20th Century Harpsichord Concertos (CD review)

Jory Vinikour, harpsichord; Scott Speck, Chicago Philharmonic. Cedille CDR 90000 188.

You'd have thought that so relatively antique an instrument as the harpsichord, deriving as it does from various designs dating back as far as the Middle Ages, would have relatively few new compositions written for it. But, in fact, as its popularity died out in the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in favor of the newfangled piano, it made a comeback of sorts in the twentieth century. In part this was due to a renewed interest in historically informed performances, but it was also due to a resurgence in new music written for the harpsichord. That's what this album is all about: Four modern concertos designed specifically for the harpsichord and played by harpsichord specialist Jory Vinikour.

Thus, the program presents four harpsichord pieces by twentieth-century composers. The first is the Concertino for Harpsichord and Strings by English composer Walter Leigh (1905-1942). He wrote the little work in 1934, and it is concise, melodic, and poetic. Vinikour plays a mean harpsichord, so there is nothing pretentious or hoity-toity here; the guy could probably play a rock concert on his harpsichord. Moreover, Maestro Scott Speck and the dozen or so Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players who accompany Vinikour do so in exemplary fashion, never overwhelming the soloist, never leaving him behind or forgotten, either. The music is well presented in vigorous style.

Jory Vinikour
Next is the Concertino de Camera by Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Ned Rorem (b. 1923). He wrote it in 1946, although it didn't see a première until 1993. Vinikour's present recording is its debut on record. The work is cheerful, melancholy, and vivacious by turns and always tuneful. I suspect this is because of Vinikour's enthusiasm as much as it is the music. Vinikour attacks it with energy and élan. Yes, it does appear a little more "modern" than the Leigh piece that precedes it, yet it is always accessible and charming. I especially liked the delicate ornamental work of the middle, slow movement and the sensitive ensemble work of the half dozen or so accompanists.

After that is the Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings, Op. 42 by Czech composer Victor Kalabis (1923-2006). He wrote it in 1974-75, and Vinikour says "...it is difficult to imagine a work, distinctly a product of the 20th-century though it is, fitting the harpsichord so perfectly." I can't imagine the piece being played any better than Vinikour handles it, particularly the soulfully pensive Andante.

The final selection on the disc is the Concerto for Amplified Harpsichord and Strings by the English composer, pianist, and musicologist Michael Nyman (b. 1944). He wrote his concerto in 1994-95, and like much of Nyman's work, it is a minimalist creation. Yet, as Vinikour says, it "is thrilling both for performer and audience!" I have to admit that being a rather old-fashioned kind of fellow, I probably can't enjoy Nyman as much as many other listeners might. It gets a little raucous for my taste, but there's no denying the appeal of its driving rhythms and often exciting tango-like interludes.

Additionally, there is an excellent, twenty-page booklet insert that one should not ignore. It contains extensive notes by the soloist on each of the selections as well as information on the performers and production crew.

Producer James Ginsburg and engineer Bill Maylone recorded the concertos at Wentz Hall, Naperville, Illinois in November 2016; at the Feinberg Theater, Spertus Institute, Chicago, Illinois in March 2018; and at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago (Rorem) in May 2018.

As always from this team, the sound is quite natural, like sitting in the seventh or eighth row at a concert hall. There is plenty of bass warmth and a minimum but realistic ambient hall bloom. It is perhaps a tad closer than usual from them, but it captures the sound of the harpsichord most vividly. What's more, the dynamic range and frequency response are up to the task of reproducing the concertos in lifelike fashion.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, August 17, 2019

MCANA Award for Best New Opera Announced

Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA) is pleased to announce that its 3rd Annual Award for Best New Opera has been given to composer and sound artist Ellen Reid and librettist Roxie Perkins for p r i s m — "a riveting new opera" (I Care If You Listen) with "an enchanting libretto" (The Log) that "treads a fine line between poetic abstraction and gut-wrenching reality" (San Francisco Classical Voice).

The MCANA Award for Best New Opera is a major recognition given annually by an Awards Committee of distinguished music critics. Honoring an opera premiered in either the United States or Canada, it is the only award for "Best New Opera" in the U.S., and one of the few in the world that simultaneously recognizes both the composer and librettist.

p r i s m received its premiere as part of Los Angeles Opera's "Off Grand" series on November 29, 2018, commissioned and co-produced by Beth Morrison Projects. The opera, which addresses the psychological effects of surviving sexual assault, is a haunting, kaleidoscopic work of opera-theatre that traverses the elasticity of memory after trauma. Ellen Reid's music uses choral and orchestral manipulation to deliver an eerily distinct sonic world. This past April, Reid won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Music for p r i s m.

The Award was presented to composer and librettist on Friday, July 26, 2019 at the opening reception of the MCANA Annual Meeting, which this year was held at Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the Berkshires.

Watch the pris m trailer here: https://vimeo.com/325270884

--Aleba Gartner, Aleba & Co.

