Recent Releases, No. 14 (CD Mini-reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Randall Goosby: Roots. Xavier Dubois Foley: Shelter Island; Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson: Blue/s Forms for solo violin; George Gershwin (arr. Joshua Heifitz): Porgy and Bess selections; William Grant Still: Suite for Violin and Piano; Florence Price: Adoration; Fantasie No. 1; Fantasy No. 2; Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (arr. Maud Powell): Deep River; Antonîn Dvorák: Sonatina. Randall Goosby, violin; Zhu Wang, piano; Xavier Dubois Foley, double bass. Decca B0033878-02.

From the opening notes of the first cut, Shelter Island, with violinist Goosby (b. 1996), a protégé of Itzhak Perlman, swinging along in blues-tinged fashion with the young composer Xavier Foley (b. 1994) on bass, you know this is not going to be yet another virtuosic display by a violinist out to stake a claim in the classical landscape. A glance at the program, with its emphasis on music by African-American composers (the liner notes point out that Goosby also “included works by two non-Black composers, Antonîn Dvorák and George Gershwin, because of the admiration and respect they showed for African-American and Native American people during their time, and in their music”). Throughout the recording, Goosby makes a case for this music with his sensitive but always enthusiastic playing. He can make it swing, he can make it sing, he can make it cry, he can make it fly... We seem to have here a major new musical talent, and we should salute him (and the folks at Decca) for presenting us with such a fresh and fascinating – not to mention timely and important – musical program for his debut. Kudos to all concerned!

SIGNUM Saxophone Quartet: Echoes. John Dowland: Lachrimae Antiquae (Arr. Knoth); Max Richter: On the Nature of Daylight; Philip Glass: 1957: Award Montage (from String Quartet No. 3 “Mishima”); Gabriel Fauré: Pie Jesu (from Requiem) (Arr. Knoth); Peter Gregson: Allemande (after J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite No. 4); Joep Beving: Ab Ovo (Arr. Knoth); Remo Giazotto: Adagio in G Minor (Attrib. T. Albinoni); Paul Hindemith: Chorale (from Trauermusik); Peteris Vasks: Then Time Stopped (from Songs of Love); Guillermo Lago: Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) (from Ciudades). SIGNUM Saxophone Quartet (Blaz Kemperle, soprano saxophone; Hayrapet Arakelyan, alto/soprano saxophones; Alan Luzar, tenor saxophone; Guerino Bellarosa, baritone saxophone); Hila Karni, cello; Grace Davidson, soprano. Deutsche Grammophon 486 0582.

Most people today associate the saxophone with jazz, but in its early days (it was invented around 1840) it was employed primarily in classical ensembles and wind bands. It was not until the 1920s that the saxophone began to take off as an instrument featured in jazz bands. Still, we don’t really tend to think of the saxophone as a classical instrument, and although the typical classical music fan could rattle off the names of any number of string quartets (Juilliard, Guarneri, Budapest, Emerson, Hagen, Takacs, etc.), I doubt that only a very few could name any saxophone quartets. Enter the SIGNUM Saxophone Quartet with their new DG recording titled Echoes, playing music spanning nearly 500 years and making it sound like the most natural thing in the word for it to be played by four saxophones (augmented on a couple of selections, the Richter and the Hindemith, by a cello, and on the Fauré by the voice of soprano Grace Davidson). Never does this sound like some sort of novelty album; every cut sounds natural and musical, as though it were written for these instruments, which is only literally true for the final cut on the album, Sarajevo. From the 16th-century music of Dowland through the contemporary compositions of Richter and Gregson, this collection is sheer delight both musically and sonically. My only reservation about this release is its length, which is just over 39 minutes. Rest assured, all 39 minutes are really wonderful, but yeah, there really could have been a lot more. Sigh…

Mozart Momentum 1785. CD1: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor K 466; Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major K 467. CD2: Fantasia in C minor K 475; Quartet for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello No. 1 in G minor K 478; Masonic Funeral Music in C minor K477; Piano Concerto No 22 in E-Flat Major K 482. Leif Ove Andsnes, piano and direction (concertos); Matthew Truscott, violin and direction (Masonic Funeral Music); Joel Hunter, viola; Frank Michael Guthmann, Cello; Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Sony Classical 194397462.

Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes brings us a two-CD set of music composed by Mozart in the year 1785. The liner notes explain that in1784, Mozart had written six piano concertos to play at subscription concerts in Vienna, but then in 1785, “he changed gear… Over the next two years, Mozart significantly reduced his quantitative output of piano  concertos but massively increased their depth, expression and architectural imagination in inverse proportion.” Certainly the two concertos found on CD1 are probably the best-known of all the Mozart concertos, having been paired together on LP and CD countless times by countless musicians, and for good reason – they are both splendid works. Most music lovers are already going to have their favorite recordings; all I can say is that these performances by Andsnes and the MCO are very good both musically and sonically and would be a good introduction to these works for someone new to classical music as they avoid any interpretive excess. CD2 brings more variety, with some solo piano music, a short and somber bit of funeral music, a piano quartet that sounds like a reduced piano concerto – I do not mean that at all negatively; it is a wonderful piece of music bursting with melody, and finally, a piano concerto (No. 22) that is not encountered as often as those found on CD1. All in all, this is a splendid collection of some of Mozart’s most inspired music, and a follow-up release (Mozart Momentum 1786) is said to be scheduled for later in 2021.

Ramon Humet: Llum (Light). Tanca els ulls (Close Your Eyes); Camina endins (Walk Inside); Baixa al cim de l’Anima (Descent to the Summit of the Soul); Pedra nua (Naked Stone); Pau al Cor (The Peaceful Heart); Engrunes de Llum (Luminous Crumbs); Alleluia (Alleluia). Sigvards Klava, Latvian Radio Choir. Ondine ODE 1389-2.

In his brief liner notes, Spanish composer Ramon Humet (b. 1968) invites his listeners to “take a journey inward, to travel to the immense space which is, precisely, what makes us human, to that silent place which exists within us, to the deep wellspring that is the birthplace of everything, to the bright sapling of Peace; to the infinite, which announces the Mystery; to the gift of Life, Peace and Love.” For many potential listeners, that might sound like pretentious twaddle; however, I hope it does not dissuade you from giving this release an audition, for I have found it to be one of the most beautiful recordings I have heard in quite some time. The Latvian Radio Choir sings Humet’s challenging score quite beautifully. As the composer elaborates, “the texts which accompany each of the seven stages of this inner pilgrimage were written by my friend Vicenç Santamaria, a monk from the monastery of Montserrat. The words have been set to music for a variety of choral formations – mixed choir, female voice choir, double choir – and for different soloists. All the pieces are composed to be sung a cappella, and in Luminous Crumbs, crotales and bar chimes have been added.” The variety of sounds and vocal textures projected by the choir over the course of the program truly do enhance the sense of movement and change as the work progresses. (The liner booklet, by the way, contains the text, both in Spanish and English translation.) Regardless of what you might think of the text, the music is superb. Just close your eyes, look inside, and let the sound take you away…

KWN

Beethoven: 13 Times the Same and 13 Times Different (CD review)

Symphony No. 5. Robert Trevino, Malmo Symphony Orchestra. Various other conductors and orchestras. Naxos 8.551451 (2-disc set).

By John J. Puccio

Many years ago, in the early Eighties as I recall, I invited a group of classical music-loving friends over to listen and compare as many versions of the Beethoven Fifth Symphony as we could assemble. It was just for fun, and over the course of several nights about a dozen of us listened to more than a dozen different Fifth Symphony Allegro con brios (the opening movement). Not that it matters, but we favored three recordings above the rest: Arturo Toscanini (RCA), Fritz Reiner (RCA), and Carlos Kleiber (DG) because they appeared to have the most energy and impact, with a fourth recording by Karl Bohm (DG) a runner-up because it sounded the most like what we all considered a traditional Fifth Symphony to sound like.

I mention all this because it’s pretty much what the folks at Naxos have done with this disc, subtitled “Ta ta tata.” So, yes, it’s a kind of gimmick album. But there’s method behind the madness. As the producers explain in a cover note: “The notes G-G-G-E flat, better known as simply ‘ta-ta-ta-taaa,’ are perhaps the four most famous in all of classical music. They form the opening motif of Symphony No. 5 in C minor by Ludwig van Beethoven. Featured here are twelve interpretations of the famous first movement by legendary artists including Otto Klemperer, Michael Gielen, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and Jascha Horenstein, exploring the range and diversity of Beethoven’s Fifth on record during the last 70 years. A complete performance of the symphony in a new recording conducted by Robert Trevino is also included. Hear, discover and compare.”

Unfortunately, you will not find the four conductors I mentioned in the introduction; however, you will find enough varied interpretations to get the idea that all music is subjective and can be perceived differently by both a conductor and an audience.

As we all know, most composers leave the nuances of musical interpretation to conductors, so matters of rubato, legato, contrast, dynamics, tempi, and many other elements are up to conductors to convey in their own personal visions of such matters. Nevertheless, a simple glance at the timings on this disc for each conductor’s rendering of the first movement tell us something right away. For instance, it should come as no surprise that conductors like Roger Norrington and Roy Goodman, known for their work in historically informed performances, should turn in some of the quickest times: 6:23 and 7:36 minutes respectively, or that Otto Klemperer and Hans Rosbaud, known for their more traditional approaches, should be the slowest: 8:09 and 8:53. What may be surprising, though, is that the newest of the recordings--the complete rendering that closes the second disc--by Maestro Trevino, would be as fleet-footed as it is: 6:50.

Anyway, to add to the madness, we also have the fact that Beethoven himself was experimenting with the newfangled metronome machine at the time and left precise metronome markings for each movement, something that most conductors for the past 200 years have ignored. Why? Some conductors have simply disagreed with the tempi, choosing to present the music their own way. Other conductors have just followed tradition, correct or not. While a few others believe Beethoven’s metronome must have been faulty and that he couldn’t have really meant the tempi to be so fast. Whatever, we get a wide range of readings on the present disc, and it’s fun to make up our own minds as to which ones we enjoy the most.

Here’s a complete rundown of the tracks involved:

CD1:
1. Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Otto Klemperer (1951)
2. Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (2005)
3. Pro Musica Orchestra, Jascha Horenstein (1956)
4. Southwest German Radio Symphony, Hans Rosbaud (1961)
5. The Hanover Band, Roy Goodman (1983)
6. Konstantin Scherbakov, piano (1998)
7. Cologne Chamber Orchestra, Helmut Muller-Bruhl (2006)
8. Danish Chamber Orchestra, Adam Fischer (2016)

CD2:
1. Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Michael Gielen (1970)
2. Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Roger Norrington (2002)
3. Dresden Philharmonic, Herbert Kegel (1982/83)
4. Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia, Bela Drahos (1995)
5-8. Malmo Symphony Orchestra, Robert Trevino (2019)

Otto Klemperer opens the program with a reading that may be on the slow side but is powerful and energetic. He would later record it in stereo with the New Philharmonia, of course, but this earlier one seems to me more animated. Skrowaczewski’s reading, in contrast, is much quicker paced but seems lacking in character compared to Klemperer’s more monumental production. Horenstein seems positively glacial compared to the first two. Rosbaud adopts a heavy, conventional approach, which takes a moment or two to get used to. Goodman and his Hanover Band on period instruments seems fairly lightweight next the preceding conductors. Scherbakov’s piano transcription (arr. Franz Liszt) provides an absorbing and welcome counterbalance to the surrounding orchestral versions. Then Muller-Bruhl’s and Adam Fischer’s chamber ensemble renditions get us back into the conventional swing of things, although they were a bit too much the welterweights for my taste.

Michael Gielen starts disc two out on a zippy note, followed by Roger Norrington’s decidedly unconventional delivery, which starts out rather slowly and then speeds into a frenzy of varied tempos, pauses, dynamics, and contrasts. It’s anything but boring, but I don’t know that I’d want to visit it often. Herbert Kegel and Bela Drahos lead traditional performances before Robert Trevino and his Malmo Symphony close the program in lively fashion with the complete symphony. Still, nothing I heard on the two discs dissuaded me from liking Kleiber, Reiner, Szell, and Bohm best of all.

Naxos made this album in Germany and released it in 2021. Obviously, most of the selections have different recording dates, different production teams, and different recording venues, which the booklet does not identify. (They suggest you visit their Web site for complete information.) Whatever the circumstance, however, the sound engineers transferred all of it pretty well, whether it’s mono or stereo, seventy years old or just a few years old. The Klemperer mono track that opens disc one, for instance, is very dynamic and wide ranging. If it had been in stereo, I would have said it was the best sounding track of all. Nevertheless, the listener will not be too disappointed in the sound of any of the tracks.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, July 31, 2021

Welcome to the 2021 Summer Festival Mozaic

Welcome to the 2021 Summer Festival.

As Festival Mozaic celebrates more than 50 years of great music, and I embrace 15 years here in San Luis Obispo, I continue to search for the purpose and expression the great composers have poured into their works. I hope our concerts help you do that as well.

We are committed to a diverse and interesting group of artists and repertoire each and every season. This summer we are pleased to feature women composers with different points of view — from Fanny Mendelssohn to Clara Schumann, Louise Farrenc to Amy Beach. We’ll also host the brilliant young singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno and hear the tango and cabaret stylings of Grande Orquesta Navarre.

This past year was devastating to the business of live performance. Musicians have never gone as many days without preparing for our next concerts. I, like all of the artists performing for you this week, am ready to go.

Thank you to our members of the board, supporters, volunteers, and staff; and to our musicians, who are the heart and soul of the Festival. From those friends of years past to the ones we’ve yet to discover, we hold these weeks in honor of you.

Some of you have been with us since Day One, when Clifton Swanson came up with this amazing idea. For others, this will be your first time attending. May everyone find joy in every concert.

Explore the events at https://www.festivalmozaic.org/events

--Scott Yoo, Music Director, Festival Mozaic

Sphinx Organization Announces Recipients of the 2022 Sphinx Medals of Excellence
The Sphinx Organization has announced the three recipients of the 2022 Sphinx Medals of Excellence: pianist Michelle Cann, violinist Randall Goosby, and soprano Karen Slack.

The Sphinx Medal of Excellence is the highest honor bestowed by the Sphinx Organization, the social justice organization dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts, and comes with a $50,000 career grant. The medal recognizes extraordinary classical musicians of color. Recipients are artists who early in their career demonstrate artistic excellence, outstanding work ethic, a spirit of determination, and an ongoing commitment to leadership and their communities.

For complete information, visit https://www.sphinxmusic.org/sphinx-medals-of-excellence-awardees/

--Shuman Associates

Romanticism and a Pastoral Atmosphere Mark Festival’s Third Weekend
After Les Grands Ballets and Les Violons du Roy, it's time for the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and Jacques Lacombe to charm audiences at the Festival de Lanaudière's third weekend.

“This weekend, we embark on a new direction, with famous composers such as Fauré, Bizet, Prokofiev and Haydn revealing fresh perspectives on their art. What would a festival be without such wonderful discoveries? That's what this penultimate weekend at the Amphithéâtre offers our audiences,” explains Renaud Loranger, Festival de Lanaudière's Artistic Director.

For details, visit https://www.lanaudiere.org/en/

--France Gaignard, CN2 Communication

Time:Spans Festival Presents Wet Ink Ensemble in Premieres by Mincek, Pluta, Roberts, and Gay
On Friday, August 20, 2021 at 7:30pm, Time:Spans Festival presents the Wet Ink Ensemble in a program of world premieres at The Dimenna Center for Classical Music’s Mary Flagler Cary Hall. The concert features the in-person world premieres of Wet Ink members Alex Mincek’s So Many Ways (2021), Sam Pluta’s Systems of Interaction I (2021), and Mariel Roberts’ or we don't need light (2021) as well as Ben Lamar Gay’s Known Better. Still Lit (2021).

Mary Flagler Cary Hall, The Dimenna Center for Classical Music, 450 W 37th St., New York, NY.

Information: https://timespans.org/concert/wet-ink-ensemble/

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Los Angeles Master Chorale Announces 2021-22 Season
The Los Angeles Master Chorale, led by Grant Gershon, Kiki & David Gindler Artistic Director, today announced its 2021-22 season and long-awaited return to Walt Disney Concert Hall, following the venue’s closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the 2021-22 season, the Master Chorale will celebrate the uplifting power of voices united in song with repertoire that encompasses a wide range of composers, styles, periods, and points of view, including beloved masterworks from Rachmaninoff, Handel and Bach, music by the Master Chorale’s Swan Family Artist-in-Residence, Reena Esmail; and works from Medieval composer Hildegard von Bingen to contemporary artists such as Derrick Skye, Gabriel Kahane, and Anna Thorvaldsdóttir.

The 2021-22 season also marks 20 years of the highest artistic aspiration under the direction of Grant Gershon. The outstanding skill and artistry of the Master Chorale singers and the range of programming of this year’s tremendous concerts reflect the impact he’s had on the ensemble and organization.

The Master Chorale welcomes back concertgoers on Saturday, September 25 and Sunday, September 26, 2021 with its season kick-off concert, Invitation, featuring works by L.A.-based composers Nilo Alcala and Shawn Kirchner, “Together at Last” from Swan Family Artist-in-Residence Reena Esmail, and Morten Lauridsen’s rendition of Sure on This Shining Night. On September 25, all teachers are invited to attend for free; on September 26, all subscribers receive a free ticket, if they subscribe by September 8. Details are available here: https://www.lamasterchorale.org/showpreview.php?id=155

Complete schedule and lineups: https://lamasterchorale.org/

--Lisa Bellamore, Crescent Communications

Opening of $9.5 Million Facility at Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Recently, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the official opening of The Pines@SPAC, a $9.5 million renovation project at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, a world-class arts and culture destination located in Saratoga Spa State Park, that improves visitor services and creates new four-season event space.

"For decades, the Saratoga Spa State Park has attracted visitors from across the state and around the world," Governor Cuomo said. "This project is another major step forward in the renewal of this great park and provides needed renovations to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center that will further cement it as a critical economic and cultural driver in the Capital Region."

For more information, visit https://spac.org/

--Rebecca Davis PR

CMS Announces 2021-22 Rose Studio Season and Digital Offerings
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) announces an exciting 2021-22 season of intimate concerts, live and with an in-person audience, in the Rose Studio: New Milestones, Rose Studio Concerts and The Art of the Recital, as well as a new season of its popular lecture series Inside Chamber Music and all-new digital programs that combine music performance and discussions with artists. These concerts and digital programs complement CMS’s Alice Tully Hall season (which was announced in May) as well as CMS’s national and international touring concerts, which are back on the road this season.  

The return to live, in-person performances follows a uniquely challenging season in which CMS played a leadership role in the chamber music world by quickly releasing freshly-curated performances from the CMS archive and creating more than 150 digital programs for its audiences.

Details: https://www.chambermusicsociety.org/

--Beverly Greenfield, Kirshbaum Associates

American Composers Orchestra Announces 2021-2022 Season
American Composers Orchestra (ACO) announces its 2021-2022 season, under the leadership of Artistic Director Derek Bermel and President Melissa Ngan. ACO continues its commitment to the creation, performance, preservation, and promotion of music by American composers with programming that sparks curiosity and reflects geographic, stylistic, racial, and gender diversity. This season’s slate of performances includes eleven premieres of new works by American composers, as well as new and ongoing partnerships with the Apollo, National Black Theatre, Groupmuse Foundation, and Carnegie Hall.

“ACO’s 2021-22 season reflects a complex web of musical expression as we emerge from a year of lockdowns into a future that is uncertain yet defined by a determined, collective consciousness,” says ACO Artistic Director Derek Bermel. “Sanctuary can reflect our common desire for safety and self-care, The Gathering touches upon the yearning for community and healing, and New Canons explores bridge-building through music at a moment that seeks fresh modes of interaction and conversation.”

For more information, visit https://americancomposers.org/

--Christina Jensen, Jensen Artists

OPCM 2021-2022 Season: New Energy for Great Classics
The seventh season of the Orchestre Philharmonique et Chœur des Mélomanes (OPCM) will inaugurate in October with the presence of renowned artists, including Quebec pianist Alain Lefèvre. Under the direction of Francis Choinière, the orchestra and choir will breathe new energy into legendary classics during three concerts presented at the Maison symphonique.

By working with world-class soloists, OPCM members benefit from invaluable mentorship. “I have always been keen to support the next generation and it is with enthusiasm that I accepted the invitation of the young conductor Francis Choinière to present this '' jewel '' that is André Mathieu's “Concerto de Québec”, mentions Mr. Lefèvre.

Thanks to a varied repertoire and the young voices of the choir, the pure, dynamic and passionate sound of the OPCM sets it apart from other choirs. In each concert, its members strive to share their passion for classical music. "We want to transport our audience to the discovery of the striking and touching musical adventure that is the classical repertoire", mentions the young 24-year-old conductor.

Each program in this season will feature three very different styles, each occupying an important place in the classical repertoire: from the simplicity of Vivaldi's Gloria, the lyrical romanticism of André Mathieu and Antonín Dvorák, and the persistent rhythm and energy of Carmina Burana and Igor Stravinsky's Firebird.

For complete details, visit https://www.opcmelomanes.ca/

--France Gaignard, Media Relations

44th Annual Lyndon Woodside Oratorio-Solo Competition Finals Concert
The Oratorio Society of New York, led by Music Director Kent Tritle, presents the 44th Annual Lyndon Woodside Oratorio-Solo Competition Finals Concert on Saturday, August 21, 2021 at 1:30pm at Riverside Church (120th Street and Riverside Drive).

This year’s six finalists are bass Mikhail Biryukov, soprano Emily Yokum Black, baritone Ryne Cherry, soprano Emily Cedriana Donato, tenor Colin James Doyle, and soprano Rebecca Farley. These singers were selected from the 120+ singers who participated in the 2020 competition, before the pandemic forced its cancellation that year. Each finalist will sing two contrasting oratorio works.

The annual solo competition encourages the art of oratorio singing and provides young singers the opportunity to advance their careers through prizes including the Andrew R. Preis Award (first place, $7,000), Meyerson/Zwanger Award (second place, $5,000), and the Janet Plucknett Award (third place, $3,000). Additional prizes include the Esther Korshin Award ($2,500), the Frances MacEachron Award ($1,500), and the Lyndon Woodside Encouragement Award ($1,000).

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

--Katlyn Morahan, Morahan Arts and Media

ABS Festival Week Is Here
American Bach Soloists have been preparing for your arrival. To insure your comfort and safety, we've spent months preparing our guidelines and protocols.

All ABS musicians and staff are fully vaccinated.
All Herbst Theatre staff at our concerts are fully vaccinated and wear masks.
With guidance from the San Francisco Department of Public Health, all patrons, volunteers, and administrative staff are required to wear masks at all times while in Herbst Theatre and the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center.
You and your guests must be fully vaccinated* to attend this event or show proof of a negative COVID PCR test within 72 hours of the event.
Proof of vaccination or test is required upon arrival. You will be asked to show these credentials for each individual concert.
No refunds will be made for failure to comply with these protocols.

If you are not fully vaccinated, you are strongly discouraged from attending this concert for your own safety. So, let the wonderful music begin.

"San Francisco's Summer Bach Festival" is here: August 1–7 2021 in Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. Box office opens one hour prior to performances.

Read more about the artists and programs at https://americanbach.org/sfbachfestival/

--American Bach Soloists

Recent Releases, No. 13 (CD Reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Muhly & Glass: First Light. Muhly: Shrink (Concerto for Violin and Strings); Glass: The Orchard (from The Screens); String Quartet No. 3, “Mishima” (arr, for string orchestra by Pekka Kuusisto). Nico Muhly, piano; Pekka Kuusisto, violin and director, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. Pentatone PTC 5186 745.

This is a recording that features a considerable degree of both musical and performative intertwining. The relatively young American composer Nico Muhly (b. 1981), the veteran American composer Philip Glass (b.1937) composer, and Finnish violinist and conductor Pekka Kuusisto (b.1976) are all linked closely together. As Kuusisto explains, “my consort with Nico Muhly began around 2010… I had previously become aware of his reputation as a creator and with an extraordinary touch, and was really excited to work with him. Thew experience was inspiring, moving and joyous, and we’ve enjoyed a steady flow of adventures since. The arrival of Shrink in late 2019 was the culmination of this decade of music and mischief… Philip Glass had been present in our interactions since the beginning. He and Nico go way back as colleagues… Against this background, coupling Shrink with a new arrangement of Philip Glass’ Mishima quartet seems appropriate… The pandemic-era, long-distance recording of Philip Glass’ The Orchard is an expression of gratitude to Philip on behalf of myself and Nico, and to the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra for their stellar work with us.” Although Muhly and Glass were colleagues, their music is markedly different in character, which leads to a recording with something of a split personality. Muhly’s Shrink is an energetic, driven concerto, played with intensity by Kuusisto on violin. Although not dissonant in character, it is not a piece that lingers over lilting melodies. Then comes Glass’s The Orchard, performed here as a duet for piano and violin, and the mood completely changes, becoming soothing and almost therapeutic. Following the frenetic forward motion of Shrink, to arrive in such a pleasant, peaceful, musical grove is a refreshing respite. The arrangement for string orchestra of Glass’s String Quartet No. 3, “Mishima” that closes the program adds some weight and texture to Glass’s minimalist creation. With excellent engineering and informative liner notes, this is a solid release of contemporary music from Pentatone.
 
Robert Ames: Change Ringing. Peal; Change Ringing; Tympanum; Dispersion; Cinque; Rounds. Modern Recordings LC95306.

Robert Ames (b. 1985) is the co-founder and co-conductor of the London Contemporary Orchestra, where he has worked to bridge the perceived gap between the classical tradition and contemporary music, working with musicians such as Frank Ocean, Jonny Greenwood, Jonsi (of Sigur Ros), Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass. He produced and recorded Change Ringing in his studio using both modern electronic techniques and western traditional annotation, forming layers of audio and written music that he manipulated and transformed into  a sound symphonic in scope, sounding like an amalgam of electronic and symphonic music. According to Ames, “most of the album was written and recorded between April and May 2019 in my small studio in the Peak District. I relied on sounds from my childhood. The echo of choirs and organs in large rooms, distant church bells, grand symphonic gestures crackling through an old car radio and competing with the soft hum and rumble of the wheels on the street and the cacophony of the orchestras slowly setting in. I resisted the temptation to use recognizable tempos and time signatures to convey a sense of timelessness. I like the idea that each track sounds like it's going on a never-ending journey and what's recorded is just a snapshot of something much longer.” Although there are six tracks on the album, they are similar enough in overall sound and mood that the listener can just hit PLAY and listen to the program as though it were one extended symphonic/electronic tone poem. No, this is nothing like electronic dance music (EDM) – there is no pulse or heavy beat moving things along. The music is much more nuanced than that, much more interesting and refined. At just over 34 minutes in length, the quantity of music on this release may leave something to be desired, but for those with adventurous ears, the originality and musical quality to be found in those 34 minutes will prove satisfying indeed.  

Milos: The Moon and the Forest. Jody Talbot: Ink Dark Moon; Ludovico Einaudi: Full Moon (arr. solo guitar by Michael Lewin); Howard Shore: The Forest; Robert Schumann: Traumerei (arr. solo guitar by Michael Lewin). Miloṥ Karadaglić. Guitar; Ben Gernon, BBC Symphony Orchestra; Alexander Shelley, Canada’s National Art’s Center Orchestra. Decca 485 1525.

Classical music lovers who have been longing to find a recording of concertos for guitar and orchestra they can enjoy as wholeheartedly as they have enjoyed recordings of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez over the years now have reason to rejoice, for this new release by the Montenegro-born guitarist Miloš Karadaglić (b. 1983) should make them very happy indeed. Interestingly enough, in his liner note essay, Miloš writes, “Classical guitar is often wrongly defined by a handful of beautiful pieces. One of the most iconic is Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Performing this incredible concerto has taken me to some of the world’s  greatest stages  playing alongside some of the world’s leading orchestras. For many in the audience, this stunning work has been the first and only point of contact with the classical guitar. It is exactly this that inspired me to seek new ideas… I first experienced Jody Talbot’s music at Covent Garden, where his beautiful ballet scores caused a sensation. .. after just a few minutes of listening, I knew I had to meet him. We quickly became friends and, just as quickly, began work on this new concerto. Ink Dark Moon is like a perfect symphony—there is no element of delicacy or virtuosity left untouched… For many years I have been fascinated by Howard Shore’s extraordinarily imaginative soundtracks and classical compositions. The concerto for guitar and orchestra he wrote for me, titled The Forest, is magical – just like the enchanted forest he painted with his unique musical brushstrokes.” By the way, the CD booklet includes not only observations about the music by Miloš, but also some brief remarks from both Shore (b. 1946) and Talbot (b. 1971).  Talbot’s Ink Dark Moon opens quietly on the guitar, the mood of a dark moon being established at the outset. After this quiet intro, the energy level increases, but then the second movement once again lowers the energy level and conveys a sense of brooding introspection. As with most concertos, the finale picks up the energy level, bringing in some percussion to make things more boisterous and lively. The solo piece by Einaudi (b. 1955) is, as you might expect from that composer, beguilingly melodic in nature, serving as a pleasant interlude before we are swept into the magical sounds and rich textures of Shore’s The Forest. The opening movement displays a rich variety of sonic effects without ever sounding forced or artificial, while the second movement is slower, more contemplative, bringing to mind a quiet walk in the forest at twilight. The final movement returns to the more magical sounds of the opening movement, but is a bit darker in tone and texture, evoking a feeling of drama. Then the familiar melody of Schumann’s Traumerei closes out the program – has the enchanting musical program been a dream all along? As for the engineering, yes, the guitar seems a bit large, but I doubt that fans of the instrument are going to mind. All in all, this is a truly rewarding release that should bring a big smile to the faces of fans of the classical guitar  – and a whole bunch of other folks as well.

Bonus Recommendation:
Farrenc: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3. Christoph König, Solistes Européens, Luxembourg. NAXOS 8.573706.

Once again I have had the pleasure of discovering delightful music by a composer entirely new to me; indeed, I suspect the name of French composer Louise Farrenc (1804-1875) will be new to the vast majority of those reading this review. Her output was not large: three symphonies, some overtures, some chamber works, and some piano music (she was an accomplished pianist but decided to concentrate on composition and teaching rather than performing). Judging from this recording, she was certainly a talented composer. Symphony No. 2 sounds like a hybrid of Mozart and Beethoven, with a slow introduction but then a lively first movement that does not lack for energy or inventiveness. But the real highlight for me is the third movement, a scherzo that is simply a dazzling delight. Remarkable! Symphony No. 3 likewise starts off with a slow introduction leading to an energetic opening movement, but as the symphony unfolds, it proves to be a more lyrical, more expressive, and ultimately even more impressive work than its discmate. There is an interesting – but disheartening – tale told about this work in the liner notes: “The work was relatively well-received at its premiere , and was performed in Brussels in 1847 – indeed, Farrenc’s symphony concerts usually attracted large audiences, partly because of the simple novelty of attending performances of orchestral music by a woman! However, she struggled to persuade Francois-Antoine Habeneck, conductor of the most prominent orchestral series in Paris, to perform her music. It was not until April 1849 that she succeeded in having her new Third Symphony (composed in 1847) performed by the Société dés  Concerts du Conservatoire under Habeneck’s successor, Narcisse Girard. Unfortunately, the decision was taken to programme it alongside Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which, as even the critics noted, was unfair on the new work; this Beethoven symphony was his most popular and highly regarded work in France at the time.” Geez, Louise… But thanks to this splendid recording, modern listeners can now give these works by Ms. Farrenc an unprejudiced audition and judge for themselves regarding their musical merit. Trust me, this is a CD well worth the time and effort.

KWN

Brahms: Piano Concertos (CD review)

Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2. Andras Schiff, piano; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. ECM New Series 2690/91 - 485 5770 (2-disc set).

By John J. Puccio

Classical pianist and conductor Sir Andras Schiff (b. 1953) has been around long enough to have played just about everything, but this time it’s a little different. He plays a piano built in 1859, just a year after Brahms wrote his First Piano Concerto, and accompanying him is the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, an ensemble of period instruments that Brahms might have encountered in his own lifetime. In other words, following historically informed performance practices and using instruments original to Brahms’s day, these readings of the Brahms First and Second Piano Concertos are probably as close as possible to something Brahms would have easily recognized.

As you no doubt know, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) composed the Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1858 while he was still a fairly young fellow in his twenties. It’s a work all craggy and monumental in scope, abounding in energy and vitality, perhaps the energy of youth, Apparently, it started out as a symphony, so maybe that explains where it went.

While the First Piano Concerto may be a youthful work, there is no excessive playfulness about it, with a healthy interplay between soloist and orchestra. I’ve heard that Brahms intended the second-movement Adagio as an elegiac tribute to his late mentor, Robert Schumann, followed by a fairly jubilant finale, a kind of spirited peasant dance with variations that sparkle.

Now, admittedly, I have a fondness for historical performances, even when they don’t reach back as many years as the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is probably used to playing. Still, the string players use gut strings and play with an abundance of vibrato and smooth glides, and the timpani are leaner than we often hear today. What’s more, the 1859 Bluthner grand piano has a lighter, nimbler sound than a modern grand. It’s all unique and attractive, and it makes these recordings more than simply unique; it makes them worthwhile additions to anyone’s already stacked library of Brahms piano concertos.

Anyway, after a lengthy and properly regal orchestral introduction, the soloist finally arrives. Yet Schiff does so with a nimble subtlety. There is nothing grand or self-centered about his performance; he appears to be at one with the orchestra. Mr. Schiff says that the older pianos (of the nineteenth century) were “more transparent, with a more singing tone” than today’s Steinways, and he makes good use of those qualities in a transparent, singing performance. I suppose playing from the autograph manuscripts helps, too.

Brahms was in no hurry to follow up his First Piano Concerto, however. There was a gap of twenty-two years before he wrote his only other Piano Concerto, his No. 2 in B major, and it took him some four years to complete in 1881. It became an immediate success, with the composer himself as the soloist at the premiere, and he went on to perform it all over Europe. Brahms wrote the piece in four movements rather than the traditional three, so it’s a little longer than most concertos. (I’ve read that Brahms included the extra movement, a scherzo, because he thought the opening movement sounded too plain and simple.) He filled the work with so many memorable melodies that the whole thing sounds lovely, less rugged than the First Concerto, more melodious, more pastoral.

Schiff’s realization of the Second Concerto retains all of its lyrical virtues and adds a layer of unmannered authority to it. The music remains in part charmingly rustic yet patrician. Here, the vintage piano plays a key part in that it sounds both regally expansive and poetically dulcet. It makes for an attractive combination in a performance that glistens sweetly throughout.

Executive producer Manfred Eicher, production coordinators Guido Gorna and Thomas Herr, tonmeister Stephan Scheilmann, and engineer John Barrett recorded the concertos at Abbey Road Studios, London in December 2019. The sound reflects a large space, a big auditorium or concert hall, even though it’s Abbey Road Studios. Whatever, it’s a flattering acoustic, the orchestra a bit close but imposing. Most important, it sounds real. Transparency is ample but not at the expense of brightness or edginess. The frequency range and dynamics are wide without overwhelming the music (or the listener). Ambience, depth, and spatiality are all more than adequate for a lifelike presentation. It’s everything a modern recording should be.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from Concerto No. 2, click below:

Classical Music News of the Week, July 24, 2021

Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival Begins Aug. 3

Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival is back on stage, August 3-13, 2021. The venerable chamber music festival’s 42nd season features performances by Artistic Directors Jon Manasse and Jon Nakamatsu, the Escher Quartet with Brian Zeger, and Imani Winds. Audiences will have their choice of three atmospheric venues. The historic, 300-year-old First Congregational Church in Wellfleet, the picturesque Cape Cod National Seashore Visitor’s Center in Eastham, and one of Cape Cod's major performing arts hubs; the Cotuit Center for the Arts. Year-round residents and summer visitors alike will have the opportunity to enjoy world class performances in nine concerts over two weeks.

The festival kicks off with a concert "In Celebration of Our Audience" performed by Jon Manasse (clarinet) and Jon Nakamatsu (piano). "Our wonderful Festival audience has shown incredible dedication and optimism, despite the difficulties of the past year. We conceived of this first concert as a personal message of gratitude for their support and a celebration of live chamber music returning to the Cape. We are thrilled to offer a season of programs including established masterpieces and exciting discoveries," says the two artistic directors about the program.

For complete details, visit https://capecodchambermusic.org/

--Gail Wein, Classical Music Communications

A Dazzling Start for the Festival de Lanaudière
To thunderous applause, the guest artists of the Festival de Lanaudière completely won over an audience clearly overjoyed to finally get back to live concerts. The first two concerts were sold out.

The Festival's second weekend is set for great surprises too! Les Grands Ballets and Les Violons du Roy unite again, to the delight of all lovers of beautiful music, offering a program of mesmerizing dance, enchanting music and divine singing. The following provides an overview of the concerts at the Amphithéâtre Fernand-Lindsay.

For details, visit: https://www.lanaudiere.org/en/broadcast/

--France Gaignard, CN2 Communication

Beginning Aug. 6 on PBS: Diana Damrau & Joseph Calleja in Concert
We're excited to continue to bring audiences this special season of Great Performances at the Met with concerts from Met Opera stars around the world. “Great Performances at the Met: Diana Damrau & Joseph Calleja in Concert” premieres beginning Friday, August 6 on PBS (check local listings).

The soprano-tenor duo take the stage to sing works by Verdi, Bizet, Rossini and more performing from the Cappella Palatina of the Royal Palace of Caserta. Hosted by soprano Angel Blue, the pair are accompanied by Vincenzo Scalera on piano. The New York metro area premiere of the concert is Sunday, August 8 at 12:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Also coming up, “Great Performances: Vienna Summer Night 2021” premieres Friday, August 27 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), pbs.org/gperf, and the PBS Video app. Conducted by Daniel Harding at Austria’s Schönbrunn Palace, the Vienna Philharmonic’s annual summer night concert features special guest pianist Igor Levit.

--Elizabeth Boone, The WNET Group

Philharmonia & AMOC Announce Star-Filled World Premiere
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale (PBO) presents the world premiere of The No One’s Rose at Stanford University’s Bing Concert Hall on August 26–29, 2021.

A production from American Modern Opera Company (AMOC) that combines music, dance, poetry, and theater, The No One’s Rose features a new score by Matthew Aucoin, set to the poetry of Holocaust survivor Paul Celan, alongside music by Bach, Berlioz, Schubert, Sam Cooke, and Paul Simon. The work, which explores deep questions of how to move forward and return to joy after a world-altering catastrophe, assumes even greater significance as the pandemic continues to shift.

For more about PBO’s 2021-22 season, visit https://philharmonia.org/

--Aleba Gartner, Aleba & Co.

TIME:SPANS Festival 2021
On Tuesday, August 24, 2021 at 7:30pm, the TIME:SPANS Festival presents the magnetic and experimental percussion and piano quartet Yarn/Wire at Mary Flagler Cary Hall at The DiMenna Center for Classical Music. Yarn/Wire performs the world premieres of Andrew McIntosh’s Little Jimmy and Wolfgang Heiniger’s Neumond, in addition to Zosha Di Castri’s Tachitipo, which was nominated for a 2021 JUNO Award.

American composer Andrew McIntosh’s Little Jimmy (2020) for two pianos and two percussionists is a 29 minute piece commissioned by Yarn/Wire for the 2020 Virtual TIME:SPANS Festival. In his compositions, McIntosh works with forms and ideas found in nature and incorporates instrumental, vocal, and fixed media forms. Little Jimmy uses field recordings taken on April 23, 2020 in the San Gabriel Mountains, near the Little Jimmy backpackers' camp on Mt. Islip. McIntosh says, “I wasn’t intending to write a piece about wildfire or climate change, but I had already been planning to use those recordings in this piece in late August of 2020 when the Bobcat Fire burned the trees captured in the recordings.”

For complete information and listings, visit https://timespans.org/concert/yarn-wire-3/

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Conductor Yue Bao Makes Debut with Chicago Symphony
On Sunday, August 8, 2021, conductor Yue Bao will make her debut leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) at the Ravinia Festival in the Ravinia Pavilion. Bao was recently included in a feature in The New York Times, profiling young assistant conductors at top American ensembles. Her insightful program for Ravinia includes Chen Yi’s Duo Ye No. 1 for chamber orchestra, Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante for violin and viola featuring Stella Chen and Matthew Lipman, and Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 4 (“Mozartiana”).

Yue Bao currently serves as the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Foundation Conducting Fellow of the Houston Symphony, assisting Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada. She made her subscription debut with the Houston Symphony on their opening night concert of the 2020-21 season, following a successful series of livestream concert performances with the orchestra throughout the summer of 2020. In addition to her debut with the CSO at Ravinia, highlights of the upcoming season include several engagements with the Houston Symphony on their summer concert series at the Miller Theater.

For details, visit https://www.yuebaoconductor.com/

--Christina Jensen, Jensen Artists

Washington Performing Arts's 2021/22 Season
Washington Performing Arts today announced its return to live, in-person performances for the 2021/22 season in venues across the D.C. region. The upcoming season comprises wide-ranging events that represent both the organization’s characteristic eclecticism and the inherent diversity and daring of the region’s community. The newly announced programs include classical and new music concerts, jazz performances, multidisciplinary and contemporary dance productions, and more. The season as a whole focuses on the return of live art, centering artists’ voices, and supporting the creation of diverse new works.

Season subscriptions will go on sale on Tuesday, August 31 at 9:30am, with single tickets becoming available on Wednesday, September 15 at 9:30am. Further details about the 2021/22 season are available now on the Washington Performing Arts website: https://www.washingtonperformingarts.org/

--Camille Cintrón Devlin, Bucklesweet

Schedules and Single Day Ticket Sales for Bang on a Can: LOUD Weekend at MASS MoCA
Bang on a Can and MASS MoCA announce the hourly schedule for their multi-day music festival called LOUD Weekend, presented on Friday, July 30 and Saturday, July 31, 2021, at MASS MoCA in North Adams, located in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts (1040 MASS MoCA Way). LOUD Weekend features two days of ear-bending music and mind-blowing art exhibitions taking place throughout the museum’s vast galleries and its stunning collection of indoor and outdoor performing arts venues.

LOUD Weekend launched in 2019 as an expansion of Bang on a Can’s long-running Bang on a Can Marathon, multiplying that inclusive and ambitious programming from one day, to multiple days. Bang on a Can co-founders and artistic directors Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe say:

We're back! We're live! We're LOUD WEEKEND! This year we welcome our friends the Kronos Quartet, the intrepid troubadours of experimental music who come bearing ear-bending world premieres by Terry Riley, Mary Kouyoumdjian and Sky Macklay. We pay tribute to Martin Bresnick, a shining light of American music celebrating his 75th birthday.  We open the second LW as we did the first, with the overlooked, and now newly discovered minimalist giant Julius Eastman. We walk into the wondrous world of Dana Jessen and her switched-on bassoon featuring George Lewis's ground-shaking Seismologic.  We welcome the joyous jazz-infused music of singer/violinist Mazz Swift.  We take an other-worldly trip into Gérard Grisey's Vortex Temporum. Robert Honstein takes us on an exquisite sonic walking tour through the rooms of his childhood home. We are transported into the voices, songs and stories that run through Nathalie Joachim's powerful Famn d'Ayiti. And so much more!

For complete information, visit https://bangonacan.org/

--Maggie Stapleton, Jensen Artists

ABS Festival
American Bach Soloists’ mid-week ABS Festival concerts bring a wide variety of exciting programs that would interest any concert-goer. With music from Bach's predecessors all the way forward to Rachmaninoff, the ABS Festival is covering all bases!

Read on to learn more about these three Festival programs and enjoy a video preview of one of the works to be performed.
“Transformation”
Tuesday August 3, 7pm
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

“The Devil’s Trill”
Thursday August 5, 7pm
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

“Bach & His World”
Friday August 6, 7pm
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

Watch and listen to a preview of “Bach and His World”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2078ZFOsXQ

For full information, visit https://americanbach.org/sfbachfestival/

--American Bach Soloists

Dvorak: Legends & From the Bohemian Forest (CD review)

Versions for Piano Four-Hands. Christophe Sirodeau and Anna Zassimova. Melism MLS-CD-027.

By Bill Heck

Reviewing yet another recording of, say, Dvorak’s 9th Symphony, the New World, is fun in its own way; sometimes one of us might uncover a real gem. But how much more enjoyable to bring lesser-known but still rewarding music to the attention of our readers! This review is solidly of the latter type.

Antonin Dvorak’s Legends are nowhere near as well-known or as oft-recorded as his late symphonies, although many classical music lovers will be familiar with the former in their orchestral forms. What many of us may not realize is that these works were originally written for piano, specifically as “four-hands” versions, meant to be played by two players on one piano – four hands in use.

But why would a composer write for two people playing one piano? The Legends were composed in 1881; From the Bohemian Forest in 1883-4. The popularity of four-hand compositions at the time was due to a confluence of factors. First, and this is something that should cause us to truly reflect on how different musical life is today, there were no recordings. While at least larger cities hosted concerts, any listening done at home was to people in the house actually playing music. Second, in the growing middle class, not to mention the upper class, some level of competence among family members playing musical instruments was a sign of culture, and a well-appointed home would have a piano. Third, large families were the order of the day. Add up these factors: several musical family members, one instrument (the piano), and a desire to hear music – and perhaps show off to the neighbors – and there you have it. (One is tempted to suppose that an excuse for musically inclined young men and women to sit close proximity without inciting waves of opprobrium might have had some influence as well.)

Of course, four-hand compositions did not start with Dvorak; they date from at least the late 18th century. For example, Mozart composed a few such works, and Schubert composed more, as did Brahms. Meanwhile, Dvorak’s earlier Slavonic Dances were originally four-hand piano compositions, although the orchestral versions are far more often heard today.

Despite the attractions of these compositions, there are limitations. First, it must be possible for the two people involved to play them successfully, which requires some limits on the range of each part. It is hard enough for a single pianist to cross one hand over the other as some compositions require; having two people with hands all over the same keyboard could be a recipe for disaster. Secondly, as the works were meant to be popular among amateur musicians, composers might take it easy and “dumb down” the works, lest those home musicians find the required techniques beyond their abilities. By no means is that always the case, but don’t expect Bach or Beethoven-like depth in this format.

So what about these works? Fortunately for us, Dvorak was really good at balancing the requirements of the form and still producing interesting and enjoyable music. I don’t suppose that many listeners would call these works profound, but they are charming and surprisingly robust (if I can use that term) in a musical sense. They certainly are not musical bon-bons, all sweetness and devoid of substance; they contain passages of drama and swagger, and Dvorak sneaks in some interesting – in a few cases almost radical – harmonies on occasion. Indeed, the Legends were substantive enough that Dvorak orchestrated them within a year or so of their original publication.

As with Sirodeau’s disk of the Brahms Intermezzi that I reviewed on this site a short time ago, Sirodeau and Zassimova do not play the compositions in chronological order. Instead, they are arranged in an order that the musicians find appealing. (The excellent liner notes for this album explain some of the reasoning behind the ordering.) There is no reason to suppose that Dvorak had a sequence in mind for these little gems, and surely he did not envision pianists playing through the entire sets at one sitting, so the ordering here should work nicely for all but the most obsessive sticklers. Similarly, modern-day listeners will not necessarily play the disk straight through as they would a symphony or sonata; this is the sort of music that one might sample from time to time. The ordering here makes this particularly easy: the repeating pattern is a piece from the Bohemian Forest followed by three Legends. Each of these sequences provides a coherent listening treat.

By this time, the attentive reader surely is asking how the artists play the music. In a word, excellently: these are seasoned musicians who obviously care about bringing forward some music that should be heard more often. And at this point in the review, I normally would toss in a few comparisons – but not this time. For one thing, there are only a small handful of disks (I found three) featuring both the Legends and Bohemian Forest in four-hand versions, and the thoughtful combination and (re)arrangement of the works found here makes this disk unique. Furthermore, if the playing were questionable in any noticeable way, I would spend more time worrying about the competition – but it’s not. That’s not to say that I ignored other recordings completely: I did a little sampling, but nowhere did I hear obviously superior playing, and the current disk has the advantage of up-to-date recording technology.

Speaking of the recording, the sound of the Melism recording is fine; clear, natural, and full range. To my ears, it falls just short of the best in terms of the “piano in the room” dynamism and naturalness; perhaps the sound is just a smidge flattened rather than fully three dimensional. But that’s a quibble, thought of only when concentrating strictly on the recorded sound.

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

Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique (CD review)

Varujan Kojian, Utah Symphony Orchestra. Reference Recordings RR-11CD.

By John J. Puccio

Better late than never.

Maestro Varujan Kojian and the Utah Symphony recorded this album for Reference Recordings in 1982, and somehow it escaped my attention for some forty years. This despite my having reviewed most other Reference Recordings releases over the years and despite the high praise the disc received for its sound in particular. So now, four decades late, here is my review.

First, though, a word about the production team. The following is from the Reference Recordings Web site: “Since 1976, The Best Seat in the House. Always at the forefront of technical advances. Reference Recordings records and manufactures award winning, ultimate quality CDs, Hybrid SACDs, Reference Mastercuts LPs, and revolutionary HRx discs: 176.4 kHz/24 bit music on DVD audio discs. Our recordings are also offered as digital downloads through our own website and through multiple sites worldwide, including high resolution PCM downloads and both stereo and surround-sound DSD downloads. We offer recordings from many of the finest classical, jazz, blues and world music artists.” At the time, Maestro Kojian (1935-1993) was the director of the Utah Symphony, and Reference Recordings was doing a number of albums with the Utah ensemble.

In the present case, they gave us the Symphonie fantastique by Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), a revolutionary piece of music the composer wrote in 1830 and subtitled “Fantastical Symphony: Episode in the Life of an Artist…in Five Sections.” Using programmatic elements and a huge orchestra of well over a hundred players (I’ve read that Berlioz employed about 130 musicians for the première), the result must have been extraordinary. Nevertheless, it’s not really a traditional symphony; it’s more like a big tone poem, a psychodrama in five movements, wherein the young Berlioz writes autobiographically of the hopeless love of a young man for a woman, with the young man falling into a drug-induced dream, which the composer describes in his music. The woman reappears throughout the music in the form of an idée fixe, a “fixed idea” that the young man cannot shake, a musical innovation Berlioz used to advantage and that later composers like Richard Wagner used extensively.

Berlioz titled the opening movement “Reveries--Passions,” describing the dejected romantic lover of the score conjuring up opium dreams and nightmares of his lost love. Of course, as small tone poems each of the movements should be presented with enough color for us easily to “see” in our mind’s eye the action and emotions the composer intended. In the first segment, the Maestro Kojian is marginally successful, although perhaps a tad too casual for my taste.

The second movement, “Un bal,” describes a ball in which the young man catches a flash of his beloved, music that courses with exquisite dance-like rhythms and textures. Maestro Kojian seems more expressive here than he did in the first movement, and the ball progresses with a comfortable flow.

In the third movement we have a “Scene aux champs,” a scene in the country, which is a long, slow adagio. In it, the young man sees a pair of shepherds playing a pipe melody to call their flock, and all is well until, as always, the young man notices his love in the picture, and the music takes a sudden turn. Until the turning point, the mood is languid, dreamy, which Kojian handles well. It’s the dramatic midsection that perhaps the conductor could have been a bit more colorful and compelling.

By the fourth and fifth movements we get into audiophile territory, with the entire orchestra going full tilt. If you need something to show off your new stereo rig, these movements are among the demonstration pieces for knocking socks off.

The fourth movement, the “March to the Scaffold,” brings the young man to a vision of his death for the murder of his beloved. The movement, incidentally, brings up an interesting question. Should the conductor take it seriously or as a cartoonish joke? A lot of conductors seem to consider it a bit of whimsy, having the character in the score stride jauntily up to his death. Others, like Sir Thomas Beecham (EMI/Warner), see the movement as a more somber affair. Kojian takes a sort of middle course, the music never really sounding too silly or too grim. Yet it never really seems to catch fire, either.

In the finale, the “Witches’ Sabbath,” we find the poor hero imagining his fate at Judgment Day in hell. In some hands, like those of Sir Colin Davis and Leonard Bernstein, the movement can sound undeniably demonic. Maestro Kojian does his best to raise the devil, and Reference Recordings’ wide-ranging sound fills in any missing momentum.

On a final note of interest, the record producers provide two versions of the final movement, one with orchestral bells and one with church bells. I preferred the orchestral bells, which sound splendid.

Producers Jeffrey Kaufmann, J. Tamblyn Henderson, and Marcia Martin and engineer Keith O. Johnson recorded the music at Symphony Hall, Salt Lake City, Utah in March 1982. Because the music has an exceptionally wide dynamic range, it begins very softly. I would advise against turning up the volume, however, as the loud passages can be very loud, indeed. Anyway, the sound is typical of Reference Recordings’ discs. It aims to capture the acoustics of the concert hall, so there’s a touch of resonance, a modest distance to the orchestra, as well as depth to it, plenty of impact and frequency range, and a maximum of realism. Of the dozen or so recordings of this music I had on hand, this one was at the top of the list for sound quality.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, July 17, 2021

Festival Mozaic Announce Two Free Midday Mini-Concerts

We are excited to announce two free Midday Mini-Concerts that have been added to this year's Festival schedule!  Join some of your favorite Festival Artists for two free recitals, each less than one hour long, in the quaint towns of Los Osos and Cambria, California.

Monday, July 26 at 12:00 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church, Los Osos, CA:
Festival bassist Susan Cahill is joined by pianist Noam Elkies for a recital featuring Cahill's own compositions for string bass and piano.

Friday, July 30 at 12:00 p.m. at Santa Rosa Catholic Church, Cambria, CA:
Festival cellist Jonah Kim presents a mini-recital featuring works for solo cello, both classical and contemporary.

Midday Mini-Concerts are free, but reservations are required. These limited tickets are first-come first-served. There is a suggested donation of $10 per ticket.

For information and reservations, visit https://www.festivalmozaic.org/special_events.php?event_id=7

--Festival Mozaic

Death of Classical Presents PUBLIQuartet in the Green-Wood Catacombs
Death of Classical will continue its third season of The Angel’s Share this August, with the innovative PUBLIQuartet performing in the Catacombs of The Green-Wood Cemetery on August 4, 6, and 7. The quartet will perform a program inspired by its GRAMMY-nominated 2019 album Freedom and Faith, featuring works that celebrate women composers through the ages, and explore ideas of spirituality, resilience, and inspiration.

Performances of Freedom and Faith will take place over the course of three evenings, with two performances per night, and include music by Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Jessie Montgomery, Hildegard von Bingen, as well as original MIND THE GAP compositions by PUBLIQuartet.

For more information, visit https://www.publiquartet.com/

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Festival de Lanaudière
Festival de Lanaudière is the largest classical music festival in Canada. Founded in 1978, it welcomes over 50,000 members of the public each year for concerts featuring some of the greatest artists on the national and international scene, primarily at the Amphithéâtre Fernand-Lindsay in Joliette and in some of the region's most beautiful churches.

The Festival kicked off festivities on July 13 and continues throughout the month and into August. Alongside its usual programming, the Festival continues to offer small-scale concerts in the magnificent green spaces of Lanaudière. This week, these spontaneous events will be held on Saturday, July 17 between 1 and 3 p.m. at Parc Riverain, behind the Amphithéâtre Fernand-Lindsay and on Sunday, July 18 between 2 and 3 p.m. at the Maison et Jardins Antoine-Lacombe. These free concerts are made possible by the cities of Joliette and Saint-Charles-Borromée, respectively.

To learn more about the Festival, visit https://www.lanaudiere.org/en/

--France Gaignard, CN2 Communication

James Conlon: Recent & Upcoming in 2021
In November 2020, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced the appointment of James Conlon as the orchestra’s Artistic Advisor, effective September 2021. This three-year appointment was made to ensure the continued artistic excellence of the orchestra as it conducts its search for the BSO’s next Music Director.

LA Opera’s 2021–22 Season:
The LA Opera season at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is back, with Music Director James Conlon conducting three operas long absent from the company’s repertory: Verdi’s Il Trovatore, which opens the season; Wagner’s Tannhauser; and Verdi’s Aida, as well as Bach's St. Matthew Passion.

For more information, visit https://www.laopera.org/

--Shuman Associates

Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres to Perform Amici e Rivali with Opera Philadelphia
Two of classical music’s most thrilling tenors come together with Opera Philadelphia for a beautiful summer evening of vocal pyrotechnics, picnics under the stars, and a dazzling fireworks display. “An Evening of Vocal Fireworks” spotlights the incredible talents of tenors Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres in friendly sing-off on Thursday, Aug. 26, at 7:00 p.m. at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.

The special pre-season concert, part of the Mann’s Summer Picnic Series, reunites the “dueling tenors” for the first live performance in North America of music from their critically acclaimed 2020 album, Amici e Rivali (“Friends & Rivals”), featuring arias and duets from some of Rossini’s most beloved operas as well as rarely heard works.

For complete information, visit https://www.operaphila.org/whats-on/on-stage-2021-2022/amici-e-rivali/

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Peter Mraz Announced as President and CEO of American Pianists Association
he American Pianists Association (APA) announced today that Peter Mraz will step into the role of President and CEO starting Aug 1, 2021, taking over for outgoing President/CEO and Artistic Director Dr. Joel Harrison, who will remain in a consulting role while Mraz acclimates to the new role. After graduating as Valedictorian from the Košice Conservatory of Music in his native Slovakia, and earning a Master in Public Policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Peter Mraz moved into management consulting for public and private sector clients, and later made a career transition to non-profit arts management in London, UK, holding numerous positions at high-profile international arts organizations.

“Peter’s wealth of experiences is incredibly impressive. With his international reach and connections, his creative and innovative ways of reaching new audiences and supporters, and his international public policy knowledge, he is a 21st century  Renaissance man,” shares Board Chair Jean Richcreek. “Peter, too, is a gifted pianist and passionate about the success of musical institutions. We are thrilled that he is joining American Pianists Association as our President and CEO.”

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

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Bang on a Can and MASS MoCA Announce LOUD Weekend
Bang on a Can and MASS MoCA announce the daily schedule for their multi-day music festival called LOUD Weekend, presented on Friday, July 30 and Saturday, July 31, 2021, at MASS MoCA in North Adams, located in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts (1040 MASS MoCA Way). LOUD Weekend features two days of ear-bending music and mind-blowing art exhibitions taking place throughout the museum’s vast galleries and its stunning collection of indoor and outdoor performing arts venues. Featured performers include Kronos Quartet, Mazz Swift, Nathalie Joachim, and Bang on a Can All-Stars among many others. The opening concert on Friday July 30 at 4pm begins with Julius Eastman’s FEMENINE followed by world premiere performances of music by Frederic Rzewski, Terry Riley, and much more. Tickets are available now for $95 (2-day Pass). Capacity is limited.

LOUD Weekend launched in 2019 as an expansion of Bang on a Can’s long-running Bang on a Can Marathon, multiplying that inclusive and ambitious programming from one day, to multiple days. Bang on a Can co-founders and artistic directors Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe say:

“We’re back! We’re live! We’re LOUD WEEKEND! More power-packed concerts by more supersonic composers in a single weekend. It’s all happening this summer at the huge renegade MASS MoCA. Composers will be on hand to talk and mingle. Seating is limited. So get your tickets now! We’re excited to bump elbows!”

For more information, visit https://bangonacan.org/

--Maggie Stapleton, Jensen Artists

Chamber Music at the Mission
For many decades, Festival Mozaic has hosted a concert at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, California. We are pleased to announce that we will be able to host our annual concert in the historic Mission this year due to the lifting of gatherings restrictions in our community.

Enjoy chamber music repertoire performed by a world-class roster of musicians in a venue with beautiful acoustics.

For information and tickets, visit https://www.festivalmozaic.org/mission

--Festival Mozaic

Festival Mozaic Returns to the PAC
Festival Mozaic is proud to present the first live performance at Miossi Hall in the Performing Arts Center San Luis Obispo since before the pandemic shutdown!  Join music director Scott Yoo and our incredible artists for performances of beautiful chamber music in this amazing venue.

July 31, 8 pm. Tickets start at $10.

Tickets and information here: https://www.festivalmozaic.org/pac

--Festival Mozaic

Foundation to Assist Young Musicians, July 2021
Changing of the Guard. Better late than never!
At the June board meeting, former President Claudia Rivera hands over the gavel to new President Elliot Gorlin. This was the first face-to-face meeting the Board had since March 2020.

It's All About the Kids:
Students and parents show how successful our new East Las Vegas Library program is. Located so close to the East Last Vegas Community Center, when these kids get a bit older, they can easily move over to the other facility.

Registration is now open for all FAYM NEW and RETURNING students at ALL LOCATIONS.
Register at: https:www.thefaym.org/registration2021.

Classes at East Las Vegas Community Center are starting August 30th. Pearson Community & East Las Vegas Library open September 14. Orientation for anyone needing more information is Tuesday August 24 @ 6PM in the ballroom of the East Las Vegas Community Center.

FAYM has room to start 50 beginners (1st - 5th grade) between our three locations on the violin. We are also open to 12 new cello students (3-6th grade).

Our Summer lesson programming is providing 28 students with one-on-one private instruction, in person, through August at no cost to the kids. The 2020/2021 online pandemic adjustment lessons finished with 68 students, all with great attendance and fantastic recitals.

Please join the Family of FAYM. You can donate directly online: https://www.networkforgood.org/donation/MakeDonation.aspx?ORGID2=261472871&vlrStratCode=sGKH0r7C%2fTluUPYFgoy83b58D9at49v4H577feRUnfV43c%2fKDcTQM6XY

--Foundation to Assist Young Musicians

Minnesota Orchestra Announces 2021-22 Season
Music Director Osmo Vänskä and the Grammy Award-winning Minnesota Orchestra today announced plans for the ensemble’s 2021-22 season that runs from September 2021 to June 2022 and includes Classical, Live at Orchestra Hall, Movies & Music, Holiday and Relaxed Family concerts.

“As we welcome audiences back to Orchestra Hall, we offer music both familiar and new, charting a powerful course after a period of reflection and transformation,” said First Associate Concertmaster Susie Park, chair of the Orchestra’s Artistic Advisory Committee.

For details, visit https://minnesotaorchestra.org/

--Shuman Associates

New Releases, No. 12 (CD Reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Olivier Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time; Kurt Rohde: one wing*. Left Coast Chamber Ensemble (Jerome Simas, clarinet; *Anna Presler, violin; Tanya Tomkins, cello; *Eric Zivian, piano). AVIE AV2452.

It was a real blessing to receive this CD for review, for I had almost forgotten what an amazing piece of music this is. I can’t quite remember what my first encounter with Messiaen’s music was. It may have been his organ music, or it may have been his massive, sprawling Turangalila Symphony. But the Messiaen composition that has made the deepest impression on me is his Quartet for the End of Time, which I first purchased on LP back in the late 1970s on LP in the form of the famous release by Tashi (Richard Stoltzman, clarinet; Fred Sherry, cello, Ida Kafavian, violin, Peter Serkin, piano), the recording that has long stood as the touchstone version (now of course available on CD). It is not a mellifluous piece that falls easily on the ear, especially on first hearing; however, it is a piece of great beauty that rewards serious, repeated listening, and there are many lyrical passages of deep, affecting beauty. Messiaen wrote the piece while a prisoner of war in a German concentration camp and it was first performed by his fellow prisoners. I won’t go into the full story here but it is a fascinating tale well worth investigating for those so inclined.

Messiaen was a devout Roman Catholic and something of a mystic, his work often based on religious imagery and containing sounds and inspirations from nature, especially birds. He wrote in the preface of the score to the Quartet it had been inspired by text from the Book of Revelation. You can get a feel for both the religious and nature-derived inspirations in Messiaen’s work by perusing a quick summary of the eight movements of this work and the titles that Messiaen gave them. I. “Liturgie de cristal” (“Crystal Liturgy”). Messiaen describes the opening of the quartet: “Between three and four in the morning, the awakening of birds: a solo blackbird or nightingale improvises, surrounded by a shimmer of sound, by a halo of trills lost very high in the trees. Transpose this onto a religious plane and you have the harmonious silence of Heaven.” This movement features the full quartet. II. "Vocalise, pour l'Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps" (“Vocalise, for the Angel Announcing the End of Time”). Messiaen writes: “The first and third parts (very short) evoke the power of this mighty angel, a rainbow upon his head and clothed with a cloud, who sets one foot on the sea and one foot on the earth. In the middle section are the impalpable harmonies of heaven. In the piano, sweet cascades of blue-orange chords, enclosing in their distant chimes the almost plainchant song of the violin and cello.” III. "Abîme des oiseaux" (“The Abyss of the Birds”). Messiaen writes: “The abyss is Time with its sadness, its weariness. The birds are the opposite to Time; they are our desire for light, for stars, for rainbows, and for jubilant songs.” This movement is for solo clarinet. IV. "Intermède" (“Interlude”). Messiaen writes: “Scherzo, of a more individual character than the other movements, but linked to them nevertheless by certain melodic recollections.” This movement is a trio for violin, cello, and clarinet. V. "Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus" (“Praise to the Eternity of Jesus”). Messiaen writes: “Jesus is considered here as the Word. A broad phrase, ‘infinitely slow’, on the cello, magnifies with love and reverence the eternity of the Word, powerful and gentle, ‘whose time never runs out’. This movement is for cello and piano. VI. "Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes" (“Dance of Wrath, for the Seven Trumpets”). Messiaen writes: “Rhythmically, the most characteristic piece of the series. The four instruments in unison imitate gongs and trumpets (the first six trumpets of the Apocalypse followed by various disasters, the trumpet of the seventh angel announcing consummation of the mystery of God) Use of added values, of augmented or diminished rhythms, of non-retrogradable rhythms. Music of stone, formidable granite sound; irresistible movement of steel, huge blocks of purple rage, icy drunkenness. Listen especially to all the terrible fortissimo of the augmentation of the theme and changes of register of its different notes, towards the end of the piece.” VII. "Fouillis d'arcs-en-ciel, pour l'Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps" (“Tangle of Rainbows, for the Angel Announcing the End of Time”). Messiaen writes: “Recurring here are certain passages from the second movement. The angel appears in full force, especially the rainbow that covers him (the rainbow, symbol of peace, wisdom, and all luminescent and sonorous vibration). – In my dreams, I hear and see ordered chords and melodies, known colors and shapes; then, after this transitional stage, I pass through the unreal and suffer, with ecstasy, a tournament; a roundabout co-penetration of superhuman sounds and colors. These swords of fire, this blue-orange lava, these sudden stars: there is the tangle, there are the rainbows!” This movement also features all four instruments. VIII. "Louange à l'Immortalité de Jésus" (“Praise for the Immortality of Jesus”). Messiaen writes: “Large violin solo, counterpart to the violoncello solo of the 5th movement. Why this second eulogy? It is especially aimed at the second aspect of Jesus, Jesus the Man, the Word made flesh, immortally risen for our communication of his life. It is all love. Its slow ascent to the acutely extreme is the ascent of man to his god, the child of God to his Father, the being made divine towards Paradise.” This final movement is for violin and piano.

This new recording by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble comes along at a time when this music seems especially relevant as we look around us and consider the toll of the pandemic and the rising threats of racism, anti-semitism, voter suppression, distrust of science, scapegoating, and so on so forth. Sigh… This is an ominous time; perhaps some visionary music might be what we need. In any event, I had hoped to do a direct comparison of the new Avie release to the venerable Tashi recording, but Serkin and friends seem to have disappeared (temporarily, I hope) somewhere in a hidden pile of CDs somewhere in the chaos of my collection (and to make things worse, the Tashi CD appears to be out of print, although it can be streamed, thank goodness) so instead I pulled out another live recording for comparison, one of those BBC Music Magazine discs featuring an all-star cast of Michael Collins (clarinet), Isabelle van Keulen (cello), Paul Watkins (cello), and Lars Vogt (piano). Without going into a lot of detail, let me simply say that both musically and sonically, although I might have had a slight preference for the BBC production (Michael Collins is hard to beat when it comes to clarinet tone), the new Avie release is certainly of excellent quality, communicating the both the other-worldliness and raw immediacy that are both prominent features of Messiaen’s remarkable music. As a bonus, the Left Coast disc concludes with a performance of Kurt Rohde’s One Wing, a brief composition for violin and piano that seems to fit in perfectly after the final movement of the Messiaen, which was also for violin and piano. Especially effective is the way Rohde concludes the piece, which is to say, most inconclusively, leaving the listener to question and contemplate. You can enjoy a video performance of One Wing here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Uc_eONtA8A

Lonely Shadows: Dominik Wania, piano. ECM 2686 086 9583.

Polish pianist Dominik Wania (b. 1981) has added a solid contribution to the list of outstanding solo piano albums on the ECM label (e.g., Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert and Paul Bley’s Open, To Love). Wania says in his liner notes that “I felt from the beginning that this would include fully improvised music. I didn’t want to prepare anything in advance, no forms or melodic sketches or harmonic layers. I was fully dependent on the creative process of playing here and now.” However, the album consists of 11 distinct tracks: Lonely Shadows; New Life Experience; Melting Spirit; Towards the Light; Relativity; Liquid Fluid; Think Twice; AG76; Subjective Objectivity; Indifferent Attitude; and All What Remains. The cuts do not sound loose and disorganized, they are for the most part pleasant, melodious, and ingratiating, sounding as if they were composed beforehand. In an interview with London Jazz News, Wania explained that “what’s on this album, although fully improvised, seems to have a specific form and everything works together as if this were almost finished compositions. Taking advantage of the perfect conditions that I had there, I tried to introduce as much substance as possible into what I was playing, and the music developed in some direction, it pursued its goal.” Wania has a deft touch at the keyboard, capable of painting sound portraits in subtle pastel shades. Nowhere is this more evident than on my personal favorite cut on the album, the oddly named AG76, which Wania notes “is kind of a homage for the outstanding Polish painter Zdzislaw Beksinski. It was played with a specific way of using the escapement lever of the piano, which makes the timbre of the sound very delicate and hazy.” By contrast, the very next track, Subjective Objectivity, is the one track on the album that sounds somewhat skittish and, well, improvised. All things considered, this is a beautifully recorded album that should delight jazz and classical fans alike. One final note about to help put things in clearer perspective: Wania did his doctoral dissertation on the influence of the French composer Maurice Ravel on jazz pianists such as Bill Evans, and he says that he considers himself a pianist, not a jazz pianist. As you listen to this album you can certainly hear the influence of Maurice Ravel on Dominik Wania, and that’s a good thing.

John Robertson: Virtuosity. Concerto for Clarinet and Strings; Hinemoa & Tutanekai; Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra; Symphony No. 3. Mihail Zhivkov, clarinet; Kremera Acheva, flute; Fernando Serrano Montoya, trumpet; Anthony Armoré, Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra. (Navona NV6223).
John Robertson: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5; Meditation: In Flanders Fields. Anthony Armoré, Bratislava Symphony Orchestra. (Navona NV6325).

Composer John Robertson (b.1943) is a New Zealand-born Canadian composer who writes listenable, enjoyable, but serious and worthwhile orchestral music worthy of wider recognition, and these two discs on the Navona label are well worth seeking out by classical music lovers looking for music that is composed and performed by musicians who might not be household names but are to judge from the compositions, performances, and engineering on these two releases, top-tier in every respect and deserving of wider recognition in households hither and yon. Virtuosity leads off with a lyrical concerto for clarinet and strings that sounds rather pastoral in nature; indeed, you could imagine it had been composed by a well-known English composer. Although not a concerto, Hinemoa & Tutanekai features a prominent solo flute part, as the music is meant to evoke a Maori legend in which two lovers from warring tribes are forbidden from seeing each other. As recounted in the liner notes, “Sitting disconsolate on the beach at night , where all the canoes have been pulled up to stop her from using one to get to Tutanekai who lives on an island in the lake, Hinemoa hears his flute sound across the water. At last, unable to resist the sound, she rushes into the water and swims to the island to be with him.” The sound of the flute over strings is again lyrical and lovely, expressing longing without lapsing into melodrama. Robertson originally composed his Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra for a Cuban trumpeter; not surprisingly, then, it is a more lively piece than the preceding two, and features a sprinkling of Latin rhythms, most notably in its lively finale. Interestingly, Symphony No. 3 opens with a prominent role for trumpet, so there seems to be a feeling of connection with the concerto that preceded it. The feeling of the music, however, seems more abstract, more introverted, but that is not to say harmonically dissonant or rhythmically disjointed. Although the title of this release is Virtuosity, the music and the performances are not about flashy displays of technique. It is about good music played well, which is a more rewarding form of virtuosity.  

Opening the other disc by Robertson under consideration here, Symphony No. 4 features some wonderfully lyrical writing for the woodwinds, but not at the neglect of the other sections of the orchestra, as the strings, brass, and percussion all get their chance to shine. The overall mood of this symphony is somewhat lighthearted, but the next piece, a meditation on the poem “In Flanders Fields,” written from the perspective of World War I war dead, here recited by conductor Anthony Armoré over somber music played by strings and trumpet. (Confession time: When I first heard this track, I thought sounded hokey. On repeated listening, I was moved, and now find it noble and dignified. I must have been in some sort of stuck-up mood that first time, shame on me. As a veteran son of a veteran with a son on active duty, I have no right to be stuck up over a recitation of “Flanders Fields,” none whatsoever). Symphony No. 5 sounds denser, more intense than No. 4. It is a remarkable work, a symphony that blends the lighthearted and the serious in a way that brings to mind the music of Malcolm Arnold, an underrated giant of the 20th century. Truly, this is a work that deserves wider exposure, not only as a recording, but in the concert hall.

KWN

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 Jon 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

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@gmail.com

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