Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 (CD review)

Also, Creatures of Prometheus, complete ballet. Gottfried von der Goltz, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. Harmonia Mundi HMM 902446.47.

By John J. Puccio

Every once in a while I see a resurgence of interest in particular classical selections. Last month it was Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez; this month it’s Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. Good things never die, I suppose. So, following on the heels of Teodor Currentzis’s Beethoven Seventh with the period-instrument band MusicAeterna comes another period-instrument affair, this one with violinist-conductor Gottfried von der Goltz conducting the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra.

But wait. There’s more good news. Not only does Von der Goltz play the Seventh Symphony, he includes a second disc with The Creatures of Prometheus. No, not just the familiar overture but the entire ballet. And here I have to admit that beyond the overture, I don’t think I had ever heard the complete ballet before. The set becomes a double pleasure, or a triple pleasure if you also take into account the excellent interpretation of the symphony and a quadruple pleasure if you appreciate the excellent Harmonia Mundi sound. Yeah, it’s a treat.

Still, I hear you say, I’ve already got a period-instruments recording of the Seventh. Sure, and so do I. About four or five of them. Still, consider some of the alternatives I’ve heard: Roger Norrington’s reading is rather rigid; Nicholas McGegan’s is delightful but is done no favors by a live recording; Christopher Hogwood’s turn is excellent but like McGegan is let down by somewhat indifferent sound; John Eliot Gardiner’s account is also good but not quite a first-choice consideration; the aforementioned Currentzis is simply too ordinary as well as too inconsistent; and I recall an old recording by the Collegium Aureum that I didn’t much like and haven’t heard in years. By comparison, then, Von der Goltz wins on all counts.

Anyway, Beethoven wrote his Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92 in 1811-12, with the composer himself conducting the première. He later remarked that it was one of his best works, and it’s easy to see why it has remained among Beethoven’s most popular symphonies to this day. One of its many fans, composer Richard Wagner, noted the work’s lively rhythms and called it the "apotheosis of the dance." In other words, a perfect example of dance music.

The symphony opens with a Poco Sostenuto (somewhat sustained), which leads to a full-fleged Vivace (lively and fast). Van der Goltz moderates the intensity of this movement pretty well, keeping the pulse moving forward at a healthy pace while seeing to take care with the slower segments that they don’t get lost in all the high-spirited ruckus. As far as following Beethoven’s own zippy tempo marks, if a comparison to Roger Norrington’s account with the London Classical Players, where Norrington adheres almost slavishly to Beethoven’s markings, Van der Goltz is a little slower, more relaxed, and eminently more listenable.

The second movement is an Allegretto (a moderately fast, intermediate tempo between an Andante and an Allegro). It sounds and functions like a funeral march similar to the one in Beethoven’s Third Symphony, but this time it’s more freely flowing, more rhythmic. Here, Van der Goltz measures things at a headier clip than expected, and it strides forth with grace and authority. There is nothing ponderous or heavy about the movement.

Beethoven marks the third movement scherzo Presto-Presto meno assai (fast, then less). The central trio is an Austrian “pilgrims hymn” repeated twice. The interpretation takes on even added life with Van der Goltz in full command, the music bouncing along full throttle delightfully. Perhaps he misses some of McGegan’s high spirits in the recording by the Philharmonia Baroque, but it’s close, and in better sound I tend to favor Von der Goltz.

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. Now Maestro Van der Goltz really cuts loose and produces a veritable storm of dance-like pulsations, with the momentum unyielding. It concludes a  performance second to none and better than most.

Disc two contains Beethoven’s one and only ballet The Creatures of Prometheus, written and premiered by Beethoven in 1801. It contains two acts, an introduction, fifteen numbers, and a finale. Beethoven based his story on the mythical parable of Prometheus, who stole fire from Zeus in order to create Mankind from clay. Since the characteristics of dance music is so obviously on display in the Seventh Symphony, it makes sense to pair it with actual dance music, and the two works complement one another nicely. What’s more, Van der Goltz seems even freer here than in the symphony, and the ballet appears as lithe and nimble yet as dramatic and powerful as I suspect Beethoven intended.

Producer Martin Sauer and engineer Tobias Lehmann recorded the music at the Konzerthaus Freiburg, Germany in February 2020. The sound is clear, clean, and dynamic. With definition this good, it’s a pleasure to listen to the original instruments. There is also a moderate degree of orchestral depth, space, and resonance to add to the realism of the presentation, so if you enjoy period instruments you really can’t go wrong.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, May 29, 2021

Los Angeles Master Chorale Receives $1.5 Million Grant

The Los Angeles Master Chorale, led by Grant Gershon, Kiki & David Gindler Artistic Director, will receive a $1,500,000 grant from the L.A. Arts Recovery Fund, which was created recently to support Los Angeles based arts organizations with budgets under $10 million affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With over twenty generous contributors, the L.A. Arts Recovery Fund was created to provide flexible general operating support for small and medium-sized organizations. Recipient organizations were selected based on applications that demonstrated excellence in artistic impact, community engagement, diversity of cultural expression, leadership and vision, and financial condition. The Los Angeles Master Chorale’s $1.5 million grant will be payable over two years.

“The artists, staff and Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Master Chorale are immensely grateful to all the funders of the L.A. Arts Recovery Fund,” said Los Angeles Master Chorale President & CEO Jean Davidson. “With this grant, the Los Angeles Master Chorale will begin to recover losses from more than a year of cancelled performances and be given resources to create a more inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible organization while continuing to innovate the choral art form.”

The grant will directly support the Master Chorale's new digital initiatives, such as the upcoming release of a video recording of Derrick Spiva, Jr.’s “Ready Bright,” and the safe return of singers and orchestra musicians to live performances at Walt Disney Concert Hall for the 2021-22 concert season.

For more information, visit https://www.calfund.org/laartsfund/

--Lisa Bellamore, Crescent Communications

Josh Groban + YPC Premiere
Josh Groban and Young People’s Chorus of New York City.
Monday, May 24, 8 pm EST.

It was an honor to have the incomparable Josh Groban join our virtual Spring Gala to share his personal story and heartfelt belief in the power of music education to give children a voice, build confidence and help them find their place in the world.

Thank you, Josh, for believing in our young people, and for lending us your incredible talent by collaborating with us on a very special, incredibly moving performance of “The Impossible Dream.”

Grab your friends and family and mark your calendars for Monday at 8 PM to watch the performance (and Josh’s message) in its entirety when we premiere it on YouTube and https://ypc.org/.

--Young People’s Chorus of NYC

Prize Winners Announced in Menuhin Competition
The Menuhin Competition Richmond 2021 has announced this year’s Prizewinners: 18-year-old Spanish violinist María Dueñas is the Senior 1st Prizewinner, and 15-year-old Keila Wakao, who lives in the Boston area, is the Junior 1st Prizewinner.

This year’s Competition was held virtually, with more than 300,000 views for both the First Rounds and Semi-Finals. All Competition rounds are available on the Menuhin Competition Richmond 2021 website (https://2021.menuhincompetition.org/) and YouTube Channel (https://www.youtube.com/c/MenuhinCompetition).

--Beverly Greenfield, Kirshbaum Associates

Powerhouse Conductors Join the Penderecki In Memoriam Podcast
The Penderecki in Memoriam Podcast continues apace, with numerous contributions from leading international conductors now available, including JoAnn Falletta, Kent Nagano and Antoni Wit, and future interviews scheduled with Lukasz Borowicz, Leonard Slatkin and Osmo Vanska, as well as guitarist/pianist/composer Jonny Greenwood of the band Radiohead and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter.

The Penderecki in Memoriam Podcast unveils a multifaceted portrait of Krzysztof Penderecki (1933 – 2020), with commentary from musicians, colleagues, radio programmers, and writers who lend insight and memories of Poland’s greatest modern composer. The Podcast’s episodes are curated and produced by the Polish Cultural Institute New York (PCINY), which is overseeing the months-long project Krzysztof Penderecki in Memoriam, honoring the life and legacy of the composer.

The Podcast is available from Apple and Spotify, as well as Amazon Music, Podcast Index, Player FM, Deezer, Gaana, JioSaavn, and Google, and PCINY’s YouTube channel:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdhCikwUyBX6xSRNML2mAlw

--Melanne Mueller, Music Company International

Schedule Announced for the “Bang on a Can Marathon of Song”
 Bang on a Can announces the hourly schedule for its Bang on a Can Marathon of Song – Live Online – on Sunday, June 6, 2021 from 1-5pm ET featuring 15 performances, including 11 world premieres, streamed from musicians' homes around the country and across the world. For this Marathon all performances will include some type of vocalization – singing, speaking, murmuring, or other use of the voice. The June 6 Marathon of Song marks Bang on a Can’s eighth marathon concert since the start of the pandemic dating back to May 2020 and will bring the tally to over 150 performances, including 70 world premieres of new commissions. Bang on a Can plans to continue these Marathons, streaming online at https://live.bangonacan.org/.

--Maggie Stapleton, Jensen Artists

Berkeley Symphony Wwarded Catalyst Fund Grant
Berkeley Symphony has been awarded a $19,500 grant from the League of American Orchestras to strengthen their understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and to help transform organization culture. Given to only twenty-five organizations nationwide, this one-year grant comprises the final round of The Catalyst Fund, the League’s three-year, $2.1 million grant-making program, made possible by a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with additional support from the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation.

“This work is essential to Berkeley Symphony’s ongoing commitment to honor, celebrate and represent the community that we serve, and to further our mission for presenting a diverse spectrum of composers, artists, and collaborators to our audience,” said Music Director Joseph Young. “We would like to thank the League of American Orchestras for their generous support in funding this important project and we look forward to our partnership with Elevated Diversity as we embark on our DEI journey as an organization.”

For further information, please visit https://americanorchestras.org/learn/equity-diversity-inclusion.

--Brenden Guy PR

Violinist Nathan Cole Launches Second Round of The Violympics
Nathan Cole, First Associate Concertmaster for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, will launch the second installment of The Violympics on June 14, 2021. A series of 6 two-week training events, The Violympics give violinists of all levels and experiences the tools to advance their craft like never before.

The Violympians will be tasked with learning 6 challenge pieces during each two-week training event, and will perform each work for special guest violinists Noah Bendix-Balgley, James Ehnes, Augustin Hadelich, Jennifer Koh, Kerson Leong and Gil Shaham. Nathan has partnered with his alma mater, the Curtis Institute of Music, and former Chair of Composition David Ludwig, to co-commission five new works by Curtis compositions students. The sixth challenge piece will be a work that Ludwig, now Dean and Director of Juilliard’s Music Division, composed for Jennifer Koh in 2016.

Each of the special guest violinists will appear with Nathan during a special Zoom session to coach the Violympians and help them prepare for the performance event. The Curtis composition students will select the top 10 performances from each event, and the special guest violinist will choose the winner, who will win a trip to Philadelphia to spend two days with Nathan Cole at the Curtis Institute of Music. The winner will get a lesson from Cole, and will observe lesions, classes, rehearsals and performances at Curtis.

For more information, visit https://www.natesviolin.com/violympic-trials-2021

--Lisa Bellamore, Crescent Communications

World Premiere Video Performance of Aaron Jay Kernis’s Elegy...for those we lost
Multiple GRAMMY-nominated harpist Yolanda Kondonassis and The Cleveland Orchestra’s principal trumpet Michael Sachs announce the world premiere video performance of Aaron Jay Kernis’ Elegy . . . for those we lost. Kernis wrote this work just one year ago offering music to reflect, mourn, and remember those lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is presented for the first time in this arrangement created especially for Sachs and Kondonassis.

Kondonassis states, “This powerful work by Aaron Jay Kernis illuminates the full spectrum of emotions that we have all collectively internalized throughout the COVID-19 pandemic: grief, paralysis, denial, rage, anxiety, love, gratitude, and finally - peace. It is an important work at a critical time when music can be a healing force as we find our way back to life.”

The video premieres as part of the penultimate episode of The Cleveland Orchestra’s 15-episode inaugural In Focus digital concert series, captured live at the Orchestra’s home, Severance Hall. From Thursday, June 3, 2021 at 7pm ET through September 3, 2021, the performance will be available for on-demand viewing to premium members of Adella, The Cleveland Orchestra’s digital streaming service. Entitled Celestial Serenades, this virtual concert also features The Cleveland Orchestra performing Kernis’ Musica Celestis and Suk’s Serenade for Strings, Opus 6.

More information on how to watch is available at https://www.adella.live/ and http://www.clevelandorchestra.com/attend/concerts-and-events/2021/digital/in-focus-e12

--Maggie Stapleton, Jensen Artists

The Secret Mausoleum Music Club
Death of Classical and The Green-Wood Cemetery continue their partnership with the Secret Mausoleum Music Club this summer, located at Green-Wood. Events will be on May 26, June 30, and July 21, and will allow attendees to experience areas of the Cemetery that are usually closed to the public. Private mausoleums will be open throughout the evening, and multiple performance stages will feature a variety of artists. Admission times will be staggered, and attendees are encouraged to move between the stages and experience the full event at their own pace.

May 26, 7:00PM: Tamar Korn and The Brain Cloud, Sarah Ghandour, Bindlestiff Family Cirkus.
Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/secret-mausoleum-music-club-tickets-146417391359?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

June 30, 7:00PM: Caroline Shaw & Andrew Yee, Maya Lorenzen.
Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/secret-mausoleum-music-club-tickets-146417391359?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

July 21, 7:00PM: Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, Bindlestiff Family Cirkus.
Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/secret-mausoleum-music-club-tickets-146417391359?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

What's Streaming Classical (Week of May 31-June 6)
Tuesday, June 1:
Tulsa Opera's historic casting of transgender singer Lucia Lucas is documented in the film The Sound of Identity to be released on streaming and video-on-demand.
People in the USA and Canada will be able to rent the film on a variety of platforms including: iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Playstation Xbox, Fandango Now, Vudu, Hoopla, DirecTV, Dish, InDemand (Charter, Comcast, Cox, Spectrum), and Vubiquity (TMobile, Verizon).

Thursday, June 3 at 2:30 p.m. ET:
Stephen Hough performs Saint-Saëns's Piano Concerto No. 5, "Egyptian" with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Vasily Petrenko.
https://www.rpo.co.uk/whats-on/eventdetail/1556/121/streamed-performance-vasily-petrenko-with-stephen-hough

Sunday, June 6 at 2:00 p.m.:
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA. Music Director James Conlon and LA Opera welcome in-person audiences back to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the company premiere of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex presented free of charge.
https://www.laopera.org/about-us/press-room/press-releases-and-statements/la-opera-presents-oedipus-rex-on-june-6/

--Shuman Associates

ROCO Announces Its 2021-22 Season “Musical Threads”
ROCO is excited to announce its 2021-22 season, “Musical Threads.” Reinforcing music as a throughline that connects us all, the ensemble’s 17th season weaves tales of hope, highlighting timely and impactful topics through eight new commissions in partnership with orchestras across the world, focusing on common threads of environmental awareness, human rights, and the scarcity of time.

Supported by an award from National Endowment for the Arts, the ensemble welcomes Derek Bermel as the season’s composer-in-residence, writing a triptych of pieces showcasing ROCO’s flexibility, including a work for large chamber orchestra and a collection of songs based on the writings of Chicana author Sandra Cisneros.

More information here: https://roco.org/

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Music Institute Chorale Performs Carmina Burana
The Music Institute of Chicago Chorale, conducted by Daniel Wallenberg, concludes a season of free virtual performances with Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, in an arrangement for two pianos and percussion, Sunday, June 6 at 3 p.m. CDT.

Soloists include voice faculty Angela De Venuto, soprano and Leo Radosavljevic, baritone, as well as guest tenor Peder Reiff; Chorale pianist Gregory Shifrin; percussion faculty Deborah Katz Knowles, timpani; and percussionists Russ Knutson, Sean Kopp, and Andre Cierney. Joining the Chorale are special guests The Carmina Burana Children’s Choir.

“Since the pandemic began, we have performed several virtual concerts,” said Wallenberg. “We rehearsed on Zoom, singers recorded their individual parts, and we mixed the recordings in a studio to create a choir. It proved to be the best alternative to singing in person because it gave the singers the feeling they were still part of a musical community.”

The Music Institute of Chicago Chorale performs Carmina Burana Sunday, June 6 at 3 p.m. CDT as a free virtual program. RSVP at https://www.musicinst.org/chorale no later than June 6 at 10 a.m.
to receive the Zoom link.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

The Philadelphia Orchestra to SPAC
Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) have announced that The Philadelphia Orchestra will return to its summer home in Saratoga Springs for its residency on August 11-14, 2021, marking the company’s first live performances at SPAC since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Led by charismatic Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin for all four programs, the residency will also feature a finale performance with violinist Joshua Bell. Also highlighting the engagement and as part of SPAC’s commitment to presenting works that represent a more diverse group of voices are seven SPAC premieres, including works by Philadelphia Orchestra Composer-in-Residence Gabriela Lena Frank, Valerie Coleman, Florence Price, and Louise Farrenc.

The performances will be offered in compliance with the current guidelines from the Governor to ensure the health and safety of artists, audience members and staff. In order to provide guests with the safest possible experience, all attendees will be seated in safe, socially-distanced pods.

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

--Rebecca Davis Public Relations

Recent Releases, No. 8 (CD Mini-reviews)

By Karl W. Nehriing

Concertos for Mallet Instruments. Alexis Alrich: Marimba Concerto; Karl Jenkins: La Folia; Ned Rorem: Mallet Concerto. Evelyn Glennie, percussion; Jean Thorel, City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong. NAXOS 8.574218.

Although this recording was only recently released, it was recorded back in 2013. I have no idea why it took so long to get released, but I am certainly glad that it did, for it is a delight. I would think that by now, most classical music lovers are familiar with the featured soloist. As the liner notes boldly assert, “Dame Evelyn Glennie is the first person in musical history to successfully create and sustain a career as a full-time solo percussionist. As an eclectic and innovative musician and composer, she is constantly redefining the goals and expectations of percussion.” Her influence can be seen here, as she gave the world premiere of the Alexis Aldrich (b. 1955) Marimba Concerto (as explained in a brief overview of the work by the composer herself), an energetic, extroverted work in three movements that is quite entertaining. She was the dedicatee of La Folia by Karl Jenkins (b. 1944), a more stately dance-rooted composition for  marimba and strings that builds in energy as it moves along. The final piece on the program, the Mallet Concerto by Ned Rorem (b. 1923), features Ms. Glennie on vibraphone and xylophone in addition to marimba. It is quite a colorful work with an ending movement titled “An Ending” that is aptly named for reasons beyond the obvious.

David Gompper: Cello Concerto; Double Bass Concerto; Moonburst. Timothy Gill, cello; Volkan Orhon, double bass; Emmanuel Siffert, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. NAXOS 8.559855.

Reading the booklet notes included in this release made me pause for a few moments to reflect on the truly international nature of today’s classical music landscape. American composer David Gompper (b. 1954) studied music in London, taught music in Nigeria, received his doctorate at the University of Michigan, taught for a year at the Moscow Conservatory as a Fulbright Scholar, and now serves as a professor at the University of Iowa, while Emmanuel Siffert is a Swiss conductor leading a British orchestra. The program includes three recent Gompper compositions, leading off with his two-movement Cello Concerto (2019), the first moment of which is intense - and nervous sounding, with some vigorous playing by Gill. The second movement is much different in mood, unsettled and skittish, seemingly directed more inward than the more extroverted first movement. Not a lyrical piece, but not without some appeal, at least for those with an interest in contemporary music. The concluding Double Bass Concerto (2018) is less successful, at least to these ears. Orhon is clearly a master of his instrument, but he seems to be fighting against chaos. Perhaps that was what Gompper intended, but it does not make for an appealing musical experience. The final piece on this CD, Moonburst (2018), is more successful, evoking as it does a sense of darkness and apprehension. At times, the sound seemed to more than a hint of an edge in the upper midrange; as it turned out, a quick check of the back cover credits revealed an engineering team whose names I did not recognize. I shall be wary should I encounter them again.  

Occurrence: Daniel Bjarnason: Violin Concerto; Veronique Vaka: Lendh; Haukur Tómasson: in Seventh Heaven; Puriòur Jónsdóttir: Flutter; Magnús Blöndal Jóhansson: Adagio. Sono Luminus DSL-92243. Pekka Kuusisto, violin; Mario Caroli, flute; Daniel Bjarnason, Iceland Symphony Orchestra. SONO Luminus DSL-92243.

This is not just a mini-review, it is a mixed review, for I believe that I would not stand alone in finding the five compositions on this release to be quite a mixed bag in terms of their appeal, even as I respectfully acknowledge that your musical tastes may – and most likely are – different from mine. As Sly & The Family Stone sang, “different strokes for different folks.” In any event, Occurrence is the third in a series of recordings on the SONO Luminus label by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra that have been dedicated to highlighting the work of contemporary Icelandic composers, the first two being Recurrence and Concurrence (no, I have no idea why Occurrence was not the first title in the series, and I hope I am not turning into too much of an old pedant).

Of the five compositions on the disc (actually, discs – the library version I am reviewing incudes not only a standard CD but also a Blu-ray surround sound audio disc), I find two quite appealing, one amazingly appealing, one difficult and thorny but not without some appeal, and one that I have tried several times to “get” but find utterly unappealing. Unfortunately, the three appealing compositions are the short ones on the disc, combining for less than half the total 70:42 playing time. Leading off the program is composer/conductor Daniel Bjarnason’s Violin Concerto (23:41), an intense, tightly wound piece that is not immediately appealing but after several listens I came to at least respect for its concentrated energy. Next is Veronique Vaka’s  Lendh (11:36), a tone poem of great energy, its bass notes evoking the elemental geological forces underlying the fantastic Icelandic landscape and giving your woofers some cardio. Haukur Tómasson’s in Seventh Heaven (7:13) evokes a different realm, the sounds seeming to play and shimmer, continually changing while holding our attention. Next comes Puriòur Jónsdóttir’s Flutter (20:49), a concerto for flute that try as I might, I never could come to embrace. I will say this much for it, it contains some truly interesting sounds. Perhaps others will like it better than I; it is surely an interesting composition.

The program concludes with Magnús Blöndal Jóhansson’s Adagio (7:19), which brings about a complete change of mood. It is reflective, elegiac, and emotionally resonant. As this is such an amazingly appealing piece, please allow me a few more sentences (thus stretching the concept of “mini-review” until it snaps, thus sayeth the pedant). According to the liner notes, Jóhansson (1925-2005) was one of the first modernists of Icelandic music, composing in 1950 the first Icelandic 12-tone work. “By the 1970s, Jóhansson’s career was in decline. After the death of his wife , he fought a long and demeaning battle with alcoholism and composed nothing between 1972 and 1980. He returned with the stunningly simple Adagio for strings, celeste, and percussion in 1980.” Stunningly simple, but also stunningly beautiful. The engineering (I will admit to getting a kick out of seeing that it was mixed and mastered using Legacy Audio speakers – see my brief bio below) is excellent, as are the liner notes. Recommended to those with a curiosity about or appreciation for contemporary music.

Reich: Music for Two or More Pianos; Eight Lines (for ensemble); Vermont Counterpoint (for flutes and tape); New York Counterpoint (for clarinets and tape); City Life (for ensemble). Jörg Schweinbenz, piano; Anne Parisot, Delphine Roche, flutes; Andrea Nagy, clarinets; Klaus Simon, piano, conductor, Holst-Sinfonietta. NAXOS 8.559682.

American composer Steve Reich (b. 1936) is classified as a “minimalist” composer. His best-known composition, Music for 18 Musicians, is probably the best-known of the minimalist genre, and if you have never heard it, I would strongly advise seeking it out. There are several recordings to choose from; from among them, I would suggest you start with the one on ECM, which was originally released as an LP (now available on CD and streaming formats) in 1978 and caused quite a ripple of excitement. This generously filled (73:24) new release from Naxos includes compositions from a wide swath of Reich’s career, from Music for Two or More Pianos from 1964 to City Life from 1995. All of the selections are clearly minimalist in that they employ simple chord structures, rhythmic patterns that revolve around a discernible driving pulse, and an abundance of energy. The earliest piece, for pianos, is the most abstract-sounding, but after something of a slow start, it picks up energy as it as it moves along. Reich’s compositions and these spirited performers project an undeniable feeling of life-affirming joy, a sense of sheer exuberance, and an expression of gratitude for the ability to create, perform, and enjoy the sounds of music and integrate them with the with the rhythms of life. This is a disc well worth an audition even if you have listened to a Philip Glass recording or two in the past and concluded that minimalism was not for you…

Respighi: Concerto all’antica; Ancient Airs and Dances for Lute. Davide Alogna, violin; Salvatore di Vittorio, Chamber Orchestra of New York. NAXOS 8.573901.

This recording incudes both the unfamiliar and the familiar. In fact, the Concerto all’antica, originally composed way back in 1908, receives here its world premiere recording; by way of contrast, except for the Roman trilogy (Pines, Fountains, and Festivals), the Ancient Airs and Dances are probably Respighi’s most oft-recorded compositions. According to the liner notes, “the concerto was first referred to as a “Concerto in an Ancient Style by an anonymous composer, revised and orchestrated by Ottorino Respighi, [and] was probably performed in its reduction for violin and piano. Of course, the anonymous composer was Respighi himself and he admitted later that he composed the concerto as a joke for German critics.” As it turns out, the score languished for many decades, finally being published as Concerto all’antica in 1990, and being performed here in its first printed critical edition published in 2019 by conductor Salvatore Di Vittorio. At just over a half-hour in duration, it is a substantial composition, one that falls easily upon the ears and is quite enjoyable. Also quite enjoyable – but fans of Respighi already know this – are the Ancient Airs and Dances, which are presented here in quite enjoyable performances, bringing the total timing on this disc to more than 80 minutes. No skimping here! Although when I want to hear the Dances I would more likely pull out either the venerable Dorati recording on Mercury Living Presence or the López Cobos on Telarc, the inclusion of the charming Concerto all’antica on this new NAXOS release makes it well worth recommending to dedicated Respighi fans. (See also John’s review: https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/search?q=Respighi+Ancient)

Schnittke: Works for Violin and Piano. Includes Suite in the Old Style; Polka; Tango; Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1; Madrigal in memoriam Oleg Kagan; Congratulatory Rondo; Silent Night. Daniel Hope, violin; Alexey Botvinov, piano. Deutsche Grammophon 483 9234.

In his liner note essay, violinist Daniel Hope tells how he first encountered and fell in love with the music of Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) back in 1989 when as a teenager he heard a fellow student play Schnittke’s Violin Sonata No. 1. As he recalls, “from the moment I heard it, I wanted more than anything to play this music. The violinist was playing from a hand-copied score, barely legible, and I remember approaching him after the concert and pleading with him to let me copy the parts. That evening began my ‘love affair’ with Alfred Schnittke’s music.” The now-mature Hope’s performance of the Sonata is the centerpiece of this collection, and it shows that his love has not dimmed over the years. From the lighter feeling of the various dance pieces to the searing intensity of the solo violin performance of the Madrigal in memoriam Oleg Kagan, Hope brings an expressive, communicative touch to this music that may well cause you to fall in love with it, too. Schnittke’s arrangement of Silent Night, which closes the program, is haunting, beautiful, and thought-provoking. Throughout the album, Hope is well supported by pianist Alexey Botvinov, who sadly enough becomes a forgotten figure in the otherwise splendid liner notes – no photo, no mention. If you enjoy violin music, this is a recording you really ought to audition, for it is a treasure. 

Weinberg: String Quartets, Vol. 1 Nos. 2, 5, and 6. Arcadia Quartet. Chandos CHAN 20158.

This will be more of a true mini-review, not at all as a reflection on the quality of the music; in fact, this Chandos release is so excellent that I want to cut right to the chase and point out just how excellent it is. Having favorably reviewed (here and here) some previous music by Weinberg (1919-1996) and having enjoyed other recordings of his music in the past, I looked forward to auditioning this new Chandos recording of some of his string quartets. For one thing, I knew that the Polish Weinberg and the Russian Shostakovich became close friends and shared musical ideas with one another, so as an ardent admirer of the l Shostakovich’s quartets I was especially eager to hear Weinberg’s. From the first few notes of Weinberg’s Quartet No. 2, I was sold. (I should point out that he wrote this before meeting Shostakovich; in fact, the liner notes speculate that he showed the music to the Shostakovich, who then used some of the ideas in his own Quartet No. 2). All three string quartets included in this release are impressive examples of the genre. They are on the serious side, at times brooding, but never mawkish or sentimental. When they sing, it is a serious song; when they reflect, it is deep reflection. Still, this is not forbidding music, nor standoffish music; rather, it is music that draws the listener in, both emotionally and intellectually. It is music that both encourages and rewards repeat listening. The sound quality is also warm and inviting, without edge up high or boom down low. Informative liner notes that include some engaging historical photos complete this highly recommendable package. I look forward to future volumes with eager anticipation.   

Bonus Recommendations:

The Musical Human: Michael Spitzer. Bloomsbury Publishing, ISBN 978-1-63557-624-5.

This is a big (400 pp.), ambitious book that might be a bit much for many classical music fans, but it offers a fascinating take on music and life that is well worth taking a look at. Spitzer divides the book into three parts; if nothing else, I would suggest that classical music lovers would do well to take a dive into Part One (Life), a manageable and focused 132 pages offering some keen insights into our current musical universe. On page 41, for example, we learn that “a preference for consonances gets locked in at age nine, while non-Western children develop a taste for (to our ears) irregular tunings and greater dissonance. A centrepiece of Western harmony is octave equivalence, as when children and adult men sing the same melody an octave apart (that is, singing eight notes up the scale brings you back to the same note, but an octave higher). Playing an octave slightly out of tune creates acoustic interference beats that sound hideous to Western ears, but quite palatable to people in Bali. In Bulgaria, it is common for choruses to sing in parallel minor seconds (a semitone apart): one culture’s noise is another culture’s spice.” In Part One, Spitzer goes on to discuss topics as the roles that music plays in our lives, the myth of the “musical genius,” the state of music education, the role of the conductor, and how music is akin to religion. And what of the rest of the book – Parts Two (History), with sections titled “Ice, Sand, Savannah and Forest,” “The Tuning of the West,” Superpowers,” and “Endgames,” and Three (Evolution), with sections titled “Animal,” Human,” “Machine,” and “Eleven Lessons on Music’s Nature?” I will leave you with this little teaser from near the end of Part One: “Music’s oceanic quality allies it with religion. Indeed a key strand of Parts 2 and 3 of this book is that music and religion sprang to life at the same time.” 

Finally, for another take on the universality of music, you might want to take a look at this recent article on the subject from Nautilus magazine.

KWN

Serebrier: Last Tango Before Sunrise (CD review)

Jose Serebrier, Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra; Nestor Torres, flute; Sara Cutler, harp; Nadia Shpachenko, piano; Ilia Melikhov, Gnessin Percussion Ensemble, Moscow; Gabriel Goni-Dondi, flute; Solene Le Van, soprano. Reference Recordings FR-743.

By John J. Puccio

Most classical music fans know Jose Serebrier as a world-class conductor, but not everyone may know that he is also a composer. The present disc hopes to rectify that situation by showcasing nine of his compositions, several of them world-premiere recordings.

For those readers who need a little more information, a booklet note helps out. Maestro Serebrier, “who is one of the most frequently recorded conductors, established himself as a significant composer since his teens, when Leopold Stokowski premiered the 17 year old’s First Symphony to replace the premiere of the Ives 4th Symphony. Serebrier was born in 1938 in Montevideo, Uruguay of Russian and Polish parents. At the age of nine he began to study violin, and at age eleven made his conducting debut. While in high school he organized and conducted the first youth orchestra in Uruguay, which toured and gave more than one hundred concerts over four years.” Serebrier would go on to write numerous other works, and critic Alfred Frankenstein wrote in High Fidelity magazine that Serebrier was “the logical successor to the crown of Villa-Lobos, and the South American to watch.” For the 1968-70 seasons, George Szell named Serebrier the Cleveland Orchestra’s Composer-in-Residence. And so it has gone, with Serebrier winning awards and the adulation of fans worldwide for his music and music-making.

The first two items on the program are among the longest, starting with the Symphony for Percussion, written in 1961 and played by the Gnessin Percussion Ensemble, Moscow, directed by Ilia Melikhov. This one is fun, with drums and cymbals and such coming at us from all angles. Oddly, this is the first CD recording of the piece, its first recording having been done for LP. Whatever, it’s quite entertaining, and I doubt any future recordings will match it for performance or sound.

Next is Serebrier’s Piano Sonata, written in 1957 and premiered by Rudolf Serkin a year later. Here, it is played by pianist Nadia Shpachenko. Although it’s been performed numerous times around the world, this is its first recording. Its “Latin-sounding rhythms” are well served by Ms. Shpachenko, who plays it with a trenchant, clearheaded mind-set and a deft set of fingers.

The final seven selections are briefer than the first two. These include Danza (from the Flute Concerto with Tango); Tango in Blue; Candombe (a world premiere recording); Almost a Tango; Last Tango Before Sunrise; Samson and Buddah (another world premiere recording); and Colores Magicos (also a world-premiere recording). Of these, all of which I enjoyed, I liked Danza best of all. I’m no expert in tango music, but this one is playful, rhythmic, dynamic, and wholly captivating. Serebrier describes the title piece, Last Tango Before Sunrise, as intending “to stimulate the spirit of the tango, more for reflection than the dance floor.” The Colores Magicos (“Magic Colors”) is undoubtedly the most intriguing (and evocative) work on the program, as well as one of the longest at about thirteen minutes, so it’s appropriate that it closes the show.

The disc’s producers were Julio Bague and Mary Megan Peer of Peer-Southern Productions, Inc. and Marcia Gordon Martin of Reference Recordings. The various selections were recorded in 2019 and 2020 at various locations including Spain, Russia, New York, and California.

Given the diverse nature of the recording locations, the sound the engineers obtained is remarkably consistent. Of course, starting with the percussion piece helps, since the sound is sharply etched, spaciously dimensional, and markedly dynamic. The solo piano in the sonata is also cleanly rendered and should delight piano fans. All the items on the disc sound realistic, well balanced, lucid, and wide ranging, including the Malaga Philharmonic. Maybe Reference Recordings did not record this album directly, but be assured it lives up to some of the best things they’ve done.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, May 22, 2021

The Next Festival of Emerging Artists Announces its 2021 Virtual Festival

The Next Festival of Emerging Artists, founded in 2013 by Artistic Director Peter Askim, announces the schedule of events and guest artist lineup for its 2021 Virtual Festival, taking place June 8 – July 1, 2021. This four-week festival of masterclasses, workshops, and virtual collaborations, featuring esteemed guest artists, will take place online. 25 festival fellows – young musicians, composers, and choreographers, ages 20-30 – will attend the full festival, and select events will be free for the general public to attend. Continuing the Festival’s initiative providing free programs in response to the pandemic’s devastation of the music world, tuition for this year’s virtual festival has been waived for fellows.

May 25, 2021 is the deadline for fellow applications, which are available at https://next-fest.org/

Festival events will be held on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays each week from June 8 to July 1, and the festival schedule will be organized into the following themes: Business & Entrepreneurship (June 8-10), Social Justice & Activism (June 15-17), Artistry & Musicality (June 22-24), and Multidisciplinary Collaboration (June 29-July 1).

The 2021 guest artists include cellist Seth Parker Woods (University of Chicago); composer Gabriela Lena Frank (Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Arts Academy); violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins (Music Kitchen); composer/violist Jessica Meyer; violist Ashleigh Gordon (Castle of Our Skins); Aizuri Quartet; double bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku (Chineke!); violinist David Radzynski (Concertmaster, Israel Philharmonic); hornist/composer Jeff Scott (Imani Winds, Oberlin Conservatory); electroacoustic violist/composer Trevor New; pianist Donna Weng Friedman (Heritage And Harmony); conductor Lina Gonzalez-Granados (Unitas Ensemble); composer Derek Bermel (American Composers Orchestra); choreographer S. Ama Wray (UC Irvine), Jonathan Alsberry (Hubbard Street Dance Chicago); choreographer/filmmaker Darshan Singh Bhuller; director/designer Karin Fong (Imaginary Forces); arts attorney Brian Goldstein; Rebecca Bray, Steve Lambert (the Center for Artistic Activism); social media/marketing consultant Jamie Benson; conductor/composer Peter Askim (Next Festival’s Artistic Director); and more. Additional artists offering mentorship and project guidance include percussionist Ross Karre (Artistic Director, International Contemporary Ensemble) and Elaine Grogan Luttrull (founder, Minerva Financial Arts).

For details, visit https://next-fest.org/

--Maggie Stapleton, Jensen Artists

Guitarist Pat Metheny Is Not Defined, And Still Undecided
In an interview, guitarist Pat Metheny talks about artistry and music, what he does, what he plays, what he enjoys, and especially about what musical genres are or are not all about.

Listen here: https://www.wgbh.org/news/arts/guitarist-pat-metheny-is-not-defined-and-still-undecided

--James Bennett II, GBH News

Finalists Announced in Menuhin Competition Richmond 2021
The Menuhin Competition Richmond 2021, which is taking place virtually, has named the Junior and Senior Finalists. The Semi-Final Rounds streamed this weekend; Junior and Senior Finalists were announced.

The five Junior Finalists are Kento Hong, age 14, from New York; Boha Moon, age 14, from South Korea; Hannah Wan Ching Tam, age 15, from Hong Kong, China; Keila Wakao, age 15, who lives in the Boston area; and Edward Walton, age 15, from Australia.

The four Senior Finalists are Hana Chang, age 18, from Philadelphia; Karisa Chiu, age 21, from Illinois; Maria Dueñas, age 18, from Spain; and Simon Zhu, age 20, from Germany.

All events and Competition rounds can be viewed on the Menuhin Competition YouTube Channel and website: https://2021.menuhincompetition.org/ and https://www.youtube.com/user/MenuhinCompetition

--Beverly Greenfield, Kirshbaum Associates

Susan Merdinger Wins The American Prize in Piano, 2021
Susan Merdinger of Highland Park, IL is the winner of The American Prize in Piano, 2021, The Lorin Hollander Award, in the professional piano concerto division. Susan was selected from applications reviewed recently from all across the United States. The American Prize National Nonprofit Competitions in the Performing Arts is the nation's most comprehensive series of non-profit competitions in the musical and theater arts, unique in scope and structure, designed to recognize and reward the best performing artists, ensembles and composers in the United States based on submitted recordings. The American Prize was founded in 2009 and is awarded annually in many areas of the performing arts. Applications for the 2022 contests are being accepted at least through the covid-extended deadline of September 9, 2021. (www.theamericanprize.org)

Link to official announcement: https://theamericanprize.blogspot.com/2021/05/winners-american-prize-in-piano.html

--David Katz, Chief Judge of The American Prize

What's Streaming Classical (Week of May 24-30)
Friday, May 28 at 11:00 a.m. PT:
Davóne Tines performs in LA Opera Digital Short "Gallup," directed by Blackhorse Lowe with music by Matthew Aucoin.
https://www.laopera.org/performances/upcoming-digital-performances/gallup

Friday, May 28 at 8:00 p.m. CT:
Minnesota Orchestra and Music Director Osmo Vänskä perform Carlos Simon's An Elegy: A Cry from the Grave in honor of George Floyd.
https://minnesotaorchestra.org/tickets/calendar/eventdetail/1789/-/remembrance-and-reflection-digital-concert

--Shuman Associates

Death of Classical Presents “Hymn to the City”
Death of Classical, in partnership with the New York Philharmonic and The Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, will present “Hymn to the City” on June 3-5. The in-person, immersive, cemetery-wide event is a celebration of the resilience of New York City, reflecting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attendees will be taken on a journey across the Cemetery, hearing the stories of Green-Wood’s extraordinary permanent residents — many of whom are members of the New York Philharmonic community — interwoven with music, dance, and poetry. From Leonard Bernstein’s gravesite to the Hill of Graves, the Civil War Soldiers Monument to the Catacombs, we’ll remember the battles lost and won, the challenges overcome, and the boundless ingenuity, open-hearted creativity, and indomitable strength of our beloved city.

For more information, visit https://www.deathofclassical.com/angelshare/hymn-to-the-city

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Some June 2021 Events to Watch
Naumburg Orchestral Concerts will return for the 2021 summer series at the Naumburg Bandshell, dates and artists to be announced in June 2021. Since 1905, the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts has continuously presented free, outdoor classical music concerts to New Yorkers of all walks of life. It is the oldest such concert series in the world. Named after founder and philanthropist Elkan Naumburg, who donated the Naumburg Bandshell to New York City in 1923, and inspired by his own ardent love of music, the series seeks to stimulate and encourage new and expanded audiences for classical music in the informal and beautiful setting of Central Park.

Schaghajegh Nosrati, pianist, premieres Friday, June 4 at 8 p.m. ET, streaming through Thursday, June 10. Tickets: $20. Making her Washington Performing Arts debut, German pianist and 2021 Hayes Artist Schaghajegh Nosrati performs the cornerstone of her repertoire, The Art of Fugue by J.S. Bach. Following an attention-getting second prize award in 2014’s International Bach Competition in Leipzig, Nosrati made her CD debut in 2015 with The Art of Fugue, and her 2017 recording of Bach keyboard concertos took the German Record Critics’ Award. No less an authority than her ongoing mentor (and fellow Home Delivery Plus headliner) Sir András Schiff has praised the “astonishing clarity, purity, and maturity” of her Bach performances. More information at https://www.washingtonperformingarts.org/seasontickets/home-delivery-plus/schaghajegh-nosrati-piano/

“Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington (GMCW) Turns 40” premieres Friday, June 5 at 7 p.m. ET, streaming through Sunday, June 20; tickets $25. Featuring a mix of archival video from the ensemble’s 40 years to new performances of “From Now On,” “Rise Up,” “You Will Be Found” (from Dear Evan Hansen,) and the brand-new anthem written especially for GMCW’s 40th Anniversary, “Harmony’s Never Too Late!” More information at https://www.gmcw.org/gmcw-turns-40/

The Washington Chorus: “Resilience”: Friday, June 11 at 8 p.m. ET, streaming through Wednesday, June 30; tickets $15. The Washington Chorus’s “Resilience” digital choral experience highlights the power of music and the human spirit. In collaboration with visual artist Camilla Tassi and narrator Shannon Finney, the performance includes a world premiere excerpt from the TWC commissioned work, “Here's The Thing” by acclaimed composer and former TWC Artistic Director Julian Wachner and Rome Prize-winning poet Samiya Bashir. More information: https://thewashingtonchorus.secure.force.com/ticket/ - /instances/a0F0y00001C9RpcEAF

The Washington Chorus: “Cause for Song,” personalized music video messages that can be delivered throughout the year, including Summer. With a rich repertoire of songs performed in a range of styles, this is a unique gift for birthdays, graduation, anniversaries, holidays, Father’s Day, or just because you care. Videos are priced $24–$249. More information: https://thewashingtonchorus.org/cause-for-song

American Pianists Association Classical Awards Finals: Friday, June 25–Sunday, June 27. The five 2021 finalists—Dominic Cheli, Kenny Broberg, Mackenzie Melemed, Michael Davidman, and Sahun Sam Hong—will return to Indianapolis for the finals in front of a limited live audience. More information: https://www.americanpianists.org/about

--Amy Killion, Camille Cintrón Devlin, and Amanda Sweet, Bucklesweet

Schedule Announced for 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 with an opening session on Tuesday, May 25, 2021 at 7pm ET. 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 three operas that have had a major impact on the organization and collaborators.

For details, visit https://www.iceorg.org/aof

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Pianist Jonathan Biss Discusses Spirituality and Music
In connection with his best-selling Audible Original, “Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven,” pianist Jonathan Biss is the featured guest on the newest episode of Arianna Huffington’s Audible podcast called “What I’ve Learned,” now available.

Listen here: https://www.audible.com/pd/What-Ive-Learned-with-Arianna-Huffington-Podcast/B08JJMYVWP

--Shuman Associates

Concert Dialogues: From One Flute to Another
The Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) concludes its hybrid season (in theatres and on the web) on June 17, with the Dialogues concert at the Cocathédrale Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue in Longueuil.

Initiated by Marie-Hélène Breault around works by composer Katia Makdissi-Warren, the program will explore the flute repertoire with works highlighted by serenity. Presented in a magnificent church in Longueuil, the pieces will illustrate the spellbinding power of this instrument, one of the oldest and most played world-wide. Works for harp and voice complete this invitation to contemplation.

Navigating between the written and the improvised, Dialogues leads listeners into a complex and mysterious sound universe, where the modern flute is imbued with the colours of the nay (a reed flute played in Arab, Turkish and Persian music), bringing together a dozen musicians in a skilful blend of western and eastern influences.

For more information, visit https://thepointofsale.com/tickets/dialogueshybride

--France Gaignard

National Sawdust & Beth Morrison Projects to Present 21c Liederabend
The popular idea of a "Liederabend" – an evening of song – goes back to Schubertiads and the flowering of German Romantic poetry and song in the 1800s. These musical salons provided the artists and ruling-class intelligentsia of their day opportunity to co-mingle ideas, music, and personal passions.

Beginning in 2009, Beth Morrison Projects Creative Producer and PROTOTYPE Festival co-producer Beth Morrison and composer and National Sawdust co-founder and Artistic Director Paola Prestini took up the mantle of the Liederabend tradition, determined to capitalize not only on the form's strengths of creative collaborative osmosis and community building but also imbue them with an egalitarian, forward-thinking spirit. These renewed twenty-first century Liederabends would marry composition, instrumentation, and thrilling feats of vocal talent while also adding performative visual and video art into the mix.

Available on https://allarts.org/ and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsLDFmETE9NKRLKrBfLXn1Q

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Michael Christie Leads the Welsh National Opera Orchestra in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition
Grammy-winning conductor Michael Christie will lead the Welsh National Opera Orchestra to accompany finalists in the 2021 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World main prize competition. Staged without an audience in strict compliance with the latest health and safety government guidelines related to COVID-19, the competition takes place from June 12 – June 19, 2021 at St. David’s Hall in Cardiff. The performances will be broadcast across the BBC to audiences around the UK, and available on BBC iPlayer. The singer named BBC Cardiff Singer of the World is presented with the Cardfif Trophy and £20,000.

Christie says, “I am thrilled to be conducting for the BBC Singer of the World Competition this, of all complicated years. This truly epic undertaking reminds me of several similar projects I’ve led at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, so I am ready for the challenge of the huge variety of music and the rush of the nonstop performance schedule that goes with a competition like this. I also look forward to being one of the people who helps all the competing artists realize their musical vision and elevate them to even higher levels of performance, whether or not they take the top prize!"

The full list of finalists and complete broadcast information is available here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/profiles/22t9Rj3gjspxd0l6L1DmWXg/2021-competitors

--Maggie Stapleton, Jensen Artists

Saratoga Performing Arts Center Relaunches Ellen Reid Soundwalk
Saratoga Performing Arts Center announces today that it will relaunch Ellen Reid SOUNDWALK, a GPS-enabled work of public art that uses music to illuminate the natural environment in the Saratoga Spa State Park. Following the popularity of its initial launch in the Park last September, SOUNDWALK will return as a year-round installation that will be available starting today, May 20, 2021 until June 1, 2022.

Created by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Reid and co-commissioned by Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Ellen Reid SOUNDWALK is an immersive audio experience tailor-made for the Saratoga Spa State Park featuring its famous natural springs, wooded areas, a geyser, a waterfall and now also additional trails featuring the reflecting pool and Avenue of the Pines. The exhibit is free to the public, and can be experienced while following social distancing guidelines.

View the teaser: https://vimeo.com/552664245/e6d0c679fd

For more information, visit https://spac.org/ellen-reid-soundwalk/

--Rebecca Davis PR

Announcing ABS's 2021-2022 Season
American Bach Soloists’ season will begin with an eight-day Summer Festival during the first week of August at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The ABS Academy will return to the Conservatory in the summer of 2022. “Sparkle,” our annual gala fundraising event, will return with both inside and outside seating and with multiple options for your experience and participation. We have plans to resume our annual holiday performances of Messiah in Grace Cathedral and in the Green Center in Rohnert Park, and “A Baroque New Year’s Eve at the Opera” in Herbst Theatre. Additionally, we’re already in the process of renewing subscriptions to our winter concerts featuring the music of Bach, Buxtehude, Gabrieli, Handel, Monteverdi, Pachelbel, and Theile in Belvedere, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Davis.

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

--Don Scott Carpenter, ABS

Recent New Releases (CD mini-reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Hilary Hahn: Paris
Chausson: Poème; Prokofiev: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1; Rautavaara: Deux Sérénades. Hilary Hahn, violin; Mikko Franck, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. Deutsche Grammophon  483 9847.

This new release from the talented American violinist Hilary Hahn is a delight from start to finish. Although the album title and orchestra might lead you to assume a program featuring all French composers, that is not the case here, for in addition to the French composer Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) we have also music by the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) and the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016). Hahn reveals her deep affection for and kinship with the City of Light in an essay in which she explains that in addition to her many other connections with Paris, her violin was made in Paris way back in 1865 by a famed luthier whose shop has in the 21st century been replaced by a convenience store. On a brighter note, she also reveals that she had long desired to record the Prokofiev, one of her favorite and most-performed pieces, but was waiting for the right combination of time, place, orchestra, and conductor, which she realized in Paris with Franck and the OPRF in June of 2019. The end result is truly lovely, well worth the wait both for her and for us. Those who might associate Prokofiev with spiky, boisterous music would do well to listen to this performance of his Violin Concerto No. 1, which is lyrical, lively, and lovely. Hahn describes the Chausson Poème with which she opens the program as “raw, lush, heartbreakingly beautiful… it takes my breath away.” Although I have in the past owned recordings of this piece, and enjoyed them, I had not heard the piece in many years until I auditioned this new recording, and yes, I found it to be much as she described. It truly is a marvelous work, well worth seeking out if you have not yet encountered it. The background story behind the Deux Sérénades by Rautavaara that complete this release is told in the liner notes, a tale that I will not relate here but will rather leave for those who might be interested to seek out for themselves. The music is quite enjoyable, but in truth, does not quite sound complete, which a reading of the liner notes will explain. All in all, Paris is a heartfelt and satisfying release from some consummate musicians.

Parallels: Shellac Reworks by Christian Löffler
Wagner: Parsifal: Closing Scene (Arr. for Orchestra). Max von Schillings, Staatskapelle Berlin (1926-27); Smetana: The Moldau (excerpt). Erich Kleiber, Staatskapelle Berlin (1928); J.S. Bach: Dir, dir Jehova, will ich singen BWV 452. Karl Straube, Thomanerchor Leipzig; Helmut Walcha, organ (1927); J.S. Bach: Gavotte from English Suite No. 6, BWV 811. Alfred Grunfeld, piano (1911); Chopin: Nocturne No. 2 in E flat Major Op. 9 No. 2 (arr. De Sarasate). Charles Cerne, piano; Vasa Prihoda, violin (1929); Bizet: Nadir’s Aria from Les pecheurs des perles. Koloman von Pataky, tenor; unknown orchestra (1928); excerpts from four works by Beethoven: Symphony No. 6. Hans Pfitzner, Staatskapelle Berlin (1930); Symphony No. 5, 2. Satz. Richard Strauss, Staatskapelle Berlin (1928); Egmont Overture. Otto Klemperer, Staatskapelle Berlin (1927); Symphony No. 3, 2. Marcia funebre. Hans Pfitzner, Berliner Philharmoniker (1929). Christian Löffler, electronics. Deutsche Grammophon 4839660.

This is a recording that truly blends the old and the new. Deutsche Grammophon has one of the oldest sound archives in the world, having taken great care to store their recorded material ever since the label’s foundation in 1898. Shellac discs (78s) that held about four minutes of music per side were the dominant recording format until the 1940s. A number of these historic recordings have now been digitized and restored, and DG recently teamed with German DJ and producer Christian Löffler, who hand-picked from this collection of digitized shellac recordings a set for modern reworking. Löffler is a self-taught musician whose productions combine elements of dancefloor techno and ambient electronica. He says that his music “is often described as nostalgic, it’s just part of my musical world. Sad music – if you want to call it that – has always been more appealing to me than happy music… I’m quite nerdy when it comes to trendy music production techniques. I’m very forward thinking and always interested in new technologies. But many of my trademark sounds come from vintage synthesizers and old effects devices. I’m just trying to catch the best of any time period to get the best possible result. My aspiration with this project was to handle the music with all due respect. That is something I always do when I work with other people’s music, be it a remix or collaboration. My aim for Parallels was to bring the soul of my own music into these original pieces. I also wanted to keep some parts of the original music almost untouched, to give the listener a better understanding of the original material in the context of its new ‘home’.” Yes, his description sounds a bit bizarre, but the end result is fascinating, hypnotic, and haunting. Electronic sounds, acoustic sounds, voices from nearly a century ago rising from the mix -- this is a recording that can be enjoyed both in casual and concentrated listening modes.

Refraction
Alexander Woods, violin; Rex Woods, piano; Aubrey Smith Woods, violin. MSR Classics MS 1689.

As you might guess from the names of the performers, this album of music for violin is a family affair, presented by violinist Alexander Woods along with his pianist father, Rex Woods, and his violinist wife, Aubrey Smith Woods. (Perhaps I am being overly sensitive, but I did find it rather odd that on both the front and back covers the three names are printed in three distinctly rank-ordered font styles: ALEXANDER WOODS, REX WOODS, Aubrey Smith Woods. Hmmmm…)  The four composers are a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar: Dvorak, Asplund, Mozart, and Thorndock. As the liner notes explain, “although the violin itself has remained virtually unchanged for centuries, music composed for the instrument has undergone numerous and vivid transformations, shaped and developed by varied circumstances, styles and innovations. Like a light beam passing through a prism. Works written for the violin have, over time, refracted into a broad stylistic array of vibrant compositional perspectives. This album mingles canonic violin works from the past with recent compositions that explore this variegated play, engaging with the rich history of violin music and performance through myriad lenses.” The album opens with Four Romantic Pieces from Dvorak for violin and piano, which are played here most romantically and enjoyably, a fine way to start the program. Unfortunately, the next composition, One Eternal Round for two violins by Canadian-American composer Christian Asplund (b. 1964), does not fall nearly as naturally on the ear as the others included in this set. Although it is not aggressively harsh or dissonant as some contemporary music can be, to these ears at least, it simply lacked any real appeal. YMMV. But then the players move back to familiar ground with Mozart’s Violin Sonata No. 26, a refreshing drink of cool, clear water after the dryness of the Asplund. The final composition, A Crust of Azure by American composer Neil Thorndock (b. 1977), is said in the liner notes to be “influenced by the impression of music coming down from the sky, ringing like reverberations from a bell tower. The evocative movement titles [I. Tremulous Whirl, II. Refraction of Sky, III. Lavender Shroud] allude to the atmospheric colors, light effects and sensations that descend from the sky’s ‘crust of azure.’”  It truly is a colorful piece, lively and imaginative, well worth an audition for fans of the violin who are seeking interesting new repertoire. With excellent engineering and helpful liner notes, MSR Classics has done a first-class job with this release.    

Max Richter: Voices 2
Max Richter, piano, keyboards, organ, synthesizer; Mari Samuelsson, solo violin; Ian Burdge, solo cello; Camilla Pay, harp; Robert Ziegler, conductor; Tenebrae Choir; various sopranos and altos plus a number of violin, viola, cello, and double bass players. Decca B00332480-02.

Although 
Richter’s previous release, Voices (reviewed ) spotlighted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including spoken recitations of the text, Voices 2 is exclusively musical, with no textual recitations. According to Richter, Voices 2 “opens up a meditative instrumental musical space to consider the ideas raised by the first record. The music is less about the world we know already and more about the hope for the future we have yet to write.” Those familiar with Richter’s music will know what to expect: music that is on the one hand relatively simple and straightforward in terms of its melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic construction, yet on the other hand, rich and evocative in terms of its instrumentation, sonority, and emotional resonance. There are some striking sounds to be heard from Richter’s various keyboard instruments both acoustic and electronic, plus some particularly notable musical contributions by Mari Samuelsson on violin and Ian Burdge on cello. And no, you need not have listened to Voices to enjoy its successor, which is quite enjoyable on its own terms. 

Lento Religioso
Berg: Piano Sonata op. 1 (arr. Wijnand van Klaveren); Korngold: Lento Religioso from Symphonic Serenade; Bruckner; Adagio from String Quintet; Bridge: Lament for string orchestra (for Catherine, aged 9, “Lusitania” 1915); Lekeu: Adagio pour quatuor d’orchestre; Wagner: Prelude from Tristan und Isolde; Strauss; Prelude from Capriccio. Candida Thompson, Amsterdam Sinfonietta. Channel Classics CCS 36620.

As a glance at the titles of the works included in this generously filled (77:41) disc should suggest, this release features music from the more serious, somber pages of the classical music catalog. That is not to say, however, that listening to it is an emotional downer, as this is music of great depth and exquisite beauty, played with sensitivity by this relatively small string orchestra. Some of the selections are scaled down (e.g., the Wagner), some are scaled up (e.g., the Berg and the Bruckner), and some were originally intended for an ensemble of about this size. The engineering is first-rate, with clean string tone and a believable soundfield. All in all, an interesting program of some works a bit off the beaten path that should be especially appealing to those who appreciate music of a serious, reflective, but nonetheless aesthetically engaging nature.

Lindberg: The Waves of Wollongong
Also, Liverpool Lullabies; 2017. The New Trombone Collective; Evelyn Glennie, percussion; Christian Lindberg, trombone and conductor, Antwerp Symphony Orchestra. BIS-2148 SACD.

If I had to come up with a one-word description of this release by the Swedish composer, trombonist, and conductor Christian Lindberg (b. 1958) it would be “robust.” Or maybe “outgoing.” Or possibly even “swaggering.” It most certainly would not be “reticent” or “tentative.” The opening piece, The Waves of Wollongong (the title refers to waves the composer had experienced in Wollongong, Australia) features the nine trombones (three each alto, tenor, and bass) of The New Trombone Collective making mighty waves of sound along with the orchestra, while the second piece, Liverpool Lullabies, seems hardly the sort of music to little ones to sleep as Lindberg on trombone and the amazing Ms. Glennie on percussion give off plenty of sparks with their energetic playing. The final piece, 2017, was composed by Lindberg during that turbulent, discouraging, frightening year as a reaction to the 2016 U.S. presidential election and its disturbing aftermath, and is dedicated to the journalist Rachel Maddow. Needless to say, it is not a cheerful piece, but it is musically engaging. As per their usual standard, the BIS engineering team has captured this robust music in robust, dynamic, swaggering sound that will tickle your tweeters and waggle your woofers.

Vaughan Williams: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 6
Sir Antonio Pappano, London Symphony Orchestra. LSO Live SACD LSO0867.

Vaughan Williams may well be the most underrated symphonic composer. For my money, his nine rank right up there with the best, and when it comes to the heart of his symphonic output, Symphonies Nos. 3, 4, 5, and 6, I can’t think of any composer whose 4-6 I would rate above RVW’s – not Mahler, not Bruckner, not Sibelius, and no, not even the immortal Beethoven. Of those four RVW symphonies, the odd-numbered are primarily lyrical and peaceful, while the two even-numbered symphonies, especially No.4, are much more brash and assertive. Pappano and the LSO hold nothing back, with the opening notes of No. 4 bursting forth with startling ferocity. This bold beginning sets the tone for the entire disc, which presents both symphonies forcefully and energetically. My only quibble is with some harshness in the upper strings; to be honest, I am not sure how much is the engineering or how much can be attributed to the vigor of the performance. My first choice in both symphonies has been the Slatkin recordings from his RCA boxed set (now distributed by Sony Music at a bargain price), but for those looking for a single disc of these two remarkable 20th century masterpieces, this new release from Pappano and the LSO is a top choice. Highly recommended.

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 both its equipment and recordings 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 simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me — point out recordings that they 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 Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, 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