CSO Violinist Robert Chen, Pianist Matthew Hagle Open Music Institute Season
To open its 2019–20 season of performances at Nichols Concert Hall, the Music Institute of Chicago celebrates Beethoven's 250th birthday with a concert featuring Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) concertmaster Robert Chen and Music Institute piano faculty Matthew Hagle Sunday, September 29 at 3 p.m. Nichols Concert Hall is located at 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, Illinois.

The program includes Beethoven's Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 12, No. 3, along with Fauré's Sonata No. 1 in A Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 13; Schubert's Rondo in B minor for Violin and Piano, D 895; and several Kreisler works to be announced.

Admission is $50 for VIP seating, $25 for advance purchase, and $30 at the door. Tickets are available by calling 847-905-1500 ext. 108 or at musicinst.org/nch.

--Jill Chukerman, Music Institute of Chicago

Concerts at Saint Thomas Opens 2019-20 Season with a Grand Organ Series
Concerts at Saint Thomas will begin its 2019-20 season, the centennial year for the choir school, on Friday, September 27 at 7:00 pm with the first of five Grand Organ Series performances on the Miller-Scott Organ.

Jeremy Filsell, Saint Thomas's newest Organist and Director of Music, performs a program that unites New York and Paris to mark both the legacy Jeremy Filsell inherits at Saint Thomas and the French 20th-century repertoire for which he has become known as a performer.

Grand Organ Recital - Jeremy Filsell
September 27, 2019 | Friday at 7:00 pm
Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue at West 53rd Street, New York City

For more information, visit https://www.saintthomaschurch.org/music/concerts

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Chanticleer Opens Season with "Trade Winds"
Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble Chanticleer opens its 2019-2020 subscription season with "Trade Winds" in locations across the San Francisco Bay Area, September 15 through 29.

Appropriately saluting their upcoming world travels, the twelve-man vocal ensemble will present the music of sea-faring people and tropical climates in a program that includes the U.S. premiere of a commissioned work, also entitled "Trade Winds," by Chinese composer Zhou Tian. Works range from Monteverdi to Grieg, as well as a selection of traditional folk songs and sea shanties from all over the world.

The program will be presented as part of Chanticleer's subscription season in five SF Bay Area locations: Wednesday, September 18 at 7:30 p.m., Santa Clara Mission; Sunday, September 22 at 5 p.m., Osher Marin Jewish Community Center, San Rafael; Thursday, September 26 at 7:30 p.m., San Francisco Conservatory of Music; Saturday, September 28, 8 p.m. at St. Augustine Church, Pleasanton; and Sunday September 29 at 5 p.m., Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Sacramento. A special "Salon Series" performance will be presented on Sunday, September 15 at 4 p.m. in the nautical setting of the Spaulding Marine Center, Sausalito.

For complete information, visit http://www.chanticleer.org

--Brenden Guy Media

21st Edition of La Fête de la Musique de Tremblant
Angèle Dubeau, founder and Artistic Director of La Fête de la Musique de Tremblant, which unveiled its program today, invites festival-goers to an event presented by Québecor and not to be missed, which will be held over the long Labour Day weekend from August 30 to September 2, 2019.

"This annual gathering has been part of our lives for over 20 years and I still have plenty of music to share with you. Our greatest musicians and singers will be the heart of the party for this long weekend in Tremblant's majestic setting. I promise you beautiful encounters and pure emotion," says Angèle Dubeau.

The heart of Tremblant's pedestrian village will be the venue of more than thirty free concerts offered by great Canadian artists.

For complete information, visit www.fetedelamusiquetremblant.com

--France Gaignard

The Crypt Sessions Presents Joshua Roman and Conor Hanick
The Crypt Sessions will return to The Church of the Intercession, Harlem, New York, to continue its fourth season on September 18, 2019, with cellist Joshua Roman and pianist Conor Hanick performing a program entitled "The Instant and the Eternal," featuring Arvo Pärt's Fratres (Brothers) and Spiegel im Spigel (The Mirror in the Mirror), interspersed with Alfred Schnittke's Sonata for Cello and Piano. Each piece will be followed by an extended period of silent meditation.

The performance will begin at 8:00 pm with a food and wine pre-concert reception at 7:00 pm included in the ticket price.

For full information, visit https://www.deathofclassical.com/cryptsessions

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Free Concert by So Percussion
Internationally renowned percussion ensemble So Percussion present a free (ticketed) concert
on Friday, September 13, 2019 at 7:30PM in Richardson Auditorium, Alexander Hall, Princeton, New Jersey.

One of two free concerts that the Princeton University Department of Music's Edward T. Cone
Performers-in-Residence present annually, and the first concert in the Department of Music's
robust 2019/20 public programming, this performance features an unusual program with works
by Pulitzer prize-winning composer Julia Wolfe and the ensemble's own Jason Treuting.

Wolfe's Forbidden Love , co-commissioned by the LA Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall, is
written for the instruments of a string quartet to be performed percussively. Treuting's Amid the
Noise is a communal music-making project that will be presented alongside guest Princeton
University student artists. Both works highlight the incredible range of percussion instruments,
and the exciting genre-defying trajectory of music written for these instruments.

Free tickets are required for this concert, which will be released on Friday, September 6,
2019 at 10AM online and in person during box office hours at the Frist Campus Center
and Lewis Arts complex box offices. Remaining tickets will be available one hour before
the concert at the venue.

So Percussion's second free concert of the season, taking place on Saturday February 15, 2020 at
7:30PM in Richardson Auditorium, will feature guest artist and Pulitzer prize-winning composer
Caroline Shaw.

For more information, visit music.princeton.edu

--Dasha Koltunyuk, Marketing & Outreach Manager

Summer 2019 Call for Scores - PARMA Recordings
Who can believe that 2019 is already past the halfway point? While we shift into late summer (and maybe dust off those old New Years' resolutions?), it bears remembering that the year is far from over. There is still plenty of time to start doing things to make this the best year yet—starting a gym routine or traveling somewhere new, or maybe releasing that musical idea, score, or recording that you've been dreaming of bringing to life. If you've had the latter on your mind, the Summer 2019 Call for Scores can help. In addition to being recorded, selected submissions will be considered for live performance. Previously accepted scores have been performed in Russia, Croatia, Austria, the Czech Republic, the United States, and more.

We are currently accepting submissions for:
    Works for Orchestra (with or without soloists) - Glasgow, Scotland
    Works for Chamber Ensemble or Chamber Opera - Athens, Greece
    Live Recordings of Orchestral Works

Please submit PDF scores and audio examples via our Project Submission form:  http://parmarecordings.com/call-for-scores.html

Selected scores will be recorded and commercially released by PARMA Recordings; selected live recordings will be mastered and commercially released by PARMA Recordings. The submitter is responsible for securing funds associated with the production and release and retains all ownership of the master and underlying composition.

Works should ideally be between 5 and 15 minutes in length, but pieces outside of that range will still be considered.

Deadline for all submissions is September 6, 2019. There is no fee to submit.

You will receive a confirmation of receipt for submissions. We will work with the performers and our Sessions, Audio, and A&R Teams to select pieces that could fit these open projects. Should your music be selected, we will reach out to you with more information on pricing, scheduling, and other details.

Again, for the Project Submission form, visit http://parmarecordings.com/call-for-scores.html

--PARMA Recordings

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: Operetta Arias (CD review)

Otto Ackermann, Philharmonia Orchestra. EMI 7243 5 66989 2 5.

If you are like me, one of the joys of owning a large record collection is rediscovering something you haven't played in years. A friend of mine reminded me of this disc when he played a few excerpts from his own copy on the eve of his departure for Sri Lanka. He was heading off for two years in the Peace Corp, his idea of retirement, and since he could only bring a few CDs along with him, he was trying to decide which couple of dozen to take. Ms. Schwarzkopf headed his list.

The recording, from 1957 (released in 1959), remains one of the finest things the German-born Austro-British soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (1915-2006) ever did, and she recorded a mountain of marvelous discs. She and her record-producer husband, Walter Legge, were meticulous about every detail of a song and a recording. Here, it shows.

It is a testament to their work that this is one of the oldest EMI recordings still selling briskly almost everywhere and in various different formats. Ms. Schwarzkopf excelled at opera, light opera, operetta, and lieder, and she and Legge would practice for hours on a single passage or the phrasing of a single note. Again, it shows.

Excerpts from Benatzky-Strauss's Casanova, Suppe's Boccaccio, Lehar's Der Graf von Luxemburg and Giuditta, and others have never come across more perfectly. The complete listing is as follows:

Elizabeth Schwarzkopf
  1. Heuberger: Der Opernball - "Im Chambre Séparée"
  2. Zeller: Der Vogelhändler - "Ich Bin Die Christel Von Der Post"
  3. Zeller: Der Vogelhandler - "Schenkt Man Sich Rosen in Tirol"
  4. Lehar: Der Zarewitsch - "Einer Wird Kommen"
  5. Lehar: Der Graf Von Luxemburg - "Hoch, Evoë, Angèle Didier"
  6. Benatsky: Casanova - "Nun's Chorus" and "Laura's Song"
  7. Millocker: Die Dubarry - "Ich Schenk Mein Herz"
  8. Millocker: Die Dubarry - "Was Ich Im Leben Beginne"
  9. Suppe: Boccaccio - "Hab Ich Nur Deine Liebe"
10. Lehar: Der Graf von Luxemburg - "Heut Noch Werd Ich Ehefrau"
11. Zeller: Der Obersteiger - "Sei Nicht Bös"
12. Lehar: Guiditta - "Meine Lippen, Sie Küssen So Heiss"
13. Sieczynsky: "Wien Du Stadt Meiner Träume"

What's more, EMI's sound is above reproach even after all these years, especially as remastered here in 1999 as part of EMI's "Great Recordings of the Century" series. It is perhaps a little rough around the edges by today's standards, but it is better than most of today's digital recordings in its sense of naturalness and its emphasis on the beauty of the human voice. Indeed, one hardly notices the orchestral accompaniment, the voice is so aesthetically dominant, which is as it should be.

This is a disc of sweetness and refinement and great joy.


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

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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. --John J. Puccio

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa