Stravinsky: Music for Violin and Piano (CD review)

Bruno Monteiro, violin; Joao Paulo Santos, piano. Etcetera KTC 1682.

As time wears on, people tend more and more to forget the details of a celebrity’s life and remember only the highlights. So it may be with Igor Stravinsky, whom most folks might only know for his three early, revolutionary ballets, The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913). But the man lived a very long time (1882-1971), lived in both Europe and America, and passed through several musical stages in his lifetime, from the avant-garde to the neoclassical to his final, serial years.

The items presented on the current album are from Stravinsky neoclassical period, around 1920-1950 or so. The specific musical numbers are the Suite italienne for Violin and Piano (1925), the Divertimento for Violin and Piano from The Fairy’s Kiss (1932), the Duo Concertant for Violin and Piano (1932), Three Pieces for Violin and Piano from The Firebird, and the Danse Ruse for Violin and Piano from Petrushka (1933). In fact, according to a booklet note, the program included here is the same one that the composer and pianist Samuel Duskin presented as a single concert many times across Europe in the 1930’s.

The violinist is Bruno Monteiro, whose work I have reviewed before. According to Monteiro’s biography, the Portuguese violinist is "heralded by the daily Publico as 'one of Portugal's premier violinists' and by the weekly Expresso as 'one of today's most renowned Portuguese musicians.' Bruno Monteiro is internationally recognized as a distinguished violinist of his generation. Fanfare describes him as having a 'burnished golden tone' and Strad states that his 'generous vibrato produces radiant colors.' Music Web International refers to interpretations as having a 'vitality and an imagination that are looking unequivocally to the future' and that reach an 'almost ideal balance between the expressive and the intellectual.' Gramophone praises his ‘unfailing assurance and eloquence,’ and Strings Magazine summarizes that he is 'a young chamber musician of extraordinary sensitivity.'"

Bruno Monteiro
Monteiro’s longtime collaborator is Spanish pianist Joao Paulo Santos, a graduate of the Lisbon National Conservatory and student in Paris of Aldo Ciccolini. For the past forty-odd years Santos has worked with the Teatro Nacional de S. Carlos, the Lisbon Opera House, first as Chief Chorus Conductor and more recently as Director of Musical and Stage Studies. He has also distinguished himself as an opera conductor, concert pianist, and researcher of less-known and forgotten Portuguese composers.

Together, Monteiro and Santos make a formidable team. Now, as to the music, if you’re not a serious Stravinsky aficionado, you may be surprised. These selections are among his neoclassical period, as I mentioned, starting with the Suite italienne. If it sounds familiar, it ought to. It comprises a part of the composer’s Pulcinello Suite of a few years earlier. As always, Monteiro uses his violin as a second voice, the instrument singing radiantly, and Santos’s unaffected accompaniment flawlessly highlights the violin’s lyrical message.

The rest of the program follows suit. The music and the playing are elegant and refined as befit the period. The Divertimento on The Fairy’s Kiss is generally lighter, airier, and sprightlier than most of the other pieces on the disc. Yet the music’s rhythms continue to thrust it forward, and Monteiro makes the most of its continuously fluctuating contrasts. (At various times I thought I was listening to Honegger’s steam train or Leroy Anderson’s waltzing cat.) The music is fun, and Monteiro and Santos appear to be having a good time with it. Even the Adagio has its lighthearted moments.

The Duo Concertant seems to me the most serious music on the agenda. Also, it is perhaps the most “modern” of these neoclassical pieces in its sometimes strange and haunting variables. The Firebird music hardly needs explanation, but as performed here, it takes on a more melancholy aspect than usual. Monteiro in a booklet note calls it an “ethereal” or “magical” quality. Whatever, it is fascinating. The Danse Ruse, drawn from Petrushka, that concludes the program is energetic without being boisterous and rounds out the proceedings with a fine flair.

Producer Bruno Monteiro and engineer Jose Fortes recorded the music at Igreja da Cartuxa, Caxias, Portugal in November 2019. The solo violin sound is clear and resonant, quite realistic. The piano accompaniment is equally good, if a tad close. Still, it’s some of the best violin and piano sound you’ll find on any recording, so all is well.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, July 11, 2020

Guggenheim Premieres Lisa Bielawa’s Broadcast from Home Chapter 15

On Thursday, July 16, 2020 at 7:30pm, Works & Process at the Guggenheim will present a virtual program featuring premieres of two new commissions related to composer Lisa Bielawa’s ongoing project, Broadcast from Home, a significant new musical work launched by Bielawa in April 2020, which creates community during the isolation of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis by featuring contributions from the public. Works & Process has commissioned Bielawa to compose Chapter 15 of Broadcast from Home, as part of their Works & Process Artists (WPA) Virtual Commissions series, a response to the pandemic to provide financial and creative support for artists during these challenging times. Anthony Hawley has created a film response to Chapter 4 of Broadcast from Home. Both new works will be premiered during this free, online event. The program also includes a discussion with Bielawa, Hawley, and Broadcast from Home participants Oriana Hawley and Gregory Purnhagen, moderated by project archivist Claire Solomon.

The public can submit testimonies and vocal submissions for at  

About Broadcast from Home: Launched on April 9, 2020 with Chapter 1, Broadcast from Home features written and recorded vocal contributions from the public. Bielawa collects new written testimonies each week and sets the testimonies to music. The melodic lines are posted on her website for people to learn, sing, record, and submit, after which she weaves them together into a new Chapter. With a new Chapter published every week, Broadcast from Home has grown to fifteen Chapters, featuring testimonies and recorded vocal lines from over 300 people across five continents.

Describing Bielawa’s composition process for this work, The Washington Post reports, “The collected lines (‘I want to sit across from you,’ ‘I don’t want to meet you for happy hour online’) are then layered and formed by Bielawa into spellbinding, sparsely accompanied socially distanced choral pieces that play with absence and presence, isolation and community, fear and solace — and sound an awful lot like the voices in your head.”

--Maggie Stapleton, Jensen Artists

What's Streaming: Classical (Week of July 13-19)
Tuesday, July 14 and Thursday, July 16 at 2:00 p.m. CT:
Tulsa Opera presents baritone Jarrett Logan Porter and mezzo-soprano Kirstin Chávez

Thursday, July 16; Friday, July 17; and Saturday, July 18 at 5:30 p.m. PT:
Miró Quartet launches livestreamed Beethoven string quartet cycle, presented by the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival via

Minnesota Orchestra at Home

--Shuman Associates

The Crossing Presents Weekly Series, “Rising w/ The Crossing: Equinox Lope”
GRAMMY-winning choir The Crossing, led by conductor Donald Nally, today launches Series 2 of Rising w/ The Crossing: Equinox Lope, the new music ensemble’s musical response to the pandemic, isolation, and quarantine. Each Monday at sunrise, The Crossing will release a full, live concert recording, as originally heard in the broadcast following the concert, hosted by Donald Nally. The weekly release will include the original program with notes from composers and texts, the WRTI 90.1FM broadcast hosted by Nally, as well as a new, introductory note in which he talks about the process. Each program, with notes, will be available for one week at

"Rising w/ The Crossing: Equinox Lope" launches today with The Crossing's November 2017 concert, the national anthems, featuring the ensemble with the strings of the International Contemporary Ensemble in works of Caroline Shaw, Ted Hearne, and David Lang. On the heels of Independence Day, the program discusses what makes a nation: its immigrants (in Shaw's To the Hands), its language (in Hearne’s Consent), its fears (in Lang’s the national anthems), and absence (in Hearne’s What it might say). "Rising w/ The Crossing: Equinox Lope" features artwork by Christopher St. John.

For more information, visit

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Wet Ink Ensemble Releases Second Edition of New Monthly Journal
Wet Ink Ensemble today releases the second edition of its new online journal of adventurous music and conversation, the Wet Ink Archive.

The second issue features "Echoes, Mirrors, Roses: Behind the Scenes of a New/Old Opera" in which Kate Soper (composer/librettist), Michael Rau (stage director), and Josh Modney (music director/violinist) each share an in-depth look into their work on Soper's forthcoming opera, "The Romance of the Rose." The article includes the premieres of excerpts from the opera, performed by Soper and Modney. Co-produced by Peak Performances at Montclair State (NJ) and the Wet Ink Ensemble, the April 2020 premiere performances of "The Romance of the Rose" were postponed until 2021 due to Covid-19.

Learn more at

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Minnesota Orchestra Announces Full-Orchestra Concert Cancellations
The Minnesota Orchestra announced today the cancellation of all full-Orchestra concerts scheduled to take place inside Orchestra Hall in August and early September 2020, as they are not in compliance with the “Stay Safe MN” current guidelines for large events in the effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. The cancelled concerts include all programs previously scheduled from August 3, 2020, through September 5, 2020. See a list of affected events below.

In place of the cancelled concerts, the Minnesota Orchestra is pleased to announce a phased return to live concerts, beginning with 24 newly-programmed chamber music (small ensemble) concerts outside Orchestra Hall on Peavey Plaza throughout the month of August. These concerts are offered as a complimentary thank-you for concertgoers who currently hold tickets to the cancelled August and early September full-Orchestra performances. Those concertgoers will be contacted directly with a full range of ticket/credit options for the cancelled concerts, as well as an invitation to attend the newly-added outdoor performances. Due to limited capacity, tickets are not available for purchase to these chamber performances, but there will be a small number of complimentary tickets available to the public through an online lottery system.

For more information, visit

--Lisa Jaehnig, Shuman Associates

PBO Announces Fall Concert Cancellations
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale (PBO) announces today the cancellation of its fall concerts, September through December 2020, and announces concurrently a robust slate of virtual programming the organization has developed thus far, with more to be announced in the weeks and months ahead. The 2020/21 season was announced last January, and Richard Egarr officially became Music Director on July 1, 2020.

Together with Music Director Richard Egarr, PBO is actively re-envisioning the first half of its upcoming 20/21 season under its latest initiative — 2020/VIRTUAL — an umbrella for a variety of inspired and unusual programming.

For more information about the 2020/VIRTUAL program, visit

Memberships are available to the public and can be purchased for the 2020/VIRTUAL series at

--Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale

Orli Shaham MidWeek Mozart
All through July, Orli Shaham's MidWeek Mozart features a different complete Mozart piano sonata each week. This week enjoy Sonata No.17, K. 570, available to stream for free beginning Wednesday, July 8.

For more information, visit

--Gail Wein, Classical Music Communicaitons

YPC's Virtual Season Finale
Don't miss Young People’s Chorus of New York City’s virtual season finale concert on Monday, July 13 at 7:30 p.m. EDT.

Featuring YPC's Performance and Community Choruses, along with a special graduation tribute to YPC's Class of 2020.

Save the date and bookmark the YouTube link now:

--Young People's Chorus of New York City

Sheridan Music Studio
Welcome to the new website of Sheridan Music Studio--in both Highland Park and Chicago, Illinois.

Please visit our website pages to understand more about what we offer: private music lessons on piano, violin, viola, and voice to chamber music, group classes and orchestral concerts, and everything in between!

We are offering small gifts of appreciation to new students who sign up for regular lessons downtown at our Fine Arts Building location. In addition, by signing up now you will have the best chance of getting a date and time for your lessons!

Please come for a visit and enjoy our "Music With a View”:

--Sheridan Music Studio

 "Indoor Voices" Continues
The Music Institute of Chicago’s “Indoor Voices,” a free series of weekly virtual visits with music luminaries featuring conversation and occasional performance, continues with more artists in July.

Each “Indoor Voices” episode, hosted by the Music Institute’s Director of Performance Activities Fiona Queen, takes place on Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. and lasts about 30 minutes. Guests in June included Solti Foundation US co-founder Lady Valerie Solti, jazz musicians Joe Locke and Music Institute Artist-in-Residence Tammy McCann, and pianist and Music Institute faculty member Abraham Stokman.

The July schedule features:
July 10: award-winning violist and Music Institute Academy alumnus Matthew Lipman
July 17: Grammy-winning harmonica player and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones member Howard Levy
July 24: pianist and Music Institute alumna Inna Faliks
July 31: Chicago Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Robert Chen

To tune in to free episodes of "Indoor Voices" each week, visit

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Do Mi Si La Do Ré Contest: Announcement of Awards and Scholarship Recipients
The Jeunesses Musicales Canada Foundation announces the names of the recipients of the prizes and grants of the Do Mi Si La Do Ré (Home Sweet Home) Contest. This competition invited young Canadians 30 years of age and under to compose and perform a classical musical piece of 3 minutes or less on the theme of the musical phrase: Do Mi Si La Do Ré. Out of the 220 applications that were submitted, 173 creations from 7 different provinces across the country were selected.

Divided into 3 stages, a first selection of videos was made by the JM Canada Foundation and put online from May 20th to June 14th. All works were then randomly submitted to the 3 pre-selection juries, comprising a total of 34 members. Based on the scores obtained, the top 10 finalists made it to the final round of the Contest and had their creations submitted to the Grand Jury.

A total of $128,000 was awarded in prizes and grants for this exceptional project. Thanks to the generosity of more than 2,800 donors, all the amounts announced at the launch of the Contest have been increased and will thus be redistributed to the 74 musicians who received awards.

For more information about the contest, please visit our website:

To watch the Official Awards Ceremony on July 9, 2020 and to find out the names of all the winners and review their creations: click here:

--France Gaignard, Media Liaison

Room | to | Breathe Series Presents "Divine Feminine"
On July 11, Room | to | Breathe presents “Divine Feminine” -- showcasing music, words and movement that break the expectations of where femininity thrives. Featuring Grammy-nominated cellist Amanda Gookin, and the world premiere of AND SHE by violist/composer/singer Jessica Meyer & choreographer/dancer Caroline Fermin. Other guest performers include mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert. Part of all proceeds will benefit Step Up, an organization that helps girls reach their highest potential. (

--Paula Mlyn, A440arts

“Festival de Lanaudière Connected”: Programming for July 17 to 19
For the second week of its “connected” edition, the Festival de Lanaudière invites the public to relive three standout events in its history: an evening marking the Festival's 25th anniversary, one of the first concerts conducted at the Festival by then rising star Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and a celebrated performance by the renowned German orchestra Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen.

Symphony of a Thousand
Friday, July 17 at 7 :30 p.m.

All That Jazz!
Saturday, July 18 at 7:30 p.m.

Brahms by Paavo Järvi
Sunday, July 19 at 3:30 p.m.

The Festival de Lanaudière's first online edition runs from July 10 to August 9, showcasing fifteen memorable concerts selected from the Festival's and Radio-Canada's video archives. These concerts will be broadcast and accessible free of charge Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays on the website and on social media platforms. As a supplement to its musical programming, four musically themed movies, Ballerina, The Soloist, Les Choristes (The Chorus) and Amadeus will be shown on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.

For details, visit

--France Gaignard, CN2 Communication

A State of Wonder, The Complete Goldberg Variations 1955 & 1981 and Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning (CD and Book review)

Glenn Gould, piano. Sony Classical Legacy S3K 87703 
Philip Kennicott, author. W. W. Norton & Company, 2020. ISBN 978-0-393-63536-2

By Karl W. Nehring

As Monty Python were wont to declare, “And now for something completely different.” What we have here are recordings and a book so intimately bound together and so individually as well as jointly rewarding that it just seems to make sense to review them both together. Many music lovers, but especially those with a deep appreciation for the music of J.S. Bach, are most likely familiar with one or even both of legendary Canadian pianist Glenn Gould’s two Columbia recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Counterpoint is, as stated on the cover, a memoir of Bach and mourning. A memoir of Bach in terms of the author’s efforts to be able to play Bach’s Goldberg Variations, a memoir of mourning in the sense of his grief over the loss of his mother. Mourning for his mother drives him to master the Bach, partly as a diversion, partly to recapture his youth. Working on the Goldbergs drives him to analyze more deeply, at times painfully, his  relationship with his mother. It also drives him to reach inward, sometimes painfully, for memories of his learning to play the piano, of teachers he studied with, of his successes and failures.

Early in the book, author Philip Kennicott writes that “simply being a bystander, a passive listener to music, isn’t an entirely satisfying form of understanding. For years, I had felt this way about the great piano works that were beyond my abilities, among them Bach’s Goldberg Variations... At a moment when it seemed imperative to understand the world and life more deeply, I wondered if the Goldberg Variations might test the possibility of achieving true knowledge of music. I wondered if perhaps I should learn to play them.” A few pages later, he goes on to observe that “the silly ethos of dreaming the impossible dream is a good way to live in perpetual regret, unable even to muster the energy and will to take on the manageable challenges of a reasonable dream… Learning the Goldberg Variations, however, seemed an eminently reasonable thing to do.

As you might anticipate, it is nearly inevitable that someone who writes a book about learning to play the Goldbergs is going bring up Glenn Gould and those famous recordings. After coming back home following his mother’s death, the inevitable indeed occurs. Feeling the need to listen to something as he mourned in his silent dwelling, Kennicott turns to Gould and makes some observations about the first of Gould’s two recordings. “So I put on Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg Variations in 1955, one of the most admired and thorny recordings ever made. With its patina of thin, pre-digital sound, it captures a pianist doing the miraculous, clarifying as with colored light the intertwining lines of Bach’s thirty variations on a recurring bass pattern. Even critics who find it sometimes dry, or even tendentious in its almost aggressive flaying of the music’s sinews, still stand in awe of it. If it were made today with all the tools available for tweaking and distorting sound, one would suspect the pianist, and his engineers, of studio fraud. As I listened to Gould play, I sensed in the Goldberg Variations the same inexhaustibility of emotion and meaning that I had felt in the Chaconne during the days of my mother’s death. And the perfection of Gould’s playing, his mental tenacity, made me shudder.”

Yes, the sound on the 1955 recording is on the thin side. If anything, though, that thin sound seems to emphasize the utter precision and clarity of Gould’s playing. At times, the sound makes his piano sound something like a harpsichord. Something Kennicott fails to observe about the Gould recordings (both of them, in fact) though, is the sound of Gould’s humming, which Gould was famous for. For some (I among them), the extraneous noises you sometimes hear on  a Gould recording are not bothersome and are in fact endearing, making his whole enterprise seem more committed and personal. For others, those noises are a distraction and a nuisance – even a deal-killer in some cases. Perhaps Kennicott is too much of a gentleman to call out another pianist, perhaps his playback system was not all that revealing, perhaps he did not really notice them because he was too busy analyzing Bach’s writing or Gould’s playing, or perhaps he occasionally heard them but just didn’t care. In any event, the 1955 Gould recording is an X-ray rendition of the score that is simply astonishing in terms the virtuosity of Gould’s fleet-fingered interpretation. If you are a fan of the Goldberg Variations, Gould’s 1955 recording is something you really ought to hear, even if you already own a version you are quite happy with.   

Glenn Gould
Kennicott writes of the 1955 recording that “Gould’s first recording of the variations is fast, fleet, and spirited, and it came as a tonic to the full-toned and ponderous way that Bach was s usually played in the middle of the last century. Gould’s manic tempos enlivened the dance rhythms that run throughout the cycle, and his unerring mastery of the virtuoso demands in the faster variations had a brilliance that allowed new generations to discover the work not just as a revered monument to polyphony, but as a scintillating showpiece. But it was Gould’s clarifying of the musical lines that made the most lasting impression…”

As the book progresses, Kennicott purchases a score of the Goldbergs, noting that they were never actually titled as such: “The music I knew I finally needed to buy that morning in Chicago was the piece that had haunted me for the past year, a work published with the rather daunting title page: “Keyboard Practice consisting of an aria with thirty variations for the harpsichord with 2 manuals prepared for the Enjoyment of Music Lovers by Johann Sebastian Bach.” The author goes on to recount the story of how those variations came to be called the Goldberg Variations, presenting some interesting historical facts and discussing the merits and demerits of some of the accounts that have been presented from time to time as explanatory tales.

Philip Kennecott
He also delves into analyses of the music itself, discussing issues such as the relationship between the aria and variations, the order of the variations, what Bach may or may not have intended in terms of how they should be played, and the various strategies that Kennicott employed in trying to understand and memorize different passages as he practiced them over and over again. These observations are interwoven with details about Bach’s life, details about Kennicott’s life, especially his complicated relationship with his mother, plus his relationships with his teachers past and present. Along the way he also offers some opinions about noted pianists, such as this one about one of the most revered pianists of the 20th Century: “When I was young, I adored Vladimir Horowitz, who played like a wizard, brilliantly and with terrifying virtuosity, yet he warped the music to his purposes, forcing it to dynamic and expressive extremes, and creating new textural effects with no sanction from the composer… Today, I find his playing exhausting, like suffering an extrovert at a party who has an opinion on every subject.” Ouch!

Returning to the subject of Gould, Kennicott opines that “no pianist has had a greater impact on public perceptions of the Goldberg Variations than Gould. It was the first piece he recorded, in 1955, after signing with Columbia Records, and a work he returned to at the end of his life for a thoroughgoing reappraisal. Those two recordings, bookends to a meteoric and idiosyncratic career, offer an encyclopedia of choices a pianist can make about the music of Bach.” He goes on to point out that in Gould’s 1981 recording, “he extended rational control over all its dimensions. In this autumnal interpretation, he offered his view of a central debate about Bach’s variation cycle that still divides musicians, theorists, and listeners, and that is: Are the variations a single, coherent work, consistent and unified in all their parts, or a collection of diverse ideas assembled to show the variegated breadth of musical possibility? … Although Gould would say of the Goldbergs, “As a piece, as a concept, I don’t really think it quite works,” his second recording was his attempt to make it work, to unify it and present it not as a string of delightful episodes but as an integrated whole. … In Gould’s last recording, he went even further to in an attempt to bring and extend a logic of consistent pulse to the entire work, reflected in orderly (although not always simple) tempo ratios. ‘In the case of the Goldbergs,’ he said in a 1981 interview with the critic Tim Page, a conversation Gould mostly scripted, there is one pulse that runs all the way throughout.’”

That interview with Tim Page, a prominent advocate for Gould, is contained in the third disc included in this three-disc set, along with some outtakes from the 1955 sessions. It is fascinating document, with Gould explaining many of the choices he made in re-recording this might work for which his earlier recording had made him so famous. One especially interesting point that came out in the interview is the matter of timing. Page points out that although the 1955 recording seems so much faster (when you listen to both recordings, chances are you will agree), if you adjust for the presence/absence of repeats taken in the two recordings, and do not include the aria, which Gould plays much more reflectively and slowly in his later recording, the overall timing for the variations themselves is very similar. That was quite a surprise!

The very first CD I ever purchased – before I even had a CD player in my system – was Glenn Gould’s 1981 recording of the Goldberg Variations. Perhaps that is an indication that I am not the most objective reviewer of this particular recording. A further disclosure is that in my relatively long life (how did that happen?) there have been two musicians for whom hearing the news of their death brought immediate tears to my eyes, Antonio Carlos Jobim and yes, Glenn  Gould. Another thing – I still tend to become a bit misty-eyed when I listen to the aria and hear his ghostly humming. My wife and I still occasionally reminisce about that magical time we were driving up to Buffalo watching those beautiful snowflakes fall while listening to the Goldbergs on the car radio. No, I am definitely not the most objective reviewer of this particular recording, so when I say that Gould’s 1981 recording is an engrossing account of Bach’s keyboard masterpiece, you may take that with a grain of salt. 

For Kennicott, too, listening to Gould’s recordings proves to be an emotional experience, perhaps even more so than a musical one. “No pianist can play these works without at some point grappling with what seems a rigorous syllogism: Bach is to music as Gould is to Bach. … Learning to admire Gould meant facing up to the consequences of having avoided Bach for so long. When I finally turned to Bach I grasped for the first time the vastness of my musical failings and I understood my neglect of Bach not just as a youthful oversight, but as a willful decision that had cost me years of unnecessary struggle.” But Kennicott presses on, never really mastering the Goldbergs, of course, but at least learning them well enough to be able to play them. Reading his observations about them is interesting, as is reading about his memories of his relationship with his mother, a relationship that was complicated and often fraught with tension and conflict. Reflecting back on his mother, he writes, “By the end of her life, I can think of only one piece that she genuinely enjoyed, Ralph Vaughan Williams’s violin fantasy ‘The Lark Ascending.’ Music, which had been a large part of her life as a girl and a young woman, was eventually thinned out to a single piece, a musical representation of a bird rising into the air, leaving earth and earthbound things behind, before it ‘to silence nearer soars’ -- the words of George Meredith, whose poem inspired the English composer. And although there is a universe of difference between the two pieces, the simple violin fantasy full of melodic afflatus and the Goldberg Variations with their contrapuntal complexity, I cannot hear the final repeat of the aria at the end of Bach’s masterpiece without thinking that something in it ‘to silence nearer soars.’”

But not everything in the book is so serious. Take, for instance, Kennicott’s account of his dog, Nathan, whom he acquired to provide him some companionship after his mother’s death. Nathan, it turns out, did not like Baroque music, especially Bach, and had a special hatred for the Goldbergs, which, of course, Kennicot had committed to mastering. Needless to say, this created some challenges – even driving Kennicot to acquire an electronic keyboard that would allow him to practice using headphones, which still did not completely placate his canine companion.

Near the end of the book, the tone becomes serious once again as Kennicott reflects one final time on what the meaning of music is and what his quest to master the Goldbergs has brought him. “Did learning the Goldberg Variations help me crawl out of the hole I was in after my mother’s death? Not at all, and the idea was absurd. In emotional terms, I might be in the same exact place had I studied ornithology or taken up a sport or played "Angry Birds." The best one can say of music is that it is a powerful substitution, directing mental energy away from thoughts of death and loss, but it also makes us aware or our insignificance, our frailty, our susceptibility to suffering.”

Serious stuff indeed, but then a couple of pages later, Kennicott offers the reader this bone to chew on: “I wish my playing of this music brought as much pleasure to human beings as my not playing it does to my poor suffering dog, Nathan.”

All in all, Counterpoint is an engaging, informative, and entertaining book. You don’t need to be a fan of the Goldbergs or even of Bach to enjoy it. Including as it does both Gould’s seminally important 1955 Goldbergs and his 1981 rethinking of the work in updated sound, plus the eye- and ear-opening bonus interview/outtake disc, A State of Wonder is a remarkable CD release, well worth seeking out. If you read the book, you will want to hear the CDs. If you hear the CDs, the book will help you hear and appreciate them in a whole new light. Unless you are a dog named Nathan, that is.


Schubert: Trout Quintet (CD review)

Also, Waltzes, Landler. Christoph Eschenbach, piano; Quatuor Thymos. Avie AV2416.

As with so many popular classical pieces (and what chamber piece is more popular than Schubert’s “Trout” quintet), this one has been recorded by practically every major pianist and every major trio, quartet, and quintet in the world. Christoph Eschenbach, the featured pianist on the present recording, has already done the piece himself on DG and now does it again on Avie. This means the competition is enormous, and any new recording has to be pretty special to gain recognition. Does Eschenbach measure up? Do he and his fellow musicians measure up to your own personal expectations in the material? Do they measure up to my own favorite recording with an augmented Beaux Arts Trio on Philips and Pentatone? Maybe not.

Pianist and conductor Christoph Eschenbach (b. 1940) is certainly up the task of producing a satisfying “Trout.” He has won numerous first-place piano competitions, including first prize in the Clara Haskil Competition in 1965. He began his recording career in 1964 with Deutsche Grammophon, and he studied conducting with George Szell and Herbert von Karajan. His countless recordings as a pianist and conductor over the years bear testament to his skills as a musician.

Now, on to the Piano Quintet in A major, D. 667 “Trout” by Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828). He wrote it in 1819, when he was only twenty-two years old (although it never saw publication until a year after his death, so few people outside of Schubert’s friends and family ever heard it in his lifetime. Remarkable). Schubert composed it for piano, violin, viola, cello, and double bass, not because that was a preferred arrangement of the time but because several musicians were coming together to play a quintet by Hummel, and Schubert figured he’d write something of his own for them to play.

Christoph Eschenbach
The work is known as the “Trout” because the fourth movement is a set of variations on Schubert's earlier song, “Die Forelle" ("The Trout"). Schubert wrote it at the request of Sylvester Paumgartner, a wealthy Austrian music patron and amateur cellist, who suggested that Schubert include a set of variations on the “Trout” song.

The performers on this Avie disc are members of the Thymos Quartet: Gabriel Richard, violin; Nicolas Carles, viola; Delphine Biron, cello; and guest artist Yann Dubost, double bass; with the addition, of course, of Eschenbach on piano.

Eschenbach, whom one must assume had the greatest voice in the way the ensemble plays the quintet, keeps the tempos and rhythms throughout the piece at a steady, modest gait. While I don’t sense quite the same degree of joy and amiability I do with the Beaux Arts assemblage, I do find it an appropriately relaxed, mature, confident reading.

The recording marks the eightieth birthday of Mr. Eschenbach, and what sweeter piece of music could make a more fitting tribute to his golden age. The interpretation has a sort of mellow quality about it, especially the second-movement Andante, which seems a tad more melancholy than one usually hears. The fourth-movement Variations on the “Trout” theme seemed a touch lax to me, but again that may be in keeping with the ripened character of the rest of Eschenbach’s approach. In all, though, it’s a sensitive rendering of a well-worn classic.

The couplings for the “Trout” are a selection of Schubert’s waltzes for string quintet (arranged by Olivier Dejours), performed by the Thymos Quartet (with Anne-Sophie Le Rol, second violin); and an additional selection of seven landler (German moderately slow folk dances that preceded the waltz), performed by pianist Jean-Frederic Neuburger. The waltzes are a total delight and impressed me more than anything else on the disc.

Producer and engineer Francois Eckert recorded the music at Salle de repetition SR1 and Amphitheatre- Cite de la musique, Philharmonie de Paris, France in May 2016 and September 2019.
The overall sound in the “Trout” is a little close for my taste, but it’s otherwise nicely detailed and fairly well imaged. The piano, however, appears a bit softer and more distant than the other instruments. Go figure.

I enjoyed the sound of the companion pieces, recorded about three years later than the “Trout,” more than I did the “Trout.” The instruments appear not as closely miked and seem more realistic to my ears. The group of players in the waltzes is more of a whole, too, and the solo piano in the landler is well defined.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, July 4, 2020

PBS: Evgeny Nikitin in Der Fliegende Holländer

A reminder that Wagner’s eerie early masterpiece, Der Fliegende Holländer, premieres on “Great Performances at the Met” Sunday, July 5 at 12 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) with Evgeny Nikitin as the cursed Dutchman, Anja Kampe as Senta, Franz-Josef Selig as Daland, and Sergey Skorokhodov as Erik. Valery Gergiev conducts, and Lisette Oropesa hosts.

To view an excerpt from the opera, visit

Also coming up: “Great Performances at the Met: The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” premieres Friday, July 17 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). This primetime opera stars Eric Owens and Angel Blue as the duo Porgy and Bess and is hosted by Audra McDonald.

Later this year: 2018's “Great Performances at the Met: Tosca” airs Sunday, August 2 at 12 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and “Great Performances at the Met: Maria Stuarda” airs Sunday, September 6 at 12 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).

--Elizabeth Boone, WNET

EXO “Morning Meditation” by Pauline Kim Harris
Today's “Morning Meditation,” Human Hybrid, is by Pauline Kim Harris, created in collaboration with Jesse Stiles and Angela Washko.

Pauline is an invaluable part of our EXO team – she is our Creative Consultant, our orchestral contractor, and she has been a guiding force for EXO from the very beginning. I am grateful for her creative vision, her strength, and her integrity. She embodies what is so amazing about this musical city--excellence, drive, and caring for each other.

Her “Morning Meditation” is here:

--James Blachly, Experiential Orchestra

Festival de Lanaudière Gets Connected with a Virtual Edition
Festival de Lanaudière will be a completely connected event this summer as it delves into the first virtual edition in its history: fifteen timeless concerts from the Festival's and Société Radio-Canada's video archives will be broadcast and accessible free of charge on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, on and via social networks, from July 10 to August 9.

"Circumstances currently prevent us from welcoming members of the public into our concert venues. We have, therefore, decided to reach out to them this summer with the help of technology. In Lanaudière's star-studded history, the concerts in this virtual edition are nothing short of legendary. What a thrill it is to relive such rich hours of music!" exclaimed Artistic Director Renaud Loranger.

Exceptional concerts, historic moments:
The public is invited to a series of encounters with some of the world's greatest artists, on a unique journey through the history of the Festival, from 1986 to 2019. Renata Scotto, Maxim Vengerov, Kent Nagano, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Orchestre Métropolitain, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Gwyneth Jones, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and Paavo Järvi are among the featured performers. Some of these recordings have never been made publicly available before!

For complete information, visit

--France Gaignard, CN2 Communication

What's Streaming: Classical (Week of July 6-12)
Tuesday, July 7
New podcast series: “Embrace Everything: The World of Gustav Mahler”

Wednesday, July 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Jennifer Koh plays Bach, Berio, and Mazzoli in Kent Blossom Music Festival Virtual Concert

Saturday, July 11 at 7:00 p.m. PT
Miró Quartet completes year-long Beethoven cycle for Chamber Music Northwest

Minnesota Orchestra at Home

--Shuman Associates News

Orli Shaham “MidWeek Mozart” - A sonata with a Bit of "Magic"
This week pianist Orli Shaham brings you Movement III, Allegretto, from Sonata No.17, K. 570, with MidWeek Mozart. Available to stream for free beginning Wednesday, July 1.

"Mozart includes what appears to be a reference to The Magic Flute, which was to be his next hit," says Ms. Shaham. "The way he wove it into the rondo, it's as if he's taking himself seriously and then he's laughing at himself about it--you can hear the laughter in the music."

“Midweek Mozart”:

--Gail Wein, Classical Music Communications

Sun Valley Music Festival Announces Programming for Online 2020 Summer Season
Festival Music Director Alasdair Neale and Executive Director Derek Dean today announced the schedule of online events for the recently announced, virtual reimagining of the 36th annual Sun Valley Music Festival Summer Season. These premiere webcasts, produced by this summer’s Creative Director James Darrah, are being specially created for these digital proceedings and will air online as free, one-time-only events over the three weeks when the live, in-person Festival had been scheduled to take place—Monday, July 27, to Wednesday, August 19.

All concerts will be webcast at 6:30 p.m. Mountain Time via the Sun Valley Music Festival Web site:

--Shuman Associates News

“Room | to | Breathe” Continues with Five New HD Streaming Concerts
Broadcast live from the cell theatre and curated by co-artistic directors Blythe Gaissert,  Louis Levitt, and Michael Kelly, “Room | to | Breathe” celebrates intersections of musical styles from classical to contemporary, spoken word, visual and performance art. All performances are thematically aligned with a charitable organization, which will receive a portion of ticket sales in addition to donations.

Upcoming Dates:
July 11 & 25 | August 8 & 22 | September 12
All shows occur 5:00pm and at 8:00pm

Ticketing for online access to the virtual concert:
Single tickets: $25 per event at:
Season pass: Buy 5 get 1 free: All six shows for $125

Information and excerpt at

--Paula Mlyn, A440Arts

Pathways: Art & Technology
“America’s foremost new-music group” (Alex Ross), the International Contemporary Ensemble, and bespoken, a mentorship program for self-identifying female, non-binary, and trans women artists in classical, contemporary, and jazz music, co-present Pathways: Art & Technology, a free, four-part series of panels and workshops focusing on the intersection of technology and art.

Each session features speakers discussing their artistry and practice across four disciplines – moving image, audio engineering, live-sound, and video – and how their work intersects within each area. The series intends to serve as platform for empowerment, breaking down the barriers to using technology in an artist’s practice, especially for women and gender non-conforming artists. After hearing from each artist about their artistic journey, the panel will split into two topic-specific breakout rooms--sound and video--where attendees are encouraged to bring questions related to their own projects.

More information:

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Watch Young People’s Chorus Perform This Fourth of July
I am thrilled to share with you a clip of YPC's upcoming performance in the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks celebration, which will be airing this Saturday on NBC at 8:00 p.m. We are so excited to perform a special arrangement of "Lean On Me" with Dr. Elvis as well as a brand-new arrangement of "America the Beautiful" with John Legend.

I remember as a child watching fireworks on the roof of our building in Washington Heights, surrounded by family.  In that moment, I always felt a sense of hope, that I was part of something much larger - a world made up of many different voices, faces, thoughts and beliefs. Hope is what drew my parents to this country, this idea of a better life. This year, the Fourth of July is especially poignant. We are at a major inflection point in America, and our young people are leading the way. I have seen it in their passion as they march, and I hear it in their voices when they sing.

This is what YPC was built for--to bring children from every corner of every neighborhood together on a global stage so their voices can be heard. We are especially thrilled to participate in this year’s Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks Celebration, extending this stage for our children’s voices. I hope you and your family can join us as we all look up--together.

Click here for details:

--Francisco J. Núñez, Founder/Artistic Director
Young People's Chorus of New York City

Legacy Audio Powerbloc2 Power Amplifier (Amplifier review)

Manufacturer: Legacy Audio, Springfield, IL USA  (800) 283-4644

By Karl W. Nehring

Legacy PB2, front
Before commenting on the specifications and performance of the Powerbloc2 power amplifier from Legacy Audio, let me first establish some historical perspective. Back in the late 1970s when I was a graduate student with a growing family, a passion for audio, and a limited budget, Sony released a revolutionary pulse width modulation (“Class D)” power amplifier, the TA-N88B, which was the first such amp to be commercially available. Through a simple twist of fate, I happened to run across a brand-new TA-N88B that an audio store in the area was selling for somewhere around half the standard retail price of $1,200 (which would be more than $4,000 in 2020 dollars). Although at the time I did not have an extra $600 lying around, I just had to have that amp, so I wracked my little brain to come up with a way to get it. (A legal way, that is – breaking into the store in the wee hours of the morning was not a viable option.)

The legally valid plan that I came up with led me to the office of our local bank, where I talked to the manager and explained to him that I had found an incredible deal on this piece of audio equipment. If he would lend me the cash to purchase it, I would be able to pay him back in installments, or else I could sell the thing for more than the purchase price, pay him back with a bit of interest, and we would all be happy. Believe it or not, he bought my story and made out the loan. Small-town (actually, not even a small town – a rural village), old-school (four decades ago, recall) friendliness at its finest. Alas, our local branch shut down long ago, the local bank got swallowed up by a larger one, and I am certain it would be not nearly as easy nor informal today. (Of course, in today’s world, when we want something we can’t afford, we just whip out the old credit card, right?!)

Why was I so desperate to buy this amplifier, besides the fact that it was for sale at such a low price? It might be hard to imagine nowadays, when Class D power amplifiers (and power amp stages in receivers, integrated amps, and powered speakers/subwoofers) are quite common, just how radical the idea seemed when the Sony was introduced. Here was an amp the used then-new V-FET transistors (a term that subsequently disappeared) as switches – the job that transistors are actually best at – amplifying the audio signal. Crossover distortion was no longer a factor, it put out 160 watts per channel, ran cool both at idle and when driven hard, and came in a sleek physical package about the size of a preamplifier. The “B” in the nomenclature indicated a unit with a what Sony called a bronze finish, a kind of light gold or champagne color that was simply gorgeous. Later, most of the units imported to the U.S. were the TA-N88, which featured a more mundane silver color scheme. At about 25 lbs., it was not heavy for a power amp of its output capability, and there were no sharp heat sinks to cut your fingers.

Legacy PB2, rear
The specifications for the Sony amp do not seem very good by today’s standards, but in the late 70s/early 80s, they were nothing to be ashamed of. The amp put out 160 watts per channel into 8 from 5 Hz to 40 kHz with no more than 0.5% THD, damping factor was 20, S/N ratio was 110 dB. Yes, the damping factor was pretty low, and the THD a bit high, but those specs compared well to tubed power amps of the day, and these were the days when tubed power amps were considered the hot setup. But the Sony put out more power, ran much cooler, and weighed much less than any decent tubed power amp. It would fit in your room and not heat it up.

Well, it sounded pretty good in my system back then, driving KEF 105s in the same listening room that I use today, but I did not keep it for long. I soon sold it for $800 or so, paid off my loan, and put some money in my pocket. Why did I keep it for so short a time? Two reasons, really. First, I did not really trust the technology. I always had the sense that the thing was running at the ragged edge of reliability. Second, it was rated for a minimum speaker impedance of 8. At lower impedances, that already narrow treble bandwidth would droop even more as a consequence of the passive output filtering Sony used to keep the high-frequency energy produced by the switching frequency of the amp out of the speakers.

The Sony was on the market for a few years and then disappeared. The failure rate was high and replacement parts became hard to find. But four decades later, there have been significant advances in technology, and the Legacy Audio Powerbloc2  is rated at 325 watts per channel into 8 ohms and 650 into 4, 1.5 Hz to 70 kHz, damping factor of 1,000, S/N of 117 dB, and weight 13 lbs. Compared to the Sony, then, the Legacy amp has twice the power, two orders of magnitude less distortion, nearly twice the bandwidth, a 50X better damping factor, and the ability to drive low-impedance speakers. The amp is a dual mono design, each channel with its own 30-amp power supply. Moreover, the Powerbloc2  at $1,800 costs less than half what the Sony would cost in today’s dollars.

So, after all that, how does the amp perform? Very well indeed. Over the years I have owned and auditioned many power amplifiers by virtue of my decades as a reviewer and editor of an audio magazine. Most of these I have auditioned in my own listening room, but I have also auditioned my amps in the systems of friends and audio dealers (remember those?). At the time I obtained the Powerbloc2 for audition, my reference amplifier was the Audio by Van Alstine (AVA) FET Valve 550HC, a 275 wpc Class A/B design with a hybrid tube/FET input stage driving a MOSFET output stage. Of all the amps I had ever employed in my system, it offered the best sonic performance.

When I compared the AVA with the Legacy, I preferred the sound of the latter, which just seemed to be slightly cleaner in the trebles and slightly tighter in the bass without giving up any of the glorious midrange provided by the AVA  What the Powerbloc2 did for beautiful choral recordings such as The Suspended Harp of Babel by Cyrillus Kreek or Translations by Eriks Esenvalds was simply breathtaking, revealing the nuances of voices in space better than I had ever heard. No, I am not talking about “night and day” differences, I am talking about subtle shadings of difference. I am not one to claim that all amplifiers sound the same; however, I do believe, a belief bolstered by many years of direct experience, that the differences between competently designed amplifiers of similar power ratings are largely indiscernible and subtle at best. If you hear a big difference between two such amplifiers, chances are you are in fact hearing differences in volume level between the two amplifiers, an amplifier with some sort of problem, or your own prejudices or imaginings.

Still, listening to the Powerbloc2 driving my Focus SEs has been a truly rewarding experience, especially on the large orchestral music that I love by composers such as Mahler, Bruckner, Shostakovich, Vaughan Williams, Sibelius, Elgar, Arnold, Ravel, etc. An especially revealing and rewarding musical experience for me recently was listening to the SACD version of the Mahler Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”) with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra on Telarc. Not only were the big sounds rendered cleanly and powerfully, but the near-silent moments such as when vocalists and/or chorus would enter after a pause were simply sublime. The Powerbloc2 excelled at both ends of the volume scale of this excellent recording. On completely different sorts of music, such as the acoustic guitar shadings of Ralph Towner, the modal jazz on Miles’s Kind of Blue, and Vikingur Olafsson’s expressive piano stylings on Debussy-Rameau, the Poswerbloc2 made the music come alive without fail.

Incidentally, after spending a good amount of time enjoying music with the Powerbloc2 in my system, I decided I would like to try the Goldpoint SA-4 “passive preamp,” which has been recommended in Classical Candor by both John Puccio and Bryan Geyer. Having been perfectly satisfied with my Legacy Audio StreamLine preamp (no longer available) for quite some time (again based upon auditioning many units over the years, including solid-state, tube, and hybrid units of great repute), I was not expecting any sort of noticeable – much less “revelatory” – sonic improvement. To be honest, I was motivated primarily by the idea that a passive unit would never present any problems caused by capacitors or other parts in an active unit eventually falling off in performance or, worse yet, failing, and secondarily by my knowing a music lover/audiophile friend who had expressed an interest in acquiring my preamp should I ever be inclined to part with it. With these factors in mind, I auditioned the Goldpoint, found that it performed just fine in my system, possibly even offering a slight bit more transparency and clarity overall.  Once convinced of the impeccable performance of the Goldpoint, I sold the StreamLine and am perfectly content with the way my system sounds. For those with turntables, of course, the passive controller route is not a viable option, but for those whose source material is exclusively digital, the Goldpoint is certainly an attractive alternative to a high-quality, big-buck preamplifier.

Back to the Powerbloc2. What a wonderful amplifier and what a solid value! No, $1,800 is not inexpensive, but if you are a classical music lover (especially of large-scale orchestral works, opera, or organ music) with audiophile leanings who is looking for a terrific sounding amplifier with this kind of power and an  ability to drive difficult speaker loads, the choices available to you are not many, and if you want an amp that can do so while running relatively cool, taking up little space, and weighing so little while still being solidly built (e.g., premium input and output connectors, a rugged metal case, and a confidence-inspiring on/off switch), I know of no real competition for this amplifier at anywhere near this price.


Haydn and Hummel: Concertos for Violin, Piano and Orchestra (CD review)

Solomiya Ivakhiv, violin; Antonio Pompa-Baldi, piano; Theodore Kuchar, Slovak National Symphony Orchestra. Centaur Records CRC 3742.

It’s not unusual to find works by Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) and fellow Austrian composer and child piano prodigy Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) paired on the same record album. The two were, after all, contemporaries for a while, although Haydn was by far the older man. Hummel was for time a time Haydn’s pupil, and Haydn even wrote a sonata for him to play. But the two pieces often paired are the trumpet concertos they wrote, not, as here, their double concertos for violin, piano, and orchestra.

So the present disc is a sort of novelty, a revealing one, and excellently played by Ukrainian violinist Dr. Solomiya Ivakhiv, Italian pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi, well-known conductor Theodore Kuchar, and the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra.

The first of the two concertos on the disc is the Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra in F Major, Hob. XVIII:6, written in 1766 by Franz Joseph Haydn. The music sounds about as “classical” as one can imagine, with zippy violin and piano parts and sweet, catchy little tunes. This could be Haydn or Mozart or any of their contemporaries. Except that in the hands of Haydn, there’s never a letdown of sparkling melodies. More important, Ms. Ivakhiv and Mr. Pompa-Baldi perform wonderfully together, their duets a delight in phrasing, nuance, and solidarity. There is absolutely no stuffiness about this playing, just a constant outpouring of joy. Even the central Largo, which might have appeared lethargic in anybody else’s hands, exhibits a radiant beauty. And I suppose a shout-out to Maestro Kuchar is also in order, even though his and his ensemble’s contributions are overshadowed by the soloists. The accompaniment is nothing but gracious and supportive. So, a bit of sometimes overlooked Haydn gets a welcome new realization.

Solomiya Ivakhiv
The complementary selection on the program is the Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra in G Major, Op. 17, written around 1805 by Johann Hummel. One can still hear the classical echoes of Haydn in the music, but it has a more voluminous, more mature aspect to it than most earlier, eighteenth-century works. And it’s longer than the Haydn, while neither here nor there a notable feature as concertos and symphonies tended to get lengthier over time. The second-movement theme and variations are a standout and more than ever may remind one of Mozart.

We also find in the Hummel the piano taking a more prominent part in the proceedings, even though the violin still dominates. And we get a more ample sound from the orchestra. However, as with the Haydn we find no lack of clever, ever charming tunes in the Hummel piece, which everyone concerned handles with relish.

Producer and engineer Jaroslav Stranavsky recorded the concertos in Ziliny, Slovakia, November 2017. The most noticeable quality about the sound is its bloom, its prominent yet unobjectionable ambient resonance. It makes the strings and soloists sound big and full and provides an extra luster to the affair. The violin and piano do seem a bit too large and too forward at times, but they are, after all, the stars of the show.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, June 27, 2020

Now Available: Conducting Opera: Where Theater Meets Music

University of North Texas Press announces the publication of Conducting Opera: Where Theater Meets Music by renowned conductor Joseph Rescigno. The book discusses operas in the standard repertory from the perspective of a conductor with a lifetime of experience performing them. It focuses on Joseph Rescigno's approach to preparing and performing these masterworks so that the full greatness of each opera can be realized.

Opening with a chapter discussing his performance philosophy, Rescigno then covers Mozart's most frequently-performed operas; standards of the bel canto school including Il barbiere di Siviglia; five of Verdi's works including La traviata; a selection of Wagner's compositions; French Romantic operas such as Carmen; Puccini's major works; and finally four operas by Richard Strauss. An appendix contains a convenient guide to scores available online. Conducting Opera includes practical advice about propelling a story forward and bringing out the drama that the music is meant to express, as well as how to fully support singers. Rescigno identifies especially problematic passages, supplies suggestions on how to navigate them, and provides advice on staying true to the several styles under discussion.

Maestro Rescigno states, "This book is not just for conductors; it's also for avid opera lovers who seek to deepen their understanding of music and make their experiences more rewarding. For conductors, my intention is to give practical advice -- a collegial discussion of challenges and pitfalls, including how to fully support singers. Readers can now understand what a conductor must do before a first performance, and even a first rehearsal, and how a work's structure -- all of its sections -- fit together. A piece of music is greater than the sum of its parts, and this is especially true for an opera, in its fusing of music and theater."

To listen to Mr. Rescigno discuss his book, click here:

To learn more about the book, click here:

--Nancy Shear Arts Services

Guitarist Sean Shibe Signs to PENTATONE
PENTATONE is delighted to announce that one of the most exciting guitarists of today, Sean Shibe, has signed an exclusive, multi-album agreement with the label. The collaboration will be earmarked by the range and diversity for which Shibe already is known, with current plans encompassing solo and orchestral, acoustic, and electric guitar repertoire. Shibe's first solo recording on PENTATONE will focus on Spanish impressionism and the French influences to be found in this music, presenting works by composers including Mompou, Poulenc, de Falla, and Ravel. Further details will be announced at a later date.

For details, visit

--Talita Sakuntala, PENTATONE Music

Bright Shiny Things Launches 6-part Live HD Streaming Concert Series
The series begins June 27th during PRIDE with "T Stands For…," an exploration of the joy, struggle and liberation of the LGBTQ+ community. Featuring Grammy-winning cellist Andrew Yee of the Attacca Quartet, Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert, Metropolitan Opera pianist Bénédicte Jourdois, performance artist John Kelly, baritone Michael Kelly, and double bassist Louis Levitt. Part of all proceeds will benefit The Black Trans Advocacy Coalition. (

Full artist bios, updated concert descriptions, and video available at

--Paula Mlyn, A440arts

U.S., World Premiere Orchestral Performances of Dan Brown's Wild Symphony
Dan Brown, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Da Vinci Code, has a new credential on his already-singular resume: composer of the orchestral music from Wild Symphony, his new illustrated children's book to be released on September 1, 2020 by Rodale Kids, an imprint of Random House Children's Books.

With concerts slated in more than two dozen countries around the world – including a world premiere in Croatia and events in Germany, Spain, Italy, New Zealand, and Argentina, among others – Brown selected The Music Hall in Portsmouth as the venue where he wanted to host the U.S. premiere of his new symphonic suite, it was announced today.

On November 15, 2020, the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra will perform Brown's classical debut for the young at heart as a special benefit presented by the author himself. Proceeds from ticket sales go to The Music Hall and the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra, both 501(c)3 non-profit arts organizations from Brown's hometown.

"The Music Hall has been the site of similar premiere events for the Angels & Demons and Inferno movies," says the author, "and I thought it would be fun to premiere this new musical project in the U.S. as a benefit for my local community." The U.S. launch will be preceded by a world premiere concert featuring the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra on October 10, 2020 at Lisinski Hall in Zagreb, Croatia, where the recording of Wild Symphony occurred.

For complete information, visit

--Bob Lord, PARMA Recordings

Michael Tilson Thomas Named Officer in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
On Monday, June 22, Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT)--Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Symphony, and Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra--was named an Officer in the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters), the second of three grades recognized in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, awarded to distinguished artists who have made significant contributions to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world.

Previously a Chevalier (Knight) in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, this promotion to Officer recognizes MTT's continued contributions to global culture and the vast impact he has had during his 25 years as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony.

For more information, visit

--Shuman Associates

Orli Shaham MidWeek Mozart
This week pianist Orli Shaham brings you the Adagio from Sonata No.17, K. 570, with MidWeek Mozart. Available to stream for free beginning Wednesday, June 24.

"The second movement is a beautiful, very lyrical adagio," says Ms. Shaham. "After the opening, it goes into a C minor section, which you cannot mistake for anything but a reference to the C minor, K.491 Piano Concerto - which is one of the two that I recorded with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra."

Orli Shaham's MidWeek Mozart gives you exclusive access to a different movement of a Mozart piano sonata, available for a whole week, free! Get your weekly dose of Mozart each Wednesday, and enjoy it until the following Wednesday when it will be replaced by the next installment, at

--Gail Wein, Classical Music Communications

ABS "Fridays with Friends"
Mischa Bouvier came to American Bach Soloists through the inaugural Academy in 2010. He sang the role of Lucifer in Handel's La Resurezione. His beautiful singing was something that we couldn't live without, so he was engaged as a member of ABS the following season as soloist in the West Coast premiere of Antonio Lotti's Mass for Three Choirs in 2011. He has appeared in eight subsequent seasons in performances including the title role of Handel's Apollo and Dafne, Handel's Messiah and Acis and Galatea, and Bach's Saint Matthew Passion. Mischa is widely regarded as a singer of keen musicality and unique beauty of tone. Praised by Opera News for a "soothing, cavernous baritone that can soar to heights of lyric beauty," and by San Francisco Classical Voice for an "immensely sympathetic, soulful voice" and "rare vocal and interpretive gifts," Mischa continues to garner critical acclaim for a diverse performing career that includes concerts, recitals, staged works and recordings. The New York Times summed up a recent performance: "Mischa Bouvier was superb."

Mischa shares with us his recent experiences, interests, and a gift of his performance of music by Charles Ives. Listen and enjoy here:

Learn more at

--American Bach Soloists

ICE and The New School Present "2020 Ensemble Evolution"
"America's foremost new-music group" (Alex Ross), the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), partners with The New School's College of Performing Arts (CoPA) for the 2020 "Ensemble Evolution" program, taking place virtually from June 25 to July 2.

Created by ICEensemble founder Claire Chase and longtime ICEensemble artist-in-residence Steven Schick, Ensemble Evolution is a tuition-free two-week summer music program for early-career performers and performer-composers, providing the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from a faculty of established professionals including ICEensemble musicians and renowned guest artists through workshops, conversations, and world premiere performances.

Ensemble Evolution events open to the public include panels on topics such as Leadership, Advocacy, and Allyship in the Arts through a Racial Justice Lens; Branding and Digital Marketing for Musicians; and An Intro into Creative Placemaking; a talk with Anthony Braxton's Tri-Centric Foundation; and two Quarantine Concerts featuring ICEensemble, Matana Roberts, Levy Lorenzo, David Byrd-Marrow and Ensemble Evolution participants. The final public performance of the program on Thursday, July 2 at 7:00pm features the world premiere of Nicole Mitchell's Inescapable Spiral, specifically re-designed for the digital world.

More Information:

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Esenvalds: Translations. (CD Review)

Ethan Sperry, Portland State Chamber Choir; Charles Noble, viola (7); Marilyn de Oliveira, cello (7); David Walters, singing handbells (3); Joel Bluestone, vibraphone, glockenspiel, chimes (5); Florian Conzetti, vibraphone, suspended cymbal, bass drum (5). Naxos 8.574124.

By Karl W. Nehring

Program (all compositions by Eriks Esenvalds): 1. O salutaris hostia (2009) (Text: St. Thomas Aquinas, 1224/25-1274); 2. The Heavens' Flock (2014) (Text: Paulann Petersen, b 1942); 3. Translation (2016) (Text: Paulann Petersen); 4. My Thoughts (2019) (Text: Saint Silouan the Athonite, 1866-1938); 5. Vineta; (Text: Wilhelm Muller, 1794-1827); 6. The Legend of the Walled-in Woman (2009) (Text: Albanian folk song and Vendit Tem ["My Land"] by Martin Camaj 1925-1992, English translation by R. Eksie, 1950-2017); 7. In paradisum (2012) (Text: Catholic Liturgy).

A few weeks ago, I enthusiastically recommended a disc of indescribably beautiful choral music (The Suspended Harp of Babel) by the virtually unknown late Estonian composer Cyrillus Kreek. Sticking with indescribably beautiful choral music by Baltic composers, this time around I am recommending a newly released recording by the better-known (but still hardly a household name) young Latvian composer, Eriks Esenvalds (b. 1977).

Eriks Esenvalds
Conductor Ethan Sperry (b. 1971) has provided extensive liner notes that provide great insight into the music. Of the overall scope and theme of the program, he writes, "This album features seven selections on the idea of 'translation' or the transformations that occur within us when we encounter the power of nature (Translation and The Heavens' Flock}, legends (The Legend of the Walled-in Woman and Vineta), or the divine (O salutaris hostia, My Thoughts, and in paradisum). Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Petersen, whose poetry is set on two tracks of this album, stated: 'Art is translation. Art translates the ineffable into what we can see and hear, what we can experience, what touches us. Art translates mystery for us without destroying that mystery. As translation, art truly is a vehicle for transformation. Art enters and transforms us: lucky, lucky us.'"

As the album opens, we hear a soaring soprano voice hovering above the sound of the choir. The sound quality is pure and natural, making us feel as though we are being ushered into a sacred space of beauty and rest. The soft "amen" at the end is at once resigned and triumphant (Sperry notes that after more than "three minutes of continuous staggered breathing, the choir gets one communal breath before the final, 'Amen'."). The following piece, The Heavens' Flock, finds the male voices in the choir gaining more prominence. There is an echoing effect toward the end that is simply gorgeous. Moving on to the third selection, Translation, the overall arrangement shifts again, with male and female solo voices singing the lyrics above a wordless accompaniment by the choir. As the piece progresses, an uncredited organist provides some soft background playing, the piece ending quietly with a fade from the organ and background voices.

Ethan Sperry
Whereas the first three cuts were all relatively brief, the final four are all longer, beginning with My Thoughts, which Sperry explains "is a setting of the preface of Saint Silouan the Athonite's treatise My Soul Is Crying to the Whole World. While the book itself is a collection of prayers and beliefs, the preface concerns the struggle of attempting to take divine perfection and write it down in words." It starts with both male and female choral voices, then at about the 3.5-minute mark female voices take over for a short time until the rest of the choir comes back in. The choir is briefly augmented by some deep pedal notes from the organ (a good workout for your woofers). Near the end there is an emphatic choral climax, a pause, and then a return from the choir before a fade into silence as this remarkable composition concludes.

The next track, Vineta, is the most overtly expressive composition on the album in both musical and sonic terms. Sperry explains that "Vineta is a legendary city consumed by the Baltic Sea because of its citizens' hedonistic tendencies, and whose church bells still ring from beneath the surface of the waters calling sailors to their deaths." The piece opens with bells and chimes accompanying the choir. A couple of minutes in, there are some deep organ pedal notes. Later, the bells return, with the choir contributing some wordless vocals. As the piece develops, the choir starts singing lyrics again. There are more bells, more notes from the organ, plenty of marvelous sounds to give your audio system a thorough workout. The organ fades, the bells come back, the choir then takes over, with the percussion instruments joining back in before the fade at the end. That is a sadly inelegant bare-bones account of what is a truly remarkable, complex, stunning composition.

Portland State Chamber Choir
The penultimate piece on the album, Legend of the Walled-In Woman, is the most "modern-sounding" composition, at times a bit angular and unusual, but to these ears at least, never off-putting. It begins with an intoning male voice that is then joined by the choir. As the composition unfolds, there are echoing effects, wordless wonders, sounds wild and eerie and forbidding. Listening to this piece, you can hear troubled minds, haunted places of the heart, deep conflict, fear, but all stemming from a tale (the liner notes provide some welcome background information) compellingly portrayed in sonic splendor. But as if to remind us that there is always hope shining brightly before us, the program ends on a note of consolation, in paradisum, in a beautiful arrangement with voices and strings. The heart, mind, and soul of the listener are offered peace and repose, balm in Gilead for these turbulent, troubled times.

Not only is the program outstanding, but so is the production. Former Stereophile editor John Atkinson played a key role in the recording process. In fact, there is an insightful discussion of how the album was engineered by Jason Serinus in that magazine's June 2020 issue. It is well worth perusing to gain more insight into the recording process, which involves both science and art. Although I certainly stand guilty of casting some aspersions at Stereophile over the years, I have always had great respect for Mr. Atkinson. In my admittedly few correspondences with him, he has always been a true gentleman, and his genuine love for and appreciation of music -- especially our beloved British classical music -- has always been exemplary. Bravo, John!

The liner notes by conductor Sperry are helpful, lyrics are included, and the recorded program is nearly 70 minutes long. The musicians, engineers, production staff, and the folks at Naxos have all done themselves proud with this fine release.


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

Mahler: Symphony No. 9 (CD review)

Otto Klemperer, New Philharmonia Orchestra. HDTT remastered (2-disc set).

EMI and now Warner Classics have released this 1967 Mahler Ninth recording from Otto Klemperer and the New Philharmonia Orchestra a number of times (EMI on LP and CD; Warner on CD), with the copy my having on hand being from EMI-Japan. The sound has always been good, no matter what the format or issue, but its latest remastering from HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) sounds better than ever.

Although Mahler's last completed symphony was the crowning jewel in his symphonic cycle, beauteous and sublime, it has always been somewhat ambiguous. Many listeners have interpreted its expressionistic content as an optimistic journey into the light, ending in sweet and everlasting repose, while others have seen the work as a pessimistic view of the world's future where degeneration and decay are our lot. I favor the former view, but I suppose there is something to be said for the second viewpoint as well. At the time of the work's composition in 1909, Mahler was aware that he was gravely ill, and in addition he may have foreseen the coming of the Great War and the end of civilization as his generation had known it. So, there is every possibility of interpreting the symphony either optimistically or pessimistically. Klemperer, who first performed the work in 1925, just thirteen years after its première, knew the piece backwards and wisely took mostly the former course in his interpretation.

Otto Klemperer
In my own view, the opening and closing movements are meant to be relaxed and serene--the first movement an admiration of life and all its beauty, the last movement a resignation of life's passing and a kind of contentment with what is yet to come. In between, Mahler provides some doubt, with a somewhat unruly yet bucolic second movement, followed by one of his patented, parodic Rondo-Burleskes. While Klemperer judges these movements perfectly, he never aggrandizes them or makes them too alluringly lyrical. Instead, his is a sort of no-nonsense approach, the conductor letting the music speak for itself in a steady, stoic, well-defined framework. And, of course, that's what Klemperer did best in all of his music, ensuring that the structure of grand music spoke grandly.

Even though I am also greatly fond of Barbirolli's performance with the Berlin Philharmonic (EMI, Warner, and HDTT), Walter's with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (Sony and HDTT), and Haitink's with the Concertgebouw (Philips), I believe Klemperer's reading deserves to be included among the top contenders as well. Incidentally, both Klemperer and Walter were assistants to Mahler, so they both speak with some authority. I can't imagine not owning their stereo recordings (along with Barbirolli's and Haitink's, of course).

Producers Peter Andry and Suvi Raj Grubb and engineer Robert Gooch recorded the symphony at Kingsway Hall, London in February 1967, and HDTT transferred the recording from a 15ips 2-track tape. Because Klemperer's Mahler Ninth is just a few minutes beyond the capacity of a single CD, HDTT have spread it out over two discs, just as EMI did.

Unlike what I found comparing HDTT's remastering of Sir John Barbirolli's Mahler Ninth to an EMI-Japan HQCD, where the sound of the EMI-Japan HQCD was slightly smoother to my ears than HDTT's transfer, the sound of Klemperer's Mahler Ninth was just the opposite. I compared the HDTT product to one of EMI-Japan's regular, non-HQ CD's and found the newer HDTT transfer smoother, richer, warmer, and fuller. EMI's sound (now on Warner Classics) is still quite good, mind you, but the HDTT is just that much better. It is detailed yet natural, with a wide stereo spread, good orchestral depth, and an appealing ambient bloom.

I know that Barbirolli, Haitink, Walter, Abbado, Karajan, Bernstein, and others have produced fine Mahler Ninths, but to my mind and my ears, none of them is any better than Klemperer's recording. It is a joy.

For more information on the various formats, configurations, and prices of HDTT products, you can visit their Web site at


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

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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. --John J. Puccio

Contact Information

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Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa