Bach: Brandenburg Concertos (CD review)

Isabelle Faust, violin; Antoine Tamestit, viola; Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin. Harmonia Mundi HMM 902686.87.

By Bill Heck and John J. Puccio

The Album According to Bill:
The six concertos known today as the Brandenburg Concertos (hereinafter the Brandenburgs) have a long and rather complicated history, both in their genesis and with their loss after Bach’s death and their rediscovery some 100 years later. Some of that history is described in the interesting liner notes for this new release; far more detail can be found with a bit of searching on the Internet.

For our purposes, though, it will be sufficient to note a couple of points. First, the Brandenburgs do not share a truly common heritage. Those unfamiliar with the works (are there any such classical music listeners?) or those who have heard them and have been wondering how they fit together, can take heart: they don’t fit together. The instrumentation differs from work to work, the compositional techniques vary, they do not have unifying themes such as a cycle of keys, some seem to have developed from earlier sketches while others have no obvious history, and so on. The unifying factor seems to have been that they all were sent, or perhaps presented by Bach, to the Margrave of Brandenburg (hence the name of the collection) as something in the nature of a job application in late March of 1721.

I should emphasize the difference in instrumental forces among the concertos: by my count, the First employs 20 musicians, while the Sixth requires only 7! Moreover, different instruments enter the mix in different concertos. For example, the Second and Fourth include parts for recorder, while the Fifth uses a flute; the remaining pieces use neither. Similarly, the oboe makes an appearance in the First (in fact, three oboes) and Second (only one oboe this time) and in none of the others. Even the harpsichord, so common in music of the era, shows up in only five of the six works. If you have wondered why the Concertos sound so different from each other, wonder no more.

Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, the Brandenburgs are among the best known and best loved of Bach’s works. While a huge variety of pieces for solo instruments are revered among musicians (think Violin Sonatas, the Cello Suites, works for organ, Goldberg Variations, etc.), and loads of pieces for larger ensembles are wonderful and reasonably popular (the English Suites, the French Suites, etc.), none of these have anywhere near the instant recognizability with the wider public as do the Brandenburgs. Why is that? Who knows? In some parallel universe, perhaps the Brandenburgs are of interest primarily to scholars while a collection of orchestral suites is heard everywhere.

Be that as it may, both the popularity of the Brandenburgs and their inherent musical value have brought forth an incredible number of recordings. These recordings variously use modern instruments and period instruments, with some transcriptions for completely different instruments. For example, an Internet search of a few seconds revealed arrangements of one or the other of these works for solo piano, for guitar, and for brass quintet. It would not be surprising to learn that one or more has been arranged for marching band or, for that matter, kazoo band.

Which brings us to another point of interest: Bach’s music (usually) survives such rearrangements and reinterpretations; indeed, they sometimes (often?) offer insights and perspectives that differ from, but seem as valid as, the originals. And that, in turn, brings us to the question of period versus modern instruments. The issue is not so much whether the work is somehow “better” on period instruments, with playing informed by period practices, supposed or real. Instead, and to my mind particularly with Bach, historically informed performances (HIPs, and yes, that is a real acronym) will offer new perspectives in somewhat the same way that transcriptions do. Naturally, HIP advocates will object that I have said this completely backwards: the HIPs are the base, and at best we can hope that modern performances are the ones that offer different perspectives, to which I respond with that truly intellectual slogan “Whatever.” The point is that, even if you have one or several favorite recordings done to modern standards on modern instruments, and even if you have doubts about the wonders of HIP in general, you really should hear one or more HIPs of the Brandenburgs.

Which brings us to the Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin, hereinafter the Akademie. This is a well-known ensemble that has been around since 1982 and consists of about 30 musicians. As the name implies, the group is oriented toward HIPs, and the members do play period instruments or, in many cases, copies thereof. That latter can be a good thing: while instruments like Stradivarius violins get the headlines and still sound fabulous, a lot of “real” period instruments that are still around either were not all that well made in the first place or are the worse for wear. Many of the instruments used in these recordings were modern copies, not originals and, as the liner notes point out, these instruments often do sound better than the originals.

The Akademie recorded these same works for the same label 25 years ago on a critically well-received two-disk set, one that was for many years my own go-to version. While the years have brought changes, perhaps one third of the personnel credited on the earlier release are still around for the newer one. Considering the passage of about 25 years, the better part of a musical career at this level, between the two sets of recordings, that strikes me as impressive continuity. For this recording, the permanent ensemble forces are joined by star violinist Isabelle Faust and violist Antoine Tamestit. So, do the results justify another shot?

I think so, for two reasons. First, the main criticism that I”ve seen of the first effort is that the playing is impeccable, but perhaps a little too impeccable. Some listeners heard a certain lack of spontaneity or passion: all the notes in the right places, but in the end not as exciting as one would hope. While the music here should not be exciting in the manner of a full-blown romantic concerto, some thought that Bach’s music should generate a little more sense of energy than present on that first go-round. Whatever the merits of that criticism, any doubts should be removed by this newer set. The differences in playing are not huge, but most of the tempi are a little faster and there’s just a little more sprightliness, for want of a better word, in the playing. Again, this is a subtle effect, perhaps not noticeable on first hearing, but I found myself listening a little more eagerly, a little more attentively to the new set.

Speaking of energy, I should note that the tempi are quicker than many other versions, including the earlier Akademie set. Somewhat surprisingly, though, they never sounding rushed. This is particularly noticeable in the Third: the opening movement is quick, but the allegro third movement bursts out of the gate at an amazing clip. It seems even faster than it is because it follows a very sedate, very short (16 second!) adagio. Nevertheless, the tempi feel right, and the players are very much up to the task of keeping it together.

The second reason that justifies this new release in the presence of the older one is the upgrade in sound, particularly in clarity. It’s a little easier to hear individual parts, even though the newer version may have been recorded in a slightly more reverberant environment. How much of this is due to the musicians (instruments, intentional balances, even positioning of the players) and how much is due to improved recording technique is hard to tell. But I find the presentation on the new disks a little clearer, a little more spacious, than that on the old.

And how does this recording measure up against the best other versions out there? With so many versions and variations available, I certainly am not going to start a discussion about the “best.” But to my ears, these are top-rank performances in very good sound, surely somewhere in the top tier of HIPs. I don’t see how you could go wrong with this set.


The Album According to John:
The first set of Brandenburg Concertos I remember hearing on period instruments was a 1976 Seon production with what must be considered an all-star cast: Gustav Leonhardt, Frans Bruggen, Anner Bylsma, Lucy van Dael, Sigswald and Wieland Kuijken, and others. Their performances seem almost quaint by today’s standards, but they are still charming and the recording is exceptionally good. I mention this because that old set makes an interesting comparison to this new period-instrument production from the Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin, with violinist Isabelle Faust and violist Antoine Tamestit.

Much has changed in the world of historically informed performance practice since 1976, especially in terms of tempi. That is no more in evidence than in this second of the Akademie’s recordings of the set (their first was in the late nineties). I have always liked the Akademie and their HIP performances, but here they may have taken things a tad too far. While the Akademie’s faster tempos in some of the concertos may seem initially quite exhilarating, they tend eventually to tire one out. They aren’t so fast as to be objectionable, mind you, but they do sort of suck the life out of some of the music in the long haul. And yet...and here’s the odd thing...while the Akademie play much of the concertos at a healthy clip, they also manage to sound quite elegant. It’s something listeners may find either pleasantly refreshing or a tad disconcerting.

Moving along, you probably know by now that Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos sound different from one another because the composer never meant them to be a single, unified group. In 1719 Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg commissioned Bach to write several musical works for him, and what he got (several years later) was a collection of concertos for various-sized ensembles and solo instruments that Bach had probably written earlier for other occasions. (It was not uncommon in those days for composers to borrow from one another and even from themselves.)

The Concerto No. 1 is among the longest of the concertos, and Bach arranged it for the biggest number of players. In the Akademie’s performance, the second-movement Adagio comes off sweetly. The third movement nicely integrates the soloists and accompaniment, and the work ends with a refined minuet. Still, things seemed a touch rushed to me overall.

