D'Albert: Cinderella Suite (CD review)

Also, The Little Mermaid; Overtures. Viktorija Kaminskaite, soprano; Jun Markl, MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 5.573110.

What would we do without Naxos? Certainly, we would not get to hear as many neglected eighteenth and nineteenth-century composers as the label affords us. In this case it's Eugen Francois Charles d'Albert (1864 - 1932), a Scottish-born German composer and pianist who got his early education in Scotland before moving to London in his later youth. Then, showing musical talent, d'Albert won a scholarship to study in Austria, where he stayed for a while before moving to Germany, there studying with Franz Liszt and starting a career as a concert pianist.

Apparently, he was all the rage as a virtuoso pianist, but he also produced a prodigious number of musical compositions including twenty-one operas and numerous orchestral and chamber works. On the present album, conductor Jun Markl and the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra provide a variety of the man's overtures, preludes, and suites. While I can't say I fell in love with any of them--and it's probably no accident that much of the fellow's music fell into neglect--I didn't dislike any of the material, either, most of it varied and tuneful enough to maintain my interest.

Maestro Markl begins the program with three brief overtures and two preludes. All of them appear to fall squarely in the Romantic idiom, and none of them seem to me particularly memorable. As this is only the second such d'Albert collection from Markl, one assumes the conductor chose some of the best of d'Albert's music to record. If that's the case, maybe the rest of it deserves neglect. Anyway, the first selections are the Overture to Grillparzer's Esther, the Prelude to Die toten Augen ("The Dead Eyes"), the Prelude to Act II of Gernot, the Overture to Der Rubin ("The Ruby"), and the Overture to Die Abreise ("The Departure").

The music of the opening pieces offers just about every turn of phrase you can think of, most of it loud and not a little bombastic. Well, that's the nature of most overtures, in any case; composers mean for them to get and hold our attention as the curtain rises on a production. It's just that here it's the "get" that works, not really the "hold." Despite Markl's best efforts and the splendid work of the MDR Leipzig RSO, the music doesn't really reveal anything new, innovative, special, or unusual I could latch onto. The best I can say for it is that it's totally innocuous, so you won't feel as though you wasted your time on it. And, to be fair, "The Dead Eyes" Prelude has an appealing air of quiet mystery about it.

Then we come to the two centerpieces of the album: the Aschenputtel Suite ("Cinderella Suite") and Das Seejungfraulein ("The Little Mermaid") for soprano and orchestra. These were much more to my liking. Cinderella tells the familiar Brothers Grimm fairy tale, the suite having five movements that take us through the plot. Here, I enjoyed the storytelling aspect of each descriptive little tone poem, with Markl and his players well capturing the atmosphere, romance, and gentle adventure of the narrative. Well, OK, maybe Markl could have supplied a little more pomp and punch in the final wedding dance, but it's a minor issue.

D'Albert wrote "The Little Mermaid" (based on the story by Hans Christian Anderson) in 1897 for his wife at the time to sing (he married quite a few times). Here it's sung by Lithuanian soprano Viktorija Kaminskaite, whose voice justifies continued listening. It's quite lovely.

Although, as I say, I didn't find all the material on the album worth hearing more than once, there is no denying that you get enough of it. The disc contains over seventy-five minutes of music, close to the limit of a CD. For a relatively inexpensive product, you're at least getting your money's worth in playing time.

Tim Handley produced, engineered, and edited the music, which he recorded in 2011 at the MDR Studio Augustusplatz, Leipzig, Germany. The sound is fairly typical of Naxos's better work of late. It's big, bold, warm, and round, with a smooth, natural bloom from the hall. It's never forward, bright, hard, or edgy, nor is it especially transparent or ultra-clear. The sonics are rather modest, actually, providing a decent depth of field, with somewhat limited impact, dynamics, and frequency extremes. It's the kind of sound that will neither excite nor offend the audiophile but makes for easy, relaxed listening.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, August 31, 2014

Composer Mohammed Fairouz's 2014-15 Season to Include DG Debut, Seven Premieres

Composer Mohammed Fairouz's 2014-2015 season brings seven world premieres, notable performances of the young composer's works in the U.S. and around the world. Fairouz's Deutsche Grammophon debut album with Ensemble LPR, Evan Rogister and Kate Lindsey to be released January 27, 2015.

For 28-year-old Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz, the 2014-15 season is filled with performances of his chamber, vocal and orchestral works by some of the country's leading artists including seven world premieres and his debut album on the Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music Classics label.

On January 27, 2015, Deutsche Grammophon will release a new album of works by Mohammed Fairouz, marking the composer's debut on the Yellow Label, and the first in Universal Music Classics' "Return to Language" series. Produced by David Frost, the album includes the elegiac song cycle Audenesque sung by Kate Lindsey, and the ballet Sadat. Both works feature the Ensemble LPR conducted by Evan Rogister.

Highlights of the Fairouz's season include seven world-premiere performances of repertoire ranging from chamber music, to songs – for voice and flute, voice and wind quintet, and chorus – to a full-scale opera-oratorio for large chorus, soloists and orchestra.

Locales is Fairouz's tribute to the cosmopolitanism embodied in the world's great cities is written for oboe and string trio and will be presented by oboist Ian Shafer at Carnegie Hall's Weill Hall in November 2014.

Kaplansbündlertanz, for pianist David Kaplan, will be performed in late November in a program entitled "The Schumann Project: New Dances of the League of David" to be presented by the Metropolis Ensemble at the Irish Historical Society.

Deep Rivers, for baritone and wind quintet, will be presented by Clefworks in Montgomery, Alabama in March, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Freedom Marches and the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

The Second Coming, a setting of the apocalyptic poem by W.B. Yeats, will be premiered by the Young New Yorker's Chorus under the direction of Michael Kerschner on March 10th at New York's Merkin Hall.

Mohammed Fairouz's dramatic oratorio Zabur will receive its world premiere by the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in April of 2015.

A new song cycle on Wallace Stevens's poetry exploring his complex relationship to Florida and the natural world will premiere on May 7 at New York's SubCulture. The performance will feature flutist Claire Chase and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo.

Fairouz's ballet Sadat – snapshots from the extraordinary life of the late Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat – will be premiered by the Mimesis Ensemble at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall on May 27 following the work's recorded premiere on Fairouz's Universal Music Classics/Deutsche Grammophon debut album out in January.

Additional highlights of the 2014-15 season will include performances by Rachel Barton Pine, Del Sol Quartet and Kathleen Supové, a tour of his Kol Nidrei by cellist Maya Beiser, performances of the opera Sumeida's Song by the Pittsburgh Opera and his Violin Concerto by Chloë Hanslip and the Reno Philharmonic. A complete list of performance dates and details is below and at http://mohammedfairouz.com/calendar/.

--Rebecca Davis, Universal Music

American Boychoir School Elevates Assistant Music Director Dr. Kerry Heimann to President
The American Boychoir, one the world's preeminent musical ensembles, announced today that Dr. Kerry Heimann, Assistant Music Director and Accompanist, has been promoted to President of the American Boychoir School. In this capacity, Heimann will lead all facets of the school including setting the strategic vision, overseeing the day-to-day operations, engaging donors and alumni, and serving as the school's public face.

"I'm extremely honored to take on this new leadership position within the American Boychoir School," said Heimann. "This school and its students hold a place near and dear to my heart. Having participated in the choir's growth over the past ten years, I look forward to the exciting prospects of a new era as we continue to thrive as one of the world's premiere boy choirs and as a rigorous academic institution that shapes a new generation of young men."

An accomplished organist, accompanist, instrumentalist, choir director, guest artist and educator, Heimann has worn numerous hats during his tenure with the choir.  He has coordinated an extensive yearly international touring and recording schedule; assisted in designing the choir's PR and strategic marketing campaigns; contributed to growth and development campaigns and initiatives; trained new music department staff, and played an integral role in coordinating multifaceted communications and planning among students, parents, staff, presenters and the public.

For more information on American Boychoir, visit http://www.americanboychoir.org/index.php

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and New Century Chamber Orchestra Open Their 2014-15 Season September 11-14 in Four Bay Area Concerts with Featured Composer and Clarinetist Derek Bermel
Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the New Century Chamber Orchestra open their seventh season together September 11-14, when acclaimed Featured Composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel joins them for four Bay Area concerts. The orchestra will perform three of Bermel's compositions, showcasing the Brooklyn composer's eclectic and globally-inspired musical language: A Short History of the Universe for String Quartet and Clarinet (inspired by his study of gravitational physics and string theory), Oct Up for two string quartets and percussion, and Silvioudades, with Salerno-Sonnenberg and Bermel as featured soloists on the work from his most recent CD, Canzonas Americanas, recorded with Alarm Will Sound.

The September concert program, which New Century will perform in Berkeley, Palo Alto, San Francisco, and San Rafael, also includes performances of Shchedrin's Carmen Suite, the Russian composer's strings-and-percussion orchestration drawn from Bizet's Carmen. A signature work in the orchestra's repertoire, the piece drew rave reviews and standing ovations in 2011, with Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle praising New Century for a "superb performance, marked by rhythmic vivacity and emotional brilliance." Arvo Pärt's otherworldly and immensely popular Fratres completes the program. Existing in a variety of different instrumental incarnations, Fratres will be performed in its most recognized version for solo violin and string orchestra.

Concerts take place Thursday, September 11 at 8 pm at First Congregational Church in Berkeley, CA; Friday, September 12 at 8 pm at First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto; Saturday, September 13 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music at 8 pm, and Sunday, September 14 at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael at 5 pm.

