Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez (SACD review)

Also, Fantasia para un gentilhombre; Concierto madrigal for two Guitars and Orchestra. Narciso Yepes, guitar; Godelieve Monden, guitar; Garcia Navarro, Philharmonia Orchestra and English Chamber Orchestra. Pentatone PTC 5186 209.

Spanish guitarist Narciso Yepes (1927-1997) practically made a career of performing and recording (mostly for Decca and DG) Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. I'm familiar with several of these recordings firsthand: the HDTT remastering of his excellent 1957 Decca rendition with Ataulfo Argenta and the Spanish National Orchestra; his less-than-scintillating 1970 DG account with Odon Alonso and Spanish Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra; and the popular 1977 DG recording with Garcia Navarro and the Philharmonia Orchestra reviewed here, remastered by Pentatone for hybrid SACD.

Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999) wrote the Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra in 1939, and it eventually established Rodrigo's reputation as a leading composer for the classical guitar. I say "eventually" because it wasn't until Yepes and Argenta recorded it in monaural in the late Forties that it really took off worldwide.

The composer described the first movement Allegro con spirito as "animated by a rhythmic spirit and vigour without either of the two themes interrupting its relentless pace." A couple of things you notice right away about Yepes's performance, and it's indicative of his general style: First, it appears extremely well articulated, every note clearly and sharply delineated; second, he takes it at a fairly leisurely pace. The first movement, for instance, is rather more relaxed than the "con spirito" notation might suggest, so it may not exhibit quite the lively spirit some listeners would like to hear. The result, however, is a performance that is probably everything Yepes's fans love and his detractors dislike: It's a clean, well-executed interpretation, with the easygoing approach mitigated somewhat by the precision of its execution. Still, the performance may appear slightly distanced and colorless compared to other guitarists' renditions.

Rodrigo said that the second movement "represents a dialogue between guitar and solo instruments" (cor anglais, bassoon, oboe, horn, etc.). What he didn't say was how utterly beautiful it was, something audiences have been saying for close to eighty years. Certainly, it's in this second movement that Yepes scores over most of his rivals. His reading is passionate, lovely, and gracious, the mood always tranquil and fragrant.

Then there's that perky little closing tune, the one Rodrigo said "recalls a courtly dance in which the combination of double and triple time maintains a taut tempo right to the closing bar." Yepes emphasizes its delightful dance-like qualities, and, again, although Yepes and company take it at a moderately slow speed, they help it come sweetly together.

Narciso Yepes
Pentatone fill out the disc with Rodrigo's Fantasia para un gentilhombre for Guitar and Small Orchestra, Navarro again conducting but this time leading the smaller English Chamber Orchestra; and the Concierto madrigal for 2 Guitars and Orchestra, with Navarro back with the Philharmonia and the second guitar played by Godelieve Monden. It's really here that the program shines, especially in the work for two guitars, which sounds radiantly alive, Monden a first-rate partner in the piece. Together, Yepes and Monden bring the various little songs brilliantly to life, and it's a charmer, to be sure. Also of note, the Fantasia might use a smaller orchestra but it actually sounds lusher and richer than the Concierto. Go figure.

In all three works the Philharmonia and English Chamber Orchestras accompany Yepes splendidly, lending plenty of polished zip and sparkle to the proceedings.

The folks at Pentatone fill out the disc generously with almost seventy-six minutes of music, and they enclose the SACD case in a light-cardboard sleeve.

Producer Rudolf Werner and engineers Volker Martin and Joachim Niss recorded the music for Deutsche Grammophon at the Watford Town Hall and the Henry Wood Hall, London in April 1979 and June 1977. Polyhymnia International/Pentatone remastered DG's original multichannel tapes for hybrid SACD playback in 2015. You can listen to the music in SACD two-channel stereo or SACD multichannel if you have an SACD player, or you can listen to two-channel stereo using any regular CD player.

I listened in SACD two-channel stereo, where I found the guitar a tad close but nicely integrated into the orchestral framework without being too large or too far out in front. The sound has a pleasantly natural quality about it, never overly bright or dull, forward or recessed. The frequency response sounds well balanced with an especially well extended high end. The imaging places the soloist(s) and ensemble in a realistic perspective, with a moderate amount of depth and ambient warmth to give everything a lifelike feel.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, August 30, 2015

Jarvis Conservatory Presents Cypress String Quartet in 2015-2016 Beethoven Quartet Series

In the 2015-2016 season, the Jarvis Conservatory (1711 Main Street, Napa, CA) will present the renowned San Francisco-based Cypress String Quartet (Cecily Ward, violin; Tom Stone, violin; Ethan Filner, viola; and Jennifer Kloetzel, cello) in the Beethoven String Quartet Concert Series. This series will be the first installment of a two-year series featuring the complete string quartets of Ludwig van Beethoven on three Saturday evenings at 7:00 PM (October 24, January 27 and May 14).

The Saturday, October 24 concert will feature Beethoven's String Quartet in F, Op. 18 No. 1; String Quartet in F, Op. 135; and String Quartet in F, Op 59 No. 1 and the January 23, 2016 concert will feature String Quartet in G, Op.18 No. 2; String Quartet in A, Op. 18 No. 5; and String Quartet in C# minor, Op. 131. The final concert in the series on May 14, 2016 will include Beethoven's String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59 No. 2 and String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132.

"We are extremely pleased," says Leticia Jarvis, "to offer our local audience the opportunity to hear the Cypress String Quartet in Beethoven's string quartets. The Jarvis Conservatory is an ideal venue for chamber music and this series will be a perfect complement to our other programming. These are concerts that should not be missed."

General admission tickets are $40 and series tickets are $96, available at www.jarvisconservatory.com/cypressquartet

--Katy Salomon, Jensen Artists

92Y Launches New On-Demand Series: Guitar Talks with Benjamin Verdery
Since 2008 Benjamin Verdery has talked guitar with some of the instrument's finest players, as part of 92Y's celebrated Art of the Guitar concert series, which he directs. Now some of the best interviews, including Christopher Parkening, Pepe Romero, Eliot Fisk, Paco Peña and David Russell, are available as a new OnDemand video series—Guitar Talks with Benjamin Verdery—presented by 92Y and D'Addario.

"When 92Y asked me to be Artistic Director of their Art of the Guitar series, I suggested asking each artist if they would agree to a live pre-concert interview. To my delight, many agreed and now a few years later we have a series of interviews we can share with you," comments Verdery. "My initial impetus was selfish—I wanted to know things about these great artists that I hadn't heard them talking about, and I liked the idea of a colleague-to-colleague conversation. And not surprisingly, they're wonderful storytellers. I was captivated hearing Sergio Assad talking about his young upstart brother Odair, Pepe Romero's relationship to the legendary composer Rodrigo, David Russell's advice on learning new music and the group panels on Julian Bream, Leo Brouwer and composing for the guitar."

The new season of Art of the Guitar, described by The New Yorker as the city's most "consistently satisfying series," begins on December 12 with Pepe Romero.

For more information, visit http://clicks.skem1.com/preview/?c=16905&g=17277&p=dd5a767792d5acc40f2341d986b06cf3&utm_source=mail2&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=PRESSGUITAR%20TALKS081215

--Katharine Boone, Kirshbaum Associates

Sheridan Music Studio Announces Highlights of the Upcoming 2015-2016 Concert Season for Steinway Artist, Susan Merdinger
As Founder of a new all-female virtuoso four piano ensemble based in Chicago-  Pianissimo!, Merdinger and her esteemed colleagues, Svetlana Belsky, Irina Feoktistova, and Elena Doubovitskaya will perform their Chicago Debut at the Anne and Howard Gottlieb Hall of the Merit School of Music on Saturday, September 12, 2015 at 8pm. Pianissimo! was first formed in December 2014, and has commissioned two composers- Margarita Zelenaia and Ilya Levinson to compose and transcribe especially for them four new virtuoso works scored for four pianos. Levinson has composed and dedicated to Merdinger and Pianissimo! his original work, Fireball, and he has arranged a brand new "Broadway Medley for Classical Pianists."  Zelenaia has transcribed Vivaldi's "Summer" from The Four Seasons and has composed a brilliant and original Fantasy on Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherazade. The ensemble will also perform repertoire for two pianos- eight hands and two pianos-four hands by composers such as Smetana, Debussy, Beethoven, Saint-Saens, Rachmaninoff, and Chabrier. For more information on this concert please visit the ensemble's Web site at www.pianissimoensemble.com.

Ms. Merdinger expects to release two new CD's in the Fall of 2015- one of solo piano works by Haydn Mozart and Beethoven (The Classical Style II) and a violin and piano CD entitled "Four Centuries" with German-born internationally acclaimed violinist, David Yonan.

On October 18th, celebrated Principal Violist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Charles Pikler, joins forces with Prize-winning pianist and Steinway Artist, Susan Merdinger, in a program of works by Max Janowski, Ernest Bloch, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin, and Franz Liszt at the Northbrook Public Library's (Northbrook, Illinois) newly renovated concert hall as part of the Fine Arts Fall Concert Series. Merdinger has appeared once before with Pikler at this venue in 2011, but has been a regular on this concert series since 2006.

On Sunday January 3rd, 2016 at 2pm and Sunday January 4th at 8pm, Merdinger performs a program of chamber music with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Lyric Opera Orchestra first at the Northbrook Public Library and then in a live broadcast on Live from WFMT with WFMT Host Kerry Frumkin. Works will include piano quintets by John Field and Antonin Dvorak, as well as Mikhail Glinka's Grand Sextet.

Ms. Merdinger returns as a Visiting Artist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chamber Music Series, performing in a program at The Art Institute of Chicago entitled "Colorful Visions" on Sunday April 3, 2016 at 2pm. This program features trios by Philippe Gaubert, Eric Ewazen, and Max Bruch with the Tononi Ensemble lead by Charlie Pikler, violin and viola, with Richard Graef, flute, Tage Larsen, trumpet, and Gregory Smith, clarinet. Please visit www.cso.org to purchase tickets, as the series usually sells out quickly.

On Sunday June 5th, Merdinger is invited back to perform as soloist with the New North Shore Chamber Orchestra under direction of Anatol Lysenka in Evanston, Illinois, performing Mozart's Concerto No. 25 in C major, K. 503.

Rounding out the season is the start of a three-concert series on Live from WFMT of the complete Sonatas for Piano and Violin by Beethoven with acclaimed violinist and Professor of Violin at Carnegie Mellon University, Cyrus Forough. The first concert will be on June 20th, and subsequent concerts will be in September 2016 and January 2017.

Merdinger is a Steinway Artist and is represented by Price Rubin and Partners. Please visit: www.susanmerdinger.com for more information.

--Sheridan Music Studio Presents

It's Not Too Late to Bring Music to (Y)our Ears!
You still have a chance to contribute to Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's Campaign for the 21st Century.

Your gift today will support:
Future collaborations with exceptional guest artists,
Tours to some of the most important concert halls nationally and internationally, and
Philharmonia's youth and adult education programs.

We're almost to our goal of $8 million -- just $300,000 away -- and your support today will bring us that much closer. Help us close this score with a rousing crescendo and bring the magic of Philharmonia's music to new heights.

Donate at https://philharmoniabaroqueorchestra.secure.force.com/donate/?dfId=a0ni000000DO1bzAAD

--Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

Choir of Trinity Cambridge at Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on Sept 11
Sacred Music in a Sacred Space's 2015-16 season opens with special guests the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge

The celebrated ensemble, voted the world's fifth best choir by Gramophone, performs at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on September 11 at 7pm.

The New York Times has declared that attending a Choir of Trinity College Cambridge concert is "sonically speaking, a heavenly experience" – audiences will surely understand why when this remarkable ensemble performs in the glorious Church of St. Ignatius Loyola.

The Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on the Upper East Side ordinarily is home to the acclaimed Choir and Orchestra of St. Ignatius Loyola on its Sacred Music in a Sacred Space (SMSS) concert series. SMSS's resident ensembles will indeed offer a series of concerts highlighting American composers this season, but a special appearance by friends from across the pond the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge will get things started on September 11.

The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge
The Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, 980 Park Avenue, NYC
Friday, September 11, 2015, at 7pm

Tickets: $35 - $85, available at www.smssconcerts.org or by calling 212.288.2520.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

San Francisco Community Music Center (CMC) Introduces Quarterly CMC Sundays; Free Classes and Jam Sessions Begin Sept. 13
Community Music Center (CMC), the Mission District-based nonprofit that provides high quality lessons, programs and concerts at no or low cost, kick starts its quarterly "CMC Sundays" series on Sunday, Sept. 13. CMC Sundays is a free event that offers people of all ages the opportunity to explore a variety of musical instruments and classes, or jam out with fellow musicians playing jazz, Latin or chamber music. The September event will also demonstrate new group classes hosted at the Mission District branch: Percussion Ensemble for Kids  or Group Guitar for Kids and a Tango Ensemble for adults. Two additional CMC Sundays are scheduled to take place on Jan. 10 and March 13, 2016.

Community Music Center invites the public to its Mission District Branch on Sunday, Sept. 13 to experience CMC Sundays for free. Children and families can explore instruments and take music classes, while adults participate in a jazz, Latin or chamber music jam session. A Tango Ensemble class and a Vocal and Piano Workshop in gospel, R&B, pop and jazz are also available.

Community Music Center, 544 Capp St., San Francisco, CA 94110
Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. Cost: Free

For more information, visit http://sfcmc.org/event/cmc-sundays-free-classes-and-jam-sessions/?instance_id=3388 or www.sfcmc.org

--Jimin Lee, Landis PR

FWOpera Heads to Arlington for Its First Shot of Opera This Season
Fort Worth Opera (FWOpera) is taking its awarding-winning show on the road and bringing Opera Shots to Arlington, Texas's Levitt Pavilion on September 20, 2015 at 8:00 p.m. in its first pop-up concert of the 2016 season. Nestled in the heart of Arlington's Founder's Square, Opera Shots guests can relax while listening as FWOpera's Studio Artists and chorus members perform a variety of musical selections ranging from jazz to well-known arias. With lawn-style seating, guests are encouraged to bring blankets and chairs so the whole family can relax while enjoying this free classical music performance.

Attendees can make it an evening to remember by bringing picnics baskets, snacks, and coolers with beverages, including beer and wine, but please no glass containers. Concessions will also be available at the Pavilion, including burgers, nachos, quesadillas, and more from J. Gilligans, along with additional snacks, hot dogs, nachos, lemonade, kettle corn, ice cream, and snow cones from Mad Mike's.

One of FWOpera's most popular ongoing events each year, Opera Shots has gained a following among "in-the-know" entertainment seekers throughout the metroplex as a must-see evening of unconventional entertainment that now attracts crowds of hundreds of fans eager to experience classical music in this unique way. Brushing off the stereotypes of the genre, this captivating free event proves that opera is accessible and fun by engaging audiences in the comfortable social environments of some of DFW's hottest live music venues. There's a little something for everyone at Opera Shots—see you there.

Opera Shots: Levitt Pavilion
Sunday, September 20, 2015
8:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
100 W. Abram St. (at the corner of Abram and Center streets) Arlington, TX 76010

--Christina Allen, FWOpera

Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (CD review)

Also, The Firebird, Petrushka, Orpheus. Sir Colin Davis, Concertgebouw Orchestra and LSO. Philips 289-464-744-2 (two-disc set).

The late Sir Colin Davis's 1978 Concertgebouw recording of Stravinsky's complete Firebird ballet was the very first compact disc I ever bought, way back in the early Eighties when Philips and Sony introduced CDs to America. I remember I had a grand selection of about a dozen classical releases total to choose from at my local Tower Records store back then, and I played the Stravinsky disc on one of those early Magnavox top-loading players. Interestingly, I soon sold the player to a friend who is using it to this day; the thing was built like a brick. Anyway, back to the topic, a lot people, myself included, complain about today's exorbitant CD prices, but I must point out that this 2002 rerelease two-disc set under review costs today about the same as I paid for the single disc over thirty years ago, and the two-disc set includes three more full-length Stravinsky ballets. Understandably, you may find it difficult to find a new copy of it, since Philips has been out of business for many years, but you should be able to find it used at a genuinely bargain price.

Philips remastered the recording in their 96 kHz, 24-bit Superbit transfer series, but I can't honestly say the sound of The Firebird is much better than it was on the old disc. It doesn't matter, though, because the sonics were always outstanding, just as the performance has held up after all these years. Both the sound and interpretation are first-rate--refined, and elegant. This is a magical "Firebird," with all the subtle orchestral colors neatly traced out in delicate pastels, and all the overt drama underscored in great swathes of thunder. The Concertgebouw ensemble is just the orchestra to convey these wide extremes of music and sound, too. Perhaps some listeners would opt for a closer, more clinical aural picture, but I prefer the strong, resonant quality of the hall reinforcing the performance. This remains one of my favorite Firebirds on record (although, to be fair, Dorati's recording for Mercury does surpasses it in my view), and it's also good to have it properly indexed at last. Yes, that early CD had exactly one track on it; this newer edition has fifteen.

Sir Colin Davis
Davis's Rite of Spring sounds equally well recorded, but I find his performance here somewhat underwhelming, to say the least. As an add-on to The Firebird, it's useful to have, but I wouldn't recommend it as a first choice. You will find more color and excitement in the Rites of Bernstein, Solti, Muti, Boulez, and Stravinsky himself, among others.

Davis's Petrushka, on the other hand, is quite good, very much the picturesque and sometimes eerie showpiece it has always been; and it comes in sound that is, if anything, even more vivid than in the other two ballets.

Bringing up the rear is Davis's rendition of Orpheus, which he recorded in 1964 with the London Symphony Orchestra. I can't say I care much for the performance or the sound, but that may be a reaction based largely on my not caring overmuch for the 1947 composition itself. The sonics here seem softer, slightly harsher, and more recessed than in the other recordings. However, it again makes a good filler, especially to get a taste of the composer's later work.

Anyway, buy the set for The Firebird and Petrushka, among the better performances you'll find, with The Rite of Spring and Orpheus marking time for the curious.

JJP

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


Vivaldi: Pan Flute Concertos (CD review)

Hanspeter Oggier, pan flute; Ensemble Fratres. Brilliant Classics 95078.

We all know that Italian composer, violinist, teacher, and priest Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) wrote hundreds of concertos for various instruments, along with almost countless other compositions. What's more, in the twentieth century, especially, people began transcribing many of his works for other instruments. As a result, you can find Vivaldi's music played on practically every instrument imaginable. Not that there wasn't precedence for this kind of thing in Vivaldi's own Baroque era, where composers themselves would often rewrite their own works for other instruments. I mention all this in preface to the present disc in which pan flutist Hanspeter Oggier performs eight of Vivaldi's concertos (most of them originally written for flute) on the pan flute, with able support from the period-instrument Ensemble Fratres. It makes for unusual and fairly interesting listening.

The pan flute--sometimes referred to as the panflute, the panpipe, panpipes, or Pan's pipes--consists of a row of hollow, closed tubes of varying length, which produce tones by being blown across their upper ends. The pan flute has been around seemingly forever and shows up in one form or another in almost every culture.

According to his bio, "Hanspeter Oggier began studying the panpipes in his home town and in 1996 commenced taking lessons from master panflutist Simion Stanciu 'Syrinx' in Geneva. From 2002, Hanspeter Oggier continued his education in Geneva and Zurich at the Society Suisse de Pedagogie Musicale, and obtained a teaching degree in 2006. A laureate of the Kiefer Hablitzel Foundation in 2007, he acquired an Artist Diploma in Music Performance the following year, and released his first record with Musica nobilis, entitled Arpeggione, in collaboration with Marielle Oggier (flute) and Mathias Clausen (piano). He completed his musical training at the Hochschule Luzern-Musik with a Master of Arts mit Major Performance Klassic Panflote (2010) with flautist Janne Thomsen." Since then he has built a career as a chamber musician and soloist, participating in concerts all over the world.

Hanspeter Oggier
A fascinating part of his bio informs us that "Like the Ensemble Fratres, Hanspeter Oggier is dedicated to integrating as much as possible the characteristics of the common language into the musical language. He derives his inspiration from the commitment of the musicians of the Renaissance and Baroque era to imitate the human voice."

Mr. Oggier's program consists of the Concerto La notte in G minor Op.10/2 for flute, strings and basso continuo; the Concerto in A minor Op. 3/8 for two violins, strings and basso continuo; the Concerto in G major Op. 10/4 for flute, strings and basso continuo; the Concerto in D minor Op. 3/11 for two violins, cello, strings and basso continue; the Concerto Il gardellino in D major Op. 10/3 for flute, strings and basso continuo; the Concerto in A minor for flute, strings and basso continuo; the Sinfonia al Santo Sepolcro for strings; and an extract from Nisi Dominus, the Andante for flute, strings and basso continuo.

Yes, much of it sounds alike. That's what you get from Vivaldi; anybody who produced the prodigious body of work he did is bound to include some repetition. If you're not fond of Vivaldi, you might not appreciate so much of his work in one place. However, if you do like Vivaldi, Oggier's handling of it on the pan flute makes for an intriguing diversion, particularly as the panpipe sounds breathier and more open than a conventional flute.

The performances are lively, spirited, without sounding too rushed or frenetic. There's a nice, even flow to the music, a comfortable if somewhat varied rubato, and a sweet spirit all the way around. These may be historical performances, yet neither Oggier nor Ensemble Fratres sound in any way stiff or scholarly. The performers are virtuosic in the animation of their playing and, in essence, create a good deal of fun, which no doubt Vivaldi intended.

My only hesitation in fully liking the album is the sound of the pan flute itself. Its breathiness doesn't project the warmth or richness of either a Baroque or modern flute. It is, in fact, a rather coarse sound in comparison to the flute. Still, the ear adjusts, and, besides, pipes do not feature prominently in all of the music, so we do get a couple of breaks in the agenda, which gives the program variety. Then, too, the place in the proceedings the pan flute probably works best is in the concerto Il gardellino, where the instrument delightfully mimics the sound of a goldfinch. It's quite charming and worth the price of the entire album.

For the Vivaldi fan who has everything, Oggier's disc should provide a pleasant diversion from the usual fare. And there isn't a Season in sight.

Recording engineer Jean-Daniel Noir made the album at the Academia Montis Regalis Onlus, Oratorio di Santa, Croce, Mondovi, Italy in August 2015. The recordist has certainly captured a wide dynamic range, with good impact and a quick transient response. Along with an airy, modestly resonant acoustic that never interferes with the reproduction's transparency, the results sound, if fairly close, impressively realistic.

JJP

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


Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 and No. 2 (CD review)

Sviatoslav Richter, piano; Kiril Kondrashin, London Symphony Orchestra. HDTT.

Very few discs can lay claim to being definitive recordings of particular classical works. Carlos Kleiber's DG rendering of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony comes to mind as definitive; maybe Reiner's Bartók Concerto for Orchestra and Pollini's Chopin Piano Concerto. And for the purposes of the present review, it's Sviatoslav Richter's 1961 LSO accounts for Philips of the two Liszt Piano Concertos, here remastered by HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers).

For over half a century Richter's recordings of the Liszt Piano Concertos have remained the benchmarks by which other recorded performances have stood or fallen; Richter's are interpretations of volatile beauty, excitement, and poetry. Yes, especially the poetry. No one quite captured the lyrical pleasures of these concertos as Richter did, all the time conveying the big moments with an equally virtuosic skill. That's not to say I've always liked Richter in everything he's done; he sometimes appeared to me a bit too cold, too distant; but here in the Liszt he captures the bravura of Liszt, the color, and the introspection.

What's more, Maestro Kiril Kondrashin matches Richter's intensity, and the London Symphony plays with consummate skill. In fact, no one involved with this project was less than excellent. The performance is a classic, to be sure.

Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart Fine of Mercury Records recorded the two concertos for Philips in 1961 on 35mm film, and HDTT transferred the music to disc from a Philips 4-track tape in 2014. The first CD version of these 1961 recordings appeared some thirty years ago in what I thought sounded like carelessly overbright transfers, with an alarmingly higher-than-usual tape hiss. Then Ms. Cozart Fine remastered them for a Philips Solo disc in 1995 and rectified most of the first CD's shortcomings. Now we have the HDTT remastering, and it's as good as or better than ever.

Sviatoslav Richter
Comparing the HDTT and Philips Solo discs side by side, I found the HDTT product overall a tad richer, warmer, and fuller, and the Philips disc a touch clearer, more transparent. At least that was my initial impression during the opening movement of the first concerto. As I kept switching back and forth between the two, however, I realized things were not quite so simple. On occasion, the Philips disc sounded warmer and the HDTT clearer. Go figure. By the time I had finished listening to the sound of both concertos, I was ready to throw up my hands in despair of picking a sonic winner. Which is probably saying a lot for the work HDTT did, given that Ms. Cozart Fine had the master tapes to play with, whereas HDTT had only the commercial tape.

Advantages and disadvantages? First and foremost, there could have been more material on the HDTT disc. The fact is, the two concertos are under twenty minutes apiece, leaving close to forty minutes of free space on the disc. The Philips Solo disc couples the concertos with Liszt's Sonata in B minor, also with Richter, making it a better bargain for its playing time and added attractions. On the other hand, the HDTT disc is easier to find (see below), while Philips, being out of business for many years, last produced their disc over two decades ago, and it may prove difficult to find new copies. Moreover, HDTT make their remastering available in a wide variety of disc formats, digital downloads, and price points, which could prove attractive to a lot of potential buyers.

For further information on HDTT products, prices, discs, and downloads in a variety of formats, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, August 23, 2015

New 2015-16 Season Guide Showcases Scottsdale's World-Class Arts Offerings

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts has released its new 45-page 2015–16 season guide, showcasing a star-studded lineup of music, dance, theater, comedy, film and more.

"This season we celebrate a number of milestones: the 40th anniversary of Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, the 30th anniversary of Scottsdale Public Art, SMoCA's "Sweet 16" and the 15th Scottsdale International Film Festival," remarked Neale Perl, president and CEO of the nonprofit Scottsdale Cultural Council. "It's going to be an extraordinary year for the arts in Scottsdale, and we invite everyone to be part of it."

Sponsored by InEight, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts' 40th-anniversary season will kick off in October with performances by Canadian guitarist Jesse Cook on Oct. 8, comedian Margaret Cho on Oct. 17 and Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdes on Oct. 23. Valdes' concert marks the official anniversary of the Center, which opened to the public exactly forty years ago to the day. Guests will be treated to a special red-carpet experience when they arrive for the performance.

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts' 2015–16 Discovery Series exploring the arts of the United Kingdom and Ireland will showcase acclaimed London-based dance troupes Akram Khan Company on Nov. 3 and BalletBoyz on Feb. 19, Scottish actor Alan Cumming on Nov. 7, London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Jan. 16 and the National Theatre of Scotland's hit play The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart on April 19–24. All are appearing for the first time on the Center's stage.

Other performers making their Scottsdale debuts are Australia's The TEN Tenors on Dec. 10–11, actress Jane Lynch on Jan. 23, jazz sensation The Hot Sardines on Feb. 10, the legendary Joan Collins on Feb. 13, R&B icon Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds on March 18 and actress Ana Gasteyer on March 26.

Returning favorites include singer-songwriters Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt on Nov. 6; virtuoso pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet on Nov. 15, Emanuel Ax on Jan. 24 and Angela Hewitt on March 20; actor Martin Short on Dec. 5 as part of the annual ARTrageous Benefit Gala; dance troupes Hubbard Street Dance Chicago on Feb. 5–6 and Pilobolus on March 4–5; entertainer Michael Feinstein on Feb. 27; Latin jazz stars Arturo Sandoval and Poncho Sanchez on April 2; Broadway's Tommy Tune on April 2; and best-selling author David Sedaris on April 30.

Tickets for the Center's 2015–16 season are on sale through www.ScottsdalePerformingArts.org or 480-499-TKTS (8587). Member, group and package discounts are available.

The 2015–16 season guide also features highlights from the entire Scottsdale Cultural Council, including exhibitions, special events and programs of Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) and Scottsdale Public Art, as well as the Scottsdale International Film Festival on Nov. 5-9.

Scottsdale Cultural Council members and past ticket buyers will be mailed the season guide, which also may be viewed or downloaded through the Center's Web site at http://www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org/ or picked up at the box office. To request a free mailed copy, email boxoffice@sccarts.org.

--Bill Thompson, SCCARTS

Announcing Orion Ensemble's Enchanting 2015/16 Season
The Orion Ensemble's 23rd season of concerts offers a melange of musical gems--featuring the rarely heard pairing of harp with strings, as well as a mix of chamber favorites. Joining us will be renowned guest artists Benjamin Melsky and Mathias Tacke, along with frequent viola guest artist, Stephen Boe.

With venues in Chicago, Geneva, and Evanston, IL, and flexible tickets, you can enjoy these musical offerings as your schedule allows.

Concert One: French and German Tapestries
Guest violist, Stephen Boe, joins the ensemble for a Mozart immersion and a stirring quartet by Gabriel Fauré. The program also celebrates a world premiere by Manheim Steamroller's Jackson Berkey, a long-time collaborator of Orion.

Concert Two: Harp Fantasy
Intoxicating pieces by Ibert, Saint-Saëns and more feature the Orion debut of guest harpist virtuoso Benjamin Melsky. A rare treat!

Concert Three: American Landscape
Orion revisits a beloved Jackson Berkey piece inspired by and written for the ensemble, and brings its vibrant, soulful touch to quintessentially American works by Rich Sowash and Antonin Dvorák.

Concert Four: Musical Enchantment
Miniatures and quintets from Dvorák, Beach and Brahms will come alive with guest violinist Mathias Tacke and guest violist Stephen Boe.

See the full schedule and get your tickets at http://www.orionensemble.org/

--Orion Ensemble

Britt Festival Commissions Michael Gordon in Crater Lake Project
The Britt Orchestra will perform world premiere commission by Michael Gordon, inspired by and performed at Crater Lake, to celebrate centennial of Crater Lake National Park in July 2016.

Members of the Britt Orchestra and Music Director Teddy Abrams will celebrate the unique majesty of Oregon's Crater Lake with performances at the national park of a world premiere commission by New York-based composer Michael Gordon, commissioned by Britt and inspired by Crater Lake. Abrams will lead approximately forty Britt Orchestra musicians in the performances, with the dramatic panorama of the entire lake as the setting. The performances will take place over two days in the last weekend of July 2016, and will be free and open to all park-goers.

The genesis for this project comes from a funding opportunity from the National Endowment for the Arts project Imagine Your Parks, which celebrates the centennial of the National Parks. The National Park Service was founded in August 1916 to protect America's most iconic lands and wildlife. Britt has submitted a $100,000 request to the NEA, which will require matching funds, dollar for dollar. The Neuman Hotel Group has generously stepped forward with a $20,000 pledge as Britt's first major sponsor for this project.

"The Britt Festival is thrilled to be a part of the National Parks Centennial celebration of the achievements over the past 100 years, but it is actually about the future," says Britt CEO and President Donna Briggs. "Our collaboration with Crater Lake National Park is really about embracing a second century of stewardship for Crater Lake, and for communities across southern Oregon, through the magnificence of nature and art."

"For this collaboration, we want to create a work of musical art that truly binds the natural environment and topography of Crater Lake with a musical landscape and experience," said Britt Classical Festival Music Director Teddy Abrams. "It's important to us that this work feel deeply connected to the environment, instead of simply presenting music in a beautiful place."

For more information on specific dates, times and details as this project develops, visit brittfest.org/craterlake

--Jean Shirk Media

Concert Debut of Pianissimo!- Chicago's Premiere Piano Ensemble
Saturday, September 12, 2015, 8pm
Merit School of Music, Anne and Howard Gottlieb Hall, 38 South Peoria Street, Chicago, Illinois 60607.

Chicago's Premiere Virtuoso Piano Ensemble, Pianissimo!, comprised of four distinguished Chicago-based pianists--Susan Merdinger, Svetlana Belsky, Irina Feoktistova, and Elena Doubovitskaya--will perform their Chicago debut, An International Feast of Music at the Anne and Howard Gottlieb Hall of the Merit School of Music on Saturday, September 12, 2015 at 8pm.

This is an event you won't want to miss! Pianissimo!'s debut concert will feature an unforgettable program, including five world premiere performances and much more: fascinating and knuckle-breaking paraphrases of Vivaldi's The Seasons and Rimsky-Korsakoff's Scheherazade by New-York based composer Margarita Zelenaia; original works for four pianos by Ilya Levinson and James Stone: an uproarious Broadway Medley for Classical Pianists,dedicated to Pianissimo!, which includes Broadway favorites from Kiss Me Kate, My Fair Lady, Rent, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, and A Chorus Line; plus forty-fingered versions of orchestral favorites by Beethoven, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Lutoslawski, Gershwin, and Chabrier.

Pianissimo! was first formed in December 2014, and recently appeared in several venues for Make Music Chicago. As soloists and duo-pianists, the four women have appeared in major concert halls and on TV and radio around the world, recorded numerous CD's, and won numerous awards and honors, as well as accolades and rave reviews from major publications for their outstanding performances and programming. Susan Merdinger is a Steinway Artist and Visiting Artist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Svetlana Belsky is the Piano Coordinator for the University of Chicago and a published author and expert on Busoni; Elena Doubovitskaya is the Chair of the Piano Department at the Merit School of Music and is member of the contemporary ensemble Lakeshore Rush; Irina Feoktistova is on faculty at Northwestern University and is an associate of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The Pianissimo! ensemble's mission as a four piano ensemble is to present entertaining and educational programs of classical music on two and four pianos. Offering both traditional symphonic and piano repertoire, contemporary music for multiple pianos/pianists, as well as cross-over repertoire from jazz and Broadway genres, the ensemble hopes to appeal to audiences of all ages who enjoy good music accompanied by charming, witty and informative commentary on the music.

For more information on this concert and to purchase your tickets in advance, please visit the ensemble's Web site: www.pianissimoensemble.com

--Susan Merdinger

Single Ticket Pre-Sale Begins for the Green Music Center
Exclusive pre-sale for subscribers and Mastercard cardholders begins Monday, August 24 at 10 a.m. Tickets will be available to the general public beginning Monday, August 31 at 10am.

For complete information about events at Weill Hall at Sonoma State University's Green Music Center 2015/16 season, visit http://gmc.sonoma.edu/

--Green Music Center

Honens Set to Welcome Ten of the World's Top Emerging Pianists to Calgary
In two weeks, ten pianists from seven countries arrive in Calgary to compete for the world's largest piano prize. The 2015 Honens Festival & Piano Competition takes place September 3 to 12. The ten Semifinalists are: Luca Buratto (Italy), Scott Cuellar (United States), Dasol Kim (South Korea), Yoon-Jee Kim (South Korea), Henry Kramer (United States), Sejoon Park (United States), Karim Said (Jordan-United Kingdom), Samson Tsoy (Russia), Alexander Ullman (United Kingdom) and Artem Yasynskyy (Ukraine). One will be named the Honens Prize Laureate and win $100,000 (CAN) and an artistic and career development program valued at a half million dollars.

Each Semifinalist performs two recitals (September 3 to 7): a 65-minute solo recital and a 65-minute collaborative recital with soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, clarinetist James Campbell and violist Hsin-Yun Huang. Three pianists will advance to the Finals (September 10 and 11) for performances with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier. The Honens Prize Laureate will be announced at an awards show following the Finals on September 11.

All competition performances are streamed live at honens.com/livestream and cbcmusic.ca. The Competition Finals are also streamed by cbcmusic.ca, as well as French on-line broadcaster medici.tv.

Tickets range in price from $10 to $95 (CAN) and are available online at honens.com or by calling the Honens Box Office at (403) 299-0140.  Discounts are available for youth under age 18, 'A440' members aged 18 to 39, and seniors aged 65 or older.  Passes, offering tickets at 25% off regular price, are available.

--Shear Arts Services

Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique (CD review)

Yoav Talmi, San Diego Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.553597.

A little over a decade ago while the rest of the classical recording industry was in decline, Naxos persisted in releasing a multitude of new discs every month. This 2002 release of the Symphonie fantastique with Yoav Talmi and the San Diego Symphony is a good example of why they were able to do this when everyone around them seemed to be falling apart. The orchestra is not world renowned, but it is quite capable. The conductor is not world renowned, but he is quite competent. The sound is not earthshaking, but it is better than many of the albums the bigger studios were producing at the time. And lest we forget, the price of Naxos discs has always been more than right.

French composer Hector Berlioz (1802-1869) wrote his semi-autobiographical Symphonie fantastique in 1830 with a much-augmented ensemble for the day and in orchestral tones only hinted at by previous composers. It took audiences by surprise back then and has been delighting folks ever since. Of course, after hearing so many different conductors and orchestras performing it over the years, it's hard truly to surprise most ears anymore. Talmi is no exception. His interpretation seems to me capable but not a little perfunctory. He carries out the waltz in "Un Bal," for example, with a nice lilt, but the "Marche to the Scaffold" appears too deadpan and the "Witch's Sabbath" not nearly as menacing as it could be.

Yoav Talmi
For comparison purposes, I listened again to Sir Thomas Beecham's account (EMI), Leonard Bernstein's (Hi-Q), Sir Colin Davis's (Pentatone, or any of the three he did and the second one with the Concertgebouw in particular), and John Eliot Gardiner (Philips, with period instruments). Under these better-known conductors this old warhorse offers a lot more color and excitement than Talmi brings to it. What's more, you'll also find that the orchestras involved in the comparisons produce a bigger, richer, more well-balanced sound than the San Diego group do.

On the other hand, Talmi's performance is more than adequate for anyone who has never heard the work before and is looking for a good, fairly inexpensive digital starting place.

The sound Naxos engineers provide is close to first-rate. I say "close" because I found that it too often highlights too many instruments. It begins to sound artificial as first one and then another section of the orchestra comes to the forefront in volume. Other than that, the sound is clean and dynamic, with especially good, solid bass. Audiophiles sometimes use the Symphonie fantastique as demo material, especially the last two movements, and almost anyone would understand why after listening to this recording. Even though the miking is a little close and compartmentalized, the sound makes a good impact.

This would not be my first choice in this work, but the buyer could hardly go too wrong with it, either.

JJP

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


Shostakovich: Symphony No. 10 (CD review)

Also, Passacaglia. Andris Nelsons, Boston Symphony Orchestra. DG 479 5059.

The subtitle for this album is "Under Stalin's Shadow." That's because the Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) premiered his Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93 in 1953, just a few months after the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. As it was for many Soviet composers, trying to write music that conformed to the Soviet censorship rules of the 1920's through 50's was not easy. Stalin and his followers tended to take a dim view of modern music, describing Shostakovich's 1934 opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk as "coarse, primitive, and vulgar," and an article appearing in the official Communist newspaper Pravda calling such material "Muddle instead of music." The opera soon after disappeared from the Soviet stage. With Stalin's death came a general liberation of the arts in the Soviet Union and a somewhat greater flexibility in what Soviet composers could write.

Shostakovich was tight-lipped about the Tenth. He said he wanted his listeners to come away from it with a meaning of their own, apart from any prescribed program. What we know about the symphony is that Shostakovich wrote it more than eight years after his Ninth Symphony, and he apparently intended the Tenth as a personal reaction against the old Stalinist restrictions on modern music, as well as an affirmation of the loosening bonds on artistic expression.

In his Deutsche Grammophon debut album with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Latvia-born Andris Nelsons (who began his duties as Boston's Music Director for the 2014-2015 season) conducts the work. As a person born under the Soviet regime and who later saw his country's independence, Nelsons seems well prepared to lead Shostakovich's music. Moreover, he does so with energy, incisiveness, and commitment.

Educated guesses suggest that the lengthy darkness of the opening movement probably echos the long, dreary years of Soviet repression. Maestro Nelsons takes a generally broader view of this movement than many other conductors, emphasizing its dark, gloomy aspects. However, the intensity almost never flags, and although this first movement is pretty stark, under Nelsons it is also rather enjoyable. He doesn't exactly soften the music's impact with slower speeds; rather, he uses a flexible tempo to emphasize various points in the score, so we get not just an unpleasantly severe landscape but a sad, pensive one as well. If I still have a preference for Karajan's slightly more concentrated approach, well, perhaps it's because I've lived with it longer. Give me a few more years with Nelsons and maybe it will grow on me further.

In the second movement, a scherzo, Shostakovich tried creating an unflattering portrait of the former dictator. Nelsons could have handled this movement even more brutally, particularly if one views it as a portrait of Stalin. Still, the conductor injects a modest dose of savagery into proceedings, enough certainly to keep our interest.

Andris Nelsons
In the third movement Allegretto we detect what is perhaps a glimmer of hope for renewed aesthetic individualism. Here, Nelsons seems a touch leisurely to me, but again that's likely an unfair comparison to Karajan, Mravinsky, Previn, Jarvi, and others with whom I have been more familiar over the years.

It's in the big closing movement we encounter an exultation, possibly a private victory, albeit a dark victory, and it's here that Nelsons seems at his best. He begins the music as quietly, peacefully, as one would want, then gradually adds the good cheer, building optimism as he proceeds. Finally, the piece culminates in the triumphant outbursts from timpani and orchestra we expect.

Maestro Nelsons has said of the symphony, "You never knew what could happen next. And even though Stalin has died, that fear remains. There is no immediate sense of joy or relief. With the frantic repetition of D-S-C-H, I hear Shostakovich saying to Stalin, with sarcasm and irony: 'You are dead but I am still alive! I'm still here!' After the Tenth Symphony, Shostakovich was finally free to explore other questions."

Coupled with the symphony, we get the Passacaglia from Act II of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, the work that began all the fuss about Shostakovich. Nelson's interpretation of the music makes it as mysterious and brooding as any you'll find, though maybe not as menacing as possible. Still, it's a fine, atmospheric reading, with delicate gradations of color.

Producer and engineer Shawn Murphy and engineer Nick Squire recorded the album live at Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts in April 2015. I have to begin by saying what I've said many times before: No matter how good the live recording, and this one is quite good, I've heard only a few that I thought sounded as good as ones without an audience.

Anyway, as we have come to expect from live recordings, the sound is fairly close up; yet it isn't quite in-your-face close, and, in fact, there is some moderate orchestral depth involved. The frequency balance is quite natural, giving no undue prominence to any part of the spectrum, except perhaps at the upper-midrange level. I would have liked a bit more lower-end warmth, too, although the deepest bass comes through admirably, strong and taut. As far as concerns clarity, transient response, dynamics, and such, they also sound fine. As I say, for a live performance this recording appears well above average, with almost zero audience noise that I could detect until the very end when an unfortunate eruption of applause spoils one's final contemplation of the music. I just wonder how much better it could have sounded given a bit more distance and with no audience present.

JJP

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


Kazu Suwa: Guitar Recital (CD review)

Kazu Suwa, guitar. KSR001.

What a lovely album.

According to his Web site, "Kazu Suwa is a London-based Japanese classical guitarist. His debut CD album 'Guitar Recital,' received 'Semi-Highest Honour' in the Japanese classical music magazine Record Geijutsu ("Art of Records") in April 2015. This album consists of 22 pieces of Spanish and South American music presented in an enthralling interpretation by Kazu.

Kazu has been described by one of the world's most respected music critics, Mr. Jiro Hamada, as a unique guitarist who 'knows the world of poetic sentiment' – a sentiment able to penetrate the hearts of listeners and move them profoundly.

Kazu studied classical guitar with the renowned classical guitarist Mikio Hoshido at the Nihon University College of Art in Tokyo. After graduation, he moved to Spain where he continued his studies at the Madrid Royal Conservatory as well as attending a number of master classes given by well-known maestri."

On his present, debut album Kazu Suwa plays twenty-two selections, much of it familiar, some of it not as much:

Francisco Tárrega: ¡Adelita! (Mazurka)
Francisco Tárrega: ¡Sueño! (Mazurka  Conchita)
Francisco Tárrega: Preludio (Una Lágrima)
Francisco Tárrega: Gran Vals
Francisco Tárrega: Capricho Árabe
Francisco Tárrega: Preludio (Endecha)
Abel Fleury: Estilo Pampeano
Abel Fleury: Milongueo del Ayer
Abel Fleury: Te Vas Milonga (Milonga)
Dilermando Reis: Se Ela Perguntar
Hector Ayala: Arco Iris (Zamba)
Agustín Barrios Mangoré: Choro da Saudade
Agustín Barrios Mangoré: Aire de Zamba
Garoto (Annibal Angusto Sardinha): Chôro Triste No. 2
Dilermando Reis: Eterna Saudade (Valsa)
Agustín Barrios Mangoré: Vals No. 3
Fernando Sor: Fantasia No. 6 Op. 21 Les Adieux
Frederic Mompou: Cançó i Dansa No. 11 (arr. Kazu Suwa)
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Suite  Populaire  Brésilienne: Mazurka-chôro
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Cinq Préludes: Prélude No. 5 in D major
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Suite Populaire  Brésilienne: Valsa-Chôro
Frederic Mompou: Cançó i Dansa No. 6: Cançó

The thing that strikes one from the outset of the program is not just Kazu's artistic abilities, his virtuosic talents, but his sensitivity. That is, Suwa's playing is passionate not just in the bigger, more-dramatic moments but in the softer passages as well. He is, above all, an artist of quiet contemplation, and you will hear this throughout the recital. This characteristic is evident from the opening Tarrega tracks, where Suwa's delicate touch on the strings is most engaging.

Kazu Suwa
Favorites? Under Suwa's thoughtful guidance, Tarrega's "Gran Vals" has an appealing rhythm to it, the feeling of a Viennese ball in evidence throughout. Then, in Tarrega's "Capricho Arabe" he provides an abundance of sweet, subtle nuances that make the music more enchanting than ever.

For Fleury's "Estilo Pampeano" Suwa employs a variety of techniques--mostly degrees of rubato and contrast--to emphasize the music's assorted moods. In Reis's "Se ela Perguntar" Suwa stresses the music's romantic nature but does so in a manner that never strays into dreamy sentimentality. He makes some welcome compromises here.

Garoto's "Choro Triste No. 2" comes off as both elegantly accessible and seriously meditative, a popular tune in a considered, reflective mode. Fernando Sor (1778-1839), the earliest guitar composer represented in the recital, sounds as modern as the rest of the program, which shows us how advanced Sor's compositions were for the day. Under Suwa, his "Fantasia No. 6 'Les Adieux'" is light and charming on the one hand, polished and sophisticated on the other.

I find the music of Villa-Lobos welcome anytime, but as Suwa plays it, it exhibits an additional touch of color and brilliance, while at the same time fitting into Suwa's generally subdued, intricate delivery.

In all, Kazu Suwa provides a pleasantly relaxing array of guitar tunes, masterfully crafted and expertly performed. As I say, subtlety, nuance, and delicacy are the order of the day in an album of beauty and emotion.

Kazu Suwa produced and engineered the album himself, recording the music at a private concert chamber, Sloane Square, London, in 2015. Unlike some guitar recordings that appear as though the instrument were six inches away and spread out from speaker to speaker, this recording seems quite lifelike. The guitar is still a little close for my taste, but if played back at a realistic level, it sounds warm and natural. A modest room ambiance helps this illusion nicely, as do some good, clean transients.

Among the places you'll find Kazu Suwa's recording is Amazon UK at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Guitar-Recital-Kazu-Suwa/dp/B013CLHSMG, Amazon America below, or directly from Kazu Suwa's Web site at http://www.kazu-classicalguitar.co.uk/.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, August 16, 2015

Ailyn Peréz Replaces Susanna Phillips in New Century Chamber Orchestra's Opening Performances

Soprano Ailyn Peréz will step in for Susanna Phillips who has had to withdraw from New Century Chamber Orchestra's 2015-2016 season opening performances September 17-20. Ms. Peréz graciously agreed to travel to San Francisco between her performances in the role of Mimi in La Bohème at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, and the world premiere of Jake Heggie and Terrance McNally's Great Scott at the Dallas Opera. The program showcases masterworks by Russian composers and will feature Ms. Peréz as soloist for Tchaikovsky's "Letter Scene" from Eugene Onegin and Rachmaninoff's Vocalise.

Highly sought after by the world's leading opera houses, Ailyn Peréz has been hailed as a "major soprano" (The New York Times) and an artist "who truly seems to have it all" (Opera News). As the first Hispanic winner in the 35-year history of the prestigious Richard Tucker Award, Ms. Perez went on to win the 15th annual Placido Domingo Award in the same year. A firm favorite in the Bay Area, Ms. Perez is a graduate of both the San Francisco Opera's Merola program (2005) and Adler Fellowship. In her 2014 role as Violetta in the San Francisco Opera production of La Traviata, Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle said "Her singing was full-bodied and rich in color, with long-breathed phrases sumptuously sustained and an emotional depth to everything she undertook" and praised her as "the evening's brightest luminary." Ms. Perez recently made her Metropolitan Opera debut in February 2015 in a highly successful performance as Micaëla in Bizet's Carmen and looks forward to upcoming appearances with Teatro alla Scala, Dallas Opera, Houston Grand Opera before returning again to the Metropolitan Opera.

New Century Chamber Orchestra and Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg recently announced the 2015-2016 season including four subscription weeks in venues across the Bay Area. The ensemble's 24th season, Nadja's eighth as music director, includes a World Premiere commission by Pulitzer prize-winning Featured Composer Jennifer Higdon, British violinist Daniel Hope as Guest Concertmaster leading a program of works in tribute to his mentor Yehudi Menuhin, a debut solo appearance by internationally acclaimed klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer and a repeat collaboration with the San Francisco Girls Chorus. The season repertoire encompasses a broad range of masterworks from the string ensemble repertoire including a program of works by Russian masters Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich, an entire program of dance works by Strauss, Stravinsky and Khachaturian, contemporary works by Pärt, Takemitsu, Glass and Bechara El-Koury in addition to Christmas and Hanukah holiday favorites.

For complete information, visit http://ncco.org/

--Brenden Guy, New Century Century Orchestra

California Symphony and Donato Cabrera Open 2015-16 Season Sept. 20 in Walnut Creek, CA
The California Symphony and Music Director Donato Cabrera open their 2015-16 season Sunday, September 20 at 4 pm at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, California with "Passport to the World," a musical tour of work by composers including Dvorák, Rimsky-Korsakov, Grieg, Debussy, Elgar, Falla, Vaughan Williams, Glière, and Sibelius's Karelia Suite and Finlandia, on the anniversary of the great Finnish composer's death. Following the concert, the orchestra and Cabrera welcome the audience to mingle with the artists at a special Opening Night Party, a benefit reception (Opening Night Party tickets sold separately).

"The idea is that it will be like watching a movie – you buy a ticket, the lights dim, and you're transported to another place," said Cabrera, who will introduce the music and its global origins between compositions. In addition to the Sibelius works, the program includes well-known orchestral music by Vaughan Williams (Fantasia on "Greensleeves"), Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance, and Debussy's Clair de Lune, as well as Rimsky-Korsakov's Procession of the Nobles, Glière's Dance of Russian Sailors, Dvorák's Slavonic Dances, Falla's Ritual Fire Dance, Debussy's Girl with the Flaxen Hair and Grieg's The Last Spring.

The orchestra is entering its third season with Cabrera, and is expanding its regional base in Northern California, performing concerts in three new venues. The orchestra, based in Walnut Creek, CA, will perform at its home at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center's Lincoln Theater in Yountville, CA, and at the Concord Pavilion in Concord, CA, as well as a recent performance with Postmodern Jukebox at the Kaiser Center Roof Garden in Oakland, CA. The orchestra is focused on American repertoire, nurturing new American composers as part of its Young American Composer in Residence program, and bringing music to people in new and unconventional settings as well as performing the most revered core classical repertoire.

In May 2016, the orchestra and guitarist Jason Vieaux perform the world premiere of the orchestra's new concerto commission by Dan Visconti, current Young American Composer in Residence, in concert in Walnut Creek and Yountville. Other season highlights include an American Roots program with pianist Charlie Albright performing Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, a showcase of two California Symphony principal musicians in a little-heard R. Strauss double concerto, performances of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, and Brahms's Symphony No. 2, and holiday music with Pacific Boychoir, in Walnut Creek and Yountville, CA.

Individual tickets to "Passport to the World" on September 20 are $42-$72, and go on sale Friday, August 21 at www.californiasymphony.org. All other individual 2015-16 California Symphony concerts are also on sale August 21. Tickets for the Opening Night Party following the September 20 concert are $75 (all proceeds benefit the California Symphony; $50 of ticket price is tax-deductible). Subscription ticket package prices range from $168 to $288 for the California Symphony's 2015-16 season and are on sale now to renewing subscribers and the general public. Tickets can be purchased through the California Symphony's Web site at www.californiasymphony.org and at 925-280-2490.

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

--Jean Shirk, Jean Shirk Media

Cal Performances Presents the Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra
Cal Performances' diverse 2015–2016 dance season begins with five performances by the renowned Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra, performing the West Coast premiere of a signature work in its repertoire, Alexei Ratmansky's Cinderella. Commissioned by the Mariinsky in 2002, this Cinderella helped launch Ratmansky's career as one of the world's most in-demand ballet makers, earning him a reputation for revitalizing classic works with wit and sophistication. Gavriel Heine conducts the Mariinsky Orchestra in Prokofiev's inventive, expansive score. Performances take place Thursday–Saturday, October 1­­–3 at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, October 3, at 2:00 p.m., and Sunday, October 4, at 3:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall. Opening night will feature the "heart-stoppingly beautiful" (The Guardian, London) Diana Vishneva as Cinderella dancing with Konstantin Zverev as the Prince.

As part of Cal Performances' Berkeley RADICAL programming, pre-performance talks are planned on Thursday, October 1, and Saturday, October 3, from 7:00–7:30 p.m., in Zellerbach Hall. The talks launch a series of season-long "Thematic Explorations" focusing on the enduring musical legacy of Sergei Prokofiev, and related programming continues later in the season with pianist Yefim Bronfman's performances of Prokofiev's complete sonata cycle (January 24, March 4, and March 6), and pianist Daniil Trifonov's performance of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (March 26).

Tickets for the Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra's Cinderella, Thursday–Saturday, October 1­­–3, at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, October 3, at 2:00 p.m., and Sunday, October 4, at 3:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall range from $45.00 to $175.00 and are subject to change. Half-price tickets are available for UC Berkeley students. Tickets are available through the Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall, at (510) 642-9988, at www.calperformances.org, and at the door. For more information about discounts, go to http://calperformances.org/buy/discounts.php.

--Christina Kellogg, Cal Performances

St. Charles Singers Announces 2015-2016 Concert Season
The St. Charles Singers, a professional chamber choir dedicated to choral music in all its forms, has announced details of its 2015-2016 concert season. For its 32nd season, the mixed-voice choir, conducted by founder and music director Jeffrey Hunt, will present three different concert programs.

The season will open on September 11 in Elgin and September 13 St. Charles, Ill., with the tenth installment of the St. Charles Singers' ambitious Mozart Journey, a multi-year initiative to perform the complete sacred choral music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

This will be the St. Charles Singers' first-ever concert in Elgin, IL. The choir, accompanied by the Metropolis Chamber Orchestra, will offer Elgin choral music lovers a Mozart Journey concert in 2015, 2016, and 2017, thanks to a three-year, $5,000 annual grant from the Florence B. and Cornelia A. Palmer Foundation. The foundation supports the visual and performing arts in Elgin.

The choir's traditional "Candlelight Carols" Christmas program in December, an audience favorite, will offer some traditional carols along with an intriguing array of off-the-beaten path songs of the season.

"Choral Eclectic," the St. Charles Singers' season-finale program in April, will present a panorama of choral music spanning the 15th to the 21st centuries, including an unusual English Renaissance work that's rarely performed because of its difficulty, Hunt says.

Single tickets for St. Charles Singers concerts are $35 adult general admission, $30 for seniors 65 and older, and $10 for students.

Tickets and general information about the St. Charles Singers are available at www.stcharlessingers.com or by calling (630) 513-5272. Tickets are also available at Townhouse Books, 105 N. Second Ave., St. Charles (checks or cash only at this ticket venue). Tickets may also be purchased at the door on the day of the concert, depending on availability. Group discounts are available.

For more information, visit www.stcharlessingers.com or call (630) 513-5272

--Nathan J. Silverman Co. PR

"Name That Tune" Faculty Concert Opens Music Institute 15-16 Season
The Music Institute of Chicago opens its 2015–16 season showcasing its stellar faculty in an engaging concert program, "Name That Tune: Classical Gems with Memorable Monikers," Saturday, September 19 at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston, IL.

Members of the Music Institute's impressive faculty, now numbering more than 150, perform classical favorites that have become known by their musical nicknames.

"Name That Tune: Classical Gems with Memorable Monikers" takes place Saturday, September 19 at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston. Tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for students, available at musicinst.org/faculty-guest-artist-series or 847.905.1500 ext. 108. All programming is subject to change. For more information, visit musicinst.org.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communicatons

One Week, Five Concerts!
Green Music Center - Sonoma State University, 1801 East Cotati Avenue, Rohnert Park, CA 94928. 1.866.955.6040.

Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club: Adiós Tour
Sunday, August 16 at 4pm

Chris Isaak
Tuesday, August 18 at 7:30pm

Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers
Thursday, August 20 at 7:30pm

Dwight Yoakam
Friday, August 21 at 7:30pm

Colbie Caillat & Christina Perri, with Special Guest Rachel Platten
The Girls Night Out, Boys Can Come Too Tour
Sunday, August 23 at 5pm

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

--Green Music Center

Bach: Goldberg Variations (CD review)

Markus Becker, piano. CPO 999 831.2.

According to J.S. Bach's first biographer, Nikolaus Forkel, Bach wrote the Goldberg Variations in 1742 for a Count Keyserlingk, who requested them for his protégé, Johann Goldberg. Some authorities doubt the story as the young Goldberg was only in his early teens at the time, and the Variations are of undoubted complexity. Whatever the case, the Variations have come down to us in more-or-less nontraditional fashion, seldom even considered played as Bach intended.

How is that? Well, Bach meant the work for harpsichord for one thing (and while there are many fine recordings nowadays on harpsichord, the sheer number of piano renditions far outnumber them). More important, Bach probably meant a musician to play the Variations selectively, not all at once as is the prevailing custom. Put those two considerations aside, and this CPO recording from 2002, while hardly earthshaking in its approach, is as easy to listen to as any currently available release.

Markus Becker
For this recording, classical and jazz pianist Professor Markus Becker elected to play the Variations as complete as possible (nearly eighty minutes, counting all thirty variations and the opening and closing arias) and in a pleasantly integrated fashion. That is, he plays the work as though it were a whole, a completely interconnected set of associated segments, rather than as separate and distinct parts. In matters of tempo and contrast, Becker attempts (and to a large extent succeeds) in making each variation a connective part of the aggregate sum. In other words, each variation flows comfortably, sometimes unnoticeably, into the next. Not the most exciting approach, I admit, but smooth and uncluttered, especially in the slower, dance-like passages.

