Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 (HQCD review)

Also, Piano Sonata No. 22. Sviatoslav Richter, piano; Charles Munch, Boston Symphony Orchestra. HDTT HQCD278.

It was several years ago that I reviewed a remastering of this recording from JVC in their XRCD series of audiophile discs. There, I found the sound, recorded more than half a century ago, rock solid. Not like most of today's classical recordings that to me can appear misty, cloudy, fuzzy, excessively soft, or, even more likely, overly hard. With the exception of a touch of background noise, this older recording from JVC sounded just right, especially the piano, which was strong and steady in an unexaggerated way. The JVC XRCD issues, however, are expensive, no matter how much pleasure they provide. Which is where this HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) release comes in. It's almost identical in sound quality with the JVC product but at a much lower cost.

Anyway, Sviatoslav Richter was a legend in Communist Russia before the Soviet government allowed him to record in the West. When he did begin recording in America, among the companies he worked for was RCA in their "Living Stereo" series, one of the best places for any artist to record at the time. In the present recording, backed by Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Richter brings a robust vitality to this first of Beethoven's five piano concertos. The fact is, I hadn't really thought about Richter's recording much in quite a while until hearing it on the JVC release. It had been many, many years since I had last listened to it, and I hadn't remembered it being so thoroughly Romantic or so thoroughly powerful as it is, nor had I remembered how lovely and embracing the slow movement could be under Richter. He produces a vivacious opening movement, a meltingly beautiful slow movement, and a sparkling conclusion.

Perhaps it's just that Richter brings out the best in the music, I don't know. Going back and listening to relatively newer recordings by pianists Stephen Kovacevich with conductor Colin Davis on Philips and Murray Perahia with Bernard Haitink on Sony, also favorites, I found them good but not so dynamic or persuasive as Richter.

The companion piece on the disc, Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 22, also comes off in a most vigorous and dramatic fashion. Richter's way with the keyboard is both precise and incisive, making each note sound out loudly, clearly, purposefully. As with the Concerto, the Sonata offers a most impressive performance and makes a worthy coupling.

Sviatoslav Richter
Producers Max Wilcox and Peter Dellheim and engineers John Crawford and Lewis Layton recorded the music at Boston Symphony Hall (Concerto) and Webster Hall, NY (Sonata) in November 1960. HDTT transferred the recording to CD from an RCA 4-track tape.

I have sometimes found Munch and the Boston Symphony sounding thin, steely, and hard in their early RCA releases, but not really here. There may be a touch of hardness to the sound but nothing thin or bright about this recording. It is, if anything, darkly aggressive and absolutely stable, well complementing Richter's sturdy, energetic, and wholly realistic piano.

As I mentioned above, I had reviewed this recording several years before, remastered by JVC in their XRCD audiophile line and found the sound excellent in almost every way except for a bit of bass noise and a small degree of hardness. With this HDTT remastering (on an HQCD), there is no bass noise and more warmth than hardness. For comparison purposes, I put both discs into separate players and switched back and forth; to double check, I swapped out the discs and played them in the opposite machines. The bass noise was definitely on the JVC disc, not the HDTT. Of course, it's not possible for me to tell if the noise was in the original master tape and JVC transferred it directly to disc that way; or whether JVC's usually immaculate XRCD mastering introduced the noise; or whether RCA eliminated the noise from the four-track tape HDTT used; or whether HDTT eliminated the noise themselves from this disc transfer. What I do know is that the HDTT is quiet, with no apparent side effects.

In practically every other way, it's difficult to differentiate between the HDTT and JVC products. Maybe the JVC is a touch clearer (the HDTT having a very slight, almost unnoticeable degree of fuzz around the notes), and maybe the HDTT is a tad more dynamic (the impact is certainly strong). The main thing to know is that the HDTT disc costs about half or less (depending on the format you choose) the price of the rather expensive JVC product, making the HDTT clearly the superior bargain.

Anyway, the HDTT sonics are big and full, with plenty of zip and zoom (old audiophile talk), and lots of depth, dimensionality, and natural hall ambience. It's one of HDTT's best-sounding discs, and that's saying quite a lot, given that HDTT has successfully remastered any number of very fine recordings.

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, November 28, 2015

Opera Colorado Announces New and Expanded Season

On November 7, Opera Colorado announced the highly anticipated return to a three-production season that will broaden the scope of its programming and further extend the Company's reach into the community. Beginning in November 2016, the expanded new season launches Opera Colorado into an exciting new era in the Company's history, as it commences a five-year strategic plan to increase artistic and educational offerings throughout Denver and Colorado, generate new audience development initiatives, and establish a new artistic vision.  

"Opera Colorado has been building towards this announcement over the past two years—our higher-than-anticipated ticket sales and sold-out performances confirm that there is a strong and growing audience for opera in Denver," said Greg Carpenter, General Director. "At the same time, we have been putting the building blocks in place to ensure a strong financial foundation for the company's future and an inspired artistic vision working with Ari Pelto, our first Music Director. The upcoming season is the beginning of a very new and progressive future for our Company, in which we give our audiences beloved classic productions while continuing to support new and rarely performed works, extending Opera's reach beyond the walls of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House."

The 2016-17 season embraces a new artistic vision that continues Opera Colorado's commitment to presenting contemporary and classic opera repertoire while expanding the Company's repertoire to include one production per year of a new or rarely performed work in a more intimate setting, where the audience can experience opera on a more personal level.

An innovative new Opera Colorado production of Puccini's La Fanciulla del West—a work depicting a mining community during the California Gold Rush of the 1850s that is widely regarded for its impressive orchestration and intensely dramatic vocal writing—will set the work in Colorado. Opera Colorado will partner with History Colorado, and the Denver Public Library to develop a video backdrop for the story that includes historical photos reflecting the state's rich mining history (November 2016, Ellie Caulkins Opera House).

The Colorado premiere of Laura Kaminsky's unique production As One will bring a fully staged opera outside of the Company's walls for the first time with a presentation in the L2 Church in Denver's Congress Park neighborhood. This new, 75-minute chamber opera depicts the experiences of its sole transgender protagonist, Hannah, as she endeavors to resolve the discord between herself and the outside world. Two singers, a baritone and a mezzo-soprano, together portray the character Hannah. The work is inspired in part by the life experiences of acclaimed filmmaker Kimberly Reed. (January 2017, L2 Church).

The season will close with a traditional Grand Opera production of Gaetano Donizetti's dark and tragic Lucia di Lammermoor—following a young woman's decline into madness as a result of a feud between her family and the man she loves (May 2017, Ellie Caulkins Opera House).

For complete information, visit https://www.operacolorado.org/

--Emily Viemeister, Opera Colorado

Newly Formed Manhattan Chamber Players makes New York City Debut, 12/7
With a roster comprising some of today's most respected chamber music performers and composers, MCP makes its official New York debut on December 7th at 7pm at Le Poisson Rouge (158 Bleeker St.) closely followed by a December 15th concert at 7:30pm at Baruch College (55 Lexington Ave., NYC)

Professional chamber groups, like many performing groups, can often become victims of their own form and success. They can fall into a routine with a set group of players, performing a set, consistent repertoire. This creates challenges for presenters looking to diversify their offerings and to provide programming that is intriguing, fresh, and targeted towards specific audiences. Enter the newest player on the chamber music stage, the Manhattan Chamber Players (MCP). Founded by violist Luke Fleming, MCP looks to break the chamber music mold with innovative programming and a flexible stable of musicians drawn from among the best players working professionally today.

Where:
Le Poisson Rouge
158 Bleeker Street, NYC

When:
Mon, December 7, 2015 at 7:00 PM (doors open at 6:00 PM)

Program:
Early chamber works by Mendelssohn, Brahms, Schubert, Fauré, Chausson, Shostakovich, and Piazzolla. World premieres by Vivian Fung and Chris Rogerson.

Tickets:
$20 Seated (pre-sale), $15 Standing (pre-sale); $25 Seated (Day of), $20 Standing (Day of).
Available by calling 212.505.FISH or visiting www.lepoissonrouge.com

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

California Symphony and Its Young American Composer in Residence, Dan Visconti, Awarded Koussevitzky Grant by Library of Congress
Dan Visconti, the California Symphony's Young American Composer in Residence through 2017, has been awarded the prestigious Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation commission by the Library of Congress. Visconti was recognized and commissioned for his concerto for guitar and orchestra, Living Language. Living Language will be given its world premiere by the California Symphony, which co-commissioned the work, and Music Director Donato Cabrera with Grammy-winning guitarist Jason Vieaux, on May 6 at the Lincoln Theater at the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center in Yountville and May 8 at its home in the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

Visconti and the orchestra are among the five awardees this year. Lei Liang and Art of Élan for the Formosa Quartet, Colin Matthews and the London Sinfonietta, Bent Sørensen and Quattro Mani, and Nina C. Young and The Nouveau Classical Project were also recognized. The commissions are granted jointly by the foundation and the performing organizations that will present performances of the newly composed works.

"It is an incredible honor for Dan Visconti and the California Symphony to receive the highly coveted Koussevitzky Foundation Commission through the Library of Congress," said Cabrera. "It is not only a recognition of Mr. Visconti's talent and unique and engaging compositional voice, but it also recognizes and celebrates California Symphony's continued and ardent support for newly composed works. I look forward to premiering the work this commission will help create, Mr. Visconti's Living Language, a concerto for guitar and orchestra, with Jason Vieaux."

Dan Visconti, 33, studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Yale School of Music. Visconti serves as composer and Director of Artistic Programming at Chicago's Fifth House Ensemble. He received the Rome Prize and Berlin Prize, among others. Active as a writer, Visconti contributes to the Huffington Post and since 2008 has written a weekly column for NewMusicBox, the web magazine of the American Music Center. He was awarded a 2014 TED Fellowship and delivered a TED talk in Vancouver.

For more information, visit http://www.californiasymphony.org/young-american-composer-in-residence

--Jean Shirk Media

PBO News: Celebrate Nic's 30th Anniversary at Our Gala and Concert!
Join us for Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's special gala celebration of Nic McGegan's 30th anniversary on Thursday, February 11, 2016. The evening's festivities include:

Cocktail party and delectable, seated dinner at City Hall, San Francisco, CA.
Silent & live auction showcasing one-of-a-kind items.
Full concert at Herbst Theatre featuring internationally renowned mezzo-soprano Susan Graham with premium seating for Gala attendees.
A special Afterparty and dessert reception at City Hall.

For more information and to register, visit https://philharmoniabaroqueorchestra.secure.force.com/donate/?dfId=a0ni000000FyrUKAAZ

--Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

AME Presents Copeland's "The Cask of Amontillado" and Paterson's "The Whole Truth"
Known for its presentation of cutting-edge American music and innovative thematic programming, American Modern Ensemble (AME) presents the world premieres of new orchestrations of Stewart Copeland's (from The Police) The Cask of Amontillado based on the story by Edgar Allen Poe, libretto by David Bamberger, and Robert Paterson's The Whole Truth, libretto by Mark Campbell, based on the short story of the same name by Stephen McCauley. Both works will premiere in an opera double feature at New York City's Dixon Place on Saturday, January 16, 2016 – Tuesday, January 19, 2016 at 8pm.

Tickets may be purchased here or by calling 866-811-4111. The program will include a post-intermission onstage chat with Stewart Copeland, Mark Campbell, Stephen McCauley, David Bamberger, and Robert Paterson.

For more information, visit http://americanmodernensemble.org/

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Orion Welcomes Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras Quartet Dec. 2
The Orion Ensemble, winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, is pleased to welcome the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras' Quartet Bolero for the final performance of "Harp Fantasy," its second concert program of the 2015-16 season. The high school-age performers join Orion as its Janet's Stage Artist Partners Wednesday, December 2 at 7:30 p.m. at PianoForte Studios, 1335 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago.

The Quartet Bolero musicians are violinist Lauren Conroy, a senior at Barringon High School; violinist Vincent Wong, a junior at Maine Township High School West from Des Plaines; violist Kayla Cabrera, a home-schooled junior from Crete; and cellist Amelia Smerz, a senior from Downers Grove North High School. They will perform the first movement (Allegro) of Haydn's String Quartet, Op. 76, No. 3.

"Harp Fantasy," Orion's second concert program of its 23rd season, welcomes guest harp virtuoso Ben Melsky, a member of the highly acclaimed Ensemble Dal Niente and principal harpist for the Joffrey Ballet and Ann Arbor Symphony, for his Orion debut. The program includes Jacques Ibert's Trio for Violin, Cello and Harp (1944); Camille Saint-Saëns's Fantaisie in A Major for Violin and Harp, Op. 124 (1907); Ralph Vaughan Williams's Six Studies in English Folksong for Clarinet and Harp (1923); John Ireland's Fantasy Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (1945); and Frank Bridge's Phantasie Trio in C Minor for Violin, Cello and Piano (1908). Prior to the December 2 performance with the Quartet Bolero, Orion performs this program at the First Baptist Church of Geneva, IL, November 22 and at the Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston, IL, November 29.

Single tickets are $26, $23 for seniors and $10 for students; admission is free for children 12 and younger. A four-ticket flexible subscription provides a 10 percent savings on full-priced tickets. For more information, call 630-628-9591 or visit http://orionensemble.org/

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Celebrate the Start of the Holidays at the Green Music Center
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, with Augustin Hadelich, violin
Sun, Nov 29 at 3 p.m. | Weill Hall
MasterCard Performance Series

Pacifica Quartet
Orion Weiss, piano
Sun, Dec 13 at 3 p.m. | Weill Hall
MasterCard Performance Series

Soweto Gospel Choir
Almost Sold Out - Get Tickets Now!
Fri, Dec 18 at 7:30 p.m. | Weill Hall
MasterCard Performance Series

Messiah
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Sun, Dec 20 at 3 p.m. | Weill Hall
MasterCard Performance Series

Green Music Center
Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA

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

--Green Music Center

The Crypt Sessions - Lawrence Brownlee's December 9 Performance
On December 9th at 8PM, Tenor Lawrence Brownlee will give an intimate performance of spirituals in the extraordinary underground crypt beneath The Church of the Intercession, Harlem, NY. Brownlee will be accompanied by pianist and frequent collaborator Damien Sneed, and the concert will feature songs from their acclaimed Spiritual Sketches album, among others.

The concert is a part of Unison Media's Crypt Sessions, a new concert series in partnership with Intercession, which was inaugurated on November 4th by pianist/composer Conrad Tao. The series features some of classical music and opera's most exciting stars, in intimate performances tailored to the uniqueness of the space.

Tickets are $25, with all proceeds going to the church.

For more information, visit deathofclassical.com

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Q2's Meet the Composer Ep. 9 - Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Composing Is Second Nature
Acclaimed Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir is the featured composer of Q2 Music's latest Meet the Composer, Episode #9 Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Composing Is Second Nature. The episode, hosted by Nadia Sirota, takes the listener on a journey through Anna's childhood in a remote village in Iceland, through her emigration to California, and into her compositional process. Today, Q2 Music releases Anna's Meet the Composer bonus track, the world premiere recording of SCAPE for solo piano performed by Cory Smythe.

Meet the Composer host Nadia Sirota says, "Anna Thorvaldsdottir is an Icelandic composer whose work conjures entire environments of sound, surrounding the listener in a dark and forbidding landscape. Anna thinks sonically; her music comes from a deeply non-verbal place, and she has developed a brilliant workflow which allows these ideas to remain mostly whole and unmolested through her creative process. Anna often favors massive ensembles, writing delicate and detailed parts for every player, but even when she is writing for smaller forces, she somehow summons these massive sonorities – detailed, elegant tapestries with a seductive gravity, which pull the listener in with their gradually revolving color and texture."

Listen to the Episode: http://bit.ly/Q2_MTC_Thorvaldsdottir

For more information, visit www.annathorvalds.com

--Katy Salomon, Jensen Artists

American Pianists Association Receives $5.275M Lilly Endowment Grant
The American Pianists Association (APA) announced today that it is the recipient of a $5.275M award from Lilly Endowment, Inc. Lilly Endowment has a longstanding commitment to supporting organizations that improve the quality of life in Indianapolis and in Indiana, including The American Pianists Association.

"We are honored to be the recipient of such a generous award from Lilly Endowment. Its support for American Pianists Association historically has had a tremendous impact on our work," says Joel Harrison, APA's Artistic Director & President/CEO. "With this transformative award, we will continue to chart a sustainable, long-term path that allows us to deliver on our commitment to discover, promote and advance the careers of American jazz and classical pianists through innovative and unique competitions."

Lilly Endowment's grant, coupled with a current pledge of $2 million from the DeHaan Family Foundation, brings the total of APA's ongoing Comprehensive Campaign: A Grand Vision to nearly $12 million in cash, pledges, and estate gifts, in support of its artistic programs, operations and endowment.

For more information on the American Pianists Association visit www.americanpianists.org/

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 31, 70 & 101 (SACD review)

Robin Ticciati, Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Linn Records CKD 500.

The possible advantages of this disc: First, Maestro Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra play three symphonies by Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1909) from three periods in the man's life: early, middle, and late, giving the listener a useful overview of Haydn's developing output. Second, Linn Records provides another excellent-sounding album.

The possible disadvantages: First, Ticciati chooses to play each of the symphonies in something approaching historical accuracy, yet the orchestra performs on modern instruments. The combination may seem a tad disconcerting for some listeners. Second, Ticciati doesn't appear to display any discernable difference in playing style among the three symphonies even though they span a period of about thirty years. You would think that maybe as Haydn's style evolved, the playing practice might, too.

Anyway, things begin with the Symphony No. 31 in D major, which Haydn wrote in 1765 for his patron Nikolaus Esterházy. It acquired the nickname "Hornsignal" because it provides the horn section a rather large role in the proceedings. I really wasn't familiar with No. 31 (I hadn't heard Dorati's version in decades), but under Ticciati it sounds fresh, chipper, and alive. The Adagio is especially lovely, taken at a steady, enlivening gait that never indulges in sentimentality. And so it goes with a light, lilting flow throughout.

Next is the Symphony No. 70 in D major from 1779, written to commemorate the construction of a new opera house on Prince Esterhazy's property. Although it is not among Haydn's most-memorable symphonies, it does feature the composer's usual complement of pleasing harmonies. No. 70 starts out in a veritable storm of sounds, which Ticciati handles with ease, although the relatively small size of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra rather diminishes the overall effect. Yes, it sounds a tad underpowered compared to other renditions I've heard. Nevertheless, Ticciati again maintains a good forward pulse, and the movements proceed fluidly one to the next. He particularly handles the playful finale with dexterity.

Robin Ticciati
The final piece on the program is the Symphony No. 101 in D major, composed around 1793-94 while Haydn was visiting London for the second time. It got the nickname "The Clock" because the ticking rhythms in the second-movement Andante remind people of the movement of the second hand in a loudly ticking clock. Unfortunately, under Ticciati's direction "The Clock" seems little different from the preceding selections. While one still easily recognizes the music, it appears to me a touch too lightweight. And then comes the famous clock movement. Oh, dear. Ticciati sounds as though he's taking it at double speed; it's faster than any of the half dozen comparisons I had on hand, including one done on period instruments. Not that it doesn't still sound good--exciting, in fact--it's that it doesn't appear to me what Haydn intended: An Andante should be moderately slow, not speedy. Oh, well; at the very least, Ticciati's interpretation makes a solid alternative view.

Producer and engineer Philip Hobbs recorded the symphonies at Usher Hall, Edinburgh, UK in January and February 2015. He made the recording for hybrid SACD playback, so you can listen in multichannel or two-channel SACD if you have an SACD player and regular two-channel stereo if you have only a standard CD player.

In the two-channel SACD mode to which I listened, the sound appears warm and clear, with a good sense of depth and dimensionality. As this is a Linn recording, there is nothing hard, bright, compartmentalized, or close-up about the sonics. It just sounds natural and dynamic, with a sold timpani response and a mild hall resonance providing a realistic ambient bloom.

JJP

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


Debussy: La Mer (HQCD review)

Also, Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2; Berlioz: La Damnation de Faust, Part 2: Ballet des Sylphes. Leopold Stokowski, London Symphony Orchestra. HDTT HQCD.

Leopold Stokowski's Decca recording of Debussy's La Mer with the London Symphony is not the most graceful or poetic interpretation on record. For that, you'll want Martinon (EMI). But Stokowski is close. Stokowski's recording is not the most exciting, either. For that, you'll want Reiner (RCA or HDTT). But Stokowski is close. Stokowski's recording is not the most lush or glamorous you'll find. For that, you'll want Karajan (DG). But Stokowski is close. Stokowski's recording is not the most precise or analytical around. For that, you'll want Boulez (DG). But Stokowski is close. And Stokowski's recording is not the best recorded in the catalogue. For that, you'll want Previn (EMI). But Stokowski is close. In fact, Stokowski's Decca recording is so close in all of the above categories, it qualifies in my mind as the best overall choice in this work of anything available, and HDTT's remaster of it on the HQCD I reviewed makes it even better. It's a hard proposition to refuse.

French impressionist composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) wrote La Mer between 1903 and 1905, and the work has since become one of his most well-known compositions. Certainly, it is one of his greatest and most descriptive pieces. Debussy named it La mer, trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestre (or "The sea, three symphonic sketches for orchestra"), but usually people just call it La Mer.

Debussy said he wanted 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. In this first movement, Stokowski provides a requisite enthusiasm, but he is careful not let this opening music upstage the climactic final movement. So, he reins it in a bit, producing a suggestive, atmospheric, picturesque, and wonderfully rhapsodic portrait of morning on the sea.

The composer intended 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. In reality, the second movement acts as a kind of slowish scherzo, although, to be fair, it isn't actually slow or fast. As its subtitle indicates, it's more playful than anything, with Stokowski delighting in the imaginative nuances of sea and air. This is Stokowski at his more charming: light and lyrical.

Leopold Stokowski
Then comes probably the most well-known segment of the work, the third-movement finale, "Dialogue between wind and waves," in which Debussy provided his biggest splashes of color and which he noted should sound animated and tumultuous. Here, Stokowski infuses the music with immense personality; but not necessarily his own--he infuses it with the composer's personality. The movement's rhythmic rises and falls appear perfectly timed, the cadences beautifully judged, the subtleties of wind and sea well expressed in contrasting dynamic shifts. The result is as pleasing, as relaxed, yet as intense as anything you'll find on record.

The accompanying items--Maurice Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2 and Hector Berlioz's Ballet des Sylphes--are equally appealing. Stokowski's Ravel, especially, sounds magical, rich, and luxuriant. It's the ideal complement to the Debussy. Still, it's the Debussy that steals the show and for which I strongly recommend the disc.

Producer Tony d'Amato and engineer Arthur Lilley recorded the music in June, 1970, at Kingsway Hall, London. HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) remastered and transferred it from a London Phase 4 four-track tape to a variety of formats (I reviewed the HQCD) in 2015.

It's the "Phase 4" business that may concern some audiophiles. According to Decca, "Phase 4 was a special series of recordings from the '60s and '70s which presented music in spectacularly vivid sound." And according to Wikipedia, the Decca sound of the time "was characterised by an aggressive use of the highest and lowest frequencies and a daring use of tape saturation and out-of-phase sound to convey a lively and impactful hall ambiance, plus considerable bar-to-bar rebalancing by the recording staff of orchestral voices, known as 'spotlighting.' In the 1960s and 1970s, the company developed its 'Phase 4' process, which produced even greater sonic impact through even more interventionist engineering techniques." The fact is, Phase 4 sound used multi-miking to the extreme, usually producing a close-up, compartmentalized sound field that dazzled some listeners with its lucidity and detail and infuriated others with its sometimes unnatural perspective. Love it or leave it, HDTT have transferred it to HQCD with their customary excellent results.

Using two separate CD players, I compared the HDTT disc to a London Phase 4 compact disc remastered by Decca in 1997. (If you want the Stokowski Debussy, you'll have to find a used copy of one of the several discs Decca or London issued; buy it in a big Decca box set of miscellaneous Stokowski material; or get this HDTT transfer. I recommend the HDTT.) Anyway, the listener need have no fears about the sound being too close or too analytical because it's not quite as drastic as some of Decca's Phase 4 releases. Here, the sound is reasonably realistic, at least from a near vantage point. More important, the HDTT product displays a touch more smoothness and clarity than my comparison disc. It's also quite clean (although both discs are, for that matter), with almost dead quiet backgrounds. As with many other Phase 4 recordings I've heard, the bass is not quite as deep as I'd like, but it's more than adequate and sounds taut and well controlled. Finally, I thought the HDTT transfer showed a hair more orchestral dimensionality and depth than the London CD. In other words, you will be happy with the HDTT remastering. It does credit to Stokowski's fine performance.

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, November 21, 2015

AME Performs "Moon Music," with Special Guest Claremont Trio, 12/3

American Modern Ensemble
Humankind has always held a certain fascination with the moon. For centuries astronomers have gazed upon it from afar. Astronauts have walked on its delicate surface. Writers and poets have sought inspiration from its barren, foreboding mountains and valleys. And, many composers have drawn upon the moon for musical enlightenment.  

Known for its presentation of cutting-edge American music and innovative thematic programming, American Modern Ensemble (AME) presents "Moon Music," an evening of contemporary music celebrating all things lunar. "The Moon Music" program includes:

Claude Baker: Tableaux Funèbres
Judith Shatin: Spring Tides
Daniel Strong Godfrey: Luna Rugosa
George Tsontakis: Eclipse
Robert Paterson: Moon Trio
                                 
AME announces a new partnership with Brooklyn's brand-new National Sawdust, with their first appearance at this venue on Thursday, December 3, 2015, at 7pm. All of the pieces will be performed by American Modern Ensemble, with the exception of Moon Trio, which will be performed by special guests the Claremont Trio (Emily Bruskin, violin; Julia Bruskin, cello; Andrea Lamb, piano).

Thursday, December 3, 2015, at 7:00pm at National Sawdust (80 N 6th St, Brooklyn, NY)

Tickets may be purchased by calling 646.779.8455 or by visiting http://nationalsawdust.org/event/american-modern-ensemble-presents-moon-music/

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

West Edge Opera Announces 2016 Opera Medium Rare Series
West Edge Opera is pleased to announce Opera Medium Rare 2016. Titled "The Doppelgänger Season," it features two well-known opera titles by less well-known composers, performed in concert format.

Opening the series on Sunday, February 7, 2016 at 3 pm at the Lisser Theater at Mills College, Oakland, CA, is Paisello's The Barber of Seville, with a repeat performance on Tuesday, February 9, 8 pm at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, CA. Leoncavallo's La bohème is Sunday, March 20, 3 pm at Mills College and Tuesday, March 22, 8pm at Freight and Salvage. English supertitles also include stage directions to set the scenes.

Lisser Theater, a 250-seat proscenium theater, is on the Mills College campus and Freight and Salvage is at 2020 Addison Street in downtown Berkeley's arts district. Tickets are $22 for general seating with a $20 senior discount price. Premium seats are $40.00. Tickets for all performances are available online at www.westedgeopera.org. Lisser Theater tickets can be purchased by phone on the West Edge Ticketline, 510-841-1903, and Freight and Salvage tickets by phone are purchased by calling 510-644-2020 extension120. For more information, go to West Edge Opera's Web site at www.westedgeopera.org

--Marian Kohlstedt, West Edge Opera

The King's Singers Announce First-Ever U.S. Summer School in 2017
Double Grammy award-winning vocal ensemble The King's Singers will once again host their extremely popular biennial Summer School in 2017. In addition to the traditional setting of Royal Holloway at the University of London, the group will offer its first ever U.S.-based Summer School at Indiana's DePauw University. The thriving music department at DePauw is deeply committed to reshaping modern music education, which is reflected in the facilities it offers. One of the first Schools of Music in the United States, in June 2015 the campus was host to the first-ever Global Musician Workshop, led by the phenomenal cellist Yo Yo Ma and members of his renowned Silk Road Ensemble.

"We are thrilled to partner with one of the world's best and most-loved musical groups for this unforgettable, life-changing experience," said DePauw University School of Music Dean Mark McCoy. "If you love singing, this is the place to be!"

The King's Singers 2017 Summer Schools:
Dates: 13 – 19 June 2017
Venue: DePauw University, Indiana

Dates: 17 – 22 July 2017
Venue: Royal Holloway, University of London

For more information, visit www.kssummerschool.com

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

National Philharmonic Present's Handel's Messiah at Strathmore
Hear the genius of Handel as the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale perform his most beloved oratorio, the Messiah, on Saturday, December 19 at 8pm and Sunday, December 20 at 3pm at the Music Center at Strathmore. Led by Artistic Director Stan Engebretson, the concert will feature the National Philharmonic's nearly 200 voice all-volunteer Chorale, as well as soloists Danielle Talamantes (soprano); Margaret Mezzacappa (mezzo-soprano); Matthew Smith (tenor); and Christòpheren Nomura (baritone).

Handel's Messiah, among the most popular works in Western choral literature, was first performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742. The composer's most famous work is divided into three parts that address specific events in the life of Christ. Part one is primarily concerned with the Advent and Christmas stories; part two chronicles Christ's passion, resurrection, ascension and commitment to spreading the Christian message; and part three is based primarily upon the events chronicled in the Revelation of St. John. The National Philharmonic and Chorale, in addition to a stellar cast of soloists, will perform the complete work, which includes such favorites as "The Trumpet Shall Sound," "And the Glory of the Lord," and, of course, the famous "Hallelujah Chorus."

A free pre-concert lecture will be offered at 6:45 pm on December 19 and at 1:45 pm on December 20 in the concert hall at the Music Center at Strathmore. To purchase tickets to National Philharmonic's Messiah concerts on December 19 and 20, please visit nationalphilharmonic.org or call the box office at (301) 581-5100. Tickets start from $28. 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.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Hopkinson Smith Performs Elizabethan Repertoire for Lute
Compositions by John Dowland (1563-1626), Anthony Holborne (died in 1602), John Johnson (died in 1594), and William Byrd (1542-1623).

Date: Thursday, December 10th 2015
Time: 8:00pm
Location: The Abigail Adams Smith Auditorium, 417 East 61st Street between First and York Avenues, NYC
Tickets: $25 seniors, students / $35 general / $50 / $100 front row series supporter (tax deductible)
To purchase tickets: Call 1 888 718 4253 or visit http://www.salonsanctuary.org

--Salon/Sanctuary Concerts

92Y December Concerts
Monday, December 7, 2015 at 8:30pm
"Bridge to Beethoven," Part II
Jennifer Koh, violin
Shai Wosner, piano
Buttenwieser Hall, NYC

Wednesday, December 9, 2015 at 7:30pm
Pacifica Quartet (92Y debut)
"Last Words"
Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC

Saturday, December 12, 2015 at 8pm
Pepe Romero, guitar
Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC

For tickets and information, call 212-415-5500 or visit www.92Y.org/Concerts.

--Katharine Boone, Kirshbaum Associates

Maya Beiser Named as One of United States Artists (USA) Fellows for 2015
Maya Beiser was announced as one of United States Artists (USA) Fellows for 2015. As a Distinguished Fellow in Music, she receives an award of $50,000, given by USA to support practice and professional development, opening up exciting creative possibilities through the transformative power of unrestricted financial support.

The 37 recipients of this year's awards were selected from over 400 nominated artists living in the United States and US Territories and were chosen by panels of expert peers in each artistic discipline. "USA Fellowships are awarded to innovative artists of all ages and at all stages of their careers, who are nominated for their commitment to excellence and the enduring potential of their work," said United States Artists CEO Carolina García Jayaram. "We are honored to present this year's Fellows, a group of artists who were selected through a rigorous, highly competitive process. What continues to set the USA Fellowship apart is the unrestricted nature of our award. USA's mission is to put artists first as they are the core of our organization. This is shown by the inherent trust we place in them to know how to use the money to further their practice and pursue unrealized opportunities."

Cellist Maya Beiser defies categories. Passionately forging a career path through uncharted territories, she has captivated audiences worldwide with her virtuosity, eclectic repertoire, and relentless quest to redefine her instrument's boundaries. The Boston Globe declares, "With virtuoso chops, rock-star charisma, and an appetite for pushing her instrument to the edge of avant-garde adventurousness, Maya Beiser is the post-modern diva of the cello."

For more information, visit www.unitedstatesartists.org/fellows/2015/maya-beiser

--Christina Jensen PR

Peter Oundjian Appointed Principal Conductor of Yale Philharmonia
The Yale School of Music is pleased to announce that conductor Peter Oundjian has been named the principal conductor of the Yale Philharmonia, continuing his nearly 35-year affiliation with the School. Mr. Oundjian will conduct three concerts every year with the Yale Philharmonia and will help shape the artistic identity of the orchestra, including close involvement with the selection of guest conductors and repertoire.

Maestro Oundjian will be a major addition to the orchestral conducting program at the School. This program, which will admit one conductor this year, includes performances with the Yale Philharmonia and New Music New Haven in Sprague and Woolsey Halls, as well as opportunities to work with Maestro Oundjian and the guest conductors of the Yale Philharmonia, which in recent years have included Valery Gergiev, Yu Long, Hu Yongyan, Jahja Ling, and James Conlon, among many others. Maestro Oundjian will join colleagues in the admissions process and collaborate in providing a comprehensive curriculum for the conducting program.

A dynamic presence in the conducting world, Toronto-born conductor Peter Oundjian is renowned for his probing musicality, collaborative spirit, and engaging personality. Oundjian's appointment as Music Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 2004 reinvigorated the orchestra with numerous recordings, tours, and acclaimed innovative programming as well as extensive audience growth, thereby significantly strengthening the ensemble's presence in the world.

In 2012 Oundjian was appointed Music Director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Under his baton, the orchestra has enjoyed several successful tours including one to China, and has continued its relationship with Chandos Records. Previously, he served as Principal Guest Conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra from 2006 to 2010 and Artistic Director at the Caramoor International Music Festival in New York between 1997 and 2007.

--Yale School of Music

American Bach Soloist News
A new ABS concert season is nearly upon us. Are you ready? With a focus on the music of Bach and Handel, ABS will present multiple opportunities in 2015-16 to explore the musical richness and beauty achieved by these masters. Few get to experience each of J.S. Bach's three oratorios in live performance, but ABS will present this trio of exuberant works during the same season ("Christmas Oratorio" on December 12; "Easter Oratorio" and "Ascension Oratorio" in April 2016)! Another great oratorio, by Bach's contemporary George Frideric Handel, will be performed in Grace Cathedral on three evenings in December (Messiah, December 16-18). There will also be cantatas and works for violin by Bach in January, a wonderful Handel program featuring his great choral ode, Alexander's Feast, in February, an organ recital by Jonathan Dimmock to celebrate Bach's Birthday in March, and Easter and Feast of the Ascension works by Buxtehude and Kuhnau to complement the Bach oratorios for those occasions in April.

With so much great music to come, we compiled a list of new, recent, and recommended resources for you to enjoy before the season gets rolling. If you have Bach or Handel books that you would like to recommend, please let us know on Facebook or on Twitter.

For more information, visit http://americanbach.org/

--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

Chopin: Pianos Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (CD review)

Akiko Ebi, piano (No. 1); Janusz Olejniczak, piano (No. 2); Frans Bruggen, Orchestra of the 18th Century. Frederic Chopin Institute NIFCCD 042.

This disc has a lot going for it: It features a prominent, prizewinning Japanese-French pianist, Akiko Ebi, as the soloist in the First Concerto; and an equally distinguished soloist, the Polish pianist (and actor) Janusz Olejniczak in the Second. The conductor is the late Frans Bruggen, who knew his way around historically informed performances. The band is the Orchestra of the 18th Century, who have been playing on period instruments since their founding in 1981. And the performers use dated scores after the National Edition of the Works of Fryderyk Chopin.

On the other hand, not everything works. The performances have a good deal of competition and despite their "authenticity" seem little more than ordinary in a crowded field. What's more, the live sound, taken from two Chopin festivals, too often betrays its live origins.

First, to the music: Chopin wrote his Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1830, within a year following his Piano Concerto No. 2. However, he published No. 1 first, so if No. 1 seems the more mature of the two, it actually is by several months. Chopin described the second movement of No. 1 as "reviving in one's soul beautiful memories." In Chopin's case, he composed the piece when he was about nineteen or twenty and smitten with a beautiful young student, Constantia Gladkowska, at the Warsaw Conservatory. Even though he barely talked to her and she soon married somebody else, he may have had her in mind when he wrote his piano concertos, as well as a few other things.

Naturally, the piano parts dominate both piano concertos, the better to showcase Chopin's own virtuosity on the instrument. Yet with the Piano Concerto No. 1, the piano doesn't even enter the picture until the end of a fairly lengthy orchestral introduction. Maybe Chopin intended the prolonged preamble to make the piano's entrance all the more grand. It certainly works that way.

Anyhow, Chopin wrote the concerto at a time when he and other pianists were breaking from what we know today as the "brilliant" style in favor of pure Romanticism That is, they were getting a little away from sheer virtuosity and ornamentation and more into lyricism and emotion. So, that's the way Ms. Ebi, Maestro Bruggen, and the Orchestra of the 18th Century appear to play the concerto, with a combination of the "brilliant" and "Romantic" styles.

Akiko Ebi
For those listeners worried that perhaps a period-instrument approach to this music would produce some exceedingly fast tempos, there is no such thing here. Indeed, if anything, both soloist and orchestra take the tempos in rather a leisurely fashion. The opening of the First Concerto seems quite heady, even at a relaxed pace, but then when Ms. Ebi enters, she takes the score in a fairly matter-of-pace manner. There is little misty-eyed Romanticism here, just an apparently note-for-note reading. Indeed, I felt little joy, warmth, or expressiveness in the playing. However, I confess that the performances of pianists like Maurizio Pollini and Martha Argerich may have conditioned me to such an extent that I was not able fully to appreciate what Ms. Ebi was up to.

The slow second movement and the robust final movement go by in what I thought was perfunctory fashion as well. Nothing about the performance actually moved me much; it all sounded too deliberate, which may be entirely the intent, I don't know. Let's just say that Ebi and Bruggen attempt something a bit out of the ordinary, and except for a little spark in the final section it didn't work for me.

The Second Piano Concerto hasn't as much poetic grace as the First Concerto or such an abundance of good melodies, which is probably why it has never become as popular, but it does showcase the piano considerably. On the present recording we find Janusz Olejniczak taking the solo part. I sensed a greater flexibility in his playing than in Ebi's, yet not quite enough for me to recommend this disc over its rivals. The exception, of course, is whether the novelty of the period instruments impresses you. For me, it didn't.

Producer Stanislaw Leszczynski and engineers Lech Dudzik and Gabriela Blicharz recorded the performances live during the "Chopin and his Europe" festivals in 2013 (No. 1) and 2010 (No. 2) in the Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio of Polish Radio and the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall.

The live sound appears a tad warm, congested, and broad, with occasional audience noise (coughs, grunts, and the like). At least it's not too close-up, as many live performances tend to be, but fairly natural in its perspective. Still, the moderate miking distance does no favors to transparency (although, to be fair, it's better in the Second Concerto), and the overall impression is hardly clean. I could also easily have done without the closing applause in both works. Let's just say the sound of this disc is more a memento of a live event than anything you'd want to put on to show off your stereo system.

JJP

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


My Fair Lady (Blu-ray, restored)

Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Alfrid Hyde-White, Gladys Cooper, Jeremy Brett, Theodore Bikel. CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Pictures 3-disc Blu-ray set.

If at first you don't succeed....

In 2011 CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Pictures released My Fair Lady to Blu-ray. They did a horrendous job, one of the worst Blu-ray movie transfers I had ever seen or heard. However, in 2015, thanks perhaps to a multitude of complaints, they rereleased the film to Blu-ray, this time with completely remastered picture and sound for a flawless 50th Anniversary Blu-ray edition. It was a long wait, but it was worth it for one of filmdom's great, classic musicals.

My Fair Lady is, of course, one of the best and most-popular stage musicals of all time. It has what so many other musicals do not have--an intelligent script, great acting, clever dialogue, and an endless stream of memorable tunes. The film won eight Oscars in 1964 for Best Picture (Jack L. Warner), Best Actor (Rex Harrison), Best Director (George Cukor), Best Art Direction (Gene Allen, Cecil Beaton, George James Hopkins), Best Cinematography (Harry Stradling, Sr.), Best Costume Design (Cecil Beaton), Best Music (Andre Previn), and Best Sound (George Groves). Yes, I said it was good.

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe based the story on George Bernard Shaw's popular 1913 stage play Pygmalion, which Shaw in turn had based on the classical myth about the sculptor who fell in with the statue of a maiden he created, brought to life by the goddess Aphrodite. The Lerner and Lowe musical stage play was an instant success on Broadway in 1956, coming to the screen in 1964 under the supervision of producer Jack L. Warner and director George Cukor.

The plot centers on the idea that the way things appear is not always the way they are; or, conversely, if you can change the way things appear, it makes them the way they are. In the story it is phonetics Professor Henry Higgens's proposal that he can take any lower-class citizen off the streets of London and pass him or her off as a cultured lady or gentleman simply by teaching the person to speak properly. Of course, it was Shaw's satiric dig at society that we judge people on how they look and sound, not on who they really are. The object of the professor's interest in this pursuit becomes Eliza Doolittle, a poor, largely uneducated flower girl. Taking her under his wing, the professor makes a bet with his friend and colleague, Col. Hugh Pickering, that he can successfully introduce her into high society within six months. Needless to say, Eliza winds up teaching Professor Higgens as much about life and about himself as he teaches her about how to be a proper lady. The story is endlessly engaging and has as much appeal today as it did when Shaw first conceived it.

Audrey Hepburn
Rex Harrison reprises his stage role as Higgens, the part for which fans will forever remember him.  Harrison was already an established star when he accepted the role in the musical, and it is one he seemed born to play. When the studio initially asked Cary Grant to do the movie role, Grant turned it down, saying if Harrison didn't get the part, he'd never do another film for them. Harrison is so convincing one would think he were the Professor in real life. I rather expect his fans thought he was, too. Shaw's play leaves the final relationship of the Professor and the flower girl ambiguous, but the musical is more romantic and hints at something more serious. It is a tribute to Harrison that audiences hardly notice the age difference between the two characters, although the twenty-one-year span is almost exactly what Shaw had in mind. Higgens's most notable songs are "Why Can't the English?," "I'm an Ordinary Man," "The Rain in Spain," and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face."

The part of Miss Doolittle went to Audry Hepburn, and therein probably lies the movie's major point of contention. Julie Andrews had made the role her own on Broadway and record albums, and for audiences who had seen or heard her, it was inconceivable that anyone else should get the part. But the studio felt otherwise, unconvinced that Ms. Andrews had the necessary drawing power they thought the film needed and also a little wary of Ms. Andrew's photogenic qualities. So they went with what they considered a sure thing in superstar Audry Hepburn, causing not a little bitterness on the part of theatergoers everywhere. Meanwhile, Ms. Andrews went on to do Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music in the next year and half; and while the Academy didn't even nominate Ms. Hepburn for My Fair Lady, they gave Ms. Andrews the Best Actress Oscar for Poppins.

None of which is to suggest that Ms. Hepburn's portrayal of Eliza is anything but delightful and charming. Yet the controversy was not to end there. Despite Ms. Hepburn's insistence that she do her own singing, Warners dubbed her voice by uncredited singer Marni Nixon, who had previously done the singing dubs in the movie versions of West Side Story and The King and I. Again the studio got its way, and again there was a degree of bitterness involved, this time on the part of Ms. Hepburn, whom the studio had apparently assured could do the vocals and for which she had even rehearsed and filmed several. But it's all history now, and we will never know what more Ms. Andrews might have done with the role or, except for two songs mentioned below, what Ms. Hepburn might have done with the rest of the singing. Eliza's most celebrated songs include "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "Just You Wait," "I Could Have Danced All Night," and "Without You," among others.

Red Harrison
The indefatigable Stanley Holloway plays Eliza's father, a role he did on Broadway, and he all but steals the show with his two cockney music-hall numbers, "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church on Time." In other notable parts, fans of English television's Sherlock Holmes will be tickled to see the late Jeremy Brett playing Eliza's young, lovesick, high-society admirer, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, and singing "On the Street Where You Live" (uncredited singing voice courtesy of Bill Shirley). Wilfrid Hyde-White plays Col. Pickering; Gladys Cooper plays the Professor's mother; and Theodore Bikel plays the deliciously unctuous Zoltan Karpathy ("Oozing charm from every pore, He oiled his way around the floor").

The songs, cast, dialogue, direction, costumes, and set designs combine to make My Fair Lady one of the all-time great movie musicals in Hollywood history. The newest Blu-ray does it proud.

Video:
The first time around on Blu-ray (in 2011), the CBS/Paramount engineers apparently used the same 1994 restoration that had looked good on DVD, but they made no effort to restore the film any further for BD. Worse, they introduced some ugly artifacts into the BD, including some occasional white flecks and specks and an unconscionable blooming at the edges--maybe exposure issues, fading--in the lower sides of the screen that intensified as the film went on; and by the second half the print looked as though someone were shining a bright light on the image

Fortunately, for this new My Fair Lady 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray edition, CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Pictures asked restoration expert Robert Harris (who had done excellent work twenty years earlier with the restoration of the DVD) to head up the team restoring this new Blu-ray version of the film. The results look splendid. The colors are vivid; the object delineation is well-nigh perfect; the screen is clear and clean. The whole thing is gorgeous.

Audio:
It was remarkable that the first time around on Blu-ray, the CBS/Paramount audio engineers couldn't correctly transfer the sound of possibly the greatest musical of all time to disc. Through a misplaced enthusiasm in the use of the surrounds, the solo vocals on the older BD often appeared soft and hollow and the orchestral accompaniment too reverberant, sometimes cavernous. What's more, the engineers even cranked up the bass in a few scenes. It was pretty awful, and if you still have that older disc, you might consider making a 100% better upgrade to this newer BD edition if only for its improved audio.

For the current edition, the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio is excellent. That is, it reproduces the sound of the movie pretty much as I'm sure its original creators intended, but with a little more ambient action for a home setup equipped with multichannel sound. Instead of going all crazy with the surrounds and making the musical interludes appear as though the engineers recorded them in a barrel, the engineers perfectly blend the singing and orchestral accompaniment in the front channels where they belong, with a touch of ambient bloom from the surrounds to provide depth and dimension. Voices sound natural, whether in song or dialogue, and the orchestra sounds realistic. The frequency extremes are maybe a little less extended than we find today, but it's hardly an issue.

Extras:
The extras include a second Blu-ray disc with a ton of extras, plus a third disc containing a DVD version of the movie. But it's the second BD that has most of the bonus items, starting with a 1994 making-of documentary, "More Loverly Than Ever: My Fair Lady Then and Now." Next, there is a series of vintage featurettes, including the 1963 production kickoff dinner; the film's Los Angeles and British premieres; a Rex Harrison radio interview; George Cukor directing the Baroness Rothschild; some production tests; alternate Audrey Hepburn vocals; and comments on the film by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Martin Scorsese.

Following these items are several more things, including "The Story of a Lady," "Design of a Lady," and "The Fairest Fair Lady"; Cecil Beaton sketches, black & white stills; color production stills; documents and publicity; plus seven different trailers, and three awards featurettes.

The disc extras conclude with fifty scene selections; English, German, Spanish, Italian, French, and Japanese spoken languages; English, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Finally, CBS/Paramount have packaged the three discs in a beautiful, glossy, trim-line, foldout case that is among the most attractive I've seen. It is in itself a small work of art.

Parting Thoughts:
As pure entertainment My Fair Lady makes other musicals seem almost crude by comparison, and it deserves to be the standard by which we judge other musicals. Movie fans' concerns about Julie Andrews notwithstanding, the film is absolutely loverly, now with Blu-ray picture and sound to do it justice.

JJP

To watch an official trailer for the restored version of "My Fair Lady," click here: http://www.myfairlady50.com/

Picture quality:  10
Sound quality:  9
Extras:  9
Entertainment value:  10

Classical Music News of the Week, November 14, 2015

American Bach Soloists Presents Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" December 12 2015

The American Bach Soloists (ABS) officially launch their 2015-16 season with Johann Sebastian Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" (Weihnachts-Oratorium, BWV 248) on December 12 at San Francisco's St. Ignatius Church. ABS Music Director Jeffrey Thomas—"unsurpassable as a Bach interpreter" (San Francisco Classical Voice)—conducts the period instrument specialists of ABS, the acclaimed American Bach Choir, and a quartet of soloists in this expansive work, which will be performed in its entirety. The work will be repeated at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis, CA, on December 13.

One of the most celebratory works in Bach's entire output, the six parts of the "Christmas Oratorio" relate the story of Christ's birth with a diverse array of musical forms and instrumental textures that make full use of a large group of wind instruments, including four oboes, three trumpets, two horns, two flutes, and a bassoon. As with Bach's two great settings of the Passion story, "Christmas Oratorio" features an Evangelist who narrates the story along with vocal soloists and a choir who comment on the story, sing arias, and assume the parts of shepherds, wise men, and roles such as the Angel and King Herod.

Bach composed only three works that he considered oratorios, all of which mark important celebrations in the liturgical calendar: Christmas (Weihnachts-Oratorium, BWV 248), Easter (Oster-Oratorium, BWV 249), and the Feast of Ascension (Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen, BWV 11, also known as "The Ascension Oratorio"). ABS will perform all three of Bach's oratorios during the 2015-16 season beginning with "Christmas Oratorio" on December 12-13, 2015, and the Easter and Ascension Oratorios April 22-25, 2016, as part of the subscription season.

Single Tickets: $20-$105
Tickets for ABS subscribers $20-$89
Discounted tickets available for students (21 and under with Valid ID)

For more information, visit http://americanbach.org/seasons/15-16/ChristmasOratorio.html

--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

Award-Winning Chee-Yun Plays Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 at Strathmore
The National Philharmonic, led by Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski, will perform Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings on Saturday, November 28 at 8 pm and on Sunday, November 29 at 3 pm at the Music Center at Strathmore. The concert will also feature Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4, performed by the award-winning instrumentalist Chee-Yun, and Sibelius' Rakastava.

A free pre-concert lecture will be offered in the Concert Hall at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday and at 1:45 pm on Sunday. Tickets start at $29 and are free for children ages 7-17  through the ALL KIDS, ALL FREE, ALL THE TIME program. 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, call 301-581-5100 or visit www.nationalphilharmonic.org.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

A Chanticleer Christmas Presented by SMSS at St. Ignatuis Loyola, 12/4 and 12/6
New York City's holiday season reaches a magnificent crescendo when two of its mainstays-- Chanticleer and the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola--team up to double your Christmas joy. Widely considered the gold standard of male choruses, the ensemble brings "A Chanticleer Christmas" to the church (980 Park Avenue between 83rd and 84th Streets, NYC) for two dates: Friday, December 4 at 7:00 pm and Sunday, December 6 at 4:00 pm.

Grammy-award winning vocal ensemble Chanticleer has become as synonymous with Christmas as it is with impeccable musicality and delightful, innovative performances. Their annual A Chanticleer Christmas is a highly sought-after ticket each year and is performed in venues coast-to-coast celebrating the wonder of the holiday with a charming blend of traditional carols, medieval and Renaissance sacred works, and new seasonal gems.

Tickets for the December 4 & 6 performances are $35 - $85 and may be purchased by calling 212.288.2520 or by visiting www.smssconcerts.org.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

St. Charles Singers to Perform Twenty Contrasting Carols Dec. 4–6
The St. Charles Singers' 32nd annual "Candlelight Carols" Christmas concerts, a perennial audience favorite, will blend an intriguing new array of off-the-beaten path songs of the season with traditional offerings.

Conducted by founder and music director Jeffrey Hunt, the professional chamber choir's 2015 "Candlelight Carols" program will offer 20 contrasting carols by almost as many composers, including a "Magnificat" by Johann Pachelbel, best known for his popular Canon in D major; "In the Bleak Midwinter" by Gustav Holst, best known for "The Planets"; and a carol by contemporary Englishman Jonathan Dove with a part written for the audience.

The Holst piece will be one of eight works the St. Charles Singers will perform for the first time.

Hunt says the variety of composers and carols distinguish the St. Charles Singers' annual Christmas programs. "There won't be a lot of musical chestnuts roasting on the fire," Hunt says.

The program will be heard at 7:30 p.m. Friday, December 4, at Baker Memorial United Methodist Church, 307 Cedar Ave., St. Charles, IL; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 5, at Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut St., Chicago, IL; and 3 p.m. Sunday, December 6, at Baker Church in St. Charles.

Single tickets for St. Charles Singers Candlelight Carols 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.

--Nathan J. Silverman Co. PR

Philharmonia Baroque Performs the "Foundling Hospital" Version of Messiah
At a time when just about every orchestra in the bay area performs Handel's "Messiah" for the holidays, Nicholas McGegan shows us that he and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra like to do things just a little bit differently. On December 19 Philharmonia will be performing Handel's final "Foundling Hospital" version of "Messiah."

As an early music scholar, McGegan has studied the various versions of Handel's "Messiah." While most orchestras play an amalgam or one of several pre-1750 versions of the work, McGegan has selected the one that Handel himself performed in the final years of his life.

"George Frideric Handel was a strong supporter of the Foundling Hospital in London during the 1750s. In the later years of his life, Handel performed "Messiah" in the hospital chapel annually as a fundraiser for the organization. Minor edits continued throughout these performances and are considered the composer's last thoughts on "Messiah." He left this final manuscript to the hospital, which still owns it today," says McGegan.

"If you are most familiar with the standard edition of Messiah we hope you will be delighted to note the slight variations in the vocal performance. The Foundling Hospital version more heavily features the soprano."

Guest soloist and soprano Amanda Forsythe joins PBO along with Meg Bragle, Isaiah Bell, Philip Cutlip and Philharmonia Chorale to perform this rare "Foundling Hospital" version.

Combined with historically-informed performances on period instruments and the effervescent direction of Nic McGegan, "Messiah with McGegan" will offer a fresh and joyful expression of this traditional masterpiece the way Handel would have played it to benefit the foundlings at the end of his life.

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra will perform Handel's "Messiah" - The Foundling Hospital version - on December 19 at First Congregational Church in Berkeley.

Tickets start at $25. For more information about this and other 2015-16 Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra concerts, visit philharmonia.org. For tickets, call 415-392-4400 or visit cityboxoffice.com.

--Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

Young People's Chorus of NYC Announces 2015-16 Radio Radiance Collaborations
Young People's Chorus of New York City (YPC), known for commissioning and premiering more than 80 pieces of music through its Transient Glory and Radio Radiance  new music series, had its five newest Radio Radiance commissions – Fable of Fables by Samuel Adler, We Will Find Each Other by Ryan Lott (aka Son Lux), Search by Caroline Mallonée, Love Games by Frank J. Oteri, and The Mysteries of Nothing by Aaron Siegel – broadcast and streamed internationally for the first time by The Classical Network, WWFM in September 2015. The hour-long broadcast can be heard here: http://www.wwfm.org/webcasts.shtml.

Radio Radiance is a biennial series that begins with the chorus recording new compositions for premiere on a future broadcast. YPC then invites choruses from across the U.S. to select one of these, new Radio Radiance compositions to prepare and premiere locally in each of their own states. During the process of creating their performances, participating choruses are encouraged to consult with the composers themselves.

This season, eight high-level regional choruses from Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, Virginia, and Washington have been selected to take part in the Radio Radiance program.

For complete information, visit http://www.ypc.org/radioradiance/rrComposers.html

--Schuman Associates News

National Philharmonic Singers and Takoma Ensemble Present Holiday Concerts
The National Philharmonic Singers and Takoma Ensemble, under the direction of conductors Stan Engebretson and Victoria Gau, will present holiday concerts on Friday, December 4 at 8 pm at the Church of the Ascension, 633 Sligo Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland and on Saturday, December 5 at 8 pm at the Christ Episcopal Church, 107 South Washington Street, Rockville, Maryland.

Included in the program will be three premieres: "The King Shall Come" in its choral/orchestral version, which is the first by Alistair Coleman. Alistair is a multi-talented young musician currently attending Walt Whitman High School who has received many awards for his work, including winning the National Association of Music Educators (NAfME) National Young Composers Competition in 2013. Second is the choral-orchestral version of "Veni Sancte Spiritus" by Virginia composer Peter Gjon Kadeli, who has a double degree in Composition and Music Education from George Mason University. Also, National Philharmonic Singer Ed Rejuney will debut his new work, The Scottish Elder's Carol. The concert concludes with favorite carols by the choir, including "Stille Nacht" and our ever-popular Carol Sing with the "Twelve Days of Christmas."  

Other works for combined forces include Francesco Durante's "Magnificat"; Giuseppe Torelli's "Christmas Concerto" for string orchestra; and Cecilia McDowall's "A Winter's Night,"  a collection of famous Christmas carols including "In Dulci Jubilo," "Sussex Carol," and  "Noël Nouvelet."

The December 4 concert at the Church of Ascension is $25. The Church of Ascension is located at 633 Sligo Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland. Directions and advance tickets are available at takomaensemble.org. Discounts are available and children 16 and under are admitted free of charge.  The December 5 concert is free, but donations in support of the Community Ministries of Rockville will be gratefully accepted. Christ Episcopal Church is located at 107 South Washington Street in Rockville, MD. For directions, please visit christchurchrockville.org/directions.htm#Platinum or by call the church at 301-762-2191, ext. 3. For more information, please call 301-493-9283, ext. 116, or
visit nationalphilharmonic.org.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

New England Conservatory Presents: "Gunther Schuller: A Musical Celebration"
New England Conservatory pays tribute to the brilliant composer Gunther Schuller who passed away on June 21, 2015, in a concert titled "Gunther Schuller: A Musical Celebration" at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 19. The event takes place at NEC's Jordan Hall, 290 Huntington Avenue, Boston and is free and open to the public. For more information, call  617-585-1122 or visit necmusic.edu.

--Lisa Helfer Elghazi

SMSS Annual Christmas Concert "Sing We Noel" at St. Ignatuis Loyola
Sacred Music in a Sacred Space's annual Christmas concert "Sing We Noel" comes alive at the stunning Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on December 13 and 20.

Performances will take place at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola (980 Park Avenue between 83rd and 84th Streets, NYC) on Sunday, December 13 at 3:00 pm and Sunday, December 20 at 3:00 pm.

Audiences will revel in the Christmas spirit with a program that includes well-known seasonal favorites rendered by the Choirs and Orchestra of St. Ignatius Loyola and the unparalleled N.P. Mander Organ.

Tickets for each performance are $35 - $85 and may be purchased online at www.smssconcerts.org or by calling 212.288.2520.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Australia's TEN Tenors Headline Scotsdale Center's December Holiday Lineup
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts will present Australia's premier classical-crossover group, The TEN Tenors, on Thursday and Friday, Dec. 10 and 11.

Celebrated for their colorful repertoire, breathtaking arrangements and powerful live performances, The TEN Tenors respectfully tip their hats not only to the great classical composers, but to contemporary music's most popular artists. Making their Scottsdale debut, The TEN Tenors will perform Home for the Holidays, a unique selection of traditional and new seasonal favorites, including soaring versions of "Joy to the World," "White Christmas," "Amazing Grace" and "Winter Wonderland," among many others.

The TEN Tenors: "Home for the Holidays"
Thursday, December 10, 2015, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, December 11, 2015, 8 p.m.
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 E. Second St., Scottsdale, AZ

For further informaition and tickets, call 480-499-TKTS (8587 or visit www.ScottsdalePerformingArts.org

--Bill Thompson, SCCARTS

Trumpet Concertos (CD review)

Music of Haydn, Handel, Hummel, Albinoni, Hertel, and Telemann. Maurice Andre, trumpet. Riccardo Muti, Philharmonia Orchestra; Sir Charles Mackerras, English Chamber Orchestra; Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI Classics 7243-5-62947-2-1.

Maurice Andre has been playing and recording the trumpet for about as long as anybody, and his many recordings point up one thing in common: the man's unflagging refinement. The various concertos on this "Great Artists of the Century" CD from EMI confirm the notion.

The star of the show is the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, which Andre has recorded perhaps a half a dozen times. The performance in this collection dates from 1984, with Riccardo Muti and the Philharmonia Orchestra. I'm not sure why EMI chose the Muti when there was an even newer one available, but it suffices. Andre seems poised and relaxed, presenting the music in a most temperate manner, and the result appears the utmost in polish and repose. Not that it doesn't show its high spirits in the final movement, Vivace, but it basically maintains its grace under fire.

Maurice Andre
I would personally not buy Andre's performance of the Haydn as a first choice in this repertory, mind you, but in this collection it does nicely. For stronger recommendations in the Haydn alone, I would go with Hardenberger, Marriner, and the Academy (Philips); Schwarz and the Y CO (Delos); Marsalis, Leppard, and the National Philharmonic (Sony); or, maybe best of all, Berinbaum, Somary, and the English Chamber Orchestra (Vanguard).

The other works on Andre's album are similarly elegant: Trumpet concertos from Albinoni, Handel, and Hertal (with Mackerras and the ECO); and Telemann and Hummel (with Karajan and the BPO). I have to admit that I find some of the material here a little mundane, a little less than scintillating, but there is no questioning the vitality of the Haydn and Hummel, which open and close the collection. Nor is there any question about Andre's dignified way of handling all of it with equal aplomb.

EMI released the present collection in 2005, with most of the recordings remastered in 1999. The overall tonal balance is remarkably similar in the six different recordings, warm and clear, with a touch of reverberation to lend a semblance of reality to the occasion. I did, however, find the position of Andre's trumpet varying a bit, from well left of center to center. I enjoyed the sound of the Berlin Philharmonic best of all for its integration of soloist and orchestra, but one should find pleasure throughout the disc.

JJP

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


Smetana: Ma Vlast (CD review)

Theodore Kuchar, Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra. Brilliant Classics 94853.

Brilliant Classics has been reissuing some real gems over the past few years, often performances that the public regrettably overlooked the first time around. Nevertheless, the Smetana disc under review is not one of their best choices to date.

Not that there is anything at all wrong with Theodore Kuchar's 2007 recording of Smetana's complete Ma Vlast. It's a perfectly respectable interpretation in acceptable sound. No, the trouble is that for the money there are already more colorful, more insightful, more dramatic, and better recorded discs available of this perennial favorite music. However, Kuchar does have one advantage that some of the others don't: His performance of the complete work fits on a single disc, and many other recordings require a couple of discs to accommodate it. Still, there are other, better single-disc recordings, too. So, my concern remains. If you don't already have a favorite CD of this music, some discs other than Kuchar you might explore include Neumann and the Gewandhaus Orchestra (Berlin Classics), Kubelik and the Czech Philharmonic (Supraphon), Dorati and the Concertgebouw O. (Philips or Newton Classics), Berglund and the Dresden Staatskapelle (EMI), Pesek and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (Virgin), and Wit and the Polish National Radio Symphony (Naxos), to name a few.

Still, if you're a collector or if you just want to sample everything out there, Kuchar's recording is certainly one to explore. The price is reasonable, and everything about the performance and sound is at least unobjectionable.

So, Czech composer Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884), an intense nationalist, wrote Ma Vlast ("My Country") between 1874 and 1879. The work comprises six symphonic poems that describe his country, the composer dedicating the cycle to the city of Prague, the first two movements dealing with the sights and sounds of the city.

Things begin with Vysehrad (1874), which Smetana named after the castle of Bohemian kings in Prague. Kuchar paces the movement pretty well, not too fast or too slow. There's a gentle spirit about it, too, the rhythms well judged for maximum lilt and spring, the whole thing culminating in an appropriate climax and fade.

After that is probably the most popular movement of the piece, Vltava (1874), which describes the river called the Moldau in German, and which uses an old Czech folk tune as its principal theme. Smetana's original program notes tell us that the music traces the countryside the river runs through: meadows, forests, even conjuring up water nymphs along the way. Because this music is so famous, though, there are quite a few separate recordings it, my own favorite being one recorded long ago by Leopold Stokowski and available in a collection of rhapsodies (RCA or JVC). Anyway, this Kuchar performance takes it a bit too quickly for my taste. The river is not so much mildly flowing along as it is rushing downhill. The rippling waters seem not so much to relax a listener as to agitate. Moreover, the tempos fluctuate as though the river where ebbing and flowing in spurts.

Theodore Kuchar
Next, we find Sarka (1875), which refers to a female warrior in Czech legend who exacts a bloody revenge on the male sex. This portion of Ma Vlast ties in with the final two sections in describing Bohemia's fierce struggle for independence, and I enjoyed Kuchar's interpretation as well as anyone's. He captures the dramatic tension persuasively and then plays with the contrasts delightfully.

From Bohemia's Woods and Fields (1875) is rather self-explanatory. Here, we're back to the pastoral pleasures of the countryside where we started. This is another well-judged movement from Kuchar, although I didn't quite picture in my mind the trees and grasslands as clearly as I have with the aforementioned conductors, who seem a touch more attuned to the pictorial aspects of the music. Kuchar appears a bit more perfunctory about things.

The two final symphonic poems are Tabor (1878), which introduces us to a Hussite war tune (the Hussites were followers of John Huss, who initiated a nationalistic movement in Bohemia in the late fourteenth century), and Blanik (1879), the mountain where the Hussites retreated before their ultimate fight for liberation. I always think of these final portions of the cycle as the battle sequences. Like other people, I'm sure, however, I have never found these segments as satisfying as Smetana's preceding music; it's a little long and more than a little repetitious. Whatever, maybe Kuchar wanted to be sure to squeeze the entire work onto a single disc or maybe he was just in a hurry to get things over, I don't know; but he seems really to skim over the surface of these final poems rather expeditiously. As a result, they lose some of their theatrical excitement. Still, he doesn't miss the effect completely, and within time he builds up to a fairly thrilling conclusion.

Producer and engineer Jaroslav Stranavsky recorded the music at the Concert Hall, Ostravia, Czech Republic in 2007. Brilliant Classics issued it as a part of a three-disc set of Smetana material several years before the present disc appeared and then reissued the present disc in 2015. For me, the sound is a little too close and one dimensional, but for the most part it seems good enough, nicely detailed and all. There's a sweet ambient bloom, very light, around the instruments that takes most of the effect of brightness or hardness away. In essence, it's an easy-listening album that should offend no one, while not exactly thrilling audiophiles. Kind of like the performances, actually.

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