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.


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

--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

--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

--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

--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

--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

--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 or by calling 847.905.1500 ext. 108. All programming is subject to change. For more information, visit

--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

--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.


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.


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

--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

--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 or

--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

--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:

--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:

--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

--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:

--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

--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:

--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.


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.


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

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