Mozart: Gran Partita (CD review)

Serenades Nos. 10 “Gran Partita” and 11. Soloists from the Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin. Harmonia Mundi HMM 902627.

By John J. Puccio

By definition a serenade was originally a vocal or instrumental piece performed outdoors in the evening (and usually outside the house of a woman). Today, it usually applies to light, multi-movement works for winds or scorings intended for orchestral performance. Mozart was so taken by the serenade that he wrote thirteen of them, the last one, “Eine kleine Nachtmusik,” being the most popular of the bunch. On the present recording we get two of his other popular serenades, Nos. 10 and 11, performed on period instruments by soloists from the Akademie fur Alte Musik and employing the number of musicians the composer indicated in the scores. The two works probably sound about as close to what Mozart intended as one can get.

Opening the program is the Serenade No. 11 in E-flat major, K. 375, written in 1781. It has five movements, and the Akademie play the revised version, which uses two oboes in addition to two clarinets, two bassoons, and two horns. The Akademie players are very precise in their coordination and articulation, so it’s a pleasure listening to their immaculate group effort. However, they do not seem to produce an abundance of joy, gusto, or cheer. Although they are not a somber ensemble--far from it with their brisk tempos--they are not a particularly exciting or jubilant one, either. They appear more businesslike, placing their emphasis on efficiency rather than exultation or merriment. Still, they produce such a soothing, pleasing sound, it’s hard not to like and admire their presentation.

The star of the show is the Serenade No. 10 in E-flat major, K. 361, subtitled “Gran Partita.” Mozart wrote it around 1781 or ‘82, although he probably didn’t subtitle it himself. Whatever, it’s a “grand suite” in seven movements, scored for two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two basset horns, four horns, and a double bass. You might recognize the third movement Adagio from the 1984 movie Amadeus. It’s near the beginning of the film when Salieri tells us he can’t understand why God chose so coarse a fellow as Mozart to write such heavenly music.

Again, the Akademie play the serenade in a noble and assured manner with little room for playfulness. They are a purposeful group intent on performing the music as accurately as possible. As such, No. 10 comes off with a regal splendor, in which you may or may not hear a divine voice. It’s more earthbound than that, while nevertheless remaining a delight.

Artistic Director Martin Sauer and engineer Rene Moller recorded the music at Teldex Studio Berlin, Germany in January 2020. Miked a bit closely, the sound is extremely well detailed, transparent, and dynamic. Having as few players as there are involved ensures textural clarity but not a lot of air around the instruments or depth to the stage. No matter; the recording’s cleanness and lucidity win the day.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from Serenade No. 10, click below:

Classical Music News of the Week, August 28, 2021

Pianist Susan Merdinger and Sheridan Solisti Announce First Concerts of
2021-2022 Chicago Season

Sunday, October 2 at 12:15 PM - Ear Taxi Festival at University of Chicago Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E 60th St. in Chicago - Susan Merdinger will perform contemporary music by Aaron Alter, Elbio Barilari and Ilya Levinson.

Tickets and more event information at https://www.eartaxifestival.com/

Sunday, October 31 at 2 PM – Northbrook Public Library, 1201 Cedar La., Northbrook, IL – Sheridan Solisti perform "Ghost Music"- works for piano trio by Beethoven, the new Dybbuk Piano Trio dedicated to Susan by Grammy-nominated composer Ilya Levinson, and works by William Bolcom and Morton Gould.

More event information at https://www.northbrook.info/

Sunday, November 7 at 4 PM – Sheely Center for the Performing Arts, 2300 Shermer, Northbrook, IL– Pianists Susan Merdinger and Steven Greene (at right) will perform Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos.

Tickets and more event information at https://www.northbrooksymphony.org/

Sunday, January 30, 2022 at 3 PM - Sheridan Music Studio-Chicago, Fine Arts Building Suite 908, 410 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 908, Chicago, IL - Pianissimo! - Chicago's Premier piano ensemble performs at Sheridan Music Studio Chicago on multiple pianos.

Tickets and more event information at https://www.susanmerdingerpianist.com/events

Sunday, March 27 at 3 PM - Sheridan Music Studio-Chicago, Fine Arts Building Suite 908, 410 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 908, Chicago, IL - Susan Merdinger will perform a solo recital on the Music with a View Series at Sheridan Music Studio Chicago. Program TBA.

Tickets and more event information at https://www.susanmerdingerpianist.com/events

Sunday, May 15 at 3 PM - Sheridan Music Studio-Chicago, Fine Arts Building Suite 908, 410 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 908, Chicago, IL – Music with a View presents Sheridan Solisti in large ensemble works for piano, woodwinds and strings. Program TBA.

Tickets and information at https://www.susanmerdingerpianist.com/events

--Jeffrey James Arts Consulting

Cantus Announces 2021-22 Season
Now in its 27th year, the acclaimed vocal ensemble Cantus will return to concert stages this fall to bring their “sublime musicality” (ConcertoNet) to audiences in the Twin Cities and throughout the country. From October through July, Cantus will present six new programs in ten venues statewide; the return of Chanticleer for a second collaborative performance at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis; and the Cantus Anniversary Gala in June 2022 at the Ordway in St. Paul, belatedly celebrating the ensemble’s 25th Anniversary delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cantus will also resume national touring for the first time since March 2020. Maintaining a worthwhile new tradition borne out of the pandemic, Cantus will continue making concerts available online in a pay-what-you-can format. The COVID-19 Sessions will be released by Signum Classics as a physical album exclusively for Cantus audiences to have in time for Christmas 2021, before launching the album internationally in Spring. Recorded in March 2020, the COVID-19 Sessions album release follows the long-awaited release of Manifesto in June 2021.

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

--Rebecca Davis PR

Winners Announced for Lyndon Woodside Competition
The Oratorio Society of New York announces the winners of its 44th Annual Lyndon Woodside Oratorio-Solo Competition Finals held on Saturday, August 21 at 1:30pm at The Riverside Church. Soprano Emily Cedriana Donato received the Andrew R. Preis Award, earning First Place in the competition and a $7,000 cash prize. Soprano Emily Yocum Black received the Meyerson/Zwanger Award, earning Second Place and a $5,000 prize, and baritone Ryne Cherry received the Janet Plucknett Award, earning Third Place and a $3,000 prize.

Additionally, soprano Rebecca Farley received the Esther Korshin Award ($2,500 prize) and tenor Colin James Doyle received the Frances MacEachron Award ($1,500 prize).

The prestigious annual Oratorio-Solo Competition encourages the art of oratorio singing and provides young singers the opportunity to advance their careers. This year’s five finalists were selected from the 120+ singers who participated in the 2020 competition, before the pandemic forced its cancellation that year.

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

--Katlyn Morahan, Morahan Arts and Media

Music in the Grove Postponed to June 2022
The Music Institute of Chicago has made the difficult decision to postpone Music in the Grove, the free block party celebrating its 90th Anniversary scheduled Sunday, September 19 at Nichols Concert Hall and on Grove Street in Evanston. The current plan is to reschedule the event in June 2022.

Said Music Institute President and CEO Mark Geroge, “Our top priority is the health and well-being of families, faculty and staff, volunteers, exhibitors, and members of the community at large. We feel  this is not the right time to host a large event. While this news is disappointing, we have been monitoring developments closely and taking precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local public health agencies. In light of the delta variant of the coronavirus, we believe this is the right decision."

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

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Chicago Opera Theater's Daring Carmen
This September, Chicago audiences will have the truly rare opportunity to hear two world-class dramatic mezzo-sopranos debut new roles opposite one another in Chicago Opera Theater’s Carmen. Jamie Barton, dubbed “opera’s nose-studded rock star” by The New York Times, will make her role debut as the titular femme fatale while Blythely Oratonio, the tenor alter ego of the legendary Stephanie Blythe, will sing his first Don José.

“Though Bizet’s melodies are familiar to many opera-goers, this will be a very different perspective on an operatic classic,” said COT Music Director Lidiya Yankovskaya, who will conduct the semi-staged concert performances. “It’s also a unique opportunity to hear these inimitable artists exploring brand-new territory. Jamie Barton is long overdue in her debut as Carmen, and I’m thrilled that Stephanie Blythe will be joining us in a new role that fits her truly unusual voice like a glove.”

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

--Beth Stewart, Verismo Communications

Five Boroughs Music Festival Opens 15th Anniversary Season
Five Boroughs Music Festival’s (5BMF) 15th anniversary season is celebrated in 2021-2022 with a return to live in-person concerts throughout New York City. The season opens with a special concert and celebration featuring Kinan Azmeh’s CityBand in performance at Five Boroughs Brewing Co. in Sunset Park, Brooklyn on Tuesday, September 14, 2021 at 6:30pm.

The genre-blending ensemble, in the style of a jazz combo, will perform a set of recently-composed works by Azmeh that are at times through-composed, reflecting a more classical style, and at others open-ended, leaving room for improvisations with elements of Syrian folk styles. CityBand headlines the evening that will also seek to raise funds for 5BMF’s upcoming Five Borough Songbook, Vol. III, the third installment of 5BMF’s flagship commissioning project, which will include new works by Azmeh and 14 other composers. VIP ticket holders receive premium reserved seating and unlimited drinks. In addition to 5BMF’s season-long COVID safety measures, Five Boroughs Brewing Co. is partially open to the street via warehouse garage doors that open up the wall completely.

For more information, visit https://5bmf.org/

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

SOLI’s 2021-2022 Season Is Here
SOLI Chamber Ensemble has been giving voice to 20th- and 21st-century contemporary chamber music since 1994, mesmerizing audiences for nearly three decades with their engaging performances, ensuring the future of new music through educational initiatives, and continually renewing their commitment to the music of living composers through performances and commissions. Winner of the 2013 Chamber Music America and ASCAP Adventurous Programming Award and a 2020 Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Grant, SOLI continues to champion new works, new contexts, and new audiences for the music of our time.

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

--SOLI Chamber Ensemble

American Youth Symphony Announces 2021-22 Season
The American Youth Symphony announces its 2021-22 season, marking the ensemble’s long-awaited return to performances following an 18-month period of cancellations due to the pandemic. AYS resumes concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall, UCLA’s Royce Hall, and continues its free Community Chamber Concert series throughout Los Angeles.

The 2021-22 AYS season begins at Royce Hall on Saturday, September 25, 2021 led by Music Director Carlos Izcaray. Tickets are available on a pay-what-you-can basis, ensuring anyone can attend. AYS Members receive early access to ticket reservations from Wednesday, August 25th - Sunday, September 5th 11:59pm. Tickets open to the public on Tuesday, September 7th at 9:00am. The program includes Alberto Ginastera's Variaciones Concertantes, and other works to be announced.

Academy Award®-nominated composer David Newman will lead American Youth Symphony at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on the museum's opening day, Sept. 30, 2021, for two special live-to-picture presentations of The Wizard of Oz.

For more information, visit https://www.academymuseum.org/en/ and https://aysymphony.org/

--Lisa Bellamore, Crescent Communications

Colburn School Announces 2021-2022 Season
The Colburn School today announced the 2021-2022 season, welcoming students, faculty, and esteemed guest artists back to its campus and to performances throughout the region following an 18-month closure due to the pandemic. The upcoming season features a wide range of repertoire through the School’s signature concert series and newly launched programs that embody the School’s commitment to access and excellence in performing arts education.

“The Colburn School’s 2021-22 season welcomes the community to once again experience the joy of live music and dance, and to continue to advance an inclusive future for classical music and the performing arts.” says President & CEO Sel Kardan. “The last 18 months have been a time of innovation and investment, and this season is directly inspired by our commitment to the next generation of young artists.”

--For details, visit https://www.colburnschool.edu/calendar/season-overview/

--Lisa Bellamore, Crescent Communications

Emerson String Quartet to Retire in 2023
The Emerson String Quartet, the incomparable American ensemble, will retire at the end of summer 2023, forty-seven remarkable years after it was initially formed at Juilliard in 1976.  All four members of the Quartet--Eugene Drucker, Philip Setzer, Lawrence Dutton and Paul Watkins--will continue to perform and teach individually; as a group, they will continue to coach and mentor young ensembles through the Emerson String Quartet Institute at Stony Brook University, along with cellist David Finckel, who was a member of the quartet for 34 years. The Quartet’s original members were Drucker, Setzer, violist Guillermo Figueroa, Jr. and cellist Eric Wilson. Lawrence Dutton joined the group in 1977; cellist David Finckel became a member in 1979 and was succeeded by Paul Watkins in 2013.

The Emerson Quartet, named “America’s greatest quartet” by Time Magazine, is one of the most celebrated classical music quartets of all time. The ensemble is the recipient of not only the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize and Musical America’s coveted “Ensemble of the Year” Award, but also nine GRAMMYs (including two for Best Classical Album) and three Gramophone Awards.

For more information about the Emerson Quartet, visit https://www.emersonquartet.com/

--Shirley Kirshbaum, Kirshbaum Associates

Sweet Land Is Awarded "Best New Opera" by MCANA
The Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA) is pleased to announce that its 2021 Award for BEST NEW OPERA—a major recognition given annually by an Awards Committee of distinguished music critics—goes to composers Du Yun and Raven Chacon and librettists Aja Couchois Duncan and Douglas Kearney for Sweet Land. An eye-opening pageant that disrupts the dominant narrative of American identity, Sweet Land was a highly collaborative creation produced by The Industry, the Los Angeles-based experimental company founded by MacArthur Fellow Yuval Sharon. Sweet Land took place February 29 - March 8, 2020 before being forced to shut down due to COVID-19.

For more information, visit https://theindustryla.org/sweet-land-opera/

--Aleba Gartner, Aleba & Co.

Snétberger: Hallgató (CD review)

Ferenc Snétberger: Hallgató: Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra “In Memory of My People” (version for guitar and string quintet); Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 8; John Dowland: I saw my lady weep (for guitar and string quartet); Flow, my tears (for guitar and cello); Barber: Adagio for Strings; Snétberger: Your Smile (for solo guitar); Rhapsody No. 1 for Guitar and Orchestra (version for guitar and string quintet). Ferenc Snétberger, guitar; Keller Quartet (András Keller and Zsófia Környei, violin; Gábor Homoki, viola; Lászlo Fenyö, cello); Gyula Lázár, double bass. ECM New Series 2653 351 9395.

By Karl W. Nehring

Ferenc Snétberger (b. 1957) is a Hungarian guitarist who is primarily known as a jazz guitarist, but among other things, he has studied both classical and gypsy music. He does not sound like what most music fans would probably think a jazz guitarist would sound like, even on his jazz releases. However, this is a classical recording, and he is featured here not only as a performer but also as a composer.

To better understand this release, it might be best to begin with some considerations of context and presentation before moving on to the music itself. First, as it is noted in bold font on the back cover, this is a concert recording (from a performance or possibly performances at the Liszt Academy in Budapest in December, 2018). Now, JJP has often pointed out that many recordings these days are made during concert performances rather than under more “studio-like” conditions that might also be made in a concert hall but without the presence of an audience, meaning that the engineers would in the latter case would have more freedom in terms of microphone placement and even more importantly, the inevitable background noises resulting from a live audience would not be an issue. Through warning audiences that a recording is going to be made, careful microphone placement, and judicious editing, there have been some live recordings that exhibit very good sound, without any extraneous audience noises; however, be forewarned that this is not one of them. This truly does sound like a concert recording. There is applause, there is coughing, there is murmuring – the more revealing your audio system, the more you will experience the feeling of being present at a concert venue. Some listeners will find that engaging, while others may find it enraging. Personally, I found it surprising at first, but although I would have preferred the producer to at least have edited out the applause, I did not find the audience noises all that distracting once I heard them and directed my attention back to the sound of the instruments.

The idea of attention also informs another key consideration to understanding the context of the musical program included on this release, which is titled “Hallgató.” The liner notes point out that Hallgató is also the title of the opening movement of the composition that begins the program, Snétberger’s own Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra, further noting that the meaning óof Hallgató is ambiguous. In Hungarian, it means a listener, but also a student, “and thus a listener in a university seminar. In Roma culture, a ‘hallgató’ is also a relatively recent type of song, preceded by the ‘magyar nota’ of the 19th century – a slow, sustained song capable of expressing all the themes from the history and everyday life of this ancient people. Yet the Hungarian meaning can be readily combined with its Roma counterpart: the listener must be attentive when these typical folk songs are sung. They also preserve their character in instrumental garb.” Seen in this context, the title of the album is inviting us to be not just listeners, but attentive listeners, to the music performed in this concert, which apparently is meant to be heard not merely for diversion or entertainment, but for some more meaningful purpose.

The program opens with that concerto, which Snétberger composed and first played for the 50th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust and to which he ascribed the dedication, “In Memory of My People.” As you might expect, the piece is serious and somber. The opening movement, Hallgató, features a melancholy melody strummed on the guitar that is briefly interrupted by a frantic attempt at dance by the strings, but the guitar prevails. The second movement, Emlékek (“Memories”) finds the guitar and quintet working not so much at cross-purposes as in the previous movement, here producing music that sounds wistful and resigned. The final movement, Tánc (“Dance”) ups the energy and tempo, the strings at times playing with a gypsy feel, but the piece ends with a brief burst of energy that sounds like a desperate last gasp, as if the dance has been suddenly interrupted. The effect is disconcerting.

Next on the program is a piece that will be familiar to many classical music lovers, the String Quartet No. 8 by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, a work that has been recorded many times by many ensembles, which Shostakovich wrote “to commemorate the victims of fascism and war.” As played here by the Keller Quartet, the piece seems a bit softer-edged than usual. They seem not to dig into their instruments quite as vigorously as the Fitzwilliam or Emerson Quartets, to name two versions I play often (the Shostakovich quarters are a favorite of mine – I currently own three complete sets plus several individual discs). However, that softer approach fits in well with the overall thrust of the program on this recording, which is more reflective than angry, more melancholy than vengeful. Still, the emotional message is plainly evident. I would not want this for my only version of this powerful quartet, but it works well in this context. The Keller Quarter have clearly given plenty of thought to this music and come up with an approach that gets to the heart of the music. It is a performance well worth seeking out by those who treasure this jewel of the string quartet repertoire.

Following the emotional intensity of the Shostakovich, the two relatively brief and more straightforward Dowland laments from the 16th century come as something of a relief. They maintain a subdued sound, melancholy but not morose, serving in the program as a bridge to the another widely recorded 20th-century piece so familiar to classical music fans -- indeed, even to the general public -- Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, performed here in its original scoring for string quartet (it was a movement from his String Quartet op.11, but we have become so accustomed to hearing the work scored for string orchestra that many have forgotten the origin of the work). Given the Adagio’s association with grief and mourning, it certainly fits right into the emotional arc of the musical program.

A glance at the title of the penultimate piece on the program, Snétberger’s solo guitar piece Your Smile, might lead the listener to think that the clouds are suddenly going to part and a ray of sunshine is going to burst through so that all will suddenly be sweetness and light, but that is not the case. The smile in question appears to be a smile remembered, a sweet but fading memory of a love long lost. The music is beautiful, but it is a sad, wistful beauty that feels like an attempt to escape from the pain of loss. The program then closes with the quintet arrangement of Snétberger’s Rhapsody No. 1 for Guitar and Orchestra, which continues in the same emotional vein: wistful, somehow hopeful and resigned at the same time, finally trailing off into an ambiguous ending that just, well, ends, resolving nothing.

Thus ends an engaging program of music that is both soothing and unsettling. Ultimately, it is a testament  to the power of music’s ability to allow us to reflect upon the tragedies of life both large and small, from the unfathomable evil of the Holocaust to the personal tragedy of a lost loved one or perhaps merely the temporary pain of a would-be lover’s rejection. Music somehow affords us an abstract, distanced way to work through these all-too-present issues in our lives, whether it be by composing, performing, or, for most of us, listening. Not just hearing music, but really listening; and not just to it, but into it.

Bonus Recommendation:

Titok: Ferenc Snétberger, guitar; Anders Jormin, double bass; Joey Baron, drums. ECM 2017.

I have maintained in these pages before that I consider jazz, at least in some of its configurations, to be a form of chamber music, and thus I occasionally recommend jazz recordings in a space that of course focuses on classical music. In the case of Titok, this is music that can be heard as blending elements of jazz and folk. The instruments are all acoustic, which is unusual for a jazz guitar album. The sound is easy on the ears, but the music itself is far from simple-minded. This is not easy-listening music, but it is easy to listen to, delightfully imaginative, with Snétberger’s guitar being ably supported by Jormin’s nimble bass lines and Baron’s deft work behind the drumkit. The recording quality has that usual ECM rich sound. Titok is an album that folks who have been hesitant to listen to jazz might want to give an audition.

KWN

Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (CD review)

Also, Eotvos: Alhambra (Violin Concerto no. 31). Isabelle Faust, violin; Pablo Heras-Casado, Orchestre de Paris. Harmonia Mundi HMM 902655.

By John J. Puccio

When Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes company premiered Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Le Sacre de Printemps (“The Rite of Spring”) at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in 1913, it caused a huge sensation. It was later called a “near riot” as the audience jeered and laughed, some of them walking out. Today, music historians see “The Rite” as a kind of turning point in classical music, a revolutionary work that formally introduced the world to the modern classical era.

By now, people have pretty much begun to take the avant-garde nature of Stravinsky’s early music for granted, but it was groundbreaking in its day. Of course, a lot of the stir at the time came about because of choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, but still.... The work’s subtitle, “Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts,” pretty much says it all. The story involves various primitive rituals celebrating the approach of spring (“Adoration of the Earth”), after which a young girl is chosen as a sacrificial victim and dances herself to death (“The Sacrifice”). Grim and heady stuff, and certainly not the kind of music for the weak of heart, either on the part of the audience or the conductor. My own favorite recording of the piece remains Leonard Bernstein’s 1958 rendering with the New York Philharmonic, now on Sony. So Maestro Pablo Heras-Casado has a challenge to come up with as electrifying a presentation. Yet, with a French orchestra in the country of the premiere, he comes close.

Heras-Casado carries out the duties of the score with a minimum of fuss. His interpretation is a good, vigorous, highly colorful one, filled with all the energy you would expect from the music. He builds the excitement of the opening movements with a quietly careful attention. What’s more important, this attentiveness extends from the gentlest passages to the most boisterous ones. Then, when things heat up, he isn’t afraid to let loose and give us a truly exhilarating experience. Of course, the sonics, help as well, and they are quite good. By the time we reach the middle of Part II, “The Glorification of the Chosen One,” things are in full thrust. Yet Maestro Heras-Casados keeps a tight rein on the histrionics, never letting the music out of his control. For this reason alone, I prefer Bernstein because with his account you’re never quite sure how out of hand things are going to get (they never do get out of control, but it’s that sense of uncertainty that makes it so fascinating). Still, Heras-Casado’s vision is as thrilling as almost anyone’s and makes for a rewarding listen.

Accompanying The Rite is the world premiere recording of Alhambra (Violin Concerto no. 31) by Peter Eotvos (b. 1944), with Isabelle Faust, violin. Eotvos dedicated the piece to Ms. Faust and Maestro Heras-Casado. A booklet note tells us that Eotvos wrote the work as “a free form, with repeated sections. The violin, followed by a double in the guise of a mandolin with scordatura tuning (an alternate way of tuning a stringed instrument that varies from standard tuning), leads this dreamlike itinerary through the various parts of a palace (the Alhambra) full of mystery and ghosts.” Like much modern music, Eotvos’s Alhambra is kind of all over the place rhythmically and melodically, but when it ventures into purely atmospheric territory, it has an appropriately haunting quality that is hard to deny.

Artistic Director Martin Sauer and engineer Rene Moller recorded the music at the Grande salle Pierre Boulez, Philharmonie de Paris, France in September 2019. It’s nicely done, with the addition of a little hall ambience to heighten the realism. A moderate sense of depth helps, too, as does a wide frequency range and some pretty decent dynamics (with hefty bass wallops). It makes for a very smooth, detailed, and welcome recording.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, August 21, 2021

Moments Musicaux: From New Discoveries to Old Favourites

In keeping with its tradition of uncovering young talent, Jeunesses Musicales Canada (JM Canada) is launching Moments musicaux, a virtual concert series featuring 10 Canadian artists and ensembles.

Recorded at JM Canada's André Bourbeau House and broadcast between August 20 and September 10, 2021, at 10:30am, these select 40-minute concerts will be available for free in the Media Library section of the organization's website. People will then be able to listen to their favourite artists for a year.

These artists stood out during competitions, concerts and selection panels. “In the past year, I've heard artists who charmed me with their passion, interpretation and creativity. I want to support them in their journey and give them the opportunity to gain exposure,” says Danièle LeBlanc, Executive and Artistic Director.

JM Canada wanted to provide artists with professional experience through these concerts. Artists can develop their recording skills while expressing their creativity in an environment where performances in front of an audience are still few and far between and where digital technology is fast becoming a powerful ally.

For details, visit https://www.jmcanada.ca/en/
To access JM Canada’s media library, visit: https://www.jmcanada.ca/en/public/media-library/

--France Gaignard, Media Relations

Death of Classical Announces Two New Performances
Death of Classical adds two individual performances to their fall season, both taking place this September, both featuring music by today's leading composers and cellists.

On September 7, as part of the third season of The Angel's Share, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw and Grammy Award-winning cellist Andrew Yee will gove a one-night-only performance of Music for Two People in the Catacombs of Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery. The program will feature new compositions and adaptations of previous works, all written by Shaw and Yee, including the world premiere of a piece inspired by Green-Wood's vast tree collection. Performances will be at 5:00PM, 6:00PM, and 7:30PM.

On Thursday September 9, composer Paola Prestini and her husband, cellist Jeffrey Ziegler, will perform at National Sawdust in Brooklyn (the venue's first in-person event since the pandemic), playing a program entitled Houses of Zodiac in advance of the release of their album by the same name. The project combines spoken word, movement, music, and image to explore the intersection of mind, body, and nature, and the evening will also include film projections by filmmaker Murat Eyuboglu, choreography by Butoh dance master Dai Matsuoka and "Rogue Ballerina" and NY Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin, as well as poetic interludes by Anaïs Nin, Brenda Shaughnessy, and Natasha Trethewey.

For complete information, visit https://www.deathofclassical.com/

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

West Edge Opera Announces the Aperture Commission
Over the past 8 months, eight Aperture finalists participated in 'Sprints' in which creative teams developed their projects and submitted weekly videos updating subscribers and curators on their progress. With subscriber input, the Aperture curators arrived at their decision to award the commission of the opera Dolores this week. Curators include Soprano Alexa Anderson, Conductor Mary Chun, Music Director and Conductor Michael Morgan, Dramaturge Leigh Rondon-Davis, and composer Brian Rosen in addition to West Edge staff Mark Streshinsky, Jonathan Khuner, and Emilie Whelan.

Says West Edge Opera General Director Mark Streshinsky: “After more than a year planning, discussing, creating and watching in amazement as so many strong projects came into the aperture portfolio, we are thrilled that Dolores receives the first commission. The project epitomizes the spirit of what Aperture set out to be. The subject is a hero that is perfect for an opera and the creators are at the beginning of their careers ready to jump onto the scene. The project was popular with our members who were frequently enthusiastic about it. We can't wait to see how Dolores comes together in the coming months as we look forward to its first outing live in a staged concert. As the writing progresses, members will be invited into the process every step of the way. Congratulations to the Dolores team!”

For more information about West Edge Opera, visit https://www.westedgeopera.org/

--Emilie Whelan, West Edge Opera

Leonard Bernstein’s MASS Turns 50
On September 8, 1971, the inauguration audience for the brand-new John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts experienced the world premiere of Leonard Bernstein's MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers. 2021 is therefore a double birthday: for the Kennedy Center and for MASS, its inaugural piece.

The Kennedy Center will present a fully staged new production of MASS in September 2022, featuring the National Symphony Orchestra, along with 2020 Marian Anderson Award winner Will Liverman as the Celebrant.

Over the coming months, public television stations will schedule broadcasts of “Great Performances: Leonard Bernstein MASS,” the Ravinia Festival’s highly acclaimed 2019 production conducted by Marin Alsop and featuring Tony Award winner Paulo Szot as the Celebrant. PBS Passport is also making the program available online for free streaming from September 8 to October 6, 2021.

--Leonard Bernstein Press

Upcoming Live PARMA Stream Event
On Thursday, August 26th at 7:00 pm EDT, PARMA presents a program of contemporary works from composers Ben Marino, Rain Worthington, Shirley Mier, and Kamala Sankaram. Tune in to hear the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra perform a diverse selection of works, distinguishable by compositional themes of nuclear physics, human emotion, historic locales, and Bollywood classics.

Learn more about the event here: https://www.parmarecordings.com/event/zagreb-philharmonic-08-26-21/

--Aidan Curran, PARMA Recordings

“Live from Columbia” Streams Pop-Up Concerts
“Live from Columbia”: Pop-Ups from Morningside Campus, co-presented with Columbia School of the Arts.

Miller invites the public to take a virtual front-row seat to performances by world-class musicians as part of its celebrated (and free) Pop-Up Concerts. In anticipation of the return of in-person programming, Miller shares rare, up-close access to concert experiences in unique Columbia settings, and highlights its commitment to contemporary music, including the long-awaited world premiere of Mundoagua, a new commission from the School of the Arts in honor of Columbia's Year of Water.

In previous years of Pop-Up Concerts, audiences sat onstage and enjoyed a free drink during these hour-long weeknight concerts, and mingled with the musicians and fellow concertgoers after the show. This season’s iteration features a change in setting for the performers and the listeners, but still offers the same intimate opportunity to experience music—virtually.

Viewers can tune in to  to watch and learn more at https://www.millertheatre.com/about/news/live-from-columbia

--Aleba Gartner, Aleba & Co.

JACK Quartet Announces 2021-22 Season
The JACK Quartet announces their 2021-22 season with a welcome return to live performances beginning this Fall featuring concerts throughout Europe and the United States. JACK will continue to highlight works from all areas of contemporary music and push the boundaries of a string quartet with multiple commissions and world premieres from composers worldwide. This season also includes the expansion of the group’s JACK Studio program as well as continuing institutional residencies across the United States.

The season begins this August at the TIME:SPANS festival in New York, featuring the world premieres of Jason Eckardt’s Passage, and Amy Williams’ Urquintett for soprano and string quartet with soprano Tony Arnold. The quartet then embarks on three of six total European tours this season, expanding their international presence with notable performances at the Konzerthaus Wien, Donaueschingen, and Wigmore Hall, and a world premiere by Chaya Czernowin with the South German Radio Chorus. In November, the quartet will premiere Waves and Particles by John Luther Adams in a program in partnership with the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center and UNC Asheville.

For details, visit https://jackquartet.com/

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

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

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

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

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

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

--France Gaignard, Media Relations

Young Concert Artists Announce Their 2021-2022 Season
Young Concert Artists (YCA) proudly presents its 2021-2022 season in an eagerly awaited live setting. YCA’s musicians can fully enrich their audiences within the communal aesthetic of live performance. The season showcases five new YCA musician debuts in New York City and Washington D.C., four encore performances, and a gala concert at Carnegie Hall. In addition, YCA continues to hold its International Auditions and Winners Concert. Finally, the season closes with a recital in memory of Dr. Milton Corn at Kennedy Center.

Daniel Kellogg, President of YCA, remarks on the season: “After a challenging and transformative year, we can’t wait to welcome audiences back to the concert hall in our ‘21-22 Season. We look to the future of our artform, and remain as dedicated as ever to launching the careers of our great YCA artists.”

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

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Emerald City Music Announces Fall 2021 Programming
Emerald City Music (ECM), the Pacific Northwest home for eclectic, intimate, and social classical chamber music experiences, announces its Fall 2021 lineup of performances and engagements, under the leadership of Artistic Director and violinist Kristin Lee and Managing Director Andrew Jones. ECM’s sixth season “Welcome Back, Welcome Home.” celebrates the return of in-person concerts and events, and expands new technologies and experiences gained during the pandemic.

Fall 2021 performance highlights include the Seattle Premiere of Filipino-American composer Patrick Castillo’s Winter Light, co-commissioned by ECM, on October 22 & 23; the UK-based Castalian Quartet’s Seattle debut performing quartets by Mozart and Mendelssohn on November 12 & 13; and Sandbox Percussion’s world premiere performance of Seven Pillars by Japanese-American composer Andy Akiho on December 2 & 3.

“After a year and a half of virtual performances, we cannot be more thrilled to be returning to our home at 415 Westlake to bring back live music,” commented ECM Artistic Director Kristin Lee. “With two Seattle premieres and a debut performance of the Castalian String Quartet, I am confident that this season will grasp the essence of what Emerald City Music is all about- fresh, eclectic, and forward-thinking experience!”

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

--Maggie Stapleton, Jensen Artists

Colburn School Announces 2021-22 Class of Salonen Fellows
The Colburn School today announced its 2021-22 class of Salonen Fellows in the Conservatory of Music’s Negaunee Conducting Program. Assistant Conductor of the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles, Kyle Dickson, and emerging young conductor Molly Turner, were selected by Esa-Pekka Salonen and will enroll in the Colburn School’s Conservatory of Music, and join the Colburn Artists roster, beginning with the 2021-2022 academic year. Dickson and Turner join current Salonen Fellow Ross Jamie Collins, who was selected for the inaugural 2019-2020 program.

Esa-Pekka Salonen joined the Colburn School faculty in Fall 2018 to lead and develop the Negaunee Conducting Program, a course of study in the school’s Conservatory of Music for a small, select group of aspiring young conductors. Known as Salonen Fellows, these students will develop their craft and nurture their talent through personal mentorship. In keeping with the Colburn School Conservatory model, students will receive full scholarships to cover tuition, room, and board. Fellows will have the opportunity to work with Esa-Pekka Salonen while he is at the San Francisco Symphony and at the Colburn School, and will gain significant real-world podium experience on and off campus to prepare them for professional careers.

“We are thrilled to welcome our second class of Fellows to the Negaunee Conducting Program at the Colburn School,” said Kardan. “In the tradition of the Colburn School’s personalized approach to learning, the Fellows will have the unprecedented opportunity to nurture their craft under the visionary guidance of Esa-Pekka Salonen. We are deeply grateful to the Negaunee Foundation for its leadership support to establish this groundbreaking program.”

For more information, visit https://www.colburnschool.edu/

--Lisa Bellamore, Crescent Communications

Salastina Announces 2021-22 Season
Salastina Artistic Directors Kevin Kumar and Maia Jasper White today announced the ensemble’s 2021-2022 season, celebrating a return to live performance, the continuation of its successful virtual Happy Hours, and an integration of the two. Signature in-person programs such as Sounds Delicious, Sounds Genius, and Sounds Mysterious inject a sense of fun, mystery, and discovery into the chamber music experience, and several previous Happy Hour guests are featured throughout the main in-person concert series. Postponed due to the pandemic, Salastina will also finally present its first-ever chamber opera, Vid Guerrerio's OC fan tutte, an English modernization of Mozart's Così fan tutte.

Salastina’s virtual Happy Hour series, launched in April 2020, will continue indefinitely. Guests from L.A. and throughout the world have participated, including Alan Menken, Hilary Hahn, Caroline Shaw, Lindsey Stirling, Chris Thile, and many more. A pandemic success story, the Happy Hours increased Salastina’s viewership by over 1000%, welcomed over 6,400 new first-time audience members, and increased Salastina membership by 243% during the 2020-21 season.

For more program information and details, visit http://www.salastina.org/concerts

--Lisa Bellamore, Crescent Communications

Arium TV's At Home With Sarah Cahill Features Works from Great Women Composers
Arium TV, a new platform for global musical storytelling, has released the first of two episodes of At Home With Sarah Cahill, featuring the Bay Area-artist, described as “a sterling pianist and an intrepid illuminator of the classical avant-garde” by The New York Times. Arium TV aims to showcase the highest caliber of emerging and established musicians around the world through intimate, cinematic productions of storytelling and performance, which are available for free at https://www.arium.live/

The first episode of At Home With Sarah Cahill captures an afternoon of musical storytelling filmed at her home in Berkeley. Cahill performs Vítezslava Kaprálová’s Preludes 1 and 3 (1937) and Amy Beach’s Dreaming (1892), and shares the compelling background of the works and the composers. She performs the two works on Terry Riley’s historic Mason & Hamlin piano, which had just arrived a few days before as a gift from Riley. Additional footage of Cahill speaking in her garden about her home and life in Berkeley is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35brVL2V84s

--Maggie Stapleton, Jensen Artists

The Gilmore Announces Rising Stars Season
The Gilmore Rising Stars Series will bring four acclaimed pianists from around the world to Kalamazoo for solo classical and jazz recitals this fall. The recitals will be open to in-person audiences—The Gilmore’s first since January 2020—as well as being livestreamed at https://www.thegilmore.org/

--Shuman Associates

Vienna Philharmonic on PBS
“Great Performances: Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert 2021” premieres Friday, August 27 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), https://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/, and the PBS Video app from the iconic Schönbrunn Palace under the baton of guest conductor Daniel Harding. Featuring pianist Igor Levit, timeless selections performed include pieces by Beethoven, waltzes by Strauss and songs from "West Side Story."

--Elizabeth Boone, WNET

"The Baroque Experience" Series Debut
American Bach Soloists are excited to release a new feature on our YouTube channel! ABS musicians bring their dynamic and polished performances to this series of music videos that explore both popular and off-the-beaten-path works from the Baroque.

We'll be releasing more than a dozen new music videos that showcase their talents over the coming weeks and months. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel to get notified when a new film is available.

Watch the first release now: Bach's Concerto for Three Violins in D Major: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWWXjTFS7PE

--American Bach Soloists

Recent Releases, No. 16 (CD Reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Labyrinth: Khatia Buniatushvili, piano. Morricone: “Deborah's Theme” from Once Upon a Time in America; Satie: Gymnopédie No. 1; Chopin: Prélude in E minor Op. 28/4; Ligeti: Arc-En-Ciel, No. 5 from Études pour piano - Book I; Bach: Badinerie – from Orchestral Suite (Overture) No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067 arr. for piano four hands (with Gvantsa Buniatushvili); Bach: Air on the G String - from Orchestral Suite (Overture) No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068; Rachmaninov: Vocalise, Op. 34/14; Serge Gainsbourg: La Javanaise; Villa-Lobos: Valsa da dor; Couperin: Les Barricades Mystérieuses, from Pièces de clavecin - Book II; Bach (after Vivaldi): Sicilienne from Organ Concerto in D minor, BWV 596; Brahms: Intermezzo in A major Op. 118/2; Pärt: Pari Intervallo for piano four hands (w/Gvanstsa Buniatushvili); Glass: I'm Going to Make a Cake from The Hours; Scarlatti: Sonata in D minor, K. 32; Liszt: Consolation (Pensée poétique) in D-flat major S 172/3; Cage: 4'33"; Bach: Adagio from Keyboard Concerto in D minor BWV 974.. Sony Classics 19339743772.

Classical music lovers who are conversant with rock music will be familiar with the term “concept album,” examples of which include Tommy, The Wall, and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. These were albums whose various cuts were tied together by some overarching theme or story (the concept) in an attempt to make the album something more than just a collection of songs. With her new release Labyrinth, Georgian-born pianist Khatia Buniatushvili has taken that same approach to this album of  compositions for piano by various composers. “The labyrinth is our mind, memories of our childhood from an adult’s perspective, the past, the present, not the future, for life is an instant whose following one is unknowable, and the labyrinth is life… The labyrinth is our fate and creation, our impasse and deliverance, the polyphony of life, senses, reawakened dreams, the neglected present, the evasive future… the labyrinth of our mind.” For each of the selections included in the album, she writes a brief narrative, starting with this sentence for the character of Deborah (from “Deborah’s Theme”): “At the ruins of her dreams she could see her childhood, which reminded her of everything she thought she should have had from life, whereas in reality it was in her and she had lost it” and ending with (for the Bach Adagio), “If she hadn’t been absent, she would have been walking bare-foot on the warm earth, she would have thought, ‘Someone else’s spring is also pleasant to watch’.” Wait, what? To be honest, had I read through her complete liner notes while still at the library where I obtained this CD, I most likely never would have would have checked it out. Suffice it to say that writing is not her strong suit. Instead, I took a look at the program printed on the back cover, thought it looked varied and interesting, and auditioned the disc without having given the booklet a glance – thank goodness! The musical program is quite satisfying. Many of the pieces are relatively tranquil in nature, and on top of that, Buniatushvili tends plays some them, such as the opening Morricone and the Pärt, at what seem to be exaggeratedly slow tempi. The end result is an album that really does lend itself to relaxation and reflection, although there are lively enough moments to be found, especially in some of the Bach. And yes, the penultimate selection in her program really is John Cage’s infamous 4’33”; indeed, it is hard to top that as a piece conducive to relaxation and reflection. In the end, I find it hard not be of two minds about this release. Part of me (the part that read the liner notes and contemplates the inclusion of the Cage) finds it an over-the-top, overly woo-woo exercise in immaturity, while the other part (the part that just sits down and enjoys the interesting program and beautiful sounds emanating from the speakers) finds it an enjoyable and entertaining recording. Just caught in the labyrinth, I guess…

Francisco Coll: Violin Concerto; Hidd’n Blue; Mural; Four Iberian Miniatures; Aqua Cinerea. Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violin; Gustavo Gimeno, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. Pentatone PTC 5186 951.

The young Spanish composer Francisco Coll (b. 1985) has had the good fortune to encounter excellent advocates for his music early in his career in violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja (born in Moldova in 1977, now a resident of Switzerland), a passionate advocate of new music, and Spanish-born conductor Gustavo Gimeno (b. 1976), who besides his gig in Luxembourg is also Music Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In his liner note remarks, Coll relates that “in recent years, my development as a composer – not to mention my development as a human being – could not be understood without the presence of Gustavo Gimeno, Patricia Kopatchinskaja and the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. Together with them, I had some of the most exhilarating experiences of my creative life. They have been a huge inspiration for me, and my worldview has grown side-by-side with theirs. When my works are on their music stands, I know that something wonderful is going to happen.”  The program on this generously filled disc (80:57) kicks off with Coll’s Violin Concerto, which Coll wrote for and dedicated to Ms. K. In fact, the author of the liner notes, Jesús Castañer, remarks that the work is “intimately linked to the the figure of Kopatchinskaja, not only because in its second movement he quotes his own Hyperlude IV – the work which brought them together –  but also because the whole piece is in a sense a portrait of the violinist; from the explosive fury of the first movement, through the sensuality of the second, to the youthful and unpredictable character of the third.”  OK, then, moving back to the music… Regarding the opening movement of the concerto, when I played it for an old Belgian friend, he observed with a twinkle in his eye, “Ah, mon ami, surely that is the fiddling most energetic, n'cest pas?” Far be it from me to argue with the world’s greatest detective: the opening movement truly is a whirlwind of virtuosic energy. The second movement starts off more slowly and mysteriously, but builds in intensity, ending with a cadenza for the violin. The third and final movement opens dramatically and features some significant contributions from the percussion section. Hidd’n Blue is a brief (4:44) piece for orchestra that features some colorful ideas (no pun intended) expressed in some fluttering sounds that come to an abrupt ending. Mural was written for a large orchestra and is a longer composition (24:25) of five movements. From the rhythmic, at times even manic opening moment, the more ordered second movement, through the more brooding, almost dreamlike third movement that gives way to the more energetic fourth movement –  which still has is its dreamy moments, to the finale, which starts moodily, proceeds in waves, builds in energy and then finally fades away, this truly is a restless piece overall, never feeling settled or static. The Four Iberian Miniatures for violin and chamber orchestra are something of a tongue-in-cheek romp, alluding to Spanish dance rhythms but never quite in  a straightforward way. The mood is capricious and energetic – I can imagine the players smiling as they play their way through these 13 minutes of breathless whimsy. The program closes with Aqua Cinerea, Coll’s Opus 1. It is marked in the program as being composed from 2005-2019, which I presume means it was originally composed in 2005 and then touched up a bit in 2019. To my ears at least, it is the weakest piece here, never really coming into focus. It starts in the strings, then along comes  percussion, then lower brass –  there is plenty of orchestral color, lots of interesting sounds, but things just never quite seem to cohere. To be fair, maybe they are actually not supposed to, and I am simply missing the point of the piece. In any event, even if you do not find this final cut to be enjoyable, that still leaves more than 70 minutes of rewarding music on this well-engineered disc, which is certainly a darned good deal. Besides, many listeners might enjoy Aqua Cinerea more than I did. And hey, I did not actively dislike it, I just found it to be one of those pieces that simply did nothing for me. Your mileage may vary. This is a release that highlights a young contemporary composer with a bright future ahead of him; it is well worth an audition.

Bayou: Thomas Strønen, drums/percussion; Ayumi Tanaka, piano; Marthe Lea, clarinet/voice/percussion. ECM 2633 072 4298.

This is another of those adventurous ECM albums that resides in that zone where jazz, chamber music, folk music, and musical imagination combine, create, and captivate. Norwegian drummer Thomas Strønen has appeared on numerous previous recordings for ECM and other labels both as sideman and leader. Ayumi Tanaka is a Japanese pianist and composer who resides in Norway and often works with Norwegian musicians, while Marthe Lea is a Norwegian clarinetist and singer who leads a jazz quintet, sings Norwegian folk music, and has studied Indian classical music. They have come together on this album to record music born from spontaneous improvisation and interaction rather than from composition. Other than the opening title cut, Bayou, derived from a Norwegian folk song and sung by Lea, briefly reprised later on the album as Bayou II, the rest of the selections were mixed down from music the trio recorded spontaneously in one studio session. The music is spare, haunting, probing, and utterly fascinating. The liner pictures show the musicians during the session, and especially startling to see is the huge drum that forms part of Strønen’s setup. Its impressive bass note provides a firm sonic underpinning to the music from time to time, but is never used for mere effect. As huge as it is, it never draws more attention to itself than the brushes Strønen draws gently over his snare. Piano, clarinet, and percussion gently interact with each other, weaving a spell that seduces and enchants. This is a beguiling release that merits repeat listening to reveal more of its hidden charms.

KWN

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (CD review)

Also, Piazzolla: The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. JoAnn Falletta, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Beau Fleuve Records 605996-998562.

By John J. Puccio

Don’t get me wrong. I have always enjoyed the work of conductor JoAnn Falletta and her Buffalo Philharmonic, and her performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is as elegantly affectionate as any I’ve heard. It’s just that it probably isn’t different enough from the multitude of other good recordings of the piece most of us already have on our shelves to warrant a purchase for the Seasons alone. No, it’s the inclusion of Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires that makes the album worthwhile.

Italian composer, violinist, impresario, teacher, and priest Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) wrote Le quattro stagioni (“The Four Seasons”) between 1718 and 1720. Almost everybody recognizes the four tone poems with their chirping birds, galumphing horses, barking hounds, and dripping icicles. Vivaldi intended the music to accompany four descriptive sonnets, and they constitute the first four parts of a longer work he titled Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione ("The Contest between Harmony and Invention"). While most of us hardly remember the other eight concertos in the set, we cannot easily forget the first four, if only because they’ve been recorded so many times on practically every instrument known to man.

So, how does Ms. Falletta handle all this? As I said earlier, she approaches it with an elegant, refined affection, and the violin solos by Nikki Chooi are beautiful. The entire affair is well paced, not too fast, not too slow, with contrasts, pauses, extensions, and such providing color to each little tone picture. Here’s the thing, though: If you are used to a period-instrument, historically informed performance (Philharmonia Baroque, La Petite Bande, English Concert, Tafelmusik, Boston Baroque, etc.), Ms. Falletta’s account may be about the furthest thing from it. Still, for a modern-instruments rendering, this one is on a par with some of the best.

Nevertheless, Ms. Falletta’s version of Vivaldi is not the main attraction here. It’s the coupling of The Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas, also called Estaciones Porteñas (or “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” in English) by the Argentine composer of tangos Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) that makes the album worthwhile. He wrote the four short pieces between 1965 and 1970 and scored them for a quintet of violin (or viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass, and bandoneón. They are, of course, tangos, and Piazzolla intended them to represent the four seasons in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. But he didn’t necessarily write them to be played as a suite; it’s simply that after completing all four of them, it seemed the natural thing to do, which he often did. However, he didn’t play them in the order Vivaldi did; he organized them as “Otoño” (Autumn), “Invierno” (Winter), “Primavera” (Spring), and “Verano” (Summer). More often, though, contemporary musicians order as they are here: Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring. Ms. Falletta uses an orchestral arrangement by Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov, with violin solos by Tessa Lark. It’s quite the best I’ve heard these works done, particularly the haunting “Winter” selection.

Producer Bernd Gottinger made the recording live at Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, New York in September and October, 2020. Yes, the box says “recorded live” in 2020, during the height of the pandemic. One must assume the audience observed social distancing, so there couldn’t have many in attendance. This is supported by the fact that we hear nary a peep from them, and any applause that may have been there was edited out. Everything is dead quiet. Nor is it as closely miked as so many live recordings are, making it additionally hard to tell it from a studio production. Which I count as a blessing.

Anyway, the sound is quite good. It’s perhaps a tad forward and bright, but otherwise displays excellent detail, with strong dynamics and superb clarity and transparency. While it’s also a bit one-dimensional, without a lot of hall ambience, an extended frequency range tends to make up for it in its own way. So, as I said, it sounds like a good studio production rather than a live recording.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, August 14, 2021

Simone Dinnerstein in 'An American Mosaic,' September 15-17

Death of Classical will continue its third season of The Angel’s Share this September, featuring the internationally-renowned pianist Simone Dinnerstein performing An American Mosaic at The Green-Wood Cemetery on September 15-17. The immersive, promenade-style concert will have Yamaha pianos scattered throughout the cemetery, with Dinnerstein guiding audiences from instrument to instrument to perform different movements of the work.

Composed for Dinnerstein by Richard Danielpour, An American Mosaic is a collection of movements that commemorate different segments of the American population that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including first responders, parents, caretakers, and those who have lost their lives to the virus. Inspired and comforted by Dinnerstein’s Bach recordings throughout the pandemic, Danielpour also composed three Bach transcriptions to accompany An American Mosaic.

September 15-17, 2021 at 6:30PM
An American Mosaic with Simone Dinnerstein
Live at The Green-Wood Cemetery

Richard Danielpour: An American Mosaic
Joseph Phillips: Never Has Been Yet with Robin Quivers

For details, visit https://www.deathofclassical.com/angelshare/an-american-mosaic

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Free Music in the Grove Block Party Sept. 19
The Music Institute of Chicago welcomes families and music lovers of all ages to Music in the Grove, a free indoor/outdoor block party and birthday bash celebrating 90 years of music-making and teaching. The party takes place Sunday, September 19, 12:30–6 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, and adjacent to the Hall on Grove Street in Evanston, Illinois.

The afternoon begins at 12:30 p.m. with a family-friendly concert on stage in Nichols Concert Hall. Festivities continue outdoors at 2 p.m. with instrument demos, crafts, and other activities from the Music Institute and fellow Evanston organizations. Food trucks will be on site and classical, jazz, and rock music performances from special guest artists, faculty, and students take place on the outdoor main stage.

Headlining the performances are jazz vocalist, Chicago Tribune “2020 Chicagoan of the Year in Jazz,” and Music Institute Artist-in-Residence Tammy McCann; Music Institute Jazz Studies Director and trombonist Audrey Morrison, joined by Jazz Studies faculty; and award-winning Ensemble in Residence Quintet Attacca. Evanston organizations joining the performances include Chicago Ballet Arts, Dance Center Evanston, Evanston Art Center, Evanston Dance Ensemble, and Piven Theatre.

For more information, visit https://www.musicinst.org/celebrate-MIC90

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

#PBSForTheArts
Coming up is our annual “Great Performances: Vienna Summer Night Concert 2021,” premiering Friday, August 27 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) led by conductor Daniel Harding and featuring pianist Igor Levit. This concert is followed by a celebration of the career of Met Opera Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin in “Great Performances: Yannick - An Artist's Journey,” premiering Friday, September 3 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).

For details, visit https://www.thirteen.org/13pressroom/press-release/great-performances-vienna-philharmonic-summer-night-concert-2021/ and https://www.thirteen.org/13pressroom/press-release/great-performances-yannick-an-artists-journey/

--Elizabeth Boone, The WNET Group

An Exceptional Year, Reunited Again!
The Festival de Lanaudière concluded its massively successful 2021 edition this weekend, wrapping up an auspicious return to large-scale concerts before vast audiences. In total, more than 18,000 festival-goers attended this summer's programming of concerts and recitals in different venues, in addition to enjoying a new component of free musical walks-in-the-parks.

Owing to several changes of distancing measures and the partial reopening of the Canada-USA border, many surprises awaited the Festival team this summer, even after announcing the event's artistic programming on June 17. These surprises, however, turned into unforgettable moments: a few days after the easing of border restrictions, the Festival was able to announce a concert reunion with Kent Nagano whose 1500 seats sold out in less than 48 hours!

“This success would never have been possible without the unconditional enthusiasm of our audience and the openness of institutions and artists with whom we collaborate. This edition demonstrated the exceptional talent of members of the Canadian music scene, in addition to showing the extent to which we all crave collective experiences. It was, in a sense, a rebirth, as much for the Festival as for music in Quebec as a whole,” affirmed Artistic Director Renaud Loranger.

The Festival de Lanaudière is already preparing its 45th season. We invite you to follow us on Facebook or via the website homepage at https://www.lanaudiere.org/en/

--France Gaignard, CN2 Communications

"Mozart with a View" International Young Artists Festival and Competition
The "Mozart with a View" International Young Artists Festival and Competition is on December 10-12, 2021.

Auditor tickets currently available on the Events page.
Contestants web page available soon.
All Events will be archived and available for viewing at your convenience.

For details, visit https://sheridanmusicstudio.com/young-artists-festival

--Sheridan Music Studio

Heartbeat Opera announces its 2021-2022 Season
Heartbeat Opera--the indie opera company whose re-imagined, re-orchestrated and stripped down stagings of classic operas have been called "a radical endeavor" by Alex Ross in The New Yorker--returns to the in-person stage for its eighth season this year.

Heartbeat's 2021-22 season kicks off in September with a free outdoor screening of Breathing Free, their visual album that connects Beethoven's Fidelio with the work of Black composers and lyricists such as Harry T. Burleigh, Langston Hughes, and Anthony Davis to manifest a dream of justice, equity, and breathing free. Breathing Free builds on Heartbeat's 2018 work with incarcerated singers and prison choirs, and continues its exploration of race and the American prison system. Then in December, Heartbeat's beloved annual drag extravaganza, Messy Messiah, returns after six years of Halloween shenanigans for a new Christmas special. Looking ahead to winter 2022, Heartbeat plans to go on its first-ever tour, remounting its production of Fidelio, which Joshua Barone of The New York Times called “urgent, powerful, and poignant," for seven performances across four cities, kicking off at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

For details, visit https://www.heartbeatopera.org/

--Aleba Gartner, Aleba & Co.

The Crossing Opens Season with Returning
Grammy Award-winning choir The Crossing, led by conductor Donald Nally, opens its 2021-2022 season with Returning on Saturday, September 11, 2021 at 7:00pm at their home, The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. On the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, The Crossing will perform signature works of the recent past: Ayanna Woods’ SHIFT, Michael Gilbertson’s Returning, Eriks Ešenvalds’ Earth Teach Me Quiet with percussionist Ted Babcock, "Gloria" and "Agnus Dei" from James Primosch’s Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus, and John Tavener’s Funeral Ikos. Donald Nally will lead a pre-concert talk in the Burleigh Cruikshank Memorial Chapel and a homecoming gathering at Widener Hall immediately follows the program.

Nally says, “Returning is a celebration of works we love, sung with artists and for people we love, marking a time of isolation, grief, confusion, hope, and returning.”

For details, visit https://www.crossingchoir.org/events/2021-22/returning

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

The Gilmore to Partner With Newly Founded John Stites Jazz Artist Organization
The Gilmore, the presenter of the biennial Gilmore International Piano Festival and prestigious Gilmore Artist Award, is partnering with the newly launched John Stites Jazz Artist Organization to bring internationally-renowned jazz musicians to perform at Gilmore-presented events. The concerts will be presented in memory of Kalamazoo recording engineer, John Stites.

Beginning in 2022, the John Stites Jazz Artist Organization will provide annual grants to support The Gilmore’s world-class jazz programming. The grants, ranging from $20,000 to $150,000, will be used by The Gilmore to cover artist fees for jazz musicians performing at The Gilmore International Piano Festival, The Gilmore Rising Stars Series, and a new Jazz Piano Masters concert that will be presented biennially in years that there is no festival, beginning in 2023.

To learn more, visit https://www.johnstitesjazzawards.org/

--Jennifer Scott, Shuman Associates

The Washington Chorus Announces Three World Premieres in 2021-2022 Season
The Washington Chorus’ (TWC) has programmed a season of in-person events, to celebrate its resilient return to live experiences and performances.  Individual tickets for Candlelight Christmas and Justice and Peace go on sale at 10 am ET on August 12, with additional shows on sale beginning in September.

TWC will present or collaborate on three world premieres in the 2021-2022 season; Adolphus Hailstork’s A Knee on the Neck, a Requiem cantata for George Floyd, written in response to the death of George Floyd, Damien Geter’s Symphony no. 1: The Justice Symphony, commemorating anthems from the Civil Rights era, and Roshanne Etezady‘s Become the Sky, with texts by the 13th-Century Persian poet Rumi in a prologue for chorus, orchestral brass, and percussion. All three American composers bring works that acknowledge the devastating impact social injustices have had on our communities.

For more information, please visit The Washington Chorus at https://thewashingtonchorus.org/

--Amy Killion, Bucklesweet

Pianist Jonathan Biss Featured in Short Film for the OC87 Recovery Diaries
Pianist Jonathan Biss speaks candidly about anxiety in a short film titled Now Unquiet: The Journey of Pianist Jonathan Biss produced for the OC87 Recovery Diaries, an interactive website that features stories of mental health, empowerment, and change. The film, directed by Glenn Holsten, features Mr. Biss talking about his reckoning with, and management of, anxiety, expanding on the subject matter addressed in his best-selling Audible Original memoir, Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven. The 13-minute film also features performances by Mr. Biss of works by Schumann, Janácek, and Beethoven.

The film can be viewed on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and the OC87 Recovery Diaries’ website: https://oc87recoverydiaries.org/pianist-anxiety/

--Jennifer Scott, Shuman Associates

Minnesota Orchestra Selects Rosemary and David Good Fellows
The Minnesota Orchestra announced today that cellist Esther Seitz and bass trombone player Lovrick Gary have won positions as the Minnesota Orchestra’s next Rosemary and David Good Fellows and will begin their two-year appointments with the Orchestra in September 2021. The fellowship, founded in 2017, is designed to encourage greater diversity in the orchestral field by supporting the career development of outstanding young musicians of African American, Latin American and Native American descent as they embark on professional orchestral careers.

--Shuman PR News

Sept on PBS: Yannick - An Artist's Journey and More
There's music in the air this fall here at “Great Performances”! We're excited for a classical music-filled season featuring the work of music luminaries Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Met Opera soprano Sonya Yoncheva, and more.

“Great Performances: Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert 2021” premieres Friday, August 27 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), pbs.org/gperf and the PBS Video app from the iconic Schönbrunn Palace under the baton of guest conductor Daniel Harding. Featuring pianist Igor Levit, timeless selections performed include pieces by Beethoven, waltzes by Strauss and songs from "West Side Story."

Premiering Friday, September 3 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), pbs.org/gperf and the PBS Video app, “Great Performances: Yannick – An Artist’s Journey” follows Yannick Nézet-Séguin on his journey from 10-year-old budding conductor to the pinnacle of the opera world in his role as Music Director for the Metropolitan Opera.

For details about these and more performances, visit https://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/

--Elizabeth Boone, WNET

PRISM Quartet Announces September Concerts
The intrepid PRISM Quartet (Matthew Levy, Timothy McAllister, Taimur Sullivan, Zachary Shemon) launches the third phase of its colossal HERITAGE/EVOLUTION commissioning project with in-person September concerts in Philadelphia and NYC.

First is Philadelphia: PRISM in the Parks features free concerts in three Philly parks with Blue Note recording artist/tenorist extraordinaire Melissa Aldana and jazz trumpet virtuoso Terell Stafford. PRISM, Aldana, and Stafford bring their music to Gorgas Park in Roxborough (6300 Ridge Ave.) on September 12 at 5pm; FDR Park in South Philly (1500 Pattison Ave.) on September 13 at 6pm; and Penn Treaty Park in Fishtown (1301 N Beach St.) on September 14 at 6pm. Rain dates are noon the following day at the originally scheduled park. No tickets or reservations are required, and alcohol is strictly prohibited.

Then PRISM hits New York City with a ticketed marathon concert on September 15 at 7pm at the DiMenna Center, Cary Hall (450 W 37th St.).

For complete information, visit https://www.prismquartet.com/

--Aleba Gartner, Aleba & Co.

Sparkle Live!
On Sunday, September 26, 2021, American Bach Soloists return to San Francisco's historic James Leary Flood Mansion on Broadway Street—with its breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge—for our annual Gala Auction, Concert, and Dinner supporting the work of ABS.

3 p.m. Sparkling wine is served while perusing the auction, (including the 2022 "ABS Exclusives").
4 p.m. Concert featuring music of Bach, Telemann, and Vivaldi, led by music director Jeffrey Thomas.
5:15 p.m. Hors d'oeuvres, wine, and Signature Cocktail.
6:15 p.m. Dinner and Fund-a-Need.

For more information about the gala, the music, the musicians, the auction, and so much more, visit https://e.givesmart.com/events/mTX/

--American Bach Soloists

Recent Releases, No. 15 (CD Reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 9 & 10. Gianandrea Noseda, London Symphony Orchestra. LSO Live LSO0828.

Another installment in Noseda’s ongoing Shostakovich cycle, this pairing of these consecutively numbered symphonies offers more than 79 minutes of gripping music in an unusual but welcome pairing of these two works by the late Russian master. Symphony No. 9 is the lighter and shorter of the two, consisting of five relatively brief movements. As you might expect from Shostakovich, though, although there are moments of lightness and humor, there are also moments of great energy. Listeners who have not heard this music before may be especially delighted to follow the trombone part in the opening movement. I won’t give it away; enjoy hearing it for yourself. What Symphony No. 9 lacks in those long brooding passages that the composer is known for, Shostakovich more than makes up for this in Symphony No. 10, which many fans of the composer consider to be his symphonic masterpiece (as do I, sometimes, but then at other times I favor No. 8, but then again, on other days, No. 4). The opening movement is nearly as long as the whole of No. 9, with Noseda doing a commendable job of maintaining our interest while ratcheting up the tension without resorting to cheap theatrics. He and the LSO players deliver a convincing performance of this work, with both the performance and the sound comparing favorably to two of my favorite recordings, Levi/Atlanta (Telarc) and Dohnányi/Cleveland (Decca/London). As the performance progresses, Noseda and the LSO maintain the tension but yet also bring out the softer, more introspective passages Shostakovich also includes into the score as well as the brooding and the anguish that never seem to completely go away. With excellent engineering, excellent performances, and two symphonies on one SACD (I auditioned the CD layer), this 79-minute disc is certainly a recommendable release for Shostakovich fans and doubtless many others could easily be converted to DSCH by giving this disc a good listen.    

John McLaughlin: Liberation Time. John McLaughlin, guitar/guitar synthesizer/piano; Roger Rossignol. piano; Rangit Barot, drums/konokol; Jean-Michel “Kiki” Aublette, drums/bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, drums; Nicolas Viccaro, drums; Julian Siegel, tenor saxophone; Etienne M’Bappé, bass; Gary Husband, drums/piano; Sam Burgess, bass; Jerome Regard, bass; Oz Esseldin, piano. Abstract Logic ABL 65.

For many folks of a certain age, a pivotal musical experience was hearing the 1973 album The Inner Mounting Flame by guitarist John Mclaughlin’s  Mahavishnu Orchestra, which featured McLaughlin on guitar, Jerry Goodman on violin, Jan Hammer on keyboards, Rick Laird on bass, and Billy Cobham on drums. This was intense music, dazzling in its speed and virtuosity and manic in its sheer energy. McLaughlin’s guitar playing knocked me out then and it knocks me out now. At age 79, he still has it. Those fingers can still fly! And as you might guess, this is another of those pandemic albums -- produced during conditions that have precluded the musicians involved from getting together in the studio as they normally would. As McLaughlin writes in his brief liner note, “This recording is the direct result of the restrictions imposed on all of us due to the Covid 19 pandemic. By the end of September 2020, I, like so many millions of people, had become deeply frustrated by these necessary ‘antisocial rules’ imposed, even so, with good intent by all governments. The result of this frustration was an explosion of music in my mind, which led to this recording.” By and large the musicians did not get together in the studio; rather, McLaughlin would send them his ideas for the various compositions and they would lay down supporting tracks that he would then listen to and respond to until eventually the various parts were mixed into final versions that became the seven cuts on the album. This was a worldwide effort, involving 11 musicians besides McLaughlin with recording taking place not only in Monaco (where McLaughlin resides and has a studio) but also in Paris, London, Cairo, and Los Angeles. I like to think of jazz as a kind of chamber music, which I am sure for some readers is stretching things too far, and in this case, the “chamber” is a virtual, digital simulacrum. Oh well, just put this CD into your player and let the opening guitar riff by Maestro McLaughlin bring your wandering mind right back into the here and now. Yes, his fingers can still fly. This is what got termed “fusion music” back in the 1970s, an energetic blend of rock and jazz, played on mostly electric/electronic instruments. But McLaughlin has never been one to rest on simple rock or funk cliches, he is a serious, probing musician who has always stressed the spiritual dimension of music. He is seeking liberation not just from the restrictions of the pandemic, but liberation of the spirit, and his music dances and sings in its energetic interplay of musicians. Besides the thrill of hearing those 79-year-old fingers dancing along the frets, other thrills include the kokonol singing of drummer Ranjit Barot on the cut “Lockdown Blues” (kokonol being a rhythmic vocalization style from South Indian Carnatic music) and the gentler thrill of hearing McLaughlin play the piano rather than the guitar on two brief tracks, “Mila Repa” and “Shade of Blue.” The album concludes with the rousing title cut, “Liberation Time,” for which digital magic enables the trio of McLaughlin (guitar), Burgess (bass), and Husband (piano and drums) to liberate themselves into one heck of a quartet. Given the way the album was recorded, it makes no sense to talk of imaging and such, but I can report that there is no brightness or glare to the sound, so it will not fry your tweeters or cause you any sort of listener fatigue.  

Mark John McEncroe: Fanfare Suite. Stephen Williams, Sydney Scoring Orchestra. Navona NV6329.

Australian composer Mark John McEncroe (b. 1947) did not take up music seriously until later in life, starting serious piano studies at the age of 37 while continuing his professional life as a chef until age 50. He subsequently studied composition and orchestration privately, eventually transforming himself into a serious composer as evidenced by the three compositions on this new release from Navona. In the liner notes, McEncroe writes that all the music on this album was originally scored for full orchestra, and after recording it that way in 2015, “conductor Anthony Armoré suggested to me that this repertoire would be very suitable for concert band, particularly Fanfare Suite. I then recorded it with the Sydney Scoring Orchestra, a composite studio orchestra which for this session were mostly all members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.”  Of the work that opens this CD, McEncroe writes that “when I think of the Fanfare Suite, I think of Aaron Copland and wide open spaces, big horizons, the Grand Canyon, John Ford/John Wayne movies etc. However, I’m not American so I’d like to think of it as more universal in its ‘grandness’.” In four movement totaling more than 40 minutes, it is indeed a grand piece, and as played and recorded here has a big, full, open sound that you would expect from a professional concert band. The first of the four movements lives up to the fanfare designation, but there are moments that sound very jazzlike. The second movement ramps up the drama, often playing off the contrast between the sound of the brass and the sound of the winds. The third movement, although it features a prominent bass drum part, comes across as more reflective overall, even pastoral, with a layered presentation. The final movement, which is the hottest of the four, begins with brass and percussion leading the way, giving a real sense of occasion, and there are some engaging rhythms to be heard as the music continues. The two compositions that complete the album are both characterized as symphonic poems. Celebration of the Natural World is tuneful, colorful, and engaging, while The Passing is more somber in mood. It is reflective, but although it opens softly and is often reflective in mood, is not always peaceful and quiet in expression, making especially expressive use of woodwinds and percussion. All in all, this is an enjoyable recording, well played and well recorded. The music may not be memorable or profound, but it is pleasant and listenable, and there are times when that is sufficient. My only quibble is that it would have been nice to have more extensive liner notes, but I have no significant reservations about the music or the engineering. The former chef has served up some musical comfort food.

Dwb (driving while black): Roberta Gumbel, libretto; Susan Kander, music; performed by Roberta Gumbel, soprano, and New Morse Code (Hannah Collins, cello; Michael Compitello, percussion). Albany Records TROY1858.

What we have here is far from musical comfort food; it is music to make us feel uncomfortable – but for good reason. Soprano Roberta Gumbel not only does the singing, she wrote the libretto for this opera, while the music was composed by Susan Kander (b. 1957). In his brief note included in the liner booklet, director Chip Miller offers a succinct overview of the piece: “When I was studying for my driver’s license test, my parents sat me down for an important discussion about car safety: what to do when you are pulled over by a police officer. As they went through the list of instructions, I’m sure I rolled my eyes. To me, the car represented freedom, and that was all I could see. I could not yet see the numerous times I would be pulled over for being in the wrong neighborhood. I could not yet see the danger that exists when you are black and in motion in America. But my parents did. Susan Kander and Roberta Gumbel’s dwb (driving while black) provided a window through which to revisit that crucial conversation, this time through the vantage point of my parents. In its swift 45 minutes, we spend 16 years with a black mother, feeling her growing fear as her black son moves toward driving age. The anxieties of being black and behind the wheel are given voice: in the gorgeous words sung by the mother, in the atmosphere created by the percussionist and cellist, and in the retellings of real stories of discrimination.” Lest the reader think dwb is of political interest only, I hasten to add that it is musically fascinating. Not only does Gumbel draw the listener in with her dramatic singing and storytelling, but the instrumental duo New Morse Code are simply amazing in the way they are able to move the story along with such a colorful variety of rhythms, textures, accents, and colors from just two musicians. Credit of course must also be given to composer Kander and the engineering crew for capturing these sounds so vividly. To be honest, I was not sure what to expect from this recording, but I was quickly won over not only by the dramatic storyline but also by the sheer energy and imagination of the music itself. The libretto is included in the booklet; this is a first-class production in every way, even if not your typical opera.   

Bonus Recommendation
Sebastian Fagerlund: Drifts; Stonework; Transit. Ismo Eskelinen, guitar; Hannu Lintu, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. BIS-2295 SACD.

I have observed before that much contemporary orchestral music tends to favor the creation of interesting sounds over the spinning of memorable melodies, or as others have characterized it, an emphasis on the vertical rather than the horizontal. This recording of music by the Finnish composer Sebastian Fagerlund (b. 1972) falls into the former category. No, this is not dissonant music that will make you cringe, but on the other hand, if you are looking for something pretty, there is very little here that will satisfy your cravings. Drifts is a composition for orchestra of just under 12 minutes in length. It is a powerful work that proceeds in waves of energy, at times from the brass, at times from the strings, constantly churning and changing. The overall tone color is dark, with an emphasis on the lower end of the sonic spectrum. Stonework is brighter in overall tone, with more contributions from the higher brass, woodwinds, and strings. Throughout its more than 15 minutes it just keeps changing, never settling into one type of sound or rhythm.  Both these pieces I would characterize as bold, fascinating, certainly fun to hear on a big system, but not really musically memorable. Transit, which is a concerto for guitar and orchestra, is an unusual concerto in six movements that are played without pause. The guitar never really makes any virtuoso display; indeed, it often plays rather quietly. However, the overall effect of the quiet guitar and the variety of moods displayed by the orchestra tend to draw the listener in. At first listen, I found the piece underwhelming, but as I listened to it a few more times, I began to find myself intrigued by its soft-spoken quirkiness. Overall, this is not a recording for everyone, but fans of soft-spoken quirkiness (you know who you are) might want to give it a listen.  

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