Concerto No. 2 is among the most popular of the concertos and highlights the oboe, recorder, violin, and trumpet, the latter getting the lion’s share of attention. On some recordings the trumpet can be too bright, edgy, or forward, but here it sounds just right. The interaction of the soloists is delightful, and if the rest of the accompaniment seems merely perfunctory, well, that’s Bach’s doing, not the Akademie’s. Regardless, the piece comes off with a quick-paced, stylish, yet graceful charm.

Insofar as I can tell, Concerto No. 3 is as popular as No. 2, maybe even more so; therefore, it’s equally probable that listeners may have certain expectations for it. Certainly, the Akademie attacks the piece with vigor, but I’m not sure their enthusiasm is entirely well guided. I suspect it’s just that I am used to a more moderate approach even from a HIP performance, say that of Trevor Pinnock in the second of his recordings of the Brandenburgs (Avie), an interpretation that is warmly affectionate rather than quite so gung-ho. Whatever, let’s just say the Akademie’s reading is invigorating.

For me, No. 4 is the most playful of the Concertos, with the soloists darting in and out of the work’s structure. For some reason, it always reminds me of children’s music, like Leopold Mozart’s Toy Symphony or something. Whatever, the recorders are the stars of the show. The Akademie do it up in fine style, this time not rushing through anything and adding an impish charm to the proceedings. The audio is also among the best on the set, possibly given the smaller ensemble size. Whatever, it was my favorite performance of any in the set.
Concerto No. 5 as another one of my preferred concertos, highlighting as it does solos from the violin, flute, and harpsichord. Also, because it involves a relatively small ensemble, it ensures a greater clarity of sound than the other concertos. What’s more, it’s here, maybe for the first time ever, that a composer lets the harpsichord gets its day in the sun, not merely accompanying the other instruments but playing an equal part in the proceedings. Here, too the intimacy of the smaller group makes for a lovely rendition, and the playing of the Akademie is quite secure, the harpsichord certainly. I loved what the group did with both Nos. 4 and 5.

Finally, there’s Concerto No. 6, which uses the smallest ensemble, yet never seems to feel small. Its only real drawback is its melodic similarity to Concerto No. 3 and its consequent lack of much real distinctiveness. Nevertheless, it’s hard for one seriously to dislike it, particularly in the lively yet tasteful manner the Akademie approach it.

Producer Florian B. Schmidt and sound engineer Aki Matusch recorded the music at Médiapôle Saint-Césaire, Arles, France in March and May 2021. There is enough hall resonance (sometimes too much) to make even the smaller ensembles sound big, which can produce a pleasing, even soothing effect but does tend to obscure some inner detailing in the larger ensemble pieces like Nos. 1, 2, and 3. The sound is also slightly warm and soft, so ultimate transparency in the larger pieces is sometimes sacrificed for a more natural listening experience. Nevertheless, these are quibbles, and it was good to hear the sound getting better and better as the set proceeded.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, October 30, 2021

Greek National Opera Presents Mozart’s Le Nozze Di Figaro

The Greek National Opera (GNO) will present the broadcast premiere of a revival of its acclaimed 2018-19 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro on its high-quality streaming platform, GNO TV, on Monday, October 25. The GNO TV production is conducted by Vassilis Christopoulos and directed by the Artistic Director of the GNO Alternative Stage, Alexandros Efklidis, and will be available to view until December 31, 2021. Le nozze di Figaro was filmed last spring on the GNO’s home stage, Stavros Niarchos Hall at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens without a live audience specifically for GNO TV.

The cast features internationally acclaimed soloists of the GNO who perform in opera houses around the world in the leading roles, including baritone Dimitri Platanias, soprano Cellia Costea, baritone Dionysios Sourbis, soprano Aphrodite Patoulidou, and mezzo-soprano Miranda Makrynioti. They are joined by young Greek singers, part of the company’s commitment to supporting up and coming Greek artists.

For details, visit

For a preview, visit

--Lisa Jaehnig, Shuman Associates

Stylus Phantasticus!
This Week's Video from American Bach Soloist's YouTube Series is "The Baroque Experience." Musical Riches from an Austrian Dynasty, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer’s (circa 1623–1680) Sonata IX S 43 from Duodena selactarum sonatarum (1659), featuring Cynthia Keiko Black, violin; William Skeen, viola da gamba; Steven Lehning, violone; and Corey Jamason, harpsichord.

There are no explicit tempo indications, but, very much in the Stylus Phantasticus style of the time, performers had freedom to express the music as if it were being improvised.

Watch and listen here:

--American Bach Soloists

Cramer Quartet in the World Premiere of the Seven Last Words Project
Five Boroughs Music Festival (5BMF), in partnership with the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture and Flushing Town Hall, is proud to present the acclaimed Cramer Quartet in their premiere performances of the Seven Last Words Project.

The first concert will take place on Thursday, November 18, 2021 at 7:30pm at the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture in Manhattan, and the second concert will take place on Sunday, November 21, 2021 at 7:00pm at the Flushing Town Hall in Queens. The Cramer Quartet consists of violinists Jessica Park and Chiara Fasani Stauffer, violist Keats Dieffenbach, and cellist Shirley Hunt.

The Seven Last Words Project is an immersive string quartet performance that interweaves seven new works by composers Jessica Meyer, Colin Jacobsen, Nico Muhly, Tania León, Reena Esmail, Paola Prestini, and Caroline Shaw with Franz Joseph Haydn’s nine-movement masterpiece The Seven Last Words of Christ. Each of the new works is written as a response to a movement of the Haydn, taking the place of sermons that would traditionally be given in a church service setting. The result is a quilting of old and new, and a meditation on these seven famed phrases from a contemporary and global viewpoint.

For details, visit

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

More Upcoming Events
Saturday, October 30, at 7 p.m., Sphinx Virtuosi at the Colburn School

Saturday, October 30, & Sunday, October 31, Salastina’s Main Concert No. 2 “Sounds Genius”

Beginning Nov. 2: Colburn School presents Recovered Voices 2021: Schulhoff and more, an original multimedia series

Tuesday, November 2, at 6 p.m., Salastina’s Virtual Happy Hour: Curtis Berak, Harpsichord Builder

Saturday November 6, at 7 p.m., Fortissima in Concert at the Colburn School

Saturday, November 6, at 4 p.m., American Youth Symphony’s 13th Annual Hollywood Project Concert: How to Train Your Dragon in Concert

--Lisa Bellamore, Crescent Communications

New Episode of “Now Hear This”
Friday, October 29: “Now Hear This”:
 A new episode of Scott Yoo's PBS program Now Hear This will air Friday, October 29.  Entitled "Beethoven's Ghost," this episode explores the life and career of this great composer through his music.

Watch it via the PBS Video App or online at

--Festival Mozaic

Sheet Music of Works by Black Composers
Classical music publisher Theodore Presser Company has released new editions of piano works by Black composers Henry T. Burleigh and R. Nathaniel Dett, edited by pianist and curator Lara Downes and expanding the reach of her Rising Sun Music series to musicians, students, and teachers worldwide. The new editions of Burleigh’s From the Southland – Sketches for Piano and Dett’s Magnolia Suite for Piano are available from, Sheet Music Plus, and all major sheet music retailers. Digital editions are available exclusively from

--Lisa Jaehnig, Shuman Associates

West Edge Opera Continues New Opera Residency Aperture
After a successful run of Aperture in the winter and spring which resulted in a $60,000 commission to Nicolas Lell Benavides and Marella Martin Koch for their new opera Dolores, West Edge Opera kicks off another new opera development “Sprint,” beginning November 1st. A “Sprint” is what Aperture calls a focused working period, and it welcomes artists returning, and new.

For more information, visit

--West Edge Opera

Dublin International Piano Competition Presents Sae Yoon Chon
The Dublin International Piano Competition (DIPC), which has brought the world’s top young pianists to Ireland for over 30 years, presents 2018 DIPC First-Prize Winner Sae Yoon Chon in his New York recital debut at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall on Monday, November 15 at 8:00 p.m.

To purchase tickets: | CarnegieCharge 212-247-7800 | Box Office at 57th and Seventh | Student and Senior discount tickets available at the Box Office (Student must show ID).

For more information about Sae Yoon Chon, visit

--Beverly Greenfield, Kirshbaum Associates

Boston Baroque's 2021-2022 Season
This year has been one of transformational change. Boston Baroque has made music responsively in a changing world, and looks ahead to their next concert season, continuing to hold that knowledge dear. Boston Baroque’s 21-22 Season will introduce a new concert model, one that is bold and yet very much grounded in their history of presenting early music in a timeless--and timely-- way.

This will be a five-concert season presented exclusively from the 5,000 square foot Calderwood Studio at GBH,  welcoming live studio audiences and at the same time streaming to audiences around the world. Just like Boston Baroque’s livestreams this past year, the 21-22 Season will be presented in an immersive, visually sumptuous environment featuring high-quality lighting and projection design.

For more information, visit

--Schwalbe & Partners

ICE Performs Works by Nathan Davis, Phyllis Chen, and Nicholas Houfek
On Thursday, November 4, 2021 at 7pm and Friday, November 5, 2021 at 7pm, the International Contemporary Ensemble returns to the Target Margin Theater in Sunset Park, Brooklyn to present two residency performances that feature the experimental work of Nathan Davis, Phyllis Chen, and Nicholas Houfek. The Ensemble will also share improvisations and other projects workshopped at Target Margin. Both performances are free and have in-person and livestream options.

The November 4 program includes Nathan Davis’ new collaborative architectural installation, Planetary Home Improvement (full premiere in Prague in December 2021 with Christine Giorgio, Amelyn Ng, and Gabriel Vergara), which explores geologic time with ready-to-use building materials; and Phyllis Chen’s Tone Grove, which translates Anni Albers’s weaving patterns into custom-built drum sequences, creating sounds from hand-cranked music boxes, bamboo, rice, bowls, and hands. Physical, tactile experiences are central to these three works.

The November 5 program includes a showcase of Ensemble members’ work with Nicholas Houfek’s ColorSynth, featuring improvisations, compositions, and more synthesizers. The ColorSynth is a software interface built in Max/Msp that converts the musical pitch from an input into a specifically mapped color of light. It is a throwback to light organs of the early 20th century and looks forward to new options for today. Suzanne Farrin will be featured on ondes Martenot, an early electronic musical instrument played with a keyboard and a movable ring along a wire, creating "wavering" sounds similar to a theremin.

For more information, visit

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Jakub Józef Orlinski Makes His Met Opera Debut
Polish star countertenor Jakub Józef Orlinski will make his Metropolitan Opera debut on November 23 in a new production of Matthew Aucoin's Eurydice. Orlinski plays the role of Orpheus's Double in this reimagining of the Greek myth from the point of view of Eurydice.

For details, visit

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Pianist Susan Merdinger Presents “A Halloween Haunting”
Susan says, "Excited to announce my special ghost-themed program available this weekend for a limited run on IN.LIVE - featuring a live concert performance straight from Sheridan Music Studio which includes Beethoven's Ghost Trio, Bolcom's Graceful Ghost Rag, and the World Premiere performance of Ilya Levinson's Dybbuk Piano Trio (2021). This pre-recorded concert is then followed by a book presentation by Karen Kaplan, author of Conjoined: A Holocaust Haunting, and discussion with Karen Kaplan, Ilya Levinson and Yours Truly!"

Details and tickets at

--Jeffrey James Arts Consulting

PBS in November: John Williams, San Francisco Symphony, and More
Great Performances has two special concerts coming in November as part of #PBSForTheArts, a multiplatform campaign that celebrates the arts in America. Conducted by both Boston Symphony Orchestra music director Andris Nelsons and John Williams, the concert features virtuoso violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter performing the debut of Williams’s new concerto. “Great Performances: A John Williams Premiere at Tanglewood” premieres Friday, November 12 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), the PBS Video app, and

The concert also includes performances of Aaron Copland’s “Quiet City,” Igor Stravinsky’s Suite from The Firebird and Starburst by Jessie Montgomery, composer-violinist-educator and Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s newest composer-in-residence.

Friday, November 19 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), and the PBS Video app, San Francisco Symphony’s welcomes Grammy-winning conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen as music director in “Great Performances: San Francisco Reopening Night,” marking their first opening night concert together since Salonen assumed the post of Music Director last season. Details here:

--Elizabeth Boone, WNET

Foundation to Assist Young Musicians Autumn Newsletter
To our FAYM Family,

After many months of virtual learning, I am so excited to see FAYM’s return to in-person lessons!  In fact, our transition to in-person learning has far exceeded expectations. We currently have over 102 students enrolled, of which 17 have auditioned and qualified for private lessons. This is another milestone for FAYM.  I had the privilege to sit in on the auditions this year and was amazed at the talent and potential of our eager young students!

Our teaching staff is top notch!  All FAYM instructors encourage learning by developing a unique bond with their students, taking the time to understand their needs and provide individual guidance.

I look forward to meeting many of you at our next concert on Saturday, December 11th, as we enjoy performances by our FAYM students.

For the complete newsletter, visit

--Elliot Gorlin, President, FAYM

Pianist Shai Wosner Performs Bach Concertos
Frequent collaborators Shai Wosner and the East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO) reunite in New York for an evening of Bach concertos interweaved with works by Brett Dean, Andrew Norman, and Michi Wiancko. Presented by Music Mondays at Manhattan’s Advent Lutheran Church (2504 Broadway), they perform together in three works by J.S. Bach: the Keyboard Concerto in F minor, BWV 1056; Keyboard Concerto in D major, BWV 1054; and Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B-flat major, BWV 1051, the latter of which is prefaced by Brett Dean’s Approach (Prelude to a Canon), composed in 2017 as an introductory companion piece to the concerto. The performance takes place on Monday, November 1, 7:30 p.m.


--Lisa Jaehnig, Shuman Associates

Recent Releases, No. 20 (CD Reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Americascapes: Loeffler: La Mort de Tintagiles, Op. 6; Ruggles: Evocations (Orchestral version, 1943); Hanson: Before the Dawn, Op. 17; Cowell: Variations for Orchestra. Delphine Dupuy, viola d’amore; Robert Trevino, Basque National Orchestra. Ondine ODE 1396-2.

It is always exciting to come across a new release that features a program of unfamiliar music by composers you have heard of although you have heard very little of their music. It is even more exciting when it turns out to be as delightful a disc as this new Ondine release of American music played by a Spanish orchestra led by American conductor Robert Trevino (b. 1984). The program opens with the longest composition (25:48) on the CD, La Mort de Tintagiles by Charles Martin Loeffler (1861-1935). The piece is subtitled Poeme dramatique, d’apres le drame de M. Maeterlinck (“dramatic poem after the drama by M. Maeterlinck”). Loeffler, by the way, was actually born in Berlin, but settled in the United States in 1982, joining the recently formed Boston Symphony Orchestra as a violinist and becoming an American citizen in 1887. According to the liner notes by noted music critic Tim Page, “Loeffler seems to have had a fondness for near-concertos… In The Death of Tintagiles (1897), presented here, the viola d’amore takes center stage. Tintagiles is a discursive tone poem, inspired by a very strange play for marionettes by Maurice Maeterlinck about a wicked queen who murders an entire family, one by one. It is orchestrated in a manner that is both brilliant and subdued -- imagine Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade as it might have been rewritten by Gabriel Faure and you’ll have the general idea.” I must admit that it is hard to imagine that this charming music has anything to do with a family being murdered. Although there are some dramatic moments punctuated by some whacks on the bass drum, for the most part the music is lovely and flowing. And for me, although the lovely sound of the viola d’amore (a stringed instrument about the size of a viola, but with six bowed strings plus additional sympathetic strings arrayed below them) does take the lead from time to time, to describe this piece as a “near-concerto” seems to be quite a stretch. In any event, it is an attractive piece that gets the program off to an engaging start.

Next up is the orchestral version (a solo piano version also exists, which Ruggles continued to revise from 1934 to 1953) of Evocations by Carl Ruggles (1876-1971), whom Page characterizes as “notoriously salty.” Classical music fans of a certain age probably best remember Ruggles – at least by name – from an old DG recording featuring a young Michael Tilson Thomas leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a program that included Ruggles’s intriguingly titled composition Sun Treader along with Three Places in New England by Charles Ives. I can’t imagine that LP was ever a big seller, but for a time I could swear I seemed to see it everywhere I went. Perhaps the striking cover prompted record stores (remember them?) to display it prominently. At any rate, Evocations is a short piece (10:13) in four brief movements, sounding more modern than the Loeffler – chunky, assertive, enigmatic perhaps (particularly the ambiguous, atonal ending) but no, not salty. Mildly challenging though it might be, Evocations remains quite listenable and ultimately enjoyable, fully worthy of its place in the program.

Then comes the world premiere recording of a brief (6:44) symphonic poem by a young Howard Hanson (1896-1981) titled Before the Dawn, which he composed in 1921. Following the atonal, ambiguous-sounding ending of the Ruggles piece, the opening measures of Before the Dawn offer a striking a change of mood, immediately giving off that lush, sweeping, romantic, what strikes these ears anyway as “movie soundtrack vibe” that characterizes much of Hanson’s orchestral output. I do not mean that as snarky criticism; in fact, I find much of his music –including Before the Dawn – highly enjoyable, but Hanson has a signature sound that reminds me of film music – quality film music, that is. I find Page’s summation quite apt: “It seems that Hanson may have considered Before the Dawn juvenilia, for he could certainly have performed and recorded the work had he wanted to. Yet it is engaging from the start, filled with rich melodies, and sumptuously orchestrated in the style that Hanson would make his own over a career that would span six decades.” Amen to that! It is an engaging, sumptuously orchestrated little composition.

As good as the disc has been so far, with three unfamiliar but rewarding pieces expertly performed and recorded, the folks who put this program together have saved the best for last. Variations for Orchestra by Henry Cowell (1897-1965) is a delight from start to finish. The orchestra gets put through its paces, with passages of tender beauty from the strings followed at times by outbursts from the percussion. The music is sometimes exuberant and playful, at other times giving off a hint of mystery. Seemingly everyone in the orchestra gets a chance to shine over the 19:23 duration of the piece, and the Basque forces do themselves proud. It seems hard to believe that in all my years of listening, I have never before encountered a recording of this composition, which can hold its own right up there alongside, for example, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. (It has in fact been recorded before, but never by a major ensemble on a major label, and certainly nowhere remotely near the frequency accorded recordings of the Bartok.) This, folks, is a composition to which you really ought to give an audition. Where has it been hiding?

Besides the booklet notes from Tim Page, there are also notes by conductor Robert Trevino. The engineering is first-class, the orchestra plays with finesse, the program is imaginative and rewarding – what’s not to like? Hats off to a Finnish label for recording a Mexican-American conductor leading a Spanish orchestra in a revealing program of rarely-heard American music deserving much wider recognition. Bravo!

Last Song. Louis Couperin (1626-1661): Unmeasured Prelude (arr. Una Sveinbjarnardóttir & Tinna Þorsteinsdóttir);Atli Heimir Sveinsson (1938-2019): Three Marian Prayers (arr. Fritz Kreisler); Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787): Melodie (arr. Fritz Kreisler); Jórunn Viðar (1918-2017): Icelandic Suite; Ole Bull (1810-1880) Ensomme Stunde (arr. Una Sveinbjarnardóttir);  Jules Massenet (1842-1912): Meditation; Karólína Eiríksdóttir (b. 1951): Winter; Magnús Blöndal Jóhannsson (1925-2005): In a Dream; Lullaby; Couperin: Aubade Provencale (arr. Fritz Kreisler);  Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643): Ave Maria; Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179): Anima Processional; Una Sveinbjarnardóttir (b. 1975): Last Song before the News. Una Sveinbjarnardóttir, violin; Tinna Þorsteinsdóttir, piano, prepared piano, toy piano. Sono Luminus DSL-92248.

Well, I see no need to beat around the bush on this one. I could easily make this review shorter than the listing of compositions above by simply stating that Last Song is the finest, most entertaining, thoughtfully assembled, artfully performed, and skillfully engineered recording of music for violin and piano that I have heard in many years. But because I get paid by the word, I will continue.

I received this CD a few months ago but somehow absentmindedly placed it atop a stack of older CDs that have been just sitting there unplayed for quite some time off to the side of my listening room. It was pretty much dumb luck that caused me to notice it sitting there, but as soon as I realized what it was, I felt so guilty and guilty that I immediately stuck it in my CD player without so much as a glance at the program. All I knew is that it was by a couple of Icelandic women, which I could infer from the names on the cover. But as I started listening, I knew this was, despite its rather drab cover, a truly special recording, and I soon dove into the liner notes to see what light they might be able to shed on the players and the program. There are some one-page biographical sketches of both musicians, plus some brief commentary on the composers and music by violinist and composer Una Sveinbjarnardóttir. As you can easily see from the header above, the music spans the centuries and includes compositions both familiar and unfamiliar. Yet from these two skilled musicians, the program feels like an organic, inevitable whole. The occasional use of the prepared and toy piano in place of the normal piano adds variety to the sound, but never sounds as though it is being used as some sort of special effect.

Violinist Sveinbjarnardóttir explains the program in her brief introductory essay: “ Last Song before the News. The project is inspired by the moment before the realization of something that drastically changes your life, the moment of just being, existing in the moment. That moment in time is free and full, mindfulness-ish and unaffected by misery, sorrow, regret, shame, anxiety and depression. In my mind it is bright and has a sense of nostalgia. The title also refers to a daily tradition on Icelandic radio Rás 1, where a song, “last song before the news” would be played just before the news hour at noon. The song would typically be an Icelandic one, sometimes a lullaby, a love song or an ode to scary and gorgeous nature. Or an Icelandic traditional, sometimes an Italian canzone or a Scandinavian sorrow. Jórunn Viðar’s piece Icelandic Suite sums up all these elements, a piece written for the 2000 years anniversary of inhabitation in Iceland in 1974. The lightness and the longing are with us throughout the program except in the title piece of mine, Last Song before the News, where apocalyptic visions are awfully obvious and take over early on.”

Just to be clear, no, I don’t actually get paid by the word. I was just being silly. In fact, I don’t get paid at all. But when I say this is a remarkable recording, well, you can take that to the bank.

The News: Andrew Cyrille Quartet (Andrew Cyrille, drums; Bill Frisell, guitar; David Virelles, piano, synthesizer; Ben Street, double bass). ECM 2681.

Veteran drummer Andrew Cyrille plays with a delicate touch that sets the tone for this talented quartet, who make a strong case on this recording for the idea of jazz as a form of chamber music. Guitarist Frisell brings a similarly light touch to his guitar stylings, playing with his usual loopy lines but with a lighter, softer tone than usual. All four musicians seem to be listening closely to each other, striving to play harmoniously together. Those looking for solo fireworks will not find them here; rather, they will find creative interplay. One piece that stands out as different from the rest is the title cut, “The News,” which sounds restless, unsettled, and aggressive – and then a few brief spoken words by Cyrille put everything in context. I won’t spoil the surprise; you’ll have to listen for yourself to see what I mean. The title of another cut seems to describe perfectly the vibe of the album as a whole: “Dance of the Nuances.”


Mozart: Violin Concertos, Volume 1 (CD review)

Violin Concertos Nos. 3 and 4; Sonata, Op. 1, No. 4. Francesca Dego, violin; Sir Roger Norrington, Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Chandos CHAN 20234.

By John J. Puccio

You will, of course, recognize the name Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), who among his other multitude of great works composed five violin concertos, two of which, Nos. 3 and 4, are represented on this disc. You will also recognize the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, if not from live performances then from their numerous record albums. And you will recognize the name of Sir Roger Norrington, at least from his many period-instrument recordings. You may not, however, be as familiar with the Italian violinist Francesca Dego (b. 1989). She has been playing the violin since the age of four, made her debut at the age of seven, and played at the Sala Verdi of the Milan Conservatory at the age of fifteen. With a boatload of awards, she has been going strong ever since, playing with major orchestras all over the world. Notably, she plays a violin built by Francesco Ruggieri (Cremona 1697) and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù ex-Ricci (Cremona 1734) courtesy of the “Florian Leonhard Fine Violins” of London. By my reckoning, this Mozart disc marks Ms. Dego’s seventh recording with the DG and Chandos labels.

Anyway, Mozart wrote his Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216 in 1775 when he was nineteen. He scored it for solo violin, two flutes, two oboes, two horns, and a passel of strings. The familiar, catchy first movement comes off well, with plenty of charm from Ms. Dego. Now, you might expect a rather speedy performance from Maestro Norrington, given his considerable work in the field of historically informed performances, but, in fact, his tempos are well within the norm for most modern-instrument productions. Yet he still keeps up an energetic pace, with life and vigor in abundance. Between Ms. Dego’s elegant, vibrant playing and Norrington’s splendidly spirited accompaniment, they deliver a sparkling performance.

Mozart wrote the Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218 also in 1775. He was apparently on a roll at the time but quit after five. He probably figured he was a better pianist than a violinist and went on to write twenty-seven of the latter. Whatever, the Fourth has become one of Mozart’s most recognizable violin concertos, with the first movement having a decidedly military bent, the second quite tuneful, and the third generally cheerful and amusing. Appropriate to the work being the product of a youthful Mozart, Dego and Norrington play it with an ebullient, carefree enthusiasm. Ms. Dego’s tone is always sweet and pure, Maestro Norrington’s direction sure-handed, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra rich and resonant. Everything here is on target.

The final work on the disc is the Piano Sonata, Op. 1, No. 4 for piano and violin, the piano part taken by Francesca Leonardi. Mozart wrote it in 1778, so it’s still a vivaciously youthful work. Dego’s and Leonardi’s vibrancy and sensitivity afford a delightful few minutes, the second (and final) movement particularly affecting.

Producer Ralph Couzens and engineers Ben Connellan (concertos) and Michael Seberch (sonata) recorded the music at the New Auditorium, Royal Concert Hall, RSNO Centre, Glasgow (concertos) and Fazioli Concert Hall, Sacile, Italy (sonata) in August 2021 (concertos) and March 2021 (sonata). The sound they obtained is clear and clean. It doesn’t project much in the way of depth or dimensionality nor much hall ambience, but it it’s certainly as transparent as you could want. It’s about what most listeners probably expect from a good contemporary recording.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, October 23, 2021

Bernard Haitink Dies at 92

Renowned Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink has died at his home in London, aged 92. He led the world's top orchestras in London, Amsterdam, Chicago, and Dresden in a career spanning 65 years.

Born in Amsterdam in 1929, Haitink won many awards and was a major figure in the UK's classical music scene. Even in his final months at the podium, his performances with the London Symphony Orchestra were described as "ravishing."

Haitink made more than 450 recordings and saw his job as to embrace the orchestra without suffocating them. His management company announced his death late on Thursday night, saying that one of the most celebrated conductors of his generation had died peacefully at his home.

For more information, visit

Music Institute Academy Moves to Lake Forest College
The Music Institute of Chicago's Academy, a pre-conservatory training program for advanced string and piano musicians in high school, has a new home at Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois. Now in its 16th year, the Academy has welcomed students from around the U.S. and across the globe for pre-professional training and exposure to some of the world’s leading musicians.

After more than a decade of weekly programming in the Harza Building on the Ravinia Festival campus, Academy staff initiated a search for a new home after learning Ravinia needed the space to accommodate the growth of its neighborhood outreach program.

The Academy of the Music Institute of Chicago, led by Director James Setapen, is a nationally recognized training center for gifted pre-college pianists and string players that provides a comprehensive music education for students who aspire to be professional musicians. Faculty, staff, and students come together for an intensive 30-week program that includes private lessons with Academy artist faculty, a rigorous chamber music component, a stimulating chamber orchestra experience, and accelerated music theory classes. Pianists additionally study keyboard history and literature, improvisation, and keyboard skills in an intimate group setting. A hallmark of the Academy is the weekly master class when students perform for and observe acclaimed musicians and educators who share their knowledge. The Academy faculty, who teach at some of the country’s most prestigious conservatories and music schools, have a passion for developing young talent and an established track record of student achievement.

For more information, visit

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Andreas Delfs Continues Inaugural Season at RPO
Maestro Andreas Delfs opened his inaugural season as music director of The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) on September 23 and 25 with rousing performances of Brahms, Wagner and Higdon. He returned on October 21 to conduct the RPO in Kurt Weill's Suite from The Threepenny Opera, which showcases American jazz's influence in 1920s Europe and features instrumentation that includes the banjo, bandoneon, and a trap set. The program continued with Sergei Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini featuring pianist Natasha Paremski.

On November 4 & 6, the orchestra welcomes guest conductor Joseph Young, and Maestro Delfs returns to conduct this year’s annual opera presentation by the RPO, a semi-staged production of Humperdinck’s family classic Hansel and Gretel, sung in English, on November 18 & 20.

A complete calendar of upcoming events is available on the RPO website,

--Beverly Greenfield, Kirshbaum Associates

The OPCM Launches Its Season with Vivaldi's Gloria
The Orchestre Philharmonique et Chœur des Mélomanes (OPCM) will launch its seventh season with the Vivaldi Gloria concert, presented on Saturday, October 23 (7:30 p.m.) at the Maison symphonique de Montréal and the following day (2 p.m.) at the Palais Montcalm in Quebec City.

Under the direction of conductor Francis Choinière, the ensemble of 23 musicians and 70 singers will perform the legendary Adagio by Tomaso Albinoni and Remo Giazotto. The audience will then be transported by a selection of baroque arias by Georg Friedrich Handel including: “Lascia ch'io pianga” (Rinaldo), “Ah! Mio cor, schernito sei” (Alcina), “O stringerò nel sen et Sibillando ululando” (Teseo), whose themes are centered around boldness, intrepidity and courage, bringing the evening to a climax of emotional poignancy.

For more information, visit

--France Gaignard Media Relations

Upcoming Events
Now - Nov. 6, LA Opera: Tannhäuser

Tuesday, October 19, at 6 p.m., Salastina’s Happy Hour No. 76: Ben Smolen, flutist and HyeJin Kim, pianist

Sunday, October 24, at 3 p.m., Colburn Chamber Music Society: Geraldine Walther, viola

Friday - Sunday, October 29 - 31, LA Opera Off Grand: Get Out with Live Orchestra at The Theatre at Ace Hotel

--Lisa Bellamore, Crescent Communications

More Upcoming Events
Washington Performing Arts
Tomorrow I May Be Far Away
Lara Downes with Rita Dove & Thalea Quartet
Date: Wednesday, November 3, 8pm ET
Location: Sixth & I, Washington, DC

Chamber Music Society of Palm Beath
Opening Night of Ninth Season
Artists: Arnaud Sussmann, violin; Matthew Lipman, viola; Edward Arron, cello; Alex Fiterstein, clarinet; Kevin Rivard, horn; and Andrew Armstrong, piano
Date: Monday, November 15, 7pm ET
Location: The Breakers Palm Beach, Palm Beach, FL

Aspect Chamber Music Series
Songs of Solace
Artists: Ariel Quartet & Alexander Bedenko, clarinet
Date: Thursday, November 18, 7:30pm ET
Location: Bohemian National Hall, New York, NY

Parker Quartet
Harvard University: Blodgett Concert
Date: Friday, November 19, 8pm ET
Location: Paine Hall, Cambridge, MA
Tickets: Free

Parker Quatete
CU Presents
Date: Sunday, November 21, 4pm MDT and Monday, November 22, 7pm MDT
Location: Grusin Hall, Boulder, CO

Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington
The Holiday Show     
Dates: Saturday, December 4; Saturday, December 11; Sunday, December 12
Location: Lincoln Theatre, Washington, DC

Third Coast Percussion
Date: Saturday, December 4, 7:30pm CT
Location: McCullough Theatre at Texas Performing Arts, Austin, TX

The King’s Singers
2021 Tour

--Amy Killion, Bucklesweet

Festival Mozaic Full Concert Season on Sale Now
Festival Mozaic is excited to announce that the complete Fall-Winter-Spring concert season is now on sale! Enjoy the best of crossover guest artists, solo recitals, chamber music, and Notable Encounters.  Purchase your tickets today before the best seats are gone! Use the links below or call the Festival box office at (805) 781-3009.


--Festival Mozaic

Sarah Hicks Extends Contract with Minnesota Orchestra
The Minnesota Orchestra announced today that Sarah Hicks will continue to lead the Orchestra’s “Live at Orchestra Hall” series through the 2023-24 season, serving as principal conductor and overseeing artistic planning for the series. Ms. Hicks, who will lead the Orchestra in a televised “Young People’s Concert” on November 3 and a pair of Black Panther Movies & Music performances on November 5 and 6, first joined the Orchestra in 2006 and assumed her current position in 2009. During the pandemic, she served as host of the Orchestra’s livestream and broadcast series “This Is Minnesota Orchestra,” a role she will also continue.

More information here:

--Jennifer Scott, Shuman Associates

Lara Downes's “Migration Music,” Part 2
Pianist Lara Downes’s "Migration Music" mini-series, “Flight: Migration Music,” Part 2 was released on Friday 10/22; available for download now from the Rising Sun Music folder here:

The thrust of Lara’s “Great Migration” series is that it was not one-directional. The migration caused a transformation of American art and culture as we know it, which is important to the current conversation about diversity and marginalization. Also, much of the music is written or performed by contemporary artists, so it's less a history project and more a reflection on how the Great Migration affected our current lives and put us where we are today.

This month’s EP has four new tracks including H.T. Burleigh’s In the Cold Moonlight and Through Moaning Pines played by Lara; and Jessie Montgomery’s Starburst performed by The Knights, which you might not connect with the Great Migration, but as Lara wrote in her notes, “as new stars transform a galaxy, the Great Migration transformed America, through the flow of movement, the formation of new centers, and the explosion of human potential, achieved through the courage of flight.” The EP also has the second movement from Carlos Simon’s string quartet Warmth of Other Suns, performed by the Ivalas Quartet (the first movement is on Part 1 of the series and the third will be included on Part 3 to be released 12/3).

What Lara has done to shine a light on Black composers and diversify American classical music is remarkable considering she's not a historian or scholar, but rather simply a curious performer—one who grew up wondering where the music was by people who looked like her. That really fueled her mission to amplify the voices of Black artists and musicians, both throughout history and today.

More information here:

--Lisa Jaehnig, Shuman Associates

American Youth Symphony Performs How to Train Your Dragon
he American Youth Symphony’s (AYS) annual Hollywood Project concert, to be held on November 6th at UCLA’s Royce Hall, will feature the orchestra led by Music Director Carlos Izcaray performing John Powell’s Oscar-nominated score to DreamWorks Animation’s’ How to Train Your Dragon and Mason Bates’s Philharmonia Fantastique, a 20-minute animated film that flies through the instruments of the orchestra to explore the age-old connection of creativity and technology. Tickets are $18, free for members, and can be reserved at

A thrilling experience for all ages, DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon is a captivating and original story about a young Viking named Hiccup, who defies tradition when he befriends one of his deadliest foes – a ferocious dragon he calls Toothless. Together, these unlikely heroes must fight against all odds to save both their worlds. “Tenderness, beauty and exhilaration are the movie's great strengths.” --New York Times

More information:

--Lisa Bellamore, Crescent Communications

PBS: John Williams, San Francisco Symphony, Anne-Sophie Mutter
“Great Performances: A John Williams” premiere at Tanglewood, Friday, November 12 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). Conducted by both Boston Symphony Orchestra music director Andris Nelsons and John Williams, the concert features virtuoso violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter performing the debut of Williams’s new concerto.

Then, San Francisco Symphony’s welcomes GRAMMY-winning conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen as music director to conduct this special concert marking their first opening night concert together since Salonen assumed the post of Music Director last season. Featuring performances of John Adams’s “Slonimsky’s Earbox” and Alberto Ginastera’s “Estancia” Suite with dancers from San Francisco-based contemporary ballet company LINES Ballet. Premieres Friday, November 19 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).

--Elizabeth Boone, WNET

New, Five-Year Series of Performances/Recordings of Operas by Black Composers
the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) and Odyssey Opera, two of today’s leading innovators on the classical musical scene, unveiled a new five-year initiative to elevate opera by Black composers. As Told By: History, Race, and Justice on the Opera Stage will feature neglected repertoire, current masterpieces, and new operas by Black American composers that depict vital figures of Black liberation and Black thought across 250 years of history. Supported in part by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, As Told By includes New England and world premiere performances of five operas, along with commercial recordings. The initiative is one of the most extensive and ambitious presentations of opera by Black composers to take place in Boston and in American opera.

For complete information, visit

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Jonathan Cohen Leads Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in Bach to Geminiani
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale (PBO) presents “Something Old, Something New, Something Mad,” led by conductor Jonathan Cohen, November 10–14.

An important presence on the early music scene, Cohen returns for his second appearance with PBO after his first engagement with countertenor Iestyn Davies four years ago. The program showcases Cohen in his element with music of the Baroque, classical, and modern sounds that make up this eclectic program, and cellist Keiran Campbell as soloist in CPE Bach’s Concerto for Violoncello in A major. The program also includes PBO and Australian Baroque Orchestra’s first co-commission with a world premiere by composer Paul Stanhope, Giving Ground.

For details, visit

--Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale

Israel's MultiPiano Ensemble Announces 10th Anniversary Season
 It has been only 10 years since the launch of the MultiPiano Ensemble, the leading Israeli piano collective led by Tomer Lev that explores repertoire created for multiplicities of pianists--any number of hands on any number of pianos. Created as a bringing together of Professor Lev and some of his most talented fellow faculty and students at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University, MultiPiano has achieved much in its short life. There have been multiple international tours stretching to the US, China and Latin America, an Israeli Ministry of Culture award for 'Best Chamber Ensemble', work with leading orchestras including the Royal Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic and English Chamber Orchestra, many millions of views for their videos on YouTube and Facebook, and earlier this year, a much-admired first recording for Hyperion.

Watch the MultiPiano Ensemble:

--James Inverne Music Consultancy

Los Angeles Master Chorale Continues Its 2021-22 Season
The Los Angeles Master Chorale, led by Grant Gershon, Kiki & David Gindler Artistic Director, continues its 2021-22 season with Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, and the highly anticipated return of beloved holiday favorites, Festival of Carols, Handel’s Messiah, and the 40th Annual Messiah Sing-Along.

Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, a stellar demonstration of the full power, complexity, and majesty of the human voice, represents the highest achievement of the Russian Orthodox Church's great choral tradition. This monumental work is virtuosic in its writing and symphonic in its tone, color, and scope. It was written in 1915, as World War l raged, and the Russian Revolution was just around the corner. (Saturday, November 20, 2021, 2 p.m., Sunday, November 21, 2021, 7 p.m.)

The Master Chorale also brings back perennial holiday favorites Festival of Carols, featuring spectacular arrangements of traditional carols from around the world and today’s favorites (Saturday, December 4, 2021, 2 p.m., Saturday, December 11, 2021, 2 p.m.); Handel’s Messiah, the composer’s timeless and glorious masterpiece (Sunday, December 19, 2021, 7 p.m.); and the 40th Annual Messiah Sing-Along, the Master Chorale’s joyous holiday tradition where the audience becomes the chorus (Monday, December 20, 2021, 7:30 p.m.).

More information here:

--Lisa Bellamore, Crescent Communications

Radiohead Reimagined, Classically and Beyond (CD reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

One of the most exciting and creative rock bands to come along over the past few decades is Radiohead, an English quintet comprising Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, keyboards), brothers Jonny Greenwood (lead guitar, keyboards, other instruments) and Colin Greenwood (bass), Ed O'Brien (guitar, backing vocals) and Philip Selway (drums, percussion). Although their first couple of albums, although reasonably successful, were relatively straightforward affairs, musically speaking, their next four releases – OK Computer (1997), Kid A (2000), Amnesiac (2001),  and Hail to the Thief (2003) – were creative breakthroughs that brought the band widespread recognition and respect. Radiohead had suddenly arrived, and was one of the most talked-about if not necessarily listened-to bands on the planet. In November, 2021, the band will release Kid A Mnesia,  a multiple-format triple-album release of the two albums plus some unreleased tracks to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the group’s influential Kid A and Amnesiac albums, the music for which were recorded at the same time but released separately as the band did not want to release a double album so spread the music out over two separate albums released a year apart. With the new release, Radiohead fanatics will be able to get all the music together, plus some additional cuts from the sessions that did not make their way onto the original releases.

I’m quite confident that there are other classical music lovers besides me who enjoyed (and perhaps even still enjoy) the compelling music of Radiohead. For them, and even for those who have perhaps never even heard of Radiohead but are game to hear some interesting music, I’d like to highlight some releases that directly or in some cases indirectly relate to Radiohead and have a direct or in  some cases indirect connection to what we can all relate to as “classical” music. (Roll over, Beethoven…) 

I’ll begin with a couple of albums that bring the music of Radiohead to the keyboard. When classical pianist Christopher O’Riley (b. 1966) first hosted the popular NPR music show From the Top, he began to play some of his transcriptions of music by Radiohead during breaks. It has been said that some listeners, upon hearing O’Riley announce that this was music by Radiohead, even wrote the show to inquire as to where they could find more music by “Mr. Head.” O’Riley was quite a fan of the band and had made many transcriptions of their music for the piano. Having already made several recordings of classical music, O’Riley then shifted gears and released some truly fascinating recordings of a completely different pedigree.

True Love Waits: Christopher O’Riley Plays Radiohead. Everything in Its Right Place; Knives Out; Black Star; Karma Police; Let Down; Airbag; Subterranean Homesick Alien; Thinking About You; Exit Music (For a Film); You; Bulletproof; Fake Plastic Trees; I Can't; True Love Waits; Motion Picture Soundtrack. Christopher O’Riley, piano. Sony Odyssey SK 87321. (2003).

O’Riley’s transcriptions blend the vocal lines with the instrumental lines into a seamless whole that he fortifies with rich chords. For songs with which you are familiar with the Radiohead album originals, you will immediately recognize the music. At the same time, however, you will find yourself amazed at how “classical” it sounds after being processed through O’Riley’s mind and fingers. If on the other hand you come to this album never having heard any Radiohead music in your life, you might still find this to be engaging, enjoyable music that sounds more like serious classical piano music than anything resembling what you might take to be rock music.

Hold Me to This: Christopher O’Riley Plays Radiohead. There There; (Nice Dream) No Surprises; Polyethylene Part 2; How I Made My Millions; Like Spinning Plates; Sail to the Moon; The Tourist; Cuttooth; 2 + 2 = 5; Talk Show Host; Gagging Order; Paranoid Android; Street Spirit (Fade Out). Christopher O’Riley, piano. World Village WV 704. (2005).

Although released on a different label two years later, Hold Me to This is the musical fraternal twin of True Love Waits. The songs are different, but the transcriptions continue in the same vein, making this effectively “Christopher O’Riley Plays Radiohead, Volume II.” Once again, O’Riley weaves this music into a tapestry of sound and emotion. No, it is not the piano music of Beethoven, Brahms, or Chopin, but hey, I can scrunch up my imagination and imagine Liszt nodding his head approvingly at what O’Riley has accomplished here. If you enjoy piano music and are not entirely straitlaced, give one or both of these O’Riley albums an audition and discover the fascinating music of that mysterious composer, Mr. Head.
Next for your consideration are three albums that present reimagined renditions of two of those classic Radiohead albums, Kid A and Amnesiac. Each release is by an ensemble coming at Radiohead’s music from a different perspective: classical, folk, and jazz.

Echo Collective: Echo Collective Plays “Amnesiac”. Margaret Hermant, violin/harp; Neil Leiter, violin; Charlotte Danhier, cello; Yann LeCollaire, clarinet/bass clarinet/baritone saxophone; Helene Elst, bassoon/contrabassoon; Gary De Cart, piano; Antoine Danday, percussion. 7K! 7K008CD (2018).

We have previously reviewed releases featuring Echo Collective in Classical Candor. While those releases were more classical in nature, this album from 2018 found Echo Collective bringing in a percussionist to add a drum kit to their assemblage of classical instruments to produce an instrumental version of Radiohead’s Amnesiac. Although there are moments that sound much like chamber music, the overall mood is more like a jazzy/spacey cover version of pure Radiohead, lacking only the voice of Thom Yorke. The song “Dollars & Cents,” for example, has a driving acoustic bass line, drum accents, yearning string sounds, clarinet notes -- but still sounds like Radiohead. For many Radiohead fans, Amnesiac represents the peak of the group’s output; for them to hear Echo Collective’s take on it would be quite a stimulating experience, no doubt about it. Christopher O’Riley transformed the music through his piano, while Echo Collective does so through an array of instruments, but again from a trained classical perspective, this time filtered through an eclectic collective imagination.

Wooden Elephant: Landscapes, Knives, and Glue: Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled. Aoife Ni Bhriain, violin/jaw harp/flexitone/part blower/wine glass/milk frother with tissue/elbows on ukulele strung with guitar strings/kalimba/bowed toy handbells/plectrum/milk frother with elastic bands/toy archery bow/harmonicas; Huld Jonsdottir, violin/bowed toy hand bells/part blower/vibrator/ankle bells/plectrum/pacay shaker/wah-wah tube/harmonicas/music box; Ian Anderson, viola/arrangements/whirly tube/bathroom sink plug chain/plectrum/part blower/handheld fan with feathers/wine glasses/toy archery bow/bowed toy handbells/squeaky pig dog toy/power drill with cable ties/handheld fan with tights; Stefan Hadjiev, cello/bathroom sink plug chain/part blower/toy archery bow/bowed toy handbells; Nikolai Matthews, double bass/blu tack/kalimba/paper/bathroom sink plug chain/party blower/whirly tube/wine glasses/bowed toy handbell/timpani beater/harmonicas. Backlash Music BM006 (2020).

Be not frightened by the list of unusual “instruments'' credited to the players of Wooden Elephant. The group is a string quintet, and the arrangements of the Radiohead songs from Kid A (once again, the album is covered song for song) are for the quintet, with the other items listed being used for sonic seasoning. Although there are times when some of the sounds seem as though they could be produced by an electronic synthesizer, the liner states that “Every sound on this album has been produced completely acoustically by the five Wooden Elephant players. The album was recorded >as live< with only a few select overdubs for the noisier instrument changes.” The end result is an intriguing blend of Radiohead melodies with string quintet sounds augmented by sound effects that draw in rather than distract the listener. The song “How to Disappear Completely,” for example, which is haunting in its Radiohead version, is just as eerily haunting here, if not more so. The members of Wooden Elephant obviously have not only an ear for the music, but a feeling for the emotions that the music is meant to convey. The end result is a richly imaginative album that is well worth an audition by both Radiohead and chamber music fans alike.

Rick Simpson: Everything All of the Time: Kid A Revisited. Rick Simpson, piano; Tori Freestone, tenor saxophone and violin; James Allssopp, baritone saxophone; Dave Whitford, double bass; Will Glaser, drums. Whirlwind Recordings WR4765 (2020).

Here we have another take on Kid A, this time from the perspective of a jazz quintet. The liner notes by leader and pianist Rick Simpson explain the genesis of the album: “My musical interests began with electronic music, then jazz, and then Radiohead. All three were intense love affairs. The sonic landscape of Radiohead, in particular their electronic explorations, seemed to meld perfectly with my love of jazz and the avant garde. The Vortex Jazz Club generously offered a concert series where I could rewrite popular albums as vehicles for instrumental improvisation. Naturally ‘Kid A’ was the first record I thought of. 2020 sees ‘Kid A’ turn twenty years old and its impact and inspiration on musicians and audiences alike is being felt to this day. I wanted to honour Radiohead’s original whilst re-writing the music to fit my vision as a composer, giving the musicians I chose for this project plenty of space to improvise and bring their unique musical voices to the forefront. For some tunes I wanted to stay close to the source material, for others they are merely referenced and serve as springboards for new composition or improvisation. I think we captured some of the fractured anxiety and beauty of the original.” Having some live performances of this music under their belt, the group then went into the studio in London and recorded the album in a single afternoon. The end result is a fitting tribute to Radiohead. Being an album of jazz, it diverges more from the original music than any of the arrangements above, but never so far that the music becomes unrecognizable. One of the interesting points to note is how jazz drumming differs from rock drumming, which can be discerned even in a comparison of the drumming in this album with that in the Echo Collective album, where although the basic thrust of the album is classical in nature, the drums are used to link the arrangements to rock music, and the sound is pretty much that of a standard drum kit playing fairly straightforward rock rhythms. There is nothing wrong with that, the net effect sounding quite engaging. However, the drum sounds and rhythms employed by drummer Will Glaser are more colorful and varied, doing more for the music than just supplying a beat. The more I listened to that album, the more I seized upon favorite highlights of the arrangements, such as use of the violin in “How to Disappear Completely,” the jazz trio sound at the heart of “Optimistic,” or pretty much everything about their amazing rendition of “Morning Bell,” but especially the exuberant drumming and interplay between drummer Glaser and pianist Simpson. If you like Radiohead and have at least a nodding acquaintance with jazz, or if you like jazz and have at least a nodding acquaintance with the music of Radiohead, then you probably have a pretty good idea of what I am going to advise...

Bonus Recommendations:

Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Radiohead. Baby Rock Records  CD 9603.

As Monty Python were often heard to say, “and now for something completely different.” As the note on the back cover explains, “Rockabye Baby! transforms timeless rock songs into beautiful instrumental lullabies. The delicate sounds of the glockenspiel, vibraphone, and other instruments will lull your little one into a sweet slumber… These versions of Radiohead are sophisticated enough for people of all ages, but sweet enough to introduce your child to rock’s smartest band.” I suppose it would be easy enough to snicker, but to be honest, I used to play this CD often on my computer at work. The familiar Radiohead melodies played on bells, glockenspiel, keyboard, and other instruments all apparently played and overdubbed in the studio by a fellow named Michael Armstrong did not lull me to sleep; rather, they allowed me to get into a groove where I was able to work efficiently while feeling just fine -- on a gentle musical high, if you will. Laugh if you want to, but this is a seriously enjoyable take on Radiohead featuring 11 of their songs in sparkling arrangements.
There Will Be Blood: Original Music by Jonny Greenwood. Nonesuch 369020-2.

Radiohead guitarist and keyboardist Jonny Greenwood (b. 1971) grew up with an abiding interest in classical music as well as rock music. One of his early musical heroes was the French composer Olivier Messiaen, and he later developed a great admiration for the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. He also had a fondness for jazz and an interest in electronic music. In 2007, he composed the score for the film There Will Be Blood. This is music that does not sound like a typical movie score. Instead, it sounds for the most part like serious contemporary classical music. There are tracks for orchestra, for piano trio, and for string quartet. You do not need to have seen the film to enjoy this release, which can stand on its own as an engrossing program of finely crafted classical music.

Chrystal Für: Elusion. Requiem; I’m Losing You; Spark Over the Horizon; Nova; There Is No Second Chance; Memory of a Fading Home; *I’ll Rise at Dawn Once More; Pass the Torch; Other Side of the Mirror. Christopher J. Vibberts, piano, cello, guitars, bass, organ, keyboards, marxophone, melody harp, Tibetan singing bowl, wine glasses, ebow, breathing, samples, sound manipulation; *Margaret Hermant, violin, harp, wind sounds; *Neil Leiter, viola, bass viola, wind sounds. What Are We Records WAW202101.

Chrystal Für is a recording outlet for the creative energies of musician/producer/engineer Chris Vibberts, who recorded the album in his studio in California, with one track being recorded in Belgium by his friends from Echo Collective. Elusion has a contemporary feel yet still manages to have something of a timeless quality to it, reflecting a wide spectrum of musical influences. When Vibberts was asked to put together a mixtape of music that influenced the album, he said that he “created a loose musical timeline that dips into important early musical moments including being freaked out in the basement as a toddler listening to "Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John and Black Sabbath albums, to contemporary artists that constantly inspire me like Jóhann Jóhannsson, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, and Max Richter.” Given that Echo Collective has collaborated in the past with both Jóhannsson and A Winged Victory for the Sullen, it should come as no surprise that they show up on Elusion. Most of the cuts on this release evoke a mood of reflection, of pondering the joy and beauty to be found in everyday life. It is music at once soothing and inspiring, but with more substance than what you would find in the New Age category. A fascinating release, well worth an audition.


Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue (CD review)

Jeffrey Biegel, piano; Bruce Anthony Kiesling, Adrian Symphony Orchestra. Naturally Sharp Records.

By John J. Puccio

Ever since bandleader Paul Whiteman commissioned American composer George Gershwin to write a jazz-inflected concerto for piano and orchestra, practically every popular pianist since then has elected to record it. Gershwin himself premiered the work with the Whiteman band in 1924, but, surprisingly, there was never a definitive version of it. This was in part because Gershwin improvised a part of the piano score during the first performance, and in part because the man who orchestrated the music, Whiteman’s own arranger Ferde Grofe, didn’t have a lot of time to prepare the music for its premiere. Even the opening clarinet glissando was an improvisation of sorts. Then, within a few years, we would see the score re-arranged for pit orchestra and for full symphony orchestra.

The current recording, with concert pianist Jeffrey Biegel as soloist and the Adrian Symphony Orchestra, uses a recent reconstruction of the work by musicologist and Gershwin scholar Dr. Ryan Banagale. As Dr. Banagale writes, “This edition attempts to be as true to the original intentions of the creators as possible.”

Dr. Banagale wrote a book on the subject, Arranging Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue and the Creation of an American Icon (Oxford University Press, 2014), which focuses on the ongoing-and surprising-life of Gershwin's iconic Rhapsody in Blue over the course of the ninety-odd years since its inception. His 2011 Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard University is titled “Rhapsodies In Blue: New Narratives for an Iconic American Composition." Dr. Banagale's critical edition of Rhapsody in Blue here receives its first recording release.

According to Mr. Biegel: "I have performed the many guises of Rhapsody in Blue since the age of nine. In 1997, when performing the ‘Annotated Rhapsody in Blue,’ arranged by Dr. Alicia Zizzo, which owns many sections of missing piano material from original sources, I had questioned the Gershwin family about having a new edition with the original orchestral material and the piano material together. Here we are, and it is now available, thanks to many involved. It is truly an honor to have the permissions necessary to make this recording happen, as well as generous donor support to bring this recording to life for today's listeners and for historic purpose."

Most important in the performance is the fact that Mr. Biegel has performed the work countless times and seems to know every nuance of the music. He keeps the score driving forward, with an infectious bounce yet a subtle refinement as well. The orchestra, with its own brief solos, accompanies Biegel with a spirited yet tasteful polish. But his is the soloist’s party, and Mr. Biegel makes the most of it, his one-on-one sojourns into Gershwin’s jazz experiment completely mesmerizing. Yes, he simply steals the show, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. No matter how many other recordings you already own of the Rhapsody in Blue, this one is a must-have companion.

Engineer Christopher Momany and recording mixer Bruce Kiesling recorded the music at Dawson Auditorium on the campus of Adrian College in June 2021. The orchestral parts are exceptionally well recorded, with plenty of space, width, dimensionality, frequency balance, and particularly dynamics. The piano is well integrated, too, if a tad close. It projects a solid tone, with crisp articulation in abundance. So the sound rounds out a wholly successful new outing for Gershwin’s perennial favorite. Count it among my favorites of the year.

Mr. Biegel has made his recording of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue available for digital download (Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora) and in limited quantities of CDs. For details, visit


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

Meet the Staff

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

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big 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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa