Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 "Romantic" (CD review)

Also, Wagner: Lohengrin Prelude. Andris Nelsons, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. DG 479 7577.

Begin rant:
I may be the only the person left on the planet who is not 100% enamoured of live recordings. I keep reading reviews of live recorded performances that say how wonderful the sound is, how the audio engineers should be nominated for Grammys, and so forth. Sorry; I don't hear it. Even when a live recording is done well, as this one is with the applause edited out, I often find the microphones too close, the sound too mechanical and flat, and audience presence still too noticeable, especially during quiet moments. Yes, I understand the economic needs for recording live, and I respect a conductor's desire to capture the spontaneity of a live performance; but it doesn't mean I have to like the sound, which in almost every case would have been better if done in a studio.
End rant.

Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons is, as of 2018, the Music Director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, one of the oldest and most prestigious orchestras in the world. In 2017 Maestro Nelsons embarked on a Bruckner symphony cycle with the Gewandhaus players, and the current Fourth Symphony is the third such effort (following the Third and Seventh Symphonies). Critics received his previous releases favorably, and I see no reason why they wouldn't do the same here. It's a mature account of what is possibly Bruckner most-popular music.

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), Austrian composer and organist, wrote the Symphony No. 4 in E flat major "Romantic" in 1874, revising it several times before his death. (Maestro Nelsons uses the familiar 1878-80 revision edited by Leopold Nowak in 1953). No doubt, audiences like the work's abundance of Romantic, programmatic qualities. Bruckner was a deeply spiritual man, and his symphonies illustrate the point. The composer goes further by telling us what each of the symphony's movements represents, from knights riding out of a medieval castle through the mists of dawn to the sounds of the forest and birds, to a funeral, then a hunt, complete with horn calls, and finally a brilliant culminating summation.

Andris Nelsons
Still, the real question about any new recording is whether the conductor brings to the performance anything new, anything we haven't heard before, anything that might set it apart from the many fine recordings that have come before it. To my mind and ear, we already have fine performances by Otto Klemperer (EMI), Karl Bohm (Decca), Eugen Jochum (DG and EMI), Gunther Wand (RCA), Herbert von Karajan (DG), and Georg Tintner (Naxos), among others. So, does Nelsons compare? Maybe.

In the first movement Bruckner offers us a vision of Nature, and the composer's several scenic landscapes should remind us of how much Bruckner admired Beethoven and Wagner. Here, according to the composer, "...after a full night's sleep the day is announced by the horn." Other authorities have argued that the composer wanted us to see a morning breaking, the mists giving way to dawn around a medieval castle, and an army of knights bursting out from the castle gates in a blaze of glory. Whatever, Nelsons does a good job establishing the atmosphere and maintaining the mystery of the score, accenting the mystical side of the music rather than the purely programmatic.

The second-movement Andante is a serenade, sometimes described as representing a young lad's amorous but ultimately hopeless longings and expressions. Nelsons, however, says that "This movement is like a song or a prayer" and it reveals "a genuine, intimate connection with God." Fair enough. I've always thought it sounded elegiac, halfway between a nocturne and a funeral march, the composer indicating he wanted something between a moderately slow but still comfortably forward pace (Andante quasi Allegretto). Nelsons, in an apparent effort to accommodate his own view of things, adopts a very slow tempo for it, more like an adagio. Where most conductors take about thirteen or fourteen minutes to cover the movement, Nelsons goes over seventeen. The listener may either appreciate the added beauty or find the length interminable. I can't say I preferred it over more traditional readings, but, then, I may simply have to get used to it.

The lively third-movement Scherzo Bruckner teasingly called "a rabbit hunt," and it should build a proper momentum as it goes forward. I thought Nelsons was at his best here. The music rollicks.

The Finale opens with a heroic theme, then works its way into a more idyllic second subject, eventually reworking both themes into a closing statement. This movement begins rather ominously, with dark clouds overhead, leading to a thunderstorm; however, the storm soon breaks and gives way to variations on the symphony's heroic opening music and a summation of all the parts. If you're wondering what it means, not even Bruckner was sure. He said, "...even I myself can't say what I was thinking about at the time."

Nelsons tells us that "The music is like a glimpse of heaven," which may explain why he takes the final movement so deliberately. As with the second movement, the listener may enjoy the conductor's pace or find it too fragmented or sluggish. I would have liked a bit smoother forward progress and a bit more resolute determination.

Along with the symphony is the piece that opens the program, Richard Wagner's Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin, premiered in 1850. Nelsons, of course, wants us to see (hear) for ourselves the influence of Wagner's music on Bruckner, particularly the ethereal, religious elements, so, given his approach to the symphony, it's not a bad way to begin things. He handles it well.

Executive producer Sid McLauchlan and recording producer and engineer Everett Porter recorded the music live at the Gewandhaus Leipzig in May 2017. As I said at the start, one can take or leave a live recording. My own prejudice is to leave it, even when done as well as here. Like most other live recordings, in this one the microphones are a little close, resulting on the positive side in a reasonably detailed response with very wide dynamics and on the negative side a somewhat forward sound picture with an emphasis on the upper midrange and some odd instrumental relationships. Take the opening of the symphony, for instance. The horn solo appears admirably well focused, while one can barely hear the orchestral accompaniment. Otherwise, the sound is fairly warm (if a tad hard, edgy, and pinched in louder passages), ambient, and realistic. Still, it doesn't quite capture the Gewandhaus's characteristically dark, golden glow as well as I've heard it in many studio productions.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, June 16, 2018

Have You Planned Your Holiday Concerts?

American Bach Soloists have planned two stellar events in December: Handel's Messiah in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral and "A Baroque New Year's Eve at the Opera."

Handel's timeless masterpiece will be presented for the 21st consecutive year in the awe-inspiring majesty of Grace Cathedral. Perennially a sold-out event, audience members from far and wide attend this Bay Area favorite that features the superb American Bach Choir and the period-instrument specialists of ABS in one of their largest configurations, under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas. Praising his performances of Handel, Opera News wrote "Jeffrey Thomas draws crisp, vital playing from the ace baroque instrumentalists of American Bach Soloists." An annual holiday tradition, these performances meld together Handel's glorious music with the serene beauty of one of San Francisco's greatest architectural treasures.

Wednesday December 12 2018 7:30 p.m. - Grace Cathedral, San Francisco
Thursday December 13 2018 7:30 p.m. - Grace Cathedral, San Francisco
Friday December 14 2018 7:30 p.m. - Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

Tickets: $25–$125
$10 student tickets for ages 25 and under with valid student ID at the door or reserve at 415-621-7900 Online: americanbach.org/tickets
Phone: 800-595-4TIX (-4849)

"A Baroque New Year's Eve" will be presented in San Francisco's beautiful Herbst Theatre--a cornerstone and jewel among the city's most prestigious venues--will feature one of the opera world's exciting new vocal talents, countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen. The 2017 Metropolitan Opera National Young Artists Award Winner, former Merola Opera Program participant, 2018 San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, and ABS Academy alumnus has been capturing the hearts of opera lovers around the world and will be featured in arias by Handel and Gluck. Joined by the incomparable soprano Mary Wilson, and along with a delightful program of instrumental music from opera and concert, this early night on the town will joyfully ring in the New Year in elegant style.

One performance only:
Monday, December 31, 2018. 4:00 p.m.
Herbst Theater, San Francisco, CA

Tickets: $25–$125
City Box Office: (415) 392-4400
Online: americanbach.org/NYE or cityboxoffice.com

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

--Jonathan Hampton, American Bach Soloists

Robert Trevino Extends Music Directorship of Basque National Orchestra
With audiences growing and reviews overwhelmingly positive, the Basque National Orchestra has extended - after only one year - Robert Trevino's tenure as Music Director. The fast-rising American conductor made an immediate impression upon his arrival and forged a strong partnership with the orchestra's General Manager Oriol Roch. The new contract will see Trevino as the orchestra's artistic leader until the 2021/22 season.

As the start of his time with the orchestra, Trevino spoke of his determination to strive with the players to achieve the highest standards of music-making for the Basque Country and beyond, critics have been quick to enthusiastically note the results, with Klassikbidea opining, "Trevino is taking this orchestra to very high levels of quality and his appointment there is a success that we hope will be extended for many seasons...He approaches music as an active experience, as a journey in which each length is questioned and illuminated." On reporting the news of the contract extension, that same outlet commented, "(There was a) fear that the American maestro might not finish his first contract in view of the volume and the quality of his international commitments...The orchestra can make a lot of progress with Trevino...Basque fans are in luck. Trevino is invaluable..."

For more information visit www.robert-trevino.com

--James Inverne Music Consultancy

This Week and Next at Miami Music Festival
Alexandre Moutouzkine
June 16 - 8pm - Gato Gallery - Barry University
Works by Bach and Chopin.

Opera Scenes
June 17 - 7pm - Weber Hall - Barry University
Don't miss a night of scenes from your favorite operas! Our Opera Apprentice singers perform an intriguing program of opera and operetta dating from the inception of the art form to current works.

Dido and Aeneas and The Medium (Double Bill)
June 21 and 22 - Broad Auditorium - Barry University
Dido & Aeneas by Henry Purcell
The Medium by Gian Carlo Menotti

Enjoy a double bill evening with two one-act classic operas: Dido and Aeneas, based on the legendary love story between the Queen of Carthage, Dido, and the Trojan prince, Aeneas; and The Medium, a modern work about Baba, a psychic who hosts seances that trick bereaved parents into spending their money.

Friends of MMF
Carnegie Hall's NYO2 and Gil Shaham
July 21 - 8:30pm - New World Center - Miami Beach

Carnegie Hall's NYO2 makes its New World Center debut alongside Grammy Award-winning violinist Gil Shaham and NWS Fellows and alumni for an exclusive one-night-only event—the orchestra's only public performance before its finale at Carnegie Hall on July 24. NYO2 is joined by conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto for Mexican and Russian masterpieces, including the vibrant suite from Revueltas's Redes, Prokofiev's rich First Violin Concerto and Shostakovich's dramatic Symphony No. 5.

For the full season schedule, tickets and information, visit http://miamimusicfestival.com/

--Leticia Rivera, Miami Music Festival

Composer Lisa Bielawa and Director Charles Otte Receive LA Emmy Nominations
The Television Academy has announced 155 nominations in 47 categories for the 70th Los Angeles Area Emmy Awards. Composer Lisa Bielawa and director Charles Otte are nominees for their work on VIREO: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser, the first episodic made-for-TV & online opera. Bielawa is nominated in the Creative Technical Crafts--Composer category and Otte's nomination is for Outstanding Director--Programming.

Winners will be announced on June 26, 2018, and will receive their Emmy statuette July 28, 2018 at the 70th Los Angeles Area Emmy Awards ceremony at the Television Academy's Saban Media Center. Los Angeles Area nominees were selected by national active and Los Angeles Area Peer Group active members within the Television Academy. A complete list of today's nominations, tabulated by the Academy's accounting firm Ernst & Young LLP, is available here: http://m.emmys.com/news/awards-news/70th-los-angeles-area-emmy-awards-nominations-announced

--Maggie Stapleton, Jensen Artists

Kosmos to Play New Errollyn Wallen Concerto at Chichester Festival
Typically, concertos have a been a way to showcase the virtuosity of a soloist (every so often, multiple soloists) set against the spectacular, multi-dimensional canvas of an orchestra. Typically. But there is little that is typical about the Kosmos Ensemble. They are, indeed, a brilliantly untypical ensemble, who play untypical repertoire and with an untypical philosophy.

The violinist (Harriet Mackenzie), violist (Meg Hamilton). and accordionist (Milos Milivojevic) who comprise Kosmos (who have, individually and collectively, virtuosity to spare) are fascinated to explore the relationships between classical, folk and world musics. Errollyn Wallen - one of the UK's most in-demand composers - has similarly been much-admired for her wide stylistic palette and her ability to somehow connect different musical worlds in ways that make perfect sense. So Wallen's new "Concerto for Kosmos and Orchestra" was always going to be about more than virtuosity.

The piece becomes a conversation about what music is and where it comes from, right there on the stage. Traditionally, concertos would have had an element of improvisation for the soloists, even if that was just a cadenza. Errollyn has been brave enough to let us improvise in the concerto, giving us a tangible freedom. So in this piece, I feel there is a real sense of continuing and expanding traditions as well as challenging and expanding boundaries. It's fantastically exciting to play and, we hope, to hear!"

To hear the Kosmos Ensemble play the world premiere of Errollyn Wallen's new triple concerto at the Jersey Liberation Festival, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DENjeVaFCqw&feature=youtu.be

--James Inverne Music Consultancy

Premieres: Arturo O'Farrill's "Borderless" and Paola Prestini's "The Glass Box"
Young People's Chorus of New York City and Yale Choral Artists come together for a compelling concert at Kaufman Music Center's Merkin Concert Hall. The program is highlighted by the world premiere of "Borderless," a YPC commission from six-time, Grammy-winning Latin jazz composer Arturo O'Farrill featuring the Haven String Quartet, and the New York premiere of "The Glass Box," a YPC-Yale Choral Artists co-commission from the visionary composer/impresario Paola Prestini and Pulitzer Prize-winning librettist Royce Vavrek, set to dramatic visuals by Kevork Mourad.

Monday, June 18 from 7:30 - 9:30 p.m.
Merkin Concert Hall, NYC
The 8:00 p.m. concert will be preceded by a discussion at 7:30 p.m. moderated by YPC Artistic Director/Founder Francisco J. Núñez, about the relevance and importance of music in today's society.

For more information, visit https://ypc.org/performances/

--Young People's Chorus of New York City

Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 (CD review)

Also, The Tempest, Suite No. 1. Petri Sakari, Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.554266.

What, you say you don't want to lay out thirty bucks for the Barbirolli gold disc of the Sibelius Second on Chesky? OK, how about considerably less money for this pleasant little Naxos release? It isn't the ultimate in refinement or interpretive flair, but it is a good, solid performer.

The Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) is perhaps the man's most popular work, outside of the ubiquitous "Finlandia," and there are many fine recordings of the symphony available. If you already own a favorite (the aforementioned Barbirolli disc for me), you may stop reading now and continue on with the next review. If, on the other hand, you are new to Sibelius or you are exploring alternative readings, this medium-priced issue seems a good investment.

Petri Sakari
Maestro Petri Sakari and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra handle the first movement especially well, conveying a proper, shivery introduction leading up to a probing major subject. If there is any minor disappointment, it is in the heroic final theme, which sounds a bit too homogenized for my taste. For an unfair comparison here, try Herbert von Karajan, the master of the grand gesture, on EMI, and Sakari will seem positively staid. But it isn't so bad in context and should not distract one from a possible purchase.

In sum, Sakari and his forces provide an ardent and colorful journey through Sibelius's characteristic landscape. Plus, the inclusion of the first suite of tunes from Sibelius's incidental music to Shakespeare's The Tempest makes a good companion piece. Sakari's interpretation brings out much of the music's imagination and color.

The sound likewise is pretty good, although not in the absolute top class. There is a pleasing concert hall ambience present that enriches verisimilitude while doing relatively little harm to detail clarity. It's rich, smooth, and resonant. And the music for The Tempest sounds equally fine.

This disc may not carry the mark of authority manifest by conductors like Sir John Barbirolli, Herbert von Karajan, Sir Colin Davis, or Vladimir Ashkenazy, but it is fair value for the dollar.

JJP

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


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