New Century's collaboration with Derek Bermel is the most recent in the orchestra's ongoing "Featured Composer Program." Each season, New Century works with a different composer, who creates at least one new work for the orchestra with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg as concertmaster, soloist and muse. New Century also performs at least one existing piece by the Featured Composer, both to offer a wider range of his or her work, and to help ensure the longevity of worthy compositions. Established under Salerno-Sonnenberg's leadership in 2008, the program has produced new works from some of the most significant American composers in contemporary music, including Clarice Assad, Lera Auerbach, William Bolcom, Michael Daugherty, Mark O'Connor, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, and now Bermel, who has just been appointed director of the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

A West Coast premiere by Derek Bermel in May closes New Century's 2014-15 season. Bermel's newest work has been co-commissioned in collaboration with a national consortium of orchestras, including the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra of Houston, and A Far Cry of Boston. The consortium has been established as part of an effort to increase the national impact of the works commissioned by New Century, which they also do by touring and recording commissioned works. The orchestra's new CD, From A to Z: 21st Century Concertos, is a compilation of four of New Century's live world premiere performances of its newly commissioned works, with Salerno-Sonnenberg as soloist in music by Assad, Bolcom, Daugherty and Zwilich. It was released earlier this year on the NSS Music label.

Subscriptions and tickets for individual concerts for New Century Chamber Orchestra's 2014-15 season are on sale now. Single tickets for the September 11-14 concerts are $29 to $61 and can be purchased through City Box Office: www.cityboxoffice.com or (415) 392-4400. Discounted $15 single tickets are available for patrons under 35. Open Rehearsal tickets are $8 general admission and can be purchased through City Box Office.

Three-concert subscriptions range from $78 to $165; four-concert subscriptions range from $104 to $220. Call (415) 392-4400 or visit www.ncco.org to purchase.

--Jean Shirk Media

As One at BAM, Sep. 4-7: Truth Will Out
American Opera Projects/Brooklyn Academy of Music
Music and Concept by Laura Kaminsky
Libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed
Music Direction by Steven Osgood
Stage Direction by Ken Cazan

"Bravo to AOP for supporting such controversial and ultimately important work." --Opera Today

In this world premiere chamber opera for two singers and string quartet, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and baritone Kelly Markgraf depict the experiences of its sole transgender protagonist, Hannah, as she endeavors to resolve the discord between her self and the outside world. Featuring the Fry Street Quartet.

Sep 4 - Sep 7, 2014
Location: BAM Fisher, 321 Ashland Place, Brooklyn, NY 11217
Run time: 90min
All tickets: $25

For more information, visit http://www.bam.org/asone?utm_source=Copy+of+As+One+on-sale+tix+3&utm_campaign=As+One+tix+3&utm_medium=email

--Matthew Gray, Amerian Opera Projects

Deutsche Grammophon Unveils Great "Discovery"
Deutsche Grammophon launches DG Discovery – the world's first classical label streaming App. The curated App offers subscribers instant and unlimited access to peerless performances and a rich supply of background information.

Deutsche Grammophon announces the launch of DG Discovery, the world's first classical music label streaming app. Regular listeners to classical music, as well as those looking to deepen their knowledge of the genre, will be able to enjoy an initial range of 450 albums, carefully selected to offer consumers an outstanding listening experience. DG Discovery features essential works by the 30 most popular composers, performed by 80 star artists from Deutsche Grammophon's peerless roster. It is set to transform access to the Yellow Label's rich catalogue of recordings via touch-screen devices.

Full and unlimited access to the service is available at a monthly fee of $3.99 in the U.S., or a twelve month discounted subscription fee of $35.99 ($2.99 per month). A free version of DG Discovery, complete with 30-second streamed samples of all tracks in the app's catalogue, allows users to sample before they subscribe.

Following a stunning sell-out performance at his Salzburg Festival "Mozart Matinee" on Saturday, the label's star tenor Rolando Villazón officially unveiled the new app on his own iPad. "DG Discovery is a fantastic new way for classical music lovers to enjoy this art form using all the advantages of modern technology," he notes. "It's also a space for the curious to encounter the great masters and current performers. It allows you to listen to incredible performances whenever and wherever you wish, which is a terrific advantage for today's music lovers. I'm sure that DG Discovery will become one of the main ways that we listen to treasures from the great Deutsche Grammophon catalogue."

DG Discovery's simple structure provides a rapid search function, browsable by composer or artist name, and a wealth of background information about both the artists and the music. Product pages allow music-lovers to access original album liner notes and share favorite tracks with others. They also provide access to a rich seam of information, complete with details of individual recording dates, venues and production teams. The app's Artist pages include links to artist websites and a vast resource of photos, videos and other audio-visual material.

The app will update with over 20 new albums each month, developing an ever-expanding catalogue and satisfying demand for imaginative and adventurous playlists. The home page will refresh with 12 new playlists every week, organized by artist, composer and timely themes, such as Christmas. Thanks to the app's user-friendly design, subscribers can create multiple personal playlists and, with the aid of a single-tap Facebook button, engaging in social media conversations about favorite works and their interpretations. A tap-and-buy button gives those wishing to buy downloads of favorite tracks and albums from the DG Discovery catalogue instant access to the iTunes store.

"DG Discovery marks an exciting step forward in taking the joys of classical music to as wide an audience as possible," comments Mark Wilkinson, President of Deutsche Grammophon. "The digital audience is our audience, and "Discovery" can do exactly that – take listeners on a journey, open doors, and enlighten and enrich their understanding of this great, timeless music."

To discover for yourselves, click here www.iTunes.com/dgdiscovery and here

--Olga Makrias, Universal Music

Listen Magazine Releases Fall 2014 Issue
Mitsuko Uchida, Nonesuch at 50, John Luther Adam's Become Ocean, Return of the Catskills, Classical Music Movie Night

Fresh off a summer of musical explorations, Listen: Life with Classical Music reports back on some of its most salient discoveries: Did you know that Mitsuko Uchida thinks Schumann was a weirdo? Or that the Catskills are back in vogue for the avant-garde set? In Toronto and numerous other cities, classical music isn't piped into public spaces to enhance the ambience but to deter loitering, and the quintessential American symphonic sound can be accredited to a gay Jewish socialist. Speaking of populism, the bawdy world of classical music is the subject of an upcoming new Amazon series, complete with a character based on Gustavo Dudamel.

A multi-award-winning print quarterly hailed by Library Journal as one of the best new magazines of 2009, Listen Magazine is the American voice of classical music. Now in its sixth year of publication, Listen delivers exclusive interviews with the world's top musicians, feature articles, think pieces, festival coverage, insight into the masterworks and the unsung works of the classical canon, as well as recommendations on record, on screen, in print and online. No one covers the breadth and depth of classical music with greater elegance and zeal than Listen.

The magazine is available at Barnes & Noble and other fine bookstores throughout the U.S. and Canada or by subscription.

For more information, visit ListenMusicMag.com

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

American Opera Projects Appoints Laura Kaminsky As Its Composer-in-Residence Beginning September 1, 2014
American Opera Projects Inc. (AOP) announces the appointment of Laura Kaminsky as its composer-in-residence commencing September 1, 2014, three days before her opera "As One" premieres at BAM in an AOP production (performances September 4, 6, and 7). In this role, Kaminsky will bring broad expertise to AOP enabling the Brooklyn-based company to expand its mission of identifying, developing, and presenting new and innovative works of music theater by emerging and established artists and to engage audiences in an immersive, transformative theatrical experience.

For more information, visit www.operaprojects.org

--Matthew Gray, American Opera Projects

The Orion Ensemble Announces Musician Changes
The Orion Ensemble, winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, announces that violist Jennifer Marlas, who has been on sabbatical due to health issues, will not be returning to the Ensemble.

"I speak for the entire Ensemble in expressing our gratitude to have had the opportunity to play with Jennifer as a revered core artist for many years," said Orion's clarinetist and executive director Kathryne Pirtle. "We regret that, due to a long-term chronic illness, she will be unable to return. We have been fortunate to have violinist/violist Stephen Boe fill in for Jennifer the past several years, and he will continue to serve as principal guest violist this season and in the future."

"I treasure my years collaborating with such wonderful musicians," said Marlas. "I also value the strong friendships we have formed; they will last a lifetime."

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Bang on a Can's 2014-2015 Season Announced
Season highlights include
Sept. 17: Bang on a Can All-Stars at Sacrum Profanum Festival, Krakow, Poland
October 8-November 1: OneBeat, Bang on a Can's Found Sound Nation & U.S. Dept. of State Partner for Diplomacy through Music Program
Oct. 14: Julia Wolfe's Steel Hammer at Brookfield Place Winter Garden presented by WNYC's New Sounds Live
Ongoing Partnership with The Jewish Museum in NYC presenting concerts in November, January, and May
Feb. 15: First-ever Bang on a Can Marathon in Seattle, WA
Feb. 23-March 22: Bang on a Can's Found Sound Nation produces inaugural Dosti Music Project
Feb. 26: Annual People's Commissioning Fund Concert at Kaufman Music Center's Merkin Hall in NYC
March 5: Smith Quartet Plays Bang on a Can at King's Place in London
March 6-7: Bang on a Can at New Music Dublin, curated by David Lang
March 22: Bang on a Can All-Stars and Meredith Monk at Carnegie Hall
June 5-7: Bang on a Can All-Stars at the Miami Light Project
June 2015: Bang on a Can Marathon at Brookfield Place Winter Garden
July: Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival at MASS MoCA in North Adams, MA
And much more!

Plus new Cantaloupe Music releases:
Asphalt Orchestra's take on The Pixies' Surfer Rosa (November 2014)
Bang on a Can All-Stars Field Recordings (Spring 2015)

For more information, visit www.bangonacan.org

--Christina Jensen PR

Ravel: Orchestral Works (CD review)

Also, Saint-Saens: Organ Symphony. Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony. Seattle Symphony Media SSM1002.

Ludovic Morlot took over the conductorship of Seattle Symphony in 2011 after a long tenure by Gerard Schwarz. By all indications, Maestro Morlot is continuing the success the symphony has enjoyed over the years since its inception in 1903. On the present program, Morlot presents several short works by French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), followed by the Symphony No. 3 "Organ" by fellow French composer and pianist Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921).

First up is Ravel's Alborada del gracioso ("Song of a Clown"), written originally for piano 1905 and transcribed by the composer for orchestra in 1918. Morlot provides a good deal of atmosphere in the piece, drawing out Ravel's sumptuous lines and colorful Spanish flavor. He allows the music to become appropriately lively as the it moves along. It's nicely done.

Next is Ravel's Pavane pour une infante defunte ("Music for a dead princess"), also composed originally for piano (1899) but transcribed by the composer for orchestra in 1910. Ravel explained that he did not intend the Pavane as a mournful funeral march, despite its title, but as a refined and stately court dance, such music as a Spanish princess might have danced to. Therefore, Morlot plays it accordingly, not too slow and not too sentimental but with a simple elegance.

After that is Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole, which the composer wrote for orchestra in 1908, his first such piece. The music develops in four descriptive movements: a "Prelude to Night," a traditional Malaguena," a popular "Habanera," and a concluding "Feria" or "festival." Here, Morlot creates an befitting sense of place and being, evoking the Spanish flavor of the work in each movement without overdoing his enthusiasm. All four sections come off with an emotional sophistication and a quiet imagination, with a special nod to the festive ending.

As the concluding item on the program, Morlot gives us Saint-Saens's Organ Symphony, which the composer finished in 1886 and which has been showing off church and concert-hall pipe organs ever since. Of course, it isn't really an "organ symphony" at all, as it features the organ in only two of its four movements; but close enough.

While I found almost everything about Morlot's handling of the Ravel pieces to my liking, I can't say quite the same thing about his interpretation of the Saint-Saens. The music never seems to get off the ground, remaining a mite too prosaic for my taste, at least compared to the conductors I favor: Charles Munch (RCA or JVC), Jean Martinon (EMI), Geoffrey Simon (Cala), and, best of all, Louis Fremaux (EMI or Klavier). Morlot, unfortunately, never appears to generate the same kind of energy, mood, tone, or excitement as these other musicians, nor does the recording produce the kind of bass needed to remind us of the organ's presence, even with the volume cranked up.

Dmitriy Lipay produced, engineered, and edited the album, recorded live in concert at the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, Washington in September 2013. First, a word about that "live in concert" business: Like many symphony orchestras these days, Seattle is doing their recording in-house, through their own record label and, I assume to further cut costs, live. This means that not only have they decided to record fairly close up to minimize audience noise but that one almost always senses the audience's presence. Worse, at the end of several pieces (the first and final Ravel pieces and the Saint-Saens) the audience erupts into applause, something I find quite disturbing, distracting me from my appreciation of the music. Obviously, the engineer left the applause in place to further simulate the live experience, and I realize that many home listeners enjoy this part of the show. I don't.

Anyway, the sound obtained is, as I say, a little close, certainly detailed, but somewhat hard and thin, too. There is good depth to the orchestra, and an admirably transparent midrange, with plenty of air around the instruments. There is also a distinct lack of warmth about the proceedings, though, with a slightly bright edge to the sound. Perhaps a tad more upper bass warmth would have helped, as well as more deep bass (especially in the Saint-Saens).


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

Bax: Symphony No. 6 (CD review)

Also, Into the Twilight; Summer Music. David Lloyd-Jones, Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Naxos 8.557144.

Where would we be without Chandos and Naxos? Well, we wouldn't have much of Sir Arnold Bax, that's for sure. The British composer (1883-1953) was at one time well represented in the catalogue by EMI and Lyrita, but today it's almost entirely Chandos and Naxos. While the former label may offer slightly better sound, it's the Naxos label that provides the bargains.

Naxos set out some years ago to record all seven of Bax's symphonies and as many of his short works as possible, most or all of them with conductor David Lloyd-Jones. So far as I can tell, Lloyd-Jones has done all of the symphonies now, and I believe he's done most of the tone poems as well.

Lloyd-Jones performs the Symphony No. 6 (1935) with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and they do it at least as well as what we heard in previous Naxos editions, meaning with plenty of Celtic atmosphere. That is what Bax is all about, of course--Celtic atmosphere. With No. 6 we get it in spades, from the mercurial opening movement with its tempestuous mood swings to the lilting slow movement and the stormy finale, which finally fades gently, tranquilly away. Bax himself claimed that the Sixth was his favorite of all the symphonies, and critics have generally agreed. What's more, while Bax shows us that he's clearly a Romantic at heart, there is yet a good deal of the modern twentieth century in there as well. There's even some Scottish folk music, a bit of jazz, and a pair of marches thrown around for good measure, so the music offers a little something for everyone. Lloyd-Jones and his Royal Scottish players capture not only the atmosphere but its many contrasts as well, the conductor always sensitive to the nuances of the music.

Personally, however, being the Philistine that I am, I prefer Bax's briefer tone poems to his longer symphonies because I think he conveys a more concentrated feeling for his subject matter in the shorter pieces. Frankly, I long ago began to tire of Bax's symphonies, as they began sounding too much alike for my taste, even though the composer seemed to shake things up well enough with No. 6 to keep my attention. Understand, I don't really dislike Bax's symphonies; it's just that I find his tone poems, such as the two contained on this disc, get more quickly to the heart of matters and, therefore, keep me more interested and intrigued. I suppose it's all a question of personal taste, and Bax may be an acquired one. Besides, to me the symphonies tend to sound like a series of tone poems strung together, anyway, not always with as much cohesion as I'd prefer. For example, although Bax breaks the Sixth Symphony into three official movements, he further divides the final movement into what are actually four distinct segments.

Whatever, the accompanying works, "Into the Twilight" and "Summer Music," are both delightfully descriptive and evocative, and Lloyd-Jones does them as well as anybody. The conductor and orchestra have an obvious affinity for Bax's music, and it's always a pleasure hearing them.

Naxos released the present disc in 2003, and their sound seems to me even better than in their previous Bax recordings. As before, it's big, bold, warm sound, the bass never actually reaching the lowest octaves but probably not needing to. There is a rich lower midrange that maybe obscures a little of what could have been greater depth and transparency, but the result makes for easy, comfortable, concert hall-style listening.


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

Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 "Pastoral" (HQCD review)

Also, Fidelio Overture. Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra. HDTT HQCD374.

Quite a while ago--in the Seventies, actually--I compiled a magazine article on the favorite recordings of audiophile friends and acquaintances. I asked each of several dozen music critics, hi-fi store owners, and audiophiles to send me their lists of five-to-ten favorite LP's, and it somewhat surprised me that the final list I put together contained several references to Fritz Reiner's Beethoven Sixth for RCA. It surprised me because although I had always admired the performance, I had never thought the recording was very good. Some years later, things changed.

The first time I heard Reiner's recording of the Sixth, it was on RCA's first LP. It didn't sound good. A few years later RCA reissued it on a lower-priced LP, and it sounded even worse, this time with surface noise. Around 1990 or so, RCA released the recording on CD, and I had high hopes. Well, at least the noise had disappeared, but as I remember it still sounded rather thin and vague to me. By the late Nineties I had high hopes that RCA would remaster the recording in their "Living Stereo" CD series, but that didn't happen (or if it did, it escaped my attention). Then came JVC to the rescue in 2002 with an XRCD audiophile remaster. Finally, I could hear the performance in good, high-quality sound. The only problem was the price of the disc: very costly and out of the reach of a lot of listeners.

Now, HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) has come out with their remaster, sounding almost as good as the JVC but at half or less the cost. HDTT offer a full range of physical product and digital downloads in a variety of formats from the HQCD I reviewed to FLAC, DSD 64 and 128, DXD 24 bit/352.8 kHz, 24bit/192kHz, 24bit/96kHz, CD's, DVD's, you name it. Phew! Something for everybody, and still at prices lower than the hard-to-get JVC product.

Anyway, let's look at the performance, which Reiner led in 1961. Critics often accused Reiner of being too strict with his tempos (he was certainly a strict disciplinarian when it came to leading an orchestra), but here we see no signs of that. While he keeps things moving along at a healthy clip, it's true, there's also a good deal of flexibility in his control. The first-movement Allegro, for instance, is quick and taut but unhurried, too ("ma non troppo," as Beethoven indicates). These are "cheerful impressions upon arriving in the countryside," after all, and that's the way Reiner carries it off--cheerfully.

Under Reiner the second-movement "Scene by the Brook" is properly bucolic and serene, a lovely day in the peace and quiet of rural fields, woods, and streams. When the peasants carry on their merrymaking in the third movement, they do so with a minimum of riotous rambunctiousness. This is no drunken orgy but a group of friends and neighbors enjoying one another's company in gaiety and dance. As such, Reiner holds a fairly tight rein on the rhythms, allowing them to develop and open up smoothly and naturally.

Finally, we come to the storm that briefly opens up in the afternoon and the "Shepherd's Hymn of Thanksgiving" that follows the outburst. Again, Reiner handles both extremes with elegance, power, and restraint. The storm is aptly explosive, and the hymn is pleasantly optimistic, though not exactly inspirational. Indeed, it is only in this final section that I find Reiner just a little too rigid, but his ending is nevertheless in full accordance with everything that's gone before.

For me, there have long been only three top choices in the "Pastoral Symphony": Karl Bohm's genial performance with the Vienna Philharmonic on DG; Bruno Walter's happily assertive rendering with the Columbia Symphony, now on Sony; and Reiner's under review. For secondary alternatives to these, one might consider the more leisurely views of Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia or Eugen Jochum and the London Symphony, both on EMI. But, really, Reiner's is as good as or better than any of them.

For a bonus (not found on the JVC disc), we get Reiner's interpretation of Beethoven's Fidelio Overture. It's a straightforward, almost austere, but surely authoritative reading. It reminds me of Reiner's handling of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony: an ardent, no-holds-barred account; an old-fashioned locomotive blazing down the tracks at full steam, yet always under perfect management.

The talented RCA team of producer Richard Mohr and engineer Lewis Layton recorded the music in April 1961 at Chicago Symphony Hall, and HDTT transferred it to the HQCD I reviewed from an RCA 4-track tape in 2014. First I listened to the entire symphony on my primary Sony CD player. Afterwards, I put the JVC XRCD I mentioned earlier into my Yamaha machine, adjusted the two discs for the same gain, and compared the HDTT and JVC products side-by-side.

At first during the comparison, I'd swear I couldn't hear any differences. Then, as my ears became more attuned to the sound of the two discs I began hearing subtle distinctions. The HDTT seemed very slightly softer, warmer, more rounded; the JVC marginally clearer, cleaner, better focused. Further along I began to wonder if the JVC wasn't producing a wider dynamic range; it did sound a tad louder to me at certain points. So, I took a decibel meter and measured the variance between the softest and loudest passages on both discs; sure enough, the JVC did show a decibel or two more range. But these differences were so small that unless I had had the two discs playing next to one another, I would never have guessed that they weren't identical.

Again, I want to emphasize the price differential of the two albums: If you can find the JVC product, it will set you back anywhere from $50 to $150. The HDTT will cost you anywhere from $8 to $36, depending on the format you choose. That is a real difference, and the HDTT disc will sound big, full, natural, detailed, transparent, and dynamic. Sounds like a deal to me for a practically unbeatable performance. Nice cover picture, too.

For further information on the various formats, configurations, and prices of HDTT products, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.


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

La Valse (CD review)

Piano music of Ravel and Scriabin. Sean Chen, piano. Steinway & Sons 30029.

When musicians do solo albums they often try to tie things together with some kind of unifying theme for the subject matter. Sometimes it's as all-encompassing as a simple recital of favorite tunes, and at other times, such as here, it's narrower, more specific. In this case, pianist Sean Chen has chosen to concentrate on the period of 1900-1914 and composers Aleksandr Scriabin and Maurice Ravel. Why 1900-1914? As historian Philipp Blom notes: It was a "period of extraordinary creativity in the arts and sciences, of enormous change in society and in the very image people had of themselves." It was also obviously a time of transition in the classical-music world, from the late-Romantic era to the early modern age, and the music of both Scriabin and Ravel reflect this major shift.

Anyway, the star of the show is American pianist Sean Chen (b. 1988), winner of the American Pianists Association's DeHaan Classical Fellowship, one of the most lucrative and significant prizes available to an American pianist; Third Prize at the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the first American to reach the finals since 1997; and numerous other prizes and awards. The album under review, La Valse, marks Chen's second appearance as a soloist on CD, and a very fine appearance it is.

Things begin with the Valse in A flat major, Op. 38, by the Russian composer and pianist Aleksandr Scriabin (1872-1915). Now, understand, not all of the music on the program may be to everyone's taste (these are not traditional Strauss-type waltzes, after all), but each piece is appealing and significant in its own way. Above all, one notices Chen's gentle, sensitive, yet persuasive touch with them. This first item is a good example, starting off very tenderly, full of grace and poise, then accelerating into grand passions before gradually fading back into misty silences. It's a convenient summing up of the Romantic tradition gradually shifting into the twentieth century, though resisting changes along the way.

Next, we turn to the Menuet antique by French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). The "antique minuet" is an intentional misnomer, of course, wherein Ravel uses the older musical form to compose something actually quite new. Chen captures the composer's swirling modern harmonies beautifully, again with a light enough touch and fluid enough refinement to accentuate the contrasts and enough full-throated energy and all-out vivacity to point up the more-exciting parts. Delightful.

And so it goes through six more selections: Scriabin's Piano Sonata No. 4 in F sharp major, Op. 30, and Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53; and Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales, Menuet sur le nom d'Haydn, Prelude, and La Valse. Of these, it's La Valse I'd like to single out most particularly. As you probably know, Ravel originally published the work for orchestra, where it received a successful Paris premiere in 1920. At the same time the composer prepared versions of it for solo piano and two pianos, but the arrangement Chen has chosen to perform is his own, made from several of Ravel's different scores. A very good one it is, too.

La valse is, in fact, an ideal summing up of the album's theme of change. The music begins with its feet clearly in the nineteenth century, elegant and romantic, and then slowly transforms into a demonic "dance macabre." Some critics have suggested that this change in the music's tone alludes to the destruction of societal values and civility that resulted from the horrors of World War I. In any case, Chen's arrangement and playing of the piece clarifies this purpose, and if Ravel did intend the score to exemplify a breakdown in Western society, Chen skillfully carries out this function as he transitions effortlessly from one mood to another. As he does with all of the selections on the album, he plays it extraordinarily well, with grace and virtuosity.

Producer Dan Mercurio and engineer Daniel Shores recorded the music at Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia in September 2013. As usual with a production made at Sono Luminus, the sound is excellent. The Steinway D piano comes through with a fine transparency and solid definition, while maintaining a fairly resonant bloom. Transient response and dynamic impact are especially impressive, and while the instrument itself is just a tad close for my personal taste, one cannot deny its realistic presence.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, August 24, 2014

American Opera Projects Presents "Six Scenes" of New Operas by Emerging Composer and Librettists

Music from the 2013-14 Season of Composers & the Voice.
Friday, September 12 and Sunday, September 14, 7:30 p.m.
South Oxford Space, 138 S. Oxford St., Brooklyn, NY 11217

A Stonewall-era drag queen and the cop entranced by her. A princess manipulates her captor during the Crusades. A man's literal vacation from Hell. On Friday, September 12 and Sunday, September 14 at 7:30 PM, AOP (American Opera Projects) will present these and other excerpts of new operas at Composer & the Voice: Six Scenes 2014, the culmination of this season's Composers & the Voice (C&V) opera training program. Audiences will see scenes by five emerging composers - Guy Barash, Avner Finberg, Jeremy Gill, Andreia Pinto-Correia, Gity Razaz - and one composer/librettist team, Joseph Rubinstein and Jason Kim, who were chosen by AOP to spend a year creating new works focusing on the operatic voice. The performances will be held at South Oxford Space in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, home of AOP. Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 for students/seniors and are available at www.operaprojects.org.

AOP Resident Ensemble of Singers performing: sopranos Deborah Lifton (Center for Contemporary Opera, Encompass New Opera Theatre) and Kristin Sampson (Dicapo Opera Theatre, Santa Fe Opera), mezzo Blythe Gaissert (Los Angeles Opera, Aspen Music Festival), tenor Dominic Armstrong (New York City Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago), baritone Jorell Williams (Caramoor International Music Festival, Opera Theatre of St. Louis), and bass-baritone Matthew Burns (Boston Lyric Opera, New York City Opera).  Supporting on piano will be Composers & the Voice Music Directors Mila Henry, Kelly Horsted, and Charity Wicks.

The performances will be hosted by C&V Artistic Director Steven Osgood (conductor, Chautauqua Opera, New York City Opera) and feature discussions with the artists about the creative process.

This year's C&V fellows have benefitted from one-on-one mentoring from esteemed composers Daron Hagen, Jake Heggie, Libby Larsen, John Musto, Tobias Picker, and Stephen Schwartz, as well as librettist Mark Campbell. Each of these distinguished artists reviews their fellows' work, offers feedback, and participates in C&V discussions.

Tickets: $15 General Admission, $10 Students/Seniors

Tickets available at www.operaprojects.org
 Complete information about Composers & the Voice and this year's artists can be found at

--Matthew Gray, American Opera Projects

Mahler Chamber Orchestra Newsletter
Behind the scenes in Lucerne:
On 16th August, we offered a chance to get to know the Mahler Chamber Orchestra behind the scenes of Lucerne Festival in Switzerland. The programme included attendance at the dress rehearsal for the Late Night Concert with Barbara Hannigan and a lunch together with musicians from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.  

With Daniele Gatti in Toblach:
"Symphonic power constructed from the finest chamber music."
On September 1, Daniele Gatti conducts the Mahler Chamber Orchestra for the third time during this summer of festivals. In Toblach (South Tyrol, Italy), the Gustav Mahler Music Weeks and the Alto Adige Festival jointly present a gala concert featuring Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, Beethoven's Symphony No. 2 and Webern's Slow Movement.

"Feel the Music" in nine minutes.
Hard-of-hearing children discover, along with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, how music can be perceived with all one's senses.

Reunion in Bonn:
At the Beethovenfest Bonn, "Feel the Music" moves to the next level: four school classes which have participated in past "Feel the Music" projects will meet one another for the first time. A total of 50 hearing-impaired children from Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic and Ireland travel to Bonn for the project. The highlight of their four-day visit: a "Feel the Music" family concert, during which the children appear onstage with the MCO and Leif Ove Andsnes.

For more information, visit www.mahler-chamber.eu

--Mahler Chamber Orchestra

Music of Opera Composer Conrad Cummings Presented in One-Night Concert
The evening will feature two premiere works.

American Opera Projects and LivelyWorks present "Two Premieres and a Reunion," a special evening of music by composer Conrad Cummings on Wednesday September 10th, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. at The National Opera Center, 330 Seventh Avenue, Manhattan.Tickets are $15 available online at https://twopremieres.eventbrite.com or $20 at the door. A reception with the artists will follow the concert.

 The performance features premieres of two commissioned works: the theatrical song cycle Thoroughfare, written for Metropolitan Opera tenor Keith Jameson with lyrics by Mark Campbell; and the virtuoso concert piece Golden Gate Fantasy, written for award-winning violinist Gregory Fulkerson.

Also featured are two concert duets reuniting frequent Cummings collaborators Jesse Blumberg and Hai-Ting Chinn: Before The Golden Gate, with lyrics by Vikram Seth; and From Positions 1956, with lyrics by Michael Korie. Long-time Cummings collaborator, Charity Wicks, is the pianist for all four works.

 Cummings composed Before The Golden Gate as a preparation - a "writing into" - the full-length opera based on Vikram Seth's novel in verse. Hai-Ting Chinn and Jesse Blumberg have both been frequent collaborators of Cummings's, and each has sung a role in The Golden Gate, but never at the same time. Here they interweave the voices of multiple characters in an abstract evocation of the novel's dark lyricism. From Positions 1956 takes moments from Cummings's and Michael Korie's opera drawn from instructional manuals of the 1950's, particularly marriage manuals, and casts them into a concert piece customized for these two interpreters.

Golden Gate Fantasy is a 21st century take on a 19th century form: the virtuoso concert piece drawn from themes of a popular opera, in this case Cummings's. Gregory Fulkerson notes, "Like Sarasate's fantasy to Carmen, I asked Cummings for dare-devil virtuosity, playfulness, and a distillation of the opera's intense lyric spirit. He's more than succeeded."

Renowned tenor Keith Jameson, recently appearing in Falstaff at the Metropolitan Opera, will premiere the theatrical song cycle Thoroughfare, a work written expressly for him by Cummings and noted librettist Mark Campbell. Subtitled "A song cycle between places," the five-part story follows the protagonist from Columbus Circle where his boyfriend has suddenly broken up with him, down Broadway, to Madison Square Park where his heart begins to mend. Jameson explains, "I wanted to be as vulnerable as the lover in Schubert's Winterreise. But I wanted it to feel fresh, modern, and like it could be a chapter out of my own life."

"Two Premieres and a Reunion: An Evening of Music by Conrad Cummings"
Wednesday September 10th, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets $15, available online at https://twopremieres.eventbrite.com or $20 at the door

National Opera Center
330 Seventh Avenue at 29th Street, Manhattan
Concert duration: 55 minutes

--Matthew Gray, American Opera Projects

The American Boychoir Featured in Upcoming Dustin Hoffman Drama; Boychoir Premiering at Toronto International Film Festival
World-renowned vocal ensemble, the American Boychoir, will see their visibility even further elevated with the September 5 premiere of director François Girard's Boychoir, one of only seven Gala presentations at the Toronto International Film Festival (September 4 – 14). Boychoir tells the story of an orphaned 12-year-old boy sent to a prestigious music school where he struggles to join an elite group of world-class singers. No one expects this rebellious loner to succeed, least of all the school's relentlessly tough conductor who wages a battle of wills to bring out the boy's extraordinary musical gift. The film stars Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Josh Lucas, Kevin McHale, Eddie Izzard, Debra Winger, and Garrett Wareing.

The American Boychoir School students feature prominently, serving as the film's choir and providing all of the singing heard throughout.  In addition to showing the choir's rigorous rehearsal and performance process, the daily lives of students are depicted in many scenes. Several American Boychoir School students auditioned for speaking roles in the film and one, Dante Soriano, was cast as one of the five major boy characters. In addition to students, Litton-Lodal Music Director Fernando Malvar-Ruiz appears as an orchestra conductor and Dr. James Litton, Music Director Emeritus, provides a touching cameo.

Over its 75-year history, the American Boychoir has performed in many of the world's grandest venues and with legends from across the musical spectrum. However, Boychoir marks the choir's first major film appearance. "When we were approached by François Girard to participate in Boychoir we could not have been more honored. Obviously, we are immensely proud of the American Boychoir School and our record of educational excellence. Our choir is known throughout the world and has established a loyal global audience. We are excited that a film such as Boychoir not only showcases our talented students, but opens up a larger audience to our music and the powerful work we do to nurture and mentor our students," says newly installed American Boychoir School President, Dr. Kerry Heimann.

For more information about the American Boychoir, visit www.americanboychoir.org

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Not Just for Kids: Music Institute Offers Addults Music Education
Fall registration is open for instruction, ensembles and enrichment programs.

Recognizing the powerful role music can play in a person's life at any age, the Music Institute of Chicago is offering a wide range of opportunities for adults to enhance their lives through musical instruction and performance in a fun, relaxed setting. Registration for Adult Studies and Adult Enrichment Programs is open, with classes beginning September 10 in Evanston, Winnetka and Lake Forest. Private instruction is available at any of the Music Institute's six campuses: Chicago, Downers Grove, Evanston, Lake Forest, Lincolnshire, and Winnetka, Il.

New Adult Enrichment Program:
Beginning in fall 2014, the Music Institute is offering an informal yet engaging exploration of a variety of musical styles in a new series of enrichment courses for adults. Each option is available at multiple campuses, and sessions are not sequential, so participants have flexibility in registering according to their schedules.

Courses include:
Understanding Music: Like a monthly book club for music, this exploration of classical and jazz music provides a framework for the music lover who does not have a music degree.

The History of American Big Band Jazz: Students journey through 20th century America to explore the origins of big band jazz and discover successful, influential band leaders including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and more.

The History of the American Musical: These sessions provide a closer look at the origin and evolution of this uniquely American art form.

Adult Acting Classes: These classes are available individually or as a package for the beginner or those who want to brush up on their skills.

Introduction to Hand Drumming: Hand drumming is known for its power to energize, relieve stress and promote feelings of community and well-being.

Adult music instruction:
The Music Institute offers private instruction for adults who are learning to play an instrument for the first time as well as those returning to music after a long hiatus. "We help students discover a real and deep understanding of music through a comprehensive curriculum and strong and nurturing relationships with our professional faculty," said President and CEO Mark George. In addition to lessons, students have access to free musicianship classes, performance opportunities throughout the Chicago area, free master classes with renowned visiting artists and four free hours of consultation with the Music Institute's Institute for Therapy through the Arts.

Adults interested in group musical opportunities may join an adult ensemble, including the Community Symphony (Winnetka), the New Horizons Band for adults age 50 and older (Winnetka) and the Music Institute of Chicago Chorale (Evanston). Chamber music opportunities also are available for intermediate and advanced students.

For more information, visit musicinst.org.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Tod Machover Named Lucerne Festival's 2015 Composer in Residence
Tod Machover, composer, inventor and MIT Media Lab Professor, has been named Lucerne Festival's 2015 Composer in Residence. As he has done for the cities of Perth, Edinburgh and Toronto, Machover will compose a collaborative symphony for the city of Lucerne to capture its life, spirit and culture in music. Beginning August 20, 2014 Machover will be in Lucerne for ten days exploring the energy of the city and gathering sounds and musical ideas submitted by the residents of Lucerne that define the city's unique qualities and traditions. Recordings of conversation in a bustling café, the sound of water from Lake Lucerne or the many rivers that run through town, a factory or boat whistle, glasses clinking in a pub and children playing in a park, are some of the sounds that might be woven into a musical tapestry to create "A Symphony for Lucerne." This musical portrait of Lucerne receives its world premiere September 5, 2015, conducted by Matthias Pintscher.

Although the process of creating this collaborative symphony for Lucerne is in its earliest stage, Machover is capturing some of Lucerne's most unique characteristics through sound. He explains Lucerne as "a kind of oasis, a quiet, almost-perfect city where the most delicate sounds – water lapping on the lakeshore, footsteps reverberating in covered wooden bridges, birds whispering rather than shouting, music from orchestras, traveling choirs, buskers and boom boxes all intertwining – are unburdened by traffic or crowd noise, creating a kind of idealized chamber music. In addition, Lucerne has a unique position at the center of Switzerland, and has always been a place of refuge, tolerance, and reflection. Hopefully these qualities will be reflected in our finished symphony." Tod Machover explains the project further in this video made by Lucerne Festival.

As part of this prestigious residency, Machover has been commissioned by Lucerne Festival for a host of additional projects and compositions to be announced at a later date. The making of a "Symphony for Lucerne" will be filmed as a behind-the-scenes documentary by Lucerne Festival and shown in connection with the world premiere.

Special technologies developed by Machover and his Opera of the Future team at the MIT Media Lab will allow people of all ages to contribute to and help shape "A Symphony for Lucerne." The Constellation app is web-based and allows anyone to hear the latest sounds collected and to combine them into personalized mixes.

Still in the development phase, a mobile app designed especially for the "Symphony for Lucerne" project will allow any sound to be recorded and then geographically "tagged" via mobile device, creating an evolving "sound map" of Lucerne and surroundings. This mobile app will be available through the Apple App Store and Google Play in the fall of 2014.

A separate computer software program, Hyperscore, allows young people to compose their own musical portraits of Lucerne by drawing and painting with lines and colors which Machover can then translate into orchestral impressions. Hyperscore is available for download via www.hyperscore.com.

--Ashlyn Damm, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra: Three Classic Albums (CD review)

Mozart: Horn Concertos Nos. 1-4, Clarinet Concerto, Oboe Concerto, Bassoon Concerto, Flute Concerto No. 1, Flute and Harp Concerto, and Andante for Flute and Orchestra. Various soloists; Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. DG 479 3082 (3-CD set).

Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft (German Gramophone Company), better known as DGG or simply DG, has been around since 1898 when German-born United States citizen Emile Berliner established it as the German branch of his Berliner Gramophone Company. I mention this because as one of the world's longest continuously active record companies, the DG folks have an extensive back catalogue of recordings. So, when they decide to rerelease some of their older material, they have a ton of great stuff from which to choose. Currently, DG are re-releasing some of their past classics in three-disc boxed sets, such the Mozart set reviewed here with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

Founded in 1972, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is among the best, most popular, and most widely recorded chamber orchestras in existence, taking a rightful place alongside the English Chamber Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and other such notable groups. They have been making records for DG for over forty years and seem at home with almost any genre or period of classical music. Their membership of about thirty players draws from the New York and New England area and includes musicians who also teach at major institutions or play in other orchestras like the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the New York City Ballet Orchestra, etc. The Orpheus ensemble perform without a conductor, and their soloists (as on these recordings) usually come from within their own ranks.

The first disc in the set contains Mozart's Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra in A major, K. 622, with soloist Charles Neidich; and the Concerto for Horn and Orchestra No. 1 in D major, K. 412, and Concerto for Horn and Orchestra No. 4 in E flat major, K. 495, with soloist David Jolley. The standout on disc one is the opening Clarinet Concerto, with Mr. Neidich providing a superbly flowing, delightfully nuanced interpretation in perfectly judged tempos, and the Orpheus players offering him an equally accomplished accompaniment. Although I have a slight preference for Sharon Kam's recording on Berlin Classics, this would be my first alternative. For that matter, the Horn Concertos with Mr. Jolley are just as joyously infectious. Be aware, though, that competition among recordings of the Horn Concertos is pretty intense, and I'm not sure I would want these as my only choices. That said, I found a great deal of warmth and vivacious good cheer in Jolley's playing. Frankly, with a name like Jolley, how could it be any other way?

The second disc contains the Concerto for Horn and Orchestra No. 2 in E flat major, K. 417, and the Concerto for Horn and Orchestra No. 3 in E flat major, K. 447, with soloist William Purvis; the Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra in C major, K. 314, with soloist Randall Wolfgang; and the Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra in B flat major, K. 191, with soloist Frank Morelli. I'm not sure why the orchestra or DG decided to change horn players for Nos. 2 and 3, and I can't say I liked Purvis's work as well as I liked Mr. Jolley's. While Purvis's playing certainly sounds fluid and effortless, it doesn't convey quite as much joy as Jolley's. On the other hand, one can hardly fault the oboe and bassoon works. They are delightful in every way, graceful and stylish.

The third disc contains the Concerto for Flute and Orchestra No. 1 in G major, K. 313, and the Andante for Flute and Orchestra in C major, K. 315, with soloist Susan Palma; and the Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra in C major, K. 299, with soloists Susan Palma and Nancy Allen. Ms. Palma's flute playing is another standout in the set. Her cheerfully elegant phrasing brings out all the pleasure and happiness of these pieces. Moreover, the Orpheus ensemble accompanies her as a complementary reflection, perfectly attuned to her every note. These performances are lovely and comforting, with an especially befitting conclusion in the way of the flute and harp piece with Ms. Allen.

One could hardly find disadvantages to this set. I suppose, however, that a dedicated grinch might complain that the Orpheus ensemble's playing sounds too polished, too sophisticated for Mozart's music or that DG's sound is too slick, too smooth for the audiophile's ear. Such grousing would be stretching a point, to be sure.

The three discs in the set come packaged separately in their own cardboard foldout containers, which include album notes and cover art. A light-cardboard slipcover further encloses the three discs, along with a bonus artist postcard.

DG recorded the albums at the State University of New York at Purchase, Performing Arts Center, in
March 1987, December 1987, and December 1988, and they re-released the recording in the present set in 2014. The sound is remarkably smooth, as I say, in all of these concertos and reasonably warm, yet admitting a goodly amount of detail and sparkle. The soloists sound well centered and well incorporated into the front of the group setting, not standing ten feet in front of them. Depth perception is only moderate, but object definition is quite good.


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

Stamitz and Richter: Early String Symphonies (SACD review)

Simon Murphy, The Chamber Orchestra of the New Dutch Academy. PentaTone Classics PTC 5186 028. 

The PentaTone people were continuing their merry way releasing hybrid stereo/multichannel Super Audio CDs even in 2003 when they released this one. The disc is dual layered and runs on any standard CD player in two-channel stereo as well as on a SACD player in 2.0 and 5.1 surround. I can't be sure, but it seems that about half the stuff PentaTone have released so far they've made new, and most of the other material they've taken from Philips, who originally recorded it in multichannel during the Seventies but didn't release that way.

Anyway, the disc reviewed here features two and three works each from the eighteenth-century composers Franz Xaver Richter (1709-1789) and Johann Stamitz (1717-1757). The works on the program carry the title Sinfonia a Quattro (in A, D, B flat, and C minor, plus an excerpt, the Andante, from Stamitz's Symphony in D major). Not that any of this is likely to be familiar to very many people. Maybe that's the idea--to present material that conductors have not worn out through repetition. Unfortunately, despite the few innovative touches we hear throughout, the music on the disc begins to sound rather alike after the first few movements. Still, that's another story, and it may be due as much to the performers involved as to the music. Or it may just be my own limited musical scope.

Whatever the case, the music is typically late Baroque, all deriving from around 1740-1750. Stamitz, a Czech composer, was one of those guys who wrote about seventy-five symphonies, most of them in the Mannheim style, where he served as concertmaster for a time. Richter, an Austro-Moravian, was a violinist, singer, composer, conductor, and music theoretician, and also at Mannheim at about the same Stamitz worked there, so you see the connection for this recording. The material will appeal to lovers of the Baroque who want and need everything they can lay ear to, as well as to listeners who want to hear the development of the early symphony as an art form.

The performances from the Dutch Academy players using period instruments under conductor Simon Murphy appear sturdy, certainly refined, technically accomplished, and fairly spirited, if not always as vigorous as say, the performances of the Philharmonia Baroque or Boston Baroque. The venue the engineers chose provides a lively acoustic, with plenty of hall reflection, a resonance that obscures some detail but tends to make the twenty-odd players of the Dutch Academy sound like a bigger ensemble than they are. More important, even in the ordinary stereo to which I listened, the sonics appear big and robust, with perhaps a touch less depth than I would have liked but otherwise flattering to the music.

Overall, though, this one is a dicey call. Neither the performances nor the sound seems like anything particularly special to me.


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

Cameron Carpenter: If You Could Read My Mind (CD and DVD review)

Cameron Carpenter, International Touring Organ. Sony 88883796882 (CD and DVD).

Make no mistake: American organist Cameron Carpenter has enormous talent. Earning a bachelor's and master's degree from The Juilliard School in New York, he studied with organists Gerre Hancock, Paul Jacobs, and John Weaver. There appears nothing Carpenter can't play and play well. Nevertheless, he apparently decided early on that to become a superstar in the world of organists, you had to do something more than merely play the organ well. And so he adopted a punk-rock persona, cultivated a flamboyant style, and helped design an International Touring Organ to his own specifications. The work has paid off: He's now a superstar. At least, he's a superstar among the general public, where his concerts regularly sell out and his CD's fly off the shelves. Whether he can satisfy the organ purist, however, remains open to question, and whether he will be able to maintain a lasting popularity beyond his current glamor stage we will have to wait and see. For the moment, he is definitely a sensation.

Of course, this isn't the first time a musician has purposely set out to create something new and different in the world of classics by promoting a cult of personality: Chopin, Liszt, Paganini, even Mozart had their critics who claimed their music making was more about themselves than about the music they were playing. More specifically, in the late twentieth century, organists Virgil Fox and E. Power Biggs were the biggest names in the business, with Fox insisting that performers needed to take the organ out of the musty depths of church cathedrals and into the imagination of the masses, while Biggs argued that organists had an obligation to play the organ as composers for the instrument intended it be played. Fox disparaged Biggs's clinging to historical accuracy, saying Biggs and his followers were "relegating the organ to a museum piece." Both organists were enormously popular, so I suppose there's room for all tastes in the classical field.

Certainly, one needs an open musical taste to appreciate Cameron Carpenter. But heard on a CD, divorced from the man's physical appearance, one can readily hear his musical gifts and perhaps better enjoy his innovative musical style. On the present album, Cameron plays the music of over half a dozen classical and pop composers, including a composition of his own, mostly in his own arrangements and all of it played on an organ created especially for him, a digital instrument that incorporates the sounds of many of Carpenter's favorite organs and that enables him to reproduce what every organist dreams of: a symphony orchestra at his fingertips. He makes some impressive sounds.

Anyway, Cameron opens the program somewhat conventionally with his own arrangement of J.S. Bach's Cello Suite No. 1. The music becomes more elaborate as it goes along, and Cameron's way with it is, indeed, fun to hear. If I have any reservation it's that further along in the piece Cameron's instrument tends slightly to overwhelm the music compared to the unaccompanied cello for which Bach originally intended it.

Next, we have the most flamboyant music on the disc, Leonard Bernstein's Overture to Candide. Here, Cameron pulls out all the stops, so to speak, allowing himself full rein of the multitude of sounds his specialized Touring Organ can make. Again, though, I found myself with one minor concern: If you listen to Bernstein's own rendition of the work, you may find that even in his older years he actually put more energy and high spirits into the music (check YouTube) than Cameron does. That doesn't mean I found anything inherently wrong with Cameron's version, only that Cameron may be more musically sedate and respectful than you might expect from his appearance.

And so it goes: We get Cameron's realizations of Sergei Rachmaninov's Vocalise, Astor Piazzola's "Oblivion," Marcel Dupre's Variations sur un Noel pour grand orgue, Aleksandr Scriabin's Piano Sonata No. 4 in F-sharp major, Bach's Organ Sonata No. 6 in G major, an original piece by Carpenter called Music for an Imaginary Film, and five popular-song paraphrases. Like the rest of the program, they are equally playful, amusing, serious, and enjoyable as the case may be.

Favorites? I loved the simple beauty of Rachmaninov's Vocalise and Carpenter's delicate manner of handling it. I took delight in Cameron's own Music for an Imaginary Film because, as he says, it gets the most out of the Touring Organ's "cornucopia of color." I found myself fascinated by Piazzolla's soft tango rhythms. There is exquisite beauty as well as excitement in Dupre's and Scriabin's work. And it's hard not to enjoy Bach in any form.

The pieces I liked least were Carpenter's organ transcriptions of songs by Gordon Lightfoot, Burt Bacharach, Leonard Cohen, Bob Montgomery, and Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. I mean, do we really need "Back in Baby's Arms" played on a huge electronic organ? If you'll forgive an admittedly unfair comparison, it reminded me of a skating rink.

So, will Carpenter's music making wear well in the long run, or will people eventually tire of his personal eccentricities? Ask me in another ten years.

In addition to the CD of music, the case contains a forty-three minute DVD of video, with six tracks devoted to Mr. Cameron playing various short pieces, plus an introduction to the performer and a segment on the building of the International Touring Organ. A light-cardboard slipcover completes the package.

Producer Philipp Nedel and engineer Martin Kistner recorded the CD music at Methuen Memorial Music Hall, Methuen, Massachusetts in November-December 2013. Producer Uwe Dierks and director Thomas Grube made the DVD. On the CD the organ sounds moderately distant, with a good deal of hall resonance involved. I suppose this spacious atmosphere helps emulate the live experience, but it means that a degree of detail gets lost amid the room reflections. Fortunately, a good, solid deep bass enhances the experience, as do strong dynamics and a healthy stereo spread.


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

Ravel: Bolero (XRCD review)

Also, Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2; Pavane pour une infante defunte. Andre Previn, London Symphony Orchestra. Hi-Q Records HIQSRCD22.

I suppose everybody has a favorite recording period. Often it's the era one grew up in. For me, it is the analogue stereo years of approximately 1954-1982. Of course, digital recordings came along some time before their introduction on compact disc, but we'll leave that technicality out of the equation. Understand, I am not suggesting that I don't like most of today's digital recordings; engineers have refined the process considerably over time, and most of them sound just fine. But I don't necessarily find contemporary digital recordings any better than the analogue recordings of yesterday. Then, you add in the great conductors whom we don't seem to have replaced these days and the fact that audiophile companies like Hi-Q, FIM, and HDTT have remastered so many great recordings of my favorite period, and you get superior products in terms of both performance and sound. It's a way of having my cake and eating it, too.

Anyway, what we've got here is an XRCD24 remaster of a late-Seventies recording by Maestro Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra. Previn, too, was a part of a "Golden Era," leading the LSO from 1968-1979 in some of their finest work. It's no accident that the folks at Hi-Q have chosen to remaster yet another of Previn's LSO recordings for their catalogue.

The program begins with the ubiquitous Bolero by French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). The dancer Ida Rubinstein had asked Ravel to make an orchestral transcription of six pieces of music from composer Isaac Albéniz, but Ravel learned that orchestral arrangements of the works already existed and copyrights prevented him from doing anything more. So he decided to write a completely new piece based on the Spanish bolero dance. While on vacation he played a melody with one finger, asking his friend Gustave Samazeuilh, "Don't you think this theme has an insistent quality? I'm going to try and repeat it a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can." Initially, he called the piece "Fandango," but he soon changed its title to "Boléro." It has since become Ravel's most-famous work.

Most recordings of Bolero last between twelve and eighteen minutes. The score indicates a Tempo di Bolero, moderato assai ("tempo of a bolero, very moderate"), and the composer preferred it fairly slow and steady. In a 1931 interview with The Daily Telegraph, Ravel went so far as to say the piece lasts seventeen minutes. He would even criticize conductors who took it too fast (Toscanini was a famous example, the composer and conductor butting heads over Toscanini's thirteen-minute recording) or conductors who speeded up toward the end. I mention this because Previn's recording lasts just a few seconds over seventeen minutes. By comparison to many other modern recordings, it sounds a little leisurely, but it's apparently close to what Ravel wanted. Previn is quite steady throughout the piece as well, always maintaining a sinuous gait. Not that it matters, but I think the performance would have pleased the composer.

Ravel described the suites from his ballet Daphnis et Chloe (premiered in 1912) as "symphonic fragments." Certainly, he employs a very large orchestra to convey his music, a pastoral romance-adventure relating the story of the goatherd Daphnis and his beloved Chloe. Previn brings out all of the music's sensuous nature, making it sound as beautiful as I've ever heard it.

The final piece on the program is Ravel's Pavane pour une infante defunte, which he originally wrote for piano in 1899 but began orchestrating in 1910 as relaxation from his work on Daphnis. Under Previn, the music (based on the slow, stately rhythms of a Renaissance court dance) is gentle, sweet, lyrical, and appropriately melancholy. Yet it never lingers long on sentimentality nor overstays its welcome by being too slow. In fact, Previn does it up as nicely as anyone.

As usual, the folks at Hi-Q provide a premium product with premium packaging: a glossy, hard cardboard-and-plastic Digipak-type container, the booklet notes sewn book-like into the center, the disc fastened to the inside back cover.

Drawbacks? Yes, naturally there are issues with all audiophile recordings, and they usually have to do with cost. In this case, the disc price is almost twice what you would pay for an ordinary CD, and the disc contains only about forty-one minutes of music. That's darned near a buck a minute, so the discs are not for everyone. Nor do they provide sound that is twice as good as an ordinary CD, whatever your definition of good sound happens to be. Yet the Hi-Q disc does offer good performances by a top-notch conductor and orchestra, and it does sound marginally better than its regular-issue counterpart. As I always tell people in these instances, if you know and like the music, already know and like the recording, have deep pockets, and an above-average stereo system, you might want to consider an upgrade to the remastered product. Otherwise, you might be better off sticking with what you've got.

Producer Christopher Bishop and engineer Suvi Raj Grubb recorded Bolero in June 1979 at London's Kingsway Hall. EMI's two Christophers--Christopher Bishop and Christopher Parker--produced and engineered the Daphnis and Pavane tracks in July 1978 at Abbey Road Studio No. 1.

Hi-Q remastered the music from EMI's original analogue master tapes using JVC's XRCD 24-bit processing and K2 technology and then transferred the remastering to a standard Red Book CD that one can play on any standard CD player. Compared to the regular CD version of the recording, the XRCD displays more all-around transparency and air, more-extended highs and lows, and a slightly greater sense of impact and transient quickness. There's an excellent sense of depth, too, the added clarity of the XRCD processing making it more obvious than on the regular-issue CD. In other words, yes, the extra money does buy you better sound; not night-and-day better sound but definitely clearer, more-dynamic sound. It's sound probably closer to that of the master tape than found on the regular CD. But, as I say, whether small improvements are worth the money depends on the buyer's priorities.

You can find Hi-Q products at any number of on-line marketplaces, but you'll find some of the best prices at Elusive Disc: http://www.elusivedisc.com/


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

Classical Music News of the Week, August 17, 2014

92nd Street Y Opening Night Concert: Christian Tetzlaff, Thursday, September 18, 7 PM

Mr. Tetzlaff will play Bach's complete sonatas and partitas for solo violin on Thursday, September 18, 7 p.m. at the 92Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall, New York City.

92nd Street Y's 2014-2015 season begins with German virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff playing Bach's complete sonatas and partitas for solo violin as part of the Distinguished Artists Series. Called "one of the most brilliant and inquisitive artists of the new generation" by The New York Times, Tetzlaff is one of only a few violinists to perform the full cycle in a single setting.

"By playing them as often as I have in this way, I have developed a greater sense of freedom and confidence. I'm not afraid of losing myself if I make some spontaneous decisions to do something differently. As long as I can stay in the proper frame of mind and feel secure, then I can take more risks and feel more liberated in my playing." --Christian Tetzlaff

For over 20 years, Mr. Tetzlaff has been in demand as a soloist with many of the world's leading orchestras and conductors. This season he performs in North America with the Boston Symphony, both in Boston and in Carnegie Hall, as well as re-engagements with the Cleveland Orchestra, Montreal, Seattle and Pittsburgh symphonies; appearances at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival and Chicago's Grant Park Music Festival; and duo-recitals with Lars Vogt in Santa Fe, Berkeley, La Jolla and Santa Barbara. Internationally, Mr. Tetzlaff will be the Artist-in-Residence with the Berlin Philharmonic, appears with the Munich Philharmonic, London and Vienna symphonies, and is the featured soloist on tours with the Swedish Radio Orchestra in Europe and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen in Asia.

Tetzlaff's recent recordings include the complete Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin for the Musical Heritage and Haenssler labels. Brahms' piano trios, with cellist Tanja Tetzlaff and pianist Lars Vogt, will be released in the spring of 2015, on the Ondine label. He last appeared at 92Y in 2013 as part of a three-concert series, entitled Contrasts.

Tickets: $25, 40, 57, 62, prices subject to change.
Tickets are available at www.92Y.org/concerts or 212-415-5500.

--Ashlyn Damm, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Weill Hall, Mastercard Series Continues
Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California.

Gipsy Kings: 25th Anniversary Tour with Special Guest Ole' Noys
Thursday, August 28, 7:30 p.m.

Bill Maher: Live Stand-Up Tour
Saturday, August 30, 7:30 p.m.

Elvis Costello and The Imposters
Wednesday, September 3, 7:30 p.m.

Gabriel Iglesias: Unity Through Laughter World Tour
Friday, September 5, 7:30 p.m.

Pepe Aguilar
Tuesday, September 9, 7:30 p.m.

An Acoustic Evening with Ben Harper
Saturday, September 13, 7:30 p.m.

Diana Ross: In the Name of Love Tour
Tuesday, September 23, 7:30 p.m.

Trace Adkins
Friday, September 26, 7:30 p.m.

For more informaton, visit http://gmc.sonoma.edu/

--Weill Hall, Sonoma State University

Tickets to National Philharmonic's 2014-2015 Season at Strathmore Are Now on Sale
2014-15 Season celebrates ten years at The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane,
North Bethesda, MD 20852.

Tickets to the National Philharmonic's 2014-2014 season at Strathmore are now on sale. The Philharmonic's new season, led by Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski, will celebrate the orchestra's 10th anniversary of performing at the beautiful Music Center at Strathmore. In early February, a special anniversary weekend kicks off with the annual all-Chopin recital by pianist Brain Ganz, now almost halfway through his quest to perform all of the works of this great Romantic composer, and concludes with a reprise of the Philharmonic's inaugural Strathmore concert from February 12, 2005, featuring Beethoven's epic Symphony No. 9 and Andreas Makris' Strathmore Overture.

During the 2014-15 season, many accomplished soloists will share the stage with the Philharmonic, including  superstar Chee-Yun performing the Sibelius Concerto for Violin; the 2009 Van Cliburn Gold Medalist, Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang, playing the "Mount Everest" of piano concertos—the Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 3; and premiere cellist Zuill Bailey playing Haydn's elegant Cello Concerto No. 2. In addition, cellist Summer Hu, who at age 11 was one of the first musicians to perform at Strathmore, joins pianist Brian Ganz, tenor Colin Eaton, baritone Norman Garrett and others for the Strathmore 10th anniversary concert on February 8.

The season also features Handel's Messiah, Bach's St. John Passion and Brandenburg Concertos, Mozart's moving Requiem and Jupiter Symphony and Tchaikovsky's romantic Variations on a Rococo Theme.

In its eleventh year of residency at the Music Center at Strathmore, the National Philharmonic is performing to nearly 50,000 people each year. The Philharmonic will continue its commitment to education and outreach by offering free concerts to every second grader in Montgomery County Public Schools, free pre-concert lectures, master classes with renowned guest soloists and high quality summer string and choral programs.

The success of the Philharmonic over the past 31 years is largely credited to its critically acclaimed performances that are filled with great, time-tested music and its family friendly approach. All young people age 7 to 17 attend National Philharmonic concerts free of charge through its unique ALL KIDS, ALL FREE, ALL THE TIME program.

Repeat Sunday matinee performances of the Philharmonic's most popular programs (six concerts in total in the 2014-15 season) will also be offered again this year. In addition, concertgoers can attend National Philharmonic's pre-concert lectures on featured composers and music 75 minutes before performances.

The 2014-2015 season will also feature performances by such great artists as pianist Christopher Taylor, violinist Justine Lamb-Budge and violist Victoria Chiang; sopranos Danielle Talamantes, Rosa Lamoreaux and Julie Keim; and mezzo-sopranos Magdalena Wór and Margaret Mezzacappa, among others. It will include music by Handel, Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Sibelius.

For the sixth year, National Philharmonic is offering its subscribers a flexible custom series. This allows subscribers to create their own packages and receive discounts of up to 25% on tickets, with the largest discounts provided to those who purchase seven or more concerts. Season and subscription information are available at nationalphilharmonic.org or by calling 301-581-5100. Single tickets will be on sale in August 2014.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

American Opera Projects Invites You to the World Premiere of As One
Music & Concept by Laura Kaminsky
Libretto by Mark Campbell & Kimberly Reed
Performed by Sasha Cooke & Kelly Markgraf & the Fry Street Quartet

September 4 & 6, 7:30 p.m.
September 7, 3:00 p.m.
BAM Fisher - Fishman Space
321 Ashland Place, Brooklyn, NY

In this chamber opera for two singers and string quartet, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and baritone Kelly Markgraf depict the experiences of its sole transgender protagonist, Hannah.
Scenic & Lighting Design by David Jacques | Costume Design by Sara Jean Tosetti
Music Direction by Steven Osgood
Stage Direction by Ken Cazan

Premiering at BAM, winner of this year's National Medal of Arts.

Run time: 80min
All tickets $25 at BAM.org/AsOne and in person at the BAM box office.

--Matthew Gray, AOP

Gerard Schwarz's All-Star Orchestra Emmy Award-Winning Classical Music Television Series Launches Second Season
TV Concert Series to Record New Episodes August 26th and 27th  at SUNY Purchase's Great Hall of the Performing Arts Center will feature soloists Anne Akiko Meyers and Lola Astanova.

"This project offers an amazing roster of accomplished musicians from America's leading orchestras, including many renowned principal players…the musicians bring vast, and palpable, experience to bear." --New York Times

This August 26-27, Maestro Gerard Schwarz's All-Star Orchestra will record the second season of its multi-Emmy Award-winning classical music television series, in the Great Hall of the Performing Arts Center in Purchase, NY. Intended for broadcast on public television stations nationwide in 2015, the All-Star Orchestra's four new episodes feature high-definition multi-camera recordings of favorite works by Rimsky-Korsakov and Richard Strauss, the World-Premiere of Samuel Jones's Violin Concerto with renowned soloist Anne Akiko Meyers, and Gershwin's beloved Rhapsody in Blue in the rarely heard original jazz-orchestra version with rising star pianist Lola Astanova. In addition to television broadcasts, more than 250 educational videos will be generated from these new performance recordings, as well as from newly created interviews, instrument demonstrations, work analyses, guest lectures, "Within the Orchestra" segments, and Musical Literacy tutorials. These will be featured on the Khan Academy and the All-Star Orchestra websites. The four new programs to be recorded this August will build upon the success of the first eight programs that have been broadcast nationwide in 2013-2014 in partnership with WNET/Thirteen in New York, and American Public Television.

For more information, visit http://www.thirteen.org/programs/all-star-orchestra/?utm_source=01-14-09_Contacts&utm_campaign=bcd0e46196-Gerard+Schwarz%E2%80%99s+ALL-STAR+ORCHESTRA&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1497688fe3-bcd0e46196-20212495

--Rebecca Davis, Universal Music

Schroeder Hall Opening Weekend
Experience the newest addition to the Green Music Center.

Schroeder Hall, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California
Free Community Weekend
Saturday, August 23 - Sunday, August 24
Two Days of Music - All Admission is Free
Advance Tickets are Required

Grand opening weekend schedule:

Sonoma Bach Choir: Saturday, August 23, 11:00 a.m.

Sonoma State University Faculty Jazz Ensemble: Saturday, August 23, 2:00 p.m.

Jeffrey Kahane: Saturday, August 23, 4:00 p.m.

James David Christie: Saturday, August 23, 5:30 p.m.

David Benoit: Tribute to Charlie Brown: Saturday, August 23, 8:00 p.m.

Sonoma State University Studio Faculty Recital: Sunday, August 24, 11:00 a.m.

Trio Ariadne: Sunday, August 24, 1:00 p.m.

Student and Alumni Vocal Recital: Sunday, August 24, 3:00 p.m.

Trio Navarro: Sunday, August 24, 5:00 p.m.

A Brass, Organ, and Voice Recital: Sunday, August 24, 7:00 p.m.

For more information, visit http://gmc.sonoma.edu/

--Green Music Center, Sonoma State University

iTunes Premieres The Great Kat's ShredClassical Ringtones--Bring Beethoven, Bach, Paganini, and more to Your Phone
Customize your iPhone with thrilling ringtones from The Great Kat -- world's fastest guitar/violin virtuoso. And there's an android version coming soon.

The Great Kat (http://www.greatkat.com) and MVD Entertainment Group announced today that iTunes is today premiering ringtones from The Great Kat, legendary Juilliard grad violin virtuoso turned fastest guitar shredder in the world.

The Great Kat ringtones are available immediately on your iPhone, to download:
Go to the iTunes Store on your iPhone. Search for "Great Kat." Download your favorite Great Kat ShredClassical Ringtones, including:

Beethoven's "5th Symphony"
"The Flight of the Bumble-Bee"
Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons"
Paganini's "Caprice #24"
Rossini's "William Tell Overture"
Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyries"
Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto #3," and much more.

More info available at: http://www.greatkat.com/ringtones/greatkatringtones.html

--Karen Thomas PR

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