Schumann: Symphonies No. 1 “Spring” & No. 2 (SACD review)

Lawrence Foster, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Pentatone PTC 5186 326.

By John J. Puccio

During his relatively short lifetime, German composer and pianist Robert Schumann (1810-1856) managed to write four symphonies, one opera, and any number of piano works; and the symphonies didn’t come into being until late in the composer’s career. They became phenomenally successful and are now firmly entrenched in the basic classical repertoire. Maestro Lawrence Foster recorded all four of the symphonies during live performances in 2007 with the Czech Philharmonic, and we have them on two separate Pentatone SACD releases, the first one reviewed here.

Schumann wrote his Symphony No. 1 in B flat, Op. 38 “Spring” in 1841, shortly after he married Clara Wieck, herself a noted pianist and composer; and Felix Mendelssohn conducted the première. How’s that for help? As to its content, Schumann wrote to conductor Wilhelm Taubert saying, “Could you breathe a little of the longing for spring into your orchestra as they play? That was what was most in my mind when I wrote the symphony.... I would like the music to suggest the world’s turning green, perhaps with a butterfly hovering in the air, and then, in the Allegro, to show how everything to do with spring is coming alive...”

It's hard to knock anything by Schumann, especially where the "Spring" Symphony is concerned, but I'll do it anyway. Schumann's First Symphony should be a jubilant, ebullient, zestfully intoxicating work that inspires in listeners the very best feelings of spring's new life and new hope. Indeed, under conductor Lawrence Foster and the Czech Philharmonic, it does at least some of this. The interpretation is relatively quick paced and reasonably quick witted, yet it loses some of its joy in Foster’s fairly unyielding direction. While everything is neatly in place, the ebb and flow of the music is somewhat stiff, lacking the graceful, fluid continuity we hear from conductors like Wolfgang Sawallisch and Rafael Kubelik. So, even though I found Foster's reading spirited and lively enough, I didn’t always find it too characterful.

Almost half a dozen years went by before Schumann would write his Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61 in 1846. (In between time, he also completed the original version of what he would later publish as his Symphony No. 4.) Although Schumann was in poor health when he composed No. 2, the tone of the work is spiritually uplifting. Critics have praised the piece as sounding like a Beethovenian “triumph over fate/pessimism,” which is how Beethoven earlier had described himself.

The Symphony No. 2 begins with a measured introduction, giving way to a moderately paced Allegro that becomes more tumultuous as it proceeds. A Scherzo follows, brisk and playful, hinting something of the Baroque and possibly of Bach. Next is a slow and expressive Adagio, taking on the nature of an elegy. Then Schumann wraps things up with a very lively (“molto vivace”) Allegro that borrows something from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony “Ode to Joy.”

Maestro Foster seems to loosen up more in the Second Symphony, and the music flows more easily, more freely. Maybe Foster just took time to warm up. It’s also possible that because the music of No. 2 appears more mature, more serious than the tenor of No. 1, Foster found it more approachable, more consistent with his generally straightforward manner. Whatever, I enjoyed Foster’s handling of No. 2 more than I did his reading of No. 1.

Recording producer Job Maarse and recording engineer Matthijs Ruijter recorded the album live at the Dvorak Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague in October 2007. The disc is in hybrid SACD, meaning you can listen in two-channel or multichannel from an SACD player or in ordinary two-channel from any ordinary CD player. I listened in two-channel SACD from a Sony SACD player.

Pentatone first released the disc in 2008, and I suppose it has done well enough for them that they continue to offer it. For live sound, it’s pretty good, but it does have a bit too much hall reverberation for ultimate clarity. At least, it is mercifully free of audience noise and applause, which is remarkable given that the engineer did not mike it too closely. The perspective is from a modest distance, and the sound comes through refreshingly natural, if a tad soft for my liking. Dynamics are good, as we might expect from an SACD, but not exceedingly so, and frequency extremes are more than adequate.

For comparison purposes, I put on the aforementioned performance by Sawallisch and the Dresden Staatskapelle (EMI) as well as one by Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra (also on EMI), recordings made thirty and forty years earlier. Both of them sounded better to my ears than the Foster disc (with the older Klemperer recording sounding the best by far), and both of the older performances seemed more colorful than Foster’s in their delineation of the music’s varying moods. I know a lot of folks also rave about Karajan’s recordings on DG, and while I admit they are beautifully played, I have never been able to adjust to the sound of their over-pronounced high-end, which spoils my enjoyment of the music.

In the end, I'd say if you have to have these symphonies in modern, multichannel, digital surround sound, the Pentatone is going to be one of your better choices. However, if you're after the best performances, the two EMI sets I mentioned (Sawallisch and Klemperer) and others by Zinman (Arte Nova), Goodman (RCA, on period instruments), Kubelik (Sony), Muti (EMI), Gardiner (DG), and Dausgaard (BIS) are probably surer bets.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, May 8, 2021

Juan Perez Floristan Wins the 2021 Rubinstein Piano Competition
Juan Perez Floristan from Spain is the winner of the Rubinstein Piano Competition, which culminated today (Monday, May 3) at the Tel Aviv Charles Bronfman Auditorium (home of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which played in today's finals). A total of six competitors, from the initial 32, had made it through to the final rounds.

Second place went to Shiori Kuwahara from Japan, with third place going to Cunmo Yin from China.

With a thousand audience members in the hall and many more watching from around the world online, the finalists had each over the past few days played piano quintets, classical concertos with the Israel Camerata Jerusalem and, finally, romantic concertos with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. The prize for first place was a gold medal with a portrait of Rubinstein illustrated by Picasso, a cash prize of $40,000, and many guaranteed engagements internationally. Second prize is a silver medal and $20,000; third place is a bronze medal and $10,000). All the other finalists win $6,000 each.

For details, visit

--James Inverne Music Consultancy

Pivot Arts Festival Safely Returns to In-Person Events
Pivot Arts, a hub for adventurous, multidisciplinary performance, announces “Reimagining Utopia,” the ninth annual Pivot Arts Festival featuring almost entirely world premieres, May 21–June 6, 2021 at several indoor and outdoor performance spaces. Following the all-virtual 2020 Festival, Pivot Arts this year plans to bring together audiences and artists safely and in observance of public health protocols. Tickets are on sale April 30 at

Pivot Arts selected 12 artists and companies to create small, live works of theatre, dance and/or music, as well as video installations, inspired by this year’s theme, “Reimagining Utopia.” Pivot asked the artists to think about a better world post-pandemic and respond to the global health crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020. Audience members will also have the opportunity to respond with their visions of a brighter future and more just and equitable society.

The 2021 Pivot Arts Festival “Reimagining Utopia” takes place May 21–June 6 at multiple indoor and outdoor locations. Tickets at

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Josh Groban to Perform at YPC's Virtual Spring Gala
Monday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. EDT

What do Grammy, Tony, and Emmy Award-nominated singer, songwriter, and actor Josh Groban and famed pianist and Lang Lang have in common? They will be joining 600 YPC young artists at their Virtual Spring Gala, along with guest appearances by Emmy Award-winning actor, writer, and director Michael Imperioli, Broadway and film actor and singer Norm Lewis, Broadway actress, singer, and YPC alum Aneesa Folds, and a surprise special appearance by an Oscar, Golden Globe, and two-time Emmy Award-winning artist.

Join these celebrated performers in honoring and supporting YPC and our choristers by being a part of the event of the year!

For complete information, visit

--Young People’s Chorus of New York City

SF Girls Chorus Presents The Line Between
San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) concludes its 2020-2021 season with three drive-in showings of The Line Between on Saturday, May 29, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. and Thursday, June 3, 2021 at 6:30 p.m., at Fort Mason FLIX.

Reflecting on a year of adventurous collaborative projects across different art forms, SFGC brings together hundreds of choral singers from all levels of the SFGC Chorus School, as well as the Premier Ensemble, for a special film presentation that includes two world premieres: The Line Between by SFGC alum Cava Menzies, commissioned by SFGC and featuring Spring 2021 Virtual Artists-in-Residence Roomful of Teeth; and an excerpt from The Future is Bright by Chorus School Composer-in-Residence Susie Ibarra, which will receive its official premiere during the 2021-2022 season. Also featured on the program is an excerpt from Music for Hard Times by Danny Clay, in collaboration with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and The Living Earth Show.

For more information, visit

--Brenden Guy PR

Soprano Laura Strickling Announces "The 40@40 Project"
In November 2019, Ms. Strickling made the realization that, while she’d been asked to premiere countless works over the course of her career, she’d never actively commissioned any. Since the collaborative relationship between singer and composer is one of her favorite aspects of the work, Laura decided to aim high -- to commission 40 new songs as a 40th birthday present to herself. The project aim quickly developed into, “40 songs by 40 composers,” and has since grown beyond its original scope to include performances, recordings, and a published anthology of all of the commissioned works. The resulting songs have been beyond exciting in their quality and variety.

“The 40@40 Project is the beginning of a personal mission to commission with intentionality and to encourage and help other performing musicians (or music lovers!) to do the same.”

For more information, please visit

--Schwalbe & Partners

Aizuri Quartet in Two Digital Concerts
Baryshnikov Arts Center and Tippet Rise Art Center co-present the Aizuri Quartet in two digital concerts premiering on Wednesday, June 23, 2021 at 3PM MT/5PM ET and Wednesday, June 30, 2021 at 3PM MT/5PM ET at and The two-part program, “What’s Past is Prologue,” features music spanning 10 centuries, all by female composers. A film by director Tristan Cook with audio engineer Noriko Okabe artfully captures Aizuri Quartet performing these works on March 4, 2021 at the studio of sculptor Joel Shapiro in Long Island City, New York. Both concert films will be free and available on-demand for two weeks following the premiere date.

Each Concert Available to Stream for Free for Two Weeks at

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Chamber Music Society Returns to Alice Tully Hall
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) announces its long-awaited return to live concerts in Alice Tully Hall for the 2021-2022 season with 30 concerts, comprising more than 94 unique works, 14 of which have never before been presented by CMS on the Alice Tully Hall stage. A large part of the season is dedicated to reviving almost all of the concerts that would otherwise have been lost due to the pandemic. CMS made the commitment to both artists and audiences to bring those concerts to fruition in a later season, and is proud to be offering them over the coming months.

Learn the details here:

--Beverly Greenfield, Kirshbaum Associates

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Appoints Davone Tines first Creative Partner
On the heels of its Tarik O'Regan Composer-in-Residence announcement, which breaks new ground in the early music world, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale (PBO) takes another bold step into the future with the appointment of bass-baritone Davone Tines as the organization’s first-ever Creative Partner.

Tines most recently starred in PBO’s critically acclaimed, sold-out run of Handel’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo. The Los Angeles Times was ecstatic in its praise, using words such as extraordinary, gripping, overwhelming, and terrifying to describe him. His PBO residency will include appearances in Philharmonia's virtual and onstage productions; however what makes it unique goes way beyond performing. Tines will play a key role behind the scenes, working side-by-side with administrative staff; attending board, strategic planning, and governance meetings; and producing shows and curating new series. He will engage with PBO stakeholders at all levels of the organization to explore the role of a major historically-informed ensemble in the 21st century that not only performs and presents music from the Baroque, but older and new repertoire, including opera.

For more information, visit

--Aleba Gartner, Aleba & Co.

Moab Music Festival 29th Live Season
Utah’s Moab Music Festival announces an inspiring and powerful 2021 slate of events, running from August 30 through September 16. Whether audiences need a retreat or a reboot after a complicated year, the fabled town filled with charming shops and restaurants, a 3-diamond spa, a top-notch winery, surrounded by Southeast Utah’s ruggedly stunning desert, and some of America’s best hiking, biking, and jeep trails, is the perfect place to safely spread out and enjoy MMF’s trademark world-class live music experiences. The 2020 Festival was one of the only events in the U.S. to welcome live audiences, and in 2021, it will again be live and continue to follow all local, state, and national health and safety guidelines, continuing its commitment to the health and safety of its patrons, artists, and staff as its top priority.

The centerpiece of the 29th season is the launch of its Commissioning Club with the World Premiere of a work by Kenji Bunch for narrator George Takei and chamber ensemble about Japanese American Confinement in America on Saturday, September 4th. Other programs bring patrons to an array of outdoor venues along the Colorado River, local ranches, on musical hikes, rafting adventures, and in intimate (outdoor) gatherings, where concert goers will hear world-class performances surrounded by the majestic sky and blazing red rock cliffs as the quintessential backdrop for the musical ride of a lifetime.

For complete information, visit

--Elizabeth Dworkin, Dworkin & Company

Young Concert Artists to Celebrate 60th Anniversary
Young Concert Artists (YCA) announces programming for their 60th Anniversary Gala, to be broadcast on May 20 from the DiMenna Center for Classical Music. The gala will feature an evening of performances in celebration of the organization's 60-year history of fostering and developing the next generation of talented young artists. Founded by Susan Wadsworth in 1961, who retired in 2019 and passed the leadership to alumnus and composer Daniel Kellogg, YCA has grown both its roster and its impact, providing artists with performance opportunities, promotional and marketing services, and extensive professional development tools.

Musical performers at the event include some of YCA’s most prominent alumni such as Emanuel Ax, Pinchas Zukerman, Anne-Marie McDermott, and Sasha Cooke, alongside the young stars of their present roster that include Zlatomir Fung, Anthony Trionfo, Albert Cano Smit, and more. Performances include works by Mendelssohn, Dvorák, and Chopin, as well as pieces by YCA composers Mason Bates, Andrew Norman, and Daniel Kellogg.

For more information, visit

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Berkeley Symphony Reschedules Episode Two of "REAL Berkeley"
Berkeley Symphony announced today that the second episode of REAL Berkeley, a new four-episode virtual film series that launched in March, has been rescheduled for release on Sunday, May 23 at 4:00 p.m. exactly one week after its previously planned release date. The upcoming episode, entitled “Edgy Art,” will showcase exhibits and artwork from the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) alongside chamber works by Jessie Montgomery, Florence Price, Michael Daugherty, and Olivier Messiaen.

A collaboration between Berkeley Symphony and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), “Edgy Art” will combine a selection of artwork and exhibits currently on display at BAMPFA with chamber music performed by Berkeley Symphony musicians. BAMPFA Director Julie Rodrigues Widholm will guest curate the episode, taking audiences on a virtual tour of both Rosie Lee Tomkins: A Retrospective, one of the most comprehensive exhibitions of Tomkins’s work to date, and Edie Fake’s Affordable Housing for Trans Elders, BAMPFA’s most recent commission for its Art Wall. Filmed on location, musicians from Berkeley Symphony will perform a selection of chamber works including the second movement from Florence Price’s String Quartet in G Major, Messiaen’s Appel Interstellaire for solo horn, Michael Daugherty’s Diamond in the Rough for violin, viola, and percussion, and Jessie Montgomery’s Strum for string quartet.

All episodes of REAL Berkeley will be streamed free of charge on the Berkeley Symphony YouTube channel and will remain available for viewing after the initial release date. Full details for episodes three and four will be announced later this month.

For more information, please visit

--Brenden Guy PR

What's Streaming: Classical (Week of May 10-16)
Friday, May 14 at 8:00 p.m. CT:
Minnesota Orchestra and Music Director Osmo Vänskä perform music to honor victims of gun violence.

Sunday, May 16 at 4:00 p.m. ET:
The Gilmore's Virtual Rising Stars series presents Avery Gagliano performing works by Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, and Dett.

--Shuman Associates

Minnesota Orchestra to Present Concerts of Remembrance and Reflection
Minnesota Orchestra and Music Director Osmo Vänskä will perform two concerts on Friday, May 14 and Friday, May 28 that have been programmed in response to the turbulence in Minneapolis and the world over the past year, particularly with regard to issues of racial equity and police violence against Black Americans. Both concerts will be televised live on Twin Cities PBS (TPT); broadcast live on YourClassical Minnesota Public Radio; and streamed live online for free at at 8:00 p.m. CT.

--Shuman Associates

PARMA Announces 2021 Live Stage Line Up
Since its launch in March 2020, the PARMA Live Stage has streamed nearly 50 concerts for artists to present their craft in an age of social distancing. A myriad of piano concertos, symphonies, string quartets, and other music ensembles have been showcased, and will continue through 2021.

Learn more:

PARMA Recordings

Robert Trevino Named Principal Guest Conductor of RAI National Symphony Orchestra
The Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai - the RAI National Symphony Orchestra, popularly known as 'RAI Torino' or simply 'the RAI' - has announced the appointment of Robert Trevino as their new Principal Guest Conductor, for an initial period of three years, starting in the 2021/22 season. One of Italy's leading orchestras, RAI Torino has regularly invited the young American conductor as a guest artist during recent seasons, in a close and deepening relationship.

The admiration is mutual. Says Trevino, "Since the first moment I made music with the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai, in Strauss’s Alpine Symphony, it was evident that we had a mutual understanding of our purpose as artists, to communicate and give expression to the greatest of emotions we all feel. Since then I have looked forward to every visit to make music with them in beautiful Turin, and every time it has been just as wonderful an experience. It feels like a natural and beautiful continuation of a deepening relationship, and therefore I am honored to accept this position of Principal Guest Conductor with the RAI."

--James Inverne Music Consultancy

Award-Winning iSing Silicon Valley Girlchoir Spring Concert
iSing Silicon Valley is pleased to announce its eighth annual Spring Concert, which will premiere on Saturday, May 22, at 4:30pm PT/7:30pm ET on YouTube (free). “Choosing Harmony” features 250 iSing girls joined by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Amaranth Quartet, and other guest artists.

“Choosing Harmony” follows the huge success of iSing’s first virtual concert, Holidays@Home, which expanded its audience by a factor of seven, with nearly 7,000 views to date from around the world. iSing is among the many choral organizations that have been pressed into a new relationship with technology by the pandemic. iSing has maximized the advantages of the digital platform for this final virtual concert of the season, offering new commissions and innovative performances by iSing’s young singers.

Saturday, May 22, at 4:30pm PT/7:30pm ET
How to watch: iSing’s YouTube channel
Tickets: Free; Please RSVP at to receive viewing link

--Amanda Sweet, Bucklesweet

Semi-Finalists in Menuhin Competition Announced
The first-ever virtual Menuhin Competition, the world’s leading international competition for young violinists, begins on May 14, with a live concert by the Richmond Symphony in the 2021 Competition’s host city, Richmond VA.

A complete list of Junior and Senior Semi-Finalists is on the Menuhin Competition website:
Junior Semi-Finalists:
Senior Semi-Finalists:

--Beverly Greenfield, Kirshbaum Associates

Visions of Childhood (CD review)

April Fredrick, soprano; Kenneth Woods, English Symphony Orchestra. Nimbus Alliance NI 6408.

By Karl W. Nehring

This is an unusual album in several ways, and a wonderful album in many ways. What is unusual about it? First, consider the program, which consists of two main items: A suite titled Visions of Childhood comprising music by Mahler, Wagner, Humperdinck, and Schubert; and the Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs) of Richard Strauss. Another unusual twist is that the music is performed not by a full symphony orchestra, but in chamber arrangements for a reduced orchestra of no more than 16 players. Maestro Woods explains in his detailed and helpful liner notes that the idea for arrangements on this album stems from the Society for Private Musical Performances founded by composer Arnold Schoenberg in 1919, which for a period of three years made arrangements of new musical compositions so they could be heard by interested members of the musical public, “played in arrangements for small ensembles like the one you will hear on this recording.”

Woods goes on to observe that “for much of the 20th Century, the arrangements of the Society were largely forgotten. In an affluent age, there seemed to be little need for arrangements of Mahler symphonies and songs for 10-15 players. However, in the last twenty years or so, these arrangements have seen a resurgence, and have become recognised as being artistically interesting in their own right. From a listener’s point of view, they offer a more intimate view of the music, one that perhaps allows the creativity and artistry of the individual performances to shine through. In the age of Covid-19, these arrangements have taken on a new importance in our musical life.”

Visions of Childhood is prefaced with a brief 15 seconds of the opening measures of the Mahler Symphony No. 4 with its sleigh bells and violins, in an arrangement by Erwin Stein. We then immediately are ushered into a performance of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, which is, as Woods points out, Wagner’s only mature quality piece of purely instrumental music, originally scored for 13 solo players that first performed it on Christmas morning in 1870 as a surprise for Wagner’s wife, Cosima. As performed here, this is more than 18 minutes of utterly beautiful music, even in Woods’s somewhat stripped-down arrangement, for which he explains that “in order to bring this work into the same soundworld as the rest of the programme, I’ve had to sacrifice (the) trumpet part and the two beautiful horn parts, as well the second clarinet and bassoon, but have been able to add piano and harmonium. Where possible, I’ve kept the parts from Wagner’s original unchanged in the instruments which carried over, but no single part in my arrangement is exactly the same as in Wagner’s.”

Next up in the program are three shorter pieces, all in arrangements by Woods and highlighting the charmingly expressive voice of soprano April Fredrick. The first of the three, a couple of excerpts from Humperdinck’s children’s opera Hansel und Gretel, also serves to highlight how the music on this album is bound together, as Woods notes that Humperdinck’s opera is a “quasi-Wagnerian” setting of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale that was given its first production under the baton of Richard Strauss and its second production under Mahler’s direction. From the Humperdinck piece we are then taken to Schubert’s familiar melody Die Forelle (“The Trout”), of which Woods explains, “given the sonic possibilities of expanding the accompaniment from piano to miniature orchestra, I decided to be more interventionist in arranging and expanding Schubert’s song. I have combined the three verses of the song with several, but not all, of the variations of the Trout Quintet, choosing to alternate strophes of the song with variations from the quintet that I thought suited the mood of the lyrics.” The end result of Woods’s tinkering, Fredricks’s singing, and the musicians’ playing of these familiar melodies in this unexpected setting is bound to bring a joyful smile to the faces of many music lovers. Sheer delight! The third of the brief selections is Die irdische Leben (“The Earthly Life”) from Mahler’s Das Knaben Wunderhorn, which as Woods explains, speaks of a world of terror and hunger, thus presenting quite a contrast to Mahler’s Das Himmlishche Leben (“The Heavenly Life’), the song that concludes Woods’s Visions suite.

But between these two arrangements of contrasting songs by Mahler, Woods again presents us with a combination of a song and variations of music by Schubert, Der Tod and Das Madchen (“Death and the Maiden”). Aficionados of chamber music are likely familiar with Schubert’s string quartet that bears that moniker. Woods gives us his arrangement of the slow movement of the quartet with his orchestration of the song added at the end, a song in which the young maiden pleads with Death to pass her by but Death responds by saying, “Be of good cheer! I am not fierce,/Softly shall you sleep in my arms!” And then we are privy to the ultimate vision of childhood, a child’s view of heaven in this excerpt from the final movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. Fredricks’ voice seems perfectly suited for this music; indeed, I would love to hear Woods and Fredricks record the full symphony with full orchestra. But do not let that let comment cast any doubt on my admiration for what Woods, Frederick, and the assembled musicians have accomplished here, which is truly remarkable.

If the program ended there, this CD would be highly recommendable, but as they say on those TV commercials, “Wait, there’s more!

The program closes with a chamber arrangement by James Ledger of Strauss’s Four Last Songs. The work is a specialty of soprano Fredrick, with the liner notes explaining that “the work’s exploration of the fragility of life took on new urgency and poignancy when Fredric contracted Covid-19 in late March, and so it was only right that this should be the work with which she returned to the performing arena with the ESO on the 26th of July for this filmed concert and recording.” As Fredrick herself explains, “the fatigue, which is one of the virus’s symptoms, was like nothing I’d experienced, giving a new dimension to the multiple uses in the cycle of the wonderful German adjective ‘müde’’ (‘tired, weary, worn out’). But I will also never forget the incredible, almost euphoric joy I felt the first time I walked out or my front door after my quarantine -- what an unthinkable privilege to be well and free to move about again. A stark encounter with mortality, weariness, euphoria, and ‘weiter, stille Friede (wide, still peace); the virus provided me with the most curious sort of gift of experience which has forever stamped and deepened my understanding of this work.” Hearing the cycle in this arrangement is a remarkable experience, especially when my previous exposure to the work has been through the huge sound of the late Jessye Norman accompanied by Kurt Masur with Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. That is a recording I treasure for its sheer sumptuousness, but this version with Fredrick, Woods, and the small band of ESO players is equally striking for presenting the music with beauty of a more intimate sort.

All in all, this is a truly satisfying release. The music is familiar but presented in novel arrangements that work remarkably well both musically and intellectually, providing much to reflect on regarding life, love, and death. The sound quality is excellent, and the liner notes are extensive and illuminating; as a welcome bonus, they include full lyrics in both German and English. And with a length of more than 79 minutes, you are certainly getting more than your money’s worth with this disc. Highly recommended!


Juilliard String Quartet: Beethoven, Bartok, Dvorak (CD review)

Juilliard String Quartet. Sony 19439858752.

By John J. Puccio

The Juilliard String Quartet needs no introduction. They are an American institution. But for the few unenlightened, here is a brief description. The already knowledgeable may safely move on to the next paragraph. The Juilliard School’s president at the time of the quartet’s founding, William Schuman, suggested the creation of the Juilliard String Quartet in 1946, where it has been the quartet-in-residence ever since. From then until now, it has received numerous awards, including four Grammys; it has recorded countless albums; and it has known seventeen different members. Its present configuration consists of Areta Zhulla, violin; Ronald Copes, violin; Roger Tapping, viola; and Astrid Schween, cello. Yet despite the years and despite the changes in personnel, the quartet has remained remarkably the same in tone, temper, precision, and style.

On the present album, the quartet celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary with three cornerstone works of the quartet repertory: Beethoven’s String Quartet in e minor, Op. 59, No 2; Bartok’s String Quartet No. 3, SZ.85; and Dvorak’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, “American.”

The program opens with Beethoven (1770-1827), who published the String Quartet in e minor, Op. 59, No 2 in 1808, one of his middle-period quartets. It’s also the eighth quartet he wrote, so sometimes people just refer to it as No. 8. To further complicate its naming, the quartet’s benefactor was a Count Rasumovsky, who provided one of the tunes. So the quartet is also known as “Rasumovsky.” By whatever name, it’s lovely.

So is the playing of the Juilliard team. Their care and accuracy are things of beauty. Their inflection, their tone, their graduated stresses are letter perfect. Their nuance is above reproach. One can easily hear from the opening movement of the Beethoven that we are in the company of greatness, both from the composer and from the Juilliard Quartet. They understand the nature of the music, the succinctness of Beethoven’s writing, the appropriate points of emphasis, and the length of sustained silences. Yes, lovely, and ending in befittingly high spirits.

Next is Hungarian composer and pianist Bela Bartok (1881-1945), who wrote his String Quartet No. 3 in 1927, one of six he composed in the genre. Bartok intended the piece to be performed in one uninterrupted span, but in the score he indicated four distinct sections. The piece begins rather somberly but livens up by the second part (Seconda parte: Allegro). As always, the Juilliard foursome handle it with authority, capturing the forward and rhythmic pulses of the work with clarity and assurance.

The program concludes with Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904), who wrote his String Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, “American” while he was living in the United States, and thus the familiar name for the work. He wrote it just after he wrote his “New World” Symphony, and it, too, proved a success. Dvorak said of it, “When I wrote this quartet in the Czech community of Spillville in 1893, I wanted to write something for once that was very melodious and straightforward, and dear Papa Haydn kept appearing before my eyes, and that is why it all turned out so simply. And it’s good that it did." As with the Ninth Symphony, Dvorak credited Negro spirituals and Native American folk music as influences on his quartet, although he quoted nothing directly from them in the score.

If you like Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony and somehow have never heard the Quartet in F minor, you’ll find in it a surprising similarity in structure and melody to the bigger work, a resemblance the Juilliard players are keen to exploit. The music dances smoothly between restfully introspective passages and carefree, pulsating segments, the Juilliard players appearing to enjoy the contrasts and cadences as much as the listener.

Producer and engineer Steven Epstein recorded the music at the Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center, Purchase College State University of New York in May 2019. I’m not sure I have heard a string quartet captured any better. Although they are slightly close, they are exceptionally well balanced, with excellent transparency, dynamics, and realism. There is no hint of hardness, brightness, or forwardness in the sound, just a totally natural presentation.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, May 1, 2021

Virtual Concert Invitation from the Frederick Historical Piano Collection

Dear Friends of Historical Piano Concerts and The Frederick Piano Collection: We will be hosting a Groupmuse online, and we’d love for you to be there!

In case you are unfamiliar with the term, this is an event organized by the platform Groupmuse, that in these socially distant times enables friends, family, and communities worldwide to come together online--not only for the much-needed connection, but to listen to and support live chamber music.

This will be our first Groupmuse concert. Our pianist for the event, Clemens Teufel,  having played Groupmuses before, has found the platform so satisfactory, he recommended it to us. Clemens, who has played on our regular concert series, will perform works of Liszt on our 1859 Erard; two Chopin nocturnes on the 1840 Erard after Intermission; then back to the 1859 Erard for Chopin’s Bb-minor Scherzo.

Here's how it works: Wednesday evening, May 5th, at 7:30, via Groupmuse, we will host Clemens Teufel’s concert. At 7:15 we and our guests will gather in a Zoom meeting for introductory hellos. It will be fun to see people from around the world tuning in! The concert will begin about 15 - 20 minutes later on Groupmuse's website, streamed through Youtube live, just for us! The program will last about 50 minutes with a brief intermission after the Liszt selections.  After the concert, there will be a private Q&A with Clemens, as well as additional time to chat and hang out online.

In order to attend, you must RSVP, by clicking here:

A $3.00 RSVP charge pays Groupmuse for coordinating this program.

--Pat and Mike Frederick, The Frederick Collection of Historical Grand Pianos

5BMF and The Noguchi Museum Present the Argus Quartet
Five Boroughs Music Festival and The Noguchi Museum co-present the daring and innovative Argus Quartet in a digital world premiere concert, noise/SILENCE. Part of Five Boroughs Music Festival’s 2020-2021 digital mainstage season, noise/SILENCE is co-produced by the Argus Quartet and was filmed on-site at the Queens-based Noguchi Museum in early April 2021.

The program explores the symbiosis of silence and sound through music inspired by and in response to the art of Isamu Noguchi, the iconic 20th century sculptor. Noguchi’s sculptures, on display at his eponymous museum, provide a stunning backdrop to the Argus Quartet’s performances of works by John Cage, Rolf Wallin, Dorothy Rudd Moore, and Paul Wiancko, who joins the quartet as a guest performer for his piece, Vox Petra.

Watch for free on the 5BMF YouTube Channel:
Learn more at

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

New Multimedia Work from Daniel Wohl for iSing Silicon Valley
iSing Silicon Valley, the award-winning girlchoir based in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, is thrilled to announce the world premiere of Drift, with music by Daniel Wohl, “a sorcerer of electroacoustic music” (NPR). and video by Máni M. Sigfússon, known for his genre-bending work with Ólafur Arnalds, the Rolling Stones, and Sigur Rós.

Commissioned by iSing, Drift is a five-minute multimedia work for treble choir, electronics, acoustic instruments, and video. It is iSing’s first multimedia and entirely digital commission. Drift will debut on May 15th at 8am PT/11am ET on iSing’s YouTube channel. The piece will also be a part of their concert, Choosing Harmony on Saturday, May 22, at 4:30 p.m. PT/7:30 p.m. ET on YouTube (free, and streaming afterward).

View here:

--Amanda Sweet, Bucklesweet

What's Streaming: Classical (Week of May 3-9)
Thursday, May 6 at 8:00 p.m. ET:
Bass-baritone Davóne Tines performs an aria from X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X and VIGIL with The Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Friday, May 7 at 6:00 p.m. ET:
Lara Downes presents an online workshop, "Welcome to the Rising Sun: Shining a light on music by Black composers," for the Manhattan School of Music.

Friday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m. PT:
Lara Downes presents "Holes in the Sky" webinar as part of her University of Oregon virtual residency.

--Shuman Associates

The Crossing and Annenberg Center Present “The Month of Moderns Outdoors”
Grammy Award-winning choir The Crossing, led by Donald Nally, announces the return of its annual summer festival of new music, “The Month of Moderns 2021,” co-presented with the Annenberg Center from June 3-19, 2021. Each of the three outdoor programs, spread throughout Philadelphia and neighboring New Hope, will be performed with singers and audience spatially distanced using The Crossing’s Echoes Amplification Kits designed by in-house sound designer Paul Vazquez, which allow an intimate aural experience while observing pandemic-time protocols.

The Crossing will reprise their sold-out October 2020 run of The Forest at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope from June 3-6, 2021; perform the world premiere of Matana Roberts’ “we got time.”, a work honoring the life of Breonna Taylor, presented in collaboration with Ars Nova Workshop at The Woodlands in West Philadelphia from June 11-13, 2021; and present the world premieres of At which point by Wang Lu and an expanded version of Ayanna Woods’s Shift, plus the U.S. premiere of David Lang’s the sense of senses, at Awbury Arboretum in Germantown on June 18 and 19, 2021. Tickets will go on sale May 11, 2021.

More information:

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Roberto Alagna, Aleksandra Kurzak, Lise Davidsen on PBS
Great Performances at the Met: Lise Davidsen in Concert premieres beginning Friday, May 7 on PBS (check local listings). The New York metro area broadcast premieres Monday, May 17 at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN.
The soprano performs arias and songs that brought her success around the world including selections from Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos,” Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut,” and Scandinavian songs by Sibelius and Grieg, from Oslo’s Oscarshall Palace in Norway. The concert was recorded last August. James Bailleu accompanies her on piano and Christine Goerke hosts.

--Elizabeth Boone, WNET

Bang on a Can presents Steve Reich and Amy Sillman
Bang on a Can, BOMB Magazine, and the Jewish Museum announce their latest online event: a live conversation featuring two of the most renowned American artists of their generation -- composer Steve Reich and painter Amy Sillman -- plus performances of two Reich classics: Piano/Video Phase and Electric Counterpoint by the Bang on a Can All-Stars’ David Cossin (percussion) and Mark Stewart (electric guitar).

Among the most iconic and well known composers of his generation, Steve Reich’s music has had a broad influence that continues to inspire music makers across genres, from techno and electronica to rock and roll. In the words of The Guardian, “There’s just a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history and Steve Reich in one of them.”

Reich will be joined in conversation with Brooklyn-based painter Amy Sillman, who had two triumphal exhibitions in New York last year -- a show of her own work at Barbara Gladstone Gallery and one she curated for the reopening of The Museum of Modern Art. Coincidentally, she is also Steve Reich’s cousin.

Thursday, May 13, 2021 at 7:30pm EDT
Streaming at

--Maggie Stapleton, Jensen Artists

PARMA Live Stage
On Thursday, May 6th at 7:00 pm EDT, composer and pianist David Haney and multi instrumentalist Dave Storrs will present a unique classical experience featuring improvisations on famous works by Ravel, Stravinsky, among others.

Learn more about the event here:

On Friday, May 7th at 7:30 pm EDT, Ken Field (alto saxophone/electronics) and Dave Harris (tuba) present a wide-ranging electro-acoustic performance of composed and improvised music, including works from the repertoire of Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, plus re-envisioned treatments of material by J.S. Bach, Charlie Parker, and others.

Learn more about the event here:

On Wednesday, May 26th at 2:00 pm EDT, In honor of the 100th anniversary of Astor Piazzolla’s birth, the PARMA Music Festival is pleased to present ¡Gracias, Astor! by Tanguango Quinteto, whose performance is dedicated to the tango nuevo movement. The concert features compositions by Piazzolla, the father of tango nuevo, and works composed with his influence, including selections by Serbian artists and Argentinian traditional tango songs in “nuevo” arrangements.

Learn more about the event here:

Finally, on Thursday May 27th at 6:30 pm EDT, Eight Strings and a Whistle will be performing a concert where in addition to new works, they will play two works from their upcoming PARMA release.

Learn more about the event here:

--Aidan Curran, PARMA Recordings

Chant Boreal: Bringing Students Together for a Wild Project
The Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) Youth Sector proposes a new musical adventure in the form of virtual choirs that will bring students together around an original creation: Chant boréal.

Composed by François-Hugues Leclair to an evocative text by Serge Bouchard, Chant boréal invites students to slip into the shoes of animals from the boreal forest to create a collective work. The children are invited to learn pieces of their choice from the four canons of l'Écureuil roux, Le Lynx, Le Hibou, and l'Ours blanc and to film themselves. Their contributions will then be professionally edited into a large virtual choir and broadcast on the web.

More information available here:

--France Gaignard

American Pianists Association Awards 2021
The American Pianists Association has updated its 2021 classical award plans. The five finalists, Dominic Cheli, Kenny Broberg, Mackenzie Melemed, Michael Davidman and Sahun Sam Hong, have each recorded a private adjudicated recital with WFYI TV in Indianapolis. The recitals begin broadcasting May 23rd for five consecutive Sunday afternoons via multiple platforms including radio, Facebook and YouTube (full schedule below). The five pianists will return to Indianapolis for the finals in front of live audiences June 25–27.

Concerts throughout the weekend include chamber performances with the Dover Quartet and concerto performances with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Gerard Schwarz. All finals weekend performances will be hosted by two–time Grammy award–winning vocalist Sylvia McNair and WQXR–FM radio host Terrance McKnight.

The 2021 competition will feature a new commission by Laura Kaminsky called "Alluvion," which will be performed by each of the finalists during their solo recitals. Previous commissions include works from Judith Zaimont, Lowell Liebermann, Augusta Read Thomas, Earl Wild, Lisa Bielawa, Missy Mazzoli, Sarah Kirkland Snider and others.

The five finalists were announced in early March 2020 just before the world was turned upside down, and in June of 2020 in response to the dire situation that musicians were (and still are) living in, American Pianists Association awarded all five 2021 classical finalists a cash prize of $50,000.

On June 27th, the winner of the American Pianists Awards will receive the Christel DeHaan Classical Fellowship, valued at more than $100,000, which includes the previously awarded (in June 2020) $50,000 cash award as well as career assistance for two years, including publicity, performance engagements of concerti and solo recitals worldwide, an Artist–in–Residence post at the University of Indianapolis, and a recording contract with Steinway & Sons record label.

For more information, visit

--Amanda Sweet, Bucklesweet

Chicago’s Bach Week Festival Announces 2021 Virtual Concert Lineup
Chicago’s 2021 Bach Week Festival will arrive as a virtual two-concert series of free-to-view webcasts May 16 and 21 featuring instrumental and vocal music of the festival’s namesake, German Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach, plus a work by Bach contemporary Georg Philipp Telemann, in prerecorded and livestreamed performances.

Bach works will include a selection of chorales and chorale preludes for organ, an organ toccata, a harpsichord concerto, and a Brandenburg Concerto. Internationally recognized young violist Matthew Lipman will make his Bach Week Festival debut as soloist in Telemann’s landmark Viola Concerto.

“We’re going Bach to basics in our first festival since the onset of the COVID-19 situation,” Richard Webster, Bach Week’s longtime music director, says. “The focus is squarely on J. S. Bach and a satisfying swath of his music.”

For complete details, visit

--Nathan J. Silverman Co. PR

B Live: A Series of 6 Concert Films
A baroque Hungarian palace hosts music from the Carpathian Basin and a Bach violin sonata graces a Montana mountaintop. Dutch treats sweeten a New Amsterdam house in Brooklyn, while a stately viol concert animates the stones of a medieval Basel sanctuary. An English titan of the lute brings forth rarities in Bloomington, while gems of the English Renaissance ring through the foothills of the Berkshires.

A testament to early music’s fortitude in the face of challenging times and technical leaps, B Live unites six unique locations and over 25 outstanding musicians in an online series like no other. Both subscription and individual ticket purchase options are available. All concert premieres will be followed by a live Q&A with the artists and Salon/Sanctuary Artistic Director Jessica Gould

All concerts premiere at 3pm EST and will run for a week. Each concert lasts one half hour. Individual tickets are $10, a six concert subscription is $50.

For details, visit

--Salon/Sanctuary Concerts

Soul of Spanish Guitar (CD review)

Pablo Sáinz-Villegas. Sony Classical 19439786732.

By Bill Heck

When confronted with an album like this, it can be tempting to say something like “Yeah, yeah, another guitar recital with some Spanish stuff, we’ve heard it all before….” In this case, while it’s true that we have here another guitar recital, that the works played are indeed all by Spanish composers (counting an “anonymous” traditional piece), and that you likely have heard many of the works before, at least if you listen to many classical guitar albums, this one is worth a listen and should be a plausible addition to your collection. 

First, the performer: Pablo Sáinz-Villegas, hardly a rookie, having some half dozen or so albums to his credit already. Judging from what I hear on this collection, he has not only the requisite technical ability but also, and just as importantly, the ability to translate technique into real music. In sampling performances by various other artists for comparisons, I was struck by how many – not all, of course, but enough – seemed just to run through the notes, concentrating on getting them out in order, but forgetting to bring the whole together, to add a sense of coherence, or even to make it sound like they cared. (I know that this last bit sounds over the top, but I must say that a fair number of number of performances seemed low on the emotion scale.) Secondly, the recording itself is excellent, with the sound of a small-bodied guitar, one built in the Spanish style, captured in a natural perspective. One would think that recording the guitar would be relatively easy, but apparently not: in sampling guitar recordings, one often hears tone that is off or excessive reverberation (even artificial reverb) or an eight-foot-wide instrument or excessive finger noise or sound that seems to be coming from another room or…you get the idea.

Despite these grumbles, there are plenty of other nice recitals with similar collections of music out there. But as I listened to alternatives, it became clear that the Villegas album combines music, musicianship, and sound engineering to deliver an enjoyable product.

To illustrate, let’s compare performances of two familiar works. In Albeniz’ Asturias (Leyenda), Villegas moves at a pace that we might call brisk but not rushed. One point of note is how well the strummed chords that punctuate the central section fit in without interrupting the musical flow. As a very low-level guitarist, I can appreciate that this is quite a trick to pull off. Villegas also uses subtle gradations of volume to bring life – may I say “sparkle”? – to the work, and his descent to pianissimo at the end of the bridging section is very well done indeed.

My first comparison was obligatory: to Segovia, the godfather of them all. His tempo is similar to Villegas, or rather we should say that Villegas’ tempo is similar to Segovia’s; indeed, the entire approach is similar. (There certainly is no shame in being compared to Segovia!) Villegas may be slightly ahead on technique; there is no doubt that the modern recording is significantly ahead of the older one. I made notes on other performances by the likes of Williams, Isbin, Li, and Grondona, but I’ll spare you all the details. Suffice it to say that Villegas’ account holds up nicely: indeed, I thought that Villegas was in some ways the most satisfactory of the bunch.

My second comparison work was Tarrega’s Recuerdes de la Alhambra (“Memories of the Alhambra” for those lacking a Spanish dictionary). Villegas’ account is quite slow; indeed, I think he would be better served by speeding up just a bit, as the tempo tends to emphasize the inevitable slight unevenness of the trilled notes as well as the shifting pitch as the melody notes are “bent”. Still, he exhibits wonderful phrasing and control, creating a mood of wistful longing, which surely fits the music. Moreover, he produces an actual dynamic range, not the easiest with this piece. And Villegas is hardly the slowest of quite a group: Pepe Romero and Sharon Isbin, for example, are even slower (Romero by a lot). Again, Villegas holds up well relative to these and my other comparisons (Yepes, Bream, Schulstad, Gueddes, and – of course – Segovia); in particular, a couple who shall remain unnamed just seem to be running through the notes, something that Villegas never does.

I mentioned those two works because they are particularly familiar: if you don’t remember them by title, you’ll know them when you hear them. But no need to revisit every track on the album: let’s just posit that this is a well-played and enjoyable collection.

As described above, the sound is first-rate, very clean and natural if perhaps seeming just a touch closeup on occasion. The liner notes include an essay about Spain, Spanish music, and the Spanish guitar that, if not particularly informative in regard to the music, nicely conveys Villegas’s love for his native country and its music.


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

Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 (CD review)

Teodor Currentzis, MusicAeterna. Sony 19439743772.

By John J. Puccio

The Greek-Russian conductor Teodor Currentzis is the latest musician to take the classical music world by storm (even though he was nearly fifty at the time of this review), producing sometimes controversial but decidedly absorbing interpretations that at the very least meet his own demanding if unconventional standards. He reminds me a little of Gustavo Dudamel over a decade ago in his creativity, enthusiasm, and willingness to throw caution to the wind. It’s clear Currentzis knows exactly what he wants and isn’t about to let anyone stop him from achieving it.

Serving Currentzis’s occasionally unorthodox approach to the classics is his handpicked, relatively small, period-performance orchestra, MusicAeterna, which he founded in 2004. According to the Web site, Currentzis chose his players from around Russia and persuaded them to move to Siberia, where they experienced intense rehearsal and recording schedules. According to James Rhodes in The London Guardian, "They live, eat and breathe there, and the majority of their waking moments are spent creating music." During this time, the orchestra appeared on several of Currentzis’s recordings on the Alpha label. The following year, Currentzis moved to the Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre, and MusicAeterna was reconstituted in that city as Currentzis began to forge distinctive, highly dramatic interpretations of music from the Baroque to the early 20th century. Sony Classical signed MusicAeterna to its label and in 2013 released their first album with Currentzis, a collection of arias by Rameau. The conductor and orchestra’s fame spread internationally with recordings of Mozart operas and the Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony.

Currentzis and MusicAeterna have performed all over the world, as well as in their home city of Perm. Their repertory ranges from Baroque choral music to Russian music and contemporary music, and they have toured with a concert version of Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas. In 2016, MusicAeterna became the first Russian orchestra to open the Salzburg Festival.

On the present recording, they tackle Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, written in 1811-12. At its première, which Beethoven conducted, the composer remarked that it was one of his best works. The second movement Allegretto proved so popular he had to encore it, and it has often been performed in concert separate from the rest of the symphony.

Beethoven’s Seventh has remained among the composer’s most popular symphonies to this day, and it’s easy to see why. One of its fans, Richard Wagner noted the work’s lively rhythms and called it the "apotheosis of the dance." In other words, a model of perfection for dance music.

So, what does the Currentzis recording bring to the table that previous recordings have not? That, of course, would be a purely subjective assessment. You would think the first thing from a historical perspective might be a slavish adherence to Beethoven’s rather quick metronome marks, but, no. A quick comparison to two period-instrument performances, one from Roger Norrington and the London Classical Players and the other from Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque, show that Currentzis’s timings are just about between the two: Norrington the fastest, McGegan a tad slower. To my ear, the difference in this new Currentzis account is that it strives more for dynamism than most, for a vigorous forceful thrust throughout the dance rhythms. Yet it does so with the utmost grace and perfection in mind, the orchestra reacting to every note as a polished whole, as though they were all one instrument. In this regard, it reminds me a little of the old Fritz Reiner performance with the Chicago Symphony. It’s clear that both conductors knew exactly what they wanted, even if it took away some of music’s ultimate joy.

Anyway, the symphony opens with a Poco Sostenuto, sustained about as Beethoven might have wanted, which leads inevitably to a full-fleged Vivace (lively and fast). Here, Currentzis is not so very different from many other conductors. This is certainly not an “unorthodox” reading. In fact, while Currentzis is unmistakably precise, he ultimately sounds pretty much like everyone else. Still, there are some delightful nuances, mostly of dynamism and rubato, that make some of it a delight to hear.

The second movement is, as I mentioned, an Allegretto (a moderately fast, intermediate tempo between an Andante and an Allegro). It’s here that we find Currentzis at his most idiosyncratic. The deviations in dynamic levels are intense, and the sense of forward momentum seldom decreases. Yet the movement never sounds rushed or hurried. It unfolds splendidly.

Beethoven marks the third movement scherzo Presto-Presto meno assai (fast, then less). The central trio is an Austrian “pilgrims hymn” repeated twice. Currentzis takes the composer at his word, starting very fast and exciting and transitioning seamlessly to a more moderate tempo. Currentzis plays the whole thing with a smoothness of flow that rivets one’s attention.

The symphony concludes with an impassioned flourish, an Allegro con brio (a fast, spirited, animated tempo). Musical analysts over the years have described it as a fiery bacchanal, the dance rhythms more and more a revel, an unrestrained merrymaking. Currentzis keeps the rhythms at the forefront, but I didn’t find the degree of exhilaration I expected. The conductor seems a bit too fastidious with producing exacting but not particularly stirring or stimulating notes.

My own personal reaction to Currentzis’s interpretation is that it doesn’t always conform to my own preferences. I always think of Beethoven’s Sixth and Seventh Symphonies as his most genial and happy symphonies, the Seventh especially alive with its bouncy, infectious dance music. It’s perhaps why I enjoy Sir Colin Davis’s modern-instruments recordings (EMI and Philips) and Nicholas McGegan’s period-instruments recording so much. Yet unlike these other conductors, Currentzis appears more concerned with the exactitude and detail of the notes rather than with the pleasure they can produce. Still, even for all his fastidiousness, Currentzis’s performance is really not significantly different from many others, so I can’t complain much. The sound is good, and the dynamics are extraordinary; a lot of folks will enjoy it.

The only real drawback to the disc is that it contains only the Seventh Symphony, no couplings. At almost an even forty minutes, the symphony hardly takes up half the disc, and a lot of classical-music listeners might be conditioned to expect somewhat more.

Producer Giovanni Prosdocimi and engineer Damien Quintard recorded the symphony at the Great Hall, Vienna Concert House, Vienna, Austria in July and August 2018. The sound they obtained is very dynamic, with a wide range and good impact. It’s also very clean and smooth, a trifle close, and fairly one-dimensional. There’s not a lot of hall ambience, either, which adds to the sound’s clarity but diminishes its realism. It’s the kind of sound that seems to embrace the conductor’s clear-sighted vision of the music without quite taking us into its heart.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, April 24, 2021

Baryshnikov Arts Center Premieres Final Installment of Digital Spring 2021 Season

Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC) presents the final installment of world premieres commissioned for the Digital Spring 2021 season. Through this initiative, BAC has continued supporting the development of new work by providing resources for artists to realize their creative visions specifically for online presentation. When released on Mondays at 5PM ET, the digital works will be free and available to watch on-demand at for two weeks until Monday at 5PM ET. The artists will discuss their projects and creative processes in a series of live-streamed conversations held in conjunction with the premieres.

All three presentations rounding out the Digital Spring 2021 season were filmed at BAC’s Jerome Robbins Theater in December 2020 and early 2021 with strict adherence to COVID health and safety protocols. The first, premiering May 3-17, is choreographer Stefanie Batten Bland’s Kolonial, created in collaboration with installation artist Conrad Quesen and inspired by the colonial exposition parks of Europe, North America, and the Caribbean during the 1810s–1940s.

Next is a video docudrama from multimedia artists and musicians Tei Blow and Sean McElroy of Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble, premiering May 17-31. The Sprezzaturameron follows two men who must confront the precarious nature of art-making in an apocalyptic near-future.

The final premiere June 7-21 is STELLAR by choreographer Kyle Marshall. This dance of speculative fiction began as virtual improvisation sessions with Marshall and two fellow movement artists, Bree Breeden and Ariana Speight.

Free and available on demand at

--Katlyn Morahan, Morahan Arts and Media

Bach Soloists’ New Artist Profile: Elizabeth Blumenstock
In the most-recent episode of our Free Artist Profile Series, American Bach Soloist’s violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock talks about her first inspirations that led to a lifelong passion about music. She shares stories about her early mentors including the encouragement and guidance from her mother and her first exposure to early music performed on period instruments.

ABS Music Director says, "This is such a beautiful interview. Elizabeth is a treasure, and her eloquence and generosity in sharing insights into her truly amazing spirit is inspiring. You'll be touched by this wonderful film."

Click and enjoy:

--American Bach Soloists

PBS - Lise Davidsen in Concert
Coming up, “Great Performances at the Met: Lise Davidsen in Concert” premieres beginning Friday, May 7 on PBS (check local listings). The New York metro area broadcast premieres Monday, May 17 at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

The soprano performs arias and songs that brought her success around the world including selections from Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos,” Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” and Scandinavian songs by Sibelius and Grieg, from Oslo’s Oscarshall Palace in Norway. The concert was recorded last August. James Bailleu accompanies her on piano and Christine Goerke hosts.

This season of Great Performances at the Met presents opera stars in concert performing favorite arias and songs in striking locations around the world.

--Elizabeth Boone, WNET

International Contemporary Ensemble Hosts Afro-Diasporic Opera Forum
The International Contemporary Ensemble, in partnership with Opera Omaha and FringeArts, presents the Afro-Diasporic Opera Forum online from May 26-28, 2021. The Forum is a free, three-day series of online events produced by colleagues and collaborators of the International Contemporary Ensemble in order to celebrate, share, and reflect on four operas that have had a major impact on the organization and collaborators. They include: George Lewis’ Afterword (2015), Tyshawn Sorey’s Perle Noire: Meditations for Joséphine Baker (2016), Pauline Oliveros and IONE’s The Nubian Word for Flowers: A Phantom Opera (2017), and a new work-in-development, Awakening (to be premiered in 2022), by Courtney Bryan with Charlotte Brathwaite, Sharan Strange, Cauleen Smith, and Helga Davis.

In order to cultivate awareness among presenters, producers, ensembles, and audiences, the Ensemble will bring these works into conversation with one another and with leading scholars in the field. Renowned musicologist Dr. Naomi André is the lead scholar and conversation partner for this three-day series featuring presenters and panelists such as Julia Bullock, IONE, George Lewis, Tyshawn Sorey, and many others.

More details about the schedule of events will be announced at the beginning of May at

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

New York City Ballet at Saratoga Performing Arts Center
In a joint decision by Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) and New York City Ballet (NYCB), SPAC announces that due to the ongoing health and safety concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic and guidelines mandated by the State of New York, NYCB will not return to its summer home in Saratoga Springs with the full company this July. Instead a small group of NYCB dancers and musicians will present NYCB On and Off Stage, an intimate, up-close look at selected excerpts from the Company’s extraordinary repertory of ballets. This series of educational programs has never before been presented for Saratoga audiences. NYCB On and Off Stage is slated for six shows from July 14-17, 2021, and will feature two special presentations. All shows will be hosted by a NYCB Principal Dancer who will introduce the excerpts and provide insights on each ballet. 

SPAC and New York City Ballet have also confirmed that the traditional residency engagement with the full company will be presented in 2022 from July 12-16.

For more information, visit

--Rebecca Davis PR

Season 3 of the Angel's Share
Death of Classical and The Green-Wood Cemetery announce season three of their acclaimed concert series The Angel’s Share. The series will offer seven in-person events in the Cemetery and Catacombs, and seven filmed programs broadcast on The WNET Group's ALL ARTS TV channel, and streaming on and the ALL ARTS app.

The season opens June 3-5 with “Hymn to the City,” a sprawling, immersive event in partnership with the New York Philharmonic. Next up on June 25, violinist Gil Shaham is joined by five players from the Brooklyn-born orchestra The Knights. July 8 & 9, pianist Min Kwon will play two programs from her “America/Beautiful” project. August 4, 6, & 7, the PUBLIQuartet perform music from their album Freedom and Faith. September 15-17, pianist Simone Dinnerstein will give a one-of-a-kind performance of “An American Mosaic,” a new piece written for her by Richard Danielpour. Ulysses Quartet will perform “Death and Shadows” in the Catacombs on October 6-8, a program that pairs Schubert’s towering Death and the Maiden string quartet with Osvaldo Golijov’s otherworldly Tenebrae, The season closes October 21-23 with a large-scale, outdoor, candlelit performance of Fauré’s Requiem by Cantori New York.

To purchase tickets, visit

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

New Century Announces Virtual Spring 2021 Season
New Century Chamber Orchestra announced programming for its Virtual Spring 2021 season. Performing together as an orchestra together with Daniel Hope for the first time in over a year, New Century will release the world premiere of Tan Dun’s Double Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra starting on Thursday, May 20 at 12:00 p.m., in a streaming concert film presented by Stanford Live. Guest pianist Alexey Botvinov returns for his second appearance with the orchestra in a program that also features Ernest Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 and Aaron Jay Kernis’s Elegy (for those we lost).

For details about the complete season, visit

--Brenden Guy Media

What's Streaming: Classical (April 26-May 2)
Thursday, April 29 at 7:00 p.m. ET:
Pipa virtuoso Wu Man and shakuhachi master Kojiro Umezaki perform music from their album Flow in Silkroad Ensemble concert.

Thursday, April 29 at 7:30 p.m. ET:
Pianist Shai Wosner performs Dvorák's Legends, Nos. 1-3 and Piano Quintet No. 2 with members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Thursday, April 29 at 5:30 p.m. ET:
Bass-baritone Davóne Tines hosts a virtual gala event for the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale.

Friday, April 30 at 5:00 p.m. ET:
Pianist Lara Downes to host Q&A following a preview screening of the film Los Hermanos/The Brothers.

Friday, April 30 at 7:00 p.m. ET:
World premiere of The Gilmore-commissioned piano concerto by Michael Brown to be performed by the composer with the Kalamazoo Symphony.

Friday, April 30 at 8:00 p.m. ET:
Minnesota Orchestra and guest conductor Fabien Gabel perform works by Eleanor Alberga, Stravinsky, and Mozart.

Saturday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m. CT:
Tulsa Opera presents Greenwood Overcomes, a concert commemorating the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Saturday, May 1 at 8:00 p.m. ET:
Wu Man performs Tan Dun's Concerto for String Orchestra and Pipa with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Saturday, May 1 at 8:00 p.m. ET:
Pianist Shai Wosner to perform Beethoven's Triple Concerto with The Orchestra Now and Leon Botstein.

Sunday, May 2 at 4:00 p.m. ET:
The Gilmore Virtual Rising Stars Series presents the Glenn Zaleski Trio.

--Shuman Associates

"Unmasking the Arts" with Helga Davis: Conversation Series
Princeton University Concerts is excited to announce a new, online, free conversation series hosted by multidisciplinary artist and WNYC host Helga Davis: "Unmasking the Arts: Looking to the Future." Premiering next Tuesday, April 27 at 7PM with Anthony McGill, principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic, this weekly series aims to reflect on how a time of pandemic has changed, or shed light on, the way that we think about the arts.

Conversations touch on a wide range of subjects, including the intersection of the arts and questions of social justice and climate change, how politics play into evolving cultural values, shaping the future of the performing arts, and more. In addition to Anthony McGill, participants include musicians Rhiannon Giddens, Wu Han, and Patricia Kopatchinskaja; critics/writers Jason Farago, Anne Midgette, and Maya Chung, and director Yuval Sharon.

For full information, visit

--Dasha Koltunyuk, Princeton University Concerts

Peoples’ Symphony Concerts
As we come down to the last few concerts of our virtual 120th Anniversary season, we are grateful to all of you who have shared this season with us and the wonderfully generous artists who have helped us celebrate this milestone. Many thanks to all who have sent badly-needed contributions and special hugs to those who have substantially increased their contributions in this time of need.  Even though only half of last year's subscribers renewed their subscriptions,  we wanted to show our appreciation and support to our essential workers and students and, in keeping with our mission, we have offered them the chance to hear our concerts without charge. 

While we all can't wait for the time that we can be together again in-person, many of you have expressed your appreciation for the chance to see the artists up close, to get to know them a bit as people and to also have their perspectives on the music that they played for us. As with our life's journey, this difficult year has been a time for learning, about so many things - about ourselves, about nature, about who and what really is important to us and about how music is vital to whom we are and to our spiritual and emotional well being.

On Sunday, April 25 at 2 PM (and for the subsequent six days), we have the opportunity to be uplifted by pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin, an artist whose recent Carnegie Hall recital was described by the New York Times as, not only "thrilling" for it's virtuosity but also filled with playing of "warmth and affection."  In his previous PSC performances, Marc-Andre has always brought us new works to treasure as well as fascinating takes on pillars of the piano repertoire.  He will do that again for us on Sunday with works by CPE Bach, Faure and Debussy - our final piano recital of the season and one that you won't want to miss.

Full information here:

--Frank Salomon, Peoples’ Symphony Concerts

Babylon Becomes the Most Highly Decorated Early Music Film of All Time
Since its December 2020 première, Babylon has garnered over 40 awards and counting from film festivals across the globe in multiple categories, surpassing the most decorated early music film of the past few decades, Tous les matins du monde.

Babylon considers the text of Psalm 137 (“By the Waters of Babylon”) as it has resonated through the music of two ghettoized peoples – Italian Jews of Mantua during the period of the Counter-Reformation, and African Americans before, during, and after the Harlem Renaissance.

Narrated by the titanic voice of actor Ezra Knight, the musical performances of works by Italian-Jewish composer Salamone Rossi (1570 – 1630) and contemporary American Brandon Waddles (1988 –) are by the groundbreaking Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble. Other musical selections are historical recordings by such luminaries as Ma Rainey, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Big Mama Thornton, The Fisk Jubilee Singers, and others, as well as two noted figures in contemporary West African music, Kevin Nathaniel Hylton and Yacouba Sissoko. The film's director and script writer, soprano Jessica Gould performs with Toronto-based lutenist Lucas Harris.

Click here to view the film:

--Salon/Sanctuary Concerts

Tesla Quartet Continues A Bartók Journey
The Tesla Quartet continues A Bartók Journey, an exploration of the complete string quartets of Béla Bartók, in late May and June 2021. Each week will focus on one string quartet and features live expert discussions with authors, members of eminent string quartets, and composers; live virtual open rehearsals; enriching social media content; and live stream performances. Guest speakers and experts for weeks 4-6 include Nicholas Kitchen, first violinist of the Borromeo String Quartet; Károly Schranz, founding second violinist of the Takács Quartet; and composer Gabriela Lena Frank. Audience members will immerse themselves in the unique characteristics of each work and trace the development of Bartók’s style throughout his career through six weeks of live events hosted on the Tesla Quartet’s YouTube Channel, plus additional content on the quartet’s social media platforms.

Details here:

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa