Sea Sketches: Music of Walters, Walton, Williams, and Warlock (CD review)

Roy Goodman, Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. CBC Records SMCD 5227.

This album of English string music seems well titled, as it is the Sea Sketches by Grace Williams that contain among the most memorable tunes on the disc.

Ms. Williams (1906-1977), probably best known as the first female Welsh composer of distinction, created in the Sea Sketches a series of five descriptive movements that may remind some listeners of Claude Debussy's La Mer or Frank Bridge's The Sea, if not in actual substance at least in mood. The Sea Sketches comprise individual tone poems labeled "High Wind," "Sailing Song," "Channel Sirens," "Breakers," and "Calm Sea in Summer," each of them highly evocative. My favorite is "Channel Sirens," in which one can hear the sounds of the sea nymphs singing in the instruments. It's all quite charming under the guidance of Roy Goodman and the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble small enough and light enough to give the music the intimacy and transparency it needs.

Roy Goodman
Not that the other works on the disc are in any way negligible, but like any collection of similar material, in this case short string pieces in the English pastoral mode, things can begin sounding alike after a short while. Anyway, the other compositions include the Divertimento for Strings by Gareth Walters; the Serenade for Strings by Peter Warlock; and Two Pieces for Strings from the film Henry V and the Sonata for Strings, both by Sir William Walton.

It's all quite lovely, personally chosen for inclusion in this collection by their conductor, Roy Goodman, probably better recognized for his period-instruments recording with the Hanover Band but here, as I say, doing a fine job with the Manitoba players.

I wish I could wax as enthusiastically about the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's sound as I can about the performances. Unfortunately, the recording, originally released in 2000, seems to me fairly ordinary by today's best standards. The audio is in no way poor, mind you, but it doesn't exactly jump out at one as sounding particularly live; unless you play it softly and pretend you're sitting in an auditorium at a moderate distance from the players. In any case, the sound displays a good left-to-right stereo spread, a decent illusion of depth, but an overall soft and slightly veiled presence. Perhaps it suits the relaxed nature of the music.

JJP

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


Moszkowski: From Foreign Lands (CD review)

Rediscovered orchestral works. Martin West, San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. Reference Recordings RR-138.

One of the advantages of having listened to and collected classical recordings for well over sixty years is getting to know more about the people who wrote the music. But I have to admit that in all that time I barely remembered the name Moszkowski. Yes, after much thought I recalled one piece, "Spanish Dances," in my collection on a Decca album with Ataulfo Argenta and the LSO. But remembering it required a stretch. So it's good to know that Martin West and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra have done up some of Moszkowski's work in a disc called "From Foreign Lands, Rediscovered Orchestral Works." And it's especially gratifying to hear the material so well produced by Reference Recordings.

For the uninformed (and that would be me), a word from Wikipedia: "Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925) was a German-Jewish composer, pianist, and teacher of Polish descent on his paternal side. The prominent Polish pianist Ignacy Paderewski said of him, 'After Chopin, Moszkowski best understands how to write for the piano, and his writing embraces the whole gamut of piano technique.' Although less known today, Moszkowski was well respected and popular during the late nineteenth century. He was quite prolific, composing over two hundred small-scale piano pieces, which brought him much popularity--notably his set of 'Spanish Dances' for piano duet" (on the present disc arranged for orchestra by Phillip Scharwenka and Valentin Frank).

Maestro West has chosen seven orchestral items (comprising twenty-one tracks and almost seventy-three minutes) for the album under review, music representing not only some of Moszkowski's best work but some of his most diverse. Here's a run-down of the items on the program, some of it recorded for the first time:

Fackeltanz (Torch Dance)*
Aus Aller Herren Lander (From Foreign Lands)
Habanera, Op. 65, No. 3*
Pres du Berceau (By the Cradle)
Six Airs de Ballet, Op. 56 from the incidental music to Grabbe's "Don Juan and Faust"*
Gondoliera*
Spanische Tanze (Spanish Dances)

*World premiere recordings

Martin West
Most of this material is lightweight, to be sure, yet it's also most delightful in the capable hands of West and his players. The opening "Torch Dance" has a rousing spirit. The six movements of "From Foreign Lands" are colorful and characterful, each exemplifying a different country. They reminded me of things by maybe Glazunov, Gounod, or Rimsky-Korsakov. In their time (the late nineteenth century), the "Foreign Lands" suite was apparently quite famous, although today audiences might find the music hopelessly Romantic. Personally, I love Romantic music, hopeless as it (and I) may be. This is a charming and easily pleasing set of tunes.

The "Habanera" was among my favorites on the program. Yes, it may remind some listeners of Bizet's more-famous take on the subject, yet it has a distinct appeal of its own. It's light and airy and memorable. I found "By the Cradle" the most overtly "balletic" of the selections on the agenda, although I didn't find it as noteworthy as the "Habanera." Nor did I think the six episodes of "Don Juan and Faust" as easily pleasurable, while they still held their own personality, particularly the cheerful closing number. "Gondoliera," on the other hand, well captured the ebb and flow of Venice canals, and West and company provide it with a sweet and engaging performance.

Then we come to the only Moszkowski work I sort of recognized, the five aforementioned "Spanish Dances." They, too, are lightweight but totally enchanting and deserve their widespread popularity. West handles each movement carefully, giving all of them a manifestly fresh yet still clearly Spanish flavor of their own.

Producers Marina A. Ledin and Victor Ledin of Encore Consultants and co-founding Reference Recordings engineer "Professor" Keith O. Johnson made the album in 24-bit HDCD at Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA in March 2014.

The two most noticeable characteristics about the sound are its dimensionality and its dynamics. The miking appears to be more moderately distanced than most modern close-up affairs. As a result, we get a realistic sense of the studio ambience, the resonant bloom around the instruments, and the impression of orchestral depth as well as width. Then there's the matter of dynamic range, which is very wide, and dynamic impact, which can be quite striking. Of course, there may be drawbacks to these qualities for some listeners, in particular those listeners not used to a natural sound; I'm afraid some people might find the sonics too soft, too repressed, or too reverberant for their taste. So be it.

In any case, I personally found the sound lifelike, even if it hasn't all of the clarity, the transparency, so prized by some audiophiles. The frequency range is extended in both directions, the balance is as perfect as one could imagine, and the overall aural picture is one of a live orchestra in one's living room.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, September 24, 2016

Jeremy Denk and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Open 92Y Classical Season

On October 15, celebrated pianist Jeremy Denk joins the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, "the leading orchestra of its kind in America" (The New York Times), in its 92Y debut and its first New York performance since Carnegie Hall five years ago, opening 92Y's superb 2016/17 classical concert season.

This trailblazing ensemble performs the New York premiere of O Mikros, O Megas (The Small World, The Huge World) by George Tsontakis, whose ties to the Orchestra have included three other world premieres earning a Grawemeyer Award and Grammy nomination. This piece premieres the previous evening at Dartmouth. Jeremy Denk, 2013 MacArthur Fellow and one of SPCO's Artistic Partners since 2014, is the soloist for the Mozart Piano Concerto in A Major, and the orchestra also performs Schubert's Symphony No. 2 in B-flat major.

Saturday, October 15 at 8:00PM
92Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall
New York City, NY

Bach Odyssey I
Angela Hewitt, piano
Thursday, October 27, 2016 at 7:30 PM
92Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall

Bach Odyssey II
Angela Hewitt, piano
Sunday, October 30, 2016 at 3 PM
92Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall

For complete information, visit http://www.92y.org/Event/Saint-Paul-Chamber-Orchestra.aspx

--Hannah Goldshlack-Wolf, Kirshbaum Associates

Giancarlo Guerrero Commits to Nashville Symphony Through 2025
The Nashville Symphony today announced that music director Giancarlo Guerrero has agreed to a five-year contract extension to continue his leadership of the orchestra through the 2024-25 season. This would make Guerrero – who has served the orchestra in this capacity since 2009 – the second-longest-serving conductor in the orchestra's history. The Symphony also adds its 26th, 27th and 28th recordings on Naxos to its award-winning discography with collections devoted to composers Michael Daugherty (released September 9), Richard Danielpour (due October 14) and Jennifer Higdon (due spring 2017).

The seventh music director in the Nashville Symphony's 70-year history, Guerrero has overseen a period of remarkable success for the organization. Under Guerrero's leadership, the orchestra has garnered five of its eight GRAMMY Awards and presented eight world premieres, while also recording nine critically acclaimed albums, to cement the Nashville Symphony's reputation as one of the most active recording orchestras in the country.

His extended commitment to the orchestra is rare in the classical music industry and will play a key role in helping the Nashville Symphony sustain its mission of artistic excellence, fostering new American repertoire and serving the Middle Tennessee community. Since Guerrero's appointment, the Nashville Symphony has gained significant national and international attention for its prolific recording output and for forward-thinking collaborations with Nashville-based artists including Ben Folds, Béla Fleck and Edgar Meyer.

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

--Rebecca Davis Public Relations

Orion's Original Three Perform Khatchaturian, Granados, Yadzinski, John Williams
The Orion Ensemble salutes its roots with November concerts as three of its founding musicians perform in Geneva, Evanston, and Chicago, Illinois.

Showcasing its three original ensemble members--clarinetist Kathryne Pirtle, violinist Florentina Ramniceanu and pianist Diana Schmück--The Orion Ensemble, winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, presents "Serenade by Three: Orion Beginnings."

The Orion Ensemble's concert program "Serenade by Three: Orion Beginnings" takes place Sunday, November 6 at 7 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Geneva, 2300 South Street in Geneva; Sunday, November 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston; and Wednesday, November 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the PianoForte Studios, 1335 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago. 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, JAC Communications

YPC Performs World Premieres of Six New Works
The award-winning Young People's Chorus of New York City and Artistic Director and Founder Francisco J. Núñez continue their groundbreaking Transient Glory new music series with the world premieres of six choral works for young voices in concerts at National Sawdust on Friday, November 4 at 7:00 p.m. and Merkin Concert Hall on Sunday, November 6 at 7:00 p.m.

Hosted by WNYC's John Schaefer, the performances feature new works by six distinguished composers representing a wide range of perspectives and styles, including Mason Bates, YPC Composer-in-Residence Michael Gordon, Joan La Barbara, YPC alumna Jessie Montgomery, Robert Xavier Rodriguez, and Charles Wuorinen.

Mr. Núñez created Transient Glory as a platform for today's important composers?those who write major orchestral works, operas, and chamber music?to write for children's chorus. Mr. Núñez says, "I wanted to inspire today's Mozarts and Beethovens to write masterworks for the 21st- century children's chorus, with subjects that would appeal to the young minds of today." Now, nearly two decades later with over 100 compositions commissioned and premiered by YPC, Transient Glory has established an awareness among composers of the child's voice as a significant instrument for making music. Transient Glory works have now been performed by youth choirs worldwide and many of the works have become part of the standard repertoire for children's chorus.

Tickets for the Friday, November 4 concert at National Sawdust (80 North Sixth Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn) are $35 and available by calling (646) 779-8455 or at http://nationalsawdust.org/calendar/.

Tickets for the Sunday, November 6 concert at Merkin Concert Hall (129 West 67th St.) are $25 ($15 for students) and available at the box office, by calling (212) 510-3330, or at http://www.kaufmanmusiccenter.org/mch/buytickets/.

For more information, visit ypc.org/

--Lisa Jaehnig, Shuman Associates

Rachel Podger to Leads PBO in Vivaldi & Bach Program
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale welcomes back Rachel Podger who will lead the Orchestra in a program of mostly violin concertos by Vivaldi and Bach in concerts taking place November 2-6 throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Earlier this year, Rachel Podger won the BBC Music Magazine Concerto Award for Vivaldi "L'Estro Armonico" and was just recently awarded the Gramophone Classical Music Awards Baroque instrumental category for her recording of Biber "Rosary Sonatas" on Channel Classics. This is her third appearance with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale.

Dubbed the "queen of Baroque violin" by the Sunday Times, Podger is known for her definitive interpretations of Vivaldi. This program explores the variety of styles and forms encompassed by the word "concerto" from the violin virtuosity of Tartini to the collaboration of flute, oboe, violin and bassoon in the chamber of Vivaldi. The program also includes a piece by Veracini and one of only four orchestral suites written by J.S. Bach.

See Rachel Podger with PBO throughout the bay area November 2-6. The Vivaldi & Bach program takes place Wednesday November 7 at 7:30 pm at First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto, CA; Friday November 4 at 8 pm at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco; Saturday November 5 at 8 pm and Sunday November 6 at 4 pm at First Congregational Church in Berkeley, CA.

Tickets range from $27 to $108. For more information about this and other Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale concerts, visit philharmonia.org. For tickets, call 415-392-4400 or visit cityboxoffice.com.

--Dianne Provenzano, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

The Crypt Sessions Celebrate Halloween with "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Gregg Kallor
On October 26th and 28th, Unison Media's performance series The Crypt Sessions will celebrate Halloween early with the world premiere of pianist/composer Gregg Kallor's dramatic canata based on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," featuring mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Pojanowski, cellist Joshua Roman, and Kallor himself at the piano. Both concerts will be at 8PM, with a wine & cheese reception from 7-8PM.

A collaboration with On Site Opera, "The Tell-tale Heart" will have a semi-staged setup by director Sarah Meyers, who has worked with the Metropolitan Opera as stage director for over a decade. Gregg will also perform his appropriately-named cello sonata "Undercurrent" with Roman. Unison Media's acclaimed Crypt Sessions is a concert series presenting intimate performances in the underground crypt beneath The Church of the Intercession in Harlem, NY.

The concert is a part of Unison Media's Crypt Sessions, a concert series in partnership with The Church of the Intercession and sponsored by Yamaha, which most recently featured twin sister piano duo Christina & Michelle Naughton performing Messiaen's Visions of the Amen.

The Crypt Sessions Presents: Gregg Kallor - "The Tell-Tale Heart," with Elizabeth Pojanowski, mezzo-soprano, and Joshua Roman, cello. A collaboration with On Site Opera directed by Sarah Meyers. The program includes Kallor: "Undercurrent" for cello and piano and "The Tell-Tale Heart" for voice, piano and cello (world premiere).

Tickets are $35 (including a pre-concert wine & cheese reception), with all proceeds going to the church. October 26th & 28th, 2016 | Wine & Cheese 7PM | Show 8PM

Concert Information: http://deathofclassical.com/gregg-kallor/
Tickets: http://cryptsessions.eventbrite.com/
Crypt Sessions Homepage: www.DeathOfClassical.com

--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