Strauss, R.: Don Quixote (CD review)

Also, works for cello. Ophelie Gaillard, cello; Julien Masmondet, Czech National Symphony Orchestra. Aparte Music AP174.

Quixote. You remember him: the guy with the impossible dream.

Long before the stage musical and film Man of La Mancha, Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) created Don Quixote, the famous elderly gentleman who fancied himself a knight of high ideals, and his sidekick Sancho Panza. Then came German composer Richard Strauss (1864-1949) with his tone poem describing some of Quixote's adventures. Strauss composed the piece in 1896, just a couple of years after Also Sprach Zarathustra and while he was making a name for himself with his highly descriptive, impressionistic musical sketches.

Strauss's Don Quixote is a work for cello, viola, and orchestra. He subtitled it "Phantastische Variationen über ein Thema ritterlichen Charakters" ("Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character") and based the music on episodes from Cervantes's novel Don Quixote de la Mancha. Strauss wrote the score in the form of a theme and variations, with a solo cello depicting Don Quixote, and a solo viola, among other instruments, portraying his squire Sancho Panza. Of the ten variations within the piece, perhaps the most famous is the first one, the Don's "Adventures at the Windmill." The second variation, too, is quite evocative, a section in which Quixote encounters a herd of sheep and sees them as an approaching army. Here, Strauss uses a flutter-tonguing in the brass to represent the bleating of the sheep. It's all quite colorful and fun.

Of course, the question with any new recording of a well-known and oft-recorded piece of music is how well it compares to older, favored performances. For me, some old favorites would include Herbert von Karajan's lush, ripe presentation with Mstislav Rostropovich and the Berlin Philharmonic (EMI); Rudolf Kempe's leaner, tauter interpretation with Paul Tortelier and the Dresden Staatskapelle (EMI); Fritz Reiner's more energetic reading with Antonio Janigro and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (RCA); and Andre Previn's better recorded but more straightforward account with Franz Bartolomey the Vienna Philharmonic (Telarc). The answer to whether this new Aparte recording with Maestro Julien Masmondet, Ms. Ophelie Gaillard, and the Czech National Symphony is any better than the rest is a definite sort of, or maybe, or maybe not.

Ophelie Gaillard
The reason I can't be more enthusiastic about the soloist or interpretation is that it never struck me as being as colorful as it could be. Certainly, Ms. Gaillard's playing is technically beyond reproach, as is the violin work by Alexandra Conunova and the expertise of the Czech orchestra. But the performance itself seems rather reticent. I don't hear much of the old Don's eccentricities, and his adventures seem more than a little mundane rather than sad, humorous, peculiar, stimulating, pathetic, satiric, biting, or inspiring. In other words, I wasn't sure just how Ms. Gaillard and company wanted to represent their Quixote.

I'm sure Strauss intended his musical depiction of the addled old Don to offer some particular point of view on him without actually specifying that point of view, so the choices of approach are boundless. Nevertheless, under the direction of Masmondet and playing of Gaillard, the music simply appears beautiful and well performed, with a little less in the way of secondary responses than one might expect.

Regardless, there's a lot to be said for the beauty of Ms. Gaillard's playing, and the performance makes a charming listening experience. She is especially effectual in the softer, more introspective, more melancholy moments of the score, and one can hardly complain about the serenity of some sections.

Coupled with the main tone poem we find three additional Strauss pieces for cello: the Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 6, with Vassilis Varvaresos, piano; the Romance for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 13; and "Morgan," the final section of Four Songs, Op. 27, arranged for cello, piano, and soprano, with Beatrice Uria Monzon, soprano. Because Strauss probably didn't mean for the listener to ascribe too much literal meaning to these pieces, I found them more effective as pure music.

Artistic Director Nicolas Bartholomee and engineers Nicolas Bartholomee, Maximilien Ciup, and Clement Rousset in conjunction with Little Tribeca recorded the music at the studio of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, Prague in 2017 and in Paris, January 2018. The sound they obtained is as good as almost anything I've heard for a while. The solo cello is fairly well balanced with the orchestra; the stereo spread is wide; the highs are sparkling; the dynamic range is strong without being overwhelming, and the impact is good. What's more, the clarity and detailing are very fine, indeed.

My only minor caveats with the sound are that it's a tad closer than I usually like; it doesn't provide a lot of depth, front-to-back perspective; and there is some spotlighting of instruments, with the cello and violin in particular seeming to move closer to the audience at times and then recede into the distance. Fortunately, these issues are relatively small and should not distract most listeners from enjoying the sonics.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, November 17, 2018

LA Master Chorale to Present Five Christmas Concerts in Walt Disney Concert Hall

"English Cathedral Christmas"
Sunday, December 2 – 7 PM

"Festival of Carols"
Saturday, December 8 & 15 – 2 PM

Handel's Messiah
Sunday, December 16 – 7 PM

38th Annual Messiah Sing-Along
Monday, December 17 – 7:30 PM

All concerts conducted by Grant Gershon,
Kiki & David Gindler Artistic Directors

The Los Angeles Master Chorale will perform five festive Christmas concerts in Walt Disney Concert Hall in December including a new program called English Cathedral Christmas on December 2 that aims to bring the unbroken advent tradition of British carols and anthems to Walt Disney Concert Hall with works by a range of composers dating from the 16th century to today. The concerts include the popular "Festival of Carols" concerts (December 8 and 15), Handel's Messiah (December 16) and the 38th Annual Messiah Sing-Along (December 17) when the 2,200-strong audience sings as the chorus.

Tickets are available now, starting from $29:
Online: lamasterchorale.org
Phone: 213-972-7282
Tickets can also be purchased in-person at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Box Office Monday – Saturday, 10 AM – 6 PM.

--Jennifer Scott, LA Master Chorale

Nu Deco Ensemble To Perform With Macy Gray and BJ The Chicago Kid at the Arsht Center
December 15 will see the Nu Deco Ensemble's first concert at The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, Florida in their 2018–19 season, in a soul music-infused program that will center around special collaborations with superstar Macy Gray, R&B singer/songwriter BJ The Chicago Kid, and the Miami Mass Choir. This will be the ensemble's second concert in their fourth season, continuing a commitment to forward-thinking programming and genre-bending performances.

Having kicked off their 2018–19 season with a jazz-influenced program in early October, this December concert offers a smooth segue from jazz to soul. Beginning with Bernstein's "Symphonic Dances" from West Side Story, the first half of the program will end with a suite honoring Aretha Franklin, arranged by Nu Deco's Sam Hyken, Aaron Lebos, Armando López, and Jason Matthews. Contemporary R&B stars Macy Gray and BJ The Chicago Kid will join Nu Deco on stage for the second half of the evening, backed by the Miami Mass Choir featuring original works and reimagined arrangements.

For more information, visit https://www.arshtcenter.org/en/Tickets/Calendar/2018-2019-Season/Nu-Deco/BJ-The-Chicago-Kid/

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Princeton University Orchestra Presents World Premiere
The Princeton University Orchestra ("PUO") will include the world premiere of Three Places
in Grand Rapids by its principal cellist, Princeton University senior Calvin Van Zytveld , in two
performances on December 6 & 7, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium, Alexander
Hall, Princeton, NJ.

On the heels of a busy October that included presenting internationally renowned conductor Ivan Fischer leading the Orchestra of the Accademia Teatro Alla Scala as well as the ensemble's own season opening concerts, PUO continues to showcase its vibrant season under the baton of associate conductor Ruth Ochs, standing in for Michael Pratt. The December programs also include Aaron Copland 's Fanfare for the Common Man, Manuel De Falla 's The Three-Cornered Hat Ballet Suite, and will conclude with Claude Debussy's orchestral masterpiece La mer.

Tickets are $15 General; $5 Students. Tickets are available online at music.princeton.edu, by
phone at 609-258-9220, or in person two hours prior to the concert at the Richardson Auditorium Box Office.

--Dasha Koltunyuk, Princeton University Concerts

Salon/Sanctuary Concerts Presents "In the Wake of the Marseillaise"
Songs for soprano and early romantic guitar by Cimarosa, Crescentini, Doisy, Haydn, Domenico Puccini, and Fernando Sor join jewel-like arrangements from the popular operas of the day by Rossini and Halévy, speaking of an age of liberation and a growing taste for bel canto singing.

Who:
Jessica Gould, soprano
Pascal Valois, early romantic guitar

When:
Thursday, December 13th, 8:00pm

Where:
The Brotherhood Synagogue
28 Gramercy Park South
NY, NY 10003

Tickets:
https://www.showclix.com/event/marseillaise or 1 888 718 4253

For more information, visit http://www.salonsanctuary.org

--Salon/Sanctuary Concerts

Young People's Chorus of NYC Performs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Young People's Chorus of New York City (YPC) brings together two holiday traditions under the baton of Associate Artistic Director Elizabeth Núñez, who conducts contemporary stagings of Benjamin Britten's Christmas cantata A Ceremony of Carols and Samuel Adler's Hanukkah cantata "The Flames of Freedom" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Sunday, December 9 at 3:00 p.m. Heard for the first time in New York City, "The Flames of Freedom" was composed as a musical counterpart to Britten's classic, and both works are explored on the program through sets, lighting, and choreography.

This YPC program is one of two performances by the chorus on back-to-back weekends at The Met's Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. On Sunday, December 2 at 3:00 p.m., the chorus performs two settings of poetry by Langston Hughes: Ricky Ian Gordon's new choral version of "Litany" and YPC alumna Jessie Montgomery's "Danse Africaine," which was commissioned by the chorus. YPC Founder and Artistic Director Francisco J. Núñez conducts both works as part of "A Dream Deferred: Langston Hughes in Song," a program created by the Museum's 2018–19 Artist-in-Residence, soprano Julia Bullock.

Tickets start at $50 for December 2 and $65 for December 9, and are available online at metmuseum.org/tickets or by phone at 212-570-3949. Tickets are $1 for children ages 6 to 16 with the purchase of one adult ticket. For groups of 15 or more, call 212-570-3750.

For more information, visit ypc.org.

--Shuman Associates PR

Lake Simons Directs Holiday Production of Saint-Saëns's' Carnival of the Animals
Saturday, December 15, 2018, 1:00 p.m. & 4:00 p.m.
Miller Theatre, 2960 Broadway at 116th Street, NYC

Miller's annual holiday treat returns, a playful production that brings Camille Saint-Saëns's beloved work to life--Carnival of the Animals. A compelling merging of puppets, set design, poetry and music, this production has been described as "enchanting" by The New Yorker and "splendidly witty" by TheaterScene. Audiences will experience magic as everyday objects take on new lives as lions, elephants, and birds, through the incredible vision of director Lake Simons and some of New York's best puppeteers.

Saint-Saens's score, performed by a ten-piece onstage chamber orchestra that is "virtuosic, nuanced, and sublime" (ZealNYC), literally comes to life with Lake's puppets. Lucid Culture calls the ensemble's playing "exquisitely detailed" and "unselfconsciously playful."

For more information, visit millertheatre.com

--Aleba Gartner, Aleba & Co.

Wet Ink Ensemble and Being & Becoming Perform at St. Peter's Church, Dec. 1
The "sublimely exploratory" (The Chicago Reader) Wet Ink Ensemble teams up with renowned trumpeter/composer and longtime collaborator Peter Evans for an evening of sonic adventure on Saturday, December 1, 2018 at 8:00pm at St. Peter's Church, 346 W 20th St., New York, NY.

The concert features a new set of music by Peter Evans with a lineup that Evans describes as "an unholy amalgam of current and closest collaborators in a holiday season blow-out." Performers include 12 musicians from Wet Ink and Being & Becoming (Joel Ross, vibes; Nick Jozwiack, bass and cello; Savannah Grace Harris, drums; Peter Evans, trumpet), with special guests Mazz Swift (violin) and Levy Lorenzo (percussion). Evans writes, "this evening will represent an ongoing process of discovery and collaborative creativity with these players - it is not a culmination of anything. Old and new compositions will be combined together with the improvisational talents of all the musicians, creating an hour-long work tailored specifically for this concert."

Tickets are $10 general admission, students free. No pre-orders, cash only at the door.

For more information, visit www.wetink.org

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Nutcracker Dance Party with the Experiential Orchestra
December 1st, 2018 at the Bohemian National Hall, 321 E. 73rd Street, NY, NY 10021.
3:30pm (Kids with Adult Dancing Companions); 7:30pm (Adults only with full cash bar).

Have you always wanted to dance to Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker with a symphony orchestra?
Now is your chance!

Whether you danced ballet as a child or have never set foot in pointe shoes, EXO is expanding the magical experience of the Nutcracker as they invite the audience to dance to
the complete ballet with a live symphony orchestra of top-level freelancers. (Experiential
Orchestra draws from New York freelancers who also perform as subs with the New York
Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera Orchestra among others).

Video, descriptions, and tickets available at experientialorchestra.com/concerts, or
https://www.universe.com/events/nutcracker-dance-party-tickets-new-york-CB5LSV

For more information, visit info@experientialorchestra.com.

--James Blachly, Experiential Orchestra

SF Girls Chorus Presents "Holidays at Davies"
San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) presents its annual holiday concert, "Holidays at Davies," on Monday, December 17, 7:30 p.m. at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, CA.

A longstanding tradition in the San Francisco Bay Area's holiday concert schedule, the program will build on the success of last year's multi-cultural theme with a variety of traditional and holiday music from around the world. SFGC welcomes frequent collaborators Kronos Quartet for works including the West Coast Premiere of Michael Gordon's Exalted, Alexandra Vrebalov's Missa Supratext, Reena Esmail's Still I Rise, and Stacy Garrop's Glorious Mahalia. Women's choral group Musae also features alongside hundreds of members from six Chorus School levels, SFGC's Premier Ensemble and Alumnae.

For more information, visit http://www.sfgirlschorus.org

--Brenden Guy PR

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 6 "Pastoral" (CD review)

Otto Klemperer, Philharmonia Orchestra. EMI CDM 7243-5-66792-2.

When Klemperer's producer, Walter Legge, asked if he didn't think Klemperer took his recording of the Beethoven Sixth Symphony's scherzo a little too slowly, Klemperer replied, "Walter, you will get used to it." Well, we've had over sixty years to get used to it, and I suspect it has by now pretty much grown on us.

Klemperer's performance of the Sixth continues to be one of the most relaxed, leisurely, bucolic interpretations ever put to disc. It has not and will not find favor among the Toscanini crowd, but it has delighted most everyone else since EMI recorded it in 1957.

The conductor takes the first movement, "The Arrival in the Country," very deliberately, very purposefully, its repetitions made weightier through its unhurried pace, yet never dragging, never feeling lugubrious. The second movement, "The Scene at the Brook," flows naturally and smoothly, maintaining the easygoing nature of the setting. Then comes Klemperer's famous third movement, usually a quick and boisterous Allegro representing peasant merrymaking, but here taken as though the peasants were more than tipsy when the scherzo started. The storm that follows is weightily structured in big, bold outlines, flowing effortlessly into one of the most joyous "Shepherd's Hymn" in any Sixth interpretation around. This is no namby-pamby performance, but one with a clear and assertive vision of pastoral life.

Otto Klemperer
For what it's worth, by the way, I consider it pretty much a toss-up among four classic recordings of the Sixth as to which is my favorite: Karl Bohm and the Vienna Philharmonic (DG); Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony (JVC, HDTT, or RCA); Bruno Walter and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (Sony, and especially Sony Japan's Blu-Spec CD); and this Klemperer release on EMI. Any time I play any one of them, that one goes to the top of my list, so there's no clear winner for me.

My past reservations about the recording (made by producer Walter Legge and engineer Douglas Larter in Kingsway Hall, London) were in regard to the sound of the original LP and the recording's previous CD embodiment, which tended to be somewhat thin, harsh, and noisy. By comparison, this 1998 20-bit remastering, a part of EMI's "Klemperer Legacy" series, is smoother, fuller, and quieter. Nonetheless, the remastering retains a good deal of clarity, sounding more transparent than a lot of new releases.

The disc's coupling, Klemperer's recording of the Beethoven First Symphony, seems not nearly so characterful as his Sixth, sounding a little too massive to convey all of the work's good cheer. Nevertheless, it also seems more richly recorded than the Sixth. Go figure.

Of final note: EMI later reissued the same mastering of the Sixth as here in their "Great Performances of the Century" series, albeit with several Beethoven overtures as couplings instead of the First Symphony. You'll find that review here: https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/search?q=beethoven+symphony+no.+6+klemperer

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