With Becker's easy, polished piano style, this technique works well for a composition that can sometimes appear as a disparate set of individual show pieces. At the same time, however, the style can seem rather routine (and even a little dreamy and starry-eyed at times) compared to some more distinctive and incisive Bach playing, like that of Glenn Gould, for instance, in his several famous recordings.

Like Becker's playing, CPO's sound seems rather relaxed, too, which doesn't always show off the inner beauty of the slower movements. Soft, warm, and rounded, the tone of Becker's piano is about as diametrically opposed to the sound of a harpsichord as any instrument could be. I would have hoped for a little more definition from the instrument, but if anything the subdued audio presentation works in favor of Becker's integrated approach to the work. Everything flows readily and effortlessly from one variation to the next.

JJP

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


Debussy: La Mer (CD review)

Also, Liszt: Mephisto Waltz. Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra. HDTT.

There are some conductors who, when you've heard a performance by them, you wonder how anybody could possibly do it better, it's so good. Such is the case with Fritz Reiner, who took over the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1953 and did some of his best work there, producing early stereo recordings for RCA that hold up as classics to this day. And such is the case with Reiner's interpretation of La Mer, a rendition that crackles with energy, atmosphere, and color. To have a new remastering of it by HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) is a blessing, indeed.

La Mer, which French impressionist composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) wrote between 1903 and 1905, remains among Debussy's best and most famous compositions, and surely one of his most descriptive. Debussy meant it, of course, as a musical representation of the sea, and Reiner and his Chicago players do a splendid job of just with it.

The composer intended the first movement, "From dawn till noon on the sea," to be a little less showy than the other movements and added that the conductor should take it slowly and animate it little by little. It begins with a warmly atmospheric introduction and then opens up about halfway through to a rapturous melody. Reiner takes the composer at his word, pacing the movement as slowly at first as any conductor I've heard. His timing for the first movement is a tick over ten minutes, the longest running time of any of the half dozen recordings I had on hand for comparison: Stokowski (Decca), Karajan (DG and EMI), Martinon (EMI), Haitink (Philips), Previn (EMI), and Simon (Cala). Yet Reiner's direction never sounds dull, slack, or laggardly. In fact, it sounds just right, building in intensity as it goes along and creating precisely the atmospheric opening I'm sure Debussy had in mind.

Debussy wanted the second movement, "Play of the waves," to sound light and carefree, the dancing waters luminescent and magical. He indicated it should be an allegro (a brisk, lively tempo), animated with a versatile rhythm. Here, Reiner invests the music with the playfulness the music requires, the glimmering waves and foam quite palpable. This is music one does not just hear but feel. Yet Reiner never lets the spirit of the music lose its natural beauty, and we wind up admiring it both for its lively spirit and pleasing aesthetics.

Then comes probably the most well-known segment of the piece, the third-movement finale, "Dialogue between wind and waves," which provides the biggest splashes of color. Debussy noted it should sound animated and tumultuous. In this final segment, Reiner is again as exciting as anyone. His rendition pulsates with strength and vitality.

Fritz Reiner
The coupling, Franz Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No. 1, the first and most popular of four such waltzes the composer wrote. It's another example of programmatic music, telling the story of Mephistopheles (the devil) playing the fiddle at a wedding feast and enticing Faust into a wild dance with a village beauty. Clearly, Liszt wanted the music to sound sensual, seductive, and demonic. It's that demonic quality that Reiner seems to focus on, his interpretation possessed of fury and frenzy aplenty. The whole thing is a good deal of fun, actually.

The only minor shortcoming in the disc is that even with the coupling, the program is not very long, just over thirty-six minutes. Most other recordings of La Mer, including Reiner's on RCA, provide a lengthier second selection. But that's neither here nor there; the main thing is the Debussy piece, and you won't find it sounding any better on disc. So, with this HDTT release, it is quality over quantity to be sure.

Producer Richard Mohr and engineer Lewis Layton recorded the Debussy in 1961 and the Liszt in 1958 at Symphony Hall, Chicago. HDTT transferred the music to disc from an RCA 4-track (Debussy) and 2-track (Liszt) tape. As usual with an old RCA "Living Stereo" recording from Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, the sound in both works is very wide; yet this time there is little indication of a hole-in-the-middle, which could sometimes afflict the "Living Stereo" sonics. Instead, we get an even distribution of sound across and beyond the speakers, with a strongly dynamic and impactful response. Nor do we hear the slightly bright forwardness that some "Living Stereo" records exhibit; the sound here comes up very well balanced and so smooth it appears almost too soft compared to RCA's own transfers. Perhaps the touch of noise reduction HDTT undoubtedly added helped to produce the softer-than-usual effect, losing a bit of sparkle in the process; but, whatever, the sound is still lifelike, very easy on the ears, and highly listenable.

For further information on HDTT discs, prices, and downloads in a variety of formats, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.

JJP

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

I have set my hert so hy (CD review)

Love & Devotion in Medieval England. William Lyons, The Dufay Collective and Voice Trio. Avie Records AV2286.

The album's packaging tells us that "During the 14th and 15th centuries England witnessed an explosion of written poetic output in the vernacular, the lyrics of which were intimately bound to music. Sadly, only a handful of poems have survived 'intact'; in the spirit of reconstruction, The Dufay Collective join forces with Voice to perform extant songs and instrumental adaptations as well as poetry set to adapted/original melodies by director William Lyons, also including a selection of rare surviving instrumental dances."

So, what we have here is a collection of tunes one might have heard in England during the thirteen and fourteen hundreds. However, also be aware that one can misinterpret medieval music if one thinks of it simply as falling into convenient categories like "religious," "courtly," and "folk." Things are not so easy. Conductor William Lyons tells us that while the songs on the album may sound courtly or even folk, it's a kind of pretense, an artificiality imposed on the music by minstrels. Whatever, the songs do represent the diverse musical styles common to the period, and there is no question that in their present arrangements (mostly by Mr. Lyons), they sound authentic.

As for the performers, one could hardly want better. The Dufay Collective, a small English ensemble led by Lyons, formed in 1987 for historical performances. They have produced a dozen or so albums, including a Grammy nominee. The lineup of players for this disc are William Lyons, director, recorder, double pipes, flute, and whistle; Rebecca Austen-Brown, recorder, vielle, rebec, and gittern; Jon Banks, gittern and harp; and Jacob Heringman, lute and gittern. (A gittern, incidentally, is a medieval stringed instrument resembling a guitar.) The Voice Trio consists of Emily Burn, Victoria Couper, and Clemmie Franks, and they complement the Dufay ensemble nicely.

Here's the program:

  1. Blowe, Northerne Wynd (Lyons)
  2. I Have Set My Hert So Hy (Anon.)
  3. Plus pur l'enoyr (Anon.)
  4. Bryd one brere (Anon., arr. Lyons)
  5. Le grant pleyser (Anon.)
  6. Maiden in the Mor lay (Lyons)
  7. Wel wer hym that wyst (Anon.)
  8. Esperance (Anon.)
  9. Adam lay ibowndyn (Lyons)
10. Danger me hath, unskylfuly (Anon.)
11. Alysoun (Lyons)
12. Ye have so longe kepe schepe (Anon.)
13. With ryth al my herte (Anon.)
14. Nowell, owt of youre sleep aryse (Anon.)
15. I rede that thu be joly and glad (Anon.)
16. I syng of a my den (Anon., arr. Lyons)
17. Hayl Mary ful of grace (Anon.)
18. Ave Maria I say (Anon.)
19. Corpus Christi Carol (Lyons)
20. Gresley Dances (Anon., arr. William Lyons)

William Lyons
The agenda mixes vocal numbers--trio ensembles and solos, a cappella and with accompaniment--with purely instrumental ones, making a good variety in the presentation. Everyone concerned plays with vigor, compassion, and enthusiasm, the women's voices particularly welcome for their sweet, melodious tones. The closing instrumental suite, "Gresley Dances," is the longest track on the disc at a little over nine minutes. The rest of the selections last from about two to four minutes apiece.

The period instruments help to make the selections sound historically accurate. How close the music and its style really are to what a person might have heard five hundred and more years ago is anybody's guess. Yet that's just what these historical renditions are: educated guesses. I suspect they're pretty close, and probably a lot better sung and better played than most such music in medieval times.

Producer and balance engineer Adrian Hunter recorded the songs at St. Michael & All Angels Church, Oxford, England in December 2014. The sound appears very well balanced in terms of frequency response and performer placement. There are no frequencies that stand out among the others, especially important in helping the voices sound realistic. The players appear naturally spread out, too, with both breadth and depth to their arrangement. A warm, light ambient bloom encompasses the instruments and voices, making everything seem quite lifelike.

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