Stravinsky: Solo Piano Works (CD review)

Jenny Lin, piano. Steinway & Sons 30028.

My guess is that most folks know Russian-born composer, pianist, and conductor Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) mainly as a writer of avant-garde scores, primarily ballets, that helped change the course of modern music. Yet he was much more diverse than that, turning in later life first to a more-traditional, neoclassical style and then to the technique of serialism. And along the way he produced a number of short piano works, things that often go overlooked nowadays. Which is probably why pianist Jenny Linn assembled this album of Stravinsky piano pieces. It's a nice reminder of the man's highly diversified compositional talents.

Incidentally, for those few of you unfamiliar with Ms. Lin, she is a Taiwanese-born American pianist of many talents herself. She began studying piano when she was four, went to the National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., and then to the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. She received an Artist Diploma from Peabody and a bachelor's degree in German Literature from the Johns Hopkins University. After that, she moved to Geneva, Switzerland, to study with the pianist Dominique Weber, since then also working with Richard Goode, Blanca Uribe, Leon Fleisher, Dimitri Bashkirov, and Andreas Staier. For the past few decades she has performed in practically every major venue in the world and produced numerous record albums.

So, here Ms. Lin plays Stravinsky, and it's really quite a bit more fun than you might imagine. Or maybe, given that any music by Stravinsky can be fun, you expected that. And given Ms. Lin's often daring programming, you imagined it would be fun from the start. Anyway, it is. She begins with Stravinsky's Piano Sonata of 1924 and runs on through eleven more items, concluding with Guido Agosti's 1928 piano transcription of the composer's Firebird Suite. In between, we find any number of varied and engaging pieces, of which I'll just describe a few.

Oddly enough, by the way, even though I know Ms. Lin's name well enough, I had never actually heard her play until reviewing this disc. She is very persuasive (and, certainly, the material is). She plays with grace and sensitivity, yet with power and authority, too, all the while displaying a virtuosic command of the keyboard.

So, she begins with the Sonata, which is in a traditional three movements and a kind of neoclassical style. But because it's Stravinsky, there are some delightful surprises along the way. The Sonata may be slightly lightweight fare for Stravinsky, but it's really quite charming, especially the middle Adagietto section, with its classical overtones. It's also quite brief, and Ms. Lin plays it with a hint of playfulness.

Jenny Lin
Four études come next, which are also quite brief. But Ms. Lin keeps them rhythmically alive and surprisingly lyrical and melodious as the case may be.

Then, Ms. Lin amuses us with some even lighter pieces: Ragtime (with little of Scott Joplin involved because Stravinsky said he had not actually heard any ragtime music, only read the sheet music). Still, it's definitely ragtime, particularly as Lin plays it. A polka, tango, waltz, and more ragtime follow, and they, too, are lightheartedly entertaining, while still showing imaginative touches that only a composer of Stravinsky's creativity might add. Ms. Lin displays an affection for the music, and one cannot help enjoying its sweet spirit (and the waltz's sweet lilt).

The Serenade in A is one of the longer works on the program, four movements patterned after classical "nachtmusik," mostly gentle and serene, the penultimate movement a touch more rowdy than the others. Again, we hear an elegant interpretation from Lin.

Stravinsky wrote Circus Polka for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1942 as a ballet for elephants. Later, human dancers would perform it. Expect more lightweight fun here, which Ms. Lin is quick to exploit in a charming piece.

After a couple of other selections, the program ends with Guido Agosti's piano transcription of three movements from the Firebird Suite. Here, Ms. Lin has a chance to show off her dexterity, power, and composure in one place. Hers is an exciting yet surprisingly poetic reading. Or perhaps not so surprising given all that went before.

Overall, this is a lovely, revealing recital, presented by an artist at the peak of her form.

Producer Dan Mercuruio and engineer Daniel Shores recorded Ms. Li at Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia in June 2013. The equipment they used includes a Metric Halo ULN-8 audio processor and DPA 4006 microphones, and the piano Ms. Lin plays is a Steinway Model D #590904. The piano sound is at once warm and detailed, realistically rich and resonant. It's a pleasant, lifelike affair, set in a most-natural sounding environment. Well, to be fair, we wouldn't have expected anything less from Sono Luminus Studios.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, November 30, 2014

Sacred Music in a Sacred Space Exudes Christmas Warmth and Joy in "Heavenly Light," a Musical Celebration on December 14 & 17

St. Ignatius Loyola's annual Christmas concert, "Heavenly Light," features the exceptional Choir and Orchestra of St. Ignatius Loyola and the church's Parish Community Choir and Children's Choirs. Performances will take place at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola (980 Park Avenue between 83rd and 84th Streets) on Sunday, December 14 at 3:00pm and Wednesday, December 17 at 7:00pm. Tickets are $35-$85 and can be purchased 24/7 at www.smssconcerts.org or 212.288.2520.

Under the banner of the Church's celebrated series Sacred Music in a Sacred Space, director K. Scott Warren will lead the acclaimed professional Choir and Orchestra of St. Ignatius Loyola, plus the parish's community ensembles, in a holiday offering that The New York Times calls "part of the essence of Christmas in New York."

Centering on excerpts from J.S. Bach's Christmas Oratorio, our ever-popular Christmas concerts will offers audiences the inspiring warmth and joy of the season. "Heavenly Light" includes well-known, traditional hymns and carols giving the audience a chance to raise their voices in song to celebrate the hope, love, joy and peace of the season.

The concert is the exuberant crescendo to a musically-rich December at the Church that begins with a reflective "Advent Lessons & Carols" service on Sunday, November 30 at 3pm (FREE) and includes "A Chanticleer Christmas," featuring the Grammy-award-winning male chorus singing Christmas selections dating from the Middle Ages through the 21st century, on Friday, December 5 at 7pm, and Sunday, December 7 at 4pm ($35-$85).

Ticket information:
Advent Lessons & Carols – November 30, 2014: Free will offering (no ticket necessary)
A Chanticleer Christmas – December 5 & 7, 2014:  Tickets $35 - $85
Heavenly Light Annual Christmas Concert – December 14 & 17, 2014:  Tickets $35 - $85

Order online: www.smssconcerts.org
Phone:  212.288.2520

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Celebrate the Holidays with Music at the Green Music Center, Sonoma State University
Mary Stallings
Sundays at Schroeder
Sun, Dec 14 at 3pm
Schroeder Hall
From gigs with Ella Fitzgerald to tours with Dizzy Gillespie, jazz vocalist Mary
Stallings has done it all--now, experience this local legend up close and personal as she performs a soulful afternoon of ballads and blues.

New Century Chamber Orchestra
Holiday Concert
MasterCard Performance Series
Fri, Dec 12 at 7:30pm
Weill Hall
This 19-member string ensemble is joined by renowned violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the San Francisco Girls Chorus in a seasonal program featuring the "Winter" sections of Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Corelli's Christmas Concerto.

Na Leo
Holiday Concert
MasterCard Performance Series
Sat, Dec 13 at 7:30pm
Weill Hall
Na Leo is one of the most popular —and most award-winning--female Hawaiian groups in the world. For their Weill Hall debut, the trio presents an island-inspired evening of contemporary hits and holiday classics.

Handel's Messiah, American Bach Soloists
Holiday Concert
MasterCard Performance Series
Sun, Dec 21 at 3pm
Weill Hall
Celebrate the holidays with one of classical music's most beloved traditions. Under the leadership of Music Director Jeffrey Thomas, this breathtaking ensemble brings to life the most brilliant music of the Baroque era.

Dave Koz & Friends
Christmas Tour 2014
MasterCard Performance Series
Mon, Dec 22 at 7:30pm
Weill Hall
Get into the holiday spirit with this uplifting, high-energy show that the whole family will enjoy! With lively arrangements of seasonal favorites and featuring guest artists Jonathan Butler, Christopher Cross and Maysa.

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

--Green Music Center

Young People's Chorus of New York City Getting Ready for the Holidays
Saturday, December 6, at 3:30 at 7 p.m. at 92nd Street Y at Lexington Avenue, all divisions of the Young People's Chorus of New York City are excitedly preparing for two performances of one of the most highly anticipated concerts of the season, their annual winter concert at the 92nd Street Y.

Themed "Holidays in Our Home," the concerts, featuring YPC's award-winning choristers in a program of favorite holiday music from the past and present, will be complemented by videos and reminiscences of family stories of their holiday traditions.

The 3:30 matinee performance will open with special guests-the Young People's Chorus of New York City at Washington Heights (YPCWH) -the amazing choristers from YPC's first after-school community program in Washington Heights.

3:30 p.m. - tickets from $20
7:00 p.m. - tickets from $25
Tickets are available at the box office, by phone at 212-415-5500, or online at http://www.92y.org/Event/YPC-Winter-Concert

Then, Saturday, December 13, at 3:30 p.m. - Fort  George Presbyterian Church, 1525 St. Nicholas Avenue between 186th and 187th Streets:

The Young People's Chorus of New York City at Washington Heights (YPCWH) comes to the Fort George Presbyterian Church on December 13 to sing a free holiday concert for the Washington Heights-Inwood community.  Led by YPC Conducting Fellow Maria Peña, the chorus of nearly 100 voices is looking forward to performing a festive program of holiday fare for music lovers of all ages.

Admission is free. Bring your family and friends. All are welcome.

And Thursday, December 18, 7:00- p.m. - YPC Returns to St. Patrick's Cathedral, Fifth Avenue and 51st Street:

St. Patrick's Cathedral once again welcomes the Young People's Chorus of New York City conducted by Artistic Director Francisco J. Núñez to sing in its annual "A City Singing at Christmas" celebration of traditional and contemporary Christmas hymns and carols. Also performing are the St. Patrick's Cathedral Choir conducted by Dr. Jennifer Pascual, the cathedral's director of music; the New York City Master Chorale led by Artistic Director Thea Kano, as well as the New York Symphonic Brass and Daniel Brondel on The Cathedral Organ.

Admission is free. Come early for best seats.

For more information, visit http://www.saintpatrickscathedral.org/music_cathedral_concert.php

--Katharine Gibson, Young People's Chorus of NYC

Holiday Events at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
Celebrate the Season With Angel Romero and the Aeolus Quartet,
Angel Romero Featuring the Aeolus Quartet
Friday, December 12, 2014, 8 p.m.
Tickets Start at $29

Christmas-Catechism
Sister's Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi's Gold
December 16–21, 2014
Tickets $39

Merri-Achi-Christmas
Friday, December 19, 2014, 8 p.m.
Tickets Start at $29

How to reach us:
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
7380 E. Second St.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Patron Services Box Office: 480-499-TKTS (8587)
TDD: 480-874-4694
Web: www.ScottsdalePerformingArts.org

--Bill Thompson, SCCARTS

Music Institute Welcomes Holiday Season
The Music Institute of Chicago presents a series of concerts to welcome the holiday season, as well as a master class as part of the Citizen Musician program. All programs take place at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, Illinois, except where noted.

Community Music School Recitals and Concerts—FREE
The Music Institute offers individual and group instruction for musicians of all ages and abilities at six Chicago area campuses, as well as several opportunities to participate in an ensemble or musical group.

December  7          2 p.m.: Keyboard Department Recital
December 10    7:30 p.m.: Community Symphony Concert
December 13         2 p.m.: Adult Student Recital
December 14    6:30 p.m.: Strings Department Recital
December 18    7:30 p.m.: New Horizons Band Concert

December 6  -  9 a.m.: Open house and Instrument Petting Zoo
                       10 a.m.: "Compose Yourself!" concert
This morning of music for families, which is sponsored by First Bank & Trust, begins with an open house and Instrument Petting Zoo, inviting kids to enjoy playing a variety of instruments. Next, Chicago composer James Stephenson introduces kids to the instruments of the symphony orchestra and then leads the audience through the creation of a new work.

Bring new, unwrapped toys and non-perishable food items for Evanston Holiday Food & Toy Drive

December 6 - 7:30 p.m.: Academy Chamber Music
Academy Concert—FREE
The Music Institute's Academy is an opportunity for gifted pre-college musicians to receive training and education as they consider professional careers.

December 7 -  3 and 6 p.m.: Holiday Concert at Divine Word Chapel
Music Institute of Chicago Chorale with Northbrook Symphony
The Music Institute Chorale is an adult community chorus that performs a wide range of repertoire. For this concert they join the Northbrook Symphony for its holiday concert.

December 13 -  5–6:20 p.m.: Master class
                          6:20–7 p.m.:  Performance, followed by reception
Music Institute's Winnetka Campus, Thoresen Performance Center, 300 Green Bay Rd.
Master Class with Citizen Musician Fellows—FREE
The Music Institute has partnered with Citizen Musician Fellows, an intensive training program guided by Yo-Yo Ma to develop 21st century musicians who are collaborative, innovative and adaptive. At this master class, selected Music Institute chamber groups work with the Fellows, then offer a short performance and reception.
            .
December 14 - 1–5 p.m.: Suzuki Sunday
                         3:15 p.m.: Solo Recital
Music Institute's Winnetka Campus, Thoresen Performance Center, 300 Green Bay Rd.
Suzuki Program Concert—FREE
The Music Institute offers one of the largest and most comprehensive Suzuki programs in the Midwest.

December 17 - 12:15 p.m.: Jazz with Julia Miller, guitar; Victor Garcia, trumpet; Ernie Adams, drums.
Music Institute's Evanston East campus,
Sherman Theater, 1702 Sherman Avenue        

Faculty Lunchtime Concert Series - FREE
Each month members of the Music Institute faculty perform a free lunchtime concert.

For more information, visit https://www.musicinst.org/

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Coleridge-Taylor: Hiawatha's Wedding Feast (CD review)

Also, Dvorak: Symphonic Variations. Richard Lewis, tenor; Royal Choral Society; Sir Malcolm Sargent, Philharmonia Orchestra. IDIS 6672.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was an English composer of such distinction in his relatively short musical life that some of his admirers at the time referred to him as the "African Mahler." Today, people hardly recognize him at all, or if they do, they confuse him with the English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, after whom the composer's mother named him.

In any case, in 1898 Coleridge-Taylor, with the help of conductor and composer Edward Elgar, premiered his cantata for chorus and orchestra Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, Op. 30, No. 1, which pretty much made his name. Apparently, Longfellow's poem "The Song of Hiawatha" inspired the composer (he would even later name his son Hiawatha), and with the success of Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, Coleridge-Taylor went on to write two sequels for a Hiawatha Trilogy.

Then, in the early 1920's, about a decade after Coleridge-Taylor's early death from pneumonia, the Royal Albert Hall began a series of yearly productions of the Hiawatha music, mostly conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent, who recorded the material several times, the final one being the recording we have here. It's a 1962 studio recording, made on the fiftieth anniversary of the composer's death.

The disc presents Coleridge-Taylor's work in four sections: "Introduction: You shall hear"; "He was dressed in shirt"; "Onaway! Awake, beloved!"; and "Thus the gentle Chibiabos."

I doubt that anyone before or since has captured the spirit of Coleridge-Taylor's music better than Sir Malcolm in this '62 performance. Even today his interpretation sounds fresh and alive, the melodies carefully and lovingly presented. Most important, the chorus sings with feeling and precision, and tenor Richard Lewis sounds quite elegant in the famous aria "Onaway! Awake, beloved," which became something of a hit tune among tenors in the first half of the twentieth century.

The chorus sings with rigorous articulation and a zesty affection for the music. Sargent chooses moderate tempos throughout, one assumes speeds and phrasing well thought out and well tested over the years.

Sir Malcolm Sargent
One doesn't see many new recordings of this music anymore, which is a good reason why Sargent still has practically the field to himself. I suspect that modern audiences find the music rather old-fashioned, perhaps even corny, redundant, and dull; therefore, record companies are reluctant to record it. Meanwhile, we have Sargent's recording, which will suffice, no doubt, for many years to come.

In addition to Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, the disc contains a studio recording of Antonin Dvorak's Symphonic Variations, Op. 78, again with Sir Malcolm and the Philharmonia, this time from 1959. The Dvorak work begins very gently and proceeds from the tranquil main theme through twenty-seven variations, all of which Sir Malcolm negotiates with ease, nicely bringing out the Czech spirit of the piece. It's actually a delightful and probably underappreciated piece of music. I'm glad we have Sargent's reading around as a reminder how good it can be.

As I say, Sir Malcolm made the Coleridge-Taylor recording in 1962, and at the time EMI released it. I owned the vinyl LP for many years until it became a casualty of the CD era. I always figured to replace it, but when EMI finally did issue it on compact disc, I must have missed out. Since then, EMI and other record studios have reissued it on CD, and I believe it may still be available on Classics for Pleasure and a few other labels. Now, the folks at the Italian record company IDIS (Istituto Discografico Italiano) have come along with their 2013 remastering of the work.

The only snag: I'd swear both the Coleridge-Taylor and Dvorak works are in monaural. I'd also swear Sir Malcolm recorded the Coleridge-Taylor in stereo and that my old LP was in stereo. So what's going on? Nowhere on the IDIS packaging or on the disc itself could I find any indication of mono or stereo, and my e-mail to IDIS went unanswered. My conclusion: Either this remastering is in monaural, or it's the narrowest stereo I've ever heard.

That said, the sound quality (mono or stereo, who knows) is quite good in both pieces. It's full and rich, with no undue brightness in the upper midrange or treble and no edge on the voices. There is also a fairly wide dynamic range and fine transparency throughout, with only the faintest hint of background noise. The frequency response is a bit limited, though, and there is a slight softness to the upper treble; otherwise, the sound appears reasonably natural and well balanced.

JJP

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


Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 (CD review)

Also, Scriabin: Etudes. Lang Lang, piano; Yuri Temirkanov, St. Petersburg Philharmonic. Telarc CD-80582.

Whatever faults I might have found with Chinese pianist Lang Lang's 2001 rendition of the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto I should probably attribute to the sound of the recording as much as to the artist. Recorded live in August of 2001 at a Proms Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London, the interpretation is at once lively and volcanic, reticent and withdrawn. Certainly, Lang Lang is a pianist of contrasting temperaments, and he displays it in abundance in this performance, for good or for bad. Personally, I found the performance from both Lang and the orchestra somewhat underpowered compared to the best I've heard, including the composer's mono rendition; but I suspect Lang's fans will find it just right.

As to the performance more specifically, Lang begins it in a relatively staid, reserved manner, and he doesn't begin to allow it to come alive until the final moments of the first movement and then the concluding movement. He executes the slow, second movement Adagio beautifully, however, from beginning to end, and by the time he finishes the entire concerto, things bode well for the Scriabin Etudes and the little Chinese folk song that follow.

Lang Lang
The thing is, I've never been keen on live performances, and this disc reminded me why. Audience noises in the concerto constantly intrude upon the serenity of the quieter passages, and then the sound engineers subject us to a burst of applause at the end. Additionally, the piano's image seems sometimes small and distant, sometimes large, wide, and close, with little rhyme or reason as to why. The orchestra often appears soft or muted, to the point you'd think it had disappeared entirely, when suddenly it bursts forth with a strong, dynamic force, making you wonder where it had been all along. Now, understand, I'm all for a wide dynamic range, as long it sounds natural, the way one might hear it at a real, live event, not from a recorded one. Ironically, for a live recording, this one didn't sound to me "live" at all except for the audience noise.

Telarc recorded the Etudes in a studio, and they come off much better than the Rachmaninov in almost every way. Most important, the sound is not only quieter but seems better balanced than in the Rachmaninov concerto. Oh, yes, and then there's Telarc's booklet insert, which is one of those foldout affairs that opens up to nearly two feet across your lap, making reading it a chore.

I've never considered it my job to tell people what to buy, only to provide my reactions to recordings; still, I have to admit that if I were a first-time buyer looking for a stereo version of the Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto, I'd stick to the tried-and-true recordings from Martha Argerich (Philips), Vladimir Horowitz (RCA), Byron Janis (Mercury), Leif Ove Andsnes (EMI), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca), and if you don't mind monaural sound, the composer's own authoritative version (RCA).

JJP

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


Of Kings & Angels (CD review)

A Christmas Carol Collection. Mediaeval Baebes. QOS 009CD.

It's that time of year again. Well, it's that time of year if you're reading this around Christmas time, anyway. The musical ensemble Mediaeval Baebes present a holiday celebration of seventeen Christmas carols on their album Of Kings & Angels.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mediaeval Baebes, Wikipedia describes them as "a British ensemble of female musicians founded in the 1990s by Dorothy Carter and Katharine Blake. It included some of Blake's colleagues from the band Miranda Sex Garden, as well as other friends who share her love of medieval music. The lineup often rotates from album to album, and ranges from six to twelve members. As of 2010, the group sold some 500,000 records worldwide, their most successful being Worldes Blysse with 250,000 copies purchased."

The current members include Katharine Blake, Esther Dee, Clare Marika Edmondson, Sarah Kayte Foster, Emily Alice Ovenden, and Josephine Ravenheart, with several additional musicians accompanying them on medieval instruments and vocals. Mediaeval Baebes are a talented group of singers who in various configurations have been singing together for nearly twenty years. Surely, practice makes perfect, and they are just that, their voices blending in heavenly harmony, the solos just as radiant.

Most listeners will find the majority of the carols familiar: "I Saw Three Ships," "We Three Kings," "The Holly and the Ivy," "Ding Dong Merrily on High," "Good King Wenceslas," "Away in a Manger," "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," and "Silent Night." But then there are less familiar items, like "Ther Is No Rose of Swych Vertu," sung in Middle English; "In the Bleak Midwinter," with words by Christina Rossetti and music by Gustav Holst; "Gaudete," sung in Mediaeval Latin; "Veni, Veni Emmanuel," based on a Latin text; and so on.

Each song is a little gem, but I found a number of them of particular interest. "The Holly and the Ivy" stands out for the sweet spirit of the ensemble, as well as the precision of its execution. They project the song with exactness and heart, a winning combination. "Ther Is No Rose," Veni, Veni," and "The Angel Gabriel" appealed to me for the beauty of the ensemble's a cappella harmony, which needs no support or accompaniment to sound celestial. "Ding Dong" is joyful and zesty; the combination of Rossetti and Holst is nigh irresistible; "Away in a Manger" benefits from the complement of a delightful zither; "God Rest Ye" gets a more nineteenth-century treatment than we usually hear; "Silent Night" profits from not sentimentalizing it; and Benjamin Britten's "Corpus Christi Carol" is almost not a carol at all, yet works perfectly well for its symbolism.

Certainly, this is not your usual Christmas album, yet it's one that should please both classical and popular-music fans. Very enjoyable.

Mediaeval Baebes recorded the album in 2013 at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge and Bellissima Studios, with Katharine Blake producing and musically directing the music and Ms. Blake and Rob Toulson engineering and mixing it. The sound is quite clear, the solos a bit close and the upper midrange a tad forward. I liked that the supporting vocals were fairly dimensional and not necessarily in the same plane as the lead singer. Too often, however, individual instruments appear highlighted, somewhat lessening the sound's natural or lifelike effect. I also detected a very slight high-frequency background noise, not exactly a hiss but more of a steady-state whine, that accompanied much of the music. Fortunately, these are minor concerns, and most listeners will no doubt find the sonics quite attractive.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, November 23, 2014

Sacred Music in a Sacred Space's Inspiring Advent Lessons and Carols Returns on November 30

The acclaimed music series from the Upper East Side's Church of St. Ignatius Loyola begins the Advent-Christmas season with a beloved tradition, reprising its immensely popular "Advent Lessons & Carols" on Sunday, November 30 at 3:00 pm (980 Park Avenue between 83rd and 84th Streets). The concert is open to the public by free will offering. No tickets are required.

Join the Choir of St. Ignatius Loyola for its inaugural musical event of the holiday season—a meditative "Advent Lessons and Carols" service that celebrates the complex role of the Blessed Mother through music and readings. Artistic Director K. Scott Warren has hand-selected inspiring motets to complement a series of Biblical readings and poems and favorite sing-a-long carols in this modern interpretation of the traditional service that peaked in popularity during the 1920s.

This is a service of prayer and song that invites us into the stillness of Advent, a foil to the bustling holiday pace throughout the city. The musical selections, which will be performed by the Church's superlative professional choir conducted by Warren, include Francis Poulenc's Salut, dame sainte from Quatre petites prières de Saint-François d'Assise; Angelus ad virginem by composer Paul Halley (former Music Director at New York's St. John the Divine); Franz Biebl's Ave Maria; Magnificat by Robert Parsons; and Morton Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium.

Poetic readings include an excerpt from Eternal Feminine by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest who once lived in the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola parish house; and Denise Levertov's The Annunciation. The service will also include familiar Christmas carols for all to sing, prayers and seasonal biblical readings.

Designed to celebrate Mary's humility and courage from the moment of the Annunciation through the rest of her life, the service announces the beginning of the holiday season not with trumpets (there will be plenty of those later in the month!), but with a quiet space for reflection on the most sacred aspects of Christmas.

The "Advent Lessons and Carols" is the first event of a very musical December at the church. The Grammy-award-winning male chorus Chanticleer performs its beloved "A Chanticleer Christmas" concert on Friday, December 5 at 7:00 pm and Sunday, December 7 at 4:00 pm (tickets $35-$85, assigned seating) and the St. Ignatius Choir and Orchestra join forces with the Parish Community Choir and Children's Choirs for the Church's joyous Christmas celebration, "Heavenly Light," on Sunday, December 14 at 3:00 pm and Wednesday, December 17 at 7:00 pm (tickets $35-$85, assigned seating).

Ticket information:
Advent Lessons and Carols – November 30, 2014: Free will offering (no ticket necessary)
Chanticleer Tickets – December 5 & 7, 2014:  Tickets $35 - $85
Heavenly Light Annual Christmas Concert – December 14 & 17, 2014:  Tickets $35 - $85

Order online: www.smssconcerts.org
Phone:  212.288.2520

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

92nd Street Y December Concerts
Wednesday, December 3, 2014, 7:30 PM
The Return of the Violin: Screening and Discussion
with Joshua Bell, Sigmund Rolat and Budd Mishkin
92Y Buttenwieser Hall

Sunday, December 7, 3:00 PM
Alisa Weilerstein & Inon Barnatan
Musicians of the NY Philharmonic
92Y Kaufmann Concert Hall

Saturday, December 13, 8:00 PM
The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio
92Y Kaufmann Concert Hall

Sunday, December 14, 11:00 AM
Leon Fleisher in Conversation
92Y Weill Art Gallery

Monday, December 15, 7:30 PM
Schoenberg Before Schoenberg
SubCulture

Wednesday, December 17, 8:15 PM
Can We Be Silent? Artists on Prejudice, Racism and Persecution
92Y Buttenwieser Hall

Tickets are available at www.92Y.org/concerts or 212-415-5500.

--Ely Moskowitz, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Distinguished Concerts International New York Names Eph Ehly Recipient of DCINY's Educator Laureate Award
Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) is pleased to announce that conductor Eph Ehly will be the recipient of the DCINY Educator Laureate Award. Celebrated as a conductor and educator worldwide, Ehly will receive the award on Sunday, November 30th, at the start of DCINY's performance of Messiah … Refreshed! at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center. Co-founded by Iris Derke (General Director) and Jonathan Griffith (Artistic Director and Principal Conductor), DCINY's 8th season will begin in January 2015.

Named "one of the most sought-after choral conductors/clinicians" by the American Choral Directors Journal, Eph Ehly is renowned as a conductor, author, and lecturer. Ehly has appeared in 48 states, as well as Canada, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, and several countries throughout Europe, and presented on more than 100 college and university campuses. DCINY's Maestro Jonathan Griffith--the recent winner of the 2014  American Prize in Conducting--comments: "Dr. Eph Ehly has been a major influence in my life, not only musically but also personally.  Much of who I am today as a conductor goes back to the early days of my doctoral studies at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and specifically with my daily contact with Dr. Ehly. It is a sincere privilege to honor this wonderful and giving musician and human being."

After 27 years of service--and conducting over 80 All-State Choirs, and over 600 festival ensembles--Dr. Ehly retired from the Conservatory of Music, University of Missouri-Kansas City. He also served an Interim Professorship at the University of Oklahoma in 2006-07. More than 90 Doctorate and 100 Masters Degree students have graduated under his supervision. He imparts a lifetime of wisdom and expertise in his popular memoir, "Hogey's Journey," published by Heritage Press, and Hal Leonard Publishing Company released a series of video master classes which feature Dr. Ehly's philosophies in conducting and rehearsal techniques. He has received numerous important teaching awards and fellowships.

Distinguished Concerts International New York is driven by passion, innovative vision, a total belief in its artists, and unwavering commitment to bringing forth unforgettable audience experiences. Having presented numerous sold out concerts and world and US premieres, DCINY also created a mentorship program for young conductors and the DCINY Premiere Project which commissions new works.

For more information on upcoming concerts and events, visit www.DCINY.org

--Shira Gilbert PR

Mediaeval Baebes Kick Off the Holiday Season with a Free Performance at Rough Trade, New York City on November 30 at 2pm
The Baebes, whose angelic voices and an eclectic mix of ancient instruments wend their way through Christmases past, all the way back to that sacred night in Bethlehem, will perform selections from their newest album Of Kings and Angels followed by a post-performance signing.

Fans of Christmas tunes and early music aficionados alike will be enchanted by the Mediaeval Baebes' sophisticated takes on 17 carols including "Good King Wenceslas," "Ding Dong Merrily on High," "We Three Kings," "Away in a Manger," "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," "Silent Night," "The Holly and the Ivy," and many more. The vocal quintet known for their angelic voices, innovative arrangements and poetic beauty re-imagines classic carols as they may have been heard on a snowy Christmas in 13th century England or on the balmy Middle Eastern night of Jesus's birth. Earthly roots stretch up to the heavens, where it all began, offering a graceful antidote to the commercial frenzy of the modern holiday season.

Join the Baebes at Rough Trade NYC (64 North 9th Street, Brooklyn) on November 30 at 2pm for a free, non-ticketed in-store performance of selections from Of Kings and Angels and post-performance signing. For more information on store location or event, please call 718-388-4111.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

American Bach Soloists Present Messiah in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral
Beloved holiday tradition and perennially sold-out event features outstanding soloists and period instruments.

Premium seating is already sold out ~ Reserve now for best seating options.

Handel: Messiah
Mary Wilson soprano ~ Eric Jurenas countertenor
Wesley Rogers tenor ~ Jesse Blumberg baritone
Jeffrey Thomas conductor

Tuesday December 16 2014 7:30 p.m. - Grace Cathedral, San Francisco
Thursday December 18 2014 7:30 p.m. - Grace Cathedral, San Francisco
Friday December 19 2014 7:30 p.m. - Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

For more information, visit http://americanbach.org/seasons/14-15/Messiah.html

--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

The Chicago Community Trust Supports Institute for Therapy Through the Arts' Collaboration with Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago
The Music Institute of Chicago's Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA) has again received a $50,000 grant from The Chicago Community Trust to continue its long-successful clinical services in creative arts therapy for patients of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC).

For more than 15 years, ITA's licensed and board-certified therapists have provided individual and group creative arts therapy at no cost to RIC patients. Services include inpatient individual and group music therapy, a weekly creative arts therapy group for adults with aphasia, weekly drama therapy groups, and in-service trainings on the benefits of creative arts therapy for RIC staff.

"RIC patients continue to need alternative forms of therapy to successfully recover from an injury or illness," said ITA Executive Director Jennifer Rook. "These patients, staff, and those in the aphasia program have reported creative arts therapy, including drama and music therapies, has had a notable impact on rehabilitation and emotional well-being. Referrals for music therapy in the hospital have dramatically increased throughout the years as more research demonstrates the impact of music on the brain."

Institute for Therapy Through the Arts:
Founded in 1975, the Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA) empowers and energizes individuals, families, and communities to grow and heal by engaging in creative arts therapies and is one of the few comprehensive community-based arts therapy programs in the United States to offer all four creative arts treatment modalities: Music Therapy, Drama Therapy, Art Therapy, and Dance/Movement Therapy. ITA has received national recognition and distinguished itself in the use of integrated arts approaches to help children, adults, and families to improve functioning related to psychological, developmental, physical, or cognitive factors.

For more information, visit musicinst.org

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

PARMA Recordings Student Composer Competition
As a part of PARMA's continuing efforts to bring new music to the listening community and to support new performers and composers, every year PARMA's Student Composer Competition holds a call for scores for current students in composition under the age of 30. The top 10 winners from the Competition are included in the "PARMA Anthology of Music" and the Grand Prize Winner is rewarded with an additional prize.

This year, there will be 3 Grand Prize Winners, and they will all receive a reading and archival recording of an orchestral work as part of our PrimaVista program.

With no entry fee and all costs subsidized, the PARMA Student Composer Competition is a great opportunity for student composers from around the world, and we encourage you to submit your music.

2014 Grand Prize Winner Michael Mikulka had his piece To Throw premiered by the Redline Brass Quintet at the 2014 PARMA Music Festival. 2013 Grand Prize Winner Tina Tallon had her piece selective defrosting premiered by the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra String Quartet at the 2013 PARMA Music Festival. And 2012 Grand Prize Winner Quinn Dizon's small ensemble piece Awakening was recorded by Clayton Hoener, Peter Sulski, Ron Lowry, and Hannah Shields in August 2012 and is featured on Perceptions (Navona Records).

Student Composer Competition Timeline:
December 1, 2014 to January 31, 2015 – Submission period
February/March 2015 – Judging period
April 2015 – Winners announced
Summer 2015 – Reading sessions

Eligibility:
Entrants must be 30 years old or younger and currently studying composition either at an institution or through private instruction. There is no entry fee to submit.

Submission Guidelines:
Submitted works should be no greater than ten (10) minutes in duration and orchestrated within a standard orchestral configuration of 2, 2, 2, 2 – 4, 3, 3, 1 – percussion – strings, with optional piano and harp. All costs will be fully subsidized by PARMA.

Awards:
Ten (10) winners will be selected to have their works published in the 2015 PARMA Anthology of Music, and three (3) Grand Prize Winners will receive readings and archival recordings of their scores by a full symphony orchestra via PARMA's PrimaVista program.

For more information, visit http://www.parmarecordings.com/studentcomposercompetition

--Bob Lord, PARMA Recordings

Fantasy (CD review)

Piano fantasies of Schubert, Hirtz, Mozart, Di Liberto, and Schumann. Jon Kimura Parker, piano. FP 0908.

Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker fairly attacks the piano. And we wouldn't expect anything less of him. He is a pianist of distinct personality, one who isn't afraid of pouring everything of himself into a piece, for better or for worse. Last time out, I found his piano transcription of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring one of my favorite albums of 2013, and I found these present performances of various fantasies for piano no less pleasurable.

First up on the "Fantasy" agenda is the Fantasie in C Major, D. 760, "Wanderer" by Franz Schubert (1797-1828). It's a four-movement affair that Schubert wrote in 1822. It's apparently so difficult to play that even the composer admitted he could not do it justice. Well, Parker does do it justice, and then some. While most other pianists in my experience play it rather sedately, Parker goes at it with vigor and virtuosic vitality. Still, he doesn't just bang away at the keys; he modulates the playing beautifully, going from softest to loudest passages with grace and élan. Parker catches the music's rhythmic thrust with enthusiasm, to be sure, yet he manages to convey its poetic qualities with equal confidence. The reading is riveting. I can't remember when this work so engrossed me.

Next is a somewhat unusual choice that only Parker would come up with, the Wizard of Oz Fantasy by William Hirtz, based on themes by Harold Arlen and Herbert Stothart from the famous 1939 movie. Parker approaches the music with all the seriousness he would accord a classical piece, yet he captures the score's fun along the way. Hirtz wrote his little fantasy in 1999 for piano duet, and Parker asked the composer if he could arrange a solo version, which he plays here. Solo adaptation or no, it still sounds as though Parker is playing with four hands. The music is wonderful; more than a mere medley or pastiche, the score hangs together on its own, with unifying transitions smoothly drawn under Parker's guidance. As I say, fun stuff.

Then it's the Fantasia No. 3 in D minor, KV 397, by W.A. Mozart (1756-1791). He wrote it in 1782 but left it unfinished. Parker improvises an ending for it, so, as he says, if it's not to your liking, don't blame Mozart. Under Parker, the music floats as gently through the air as a summer breeze, the occasional stronger currents warmly communicated.

Jon Kimura Parker
The penultimate work is the Fantasy on the Cavalleria Rusticana, Italian pianist Calogero Di Liberto's (b. 1973) take on music from Pietro Mascagni's opera. Di Liberto wrote the piece in 2005 while completing his doctoral studies in Parker's piano studio at Rice University, where Parker is a Professor of Piano. The music is familiar and theatrical, and Parker makes the most of its operatic, almost melodramatic qualities. Nevertheless, it's Parker's handling of the music's quieter moments that catches one's attention; it's quite lovely.

Finally, the album ends with the Fantasie in C major, Op. 17, by Robert Schumann (1810-1856). It's one of Schumann's finest works for piano, a three-movement piece written in 1836, revised and published in 1839, and dedicated to Franz Liszt. Parker tells us his battered old copy of Schumann's score bears the words of his mentor: "Sentiment without sentimentality," "Proportion vs. freedom," and "Surge!" I like that last bit best because it clearly defines Parker's approach: he always appears to be surging ahead, whether it's dynamically, impulsively, sweetly, or lyrically. His cadences, tempos, inflections, pauses, contrasts, reflections, and rushes of emotion continuously move the work forward in a manner that seems as if it's the only way anyone could possibly want to take it. Yet few do. Remarkable work.

Again Parker scores with another favorite recording of the year for me.

Producer Aloysia Friedmann and engineer and editor Andy Bradley recorded the music at Stude Concert Hall, the Shepard School of Music, Rice University, Houston, Texas in September 2012 and August 2014. The piano sound is excellent, very big and robust to match Mr. Parker's playing style, while not so close that the instrument stretches all the way across the room. Transient response is very quick, with impact fast and clean. There's no hint of edginess, steeliness, or forwardness to the sound, either; it's all quite dynamic, natural, and lifelike, with a mild ambient resonance and moderate decay time to add to the effect.

JJP

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


Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky (CD review)

Also, Scythian Suite. Olga Borodina, mezzo-soprano; Valery Gergiev, Kirov Orchestra and Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg. Philips 289 473 600-2.

A big, brawny, red-blooded Russian performance of the Scythian Suite and a relatively restrained but stately reading of Alexander Nevsky get undermined by sonics that might peel plaster at forty feet. By the time it was over, the album had fairly thrilled and almost deafened me at the same time. A bit frustrating, you know?

But let me start at the beginning. In its plainness, the disc cover is among the least attractive I've seen in years, and the packaging offers no track information until you dig into the accompanying booklet. So the packaging has already annoyed me before I even start to listen to the disc. Then, the program begins with the rather noisy Scythian Suite, which looks as though it was Prokofiev's attempt in 1915 to out-Stravinsky Stravinsky. Scythian is a ballet in Prokofiev's early mode but with little of Stravinsky's (or Prokofiev's later) subtlety. Gergiev and his Kirov players do what they can with it, and, indeed, it comes off with the combination of reflection and ferocity that the score deserves, whether you like it or not.

Finally, by track five we get to the star of the show, Alexander Nevsky, the cantata for mezzo-soprano, mixed chorus, and orchestra that Prokofiev wrote for the 1939 film of the same name by Sergei Eisenstein. The movie and the music celebrate the deeds of an ancient, thirteenth-century Russian warrior, leader, and folk hero.

Valery Gergiev
The Nevsky music does credit to the legendary character with its colorful tone painting, its melting tragedy, and its ultimately uplifting spirit; and maestro Gergiev conveys most of it with a surprising nobility and control, if that's the kind of interpretation you're seeking. For me, Gergiev's rendition tends to lack the flair I was expecting (or hoping for). Still, if you're looking for a tamer, more deeply serious rendering of Prokofiev than usual, Gergiev may be your man.

But that sound. Philips recorded it live at the opening concert of the first Moscow Easter Festival, May 5, 2002, and maybe because they did it live did them in. While the stereo imaging is fine, if a bit close and constricted, the upper midrange and lower treble fairly toll the rafters, and with little compensating lower-octave response to offset it, it can be deadly. Unless your playback system is somewhat soft or dull to begin with, you may find yourself leaving the room with your ears ringing.

For years a direct rival to this disc has been a DG Originals release of the same material by Claudio Abbado and the London Symphony, which comes in at mid price. By comparison, Abbado's performance is marginally more sympathetic, more heartfelt, and more moving; and even better, the sound appears more naturally balanced, if somewhat artificially imaged. Nevertheless, if we were taking a vote, I'd definitely go with Abbado.

JJP

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


A Chopin Recital (CD review)

Andrew Rangell, piano. Steinway & Sons 30038.

It's obviously no accident that so many concert pianists play so much Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin. These were composers who were pianists themselves, loved the instrument, loved what it could do, and loved what they did with it. In the case of Polish composer and virtuoso pianist Frederic Chopin (1810-1849), he produced possibly the greatest number of poetic and dramatic piano pieces of all, so it takes a pianist with a strong poetic sensibility and a reasonably forceful dramatic flair to communicate his music well. American concert pianist and Steinway Artist Andrew Rangell possesses just such a sensibility and flair, along with an uncommonly thoughtful approach to the music.

A year or so ago I reviewed another album by Mr. Rangell, that one called A Folk Song Runs Through It, and I said at the time that he practices a light, often delicate touch, while maintaining a good deal of power in reserve, making his technique not only impressively virtuosic but uncommonly sensitive and diverse as well. A short biography of Mr. Rangell tells us he holds a doctorate in piano and a while back recovered from a severe hand injury that sidelined his career for some seven years. I wondered at the time of the first review if sometimes tragedy couldn't be a blessing in disguise if one used it to one's advantage, in this case forcing Rangell into a style he might not have adopted earlier. Anyway, I also wondered back then if we would ever hear him return to recording Chopin (he had released the Mazurkas for the Dorian label in 2003). Now, he has returned, with a recital of some of Chopin's most-challenging piano works.

Rangell tells us in a booklet note that he chose the pieces in the recital for their "conceptual daring and architectural grandeur," pieces that "put completely to rest the dubious but long-held view of Chopin as the poetic miniaturist--and they provide a vivid and haunting intimation of what might have followed had Chopin lived longer." Fair enough, although Mr. Rangell's opinion still doesn't discount the idea that Chopin was one of the finest "poetic miniaturists" the world has ever known. He was that, indeed, yet, as Rangell contends, much more.

Anyway, leading off the program is the Polonaise-fantaisie in A-flat major, Op. 61, from 1846 the last of Chopin's long, extended-form pieces. It's a rather daring way to begin an album because it is not one of the composer's more-popular works. In fact, it's one of his most-difficult works, being in no way sentimental, melancholy, or even particularly Romantic. In fact, it's rather modern in its development of form over content, structure over melody. But the choice shows us that Mr. Rangell is not just a virtuosic pianist but one of intellect as well. This piece confirms Rangell's assertion that there is more to Chopin than mere sentiment; there is intellect involved as well.

Next, we get the little Nocturne in E-flat major, No. 2, Op. 55, from 1844, a fairly elaborate work considering its size. Here, Rangell demonstrates his lightness of touch and flowing style, a sweet, tender manner that eschews any hint of self-indulgent nostalgia.

After that is Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19, an early and oft-overlooked work from 1833. With Bolero, Rangell gets a chance to enjoy himself in a bit of showmanship. The piece is colorful, and Rangell isn't afraid to set his academic inclinations aside for a moment and give full rein to his virtuosic side. However, that doesn't mean he allows the piece to fall into anything bombastic; it's just clean, well-controlled fun.

Andrew Rangell
Then it's on to the Nouvelle Étude No. 1 in F minor, a piece from 1839 published posthumously. Rangell allows us to see into this little etude and discover its hidden delights. The coherence of the pianist's vision is such that the piece becomes quite hypnotic, gluing the listener to every note.

Rangell's includes three of Chopin's four Ballades on the program: No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23, No. 3 in A-flat major, Op. 47, and No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52. The first of the ballades comes off gracefully and poignantly under Rangell's guidance. Again, he displays a way of playing that seems to sort out every phrase and reduce it to its simplest and most-easily understandable form, while helping us appreciate the complexities of the piece all the more. Rangell's approach is never to exaggerate or aggrandize anything, yet makes us stop and say to ourselves, "Wait, I must listen to this. I've never heard it expressed so accurately and succinctly before."

The third and fourth ballades sound elegant, rhapsodic, and rapturous by turns. I've always enjoyed the third for its theme later adopted as "I'm always chasing rainbows," which Rangell treats with tender care. He shows an affection for these works that never softens them.

In addition, we get the Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op. 45, which Rangell describes as an "improvised meditation," with "Brahmsian textures...majesty and mystery." Under Rangell, this prelude has a dreamy, meditative quality to it that some pianists seem to overlook (well, to be fair, most pianists overlook the piece entirely). It's a delightful work all the way around, its melodies shining brilliantly in Rangell's hands.

Rangell ends the program with another Nocturne, this one No. 2 in E major, Op. 62. Throughout the nocturne, Rangell remains true to his convictions: that Chopin was no mere sentimental miniaturist but a composer of deep intellectual feeling.

In short, Rangall's performances never appear that of an academician simply playing the notes by rote. There is much feeling here, strong emotion, but well under control so as to demonstrate the composer's intentions all the better. It's a neat trick, stripping each work to its barest minimum with mathematical precision yet maintaining its poignancy and beauty. But that's Rangell: magisterial and magical.

Mr. Rangell produced the album, Tom Stephenson engineered it, and Brad Michel edited and mastered it for Steinway & Sons, recording the music at the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts in July 2013. The sound of the Steinway Model D #586518 Rangell plays is about as lifelike as one could imagine. It joins the ranks the best piano recordings I've ever heard, in fact. Not only is the piano clear and true, the venue imparts a pleasant ambient bloom to the affair that makes you feel you're in the room with the soloist. Yet there is not so much reverberation that it drowns out the piano's rich tone and clarity, which remain resonant and transparent throughout, without ever sounding hard or edgy.

JJP

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


Ives: Symphony No. 2 (CD review)

Also, Carter: Instances; Gershwin: An American in Paris. Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony. Seattle Symphony Media SSM1003.

Here's another live recording from Maestro Ludovic Morlot and Seattle Symphony, this one covering several twentieth-century American works.

Morlot begins with the Second Symphony of Charles Ives (1874-1954). A lot of listeners have concerns with Ives's music, and I have to admit that I can take it or leave it. However, it always amuses me to listen to it because Ives often makes these things a game of "Name That Tune," with his references to so many bits and pieces from other composers. The Second Symphony is no different, quoting snippets of "Turkey in the Straw," "Long, Long Ago," "Camptown Races," "America the Beautiful," "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean," and this and that from Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, among others.

Ives wrote his Symphony No. 2 early in his career, somewhere between 1897 and 1901, although it never saw a premiere performance until 1951 with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. Indeed, a fine DG recording Bernstein later made with his old New York orchestra has rather spoiled me these past few decades, with Bernstein seeming to make Ives more palatable than recordings from most other conductors. For that matter, though, several conductors I've heard have also impressed me, most notably Bernard Herrmann and Michael Tilson Thomas.

Anyway, the Second Symphony under Morlot is fine, too. As I say, this early Ives work is pretty easy to take compared to some of the more-raucous pieces he would later produce. The Second Symphony is full of sweetly flowing melodies, and Morlot does a decent job of maintaining the rapturous qualities of the tunes. The symphony is a little unusual in that it adds a fifth movement to the conventional four, a slow Lento Maestoso before the final Allegro. This tends to give it even more of a grand Romantic feel, although, to be fair, Morlot doesn't play up its sentimental attributes quite as much as Bernstein does. Listeners may find this a plus or a minus.

It's in the second movement that we get the greatest number of musical allusions, and Morlot seems to have a good time with them. However, the conductor's style may be a tad too straightforward to reveal the full joy of the music. Again, Bernstein seems a bit freer with his rhythms and a touch more lyrical. And so it goes, with the finale under Morlot adding a zesty conclusion to the affair.

Next up is a brief piece, a world-premiere recording of Instances by American composer and two-time Pulitzer Prizewinner Elliott Carter (1908-2012). It would be Carter's last completed work, and as such it is the most-modern in structure and sound. I didn't find it particularly to my liking, but others will no doubt enjoy its rhythmic vitality, its intriguingly colorful interludes, and its various percussive effects.

Ludovic Morlot
Finally, we get the most-popular piece on the program: the symphonic poem An American in Paris by composer and pianist George Gershwin (1898-1938). Here, too, I'm afraid I have to admit that Bernstein is the superior interpreter on his Columbia (now Sony) recording with the New York Philharmonic. This is by no means a repudiation of Morlot, you understand; it's just that side by side, Bernstein communicates the greater energy, greater emotion, greater color and description. Morlot seems just a shade more reticent to let go. Still, Morlot has the measure of the music well enough, and those car honks at the opening do put us in the mood of big-city life. The sultry blues section in the middle also comes off well, the conductor displaying a good feeling for the idiom. For me, it was Morlot's best work on the disc, and the Seattle players don't let him down.

Dmitriy Lipay produced, engineered, and edited the album, which he and his team recorded live in concert at the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, Washington in June 2012 (Ives), February 2013 (Carter), and September 2011 (Gershwin). The live sound in the Ives work seems fairly distanced and spacious, the audience for the most part quiet. It presents a good concert-hall effect. The Carter piece appears closer up, the Gershwin in between. The only things that disrupt the effect of the music are the unwanted eruptions of applause that follow the first and third works on the disc. I mean, why go to all the trouble of keeping an audience as unobtrusive as possible throughout much of the music, only to have them disrupt our concentration at the end? Oh, well; otherwise, the sound is smooth and moderately well extended in terms of dynamics and frequency response in the closer-miked works, less so in the opening Ives piece.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, November 16, 2014

The 2014-2015 Season By the Numbers

Classical music is not easily quantified.

And not without good reason. A beautiful violin sonata or exhilarating symphony finale are much better described in subjective qualitative terms than some scientific measurement.

But numbers can occasionally provide context for ongoing conversations in classical music or highlight trends – such as how often music by female composers is performed – that might not have otherwise been noticed.

To explore those trends, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra gathered data on the 2014-15 seasons that have been programmed by 21 major American orchestras. The orchestras were selected based on size and operating budget.

We created a database with most concerts and pieces — excluding pops or family concerts — that Group 1 orchestras will play during the coming season. For those pieces performed, the data tracks the number of performances a given piece will receive, the composer, a piece's composition date, soloists, the composer's nationality, gender and whether the composer is living.

During the next few weeks, we will publish a series of stories and analysis revealing the trends we've spotted, including the most performed pieces of music and what the gender gap in female composers means.

For now, here are some of the initial findings from the data we analyzed:

Collectively, the 21 orchestras will perform more than 1,000 different pieces in part or full by 286 different composers a total of almost 4,600 times.

9.5% of all pieces performed are written since the year 2000.

The average date of composition of a piece performed during the year is 1886.

A little more than 11% of the works performed are from composers who are still living.

Female composers account for only 1.8% of the works performed. When only looking at works from living composers, they account for 14.8%

German composers account for more than 23% of the total pieces performed, followed by Russians (19%) and Austrians (14% — in large part due to Mozart).

American composers made up less than 11% of the pieces performed. When looking at only works by living composers, however, they account for more than 54%

Click here to explore the data: http://bsomusic.org/stories/the-orchestra-season-by-the-numbers-database.aspx

--Ricky O'Bannon, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra writer-in-residence

National Philharmonic Singers Present Free Holiday Concert
The National Philharmonic Singers, under the direction of conductors Stan Engebretson and Victoria Gau, will present a free holiday concert on Saturday, December 6, 2014 at 8 pm at Christ Episcopal Church, 107 South Washington Street, Rockville, Maryland.

The National Philharmonic Singers will be joined by the Takoma Ensemble (takomaensemble.org), conducted by Maestra Gau for this concert. They will perform a new work, Alleluia, by popular American composer Eric Whitacre; Christmas classics by John Rutter and Shaw-Parker; Christmas Day by Gustav Holst; and Christmas Concerto for the Takoma Ensemble by Arcangelo Corelli. The concert concludes with favorite carols by the choir, including "Stille Nacht" and our ever-popular Carol Sing with the "Twelve Days of Christmas."

The National Philharmonic Singers, led by Stan Engebretson and Victoria Gau, is a chamber choir and one of several performing ensembles of the National Philharmonic, which is in residence at the Music Center at Strathmore. As such, it promotes works suited for smaller ensembles, whether with accompaniment or a cappella.  Its repertoire ranges from 15th to 21st centuries, and it often premieres new compositions by local composers.  In summer of 2013, the group was invited to participate in the international choral competition in Llangollen, Wales. This is the 10th year of performances at Christ Church with free-will offering benefiting the Community Ministries of Rockville.

The December 6 holiday concert at the Christ Episcopal Church in Rockville is free but donations in support of the Community Ministries of Rockville will be gratefully accepted. Christ Episcopal Church is located at 107 South Washington Street in Rockville, MD. Directions to the church may be found at christchurchrockville.org/directions.htm#Platinum or by calling the church at 301-762-2191, ext. 3. For more information, please visit nationalphilharmonic.org or call 301-493-9283, ext. 116.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Guitarist Bradley Colten to Perform Recently Unearthed Ernst Bacon Solo Guitar Works as Part of NYC Classical Guitar Society Salon Series
Andrés Segovia Award-winner to perform selections from his latest album "Ernst Bacon: The Complete Works for Solo Guitar" at The Diller-Quaile School of Music (24 East 95th Street, New York City) on December 3 at 7:30 pm.

Widely known as a superb ensemble player, a soloist of refinement and exceptional sensitivity with a deep commitment to new music, guitarist Bradley Colten has been hailed by Guitar Review as playing with "imaginative lyricism … amazing energy." Colten has been acclaimed as "Superb!" by renowned guitarist David Starobin, and as having "a rich blend of musical refinement, soulful communication and that rarity, emotional intelligence" by celebrated guitarist/composer David Leisner.

Bradley Colten will perform highlights from his latest album, Ernst Bacon: The Complete Works for Solo Guitar (released on September 30 under the Azica label) as part of the New York City Classical Guitar Society's Salon Series on December 3 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $18 ($15 for students, seniors and NYC Classical Guitar Society members), and may be purchased by calling (800) 838-3006 or visiting http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/874093.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

VocalEssence Presents Award-Winning New York City Chorus in Twin Cities November 20 to 23
Vocalessence presents Young People's Chorus of New York City in concert at Roseville Lutheran Church, Saturday, November 22 at 8 p.m.

The world-renowned Young People's Chorus of New York City (YPC) conducted by Artistic Director/Founder Francisco J. Núñez will be presented on Saturday, November 22, at Roseville Lutheran Church by VocalEssence, as part of the 46th anniversary season of Minnesota's acclaimed professional chorus.

This concert is a highlight of YPC's four-day visit to Minnesota, which also comprises choral workshops for high school students in St. Paul and Minneapolis, a recording for national broadcast at Minnesota Public Radio, and several additional performances, including one at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, where Mr. Núñez will give a workshop at the ACDA Minnesota national conference.

Tickets for the "VocalEssence Presents Young People's Chorus of New York City" concert on November 22 are available from $20. Young people from 6 to 18 and college students with a valid college I.D. are eligible for half-price tickets. For more information and tickets please call 612-371-5656 or visit www.vocalessence.org/ypcnyc.

--Angela Duryea, Young People's Chorus of NYC

Music Director Jonathan Griffith Wins the American Prize in Conducting
Jonathan Griffith, founder and music director of Distinguished Concerts Orchestra is the 2014 winner of The American Prize in Conducting, in the professional orchestra division. Maestro Griffith was selected from applications reviewed this fall from across the United States. The American Prize is a series of new, non-profit competitions designed to recognize and reward the best performing artists, ensembles and composers in the United States. Founded in 2009 The American Prize is awarded annually in several areas of the performing arts.

An acclaimed conductor, educator and lecturer, Jonathan Griffith has led performances across North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. Griffith is co-founder and artistic director of DCINY which has brought together, under Griffith's artistic leadership, thousands of musicians and choral singers in concert at prestigious venues across the United States, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Disney Hall. In naming Griffith as its winner, the American Prize judges specifically noted his "energetic" and "committed" performances.

For more information about The American Prize, visit www.theamericanprize.org

--Shira Gilbert PR

Versatile Soprano Alyson Cambridge Makes History as First Opera Singer to Perform at Soul Train Awards; Brings Opera to Primetime TV and New Audience
The telecast airs Sunday, November 30th at 8pm on all BET & Centric TV Networks.

From the famed Kennedy Center Opera House to center stage at the Orleans Theatre in Las Vegas for the 2014 Soul Train Awards, soprano Alyson Cambridge is as versatile as they come, and she's reaching a whole new audience in her upcoming, groundbreaking performance airing November 30 at 8pm. As one of today's hottest operatic talents, and after a highly-lauded stint as host and featured performer on BET & Centric's documentary and concert, Of Thee We Sing: The Marian Anderson Story, the networks engaged Cambridge to lend her considerable talents to the prestigious Soul Train Awards, a first for an opera singer. The telecast is estimated to reach a worldwide audience of over 4.5 million viewers in the initial broadcast alone.

For more information, visit www.alysoncambridge.com

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

New Sacred Choral Works to Receive Interfaith Premieres Nov. 21 and 23 in New York
Commissioned by Soli Deo Gloria, Psalm settings by Paul Moravec and Victoria Bond to be heard for first time during worship services at Temple Emanu-El and Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

New choral works by two prominent contemporary American composers, commissioned by nonprofit Soli Deo Gloria, Inc. (SDG), will receive their world premieres November in New York through a collaboration between the city's Temple Emanu-El and the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.

The classical sacred music foundation SDG has conceived and organized a pair of interfaith performances in which Paul Moravec's I Will Fear No Evil (Psalm 23) for a cappella chorus and Victoria Bond's How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place (Psalm 84) for chorus and organ will be sung by the combined choirs of the iconic Reform Jewish and Episcopal houses of worship during regular worship services at each.

The performances will take place at 6 p.m. on Friday, November, 21, at Temple Emanu-El, 1 E. 65th Street, during the Sabbath service, and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, November 23, at St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, during the Evensong service.

The combined choirs will be conducted on November 21 by K. Scott Warren, Temple Emanu-El's organist and choir director, and on November 23 by Kent Tritle, St. John the Divine's director of cathedral music.

Both services are open to the public, and all are welcome.

For more information, visit www.sdgmusic.org

--Nathan J. Silverman Co. PR

American Boychoir Brings Holiday Cheer to New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art
On December 16th at 7:00pm the Met Museum presents the vocal ensemble's delightful and moving program, "The World Celebrates," with classic English carols intermixed with traditional seasonal offerings from around the globe including Cameroon, Venezuela, Nigeria, Spain, and Greece
The American Boychoir, the world renowned vocal ensemble of the Princeton, NJ-based American Boychoir School, has been heralded as one of the nation's premiere musical ensembles. Its mission is to sustain and move forward with a "distinctively American voice" the one-thousand-year-old boychoir school tradition. The American Boychoir is committed to being the finest choir of its kind in the nation and is recognized as among the finest ensembles in the world.

Join the American Boychoir at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Ave) on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 7:00 pm for a special New York City engagement. To purchase tickets to this not-to-be-missed American Boychoir performance, visit www.metmuseum.org/tickets.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Mozart Kicks Off New Season of Keyboard Conversations
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Scottsdale, Arizona, will open the 2014–15 season of "Keyboard Conversations" with Jeffrey Siegel on Tuesday, December 2, with "The Miracle of Mozart."

Tickets start at $29 and are available through www.ScottsdalePerformingArts.org or 480-499-TKTS (8587).

An all-time audience favorite, "The Miracle of Mozart" showcases some of the composer's most beloved works, including Variations on "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," the Minuet in G Major (written when Mozart was only 5!), the instantly familiar Turkish Rondo, as well as the haunting, brooding Sonata in A Minor, one of Mozart's most magnificent works.

The concert also features "Keyboard in the Sky" video-display technology, which enables the audience to watch the pianist's hands move across the keyboard in real time from any seat in the theater.

Returning for its 36th season in Scottsdale, "Keyboard Conversations" were inspired by Leonard Bernstein's celebrated programs that made the joy of music accessible to audiences of all ages. To that format, acclaimed pianist Jeffrey Siegel has added his own unique blend of extraordinary musicianship, warm personality, knowledge and engaging humor.

Siegel's concerts with commentary combine captivating remarks with world-class performances of masterpieces of the piano repertoire – and conclude with a fast-paced Q-and-A session. New listeners discover an informal, entertaining and instantly accessible introduction to the magnificent piano repertoire. Seasoned music lovers enjoy an enriched, more focused listening experience.

In addition to Scottsdale, Siegel's Keyboard Conversations series flourishes in numerous American cities, among them New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., as well as in London.

Siegel will return to Scottsdale on the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 13, to perform Rachmaninoff and Friends, followed by Torment and Triumph: Franz Liszt: Satan or Saint? on Feb. 10 and Chopin and Grieg: A Musical Friendship on March 24.

--Bill Thompson, SCCARTS

Rameau's Nephew on December 13th
Capping off the Rameau year, Salon/Sanctuary presents Diderot's satirical masterwork Rameau's Nephew in a new adaptation by SSC Resident Stage Director Erica Gould.

Hilarity ensues at a Paris cafe when Diderot pits a hapless buffoon against a stoic philosopher in his stinging satire about the music business and high society of Enlightenment France.

Step into elegant café society at the dusk of the ancient regime, as icons tumble, gossips rumble, and musicians hurl their slings. Arrows fly between the fans of French harmony and Italian melody in this site-specific music-theater piece based on the philosopher's play of opposites.

The game of buffoons and Querelle des Bouffons unfolds to the seductive airs of Lully, Pergolesi, Vivaldi, played by solo harpsichord.

Date:
Saturday, December 13th, 8pm

Location:
The Abigail Adams Smith Auditorium
417 East 61st Street
New York, NY 10065

Tickets:
http://www.salonsanctuary.org or call 1 888 718-4253
$25 seniors/students/FIAF, $40 general, $100 front row series supporter (tax-deductible)

--Salon/Sanctuary Concerts

Chanticleer's Beloved NYC Christmas Concerts Return to St. Ignatius Loyola on December 5 & 7
New York City's holiday scene reaches a magnificent crescendo when two of its mainstays —Chanticleer and the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola—team up to double your Christmas joy. Widely considered the gold standard of male choruses, the Grammy-winning ensemble brings "A Chanticleer Christmas" to the church (980 Park Avenue between 83rd and 84th Streets) for two dates: Friday, December 5 at 7:00 pm and Sunday, December 7 at 4:00 pm

It is a rare occurrence when the Upper East Side Church of St. Ignatius Loyola's stunning sanctuary isn't teeming with musical abundance thanks to its venerable music series Sacred Music in a Sacred Space, overseen by visionary Artistic Director K. Scott Warren. And this Christmas season, the Church ramps it up even further by welcoming back Grammy award-winning Chanticleer – dubbed by The New Yorker as "the world's reigning male chorus" – for its second year in a row.

Ticket information:
Advent Lessons and Carols – November 30, 2014: Free will offering (no ticket necessary)
A Chanticleer Christmas  – December 5 & 7, 2014:  Tickets $35 - $85
Heavenly Light Annual Christmas Concert – December 14 & 17, 2014:  Tickets $35 - $85

Order online: www.smssconcerts.org
Phone:  212.288.2520

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Above and Beyond (CD review)

Music for Wind Band. Gerard Schwarz, "The President's Own" United States Marine Band. Naxos 8.573121.

Even though the musical sound of a wind band may be an acquired taste, when it's presented as well as Maestro Gerard Schwarz and "The President's Own" United States Marine Band offer it here, it's kind of hard to resist. Of course, it may help when most of the composers involved wrote the music directly for a wind band, yet that doesn't interfere with our enjoyment of several famous transcriptions and arrangements we find here in the music of Creston, Copland, Schwarz, Grainger, Rands, Barber, and Offenbach.

First, a word about the artists: American conductor Gerard Schwarz most folks probably recognize as the longtime Music Director of the Seattle Symphony (1985-2011). He has earned numerous awards over the years, made over a hundred record albums, and currently works with several all-star orchestras. The U.S. Marine Band, known as "The President's Own," is the oldest military band in the country, tracing its formation back to an act of Congress in 1798. They are also one of the best wind bands in the country. Or in the world, for that matter.

Now, a word about the only drawback in the recording: the sound. Naxos chose to record the album live in concert. Not a good idea. More about that in a moment.

It's the music that matters, and whether you like wind-band presentations or not, you'd have to admit that Schwarz and company do up these numbers proud. We start with the Celebration Overture, a 1955 work written for wind band by American composer Paul Creston (1906-1985). I liked Schwarz's insistence that the piece sound both rhythmic and melodious and not just loud, as some marching bands might play it. The piece has some sweet inner beauty (the middle section particularly), which Schwarz captures nicely.

Next, it's Emblems by Aaron Copland (1900-1990), a work the American composer wrote in 1964 on commission for the College Band Directors National Association. One hears a brief quotation from the hymn "Amazing Grace" in the piece, a pleasing touch. Otherwise, it's a pretty simple, straightforward work, one that Copland said wouldn't "overstrain the technical abilities" of young musicians. It's pleasant enough music in a modern vein, and Schwarz carries it off with seemingly a minimum of effort. The band plays well for him.

After that is a piece by the conductor himself, Above and Beyond, written in 2012 especially for the Marine Band. Schwarz wanted to write something "slow and expressive," as he puts it, a real adagio for winds that he knew the Marine Band could pull off. While I personally found it a bit on the dull side, even when it gets rambunctious toward the end, there's no denying its expressive and atmospheric moods. And who can doubt that Schwarz plays his own music as well as anyone?

Then we get the longest work on the program, Frederick Fennell's edition of Australian-born composer and pianist Percy Grainger's Lincolnshire Posy, a fifteen-minute piece in six movements that the composer wrote for the American Bandmasters Association in 1937. The Grainger work is the centerpiece of the program for good reason. It's very good, indeed. Based on folk songs Grainger collected, these "musical wildflowers" as he described them are wonderfully infectious, charming, jaunty, melancholic, and tuneful by turns, and Maestro Schwarz appears to take great affection in them. His manner with the band is gentle and persuasive, making the pieces as touching as I've heard them.

Gerard Schwarz
Following the Grainger piece is Ceremonial by English composer Bernard Rands (b. 1934). It's rather dark and forbidding compared to the other music on the disc, yet it possesses a captivating, pulsating vigor that Schwarz realizes quite well. Even though I had never heard the work before, I can see how some conductors might allow its repetitions to get monotonous. Schwarz never does.

Then it's on to Medea's Dance of Vengeance and Commando March by American Samuel Barber (1910-1981). Both of Barber's works are enjoyable, particularly the first one from his ballet. You might not think music transcribed for band could be as gentle in places as this is, and Schwarz effectively plays up the dramatic aspects as well, creating more than sufficient excitement.

The program concludes fittingly with the Marines' Hymn, arranged by Donald Hunsberger and based on a tune, interestingly, by Jacques Offenbach. Here, the audience, generally reticent in their applause, finally come a little more alive, clapping along a tad more enthusiastically throughout the brief piece.

Maj. Jason K. Fettig produced and MGySgt. Karl J. Jackson engineered and edited the album, which they recorded in concert at The Music Center at Strathmore, Bethesda, Maryland in March 2012. It's in the nature of wind-band music that the sound is going to be somewhat deep and mellow, but here it's not quite so. In order to minimize audience noise, the engineers recorded it fairly close, making the winds sound clearer but drier than we usually hear them. Still, there seems a veil over the sonics, and I would have liked a dash more hall ambience; but it doesn't happen. Dynamics are fairly wide, with decent impact, while frequency extremes appear limited. Triangles and other percussion seem relatively weak and the deep bass a little disappointing.

Ah, and then there is the audience, of which one is always aware despite the close miking. Then, too, they clap in a curiously lackadaisical manner at the end of each selection but the last. Although I know a lot of home listeners enjoy live recordings and the sound of an audience around them, I find it intrusive and distracting.

JJP

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


John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

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

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

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

Contact Information

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

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

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa