Franck: Symphony in D Minor (CD review)

Also, Stravinsky: Petrouchka. Pierre Monteux, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra. RCA Living Stereo 09026-63303-2.

To say that these interpretations are authoritative would be an understatement. Maestro Pierre Monteux performed the Franck Symphony in D Minor probably more so than any conductor before or since; and he premiered the Stravinsky Petrouchka in 1911. These recordings, from 1961 and 1959 respectively, were his last words on the subject. 

In terms of both performance and sound, my own previous favorites for the Franck Symphony were Charles Dutoit's digital recording on Decca and Sir Thomas Beecham's on EMI. I'll stick with commenting on Dutoit for comparison purposes, his performance and sound being very good (although not quite as good as Beecham's). Alongside the remastered Monteux, however, Dutoit seems more matter of fact, more suavely elegant, to be sure, but ultimately more mundane than Monteux. Monteux, on the other hand, is more reposed and more insightful. Although his timings are not much different from Dutoit's, Monteux's pacing is more meaningful for his greater lingering on pauses, his greater affection for phrasing.

Pierre Monteux
The music under Monteux is just as dramatic in the opening and closing movements as Dutoit's, swinging from moody to energetic, but it is especially more ravishing in the central Allegretto, with its prominent English horn solo, and in the playfulness of the slender scherzo-like theme that follows. The sound of the Dutoit disc is admittedly more detailed, but it is really no more lifelike. Where the newer Decca recording comes into its own is by its filling in the center of the orchestral sound better, Monteux's RCA recording being a bit more prominent in the left and right channels.     

The Stravinsky is another matter, and none of my references here--Rattle, Muti, Ansermet, Davis, and Haitink--moved me as much as Monteux did. Petrouchka has always struck me as a rather creepy little ballet, anyway, and Monteux brings out all the color of the slightly sinister characters and events.

The sound is even better here with the Boston Symphony than in the Franck with the CSO. My only previous experience with the recording was on an old LP that disappointed me greatly for its dullness and noise. But the recording is now shiny and well remastered, the highs sparkling, the midrange natural, the bass robust, the stereo spread considerable. Interestingly, Monteux introduced Petrouchka to American audiences in 1920 while also conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

To have both performances on a single, mid-priced CD is a godsend (and more recently remastered on an SACD). Obviously, I highly recommend it.

JJP

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


Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night's Dream (SACD review)

Also, Fanny Mendelssohn: Songs. Anna Lucia Richter, soprano; Barbara Kozelj, alto; Pro Musica women's choir; Ivan Fischer, Budapest Festival Orchestra. Channel Classics CCS SA 37418.

At the risk of making this review more about me than the music, let me start with a comment about myself anyway. I first started listening to recordings of Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream in the mid Sixties with Otto Klemperer's 1960 EMI LP. It was the familiar suite we hear on the present recording, and Klemperer remains my favorite. In the late Seventies Andre Previn recorded more than the suite, adding most of the interludes and connecting music. His album, also for EMI, was just as charming as Klemperer's and equally well recorded. It's still a favorite, too, and between them they have served as touchstones for the dozens of recordings of the piece I've heard since.

Which brings us (rather long-windedly) to Ivan Fischer's Channel Classics recording with his Budapest Festival Orchestra. It's as light and airy, as cheerful and delightful, as any I've heard. But even though it comes to us on a modern digital SACD, the sound doesn't have quite the clarity or balance of the old EMI (now Warner) issues. Still, it's nice to have so refreshing a new release as Fischer's.

As you probably know, German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) began work on his music for William Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream as a teenager, composing the Overture in 1826 when he was only seventeen. Then he stopped, completing the work some sixteen years later in 1841 while employed by the Prussian court. It was here that King Frederick William IV suggested to Mendelssohn that he compose some complete incidental music for a new production of the Shakespeare play, and Mendelssohn complied since he had already written the opening tune.

Ivan Fischer
Maestro Fischer gives us ten of the most-popular selections from Mendelssohn's incidental music, starting, of course, with that early Overture. Fischer's way with the music is gentle and affectionate, almost consistently keeping it as light and airy as it should be. Indeed, this is, overall, the best recorded performance I've yet heard from Fischer, and he has always seemed to me more than competent. In this case, he's a real contender, and his Budapest players seem to have a genuine feel for the music.

Throughout most of the other numbers, Fischer is quick and lively. This works in most cases, although his approach to the Nocturne tends to diminish some of its lyricism. Nevertheless, the sprightly vigor of the playing is a delight, and, as I say, practically everything dances along with unvarnished joy. Fischer's interpretation brings out all the humor, all the color, and all the fairy-tale qualities of the score. It's really quite charming. Oh, those "spotted snakes." Lovely.

And, no, I didn't forget the "Wedding March." Under Fischer it projects all the exuberance of the occasion. Above all, though, it's regal and elegant, things some conductors forget as they get carried away in the heat of the moment.

Accompanying the Midsummer Night music, we get three songs with orchestra composed by Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847), Felix's sister. Soprano Anna Lucia Richter, who sang the first fairy in the preceding Midsummer Night music, handles the solos. Because of the prevailing attitudes toward women in Fanny's day, Felix's music got all the attention. Fanny even had to publish some of her work under her brother's name. Fortunately, more of Fanny's music is coming to light these days, and we're more the better for it. Here, they are quite enchanting.

Producer Hein Dekker and recording engineers Hein Dekker and Jared Sacks recorded the music at the Palace of Arts, Budapest, Hungary in January 2015. They made the disc for hybrid multichannel and two-channel SACD and two-channel CD playback. I listened in the two-channel SACD mode.

The sound is quite nice. It's very dynamic, with a reasonably good depth of image for added realism. The stage width is not quite so wide as many competing recordings, yet it provides a lifelike perspective representing a moderate concert-hall listening distance. Ultimate definition is a tad lacking, but that, too, is not unlike what one might hear at a real concert as opposed to an entirely transparent audiophile studio effect. It's all warm and smooth and reverberant and easily listenable.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, July 14, 2018

Christian Reif Makes New York Conducting Debut at Lincoln Center

German-born conductor Christian Reif, described as "the complete package" by the San Francisco Chronicle, makes his New York conducting debut on Thursday, August 2, 2018 at 7:30 pm at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, part of Lincoln Center's "Mostly Mozart Festival."

A former conducting student of Alan Gilbert at The Juilliard School, Reif leads the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) in a program celebrating the fusion of piano and technology, centered around John Adams's Grand Pianola Music. The concert also includes Courtney Bryan's Songs of Laughing, Smiling, and Crying and a newly revised version of George Lewis's epic chamber piece Voyager using artificial intelligence technology.

One of the most promising conducting talents of his generation, Christian Reif is currently the Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony and Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra. He began his tenure in San Francisco during the 2016-17 season following two years in Miami as Conducting Fellow with the New World Symphony, working closely with Michael Tilson Thomas. His April 2018 San Francisco Symphony subscription concerts prompted Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle to write: "He's a conductor of considerable stature, and everything felt like the work of a significant musical artist."

For more information about Christian Reif and the Mostly Mozart Festival, visit http://www.lincolncenter.org/mostly-mozart-festival/show/grand-pianola-music

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Bravo! Vail to Stage Debut Opera Production in 2019 with Puccini's Tosca
The Philadelphia Orchestra had not finished its residency before Bravo! Vail Music Festival Artistic Director Anne-Marie McDermott took to the stage to announce that the exemplary orchestra would be back in 2019 for the summer classical music destination's debut opera production: Puccini's Tosca.

The exquisite, outdoor Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater will be transformed as never before for two performances of Tosca on July 11 and 13, 2019. The unprecedented production for Bravo! Vail will reunite The Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin with Director James Alexander and production company Symphony V, whose imaginative design will transport audiences to 1800s Rome. An all-star cast will be announced at a later date.

"I never imagined when I became Artistic Director in 2010 that Bravo! Vail would be mounting this unique production of Tosca with the amazing Yannick Nézet-Séguin, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and director James Alexander. It is both humbling and inspiring that the Bravo! community has so generously embraced this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring opera to the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater at the highest artistic level," said Bravo! Vail Artistic Director Anne-Marie McDermott.

More information about Bravo! Vail is available at www.bravovail.org

--Amanda Sweet, Bucklesweet

Concerts at Saint Thomas Announces Its 2018-2019 Season
"The Choir of Saint Thomas Church produces a polished, powerful and balanced sound that for sacred music is about the best that New York has to offer." --The New York Times

Concerts at Saint Thomas (Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue at West 53rd Street, NYC) announces its 2018-19 season, the third with Organist and Director of Music, Daniel Hyde. The season welcomes the inauguration of the new Miller-Scott Organ, one of the most significant instruments of its type in the country, which will be showcased in both solo and ensemble performances throughout the year.

The season opens on October 5, with a solo organ recital by Director of Music, Daniel Hyde, introducing this important new instrument with a virtuosic program exploring the organ's full capabilities and qualities. The organ is featured on five additional recitals given throughout the 2018-19 season.

For complete information, visit www.saintthomaschurch.org

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Over 2,000 Singers to Take Part in "Big Sing California" in Los Angeles July 21
Over 2,000 singers will gather at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Saturday, July 21 to take part in the largest free group singing event in California history—Big Sing California. The event features a live concert by the full 100-voice Los Angeles Master Chorale that will perform from the stage with the 2,000-person audience singing along to selected works on the program. The concert will be conducted by composer Eric Whitacre, Grant Gershon, the Master Chorale's Kiki & David Gindler Artistic Director, and guest conductors Moira Smiley and Rollo Dilworth. Whitacre, who is currently the Master Chorale's Swan Family Artist-in-Residence—and who attracts a huge global audience—will also serve as the event's host.

The concert in Los Angeles will be broadcast to five venues across the state where more singers will join the performance experience by viewing the concert on large screens and singing from the audience. Hub leaders drawn from the local choral communities have been engaged to coordinate the events and rehearse the singers leading up to the performance day. The five California hub cities and venues are

San Diego, Copley Symphony Hall
San Francisco Bay Area, Zellerbach Hall at Cal Performances, Berkeley
Sacramento, Community Center Theater at the Sacramento Community Center
Fresno, Paul Shaghoian Concert Hall at Clovis Unified Performing Arts Center
Riverside, Coil School of the Arts at Riverside City College

Live feeds will take place during the concert, connecting the participants in the hub cities to Whitacre and the Master Chorale in Los Angeles. The event's reach is further expanded with the concert being live-streamed on the Big Sing California website, making it possible for people around the world to participate. Around 10,000 singers are expected to take part state-wide.

For more information, visit lamasterchorale.org/big-sing-california

--Jennifer Scott, Los Angeles Master Chorale

Festival Mozaic Has Started. Do You Have Your Tickets?
July 17 - UnClassical Series: Around the World With Love
July 18 - Notable Encounter Dinner: Around the World with Love
July 19 - UnClassical Series: Harpeth Rising
July 20 - Midday Mini-Concert: 9 Horses in Morro Bay
July 20 - Chamber Series: American Music
July 21 - Midday Mini-Concert: Dvorak in Cambria
July 21 - Orchestra Series: Baroque in the Vines
July 22 - UnClassical Series: 9 Horses
July 22 - Notable Encounter Dinner: Women in Music
July 23 - Midday Mini-Concert: Family Concert at the PAC
July 23 - Orchestra Series: Baroque in the Mission
July 24 - Chamber Series: Classical Reflections
July 25 - Orchestra Series: Mozart in Mission San Miguel
July 26 - Midday Mini-Concert: Violin Recital in Atascadero
July 26 - UnClassical Series: Christopher O'Riley plays Radiohead
July 27 - Chamber Series: Mozart to Modernity
July 28 - Orchestra Series: Music Without Borders
July 29 - Notable Encounter Brunch: A Joyful Noise
July 29 - Chamber Series: Scott Yoo & Friends
plus master classes, open rehearsals, lectures & more...

For complete information, visit http://www.festivalmozaic.com/

--Festival Mozaic

YPC named "Choir of the World" at International Choral Kathaumixw
We are thrilled to announce that Young People's Chorus of New York City has been named "Choir of the World" at the International Choral Kathaumixw.

On Friday July 6, YPC, conducted by Associate Artistic Director Elizabeth Núñez, won two first-place awards in the 2018 International Choral Kathaumixw competition in both the Children's Choir and Contemporary Choral Music categories. YPC was one of 21 adult and children's choruses from throughout the world—from the USA and Canada to as far as Cuba, Hong Kong and Taiwan—to compete in seven categories from July 3 to 7.

Following the announcement of these first place wins, a second competition was held on Friday evening among the six first-place winners for the title of "Choir of the World." In addition to YPC, the other first-place winners included children's and adult choirs from Australia, Canada, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and another choir from the USA.

On Saturday, at the gala closing ceremonies in the Great Hall, Festival Artistic Director Walter Martella made the announcement: YPC had won the title of Choir of the World! YPC is the only North American chorus to have won this award in the festival's 30-year history.

For more information, visit www.ypc.org

--Young People's Choir of New York City

Music Institute of Chicago Announces 2018–19 Season
The Music Institute of Chicago announces the 2018–19 season of its Faculty and Guest Artist Series, featuring classical, jazz, and multi-genre artists; holiday programming for families; and a collaboration with the Bach Week Festival. All concerts take place at the historic Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in downtown Evanston, Illinois.

The season features violinist Jennifer Koh, a Lionel Hampton birthday celebration, a genre-defying Time for Three, a Bach Week Festival joint performance, and special family holiday programming.

All performances take place at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, in Evanston, IL. Admission, except where noted, is $50 for VIP seating, $40 for adults, $25 for senior citizens, and $15 for students.

Tickets are available at musicinst.org/nichols-concert-hall or by calling 847.905.1500 ext. 108. All programming is subject to change. For more information, visit musicinst.org.

--Jill Chukerman, Music Institute of Chicago

Baritone Max van Egmond Makes His Last SF Performance with American Bach Soloists
"A Tribute to Max van Egmond"
Saturday August 4 2018 2:00 p.m.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak Street, San Francisco, CA.

Part of the ABS Festival's annual free Public Colloquium will be a tribute to one of the most prolifically recorded performers of Baroque music, Max van Egmond, who retires from the ABS Academy faculty at the end of this summer. His colleagues will offer anecdotes about their most memorable collaborations with the celebrated singer, who will speak personally with reminiscences about his own history in HIPP.

"Max van Egmond's Final ABS Performance"
Saturday August 11 2018 8:00 p.m.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak Street, San Francisco, CA.

A showcase for the virtuosi of ABS, this program presents dazzling works by Bach, Biber, Pachelbel, Quantz, Telemann, and Zelenka. Legendary bass-baritone Max van Egmond makes his ABS Festival farewell performance in Johann Sebastian Bach's cantata for solo bass, Der Friede sei mit dir ("Peace be with you"), Cantata 158.

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

--American Bach Soloists

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