Roberto Alagna: Caruso 1873 (CD review)

Roberto Alagna, tenor; various other artists; Yvan Cassar, piano & conductor, Orchestre National D'Ile-de-France. Sony Classical 19075950482.

French-Italian tenor Roberto Alagna (b. 1963) has been one of the leading lights in opera for the past forty years, so it's interesting to hear him say that although his grandparents had met Enrico Caruso in New York, he first became interested in his fellow tenor when as a child he saw the biographical movie The Great Caruso (1951) starring Mario Lanza. Apparently, he's been a fan of Caruso (and other historical tenors) ever since then, and he decided to do this album as a tribute to the legendary star.

Alagna also says that he didn't want to try to imitate Caruso on the recording, but rather to suggest Caruso's style, especially the way the iconic tenor combined the best of the bel canto tradition with that of the newer verismo trends. Alagna explains that he tried "to adopt as accurately as possible Caruoso's style of singing, of emitting sound, his individual manner of phrasing--an exercise in subtlety." His aim was to celebrate Caruso, not imitate him, while still hanging on to his own identity. Alagna appears to do just that in a program that doesn't really include Caruso's greatest hits, most of which Alagna has already recorded. Instead, Alagna has chosen Caruso favorites that show off the versatility of his idol.

Here's a track list of the album's contents:
    1. Dalla: "Caruso"
    2. Rossini: "Domine Deus" (from Petite Messe solennelle, IGR 51)
    3. Handel: "Frondi tenere e belle ... Ombra mai fu" (from Serse HWV 40)
    4. Gomes: "Mia piccirella" (from Salvator Rosa)
    5. Pergolesi: "Tre giorni son che Nina"
    6. Niedermeyer: "Pietà, Signore"
    7. Rubinstein: "Ô lumière du jour" (from Néron)
    8. Cottrau: "Santa Lucia"
    9. Puccini: "Vecchia zimarra" (from La bohème)
  10. Gomes: "Sento una forza indomita" (from Il Guarany)
  11. Tchaikovsky: Sérénade de Don Juan, Op. 38/1
  12. Massenet: Élégie
  13. Rhodes: "Parce que" (Because)
  14. Verdi: "Qual voluttà trascorrere" (from I Lombardi alla prima crociata)
  15. Nutile: "Mamma mia, che vo' sapè?"
  16. Bizet: "Mi par d'udire ancora" (from Les Pêcheurs de perles)
  17. Leoncavallo: "Mattinata"
  18. Cilea: "No, più nobile" (from Adriana Lecouvreur)
  19. Massenet: "Chiudo gli occhi" (rom Manon)
  20. Curtis: "Tu ca nun chiagne"

Roberto Alagna
The first item, "Caruso," a tribute written to the singer by Lucio Dalla and modified by Alagna and conductor Yvan Cassar, is the only song Caruso himself would not have sung. But it opens things well enough in setting the tone for the album. From there it's a roller-coaster ride of differing tunes--some favorites of Caruso, some favorites of Alagna, some from opera, some from pop culture--all taken pretty much as Caruso did them up. Although Alagna recorded the bulk of the album using current recording technology, he concludes things with a bonus number recorded with the equipment Caruso himself might have used. It's a charming gimmick.

As with most collections, the listener will no doubt like some of the material and not like others. In this regard, Alagna tells us that Caruso would often record a song at a faster-than-normal tempo just to accommodate it on discs of the time that would not hold more than five minutes per side. Whatever, there is no doubt about Alagna's throwing himself into each and every song with gusto.

The various other artists involved besides the Orchestre National D'Ile-de-France under Maestro Yvan Cassar are Aleksandra Kurzak, soprano; Rafal Siwek, bass; Stephanie-Marie Degand, violin; Julien Martineau, mandolin; and Nicholas Montazaud, percussion. But mostly this is Alagna's show.

Personal favorites? The Gomes and Verdi numbers Alagna does with soprano Aleksandra Kurzak and bass Rafal Siwek. They sing well together and complement one another's voices, especially in the Verdi.

Now, I'm no expert in or connoisseur of opera, Caruso, or Alagna, so I can't tell you if Alagna captures the older singer's style or not, or whether it's even great singing. What I can say is that Alagna has a clear, clean, rich tenor voice, and he sings with heart, even if he's channeling Caruso. His arias are moving and well phrased. If they're Caruso's phrasing, all the better; if not, they mainly still work.

1873? The date of Caruso's birth.

Producer, arranger, and conductor Yvan Cassar recorded the music at La maison de l"Orchestre national d'Ille-de-France and at Ondif Studio, Paris in June-August 2019. The sound is kind of in the pop category, with the soloist very close up and the orchestral accompaniment clear and wide behind him. The voice does have a nice, round, realistic quality to it, although it tends to get a trifle strident at higher frequencies in louder passages. There is also a wide dynamic range involved, so things do get very loud very quickly. Still, the sound emphasizes the voice, and that's likely all Alagna's fans will care about. So it works.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, January 18, 2020

New Century Chamber Orchestra Presents a Two-Day Event, "Beethoven in the Presidio"

As part of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven, New Century Chamber Orchestra will present a two-day event at the Presidio Theatre in San Francisco featuring Music Director Daniel Hope, Artist-in-Residence pianist Simone Dinnerstein, and cellist Lynn Harrell in two unique programs. On Friday, January 24, all three artists will perform a program of chamber masterworks before sharing the stage together with orchestra on Saturday, January 25 for Beethoven's Triple Concerto. A special preview performance of the second program will be held on Thursday, January 23 in Berkeley.

That same weekend, New Century will present a concert on Sunday, January 26 in San Rafael as part of Music at Kohl Mansion's eight-week residency of "Violins of Hope." The program will feature music by Jewish composers that suffered and perished at Terezin concentration camp including Erwin Schulhoff, Hans Krása, among others.

New Century Chamber Orchestra Presents "Beethoven in the Presidio"
January 23-25, 2020
Daniel Hope, violin
Lynn Harrell, cello
Simone Dinnerstein, piano

For tickets and information, visit https://www.ncco.org/201920-season/set-iv-beethoven-in-the-presidio

--Brenden Guy Media

PRISM Quartet Premieres Mending Wall
PRISM Quartet celebrates its 35th Anniversary in PA and NY with the world premiere of
an immersive and timely evening of new music, poetry and light: Mending Wall, a fully staged concert exploring the meaning of walls in our world.

Music for saxophone quartet, soprano Tony Arnold, pianist Arturo O'Farill by composers George Lewis, Arturo O'Farrill, Juri Seo, and Martin Bresnick. Based on poems by Robert Frost, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Waly Salomão, and Guillermo Gómez-Peña.

Pennsylvania:
March 21, 2020 at 8 PM
March 22, 2020 at 3 PM

Bryn Mawr College Performing Arts Series and PRISM Quartet, Inc.
Goodhart Hall, McPherson Auditorium
150 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA
$10 General Admission; $5 Children

New York City:
March 23, 2020 at 8 PM
509 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, NY
$20 General Admission; $15 Students/Seniors ($5 more at door)

For complete information, visit https://mendingwall.prismquartet.com/

--Aleba Gartner, Aleba & Co.

Princeton University Concerts Announces Neighborhood Project
Princeton University Concerts is thrilled to officially announce our new Neighborhood Project: an educational initiative designed to connect the professional musicians on our series with students from neighboring underserved communities. The program has launched in our 2019-20 season connecting violinist Stefan Jackiw, pianists Gabriela Montero and Conrad Tao, and tap dancer Caleb Teicher with students at public schools in Trenton, NJ.

Building on Gustavo Dudamel's residency last season, the Neighborhood Project is a collaboration with Trenton Arts at Princeton and is generously supported by The Gustavo Dudamel Foundation, expanding the opportunity to experience music for as many children and communities as possible.

For details, visit http://princetonuniversityconcerts.princeton.edu/blog/entry/announcing-the-neighborhood-project-an-educational-initiative

--Dasha Koltunyuk, Princeton University Concerts

Music Institute of Chicago Celebrates Valentine's Day
For "date night" on Valentine's Day weekend, the Music Institute of Chicago presents "From the Heart," a concert featuring members of the Music Institute's internationally renowned faculty performing romantic music, Saturday, February 15 at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston, Illinois.

Concertgoers may enjoy champagne and chocolates with a program of jazz and classical works featuring piano, violin, marimba, flute, guitar and more, including Brahms's Waltzes Op. 39, Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 15; Schubert's Sonatina, Op. 137, No. 2; Kreisler's Liebeslied and Liebesfreud; Rachmaninoff's Variation XVIII from Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini; Piazzolla's "Romantico" from Cinco Piezas Para Guitarra, and much more.

"From the Heart" takes place Saturday, February 15 at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston, Il
. Admission is $50 for VIP seating, $25 for advance purchase and $30 at the door.

Tickets are available at musicinst.org/nch or by calling 847.448.8326.

For more information, visit musicinst.org.

--Jill Chukerman, Music Institute of Chicago

Learning the Language of Music
In this issue we have a sample video on learning the language of music with examples of improvisation using popular pieces, including "Silent Night" and "Christmastime." This issue also features the ebook "How Music Works: Volume 002: Chopin Nocturne in C# minor (1830)."

Go to Issue #5: https://thepianoprofessor.com/

--Ralph Carroll Hedges, The Piano Professor

Saratoga Performing Arts Center Announces 2020 Classical Season
The Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) resident companies – New York City Ballet, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center – return this summer to present a 2020 season highlighting a continued commitment to SPAC premieres of both new and classic works and a landmark celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth.

New York City Ballet returns from July 14-18, with its roster of more than 90 dancers under the direction of Artistic Director Jonathan Stafford and Associate Artistic Director Wendy Whelan, accompanied by the New York City Ballet Orchestra, led by Music Director Andrew Litton.

The Philadelphia Orchestra's three-week residency (August 5 – 22) will feature thirteen SPAC premieres including the East Coast premiere of the Triple Concerto by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts composed for the genre-crossing ensemble Time for Three, and Gershwin's Porgy and Bess in concert conducted by Marin Alsop.

Plus, Beethoven 2020, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and much more.

For complete information, visit spac.org

--Rebecca Davis Public Relations

ASPECT Chamber Music Series Announces Spring 2020 Season
The ASPECT Chamber Music Series announces four spring 2020 concerts, part of its fourth New York City season of illuminating performances. Taking place at Bohemian National Hall and the Italian Academy at Columbia University, New York City, ASPECT's concerts feature expertly curated chamber music by the world's top performers alongside illustrated talks by leading musicologist and industry experts that reveal fascinating details about the program's composers, works, and the cultural history of the time period.

ASPECT's first concert of 2020 on Thursday, February 27, 2020 at 7:30pm at Bohemian National Hall is titled "French Impressions" and features the Calidore String Quartet with violinist Grace Park and pianist Gilles Vonsattel. The program, which explores the period of French Impressionism through the paintings of Claude Monet and visual art's effect on composers Claude Debussy and Ernest Chausson, features performances of Chausson's Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet, Op. 21 and Debussy's Violin Sonata in G minor with an illustrated lecture by the musicians.

The season continues through April. For a complete rundown on concerts, events, venues, and tickets, visit https://www.aspectmusic.net/

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Nicola Benedetti to Perform at Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony
Violinist Nicola Benedetti will perform at the Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony, which takes place at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday, 26 January, from 3:30 – 6:30pm EST (12:30–3:30pm PT), and will be streamed live internationally via Grammy.com.

Nicola Benedetti is nominated for Best Classical Instrumental Solo (Marsalis: Violin Concerto; Fiddle Dance Suite) and Wynton Marsalis is nominated for Best Contemporary Classical Composition (Marsalis: Violin Concerto).

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

An Unprecedented Event in Israel
On Thursday, January 23, more than 45 world leaders from Europe, North America, and Australia will converge in Jerusalem to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Birkenau at Yad Vashem.

During these proceedings, the Young People's Chorus of New York City will join three eminent, professional choirs from the U.K. France, and Russia in performances of movements from the Requiems by Mozart, Saint Saëns, and Karl Jenkins, with the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia, conducted by renowned Maestro Vladimir Spivakov.

YPC's choristers and Founder/Artistic Director Francisco Núñez are honored to represent the United States on this historic occasion. They will join singers from the Royal Opera House in the U.K., the Opera Garnier/Bastille & Radio France; and the Grand Choir "Masters of Choral Singing" from Russia. Our singers hail from all of New York City's five boroughs and Long Island, and in keeping with the founding mission of YPC over three decades ago, represent the cultural and economic diversity of America.
For more informantion, visit https://ypc.org/event/historic-commemoration/

--Young People's Chorus of NYC

New York Festival of Song Begins Feb 13 at The DiMenna Center
New York Festival of Song is an "invaluable contemporary-music series" (The New Yorker). NYFOS enters its tenth season with three concerts of new music at The DiMenna Center, NYC, in February, March, and April 2020.

The mini-series opens on Thursday, February 13 at 8:00 p.m. with Director's Pick, hosted and curated by Michael Barrett, NYFOS's co-founder, Associate Artistic Director, and co-pianist. New York Festival of Song has a storied history of commissioning and premiering vocal works, and since its founding, the organization has particularly celebrated American song. This program looks back at some of the beautiful songs NYFOS has brought into the world.

For complete information and to read about the other events in the series, visit www.nyfos.org

--Aleba Gartner, Aleba & Co.

Wet Ink Ensemble Presents Premieres by Eric Wubbels and Mariel Roberts
On Thursday, February 13, 2020 at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. at Scholes Street Studio, the "sublimely exploratory" (The Chicago Reader) Wet Ink Ensemble presents two performances featuring the world premiere of Eric Wubbels' new work for voice and piano, Field of Action (2020), written for and featuring Charmaine Lee, the debut of Mariel Roberts's Duo (2020) for cello and violin, and a new work developed collaboratively by Wet Ink, Performance Practice (2020).

Wubbels's new work features the singular vocalist Charmaine Lee, a rising star of New York's improvised music community. Field of Action is the first culmination of a collaborative project that Wubbels and Lee have developed together since 2018, working to find new balances of freedom and structure, and shared spaces and meeting points between their individual creative practices of composition, performance, and improvisation.

Mariel Roberts's Duo is the first in a series of new works that places Roberts' cello in dialogue with an improvising partner – in this case, Wet Ink violinist Josh Modney.

This concert also marks the debut of Performance Practice, a set of music developed collectively by Wet Ink. More like an ongoing project than a fixed piece, Performance Practice represents a distinctive approach to organizing the sounds, language, and unique musical style forged over Wet Ink's two-plus-decades of close-knit artistic collaboration. Moving freely along the continuum of structured and open music, Performance Practice incorporates music determined cooperatively in rehearsal, notated materials and forms composed by Wet Ink members (in this performance, by Alex Mincek and Josh Modney), and improvisation.

For more information, visit www.wetink.org

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

92Y Presents Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
On Sunday, February 9, 2020 at 3:00pm at Kaufmann Concert Hall, 92nd Street Y presents Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in a program featuring Louise Farrenc's Nonet in E-flat Major, Op. 38, a work which earned her the leverage to collect a salary equal to that of her male colleagues at the Paris Conservatoire, and Mendelssohn's Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, written when the composer was just 16 years old.

Program Information:
Sunday, February 9, 2020 at 3:00pm
92nd Street Y | Kaufmann Concert Hall
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Link: https://www.92y.org/event/orpheus-chamber-orchestra.aspx

Ticket Information:
Tickets can be purchased at 92Y.org or by calling (212) 415-5500.

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Chesky Gold (CD reviews)

Sibelius: Symphony No. 2. Sir John Barbirolli, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Chesky Gold CG903.
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D; Capriccio Italien; Andante Cantabile; Marche slav. Itzhak Perlman, violin; Alfred Wallenstein, London Symphony Orchestra; Alexander Gibson, New Symphony Orchestra of London; Massimo Freccia, London Philharmonic Orchestra. Chesky Gold CG9012.

Somewhere in the mid 1990's, Chesky Records decided to remaster several of their better-sounding classical albums on gold discs, the gold plating presumably offering a cleaner reading of digital pits. Be that what it may, the results were impressive, with first-rate performances in first-rate sound. Unfortunately, a quick check of Chesky's Web site indicates they no longer offer the product. Fortunately, both of the discs reviewed here are still available on-line, albeit at fairly high prices.

Anyway, Sir John Barbirolli's Sibelius Second Symphony, from 1962, has been a consensus choice of critics almost since its release, but more particularly since its CD debut on Chesky Records over a decade ago. The interpretation is beyond reproach, an ideal blend of Nordic chill and Romantic, Italianate warmth. Now, the sound has caught up with the performance as Chesky have completely remastered it in 128x over-sampling and stamped it out in gold. The result is a stunning issue, completely belying its thirty-odd years. Above all, the sound on Chesky's gold disc is smoother, more refined, slightly better delineated, and quieter than on their regular silver disc. In short, it is more listenable and takes its place alongside the better audiophile discs available.

Sir John Barbirolli
Perlman's 1967 version of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is less well known. To my knowledge, only I have recommended it without reservation as one of the best interpretations of this much-loved favorite, and I have included it repeatedly in my "Basic Classical Collection on Compact Disc." To my mind, it is a better performance than any of Perlman's subsequent recordings, sweeter yet just as emotionally charged. Here, as with the Sibelius, gold remastering lends the sound an added polish, greater transparency, and smoother tone. The differences are not quite so noticeable as with the Sibelius, but they are improvements that anyone with a good hi-fi system will appreciate. 

In addition to the amended sonics, Chesky have also clarified their box labeling to the point where one no longer needs an interpreter to decipher who is playing what with which orchestra and conductor; and on the Tchaikovsky album, the works themselves are better laid out, with the Violin Concerto sensibly placed first.

I know that some people will question the value of buying expensive gold discs for a limited amount of music, especially for the Sibelius, which lasts only forty-four minutes. For them, excellent alternatives abound. For instance, Sir Colin Davis's Sibelius Second is coupled with No. 6 on an RCA digital release, and Jascha Heifetz's Tchaikovsky comes with either the Brahms or Mendelssohn violin concertos on RCA reissues. But if you're willing to pay for the very best, you won't be disappointed seeking out the Chesky gold series.

JJP

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 of The $ensible Sound magazine 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