Robertson: Symphony No. 1 (CD review)

Also, Suite for Orchestra; Variations for Small Orchestra. Anthony Armore, Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra. Navona Records NV6167.

Canadian composer John Roberton has one of those names you'd swear you've heard before. When I first saw this disc, I thought for sure I had reviewed or at least listened to something by him in the past few years. Nope. Nothing. So, he was a completely new discovery for me.

Interestingly, Robertson came to his present vocation relatively late in life. Although he was born in New Zealand in 1943, he didn't begin seriously studying musical composition until the 1970's and didn't hit it big until 1987 when he won a public performance in a composition competition for his Variations for Small Orchestra, Op 14. From then on, he has had his work performed internationally, and this is, I believe, his second recording, both of them on the Navona label.

The album under review begins with an early piece, his Symphony No. 1, Op. 18, from 1988. Or 2014 if you like, since the work lay unperformed for twenty-six years when it finally debuted in Ruse, Bulgaria. Although the disc's booklet note describes it as "a somewhat somber work," I found it attractively accessible. It's in three movements that vary from serious to poetic to lighthearted.

While the symphony begins a touch ominously, it soon enough takes us on flights of fancy and melody. Yes, actual melodies in a modern work, things often eschewed by modern composers for fear of being branded old-fashioned. There's even a segment for snare drum that is quite winning. A clarinet sets the stage for the slow second movement, which is graceful, lyrical, and vaguely elegiac. It's a thoroughly lovely few minutes. Then we get a final movement that recalls the first movement, beginning with the closing of the second movement's meditative violin solo and moving on to more sprightly and bucolic themes. While the symphony may, indeed, be at risk of being labeled a bit old fashioned, it provides a welcome respite for troubled times.

John Robertson
The Janacek Philharmonic under conductor Anthony Armore play the music with a sympathetic eye toward lush, luxuriant sound, giving the music a handsomely polished air. It's all quite easy on the ear and soothing to the mind.

The second piece on the program is the newest, Robertson's Suite for Orchestra, Op. 46, which premiered as a complete work (various movements had debuted separately) in 2010. The section titles sum up its contents pretty well: "Fanfare," "Waltz," "Elegy," and "March." Like the preceding symphony, the Suite offers up some friendly and responsive tunes, including an intentionally "old-fashioned" (that term again) waltz, with a hint of Ives. The "Elegy" is a wistful affair, but the final "March" is a full-on example of its kind, played by Armore and his team with plenty of zest and bravura.

The disc concludes with the aforementioned Variations for Small Orchestra, 1987. While it is perhaps not as accomplished as the later works and a little more disjointed, it contains a few charming cadences (with a delightful waltz in the finale) and its fair share of approachable themes.

Executive producer Bob Lord and engineers Ondfey Danek, Jan Kosulic, and Jaroslav Zouhar recorded the music in the recording studio at the Concert Hall in Ostrava, Czech Republic, October 2016. They obtained quite a good response, the sound being among the best I've heard from any new recording this year, especially in the Symphony No. 1, which seems notably smoother than the others. The high-end clarity is outstanding; the midrange transparency is effortless; and the bass end holds up its part in the proceedings. One also hears a good dynamic response and a clear sense of orchestral depth, adding to the recording's sense of realism.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, July 28, 2018

Anne Sofie von Otter Joins PBO at Lincoln Center

Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw will be together again with Nic McGegan and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra at New York's Lincoln Center in March 2019. PBO commissioned Shaw to write three pieces in 2015 and von Otter premiered the first of them with PBO at L.A.'s Disney Hall in May 2016. The second was performed by Dominique Labelle at the 2017 gala, and now the third and final song will be premiered with Anne Sofie von Otter in New York.

The New York program will also include the PBO debut of star countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo. Costanzo curated and performed in a critically-acclaimed modern-day adaptation of Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo that was co-produced by PBO at National Sawdust last summer. San Francisco Bay Area patrons can look forward to a similar program next March when Anne Sofie von Otter joins PBO to perform the first two Caroline Shaw songs with works by Arvo Pärt and Handel arias with countertenor Daniel Moody who will also be making his PBO debut.

For more information about Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, visit https://philharmonia.org/

--Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

Tenor Michael Fabiano signs to PENTATONE
PENTATONE is delighted to announce that American tenor Michael Fabiano, one of the most exciting talents to emerge in recent years, has signed a long-term, exclusive deal with the label. This new partnership will showcase the breadth of his repertoire over several albums, and will be inaugurated next year with a collection of Verdi and Donizetti arias, featuring the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of conductor Enrique Mazzola.

Quote from Michael Fabiano:
"I am proud to be joining the Pentatone family. Their commitment to excellence and dedication to collaboration, creates a wonderful environment in which to work, and I am looking forward to a long and mutually rewarding artistic partnership."

For more information, visit https://michaelfabianotenor.com and http://www.pentatonemusic.com/artists/michael-fabiano-soloist

--Silvia Pietrosanti, PENTATONE

Icelandic Duo HUGAR Signs to Sony Music Masterworks
Multitalented songwriters, composers and instrumentalists HUGAR have signed with Sony Music Masterworks in anticipation of releasing new music with the label this Fall.

Friends from the sleepy township of Seltjarnarnes, the Icelandic pair consisting of Bergur Þórisson and Pétur Jónsson have made a name for themselves with their multilayered, ethereally ambient pieces, which have racked up over 30 million streams worldwide since the group's debut.

Combining a shared love of musical experimentation and discovery, the musically versatile duo have a robust upcoming tour schedule this fall.  Slated to perform headline shows across Europe and Asia this coming Fall including The Reeperbahn Festival, HUGAR will also make their third appearance at the Iceland Airwaves festival.

Bergur and Pétur have also lent their musical mastery to a range of projects, working alongside local musical luminary Björk on her latest album as recording engineer and performing onstage as well as Sigur Rós, Ólafur Arnalds and Johann Johannson in their projects scoring music for film and TV.

For more information, visit https://hugar.is/

--Larissa Slezak, Sony Music

Copland House 2018 Residency Awards Announced
An unusually diverse group of 12 highly-gifted composers has been selected to receive the 2018 Copland House Residency Awards. Ranging in age from 31 to 57, these four women and eight men from eight states come from widely-varied personal and artistic backgrounds, and have pursued divergent creative paths from concert music to jazz, acoustic to electronic, minutely-detailed to free and improvisatory, socially-engaged to abstract. They include a 2018 Pulitzer Prize Finalist, recipients of the Charles Ives Living award and Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Career Grant, and two much-acclaimed concert and jazz pianists.

Artistic and Executive Director Michael Boriskin announced that Copland House's Residents for 2018-19 will be Michael Brown, 31 (New York, NY); Ke-Chia Chen, 38 (Philadelphia, PA); Andrea Clearfield, 57 (Philadelphia, PA); Michael Fiday, 57 (Cincinnati, OH); Michael Gilbertson, 31 (San Francisco, CA); Huck Hodge, 41 (Seattle, WA); Benjamin Krause, 33 (Valparaiso, IN); Remy Le Boeuf, 32 (Brooklyn, NY); Zibuokle Martinaityte, 45 (New York, NY); Paula Matthusen, 39 (Middletown, CT); Justin Merritt, 43 (Northfield, MN); and Greg Reitan, 45 (South Pasadena, CA). Clearfield, Martinaityte, and Merritt are returning for their second Residencies, and Gilbertson was a 2015 Fellow of Copland House's "Cultivate" emerging composers institute.

For more information, visit www.coplandhouse.org

--Dworkin & Company

"As One Destined to Stand Out and Challenge the Status Quo of Both Opera and Society"
In As One, a mezzo-soprano and a baritone depict the experiences of its sole transgender protagonist, Hannah, as she endeavors to resolve the discord between herself and the outside world. As One traces Hannah's experiences from her youth in a small town to her college years on the West Coast, and finally to Norway where she is surprised at what she learns about herself.

Two new productions:
July 25-30, 2018
Music Hall, Wilks Studio
Cincinnati, OH 45202

Hannah After: Amber Fasquelle
Hannah Before: Matthew Worth
Conductor: Gene Chang; Stage Director  Robin Guarino
For more information, visit https://www.cincinnatiopera.org/as-one/

August 7, 2018 | 4:00pm
Chautauqua Institute, Norton Hall
Chautauqua, NY 14722

Hannah After: Sasha Cooke
Hannah Before: Kelly Markgraf
Conductor: Steven Osgood; Stage Director: Matt Gray
For more information, visit http://chq.org/opera-season

--American Opera Projects

Semele - A Story of Love, Jealousy, and Transfiguration
Handels's Semele: August 9 & 10 in San Francisco with American Bach Soloists.

Jupiter, King of the gods, takes the mortal Princess Semele to a secret hiding place on a mountain to be his mistress. When Jupiter's wife, Juno, hears of her husband's adultery, she is enraged and plots to ensure Semele's downfall. In disguise, Juno appeals to the girl's vanity and persuades her to insist on seeing her lover in his divine form. Jupiter reluctantly agrees. But since mortals cannot look upon the gods without incinerating, Semele perished, consumed in lightning-ignited flame. From her ashes arose her unborn child by Jupiter, Bacchus, god of wine and ecstasy.

Large-scale opera and oratorio is a major component of every American Bach Soloists Summer Festival. Based on an English opera libretto yet designated "after the manner of an Oratorio," Handel's Semele melds the two forms into one superb work.

Thursday August 9 2018 7:30 p.m.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Friday August 10 2018 7:30 p.m.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Academy Singers & ABS Academy Festival Orchestra
Jeffrey Thomas conductor

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

--American Bach Soloists

FAYM Appreciation
A message from Liam Mansfield, one of FAYM's "Collegiate Scholars," who graduated last spring from Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music:

"On the verge of finishing my undergraduate degree at IU-Jacobs, it hit me: for the first time, I had the chance to move my life in whatever direction I wanted.

I spent the month of June performing with the Colorado College Summer Music Festival in Colorado Springs. I have to say, it was one of the most gratifying musical experiences of my life. We covered Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, Brahms' Academic Festival Overture, Ravel's Mother Goose Suite, Mozart's 20th Piano Concerto, Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, and Schumann's 1st Symphony in a little under three weeks. My quartet, The Wooglin Quartet, performed Mozart's 'Dissonance' Quartet, and to top it all off, I won the concerto competition with Mozart's Third Violin Concerto.

Needless to say, it was the month of Mozart for me.

After a whirlwind of concerts, I made a big change that I had been dreaming of for years: moving to Europe. I'm now living in a 25 square meter apartment in Berlin, a city overflowing with artists and creatives of every type. It's been an enormous change from Bloomington, Indiana, but I feel invigorated every time I step outside.

For the next twelve months I will be applying for scholarships, jobs, and graduate schools while establishing myself as a freelancer in the city. I have German classes for three hours a day, Monday though Thursday at the Deutsche Akademie on Alexanderplatz.

Thank you, Foundation to Assist Young Musicians, for helping me arrive at this point in my life. I feel like I am really living the dream." --Liam Mansfield

--Hal Weller, FAYM

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 "Choral" (CD review)

George Szell, Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus. Sony SMK 60987.

With this release from the late Nineties, Sony presented a line of low-priced classical reissues in conjunction with National Public Radio's "Performance Today." The series was called "Milestones of the Millennium," and, at least initially, it consisted mainly of collections of short works built around a central theme: "The Renaissance in Music," "Bach: The Brook and the Wellspring," that sort of thing. The first complete work Sony issued in the line was this Beethoven Ninth, and they couldn't have chosen a better representative.

Hungarian-born conductor George Szell (1897-1970) recorded this Ninth for CBS at Severance Hall, Cleveland in 1961, and as such I missed it back then. Well, I was in high school at the time, so what can I say? By the time CBS re-released it on vinyl, I had come to find many CBS LPs sounded too bright, too limited in their response, and too noisy for my taste. I even bypassed the earliest CD reissue of the recording. Anyway, much of that changed with this 1999 remastering. The Szell performance is a marvel of precision and control. It is truly electric, from the opening Allegro through the final notes of the great chorus, under the direction of Chorus Master Robert Shaw, and the recording's sound quality is at least tolerable.

George Szell
First to the performance, where the tension never lets up, not even in the Adagio, which is supposed to be the leisurely interlude that lets us catch our breath. Instead, Szell helps the Adagio zing along at a pace that is not so much fast as it is dynamic. Then, the magnificent choral outburst that concludes and concludes and concludes the piece again is reworked with ever greater intensity, with soloists Adele Addison, Jane Hobson, Richard Lewis, and Donald Bell singing splendidly.

The interpretation may not reach the heights of grandeur attained by the likes of Schmidt-Isserstedt and the Vienna Philharmonic (HDTT), Eugen Jochum and the London Symphony (EMI), Jochum and the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Philips-Belart), Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony (Decca), or Karl Bohm and the Vienna Philharmonic (DG), but it matches and sometimes exceeds them in terms of force and concentration, and that's saying a lot.

Sony's remastering used 20-bit SBM technology to obtain the best possible sound from the original source, and while it cannot measure up to some of the discs I've mentioned, it's good for its age. The Szell is a fairly close recording, a feature especially noticeable during the entrance of the soloists in the "Ode to Joy." Still, one gets used to it. Besides, the booklet note informs us that in Beethoven's day the chorus would have stood right in front of the orchestra.

The sound is slightly edgy, with a degree of sheen taken off the top end, indicating some degree of noise reduction. In spite of that, however, there is a low-level tape hiss present in the background. Bass is adequate, though not particularly deep, and the loudest choral passages tend to get a little congested and distorted. Regardless, these are minor faults, and anyone who gets caught up in the performance probably wouldn't notice, audiophiles excepted. At the price, it seems definitely worth a listen.

JJP

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


Bruch: Scottish Fantasy (CD review)

Also, Violin Concerto No. 1. Joshua Bell, soloist and conductor; Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Sony Classical 19075 84200 2.

Since its founding by John Churchill and Sir Neville Marriner in 1959, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields has been among the most-prominent chamber orchestras in the world. I was lucky enough to have begun collecting their recordings about the time Sir Neville started conducting them from the podium in the early 1960's, and I have followed their career through the years on L'Oiseau-Lyre, Argo, Decca, Philips, EMI, Collins, Chandos, DG, CORO, and now Sony. Although they seemed to lose a little of their recording presence during the early 2000's, their current Music Director since 2011, violinist Joshua Bell, has brought them back into the public eye. I certainly welcome any new recording by them.

The current disc features two of the most-popular works by the German Romantic composer
Max Bruch (1838–1920): his Scottish Fantasy and Violin Concerto No. 1. Record producers and conductors often pair these pieces on their discs, but seldom is the Scottish Fantasy announced so prominently. Indeed, in this case it is the only work mentioned on the cover of Bell's album. I didn't even know they included the Violin Concerto until I looked at the back of the jewel box.

Anyway, the first thing on the disc is Bruch's Scottish Fantasy, which he finished in 1880, dedicating it to the violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate. The Fantasy is, of course, Bruch's survey of Scottish folk tunes, loosely tied together in four movements.

The Fantasy starts off rather solemnly with an introduction marked "Grave," which is slow and somber before giving way to the more familiar and frolicsome melodies that follow. The Adagio cantabile, for example, floats gently overheard, doing much favor and grace to the Scottish love song that inspired it. Then, the Scherzo has a charming flow that melds imperceptibly with the folk tune of the Andante that succeeds it. Yes, there is a good deal of sentimentality in the music, yet it's a delightful sentimentality no less. The work concludes with a finale that is the most overtly "Scottish" of the Fantasy's music.

Joshua Bell
I have no idea why Bruch chose to start so charming a piece of music with so somber an introduction, but Bell soon enough takes us into the sweeping melodies that audiences have always loved. His violin almost sings the notes, plaintively, longingly, lovingly. Then Bell moves along to the Scherzo, which he takes at an unhurried if somewhat subdued pace. Here, I thought he might have provided a little more vitality. Bell's treatment of the Andante is subtly melancholic without being in any way gushing, and then he paints all of the final movement's sweet strains with colorful characterization. Again, his chosen tempos take us on a leisurely journey through the Scottish countryside, with few distractions.

Does Bell's performance compete with my favorite artist in this music, Jascha Heifetz on RCA? Not for me, not quite. Bell is a degree too relaxed and too careful with the score, whereas Heifetz seemed to throw himself into the music. Still, Bell's fans will doubtless appreciate his work, and there is no questioning his earnest sympathy for Bruch's tunes.

The coupling, as I said earlier, is the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, which Bruch revised in 1867 and which has become one of the staples of the violin repertoire ever since. It has an unusual first movement, a Vorspiel (or Prelude), leading directly to the second movement. This Vorspiel is like a slow march, with some ornamental flourishes along the way. The second-movement Adagio, a series of broadly sweeping themes, is beautifully melodious and forms the core of the work. Then comes the Finale, which begins quietly until the violin opens up with a vivacious theme in the form of a dance.

Again, Bell plays it safe with moderate tempos and smooth phrasing throughout. His violin tone is immaculate, and the orchestra, as always, is attentive and articulate. I enjoyed the Adagio best of all, with Bell giving it a wistful but never doleful air. With the Finale Bell again sounds just right, although I didn't think the music quite took flight. Thus, Bell delivers a reliable, measured, carefully constructed interpretation with little to fault and a good deal to commend.

For reasons unknown, the folks at Sony supply no timings for any of the tracks, neither on the back of the jewel box nor inside the booklet. No idea why.

Adam Abeshouse produced, engineered, edited, mixed, and mastered the disc, recording it at Air Studios, London, UK in September 2017. The first thing noticeable about the sound is that it's fairly resonant. Then, when the violin enters, the instrument appears well in front of the orchestra, while occasionally moving back toward it at will. I'm not sure why Mr. Abeshouse chose these qualities; perhaps with the resonance he wanted the smallish chamber orchestra to sound bigger than it was; perhaps by occasionally moving the soloist forward and back he wanted to emphasize the violin's part in the proceedings.

In regard to the resonance, I doubt that any recording studio would be this reverberant, but I've never been there so I don't know. Maybe the sound would be just right if listened to through ear-buds, in a car, or via inexpensive computer speakers; again, I don't know. But through my VMPS towers, the orchestral sound was often a bit too flat, too forward, too clouded, or too muffled for my taste, as well as a bit hard and bright in the upper registers. The violin, on the other hand, sounded mostly clear and vibrant, if sometimes, as I say, too close. In short, the recording produces an ever-changing sonic perspective, which listeners will either ignore or find distracting.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, July 21, 2018

Chamber Orchestra Vienna-Berlin to Make North America Debut at Bravo! Vail, 2019

Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter to join ensemble for auspicious performance.

The Bravo! Vail Music Festival has just commenced its 2018 season and already it is tempting patrons with the announcement that Chamber Orchestra Vienna-Berlin will make its North America debut at the distinguished summer classical music festival in 2019 alongside lauded violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. The performance also marks Anne-Sophie Mutter's Bravo! Vail debut. Bravo! Vail Artistic Director Anne-Marie McDermott made the announcement from stage to a thrilled audience of nearly 2,000 at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. Specific details about the repertoire and concert date are not yet available. More information about Bravo! Vail can be found at www.bravovail.org.

"To present the Chamber Orchestra Vienna-Berlin in its North American debut is a singular opportunity for Bravo! Vail. That this occasion also marks the Vail debut of the great violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter performing all five of Mozart's violin concertos is thrilling," said McDermott, hinting at the program to come in 2019. "We are so excited to be a home for this compelling musical partnership and to introduce them to our exceptional audience and setting."

Comprised of musicians from the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras, the Chamber Orchestra Vienna-Berlin showcases the prowess, sophistication, and collaborative spirit of two dominant forces in classical music. Though easy to emphasize the differences in these celebrated ensembles--the smooth elegance and nobleness of the Viennese; the captivating passion of the Berliners--when performing together it is clear that they treasure a refinement of playing, enormous flexibility, and a specific beauty of sound.

For more information, visit https://www.bravovail.org/ and https://en.harpa.is/events/event/chamber-orchestra-vienna-berlin/

--Mike Fila, Bucklesweet

2018 Festival Mozaic Events
The 48th anniversary season of Festival Mozaic began this week. From now through July 29th, we will celebrate top-quality music-making, camaraderie, community-building, and music education. You'll see a diverse group of musicians from around the country present concerts in unique and beautiful spaces. We look forward to sharing the experience with you as we welcome these incredible musicians and bask in the glow of their creativity and artistry. We invite you to join us as we explore Music Without Borders.

Enjoy this video interview with Music Director Scott Yoo and Executive Director Bettina Swigger to learn more about the summer festival and its theme, Music Without Borders: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRV5MF9wna8

--Festival Mosaic

Emerson String Quartet Performs All Five of Beethoven's Last Quartets at Tanglewood
The world-renowned Emerson String Quartet returns to Tanglewood for performances of all five of Beethoven's immortal late string quartets, performed over two concerts. Like his final piano sonatas, the late quartets are some of Beethoven's greatest and most philosophical, inward-looking works. The program includes the String Quartet No. 12 in E-flat, Op. 127, the String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, and the String Quartet No. 16 in F, Op. 135.

Tuesday, July 24, 2017 at 8 PM
Seiji Ozawa Hall - Lenox, MA
String Quartets Nos. 12, 14, and 16

Wednesday, July 25, 2017 at 8 PM
Seiji Ozawa Hall - Lenox, MA
String Quartets Nos. 13 and 15 and Grosse Fuge in B-flat

For complete information, visit https://www.bso.org/Performance/Detail/93188 and https://www.bso.org/Performance/Detail/93189

--Xi Wang, Kirshbaum Associates

Summer at the Green Music Center 2018
The Green Music Center's Summer 2018 Season in Weill Hall + Lawn (Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA) features a star-studded lineup with some of the most renowned names across a variety of genres from Country and bluegrass to jazz and blues. Voted best Music Venue in Sonoma County by readers of the Press Democrat and Best Outdoor Venue by The Bohemian, the Green Music Center offers unparalleled concert experiences, whether you're inside the stunning Weill Hall or soaking in the sounds of Summer on beautifully landscaped Weill lawn.

Free Movies on the Green
Annie (2014) and The Greatest Showman
Sunday, Jul. 22, 2018 – 3:00 pm

Blues at the Green
Maceo Parker Big Band, Eric Lindell & The Grand Nationals, Deva Mahal
Saturday, Jul. 28, 2018 – 2:00 pm

A Free Concert for the Community
Mariachi Champaña Nevín and the Santa Rosa Symphony
Sunday, Jul. 29, 2018 – 7:00 pm

Free Movies on the Green
The Lion King and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018 – 3:00 pm

Hunter Hayes
Friday, Aug. 10, 2018 – 7:30 pm

An Evening with Chris Botti
Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018 – 7:00 pm

Boyz II Men
Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018 – 7:30 pm

Punch Brothers
Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018 – 7:30 pm

Taste of Sonoma
Saturday, Sep. 1, 2018 – 12:00 pm

Free Movies on the Green
Black Panther
Friday, Sep. 7, 2018 – 7:00 pm

An Evening with Lyle Lovett and his Large Band
Saturday, Sep. 8, 2018 – 7:30 pm

Tower of Power – 50th Anniversary Tour with special guest Average White Band
Saturday, Sep. 22, 2018 – 7:30 pm

For complete information, visit https://gmc.sonoma.edu/events-by-presenter

--Green Music Center

Miami Music Festival
Opera Scenes
Sunday, July 22: 2:00pm
Weber Hall, Barry University
MMF Opera Apprentice singers perform an intriguing program of opera and operetta dating from the inception of the art form to current works.

Summer Chamber Works
Sunday, July 22: 8:00pm
Andy Gato Gallery, Barry University
Free Concert

MMF's Orchestral Institute draws a remarkable pool of talent from around the globe each season, and out of this ensemble, we offer our Chamber Concert series, comprised of student musicians who select their own programs and coach with our distinguished faculty and artists-in-residence. Chamber Concert performances can be enjoyed by the community throughout the entire festival.

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

--Miami Music Festival

ASPECT Foundation for Music and Arts Announces 2018-2019 Season
The ASPECT Foundation for Music & Arts today announces its third New York City season of illuminating performances featuring many of the most prominent performers and musical scholars of today. Paired with stimulating illustrated cultural discussions, ASPECT Foundation's 2018-2019 concerts include performances by the Zemlinsky String Quartet, Ariel String Quartet, violinist Philippe Quint and cellist Zlatomir Fung, the Sitkovetsky Duo, pianist Ignat Solzhenitsyn, and the Four Nations Ensemble.

On Tuesday, October 16, 2018 at 7:30pm at Bohemian National Hall, ASPECT Foundation for Music & Arts' season opens with Zemlinsky, Janácek, Dvorák and Their Muses.

The season continues on Thursday, November 1, 2018 at 7:30pm with "Beethoven: Intimate Letters" at the Italian Academy at Columbia University. The program features the virtuosic Ariel String Quartet.

Mozart, Schumann, and the Tales of Hoffmann on Wednesday, December 5, 2018 at 7:30pm at Bohemian National Hall is a program conceived by violinist Philippe Quint.

On Wednesday, March 6, 2019 at 7:30pm, ASPECT presents the thrilling Sitkovetsky Piano Duo in "When Brahms Met Tchaikovsky" at Bohemian National Hall.

The ASPECT Foundation season continues with Archduke Rudolf: Beethoven's Pupil and Patron on Wednesday, April 17, 2019 at 7:30pm at Bohemian National Hall. Russian-American pianist and conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn is joined by violinist Korbinian Altenberger and cellist Na-Young Baek.

On Thursday, May 30, 2019 at 7:30pm, ASPECT closes its season with Music Of The 18th Century Grand Tour at Bohemian National Hall. The concert features New York's Four Nations Ensemble with soprano Pascale Beaudin.

To find out more, please visit www.aspectfoundation.net.

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Opening Weekend of ABS Festival & Academy
The 9th annual ABS Festival & Academy will take place August 3-12, 2018 in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and San Francisco's Saint Mark's Lutheran Church.

Each summer festival focuses on a different aspect of the world of Baroque music, and for 2018, ABS Artistic Director Jeffrey Thomas has chosen the music of Germany with a particular emphasis on "The Glorious Court of Dresden," known for the extraordinary quality of music that was composed for the electors and kings of Saxony who upheld the highest artistic and cultural standards for their subjects. Its splendid Baroque and Rococo architecture brought the city its nickname as the "Jewel Box," and a distinguished roster of performers and composers made it one of Europe's most important musical capitals. A full array of free events--including public master classes, lectures, concerts, and colloquia--complement the performances by American Bach Soloists in two exceptionally fine venues.

For more information, visit americanbach.org

--American Bach Soloists

Franck: Symphony in D Minor (CD review)

Also, Stravinsky: Petrouchka. Pierre Monteux, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra. RCA Living Stereo 09026-63303-2.

To say that these interpretations are authoritative would be an understatement. Maestro Pierre Monteux performed the Franck Symphony in D Minor probably more so than any conductor before or since; and he premiered the Stravinsky Petrouchka in 1911. These recordings, from 1961 and 1959 respectively, were his last words on the subject. 

In terms of both performance and sound, my own previous favorites for the Franck Symphony were Charles Dutoit's digital recording on Decca and Sir Thomas Beecham's on EMI. I'll stick with commenting on Dutoit for comparison purposes, his performance and sound being very good (although not quite as good as Beecham's). Alongside the remastered Monteux, however, Dutoit seems more matter of fact, more suavely elegant, to be sure, but ultimately more mundane than Monteux. Monteux, on the other hand, is more reposed and more insightful. Although his timings are not much different from Dutoit's, Monteux's pacing is more meaningful for his greater lingering on pauses, his greater affection for phrasing.

Pierre Monteux
The music under Monteux is just as dramatic in the opening and closing movements as Dutoit's, swinging from moody to energetic, but it is especially more ravishing in the central Allegretto, with its prominent English horn solo, and in the playfulness of the slender scherzo-like theme that follows. The sound of the Dutoit disc is admittedly more detailed, but it is really no more lifelike. Where the newer Decca recording comes into its own is by its filling in the center of the orchestral sound better, Monteux's RCA recording being a bit more prominent in the left and right channels.     

The Stravinsky is another matter, and none of my references here--Rattle, Muti, Ansermet, Davis, and Haitink--moved me as much as Monteux did. Petrouchka has always struck me as a rather creepy little ballet, anyway, and Monteux brings out all the color of the slightly sinister characters and events.

The sound is even better here with the Boston Symphony than in the Franck with the CSO. My only previous experience with the recording was on an old LP that disappointed me greatly for its dullness and noise. But the recording is now shiny and well remastered, the highs sparkling, the midrange natural, the bass robust, the stereo spread considerable. Interestingly, Monteux introduced Petrouchka to American audiences in 1920 while also conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

To have both performances on a single, mid-priced CD is a godsend (and more recently remastered on an SACD). Obviously, I highly recommend it.

JJP

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


Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night's Dream (SACD review)

Also, Fanny Mendelssohn: Songs. Anna Lucia Richter, soprano; Barbara Kozelj, alto; Pro Musica women's choir; Ivan Fischer, Budapest Festival Orchestra. Channel Classics CCS SA 37418.

At the risk of making this review more about me than the music, let me start with a comment about myself anyway. I first started listening to recordings of Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream in the mid Sixties with Otto Klemperer's 1960 EMI LP. It was the familiar suite we hear on the present recording, and Klemperer remains my favorite. In the late Seventies Andre Previn recorded more than the suite, adding most of the interludes and connecting music. His album, also for EMI, was just as charming as Klemperer's and equally well recorded. It's still a favorite, too, and between them they have served as touchstones for the dozens of recordings of the piece I've heard since.

Which brings us (rather long-windedly) to Ivan Fischer's Channel Classics recording with his Budapest Festival Orchestra. It's as light and airy, as cheerful and delightful, as any I've heard. But even though it comes to us on a modern digital SACD, the sound doesn't have quite the clarity or balance of the old EMI (now Warner) issues. Still, it's nice to have so refreshing a new release as Fischer's.

As you probably know, German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) began work on his music for William Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream as a teenager, composing the Overture in 1826 when he was only seventeen. Then he stopped, completing the work some sixteen years later in 1841 while employed by the Prussian court. It was here that King Frederick William IV suggested to Mendelssohn that he compose some complete incidental music for a new production of the Shakespeare play, and Mendelssohn complied since he had already written the opening tune.

Ivan Fischer
Maestro Fischer gives us ten of the most-popular selections from Mendelssohn's incidental music, starting, of course, with that early Overture. Fischer's way with the music is gentle and affectionate, almost consistently keeping it as light and airy as it should be. Indeed, this is, overall, the best recorded performance I've yet heard from Fischer, and he has always seemed to me more than competent. In this case, he's a real contender, and his Budapest players seem to have a genuine feel for the music.

Throughout most of the other numbers, Fischer is quick and lively. This works in most cases, although his approach to the Nocturne tends to diminish some of its lyricism. Nevertheless, the sprightly vigor of the playing is a delight, and, as I say, practically everything dances along with unvarnished joy. Fischer's interpretation brings out all the humor, all the color, and all the fairy-tale qualities of the score. It's really quite charming. Oh, those "spotted snakes." Lovely.

And, no, I didn't forget the "Wedding March." Under Fischer it projects all the exuberance of the occasion. Above all, though, it's regal and elegant, things some conductors forget as they get carried away in the heat of the moment.

Accompanying the Midsummer Night music, we get three songs with orchestra composed by Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847), Felix's sister. Soprano Anna Lucia Richter, who sang the first fairy in the preceding Midsummer Night music, handles the solos. Because of the prevailing attitudes toward women in Fanny's day, Felix's music got all the attention. Fanny even had to publish some of her work under her brother's name. Fortunately, more of Fanny's music is coming to light these days, and we're more the better for it. Here, they are quite enchanting.

Producer Hein Dekker and recording engineers Hein Dekker and Jared Sacks recorded the music at the Palace of Arts, Budapest, Hungary in January 2015. They made the disc for hybrid multichannel and two-channel SACD and two-channel CD playback. I listened in the two-channel SACD mode.

The sound is quite nice. It's very dynamic, with a reasonably good depth of image for added realism. The stage width is not quite so wide as many competing recordings, yet it provides a lifelike perspective representing a moderate concert-hall listening distance. Ultimate definition is a tad lacking, but that, too, is not unlike what one might hear at a real concert as opposed to an entirely transparent audiophile studio effect. It's all warm and smooth and reverberant and easily listenable.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, July 14, 2018

Christian Reif Makes New York Conducting Debut at Lincoln Center

German-born conductor Christian Reif, described as "the complete package" by the San Francisco Chronicle, makes his New York conducting debut on Thursday, August 2, 2018 at 7:30 pm at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, part of Lincoln Center's "Mostly Mozart Festival."

A former conducting student of Alan Gilbert at The Juilliard School, Reif leads the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) in a program celebrating the fusion of piano and technology, centered around John Adams's Grand Pianola Music. The concert also includes Courtney Bryan's Songs of Laughing, Smiling, and Crying and a newly revised version of George Lewis's epic chamber piece Voyager using artificial intelligence technology.

One of the most promising conducting talents of his generation, Christian Reif is currently the Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony and Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra. He began his tenure in San Francisco during the 2016-17 season following two years in Miami as Conducting Fellow with the New World Symphony, working closely with Michael Tilson Thomas. His April 2018 San Francisco Symphony subscription concerts prompted Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle to write: "He's a conductor of considerable stature, and everything felt like the work of a significant musical artist."

For more information about Christian Reif and the Mostly Mozart Festival, visit http://www.lincolncenter.org/mostly-mozart-festival/show/grand-pianola-music

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Bravo! Vail to Stage Debut Opera Production in 2019 with Puccini's Tosca
The Philadelphia Orchestra had not finished its residency before Bravo! Vail Music Festival Artistic Director Anne-Marie McDermott took to the stage to announce that the exemplary orchestra would be back in 2019 for the summer classical music destination's debut opera production: Puccini's Tosca.

The exquisite, outdoor Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater will be transformed as never before for two performances of Tosca on July 11 and 13, 2019. The unprecedented production for Bravo! Vail will reunite The Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin with Director James Alexander and production company Symphony V, whose imaginative design will transport audiences to 1800s Rome. An all-star cast will be announced at a later date.

"I never imagined when I became Artistic Director in 2010 that Bravo! Vail would be mounting this unique production of Tosca with the amazing Yannick Nézet-Séguin, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and director James Alexander. It is both humbling and inspiring that the Bravo! community has so generously embraced this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring opera to the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater at the highest artistic level," said Bravo! Vail Artistic Director Anne-Marie McDermott.

More information about Bravo! Vail is available at www.bravovail.org

--Amanda Sweet, Bucklesweet

Concerts at Saint Thomas Announces Its 2018-2019 Season
"The Choir of Saint Thomas Church produces a polished, powerful and balanced sound that for sacred music is about the best that New York has to offer." --The New York Times

Concerts at Saint Thomas (Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue at West 53rd Street, NYC) announces its 2018-19 season, the third with Organist and Director of Music, Daniel Hyde. The season welcomes the inauguration of the new Miller-Scott Organ, one of the most significant instruments of its type in the country, which will be showcased in both solo and ensemble performances throughout the year.

The season opens on October 5, with a solo organ recital by Director of Music, Daniel Hyde, introducing this important new instrument with a virtuosic program exploring the organ's full capabilities and qualities. The organ is featured on five additional recitals given throughout the 2018-19 season.

For complete information, visit www.saintthomaschurch.org

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Over 2,000 Singers to Take Part in "Big Sing California" in Los Angeles July 21
Over 2,000 singers will gather at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Saturday, July 21 to take part in the largest free group singing event in California history—Big Sing California. The event features a live concert by the full 100-voice Los Angeles Master Chorale that will perform from the stage with the 2,000-person audience singing along to selected works on the program. The concert will be conducted by composer Eric Whitacre, Grant Gershon, the Master Chorale's Kiki & David Gindler Artistic Director, and guest conductors Moira Smiley and Rollo Dilworth. Whitacre, who is currently the Master Chorale's Swan Family Artist-in-Residence—and who attracts a huge global audience—will also serve as the event's host.

The concert in Los Angeles will be broadcast to five venues across the state where more singers will join the performance experience by viewing the concert on large screens and singing from the audience. Hub leaders drawn from the local choral communities have been engaged to coordinate the events and rehearse the singers leading up to the performance day. The five California hub cities and venues are

San Diego, Copley Symphony Hall
San Francisco Bay Area, Zellerbach Hall at Cal Performances, Berkeley
Sacramento, Community Center Theater at the Sacramento Community Center
Fresno, Paul Shaghoian Concert Hall at Clovis Unified Performing Arts Center
Riverside, Coil School of the Arts at Riverside City College

Live feeds will take place during the concert, connecting the participants in the hub cities to Whitacre and the Master Chorale in Los Angeles. The event's reach is further expanded with the concert being live-streamed on the Big Sing California website, making it possible for people around the world to participate. Around 10,000 singers are expected to take part state-wide.

For more information, visit lamasterchorale.org/big-sing-california

--Jennifer Scott, Los Angeles Master Chorale

Festival Mozaic Has Started. Do You Have Your Tickets?
July 17 - UnClassical Series: Around the World With Love
July 18 - Notable Encounter Dinner: Around the World with Love
July 19 - UnClassical Series: Harpeth Rising
July 20 - Midday Mini-Concert: 9 Horses in Morro Bay
July 20 - Chamber Series: American Music
July 21 - Midday Mini-Concert: Dvorak in Cambria
July 21 - Orchestra Series: Baroque in the Vines
July 22 - UnClassical Series: 9 Horses
July 22 - Notable Encounter Dinner: Women in Music
July 23 - Midday Mini-Concert: Family Concert at the PAC
July 23 - Orchestra Series: Baroque in the Mission
July 24 - Chamber Series: Classical Reflections
July 25 - Orchestra Series: Mozart in Mission San Miguel
July 26 - Midday Mini-Concert: Violin Recital in Atascadero
July 26 - UnClassical Series: Christopher O'Riley plays Radiohead
July 27 - Chamber Series: Mozart to Modernity
July 28 - Orchestra Series: Music Without Borders
July 29 - Notable Encounter Brunch: A Joyful Noise
July 29 - Chamber Series: Scott Yoo & Friends
plus master classes, open rehearsals, lectures & more...

For complete information, visit http://www.festivalmozaic.com/

--Festival Mozaic

YPC named "Choir of the World" at International Choral Kathaumixw
We are thrilled to announce that Young People's Chorus of New York City has been named "Choir of the World" at the International Choral Kathaumixw.

On Friday July 6, YPC, conducted by Associate Artistic Director Elizabeth Núñez, won two first-place awards in the 2018 International Choral Kathaumixw competition in both the Children's Choir and Contemporary Choral Music categories. YPC was one of 21 adult and children's choruses from throughout the world—from the USA and Canada to as far as Cuba, Hong Kong and Taiwan—to compete in seven categories from July 3 to 7.

Following the announcement of these first place wins, a second competition was held on Friday evening among the six first-place winners for the title of "Choir of the World." In addition to YPC, the other first-place winners included children's and adult choirs from Australia, Canada, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and another choir from the USA.

On Saturday, at the gala closing ceremonies in the Great Hall, Festival Artistic Director Walter Martella made the announcement: YPC had won the title of Choir of the World! YPC is the only North American chorus to have won this award in the festival's 30-year history.

For more information, visit www.ypc.org

--Young People's Choir of New York City

Music Institute of Chicago Announces 2018–19 Season
The Music Institute of Chicago announces the 2018–19 season of its Faculty and Guest Artist Series, featuring classical, jazz, and multi-genre artists; holiday programming for families; and a collaboration with the Bach Week Festival. All concerts take place at the historic Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in downtown Evanston, Illinois.

The season features violinist Jennifer Koh, a Lionel Hampton birthday celebration, a genre-defying Time for Three, a Bach Week Festival joint performance, and special family holiday programming.

All performances take place at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, in Evanston, IL. Admission, except where noted, is $50 for VIP seating, $40 for adults, $25 for senior citizens, and $15 for students.

Tickets are available at musicinst.org/nichols-concert-hall or by calling 847.905.1500 ext. 108. All programming is subject to change. For more information, visit musicinst.org.

--Jill Chukerman, Music Institute of Chicago

Baritone Max van Egmond Makes His Last SF Performance with American Bach Soloists
"A Tribute to Max van Egmond"
Saturday August 4 2018 2:00 p.m.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak Street, San Francisco, CA.

Part of the ABS Festival's annual free Public Colloquium will be a tribute to one of the most prolifically recorded performers of Baroque music, Max van Egmond, who retires from the ABS Academy faculty at the end of this summer. His colleagues will offer anecdotes about their most memorable collaborations with the celebrated singer, who will speak personally with reminiscences about his own history in HIPP.

"Max van Egmond's Final ABS Performance"
Saturday August 11 2018 8:00 p.m.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak Street, San Francisco, CA.

A showcase for the virtuosi of ABS, this program presents dazzling works by Bach, Biber, Pachelbel, Quantz, Telemann, and Zelenka. Legendary bass-baritone Max van Egmond makes his ABS Festival farewell performance in Johann Sebastian Bach's cantata for solo bass, Der Friede sei mit dir ("Peace be with you"), Cantata 158.

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

--American Bach Soloists

American Flute Concertos (CD review)

Mary Stolper, flute; Paul Freeman, Czech National Symphony Orchestra. Cedille Records CDR 90000 046.

Cedille Records just keep rolling merrily along, producing some of the best-sounding CDs in the marketplace. Even when the recording originates in Prague, as this one does, it sounds as natural and lifelike as the company's Chicago-based productions.

The works for flute and orchestra presented here are all by American composers, meaning they are relatively modern. The earliest was written in 1918, Charles Griffes's "Poem for Flute and Orchestra."  It is done in a single, ten-minute movement, largely melancholy, with a simple lyrical twist about halfway through. Coming next chronologically is Kent Kennan's "Night Soliloquy for Flute, Strings and Piano," 1936. He aptly titled it, as it conjures up images of a quiet, almost eerie night that builds up momentum to a dramatic solo, eventually fading into nothingness.

The most famous name on the program is that of Virgil Thomson, represented here by his "Concerto for Flute, Strings, Harp and Percussion" from 1954. It is unusual in that its first movement is entirely a flute solo. It is mostly calm and settled, building only slightly as it moves forward; it is followed by a sullen middle movement, and then by the entrance of harp and percussion in the finale.

Mary Stolper
From 1960 comes Elie Siegmeister's "Concerto for Flute and Orchestra." It begins as a nostalgic piece and then works its way toward jazz and more modern rhythms by the end. Finally, the newest work on the disc is the one that opens the album, Lita Grier's "Renascence," 1996, which the composer calls her "rebirth" because it was her first new composition in over thirty years. Of the three movements, the first and third are quick, lively, spirited, and just a little quirky. They display a variety of temperaments, none developed at length. The slow middle movement, however, is beautifully haunting and Debussy-like in its pastel shadings.

Handling the flute solos is Mary Stolper, currently the Principal Flute of the Grant Park Symphony, Chicago Opera Theater, and the music ensemble Fulcrum Point. Throughout these works, her playing remains graceful, fluid, and animated by turns. The late conductor Paul Freeman's orchestral accompaniment is almost invisible, and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra provides a cozy support. Although the album is a little on the somber side, it takes a fascinating and well-deserved glimpse at some of America's less-known and perhaps less-appreciated music.

The sound for the disc is clear, reasonably transparent, and well balanced, never unduly highlighting any single instrument, except, of course, the flute, which the engineers have placed realistically within the ensemble setting.

JJP

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


Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (CD review)

Also, a discussion of the work by the conductor. Rebecca Evans, Patricia Bardon, Robert Murray, Derek Welton, Philharmonia Chorus; Benjamin Zander, Philharmonia Orchestra. Brattle Media 2018 (3-CD set).

First, let me one thing clear: I don't think any conductor purposely sets out to produce a bad performance. Some of our greatest conductors have been criticized for their idiosyncrasies: Stokowski, Klemperer, Karajan, Toscanini. Yet the record catalogues are filled with conductors who do the opposite and take the safe route, creating bland recordings that sound like almost everyone else's. I say this because Maestro Benjamin Zander had his fair share of criticism some years ago when he first recorded the Beethoven Ninth using Beethoven's own, rather zippy metronome tempos, and I have no doubt he'll come in for more such criticism for this second such realization. Whether you like the interpretation or hate it, however, know that Maestro Zander is giving it his best shot at providing what he considers a fresh and refreshing approach to the subject matter.

OK, so if you'll recall, when Philips and Sony developed the compact disc back in the early Eighties, they decided on a storage limit of about seventy-five minutes because that was the average length of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony. Well, Zander's New Philharmonia performance, using Beethoven's own metronome markings, clocks in at just over fifty-eight minutes. Of course, not everyone agrees that Beethoven's own metronome was entirely accurate or that Beethoven actually knew how to use it, but fifty-eight minutes? That's faster than most conductors take the score even when they're following the tempo markings precisely. For instance, Roger Norrington in his period-instruments reading comes in almost four minutes longer than Zander.

The thing is, as I said, Maestro Zander had already used this approach with the Beethoven Ninth. In his IMP Masters recording with the Boston Philharmonic twenty-odd years earlier, he did almost the same thing, his performance clocking in at just slightly under fifty-eight minutes, no more than a few seconds different from here. Frankly, I'm not sure what the point is in adhering slavishly to Beethoven's tempo markings in the first place, and I'm not sure why Zander felt it necessary to do it all over again in a second recording. In any case, we have what we have.

Benjamin Zander
Interestingly, it was just last year that I reviewed a similarly peppy reading of the Ninth with David Bernard and his Park Avenue Chamber Symphony on the Recursive Classics label. Bernard also claimed to follow Beethoven's original tempos, but his rendition seems less rushed than Zander's (and, in fact, is slower by some seven minutes). Zander, on the other hand, appears hell-bent-for-leather almost throughout, perhaps hoping to gain a measure of notoriety by being the fastest Ninth on record. I don't know.

Anyway, Ludwig van Beethoven composed his Symphony No. 9 in D minor between 1822 and 1824, and it would be his final completed symphony. Its most prominent feature, of course, is the use of a vocal movement--soloists and chorus--for the finale (and, thus, its nickname "The Choral Symphony"). It's a monumental work, the choral finale preceded by an Allegro, Scherzo, and Adagio.

Under Zander the first movement Allegro ma non troppo is robust in the extreme and flashes by in a hurry. Perhaps it's a matter of the metronome marking and the tempo designation being somewhat in conflict. The second movement Scherzo is, if anything, the most normal part of Zander's proceedings. I found his pace for it satisfying, though not particularly imaginative. Next, we have the third movement Adagio, which I'm sure Beethoven meant to be lyrical and sensitive. Instead it seems rather lacking in such qualities because of Mr. Zander's insistence upon rushing through it. He, of course, claims he is doing things exactly as Beethoven intended and that it is only long-standing tradition that has given us lengthier, more-solemn interpretations. Fair enough, but where's the beauty in that?

Then we come to the concluding choral movement (the familiar "Ode to Joy"), the moment we've all been waiting for. Here again we get Maestro Zander fairly racing through the pages, only this time the singers have to keep up. Even though they mostly do, they sound a bit breathless at times, too. Although there is no question Zander's realization has its thrilling moments, they tend to overshadow the composer's objective here, for the music to be above all joyous.

So there you have it: a Ninth Symphony for people in a hurry. Maestro Zander seems so sincere and so dedicated to his tempo proposition that it's hard not to like the product. But that is, indeed, my case. I found it only intermittently interesting, but mostly just fast and fussy. The conductor appears to spend the bulk of his time adhering to the letter of the score while missing much of its spirit. While it can be exciting, to be sure, it appears to lack heart, feeling, affection. OK, I know that Mr. Zander would say it is his love of the work that has driven him to stick so closely to the printed page; however, that may not help the listener to like the reading any better.

In addition to the symphony, Maestro Zander includes a two-and-a-half hour discussion of the music, along with musical examples, which takes up two bonus discs. If you remember Zander's discussions of the Mahler symphonies for Telarc, you'll get the idea. Some listeners will no doubt find his extensive commentary enlightening and instructional, while others, like myself, may find it more than a bit long-winded. His primary objective appears to be to convince his audience that his interpretation is not only valid but revelatory and imperative and far more accurate than any others. The discussion, a lecture really, seems to me a little too didactic to be entirely satisfying or engaging.

Producers Elaine Marton and David St. George and engineer Robert Friedrich recorded the symphony at Watford Colosseum, London, in March 2017. The sound is appropriately dynamic, a tad soft but well imaged. Bass and treble extensions seem pretty good, while midrange definition is only average. Solo voices are clear and distinct; choral voices are slightly less sharp and frequently a tad bright and forward.

The CD will be available to purchase on July 16th (the release date) on Amazon, iTunes/Apple Music, and Spotify.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, July 7, 2018

The Crossing Announces 2018-2019 Season: Aniara

Winner of the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance, The Crossing, with conductor Donald Nally, today announces its 2018-19 season, titled Aniara. The season--which is centered around exploring mankind's place in the universe, the relationships between humans, navigating through space and life, and the passage of time--features The Crossing's New York Philharmonic and Peak Performances debuts, the world premiere of the choral-theater work Aniara: fragments of time and space; and world premieres by Gavin Bryars, Michael Gordon, Thomas Lloyd, and Toivo Tulev.

The season kicks off on Sunday, September 16, 2018 at 5:00 p.m. with a performance at FringeArts in Philadelphia as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, featuring a world premiere from Ted Hearne, co-commissioned by Park Avenue Armory and The Crossing, together with Toivo Tulev's setting of Walt Whitman's "A child said, what is the grass?," a rare performance of David Lang's depart for 3 cellos and women, plus works by Louis Andriessen, Benjamin C.S. Boyle, Sebastian Currier, Suzanne Giraud, Gabriel Jackson, David Shapiro, and Kile Smith. The program, Arms and the Man, explores themes of nationalism and war, victory and loss, and joy and despair; it is also performed at New York's Park Avenue Armory on Wednesday, September 19, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. and Thursday, September 20, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. in an expanded concert experience that winds through the Armory's historic reception rooms.

And so on through July 2019. For a complete listing of the season's events, visit https://www.crossingchoir.org/the-crossing/

--Katlyn Morahan, Morahan Arts and Media

Why Jeffrey Thomas Is Excited about San Francisco's ABS Festival, August 3–12
I'm often asked which of our American Bach Soloists Festival programs bring me the greatest joy and excitement. That's a tough call! Our 2018 Festival is jam-packed with enticements! A few years ago, when our Summer Festival focused on music from Versailles, it was a thrill to prepare and perform the stunning music that was composed for some of the greatest performers in Baroque Europe who performed in Paris. But, whereas one would be well justified in remarking that it was the composers who shone brightest in that ilk, at this summer's Festival we visit the legacy of what was probably the finest orchestra in all of Europe at the time, the famed Hofkapelle, or court orchestra, in Dresden. We've put together two extraordinary programs that focus on music for that incredible Dresden orchestra.

The first, which shares its title with the moniker for this year's Festival, is called "The Glorious Court of Dresden" and features music composed by Dresden's finest resident composers. Their names might be a little less recognizable than some, but their music demanded the virtuosity of the Hofkapelle's roster, and we've got our own ABS virtuosi lined up to take us back to that golden age.

On the second evening of our Festival, titled "To Dresden With Love," we present music composed by non-residents of Dresden but sent to the court through some sort of solicitation or, in the case of the Bach celebratory cantata on our program, offered to its Elector as a testimonial of its composer's esteem for the Dresden musicians and, more to the point, of his desire and ambition to be a part of the city's coveted musical scene as developed first under the patronage of Augustus II the Strong, then upheld by his son and successor, Frederick Augustus III. Paired with the Bach is Vivaldi's "Dixit Dominus" that was rediscovered in our current 21st century in a Dresden library.

For complete information, visit http://americanbach.org/sfbachfestival/index.html

--American Bach Soloists

This Month, YPC Performs at the Mostly Mozart Festival
Mostly Mozart Festival: Bernstein Mass
July 17-18 at 7:30 p.m., David Geffen Hall, NYC

Young People's Chorus of New York City, led by Elizabeth Núñez, returns to Lincoln Center's "Mostly Mozart Festival" as featured artists in the New York production premiere of two fully staged productions of Bernstein's MASS: A Theater Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers. Mostly Mozart Artistic Director Louis Langrée conducts the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, baritone Nmon Ford, and the cast in this lavish work described by The New York Times as "An extravagant, exuberant and endlessly inventive creation."

For complete information, visit http://www.lincolncenter.org/mostly-mozart-festival or www.ypc.org

--Young People's Chorus of NYC

"The Journey Continues" for Orion's 26th Season
Highlights include guest cellist Ian Maksin and guest violist Stephen Boe in downtown Chicago, Evanston, and Geneva, Illinois.

The Orion Ensemble, winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, announces its 26th season, "The Journey Continues," featuring classic and contemporary chamber works, respected guest artists and the widely praised musicianship of its core members: clarinetist Kathryne Pirtle, violinist Florentina Ramniceanu, pianist Diana Schmück and cellist Judy Stone.

Orion performs each concert program at venues spanning the Chicago area, including the PianoForte Studios in downtown Chicago, Chapelstreet Church in Geneva and the Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston, along with a new venue this season: First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn. Guest violist Stephen Boe will participate in all four concert programs.

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

--Jill Chukerman, The Orion Ensemble

Foundation to Assist Young Musicians - July Newsletter
FAYM does not have weekly classes during the summer months but we did have a Summer Camp from June 5 through June 9. That week was extremely busy for Mr. Tim Thomas, our Program Coordinator and for our teaching/coaching staff. While there was a speed bump in our road, the summer camp started June 5th rather than the planned June 4th. Thanks to Mr. Thomas and the Roy Martin Administration, the 'glitch' was solved and we were able to start on June 5th.

Even though we do not have classes during the summer months there is lots of planning that takes place. We need to hire some staff members to replace those that cannot be with us for the 2018/2019 school year and we are also looking at consolidating some classes and perhaps adding a class or two. Things are still in the planning phase so we will not have an August Newsletter but we will bring you up to date in September.

As I look back, 2017/2018 was a good year. I am looking forward to 2018/2019 as an even better year!

You can support FAYM students at our Web site: http://thefaym.org/donate/

--Arturo Ochoa, President, FAYM

Get Ready for Festival Mozaic in San Luis Obispo County
In less than two short weeks, more than 50 musicians will arrive on the Central Coast to begin rehearsals for our 48th annual summer festival, Music Without Borders, July 17-29, 2018, featuring 30 events in 19 different venues in beautiful San Luis Obispo County, California.

Explore all of Festival Mozaic's unique concert programs: Orchestra, Chamber Music, UnClassical, and Notable Encounters. The Festival also offers Free Community Events, including lectures, open rehearsals, master classes, and our popular Midday Mini-Concerts.

View the full brochure for more information about each of our events:
http://www.festivalmozaic.com/summer-brochure-900e

--Festival Mosaic

Award-Winning Piano Duo Kim and Song Perform July 10
Music Institute of Chicago duo pianists Lauren Kim and Colin Song cap off a busy year of concerts across the country with a performance at home as part the Chicago Duo Piano Festival's 30th Anniversary celebration.

Known as Duo Appassionato, the young musicians, coached by Music Institute faculty Claire Aebersold and Ralph Neiweem, won the 2017 Chicago National Youth Competition for Piano Duos last summer. In February, the duo was selected to appear on an episode of From the Top, the hit NPR radio program featuring America's best young classical musicians, taped live at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas. In March, they competed at the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) National Conference in Orlando, Florida as the East Central Division winners of the MTNA Competition. Lauren, 17, will be a senior at Northside College Preparatory High School in Chicago this fall and studies with Music Institute Piano Department Chair Elaine Felder. Colin, 15, lives in Glenview and will be a junior at Glenbrook South High School this fall; he studies piano with Ralph Neiweem at the Music Institute.

Lauren and Colin will perform Leonard Bernstein's Overture to Candide Tuesday, July 10 at Nichols Concert Hall as part of the Chicago Duo Piano Festival's 30th anniversary summer festival.

The 30th anniversary Chicago Duo Piano Festival features six concerts, including the "Basically Bernstein" concert July 10 featuring Lauren Kim and Colin Song, July 8–20 at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston. Single concert tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $10 for students; a 3-PASS is $60 for adults, $40 for seniors, and $20 for students. Call 847-905-1500, ext. 108 or visit chicagoduopianofestival.org.

--Jill Chukerman, Music Institute of Chicago

Opera Rara and Warner Classics Announce New Partnership
On Thursday 5 July, Opera Rara announced an important new partnership with Warner Classics who will assume worldwide distribution for Opera Rara recordings. The agreement includes all future recordings, together with Opera Rara's most recent releases: International Opera Award-winning recordings of Offenbach's Fantasio and Donizetti's Les Martyrs, and selected recordings of the extensive back catalogue of more than 85 recordings.

Friday 7 September marks the release of Rossini's Semiramide, the first Opera Rara recording to be distributed under the new agreement.  Conducted by Opera Rara's Artistic Director, Sir Mark Elder, Semiramide was recorded in the studio with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Albina Shagimuratova in the title role and Daniela Barcellona as Arsace.  As The Spectator commented on Opera Rara's performance with the same forces at the 2016 BBC Proms, "Rossini's Semiramide is a challenge to even the world's top opera houses.  Canny repertoire choices and superb casting have helped this enterprising outfit return many a work to the popular canon, and if this concert preview of its latest release is anything to go by, it's done it again."

On the new collaboration with Opera Rara, Alain Lançeron, President of Warner Classics & Erato, said: "For many years I have been an admirer of Opera Rara and their mission to bring neglected operatic masterpieces to life.  We are delighted to welcome them to our roster of distributed labels."

To watch a recording of the "Making of Semiramide," click here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/xjnrisspluz0lry/Semiramide%20uncut%20%28making%20of%29.mp4?dl=0

--Moe Faulkner, Macbeth Media Relations

The Angel's Share Continues in August
The Angel's Share, the acclaimed new concert series by Unison Media and The Green-Wood Historic Fund that features opera and chamber music concerts in the remarkable Catacombs of New York's Green-Wood cemetary, will continue in August with programs by harpist Bridget Kibbey and twin sister piano duo Christina and Michelle Naughton. The series, which kicked off in June with the world premiere of David Hertzberg's chamber opera The Rose Elf directed by R. B. Schlather, was praised by The New York Observer as being "everything you want opera to be...[it] shocked, confounded, disturbed, and, in the end, exalted."

The Angel's Share follows Unison Media's acclaimed Crypt Sessions, which debuted at the Church of the Intercession in Harlem in 2015. The intimate performances have generated unprecedented attention, with tickets selling out within minutes of the on-sale date. The New York Times included one of last year's Crypt Sessions on its list of the "Best Classical Music Performances of 2017."

For complete information, visit https://www.deathofclassical.com/angelshare

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

The Results Are in...
We are thrilled to announce that Young People's Chorus of New York City has received two first place wins at the 2018 International Choral Kathaumixw!

YPC, led by Associate Artistic Director Elizabeth Núñez, competed in 3 out of 7 possible categories, and won in two categories: Children's Choir and Contemporary Choral Music. Now, tonight, they will compete one more time—in a 12-minute program--this time against the winners in the other five Kathaumixw categories for the title of "Choir of the World."

The International Choral Kathaumixw is a five-day choral festival attended by 1,200 singers from choruses in North America, Africa, Australia, Asia, and Europe. Visit the Summer Tour page on our website for photos, videos and updates from our tours to both Canada and Japan: https://ypc.org/summer-tour-2018/

--Young People's Chorus of New York City

Addinsell: Warsaw Concerto (CD review)

Romantic Piano Classics from the Silver Screen. Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano; Hugh Wolf, BBC Symphony Orchestra; Vladimir Ashkenazy, the Cleveland Orchestra. Decca 289 460 503-2.

The movies have forever used classical music as themes and background, from the earliest silent films and their piano and organ accompaniment to today's big-screen, multichannel blockbusters. Stanley Kubrick practically revived the entire classical-music scene with his groundbreaking films. But of the five items on the Decca disc under review, only the ersatz Warsaw Concerto was written directly for a film, Dangerous Moonlight, in 1941. All the other pieces derive from existing classical material.

The other works included are parts of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto. These selections featured in the films Brief Encounter, The Seven Year Itch, The Story of Three Loves, Groundhog Day, Rhapsody in Blue, and Manhattan.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet
French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet plays all of the music almost painfully romantically, yearningly, wistfully, rapturously, if not always so forcefully as you might find elsewhere. The Rachmaninov Adagio, for instance, lacks much fire in spite of its ecstatic nature. The orchestras, Cleveland under Vladimir Ashkenazy for the Rachmaninov selections and the BBC Symphony with Hugh Wolf for the others, play in lush, gushing accompaniment. It's all appropriate for the temperament of the compositions, so I'm not complaining, you understand.

In the early days of digital recording, critics complained of too much brightness, hardness, and edginess in the sound. By the Nineties or so, however, record companies had gone out of their way to produce just the opposite, often erring in the direction of too soft a focus. I suppose the works on this disc, recorded between 1994-98, benefit psychologically from the big, warm sound Decca provides them, but the sonics aren't always as clear as an audiophile might like.

The Warsaw Concerto, as an example, receives a far more incisive and transparent rendering from Daniel Adni on EMI's "Classics for Pleasure" label, and Ashkenazy's own, earlier analogue discs with Andre Previn are more lucid (and more heartfelt) than these. Still, if one's audio system tends toward the upper frequencies, as many of today's movie-oriented speakers do, these performances might just compensate. Otherwise, this remains a good collection of mood music, better played and certainly better written than most of what passes for theme music in a lot of today's movies.

JJP

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


Wagner: Orchestral Music from The Ring (CD review)

JoAnn Falletta, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Naxos 8.573839.

Since entering the musical stage in the late 1970's, JoAnn Falletta's reputation and popularity have grown in prominence. Today, she is the musical director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, a post she has held for twenty years, as well as director the Virginia Symphony, and she has, remarkably, recorded over seventy albums, mostly for the Naxos label.

Eventually, we knew she'd have to get around to recording Wagner, and on the current disc she offers orchestral music from all four of Der Ring des Nibelungen's music dramas: Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried, and Gotterdammerung. If you enjoy Wagner's symphonic music from The Ring but haven't the patience to sit through the lengthy vocals parts, Ms. Falletta's handling of these scores is about as good as any.

Things begin with Das Rheingold and the "Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla." It's grand, glorious music, setting the tone for the rest of the album. Ms. Falletta uses it as a kind of overture. It gets our attention and heightens our expectations. And her Buffalo players are up to the task; they may not yet be in the sphere of a Berlin Philharmonic, but they are a first-rate ensemble.

Next, we get two items from Die Walkure: "The Ride of the Valkyries" and ""Wotan's Farewell" and "Magic Fire Music," both arranged by W. Hutschenruyter. Needless to say, the "Valkyries" music is among the most famous in all the classical repertoire. If you're old enough, you may remember Elmer Fudd singing "Kill da Wabbit" in the 1957 Looney Tunes cartoon "What's Opera, Doc," or perhaps you'll recall Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) blasting the tune from his helicopters in Francis Coppola's 1979 war film Apocalypse Now. Ms. Falletta imbues the "Valkyries" music with the proper energy it requires and goes on to invest "Wotan's Farewell" and "Magic Fire Music" with plenty of color, power, and vitality.

JoAnn Falletta
After those items is the lovely "Forest Murmurs" from Siegfried, arranged by H. Zumpe. Here, we get Wagner at his most picturesque, a short tone poem depicting the pastoral beauties of nature. Ms. Falletta does it justice, and, in fact, it is probably the highlight of the disc for me. Her gentle touch and careful phrasing bring the woods to life as well as any conductor I've heard.

The album concludes with three pieces from Gotterdammerung: "Siegfried's Rhine Journey," arranged by E. Humperdinck; "Siegfried's Death and Funeral Music," arranged by L. Stastny); and "Brunnhilde's Immolation Scene." Solemn, beguiling, spiritual, and majestic by turns, this is music to inspire, with Ms. Falletta carrying out Wagner's intentions with consummate skill. It's beautifully, excitingly, imaginatively realized.

Of course, there are any number of good recordings of Wagner's orchestral music from The Ring. I especially like Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic (Decca), Leopold Stokowski and various orchestras (RCA, HDTT), Erich Leinsdorf and the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Sheffield Lab), Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra (EMI-Warner Classics), and Antal Dorati and the National Symphony Orchestra (Decca), among others. JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic can hold their head high in this august company.

Producer and engineer Tim Handley recorded the album at Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, New York in May 2017. The sound is a little better than usual for Naxos--clearer, sharper in its details, and better imaged. Typically, the Naxos sound can be rather ordinary, even soft and fuzzy sometimes. Here, it is well defined and moderately dynamic. It is maybe a bit too bright and sometimes slightly harsh in the lower midrange; fortunately, however, such moments are infrequent. It's also a tad narrower across the sound stage than I would have expected, but it compensates with a good depth of field. Overall, the recording serves the music reasonably well.

JJP

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


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