Classical Music News of the Week, December 3, 2016

Gustavo Dudamel to Make Florida Debut as Part of Artis-Naples 2017-18 Visiting Orchestras Series

Artis-Naples' CEO and President Kathleen van Bergen announced the organization's 2017-18 Visiting Orchestras series, which includes the Florida debut of renowned conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who leads the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the final year of its Naples residency on February 27 and 28, 2018.

Dudamel is music and artistic director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, the national orchestra of his home country of Venezuela. The 35-year-old conductor has quickly become one of the world's most lauded and famous classical musicians since bursting onto the world stage at 18. Since then, he has gone on to conduct most of the leading orchestras in the world, including the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic and La Scala. This year, he will be the youngest conductor to lead the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Day concert.

"Each year, we hope to bring the world's best orchestras to Naples," van Bergen said. "It is difficult to imagine presenting a pair of more exciting, vibrant and talented set of ensembles to our audiences. They represent the pinnacle of the classical music world, both in the United States and Europe."

For more information, visit artisnaples.org

--Jonathan Foerster, Communications Director

Avner Dorman Explores the Link Between Wagner and Hitler in New Opera Wahnfried
In the annals of the Wagner family, the name Houston Stewart Chamberlain is but a footnote. Yet, argues Avner Dorman's new opera Wahnfried, he was in some ways the link between Richard Wagner and Adolf Hitler. Chamberlain was a failing English scientist who became obsessed with Wagner's music, after the composer's death marrying Wagner's daughter Eva and moving to Bayreuth. There he stayed close to his adopted family and, eventually, to Adolf Hitler, whom he hugely admired. Hitler for his part saw Chamberlain as a mentor and was highly influenced by his magnum opus, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century - which codified Aryan supremacy and systemic anti-Semitism. Hitler so admired the older man that he often quoted him, and made the journey to Bayreuth for his funeral.

Wahnfried, scored by the much-in-demand Israeli-American composer Dorman, with a libretto by Lutz Hübner and Sarah Nemitz, two of the most admired German playwrights of our day, presents the story of Chamberlain at Bayreuth. It's a satirical study of a man who thought himself the living embodiment of a Wagnerian hero, only to realize (as he is tormented by the mocking "Wagner demon") that he could never aspire to true greatness. And yet, as so often, mediocrity was no bar to the poison he was able to spread...

Keith Warner directs this world premiere production, which has been commissioned by the Karlsruhe Staatstheater to complement their new production of Wagner's Ring cycle. The opera house's Music Director, Justin Brown, conducts a cast that includes Matthias Wohlbrecht as Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Christina Niessen as Cosima Wagner, Andrew Watts / Eric Jurenas as Siegfried Wagner and Barbara Dobrzanska as Anna Chamberlain. The opera will run in repertoire until 12th May.

The opera plays on the following dates: 28th January 2017, 2nd and 16th February, 19th March, 12th and 24th April and 12th May. More details can be found at http://www.staatstheater.karlsruhe.de/programm/termine/2379/.

--James Inverne Music Consultancy

Los Angeles Master Chorale to Perform Beethoven's Missa solemnis Jan 21 & 22
The Los Angeles Master Chorale will present its first performances of Beethoven's powerful Missa solemnis in 13 years on its own concert series on Saturday, January 21 at 2 PM and Sunday, January 22 at 7 PM at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Heralded as a pillar of the choral and orchestral repertoire, the work is considered a specialty of the Master Chorale that last performed the work with Artistic Director Grant Gershon in Disney Hall in 2004.

Although Beethoven is believed to have called Missa solemnis ("Solemn Mass") his greatest work, the piece is not frequently performed owing to the large number of resources it requires including a full choir, large orchestra, and four soloists. It is also exceptionally technically challenging.

"The Missa Solemnis is like an epic journey up the river of Beethoven's tormented psyche as he struggles to find faith at the end of his life," says Gershon. "There is no chorus on the planet that sings this transcendently challenging music with more visceral power and breathtaking beauty than the Los Angeles Master Chorale. If you love Beethoven, you cannot miss this!"

Tickets to all concerts are available now, starting from $29.
Phone: 213-972-7282
Online: lamasterchorale.org

--Jennifer Scott, LA Master Chorale

Celebrate the Winter Season with Young People's Chorus of NYC
"Ring in The New: A Festive Winter Concert"
Sunday, December 11, 2 P.M. & 5:30 P.M.
92nd Street Y, New York City
An exciting annual celebration of holiday music and traditions representing the many ways New York City families commemorate the season.  YPC's award-winning choristers will perform a program of holiday favorites, international gems, and some very special surprises in a fun-filled concert for the whole family.

"A City Singing at Christmas"
Featuring Young People's Chorus of New York City (YPC), St. Patrick's Cathedral Choir, Queens College Choir, The Cathedral Organ, and New York Symphonic Brass
St. Patrick's Cathedral
1395 Lexington Avenue, NYC
Thursday, December 15, 7 p.m.

A Holiday Reading of "Twas the Night Before Christmas"
Performance by YPC Washington Heights Community Chorus, among other guests
The Church of the Intercession
550 West 155th Street, NYC
Sunday, December 18, 3 p.m.

For complete information, visit https://ypc.org/

--Young People's Chorus of New York City

January 2017 Concerts at 92nd Street Y
Wednesday, January 11, 2017 at 8:30PM
92Y - Buttenwieser Hall, NYC
Asi Matathias, violin
Victor Stanislavsky, piano

Tuesday, January 24, 2017 at 7:30PM
92Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC
Pacifica Quartet
Jörg Widmann, clarinet

Sunday, January 29, 2017 at 3:00PM
92Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC
Yefim Bronfman, piano
Musicians from the New York Philharmonic

Tickets and information are available at www.92Y.org/Concerts or 212-415-5500.

--Hannah Goldshlack-Wolf, Kirshbaum Associates

Yoshiki at Carnegie Hall: Jan 12 and 13
Yoshiki, songwriter, drummer/percussionist, classically-trained pianist and the creative force of the rock group X JAPAN, announced a special concert event: "Yoshiki Classical Special featuring Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra." The classical concerts will take place on January 12 and 13, 2017 at Carnegie Hall's Stern Auditorium.

For the Carnegie Hall concert, Yoshiki will perform his original compositions alongside the world-renowned Tokyo Philharmonic as well as several works from the traditional Classical repertoire. This New York concert follows Classical performances also taking place in Japan and Hong Kong.

"I began taking piano lessons and music theory at age four, and became interested in classical works by Beethoven and Schubert," explains Yoshiki.  "In elementary school, I played the trumpet in the brass band, and around age ten started composing songs for piano. I've been writing classical music ever since. Needless to say, classical music has been a major influence in my musical career."

Yoshiki Classical Special featuring Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra:
Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage, NYC
Thursday January 12 and Friday, January 13 at 7:30 pm

Tickets from $40 to $105 available by calling 212-247-7800, at the Carnegie Hall Box Office (57th Street & 7th Avenue), or at www.carnegiehall.org.

--Shira Gilbert PR

New England Conservatory Announces Winners of 2016 Entrepreneurial Muscianship Grants
The New England Conservatory Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department (EM) announces the winners of the Fall 2016 round of Project Grants. Following a highly competitive written application and Shark Tank-style pitch, seven students were awarded the EM Project Grant, which provides modest seed funding and access to a cohort of advisors to support them along the way.

Morgan Middleton
"Remember When"

Amanda Ekery
"The Lomax Folk Project"

Andrew Steinberg
"The Megalopolis Saxophone Orchestra"

Rayna Yun Chou
"Music, Distance, and One Minute of Just Us"

Lauren Parks
"Musical Storybooks"

Julian Loida & Sofia Kriger
"Mojubá: Bringing CUBA to the Community"

For more information, visit www.necmusic.edu/em/grants

--Lisa Helfer Elghazi, Media Relations

African Heritage Symphonic Series, Volume 1 (CD review)

Music of  William Grant Still, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and Fela Sowande. Paul Freeman, Chicago Sinfonietta. Cedille Records CDR 90000 055.

Look. I'm only going to say this one more time (or until I hear another disc from this source), so listen up. The folks at Cedille produce some of the best-sounding records in the industry. And as usual I'd like to commend engineer Bill Maylone for his contributions to the audiophile cause.

This 2003 release with the Chicago Sinfonietta under the directorship of its founder, Paul Freeman, is outstanding in every way. The sound is spectacularly wide, robust, dynamic, detailed, and wholly natural. Highs are sparkling, bass is deep and strong (with a drum rivaling the old Telarcs), depth perception is excellent, and imaging is superb. If the sonics have any weakness at all it's in the slightly soft midrange, yet even here it matches what I normally hear live in a concert hall.

But don't just buy the disc for its sound. The music is more than worthwhile, too. Volume One in Cedille's "African Heritage Symphonic Series," the album includes works by three prominent African American composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The program begins with two pieces by British-born Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), "Danse Negre" from his African Suite and Petite Suite de Concert. They are lightweight and highly accessible orchestral works from the man most famous for his big choral extravaganza, Hiawatha's Wedding Feast. Following them, we find an even more sprightly set of selections from Nigerian-born Fela Sowande (1905-1987), three movements from his African Suite.

Paul Freeman
Nevertheless, the Coleridge-Taylor and Sowande works are mere introduction to the disc's big number, William Grant Still's wonderful Symphony No. 1. Composer Still (1895-1978) came from a mixed background--African American, Native American, Anglo, and Hispanic--but never rejected his birth certificate identification as "Negro." His First Symphony from 1930, for those who've never heard it, will be a godsend for music lovers who enjoy Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, written half dozen years earlier. Still's symphony displays elements of blues, minstrel, ragtime, and Southern folk tunes, all fundamentally American idioms. The composer structured it in a traditional four-movement layout, with a big opening reminiscent of Rhapsody in Blue or Porgy and Bess, followed by a lovely Adagio, a brief but rousing Scherzo, and a surprisingly subdued but noble finale, all of which Maestro Freeman and ensemble play to perfection.

There is also a fine booklet essay on the three composers by music professor Dominque-Rene de Lerma included that does much to clarify the position of each man in the scheme of American musical life. All around, this disc was a sure crowd-pleaser to open Cedille's "African Heritage" series of recordings, and if you can find any of the series, I continue to highly recommend them.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:


Tharaud Plays Rachmaninov (CD review)

Piano Concerto No. 2; Cinq Morceaux de fantaisie for solo piano; Vocalise for piano and voice; Pieces for six hands. Alexandre Tharaud, piano; Alexander Vedernikov, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Erato 019029595469.

French concert pianist Alexandre Tharaud (b. 1968) is one of a growing number of fine, younger pianists who have developed almost fanatical followings in the past decade or two. The several dozen albums Tharaud has produced bear testament to his popularity, and the present one in which he plays the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto should do nothing to dispel his acclaim.

The Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, premiered by Russian composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) in 1901, is one of the last of the great Romantic concertos. Well, OK, not really the last; that would probably be the composer's Third Piano Concerto. But the Second, with its grand, rhapsodic gestures epitomizes the Romantic tradition, so, close enough.

The history of the concerto is well known. Rachmaninov wrote it after recovering from a fit of depression brought on by the relative failure of his First Symphony and some severe complications in his personal life. As the story goes, it was only through hypnotherapy that he reestablished and revived his career. The Concerto would appear the perfect vehicle for the creative and energetic Tharaud.

Can one play the Second Concerto too Romantically? Tharaud seems to try, although I don't mean this as a bad thing. He plays with an assured calm and a sweet lyrical flourish. There is little overstatement in the performance, except perhaps to keep the music as smoothly polished as possible. Furthermore, Tharaud plays with a confident dexterity, and the Liverpool players give him a solid backup, without overwhelming him in the bigger sections of the score.

Tharaud's interpretation of the central Adagio glides along as tranquilly as we might expect from hearing a similar treatment of the first movement, with no inordinate surprises. It's quite lovely, in fact, even if it seems a little too leisurely and measured at times. Then, in the final movement we get a healthy but again not overheated influx of adrenaline. Indeed, the listener may find this either refreshing or too tame, take your choice.

Alexandre Tharaud
The question remains, though, how Tharaud's performance stacks up against great recordings of the past, ones from Ashkenazy, Janis, Horowitz, Richter, Wild, even Rachmaninov himself. Here, the case for Tharaud is not quite so compelling. In fact, a quick comparison to the composer's own version finds Tharaud lacking a good deal of potency, passion, and drama. Still, those things may not be what every listener wants, and Tharaud's gentler approach may be a good antidote to the more-melodramatic renderings we often hear.

The remainder of the program consists of a series of shorter Rachmaninov pieces: Cinq Morceaux de fantaisie for solo piano; Vocalise for piano and voice (with soprano Sabine Devieilhe); and Pieces for six hands (with pianists Alexander Melnikov and Aleksandar Madzar). Given that all three of the album's pianists plus the conductor are Alexanders (of various spellings), one wonders if Tharaud or his producer chose them to perform as some kind of in-joke. Or was it really coincidence? In any case, I enjoyed these smaller pieces, Tharaud displaying all the sensitivity he showed in the concerto but on a more-intimate and, perhaps, more-appropriate scale. (Well, OK, maybe he needs to be more theatrically menacing in the Prelude in C sharp minor if he's going to hope to compete with the best.)

Producer, editor, and mixer Cecile Lenoir and engineer Philip Siney recorded the concerto at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, UK in 2016 and the chamber music at Salle Colonne, Paris, in the same year.

In the concerto, the piano is well out in front of orchestra. Fortunately, it sounds smoothly recorded, if a trifle soft, and the orchestra likewise, making the entire enterprise quite easy on the ears. So, while the piano appears most natural, the orchestral transparency could have been a bit more pronounced. In the smaller pieces at the end, the piano seems even more lifelike, with a tad more definition. And without a full orchestra behind it, the piano seems more realistically alive.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:


John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first 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 use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (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.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa