theme: Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, written by German-born U.S. composer Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) for ballet performance. Hindemith completed the work in 1943, based on music originally composed by Weber in the early nineteenth century as incidental music for a play by Carlo Gozzi. Although the piece continues to get some ballet performances, we more often hear the symphonic arrangement presented here by Maestro Michael Stern and his Kansas City Symphony.

The music is generally light and lively, and that's the way Maestro Stern plays it. Just as Hindemith maintained a healthy respect for Weber's music, so does Stern maintain a respect for Hindemith, neither over-dramatizing the more boisterous sections nor romanticizing the slower, more sentimental parts. He executes the Turandot Scherzo especially well, the percussion putting on a splendidly vigorous show. The Andantino is appropriately calm yet never so gentle as to put one to sleep. Then Hindemith returns to the lighthearted energy of the first movement with an exuberant closing March, which Stern handles well, efficiently building the excitement incrementally until we arrive at an enormously rousing climax. Fun stuff.

Following the Hindemith piece is the suite from The Love of Three Oranges by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953). The composer intended The Love of Three Oranges as a satirical opera, premiered in 1921 and based again on the works of Carlo Gozzi, so we get two connections between the Hindemith and Prokofiev pieces--the composers meant them to be amusing and based them on works by the same earlier author.

Anyway, here we get the six-movement suite Prokofiev lifted from his opera. Once more Stern takes on the music gleefully. Maybe it's in the nature of the music, but Maestro Stern seems to have an even better time with Prokofiev's rather silly music than he did with Hindemith's. Never going overboard to make the Prokofiev sound too caustic or too absurd, he goes for a polite charm that actually makes it more delightful. The third-movement March is probably the most-famous music in the set, and Stern does it up in properly straight-faced, tongue-in-cheek fashion. It's a pleasure from beginning to end.

Finally, we get the suite from The Miraculous Mandarin by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok (1881-1945), and the album's theme is complete. At least insofar as concerns the "miraculous" part. It was originally a one-act pantomime ballet that quite infuriated audiences of the time, caused a scandal, and eventually got banned. Today, we mostly hear the concert suite offered here.

The tone of the music is quite different from that of the first two selections on the album. The Miraculous Mandarin is rather grim in mood, its plot concerning three tramps who use a beautiful girl to attract men to an apartment, where they rob and attempt to murder them. It's heavy-going music, dark and somber. Gone are the fun and games of the Hindemith and Prokofiev pieces, replaced by an atmosphere of unyielding despair. Stern makes no attempt to glamorize a score that clearly the composer intended as gloomy, mysterious, and forbidding. At least that's the way Stern plays it, with a heavy emphasis on the mysterious angle. A lot of it sounds downright scary. The Kansas City Orchestra provides Maestro Stern with a secure accompaniment, again with the percussion section lending solid support.

It's always a pleasure listening to an album made by the Reference Recordings team of producer David Frost, recording wizard Keith Johnson, and executive producers Tam Henderson and Marcia Martin. They never attempt to attain the kind of absolute transparency so beloved of the audiophile community but instead capture something closer to the actual sound of a concert hall, in this case Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City, Missouri in 2012.

The sound is wonderfully spacious, dimensional, and dynamic, as you would expect to hear from a symphony orchestra at perhaps the eighth or tenth row center. While the stereo spread is wide, the miking is not so close that you're on top of the instruments. Instead, we hear a depth to the ensemble, with plenty of impact and wide frequency extremes. It's some of the most-natural, most-realistic, most-lifelike new sound you'll find around.

JJP

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


Morning Has Broken (short story)

No, this is not a classical-music review. It's not classical, it's not music, it's not classical music, and it's not even classic. It's a short story I wrote some years ago that's been kicking around my hard drive ever since and offers proof positive why I should never write fiction. If it's not to your liking, come back later.

"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting."
--William Wordsworth

Mr. Steven Meade awoke with a start, blurry-eyed as usual and angry at getting up. He was always angry mornings--angry at getting out of bed, angry at going to work, angry at facing the world another day. He wasn't lazy; he knew that. He was just...angry. As usual.

But something was different today. Something he felt. Something curious and oddly disturbing. Intuition? He couldn't tell; he just knew. He twisted restlessly for a minute; then he opened his eyes.

It was impossible. He closed his eyes. Opened them again. The room was still there. The old room; the unmistakable room.

Not his room.

No. This couldn't be, he thought. He was still dreaming. My imagination. Yes, a dream. It would be all right in a second.

It wasn't.

He felt dizzy. The room swirled around him. A dream, but not a dream. The room was there.  His eyes began to focus.  He could see.  He reached a shaky hand to feel his covers, his bedstead, his other hand.  They were real.  But they couldn't be. This wasn't possible.
                   
Close your eyes, he thought.  This will be over in a moment. Pull the covers up and close your eyes and go back to sleep. To sleep perchance to dream. That was it. Just sleep. But he knew he could never sleep, not now, maybe not ever. He was trembling, and his eyes were fixed on a spot on the ceiling, a tiny brown scuff, where as a child he had bounced a ball too high. Never play with your toys in the house, his mother had told him. Won't you ever listen? Wouldn't he? No, it wasn't possible.

He hadn't been in this room in over thirty years. He hadn't been in this bed in longer than that!  He glanced overhead at the decals on the headboard to confirm the worst. There were the sailboats and blue ocean waves he had picked out as a child; and here was the light-blue bed he had slept in until the fifth grade, when he had graduated to a real, adult's dark-wood frame. But he couldn't be here now. This thing couldn't be happening to him.
 
Still shaking, he took the next risk: He looked down at his hands. Small. A child's hands. Not the hands of a forty-six- year-old man; not the hands he had come to know; the hands on his office computer day after day; the hands he watched on knives and forks and spoons; the hands that caressed his wife, that hugged his son, that opened his doors, that gripped his briefcase, that....

He wasn't here. He couldn't be here. He knew it.

But he was.

Think. Think, he told himself. What were the rational explanations? Things had substance, feel, touch. This could still be a dream. Or? Or, the next possibility was the most terrifying of all. A possibility he dared not consider, but must. His life had been a dream.

No, never. Stupid. Impossible. Some forty-odd years a dream! His wife, his son, his friends, his job, his house--a dream? Never. But his speculations seemed ever more feasible to him in light of his present situation.

Calm down, he thought. This will end soon. It will all be over. But the tremors in his hands and feet would not stop that easily. Proof. He needed more proof.

The mirror. Quivering as he was, he wondered if he could make it as far as from his bed to the small, oval mirror on his bureau drawer. And what new dread would he find there? Who would look back at him across that space of a few feet and so many years?

He staggered across the room and looked, and the horror was complete. A small, round, eight-year-old face. The face of crumpled, monochrome photographs. The face he had laughed at in old albums. His face. His now face. The one that wouldn't go away no matter how many times he said no to it out loud.

But the horror was not over. He knew then, with the next sound, that the horror would never be over.

"Stevie?" he heard. "Stevie, what's all that noise? Are you getting up with your radio on again? You know your father is trying to sleep. Steven, will you answer me?"

His mother.

How do you answer someone who has been dead for a decade? What do you say to a second chance at eternity? And if you do answer, what voice will come out of that stranger's throat you now called your own?

"Steven!"

He did the only thing he could do. "Nothing, ...mom."

"Well, keep it down. Are you getting up for school? It's half past seven, you know. Steven?"

"Yes."

The words almost took his breath away. The high-pitched child's voice that could not have been his, yet was.

He knew this would pass. He had to collect himself. Time would take care of everything. Time heals all.... But what about now? What do I do now?

He looked around the room. Everything so familiar, so much his own, like his voice, yet so far away. The double bed with the headboard decals. The Hopalong Cassidy curtains, the ones he had had to have, hanging two inches from the floor, shrunk from too many of his mother's fastidious washings. The closet door with its tarnished brass handle, dented from a mis-swung bat some thirty-eight years ago. No, last summer. No, thirty-eight years ago.

The four-drawer bureau on the side wall. Would it still hold his treasures in the bottom drawer: The dirty, yellowing dice in the beat-up tin box his uncle had brought back from the War?  The Captain Midnight Secret Decoder Ring? The genuine Chinese fortune-telling sticks with their odd, faintly exotic, musty odor of Chinatown? They were all there, safe and fast.

Then, from the corner of his eye he noticed his old Electro-Voice radio, (tubes; he remembered tubes) sitting on the night stand, tuned, he was sure, to whatever station, he forgot now, carried "Big John and Sparky" every Saturday morning. So long forgotten; so quickly remembered. The Teddy Bears' Picnic and "no school today." KFGO. 680 on the dial. Not forgotten; a lifetime of memories, on tap, flooding back. Touch the right buttons, he thought, and it's all there. It's always been there.

But what now? What do I do now?

He had to have a plan, a set of alternatives. There were always alternatives. He could stay in bed, pretending to be sick. But he knew his mom; she would make him stay there all day. And, besides, if his dad was still in bed at 7:30, he must have just gotten off graveyard, the midnight shift, and would be sleeping until mid afternoon; meaning there could be no noise in the house most of the day. The idea of lying awake in his bed for the next eight hours, thinking and seething and worrying, was too much for him; he heard a barely perceptible "huh-ah" escape his stranger's lips. No, something else. Alternatives.

His real life, he thought. He had to reenter his old, his real life. He had to reawaken tomorrow in his real room, in his real home, with his real family; not here, not with these... impostors. He would drive out to his house--his own house--and recapture his past. But how? He was eight now; he couldn't drive. And what of his house? It was built only ten years ago. There would be nothing there but vacant lots and rolling hills. OK, he would cross those hills when he came to them. This afternoon he would talk his father into driving him to the country, and they would wind up near where his real house should be, and then.... And then what? He didn't know, but he had to see. He had to find out.

In the meantime, there was school. That might be the place to start. What about other kids, his friends? He wondered if any of them had been grown up, too? How many children harbored the same secrets he did, secrets too dark even to whisper for fear of ridicule and shame? He would find out.

So, Steven did the only thing he could do. He reached into the second bureau drawer and (yes, they were there) removed a set of underwear and socks; went to his closet and unhooked his jeans from a row of nails that he remembered he and his father putting up so long ago; changed out of his pajamas (pajamas--he hadn't worn pajamas in...); put on a shirt and shoes (so small, so small); and steeled himself for the day.

He opened the bedroom door.

His mom would be in the kitchen, making toast and pouring milk over his cereal. Dependable, predictable mom. Why, he was still shaking. How very curious, he thought, for his hands to be visibly trembling while his legs were like lead stumps.

"Are you finally up, Stevie?" his mother said as he entered the kitchen. She hadn't looked around at him.  She was bending over the breakfast table, a sugar bowl and spoon in hand. Who would he see when she turned around? Who would she see! He knew, then, he couldn't do it, couldn't face this all-too-real nightmare in this all-too-real world, and he tried to turn away; but that old, accustomed voice ("Steven!") with its tone of resolute control jerked him forward, and he faced his mom for the first time in a long, long while.

She was beautiful.

He had never remembered her as beautiful. When he was young, she had always just been mom. Then they both got older, and she was just...old. But she was his mother, then and now; that was the first thing he was sure of today.

"What on earth are you acting so peculiar for this morning?" she demanded. "Are you feeling all right? Let me get your temperature." And before he could respond, she had her hand on his forehead. "Well, you feel fine," she was saying.

Fine. Fine! he thought. Mom, none of us are fine. None of this is fine. We're not real. We're not here! You're dead, and I'm miles away and married, and....

"Now sit down and eat, or you'll be late for school." And she turned toward the laundry room, leaving him there alone with his bowl of Sugar Pops, and his brand-new, old hands and arms, and his thoughts.

School. School is where you learned things. How ironic, he mused. But maybe today he really would learn something, like who he was. And if not, there were the alternatives. Like driving to the new home site. Or, or.... Well, there were always alternatives, even if you couldn't think of them.

He left his breakfast half eaten and kissed his mom good- bye. Any other time, he thought, any other time he would have stayed with her a lifetime--so much to say, so much to explain-- but not today, not now. There was too much else to do, too much to see, too much to analyze and understand. He even considered going into his father's room and waking him up and kissing him good-bye.  It had been so long. But there would be time for that. An odd thought: time for that. How could there be? All of this would end any moment now. Wasn't that one of the alternatives, that this would be over as quickly as it began? And yet, it was just a feeling, a feeling he couldn't pin down. He started out the door, almost forgetting his lunch pail on the kitchen counter.

"Steven, your lunch," he heard his mom say. He grabbed the pail and all but ran out of the house and through the front gate. Here he was on more accustomed ground. Here, on this clear May morning, everything about the neighborhood crystalized into sharp relief. Funny, he thought, how so much is stored in memory, how so much can be called back so quickly, so easily. Like all those TV antennas. There used to be TV antennas. Where had they gone? Underground? And old cars. New cars now, but looking so different. And yet, so common, so everyday they could almost be.... He was about to say real, but they weren't, he knew, and he tried to get the thought out of his head once and for all. But it was hard, so very hard.

He continued down the street until he could almost see his school. He would find the answers there; there where his teachers knew everything, and the world was still in order. Dickerson Elementary and his second grade teacher, Miss Carnapple. Dear old Miss Crab Apple, the children called her. She would know. He was sure.

But how would he talk to these people? He hadn't said more than two words to his mom this morning. What words did an eight- year-old use? They'd take him home and have his head examined if used his own, normal vocabulary; that's what would happen. He'd sound like one of those Whiz Kids he remembered from the old radio days, someone odd, someone weird and phoney. But wouldn't that prove something, too? Didn't he want to show the world that he was, in fact, different? Didn't he want to confirm his own, real identity for everyone to see, himself included? He wasn't sure. All these (what was the word?) choices were beginning to tire him. He was more confused than ever, and, worse, he felt the cold wash of panic starting to pour over him. Something had to happen, and happen fast.

He felt himself slipping away, dissolving into something else.

The school grounds were filling up with the same talking, laughing, yelling, running kids he knew so well. He mumbled "hi" to a few of them on occasion as he made his way across campus; strange, he thought, as he entered his classroom, how close they all were, and how distant. Certainly, the little blonde girl in the corner was worth more than a casual glance. He was in love with her. That was simple enough. He had been in love with her since the beginning of September, almost eight months, a school year, a lifetime. Would she hold the answers? He doubted it. After all, now that he considered it, he hadn't actually spoken to her in all those eight months. But he would. Today, he said to himself, he would. Maybe. Later, today.

But later was long in coming. Everything was longer now. Was it just school that made the minutes trail by so slowly, or was it his age, his youth? Why did people grow old so fast?

Why didn't they cherish the here and now the way they should? Why....

"Steven?  Stevie!"

"Huh?  What? Yes, ma'am," Steve replied. Miss Carnapple seemed a million miles away, but there was no mistaking her now, poised above his head, sharpened tongue at the fore.

"I asked you for the definition of dictator," she was saying.

He knew that. He knew the word. The class had been talking about that guy in Russia the day before. He was a dictator, Miss Carnapple had said. He knew that.

"Well?" she continued. "Are you going to say anything, or should I call on James?"

Yeah, sure, he thought, let James answer it. You always let James answer things. James the pet. James his best friend, but always competing. Just yesterday, James had gotten two points more than he did on the weekly arithmetic test. But he'd show him. He'd get even on this week's spelling quiz.  This time....

"Steven!"

"Huh?" He knew the word, that dictator word. He'd think of it. He just needed a minute to think.  Why wouldn't anyone give him time to think! It wasn't right. It wasn't fair!

"Answer me!"

"It ain't fair," he heard himself screaming to a stunned audience of teacher and kids. "It just ain't fair!"

She sent him home.

The day had not gone well, not well at all. Things clouded over. He was lost and calling aloud forever with no response. Calling aloud to no one.

He was glad to be home. Dinner with his family was silent; the incident at school went unmentioned. As always, his father sat half buried in his nightly news, his mother quietly content with her own eternally unshared dreams. After dinner the TV. And then night.

He lay his head on his pillow and closed his eyes. He loved night best of all, he thought; his bed, his blankets, the comfort and shelter of dark.

Stevie Meade had a vague uneasiness as he drifted off into sleep. Something about that morning. Something about his life. But he wouldn't worry; it would pass. All things do.

JJP

Classical Music News of the Week, March 23, 2014

The National Philharmonic Presents Bach's Mass in B Minor at the Music Center at Strathmore

The National Philharmonic Chorale and Orchestra, led by Artistic Director Stan Engebretson, will present Bach's Mass in B Minor on Saturday, April 12 at 8 pm and Sunday, April 13 at 3 pm at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD  20852. In addition to the nearly 200 voice all-volunteer chorale, the concert will feature soloists Rosa Lamoreaux (soprano); Magdalena Wór (mezzo-soprano); Matthew Smith (tenor); and Christòpheren Nomura (baritone).

A beloved part of the classical repertoire,  the exquisite Mass in B Minor is renowned for its musical complexity and personal, political and religious intrigues. It was the last work of Bach's life, completed shortly before his death in 1750. This masterpiece elevated the choral art form to a state of transcendence that reflects Bach's deep religious and aesthetic convictions.

Bach lived in Leipzig for a decade after his appointment to the Thomaschule (school) of the Thomaskirche (Thomas Church) as Director of Choir and Music. During this time he had reached the heights of his composition skills in organ, choral and instrumental music. Despite his large body of work and his renown as an organist, Bach found himself at increasing odds with his employer, the City Council of Leipzig.

The year 1733 provided the political leverage that Bach had been seeking. Following the death of the Prince-Elector of Saxony, predominantly Lutheran Germany in the northeast followed the tradition of converting to Catholicism. Bach had already recompiled many of his Lutheran religious cantatas so that they could be performed for a wealthy patron of the arts in a Catholic church where Lutheran music was forbidden. Members of Bach's family smuggled the manuscripts for Part I of the Mass out of Leipzig so that they could be rehearsed and performed in the royal court of Dresden. The Kyrie and Gloria, liturgical texts common to both religions, was a welcome salute for the new ruler. Received with acclaim, Bach was finally named the Compositeur of the Royal Court of Dresden in 1736. The leverage gained by this title enabled Bach to finally resolve his differences with the City of Leipzig.

A free lecture will be offered at 6:45 pm on Saturday, April 12 and at 1:45 pm on Sunday, April 13 in the Concert Hall at Strathmore. To purchase tickets to Bach's Mass in B minor on Saturday, April 12 or Sunday, April 13, please visit www.nationalphilharmonic.org or call the Strathmore ticket office at (301) 581-5100. Tickets are $28-$84; kids 7-17 are FREE through the ALL KIDS, ALL FREE, ALL THE TIME program (sponsored by The Gazette). ALL KIDS tickets must be purchased in person or by phone. Parking is complimentary.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

US Premiere: The Discovery of Heaven. New York Philharmonic; Sir Andrew Davis, Conductor
"The Discovery of Heaven... is not so much a spiritual quest as an exploration of heaven on earth, evoking sounds of a balmy summer night as well as the joyful, tuneful humanity of a sun-blessed city street."   --The Financial Times, 26 March 2012

On Thursday, April 24, 2014, British composer Julian Anderson's The Discovery of Heaven will receive its US première from the New York Philharmonic conducted by Sir Andrew Davis at Avery Fisher Hall. The Orchestra will give two further performances of the work on Friday 25 and Saturday 26 April.

As described in The Guardian: "The Discovery of Heaven, Julian Anderson's striking new work for the London Philharmonic, takes its title from Harry Mulisch's 1992 novel. The vast sweep of that book, juxtaposing the mythic and timeless with the contemporary and the everyday, was a starting point for Anderson's abstract, 22-minute piece, in which rapt, slowly moving textures vie for dominance with music that is rowdy and discontinuous." Composed in three movements (An Echo from Heaven; In the Street; Hymns), Anderson also cites the music of Japanese Gagaku (or court music), dating from 9th century, and the music of Jánacek as its influences.

Written in 2011, The Discovery of Heaven is a New York Philharmonic co-commission with the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) dedicated to Jonathan Harvey. Winner of the classical category at the prestigious South Bank Sky Arts Awards in 2013, it was premièred by the LPO under the baton of Ryan Wigglesworth at London's Royal Festival Hall in March 2012.

The Discovery of Heaven is also featured on a disc released by the LPO to mark Anderson's 3-year tenure as their Composer in Residence. In addition to the live recording of the world première of The Discovery of Heaven, the disc features Fantasias (2009), which was commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra following a two-year residency as the Daniel R. Lewis Young Composer Fellow (2005-2007), and The Crazed Moon (1997).

For more information, visit
http://nyphil.org/ConcertsTickets/EventDetails?event=%7bE4F146BF-0371-4387-A471-11D13E643D42%7d

--Moe Faulkner, Macbeth Media Relations

Music Institute Spotlights Distinguished Alumna Inna Faliks May 3
For its fourth annual Distinguished Alumni Concert, the Music Institute of Chicago presents pianist Inna Faliks Saturday, May 3 at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, Il.

Faliks, whose mother Irene Faliks joined the Music Institute's piano faculty in 1990, offers an imaginative concert program to explore the connection between words and music. Faliks will perform Beethoven's Fantasie Op. 77 and Sonata Op. 111; Satie's Sonatine Bureaucratique; and Schumann's Davidsbundler Op. 6.

After studying at the Music Institute with Emilio del Rosario, Inna worked with such towering figures as Leon Fleisher, Ann Schein, and Gilbert Kalish, eventually earning a doctor of musical arts degree from Stony Brook University in New York. She has performed in some of the world's most distinguished venues, including Carnegie Hall's Weill Concert Hall, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, Paris' Salle Cortot, Chicago's Symphony Center, and many more. Critics have described her as "a soloist in total command of her instrument" and "a concert pianist of the highest order." This year, Inna joined the prestigious faculty of UCLA as a tenured associate professor of piano.

Music Institute of Chicago
The Music Institute of Chicago believes that music has the power to sustain and nourish the human spirit; therefore, its mission is to provide the foundation for lifelong engagement with music. Founded in 1931, the Music Institute has grown to become one of the three largest and most respected community music schools in the nation. Offering musical excellence built on the strength of its distinguished faculty, commitment to quality, and breadth of programs and services, the Music Institute is a member of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts and accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Pre-collegiate Arts Schools (ACCPAS). Each year, the Music Institute's teachers and arts therapists reach thousands of students and clients of all ages and levels of experience. The Music Institute opened a new location this fall at Fourth Presbyterian Church's Gratz Center in downtown Chicago. Other Music Institute locations include Evanston, Winnetka, Lincolnshire, Lake Forest, and Downers Grove. In addition, the Music Institute is proud of its longstanding partnership with the Chicago Public Schools through its Arts Link program. The Music Institute offers lessons and classes, creative arts therapy, and concerts through its Community School, Academy, Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA), and Nichols Concert Hall.

Pianist Inna Faliks performs for the Music Institute of Chicago's annual Distinguished Alumni Concert Saturday, May 3 at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, Il.

Tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $10 for students, available at brownpapertickets.com/event/456089 or 847.905.1500 ext. 108. For more information visit musicinst.org.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin Launch Its Fourth U.S. Tour
Tour coincides with the release of "Adagio and Fugues - W.A. Mozart after J.S. Bach," available Tuesday, April 8, 2014.

It has too often been overlooked that, between Bach's death in 1750 and the triumphant revival of his "St Matthew Passion" by Mendelssohn in 1829, other composers had already investigated the oeuvre of this "old master". Mozart was the most fervent among them. When he was introduced to "The Well-Tempered Clavier" collection, he wrote to his father, "Every Sunday at twelve I go to Baron van Swieten's - and nothing is played there except Handel and Bach. I'm currently making myself a collection of Bach fugues."

For its new release "Adagio and Fugues - W.A. Mozart after J.S. Bach," the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin performs Mozart's string arrangements of Bach's Adagio and Fugues from "The Well-Tempered Clavier," bringing the work of two brilliant composers to life.

The orchestra marks the release with a series of North American concerts, including return engagements in Los Angeles at Disney Hall, Berkeley's Cal Performances, New York's Zankel Hall, and the Folly Theater in Kansas City, MO, along with sold out performances in Denver, Boston, and Washington.

U.S. Tour March 29 - April 13, 2014:
March 29 - Berkeley, CA - Cal Performances, First Congregational Church
March 30 - Los Angeles, CA - Los Angeles Philharmonic, Disney Concert Hall
April 2 - Denver, CO - Denver Friends of Chamber Music, Newman Center
April 5 - Washington, DC - Library of Congress, Coolidge Auditorium
April 6 - Boston, MA - Gardner Museum Concerts, Calderwood Hall
April 8 - New York, NY - Carnegie Hall, Zankel Hall
April 11 - Kansas City, MO - Friends of Chamber Music, Folly Theater
April 13 - Ann Arbor, MI - University Musical Society, Hill Auditorium

--Sarah Folger, Harmonia Mundi, USA

The Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot Announce Launch of Record Label: Seattle Symphony Media
The Seattle Symphony and Music Director Ludovic Morlot announce the launch of Seattle Symphony Media, the Symphony's in-house record label, with its first three recordings scheduled for release in April.

The first three releases on the new label feature Ludovic Morlot conducting the Seattle Symphony in works by French and American composers, celebrating the flourishing relationship between French conductor and American orchestra that has electrified audiences in Seattle. The discs include works by Charles Ives, Elliott Carter, George Gershwin, Henri Dutilleux, Maurice Ravel and Camille Saint-Saëns.

The Seattle Symphony has an extensive catalogue of over 140 recordings, which have brought forth twelve Grammy Award nominations throughout its history.  Under the leadership of Ludovic Morlot, now in his third season as Music Director, and Executive Director Simon Woods, the Symphony plans to build a new discography to include both live and in-studio recordings spanning genres and time periods and including both "core repertoire" and some of the eclectic and contemporary programming the Seattle Symphony has become recognized for at home.

The launch of the label has been made possible through an innovative media agreement with the Seattle Symphony's musicians, agreed as part of a new contract ratified in 2013. Under the agreement, the organization – unusual among American orchestras – is able to release a significant number of recordings each year from both live concerts and "studio" sessions, which will allow the building of a significant catalog over a relatively short period. The Symphony's musicians will share in the label's net revenue, and have a voice in planning and contractual matters. All recordings are made in the acoustically superb Benaroya Hall using the Symphony's own state-of-the art in-house recording facility, supervised by audio engineer Dmitriy Lipay.

An important characteristic of the label is the combination of live and studio recordings which allows the organization an unprecedented breadth of repertoire choices that are less easily achieved with an "all-live" label. Recordings, which are being distributed by Naxos of America, will be available in both physical and digital formats from a variety of retailers.

The recordings have been engineered to audiophile standards and aim to capture as realistically as possible the sound of the orchestra performing on the Benaroya Hall stage, with naturalistic imaging, depth of field and dynamic range. Digital content will be available in four formats: regular stereo, "Mastered for iTunes," 96k 24-bit high resolution, and 5.1 surround sound.

For more information and sound clips, visit http://recordings.seattlesymphony.org/Recordings.

--Katharine Boone, Kirshbaum, Demler & Associates

The Bach Sinfonia Presents C.P.E. Bach's Sensitive Side, in Honor of the 300th Birthday of Carl Philipp Emanuel
On Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 8PM, in honor of the 300th birthday of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (b. 6 March 1714), Sinfonia explores the music of his Empfindsamer Stil ("Sensitive Style") through the two G Major Symphonies, H. 657 (Wq. 182/1) [1773] and H. 648 (Wq. 173) [1742], a concerto (featuring Douglas Poplin, violoncello soloist) and a set of variations (featuring Adam Pearl , harpsichord soloist). The wide range of emotional expression, unpredictability, intense drama, and "playing from the soul" of the sensitive style finds its roots in literary circles. With no clear musical precursors and only a tenuous relationship to the Viennese Sturm und Drang ("Storm and Stress") of the 1770s, the fluid shifting and turbulence of this style is always exciting for performers and audience alike. The concert will take place at the Cultural Arts Center at Montgomery College, Silver Spring, MD.

Douglas Poplin will perform the Concerto for Violoncello in A Minor, H. 432 (Wq. 170), the first of three cello concertos composed by C.P.E. Bach. The outside movements of the concerto are cast in the ritornello form he inherited from Vivaldi and his father, Johann Sebastian Bach.

Adam Pearl, harpsichord instructor at the Peabody Conservatory, will perform C.P.E. Bach's rarely heard 12 Variationes über die Follies d'Espagne ("La Folia Variation"), H. 263 (Wq.118/9), a set of 12 variations on the Folia (Fo-lee-ah) theme. This is a tour de force for keyboard -- a virtuosic showpiece which reflects the composer's own brilliance at the keyboard.

The program will include the first hearing in North America of a recently identified Sinfonia by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. W.F. Bach's Sinfonia in D Major, Br C-Inc.16 was recently published as part of the new collected works edition. The attribution of the work is based on a single surviving source--a set of parts listing C.P.E. Bach as the composer. This unique chapter of the pre-classical period aims to "touch the heart and move the affections."

Date and time:
Saturday, April 5, 2014 AT 8PM
Free Pre-Concert Discussion at 7:20PM

Venue information:
Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center
7995 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20910

More information about tickets are at www.bachsinfonia.org

--Jennifer Buzzell, Bach Sinfonia

Woodstock Mozart Festival Announces 28th Season, July 24-August 10
Mozart, Rossini, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Vivaldi and More on Programs at Two Venues:
Woodstock Opera House and Sanfilippo Foundation's Place de la Musique

The Woodstock Mozart Festival expands its venue options for its 28th season to include the Woodstock Opera House and, new this year, the Sanfilippo Foundation's Place de la Musique concert hall in Barrington Hills. Performances take place July 24–August 10. Single tickets go on sale April 7.

To kick off the 2014 season, the Woodstock Mozart Festival hosts a benefit, "Be Amazed!", April 12 at the Place de la Musique. The event includes a tour of the Sanfilippo estate, a magnificent mansion decorated in Grand Epoch and Art Deco styles that houses the world's largest pipe organ in its concert hall and is filled with fully restored and operating antique musical instruments, at 5 p.m. A concert in the chandeliered concert hall, featuring pianist Igor Lipinski and violinist Kevin Case, takes place at 6:30 p.m., with an encore by the world's largest pipe organ. The evening concludes with a post-show reception in the Carousel Pavilion, home of the world's most complete original European Salon Carousel. Tickets are $150 and available at mozartfest.org.

For the 2014 Woodstock Mozart Festival, the Woodstock Opera House program lineup is as follows:
July 26 and 27: Conductor Istvan Jaray joins clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein for Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri Overture; Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, K. 622; and Haydn's Symphony No. 101, "Clock."

August 2 and 3: Conductor Istvan Jaray returns to perform with pianist Igor Lipinski on Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture, Op. 26 and two Mozart works: Piano Concerto No. 20, K. 466 and Symphony No. 36, K. 425, "Linz."

August 9: Violinist Igor Gruppman, who also conducts, and violinist/violist Vesna Gruppman return by popular demand after their 2012 and 2013 Festival participation, performing Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525; Vivaldi's The Four Seasons "Winter," Op. 8, No. 4 and his Concerto for Two Violins in A Minor, Op. 3, No. 8 RV 522; Warlock's Capriol Suite for Strings; and two works by Piazzolla: Oblivion and The Four Seasons.

The Place de la Musique programs are as follows:
July 24: Clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein and pianist Igor Lipinski present a chamber music concert, featuring Mozart's Piano Quartet, K. 478 and his Clarinet Quintet, K. 581, "Stadler's," followed by a clarinet master class.

August 10: Violinist Igor Gruppman, who also conducts, and violinist/violist Vesna Gruppman return by popular demand after their 2012 and 2013 Festival participation, performing Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525; Vivaldi's The Four Seasons "Winter," Op. 8, No. 4 and his Concerto for Two Violins in A Minor, Op. 3, No. 8 RV 522; Warlock's Capriol Suite for Strings; and two works by Piazzolla: Oblivion and The Four Seasons.

Both programs include a 90-minute pre-concert tour of the Sanfilippo estate.

The 2014 Woodstock Mozart Festival takes place Saturday, July 26, August 2 and August 9 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 27 and August 3 at 3 p.m. at the Woodstock Opera House, 121 Van Buren Street, Woodstock. Pre-concert introductions take place one hour before each performance. Single tickets go on sale April 7 through the Woodstock Opera House Box Office at 815-338-5300 or at woodstockoperahouse.com.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Gal: Symphony No. 1 (CD review)

Also, Schumann: Symphony No. 1. Kenneth Woods, Orchestra of the Swan. Avie AV2233.

With this disc Maestro Kenneth Woods and the Orchestra of the Swan conclude their survey of the four symphonies by Viennese teacher, pianist, and composer Hans Gal (1890-1987). What has been a little unclear is why Avie coupled each of the Gal symphonies with one by German composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856). The connections continue to be rather nebulous to me, although a booklet note explains that it has something to do with people often misunderstanding both Gal and Schumann and with both of their "first" symphonies not actually being the composers' first symphonic works. And, of course, both composers were born in the same century and wrote four symphonies. OK. The main thing is that Woods and his players again do up the symphonies nicely, which is all most of us really care about.

Although much of what preoccupied Gal in his lifetime was opera, he produced his Symphony No. 1 in D, Op. 30 in 1927, his publisher suggesting to him that it was really a sinfonietta and he should title it so. Gal resisted and submitted the work to a music competition, winning second prize. Thereafter, it enjoyed a short-lived fame but since 1933 has received only three public performances.

Gal's First Symphony is relatively brief, about thirty minutes, and more outgoing than the other symphonies I've heard from him. Maestro Woods takes advantage of these characteristics to provide a lively and colorful rendering of things. The symphony is clearly Romantic in nature yet with strong hints of the coming modernism of the twentieth century. Woods emphasizes the melodic lines, keeps the Burleske playful, draws out a lovely Elegie, and ends with a rousing account of the Rondo finale. Although I had never heard the work before now, I would find it hard to imagine anyone handling it any better than Woods, nor any orchestra playing it with more accuracy and enthusiasm.

Schumann wrote his Symphony No. 1 in B flat, Op. 38 "Spring" in 1841, soon after he married Clara Wieck. Clara claimed her husband called it the "Spring Symphony" because of the "Spring" poems of Adolph Boettger; Robert claimed he so named it because of his "spring of love." Obviously, the symphony is therefore romantic in every sense. He tinkered with it until its publication in final form in 1853, and listeners have loved it ever since.

Regarding the Schumann piece, we are in another symphonic world altogether. It really seems a little unfair to Gal to have the two works side by side. Not that the Gal symphony fares all that poorly by itself; its pastoral effects, especially, are quite a charming reflection of early twentieth-century music. But Schumann wrote a masterpiece for the ages, which Woods offers up in a spirited if rather quickly paced interpretation. The reading loses a little something in the way of Schumann's singing melodies and poetic grace, replaced by a more energetic swagger; less of a dance than a sprint. The trade-off isn't all that bad, mind you, just different. Nevertheless, Woods's rendition doesn't displace my favorite recordings of Schumann's First Symphony from Wolfgang Sawallisch (EMI), Otto Klemperer (EMI), Roy Goodman (RCA), and others, which seem to me to combine the best of both vitality and lyricism in their versions.

Simon Fox-Gal (the grandson of composer Hans Gal) produced, engineered, and edited the recording, made at Civic Hall, Stratford-upon-Avon in December 2013. The sound he obtained shows good depth and clarity. The orchestra appears to be somewhat small, about thirty or so players if we can believe the photograph of them in the accompanying booklet, and as a small ensemble they sound a bit more transparent than a full orchestra might sound. The overall sonic presentation seems a tad forward to me, while revealing good detail. It's also a touch strident in the upper frequencies during loudest passages, but not enough to concern most listeners. With its wide stereo presentation, fairly good dynamics, transient response, and impact, the audio comes off pretty well.

JJP

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


Remarkable

You've probably already seen this, but if you haven't, it's worth your time.

It's a commercial to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the founding of Banco Sabadell. In it, the bank says it wanted to pay homage to their city by means of the campaign "Som Sabadell" (We are Sabadell).

It's a remarkable experience, both for the performers and the listeners. If only most CD recordings could capture the joy, spirit, and enthusiasm of the participants we find in this piece.

Here are a few of the places on-line you'll find the item posted:

http://www.bancsabadell.tv/en/som-sabadell-flashmob/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBaHPND2QJg

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/07/ode-to-joy-50-string-instruments-that-will-melt-your-heart/259514/

JJP

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos (CD review)

Freiburger Barockorchester. Harmonia Mundi HMC 902176.77 (2-disc set).

Insofar as concerns historically informed performances of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos played on period instruments, the most-recent release from Trevor Pinnock and his handpicked Baroque ensemble on Avie rather swept the field a few years ago. This is not to dismiss Pinnock's own earlier recording with the English Concert (DG) or Tafelmusik's fine rendering (Tafelmusik or Sony) or the ones from Apollo's Fire (Avie), Jordi Savall (Astree), Gustav Leonhardt (Sony), and others. It's just that it's not easy to produce something new anymore that surpasses old favorites in terms of performance and sound. Nevertheless, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra on Harmonia Mundi give it a try, and some listeners may like their way with things better than anything they've heard before.

Anyway, you'll recall that Bach's Brandenburg Concertos sound different from one another because the composer never meant them as a single, unified group. In 1719 Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg commissioned Bach to write several musical works for him, and what he got a couple of years later was a collection of six concertos for various-sized ensembles and various solo instruments that Bach had probably written at various times for various other occasions.

Concerto No. 1 is among the longest of the concertos, and Bach arranged it for the biggest number of players. It is also my least favorite, but that's of no concern. In No. 1 the Freiburg ensemble, playing without a conductor, layer the various sections of music nicely, and in the outer movements keep the rhythms lively and energetic. The Adagio, too, sounds spirited, more so than we usually hear it, yet, appropriately, sounds evenly paced. The whole thing goes by with a steady forward momentum, its third movement of dance tunes filled with vitality.

By the way, you won't mistake the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra for a modern group because they seem to make you aware at all times of the period instruments they use. You won't find here the smooth sonorities and lush textures of a modern orchestra. Instead, the instruments and the playing tend to sound less polished and more rustic, along with other matters like pitch and tempo and bowing. You either accept the period sound or you don't.

Concerto No. 2 is one of the most popular of the concertos and highlights the oboe, recorder, violin, and trumpet, the latter getting in the major part of the playing time. With the Freiburg group No. 2 is quick but never rushed, the music reminding us more than ever that Bach probably intended it as a quartet, since the string accompaniment hardly seem to matter. The trumpet, recorder, oboe, and violin do sound good together, with the trumpet never overpowering the other instruments as it often can in recordings. There is a lovely, animated interplay among the instruments, too, leading to an effective job overall, although I thought the final movement too fast for my taste.

Folks probably recognize Concerto No. 3 as well as they do No. 2, maybe even more so; thus, it's important not to upset their expectations. As the Freiburg orchestra do with the other concertos, they lean to alert, rousing tempos throughout. However, their speedy approach only serves to emphasize the fact that the piece has only two movements to begin with, both of them fast, leaving one a little breathless by the end.

Concerto No. 4 is Bach's most playful piece, with the soloists darting in and out of the structure. It always reminds me of children's music for some reason, Leopold Mozart's Toy Symphony or something like that. Regardless, for me the performance of No. 4 stood out. It's playful, happy, joyous even, with the Freiburg players appearing to have as good a time with it as Bach must have had writing it. Moreover, the sometimes disparate elements of the score seem more cohesive than ever. It's a most-pleasurable experience.

Concerto No. 5 is another of my personal favorites, highlighting solos from the violin, flute, and harpsichord. Because it requires a minimal ensemble, it ensures a greater clarity of sound. Also, a booklet note reminds us that No. 5 may be the first genuine keyboard concerto in history, and certainly the harpsichord player in this one, Sebastian Wienand, performs in virtuosic style.

Even though Concerto No. 6 seems to me the least distinctive music in the set and uses the smallest ensemble, it never actually feels small. In fact, its only real deficiency is its melodic similarity to Concerto No. 3. Whatever, scored for only a handful of players on strings and harpsichord, the Freiburg musicians help No. 6 go by in zippy fashion. It's clearly of a smaller scale than the other concertos, and one has to commend the viola players especially, as they do a splendid job in the solo parts.

A soft-cardboard slipcover for the plastic two-disc case completes the package.

So, do we have a new winner, displacing my favored Pinnock recording on Avie? Not really. Still, the Freiburg group are worth an audition, particularly for listeners favoring a purely historical approach to their music.

One minor quibble: The orchestra, the record company, or the producer decided to arrange the concertos rather oddly. They put Numbers 1, 6, and 2 on disc one and numbers 3, 5, and 4 on disc two. Now, it's true that despite the present-day numbering of the works, Bach left no instructions for the order of their playing, so it really shouldn't matter in what arrangement an ensemble plays them. But it does matter, if for no other reason than making it easy for the listener to find things on the discs. The present arrangement seems purely arbitrary to me. It doesn't seem to be by chronology or by solo instrument or by the number of players involved. Maybe it's just the way somebody liked hearing them. Who knows.

Harmonia Mundi recorded the music at the Ensemblehaus, Freiburg in May, 2013. The sound is extremely spacious, with loads of depth and dimensionality thanks to a moderate miking distance and a good deal of hall resonance. You don't get the best definition this way, but you do get a very realistic sense of presence, a lifelike you-are-there quality that puts you directly into the acoustic environment. Some listeners will find the effect appealing, and others will no doubt find it too reverberant. Otherwise, dynamics and frequency extremes are more than adequate for the occasion and tonal balance is fine, although midrange detail sometimes appears a mite smeared.

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.