Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5 (SACD review)

Also, Barber: Adagio for Strings. Manfred Honeck, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Reference Recordings Fresh! FR-724SACD.

Many years ago the announcer, author, and music critic Martin Bookspan wrote of the Shostakovich Fifth that it is "... a symphony more than ordinarily pretentious, brooding, mystical, sardonic and sometimes vulgar. In short, it has many of the same virtues and faults one finds in the symphonies of Mahler." I've always agreed with most of that assessment. Even though Shostakovich and Mahler lived in different eras, their approach to symphonic writing was at least similar, the many changing moods of their music probably contributing to both composers' enduring popularity.

After his music fell out of favor with the Soviet government, Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) wrote his Symphony in D minor in 1937 to ingratiate himself with the State. On the surface the piece appears to be traditional, inspirational, and patriotic; but later the composer would deny its patriotic bent, claiming it to be, in effect, satiric. Consequently, there are any number of ways to approach the score, some, like Leonard Bernstein doing it hell-bent-for-leather and others, like Manfred Honeck and his Pittsburgh Symphony, doing it in a more-restrained, orderly manner. Whether you take to Honeck's reading or not, there is no questioning he has an orchestra that responds beautifully to his every demand.

The opening movement, a Moderato-Allegro non troppo, is, as the tempo marking indicates, both gentle and reasonably vigorous. It starts slowly, lyrically, and gradually becomes faster and more agitated, but not too fast, building in momentum, and then ending in relative calm. Well, at least that's the way conductors usually approach it. Honeck, however, takes it at a more leisurely clip throughout, more quietly, building the contrasts more studiously, building the tensions and releases in broader incremental steps. There is more sadness here than anger in Honeck's view.

The second-movement Allegretto is a variation of the first theme of the preceding movement, taken at a speed just a little slower than Allegro. It serves as a scherzo, its tone satiric, mock-heroic. One can hear the influences of Mahler in this music more strongly than in most any other part of the symphony. Again, Honeck takes his time with the score's development, and I found that in his doing so he misses some of the music's more ironic elements.

The slow movement, the Largo, is the actual soul of the symphony, with long, engaging melodies predominating. It's a most-personal expression of the composer's feelings, and it's here that Honeck particularly excels, imparting to the music a heartfelt dignity, a longing, and a mournfulness that are quite affecting.

Manfred Honeck
The finale generally takes up where the first movement ended, with a clear martial or marchlike character. Whether the music is joyous and life-affirming or hectic and cynical is pretty much up to the conductor. Shostakovich seemed to want it both ways: to please the government and to please himself. Anyway, again we hear the Mahler influence (the final movement of Mahler's First Symphony comes to mind), and even though Honeck doesn't attack it with anything like the animation of a Bernstein, he stays in keeping with the rest of the presentation, and it comes off with a cautious expressiveness.

Accompanying the Shostakovich we find the little Adagio for Strings (1936), which the American composer Samuel Barber (1910-1981) prepared for string orchestra from the second movement of his String Quartet, Op. 11. It may seem at first glance an odd choice for a coupling, given that the Shostakovich symphony can be so feverish and the Barber so peaceful. However, I suppose that's the point: to juxtapose the two works, both of them written at around the same time yet in contrasting places and circumstances. And no doubt Maestro Honeck wanted especially to play up the similarities between the Barber piece and the sadness of the Shostakovich symphony's Largo. The real question, though, is whether Maestro Honeck does the Adagio justice, and the answer is yes, despite Honeck's penchant for drawing out phrases longer than always necessary and over emphasizing the point.

There are any number of good recordings of the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony one can choose from, among them Maris Jansons and the Vienna Philharmonic (EMI), Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Royal Philharmonic (Decca), Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic (Sony), Maxim Shostakovich and the USSR Symphony (RCA), Leopold Stokowski and the Stadium Symphony Orchestra (Everest), Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (Sony/RCA), Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Decca), Andre Previn and the London Symphony (RCA), Neeme Jarvi and the Scottish National Orchestra (Chandos), and the list goes on. Where does Honeck and his orchestra fit in? Almost anywhere in a crowded field, depending on how you like your Shostakovich played. For me personally, I prefer the energy of Bernstein and Stokowski; the sweep and grandeur of Ormandy; the authority of the composer's son, Maxim Shostakovich; and the simple directness and overall rightness of Haitink, Jansons, Ashkenazy, and Previn. Still, Honeck for his few idiosyncrasies, makes a viable alternative.

Producer Dirk Sobotka and engineer Mark Donahue (of Soundmirror, Boston) recorded the music live at Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Pittsburgh, PA in June (Shostakovich) and October (Barber) 2013. They made it for multichannel SACD playback, two-channel stereo SACD playback, and two-channel regular CD playback. I listened in the two-channel SACD mode.

Despite the music being recorded live, which too often results in a close-up, one-dimensional sound, this one is excellent. It's moderately distanced, with a fine sense of space and place. Dynamics are wide but not overpowering; frequency response is extended, notably at the high end; the depth of image is lifelike; and detailing is realistically defined without being bright or edgy. Thankfully, too, Reference Recordings edited out any hint of applause. It's one of the best-sounding live orchestral discs of the year.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, January 13, 2018

Announcing The Crypt Sessions, Season 3

Unison Media is excited to announce Season 3 of its acclaimed concert series The Crypt Sessions, featuring intimate classical music and opera performances in the remarkable Crypt chapel underneath the Church of the Intercession in Harlem. The season will begin February 1, 2018, with the Attacca Quartet performing Beethoven's extraordinary String Quartet No. 15, Op. 132.

Due to rapid sell-outs and long waiting lists, each new concert will be announced immediately after the one preceding it, first to the mailing list, then via The Crypt Sessions Web site (http://deathofclassical.com/) and Facebook page.

Each Crypt Session will feature a pre-concert reception included in the ticket price, with a tasting of food and wine that is paired to the themes and moods of that evening's music, prepared by Ward 8 Events.

All proceeds from ticket sales of The Crypt Sessions are donated to the Church of the Intercession, where the crypt is located.

Listing Info:
The Crypt Sessions Presents: The Attacca Quartet
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 15, Op. 132
February 1, 2018 | Wine & Food Tasting 7PM | Show 8PM
Tickets: $75, including Wine Tasting & hors d'oeuvres
For complete information, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-crypt-sessions-attacca-quartet-beethoven-op-132-tickets-41454625902

About The Crypt Sessions:
The Crypt Sessions (http://deathofclassical.com/) is a concert series presented and produced by Unison Media (http://www.unison.media/) and curated by Andrew Ousley, located in the crypt chapel underneath the Church of the Intercession in Harlem, NY. The series features intimate performances by some of the world's top classical music and opera stars, with programs tailored to the crypt's extraordinary atmosphere and remarkable acoustic. A performance by Conrad Tao was chosen as one of The New York Times' Best Classical Music Performances of 2017.

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Steven Isserlis in PBO SESSIONS Jewish Songlines
"Jewish Songlines: An Exploration of Music and Heritage"
February 8, 2018 | 8 pm
Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA

Join Nicholas McGegan, renowned cellist Steven Isserlis, and members of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra at the Contemporary Jewish Museum for a 90-minute exploration of Jewish music and heritage. The program will feature music from the 18th to the 20th centuries, including a Bach Prelude arranged by Ignaz (Isaac) Moscheles and Isserlis's own arrangement of Maurice Ravel's Deux mélodies hébraïques and Felix Mendelssohn's "Scherzo" from the Octet for Strings, Op. 20.

Steven Isserlis and Nicholas McGegan will engage in deep discussion about the impact of Jewish composers, illuminated by a multimedia presentation, as well as Steven's own Jewish heritage.

Get tickets now, as space is limited. General admission: $25. Save $5 with discount code: PBO18

Order by Phone Monday - Friday, 9 am - 5 pm - (415) 295-1900, or on-line at https://philharmonia.org/pbo-sessions/jewish-songlines/

--Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale

92 Street Y February 2018 Concerts
Saturday, February 10, 2018, 8:00 pm
Art of the Guitar
92Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC
Jorge Caballero, guitar
(92Y recital debut)

  Friday, February 16, 2018 at 9:00 pm
Soundspace
92Y – Buttenwieser Hall, NYC
Christoph Prégardien, tenor
Julius Drake, piano
(92Y recital debut)

Saturday, February 17, 2018, 8:00 pm
Distinguished Artists
92Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC
Emmanuel Pahud, flute
Alessio Bax, piano

Tickets are available at www.92Y.org/Concerts or 212-415-5500.

--Xi Wang, Kirshbaum Associates

Five Boroughs Music Festival Presents Lorelei Ensemble
On Friday, February 9, 2018 at 7:30 p.m., Five Boroughs Music Festival (5BMF) presents the acclaimed all-female vocal group, Lorelei Ensemble in concert at Manhattan's Church of St. Luke in the Fields, NYC.

The program, entitled "Impermanence/Reconstructed," features works from the early-Renaissance through contemporary Eastern, Western and American sounds from across the ages including selected motets by Guillaume Du Fay and Torino Codex; David Lang's i want to live; selections from Scott Ordway's North Woods; Peter Gilbert's Tsukimi; Steve Reich's Know What Is Above You; selections from Joshua Bornfield's Reconstruction; Shawn Kirchner's Rose/Riddle Rainbows; Joshua Shank's Saro; Adam Jacob Simon's Joys Above His Power; and Moira Smiley's Utopia.

Program information:
Friday, February 9, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.
Church of St. Luke in the Fields | 487 Hudson St. | New York, NY 10014
Lorelei Ensemble "Impermanence/Reconstructed"

Tickets: VIP Preferred Seating - $40.00, General Admission - $25.00

Please visit www.5bmf.org or email info@5bmf.org for more information.

--Katlyn Morahan, Morahan Arts and Media

The Wallis Presents World Premiere of Ory Shihor's "Last Thoughts: Schubert's Final Works"
In the last few months of his short life, prolific Austrian composer Franz Schubert wrote some of the most miraculous music ever created. Now, acclaimed Los Angeles-based pianist Ory Shihor presents the story behind Schubert's last compositions in the world premiere of "Last Thoughts: Schubert's Final Works" at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts (The Wallis) on Saturday, January 20, 2018 at 7:30pm.

With words by master musical storyteller Hershey Felder, Shihor's program includes the two of three final piano sonatas created by Schubert, who bridged the worlds of Classical and Romantic music in the early nineteenth century.

Single tickets are now available for $25 – $75. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit TheWallis.org/Ory, call 310.746.4000, or stop by in person at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

--Sarah Jarvis, The Wallis

Women's Rights Explored in New Oratorio by Van Nuys High School Students
"Hear Our Voice: A Woman's Journey," a timely new oratorio written by Van Nuys High School students for the Los Angeles Master Chorale's Voices Within Oratorio Project, will be premiered by students and members of the Master Chorale on Friday, February 16 and Saturday, February 17 at the school's auditorium. The Friday performance will be for fellow students. The Saturday performance at 1 PM is presented as a free community concert and is open to the public.

Friday, February 16, 1:00 PM
Van Nuys High School student performance

Saturday, February 17, 1:00 PM
Community performance – free and open to the public

Van Nuys High School Auditorium
6535 Cedros Ave, Van Nuys, CA 914

--Jennifer Scott, LA Master Chorale

Huydts World Premiere on Orion's 25th Season's Third Program
As a special tribute for its 25th anniversary, The Orion Ensemble, winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, performs a world premiere on the season's third program, "Old Meets New," featuring guest violist Stephen Boe.

Performances take place March 4 at First Baptist Church of Geneva-Chapelstreet Church, Geneva, Illinois; March 7 at the PianoForte Studios in downtown Chicago, Illinois, joined by a Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras quintet; and March 11 at the Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston, Illinois.

Single tickets are $26, $23 for seniors and $10 for students; admission is free for children 12 and younger. A four-ticket flexible subscription provides a 10 percent savings on full-priced tickets.

For tickets or more information, call 630-628-9591 or visit orionensemble.org

--Jill Chukerman, The Orion Ensemble

The Genius of Bach's Passions
American Bach Soloists' interpretation of the St. John Passion
February 23 - 26 2018
Belvedere, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Davis, CA

The two monumental Passion settings that survive from the pen of J.S. Bach (the St. John Passion, BWV 245, and the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244) are universally acknowledged as the pinnacle of perfection in the genre. For some listeners, the musical beauty of these works alone sets them far above all similar compositions. Others are inspired by the unsurpassed dramatic impact Bach's music lends to the already intensely emotional texts of the Evangelists' accounts. Bach's St. John Passion sets not only chapters 18 and 19 from the fourth Gospel, but also contains two interpolations from the Gospel Gccording to St. Matthew, a relatively small number of aria texts, and a series of carefully chosen stanzas from the rich genre of Bach's chorales.

Friday February 23rd 8:00 pm
St. Stephen's Church
3 Bay View Avenue, Belvedere, CA 94920

Saturday February 24th 8:00 pm
First Congregational Church
2345 Channing Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

Sunday February 25th 4:00 pm
St. Mark's Lutheran Church
1111 O'Farrell St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Monday February 26th 7:00 pm
Davis Community Church
412 C Street, Davis, CA 95616

For tickets and information, call 800-595-4TIX (-4849) or visit americanbach.org

--American Bach Soloists

The Wallis and the Arturo Sandoval Institute Present the Arturo Sandoval Jazz Weekend
The program features four nights of extraordinary music celebrating both the legendary trumpeter and emerging jazz artists.

Thursday, January 25 through Sunday, January 28, 2018.

The Wallis will be the place for jazz lovers this month when the performing arts center, in conjunction with the Arturo Sandoval Institute, present a special four-night musical celebration curated by the dynamic American jazz legend Arturo Sandoval from Thursday, January 25 through Sunday, January 28.

Sandoval shines a spotlight on his legacy, as well as up-and-coming musicians, in an exciting jazz series featuring a Master Class, sponsored by the Arturo Sandoval Institute; two extraordinary nights of emerging jazz artists, whom Sandoval proudly calls the "Young Lions;" and an unforgettable concert of his own with special guests.

Single tickets are now available for $20 – $75. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit TheWallis.org/Sandoval, call 310.746.4000, or stop by in person at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

--Sarah Jarvis, The Wallis

The Chelsea Symphony Performs Lemmon, Saint-Saëns, Colina, and Sibelius
The Chelsea Symphony, featured in the Golden Globe-winning Amazon Originals show "Mozart in the Jungle," announces the continuation of its 2017/18 season, entitled "Sea Change," with concerts on January 26 and 27 featuring a World Premiere by Eric Lemmon, Camille Saint-Saëns's Violin Concerto No. 3 featuring violinist Deborah Nixon (1/26 only), the World Premiere of Michael Colina's Isles of Shoals featuring flutist Michelle Stockman (1/27 only), and Jean Sibelius's Symphony No. 5.

Friday, January 26th at 8:30 PM
Saturday, January 27th at 7:30 PM
St. Paul's Church, 315 West 22nd Street, NYC
Conducted by Reuben Blundell, and Mark Seto

For complete information, visit www.chelseasymphony.org

--Elizabeth Holub, Chelsea Symphony

Opera Gala (CD review)

Alessandra Marc, soprano; Andrew Litton, Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Delos DE 3240.

The program on this 2000 Delos release consists of well over an hour of live music-making from soprano Alessandra Marc and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton. The orchestra by itself performs several Verdi overtures, La forza del destino and Luisa Miller, and Puccini's Preludio sinfonico. Ms. Marc sings arias from Bellini's Norma, "Casta Diva" and "Guerra, guerra"; Donizetti's Anna Bolena, "Al dolce guidami"; Richard Strauss's The Egyptian Helen, "Zweite Brauchtnacht"; Barber's Anthony & Cleopatra, "Give Me My Robe"; and Puccini's Tosca, "Vissi d'arte," and Turandot, "In questa reggia." Ms. Marc has a lovely dark-toned voice that especially complements the several less well-known selections, and the Dallas Symphony Chorus do an outstandingly beautiful job in their brief appearances.

I had only a couple of misgivings about the disc. First, I would have preferred hearing from both a soprano and a tenor and maybe others at a "gala," putting a little more variety into the show. "Gala" suggests a festive event featuring, I would have hoped, more than a single star. Ms. Marc performs a recital. Maybe it's a gala recital.

Alessandra Marc
Second, I have never been fond of live recordings, this one made on the nights of September 17-19, 1998, in the Eugene McDermott Concert Hall of the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas. Trying to keep an audience quiet for more than an hour is the first problem, although the coughs and sneezes that customarily accompany these things seem pretty well under control. The applause between each number is another matter. Yes, it helps put the living-room listener into the concert hall to participate in the sense of occasion. Yes, it is also a distraction to anyone who just wants to enjoy the music.

Nor did I care to play the session as loudly as I found necessary to experience Delos's "Virtual Reality." Alas, nothing is perfect. Some recordings sound wonderful at low gain and get raucous, bright, or shrill as they are played louder; this one, though, sounds boring at low levels but comes to life at higher volume. In fairness, it sounded fine played back on my 5.1-channel home-theater system in another room, where the rear speakers handled some of the ambient informaton, and the sound is brighter and leaner to begin with. In any case, close all the doors and windows before listening, unless your neighbors are opera lovers.

So, as I say, played loudly, this album of live opera extracts can sound excitingly alive. Played back at a normal-to-soft level, and it will sound dull and indistinct, fading well back from the speakers, veiled and soft. I'm mentioning this because the first impression some listeners may get is that the disc is too distant and clouded. In fact, it was recording engineer John Eargle's usual way of miking, using Delos's "Virtual Reality" process, a technique that picks up a good deal of side and rear-wall ambiance for the sake of multi-channel, surround-sound playback. Ordinary two-channel reproduction may suffer, however, in that the reflective sounds can overpower the direct sound unless the volume is tweaked up a notch.

JJP

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


Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 "Pathetique" (CD review)

Teodor Currentzis, MusicAeterna. Sony 88985404352.

You'll forgive me if I keep thinking of the Greek-born conductor, musician, and actor Teodor Currentzis as a new and upcoming young conductor. He was, in fact, in his mid forties (b. 1972) at the time of this writing, he's won numerous awards, conducted even more concerts, and made a dozen recordings. In 2004 he formed the MusicAeterna Orchestra (and later the MusicAeterna Chorus). Although audiences probably best know him for his opera productions, he's no slouch at purely orchestral music, either, where critics have found his direction everywhere from electrifying to terrifying. At the very least, you can say he's enthusiastic, as this recording of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony demonstrates.

Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) wrote his Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 "Pathetique" in the last year of his life, and it was his final work before he died. The ensuing century brought it growing fame, and today person can hardly doubt its value as one of the late-Romantic period's most-popular works. The title "Pathetique" in Russian means "passionate" or "emotional," which is how most conductors, like Currentzis, play it--big, bold, and red-blooded. It's just that Maestro Currentzis perhaps takes the "passionate" direction a step further than most.

The work begins with a fairly lengthy introduction, building in agitated fashion before culminating in the music's famous central theme. Currentzis takes this opening with more than adequate agitation; indeed, with more agitation than one normally hears. Then, he goes into the main theme with a delicacy one doesn't often hear, as well. Although the result is a timing for the first movement that differs little from the half dozen comparison recordings I had on hand, it's made up of more variable rubato, more stops and starts, more lengthened and shortened notes and phrases, and definitely more volatile dynamics than I have ever heard before in a performance of this music. There were several moments in the proceedings when the orchestra positively jolted me upright. One can question whether this is purely showmanship on Currentzis's part or whether it suits the mercurial nature of Tchaikovsky's music. There is no doubt it will keep you awake.

Teodor Currentzis
The second-movement is another of the composer's famous waltzes, followed by a zippy third-movement scherzo, and ending in a mournful Finale. Currentzis takes the waltz in headlong fashion, perhaps faster than the usual waltz tempo; yet, like the rest of the performance, it seems perfectly attuned to the idiosyncratic nature of the rest of the reading. The scherzo is as peppy and lively as any you'll hear, but by this point we expect that of Currentzis. The Finale is probably the least controversial part of the recording, with Currentzis calming down and offering a fine, passionately soulful conclusion to the music.

In all, I dunno. If you like your Tchaikovsky expressive and emotional to the nth degree, you'll get that from Currentzis. It's not subtle, not terribly nuanced, not delicate or polished. It's Tchaikovsky unrefined, undiluted. Like the sound I'll mention next, listeners are apt to find the performance immensely satisfying or overwhelmingly unwelcome.

The disc's jewel box comes enclosed in a glossy paper slipcase and a booklet essay by Maestro Currentzis himself. I'm afraid I couldn't get through much of the conductor's prose, which tends to be as flashy as his music making.

Damien Quintard produced, recorded, mixed, and mastered the album at Funkhaus Nalepastrasse, Berlin in February 2015. To put this kindly, think of your seating position as being in the front one or two rows of an auditorium. The orchestra is spread out very wide in front of you, and the instruments are practically in your lap. The effect is not without its commensurate thrills, but it may take a moment to get used to. This is the kind of close miking one usually associates with live recordings; however, nowhere on the packaging does it indicate this is a live recording. So, it's apparently just a close-up studio performance. It certainly gives clarity, life, and dynamism to the sound, although there isn't a lot of orchestral depth to give us a feeling of reality; nor is there much hall resonance; and there are some odd, audible effects in the final movement. The dynamic range and sonic impact may for some listeners compensate for the recording's eccentricities, though, and provide more excitement than they've ever heard before in this symphony. Like Currentzis's interpretation of the music itself, the sound may either delight or infuriate you.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, January 6, 2018

American Classical Orchestra Performs Six Baroque Concerti with Violinist Stephanie Chase

On Thursday, February 8, 2018 at 8pm, American Classical Orchestra, "the nation's premier orchestra dedicated to period instrument performance" (Vulture), celebrates the virtuosic violin concerti of great Baroque masters at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. The program features acclaimed violinist and expert period instrumentalist, Stephanie Chase, in six concerti: Handel's Concerto Grosso in B-flat Major, Opus 6, No. 7; J.S. Bach's Concerto for Violin in A Minor, BWV 1041; Muffat's Concerto Grosso in G Major, 'Perseverantia'; Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, BWV 1043 with Orchestra of St. Luke's concertmaster violinist Krista Bennion Feeney; Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048; and Vivaldi's Concerto for Four Violins in B Minor, RV 580 with violinists Krista Bennion Feeney, Theresa Salomon, and Karen Dekker.

This season, American Classical Orchestra has instituted an innovative Concert Preview program that will bring listeners closer to the music. Before conducting the program, Maestro Crawford delivers an introduction, with the full orchestra on-stage performing excerpts from the evening's program. Crawford's engaging narratives, along with the live music, give audiences greater insights into what they're about to hear, resulting in a more enriched musical experience.

The final concert of ACO's 2017-18 season includes a program of works by Brahms, Schubert, and Ries with contralto Avery Amereau and the ACO Men's Chorus on March 24.

Program information:
Thursday, February 8, 2018 at 8:00pm (7:30pm Concert Preview)
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, 1941 Broadway, New York, NY
American Classical Orchestra

Tickets start at $35. To purchase, please call 212.721.6500 or visit www.lincolncenter.org. Visit www.aconyc.org for more information.

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

American Opera Projects: New Operas for the New Year
With your help, American Opera Projects (AOP) develops up to twenty new operas at a time, taking operas from concept to workshops and into final productions at leading venues and opera companies across 40 cities. In the 2016/17 season alone, AOP had 80 performances for 38,000 people, many of them seeing an opera for the first time. Here's what's coming in the new year:

AOP-developed operas with 5 full productions in 2018:
The Echo Drift by composer Mikael Karlsson and librettists Elle Kunnos de Voss and Kathryn Walat on solitary confinement, at New York City's PROTOTYPE Festival January 10 - 20, 2018.

Six. Twenty. Outrageous. by composer Daniel Davis based on texts by Gertrude Stein at New York City's Symphony Space, February 9-11, 2018 (and ask about our private party February 11).

Ashes & Snow by composer Douglas J. Cuomo at Pittsburgh Opera, February 17 - 25, 2018 and fall 2018 in New York City.

The Summer King on Negro League star, Josh Gibson, by composer Daniel Sonenberg, co-librettist Daniel Nester, and additional lyrics by Mark Campbell. At Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit from May 12 -19, 2018, following a successful world premiere at Pittsburgh Opera in spring 2017.

As One by composer Laura Kaminsky and librettists Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed. As One will be at Hawaii Opera Theatre, January 11-16; Lyric Opera Kansas City, January 27-28; and Anchorage Opera February 9-11; and more venues through 2018, making it one of the most performed contemporary operas in the US.

For details, see aopopera.org/events.

AOP's training for emerging artists is growing:
AOP's Composers & the Voice just started a new two-year season to train young composers and librettists - primarily women - in all aspects of operatic writing. AOP also provides and is expanding training programs for college students.

More pop-up operas, now every month:
AOP partners with several community groups  providing 20 free outdoor performances to the general public across New York's five boroughs.

We appreciate your support in the coming year for American Opera Projects and for contemporary opera.

For more information, visit www.aopopera.org

--Charles Jarden, General Director, AOP

Trio Settecento Makes Nichols Hall Debut Feb. 18
The Music Institute of Chicago presents Trio Settecento—comprising Rachel Barton Pine, John Mark Rozendaal, and David Schrader—Sunday, February 18 at 3 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston, Illinois.

For the program "Five at Twenty," Trio Settecento celebrates 20 years of making music with an evening of sonatas drawn from Arcangelo Corelli's Opus V of 1700, one of the most beloved publications in the history of music. This set of violin solos, comprising six "church sonatas" (containing fugues) and six "chamber sonatas" (mostly dances), offered compelling new conceptions of what both the violin and the sonata could achieve, a feat that has impacted the practice of instrumental music to the present day.

Trio Settecento—Rachel Barton Pine, baroque violin, viola d'amore, as well as a Music Institute alumna and Life Trustee; John Mark Rozendaal, viola da gamba, baroque cello; and David Schrader, harpsichord, positiv organ—formed in 1996 to perform 17th and 18th century chamber music from Italy, Germany, France, and England, using antique instruments of rare beauty and expressive power.

Trio Settecento performs Sunday, February 18 at 3 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston, IL. Tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $10 for students, available at musicinst.org/faculty-guest-artist-series or 847.905.1500 ext. 108.

For more information, visit musicinst.org.

--Jill Chukerman, Music Institute of Chicago

Grammy Nominee Steven Isserlis Plays with PBO
Grammy-nominated cellist Steven Isserlis joins the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra for February Concerts in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Palo Alto, CA.

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale's planets have aligned to bring star violoncellist Steven Isserlis back to perform Haydn's Concerto for Violoncello No. 2 in D major, fresh off his 2018 Grammy-nominated album, in a program featuring Haydn, Mozart and composer-come-astronomer Sir William Herschel called "Harmonic Convergence."

In addition to a 2017 Grammy nomination for his recording of cello concertos by Haydn and CPE Bach with Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Isserlis's recording was named "Limelight" Magazine's Orchestral Recording of the Year for 2017.

In an interview with Australia's "Limelight" Magazine, Isserlis says, "The D Major is much more operatic. When I checked it out I was not surprised that it was from the year he [Haydn] wrote his last opera. It's very much about melodies, but it's also a dramatic thing. It's so like a love song."

Considered one of the most important cellists of his generation, Isserlis brings extraordinary verve and a deep complexity to his playing. This marks Isserlis' fourth appearance with Philharmonia. In addition to the Orchestra's subscription concerts, Isserlis will also appear with Nicholas McGegan, scholar Francesco Spagnolo and the orchestra in "Jewish Songlines" as part of PBO SESSIONS, the organization's alternative concert series. This program will take place at the Contemporary Jewish Museum on February 8 at 8 pm.

PBO SESSIONS tickets are $25 and available only through PBO Patron Services which can be reached at 415-295-1900 or philharmonia.org/pbo-sessions.

When and where:
Wednesday February 7, 7:30 pm
First United Methodist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Friday February 9, 8 pm
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, CA

Saturday February 10, 8 pm
First Congregational Church, Berkeley, CA

Sunday February 11, 4 pm
First Congregational Church, Berkeley, CA

Tickets range from $28 to $125. For more information about these and other Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale concerts, visit philharmonia.org. For tickets, call 415-392-4400 or visit cityboxoffice.com.

--Dianne Provenzano, PBO

Nashville Symphony Bringing Violins of Hope to Nashville in 2018
The Nashville Symphony is leading a landmark community-wide partnership to bring the Violins of Hope to Nashville in one of the most wide-ranging and comprehensive collections of events ever compiled around this rare collection of restored instruments played by Jewish musicians during The Holocaust.

Kicking off February 9-11, 2018, with Nashville Ballet's performances of Light: The Holocaust and Humanity Project, two dozen organizations – including the Nashville Symphony, Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, Nashville Public Library, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music, the Tennessee Holocaust Commission and multiple houses of worship – will take part in this collaborative effort by presenting performances, lectures, exhibits and other events, highlighted by a free public exhibition at the Nashville Public Library running March 26-May 27, 2018. The sound, presence and stories of these instruments will drive the creation of public conversation, interfaith dialogue and educational activities throughout Middle Tennessee.

"Each of these instruments has a remarkable story to tell about resilience of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable difficulty," says Alan D. Valentine, Nashville Symphony President and CEO. "This singular collection will serve as a springboard for many of Nashville's cultural organizations to explore the vital role that music, the arts and creativity play in all of our lives."

More information, including a complete schedule of events and photos and histories of the violins, is available at ViolinsofHopeNashville.org.

--Rebecca Davis Public Relations

Lucas Meachem Announces His 2017-2018 Season
Following his Grammy win for "Best Opera Recording" as Figaro in Los Angeles Opera's production of The Ghosts of Versailles, baritone Lucas Meachem hits the ground running in 2018, performing lead roles at top opera houses around the world.

Meachem opened his 2017-2018 season with a return to the Metropolitan Opera for one of his signature roles as Marcello in Franco Zeffirelli's acclaimed production of La bohème. Meachem's talent for making audiences laugh will be featured in his most iconic role of Figaro in The Barber of Seville, as he brings his bel canto expertise to the Houston Grand Opera for a much anticipated house debut.

Following that, he returns to the Metropolitan Opera for a second run of La bohème, which will be simulcast in movie theaters across the globe for the Metropolitan Opera's Live in HD broadcasts. Meachem then turns his attention to tackling his 50th operatic role as Athanaël in Thaïs with the Minnesota Opera.

From pious monk to the world's most iconic womanizer, Meachem will return to the Dresden Semperoper to reprise the title role in Andreas Kriegenburg's production of Mozart's Don Giovanni. He will then finish out his season with a series of concerts in Prague, Montréal, Napa Valley, Salzburg, and Grafenegg.

For full 2017-2018 season information, visit http://lucasmeachem.com/schedule/

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Aspect Foundation Presents Taneyev & Arensky
The ASPECT Foundation for Music & Arts presents "Taneyev and Arensky: In Tchaikovsky's Shadow" on Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. at Bohemian National Hall, part of the foundation's second New York City season of illuminating performances featuring many of the most prominent performers and musical scholars of today.

"Taneyev and Arensky: In Tchaikovsky's Shadow," conceived by violinist Philippe Quint, shines a spotlight on Sergei Taneyev's Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 30 and Anton Arensky's String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, performed by Quint together with violinist Ji in Yang, pianist Alexander Kobrin, violist Milena Pajaro van de Stadt, and cellists Zlatomir Fung and Brook Speltz.

Journalist Damian Fowler will interview Quint in an illustrated talk interspersed throughout the program, bringing to life the music of these two composers who lived under the shadow of Tchaikovsky's greatness through historical artifacts, scores, paintings, and photographs. Anton Arensky's Quartet was composed in memory of Tchaikovsky for an ensemble of single violin, viola and two cellos, and Tchaikovsky's pupil Sergei Taneyev is often called the "Russian Brahms."

Additional concerts in ASPECT Foundations' 2017-18 season include "The Art of Fugue" on Thursday, April 12, 2018, featuring the Fretwork Ensemble and an illustrated talk by Richard Boothby; "Weimar: The Cradle of Musical Talent" on Thursday, April 19 featuring pianist Vsevolod Dvorkin and cellist Sergey Antonov, with an illustrated talk by Stephen Johnson; and "Fête Galante: The Anatomy of Melancholy" on Thursday, May 17 featuring the Four Nations Ensemble and soprano Sherezade Panthaki, with an illustrated talk by Tav Holmes.

For more information, visit http://www.aspectfoundation.net/

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Debussy: Snowflakes Are Dancing (CD review)

Tomita. RCA 09026-63588-2 (remastered).

The late Japanese composer and performer Isao Tomita (1932-2016), one of the pioneers of the musical synthesizer, made quite a splash in 1974 with his album of electronic music, "Snowflakes Are Dancing." RCA's rear-cover blurb states, "The blockbuster album that started it all...." But I rather suspect RCA forgot about Wendy Carlos, whose "Switched-on Bach" from 1968 predates "Snowflakes" by some years. Nevertheless, "Snowflakes" did strong business and continues to sound good in this remastered "High Performance" CD edition from RCA.

A series of short selections from the pen of French impressionist composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) make up the program. The selections translate well into the world of the Moog synthesizer probably because they were mostly written for solo piano. Besides "Snowflakes," there are such familiar tunes as "Reverie," "Clair de lune," "The Engulfed Cathedral," "The Girl With the Flaxen Hair," "Golliwog's Cakewalk," and others, plus a bonus track of "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" from Tomita's 1975 LP, "Firebird." Although I realize that all of the original piano selections were long ago adapted for full orchestra, Mr. Tomita and his synthesizer may have scored a success here by not trying to reproduce all the colors of the symphonic rainbow.

Isao Tomita
Drawbacks? Purists will say this isn't really Debussy, that Tomita takes too many liberties with the scores, that the original composer would not recognize his own music. Nevertheless, if it sounds good to you, take your chances and forget about the critics. My only quibble is that even with the bonus track, the album provides only a little over fifty minutes of material. So expect a short program.

Anyway, this disc is now a part of RCA's "High Performance" series, which the company remastered in Dolby Surround Sound using Weiss 24/96 technology back in the late 1990's. I'm not sure what criteria RCA used to decide which of their recordings to remaster in this line, though, because some of them have dubious sonic credentials. This recording, for example, sounds fine either with or without the new technology, yet I would hardly call it an album of audiophile material in any case.

A comparison of the new disc with its older incarnation reveals that the newer version is noticeably smoother, as expected, richer, warmer, and quieter, overall. There is also maybe a touch more high-end openness, albeit with a softer high-end, too, and very slightly wider dynamics. However, the new disc sounds less precisely localized, a tiny bit out of phase so to speak. It is not unpleasant, given the artificial nature of the music making to begin with, but I wonder if it has anything to do with the Dolby Surround encoding system that RCA used in the remastering. RCA tell us that the disc is compatible with regular two-channel stereo and monaural, but maybe not perfectly. I dunno.

In any case, "Snowflakes Are Dancing" is one of the few synthesizer albums I have had in my collection since its issue, and this newer edition does it no real harm.

JJP

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


Favorite Recordings of 2017

As you may remember, I don't do "best-of" lists. "Best" suggests that I've sampled everything available, and even though I review a lot of music every year, I have not heard but a fraction of what's out there. So I prefer to do a simple "favorites" list. Here are just a few of the discs (listed alphabetically, to be fair) I heard last year that I enjoyed for their performance and sound. I know we've forgotten some; forgive me.

A Beethoven Odyssey, Volume 5
Piano Sonatas Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 10. James Brawn, piano. MSR Classics
To read the review, click here:
https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2017/12/a-beethoven-odyssey-volume-5-cd-review.html

America Again
Lara Downes, piano. Sono Luminus
To read the review, click here:
https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2017/01/lara-downes-america-again-cd-review.html

Black Manhattan, Volume 3
Rick Benjamin, The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra. New World Records
To read the review, click here:
https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2017/12/black-manhattan-volume-3-cd-review.html

Cimarosa: Overtures, Vol. 4
Michael Halasz, Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice. Naxos
To read the review, click here:
https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2017/07/cimarosa-overtures-vol-4-cd-review.html

Dvorak: Symphony No. 9
Istvan Kertesz, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. HDTT remastered
To read the review, click here:
https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2017/05/dvorak-symphony-no-9-cd-review.html

Krenek: Complete Piano Concertos
Mikhail Korzhev, piano; Kenneth Woods, English Symphony Orchestra. Toccata Classics
To read the review, click here:
https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2017/12/krenek-complete-piano-concertos-volume.html

Music of the Royal Swedish Navy
Andreas Hanson, the Royal Swedish Navy Band. Mike Purton Recording Services
To read the review, click here:
https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2017/02/the-music-of-royal-swedish-navy-cd.html

Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade
Sir Thomas Beecham, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. HDTT remastered
To read the review, click here:
https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2017/03/rimsky-korsakov-scheherazade-cd-review.html

Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie
Also, Horn Concerto No. 1. Alan Civil, horn; Rudolf Kempe, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Testament remastered.
To read the review, click here:
https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2017/02/strauss-eine-alpensinfonie-cd-review.html

The Italian Job
Music of the Italian baroque. Adrian Chandler, La Serenissima. Avie
To read the review, click here:
https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2017/04/the-italian-job-cd-review.html

Toscanini 150th Anniversary
Steven Richman, Harmonie Ensemble/New York. Bridge
To read the review, click here:
https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2017/11/toscanini-150th-anniversary-cd-review.html

Tribute: Dover Quartet Plays Mozart
Quartets K.589, K.590; Quintet K. 406. Dover Quartet. Cedille
To read the review, click here:
https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2017/09/tribute-dover-quartet-plays-mozart-cd_10.html

JJP

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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 John 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.

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.

Contact Information

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

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa