Composer Gernot Wolfgang has produced an eminently enjoyable CD worthy of attention. This highly original composer came to my attention or, better yet, I came to his attention through a mutual friend and this fortuitous circumstance led to him sending this CD for review. In three words the review is “go get it!” which  happens to be the title of one of its tracks.


In his fascinating Passing Through groove-oriented chamber music, vol.3 (Albany Records, 2016) ( ) Gernot Wolfgang ( ) keeps company with a terrific group of musicians with whom he grooves in a variety of instrumental combinations. I listened to this album several times over. With each listening I became more and more intrigued. In the well-written liner notes, the composer thankfully explains at length both the music and the stories behind it in a lively and unpretentious way devoid of any musicological gobbledygook. I randomly wrote the following notes before I read the composer’s, and was happy to see that I got what he so beautifully conveyed:

FLURRYJazzy opening…bassoonist Judith Farmer and pianist Nick Gerpe – cadenza-like…flexible tonality… unpredictable  progressions…surprising changes of tempo…abrupt ending….Judith Farmer, bassoonist extraordinaire (!)

STRING THEORY Five-part composition…BELA (as in Bartók) – Very fast tempo…Yes, definitely an homage to the Hungarian Béla…CARTWHEELS – Lots of heavy lifting for first violin, while remaining players play long sustained eerie upper range vibrato-less chords …then the same for cello…ppp to mp dynamics…Nuevo Tango rhythms then a return to the same feel of opening…again abrupt ending…NORTHERN LIGHTS – Pizzicato puntillism…often a forward drive from cello…NASHVILLE…Canonic pattern built on a melisma phrase redolent of Debussy that is assigned mostly to the cello…the title, “Nashville” perhaps hints of a hootenanny, dancing feel in the music/again lots of syncopation. New Hollywood String Quartet play beautifully like one musician with four instruments

PASSING THROUGHBOUNCEA “hide-and-seek” scherzo for Jennifer Johnson’s superb oboe and Judith Farmer’s bassoon…EVENING SONG…Wistful, quiet, shyly tentative phrases that seem to start a dialogue and vanish…then a duet for both instruments…THE FLEA…Nervous, playful…but more than one flea!

NEW ENGLAND TRAVELOGUE VINEYARD REGGAEEclipse String Quartet and pianist Joanne Pearce Martin top notch musicians…changing rhythmic patterns…rhythmic drive…episodic…as on a drive through a changing landscape…whimsical… VERMONT MAGIC – descending chords from piano against strings…icy landscape…solo cello….eerie upper strings with no vibrato…then exchange between lower and upper strings… INMAN SQUARE – Jazzy…urban…improvisatory sound from piano… restless…a European’s response to American urban vitality MOUNT DESERT ISLAND…The quiet beauty of Maine’s Mount Desert Island translated musically into complete stillness…harmonically stunning…

TRILOGYPiano, oboe and bassoon – GO GET IT…Inventive and idiomatic writing for both the oboe and bassoon, with the terrific pianist Robert Thies as an equal partner…Emotionally charged and changing…then the rhythmic drive that permeates so much of this composer’s work kicks in…and his signature blunt ending…ANOTHER LIFE – Meditative…lovely oboe solo by Jennifer Johnson…then bassoon in a three-way conversation…a slow waltz that fades away…LOOKING EAST – Oriental modal melody played by oboe in its upper range and replies from bassoon and piano…rhythmically complex interspersed with whimsical stops

Wolfgang’s extensive bio and those of his collaborators are included, along with everyone’s photographs. Bassoonist Judith Farmer and the composer himself did the lion’s share of producing and editing this CD with obvious TLC, and Rich Breen recorded, mixed and mastered it with superb sonic results.

Passing Through groove-oriented chamber music, vol. 3  (Albany Records, 2016) Music by Gernot Wolfgang, with Judith Farmer, Bassoon; Nick Gerpe, piano; Joanne Pearce Martin, piano; New Hollywood String Quartet (Tereza Stanislav and Rafael Richik, violins; Robert Brophy, viola; Andrew  Shulman, cello); Jennifer Johnson,oboe; Robert Thies, piano; Eclipse Quartet (Sarah Thornblade and Sarah Parkins, violins;   Alma Lisa Fernandez, viola; Maggie Parkins, cello.)                           Produced by Gernot Wolfgang and Judith Farmer.

Rafael de Acha



Ravello Records latest release (July 8, 2016), TO KEEP THE DARK AWAY (RR7937) ( features an exciting mix of the contemporary and the Romantic piano literature.

Gayle Martin’s playing is impressive, her technique beyond reproach, her interpretive approach to Liszt’s takes on Schumann’s Widmung and a couple of Wagner operatic moments broadly Romantic and impassioned, her treatment of Prokofiev’s Op. 75 (Ten Pieces for Piano) classically elegant and sensitive to the dance-like quality of the music.

But it is the intricately beautiful new music of Judith Shatin and Gayle Martin’s playing of it that which makes this album so very special. The composer finds her inspiration for the intriguing opus that gives this CD its title in the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Structured as five brief pieces whose titles yield clues to the tone of each one, To Keep the Dark Away is effortlessly original and most intriguing.

The first segment of To Keep the Dark Away is built over an ostinato figure in the bass juxtaposed to another musical gesture in the upper register, neither slavishly adhering to but fancifully hinting at Serialism.

As it if searching for a tonal center, the second piece – a scherzo of sorts titled A Glee Possesseth Me, echoes Dickinson’s poem with its textual ambiguity – “I cannot dance upon my Toes — No Man instructed me — But oftentimes, among my mind, A Glee possesseth me…”  Seemingly at random, appearing and disappearing, playfully dancing up and down the keyboard, arpeggios that seem to act as invitations to get up and dance pervade this section.

An Actual Suffering Strengthens is a restless and relentless two and a half minutes of pianistic hurdles, impressively handled by Ms. Martin at warp speed.

The Auroral Light provides a momentary resting point, with an extended syncopated sequence that again searches for tonality in the pointilistic way in which Ms. Shatin responds to the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

The cycle ends with Whose Spokes a Dizzy Music Makes – Dickinson’s awestruck response to the perpetuum mobile of a hummingbird – starting with a simple chordal introduction that is followed by sudden outbursts of flight in the upper register of the piano.

Insistent cluster chords ominously announce the start of Fantasy on St. Cecilia, a meditation on the life and death of the second century Roman Christian martyr who became the Catholic patroness of musicians. Here we find the composer writing in a different vein, more severe, more inclined to use flexible atonality without the strictures of a predetermined series, freely using all the pianistic language at her disposal: arpeggios, sudden changes of register and dynamics, martellato attacks followed by delicately wrought pianissimi – all of it flawlessly executed by Ms. Martin.

“Yohohoe! Yohohohoe! Yohohoe! Yohoe! Have you seen the ship upon the ocean with blood‑red sails and black masts?” sings Senta, the hapless daughter of Daland, a Dutch seaman. Liszt’s Fantasy on the Ballade of Senta replicates at the keyboard the sound that the voice of a first-rate Wagnerian soprano would make at the start of the second scene of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman.

What Franz Liszt did to make Wagner’s music accessible to the mass public of Mid-century, middle Europe was to take the Big Moments from Bayreuth and turn them into tour de force concert pieces for any brave-hearted pianist ready to take them on and live to tell. Gayle Martin does so, diving head-on into the maelstrom of Senta’s Ballade and into the chromaticism of Isolde’s Liebestod with pianistic expansiveness, gusto and an exuberant flair for the dramatic.

In this Ravello Records album, made in America and lovingly curated and engineered – as all releases of this enterprising company are – two outstanding musicians celebrate the poetry of Emily Dickinson, commemorate St. Cecilia, patroness of musicians, and through Liszt and Wagner portray the potent love in life and beyond of two iconic heroines, Senta and Isolde, in a CD deserving of major recognition.

Rafael de Acha



Catacoustic Consort. First Unitarian Church Cincinnati, OH. June 3, 2016

Soloists: Melissa Harvey, Molly Quinn, Aaron Sheehan, Jason McStoots, Aaron Cain, Andrea Wells, Joanna Blendulf, Stephen Goist, Erica Rubis, David Ellis, Daniel Swenberg, Christopher Bagan; Emma Griffin, stage director, Annalisa Pappano, artistic director

Le Reniement de St. Pierre; Concerto for four viols; La feste de Ruel

Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s one-act pastoral opera, La feste de Ruel almost premiered in 1685 in the Paris of the Sun King, but things being politically charged and less than fair in the world of French court opera back in those days, the hapless composer got his work yanked off stage in a most un-courtly fashion and sent to composer’s limbo, where it languished for over four centuries. The delightful La feste de Ruel  fêtes the outlandish, the pastoral and the amorous, all neatly wrapped up in a light-as-a-feather plot that serves as an excuse to extol the virtues of the King.

The Catacoustic artists opened with a brief sacred cantata, Le Reniement de St. Pierre (St. Peter’s Denial) in which vocal soloists Melissa Harvey, Molly Quinn, Aaron Sheehan, Jason McStoots, Aaron Cain and Andrea Wells sang with plenty of panache and Baroque stylishness. Joanna Blendulf, Stephen Goist, Erica Rubis and David Ellis brought a concerto for four viols in six movements, two of which were short preludes and the ensuing four lively dances, all four violists excelling in their sensitive, idiomatically flawless ensemble work.

Charpentier’s musical proclivities, like those of Jean Baptiste Lully, the other notable French composer of the time hovered between the profoundly religious and the elegantly naughty. Charpentier wrote extensively for the theater – operas which dealt with the deadly serious,  divertissements, and pastoral comedies depicting the woodland shenanigans of randy shepherds, all-too-willing shepherdesses, sundry forest denizens and various mythological beings, including in this instance the ubiquitous Pan, whose appearance mid-way sets up the story’s denouement.

Whimsically staged by Emma Griffin, La feste de Ruel  premiered before an attentive crowd that rewarded the artists at the end of the evening with a well-deserved round of applause. Melissa Harvey and Molly Quinn took well to the stage in both Le Reniement de St. Pierre and La feste de Ruel, comfortably executing all the embellishments needed to make this music flow and providing it with very beautiful singing. The three men in the cast held their own vocally and histrionically: tenor Jason McStoots, a sensitive Jesus and a hilariously randy satyr, tenor Aaron Sheehan a true French Haute-contre fearlessly handling the high-lying tessitura of the parts of Petrus and Tircis, and bass-baritone Aaron Cain, an imposing Pastre and Pan.

Leave it to the enterprising folks at Catacoustic Consort to find the orchestral score of this forgotten gem and turn an act of musicological research into a superb all-Charpentier concert, featuring two rarities and a world premiere.

Rafael de Acha






The Momenta Quartet recently gave a recital for Chamber Music Cincinnati which, sadly I was unable to attend. Lucky I was that the group’s gracious leader, violinist Emilie-Anne Gendron took the trouble to send me a copy of their CD, Similar Motion, where the quartet (Michael Hass, cello; Stephanue Griffin, viola; Adda Kridler, violin and Ms. Gendron play Music in Similar Motion by Philip Glass, a 1960 perpetuum mobile composition for string quartet and violin (here Cyrus Beroukhim), Arthur Kampela’s 1998 A Knife All Blade – a made-in-Brazil mini-suite in six muscular movements, and, the piece de resistance of the album: an exquisitely-played String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10 by Claude Debussy.

The Debussy quartet is an early work (opus 10) – one in which the composer seems more full of questions than answers. It is – as string quartets go – not too lengthy, clocking in at around 27 minutes. Made up of four movements – of which three are animated in tempo – the work is evocative, redolent of the sound of late Romanticism that still then permeated the concert halls of Paris. But Debussy steadfastly avoids the well-worn tricks of the fin de siècle trade, remaining impassively himself: elegant, plucking melodies out of the air that seem to appear out of nowhere only to evanesce as quickly as they came.

The playing is superlative. In the second movement there is an extended pizzicato section shared by the viola and violins so well coordinated that it seems as if we were listening to a newly-created triple-voiced instrument. The Andantino third movement, marked by Debussy “sweetly and expressively” gets just that from the Momenta musicians: a rapturous, melancholy sound that made me run to the CD player and repeat it. The phrasing is luxuriant, with phrases stretched to their limit but never past it. The movement slowly fades away with a pianissimo so soft that it is more like a sigh.

In the final moments of the final movement, after long passages of the kind of harmonic ambiguity that Debussy was already exploring, there is a wonderful sense of suspended finality, as if the composer were saying: “I have barely begun this journey…”

Rafael de Acha

Momenta Quartet: Similar Motion is available from The  engineers were: John Gurrin, Max Ross, Judith Sheman, Jason Kao Hwang and Jeanne Velonis.



When the good people at Parma Records first sent me this Ravello release, I thought that couloir was  vaguely related to the French word for color. Wrong! A coulouir, as defined by more than one dictionary, is a corridor, a passage, a fissure, a gully, a steep gradient in mountainous terrain that hopefully provides a way up into higher ground.

Fortunately, the Canadian duo of cellist Ariel Barnes and harpist Heidi Krutzen (www.couloir.CA) has embraced both Couloir for their professional name as well as the positive connections of their adopted name. Barnes and Krutzen climb musical heights to their own heartbeats, and in this most recent exploration of theirs they successfully conquer the musical pointillism of James B. Maxwell’s 2012 Serere for harp and cello

By way of further clarification, Serere has enough meanings to set off a linguistic debate. In legalese, to serere is to spread or propagate. Serere is a town in Uganda, an ethnic group in Senegal, a health food association in Italy… I took my pick and went with the New Age definition “to join, link or bind together…” given on the record jacket.

But what’s in a name! What matters here is that Barnes and Krutzen give Maxwell’s Serere a heartfelt reading that highlights all the musical snippets, gestures, phrases, bits and pieces that make up this musical mosaic and makes them coalesce into a cohesive composition for the cello-harp pairing. Barnes bow work is elegant, his attacks dead-on, his command of a full palette of colors nothing short of impressive. Krutzen serves the piece well, doing the job of a rhythm section most of the time.

Second in the CD, the Couloir duo tackles Nico Muhly’s 2003 Clear Music For Cello, Harp and Celesta with equally felicitous results, with Krutzen busier now doing some fine filigree work on her instrument. Muhly’s composition was inspired by a melodic snippet from a religious composition by the 16th century English composer John Taverner, providing a wonderful introduction for the uninitiated to the young American’s hypnotic compositions. Joining Couloir, Maryliz Smith (  gives the potentially-tinkly celesta a mellow, bell-like, full sound.

Third in the CD, Maxwell’s imaginative Serere gets a repeat, this time juxtaposing its essentially tonal roots to an electro-acoustic sound landscape that imitates with no small amount of humor the sounds of scribbling for a mesmerizing 26 minutes.

The Ravello ( release gets tender, loving and limpid engineering from Nate Hunter and Will Howie, making this CD  a keeper for  all fans of new music.

Rafael de Acha