Janacek: Taras Bulba (CD review)

Also, Lachian Dances; Moravian Dances. Antoni Wit, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. Naxos 8.572695.

Czech composer Leos Janacek (1854-1928) has never been the most-popular writer on the musical stage, but there are several of his works firmly established in the basic repertoire. Among these are his Sinfonietta as well as the subject of this disc, his "rhapsody for orchestra" as he called it, Taras Bulba, a piece in three movements he premiered in 1918 and which he based on sections of a novel by the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. The three movements are small tone poems describing various episodes in the life of the seventeenth-century Cossack leader and warrior Taras Bulba and his vision of liberation for his people.

While one can find any number of fine recordings of the work on CD, for example those by Charles Mackerras and the Vienna Philharmonic (Decca) and Vaclav Neumann and the Czech Philharmonic (Supraphon), this new release from Maestro Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic is almost as compelling, and one may safely mention it in the same breath.

The music opens with the "Death of Andrij," Taras Bulba's youngest son, who has fallen in love with the daughter of his enemy and fights against his father, only to have his father kill him. Wit takes the opening very gently, building the love theme carefully. As he does with the rest of the Rhapsody, Wit adopts a broadly lyrical approach, letting the musical pictures unfold gracefully and deliberately. Nevertheless, when the high drama arrives, Wit is ready for it and creates a heady forward momentum. In other words, you'll get both Romance and excitement from the conductor.

The central movement, "Death of Ostap," deals with the grief of Taras Bulba's eldest son, Ostap, for his brother, Ostap subsequently captured by the enemy Poles and taken to Warsaw for execution. Bulba the elder follows in disguise and calls out in anguish at his son's death. Wit recreates the pain of Bulba fairly effectively, the music gliding effortlessly along under his guidance. Mackerras probably adds a degree more passion to the atmosphere, but it's close.

The final movement, "Prophecy and Death of Taras Bulba," concerns the capture and death of Taras Bulba, and his final prophecy that "A Tsar shall arise from Russian soil, and there shall not be a power in the world which shall not submit to him!" Here, Wit clearly expounds upon the importance of Bulba's final exclamation and ends the work on a tragically melancholy yet triumphant note.

Coupled with the rhapsody we find two dance suites by Janacek, the Lachian Dances (1889-90) and the Moravian Dances (1891). Janacek based the suites largely on Czech folk music of his day and well before, the songs describing a countryside and traditions quickly fading. They exhibit a much lighter, more joyous tone than the Taras Bulba music, as we might expect, and hint of Dvorak. Wit appears to be enjoying himself, and so do we.

Naxos recorded the music at Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, Poland, in 2010-2011, obtaining generally good results. The sound is very smooth and natural, with a wider dynamic range and transient impact than we usually find on a Naxos release. Although the sonic picture is a tad lacking in overall transparency, bit heavy, and a slightly close-up, there is a decent sense of depth and space to the acoustic. Along with a strong bass accompaniment, the organ pedals sounding quite deep and authoritative, the result is pleasing, if not entirely "audiophile."


Offenbach: Gaite Parisienne (CD review)

Also, Waldteufel: Waltzes. Manuel Rosenthal; Willi Boskovsky; Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI 7243 5 85066 2.

It might be the best seven or eight bucks you spent in a long time. This budget issue from EMI has the distinction of being not only authoritative but spectacularly well recorded. What more could you want for your hard-earned dollar?

In 1938 Manuel Rosenthal pieced together a little ballet from some of the most familiar bits of Jacques Offenbach’s operas La Vie pariesienne, La belle Helene, Orpheus in the Underworld, The Tales of Hoffmann, and others. Rosenthal died in 2003, just short of his 100th birthday, but in his lifetime he managed to record his Gaite Parisienne at least three times, the last one for Naxos when he was in his nineties. Anyway, the recording we have here was one the conductor/arranger made with the Monte Carlo Philharmonic in 1976 when he was a mere stripling in his seventies.

When I first came to the recording on vinyl, I was happily living with my old Fiedler RCA Living Stereo LP from the mid Fifties (now remastered by both RCA and JVC). Frankly, it took me a while to warm up to Rosenthal’s version, but because it sounded so good I gave it repeated listens and it grew on me. Unlike Fiedler, who takes the piece very briskly as a concert work and turns it into a joyously infectious occasion, Rosenthal plays his ballet as a ballet, as a work for dancers actually to negotiate. As such, it does not have the characteristic bounce and sheer adrenaline rush of Fiedler’s more lively account. But Rosenthal’s taking his time does produce some beautiful detail and refinement that is hard to resist, and by the time he comes to the climactic “Can-Cans,” he’s moving along at a pretty good clip. What’s more, his recording is still demonstration worthy, with an amazing bass drum and some incredibly quick transients.

Equally as pleasant, the disc includes four of Emile Waldteufel’s most popular waltzes--Espana, Les Patineurs, Estudiantina, and Acclamations--with Willi Boskovsky conducting the same Monte Carlo Orchestra and also recorded in 1976. If there is any small hesitation about the absolute quality of the Offenbach, there is none whatsoever about the Waldteufel. These are some of the best recordings of the four waltzes ever committed to disc, and the sound appears even better spread out (for reasons unknown) than the Offenbach. If you already have a Gaite Parisienne, that’s OK. This one will make a nice complement to it; and what do you have to lose for the paltry price of experimenting?


Moussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (UltraHD CD)

Also, Night on Bald Mountain. Lorin Maazel, The Cleveland Orchestra. LIM UHD 056.

Since 1957, all recordings of Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky (or "Moussorgsky" as it's spelled here) have pretty much fallen under the shadow of Fritz Reiner's famous RCA performance, which today continues to stand up as the most colorful, most descriptive, most exciting realization of the work available. However, in 1979 Lorin Maazel and Telarc Records were the first people to release a digital version of the music, remastered here by LIM (Lasting Impression Music), an affiliate label of FIM (First Impression Music). Because Maazel did such a credible job with the musical interpretation and Telarc did such a good job with the sonics, we must consider their collaboration though not superior to Reiner's at least in the same breath as the older man's. This LIM remastering simply makes a good thing better.

The Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) wrote his vivid collection of tone poems (or "sound pictures," as he called them), Pictures at an Exhibition, as a piano suite in 1874. Afterwards, several people orchestrated it, the most famous and most often recorded version being the one we have here, arranged by French composer Maurice Ravel in 1922. Indeed, it really wasn't until Ravel orchestrated it that it became the basic-repertoire piece we know today. Anyway, because the Mussorgsky/Ravel work became so popular, almost every conductor and orchestra in the world have now performed it, most of them recording it, too. So competition is understandably fierce, with Reiner (RCA), Muti (EMI), and Maazel among the standout contenders.

The album starts out, though, with Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain (1867), perhaps as famous as Pictures or more so thanks to Disney's Fantasia and Leopold Stokowski. Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov orchestrated the one that Maazel plays. Maazel's realization is not as thrilling as Georg Solti's rendering (on Decca, and, coincidentally, also remastered by LIM as a part of the album Romantic Russia), which still sets the bar higher than anyone for ultimate exhilaration. And the old Stokowski arrangement (remarkably, also available on a Telarc from Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra) will hold an affectionately nostalgic place in the hearts of many fans. Still, Maazel offers up a good, sturdy performance, and one cannot fault the Telarc/LIM sound.

It is in the Pictures at an Exhibition, though, where Maazel shines. Mussorgsky based the various sections of the suite on his musical impressions of paintings by his friend, the artist and architect Viktor Hartmann. The idea of the work is that the listener is wandering through a picture gallery viewing the paintings, which the composer recreates in music, going so far as to give us a musical number, the Promenade, to accompany our stroll from time to time.

The Cleveland horns shine forth brilliantly from the very beginning, and command much weight. The Gnome and the Old Castle that follow carry solid characterizations, if not quite as vivid as Reiner or Muti brought to them, nor with quite the sheer orchestral virtuosity of the Chicago Symphony for Reiner.

It's really in the second half of the suite, however, that Maazel comes into his own. The Catacombs, the Hut of Baba Yaga the witch, and the gloriously expansive finale at the Great Gate of Kiev show Maazel at his best. Of course, a part of this impression derives from the excellent Telarc/LIM sonics, which really knock you out at the end.

Telarc recorded the two works at the Masonic Auditorium in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1978, and while it's one of Telarc's earliest digital releases, it remains one of their best. Although there was always a good sense of orchestral depth in the Telarc recording, the LIM remastering refines the smoothness of the sound, its warmth, and its naturalness. Dynamics are splendid, with taut, solid impact, and bass and treble show up well extended. The ultraquiet backgrounds ensure a lifelike response, and a light hall resonance adds to the realism.

Given its attractive, high-gloss, hardcover packaging, its twenty-page bound booklet, and its static-proof inner sleeve, the LIM product is a class product all the way. Just don't expect it to come cheap. For a complete listing of FIM/LIM products, you can visit their Web site at http://www.firstimpressionmusic.com/.


Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination (CD review)

Harry Christophers, The Sixteen; The Hilliard Ensemble. CORO COR16098.

The British Library’s press release for their exhibition “Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination,” which ran from November 11, 2011 to March 13, 2012, tells us “it is the first to display richly illuminated manuscripts from its Royal collection in such large numbers. Including 154 colourful and gilded handwritten books, dating between the 9th and 16th centuries and previously belonging to the kings and queens of England, these exquisite items are real treasures of the nation. The manuscripts, on display in the PACCAR Gallery, offer unique insights into the lives and aspirations of those for whom they were made, enriching our understanding of both the monarchy and the Middle Ages.”

Fair enough. And what CORO (the record label of the English choir The Sixteen) did to accompany the occasion was put together this compilation album of medieval and Renaissance music inspired by the exhibition, featuring previously recorded selections from The Sixteen and The Hilliard Ensemble. CORO released the album in 2012, but they give no date or place references about the recordings in the package. I suppose we should simply be glad we have them because they provide a broad overview of choral music from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a sort of “Greatest Hits of the Renaissance.”

For those who don’t know the two singing groups involved, The Sixteen are a United Kingdom-based choir and period instrument orchestra, founded by Harry Christophers in 1979, that has been making records and winning awards for over three decades. Since 2001 The Sixteen have been releasing their material under their own record label, CORO. The Hilliard Ensemble is a British male vocal quartet originally devoted to the performance of early music and founded in 1974 by Paul Hilliard. They, too, have released numerous best-selling albums.

For this Royal Manuscripts compilation, the folks at CORO have provided eleven tracks, with a running time of over seventy-four minutes. These include something of a “who’s who” of Renaissance music: John Browne’s Salve Regina, Robert Wylkynson’s Jesus auem transiens, Richard Pygott’s Quid petis, O fili?, William Cornysh’s Ave Maria, Mater Dei, Richard Davy’s Stabat Mater, Guillaume Dufay’s Agnus Dei, Thomas Tallis’s Spem in Alium, and several anonymously written pieces: Hail Mary, full of grace, Lauda: Regina sovrana, This day day dawes, and Christus surrexit.

As we would expect from two such celebrated singing groups as we have here, they execute each of the tunes superbly, the singing clearly articulated, the phrasing precise, and the musical expression uniquely strong. Among the tracks I liked best was the first one, the program opener, John Browne’s Salve Regina, taken from the Eton Choirbook along with three others. The Sixteen sing in heavenly voice, and the acoustic, a little bright, otherwise affords them a sympathetic resonance.

The choir also beautifully sing Wylkynson’s Jesus antem transiens. Here’s the thing with this one, though: The recording favors the left side of the stage for the first half of the music and then slowly, gradually, moves to the middle and finally the right side. It’s a unique experience, the singing moving across the field of sound, I assume intentionally although the accompanying booklet makes no mention of the effect.

Certainly, one of the loveliest of all the songs is the anonymous Medieval carol Hail, Mary, full of grace, again with The Sixteen. It’s a combination of sacred and common verses, the kind of thing finding favor at the time.

The first time we hear the Hilliard Ensemble is in the anonymous Lauda: Regina sovrana, and it presents us with a change sonically from the previous tracks. There are only the four men involved, who sing unaccompanied, the recording sounds more neutral, the venue is more reverberant, and the monophonic Lauda (a song of praise containing a single melodic line) appears more chant-like.

And so it goes, the music sometimes highly religious in tone and content, sometimes symbolic, and always treated in the highest regard by both groups of singers. The album ends with probably the most-famous piece in the set, Tallis’s Spem in alium (“Hope in any other”), a forty-voice motet that The Sixteen handle a little quickly but with great flourish, closing the show in style.


Classical Music News of the Week, June 24, 2012

Matthew Oltman Joins Distinguished Concerts International New York
Music Director Emeritus of Chanicleer Joins DCINY's Program Development Team.

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) is delighted to welcome Matthew Oltman to the company’s Program Development team.

Throughout his career as a singer, conductor and educator, and as Music Director Emeritus of the Grammy award-winning male vocal ensemble Chanticleer, Matthew Oltman has experienced the profound impact of music on both performer and listener. During his tenure, Mr. Oltman led Chanticleer through three-critically acclaimed seasons, which included over 300 concerts in more than a dozen countries.  He helped launch the Chanticleer Live in Concert or "CLIC" recording label, and was the editor of the Chanticleer Choral Series, published by Hinshaw Music.  He also conducted over 450 high school choral and orchestral students from across the country in Chanticleer's first National Youth Choral Festival, The Singing Life, and led numerous day-long Youth Choral Festivals in communities in several states.

“DCINY is thrilled to have Matt on board,” says Iris Derke, General Director and Co-Founder, “He is uniquely positioned to connect with fine programs from around the world and to further DCINY’s mission of quality programming, education and exquisite memories for all involved.”

“DCINY is a company whose core values I have long admired,” says Oltman, continuing, “DCINY concerts are a once-in-a-lifetime experience for singers. In addition to being a part of a spectacular performance, they get to meet other talented musicians from across the globe who share their passion for singing and making music. I know first-hand how life changing this can be, and I am thrilled that I will get to spend my time enabling highly dedicated and motivated choirs to experience something unforgettable.”

Oltman will join DCINY starting immediately from his current home in San Francisco and will relocate to New York City in September.                                                                         

Matthew Oltman first joined Chanticleer in 1999 as a tenor and in 2004 was named Assistant Music Director under Joseph Jennings, a post which he held until his appointment to Music Director in 2009. During his decade singing with the ensemble, he appeared on twelve albums and toured extensively throughout North America, Europe and Asia.  During the 2011-2012 academic year, Mr. Oltman served as Guest Director of Choral Activities at UC Berkeley where he conducted the University Choir and the University Chamber Singers.  Recently, he was a featured clinician at the first Anúna International Choral Summer School (Ireland) and has led countless clinics and master classes with choirs from across the globe.   Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, Matthew Oltman earned a B.M. in Vocal Performance from Simpson College and an M.A. in Music from the University of York in England with the aid of a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship. Before joining Chanticleer, Mr. Oltman sang with the Santa Fe Desert Chorale and was on the faculty of Simpson College where he taught harmony, French diction, choral techniques and voice.

Founded by Iris Derke (General Director) and Jonathan Griffith (Artistic Director and Principal Conductor) Distinguished Concerts International New York is driven by passion, innovative vision, a total belief in its artists, and unwavering commitment to bringing forth unforgettable audience experiences. DCINY is a creative producing entity with unmatched integrity that is a talent incubator, a star-maker, and a presenter of broadly accessible, world-class musical entertainment.

--Shira Gilbert PR

Jonathan Biss Announces Schumann: Under the Influence, an International Initiative of over 30 Concerts Examining the Works of Robert Schumann
Performances in London, Amsterdam, New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Kansas City.

Collaborations with tenor Mark Padmore, soprano Camilla Tilling, violist Kim Kashkashian, clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois, violist Scott St. John, clarinetist Carey Bell, and the Elias String Quartet.

With over 30 concerts throughout Europe and North America over an eight month span from October 2012 to May 2013, Schumann: Under the Influence is a season-long exploration of the composer's role in musical history. Pianist Jonathan Biss and several hand-picked collaborators will perform Schumann's work, music by his notable influences such as Beethoven, Schubert, and Purcell, and selections from his long list of successors ranging from Berg and Janácek to 26-year-old composer Timothy Andres. As Biss explains, "This series of concerts takes a deeply affectionate look at the man whose music I find so endlessly fascinating and moving, and attempts to 'place' him--to explore the rather complex relationship he has with the composers who inspired him, and to show on every level how poor indeed we would be without him, his music, and his legacy."

The initiative is unique among presenters and soloists. Biss personally curated each concert with a mind towards creating a complete whole. He notes, "The impetus for Schumann: Under the Influence was--of course--Schumann's music itself. My feelings for this music go beyond love, though there's also plenty of that: silly as it may sound, I feel somehow protective of him. This is first of all because his music is so deeply personal and achingly vulnerable, it tends to inspire these feelings in those who respond deeply to his music. But equally, it comes from my sense that for a composer of his stature, he is subject to a remarkable number of misconceptions, and to an attitude that can at times be downright condescending. I wanted to show Schumann's music exactly as it is--deeply poetic, fragile, obsessive, evocative, whimsical, internal." Unlike a traditional artist-in-residency, Schumann: Under the Influence allows Biss to create a sprawling, roving Schumann festival in multiple countries, with various presenter partners, and, perhaps most importantly, with a diversified set of artist co-conspirators.

Biss will be joined in this project by tenor Mark Padmore, soprano Camilla Tilling, violist Kim Kashkashian, clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois, Scott St. John, Carey Bell, and the Elias String Quartet. Says Biss, "It is no accident that most of the music on these four programs is collaborative. Given that this project is to such a large degree about exploration, there is enormous pleasure to be found in opening it up to other viewpoints, to the voices--literal in some cases--of other musicians. And so, while the other performers involved are in many respects very different from one another, they are similar in that they all approach music with an attitude of curiosity." Over the course of the 2012-13 season, Biss also plays Schumann with orchestras including the Prague Philharmonia, the San Francisco Symphony, the Orchestra National de Belgique, and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Biss's May 2013 recital at Wigmore Hall in London will be recorded for the Wigmore Hall Live label. Launched in 2005, Wigmore Hall Live has released over 40 records to great critical acclaim. This performance includes Schumann's Phantasiestücke interspersed with selections from Janác(ek's Along an Overgrown Path. The evening concludes with Berg's Piano Sonata and Davidsbündlertänze by Schumann.

Jonathan Biss has appeared with the foremost orchestras of North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Widely regarded known not only for his artistry and poetic interpretations but also for his deep musical curiosity, Biss performs a diverse repertoire ranging from Mozart and Beethoven, through the Romantics to Janácek and Schoenberg as well as works by contemporary composers such as Gyorgy Kurtág and including commission from Leon Kirchner, Lewis Spratian and Bernard Rands. Biss has a noted recording career. His recordings include an album of Schubert sonatas and two short Kurtág pieces that was named by NPR Music as one of the best albums of the year. His recent albums for EMI won a Diapason d'Or de l'année award and an Edison Award. In January 2012, Onyx Classics released the first CD in a nine-year, nine-disc recording cycle of Beethoven's complete sonatas. Biss wrote about this recording project and also and about his relationship with Beethoven's music more generally for a 19,000-word essay called “Beethoven’s Shadow” that was published electronically as a "Kindle Single" and is available from Amazon online stores. Biss studied at Indiana University and at The Curtis Institute of Music, where he was appointed to the piano faculty in 2010. His blog featuring music ruminations, reflections about his life as a musician, and interviews can be found at www.jonathanbiss.com.

--Amanda Ameer, First Chair Promotion

Conductor Donato Cabrera 2012-2013 Concert Season
Cabrera continues as Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), Music Director of the SFS Youth Orchestra, and Director of the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra.  And he will have additonal performances with Orquesta de Concepción, Chile; Orquesta Clásica Santa Cecilia, Madrid;
New Hampshire Music Festival; California Symphony; Elgin Symphony Orchestra; and the Grand Rapids Symphony.

Donato Cabrera: www.donatocabrera.com
Full Schedule: www.donatocabrera.com/Schedule.html

During the 2012-2013 concert season, conductor Donato Cabrera continues in his three posts as Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), Music Director of the Green Bay Symphony, and Wattis Foundation Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra (SFSYO). In demand as a guest conductor as well, this season he makes his debuts with the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, Grand Rapids Symphony, and at the New Hampshire Music Festival, and returns to lead the California Symphony, the Orquesta de Concepción in Chile, and the Orquesta Clásica Santa Cecilia in Madrid.

At the San Francisco Symphony, Donato Cabrera works closely with SFS Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and frequently conducts the San Francisco Symphony throughout the year, including the annual Día de los Muertos Community Concert, as well as the Concerts for Kids, Adventures in Music, and Music for Families concerts, which annually draw more than 60,000 young people and their families from throughout the Bay Area to Davies Symphony Hall.

Under Cabrera’s direction, the SFSYO was awarded the 2011-2012 ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming for American Programming on Foreign Tours by the League of American Orchestras on June 8 at the League’s Annual Conference in Dallas.

Cabrera and the SFSYO depart for the orchestra’s eighth European tour, visiting some of the world’s most prestigious concert halls, on June 20. Cabrera says, “I’m thrilled to be taking the SFSYO on a multi-city European tour, with a performance at the Berlin Philharmonie, at the invitation of Sir Simon Rattle, of John Adams’ Shaker Loops, Grieg’s Piano Concerto with the fantastic Lars Vogt as soloist, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. The tour will end in Salzburg where the American Austrian Foundation is celebrating my tenth anniversary as a Herbert von Karajan Conducting Fellow for the Salzburg Festival.”

In addition to his work with the SFS and SFSYO, Cabrera took the podium as Music Director of the Green Bay Symphony in 2011. 2012-2013 will be the orchestra’s 99th concert season. Cabrera says, “As we approach the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra's 100th anniversary season in 2013, I’m very excited to begin a Beethoven cycle with them, as well as introduce new and engaging works to this great community of music lovers and enthusiasts which I’m so happy to have joined.” 

During the 2011-12 season Donato Cabrera made his debut conducting Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with the Orquesta Clásica de Santa Cecilia in Madrid, immediately being reengaged for the 2012-13 season. He also debuted with the California Symphony, conducting Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 for their 25th Anniversary Season Finale, and will return for their 2012-13 season.  Cabrera was also a guest conductor for the Illinois Symphony Orchestra and The Bay Brass. During the 2010-11, season he made his Carnegie Hall and Cal Performances debuts, conducting the world and California premieres, respectively, of Mark Grey’s A(tash Sorushan. In April 2010, Cabrera stepped in on short notice for the acclaimed British composer/conductor/pianist, Thomas Adés, conducting the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Cabrera made his San Francisco Symphony debut in April 2009 when he conducted the Orchestra with 24 hours notice in a program that included Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 and Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.  In March 2012, he conducted the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, with Paul Jacobs on organ, in the world premiere of Mason Bates’ Mass Transmission, subsequently conducting it with the Young People’s Chorus of New York City in Carnegie Hall for the American Mavericks Festival. From 2005 to 2008, Cabrera was Associate Conductor of the San Francisco Opera, where he prepared the cast and conducted the first rehearsals for the world premiere of John Adams’s Doctor Atomic as well as conducting performances of Die Fledermaus, Don Giovanni, Tannhäuser, and The Magic Flute.  In December 2009, he made his debut with the San Francisco Ballet, conducting performances of The Nutcracker.

A champion of new music, Cabrera is a co-founder of the New York based American Contemporary Music Ensemble, which is dedicated to the outstanding performance of masterworks from the 20th and 21st Centuries, primarily the work of American composers.  He is dedicated to music education and has worked with members of the young artist programs of the San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Portland Opera. Cabrera has also been a frequent conductor of Young People’s Concerts of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

In 2002, Cabrera was a Herbert von Karajan Conducting Fellow at the Salzburg Festival.  He has served as assistant conductor at the Ravinia, Spoleto (Italy), and Aspen Music Festivals, and as resident conductor at the Music Academy of the West.  Cabrera has also been an assistant conductor for productions at the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Cabrera was the rehearsal and cover conductor for the Metropolitan Opera production and DVD release of Doctor Atomic, which won the 2012 Grammy® Award for Best Opera Recording. In February 2010, he was recognized by the Consulate-General of Mexico in San Francisco as a, Luminary of the Friends of Mexico Honorary Committee, for his contributions to promoting and developing the presence of the Mexican community in the Bay Area.  In March 2009, Cabrera was asked to be one of eight participants in the 2009 Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview, leading the Nashville Symphony over two days in a variety of works.  He holds degrees from the University of Nevada and the University of Illinois and has also pursued graduate studies in conducting at Indiana University and the Manhattan School of Music.

--Christina Jensen PR

The National Philharmonic to Perform with Folk-Pop Sensation Sarah McLachlan at Merriweather Post Pavilion
The National Philharmonic will accompany Grammy Award-winner singer, songwriter Sarah McLachlan in a performance on Thursday, July 5 at the Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Since her debut in 1988, Ms. McLachlan's atmospheric folk-pop has gained a devoted following not only in her native Canada, but also in the United States and England. Known for her emotional ballads, including Arms of the Angel and I Will Remember You, Ms. McLachlan has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide. McLachlan's best-selling album to date is Surfacing, for which she won two Grammy Awards. In addition to her personal artistic efforts, she founded the Lilith Fair tour, which helped other female songwriters break into the mainstream during the late 1990s. Since 2006 she has also been known as a highly visible supporter of the ASPCA, as well as various other charities.

Doors open at 6 pm. Tickets start at $41 for the lawn & at $56 for the Pavilion. To purchase please visit http://ticketf.ly/JtRfcq. For more information about the concert and Ms. McLachlan, visit http://www.merriweathermusic.com and  http://www.sarahmclachlan.com/.

About the National Philharmonic:
Led by dynamic Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski, the National Philharmonic is known for performances that are “powerful,” impeccable” and “thrilling” (The Washington Post). The Philharmonic boasts a long-standing tradition of reasonably priced tickets and free admission to all young people age 7-17 under the All Kids, All Free, All the Time program, assuring its place as an accessible and enriching component in Montgomery County and the greater Washington, DC area.

As the Music Center at Strathmore’s ensemble-in-residence, the National Philharmonic showcases world-renowned guest artists in time-honored symphonic masterpieces conducted by Maestro Gajewski and monumental choral masterworks under National Philharmonic Chorale Artistic Director Stan Engebretson.

The National Philharmonic also offers exceptional and unique education programs. Each year, in partnership with Strathmore and Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), the Philharmonic performs for all MCPS 2nd and 5th grade students in concerts specifically catered to their age groups. The concerts take place at Strathmore over six days, making it possible for nearly 20,000 children to experience the thrill of hearing a live orchestra each year.  In addition, annual winners of the high school concerto competition are given the exciting opportunity to perform as guest soloists with the

Philharmonic at the fall concerts for MCPS second-grade students. Throughout the year, the Philharmonic offers master classes in which talented young musicians perform for and are mentored by critically acclaimed guest artists who appear in concert with the Philharmonic at the fall concerts for MCPS second-grade students. Throughout the year, the Philharmonic offers master classes in which talented young musicians perform for and are mentored by critically acclaimed guest artists who appear in concert with the orchestra. All National Philharmonic concerts at the Music Center at Strathmore are preceded by free pre-concert lectures at the Education Center.

Each summer, the National Philharmonic’s String Institutes offer talented and aspiring middle and high school musicians an intensive week of mentoring, chamber music coaching, individual lessons and ensemble rehearsals led by Maestro Gajewski, Associate Conductor Victoria Gau, members of the Philharmonic and other distinguished faculty. Another summer program invites talented high school singers for intensive vocal training, master classes and rehearsals led by National Philharmonic Chorale Artistic Director Stan Engebretson and Montgomery College Choral Director Molly Donnelly. For more
information, visit www.nationalphilharmonic.org . The attached photo of the National
Philharmonic was taken by Jay Mallin.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

America’s First Yellow Lounge Kicks Off “A New York City Classical Summer”
Soho event on June 19 draws hundreds, including Miss USA 2012 Olivia Culpo and star violinist Johsua Bell, with performances by rising stars Avi Avital and Nicola Benedetti.

Established seven years ago in the Berlin club scene, Yellow Lounge is a classics-meets-club concept, seeking out new spaces for an innovative sound and visual experience. A growing global phenomenon, Yellow Lounge brings together the best emerging classical performers with cutting edge DJ sets and multi-media elements in urban spaces. London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Vienna and Seoul have already experienced the exhilaration of Yellow Lounge, and on June 19th, the party came to America for its inaugural evening at New York City’s 82 Mercer in the heart of Soho.

With several hundred attendees, the event was sponsored by Decca & Deutsche Grammophon U.S., along with Karlson’s Gold Vodka, and featured performances by mandolin player Avi Avital and violinist Nicola Benedetti, each dazzling the audience with their own respective sets, and culminating in an inspired classical “jam” wowing the crowd.  The innovation extended to interactive stations including a graffiti wall and photo booth. VIP’s including Miss USA 2012 Olivia Culpo and Joshua Bell mingled among the guests. 

Max Hole, Chief Operating Officer of Universal Music Group International says, "In America, as elsewhere around the world, our goal with Yellow Lounge is to extend the reach of classical music to draw in audiences of all ages who are curious about the music but deterred by some of its long-standing conventions. This unique event breaks down boundaries and brings together audiences, performers and music more intimately than ever."

Paul Foley, General Manager of Decca & Deutsche Grammophon U.S. says, “Our first Yellow Lounge was a tremendous success. The enthusiasm and energy in the room makes it evident that audiences of all ages are excited and eager to hear classical music in a new and innovative environment. We look forward to launching our next Yellow Lounge on the West Coast later this year.”

--Olga Makrias, Universal Music

Young People's Chorus of News York City Closes Its 2011-2012 Season with "A New Beginning" at Manhattan's Church of the Holy Trinity, Friday, June 29, at 7 p.m.
YPC Introduces TRANSMUSICA with Guest Artists from Indonesia - Manado State University Choir

The Young People's Chorus of New York City and its artistic director/founder Francisco J. Núñez introduce TRANSMUSICA, their new music series, with a free concert on Friday, June 29, at 7 p.m. at Church of the Holy Trinity (316 East 88th Street). The first concert in the series, created to encompass cross-cultural and transformative musical ideas, will feature the award-winning Manado State University Choir, an a cappella choir from North Sulawesi, Indonesia, under the direction of conductor and professor of music at Boston University, André de Quadros. The Manado State University Choir is known for its internationally diverse programming, designed to build bridges to other cultures and communities of the world.

Each of the two choirs will sing a set of music individually and then come together to sing songs from three different lands: Janger, from Bali, I himmelen, from Sweden, and Vela! Asambeni Siyekhaya, a traditional Zulu piece. The choirs re-imagine choral music as a contemporary convergence of cultures expressed in drama, dance, and song.

Admission is free for TRANSMUSICA, and no reservations are required. For any additional information, call 212-289-7779, Ext. 10.

--Angela Duryea, Young People's Chorus of New York

Vespers 1612 (CD review)

Music of Viadana, Gabrieli, Barbarino, Palestrina, Monteverdi, and Soriano. Robert Hollingworth, I Fagiolini. Decca B0016794-02.

Titles are everything, and I suppose this one, Vespers 1612 (or 1612 Vespers if we read it literally), needs a little explaining. The Vespers part is fairly self-explanatory; at least, for those folks who know what Vespers are in terms of music. Just as a reminder, Vespers refer to a late-afternoon or evening religious service. In the Roman Catholic Church, they form a part of the service evenings and often held as a public ceremony on Sundays and holy days, most often containing evensong, a form of worship that’s sung.

OK, the album contains vesper evensong. But what’s the 1612 all about? For one thing, the year 1612 marked the death of the great Italian composer of vocal and instrumental music Giovanni Gabrieli, very influential early on in the musical development of the Baroque age. In addition, it marked the first public celebration of the Venetian naval victory at Lepanto in 1571, a celebration that went on for over 200 years after the incident as the festival called The Feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. (The Venetians figured Mary had a significant influence on the outcome of the battle and, thus, dedicated the festivities and devotions to her.)

Maestro Robert Hollingworth and his award-winning vocal ensemble I Fagiolini have attempted in this album to reconstruct what at least some of the program for that initial celebration might have been like. What we get in the reconstruction are world-premiere recordings of Vesper Psalms by Lodovico Viadana, a composer who helped usher in changes from the Renaissance to the Baroque period; the 28-voice Magnificat by Gabrieli; and a seeming host of other pieces from the era of multi-choir music.

I mean, if you called the album Baroque Vespers, Vol. IV, or, heaven forbid, just Baroque Vocal Music, Vol. CCCXVII, it wouldn’t have quite the same ring, would it? Anyway, the program begins with several short pieces by Viadana (c. 1560-1627), including his setting for Psalm 109 and four others. We notice quickly that Hollingworth and his team have varied the selections considerably, so that we get large groups of singers followed by more-intimate arrangements for smaller groups, even individual voices. They are all lovely and display a wide range of styles.

Bartolomo Barbarino (1568-c. 1617) next contributes Exaudi, Deus, with its stirring cornett solo. There follow more psalms and multi-choir pieces by Viadana, Palestrina, Monteverdi, and Gabrieli, some accompanied, some not, some with soloists, some not.

These all lead up to the centerpiece of the program, Gabrieli’s Magnificat a20, a28. Con il sicut locutus. In ecco, one of a pair of seven-choir arrangements that survive incomplete. Hugh Keyte supplied the reconstruction in this first-time recording. The battle music that constitutes the middle portion comes as a welcome surprise.

The singing itself sounds precisely articulated, yet not without adequate expression. The instrumental and vocal accompaniment, augmented by the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble and De Profundis (Cambridge), is light enough never to intrude upon the primary voices, and that includes the unobtrusive and almost ever-present organ. For anyone interested in the early Baroque period (or for those who are not, who knows), these multifaceted works with their breadth of expression provide a uniquely moving, rewarding, and often spectacular listening experience. More of an event, actually.

The sound is quite agreeable, recorded for Decca at St. John’s, Upper Norwood, London, in 2012. The engineers capture a fine sense of occasion, with a wide stage, and especially good depth and hall resonance. Occasionally, one notices a very slightly hard, bright, glassy response from closer sounds, but it is not enough to be a problem. In fact, these qualities often provide a more sharply etched definition for the sonics. As it is, we get rich, resplendent voices set in an environment with just the right amount of reverberation to simulate the live space of St. John’s in one’s living room. In short, it makes pleasant listening.


Falla: El Sombrero de Tres Picos (SACD review)

Also, El Amor Brujo; Danza from La Vida Breve. Alicia Nafe and Maria Jose Martos, mezzo-sopranos; Maximiano Valdes, Asturias Symphony Orchestra. Naxos SACD 6.110018.

Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) was one of Spain's most important composers of the twentieth century, and this disc brings together two of his most popular pieces of music, the ballets El Amor Brujo (Love, the Magician) and El Sombrero de Tres Picos (The Three-Cornered Hat); plus "Danza" from La Vida Breve.

Maestro Maximiano Valdes and his Spanish orchestra, the Asturias Symphony, present the music well enough, and the Naxos engineers do a reasonably good job capturing most of it realistically. The first piece on the disc, El Amor Brujo, is a rather grim work, about twenty-four minutes long depicting a jealous dead lover haunting his former girlfriend. Valdes performs it in an appropriately dark and foreboding manner. Conversely, El Sombrero de Tres Pico is a lighthearted tale of attempted seduction, the music lasting almost forty minutes. Together, we get quite an ample amount of music, when for a fill-up we have the "Danza."

I would not say, however, that Valdes is more colorful in his music making than Charles Dutoit or Ernest Ansermet were in this repertoire (both on Decca). Indeed, by comparison it is still Dutoit and Ansermet who offer up more vitality, especially evident in The Three-Cornered Hat. Yet listeners may find themselves divided on the merits of the sound of the discs, the newer Naxos issue being a bit more subdued, the Deccas brighter or more natural, depending, and definitely more sparkling. It's hardly a moot point, either, as one can find the original Deccas in various configurations on regular CD's and even remastered on audiophile (albeit costly) discs from LIM.

Anyway, the folks at Naxos offer the recordings on both a regular compact disc at mid price and a Super Audio Compact Disc at regular, full price. The SACD offers not only the standard stereo layer but a two-channel DSD layer and a 5.1 surround layer. The Naxos sound, particularly in SACD, is wide, deep, and extended, a tad fat in the upper bass, but fairly lifelike. While this may not be absolute audiophile sound even in its SACD format, it is more than adequate for the occasion.


Bizet: Carmen Suites (UltraHD CD)

Also, Grieg: Suite from Peer Gynt. Leonard Slatkin, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. LIM UHD 059.

There is little doubt that for the past hundred-odd years people have found the opera Carmen and the suites derived from it charming. Yet French composer Georges Bizet (1838-1875) would never live to see exactly how popular his final completed opera would become, the work seeing a poor reception in the year of the composer’s early death. Sometimes, life is unfair.

Bizet set the opera in Seville, Spain, during the early nineteenth century, the narrative involving a beautiful and tempestuous Gypsy girl, Carmen, who lavishes her affections on a young but naive soldier, Don Jose. He becomes so enamoured with Carmen, he spurns his former lover, deserts his regiment, and joins Carmen and a crew of smugglers. When Carmen subsequently rejects him and takes up with a bullfighter, Don Jose becomes so enraged with jealousy that he murders her. How’s that for melodrama! Here, on this 1979 Telarc release remastered by LIM, we get two orchestral suites from the opera, containing most of the famous music.

LIM (Lasting Impression Music), if you remember, is an affiliate label of FIM (First Impression Music), a company that for the better part of a decade has been remastering classic older material, using the original master tapes and state-of-the-art processing. These days, they are using a new Ultra High Definition technology utilizing 32-bit mastering. They are also working with a number of recordings from the Telarc catalogue, Telarc being one of the companies that pioneered the digital revolution in recording.

Anyway, Telarc Records, conductor Leonard Slatkin, and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra chose to do two orchestral suites from Carmen, the first containing six items, the second two. Suite No. 1 contains the Prelude to Act I, Aragonaise (Prelude to Act II), Intermezzo (Prelude to Act III), Seguidilla, Les Dragoons d’Alcala, and Les Toreadors (Introduction to Act I). Suite No. 2 contains only two numbers, La Garde Montante and Danse Boheme, but they are individually longer than those of the first suite.

In Slatkin’s readings we get sturdy, straightforward interpretations of the score, without too much characterization from the conductor. If you want more color in these suites, I would suggest you look to Sir Thomas Beecham (EMI), Paul Paray (Mercury), Leopold Stokowski (Sony), or Herbert von Karajan (DG). While these are much older recordings than the Telarc, they still sound pretty good, and the realizations are more creative. With these Slatkin renderings, it’s the sound that’s king.

Still, Slatkin’s version of the Intermezzo does come across beautifully, and Les Toreadors, which Slatkin takes at a rapid pace, is wonderfully exciting, especially with Telarc’s big bass drum pounding away in the background. Nevertheless, it hasn’t quite the swagger we hear from the aforementioned conductors. The Suite No. 2 has fewer but longer entries, as I say, and Slatkin gives them a fair amount of spontaneity, closing the show with a huge burst of energy.

Coupled with the Bizet sets is a six-movement suite from Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), taken from the incidental music Grieg wrote in 1875 to accompany Henrik Ibsen’s play of the same name. I liked these selections from Slatkin rather more than I did the Bizet because there seems to be more life, more vitality, to them. Here, I found a more convincing depiction of the events in the play. The “however” is that recordings from Oivin Fjeldstad (Decca) and Raymond Leppard (Philips) can be even more imaginative, and while they don’t sound as good as these from Telarc/LIM, they are a lot cheaper.

Telarc’s producer, Robert Woods, and engineer Jack Renner recorded the music at Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis, in 1979, and LIM’s Winston Ma and Robert Friedrich remastered it using their Ultra High Definition 32-bit processing in 2011, releasing the remaster in 2012. The sound they obtain is better than anything else you’ll find in Bizet or Grieg. The definition is rock steady, firmer on the LIM remaster than on the original Telarc disc, and the bass and dynamic contrasts are slightly tauter. What’s more, the LIM brings out the imaging and depth better, too. Now, we’re not talking about night-and-day differences, you understand, but listening carefully and comparing, you’ll hear the improvements. Whether the LIM remastering is wroth the extra money, of course, is up to one’s ears and one’s pocketbook.

As icing on the cake (or to seal the deal, so to speak), the folks at LIM also provide an attractive, high-gloss, hardcover package, a twenty-page bound booklet, and a static-proof inner sleeve. For a complete listing of FIM/LIM products, you can visit their Web site at http://www.firstimpressionmusic.com/.


Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra (CD review)

Also, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Marin Alsop, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.572486.

As so often happens in the world of classical recording, it's damned if you do and damned if you don't. I mean, when a conductor and orchestra have to decide on what piece to record, should they go with a relatively unknown commodity and lose potential buyers who have never heard of the work, or should they go with a popular piece and risk losing potential buyers who already have multiple favorite recordings of it? In the case of Marin Alsop and her Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, they have chosen in Bartok to go head-to-head with Fritz Reiner's celebrated RCA recording and both of Georg Solti's high-powered Decca performances. That Ms. Alsop and her team acquit themselves reasonably well on this low-priced Naxos disc is a testament to their talents, which do justice to the composer.

The disc begins with probably the most celebrated music of Hungarian Bela Bartok (1881-1945), the Concerto for Orchestra, the composer's last completed orchestral work, premiered just a year before his death. It's somewhat ironic that after a lifetime of writing music, his final composition would be his most-lasting contribution to the classical library. Bartok said that he titled the piece a "concerto" because of its "tendency to treat the single orchestral instruments in a concertante or soloistic manner." He also noted that the work transitions from the stark grimness of the opening movements, to a "death song" in the third movement, and to a "life-assertion" theme in the last.

Anyway, Ms. Alsop treats this death-to-life progression as well as almost anyone, although there are times when one wishes she had made the contrasts even more pointed. Best of all, she never sentimentalizes or glamorizes the music in the style of, say, a Karajan. She keeps it spare.

The second-movement Allegretto moves along at a graceful, if fairly leisurely, pace. It lightens the mood considerably.  In the third-movement Bartok turns to dark yet lyrical material, which the composer described as a "misty texture of rudimentary motifs." Like the description, the music seems rather generalized, and Alsop handles it in a kind of wispy, dreamlike way, building in mysterious, almost spooky intensity as it goes along, a "lugubrious deathsong," as Bartok called it.

Next, we find a brief Intermezzo borrowing (or parodying) Shostakovich that sets up the dance rhythms of the Finale: Presto, where Bartok went all out to show the vibrancy of life. Alsop treats it gently, yet with much joy. It's a worthy realization of the score.

I wasn't quite as taken by Ms. Alsop's interpretation of the coupling, though, Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, written in 1936. The composer had by that time been experimenting with "arch" forms, mirrorlike sequences of ideas building in one direction to an arch and then reversing in the second half. While she keeps the shape intact, Ms. Alsop's actual rendition of the piece seems just a tad wanting in atmosphere, impetus, and drive. Incidentally, if you don't actually know the music yet it sounds vaguely familiar to you, it may be because Stanley Kubrick used it in The Shining, sort of eerie music for an eerie film.

Naxos recorded the performances at Meyerhoff Hall, Baltimore, in 2009-2010. In the tradition of so many Naxos recordings, the sound is slightly warm and soft. There is a nice room resonance that lends verisimilitude to the listening experience, so one does feel involved with the actual event. Reasonably good dynamics and frequency range help, too. Midrange clarity is adequate for the occasion, as is a strong mid bass and a moderately good sense of orchestral depth.


Classical Music News of the Week, June 17, 2012

Sonoma State University’s Inaugural Season for Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall, Lawn and Commons at the Donald & Maureen Green Music Center Begins September 29, 2012

Located on the picturesque Sonoma State University campus in the heart of California’s Sonoma wine region, Weill Hall officially opens Saturday, September 29 with an Opening Night concert featuring Lang Lang followed on Sunday with a Choral Sunrise Concert, a concert with Bruno Ferrandis and the Santa Rosa Symphony, and a special evening performance with Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas.

A focal point for music in the region, the Inaugural Season in Weill Hall features an array of internationally acclaimed performers including vocalists Stephanie Blythe, Eli-na Garanca, Joyce DiDonato and Barbara Cook; celebrated classical soloists Yo-Yo Ma, Vadim Repin, Wynton Marsalis and Anne-Sophie Mutter; acclaimed early music ensembles Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale, Tallis Scholars and Il Complesso Barocco; and Latin jazz greats Chucho Valdés and Buika. The Santa Rosa Symphony, Resident Orchestra, offers a full season of programming at the Green Music Center and the San Francisco Symphony will perform four concerts.

Beginning in June 2013, Sonoma State University and New York’s Carnegie Hall will launch a new partnership to include a year-long residency at SSU by young professional musicians, all alumni of The Academy, the prestigious program created by Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School and the Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education. As Visiting Artists in Residence, a small number of specially-selected Academy alumni will reside on the SSU campus for a year, fully engaging musically with the SSU community: presenting performances, offering lessons, chamber music coachings, and workshops; participating in community outreach to K-12 schools and other community partners; mentoring students; and coordinating audience development and concert preparation activities in residence halls for on-campus performances, among many other duties. This marks the first time that Academy alumni will create such an extended residency, working in a university setting.

Complementing this new Visiting Artists in Residence program, a partnership with the Santa Rosa Symphony will bring Carnegie Hall’s Link Up National program for grade school students to Sonoma County. Link Up will join other educational programs currently offered by the Symphony – Music For Our Schools and Training Young Musicians – as the orchestra creates an El Sistema based program for local students. The Symphony’s five-year pilot program, Simply Strings, will provide daily after-school instruction on violin or viola to first through fifth grade students, culminating each spring in a live performance in Weill Hall with the Santa Rosa Symphony. Students will also have the opportunity to learn pieces of music on the recorder, enabling them to take part in a joint performance – children and the Symphony – at the Green Music Center.

Created by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, Link Up National is an interactive and engaging music education program that currently connects more than 30 orchestras across the country with schools in their local communities. As part of the partnership, Carnegie Hall will provide free music education curriculum materials for use in Sonoma County schools as well as complimentary resources to support the culminating concert for students in Spring 2013.

--Karen Ames Communications

Strathmore Announces 2012-2013 Season
Storied Strings: The Violin in America: Exploration of the versatile string instrument and its impact on American music, featuring performances by Mark O’Connor, Alasdair Fraser, and Natalie MacMaster.
Founding of the Strathmore Children’s Chorus: Choral music explored, preserved, and brought to more young ears through New Initiative.
Theatrical Productions Fully Maximize Adaptability of Music Center Concert Hall: Tap Dogs, VOCA PEOPLE, and Luma Theater.
Strathmore speakers, social commentators, poets, satirists take the mic for one week before the Presidential election: David Sedaris, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Fran Lebowitz, and Frank Rich.
Renowned Entertainers and Artists Patti LuPone; Kathleen Battle; Marvin Hamlisch, Angélique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves, Lizz Wright in “Sing the Truth,” Mannheim Steamroller; Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
D.C. Debuts and Premieres: Jennifer Koh’s “Bach and Beyond Series”; Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain; Casey Driessen’s “Singularity Tour”; Carpe Diem String Quartet; Chelsey Green World Premiere Strathmore Commission.
Solo Piano: Maurizio Pollini; George Li; and George Winston.
Intimate Concerts with Inspired Emerging Artists: Kristin Lee; Julie Fowlis; Mak Grgic; Mattias Jacobsson; Aaron Weinstein Trio; and the Tia Fuller Quartet.

Strathmore announces its 2012-2013 season, September 27, 2012 - May 18, 2013, marked with the sweeping, season-long “Storied Strings: The Violin in America,: an 11-concert series that explores this most versatile of the string instruments and its influence on iconic forms of American music. Exposing young people to music is an unwavering initiative at Strathmore—to advance this goal, the arts center launches the Strathmore Children’s Chorus in its new season. Twelve artists are making their debut on the Music Center stage, including the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, eccentric organist Cameron Carpenter and local favorite Pat McGee, with return engagements from high-caliber performers such as Patti LuPone, Kathleen Battle, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Keb’ Mo’. Season highlights in the Music Center include Sing the Truth, bringing together Angélique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright for the first time together on Strathmore’s stage to pay homage to legendary black women in music. Renowned Scottish fiddler Alasdair Frasier will premiere a new program of traditional American music at Strathmore with fellow strings players Natalie Haas, Jay Ungar, Molly Mason and Dirk Powell. Performances by iconic pianists Marvin Hamlisch, Cyrus Chestnut (with Kathleen Battle), George Winston and Maurizio Pollini show a strengthened commitment to utilize the acoustic properties of the Music Center for piano.

A hallmark of Strathmore is its student concerts, which introduce more than 20,000 elementary school children to orchestral music each year—now it will touch even more young lives through music by founding the new Strathmore Children’s Chorus. This is the first time in Strathmore’s 33 year history that it has lent its name to a performing ensemble, and also the first time that it has pioneered the creation of an ensemble for promising young musicians. At its start, the group will consist of about 50 members ages 8-16. Chorus members will receive exemplary instruction under Artistic Director Christopher G. Guerra and will perform in the Mansion and the Music Center at Strathmore.

“By establishing the Strathmore Children’s Chorus, we hope to provide a professional children’s chorus experience in Montgomery County that celebrates the diverse musical traditions of our residents, engages talented youth in joy-filled and uplifting music-making, and provides Strathmore with a living, breathing, singing presence in our community,” said Strathmore President Monica Jeffries Hazangeles.

Strathmore continues to assert the versatility of the Music Center stage by presenting technically challenging and elaborate theater and dance productions. The 2012-2013 season features the high-energy, athletic theater experience Tap Dogs; off-Broadway sensation VOCA PEOPLE; the gravity-defying acrobatics of Cirque Ziva; and the light marvels of Luma Theater. Strathmore will also present complementary performances of Spanish-influenced dance by Ballet Folklórico De México and Flamenco Vivo/Carlota Santana.

“This season, Strathmore stretches the boundaries of our stage into a full-scale theatrical venue filled with torrid dance, new spectacles of light and sound, and thrilling cirque choreography that will redefine audiences’ concept of our Concert Hall,” said Strathmore founder and CEO Eliot Pfanstiehl. “From the onset, the Hall was conceived as a flexible space that could accommodate a range of art forms, and as we mature as an arts presenter, it’s exciting that we can grow to fully utilize the space for all its potential. We're not just for music anymore.”

Salon-style Mansion concerts continue to incubate remarkable emerging talents, many making their Strathmore debut in the early stages of already impressive careers, including George Li, piano; Mattias Jacobsson and Mak Grgic, guitar; Kristin Lee, violin; Aaron Weinstein Trio; Aviv Quartet; Duo Amaral; Guido’s Ear; and the Tia Fuller Quartet. Highlights in the Mansion including the Washington, D.C. premiere of violinist Jennifer Koh’s Bach and Beyond Series, the Washington-area premiere of Korine Fujiwara’s Fiddle Suite Montana performed by Carpe Diem Quartet and a world premiere Strathmore commissioned work by composer Robert Miller, performed by violinist and former Strathmore Artist in Residence Chelsey Green. Also among the Mansion’s standout programs are the premiere of fiddler Casey Driessen’s Singularity Tour and Celtic vocalist Julie Fowlis, gaining notoriety for her work on the soundtrack to Pixar’s new film, Brave.

Additional world premiere performances will be offered by Strathmore’s six new Artists in Residence, emerging musicians cultivated and educated by Strathmore staff and mentors to make the arts a sustaining career.

Tickets for the 2012-2013 season go on sale to Strathmore Stars on June 5, 2012 and to the general public on June 28, 2012. Ticket prices listed represent single, not “Strathmore Stars,” prices. “Strathmore Stars” receive a 10 percent discount on all listed prices.

Strathmore Venues:
Mansion at Strathmore, North Bethesda, MD 20852; 10701 Rockville Pike
Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD 20852

Tickets and Information: (301) 581-5100 or www.strathmore.org.

--Michael Fila, Strathmore

Jeff Myers Wins the 'In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores' Online Contest; 10 Honorable Mentions Chosen
Winner: Jeff Myers: "The Angry Birds of Kauai"

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
Philip Brownlee: "Pariwhero"
Nikolet Burzyn'ska: "Orna-mention"
Tristan D'Agosta: "Piece for Violin and Piano"
Mark Gresham: "Café Cortadito"
George Kontogiorgos: "Before the Rain Starts"
Marius Felix Lange: "Nutcracker's Nightmare"
Garth Neustadter: "Volitation"
Aaron Severini: "Catch"
Rani Sharone: "Tick"
Octavio Vazquez: "NGC 6611"

Since its inception, “In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores” has aimed not only to expand the violin repertoire, but to engage new fans and break down barriers between artists and audiences. In addition to commissioning 26 composers to write short-form pieces for acoustic violin and piano, Hilary Hahn put out an open call for submissions on her website. Over 400 composers of diverse ages and nationalities submitted works. Each entry was made completely anonymously. As Hahn says, "Reviewing the pieces, I was glad that everything about the scores and audio files was anonymous. All I had to go on was the music itself: no identifying titles, handwriting, or names. I was eager to open the files as they arrived. It was interesting to see how different composers interpreted the encore as a musical form." For every encore that was received, $2 has been donated to the music programs of Dramatic Need.

Today, Hahn is delighted to announce the winner: Jeff Myers. Due to an overwhelming number of wonderful encores, Hahn has also selected the works of Philip Brownlee, Nikolet Burzyn'ska, Tristan D'Agosta, Mark Gresham, George Kontogiorgos, Marius Felix Lange, Garth Neustadter, Aaron Severini, Rani Sharone, and Octavio Vazquez as Honorable Mentions.

Jeff Myers's work, "The Angry Birds of Kauai," will be performed on Hahn's 2012-13 recital program with 13 other previously commissioned works for the project and will be recorded for release during the 2013-14 concert season. The loudness and power of the native birds in Kauai, near his home in Honolulu, inspired Myers's encore. Of the new piece, Hahn writes, "It is smartly and efficiently structured, with soul and humor in the notes. The instruments are equals, and the violin's capabilities are exercised. There is tons to experiment with interpretively: the way the piano and violin trade ideas is something I had been curious to try in upcoming repertoire. I had been looking for a work like this outside of the contest without fully realizing it, and suddenly it dawned on me that that piece was right in front of me. It fits my technique really well. But not just mine: each musician who takes it on in the future will be able to put his or her stamp on it. And this encore was satisfying to work through in my head. It showed its character to me before I played even a phrase."

The music of Jeff Myers draws on preexisting musical works, styles and genres, as well as visual art and natural phenomena. Filipino kulintang music, works by M.C. Escher, overtone music, folk music, and animals have been a source for inspiration. Currently, Myers is working on an opera about 17th Century Norwegian witch trials (Maren of Vardø) with librettist Royce Vavrek for Center City Opera in Philadelphia, PA. Myers is also composing a one-act opera version of Edgar Allan Poe's "Premature Burial" (Buried Alive) with playwright Quincy Long for American Lyric Theater's "Poe" trilogy. Myers's music has been played by ensembles such as L’Orchestre National de Lorraine, American Composers Orchestra, New York Youth Symphony, New World Symphony, Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, PRISM Saxophone Quartet, JACK Quartet and by violinist Yuki Numata. He has received awards from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, BMI, as well as fellowships from the Aspen Festival, Tanglewood, Festival Acanthes, and commissioning grants from institutions such as the Jerome Foundation, The Fromm Foundation and NYSCA. His music has been heard at Carnegie Hall, The Library of Congress, The Kimmel Center, Darmstadt, Gaudeamus, Symphony Space, and (le) poisson rouge. Myers holds degrees from San José State University, the Eastman School of Music and the University of Michigan. His Web site is www.jeffmyers.info.

Honorable Mentions were awarded to 10 additional pieces that Hahn found compelling. These Honorable Mentions will be premiered by Hahn before the end of 2015. Hahn explains, "When I built the contest, I had intended for the Honorable Mentions to be listed on my site so that readers could look up the composers' work and keep their eyes out for those specific pieces once they might be available to the public. As I got to know these ten over the course of deciding the results, however, I discovered that they were such varied and appealing compositions that when it came to making my decisions, I didn't want to part with them! So, I have now committed to performing all of the Honorable Mentions by the end of 2015. How in the world I am going to learn so much music, I have no idea, but I can’t wait to get started."

The composers chosen for Honorable Mentions are a diverse group, from a conservatory student to an Emmy Award-winner to a former New York Ballet dancer to a bassist in an avant garde metal band. Their experience with Hahn's music is as equally diverse, ranging from devotee YouTube video followers, to sometimes radio listeners, to Carnegie Hall audience members. The inspirations for their encores, too, are scattered: the composer Ferruccio Busoni, the writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, the rocky hills of New Zealand, the economic situation in Greece. The composers hail from Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Pacific, North America, and the southern hemisphere. What unites them all is powerful work. As Hahn explains, "An encore has a complicated job to accomplish in a short period of time. If it is played at the end of a program, it has to capture an audience's attention after an evening of engrossing music, create and maintain an alluring aural atmosphere, and prove as evocative as good story-telling. It has to send people away with the feeling that they have just heard something extraordinary."

--Amanda Ameer, First Chair Promotion

Birmingham Hosts England’s Opening Night Concert of the London 2012 Festival
All eyes will be on Birmingham next week as the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra performs the opening concert in England for one of the largest arts festivals the UK has ever seen – the London 2012 Festival.

On 21 June, the CBSO, conducted by Edward Gardner, will be joined by the 250 massed-voices of the CBSO Chorus, CBSO Children’s Chorus and CBSO Youth Chorus, along with actor Samuel West and CBSO Associate Conductor Michael Seal, in the UK premier of Weltethos. This visionary and dramatic piece of music was created by one of the world’s greatest living composers, Sutton Coldfield born Jonathan Harvey.

“Weltethos is a thought-provoking, delicately woven piece which brings together the world’s great cultures in the search for goodness through our shared spiritual humanity”, said CBSO chief executive Stephen Maddock. “Whilst epic in scale, it conveys a tender but powerful message about moral purpose, through which we hope to bring the London 2012 Festival, in Birmingham, to life”.

Stephen added: “The CBSO offers an unrivalled diversity of programme and we are thrilled to be premiering this work by one of the world’s best contemporary composers. Our concert is just one of four taking place across Britain on the festival opening night; Derry~Londonderry, Stirling and Bowness-on-Windermere will also help us to showcase some of the artists that make our country an exciting hotbed of talent”.

London 2012 Festival Director Ruth Mackenzie said: “Sir Simon Rattle commissioned this piece and I heard the first ever performance in Berlin – it is a huge and ambitious piece which lives up to the themes of World Peace it tackles, and offers the huge orchestral and choral forces a challenge that is thrilling for them and audiences alike.  I am so proud that it opens the London 2012 Festival and my thanks to all who have made it possible”

Jonathan Harvey was commissioned by CBSO Chorus Director, Simon Halsey (and Chief Conductor of the Berlin Radio Choir) and ex-CBSO Music Director Sir Simon Rattle (Conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra) to write a 90 minute piece of music for Choir and Orchestra which was premiered in Berlin with the Philharmonic Orchestra and Berlin Radio Choir in October 2011.

Founded on texts from six of the world’s greatest religions: Confucianism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, it shares a complex yet heartfelt message of balance and harmony through layers of German text, (written by theologian Hans Kung) traditional writings and sounds akin to each of the six religions.

CBSO Chorus Director Simon Halsey said: “The overarching theme of this new work is world peace, also a major theme of the Olympic movement, so it is absolutely perfect for this concert. It is a complex work, in six movements and with two conductors, so will be quite a spectacular concert. We are looking forward to it immensely. And as Jonathan was born locally, it is also fitting that the UK premiere of the work will be on his home turf.”

The London 2012 Festival is a 12-week nationwide celebration bringing together leading artists from across the world with the very best from the UK, opening on Midsummer’s Day, 21 June, and running until 9 September 2012. The spectacular ‘once in a lifetime’ festival features more than 25,000 artists from all 204 competing Olympic nations. Everyone will be able to join in the celebration with over 10 million free tickets and opportunities to take part in 12,000 events and performances at 900 venues all over the UK, including 130 world premieres and 85 UK premieres. The London 2012 Festival is the finale of the Cultural Olympiad, the largest cultural celebration in the history of the modern Olympic and Paralympic Movements, designed to give everyone in the UK a chance to be part of London 2012 and inspire creativity across all forms of culture, especially among young people.

Weltethos takes place on 21 June at 7.30pm in Symphony Hall, Birmingham. Tickets are available from Symphony Hall or Town Hall box offices in person, by phone: 0121 780 3333, or online: www.cbso.co.uk/concerts. (Please note a £2.50 transaction fee is charged by THSH Box Office on all bookings except those made in person)

--Ruth Green, CBSO

Chopin: Waltzes (CD review)

Also, Impromptus. Arthur Rubinstein. RCA 82876-59422-2.

When discussing the great pianists of the twentieth century, no one could fail to mention the name of Arthur Rubinstein. Indeed, for many piano enthusiasts, Rubinstein might be the only name cited. Born in 1887, the Polish-American virtuoso made his piano debut at the age of seven, continuing to play and record almost continuously through his eighties, dying in 1982 at the age of ninety-five. Of the man’s many musical specialities in the course of this amazing career was Chopin, an interpreter of whom there was none greater. He recorded the Chopin Waltzes several times, this one his stereo collection from June, 1963.

Rubinstein recorded the most common fourteen of Chopin’s Waltzes because those were the ones directly attributable to the composer, as opposed to the five or six more that scholars discovered after the composer’s death. Rubinstein played them like few others: cleanly, with vigor but without fuss, with energy but without eccentricity. Every note seems right, every passage a work of considered excellence and maturity. Technically, one might hear the Waltzes played in a more letter-perfect manner, but one cannot doubt the intent of the composer or the pianist in Rubinstein’s performances.

So, why should one buy this disc? First, obviously, because there are no better performances of the Waltzes. Second, because the album has been remastered and sounds better than ever, clearer and more precise than in its first CD incarnation from 1984. Third, because the album now includes as a bonus Chopin’s four Impromptus, recorded by Rubinstein in 1964 and themselves as good as or better than any other recording of the pieces on disc. The Opus 66, “Fantasie-Impromptu,” will break your heart. And fourth, it is because the folks at RCA/Sony offer the disc at mid price, which is a bargain no music lover should overlook.

It was good to see RCA (now under the Sony umbrella) back in action a few years ago with a reissued line of mid-priced Red Seal classics, each a bargain in itself. Of two other discs I sampled at the time, the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 (82876-59411-2) with Horowitz and the Brahms Violin and Double Concertos with Heifetz and Piatigorsky (82876-59410), stood out. Although both of the recordings had been available for a few years in their present remasterings on CD, their availability at mid price is commendable. Also of interest are the Mahler Fourth with Levine (82876-59413-2), Debussy’s La Mer with Munch (82876-59416-2), Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Richter (82876-59421-2), and Schubert’s Symphony 9 with Wand (82876-59425-2). In all, there were twenty titles in RCA’s re-released Red Seal Classic Library, each one as intriguing as the next.


Mayer: Violin Sonatas (CD review)

Aleksandra Maslovaric, violin; Anne-Lise Longuemare, piano. Feminae Records.

Several points attracted me to this album. First, I was unfamiliar with Serbian-born violinist Aleksandra Maslovaric and wanted to know more about her work. Second, I was unfamiliar with the nineteenth-century composer Emilie Mayer and wanted to know more her as well. Third, the three Mayer violin sonatas presented on the disc were previously unrecorded, and I wanted to hear what few listeners had ever heard before. So, here was a perfect and ultimately rewarding opportunity to find out a few things.

In a day and age when polite society expected women to be at home tending to the family, German composer Emilie Mayer (1812-1883) was out and about doing a man’s work, writing music. More important, she apparently went at with a passion, producing eight symphonies, fifteen concert overtures, and numerous chamber works and songs. Like her more-famous and influential contemporary, Clara Schumann, Ms. Mayer traveled throughout Europe performing and attending concerts of her music.

The Mayer sonatas presented on this disc are clearly in the Romantic vein--beautiful, flowing, and melodic--and Ms. Maslovaric, accompanied by Anne-Lise Longuemare on piano, perform them in an equally beautiful, flowing, melodic manner. The material may not be important or memorable enough to warrant more than an occasional listen, but those occasional visits will assuredly be enjoyable.

The disc begins with the Sonata in E minor, Op. 19 (1867), the longest and most-mature work on the program. Here, we get a lengthy and energetic opening Allegro agitato, certainly underlining the agitation part. Yet with the movement we hear any number of tempo and mood shifts as the various themes pour out of the violin. Moreover, Ms. Maslovaric seems wholly dedicated to displaying the music in its best light, whether dancing lightly through the notes or stressing their intensity. The ensuing Scherzo is a happy, bouncy affair, and Ms. Maslovaric imbues it with a tender care that ensures we don’t see it as lightweight or frivolous. The Adagio has a faintly melancholy tone, and the final Allegro shows a brilliance that matches the opening section.

Next, we get the little Sonata in E flat major, which survives in manuscript form only. It evidences a good deal of creativity, and one wonders why the composer chose never to publish it. The final work in the album, the Sonata in A minor, Op. 18 (1864), is also a relatively short piece, its four movements totaling around twenty-three minutes. It displays some of the same qualities as the E minor Sonata, although in more compressed form. There are strikingly lovely passages of high Romanticism juxtaposed with vibrant moments of excitement.

For fans of chamber music looking for something a bit different, Ms. Maslovaric’s decision to emphasize in her repertoire classical works by female composers comes as a welcome change of pace for the record industry, and her recordings make a welcome addition to the classical music catalogue.

Ms. Maslovaric recorded the album at Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA, mastered it at Romanowski Mastering, San Francisco, CA, and released it in 2012. Although the piano sounds slightly bigger and closer than the violin, the piano is also somewhat softer and more resonant, the two instruments both exhibiting a smooth, rich, natural response. Output seems a little high, so you’ll need to adjust the gain when you start it up. The violin is particularly lifelike, and the two players appear well imaged, with strong dynamic contrasts to set them off.


Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” (UltraHD CD)

Rudolf Serkin, piano; Seiji Ozawa, Boston Symphony Orchestra. LIM UHD 053.

Telarc originally released this album in 1981, and at the time I remember their sending me an LP of it to review. I’m afraid that for one reason or another, it initially didn’t impress me much. It seemed to me back then that both the performance and the recording needed more weight. That turned out to be an unfortunate judgment because I shortly came to like the LP very much. That’s why I find this remastering by LIM (Lasting Impression Music), an affiliate label of FIM (First Impression Music), so remarkable. After all these years, it seems like an entirely new recording, both sonically and interpretively. Part of my new appreciation stems from LIM’s extravagant Ultra High Definition 32-bit processing, of course, and part of it is that I probably never gave the recording its proper due in the first place. In any event, listening again after all these years, I found it a complete delight.

German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) wrote his Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat, Op. 73, “Emperor,” in 1809, premiering it in 1811 and dedicating it to the Archduke Rudolf, his patron and student at the time. It would be Beethoven’s final piano concerto, and it would go on to become one of the man’s most-popular pieces of music.

Any rendition must offer a big, bold, imposing opening Allegro, with its long, grand introduction, which Serkin provides, the pianist adopting a moderate, never breathless pace, and Ozawa giving him the chance to create a most-heroic solo contribution. It’s a nuanced performance from Serkin, yet each facet of it works, from the softest passages to the most ardent segments. Beethoven intended the opening movement to be monumental, and Serkin and the orchestra respond to it accordingly. The players perform their duties in exemplary fashion, with no lack of power, passion, grandeur, or insight.

In the central Adagio, we get one of the loveliest melodies Beethoven (or anyone else) ever wrote, a brief duet between piano and orchestra, and Serkin handles it almost as tenderly as anyone. True, Serkin hasn’t quite the poetic bent of Wilhelm Kempff, with Serkin seeming a tad more mechanical and matter-of-fact by comparison. Still, it’s so close, I wouldn’t quibble. 

With Serkin, the hushed transition into the final Rondo: Allegro registers a distinctive character and takes the concerto on to glowing heights, Serkin playing in fine, melodic style driving toward a wonderfully refined yet exuberant conclusion. Serkin may have been up in years when he made this Telarc recording (he was close to eighty at the time), but he doesn’t show it. Of his several recordings of the Fifth Concerto, this one from Telarc is surely his finest, most glowing, most magisterial, most self assured, most exultant rendering of them all.

In terms of ranking the great recordings of Beethoven’s Fifth Concerto, one must place Serkin among the very best, alongside Kovacevich, Arrau, Ashkenazy, Kempff, Brendel, Pollini, Fleisher, Gieseking, Horowitz, Curzon, Rubinstein, Gilels, Cliburn, Perahia, and a very few select others. It’s that good. 

The audio, which Telarc recorded digitally in 1981 at Symphony Hall, Boston, and which LIM remastered in 2011 and released in 2012, is big and bold to match the performance. LIM’s 32-bit Ultra High Definition processing results in a beautifully natural piano sound and a dynamic orchestral support, making an almost ideal combination of instrumental sonics. We also hear a touch of ambient hall bloom, helping the piano appear rich and resonant, and there’s good clarity throughout without being in any way bright, hard, or edgy. In short, this LIM product is the best-sounding Beethoven Fifth Piano Concerto I have ever heard, and a brief comparison to over half a dozen other recordings of the piece I had on hand confirmed this impression.

Considering, too, its attractive, high-gloss, hardcover packaging, its twenty-page bound booklet, and its static-proof inner sleeve, the LIM product is something of an audiophile’s dream. Just don’t expect it to come cheap. For a complete listing of FIM/LIM products, you can visit their Web site at http://www.firstimpressionmusic.com/.


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.

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, Goldpoint SA4 “passive preamp,” 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.

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.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

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 First Symphony. 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 that 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. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@gmail.com

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa