Respighi: Feste romane and Pini di Roma (CD review)

Also, Rimsky-Korsakov: Le Coq d'or, suite. Lorin Maazel, the Cleveland Orchestra. Decca Legends 289 466 993-2.

Let's ignore for the time being the Roman Festivals, which are mostly noisy and bombastic, and concentrate on the late Maestro Lorin Maazel's interpretation of the Pines of Rome. It is among the best available.

Recorded in 1976, Maazel's performance is colorful, sometimes splashy, sometimes subtle, always vivid, and picturesque, everything you'd want from these miniature tone paintings. Maazel's rendering of them doesn't, perhaps, convey quite the individual expression of Fritz Reiner's classic set (RCA "Living Stereo" or the JVC XRCD remastering), but they come close. More important, they culminate in one of the best, most exciting versions of "The Pines of the Appian Way" you'll find. We hear the Roman legions first, of course, from a distance, their march coming closer and closer, sounding all the more ominous as they approach. When they reach our vantage point, the effect is staggering, especially if you have a good subwoofer.

Lorin Maazel
Paired with the two Respighi works we find an agreeably colorful reading of Rimsky-Korsakov's suite from Le Coq d'r, (The Golden Cockerel). It may not be the most exciting rendition around, but it does provide an all-around pleasant listening experience. The Cleveland Orchestra play terrifically well for Maazel, with plenty of professional enthusiasm evident.

Decca's 1976 sound for the Cleveland Orchestra didn't always impress me as much as Columbia's (Sony's) did in the old Szell days, but this transitional recording, remastered in Decca's "Legends" series in 2000 radiates much the same energy and presence. There is a decent orchestral perspective, decent front-to-back dimension, some small smothering of the mid frequencies, and tremendous bass.

Yes, tremendous bass, important in numbers like the aforementioned "Appian Way," as well as in the "Catacombs" and the "Epiphany" from Feste romane. Remastered in 96kHz, 24-bit digital sound in Decca's "Legends" series, the audio is perhaps a hair smoother and more transparent than it was in their older Ovation line, to which I compared it. And I much prefer the new coupling to that of the previous coupling, too.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:


Saint-Saens, Ravel, Gershwin: Piano Concertos (CD review)

Andrew von Oeyen, piano; Emmanuel Villaume, PKF-Prague Philharmonia. Warner Classics 01 90295 90848 5.

The first question you might ask about this album is why it contains such seemingly disparate composers as Saint-Saens, Ravel, and Gershwin on the same program. The answer, of course, is that the agenda is not so unusual as you might think. Not only did all three men write piano concertos, but they all in some way or another influenced each another. In particular, Saint-Saens influenced Ravel, and Ravel and Gershwin influenced the other. Besides, the soloist for the album, Andrew von Oeyen, is an American now living in Paris, who says he has fallen in love with French music. Fair enough.

The second question you might ask is, Who is Andrew von Oeyen? He's an American concert pianist, born in 1979, who here makes his piano-and-orchestra debut recording after releasing several solo discs. He began playing the piano at age five and made his first stage appearance at age ten. By age sixteen he was playing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and after further studies at Juilliard and Columbia University and wins in several important piano competitions, his career was well on its way. The present disc marks his first release for Warner Classics, with accompaniment by Emmanuel Villaume and the PKF-Prague Philharmonia.

The opening piece on the program is the Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22, by the French composer Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921). He wrote it in 1868, and it remains among the most-popular of his five piano concertos. Oddly for a modern concerto, Saint-Saens begins his work with a relatively slow movement, followed by a faster second movement that resembles a scherzo, and finishes with a very quick Presto. These mercurial tempo changes prompted the Polish pianist and composer Zygmunt Stojowski to joke that the piece "begins with Bach and ends with Offenbach."

There is no doubting von Oeyen's intensity from the start as he gives every indication that he wants to get our attention. He varies the contrasts about as much as I've ever heard, making the opening movement more balky than ever. Which is neither here nor there; just more emphatic. The second movement is cheerful and bouncy enough, and if anything the orchestra carries it though as much as Mr. von Oeyen. Then in the finale, von Oeyen goes full bore with an all-out assault on the score, sounding exciting enough if a bit too studied for my taste.

Andrew von Oeyen
Next, we hear the Piano Concerto in G Major by French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). He wrote it between 1929 and 1931 after a concert tour of the United States. Its most notable feature is the use of American jazz idioms, which Ravel probably picked up from Gershwin, whose Rhapsody in Blue appeared several years earlier.

I rather enjoyed von Oeyen's Ravel more than his Saint-Saens, which tended toward a want of charm. Maybe it's the combination of American and French expressive styles that suits the pianist. Still, when one has spent years as I have listening to Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (EMI/Warner) play the piece, it's hard to find comfort in anyone else's interpretation. By comparison, von Oeyen never quite displays the imagination or creates the atmosphere that Michelangeli does. Nevertheless, my own quibbles should not distract the listener from enjoying von Oeyen's approach, which is more straightforward yet still jazzy enough to satisfy almost anyone. Additionally, von Oeyen offers us a particularly sensitive slow movement that in itself may be enough to sell the disc.

After that we find the Second Rhapsody by American composer George Gershwin (1898-1937). Here, some folks might quibble about whether the piece is a real piano concerto at all, but I would remind them that by definition a modern concerto is "a composition for orchestra and a solo instrument" (Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music). Gershwin's Second Rhapsody fits the bill. He wrote it for the 1931 Hollywood movie Delicious, on which both he and his brother Ira worked. Initially, Gershwin (and/or the studio) called this particular musical sequence Manhattan Rhapsody, New York Rhapsody, and Rhapsody in Rivets. Shortly afterwards, Gershwin more fully orchestrated it for concert use, titling it the Second Rhapsody. Although other people later reorchestrated the music (most notably Robert McBride some fourteen years after the composer's death), Mr. von Oeyen here plays the original 1931 version.

Following the pattern of getting better as we go along on the disc, Von Oeyen does a splendid job conveying the hustle and bustle of Gershwin's big city. His virtuosity seems always at the service of the music rather than simply drawing attention to itself. What's more, Maestro's Villaume's orchestral accompaniment keeps the rhythms on track and the musical impulses moving forward in suitable agreement. There are no awkward convolutions here, just a polished and stimulating tone picture.

The program concludes with a "bonus track": the Meditation from Jules Massenet's Thais, transcribed for solo piano by Mr. von Oeyen and bringing the total recorded music on the disc to over sixty-six minutes. For me, this was the highlight of the album, a hushed and heartfelt rendition that never lapses into teary-eyed mawkishness.

Producer and editor Christopher Alder and engineer Jakub Hadraba recorded the album at Studio 1, Czech Radio, Prague, Czech Republic in August 2015. The piano sounds solid and well placed from the start, if a mite wide, and the tone rings true. When the orchestra enters in the first movement of the Saint-Saens, it appears dynamic, full, and resonant, if not particularly deep or transparent. While strings sound a touch shrill and fuzzy at times, the overall effect is one of soft warmth rather than forward  brightness (or ultimate clarity).

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:


Classical Music News of the Week, February 18, 2017

On Site Opera 2017 Performances: From a Community Garden to the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs

Known for staging "the ultimate in intimate productions" (The New York Times), On Site Opera (OSO) will present a trio of exciting new site-specific opera productions in 2017, beginning May 11-13 with Mozart's rarely-performed early opera The Secret Gardener (La finta giardiniera) at the West Side Community Garden. The immersive production will see performers on all sides of the audience, accompanied by wind octet and double bass--a traditional ensemble for 18th-century outdoor performances.

In June, OSO partners with the Darius Milhaud Society and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) to celebrate the 125th birthday of Darius Milhaud with the US premiere of Milhaud's La mère coupable (The Guilty Mother) at The Garage, an industrial-styled Hell's Kitchen space owned by fashion designer Kenneth Cole.

This fall, OSO will present the world premiere of Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt in a month-long residency (Sept-Oct) in the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). The family-oriented opera takes audiences on a hunt for missing fossils around the hall, while learning about the interconnectedness of creativity and science.

Mozart's The Secret Gardener
May 11-13, 2017 at Westside Community Garden (May 14, 2017 - rain date)
123 West 89th Street, New York, NY 10025
May 19 & 20, 2017 at The Atlanta Botanical Garden
Tickets: Free with reservation; registration begins March 7, 2017 at osopera.org/secretgardener/

Darius Milhaud's La mère coupable
June 20 & 22-24, 2017 at The Garage
611 West 50th Street (Between 11th & 12th Avenues)
Tickets: $60; on sale April 4, 2017 at osopera.org/guiltymother/

John Musto's Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt
Sept. & Oct. 2017 at AMNH
Central Park West & 79th St, New York, NY 10024
Ticketing information to be announced at a later date.

For more information, visit www.osopera.org

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Cal Performances Announces New Venues for Five Performances
Cal Performances announces new venues for five performances originally scheduled to take place at First Congregational Church throughout the spring; in addition to venue, the date of one performance, Tallis Scholars, has been changed from Friday, April 7 to Thursday, April 6. Berkeley's First Congregational Church sustained damage during a four-alarm fire on Friday, September 30. All updated venue and date information appears in red in the below listings.

The Cal Performances Ticket Office will send ticket holders new tickets for comparable seats in the updated venues; First Congregational Church tickets will no longer be valid for these events. For questions regarding tickets or seating, contact the Ticket Office at (510) 642-9988 or tickets@calperformances.org.

--Jeanette Peach, Cal Performances

Merola Opera Announces Jake Heggie-Gene Scheer Commission
The Merola Opera Program is proud to announce its first-ever commission of a new operatic work, which will be written by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer. The world premiere of If I Were You will be performed by Merola Opera Program artists in San Francisco in 2019, featuring artists selected for the 2019 summer season. Heggie, who is based in San Francisco, has a long and successful history with both San Francisco Opera and the Merola Opera Program, and many of the Merola Program's graduates have starred in his operas on stages around the world.

"Throughout my career as a composer and pianist, I've had the great opportunity to collaborate with an array of dazzling singers. Time and again, I'm delighted to discover how many of them have a connection with the great Merola Opera Program," said Heggie. "What an indelible difference Merola has made as the standard bearer for young artist programs! Just consider its history and the number of careers that have begun with Merola. Over the years, I've had the privilege of composing dozens of roles and songs for Merolini, and the great pleasure of seeing them inhabit and create characters in my operas Dead Man Walking, Moby-Dick, Great Scott, It's A Wonderful Life, Three Decembers, Out of Darkness, and The End of the Affair.

"It has long been a dream of mine to write a full-length stage work especially for the Merola Opera Program to celebrate its legacy and spotlight its important place in the world of opera. I'm absolutely over the moon that the time has come with If I Were You. Gene Scheer and I look forward to creating a challenging and beautiful opera with the fabulous Merola team."

For more information, call (415) 936-2324 or visit www.merola.org.

--Jean Catino Shirk, Shirk Media

92Y Announces 2017/18 Classical Concerts
92nd Street Y (92Y) and Tisch Center for the Arts Director Hanna Arie-Gaifman today announced concert programming for the 2017/18 season, which brings both the world's rising talent and most renowned artists to 92Y's intimate and acoustically rich Kaufmann Concert Hall. 92Y is proud to present unique musical initiatives and collaborations, in which artists can explore repertoire and embrace the creative connections that resonate strongly with them. As a result, audiences can engage more fully with the performers during a concert in a vibrant and intimate setting. The high level of excellence and an atmosphere in which musicians are nurtured are hallmarks of 92Y programming.  In its commitment to reaching and developing new classical music audiences, 92Y has championed educational initiatives that engage a diverse group of New York City public school students, who are given the opportunity to see concerts free of charge and interact with the artists as part of a larger curriculum.

"Soundspace," expands to a five-concert series with a unifying theme exploring Schubert's piano and vocal works.

Pianist Angela Hewitt returns for the second year of her "Bach Odyssey"—a four-year survey of the complete keyboard works by J.S. Bach.

The coming season also features the New York premiere of a 92Y co-commission by Bryce Dessner, and debuts by five distinguished artists who are new to 92Y's stages.

In addition, 92Y continues to present the broad array of subscription series that have become its signature, such as "Distinguished Artists," "Masters of the Keyboard," "Chamber Ensembles" and "Art of the Guitar." These series continually reinforce 92Y's position as a presenter that collaborates closely with its performing artists to bring audiences engaging and passionately performed programs featuring a rich variety of repertoire from the past and the present.

For more information, visit www.92Y.org

--Hannah Goldshlack-Wolf, Kirshbaum Associates

California Symphony Performs All-French Program March 19
Music Director Donato Cabrera leads the California Symphony in a program of French and French-inspired music on Sunday, March 19 at 4 pm at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, CA.

Violinist and California Symphony's Acting Concertmaster Jennifer Cho, a graduate of The Juilliard School and a member of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, makes her debut as a soloist with the Orchestra in Ravel's Tzigane. The Orchestra also performs Young American Composer-in-Residence alumnus Pierre Jalbert's Les espaces infinis, written in 2001 while in residence with the California Symphony, and music from Delibes, Saint-Saëns and Bizet. Just prior to the concert, the California Symphony is offering a special French wine tasting experience with artisan cheese in the Lesher Center lobby (separate tickets required).

For more information, please visit www.californiasymphony.org

--Jean Catino Shirk, Shirk Media

Five Boroughs Music Festival Presents East of the River on 3/16
Five Boroughs Music Festival (5BMF) presents the adventurous world-music ensemble East of the River in their new program, SULTANA: Music of the Sephardic Diaspora, on Thursday, March 16 at 7:30 p.m. at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY.

The program celebrates the ancient musical world of the Sephardic Jewish diaspora in North Africa and throughout the Ottoman Empire, taking the audience on a journey through bazaars, kitchens, dance circles, prayer houses, and public spaces. Founded by woodwind virtuosos Daphna Mor and Nina Stern, East of the River explores haunting and captivating melodies from the traditional repertoires of the Balkans, Armenia, and the Middle East, as well as from the Medieval European classical repertory. SULTANA is inspired by the experiences of Mor's own Sephardic great-grandmother, Sultana Magrisso, who emigrated with her family from Bulgaria to British Palestine in 1944, traveling through Greece, Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon.

Five Boroughs Music Festival's 2016-17 season concludes with a performance entitled OFF THE BEATEN TRACK: Chamber Works from Moravia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Poland and beyond by early music group Quicksilver on Friday, May 12 at 7:00 p.m. at King Manor Museum in Jamaica, Queens, and on Saturday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

Tickets for the East of the River concert--priced at $25 for general admission, $15 for Congregation Beth Elohim members, seniors and students--are available by visiting www.5bmf.org. Tickets for all other 5BMF concerts are also available by visiting www.5bmf.org.

--Katlyn Morahan, Morahan Arts and Media

Rufus Wainwright Performs March 30 at Berkeley Symphony's annual Benefit Gala
Rufus Wainwright will give an intimate solo performance at Berkeley Symphony's 13th annual Benefit Gala on Thursday, March 30 at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond.

Berkeley Symphony's largest annual fundraiser, co-chaired by D.J. and Audrey Grubb, also features a cocktail reception, dinner and desserts, live and silent auctions, and music by the Carla Kaufman Trio.

Tickets for the entire event, which begins at 6:30 pm, including the reception, dinner, silent and live auctions, and the performances by Rufus Wainwright and the Carla Kaufman Trio, begin at $375. Dinner will be served at 8 pm, followed by the Rufus Wainwright solo performance. Tickets are available by phone at (510) 841-2800, ext. 1 or at www.berkeleysymphony.org/gala.

--Jean Catino Shirk, Shirk Media

New Century Present Chanticleer, March 16-19
New Century Chamber Orchestra continues its 25th Anniversary Season celebrations with the return of Chanticleer, "the world's reigning men's chorus" (The New Yorker).

Following a highly successful, first-time collaboration in 2014, New Century and Chanticleer will present "Americans in Paris" in four San Francisco Bay Area locations March 16-19 with a program of works that includes a suite from Gershwin's An American in Paris, selections from Stravinsky's Apollon Musagète and a variety of works by French composers including Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Fauré and Satie.

Thursday, March 16, 2017, 8:00 p.m., First Presbyterian Church, Berkeley, CA
Friday, March 17, 2017, 8:00 p.m., Oshman Family Jewish Community Center, Palo Alto, CA
Saturday, March 18, 2017, 8:00 p.m., Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, CA
Sunday, March 19, 2017, 5 p.m., Osher Marin Jewish Community Center, Marin, CA

Single tickets range in price from $29 to $61 and can be purchased through City Box Office: www.cityboxoffice.com and (415) 392-4400. Discounted $15 single tickets are available for patrons under 35.

Open Rehearsal tickets are $15 general admission and can be purchased through City Box Office: www.cityboxoffice.com and (415) 392-4400.

For further information on New Century, please visit www.ncco.org

--Brenden Guy

PBO: Subscribe by March 1st and Get 2 Free Concerts
The country's best period instrument musicians and vocalists and one of the world's most visionary conductors are back for another Passionate, Brilliant, Original season with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.

And there's no better time to subscribe to Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale's 2017/18 season than now. Sign up for the full 2017/18 season before March 1st and you can
enjoy the last two concerts of the 2016/17 season for free.

For more information on scheduling and tickets, visit https://philharmonia.org/subscribe/

--Dianne Provenzano, PBO

American Opera Projects: As One, Free Libretto Reading, Vera & Legendary
As One at Pittsburgh Opera
February 18, 21, 24 & 26, 2017
Pittsburgh Opera
2425 Liberty Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

AOP First Chance: We've Got Our Eye on You
Sunday, February 29 | 4:00 PM
South Oxford Space - Studio G
138 South Oxford Place, Brooklyn, NY 11217

AOP First Chance: Vera
Sunday, March 12 | 2:30 PM
Thursday, March 16 | 7:30 PM
Manhattan School of Music - Greenfield Hall
120 Claremont Avenue (between 122nd and La Salle St.)
New York, NY 10027

AOP First Chance: Vera and Legenary
Sunday, March 19 | 8:00 PM
South Oxford Space
138 South Oxford Place, Brooklyn, NY 11217

For complete information, visit http://www.aopopera.org/events.html

--Matt Gray, American Opera Projects

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