Intermezzi del Verismo (CD review)

Music of Puccini, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Giordano, Cilea, Wolf-Ferrari. Lodovico Zocche, Philharmonisches Orchester Graz. CPO 777 953-2.

Classical music lovers, especially opera fans, already know what intermezzi (or intermezzos) are, but for those who might be a little unclear on the concept, my Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines an intermezzo as "a short dramatic, musical, or other entertainment of light character, introduced between the acts of a drama or opera. Or a short musical composition between main divisions of an extended musical work. Or simply a short, independent musical composition." In the case of this album, we're talking about the first definition.

Further, opera fans will surely already know the meaning of verismo, but, again, the dictionary defines it as "the use of everyday life and actions in artistic works: introduced into opera in the early 1900s in reaction to contemporary conventions, which were seen as artificial and untruthful." Purists may balk at some of the titles included on the program as not being entirely "intermezzi" or pure "verismo," but for most of us the dictionary definitions are broad enough to cover most of the ground here.

The present album provides a dozen intermezzi--some of them quite famous, others not so much--from as many operas, all performed by Lodovico Seiche and the Graz Philharmonic Orchestra. The following is a list of the disc's contents:

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924):
Symphonic Prelude in A
La Tregenda: Act II from Le Villi
Intermezzo: Act III from Manon Lescaut
Intermezzo from Suor Angelica

Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945):
Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana
Intermezzo from L'amico Fritz
Sinfonia from Le maschere

Ruggero Leoncavallo (1858-1919):
Intermezzo from Pagliacci

Umberto Giordano (1867-1948):
Intermezzo: Act II from Fedora

Francisco Cilea (1866-1950):
Intermezzo: Act II from Adriana Lecouvreur

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948):
Intermezzo from I gioielli della Madonna

Italo Montemezzi (1875-1952):
Prelude: Act III L'amore dei Tre Re

Ludovico Zocche
All of the music appears beautifully and sensitively played by Maestro Zocche. What's more, the Graz Philharmonic responds splendidly to his direction; just don't expect them to sound as rich and luxurious as their more illustrious neighbors in Vienna. However, my own reaction was that perhaps Maestro Zocche interpreted the tunes a little too beautifully and sensitively, leaving out some of the passion and fire of the pieces. It is all quite pleasant and relaxing, but it seems to me to omit the spark it needs, particularly if one is calling it "verismo," which ought to indicate a more practical and less Romantic approach.

Nevertheless, more than a few selections stood out as worthy of attention. The opening Preludio, for example, projects a sweet, graceful, lyrical charm. The following La Tregenda is appropriately robust. In neither case, however, did I feel the fire I sometimes find in other performances. But I quibble; Maestro Zocche does a splendid job for the most part.

The intermezzo from Suor Angelica displays a proper tenderness; the familiar music from Cavalleria rusticana is gorgeous if a bit sentimental; the Pagliacci intermezzo seems a tad overdramatic; and so it goes, with my nit-picking all along the way. Let it suffice that you probably won't find the music performed any better than here, not if you're looking for all of it in one place, at any rate.

Finally, I'm not sure for whom the producers of the album intended it. Surely, the dedicated opera fan will already have most if not all of this music already in his or her collection. Lovers classical orchestral music may even have similar discs. I suspect the producers aimed their program more toward casual music listeners looking for tranquil, soothing background music, and the generally placid performances would seem to back up this possibility. Whatever, it's fine music, well enough presented.

Producers Peter Ghiradini and Giovanni Prosdocimi and engineer Peter Ghiradini recorded the music at Oper Graz, Austria in February 2014. As with many other CPO recordings over the years, this one sounds quite nice. There is good clarity and definition, good orchestral depth, and fairly wide frequency and dynamic ranges. Imaging is neither too close nor too distant. In short, it's a first-class recording.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:


Classical Music News of the Week, March 25, 2017

Bach Week Festival Announces Lineup for 2017 Edition, April 28, May 5 & 7

Josefien Stoppelenburg
The Bach Week Festival has announced the lineup for its 44th annual edition, featuring concerts in Evanston and Chicago, Il.

Chicago-area concert artists of national and international stature will make their Bach Week debuts this season, including soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg of Wilmette, Il, who is making her festival debut April 28. She has sung at the Arizona Bach Festival, the Boulder Bach Festival and with the St. Louis Bach Society and Cincinnati Bach Ensemble.

Also making her Bach Week debut April 28 is mezzo-soprano Susan Platts of Evanston. The British-born Canadian singer is a favorite of revered German choral conductor Helmuth Rilling, a founder of the Oregon Bach Festival, Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, and other Bach academies. She has performed with Rilling on numerous occasions.

Globe-trotting Chicago harpsichordist Jory Vinikour, who performs recitals across Europe and North America, will make his first Bach Week appearance May 7. Early Music America magazine recently hailed him as "the Renaissance man of Baroque music."

Acclaimed artists from out of town will include returning Bach Week favorite, pianist Sergei Babayan of the Cleveland Institute of Music, mentor to some of today's highest-profile young pianists (including Russian phenomenon Daniil Trifonov); and a Bach Week newcomer, pianist Grace Fong, a former Babayan student with her own successful concert and recording career. Both will perform at the May 5 Bach Week concert in Evanston, Il.

In a first for the festival, a highly select group of singers from Evanston Township High School will sing in the Bach Week Festival's finale concert May 7 at North Park University in Chicago, alongside the Bach Week Festival Chorus, the North Park University Chamber Singers, and members of the acclaimed professional chamber choir Bella Voce. According to Bach Week Festival's music director and conductor Richard Webster, this is the festival's first collaboration with a high school music department.

Single-admission concert tickets are $30 for adults, $20 seniors, $10 students. Subscriptions to all three festival concerts are $80 for adults, $50 for seniors, and $20 for students. Tickets can be purchased online at bachweek.org or by phone, (800) 838-3006. For general festival information, phone 847-269-9050 or email info@bachweek.org.

--Nathan J. Silverman Co. PR

Free Concert Friday, April 21 at High School Choir Festival
The combined vocal force of 1,000 high school students from 30 Southland schools can be heard in a free concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Friday, April 21 when the Los Angeles Master Chorale presents the 28th Annual High School Choir Festival. The 1,000-voice Festival choir will be led by Artistic Director Grant Gershon in a varied program that features works by this year's guest artist singer/composer Moira Smiley. Smiley will also teach the massive choir body percussion to accompany one of her songs.

The performance is open to the public and free to attend. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets can be reserved in advance now at lamasterchorale.org. A select number of tickets will also be available on the day of the concert.

In addition to the 1 PM Festival concert, the day will include a performance by the 16-member Los Angeles Master Chorale Chamber Ensemble in Walt Disney Concert Hall conducted by Assistant Conductor Jenny Wong at 11 AM. This performance is a professional showcase for the students and is also open to the public to attend. Tickets are required for this free event and can be reserved at lamasterchorale.org.

--Jennifer Scott, LA Master Chorale

The Wallis Presents Celebration of Three Extraordinary Piano Concerts
The grand piano takes center stage this spring as the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts presents a piano celebration of extraordinary concerts that will feature both established and emerging artists including thirteen pianists across three evenings performing on the Bram Goldsmith Theater stage. Jean-Yves Thibaudet and fifteen young musicians from the Colburn School begin the first of the concerts on March 29, followed by Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin on April 26--prior to their New York concert at Carnegie Hall--and finally, the Los Angeles debut of the emerging British star Benjamin Grosvenor on April 30.

"We are thrilled to present these four top pianists in the Bram Goldsmith Theater, whose acoustics are beautifully designed for intimate performances of this caliber," said Paul Crewes, The Wallis' Artistic Director.

"The Wallis is fortunate to have an extraordinary Steinway & Sons grand piano gifted to us by Marilyn Ziering for these rare concerts," said Rachel Fine, The Wallis's Managing Director.  "Steinway & Sons Beverly Hills is a formidable partner and we're grateful for the additional beautiful piano they've provided to ensure these striking and memorable concerts."

Single tickets are now available for $25 – $99. Subscriptions are available for purchase starting at $79. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit TheWallis.org, call 310.746.4000, or stop by in person at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Ticket prices subject to change.

--Sarah Jarvis, The Wallis

Congratulations to Academy Alumnus Aryeh Nussbaum-Cohen
American Bach Soloists are thrilled to let you know that countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum-Cohen, a participant in the 2015 ABS Academy, has been named a Winner in the 2017 Metropolitan Opera National Council Finals held today in New York City's Metropolitan Opera House. The Grand Finals Concert was hosted by Renée Fleming, a 1988 National Council Winner, and featured Nicola Luisotti conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra as each finalist performed two arias.

Praised by the San Francisco Chronicle as a "vocal powerhouse" and for the "expressive depth" of his singing, and acclaimed for his "soaring, otherworldly voice" by the Houston Chronicle, Aryeh Nussbaum-Cohen is quickly making his mark in the worlds of opera and early music. In his breakout 2016-2017 season, in addition to being named a Grand Finals Winner (as well as being named the Audience Choice Award Winner in the Eastern Region) in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, he is the First Prize Winner in the Houston Grand Opera Eleanor McCollum Competition, and winner of the Irvin Scherzer Award as a Finalist in the George London Foundation Competition. His season also includes concerts with the Newberry Consort in Chicago and Operamission in New York City. In the summer of 2016, Aryeh participated in the Merola Opera Program at San Francisco Opera, and in the summer of 2017, Aryeh will join Wolf Trap Opera as a Studio Artist.

For more information, visit americanbach.org

--American Bach Soloists

"Dudamel Conducts Tangos Under the Stars" with the LA Phil
Gustavo Dudamel accents the colors, rhythms, and passion of music by leading composers from Argentina in this invigorating evening under the stars on "Dudamel Conducts Tangos Under the Stars" with the LA Philharmonic -- recorded at the Hollywood Bowl in August - coming to Great Performances Friday, March 31 at 9 p.m. on PBS.

With guitarist Angel Romero, bandoneon player Seth Asarnow, and dancers from Tango Buenos Aires, maestro Dudamel leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in works by the Astor Piazzolla, once described by Stephen Holden in The New York Times as "the world's foremost composer of tango music," symphonic composer Alberto Ginastera (who was Piazzolla's teacher), and film score composer Lalo Schifrin ("Mission Impossible"), a friend of the late Piazzolla.

Newly filmed interviews with Dudamel, Schifrin and Romero are interspersed throughout the musical program, together with archival footage of Piazzolla.

For more information, visit http://pressroom.pbs.org/Programs/g/GREAT-PERFORMANCES/4202-Dudamel-Conducts-Tangos.aspx

--Harry Forbes, WNET

California Symphony Performs World Premiere May 7 of New Dan Visconti Cello Concerto
Music Director Donato Cabrera leads the California Symphony in the world premiere of the newly-commissioned cello concerto, Tangle Eye, by its current Young American Composer-in-Residence, Dan Visconti, with soloist Inbal Segev on Sunday, May 7 at 4 pm at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

The Israeli-American cellist, now based in New York, is a champion of contemporary music, and performs as a soloist with a Bay Area orchestra for the first time in the Orchestra's May 7 season finale. This is Visconti's final work as a Young American Composer-in-Residence with the Orchestra; his residency ends this year. The California Symphony also performs Bruckner's Symphony No. 6 for the first time in its 30-year history, and the program opens with Beethoven's Coriolan Overture.

Cabrera, Visconti and Segev are also offering a free public introduction to Tangle Eye on Wednesday, May 3 at 7 pm, in Live! from the Library – Fresh Ink: New Music at the Walnut Creek Public Library. The three will introduce and discuss the music and the collaborative process, and Segev will perform short excerpts to illustrate the musical concepts.

For more information, visit www.californiasymphony.org

--Jean Catino Shirk, Shirk Media

Angela Hewitt: Bach Odyssey at 92Y
On April 4, Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt returns to 92Y's Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC, with "Angela Hewitt: Bach Odyssey," a four-season-long exploration of Bach's keyboard works in their entirety. The award-winning musician performs every keyboard work of J.S. Bach in a series of 12 recitals across the world, making her New York appearances exclusively at 92Y. In her third and final concert of the season, which closes the first year of this ambitious concert series, Ms. Hewitt presents a selection of Bach's virtuosic sonatas and partitas.

Ms. Hewitt's career has been filled with accolades. She was named 'Artist of the Year' at the 2006 Gramophone Awards, and in 2015 she promoted to a Companion of the Order of Canada.

For more information, visit https://www.92y.org/event/angela-hewitt-bach-odyssey-3.aspx

--Xi Wang, Kirshbaum Associates

On Site Opera Announces New Executive Director Piper Gunnarson
On Site Opera is excited to announce the appointment of its new Executive Director, Piper Gunnarson. A seasoned nonprofit arts administrator, Piper has extensive experience in theater administration for organizations spanning all manifestations of the art form, including classical plays, new work, musicals, and children's theater.

Says Piper of the appointment: "On Site Opera has earned such a sterling reputation for its visionary and invigorating approach to opera production. I am beyond excited and truly honored to get to work with Eric, Geoff, and the Board in charting the next course for this inspiring company."

For more information, visit www.osopera.org

--Ely Moskowitz, Unison Media

Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers with 2 Premieres at 92Y
"Fantasia: Evening of Fantasy"
Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 7:30PM
 92Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC

Anne Akiko Meyers, violin
Akira Eguchi, piano

Beethoven: Violin Sonata in D major, Op. 12, No. 1
Arvo Part: Fratres  
Einojuhani Rautavaara: Fantasia (New York premiere of arrangement for violin & piano, written for Ms. Meyers)
Ravel: Tzigane   
Morten Lauridsen: O Magnum Mysterium (New York premiere of arrangement for violin & piano, written for Ms. Meyers)
Jakub Ciupinski: Wreck of the Umbria for electronics (written for Ms. Meyers)

For more information, visit http://www.92y.org/event/fantasia-evening-of-fantasy

--Xi Wang, Kirshbaum Associates

Music Schools Issue NEA Statement
The Chicago Consortium of Community Music Schools is an alliance of several music and educational institutions in the Chicago area. As leaders in the arts, we are compelled to comment on the recent federal budget proposal put forth by the Trump administration, which completely eliminates funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). We urge our elected officials to reject this proposal and fight to maintain, or even increase, funding for the NEA.

There is no doubt that federal support for the arts is a wise investment. Our country's artists and arts educators enable us to celebrate creativity. The more we access the arts, the more opportunities we have for intellectual and aesthetic growth. Children especially benefit through arts education, building their brains and developing a confidence that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

In addition, investment in the arts yields huge economic dividends. Funds from the NEA generate more than $600 million in additional matching funds. Arts and culture is a $730 billion industry that represents 4.2% of the nation's GDP and supports 4.8 million jobs. The arts are not elitist. Their economic and programmatic impact touches people in all 50 states, including U.S. military veterans benefitting from highly effective arts therapy.

We thank our elected officials for their past support for the arts and arts education. But we are also watching closely and counting on them to lead the effort to maintain and strengthen the NEA.

--Susanne Baker, Director
Community Music Division, DePaul University

Maazel Conducts Wagner, Volumes 1 & 2 (CD review)

Waltraud Meier, mezzo-soprano; Lorin Maazel, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. RCA 09026-63143-2 and RCA 74321-68717-2.

Yes, there was life after Karajan. Even without its former maestro fussing about, the Berlin Philharmonic still had a gorgeous, deep-throated sonority about it. Although at the time of these recordings, 1998-2000, Claudio Abbado was leading the Berlin orchestra, their playing under the late Lorin Maazel (1930-2014) nevertheless sounded effortless, creating a monumentally big, full, rich sound. In fact, the BPO sound appears so together, it is like listening to a single great instrument playing rather than a hundred instruments in unison. RCA have captured the orchestral sonics in warm, smooth, slightly soft dimensions, very easy on the ear and, if anything, adding to the grand scale of the proceedings. The acoustics are nothing like the bright glare presented on so many early digital releases in the same venue under Karajan.

Lorin Maazel
The performances, too, are on an appropriately lofty plane, coming close to but not quite realizing the grandeur or fervor of my favorite Wagner interpretations under Otto Klemperer (EMI), Bernard Haitink (Philips), Erich Leinsdorf (Sheffield), or Leopold Stokowski (HDTT or RCA), but they're close.

Maazel opens with a huge rendition of the Tannhauser Overture, leading into a revised edition of the "Venusberg-Bacchanale." There follows a quite exciting version of Der Fliegende Hollander Overture; then a sweet and noble Act I Prelude to Lohengrin; and a dynamic Gotterdammerung "Funeral March." The first disc concludes with the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde and finally "Isoldes Liebestod" sung by mezzo-soprano Waltraud Meier.

OK, Maazel is quite a good Wagner conductor, but note that Klemperer and his Philharmonia players convey both size and greater urgency in these works, and they were recorded by EMI with better definition and available at mid price, albeit on several discs. For a single collection, though, this new Maazel album is a fine effort and an easy recommendation.

As I said about Maazel's first volume of Wagner music with the Berlin Philharmonic, there was definitely life after Karajan. In the second volume, sold separately, the BPO continued to sound more mellifluous, more imposing, more majestic than almost any orchestra in the world, made to appear all the more so given RCA's ultrasmooth, ultra-velvety sonics. With Maazel's unusually broad view of tempos and knack for grandly emphasizing a point, the result is Wagner on an even loftier level than usual.

Oddly, given their prominence, the two opening pieces I thought were the weakest interpretively. The Rienzi Overture is slow to the point of plodding, and the Lohengrin Act III Prelude never really catches fire. But then Maazel comes into his own with the Faust Overture, which combines cool deliberation with fiery execution. Next, his Die Meistersinger Prelude comes off with appropriate ebullience and aplomb, followed by the centerpiece of the album, the Siegfried Idyll, delicate and pensive, the famous birthday gift from Wagner to his wife, Cosima. The program concludes with Maazel's best performance of the lot, "Siegfried's Rhine Journey" from Gotterdammerung. It allows the conductor to exhibit freely his baronial, dramatic flair while maintaining a fair degree of control.

Maazel is a fine conductor who grew into the role of elder statesman gracefully, though losing some of the spark that once marked his conducting. I find Haitink, on a similarly comprised, mid-priced Philips recording with the Concertgebouw, more to my liking for his greater spontaneity. Otto Klemperer on a pair of mid-priced EMI issues is equally noble yet displays more individualism; and his EMI engineers provided a shade more sonic transparency. Still, these discs will not disappoint Maazel's fans, and it's hard to fault the Berlin players in anything they do.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:




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