Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty (CD review)

Mikhail Pletnev, Russian National Orchestra. DG 289 457-2 (2-disc set).

Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty ballet has always lurked in the shadow of his other two great ballets, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. I daresay, with the exception of the big first-act waltz, most people would be hard pressed to identify much of it without prompting. But in the past couple of decades, the work has received several good recordings (including a budget-priced one from Naxos) to accompany such old favorites as those from Previn (EMI), Dorati (Philips), and Rozhdestvensky (BBC). Since Mikhail Pletnev and his Russian National Orchestra provided us with such a splendid Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony a few years before this 2000 release, I had high expectations for his Sleeping Beauty. I wasn't terribly disappointed.

The performance sounds as polished as one could hope for: refined, subtle, and especially expansive in the slower movements. It is a serious interpretation, generally taking the slow parts cautiously and slow paced and the faster sections a tad faster than most other conductors. Compared to my reference, Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra, Pletnev seems almost grave at times, yet he also takes some tempos at a clip that would challenge the most nimble of dancers. Previn, on the other hand, has the lighter, more lyrical, more dance-like touch.

Mikhail Pletnev
There is no denying that Pletnev's baronial approach is enjoyable, but it may be a little too urbane for music of such obvious sensual and emotional appeal. No reservations about the playing, however. The Russian National Orchestra perform the work with elegance and refinement in abundance.

DG's digital sound, recorded in 1997, is somewhat heavier and smoother than EMI's 1974 analogue sound for Previn, and the DG sonics are not quite as detailed through the midrange. Nor is there as much depth to DG's orchestral field or as much ambiance as from the older EMI. Indeed, the DG sounds a little flat and dry by comparison. However, I did like DG's slightly more resonant string tone than EMI's. The sound of neither recording is exactly state-of-the-art, but neither recording offers any real displeasure.

Of minor note: The Pletnev recording offers a total of sixty-three tracking points, the Previn seventy-seven. Both are plenty. Overall, I'd say the Previn rendering is a more balletic approach; the Pletnev is more of a concert performance. Although they're both satisfying, if I had to pick just one, it would still be the Previn.

JJP

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


R. Strauss: Elektra & Der Rosenkavalier Suites (SACD review)

Manfred Honeck, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Reference Recordings Fresh! FR-722SACD.

Over the past few years I've had the pleasure of listening to several recordings by Maestro Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony. While the performances have had strong competition in the catalogue, Honeck's interpretations have held their own; and while I have not always enjoyed the live sound from Pittsburgh as much as others have, it has always sounded better to me than most live recordings. With this Richard Strauss album, however, the performances seem stronger and the sound a bit more rounded and lifelike, making it clearly the best thing I've yet to hear from Honeck and company. It's worth a listen.

First up on the program is a symphonic suite from the opera Elektra by German composer Richard Strauss (1864-1949). Strauss collaborated with Austrian librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal to adapt the work from a 1902 drama and to premiere it in 1909. Here, we get the world premiere of a suite from the work, the suite conceptualized by Mr. Honeck and realized by Tomas Ille.

The opera came at a time when the classical world was just beginning to embrace the atonality and dissonance so favored by modernist composers. As such, although Elektra may have found its roots in ancient Greek mythology, the music is decidedly modern and expressionist. In fact, the suite makes a striking contrast with the piece that follows it on the disc, a suite from Der Rosenkavalier, which more closely adheres to the Romantic traditions of the previous century.

Manfred Honeck
So, how does Honeck handle the score for Elektra, which he had a hand in writing? I have to admit here that Elektra is not among my favorite operas, and I had never heard just the orchestral music before. The suite under Maestro Honeck gives me a new appreciation for the piece. Although as a whole the piece sounds a tad disjointed, usual for a suite I suppose, there is a wonderful sense of ebb-and-flow to the score; and although Strauss was certainly experimenting with modern musical idioms, at least under Honeck it appears to take root in elements of the previous century as well. So the work swells with tensions without overflowing in discordances. In fact, Honeck is able to hold it all together for a little over half an hour in an amiable fashion. Conflicts and resolutions come and go, yet the score seems fairly cohesive, the conductor able to patch over any potential disconnects with admirable alacrity.

The second item on the program is a suite (arranged by conductor Artur Rodzinski in 1945) from Strauss's romantic opera Der Rosenkavalier, a piece that premiered in 1911. With its wealth of lush melodies and lavish waltzes, the music couldn't be more different from that of Elektra. Here, Honeck is as exuberant with the score as he was eloquent in Elektra. The music is justifiably popular, and Honeck presents it well; i.e., with unashamed enthusiasm for its late-flowering Romanticism. Moreover, the orchestra responds splendidly to both suites: disciplined, refined, keen, and glowing.

Producer Dirk Sobotka and engineer Mark Donahue of Soundmirror, Boston recorded the music live at the Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Pittsburgh, PA in May 2016. They made it for hybrid SACD playback, so one can listen to multichannel or two-channel stereo on an SACD player or two-channel stereo on a regular CD player. I listened in two-channel SACD.

There is an enormous dynamic range involved, which we might expect from this source and from the very slightly close-up live recording involved. Overall room ambience seems just a tad diminished, too, but the proximity of the microphones to the instruments definitely helps with clarity. Most important, things are not overly close, the sound is not at all bright or edgy, and there is a cozy warmth that accompanies it. One hardly notices the audience, and the engineers have thankfully removed any applause. The sonics are still not quite as realistic to my ears as most of Reference Recordings' studio projects, but they will undoubtedly satisfy and thrill most listeners.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, September 16, 2017

Festival Mozaic's WinterMezzo Chamber Music Series

Festival Mozaic continues to bring exceptional classical music performances to the San Luis Obispo area year-round with the WinterMezzo Chamber Music Series. Enjoy chamber music performed by world-class Festival Mozaic musicians in the fall and winter. These full-weekend chamber music experiences allow you to fully immerse yourself in the wonders of classical music in beautiful San Luis Obispo, California.

Join us for the 2017-2018 WinterMezzo Series, two weekends of music that will suprise, delight, and inform you.

WinterMezzo I: October 20 - 22, 2017:
"Mozart, Chopin & Prokofiev"
The weekend explores three centuries of chamber music's artistic progress. Mozart's sonatas were performed in royal court chambers throughout Europe. Chopin's challenging Ballades beguiled attendees in 19th century Parisian salons. And Prokofiev's passionate Violin Sonata No. 1, written during World War II, was so beloved by the composer that it was performed at his funeral.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 23 in D major, K. 306 performed by Scott Yoo, violin, and Anna Polonsky, piano

Frédéric Chopin: Ballade No. 1 in G minor, op. 23 and Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major, op. 47 performed by Anna Polonsky, piano

Sergei Prokofiev: Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in F Minor, op. 80 performed by Scott Yoo, violin, and Anna Polonsky, piano

WinterMezzo II: February 23 - 25, 2018:
"Musique Française"
French composers in the 20th century reinvented melody through impressionism and neo-classicism. The melodic works of Gabriel Fauré, Jean Cras and Albert Roussel were written when jazz sounds from the United States had crossed the pond. Rounding out this imaginative and evocative program is a jazz riff on the baroque style by living composer Noam Elkies.

Noam Elkies: E Sonata for flute and keyboard in E minor, op. 40
Albert Roussel: Serenade, op. 30
Jean Émile Paul Cras: Suite en Duo
Gabriel Fauré: Piano Quartet No. 2 in G minor, op. 45

Musicians: Alice K. Dade, flute, John Novacek, piano, Jessica Chang, viola, Meredith Clark, harp, Scott Yoo, violin and Jonah Kim, cello.

For complete information, visit http://www.festivalmozaic.com

--Bettina Swigger, Festival Mozaic

LA Master Chorale: "Día de los Muertos" Concert October 29
September 11, 2017 – Choral music that explores the dual themes of "death" and "celebration" comprise a spirited program for the Los Angeles Master Chorale's first-ever "Día de los Muertos" concert on Sunday, October 29 at 7 PM in Walt Disney Concert Hall. Tickets start at $29 and are available online from lamasterchorale.org, by calling the Box Office at 213-972-7282, or in person from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion box office, Monday – Friday, 10 AM to 6 PM.

The concert adds a new musical celebration to Los Angeles' calendar of events centered around the Mexican Day of the Dead festivities that will take place October 31 through November 2.

Tickets are available now, starting from $29 by phone at 213-972-7282 or online at lamasterchorale.org.

Tickets may also be purchased in-person at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Box Office Monday – Saturday, 10 AM – 6 PM.

--Jennifer Scott, LA Master Chorale

Violinist Jude Ziliak Named ABS 2018 Jeffrey Thomas Award Recipient
The American Bach Soloists are pleased to announce the 2018 Jeffrey Thomas Award Recipient, Jude Ziliak, violinist.

The Jeffrey Thomas Award is granted annually at the Artistic Director's discretion to honor, recognize, and encourage exceptionally gifted emerging professionals in the field of early music who show extraordinary promise and accomplishment. Inaugurated in 2013, the Jeffrey Thomas Award was created by the American Bach Soloists in celebration of their first 25 years of presenting performances in Northern California, across the United States, and around the world, and ABS Artistic & Music Director Jeffrey Thomas's tenure of inspired leadership.

Jude Ziliak--the recipient of the 2018 award—is a violinist who specializes in historical performance practices. His dedication to the Baroque violin family extends from performing on the lira da braccio to premiering new pieces for period instruments.

For more information, visit americanbach.org

--American Bach Soloists

McGegan Brings Mozart Back to the Bowl
On air: October 1 at 7pm on KUSC SoCal.
The program was originally performed Thursday, September 14 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic,
Kristóf Baráti, violin.

Overture to Idomeneo
Violin Concerto No. 5
Symphony No. 41, "Jupiter"

--Schwalbe and Partners

YPC's Fall Season Kicks Off with Two Premieres
Having just completed a momentous summer, the Young People's Chorus of New York City is already preparing for an exciting fall lineup that includes debuts in Lincoln Center's White Light Festival and the Metropolitan Museum's MetLiveArts.

YPC and Meredith Monk in U.S. Premiere of "Dancing Voices" at Lincoln Center's White Light Festival, October 20-21.

YPC--in collaboration with iconoclastic composer/performer Meredith Monk and members of her Vocal Ensemble--join forces for three performances of the U.S. premiere of Dancing Voices, an exciting multi-dimensional and intergenerational evening of music, theater, and movement.

Join us for this unmatched performance of vocal theater and body singing, to experience performance art with a fresh perspective—to hear with eyes wide open and see with adventuresome ears. For the first time ever, the YPC commission "Three Heavens and Hells," will be performed in its entirety.

Three performances at Lincoln Center's Gerald W. Lynch Theater October 20 and 21.

YPC in NYC Premiere of Ben Moore's Odyssey: A Youth Opera in the Met Museum's MetLiveArts series, November 3-4.

Members of the Young People's Chorus of New York City are featured in leading roles and the chorus in three performances of the New York premiere of Ben Moore's Glimmerglass Opera production of Odyssey, a hero's journey for all ages. Kelley Rourke's libretto brings to life an action-packed retelling of the epic journey of Odysseus as he faces down bloodthirsty monsters and other unimaginable obstacles as he sails home from war.

Three performances in Met Museum's Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. Bring the children to this extraordinary experience. With just one full-price ticket, three children ages 7 to 16 will each be admitted for $1.

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

--Young People's Chorus of New York City

Orpheus Opens Season with Andre Watts Tour and Vijay Iyer Premieres
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra opens its 2017-2018 season on Thursday, October 26, 2017 at 8:00 p.m, presenting a performance in Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall. The orchestra is joined by virtuoso pianist André Watts for Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9, K. 271 "Jeunehomme." The program also includes Beethoven's Symphony No. 1, and the New York premiere of Vijay Iyer's Asunder.

Iyer explains that "Asunder seeks to elicit unlikely or even impossible unities in the traditional orchestra formation. This objective is approached by reassembling instruments into unusual groupings while specifying a literal 'balance of power' among groups, and ceding a certain amount of control of the flow of events to the players."

This program is also presented on Thursday, October 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln, Nebraska; Saturday, October 14 at 8:00 p.m. at the Norton Center for the Arts' Newlin Hall in Danville, Kentucky; Sunday, October 15 at 4:00 p.m. at the Loeb Playhouse in West Lafayette, Indiana presented by Purdue Convocations; Sunday, October 22 at 3:00 p.m. at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center; and Friday, October 27 at 8:00 p.m. at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, PA, with Janice Carissa as piano soloist.

Subscriptions for Carnegie Hall concerts can be purchased by visiting orpheusnyc.org or calling 212-896-1704. Single tickets for the October 26 performance, priced from $12.50 to $115, are available for purchase at the Carnegie Hall box office at 57th and 7th, can be charged to major credit cards by calling CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800, or by visiting the Carnegie Hall Web site at carnegiehall.org.

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

ASPECT Foundation for Music & Arts Announces 2017/2018
After its highly successful inaugural season in North America, the acclaimed ASPECT Foundation for Music and Arts is expanding its programming to seven fascinating concerts this season.

Featuring a prestigious roster of rising and established solo artists and chamber ensembles, and notable scholars of music and history leading "Illustrated Talks" to enrich the concert-going experience, the 2017/2018 season presents concerts stemming from a variety of themed series and standalone performances of important chamber music works. These series, many of which make their debut to the Foundation's New York audience, include "Composers on Composers," "Words of Music," "Hidden Gems," and "Painting Music." ASPECT Foundation, praised by Epoch Times as "a very welcome addition to the chamber music landscape of New York," enthusiastically returns to its locale at Columbia University's elegant Italian Academy, continuing its tradition of collective artistic enlightenment in an intimate space.

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

--Hannah Goldshlack-Wolf, Kirshbaum Associates

Lawrence Brownlee Announces His 2017-18 Season
Lawrence Brownlee is proud to announce his 2017-18 season, continuing his presence in the major opera houses of the U.S. and Europe, and featuring the premiere of a new song cycle, entitled "Cycles of my Being," centered around the black male experience in America today. The piece has been commissioned by Opera Philadelphia, and Brownlee will tour it to major venues around the U.S., including the world premiere in Philadelphia on February 21, followed by performances in San Francisco, Utah, Portland, Boston, Princeton, Illinois, New York' Carnegie Hall (April 24), Virginia and Michigan.

2017-18 continues the extraordinary momentum of last season, in which Brownlee received the "Male Singer of the Year" award from both the International Opera Awards and Bachtrack, joined Opera Philadelphia as their Artistic Advisor, and released a recital album, "Allegro Io Son," which received a Critic's Choice from Opera News, among numerous other accolades.

For more information, visit http://www.lawrencebrownlee.com/

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

ROCO Honors Houston's Response to Harvey
Helping Houston heal from Harvey, ROCO (River Oaks Chamber Orchestra) will premiere two new fanfares commissioned in response to the city's resilience.

For the first fanfare, ROCO commissioned Emmy Award-winning composer Anthony DiLorenzo to write a fanfare to honor the strength, caring, and courage our community showed the world during rescue and now in recovery. In keeping with ROCO's passion for collaboration, more than 20 other performing arts groups will also perform this piece throughout the 2017-18 season as a thread of music tying our city together. DiLorenzo's piece is entitled Anthem of Hope: Houston Strong, and will receive its world premiere performance at ROCO's season opening concerts September 22nd at Miller Outdoor Theatre and September 23rd at The Church of St. John the Divine.

The second new fanfare for chorus, composed by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts, is entitled The Big Heart, and explores Houston's response to Harvey in the context of the city's selfless sheltering of the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The piece features a lyric by renowned librettist Mark Campbell, and will be premiered during ROCO's second In Concert performance on November 11.

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

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

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