Classical Music News of the Week, July 20, 2019

American Bach Soloists Present Bach's Mass in B Minor

Sunday August 4 & 11 2019 4:00 p.m.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak Street, San Francisco, CA.

The 2019 Festival & Academy brings the 10th annual collaboration of the Academy Orchestra & Soloists with the American Bach Choir in Johann Sebastian Bach's consummate masterwork, the Mass in B Minor. These performances bring eye-opening revelations of Bach's score that draws upon 35 years of his compositions.

Sunday August 4, 2019 4:00 p.m.
Sunday August 11, 2019 4:00 p.m.

For more information on this and other Summer Fesitival & Academy events, visit https://americanbach.org/sfbachfestival/index.html#next

For tickets to the Mass in B Minor, visit https://americanbach.tix.com/Schedule.aspx?OrgNum=2641&ActCode=161993

--American Bach Soloists

Death of Classical Announces Fall Performances of the Crypt Sessions
Death of Classical is excited to announce the Fall performances for the fourth season of The Crypt Sessions, its acclaimed concert series featuring chamber music at the Crypt Chapel under the Church of the Intercession in Harlem, NY.

The season will continue on September 18 with cellist Joshua Roman and pianist Conor Hanick performing a program entitled "The Instant and The Eternal," featuring the music of Arvo Pärt and Alfred Schnittke. The acclaimed JACK Quartet will make their crypt debut on October 21, giving the New York premiere of John Luther Adams' "Lines Made By Walking." On November 19, pianist Matan Porat will perform a mixed program entitled "Lux" that centers around times of day, and features music that ranges from Gregorian chants to Beethoven to contemporary works by Thomas Adès, Matthias Pintscher, and more.

The season will close on December 4, with a "Salon Séance," in which an ensemble of musicians plus an actor, led by violinist Mari Lee, channel the spirit of Benjamin Britten on the 49th anniversary of his death. The program interweaves musical excerpts with spoken text from Britten's letters and reflections, tracing his relationship to poet W.H. Auden as they strive to find an answer to the question: 'How can we live in a broken world?'

Death of Classical's other concert series, The Angel's Share, will also continue its second season in September and October with performances by pianists Adam Tendler and Jenny Lin, as well as the String Orchestra of Brooklyn.

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

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

New This Summer! - Bach Explorations
Tuesday & Wednesday, August 6 & 7 2019 7:00 p.m.

For centuries, Bach's timeless music has influenced and enlightened listeners and performers alike. Utilizing it as a source of harmonic and melodic content, musicians from all genres have adapted and drawn inspiration from Bach's artistry.

Bach to Bluegrass & Beyond
Tuesday August 6, 2019 at 7:00 p.m.

Bluegrass:
The first half of the program will explore the common ground found between Bach melodies and traditional Bluegrass fiddle styles. We highly encourage toe tapping as we experience Bach in a different way. Our selection of arrangements will include material from Bach's Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor, Violin Partita in E Major, Violin Concerto in A Minor, the "Hunt Cantata," and the majestic "Brandenburgs" compiled with traditional fiddle repertoire such as Shady Grove, Foreign Lander, and Saint Anne's Reel.

Jazz:
A renowned improviser himself, Bach's music has been a fertile source of inspiration for jazz composers. In this half of the program, we will explore the relationship between Bach's masterworks and jazz featuring arrangements by Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli, Jacques Loussier, and others. We will also feature our own arrangements of well-known Bach compositions, such as Salsa treatments of the "Goldberg Variations," the Well-Tempered Clavier meets "Take 5," and a swinging double violin concerto!

Bach Re-Imagined
Wednesday August 7, 2019 at 7:00 p.m.

"Bach Re-imagined" explores the sonorities of instruments outside the realm of the Baroque, drawing upon the richness of Bach transcriptions and the new repertoire they provide for performers.

Tickets and information at https://americanbach.tix.com/Schedule.aspx?OrgNum=2641

--American Bach Soloists

Maestro Dudamel Conducts The Vienna Philharmonic on "Great Performances"
"Great Performances: Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert 2019" premieres nationwide on Friday, August 9 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), pbs.org/gperf, and the PBS Video app.

Under the baton of famed conductor and music and artistic director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Gustavo Dudamel, the program is dedicated to the musical connection between continents: the old world of Europe and the new world of America.

Renowned pianist Yuja Wang joins the orchestra for George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and performs Chopin's Waltz in C Sharp Minor, op. 64 #2 for an encore.

Watch the promo video here: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/great-performances-vienna-philharmonic-summer-night-concert-2019-about/9786/

--Elizabeth Boone, WNET

Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 "Eroica" (CD review)

Also, An Elizabethan Suite. Sir John Barbirolli, BBC Symphony Orchestra. Dutton Laboratories CDSJB 1008.

I did not get to hear this recording when EMI first released it in 1967, and by the time I heard good news about it in the mid seventies, the company was no longer issuing it. Then, Dutton Labs remastered it in 1997, and I finally got to hear it. I have to admit it is seldom I am so completely taken by a performance that I am willing to recommend it as a top choice, but after several listening sessions with Sir John Barbirolli's Beethoven Third, I am inclined to do so.

Seldom do I remember just when, where, or how I first learned about a particular recording. Most of the time, it's something a record company has sent me for review. But when something like Barbirolli's BBC recording of Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony found its way into my collection, it was a different story, and I recall exactly the way it came about. I read about it in a 1973 book I still own titled 101 Masterpieces of Music and Their Composers by the announcer, commentator, and author Martin Bookspan (b. 1926). In the book, Bookspan comments on various pieces of classical music and makes recommendations for specific recordings. For the Beethoven Third, he wrote, "...my own favorites among the many 'Eroica' recordings are the performances conducted by Barbirolli, Bernstein, and Schmidt-Isserstedt. Barbirolli's, in fact, is the finest 'Eroica' performance I have ever heard, on or off records; it is noble, visionary and truly heroic, with playing and recorded sound to match. The performance has lost none of its power and impact with the passage of time. If anything, its stature has grown as far as I'm concerned."

High praise, indeed, from a man who knew music well. But for a long time it was a recording hard to get a hold of. Thus, it was with open arms and welcome ears that I found it remastered by Dutton.

Barbirolli's performance is a marvel of sustained coherence, a noble, heroic vision from first to last. The opening movement is as exciting and energetic as any I have heard, in spite of its being a mite slower than some competing interpretations. The slow movement, the Funeral March, is more poignant than I have ever encountered. Thereafter, the Scherzo is as joyous and the Finale as high-spirited as anyone could want.

Sir John Barbirolli
Anyway, as you know, Beethoven wrote his Symphony No. 3 "Eroica" in 1804 in honor of Napoleon Bonaparte, whom the composer greatly admired. However, just before Beethoven premiered the piece in 1805, he learned that Bonaparte had declared himself "Emperor" of France, corrupting the ideals of the French Revolution, so the composer removed the man's name from the manuscript, inscribing it, instead, "to celebrate the memory of a great man." More important, the Third marked a turning point in Beethoven's artistic output with its daring length, range, and emotional commitment, marking something of a new beginning in the development of symphonic structure and prompting endless discussions among critics about what it all meant.

What it meant to Sir John, apparently, was something a bit kinder and gentler than it has meant to some other conductors. Barbirolli approached the work with a greater affection than many other conductors, offering up music of urgency and emotion, to be sure, but of resplendent love, stately nuances, and sublime caresses as well. It's not the kind of performance that sets the blood to boil, but it is a performance that is hard not to find appealing.

Take, for instance, those opening strokes that introduce us to Beethoven's vision of the emperor. With many conductors, the notes sound sharp and concise; with Barbirolli, they sound mellower, more resigned. It's as though the conductor wants us to know at the outset that this is going to be a more benign, more humane interpretation than you've probably heard before. The second-movement funeral march is more leisurely than most, too. Rather than bring out the stateliness of the music, Barbirolli chooses to bring out the beauty. By the time of the Scherzo, though, the conductor has picked up more steam and seems to want us to pay closer attention to details. Then we get a reasonably driving Finale, still not taken at a hectic pace but with a reassuringly triumphant conclusion.

So, Barbirolli's account of the symphony is more lyrical, more musical, more sensitive than we usually hear. Add to this a wonderfully alert response from the BBC Symphony, and you get possibly the most poetic account of the music you're likely to find. This was among the final recordings Barbirolli made, by the way, and it has an appropriately autumnal glow about it, with Sir John lingering over individual phrases as was his wont in later life. If the whole thing hasn't the tautness one cares for, well, that was his way. The performance is still well worth hearing.

The little "Elizabethan Suite," Barbirolli's own pastiche of various early seventeenth-century English tunes that accompanies the "Eroica," is icing on the cake.

Producer Ronald Kinloch Anderson and engineer Neville Boyling originally recorded the music for EMI at Studio No. 1, Abbey Road, London in May 1967. In the years since EMI released it, the recording has appeared in several different forms and formats from LP and tape to CD. As of this writing, one can not only obtain it from Dutton Laboratories, who remastered it in 1997, but also from HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers), who remastered it in 2017, and from Warner Classics, who reissued it in 2018.

The Dutton disc sounds quite good, and, in fact, for overall clarity it surpasses the newer HDTT product mentioned above. The sound has depth, breadth, and clarity in spades. It doesn't sound its age at all and outstrips many new digital efforts. That said, there is still an argument for the smoother, warmer sound from HDTT, which flatters Barbirolli's overall design. Both versions provide plenty of dynamic range and a fairly quiet background. I have yet to hear the newest incarnation on Warner, but I have not doubt it sounds good, too. In the end, it may be one's choice of price, availability, or playback format that determines which of the editions to buy. The main thing is that the performance is a gem.

JJP

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


Vangelis: Nocturne (CD review)

The Piano Album. Vangelis. Decca B0029594-02.

After the introduction of the Moog synthesizer in the mid 1960's, several musicians were responsible for its rise in popularity. Chief among these people were Wendy Carlos, Tomita, and Vangelis. Each of them scored notable successes, but it may have been Vangelis who garnered the most attention thanks to his soundtrack music for the movies "Chariots of Fire" (1981) and "Blade Runner" (1982). Since the 60's he has been quite active with film and TV music, public appearances, and record albums. This latest of his recordings is called "Nocturne: The Piano Album."

Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou (b. 1943), better known by his professional name, Vangelis, is a Greek composer of, according to Wikipedia, "electronic, progressive, ambient, jazz, and orchestral music." I suppose the present album falls into the "ambient" category for lack of any other description.

But here's the thing: It's called, as I say, "The Piano Album." Inside the accompanying booklet there's even a picture of Vangelis sitting behind what appears to be a grand piano. So far, so good. Then we take a quick listen, and the piano doesn't quite sound like a piano. It appears to sound artificial somehow. A moment later, we hear what appear to be strings coming from left field. Strings? There is no mention anywhere in the album about a string section. Finally, it dawns on the listener that Vangelis is probably not playing a conventional grand piano but a synthetic piano, bringing in synthetic strings to augment the synthetic piano notes. So why didn't the booklet tell us this? Well, to be fair, the booklet notes don't tell us much of anything except to provide a track listing and a few acknowledgments of people who helped create the album. So, you take what you get.

The program contains original Vangelis compositions, some of them new, some of them old. Here's a track listing:

  1. "Nocturnal Promenade"
  2. "To the Unknown Man" (from "Spiral")
  3. "Movement 9, Mythodea" (from "Mythodea")
  4. "Moonlight Reflections"
  5. "Through the Night Mist"
  6. "Early Years"
  7. "Love Theme, Blade Runner" (from "Blade Runner")
  8. "Sweet Nostalgia"
  9. "Intermezzo"
10. "To a Friend"
11. "La Petite Fille de la Mer" (from "L'Apocalypse des animaux")
12. "Longing"
13. "Chariots of Fire" (from "Chariots of Fire")
14. "Unfulfilled Desire"
15. "Lonesome"
16. "1492: Conquest of Paradise" (from "1492: Conquest of Paradise")
17. "Pour Melia"

Vangelis
As you no doubt know, a nocturne is a piece of music appropriate to the night or evening, usually a romantic character piece for piano, with an expressive, dreamy, or pensive melody. That's probably why Vangelis opens with a work called "Nocturnal Promenade," which, I assume, means a nighttime stroll, in this case evoking a starry night and a leisurely walk. It tends to rather meander along with no definite goal in mind, sort of a like work by Frederick Delius, maybe "Summer Night on the River," but without the Delius charm. The sudden appearance of strings in Vangelis's music calls up, perhaps, images of clouds or breezes, I dunno. It's tranquil enough, for sure.

I have never been a big fan of electronic music, so I found Vangelis's pared-down, simplified piano versions of his music more refreshing than his big, elaborate, overblown extravaganzas. Whether this is still an electronic piano or not is beside the point. The tunes are clean and clear, with minimum accompaniment beyond that which he produces himself.

For reasons unexplained, track three, "Movement 9, Mythodea," is performed by guest pianist Irina Valentinova. It sounds at first like an entirely different instrument from the one Vangelis plays and more like a conventional piano. But then the string accompaniment kicks in, and it begins sounding more like the rest of the program.

"Intermezzo" sounds for all the world like something by Elgar, all big strings, quiet pomp, and regal ceremony. There's no piano at all, which is a welcome break, to be sure. "Chariots of Fire" and "1492" remain the best numbers on the disc, despite their more romantic, dreamy moods here. The program ending in a lullaby seems appropriate.

Anyway, taken as a whole, the "Nocturne" album seems a little hit-and-miss, a little disjointed; beyond the vague "nocturne" theme and the general tranquillity of the music, it hasn't a central focus to hold it together. It's more like a New Age greatest hits collection, a "best of Vangelis" sort of thing, with less showy versions of some of his most popular melodies, plus a few newer ones. It's certainly not unpleasant, but it's hardly groundbreaking, either.

Producer Vangelis and engineer Philippe Colonna recorded the album in 2018 under licence to Decca Records. For maximum definition, the engineer miked the piano fairly close, yet it doesn't spread out too far across the speakers so it still sounds natural (if synthetic) enough. The synthetic strings, however, tend to air out all over the place. Whatever, we hear clean delineation, wide dynamics, and strong impact, which is about all you could want from the disc. It sounds like a good studio album in a pop style.

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 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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa