Beethoven: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Also, Romances for Violin and Orchestra. Christian Tetzlaff, violin; David Zinman, Tonhalle Orchestre Zurich. Brilliant Classics 94857.

If you're a fan of what of what Maestro David Zinman and his Tonhalle Orchestre Zurich did with Beethoven's symphonies, you'll probably like what they and German violinist Christian Tetzlaff do with the Violin Concerto. The performances are of the same mold.

This is not to suggest that everyone will like Zinman/Tetzlaff's interpretation, however. Zinman adopts speeds that approach Beethoven's own tempo markings, which is to say zippy, and Tetzlaff uses several solo cadenzas that the composer originally wrote for one of the piano concertos. (Beethoven had later transcribed his violin concerto as a piano concerto, and Tetzlaff borrowed the cadenzas from it because he didn't think any of the other cadenzas written by other people fit in properly.)

Whatever, a lot of folks have grown up with slower, now more-traditional tempi in the concerto, and just as they might rebel against period-instrument groups following faster speeds, they might protest the fast speeds Zinman and his modern orchestra embrace. Likewise, a lot of especially older folks may have gotten so used to the cadenzas written by such notables as Fritz Kreisler or Joseph Joachim, that they could find Beethoven's own cadenzas, albeit for another work, alien to the violin piece. So the Zinman-Tetzlaff performance is not without its idiosyncrasies, for good or for bad.

My own reaction to the tempos and cadenzas was one of indifference given the spirit and vitality of the performance as a whole. While theirs does not sound like a conventional reading, the artists present a thoroughly enjoyable realization of the score. Tetzlaff offers up violin playing that sounds sweet, pure, and extremely articulate, while Zinman and his ensemble accompany him with a warm, lyrical, affectionate support. Together, one hardly notices the gait is quicker than usual (except in period-instrument renditions where we expect a speedier attack) or that the cadenzas are at all out of place.

Tetzlaff shows a fine craftsmanship and virtuosity throughout his playing yet never resorts to any undue showmanship. His performance is a welcome antidote to many of the more dreamy-eyed, sentimental interpretations available on record. While Tetzlaff's clearly focused reading cuts more quickly to the core than many of his competitors, however, it never fails to retain the emotional spirit of Beethoven. He succeeds in balancing the composer's more somber moods with the work's generally cheerful, uplifting countenance.

David Zinman
Moreover, Maestro Zinman accompanies Tetzlaff with an appropriate vigor (just listen to the intensity of those drumbeats in the first movement), and the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra prove that their musical skills are every bit as virtuosic as the soloist's. Altogether, this rendition of Beethoven may or may not conform to everybody's idea of what the violin concerto should sound like, but one can hardly deny that Tetzlaff and company don't execute it well. While it may not be an absolute number-one choice in this repertoire, it is surely a feasible alternative.

As a coupling, Tetzlaff provides Beethoven's Romances for Violin and Orchestra, Nos. 1 and 2. Interestingly, the composer wrote the second of the Romances several years before he wrote the first one, but because of their order of publication, the latter one gets the earlier number. And it's not even clear why Beethoven wrote them; that is, for what occasion. In any case, they are highly popular and strongly Romantic. The Romance No. 1 is the slightly more serious of the two, which may have something to do with Beethoven's own development as a composer. Accordingly, Tetzlaff approaches the first piece with sense of loving restraint, beautifully carried out and offering a touch of nostalgia along the way. In No. 2 we hear Tetzlaff in a somewhat more-imposing though still highly refined mode. Very nice.

Producer Chris Hazell and engineer Simon Eadon recorded the music at Tonhalle Zurich, Switzerland in May 2005, originally releasing it on the Arte Nova label. Brilliant Classics rereleased it in 2015 under license from Sony Music Entertainment. The sound displays a good sense of depth in the orchestra, as well as a clean overall appearance, with little bass overhang. There's a good dynamic impact and range, too, and a fairly well balanced frequency response, showing little brightness, edginess, or dullness. If anything, there appears to be a small degree of upper midrange forwardness, although it's hardly noticeable and, in fact, adds to the overall clarity of the sonics. Both the high and low ends seem pretty well extended, though not exaggerated in any way, and the midrange is nicely transparent. The sound, in short, complements the unexaggerated nature of the music making.

JJP

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


Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 1-4 (CD review)

Also, Overture, Scherzo & Finale. Wolfgang Sawallisch, Staatskapelle Dresden. EMI 7243 5 67771 2 5 (2-disc set).

I first bought these four symphonies with the late conductor and pianist Wolfgang Sawallisch just shortly after he recorded them in 1972. I instantly fell in love with the performances, but I thought the sound was rather obscure, wallowing, I felt, in excessive hall reverberation, details clouded and fogged over. A few years later I found and bought an imported set of the LPs pressed in Germany, which rendered them in slightly clearer but still rather veiled sound. That set sufficed until EMI transferred the recordings to CD in 1988 in their Studio line. This time, I found the sound substantially improved, but it still retained a small degree of veiling that bothered me.

Which brings us to the present set. In 2002 EMI reissued all four symphonies plus the Overture, Scherzo & Finale in a two-disc "Great Recordings of the Century" set remastered in their ART (Abbey Road Technology) format. The sound appeared a jot smoother and a tad clearer yet, making it the best transfer of these imposing interpretations I had yet encountered. But, who knows? Now that Warner Classics own the rights to EMI recordings, maybe they'll reissue them yet again in America (as they have, apparently, in Japan--in SACD, no less), and we'll be able to hear the master tapes better than ever.

Anyway, EMI wisely chose to bundle the pieces in the order Schumann wrote them, with Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4 on the first disc, along with the Overture, and Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3 on the second disc. (No. 4 may have a later number, but Schumann actually wrote it second. It came by its present designation because Schumann made extensive revisions to it later.)

Wolfgang Sawallisch
Sawallisch presents all four works in excellent readings, with an emphasis on structure that may remind one somewhat of Klemperer's readings of the symphonies. No. 1, the "Spring" Symphony, Sawallisch appropriately fills with joyous, youthful exuberance, all of it encompassed in the maestro's big, rock-solid style. No. 4 sounds equally filled with felicitous touches, its closing movement appearing for all the world like a continuation of the First Symphony's opening Andante. Then, the conductor keeps the Overture, Scherzo & Finale--which Schumann viewed as a mini symphony or "symphonette" as he called it--purposely more transparent in texture than the other large-scale pieces. So, disc one includes Schumann's lighter-weight material.

Disc two starts with the Second Symphony, the more somber of the lot and the longest the composer wrote, continuing with the most complex piece, the Third or "Rhenish" Symphony ("Life Along the Rhine"). It is this latter work (along with the joyous First) that perhaps best exemplifies what the man was capable of doing. The Third appears the most unified of the four symphonies, especially under Sawallisch, and in many ways the most memorable in its grand, expansive motifs.

Sawallisch has the measure of each symphony, seldom imposing his any overt idiosyncrasies on them, beyond his own sense of ultimate structure, allowing the music to flow naturally and fully. The Dresden State Orchestra seems the perfect choice of orchestras to play it, too, Dresden being Schumann's home for some of the years preceding his death, besides their being one of the world's great musical ensembles.

At its modest price these days, particularly when one considers its availability used, this EMI set seems almost too good to pass up.

JJP

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


A Beethoven Odyssey, Volume 4 (CD review)

Piano Sonatas Nos. 9, 15, 24, 25, and 27. James Brawn, piano. MSR Classics MS 1468. 

Every time I listen to a new album by British pianist James Brawn (James Brawn in RecitalA Beethoven Odyssey, Volume 2), I remember again why I so look forward to his releases. He is one of the preeminent pianists of our day and, certainly, one of the handful of relatively young pianists destined for greatness. On this latest disc, A Beethoven Odyssey Volume 4, Brawn continues his cycle of Beethoven's piano sonatas. If, and I assume when, he finishes his survey of all the sonatas, he will have no doubt completed one of the finest sets of Beethoven sonata recordings in the catalogue.

The thing about Brawn that makes his playing stand out is that it's big and full without being big and flashy. That is, while Brawn is as virtuosic as any pianist you'll hear, his virtuosity always serves the music. Like others in his company, he can appear to have ten fingers on each hand, yet he never uses his dexterity to draw attention to himself. His performances are always more subtle and nuanced than that, which probably means he will have more trouble becoming the superstar some record companies encourage. Instead, he reminds me more of a Brendel or Kovacevich in that his playing is thoughtful and purposeful as well as thoroughly entertaining.

Brawn chose five of Beethoven's piano sonatas for this current program, sonatas that he says are "lyrical and life affirming," exhibiting Beethoven's "lighter, more positive nature." As you probably know, Ludwig Beethoven ((1770-1827) wrote thirty-two piano sonatas between the years 1795 and 1822, which means he was writing these pieces throughout most of his adult musical career. Brawn has selected five of these sonatas spanning most of those years, from 1798-1814. Thus, on the present album Brawn's own Beethoven odyssey covers much of Beethoven's own adventurous, musical journey.

First up on the agenda is the Piano Sonata No. 9 in E major, a youthful work that Brawn describes as being in "the spirited key of E." Beethoven would later rearrange it for his String Quartet in F major. Beethoven intentionally left out a conventional slow movement to ensure the piece would maintain its upbeat quality, and Brawn's approach from the outset is lively and sparkling. In fact, the performance is a total delight.

Next, we hear the Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major, nicknamed by Beethoven's publisher the "Pastorale." Surely, one can sense the composer's connection with nature throughout the piece. Here, Beethoven was back to a traditional four-movement setting. Brawn does a terrific job emphasizing the tensions between softer and louder segments, between slower and faster passages whilst never exaggerating the contrasts to the point of drawing our attention wholly to them. His playing seems all of one accord, flowing naturally and seamlessly from note to note, from section to section. In other words, with Brawn every work is an organic whole, not an assembly of random ideas meant to impress the listener in spurts.

James Brawn
After that is the Piano Sonata No. 24 in f-sharp major. Its uplifting moods stand, says Brawn, in sharp contrast to the tragic "Appassionata," written a few years earlier. As Beethoven dedicated No. 24 to his friend and patron Countess Thérèse von Brunsvik, one can understand the nickname "A Thérèse." Of all the sonatas on the program, "A Thérèse" is probably the most gentle and expressive, at least in its first movement. Consequently, Brawn accords it a full measure of sweetness and sensitivity, yet with no hint of sentimentality; and, indeed, he affords the closing Allegro vivace an appropriately energetic reading.

Then, we find the Piano Sonata No. 25 in G major, written in the same year as No. 24. In this sonata Brawn gets to show off a bit, the opening movement requiring an extremely quick and nimble bit of finger work. Nevertheless, there is never any hint that Brawn is actually showing off, and he doesn't so much amaze the listener with his agility as he does amaze one at how musical the piece sounds. With Brawn, it's always about the music, not himself. And there's always that gorgeous Andante to consider, again beautifully played.

Brawn concludes the program with the Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor from 1814. Musical scholars generally view No. 27 as the transitional work from Beethoven's middle to late piano sonatas, the "Late" sonatas being his final five, Nos. 28-31. Anyway, this last work on the card is clearly more mature than the preceding pieces, seemingly more complex yet equally direct. So is Mr. Brawn's piano playing. He communicates with feeling, with a yearning of the heart and mind. One senses the performer's commitment in every tone, every pitch, every pause, every phrase. Above all, then, Brawn is a communicator, a consummate artist.

Producer Jeremy Hayes and engineer Ben Connellan recorded the sonatas in July 2013, August 2014, and November 2014 at Potton Hall, Suffolk, United Kingdom. The sound matches Mr. Brawn's style in that it's big and warm without being big and flashy. It sounds like a live piano (it's a Steinway grand) played a few yards away from the listener. The room provides a mild and flattering ambient bloom that further enhances the lifelike illusion. Although the piano does not stretch across from one speaker to the other, it is reasonably and realistically close, enough so to remind one of an actual piano in the room with you.

JJP

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


Bach: The Musical Offering (CD review)

Enrico Gatti, Ensemble Aurora. Outhere Music Arcana A384.

As you probably know, The Musical Offering by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is a set of fugues and canons and such that Bach based on a musical theme King Frederick II of Prussia gave him. It came about during a meeting between Bach and Frederick in 1747, the meeting taking place because Frederick employed Bach's son C.P.E. Bach as a court musician. Frederick wanted to show off a new musical instrument, the fortepiano, which he had recently obtained. The King challenged Bach to improvise a six-voice fugue on a theme he gave him, which, eventually, Bach did, about two months afterwards presenting the king with his "musical offering," later publishing the variations as the set we now know.

The trouble is, no one is exactly sure about the specifics of the set. That is, it's unclear for exactly what instruments Bach originally intended the work and in what order he wanted the movements played. Indeed, the composer himself wrote out the trio sonata for flute, violin, and basso continuo, writing the other sections possibly for solo fortepiano, although small chamber ensembles often handle the canons these days. Nor does it help that the work contains musical riddles, which no one has indisputably solved. So you'll hear a good deal of musical interpretation from the various recordings currently in the catalogue. My own personal favorites are those from Ensemble Sonniere (Virgin) and the Linde-Consort (EMI), both sounding significantly different from one another even though both groups use period instruments.

Now, we get a reissue of a 1999 recording by Ensemble Aurora, a group comprised of four players: Enrico Gatti, violin; Marcello Gatti, traverse flute; Gaetano Nasillo, cello; and Guido Morini, harpsichord. They have their own ideas about The Musical Offering, and while one can hardly argue with their playing, which is excellent, one might not like everything about their rendition of the piece.

It seemed to me as I was listening to the Ensemble Aurora account that the performers are either hell bent for leather or exceedingly somber in their readings--usually both at the same time--with little room anything else. By comparison, both Ensemble Sonniere and the Linde-Consort sound more lively, more sparkling, than Ensemble Aurora yet equally serious and equally refined in their playing. Nevertheless, being different doesn't mean Aurora's view of the work is wrong or wrongheaded, just different. Such is the drawback in making comparisons.

Enrico Gatti
In the accompanying booklet, author Gilles Cantagrel refers to a 1980 article by musicologist Ursula Kirkendale that offers an explanation of Bach's rhetoric and oratorical art in the work. It is this treatise that the Ensemble Aurora seem to have taken to heart and illustrated on the present album. For me, it all seemed too scholarly, both the musical argument and the performance.

The opening Ricercar a 3, taken by the harpsichord, sets the tone for the rest of the piece, and that is at a fairly quick pace. It suggests that the members of Ensemble Aurora appear more interested in simply presenting the musical argument than in entertaining the listener with the lovely melodies involved. As with the rest of the album, the playing is quite fine, though not particularly well nuanced. Meaning it sounds a tad the same and hurried throughout.

The Canons diversi come off pretty well, although again there seems an overriding earnestness about them that rather clouds their overall beauty. The Ricercar a 6, which forms the heart of the piece, like most of the music seems taken too fast, the Ensemble Aurora pushing through it with an eye toward pleasing the mind over the senses.

And so it goes. As I continued listening to the Ensemble Aurora's reading, I continued to long for the fuller, more flowing, more graceful lines of the Ensemble Sonnerie. Still, the Ensemble Aurora provide at least an interesting alternative, one that seems more academic than most others, if that's the kind of thing you prefer.

Given the speeds Ensemble Aurora adopt, there is room left on the CD for two more works: the Sonata in G major for Violin and Basso continuo, BWV 1021, discovered in 1928, and the Sonata in G major for Flute, Violin and Continuo, BWV 1038. These pieces come across as a little more animated than the primary work and probably provide a better idea of what the Aurora players can do when academic constraints don't inhibit them. Even so, there remains a small degree of blandness about the presentations, perhaps heightened by the softness of the sound.

Producer and engineer Michel Bernstein and engineer Charlotte Gilart de Keranflec'h recorded the music at the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud, France in November 1999. Arcana first released the album in 2001 and then rereleased it in 2015. The sound of the solo harpsichord is quite good, if a little close and a trifle thin. Certainly, the sound projects a good presence, with plenty of detail. The sound of the ensemble itself is richer, of course, and a bit on the warm, soft side with a mild resonance. However, the instruments don't appear particularly well positioned for a lifelike perspective; it's more as though they're individually miked and then thrown together on the mixing board. So we get the sense of four separate instruments rather than a single, cohesive group. Nevertheless, the resultant sound is ultrasmooth and round and fairly easy on the ear.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, April 26, 2015

Emerson Quartet Perform Two Concerts to Close Chamber Music Society's 2014-15 Season

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center will present the Emerson String Quartet in two concerts at Alice Tully Hall this May, performing works of Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and the New York premiere of a work by Lowell Liebermann. On May 17 & 19, the Quartet is joined by CMS Artists - violist Paul Neubauer & cellist Colin Carr - to close the Chamber Music Society's impressive season.

The New York premiere of Lowell Liebermann's String Quartet No. 5 was commissioned by a consortium of presenters through Music Accord, including the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Violinist Eugene Drucker describes Liebermann's quartet as having "a perceptible narrative arc, a sense of having come full circle by the time the opening material is evoked, transformed into something even more ethereal, at the end. Audiences seem to find the work accessible, meaningful and moving. That is no small achievement in today's varied musical landscape."

Single tickets starting at $30.
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
1941 Broadway
New York, NY 10023

For more information, visit http://www.chambermusicsociety.org/seasontickets/event/1551

--Katharine Boone, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

West Edge Opera Announces 2015 Festival
West Edge Opera's 2015 Festival of three operas will take place July 25 through August 9 at three different venues in Oakland, California, specially chosen to reflect the mood and heighten the experience of each piece.

Under the combined artistic leadership of General/Artistic Director Mark Streshinsky and Music Director Jonathan Khuner, the Festival will open on July 25 at 8 pm with the American premiere of a new reduced orchestration of 20 instruments of Alban Berg's Lulu at Oakland's abandoned 16th Street Train Station. Repeat performances are August 2 at 2 pm and August 8 at 8 pm.

The West Coast premiere of Laura Kaminsky's As One opens on July 26 at 2 pm. at The Oakland Metro, a brash Punk Rock and alternative arts venue near Jack London Square. In collaboration with the rising young Bay Area ensemble Friction Quartet (which will also serve as quartet-in-resident for the Festival), and with a libretto by Mark Campbell (librettist of the Pulitzer prize-winning opera Silent Night) and Kimberly Reed, two singers – baritone Dan Kempson and mezzo-soprano Brenda Patterson (both of whom have sung at the Metropolitan Opera) – will portray a single character, the opera's transgender protagonist Hannah, as she endeavors to resolve the discord between herself and the outside world. Repeat performances are July 31 at 8 pm and August 8 at 2 pm.

The Festival's third opera, Monteverdi's Ulysses (Il ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria), opens on August 1 at 8 pm at American Steel Studios on Mandela Parkway. The story, taken from the second half of Homer's Odyssey, tells how constancy and virtue are ultimately rewarded, treachery and deception overcome. Repeat performances are August 7 at 8 pm and August 9 at 2 pm.

A Festival "Kick Off" party, "Love on the Edge," will be held on Thursday, July 2 at 7:30 pm at Berkeley's Ed Roberts Campus to celebrate the company's 36th season and second Festival and to introduce music by the composers who will be heard during the Festival. The program will include parts of Berg's Lyric Suite and a new arrangement of a Monteverdi madrigal for string quartet performed by quartet-in-residence Friction Quartet. Tickets for "Love on the Edge" will be priced at $20 for subscribers and $25 for non-subscribers.

For more information, visit http://www.westedgeopera.org/

--Marian Kohlstedt, West Edge Opera

Three San Francisco Bay Area Arts Groups Receive Grants from The Wallace Foundation
Cal Performances, Oakland East Bay Symphony and San Francisco Performances have been selected for the New York-based Wallace Foundation's Building Audiences for Sustainability effort – a  new, six-year, $52-million initiative aimed at developing practical insights into how exemplary performing arts organizations can successfully expand their audiences, the foundation announced today.

These Bay Area organizations are three of 26 arts organizations from around the country (list enclosed) that were selected to be a part of the Building Audiences for Sustainability initiative and noted by the foundation for their artistic excellence. Each organization will design and implement programs to attract new audiences while retaining current ones, measuring whether and how this contributes to their overall financial sustainability. The 26 arts organizations represent a spectrum of artistic disciplines, from dance and opera companies to orchestras, theaters, and multidisciplinary arts institutions. The selected partners will receive financial and technical support from the foundation to develop, implement, analyze, and learn from their audience-building work. The evidence gathered from the work will be documented and analyzed by a Wallace-commissioned independent team of researchers, providing valuable insights, ideas, and information for the entire field.

"The arts are essential on both a personal level, providing us with experiences that open us to new perspectives, and on a community level, helping us to find common ground," said Will Miller, president of The Wallace Foundation. "However, attracting and engaging new audiences is challenging for arts organizations because, even as the number of arts groups has grown, national rates of participation in the arts have declined, arts education has waned, and competition for ways to spend leisure time has increased. We are confident that the 26 organizations selected from a pool of more than 300 identified by leaders in the arts nationwide will provide new insights that will benefit the field at large, helping to bring the arts to a broader and more diverse group of people."

"The Wallace Foundation is to be commended for its extraordinary commitment to the performing arts and for its focus on audience development.  Its support of strategic activity combined with research, evaluation, and diffusion, will go a long way to developing new practice and engaging robust audiences." -- Jesse Rosen, President and CEO, League of American Orchestras

For more information, visit www.wallacefoundation.org

--Christina Kellogg

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts Announces 2015-16 Classical Season
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts will celebrate its 40th-anniversary and 2015–16 season with a concert by the world-renowned Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with principal guest conductor and violin soloist Pinchas Zukerman. Other classical highlights of the season include the Virginia G. Piper Concert Series featuring pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Emanuel Ax, Orion Weiss and Angela Hewitt, and the return of "Keyboard Conversations With Jeffrey Siegel" and "Close Encounters With Music."

"This year marks a proud milestone for Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts as we celebrate its 40th anniversary and distinguished tradition of bringing the world's greatest musicians to Scottsdale," remarked Neale Perl, president and CEO of the Scottsdale Cultural Council. "The 2015–16 season brings together virtuoso artists new to our stage as well as returning favorites. We're also honored to present the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with the acclaimed violinist Pinchas Zukerman playing and conducting. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear this world-class orchestra in our 853-seat Virginia G. Piper Theater."

Members and subscribers may purchase discounted tickets through 480-499-TKTS (8587). Tickets are on sale to the general public starting Saturday, April 18, at 10 a.m. Additional information is available through the Center's mobile-optimized Web site www.ScottsdalePerformingArts.org.

--Bill Thompson, SCCARTS

Ahmad Jamal, Jessye Norman, Kyung-Wha Chung, and Russell Sherman to Receive Honorary Degrees at NEC
New England Conservatory, Boston, MA, will bestow honorary Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) degrees on four distinguished musicians at its 144th annual Commencement Exercises, Sunday, May 17 at 3 p.m. in NEC's Jordan Hall. The recipients are jazz pianist and leader Ahmad Jamal, soprano Jessye Norman, pianist Russell Sherman and violinist Kyung-Wha Chung.  Russell Sherman will also give the 2015 Commencement address. He is a member of NEC's Distinguished Artist-in-Residence program and recently celebrated his 85th birthday with an all-Beethoven recital.

The graduation ceremony is free and open to the public. Approximately 245 students are graduating in the class of 2015. They will be awarded a variety of degrees and diplomas including the: Bachelor of Music, Graduate Diploma, Master of Music, Doctor of Musical Arts, and Artist Diploma. Other speakers will include President Tony Woodcock, Provost Thomas Novak, and a student speaker to be announced.

For more information, visit http://necmusic.edu/

--Lisa Helfer Elghazi, Media Relations

Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival: June 13-28
The Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival is delighted to welcome new Artistic Director Paul Watkins for its 22nd season, taking place from June 13-28 at nine venues across the metro Detroit area. Each June, the Festival brings a contingent of the world's finest chamber musicians for two weeks of performances. The theme of this summer's two-week event is "New Beginnings: Making Music in America," which reflects the personal, musical and literal journey of Mr. Watkins in his first year as Artistic Director. He leads the festival on a voyage encompassing an eclectic blend of America's classical and contemporary repertoire, including a World Premiere of Hand Eye – composed by Sleeping Giant and performed by eighth blackbird, with flutist Tim Munro performing his final concert as a member of the ensemble. An additional World Premiere will be a Festival-commissioned work by their Stone Composer Fellow Mark Grey.

Mr. Watkins comments, "I am thrilled and honored to be the new Artistic Director of the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival. This wonderful event already shines brightly in the starry summer skies of American music festivals, thanks to the inspirational leadership of my predecessor, James Tocco. In 2014, I was privileged to join James in a performance of the Brahms E minor Cello Sonata at the opening concert of the Festival. The combination of his extraordinary playing and the warmth of the audience made for an evening I will never forget. My hope is to recreate many such memorable musical experiences in 2015 with a phenomenal array of artists, many of whom will be making their first appearances at the GLCMF."

For more information, visit http://www.greatlakeschambermusic.org/

--Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival

Berkeley Symphony Announces 2015-2016 Season
Music Director Joana Carneiro and Berkeley Symphony today announced programming for the 2015-2016 season including the West Coast premiere of Laterna magica by Kaija Saariaho; the West Coast premiere of the Frankenstein Symphony by Mark Grey, co-commissioned with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; and the U.S. premiere of Fachwerk by Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina featuring the Bay Area debut of bayan pioneer Geir Draugsvoll. The Orchestra also welcomes soprano Simone Osborne and violinist Simone Porter, who both make their Bay Area debuts in addition to a first-time Berkeley Symphony appearance by pianist Conrad Tao.

Established as a presenter of major contemporary orchestral works, Berkeley Symphony continues its steadfast commitment to presenting original and unique programs with a 2015-2016 season that combines important contemporary works alongside masterworks from the standard repertoire. A recipient of the ASCAP award for adventurous programming in ten out of the past 12 seasons, Berkeley Symphony will explore classics including Berlioz's Les nuits d'été, featuring Simone Osborne; Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major, featuring Simone Porter; Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, featuring Conrad Tao; Beethoven's Overture to the Creatures of Prometheus; Ravel's La Valse; Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition; Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra and Gabrieli's Canzon septimi et octavi toni and Sonata pian e forte for brass.

Ticket information:
2015-2016 season subscriptions to the Zellerbach Hall Concert Series (four concerts) range in price from $39 to $266. Subscribers enjoy a 10% discount on additional single ticket purchases throughout the season. Single ticket prices range from $15 to $74. Orders for 2015-2016 season subscriptions can be placed online at www.berkeleysymphony.org starting May 1, 2015; by phone at (510) 841-2800, ext. 1; by fax to (510) 841-5422; or mailed to 1942 University Avenue, Suite 207, Berkeley, CA 94704. Single tickets go on sale July 1, 2015. Groups of 6 or more receive a 20% discount off the single ticket price. Berkeley Symphony offers a $7 Student Rush ticket one hour prior to each performance for those with a valid student ID.

Tickets to the Berkeley Symphony & Friends chamber music concerts are $25 and can be purchased in advance at www.berkeleysymphony.org or by phoning the Box Office at (510) 841-2800, ext. 1.

Tickets to the Under Construction New Music readings are $10 and can be purchased in advance at www.berkeleysymphony.org or by phoning the Box Office at (510) 841-2800, ext. 1.

All Family Concerts are offered free of charge. (Suggested donation: $10)
For more information or to request a brochure, call Berkeley Symphony at (510) 841-2800, ext. 1, email tickets@berkeleysymphony.org or visit www.berkeleysymphony.org.

For a complete listing of dates and programs, visit www.berkeleysymphony.org

--Brenden Guy, Berkeley Symphony

National Philharmonic to Perform Faure's Requiem at Strathmore
The National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale, led by National Philharmonic Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski, will perform Fauré's Requiem on Saturday, May 30, 2015 at 8 pm at the Music Center at Strathmore. A free pre-concert lecture will be offered in the Concert Hall at 6:45 p.m. Tickets start at $28 and are free for children age 7-17 through the ALL KIDS, ALL FREE, ALL THE TIME program (sponsored by The Gazette). ALL KIDS tickets must be reserved by calling (301-581-5100) or visiting the Strathmore Box Office. Parking is complimentary. Strathmore is located at 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD 20852. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to www.nationalphilharmonic.org or call 301-581-5100.

Gabriel Fauré's poignant work, the Requiem, features colorful melodic lines and rich French harmonies. Finished in 1900, the choral/orchestral setting of sections of the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead is the most popular of Fauré's large compositions. It is written for orchestra, organ, chorus and two soloists, soprano and baritone. The most famous of its seven movements is the aria "Pie Jesu" for soprano.

Brahms' masterpiece, the five-movement Serenade No. 2, written for a chamber orchestra, is always an audience favorite. It represents one of the composer's earliest efforts to write an orchestral work. Written in 1959, the work is dedicated to the famous pianist Clara Schumann, with whom he shared a deep friendship.

For more information, visit www.nationalphilharmonic.org

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Tickets Now Available for the 2015/16 Green Music Center Season
2015/16 Subscription packages and single tickets to Summer + Schroeder Concerts now available.

Mastercard Performance Series in Weill Hall to launch with gala opening by pianist Lang Lang.

Two Additional special concerts to feature violinist Joshua Bell and jazz pianist Chick Corea with banjo master Béla Fleck.

Summer 2015 Mastercard Performance series to include an array of contemporary artists at Weill Hall and lawn.

Kevin Spacey in Concert, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Kristin Chenoweth, Martina McBride, Colbie Caillat and Christina Perri

Schroeder Hall to host three series this summer.

Sundays at Schroeder, Saturday Cabaret and GMC ChamberFest 2015.

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

--Green Music Center

New York Philharmonic to Partner with Rice's Shepherd School of Music in 2015-16
Selected string players from Shepherd School of Music to participate in New York Philharmonic Global Academy Fellowship Program in New York May 21-29, 2016.

Philharmonic musicians to present master classes at Shepherd School of Music in Houston in fall 2015.

The New York Philharmonic and Rice University's Shepherd School of Music have entered into a partnership for the 2015-16 season, marking the third collaboration in the New York Philharmonic Global Academy -- customized collaborations with partners worldwide that offer intensive training of pre-professional musicians by New York Philharmonic members. Under the partnership, Philharmonic musicians will travel to Houston to present master classes in fall 2015, and a group of student string players from the Shepherd School of Music, selected by audition, will travel to New York to participate in the New York Philharmonic Global Academy Fellowship Program in May 2016.

As part of the Global Academy Fellowship Program, the Shepherd School of Music students will participate in a week of immersive activities in New York as Zarin Mehta Fellows, including training and playing alongside Philharmonic musicians, conducted by David Robertson; mock auditions; individual lessons and chamber music sessions coached by Philharmonic musicians; and participation in the Philharmonic's educational programs. The program will culminate with a chamber music concert featuring the fellows (date and program to be announced at a later time). The Global Academy Fellowship Program was inaugurated in January 2015 when 10 instrumentalists came to New York from the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, the first U.S. partner in the New York Philharmonic Global Academy.

--David Ruth, Rice University

American Bach Soloists
Bach, Vivaldi, & Leo - May 1-4:
Music Director Jeffrey Thomas and the period-instrument specialists of ABS will perform a trio of works by Johann Sebastian Bach, beginning with his Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor with Elizabeth Blumenstock and rising Baroque violinist Cynthia Black, a solo cantata featuring countertenor Ian Howell, and the Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major. Howell will also perform Vivaldi's Nisi Dominus, a sacred work that Vivaldi originally composed for an extraordinary vocal soloist in his Venetian ensemble at the Ospedale della Pietà. The program also includes the ABS premiere of Leo's Concerto for Violoncello in A Major featuring Gretchen Claassen, the 2015 recipient of The Jeffrey Thomas Award.

Jeffrey Thomas Guest Conducts at Middlebury Bach Festival:
ABS Music Director Jeffrey Thomas is enjoying the beautiful setting of Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, as he rehearses and directs the centerpiece concert at the 2015 Middlebury Bach Festival. Between rehearsals, his residency includes teaching classes on composing for the voice, form and structure in Bach's works, and ornamentation. He will also present an "Interest Session" on "Rhetoric in the Early Cantatas of J.S. Bach." Maestro Thomas joins students, affiliate artists, faculty, and professional musicians from Vermont and greater New England for this popular festival celebrating the music and influence of Johann Sebastian Bach.

For more information, visit americanbach.org

--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

Pianist Christopher Taylor Performs Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 at Strathmore
Pianist Christopher Taylor will join the National Philharmonic, led by Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski, in a performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 on Saturday, May 2 at 8 pm and on Sunday, May 3 at 3 pm at the Music Center at Strathmore. The all-Mozart concert will also feature the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro and the Symphony No. 41, known as the "Jupiter." A free lecture on the history and nuances of the program will be offered in the Concert Hall seventy five minutes before each performance. Ticket prices start at $28 and are free for children age 7 to 17 (please call or visit the Strathmore Box Office to reserve). Strathmore is located at 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to www.nationalphilharmonic.org or call 301.581.5100.

To purchase tickets to the Mozart's Jupiter Symphony concerts, please visit nationalphilharmonic.org or call the Strathmore box office at (301) 581-5100. Tickets are $28-$84; kids 7-17 are FREE through the ALL KIDS, ALL FREE, ALL THE TIME program (sponsored by The Gazette).  ALL KIDS tickets must be purchased in person or by phone. Parking is complimentary.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 (CD review)

Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. HDTT HDCD354.

Let me admit up front that I have never been the biggest fan of Herbert von Karajan except in grand opera, where I think he excelled. Indeed, it often seemed to me that the maestro wanted to turn everything into grand opera, glamorizing much of the music he performed whether it needed it or not. Still, this was only a personal reaction to a conductor who was enormously popular, and the opinion does not apply to everything the man conducted. Certainly, that's the case with his 1968 recording of Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony for DG, which, in fact, is among the finest in the catalogue. Therefore, it comes as a treat to find that the folks at HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) have remastered and reissued it in better sound than I have ever heard from this recording.

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-53) wrote his Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 100, in 1944, near the end of the Second World War. Next to his First Symphony, the Fifth Symphony is probably his most well liked. The composer called the piece "a symphony about the spirit of man," his response to the turmoil of the War. Accordingly, it opens with the pain of that nightmare, a kind of prelude to the peace to come. By 1944 the Soviets could see an end to the War, and a relatively restrained opening Andante builds slowly, seriously and grandly. Karajan sounds at his most engaged with this music, perhaps as a result of his own wartime experiences with Berlin orchestras of the day. He creates a growing sense of menace throughout the first movement, yet tinged with a lyrical grace, and he benefits from one of the truly great ensembles at his disposal in the Berlin Philharmonic, which sounds as glorious as ever.

A scherzo (Allegro marcato) follows, which lightens the mood a bit. I've read that the composer had initially intended this music for his Romeo and Juliet ballet, and you can feel a similar spirit present. Anyway, Karajan maintains a vigorous pace here, providing increasing tensions with the force of the dance-like rhythms.

Then, there is a long, brooding third-movement Adagio. Like the opening movement but a touch slower, it is quite lyrical, but it builds in strength and vigor as it goes along, with Karajan always in firm control. In fact, this may be Karajan's finest hour as he leads the music with no unwarranted excitement or exaggeration. He allows the music to speak for itself, which it does quite eloquently.

Herbert von Karajan
The final Allegro giocoso (brisk and merry, playful) brings the symphony to a joyful, if somewhat ironic, perhaps enigmatic, close. This finale kind of sums up everything that went before: the lyricism, the forward-pulsating rhythms, even a quotation from the first movement, with Karajan stringing them all together smoothly and convincingly.

DG originally recorded the music in 1968, and HDTT transferred it from a 4-track tape in 2015. The remastering adds some weight to the sound, a bit more dynamic contrast, and a little less glare. There remains a very slight upper midrange forwardness, a mild brightness that nevertheless adds to the overall clarity of the recording and is seldom hard or edgy. There is a fine sense of depth to the orchestra, too, with a wide but not inflated stereo width. Deepest bass might still be a tad short, but one hardly notices it unless one compares it, say, to Telarc's Paavo Jarvi release, which is a little more robust at the low end, if a little less revealing than the HDTT in the mids. Overall, this Karajan recording is quite good in its new, remastered incarnation and rivals most of its competitors for sound.

I suppose the one drawback you could find with this HDTT release is that, like the original LP, it contains only the one symphony. After all, you can still find several different DG compact disc configurations that couple the symphony with either Karajan's recording of Prokofiev's First Symphony or Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. So, the question becomes a matter of sound. How much are you willing to pay for the better sound of the HDTT remaster? That, of course, is up to you.

For further information on HDTT's various configurations, formats (CD, HQCD, FLAC, DSD, DVD-24, DVD-24, etc.), discs, downloads, and prices, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com.

JJP

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

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos & Orchestral Suites (CD review)

Also, Violin Concertos; Concerto for Two Violins. Henryk Szeryng, violin; Sir Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Philips Trio 289 470 934-2 (3-disc set).

Way back in the days when I first reviewed this set, it was for the long-gone $ensible Sound magazine. I mention this because it always seemed to me that the word sensible in the publication's title referred to spending one's time and money reasonably, knowingly, for the best possible performance and sound. That would apply in uncommon measure to this release of Bach's most popular orchestral music in Philips's old "Trio" series of mid-priced, three-disc sets. The performances on this Bach album are among the best you'll find, and to have them together at so moderate cost is a sensible value, particularly now, since Philips is no more.

The stars of the show are no doubt the Brandenburg Concertos, recorded in 1981 by Sir Neville Marriner, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and a slew of all-star soloists. Each of the six concertos features well-known performers like Henryk Szeryng, Kenneth Sillito and Carlo Pini on violin; Heinz Holliger, oboe; Andre Bernard, trumpet; Michala Petri, recorder; George Malcolm, harpsichord; and Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute. Because Bach intended the concertos to highlight specific instruments and specific instrumentations, these pieces work splendidly as star vehicles for their soloists. In fact, the only reservation a person might have is that the Academy play on modern instruments, and many listeners have by now gotten used to hearing Baroque music played a bit faster and on period instruments. That aside, if you are in the mood for a refined, elegant, and entertainingly traditional approach to the Brandenburgs, this set is as good as it gets.

Sir Neville Marriner
The next four works on the program are Bach's Orchestral Suites, here rendered in the Academy's 1978 recordings. This is a little unfortunate because the group had recorded them a few years earlier for Argo, and the earlier performances were actually a little more lively and sparkling than these later ones. Nevertheless, these interpretations sound very polished and very graceful, and they should find much favor among those fans who want a relatively relaxed, laid-back approach to the suites.

Rounding out the set are Bach's two Concertos for Violin and his Concerto for Two Violins, with Henryk Szeryng in the former two and accompanied in the latter by Maurice Hasson. Szeryng was a master craftsman whose performances were not always the most animated but were always impeccably executed. Such is the case here.

The late Seventies-Early Eighties sound is vintage Philips, which is to say it is mostly soft and warm and remarkably listenable. Although there is never much sense of transparency about the sound, the detail is there regardless, and it all seems quite right for the kind of music and the kind of interpretations that Marriner and the Academy provide.

Given that one can still find this set new at a reasonable price and used at a ridiculously low price, I could hardly recommend it higher.

JJP

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


Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos 2 & 3 (CD review)

Stewart Goodyear, piano; Heiko Mathias Forster, Czech National Symphony. Steinway & Sons 30047.

There was a time--and not too long ago--that many concert pianists shied away from playing the Rachmaninov concertos, especially No. 3, because of their difficulty. Then there was also a time when record companies shied away from releasing both Nos. 2 and 3 on the same disc because the popularity of the pieces was such that they knew they could sell two albums if they issued them separately. Times change.

The relatively young Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear provides both of Rachmaninov's well-loved concertos with Heiko Mathias Forster and the Czech National Symphony on a Steinway & Sons CD. But this shouldn't surprise anyone; Goodyear's last time out, he gave us both the Tchaikovsky and Grieg concertos on a single disc. You can't say Goodyear shies away from anything.

For those of you who don't know him, Stewart Goodyear began his studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Canada, received a B.A. from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and completed an M.A. at the Juilliard School of Music. He now calls New York his home and performs with the major orchestras of the world, including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. As one of the hottest new pianists around, he is very good.

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) premiered his Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 in 1901 after the composer underwent hypnotherapy. It seems the failure of his First Symphony so shook him that he feared he'd never write another note of music, so decided he'd try anything. The hypnotherapy apparently worked because the Concerto No. 2 became an immediate success.

Goodyear plays with a good deal of heart, which is exactly what Rachmaninov needs, particularly the Second Concerto. There's a fine lyrical sweep to Goodyear's interpretation, without exaggerating rubato or contrasts, and his articulation remains refreshingly clear and clean. Moreover, the  Czech National Symphony play with great assurance, always welcome when one considers that the Rachmaninov concertos rely a good deal on the orchestra for long stretches.

The pianist's handling of the central Adagio flows along peacefully, with no undue jolts or jitters. And in the finale we get a properly robust and Romantic projection of Rachmaninov's sentiment. Yet Goodyear eschews any overt sentimentality, presenting the music directly and cogently.

By the time Rachmaninov wrote the Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor in 1909, it seemed like a continuation of the Second Concerto. The composer had apparently found his voice. He said he wanted the first movement to "sing," and so it does, in a soaring, graceful manner. The music is a little more serious and demanding than the Second Concerto, and even though Goodyear has his hands full, to be sure, he comes out relatively unscathed.

Stewart Goodyear
Still, as I say, with the Third Concerto we enter a more dazzling (and longer and more complex) musical world, the piano showing off the soloist's dexterity at the keyboard more so than the Second does. There is no question that Goodyear is up to the task, his finger work impressive in playing the work complete. Nevertheless, I never felt quite as thrilled with his performance as I have with those of several other pianists, most notably Martha Argerich and Vladimir Horowitz. Goodyear's reading seems more subdued, more cerebral, and less explosive. Not that there is anything wrong with this; it's surely a valid approach. It's just that I expected the pianist to uplift and inspire me more than he did.

The question one must ask of any new recording of an old favorite is, surely, Is it any better or any different than existing, competing albums? Does the new recording provide a better performance than those that preceded it, or is the sound any better? In this case, not really. While these are certainly good interpretations from Goodyear in reasonably good sound from Steinway & Sons, unless one is simply an avid collector of all things Rachmaninov, I'd have to recommend the first-time buyer also consider the alternatives in this repertoire: Argerich, Horowitz, Cliburn, Ashkenazy, Janis, Wild, and the like, as well as Rachmaninov himself if one doesn't mind monaural sound.

Producer Keith Horner and engineer Jan Kotzmann recorded the concertos at CNSO Studio No. 1, Prague, Czech Republic in October 2014. The piano sounds fine, if a little too wide compared to the orchestral contribution. In fact, the piano sounds as though it's as broad across as the orchestra is, which is not exactly how a piano would appear in a real setting. But this is a mere quibble; the sound generally seems pretty good, warm and smooth. Except for the rather large effect of the piano, it would all be most natural and lifelike. As to the piano sound itself, it, too, is fairly warm and natural, yet with decent definition and a modest impact. Perhaps a greater degree of depth and dimensionality would have helped the aural presentation as well, I don't know. In any case, the modest ambient bloom of the hall further helps make the sound easy on the ears. If the perspective doesn't bother you, you might enjoy it.

JJP

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


Wagner: Preludes and Interludes (CD review)

Fabio Luisi, Philharmonia Zurich. Philharmonia Records PHR 0102 (2-disc set).

Do we really need another recording of Wagner orchestral excerpts, as in Fabio Luisi's 2014, two-disc recording of the composer's preludes and interludes? After all, you can find most of this material from such heavyweights in the field as Otto Klemperer, Georg Solti, Herbert von Karajan, George Szell, Adrian Boult, Klaus Tennstedt, Leopold Stokowski, and others. Does Maestro Luisi and his Philharmonia Zurich bring anything new to the table in the way of performance or sound? Needless to say, the answer is a very personal matter, and it may depend entirely on either your love for Wagner or your devotion to collecting everything of his ever recorded. For me, Luisi's collection is OK, but I wouldn't say it displaces the sets from any of the aforementioned conductors. Let's start with what's in the set.

Disc 1:
Parsifal, Act I: Prelude
Gotterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods), Act I: Siegfried's Rhine Journey
Gotterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods), Act III: Siegfried's Funeral March
Die Walkure, Act III: Ride of the Valkyries
Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg), Act I: Prelude
Tristan und Isolde, Act I: Prelude
Tristan und Isolde, Act III: Isolde's Liebestod

Disc 2:
Lohengrin, Act I: Prelude
Tannhauser: Overture
Rienzi: Overture
Das Liebesverbot (The Ban on Love), Act I: Overture
Die Feen (The Fairies), Act I: Overture

As you can see, most of the program includes the old favorites. However, Luisi does finish up the album with music from two early and relatively little-known Wagner works, Das Liebesverbot and Die Feen (his very first opera), and we'll get to those in a minute.

In the booklet notes Maestro Luisi tells us that he chose to record these opera preludes and interludes because "Wagner was a genius not only in the dramaturgical construction of his works, but also because he used the orchestra in a way it had rarely been used in an opera before. One can see an evolution in the language of the orchestra. Over the course of his creative career Wagner came to regard and use the orchestra less and less as an accompaniment to the action, and to give it an increasingly prominent role in the whole artistic creation." Fair enough, if a tad vague on details. But the music's the thing, and here Luisi does fairly well, especially with Wagner's more-subtle moments, as with the opening selection, the Parsifal Prelude, which sounds mostly subdued and atmospheric.

Siegfried's Rhine Journey appears likewise moody and subdued, which may seem an odd way to begin an album of Wagner orchestral music because there are no seriously big thrills here; yet Luisi does set the scenes up nicely and builds to some heavy-duty climaxes.

Then we get Siegfried's Funeral March, which does carry some serious thrills, which Luisi handles at least adequately. Perhaps his sense of propriety holds him back a little, though, because his reading of the segment's biggest moments lack some of the urgency and excitement of competing recordings.

Fabio Luisi
So, how does the famous Ride of the Valkyries come off? Pretty well, actually. It's here, however, that the sound lets it down a bit. The music needs more bass and greater impact than the engineers provide it. Oh, well....

And so it goes, with Luisi emphasizing the music's Romantic mood swings and lyrical qualities over its more overtly exciting or emotional outbursts. Thus, the power of Wagner's music gets somewhat shortchanged. I wouldn't necessarily count this a disadvantage, though, as there are plenty of conductors who give one primarily the throbs of excitement in Wagner. At least Luisi tries to get to the more introspective side of things, even if it does rob the music of some of its pulse.

If any of this makes sense to you, then, it will not surprise you that I found Isolde's Liebestod one of the highlights of the disc. Luisi captures the passion, beauty, and grace of the piece with a fine, flowing ease.

The Lohengrin, Tannhauser, and Rienzi tracks come off comfortably if a bit prosaically. Then the two seldom-heard concluding pieces remind us why people seldom hear them. They seem rather ordinary, if not a little bombastic, compared to Wagner's more-mature output. But Luisi gives them splendid workouts, and the music can be invigorating at the very least.

Producer Andreas Werner and engineer Jakob Handel made the recording at Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland in November 2014. The best thing about the sound, among other things, is its depth of image. You can actually listen into the orchestra and appreciate its front-to-back perspective as well as its left-to-right stereo spread. Yet with a modestly distanced miking the stereo spread remains realistically between the speakers, providing a lifelike seating arrangement for the listener. The hall itself adds to the illusion of realism by providing a soft resonance; not enough to obscure the sound's detailing but enough to offer a little ambient bloom. Quibbles? as I hinted before, I would have liked a deeper bass and a stronger dynamic impact. They would have contributed to an even more-powerful presentation. Nevertheless, what we get is still welcome, if a touch underwhelming.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, April 19, 2015

Listen Magazine Features Olga Kern - Spring 2015

Listen: Life With Music & Culture releases its spring 2015 issue. Olga Kern, "The Worth of a Strad," "Orchestral Anarchy," "Great American Classical Music Moments," "Cooking Music," the "Village Vanguard at 80," and the "Pinball Wizard at 40."

Classical music collides with Billy Joel, Broadway and ballet rehearsals, not to mention Freud and the fuzz in the scintillating Spring 2015 issue of Listen: Life with Music & Culture. Awaken your senses with one of dozens of recordings or pieces recommended by our crackerjack critics, gorgeous illustrations and historic photos, and tantalizing interplay between music and haute cuisine.

For more information, visit http://listenmusicmag.com/

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Getty Opera Premiere in May: The Canterville Ghost
A new opera by Gordon Getty, The Canterville Ghost, will receive its world premiere at the Leipzig Opera (Germany) on Saturday, May 9, 2015, with additional performances in May and June. The opera, part of a double bill, will be paired with Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. This marks the first premiere of a contemporary work at the Leipzig Opera House during Ulf Schirmer's tenure as general manager.

The Canterville Ghost, with libretto by the composer, is based on the 1887 short story of the same name by Oscar Wilde. In Wilde's story, an American family moves into an English castle inhabited by a centuries-old ghost who ultimately winds up terrorized by the very family he is trying to haunt.

Mr. Getty states: "The dos and don'ts of romantic comedy are pretty much eternal. In The Canterville Ghost Wilde has given us, in short story form, one such romantic comedy of unique beauty and genius, though with heartbreak and redemption along the way. We laugh and cry, and are enriched. I added music, and some words, with the same intention.

"All of its characters who actually sing are meant as endearing. The Otises and Sir Simon are sent up, but we must want to hug them all. Virginia sees most deeply, gets the ideas and makes things happen. Sir Simon would still be lugging his chains but for her. The girl in a romantic comedy must make the audience want to protect her, all the more so for her spunk and moxie.

For more information, visit http://www.oper-leipzig.de/en/programm/the-canterville-ghost-pagliacci/54660

--Shear Arts Services

Five Works Commissioned by YPC for Radio Radiance Premiere April 25
On Saturday, April 25, at 7 p.m., SubCulture, New York City's intimate new downtown performing arts venue, will be transformed into a radio recording studio, when the Young People's Chorus of New York City conducted by Artistic Director/Founder Francisco J. Núñez sings the world premieres of five compositions commissioned for its Radio Radiance broadcast/digital new music series. The music is being recorded that evening for later broadcast by WWFM, The Classical Network, other public radio stations, and digitally through podcasts.

The series was created by YPC in 2009 to excite and challenge the music perceptions of young people by reaching them through the kinds of audio technology they use every day: iPods, iPhones, sound pods, MP3's, laptops, as well as the time-honored medium of radio. In their compositions, each of the composers-Samuel Adler, Ryan Lott (aka Son Lux), Caroline Mallonée, Frank Oteri, and Aaron Siegel-have been challenged use new ideas and ways of thinking to write for today's young people and in the way they are most likely to enjoy music, not only in concert halls, but on the go.

Tickets for the April 25 Radio Radiance concert/recording are $25 and are available on the SubCulture website at http://subculturenewyork.com/event/ypcnyc/

--Angela Duryea, YPC

Gunther Schuller to Receive 2015 Edward MacDowell Medal
Former New England Conservatory President, composer, conductor, author, publisher, historian, record producer, virtuoso hornist, educator and polymath, Gunther Schuller has been selected to receive the 2015 Edward MacDowell Medal. Schuller will receive the medal on Sunday, August 9­ at The MacDowell Colony grounds in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

The MacDowell Colony has awarded the medal every year since 1960 "to an individual artist who has made an outstanding contribution to his or her field. He joins a notable list of past Medal recipients, including Aaron Copland (1961), Robert Frost (1962), Georgia O'Keeffe (1972), Leonard Bernstein (1987), Stephen Sondheim (2013), and Betye Saar (2014)." As Augusta Read Thomas, chair of the Edward MacDowell Medal Selection Committee notes in their press release: "It was easy for the selection committee to choose Gunther. He's a composer's composer with laser-sharp ears, a sensitive, fertile, creative mind, endless energy, and a generous, humane soul."

Schuller steered New England Conservatory through one of the most turbulent and formative decades of American and Conservatory history, beginning with NEC's centennial year. During his tenure as President from 1967-1977, as the Western world rocked to the rhythms of social upheaval and burgeoning youth culture, Schuller formalized NEC's commitment to jazz by establishing the first fully accredited jazz studies program at a music conservatory. Shortly thereafter, he instituted the Third Stream department (which lives on today as Contemporary Improvisation) to explore the regions where the two musical "streams" of classical and jazz meet and mingle, and hired the iconic Ran Blake to be its chair. Early jazz hires included the legendary Jaki Byard and George Russell.

For more information, visit http://necmusic.edu/

--Lisa Helfer Elghazi, Media Relations

National Philharmonic Announces Its 2015-16 Season at the Music Center at Strathmore
Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski and the National Philharmonic announced its 2015-2016 season today, as it enters its second decade of performing at the Music Center at Strathmore. The National Philharmonic's  new season at Strathmore kicks off in mid-September with American 20th-century masterpieces: Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Gershwin's American in Paris and Concerto in F with pianist Thomas Pandolfi, a leading interpreter of the works of Gershwin. Tenor Issachah Savage, who this year made his Metropolitan Opera debut, sings the title role in the powerful concert opera Rienzi by Wagner. Pianist Brian Ganz, who is halfway through his journey to perform all of Chopin's works, will be joined by Polish soprano Iwona Sobtka in an evening dedicated to the rarely performed songs of Chopin.

Other soloists returning this season include violinist Chee-Yun, who performs Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4, cellist Zuill Bailey, who plays two Vivaldi concertos, and soprano Danielle Talamantes, who is showcased in Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass. In addition, National Philharmonic concertmaster Colin Sorgi will play Bach's Violin Concerto No. 2, and Mr. Ganz will perform Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor.

The season also features such choral works as Handel's Messiah, Vivaldi's Gloria and Brahms's Nänie. In addition, the National Philharmonic will perform Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony and Serenade for Strings; Mozart's Haffner Symphony, and Grieg's Holberg Suite.

In its twelfth 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.

Single tickets go on sale in August 2015. Call 301-581-5100 or visit nationalphilharmonic.org

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Are YOU the Next C&V Composer or Librettist?
Receive free training in the fundamentals of opera!

American Opera Projects (AOP) is now accepting applications for the 2015-17 season of its popular Composers & the Voice program. We will select 6 composers and up to 4 librettists for a two-year fellowship working collaboratively with singers on writing for the voice and contemporary opera stage.

The Composers & the Voice Workshop Series is a competitive biannual fellowship offered to composers, librettists, and composer/librettist teams. Created and led by Composers & the Voice Artistic Director Steven Osgood, the two-year fellowship includes a year of working with the company's Resident Ensemble of Singers and Artistic Team followed by a year of continued promotion and development through AOP and its strategic partnerships. Since launching in 2002, C&V has fostered the development of 44 composers & librettists.

With each new group of fellows, "Composer Chairs" make themselves available to our fellows for one-on-one discussions and feedback. Past "Composer Chairs" have included composers Mark Adamo, John Corigliano, Tan Dun, Daron Hagen, Lee Hoiby, John Musto, Richard Peaslee, Tobias Picker, Kaija Saariaho, and Stephen Schwartz.

Deadline for applications is May 15, 2015. Fellowships will be announced by July 1, 2015.

For more information, visit http://operaprojects.org/composers_voice_application.html?utm_source=C%26V+applications&utm_campaign=C%26V+Apps+2015&utm_medium=email

--Matthew Gray, American Opera Projects

Gregg Kallor - Inaugural Composer-in-Residence at SubCulture
Downtown music venue and cultural center, SubCulture, announced their inaugural composer-in-residence earlier this season. The first of three concerts highlighting Gregg Kallor as a composer and pianist kicked off with much success.

Upcoming concerts feature new Songs on April 28 celebrating National Poetry Month and the150th anniversary of William Butler Yeats. On June 11, Gregg will be joined by acclaimed artists Joshua Roman, cellists and Miranda Cuckson, violin for a night of new ChamberMusic.

For more information, visit http://subculturenewyork.com/

--Ely Moskowitz, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

American Bach Soloists Present Bach, Vivaldi, & Leo
Bach: Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor
Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major
Bach: Gott soll allein, mein Herze haben Cantata 169
Vivaldi: Nisi Dominus
Leo: Concerto for Violoncello in A Major

Ian Howell countertenor
Gretchen Claassen violoncello - 2015 Jeffrey Thomas Award Recipient
Elizabeth Blumenstock & Cynthia Black violinists
Jeffrey Thomas conductor

Friday May 1 2015 8:00 p.m. - St. Stephen's Church, Belvedere, CA
Saturday May 2 2015 8:00 p.m. - First Congregational Church, Berkeley, CA
Sunday May 3 2015 4:00 p.m. - St. Mark's Lutheran Church, San Francisco, CA
Monday May 4 2015 7:00 p.m. - Davis Community Church, Davis, CA

For more information, visit http://americanbach.org/seasons/14-15/2015-03.html

--American Bach Soloists

NEC Marks Official Start of Construction with Celebratory Groundbreaking on May 5, 2015
Celebrating the start of construction on its Student Life and Performance Center (SLPC), New England Conservatory will host a joyful groundbreaking ceremony on May 5, 2015 at 3:30 PM. Open to the public, the event takes place on the construction site located at 241 St. Botolph Street, near the corner of Gainsborough St. The ceremony will include remarks by Conservatory and government leaders interspersed with music performed by NEC students.

The first new construction at NEC since 1959, the $85 million SLPC is scheduled to open in 2017, to coincide with the Conservatory's 150th anniversary. It will house a new residence hall with 250 beds, a two-level library for audio and print resources, a new dining commons, a black box opera studio, large orchestra rehearsal space with acoustics mimicking Jordan Hall, and a small ensemble room with recording studio suited to jazz and contemporary improvisation.

For students, the new building will have a powerful impact on their experience at NEC. "Having everything in one place will be a wonderful way to bring people together," said student violinist Robyn Bollinger '13, '15 M.M. "Being able to practice, rehearse, and relax will be so much easier. One can go back and forth quickly. You can take some down time and then jump back in. It will offer a great benefit for the health and happiness of the student body."

For more information, visit http://necmusic.edu/give-nec/slpc

--Lisa Helfer Elghazi, Media Relations

Sacred Music in a Sacred Space Presents Bach's Mass in B Minor, May 6
Sacred Music in a Sacred presents Bach's Mass in B Minor at NYC's Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on May 6 at 7:00 p.m.

Conductor K. Scott Warren, the acclaimed Choir and Orchestra of St. Ignatius Loyola and a lineup of exceptional vocal soloists perform one of classical music's most revered works.

On Wednesday, March 16, 2015, at 7 p.m., New York audiences are in for a delight as Sacred Music in a Sacred Space presents J.S. Bach's masterwork Mass in B Minor. Monumental, intricate and full of insight into the widest spectrum of human experience, Bach's B Minor Mass is widely considered the greatest composition in the Western classical canon. Although completed in 1749, the work was never performed in its entirety during the composer's lifetime, and did not receive its first full performance until over 100 years later in 1859.

Tickets range from $25-80 and may be purchased at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/682202 or by calling 212.288.2520.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Dover Quartet Residency at Northwestern University's Bienen School
The Dover Quartet--the young American string ensemble that catapulted to international stardom after winning the grand prize plus all three special prizes at the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition--will be headed to Northwestern University this fall as "quartet-in-residence."

The University's Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music has announced that the Dover Quartet has been appointed to a three-year residency on the Evanston campus starting in October 2015. During those three years, the ensemble will coach chamber music ensembles and perform one concert each quarter.

The award-winning ensemble is comprised of violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt and cellist Camden Shaw. Members of the Quartet have appeared as soloists with some of the world's finest orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Tokyo Philharmonic.

For more on the Bienen School, visit www.music.northwestern.edu

--Liza Prijatel, Rebecca Davis PR

Haydn: Seven Last Words (CD review)

Attacca Quartet. Azica Records ACD-71299.

As you probably know, Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) wrote The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross at the request of a priest to mark Good Friday, and he published the work in 1787. The title refers to the seven brief phrases Jesus spoke on the cross, as the words appear in the four Gospels of the Bible. Along with an introduction and an "Earthquake" conclusion, the work contains nine movements (or ten on present recording, the final movement broken up into two tracks), each movement slow, thoughtful, and reflective.

But here's the thing: Haydn wrote the music initially as a meditation for orchestra, for listeners to hear as the Bishop descended from the pulpit to pray. It was only later that Haydn arranged the piece for string quartet (which we have here) and then as an oratorio for chorus and orchestra.

Now, here's another thing: I've never heard a recording of the Haydn piece I didn't like. I guess I just enjoy the music so much I have yet to find anyone who could seriously mess it up. Whatever, the Attacca Quartet decidedly don't mess it up.

The Attacca Quartet comprise Amy Schroeder, violin; Keiko Tokunaga, violin; Luke Fleming, viola; and Andrew Yee, cello. Among their many honors, they are First Prize winners of the 7th Osaka International Chamber Music Competition in 2011 and top prizewinners and Listeners' Choice Award recipients in the 2011 Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. For the 2014-15 season the Attacca ensemble are the Quartet-in-Residence for both the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Virginia Arts Festival. The list of accomplishments for the last few years goes on and on. You get the idea: They're very good.

As I mentioned above, there are different arrangements of the work for differing performance groups. The Attacca's cellist, Andrew Yee, provides the following notes about their arrangement of the string quartet version: "In examining the arrangement for string quartet, one is struck that this version bears little of the careful crafting typical of the Father of the String Quartet. The string parts from the orchestral version remain mostly intact, and the crucial wind parts are left out almost entirely. The orchestral version also included a double bass part, which is necessary in my mind since much of the orchestral version has the violas and celli playing in unison with the bass providing the lower octave. When we were learning the piece, we were midway through our journey playing 68 Haydn quartets, so we had become accustomed to Haydn's exceedingly exacting skill in voice writing for the string quartet. It became clear, therefore, that the arrangement as it was presented to us was not going to work." About their changes, Yee goes on to say they included "adding double stops in individual parts, changing octaves to avoid unisons, and adding melodies and countermelodies to an otherwise silent player. Most changes were to individual parts, where the voicing was changed to give that instrument a more prominent role, thereby adding needed texture. In some cases, changes were made to add a melody that had inexplicably been omitted."

Whether you enjoy what the Attacca players do with Haydn may depend on whether you think it's sacrilege to tamper with a composer's score. That's up to you. For me, the Attacca group do no harm to Haydn's beautiful music, and the resulting performance is as lofty and moving as any I've heard. Personally, I think Haydn would approve, but what do I know?

The Attacca's arrangement adheres to the following plan:

L'introduzione
Chorale - Sonata I "Pater, dimitte illis, quia nesciunt, quid faciunt" ("Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do")
Chorale - Sonata II "Hodie mecum eris in paradiso" ("Today you will be in paradise")
Chorale - Sonata III "Mulier, ecce filius tuus" ("Woman, behold your son")
Chorale - Sonata IV "Deus meus, Deus meus, utquid dereliquisti me" ("My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?")
L'introduzione II (trans. Yee)
Sonata V "Sitio" ("I thirst")
Chorale - Sonata VI "Consummatum est" ("It is finished")
Chorale - Sonata VII "In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum" ("Into thy hands, Lord, I commend my spirit")
Il Terremoto ("The earthquake")

Attacca Quartet
If you are familiar with Haydn's score, you will notice that the Attaccas include a second L'introduzione into the arrangement, one that exists only in Haydn's oratorio version, here transcribed by cellist Yee; and they include the oratorio's chorales that precede each sonata. Again, they do no harm to the original version and encourage an even more spiritual mood, without upsetting the intimacy of the quartet arrangement.

Needless to say, the Attacca Quartet play all of this wonderfully well, clearly and self-assuredly expressed. What they offer that is most appealing is their sense of rhythm and diversity. While they indulge in the usual rubato, it is not excessive and adds to the variety of the music. Not that one should take Haydn's work lightly, yet with the Attacca players there is a genuine feeling of fun and excitement in the notes. They eschew a certain amount of solemnity for a more spirited, though always dignified and appropriately respectful, interpretation. The result is thoughtful and meditative, while sounding impassioned, sincere, and unaffected, too.

In short, the Attacca reading is rich, dynamic, emotional, uplifting, and inspiring. When you add the excellence of Azica's sound into the mix, their performance surely stands among the best available.

Producer Alan Bise and recording engineer Bruce Egre made the album for Azica Records, releasing it in 2015. Although the miking is just a tad close, there is still a sensible stereo spread and a modest degree of room resonance to provide a realistic presentation. Detailing and transparency are likewise excellent, with a fine sense of air and separation among the instruments. There is also a slightly soft, warm quality about the sound that is most listenable; you get no hard, bright, or edgy string tone here. Played at a reasonable level, what you do get is a most-lifelike account of a string quartet in a natural environment.

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