evans mirageas
Evans Mirageas

Evans Mirageas casts the best of the best. He must have a sizeable Rolodex, lots of sky miles, and many professional contacts all over the world. Witness what happens in the upcoming Cincinnati Opera production of Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos with dramatic tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven in the killer role of Bacchus, mezzo-soprano Olivia Vote, singing the pants off the pants role of the Composer, coloratura soprano Liv Redpath dispensing high E’s and F’s by the dozen, and the Mexican baritone Luis Alejandro Orozco summersaulting his way as Harlequin. These are all four red-hot talents, they  are young, good looking, and they are making their mark as singers-to- watch.

Getting ready for the opening of the Cincinnati Opera’s 99th season, which kicks off next week with Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, I am looking at the names of the singers starring in Mozart’s masterpiece and of those featured in the upcoming Romeo et Juliette, and in The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess just around the corner… Again I am again reminded of what an uncanny knack Evans Mirageas has for discovering new talent, and for tapping into wonderful veteran artists.

The Cincinnati Opera’s Artistic Director has pleased quite a few other opera fans of my acquaintance again and again by bringing back to Cincinnati seasoned artists the likes of fast rising bass Morris Robinson and the silvery voiced soprano Nicole Cabell, nurturing them into Cincinnati favorites. That process takes time – just ask Robinson, who began singing here a few years ago as the Watchman keeping time for Wagner’s sleeping Meistersingers. This year the booming basso stars in the title male role in Porgy and Bess.

In the recent past we have celebrated rising young talents like the wonderful lyric baritone Joseph Lattanzi, one of the leads in last year’s Fellow Travelers and now starring as Count Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro. In 2015, Andrea Mastroni, a young Italian bass impressed everyone within earshot in his both Cincinnati and American debut in the key role of Timur in Puccini’s Turandot. Within a year Mastroni was checking off in his calendar debuts at the MET and all over the map of Europe…

Cincinnati beats everyone to the punch time and again, as when it gave soprano Aileen Perez the starring role of Violetta in La Traviata before her warp-speed rise to international stardom at the MET and in Europe.

Evans Mirageas is also loyal to veteran artists who reside in Cincinnati. Witness his casting of the versatile bass-baritone Kenneth Shaw, a professor of voice at CCM, a busy singer, and a creative stage director, in the important part of Friar Laurence in Romeo et Juliette. Also note if you will the appearance of the multi-faceted bass-baritone Tom Hammons in the speaking role of the Majordomo in Ariadne auf Naxos. That’s a casting coup!

This mix of generations enriches the artistic product that is a hallmark of the Cincinnati Opera, something that Evans Mirageas does season after season by casting his artistic nets far and wide for his and our beloved Cincinnati Opera.

Rafael de Acha              http://www.RafaelMusicNotes,com



GINASTERA – LAWO (www.lawo.no) (LWC 1182)

Sidsel Walstad, harp         Norwegian Radio Orchestra  Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) Harp Concerto. Op. 25       Variaciones Concertantes, Op. 23

The music of the Argentine master Alberto Ginastera never ceases to surprise. It did me when I first sat down to listen to the superb LAWO recording of the Harp Concerto and the Variaciones Concertantes vividly brought to life by the Peruvian maestro Miguel Harth-Bedoya.

In this new release Harth-Bedoya leads the Norwegian Radio Orchestra with the harpist Sidsel Walstad as soloist in Ginastera’s Harp Concerto.

Having first become acquainted with Ginastera’s music in the seventies when both his operas Don Rodrigo and Beatrix Cenci received their American premieres at the New York City Opera, I was expecting more of the dodecaphonic Ginastera I first learned to like and later understand a little but with some difficulty.

There was something impenetrable to the music of the Argentine maverick. And yet it fascinated many of us.

Now fifty years later, we encounter two mid-career works, with opus numbers near each other and both with music that, especially in the harp concerto, premiered after a long gestation period in 1965 and later revised by the late harpist Nicanor Zaableta is evocative of Gaucho folklore, infused as it is in its first movement with the dance rhythms of the denizens of the Pampas.

Through and through sui generis, Ginastera’s harp concerto mixes the use of exotic scales reminiscent of Debussy and Ravel with the exhilaratingly driving rhythms of the Argentine malambo.

The work asks much of the soloist: rhythmic tapping on the instrument, intricate pizzicato patterns in the upper range of the instrument, insanely difficult pedaling, the use of both nails and fingertips on the strings of the instrument, glissandi played against alternate figurations on the opposite hand. All this occurs against a background that alternates restlessly active moments with the utter quiet of the second movement.

Norwegian harpist Sidsel Walstad is technically and musically a force of nature, holding her own against the massive orchestration of the harp concerto, and protean in her ability to spin a long legato line with an instrument notoriously hard to master. But master she does delivering a memorable performance that will surely become a standard against which to judge future attempts at this musical minefield.

The fifteen variations that make up the Variaciones Concertantes are a superbly effective tour de force for the cello, the string section, the flute, the clarinet, the viola, the oboe and bassoon together, the trumpet and trombone as a pair, the violin, the French horn, the woodwind section, the bass, and, as a finale the amassed rank and file tutti.

Throughout Walstad provides accompaniment and mano a mano partnering, with Harth-Bedoya keeping the extraordinarily gifted members of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra coherently musical as both soloists and ensemble players throughout an intricately scored work. Throughout we hear a unifying theme and infinite variations in a variety of tempi that range from moments of stasis that Ginastera turns into virtue to a full-steam ahead rondo finale.

Aside from praising the mere value of representing the genius of Alberto Ginastera in this perfectly engineered compact disc, perfectly played, perfectly produced, perfectly packaged (and annotated by Jan Hedrick Hayerdahl) we salute the LAWO label for its enterprise and hope that the future will bring more interesting releases.

***** Extraordinary

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com


thJ1BZR73U If back in the days of LP’s someone dropped the needle of a phonograph on a disc and asked the listener to name the very famous Korngold tune being played, most opera lovers would have quickly responded with “Marietta’s Song” from Erich Korngold’s 1920 opera The Dead City.

But that was then, and now few classical music fans will be able to quickly identify, let alone embrace the music of the Austrian-born, adoptive American composer. Too bad, for Korngold’s prolific output of orchestral music and operas far and beyond his many film scores qualifies him in our view as one of the 20th century’s most interesting composers.

But not all in life is fair and in the business of music – high or middle brow – much less so, subject as composers and performers are to the slings and arrows of opinionated critics. Leonard Bernstein was known to have said: “I’ve been all over the world and I’ve never seen a statue of a critic.” And Erich Korngold, hugely successful as a creator of film scores was never celebrated by the statue-less snobbish music critics of Europe and later by those of his adopted America as the truly gifted composer he was, black-marked first by the Nazis as a Jew who composed entartete Kunst and later dismissed by critics as a tunesmith who wrote trash for Hollywood flicks.

Hats off then to the fast-rising British conductor John Wilson, to the superb Sinfonia of London, and to the CHANDOS label for bringing out KORNGOLD (CHSA 5220), a 2019 super audio CD nicely produced by Brian Pidgeon, and impeccably engineered by Ralph Couzens. The insightful liner notes by Brendan G. Carroll provide both valuable biographical information on Korngold and in-depth musicological analysis of the three pieces included in the recording.

The Symphony in F sharp, op. 40 is a huge, massively orchestrated work, 45 minutes in length. The indication of its tonality as F sharp but its home key remains very fluid and polytonal, as the music travels both in tonality and in its peculiarly changing tempo markings in each of its four movements.

Korngold emphatically denied that his source of inspiration was “…the terror and horrors of the years 1933-1945…” calling this work pure music. Yet the somber, elegiac mood of the Adagio and the jagged harmonic and rhythmic contours of the first two movements bespeak emotional upheavals that are not allayed until the redemptive finale of this masterful work, here given a gripping, emotion-laden performance by John Wilson and his orchestra: https://youtu.be/8juOCrBQnaY

The album also features a Theme and Variations and a Straussiana for Orchestra, both 1953 late works, both lushly Romantic, both delightful, both flawlessly played by the protean Sinfonia of London with Wilson at its helm.

The album, pun intended is pure Korngold gold and fully deserves: ***** as an outstanding contribution to the libraries of serious collectors.

Rafael de Acha            http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com



PROKOFIEV – Alexander Nevsky, Cantata for orchestra, chorus and mezzo-soprano Lieutenant Kijé Suite

Utah Symphony, Thierry Fischer, music director Alisa Kolosova, mezzo-soprano


Reference Recordings’ continues to live up to its ambitious mission through its Fresh! program, which includes promoting the work of American orchestras from cities all over the map, in this case the superb Utah Symphony.

Augmenting its chorus by the addition of two fine choral ensembles from the University of Utah, the orchestra, led by Thierry Fischer delivers a powerful performance of two Prokofiev compositions originally created for the screen.

The score of Alexander Nevsky, created for the classic 1938 Einsenstein film and later reshaped by Prokofiev into a dramatic cantata, here gets an enthralling performance by Maestro Thierry and his forces, with the exceptional mezzo-soprano Alisa Kolosova contributing her glistening sound and idiomatic handling of the Russian text.

The Suite from the music for the film Lieutenant Kijé provides a total contrast to the heroic sound of the Alexander Nevsky score, and Soundmirror‘s excellent engineering enhances the hybrid super audio sound of the neatly packaged album.

A caveat for the future: please add to the excellent liner notes by Paul Griffiths an English translation of the text of any composition with lyrics in a foreign language.

**** Outstanding



BEETHOVEN – Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major  Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major Rondo WoO6 –

Boris Giltburg, Piano Royal Liverpool Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko NAXOS 8.574151                Recorded in Germany, 2019
https://youtu.be/_7f0DxvCssw Buy / Stream: https://naxos.lnk.to/8574151ID

Beethoven’s first two piano concertos are both given blazing performances by Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg, with playing consistently distinguished by clarity, energy and elegance. Also included and ravishingly played by Giltburg and the ensembleis the Rondo, WoO 6, once meant by Beethoven to be the finale of his Concerto No. 2.

The finely tuned Royal Liverpool musicians and their conductor, Vasily Petrenko play like-mindedly and provide superb support to the soloist. The engineering, as is always the case with any and all Naxos releases is a first class.

**** Outstanding

Orphée et Eurydice to hell and back

InReviewComiqueOrpheehdl118Gluck’s 1762 opera Orphée et Eurydice was rearranged in 1859 by Hector Berlioz for the mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot. It is in that version that, the Opéra Comique opened its 2019 season with a new production directed by Aurélien Bory, with Raphaël Pichon conducting his Ensemble Pygmalion.

The splendid results can be enjoyed in the recently released and now available NAXOS DVD.

The production is elegantly realized, imaginatively designed, well acted, perfectly conducted, and exquisitely sung by a three-person cast led by the formidably gifted French mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa. The 32 year old singing actress dazzles in her air de bravura Amour, viens rendre à mon âme, and later melts the heart with her Quel nouveau ciel and her lament J’ai perdu mon Eurydice.

Dressed in a men’s suit as Orpheus the young mezzo is alone during the first half hour of the opera until her entrance into Hades, when she is repulsed by the members of the chorus of Ensemble Pygmalion portraying the spirits of the damned whose anger will soon be allayed by the sound of her voice.

Soprano Hélène Guilmette is an enchanting Eurydice for whom anyone would gladly go to hell and back, and mezzo-soprano Lea Desandre is a charmer as Amour, the chorus is superb. But in this version of Gluck’s Era of Enlightenment masterpiece the heavy lifting belongs to the young Marianne Crebassa, a mezzo-soprano to be watched closely as she readies herself for a MET debut later this season.

Rafael de Acha                     http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Der fliegende Holländer deconstructed


As early as 1843 Richard Wagner had set out to be both composer and librettist of his operas, gradually becoming both regisseur and scenic designer of his works, and acting as complete creator of his Gesammtkunstwerke.

In the first page of the score of Der fliegende Holländer, Wagner offers the following detailed description of what he envisioned as the scenic picture for the opening of his opera:

“Steep rocky shore…The sea occupies most of the stage…The rocks in the foreground form gorges on both sides… severe storm… Daland’s ship has just anchored close to the shore… the crew is busy… Daland has gone ashore… climbs on a rock and looks inland to see the area…The ship of the Flying Dutchman, with black masts and blood-red sails, shows itself in the distance, and approaches the coast with great speed. It docks on the opposite side of the Norwegian ship. With a terrible noise, the anchor on the chain sinks… The Dutchman goes ashore.”

Sparing the reader most of the inexplicably capricious details added by stage director Oliver Py’s to his 2015 staging for Vienna, I will single out just a few: a large bit of graffiti spelling the word Erlösung (Redemption) on the side of a wall… a male ballet dancer listed as “Satan” dressed in leotards, bare-chested, wearing a mask, prancing around the stage heralding and hounding the Dutchman, huge skulls and dancing skeletons, as in a Mexican Dia de los Muertos festivity.

There are no spinning wheels for Senta and her girl friends, who are first encountered as the sopranos and altos of the local glee club rehearsing for an upcoming concert.

Absent are Wagner’s requested sea, rocks, storm, ships… Absent too are the costumes that would be worn by weather-beaten Norwegian sailors. Instead, Daland and his crew, the Dutchman and his looking like employees of a provincial bank, are dressed in a variety of trench coats, bowler hats, and business attire.

And the female chorus, Senta, and Mary are clad in basic black.

Erwartung (Expectation) is shown as graffiti on a wall at the end of this masquerade – a good thing to hang on to, with our earnest expectation that in the future Naxos does not waste its resources on this awful a production.

The singers survive to tell, with baritone Samuel Youn leading the cast as a sonorous Dutchman, Ingela Brimberg an impressive Senta, Lars Woldt a solid Daland, and tenors Bernard Richter and Manuel Gunther both effective in their supporting roles. Marc Minkowski conducts with authority Les Musiciens du Louvre.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com




Ruth Lomon & Iris Graffman Wenglin, piano
Piano music by Clara Schumann, Germaine Tailleferre, Louise Talma, Miriam Gideon, Barbara Penland, Thea Musgrave, Ruth Lomon, Jacqueline Fontyn, Marta Ptaszyńska, Shulamit Ran.

An interesting compilation of mostly 20th century music for the keyboard nicely packaged as a two-CD album. There is both one piano and duo piano music ranging from Five Caprices by Clara Schumann to a couple of charming collection of vignettes by Shulamit Ran and Thea Mugrave.

**** – Very good

Neave Trio
Music for piano trio by Louise Farrenc, Amy Beach and Rebecca Clarke

Three 19th century obscure Romantic gems by three lesser-known yet highly gifted female composers flawlessly and feelingly played by Anna Wiliams, violin, Mikhail Veselov, cello and Eri Nakamura, piano. The accompanying booklet is excellent as is the limpid engineering.

**** – Very good

Kansa City Symphony Orchestra Michael Stern, conductor
Gustav Holst – The Planets              Ballet music from The Perfect Fool

A hybrid Super-audio CD that offers top quality sound supporting a superb performance by Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra, pulling all the stops in each of seven visits to the then known planets: Mars is given a massively bellicose sound and is then followed by a transparently crystalline Venus and on through a fleeting Mercury, a hyper-active Jupiter, a sulking Saturn, a mystical Uranus and a riveting Neptune that fades off into eerie infinity. The accompanying Perfect Fool ballet music is vintage Edwardian fluff – charming though it is.

***** – Outstanding

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

CCM Philharmonia Orchestra continues its 2019-2020 season

dror biran

Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich, Prokofiev: Dror Biran (piano), University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music’s Philharmonia Orchestra, Mark Gibson (Conductor), Corbett Auditorium, Cincinnati, OH. October 4, 2019.

The CCM Philharmonia returned in fine form two weeks after its opening concert on September 20th with an all-Russian concert featuring the Israeli pianist Dror Biran as soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major by Dimitri Shostakovich.

Overtures belong at the beginning of concerts, I know, but once in a while it would be nice to liven up the ending of an all-Russian concert in which the line between happy and sad is so often blurry, with a rousing rendition of Rimsky Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture. That happened to be the opener of this complex concert that mixed sorrow and joy in equal parts, with students playing like professionals and a great conductor at the helm.

Maestro Gibson ceded the podium to a gifted conducting student, the young Madeline Tsai who vigorously conducted the orchestra in the quintessentially Slavic Russian Easter Overture.

One would not expect a lively composition in an upbeat tempo and in a major key to be the product of the chain-smoking, hard drinking, perennially moody, partially crippled, thrice unhappily married, politically victimized Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich. But wonder of wonders here’s the jolly Bb major concerto that the older Shostakovich wrote for his son Maxim.

It has a bouncy opening Allegro that will keep your toes tapping, which is then followed by a decidedly sentimental second movement, which then seamlessly links up to yet another straight-ahead allegro that could have been conceived by Khachaturian or Kabalevsky on steroids. But no, this is just Shostakovich on a good day.

The whole thing lasts under 18 minutes, each one of which calls for heavy lifting from everyone involved. The piano part is virtuosic and percussive, the percussion section is put on red alert, the woodwinds are led by a hyperactive flute (here the very fine Youbeen Cho), the conductor – the protean Mark Gibson – as agile as you can imagine tapped into the music’s sheer joy and its slightly demonic undercurrents, and pianist Dror Biran gave it a technically dazzling, superbly sardonic rendition with whatever the Russian equivalent of joie de vivre might be.

Joy though is not what Sergei Prokofiev had in mind as war raged in 1944 and artillery fire was heard just outside the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory with the composer himself leading the USSR Symphony Orchestra in the premiere of his Fifth Symphony. Over a dozen years had elapsed since the composer had premiered his fourth symphony, and political circumstances and practicality had made it more viable for Prokofiev to focus on smaller-scale works than on larger orchestral works, what with so many players in the front.

And still, with the Fifth Symphony Prokofiev wrote expansively, not for a moment subservient to Soviet-approved compositional rules. The work is as loosely polytonal and as harmonically uncertain as the fate of Russia at the time. Classically structured in four movements: a stately opening Andante, a frantic Scherzo in the tempo of a Hopak that interrupts itself with short sections played by the oboe and clarinet at a slower tempo, then a broad and moody Adagio with lovely writing for the woodwinds, and finally an Allegro giocoso with more mordant bite than joy in its jagged contours.

Mark Gibson and his young musicians gave the Prokofiev work a heartily muscular and impassioned reading not slighting the music’s important lyrical moments.

Next up, Gibson’s orchestra gets spooky with a horrifying (that’s a compliment) Halloween concert on Friday November 1st featuring Liszt’s Dance of Death as its centerpiece.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Anne Sophie Mutter in Cincinnati


Anne Sophie von Mutter (violin) Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/ Eun Sun Kim (Conductor), Cincinnati Music Hall, 9/28/19

Gabriella Smith – f(x)=sin2x-1x; Beethoven – Violin Concerto;

At the start of the Saturday September 28, 2019 concert of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra we sat waiting to hear Anne Sophie Mutter play the Beethoven violin concerto.

Once Gabriella Smith’s f(x)=sin2x-1x finished, and feeling more disconcerted than displeased, I reflected on the experience, realizing that my problem with a great deal of new music these days is that I find most of it ill suited for inclusion in programs and in venues that are mostly traditional in content and constituency.

Eun Sun Kim magisterially led the musicians of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra through the extended introduction to Beethoven’s one and only concerto for the violin. From the moment Anne Sophie Mutter caressed the ascending notes of the concerto’s opening statement we were offered a magnificent performance of Beethoven’s masterpiece: brave, expansive, lush, noble, and elegant.

Then the stuff of nightmares happened. No sooner Mutter had begun the Adagio movement of the Beethoven violin concerto she spotted a woman sitting in the first row of seats recording the concert unauthorized. Mutter stopped playing and addressed the culprit, who then started arguing back. We could not hear the words but could certainly read the body language of the violinist that clearly read: “THAT WAY OUT! EITHER YOU GO OR I GO!”

Finally a plainclothesman approached and ushered the young woman out. Mutter then earned one of several ovations from the Music Hall audience. I ran into a fellow reviewer and asked if this was a first for her as it was for me. It was.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E minor. I wish we could have stayed for it.

Unfortunately the first half of the concert ran one hour and twenty minutes. The intermission was slated to run 20 minutes starting at 9:20 pm. Ms. Mutter was seated at a desk in the lobby, signing autographs. At that rate, and with a Chicken Wing Festival taking place right across from Music Hall, leaving, getting our car and driving home would have turned at our age into a much too long affair.

Eun Sun Kim led her Cincinnati musicians with a keen understanding of the emotional depth of Beethoven’s violin concerto exemplarily partnering the soloist. The near-capacity audience amply rewarded orchestra, conductor, living composer and soloist for their labors of love not lost once the impolite culprit was summarily evicted.

Rafael de Acha



Just got back from the CINCINNATI SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA concert. Intermission started at 9:20 and was supposed to run 20 minutes. That lasted longer as there was a long line of fans waiting to tell Anne Sophie Mutter how much they loved her. We love her too but could not contemplate getting home well past midnight after a concert that started at 8 pm.

So we left before the Brahms.

The BIG NON-MUSICAL EVENT OF THE EVENING became the moment when Mutter had begun the Adagio movement of the Beethoven violin concerto and spotted a woman sitting in the first row of seats recording the concert with a cellphone.


Mutter stopped playing and addressed the culprit, who then started arguing back. We could not hear the words but could certainly “get” the body language of the violinist that clearly read: “THAT WAY OUT! EITHER YOU GO OR I GO!”

Finally, Jonathan Martin, President of the Symphony approached and summarily ushered out the guilty one.

Mutter then earned one of several ovations from the Music Hall audience. I ran into a fellow reviewer and asked if this was a first for her as it was for me.

It was.

I pray that more such punishments take place.

Rafael de Acha    http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com