Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 (CD review)

Also, Der Voyevoda. Frank Shipway, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Royal Philharmonic Masterworks RPM 29220.

As usual with Tchaikovsky, he felt dissatisfied with his Fifth Symphony when he finished it. He considered it a failure; but, well, he wasn't too keen on The Nutcracker or the 1812, either. What did he know.

Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) wrote his Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64, in 1888, and he conducted its première the same year. He used a theme that reappears in various guises in all four movements of the work, describing it at first as "a complete resignation before fate, which is the same as the inscrutable predestination of fate." But it's not all that dark and things pick up. Before long, we hear the character of the main theme become more positive as it progresses through the symphony, as though Tchaikovsky were voicing his increased optimism with regard to fate, the symphony becoming ever more affirmative and upbeat as it goes along.

On the present recording, Maestro Frank Shipway conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Candidly, when I first received the disc I was only vaguely familiar with the name Shipway, and even then I was probably thinking of Thomas Schippers. Nevertheless, Shipway is a prominent British conductor of international repute, mainly through his work with the Italian National Symphony Orchestra of the RAI. He studied conducting with Sir John Barbirolli and to a lesser degree with Herbert von Karajan and Lorin Maazel. In addition, he has judged conducting competitions and given master classes in music. Apparently, too, his recording of the Mahler Fifth with the RPO has garnered much critical acclaim. Fair enough. He certainly acquits himself well on this Tchaikovsky recording.

Shipway starts Tchaikovsky's Fifth very slowly, in hushed terms, building in intensity from humble beginnings. It's an indiction of how the conductor will proceed throughout the symphony: very carefully, very methodically, his rhythms and tempos a tad regimented yet carrying a decent Romantic spark, too, and eventually lighting up the room with their strength and authority. A few minutes in and the movement is as animated as Tchaikovsky directs: "Allegro con anima." Then the recurring main theme opens up beautifully.

The symphony continues in this manner, with the conductor shaping the music thoughtfully, and the orchestra responding with passion and precision. The Andante cantabile, for instance, sounds exceptionally relaxed yet still provides ample emotion.

The third movement waltz moves dancingly along, if without quite the life and lilt we hear from Jansons (Chandos), Muti (EMI), or Haitink (Philips). Still, it has plenty of vitality and offers a charming interlude before the music's fiery conclusion.

Tchaikovsky pulled out all the stops in his finale, the main theme now sounding quite triumphant and Shipway making the most of it by executing some really forceful crescendos of tremendous power.  Initially, Tchaikovsky's audiences didn't know what to make of this movement, many of them finding it too reckless and explosive. Today, we accept it as simply exciting and exhilarating. Shipway helps us out.

As a coupling, the disc gives us Tchaikovsky's little tone poem Der Voyevoda, which he wrote in 1890 and based on a poem by Adam Mickiewicz. As usual, Tchaikovsky didn't like it, dismissing it as "rubbish." Nonetheless, it makes a suitable companion to the Fifth Symphony because like the Fifth it is not rubbish but quite varied, impassioned, and ultimately fascinating, if a little bombastic. Again, Shipway gives it careful attention.

Royal Philharmonic Masterworks, Sheridan Square Entertainment, and Allegro Corporation, the makers and distributors of the disc, provide no information on the recording, no date or location. The producers do tell us, however, that it is a part of their "Audiophile Collection," a "20 bit digital recording, edited and mastered via 32 bit digital sound processing, recorded in high definition and playable on all CD players." Since to my knowledge there is no absolute, objective meaning of the phrase "high definition" in regard to music recording, I suppose they mean it sounds pretty good. And it does.

The recording displays good orchestral depth, fairly good sonic delineation and detailing, and a very wide dynamic range and impact. The sound stage is big, big, big, with a good separation of instruments without appearing either excessively close or too multi-miked. The strings are smooth and the bass is solid, with a touch of soft, overall warmth and a bit of upper bass resonance thrown in. While it may not be what everyone thinks of "audiophile" sound, it's surely a pleasing aural experience.


Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 "From the New World" (CD review)

Also, Martinu: Symphony No. 2.  Paavo Jarvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Telarc CD-80616.

The idea behind this coupling was for Maestro Paavo Jarvi to bring together works by two celebrated Czech composers, Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) from the nineteenth century and Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) from the twentieth. Jarvi intended for us to see how the two pieces, while separated by time, found connections of national heritage. Fair enough. The only minor reservation I would have is that except for the representative works coming from Czech composers who wrote them in America, they are really not all that much alike except in their overall positive, melodic character.

Of greater concern, I can't say I found Jarvi's interpretation of the "New World" particularly compelling. Maybe I've listened to too many recordings of the piece over the years for a middle-of-the-pack contender like Jarvi's to affect me much. His reading is certainly not bad by any means, and for the listener who doesn't have the work (is there such a listener?), Telarc recorded this one pretty well, so it's probably as good as most. It has a high energy quotient, an imaginative attack, and an appropriate zest. Moreover, Jaarvi's Cincinnati Symphony plays as lustrously, as glowingly, and as precisely as any ensemble you could find.

Nevertheless, it's really the companion piece, Martinu's Second Symphony, that stands out here. Martinu rejected what he deemed the discordant components of modern music and preferred a more relaxed, old-fashioned style, though one often marked by modern jazz influences as well as idiomatic folk elements. The composer wrote that his "Second Symphony is calm and lyric. It seems to me that we have no need of a professional and technical expression of torture; rather do we need orderly thought, expressed calmly." Thus do we get a brief, twenty-three-minute symphony in the conventional four movements that includes any number of dance rhythms and jazz inflections. Jarvi seems to be having fun with the music, and he easily communicates in it the calm and order as well as the sheer exhilaration the work requires.

Telarc's sound is, as is sometimes the case, a tad on the warm, thick side, with a wonderfully dynamic bass line and reasonably good stereo imaging. The highs ring out clearly and realistically in the "New World," especially. While I'm not sure the disc is worth full price for essentially the Martinu alone, I am glad I got to hear both pieces on the disc side by side.


A French Soiree (CD review)

Trio Settecento:  Rachel Barton Pine, violin; John Mark Rozendaal, viola da gamba; David Schrader, harpsichord. Cedille CDR 900000 129.

I always enjoy any new recording from the Chicago-based Cedille label. Their artists invariably perform the music well, and their engineers record the music superbly, especially those discs made by their chief audio expert, Bill Maylone. This latest entry from Trio Settecento (Rachel Barton Pine, violin; John Mark Rozendaal, viola da gamba; David Schrader, harpsichord), called A French Soiree, is no exception.

My Random House Dictionary defines a "soiree" as "an evening party or social gathering, esp. one held for a particular purpose; e.g., a musical soiree." A French Soiree follows Trio Settecento's previous successes with Cedille, An Italian Sojourn and A German Bouquet ( in providing more light Baroque music from across the globe. In coming releases as the Trio proceed through more European and perhaps world music, they may begin having trouble coming up with clever album titles, but it's a risk I'm willing to endure. Their playing is first-rate, and their discs sound superb.

As the title suggests, what we get here is a collection of short, light French works by seventeenth and early eighteenth-century composers like Lully, Couperin, Marais, Rebel, Rameau, and Leclair. Performed on period instruments in the most-elegant possible manner, the music close to irresistible.

The program begins with a series of divertissements, a suite of little chamber pieces featuring the music of three French composers: Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), Francois Couperin (1668-1733), and Marin Marais (1656-1728). The suite is just over twenty-nine minutes long and contains eleven tracks, all of them elegant and refined, both the music and the playing. Of course, the music is also fairly rich and flowery, so the Trio's use of instruments suited to the period helps in bringing out the vibrant, resonant tone of the pieces.

Next, we get Couperin's Troisieme Concert, six brief dance movements. The Trio handle them imaginatively, presenting them in lively yet courtly fashion.

Following the Couperin is the Sonate Huitieme en Re mineur by Jean-Fery Rebel (1666-1747), probably the least known composer on the program. However, it is his piece that stands out as the most unique of the bunch for its combination of ruggedness, grace, and lilting melodies.

The program ends with the Quatrieme Concert by Jean-Philippe Rameau (1783-1764) and the Sonata en Sol majeur by Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764). Like the other works on the disc, the music impresses one with its civility and urbaneness, the performances with their culture and polish.

If I have any reservation at all, it's that I don't find the music of the French Baroque composers as varied or as tuneful as that of their Italian and German counterparts. Thus, I probably didn't appreciate this album as much as I liked the Trio Settecento's previous releases. No fault of theirs.

Cedille recorded the program in Nichols Concert Hall at the Music Institute of Chicago, Evanston, Illinois, in August of 2010. They obtained typically audiophile results, although the sonics seem a bit closer than usual. Not many record companies are producing this kind of high-fidelity response anymore, Cedille, certainly, and Reference Recordings, but precious few others.

Anyway, here we get truthful presentations of all three instruments, with extraordinary definition and detail, the instruments themselves meshing nicely and providing a satisfyingly unified sound. Be sure to experiment for a moment to get the volume just right, though, for optimum realism. Too soft and it will appear a bit dull; too loud and it will appear a tad bright. At its prime output, however, it should sound as lifelike as you'll likely hear anywhere outside a concert stage.


Handel: Messiah (UltraHD CD review)

Yvone Kenny, soprano; Paul Esswood, countertenor; Martyn Hill, tenor; Magnus Linden, bass; Anders Ohrwall, members of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Stockholm Bach Choir. First Impression Music LIM UHD 029 (2-disc set).

"For Relief of the Prisoners in the several Gaols, and for the Support of Mercer's Hospital in Stephen's Street, and of the Charitable Infirmary on the Inns Quay, on Monday the 12th of April, will be performed at the Musick hall in Fishamble Street, Mr. Handel's new Grand Oratorio, call'd the MESSIAH, in which the Gent Lemen of the Choirs of both Cathedrals will assist, with some Concertoes on the Organ, by Mr. Handel."

Of all the recordings of Mr. Handel's Messiah I've heard over the years, this FIM remastering of a 1982 Proprius disc is quite simply the best-performed and finest-sounding account of the lot. Indeed, it may be the finest-sounding choral-orchestral recording I've ever heard.

When George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) wrote his Messiah in 1741, he probably had no idea that by the twenty-first century it would have become as much a part of the Christmas tradition as Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. But here it is, the Messiah performed by orchestras and choirs and even audiences all over the world, beloved by all. Not bad for a composition Handel wrote in just a little over three weeks. Remarkable.

Anyway, the first thing one notices about this FIM remastering is the remarkable depth of field involved. The listener can actually hear well into the small ensemble and hear them standing and sitting in front of one another. The space and air around the instruments enhance the dimensionality, making it one of those reach-out-and-touch-it experiences.

Then, because the opening movement is an orchestral Sinfonia, one notices the extreme clarity and naturalness of the sound. Every instrument stands in perfect relief, delineated in a wholly realistic, truthful manner, yet without any trace of brightness or edge. We know from the outset this recording is going to be a singular musical and aural treat.

Next, one notices the stereo spread, the soloists on risers to the left, the Stockholm Bach Choir spread out left to right, and the pared down Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in support. How wide is the production? When the organ enters, one would swear it was coming from a point well off stage to the far right of the right-hand speaker. It's uncanny.

Finally, in the second movement one notices the sound of the chorus and soloists. Every word is crystal clear, yet again without a trace of brightness or edge. This is, in fact, the most notable aspect of the recording because it's so unusual. In almost every other choral recording--because of the microphone placement or the type of microphones used or the intentional manipulation by the engineer--voices are brightened up, perhaps to make them more intelligible. That doesn't happen here. The voices are so lifelike, you would swear they belong to real people in a concert venue with you.

Still, no recording, no matter how good, would be worth much if it did not support a good performance, and a good performance is exactly what Maestro Anders Ohrwall and his forces produce for us. His interpretation is lively, invigorating, without in any way disturbing the solemnity or majesty of the music. Using a small number of members of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and a relatively small choir with superb soloists, Ohrwall combines period musical practices with confident, levelheaded judgments, his tempos, contrasts, rubato et al as stimulating yet well considered as one could want. It is as thoroughly involving a rendition as you'll hear anywhere.

Proprius recorded the music in Adolf Fredrik Church, Stockholm, Sweden, in February of 1982, and FIM (First Impression Music) remastered it in 2011 in their Ultra HD 32-bit mastering format. The results of both the original recording setup and the subsequent remastering are impressive in the extreme. As noted above, everything about the sound is better than anything you're ever liable to hear on a disc.

Now, the surprise: It's a live recording. That's right: made before a live audience. Why the surprise? Over the years, live recordings have almost never impressed me. They are usually too close-up or too distant, too forward or too soft, too noisy or too distracting. In the case of the Proprius/LIM set, none of the preceding applies. The audience remains exceptionally quiet during the performance, with only the very occasional slight cough or wheeze to remind one of their presence, and at the end there is no disruptive applause.

Finally, a word about the packaging: The folks at FIM use a hardbound approach, the two discs fitting into their own static-free sleeves, further housed in a pair of light-cardboard inner sleeves. Between the disc sleeves are twenty-eight pages of text providing extensive details about the music, the composer, the recording, and the remastering process. It's a deluxe package for a deluxe recording. Expect to pay for it.


Classical Music News of the Week, December 23, 2011

David Lang's "death speaks" for Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, Owen Pallett and Shara Worden to Be Performed Alongside His Pulitzer Prize-Winning "the little match girl passion"

From his close friendship with Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe, to his contribution with the Kronos Quartet to the "Requiem for a Dream" score, to his relationships with choreographers Shen Wei and Benjamin Millepied, composer David Lang has always found ways to unlock his artistic potential through working with like-minded artists. Most recently, Lang has written "death speaks" for Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, Owen Pallett and Shara Worden. The piece is, in part, a companion for his Pulitzer Prize-winning composition "the little match girl passion." Both works will be performed at Stanford Lively Arts on January 25, 2012 and at Carnegie Hall on January 27, 2012.

Given nearly free reign to create something to be performed with "the little match girl passion" by commissioners Carnegie Hall and Stanford Lively Arts, Lang found inspiration in Schubert lieder, particularly in the texts for such songs as "Death and the Maiden." He writes, "What makes these Schubert texts so interesting is that Death is personified.  It isn't a state of being or a place or a metaphor, but a person, a character in a drama who can tell us in our own language what to expect in the World to Come." Just as the text for "the little match girl passion" is made up of Lang's paraphrases of texts from Bach's St Matthew Passion, the libretto for "death speaks" quotes every instance in Schubert of Death speaking directly to us, taken from 32 different songs.

While mostly seen outside of the classical sphere, all of the "death speaks" performers have a background in classical music. Shara Worden was trained as an opera singer; Owen Pallett is a violinist; Bryce has a degree in classical guitar; Nico Muhly graduated from Juilliard and is the youngest composer in history to be commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. The idea to team up with this set of artists was a natural choice for Lang. As he relates, "Art songs have been moving out of classical music in the last many years - indie rock seems to be the place where Schubert's sensibilities now lie, a better match for direct story telling and intimate emotionality.  I started thinking that many of the most interesting musicians in that scene made the same journey themselves, beginning as classical musicians and drifting over to indie rock when they bumped up against the limits of where classical music was most comfortable. What would it be like to put together an ensemble of successful indie rockers and invite them back into classical music, the world from which they sprang? All of these musicians are composers, all of them can write all the music they need themselves, and it is a tremendous honor for me to ask them to spend some of their musicality on my music."

Stanford Lively Arts
January 25, 2012
8 p.m.
Ticket information:

Carnegie Hall
January 27, 2012
6 p.m.
Ticket information:

--Amanda Ameer, First Chair Promotion

Zuill Bailey to Perform Bach's Unaccompanied Cello Suites and Haydn's Cello Concerto with the National Philharmonic at Strathmore
Leading cellist Zuill Bailey will perform Bach's Unaccompanied Cello Suites on January 7, 2012 at 3:30 pm at the Music Center at Strathmore. Later that day at 8 p.m., Bailey will perform Haydn's beloved Cello Concerto with the National Philharmonic, conducted by Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski, at Strathmore. The 8 p.m. program will also include Beethoven's Grosse Fuge, Op. 133 and Mozart's Symphony No. 41 in C Major ("Jupiter").

Zuill Bailey has performed with the symphony orchestras of Dallas, Ft. Worth, Louisville, Milwaukee, Minnesota, San Francisco, Toronto, Utah and has appeared at the Kennedy Center, Alice Tully Hall and Carnegie Hall. A member of the Perlman-Schmidt-Bailey Trio, he performs regularly with duo partner, pianist Awadagin Pratt, as well as with pianist Simone Dinnerstein. Telarc released their recording of the complete Beethoven Sonatas for Piano and Cello in August 2009. Bailey's debut release on the label, "Russian Masterpieces," has received widespread popular and critical acclaim. He performs on a 1693 Matteo Gofriller cello. Bailey is the Artistic Director of El Paso Pro Musica, Artistic Director Designate of the Sitka Summer Music Festival in Alaska and Professor of Cello at the University of Texas, El Paso. For more information, visit

A free lecture will be offered at 6:45 pm on Jan. 7 in the Concert Hall at the Music Center at Strathmore. To purchase tickets to the Philharmonic's concert on January 7, 2012 at 3:30 pm and at 8 pm, both at the Music Center at Strathmore, please visit or call the Strathmore ticket office at (301) 581-5100. Tickets are $32-$79; kids 7-17 are FREE through the ALL KIDS, ALL FREE, ALL THE TIME program (sponsored by The Gazette).  ALL KIDS tickets must be purchased in person or by phone. Parking is free.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Music Institute of Chicago Launches Piano Concerto Competition for Young Artists
The Music Institute of Chicago has established a Young Artist Division of the Emilio del Rosario Piano Concerto Competition. Pre-college pianists, younger than 20, will compete for the opportunity to perform a complete concerto with Ars Viva Symphony Orchestra, a professional orchestra directed by Alan Heatherington, Sunday, March 11, 2012 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. Additional cash and scholarship prizes also will be available.

The Young Artist Division competition is open to pre-college pianists from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A preliminary round will take place Sunday, February 12 at the Evanston East campus of the Music Institute of Chicago. Three finalists will compete Sunday, February 19 at Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston. Information regarding applications and repertoire requirements is available at The application deadline is January 14, 2012.

The new Young Artist Division is part of the larger Emilio del Rosario Piano Concerto Competition, which takes place in the spring of 2012 at Harper College. Competition Director and Music Institute faculty member Brenda Huang said, "The Young Artist Division is an important addition to our competition. Emilio del Rosario dedicated his life to the art of teaching and nurturing pianists to the highest of standards. We hope to continue his legacy of excellence by providing the next generation of pianists an opportunity to perform with a professional orchestra and help them realize their musical potential."

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Denis Matsuev U.S. Recital Appearances January 2012
World Acclaimed Pianist Visits Seattle, Los Angeles and New York City to Perform Repertoire of Schubert, Beethoven, Grieg, and Stravinsky.

In January, 2012, Denis Matsuev returns to the United States as part of a massive world-wide tour reaching Europe, Asia, Israel and beyond. The pianist received critical acclaim for his sold-out Carnegie Hall recital in February of 2010 – an evening about which the New York Times noted, "he superbly offered a primal performance….atmosphere was electric." In May 2011, Matsuev enjoyed another string of successful American solo appearances in Washington DC, San Francisco and Boston.

Matsuev begins the next leg of his U.S. recital tour on January 22ndat Benaroya Hall in Seattle.  From there he goes on to Los Angeles to appear at UCLA's Royce Hall on January 24thand finishes the tour at New York City's Carnegie Hall on January 27th. For these engagements, Matsuev's program will include works by Schubert, Beethoven, Grieg and Stravinsky (complete program below).

About Denis Matsuev:
Known for his breathtaking virtuosity and clear artistic identity, prize-winning Russian pianist Denis Matsuev is one of the most sought after pianists on the international concert stage. Since his triumphant victory at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1998, Matsuev has appeared in hundreds of recitals at the most prestigious and legendary concert halls throughout the world including recent performances with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Berliner Philharmoniker with Valery Gergiev, The London Symphony Orchestra with Semyon Bychkov and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Leonard Slatkin.  Mr. Matsuev has continually reengaged with such legendary orchestras as Chicago Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia, Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, appearing with the most prominent conductors on the stage today including Lorin Maazel, Vladimir Spivakov, Yuri Temirkanov, and  Mariss Jansons.

The U.S. tour of Denis Matsuev is presented by Maestro Artist Management (MAM), a full-service production, touring and promotion company that focuses on presenting international artists in a variety of genres, from classical music and dance to theatre and world music, to audiences in the U.S. For more information about this tour and upcoming performances, visit

Denis Matsuev January 2012 Recital Tour:
January 22   Seattle, WA Benaroya Hall
January 24   Los Angeles, CA  Royce Hall
January 27   New York, NY Carnegie Hall (Stern Auditorium)

Recital Program:
Schubert: Piano Sonata No. 14 in A Minor, Op. 143
Beethoven: Sonata in F Minor No. 23, op. 57 ('Appassionata')
Grieg: Piano Sonata in E Minor, Op. 7
Stravinsky: Three movements from the ballet Petrushka (arranged for piano)

--Rebecca Davis Public Relations

Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique (CD review)

Also, Le Corsaire overture; Trojan March; Royal Hunt and Storm. Sir Thomas Beecham, French National Radio Broadcasting Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI 50999 9 18709 2 6.

It's always pleasant when something good gets better. So it pleases me when a company like EMI re-releases a disc as superior as Sir Thomas Beecham's 1959 recording of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique at a lower price than ever.

The fact is, I am sometimes hesitant to recommend anything as the absolute best of its kind, largely because few things are, indeed, the absolute best of anything; yet Beecham's interpretation of Berlioz is without a doubt the best I've ever heard. It is in every sense the absolute finest reading the Symphonie fantastique has ever had and is one of my Desert Island Favorite recordings.

Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) wrote the Symphonie fantastique in 1830, and it quickly became one of the most influential pieces of music of all time. Combining the programmatic elements of predecessors like Vivaldi in his Four Seasons and Beethoven in his Pastoral Symphony and utilizing an enormous orchestral arrangement for well over a hundred players (Berlioz employed about 130 musicians for the première), the result was extraordinary for its period. I suspect if the composer had had a wind machine, electronic instruments, and a light show available to him, he would have used them, too. Yet the music remains extraordinary for our own times as well, even though people have repeated and imitated it at length.

In the work's five movements, the young Berlioz (at the time in his mid twenties) wrote autobiographically of the hopeless love of a young man for a woman, the young man falling into a drug-induced dream, which the composer describes in his music. The woman reappears throughout the Symphonie in the form of an idée fixe, a "fixed idea" the young man cannot shake.

The title of the first movement, "Reveries - Passions," is self-explanatory, and Beecham treats the music as wispy snippets of passion. "The Ball" comes next, a waltz that Beecham makes both lilting and swaggering, too. In the "Scene in the Fields" the young dreamer hears a pastoral song, heightening his feeling for the woman, only to let his paranoia about her possible infidelity consume him and lower his spirits. Even in this usually tepid segment, Beecham provides a loving and uplifting quality in a leisurely yet dynamic presentation.

It's the fourth and fifth movements, however, that warm the hearts of audiophiles everywhere. They are tours de force of imagination and orchestral exuberance. The hero envisions in the fourth movement that the court has convicted him of murdering his loved one, and his jailors are leading him to the scaffold for hanging. It is grim satire to be sure, and it is best if the music is performed a little ominously, but not jauntily, for Berlioz's effect to work. Here, Beecham is at his most colorful and his most mischievous, making the music sinister and menacing while still being fun. This "March" is no jaunty walk but a genuinely grim, if sardonic, trudge to the execution block.

In the finale, the "Witches' Sabbath," the fates seem to have committed the young lover to some kind of purgatory or hell for his crime of passion, where he sees his beloved among the witches. This is where most conductors, including Beecham, pull out all the stops. Beecham's witches are actually quite scary in these concluding revels.

Other conductors (Colin Davis, especially) may capture the spirit of these large-scale orchestral poems pretty well, too, but no other conductor captures the essence quite so thrillingly, so longingly, so individualistically, so magically as Beecham. The conductor provides each of the five movements its special flavor that flawlessly expresses its themes and content.

The French National Radio Broadcasting Orchestra sparkles in the Symphonie, with excellent imaging properties and only the strings a tad thin and bright. Beecham's own Royal Philharmonic, however, in recordings made a year or two earlier actually sounds somewhat warmer, richer, and fuller in the accompanying Berlioz works, "Le Corsaire," the "Trojan March," and the "Royal Hunt and Storm."  The choral parts in the "Royal Hunt" are a bit forward, but otherwise they sound splendid. They make top-notch companions to the Symphonie and are the equals if not betters of any rival performances. EMI remastered these 1957-1959 recordings in 2003, taming some of the earlier CD's hard high end. Reissued in 2011 at a budget price, the album is irresistible.


Debussy: La Mer (CD review)

Also, La Boite a joujoux; Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune; Three Preludes. Sir Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI 7243 5 58045-2.

You'd think by the number of recordings Sir Simon Rattle makes for EMI that he was the only artist they had under contract. I exaggerate, but if you had to have only one conductor right now, you could do worse than Rattle. In the present disc, the maestro and his imposing Berlin Philharmonic give us an album of Debussy music--a couple of warhorses and a couple of less well-known items.

The warhorses are La Mer and Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune. Practically every conductor on the planet has recorded them at one time or another, so there's plenty of competition. In both works, Rattle opts for a light, radiant, dreamy, ethereal, almost surreal impressionist effect, with the EMI audio engineers contributing with a relatively soft, slightly distant, although extremely dynamic live sound. This delicate, airy approach is at the expense of as much excitement as some of Rattle's rivals conjure up in the music, yet it works reasonably well in the Prelude, though leaving La Mer somewhat wanting for passion. A quick comparison of Rattle's La Mer to those of Jean Martinon (EMI), Leopold Stokowski (Decca), Andre Previn (EMI), Bernard Haitink (Philips), Herbert von Karajan (DG), Fritz Reiner (RCA), and Geoffrey Simon (Cala) reveals greater degrees of color and animation from those gentlemen, plus more vibrant recordings. Not that there is anything wrong with Rattle's performances or the recording, incidentally; they are quite beautiful in their way, just not as lively or as vivid as some others.

The highlight of the Rattle disc, however, is La Boite a joujoux, a series of tone poems based on children's stories that Debussy left unfinished at his death in 1918 and completed by a friend, Andre Caplet. They are delightful, Rattle's interpretations of them are charming, and the recording at this point seems a tad more forward and animated. The disc concludes with three of Debussy's piano Preludes orchestrated by Colin Matthews, which are also quite appealing.

So, it's hard to fault Rattle on any specific count. He interprets the works as voluptuously as any Debussy fan could want, and he builds suitably atmospheric, emotional moods in each piece. It's just that it's equally hard to pick absolute winners in music so well covered by current recordings.

One final note: Because of the wide dynamic range on the disc, listeners may find themselves tempted to increase the gain, like during the opening moments of Prelude a l'apree-midi d'un faune, a decision the listener may soon regret, as the volume will quickly overpower the music. Although a wide dynamic range is perhaps an unfortunate by-product of getting too much high fidelity in today's compact discs, it's a concern with which one can easily live.


Bach: Keyboard Concertos (CD review)

Concertos for Keyboard and Orchestra, BWV 974, 1052, 1054, 1056, 1058, 1065. Alexandre Tharaud, piano; Bernard Labadie, Les Violon du Roy. Virgin Classics 50999 070913 2 2.

Whenever I hear the keyboard music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) played on a piano rather than a harpsichord, I tend to forget it's Bach. I'm not sure if this is good or bad; it's just not Bach to me. However, in this case, it works well enough. French pianist Alexandre Tharaud uses a modern piano for these performances, accompanied by Les Violon du Roy playing on modern instruments with Baroque bows. The result is a modern interpretation of eighteenth-century works using near period-performance practices, making it a hybrid concoction that nevertheless delivers an enjoyable listening experience.

Les Violon du Roy consist of about fourteen performers on violins, violas, cellos, and double bass. They provide excellent support for Tharaud's smooth, suave, polished, yet lively readings. His playing is often spectacularly virtuosic as he approaches the fast outer movements nimbly and vigorously, all the while producing suitably serene, relaxed central slow movements. Indeed, because the modern piano he plays sounds so rich and sonorous, these Adagios and such appear quite Romantic rather than Baroque. So, as I say, we get a little of everything in these Bach pieces, which no doubt would have delighted Bach no end.

The album's core works are the Concertos for Keyboard and Orchestra BWV 1052, 1054, 1056, and 1058, written between 1720 and 1730. Although Bach intended them for harpsichord, he transcribed them from previous violin concertos. Reworking his older material into new pieces was nothing new for Bach or for most Baroque composers who knew a good thing when they heard it, even if it was their own. So, what we have here are compositions that started life as violin concertos, which Bach then turned into harpsichord concertos, and which Tharaud here plays on the piano. "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever," wrote Mr. Keats. He might have had Bach in mind.

Incidentally, BWV 1054 may remind you of Bach's Third Brandenburg Concerto, the composer again knowing a good thing when he heard it; and the Adagio of BWV 1056 is as sweet and delicate as anything Bach ever wrote. Just saying.

In addition to the four keyboard concertos, Tharaud includes the Adagio to the Concerto in D minor, BWV 974, which Bach fashioned after an oboe concerto by Alessandro Marcello. It's lovely and haunting and makes a splendid centerpiece for the program. Then Tharaud concludes the album with the Concerto for four Keyboards and Orchestra in A minor, BWV 1065, which Bach transcribed for harpsichord from a concerto for four violins by Vivaldi. Here, through the magic of multitrack recording, Tharaud plays all four parts himself, the piano positioned on different areas of the stage to simulate their being played simultaneously with the band. Anyway, it makes for a fascinating piece of music, and Tharaud pulls it off effectively enough, the piano parts thoroughly and seamlessly integrated into the ensemble.

Virgin recorded the album at Salle Raoul-Jobin, Palais Moncalm, Quebec, Canada in October of 2010. For most of the pieces, Tharaud asked that the piano be placed to the rear of the other players so that it would appear as a part of the group rather than a standout solo instrument in the front of the ensemble as we normally hear it. Not only does this offer an attractive musical configuration, it seems remarkably humble and unpretentious of Mr. Tharaud to suggest such an arrangement. Most soloists would want to be front and center. Whatever, the piano displays a warm, mellow, resonant sound, with the violins, violas, and cellos decidedly brighter, as they should be. The setting is lightly, pleasantly reverberant, giving the music a welcome ambient glow. It's all very clean and clear in a highly listenable manner.


Classical Music News of the Week, December 18, 2011

Le Casse-noix Moderne - The Modern Nutcracker

The Timeless Holiday Classic Re-Envisioned with Modern Music and Dance.
Thursday, December 29 at 7:00 p.m., one night only: Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, New York City.

Bidding adieu to 2011 with sparkle, splendour and swing, Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents "Le Casse-noix Moderne - The Modern Nutcracker" on Thursday, December 29 at 7:00 p.m. at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College (899 Tenth Avenue). This delectable holiday treat from Alabama's Etowah Youth Orchestras and Downtown Dance Conservatory will be seen in its New York City debut for one night only.

Composer and arranger Mike Gagliardo and choreographer Linze Rickles McRae's "Casse-noix Moderne" is a version of the famous holiday classic like no other -- a retrospective of modern music and dance, encompassing every form of popular music from the 1920's to the present. Featuring selected music from Tchaikovsky's original, Gagliardo and McRae's new take on the show transforms each selection into a different style: "Trepak" becomes a swinging big band number, while the "Sugar Plum Fairy" becomes a soulful ballad; "Mirlitons" turns into a western swing number, while the Overture is straight-ahead rock and roll. "Le Casse-noix Moderne" enthrals with its original, modern interpretations, while maintaining all of the magic and familiarity of the timeless holiday classic.

Founded in 1990, the Etowah Youth Orchestras (EYO) provides students from Northeast Alabama with major musical and educational experiences in the US and beyond. Under Music Director and Conductor Michael R. Gagliardo, EYO has presented concerts at Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln and Kennedy Centers, Stratford-Upon-Avon (UK), and in Costa Rica, and has been honoured with eleven ASCAP Youth Orchestra Awards. Over 250 dedicated students train at The Downtown Dance Conservatory, based in Gadsden, Alabama, under the direction of Artistic Director Linze Rickles McRae.

Distinguished Concerts International New York, now in its fourth season, was founded by Iris Derke (General Director) and Jonathan Griffith (Artistic Director and Principal Conductor). With an unwavering commitment to bring forth unforgettable audience experiences, DCINY is driven by passion and innovative vision.

Tickets ($50) at or or by calling 1.800.838.3006.

--Shira Gilbert PR

Music Institute of Chicago Concert Raises Funds and Awareness About Food Insecurity
The Music Institute of Chicago donated funds to two Evanston charities today using proceeds earned from a November 13 benefit concert at Nichols Concert Hall featuring its historic E.M. Skinner Organ.

The Music Institute contributed $400 each to Connections for the Homeless, an organization dedicated to preventing people from losing their homes, re-housing those who have, and helping each person reach the greatest possible level of self-sufficiency, and Hillside Food Pantry, part of the Greater Chicago Food Depository network, which provides food for more than 2,000 people each week.

The November 13 benefit concert, intended to raise awareness about the issue of food insecurity, highlighted three elite organists from Chicago area houses of worship: Robert Horton, director of music at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Evanston, performed an arrangement of Franz Schubert's Fantasia in F Minor, D. 940. John Sherer, organist and director of music at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, played works by Edward Elgar, Gerre Hancock, and Henri Mulet. Eric Budzynski, organist and music associate of Alice Millar Chapel at Northwestern University in Evanston, concluded the program with Felix Mendelssohn's Sonata in F Minor, Op. 65.

Music Institute of Chicago President and CEO Mark George said, "As a community music school, we have an obligation to bring attention to important issues and there is no more pressing issue than hunger." Sherer described playing the E.M. Skinner at Nichols Concert Hall as, "like driving a vintage 1930s Rolls Royce, simply beautiful." George added, "It is a wonderful thing to play great music on a great instrument for a great cause."

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Jean-Yves Thibaudet Featured as Soloist for the "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" Score
New York Philharmonic New Year's Eve Concert
LA Philharmonic January Performances
Jean-Yves Thibaudet is one of the most poetic and emotionally aware pianists alive today. His ability to craft intensely passionate experiences on the piano has led him to become not only a respected performer, but also an in-demand soloist for film scores. Thibaudet was featured on the Oscar- and Golden Globe-award winning scores of Universal Pictures' Atonement and the Oscar-nominated Pride and Prejudice. This winter, Thibaudet can be heard on the score of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which opens on December 25, 2011 in New York and Los Angeles, and in January 2012 nationwide. Director Stephen Daldry's previous work includes The Hours, The Reader, and Billy Elliot. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was filmed and the score was recorded in New York City.

As part of the recording sessions, Thibaudet spent four days working closely with Daldry, composer Alexandre Desplat, and the production crew. "I loved working with Alexandre Desplat," Thibaudet says. "He's so much in control of everything: he knows exactly what he wants, which is both helpful and inspiring." Thibaudet's time in the studio involved painstakingly watching scenes from the movie in order to produce just the right musical atmosphere. The emotions of the music and images had to be in sync in order to create a perfect artistic unity.

Based on the critically-acclaimed novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, and introduces young actor Thomas Horn. It tells the story of nine-year-old Oskar Schell, a precocious and sensitive Manhattanite. After Oskar's father dies in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, Oskar set outs to find the meaning of a key he discovers in his father's closet. His adventures will take him throughout the five boroughs as he meets a kaleidoscope of characters and searches for meaning in a healing city. Thibaudet describes the score: "You have to create an entire mood, feeling and atmosphere, with your music. You need to tell a story with your notes at the the piano. It's a huge challenge, but I love doing it. The score has a great atmosphere.  The piano is a little bit the voice of Oskar, the boy, so it changes with his moods. It's reflective and nostalgic - not sad, but moody. The music kind of hangs there, very quietly. I find it timeless and quite magical."

On December 31, 2011, Jean-Yves Thibaudet will perform with the New York Philharmonic for its PBS-televised New Year's Eve Gala. He will play the Gershwin Concerto in F and Rhapsody in Blue, works he recorded on his most recent album, "Gershwin," for Decca. Both Concerto in F (arr. Ferde Grofé, 1928, for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra) and Rhapsody in Blue (arr. Ferde Grofé, 1924, for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra) are presented on this live recording with the Baltimore Symphony in their "jazz band" orchestrations, as opposed to the more familiar versions performed by traditional orchestras. "People ask if the piece is jazz, classical or both," writes Thibaudet of Rhapsody in Blue, "but the underlying jazz element really belongs to this great work, and this Grofé orchestration gives the Gershwin piece the flavor that it should have." Gershwin's own orchestration of Variations on 'I Got Rhythm' completes the disc.

On January 5-8, 2012, Thibaudet returns to the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall. With Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducting, the orchestra will play Dvorak's Hussite Overture and Symphony No. 3, "Organ" by Saint-Saens. Thibaudet will join for Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2. Thibaudet began this season with a series of striking summer appearances at Tanglewood in which he played the complete piano works of Ravel in a week. He then embarked on a European tour with Charles Dutoit and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Continuing his love of exploring individual composers, Thibaudet performed a program of Liszt lieder and Brahms lieder with mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager in Europe, Boston and New York. Thibaudet also tours Europe with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the U.S. with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, playing Saint-Saëns. After a performance with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on February 11, 2012, Thibaudet will conclude his season with Debussy recitals in Europe. These Debussy evenings celebrate the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth.

--Amanda Ameer, First Chair Promotion

Metropolis Ensemble's Inaugural Resident Artists Series Concert
Metropolis Ensemble is thrilled to announce the inaugural concert of its new Resident Artists Series - concerts, musical events, and social gatherings that feature the Ensemble's leading artists as solo instrumentalists in creative collaborations with composers from diverse genres and styles.

Metropolis Ensemble's virtuoso harpist Bridget Kibbey kicks-off this series with a multi-media concert presentation entitled Music Box at Le Poisson Rouge January 11 & 15, 2012 at 7:30pm. Music Box features six world premiere and newly commissioned works for solo harp by composers from around the world who now call the United States home.

Moved by both their individual stories and their music, Kibbey commissioned works whose inspiration is based in folk idioms from each composer's country of origin as well as from their own personal narratives.

The contributing composers are
    Kati Agocs, Canada (world premiere)
    Kinan Azmeh, Syria (world premiere)
    David Bruce, representing Venezuela
    Susie Ibarra, representing the Philippines (world premiere)
    Bridget Kibbey, representing Ireland
    Paquito d'Rivera, Cuba (world premiere)
    Ricardo Romaniero, Brazil (world premiere)
    Du Yun, China (world premiere)

The harp is an instrument emblematic of storytelling and folklore. Music Box allows the harp to carry this tradition forward into the 21st century, giving expression to the diverse voices that make up contemporary American culture.

Possessing a special connection with her instrument that captivates audiences across the United States and abroad, harpist Bridget Kibbey's passionate performances display the unique abilities of this fantastic instrument, with genre-bending performances ranging from baroque to world music, to collaboration with singer/songwriters, to commissioning new works from today's composers.  An Avery Fisher Career Grant recipient, a winner of Concert Artist Guild's 2007 International Competition and Astral Artist Auditions, Ms. Kibbey's performances have been broadcast on NPR'sPerformance Today, on New York's WQXR, WNYC's Soundcheck, and A&E's Breakfast with the Arts. Bridget's debut album, Love is Come Again,was named one of 2007's Top Ten Releases by Time out New York. She may also be heard on Deutsche Grammaphon with Dawn Upshaw on Berio's Folk Songs and Osvaldo Golijov's Ayre. As hailed by the New York Times, harpist Bridget Kibbey "…made it seem as though her instrument had been waiting all its life to explode with the gorgeous colors and energetic figures she was getting from it."

Ms. Kibbey is a graduate of the Juilliard School, where she studied with Nancy Allen. She is on the harp faculties of Bard Conservatory, New York University, and the Juilliard Pre-College Program.  Ms. Kibbey has collaborated with an array of artists in repertoire new and established, including Ian Bostridge, David Krakauer, Jaime Laredo, Edgar Meyer, Mayumi Miyata, Cristina Pato, Sharon Robinson, David Schifrin, and the Calder and Jupiter Quartets. She is frequently featured with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and is the founding harpist of the International Contemporary Ensemble and Metropolis Ensemble.

Metropolis Ensemble  is a professional chamber orchestra and ensemble dedicated to making classical music in its most contemporary forms.  Led by Grammy-nominated conductor Andrew Cyr, Metropolis Ensemble gathers today's most outstanding emerging composers and young artists to produce unique, innovative concert experiences.  Founded in 2006, Metropolis has commissioned over 70 works of music from a dynamic mix of composers and has been presented by The Wordless Music Series, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute, (Le) Poisson Rouge, and Celebrate Brooklyn.  Metropolis Ensemble has quickly established a reputation of presenting "new music played with the same kind of panache and bravura we usually experience only in performances of standard repertoire" (Esa-Pekka Salonen).

--Nate Bachhuber, PR Director, Metropolis Ensemble

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra 75th Anniversary Festival Concerts, December 17-27, to be Streamed Live
The American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is proud to announce the live streaming of its 75th anniversary celebration. From December 17 to 31, the Orchestra is presenting their Festival of Celebration Concerts with a remarkable lineup of artists with whom it has a close relationship. Selected concerts, as listed below, are to be streamed live and will be available for 10 days after each performance.

The concerts will take place at Hangar 11 in the Tel Aviv port--the Orchestra's home in its early days--and will be streamed at the AFIPO's website,, at, and on the Orchestra's official Facebook page,

December 17, 1:30 pm EST
Valery Gergiev, conductor
Yefim Bronfman, pianist
Gil Shaham, violinist
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.3
Bruch: Violin Concerto
Beethoven: Symphony  No. 3

December 22, 1:30 pm EST
Christoph von Dohnanyi, conductor
Yefim Bronfman, pianist
Beethoven: Symphony No. 6
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2

December 24, 1:30 pm EST
Zubin Mehta, conductor
Vadim Repin, violinist
Julian Rachlin, violist
Beethoven: Symphony No. 8
Waxman: Carmen Fantasy
Saint Saens: Rondo Capriccioso

December 26, 12:30 pm EST
Zubin Mehta, conductor
Pinchas Zukerman, violinist
Daniil Trifonov, pianist
Pigovat: New Israeli piece
Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3

December 27, 1:30 pm EST
Gianandrea Noseda, conductor
Haochen Zhang, pianist
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7

--Patrick Gullo, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 (CD review)

Also, Rococo Variations. Tzimon Barto, piano; Dimitri Maslennikov, cello; Christoph Eschenbach, German Symphony Orchestra, Berlin. Capriccio C5065.

Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-93) never seemed quite satisfied with a good many of his works, and that included his popular Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23. He completed it in 1874-75, revised it in 1879, and then revised it yet again in 1888. It may have been that the composer was simply thin-skinned and could not bear the criticism that came before and after the concerto's première, or maybe he didn't care for the way the first performers played them. In any case, on this disc pianist Tzimon Barto plays the Concerto accompanied by Christoph Eschenbach and the German Symphony Orchestra, Berlin.

The Concerto's opening theme, one of the most famous in all of music, is towering, monumental in nature, often played in a heroic style befitting its scope. Here, Barto approaches it more ruggedly than many other pianists of note. OK, this may be unfair, as the other pianists I have listened to over the past forty or fifty years have been towering figures themselves and attacked the score with a more vigorous elegance than Barto. Compare Cliburn (RCA), Argerich (DG or Philips), Giles (RCA), or Wild (Chesky), and you'll see what I mean. Barto prefers to emphasize exaggerated dynamic contrasts, pregnant pauses, and considerable variants of tempo. Although later in the movement he proceeds at a more conventional pace, he takes a good two to three minutes longer to get through the Allegro than almost anybody else. I suppose you could say that Barto is brawnier in his reading than most others; but, really, it's one thing to bring a noble robustness to a score and another thing to be overindulgent, even in so excessive a score as this one is. Thus, listeners not used to Barto's burly manner may find it a distraction in this interpretation, even an affectation; Barto's fans, however, will undoubtedly love it.

Anyway, I found Barto more successful in the slow second movement, where he doesn't appear to feel so compelled to be lofty at the expense of intensity. Still, even here he applies a good deal of dramatic license to the music so that we sometimes pay more attention to the player than to what he's playing.

In the finale, Barto is lyrical and flowing, with the hints of the opening motif nicely tying the work together. It's a showy piece of music, and Barto is certainly a showman. His performance will either wow an audience, or them shaking their heads.

Tchaikovsky premiered his Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 33, in 1877; however, his theme isn't really an eighteenth-century Rococo type but one Tchaikovsky devised himself in the Rococo style. The music, a theme and seven variations, has a classical-period feel to it, at the same time retaining a thoroughly Romantic mood. While cellist Dimitri Maslennikov handles it nicely, making it appropriately sweet and light, again we get a somewhat heightened rubato, the tempos and accents varying considerably within each section. This makes me wonder if the decision to do so wasn't as much the conductor's as that of the two different soloists in the album's two works.

Capriccio made the recording in Berlin in 2010, the sound as big as the performances. In the concerto the piano is very close, the orchestra spread out behind it in a dazzling accompaniment meant undoubtedly to knock the listener's socks off with its wide stereo spread and huge impact. The piano is, indeed, strong, with excellent clarity and punch; and the orchestral sonics showcase a well-detailed, if somewhat heavy midrange, with a ton of bass energy. If anything, there may be too much upper bass energy, as it tends slightly to veil the lower mids. The cello piece is more transparent, the cello not quite so out in front. In short, this is a kind of superspectacular, blockbuster sound, albeit without too much emphasis on multi-miking.


Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13, "Babi Yar" (CD review)

Mariss Jansons, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus; Sergei Aleksashkin, soloist. EMI 7243 5 57902-2.

Basing his 1962 Symphony No. 13 in B-flat minor"Babi Yar" on a series of poems published by Yevgeny Yevtushenko the year before, Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) designed the five movements of the work mainly to deplore Russia's anti-Semitism. He recalls everything from the massacre of several tens of thousands of minorities in Bielostok in 1905 to the killing of untold numbers of Jews, Russians, and Ukrainians by Nazis and Russian collaborators in the valley of Babi Yar during the Second World War (considered the largest single massacre in the history of the Holocaust).

In addition to the subject of the Jewish issue in the USSR, the poems also reflect the question of how Russia was dealing in 1962 with past crimes against all of its own people. Shostakovich presents these tragedies to the listener in huge, almost overwhelmingly somber tones, and any conductor's approach to them must be straightforward and dead serious. The words and sound are enough to convey the spirit and intent of the piece.

Maestro Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus communicate well the sorrow and anguish of the work, as does the soloist, Sergei Aleksashkin. Just don't expect a conventional symphony if you haven't heard it before. Three of the work's five movements are Adagios, meaning that most of the music is slow and in this case appropriately gloomy, with only a hint of light in the final movement. Nor does the work hold up as a conventional symphony in structure, as the composer based each movement on a separate poem, supported by soloist and chorus. So the work is really a series of choral-vocal-orchestral tone poems closely enough connected for one to call it a symphony. But call it what you may, it is undeniably a powerful piece of music and a powerful political statement.

EMI engineers provide the work with a suitably dark yet detailed sonic atmosphere that appears a little narrow to my ears and a tad thick and soft. Other than that, the soloist sounds quite natural, and the mid bass is especially dynamic. The only "however" in the affair is that EMI also offer an alternative recording of the work in a mid-priced two-pack along with the Tenth Symphony, made about twenty years earlier by Andre Previn and the LSO in a slightly wider, more open, and more clearly defined acoustic. To my mind, the Previn is the better bargain, but I cannot say I disapprove of this Jansons entry, either.


Guitar Passions (CD review)

Sharon Isbin, guitar, and friends. Sony Classical 88697 84219 2.

American guitarist Sharon Isbin has obviously been playing classical guitar a lot longer than I thought. Maybe she just looks younger than she is. In any case, Ms. Isbin was a student of such distinguished mentors as Alirio Díaz, Oscar Ghiglia, Aldo Minella, Andrés Segovia, and Rosalyn Tureck; she received her Master of Music degree from the Yale School of Music; she has been a successful recording artist since the 1980's; she has appeared with a multitude of orchestras around the world; she has received numerous awards; and she founded the Guitar Department at the Juilliard School. Phew! No wonder she makes good albums.

In the case of 2011's Guitar Passions with Sharon Isbin & Friends, the "friends" are Steve Vai, guitar; Stanley Jordon, guitar; Nancy Wilson, guitar and vocals; Steve Morse, guitar; Romero Lumambo, guitar; Paul Winter, soprano saxophone; Gaudencio Thiago de Mello, organic percussion; and Rosa Passos, vocals. The friends accompany Ms. Isbin in varied numbers on select pieces.

Some of the disc's twelve tracks will be familiar to any fan of the guitar--works by Rodrigo, Albeniz, etc.--while others may be less well known, with several of them getting world-première recordings. On all but three of the selections Ms. Isbin's friends join her in duets, trios, and more, making all of the music seem a little different. It's light, enjoyable fare.

Ms. Isbin begins with a "joyous dance" called "Porro" by Gentil Montana. In this version for two guitars, Isbin plays both parts. Oddly, the music fades off at the end as though done electronically. Then, American jazz-fusion guitarist Stanley Jordan joins Isbin for a première recording of Quique Sinesi's "Sonidos de aquel dia," a lively, up-tempo number. Next, American guitarist and composer Steve Morse of the Dixie Dregs and Brazilian jazz guitar player Romero Lubambo accompany Isbin in the Adagio to Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, done very gently, elegantly, and persuasively.

After those pieces, Ms. Isbin takes it alone through Isaac Albeniz's "Asturias," very colorful, very emotional, very tuneful. Between the Rodrigo and Albeniz works, we get some of the high points of all twentieth-century guitar music.

And so it goes, with a world-première recording of "Dreamboat Annie," the vocals by Heart's Nancy Wilson, and then a moving solo from Isbin by Ariel Ramirez called "Alfonsina y el mar." Moving on, we find more première recordings: Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Chovendo non rosiera" from Isbin and Lubambo; and Alfredo Vianna's "Carinhoso" from Isbin and most of the friends mentioned above.

The album draws near the end with the rain-forest evocations of Gaudencio Thiago de Mello's "O Presidente," which de Mello dedicated to Ms. Isbin on this première recording with de Mello on organic percussion. And things conclude with two movements from Agustin Barrios Mangore's "La Catedral," done by Isbin alone.

If I have any concern about the disc, it's minor; namely, that there is less than an hour of music involved. The program is over before you know it, making you wish for more.

Recorded by Sony in 2010 and 2011 at Kaufman Studios, New York City, and Threshold Sound, Santa Monica, California, the sonics are very close-up in the manner of a typical pop album. This produces a rich, warm, lush, and vibrant response, one that puts the listener pretty much at the feet of the performers. Had I been one of the audio engineers, I would have opted for a bit more space to simulate a more-realistic concert-like setting, but that was not what the engineers were after. They apparently wanted a big, clearly etched, strongly defined sound, and they got it. I doubt that it will disappoint anyone.


Hovhaness: American Mystic (CD review)

Music of Alan Hovhaness: Centennial Collection. Gerard Schwarz, Seattle Symphony Orchestra; Keith Brion, Ohio State University Concert Band; Shanghai Quartet. Delos DE 3421.

If Alan Hovhaness had been born in the nineteenth century, people would have called him a Romantic (or a Romanticist). But he was born and lived in the twentieth century (1911-2000), surrounded by "modern" composers experimenting with impressionism, expressionism, twelve-tone techniques, microtones, aleatoric music, indeterminacy, stochastic music, intuitive music, neoclassicism, free improvisation, process music, atonal ideas, and the like. Hovhaness's more "spiritual" music, dwelling as it did on harmonies and melodies and moods of wonder, reflection, and meditation, must have seemed downright old-fashioned. Thus, his label as a "mystic."

Delos recorded quite a lot of Hovhaness's music in 80's and 90's, a dozen or more albums, and on the present disc they have collected together some of the composer's most-representative pieces, culled from their back catalogue and featuring several outstanding ensembles. The CD makes a good introduction to Hovhaness's vast output (the man wrote some sixty-seven symphonies alone) and for those listeners not familiar with the composer, it may whet the appetite for more intensive collecting of his material.

The relatively lengthy and diverse program begins with the little Prayer of St. Gregory, Op. 62b, with Gerard Schwarz leading the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Charles Butler on trumpet. Delos recorded it beautifully--it sounds rich, resonant, and detailed--and the performance is heartfelt and serene.

Next is The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam, Op. 308, again with Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony, featuring Michael York as the narrator and Diane Schmidt on accordion. It is atmospheric, romantic, and effective.

Following those items are 4 Bagatelles, Op. 30, done by the Shanghai Quartet. The group seems somewhat big-sounding for the occasion, but they play beautifully.

Then it's on to the centerpiece of the collection, the Symphony No. 2 "Mysterious Mountain," Op. 132. Although Hovhaness had been composing professionally for twenty-odd years before Leopold Stokowski premiered the Second Symphony in 1955, it was the work that made the composer famous, and it remains today probably his most well-known piece of music. Under Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony, it is certainly evocative and mystical in tone, although I have a slight preference for the much-older performance by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony (RCA). Oddly, too, the Seattle midrange sonics are a tad steely, yet without in any way sounding edgy and having a fine, extended high end.

The Shanghai Quartet return for the String Quartet No. 2, Op. 147, "Gamelan in Sosi Style" and "Spirit Murmur," two movements that are direct and sorrowful, with obvious Asian and South Pacific influences.

The most-surprising music on the program is The Flowering Peach, Op. 125, performed by the Ohio State University Concert Band under director Keith Brion. It sounds nothing like band music but is chamber-like in its approach, using saxophone, clarinet, harp, and various percussion instruments. Also surprising, it is incidental music Hovhaness wrote in 1954 for a Broadway play by Clifford Odets, and it includes a whole passel of different cultural idioms. As with most of the recordings on the album, it sounds wonderful in its laid-back, leisurely style.

The program concludes with a personal favorite of mine, And God Created Great Whales, Op. 229, again with Schwarz and his Seattle Orchestra. It is probably the most environmentally correct music ever written, incorporating as it does the actual songs of whales within the score. Hovhaness composed it in 1970, and I remember first hearing it during a presentation on whales at a local natural museum show. A delightfully soft, relaxed recording helps make the piece a fascinating and totaling engrossing work.

I might add that Delos provide over seventy-five minutes of selections on the disc, a generous offering that only just touches the surface of the composer's prodigious output.


Classical Music News of the Week, December 11, 2011

Listen Magazine Founding Editor in Chief Ben Finane to Serve Full-time as Editor in Chief and Associate Publisher

NEW YORK, NY - Nov. 21, 2011: Ben Finane, founding Editor in Chief of the quarterly print magazine Listen: Life with Classical Music, is leaving his post as Managing Editor of Playbill magazine's classic-arts division to serve full-time as Listen's Editor in Chief and Associate Publisher.

"In 2009, we launched Listen to fill a significant void in the North American market and offer a publication that could engage those with an interest in classical music and turn that interest into a passion," says publisher Eric Feidner. "After four years, Ben remains the embodiment of that passion and we are very happy to have him as a full-time driving force to engage an even wider audience."

Finane has been an intricate part of developing the voice of Listen. The magazine was honored by the Library Journal as one of the best new magazines of 2009. Hailed as "expertly edited" and "tastefully designed," Listen has recently expanded its page count from 80 to 96.

"Listen's continued success," says Finane, "reflects the fervor of America's classical music community. Just as Mark Twain took a bold American stance on Europe in his travelogue The Innocents Abroad, Listen stands as the American voice of a European tradition."

Finane is an amateur pianist and baritone and holds a degree in music and comparative literature from Haverford College. He is the author of Handel's Messiah and His English Oratorios (Continuum), writes program notes for Carnegie Hall, liner notes for various classical labels, and has written on the arts for the Newark Star-Ledger, San Francisco Chronicle, Time Out New York, Stereophile, The New Criterion, Strings, The Strad, and other publications.

The Winter 2011 issue of Listen (Vol. 3, No. 4), available December 5 at newsstands, features a cover interview with the great storyteller Yo-Yo Ma; a series of rare and revealing composer portraits offering a lens back in time; epiphany and revelation at the Salzburg and Lucerne festivals; and the answer to the question: "Does music make you smarter?"

--Amanda Sweet, Bucklesweet Media

Music Institute of Chicago Presents Cantare Chamber Players
Music Institute Faculty Collaborate January 22 at Nichols Concert Hall

Celebrating the multiple talents of the accomplished musicians on its faculty, the Music Institute of Chicago presents a performance by the Cantare Chamber Players Sunday, January 22 at 3 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.

Music Institute members Sang Mee Lee, violin; Clark Carruth, viola; Sophie Webber, cello; John Tuck, bass; and Elaine Felder, piano perform Schubert's Trout Quintet and Brahms' Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 60.

About the Music Institute of Chicago:
The Music Institute of Chicago believes that music has the power to sustain and nourish the human spirit; therefore, our mission is to provide the foundation for lifelong engagement with music. As one of the three largest and most respected community music schools in the nation, the Music Institute offers musical excellence built on the strength of our distinguished faculty, commitment to quality, and breadth of programs and services. Founded in 1931 and one of the oldest community music schools in Illinois, the Music Institute is a member of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts and accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music. Each year, our world-class music teachers and arts therapists provide the highest quality arts education to more than 5,000 students of all ability levels, from birth to 101 years of age at campuses in Evanston, Highland Park, Lake Forest, Lincolnshire, Winnetka, and Downers Grove. The Music Institute also offers lessons and programs at the Steinway of Chicago store in Northbrook and early childhood and community engagement programs throughout the Chicago area and the North Shore. Nichols Concert Hall, our education and performance center located in downtown Evanston, reaches approximately 14,000 people each year. Our community engagement and partnership programs reach an additional 6,500 Chicago Public School students annually. The Music Institute offers lessons, classes, and programs through four distinct areas: Community School, The Academy, Creative Arts Therapy (Institute for Therapy through the Arts), and Nichols Concert Hall.

The Cantare Chamber Players perform Sunday, January 22 at 3 p.m. at the Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for students, available at or 847.905.1500 ext. 108.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 "Romantic" (SACD review)

Bernard Haitink, London Symphony Orchestra. LSO Live SACD LS00716.

Maybe because I've been collecting recordings by Maestro Bernard Haitink for nearly fifty years, ever since his appointment as chief conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra in the early Sixties, to find the man still conducting, now in his eighties, is fascinating and reassuring. It's nice to know some things don't change. More important, I've always found Haitink's performances models of decorum, propriety, insight, and intelligence. They wear well.

In this 2011 SACD recording with the London Symphony Orchestra, Haitink tackles the Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, "Romantic," by Austrian composer Anton Bruckner (1824-1896). The fact that Haitink has recorded the Fourth Symphony at least twice before--in the 1960's with the Concertgebouw and in the mid 80's with the Vienna Philharmonic--only whetted my appetite for more of the same. The newest performance did not entirely disappoint me, although I have to admit that the conductor's approach has mellowed with age. It's no less thoughtful or intense; it just sounds slower.

Anyway, the Fourth Symphony was Bruckner's first really successful big-scale work, and it didn't come easy. The public greeted his first three symphonies with a lukewarm response, and it took the composer over half a dozen years to write and revise the Fourth. Fortunately, when he did finally premiere it 1881, the public loved it, as listeners have loved it ever since. Bruckner himself nicknamed it "Romantic," and it became Bruckner's only program symphony. His final revision came in 1886, the Nowak edition, which Haitink plays here. The composer tells us what each movement represents, from knights riding out of a medieval castle through the mists of dawn to the sounds of the forest and birds, to a hunt, complete with horn calls, finally culminating in a brilliant summation. The symphony easily communicates a grandeur and nobility of spirit, as Bruckner was, above all, a profoundly spiritual man, his music clearly illustrating his piety.

Haitink opens this Fourth more quietly than usual, even for him, the morning haze finally opening up and letting the horn calls of the knights burst forth. However, Haitink eschews much glamor or theatrics here, preferring a more unhurried approach; yet I'm not really sure I like the "Romantic" Symphony without all of the romance. Don't expect as much robust vigor in Haitink's approach as in the readings of many of his rivals. Nevertheless, Haitink handles the softer, gentler passages with great care, making them seem more otherworldly than ever.

The LSO play with their customary precision and refinement, which goes a long way in music that can often be so ethereal and uplifting as Bruckner's. And when the orchestra get a chance to come into full bloom in the biggest crescendos and fortissimos, they sound wonderful, especially with Haitink guiding them so evenhandedly.

Indeed, Haitink walks a fine line here between offering up simple programmatic themes and darker, more introspective reflections, with the conductor often taking the latter course. In the tradition of Beethoven, Bruckner makes his slow movement almost a funeral march, yet Haitink doesn't exactly see it that way, creating instead a more-elegant flow to the music.

Again, we hear the hunting calls of the horns in the Scherzo, and Haitink seems to enjoy the playfulness as well as the seriousness of their strains. Then, typical of a Bruckner symphony, the finale is monumental, climaxing and surpassing everything that went before it. Needless to say, Haitink lets what little hair down he has left and presents a radiantly exciting conclusion.

In all, this is an agreeable Fourth, even if it's not for me quite on the level emotionally as the recordings of Jochum (DG), Klemperer (EMI), Bohm (Decca), Blomstedt (Denon), Wand (RCA), Walter (Sony), or Haitink's own earlier efforts. However, this newer performance should not disappoint fans of Haitink or the LSO.

Recorded live in June, 2011 at the Barbican, London, the output of the SACD seemed relatively low at first, requiring some adjustment of the volume higher than usual. But, then, there is a very wide dynamic range involved, starting with an especially soft opening passage, and when the loudest notes come through, they do so with authority. And there are blasts that may force one to turn the volume back down. A modest disappointment is that the midrange is not as transparent as it might be, with some upper-bass resonance to contend with. The upper strings can also be a tad steely at times. Still, the sonics make for a thrilling experience, the orchestra sounding big, warm, full, and basically resplendent.

About the only other minor issue I noticed was that the stage depth seemed slightly limited in the two-channel format to which I listened. If you have the SACD playback equipment for multichannel, which I don't, this hybrid SACD would probably provide more depth in the surround mode. Besides, I don't want to overemphasize this trivial lack of dimensionality at times because it's really no different from most other modern recordings. Moreover, the recording's strong dynamic impact and taut bass go a long way toward dispelling any misgivings one may have about small imaging concerns.

Finally, I'm happy to report that despite this being a live recording, the engineers have apparently filtered out most audience noise and thankfully edited out any closing applause.


Nielsen: Aladdin Suite (CD review)

Also, Pan and Syrinx and other orchestral works. Niklas Willen, South Jutland Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.557164.

One is not apt to think much beyond the symphonies of Danish composer Carl August Nielsen (1865-1931) when considering the man's output, and it hasn't helped that so few record companies have recorded his shorter orchestral works. I recall an old EMI Greensleeve LP with Herbert Blomstedt that I used to own, and I believe there is currently a DG recording with Neeme Jarvi, and several others; but it isn't much, so this budget-priced Naxos disc from Niklas Willen and the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra fills a much-needed hole in the repertoire.

There are six separate selections on the album, all of them essentially brief tone poems. Things begin with the Aladdin Suite, seven movements the composer took from his incidental theater music. Don't expect anything so remarkable as Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, but do expect these pieces to entertain you with their lavish orchestrations, their inventive dances, and in one composition, "The Marketplace in Ispahan," their uniqueness as the composer tries to imitate the varied sounds of a bazaar, the sounds coming from all directions. I couldn't help wondering while I was listening to this music how it might have sounded in a surround format.

Next are Cupid and the Poet, Saga-Dream, the Helios Overture, and two segments from the opera Maskarade, the Overture and the Prelude to Act II. These pieces amply demonstrate Nielsen's ability to evoke atmosphere and mood, which Willen nicely amplifies. The most intriguing of all the little works, though, is the concluding one, Pan and Syrinx. It's a pastoral piece, mostly sweet and relaxed, at least under Willen, becoming more vivacious as it goes along, then fading off into silence. It's quite affecting, really.

Evaluating a disc's sound can always be problematic. My initial reaction upon hearing the disc's opening "Festival March" from Aladdin was that the sonics were too thick and heavy. But I had just finished listening to over an hour of a Karajan recording from the Fifties that was rather thin and bright. After an hour with the Nielsen disc, its sound seemed just right to me, very realistic (if still a touch clouded). The Pan and Syrinx music appeared especially felicitous, with an excellent sense of orchestral depth. For the few bucks one might expend on the disc, one can afford to experiment with the sound and music.


Rossini: Sonate a quattro (UltraHD CD review)

Salvatore Accardo, violin; Sylvie Gazeau, violin; Alain Meunier, cello; Franco Petracchi, double bass. First Impression Music LIM UHD 049.

This remastered Philips album from FIM is notable for several reasons: First, it provides five of the six sonatas that Rossini wrote when he was only twelve years old. Second, it presents them in their original arrangements for string quartet rather than for a larger string ensemble as we sometimes hear them. Third, violinist Salvatore Accardo and his friends give them most-elegant interpretations. And, fourth, the folks at FIM (First Impression Music) have afforded the recording the most-beautiful audiophile sound one could imagine. Let me touch further upon each of these items.

Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) wrote his six Sonatas for two violins, cello and double-bass in 1804, and scholars only discovered them in the Library of Congress after World War II. Most often, we hear them in their transcriptions for small string orchestra, but it's especially nice to hear them as the original scores arrange them, for string quartet. Almost as remarkable as the young prodigy composing these works at so early an age is that after Rossini wrote thirty-eight operas by the age of thirty-eight, he pretty much retired, writing only a few occasional pieces of music during the next thirty-odd years. Apparently, he spent much of his time in retirement as a gourmet, portraits of his girth in later years attesting to the fact.

In any case, his youthful Sonatas all follow the same basic pattern: They start with relatively long opening Allegros, followed by brief central slow movements, and concluding with moderately quick-paced finales of modest duration. My favorite among them, for what it's worth, is No. 5 because it sums up everything good about the music; it's both delicately enchanting and playfully witty by turns.

The performances by Salvatore Accardo, first violin, Sylvie Gazeau, second violin, Alain Meunier, cello, and Franco Petracchi, double bass is as sweet, melodious, refined, exacting, and flexible as a listener will find anywhere. This is virtuosic playing that is completely at the service of the music: graceful, lilting, and lyrical, yet jaunty and lively when necessary. I have heard the Sonatas played by a number of different performers and groups over the years, but none surpass Accardo and his colleagues.

To remaster this 1978 Philips recording, FIM used their newest replication format, a process they call UltraHD. According to them, "Ultra High Definition 32-bit mastering is a proprietary ultra-high quality mastering system, jointly developed by two companies: Five Four Productions and First Impression Music. With this leading-edge system, our aspiration is to achieve unprecedented sonority and musicality reproducing as closely as possible the sound of the original master tape."

By the sound of this disc, I'd say they succeeded beyond expectation. The sonics are ultra smooth, with no sign of strain, edge, or harshness.  Imaging across the soundstage is excellent, with enough air around the instruments to feel their placement with precision. Dynamic contrasts sound taut yet subtle, and typical of Philips the acoustic is warmly rich and lightly resonant. It's one of the most-agreeable listening experiences a person could imagine.

FIM's packaging continues to impress me as well. They use a hardbound album approach, opening like a book, with about thirty pages of information inside, followed by a fastened black-paper sleeve into which fits a static-free inner envelope holding the disc. Moreover, the glossy hardcover front and back are beautifully illustrated. It's a class act all the way around, but I would caution it's one for which the buyer will pay a deserved premium price.


Vivaldi: Il Progetto Vivaldi 2 (CD review)

Cello concertos by Antonio Vivaldi. Also, cello works by Leonardo Leo and Giovanni Platti. Sol Gabetta, cello; Cappella Gabetta. Sony Classical 88697932302.

After the success of her first album of Vivaldi cello concertos in 2007, Argentinian-born cellist Sol Gabetta here provides a follow-up collection of cello works by Vivaldi and others, which she calls Il Progetto Vivaldi 2 ("The Vivaldi Project 2"). Considering that Vivaldi wrote some thirty cello concertos and a multitude of cello sonatas, if Ms. Gabetta plans to make the project complete she may be a hundred years old by the time she's finished. In any case, she's a fine cellist, and for anyone interested in Baroque music, her present album of Baroque music by Italian composers makes pleasurable listening.

By way of introduction, Ms. Gabetta, born in 1981, studied piano and cello in Buenos Aires, won her first cello competition at the age of twelve, moved to Spain, then France, and currently lives and teaches in Switzerland. She has won numerous awards over the years, founded a chamber-music festival, recorded eight albums, formed her own ensemble--Cappella Gabetta--and worked with many of the world's leading orchestras and conductors. Not bad for a woman as young as she is.

The program begins with three cello concertos by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), RV 423, 416, and 420, in each of which she is supported by the Cappella Gabetta, a thirteen-member group headed by Ms. Gabetta's brother on first violin. Ms. Gabetta plays a 1759 G. B. Guadagnini cello, by the way, and adheres as closely as possible to period-instrument practices, so be prepared for some interesting Vivaldi. To say she performs with vigor and enthusiasm would be an understatement, dexterous in her approach yet powerful when necessary. While the outer movements show plenty of life and move along at an uncommonly brisk pace, they are lyrical as well. The slow movements are often just as virtuosic for their sweet emotional appeal.

Next comes Vivaldi's Cello Sonata in G minor, RV 42, a surprisingly moving piece of music, a booklet note suggesting relationships between it and Bach's second cello suite. One can certainly see similarities, although if anything, under Ms. Gabetta's guidance the Vivaldi piece has a more plaintive, mournful feeling to it, at least until the closing movement.

Next up is the Cello Concerto in D major by Leonardo Leo (1694-1744). Leo was the headmaster and director of music at a school in Naples, and he produced over 500 composition, most of them today pretty obscure. The D Major Concerto is in five movements, with a beautiful, songlike Larghetto at its center, and Ms. Gabetta is not shy about exploiting its belle canto elements.

The final work Ms. Gabetta and her ensemble play is the Cello Concerto in D minor by Giovanni Benedetto Platti (1697?-1763). If you've never heard of Platti, join the club. Ms. Gabetta gives the work a première recording. Even though it may not seem like anything special, it is quite appealing, and under Ms. Gabetta's direction its slow movement has a particularly lilting, haunting quality. It's worth a listen.

Sony recorded Ms. Gabetta and her group to good effect at Salle de musique, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland in January of 2011. The cello itself is pleasingly warm, rich, and resonant, with a realistic string tone and a strong, immediate impact. The ensemble around her sometimes appears a tad bunched up, without a lot of space around the instruments, but they sound clear and smooth, which is the main thing, and stereo depth and breadth are more than adequate.


Classical Music News of the Week, December 4, 2011

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein's "Something Almost Being Said" Traces the Shared Vocal Aspects of the Music of Bach and Schubert

New York, NY— Sony Classical will release pianist Simone Dinnerstein's second album "Something Almost Being Said: Music of Bach and Schubert," internationally on January 30, 2012 and in the U.S. on January 31, 2012. The new album combines J. S. Bach's Partitas Nos. 1 and 2, with Schubert's Four Impromptus, Op. 90, and was recorded at the Academy of Arts and Letters in New York by Grammy-winning producer Adam Abeshouse. The album's title is taken from English poet Philip Larkin's poem, The Trees.

Dinnerstein says of her new album, and its title, "Bach and Schubert, to my ears, share a distinctive quality. Their non-vocal music has a powerful narrative, a vocal element. The effect is that of wordless voices singing textless melodies. Bach and Schubert's melodic lines are so fluent, so expressive, and so minutely inflected that they sound as though they might at any moment burst suddenly into speech. They sound like something almost being said."

Simone Dinnerstein has been called "a throwback to such high priestesses of music as Wanda Landowska and Myra Hess," by Slate magazine, and praised by TIME for her "arresting freshness and subtlety." The New York-based pianist gained an international following because of the remarkable success of her recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations, which she raised the funds to record. Released in 2007 on Telarc, it ranked No. 1 on the US Billboard Classical Chart in its first week of sales and was named to many "Best of 2007" lists including those of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The New Yorker. Her follow-up album, "The Berlin Concert," also gained the No. 1 spot on the Chart.

--Christina Jensen PR

Music Institute of Chicago Chorale Opens 25th Season
All-Britten Program with Chicago Children's Choir December 18

The Music Institute of Chicago presents the 25th season of its community chorus, the Music Institute of Chicago Chorale, opening with "Britten" December 18 at 3 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.

A celebration of the music of Benjamin Britten, the concert features the composer's popular Ceremony of Carols and Hymns to Saint Cecilia, as well as Te Deum in C, Flower Songs, A Boy was Born, Festival Te Deum, and Two-Part Songs for High Voices. Joining the Chorale will be members of the Rogers Park and Humboldt Park Neighborhood Choirs of the Chicago Children's Choir.

The Chorale's 25th season continues at Nichols Concert Hall with "A Choral Festival" Saturday, March 31, featuring music for multiple choirs and brass including music by Gabrieli and Schütz, and "25 Great Years" Sunday, June 10, highlighting audience favorites from the Chorale's history.

Daniel Wallenberg, conductor of the Chorale since 1987, noted, "Although our Chorale is Evanston-based, participants come from as far south as Chicago and far north as Zion and everything in between. Several members have been in the Chorale for more than 15 years, and a few have been members since its inception in 1986."

About the Music Institute of Chicago Chorale: The Music Institute of Chicago Chorale is a community chorus that provides an opportunity for adult singers with prior experience to study and perform the best in sacred and secular choral music. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Chorale has one continuing goal: to perform the finest sacred and secular choral music with the highest of standards in a community setting. Under the leadership of Conductor Daniel Wallenberg, the Chorale has developed a wide range of repertoire, including motets, madrigals, part-songs, folk songs, and larger choral-orchestral works by Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Durufle, and many others. Throughout the years, the Chorale has collaborated with local choirs and symphony orchestras and has produced two fully costumed Elizabethan madrigal dinners. In addition, the Chorale has collaborated several times with the Music Institute's voice faculty for concerts of opera and Broadway music.

Chorale conductor Daniel Wallenberg is also on the staff of the Chicago Children's Choir, working with the In-School Chorus and After-School Programs for the Rogers Park and Humboldt Park Neighborhood Choirs, as well as its world-renowned Concert Choir with whom he toured Ukraine and the United States. He is the director of the junior and adult choirs at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation and the founder and artistic director of "Zemer Am," the Chicago Jewish Choral Festival. A native of Bogota, Colombia, Wallenberg founded several adult and children's choirs while living in Israel.

About Chicago Children's Choir/Rogers Park Neighborhood Choir: Founded in 1956, Chicago Children's Choir is a multiracial, multicultural choral music education organization, shaping the future by making a difference in the lives of children and youth through musical excellence. The Choir currently serves 3,000 children ages eight to 18 through choirs in 51 schools, after-school programs in eight Chicago neighborhoods and the internationally acclaimed Concert Choir. Under President and Artistic Director Josephine Lee, the Choir has undertaken many highly successful national and international tours, received a Chicago/Midwest Emmy Award for the 2008 documentary Songs on the Road to Freedom, and has been featured in nationally broadcast television and radio performances, most recently on The Oprah Show, NBC's Today and the PBS series From the Top: Live from Carnegie Hall. The Humboldt Park and Rogers Park Neighborhood Choirs rehearse twice weekly under the direction of Danny Wallenberg at Casa Central on the city's West Side and St. Scholastica Academy on the North Side, respectively. Select members of these ensembles perform regularly with the Concert Choir, as part of the Neighborhood Honors Choir, with the Lyric Opera of Chicago—most recently in Carmen and Boris Godunov—and with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra both at Symphony Center and the Ravinia Festival. For more information, visit

"Britten," performed by the Music Institute of Chicago Chorale, takes place Sunday, December 18 at 3 p.m. at the Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $7 for students and are available at 847.905.1500 ext. 108 or at

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Music Institute of Chicago Welcomes Brotherhood Chorale
8th Annual FREE Martin Luther King Celebration: January 15 at Nichols Concert Hall

The Music Institute of Chicago honors the extraordinary legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. at its eighth annual celebration of the legendary civic leader, featuring the renowned Brotherhood Chorale of the Apostolic Church of God. This free concert takes place Sunday, January 15 at 5 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.

The 180-member male choral group, led by conductor Brian C. Rice, will again perform an electrifying program of repertoire offering traditional and contemporary gospel and jazz arrangements.

Admission is free; all contributions that evening benefit the William Warfield Memorial Scholarship Fund of the Music Institute of Chicago, which annually offers need-based financial assistance for minority students. William Warfield, famed operatic baritone, was a longstanding member of the Music Institute's board of trustees. This concert is generously sponsored by Schaefer's Wines, Foods and Spirits.

About the Brotherhood Chorale: The nationally recognized Brotherhood Chorale was founded in Chicago in 1969 with less than 30 members. Under the guidance of its current and visionary director, Brian Rice, the Brotherhood Chorale has built an impressive repertoire and grown to approximately 180 members. In addition to performing every fourth Sunday for service, the choir sings outside the church and has been featured at the South Shore Cultural Center and the Chicago Civic Orchestra, among others.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

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 Jon 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.

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.

Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to both its equipment and recordings 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 they 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 Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. 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 cell phone. 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.
The reader will find Classical Candor's Mission Statement, Staff Profiles, and contact information ( toward the bottom of each page.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Writer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Most recently I’ve moved to my “ultimate system” consisting of a BlueSound Node streamer, an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a CD transport, Legacy Wavelet DAC/preamp/crossover, Tandberg 2016A and Legacy PowerBloc2 amps, and Legacy Signature SE speakers (biamped), all connected with decently made, no-frills cables. With the arrival of CD and higher resolution streaming, that is now the source for most of my listening.

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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa