Sybarite-5-1-bw-hi-key-webcropSybarite5  just sent me OUTLIERS, a terrific album of contemporary music for string ensemble. After repeatedly listening here’s my rave:

Getting Home (I must be…) by Jessica Meyers begins with an ostinato figure in the lower strings, against which the upper strings introduce their own contrapuntal pattern. They combine, meld, struggle for dominance and, after a developmental section, the piece comes to an abrupt ending, as if home had finally been reached against all odds.

In Yann’s Flight by Shawn Conley, a nervous pattern insistently repeated by the viola is first countered by the string bass, and then the cello, which joins them with a melody redolent of the Argentine Pampas. A rhythmic zapateado pattern kicks in a couple of times, as if to counteract the melancholy tone of the piece that nevertheless manages to arrive at a serenely soulful ending.

Pop Rocks by Eric Byers is an intricate miniature, in which poly-rhythms playfully are set to bounce off of each other in a fascinating contrapuntal vignette.

Hitchiker’s Tales by Dan Visconti divides up into three vibrantly inventive sections: Black Bend, Dixie Twang and Pedal to the Metal, each filled with country, jazz, zydeko, bluegrass, rock and pop riffs that evoke dizzying road trips down the back roads of an America of the mind.

Revolve by Andy Akiho sets the ensemble to work double time as string players and percussionists in a whirlwind of rhythmic patterns, pizzicato, sul ponticello, downward slides, and double stops, in an intriguing miniature tour de force.

Muggadamah by Mohammed Fairouz reminds us that this composer’s talent yields music that can easily bridge the vastness that separates our musical culture from others. Its title evokes the Near East, but its sultry cadences are tonally centered, yet able to stray into moments of tonal ambiguity.

Allemande pour Tout le Monde by Kenji Bunch celebrates universal peace. with music at first solely rhythmic and then gradually melodic in a brief 21st century allemande that ends in an upbeat note of hopefulness.

Kompa for Toussaint honors the 18th century Haitian revolutionary leader, François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture. While the typical Haitian kompa is a lively afro-Caribbean dance, Daniel Bernard Roumain’s laud, at first upbeat soon turns into a heartfelt paean in honor of Haiti’s greatest national hero.

Eric Byers’ Sarabande is an homage to the 18th century dance form often used by Baroque composers to spin out long-lined melodies better suited to listening than to footwork. In this case, Byers creates an emotionally charged stasis for solo cello, gorgeously played by Laura Metcalf.

Blue Bourrée is a charming 21st century commentary on an 18th century dance in cut time by composer Michi Wiancko., as Gi-gue-ly by Ljova is an uniquely sui-generis take on the national dance of Ireland.

All in all, this remarkably original album by Sybarite5, available directly from https://sybarite5.org provides a sampler of the varied music being written today for string ensemble. Sami Merdinian and Sarah Whitney, violins; Angela Pickett, viola; Laura Metcalf, cello; and Louis Levitt, bass  are the group’s members and  they are extraordinary as soloists and nothing but miraculous as an ensemble, playing their daunting repertory with  warm hearts and cool heads .

Impeccably produced and engineered by Paul Zinman, with Louis Levitt as Executive Producer, and with the support of New Music USA, the Alice M. Ditson Fund, Sybarite Chamber Players Ltd, Bright Shiny Things and many Kickstarter supporters, OUTLIERS is an indispensable addition to the library of any collector of contemporary music.

Rafael de Acha           http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com     December 18, 2017



The Skylark Vocal Ensemble ( http://www.skylarkensemble.org ) has added to its list of recordings, Winter’s Night, its inaugural album for the Christmas season. It is a gorgeously sung CD that contains a mix of Early and High Renaissance choral music side by side with 20th century sacred music by Hugo Distler, Herbert Howells, Pierre Villette, John Taverner, Reginald Jacques, Georges Dupuy de Meris, Peter Warlock and Elizabeth Poston.

The nearly fifty minutes of music of this perfectly engineered (by Andrew Carballeira) CD fly by, even after repeated hearings, and the well written notes by the group’s Artistic Director, Matthew Guard help guide the listener through the eighteen featured compositions.

The group is divided into four three-member sections. It is a small chamber ensemble but its sound is substantial at all dynamic levels, pure and unified, conservative in its use of the vibrato-less vocal production most often used and abused in the singing of Early Music, and yet its dozen voices are dead-on pitch, vibrant in timbre, and as proficient in the Latin of the Allegri, Nanino, Mouton and Plainchant samples, as they are in the German, French and English language selections.

The sopranos all do very fine ensemble and solo work, as evidenced by Sarah Moyer in two French-language hymns in praise of the Virgin Mother, and Jessica Petrus in the closing number by Elizabeth Poston. Mezzo-soprano delivers a lovely solo in Es ist ein Ros ensprungen.

An entire CD of this kind of music could grow tiresome in lesser hands, but track after track the hard-working artists of the Skylark Vocal Ensemble keep the listener immersed in their rich sound and musicality. both perfect for music ideally suited to a winter’s night.

Rafael de Acha


Imagine christmas

IMAGINE CHRISTMAS is an aptly-titled new release by the Sono Luminus label guaranteed to stir anyone up and away from the numbing sameness that too much canned Christmas can cause.

I highly recommend that you settle into your favorite easy chair, preferably in your house robe, and sip a mug of hot cider or eggnog or mulled wine as you listen to this superb collection of musical chestnuts.

Listen to the lively foot-stomping Celtic sound that Ensemble Galilei gives Frosty the Snowman in the album’s opening track and you just might imagine yourself river dancing all the way down to the frozen pond where you used to ice skate as a kid. I dare you then not to waltz around the room in time to Bruce Levinston’s whirling rendition of December, a wintery Tchaikovsky waltz. After that, rest for a spell and reminisce about Christmases past thanks to Irina Muresanu and Matei Vargas heartfelt instrumental White Christmas.

Again rise up and dance to the Jasper String Quartet’s joyous Holly, Jolly Christmas, and next imagine yourself Walking in the Air with the help of Bruce McFarlane’s rippling piano version. Next chuckle as you listen to Cory Hills’ all-American ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and then let Kathryn Bates remind you with her hauntingly beautiful cello playing of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town that you’re still a kid at heart.

Caleb Nei will gently remind you that Christmas Time is Here, and Lydia and the Cuarteto Latino Americano will rhythmically bring joy to your world from their Latin one with Joy to the World. Next rest your feet but sharpen your ears as you listen to Stewart Goodyear’s humorously post-modern Good King Wenceslas. Then be moved by the flawlessly elegant singing of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by the Skylark Vocal Ensemble.

At the end of your musical journey you will be mesmerized by the eerie stillness that the American Contemporary Music Ensemble brings to Silent Night. After that, drink the good health of the folks at Sono Luminus (www.sonoluminus.com) and buy yourself this one-of-a-kind musical treasure, or even better, make it the nicest ever Christmas gift to someone you love.

Rafael de Acha


Time was when Angel Records, RCA Victor, Deutsche Gramophon, Columbia, Cetra, Melodya and a few other major labels had all four corners of the classical recording industry. Gradually some went away, others diversified into a number of non-classical genres, and many moved lock, stock and barrel to cheaper and greener European pastures.

Gradually, enterprising artists took the bull by its musical horns and became self-producers, keeping company with a handful of visionary little companies that could and would take risks producing recordings by early career artists. Nowadays even some symphony orchestras have taken up the role of producers of their own recordings.

The following are my favorite Classical CD’s from the year 2017. I hope they will become the favorites of many collectors. They are almost with one or two exceptions self-produced by the artists themselves or through the efforts of labels like Navona Records and Divine Art.

We miss, no doubt, the giant record stores the likes of Tower Records or the little neighborhood hole in the wall record shop where you could find just about anything you wanted, including “pirate” recordings of the rare and the odd.

But to make up for their absence there is the convenience of shopping on line and the instant gratification of downloads. Enjoy!

The random order list:

Rigoletto – Verdi, opera – Dimitri Hvorostovsky, baritone, with Sierra, Demuro, Mastroni, Volkova – Delos
Johann Sebastian Bach Cello Suites – Richard Narroway, cello – Sono Luminus
Pasión – Beatriz Boizán, piano – http://www.beatrizboizan.com
¡Acentuado! – Yuri Liberzon, guitar – http://www.yuriguitar.com
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Piano Works – Alfonso Soldano, piano – Divine Art
The Operatic Pianist’ (A Night at the Opera) – Andrew Wright, piano – Divine Art
Stewart Goodyear Ravel – Stewart Goodyear, piano – Orchid Classics
Age of Indulgence – Les Délices, Early Music Ensemble – (www.lesdelices.org )NavonaRecords
Canción – James Meade, guitar – http://www.JamesMeadeGuitar.com
Fantasias – Rupert Boyd, guitar – http://www.LittleMysteryRecords.com


Rigoletto – Verdi – Delos, 11/110/17 release. The City of Kaunas (Lithuania) Orchestra and the men of the Kaunas State Choir, under the baton of Constantine Orbelian bring out all the Italian flair and all the subtleness of Verdi in a recording with one of the great Verdi baritones of our time, Dimitri Hvorostovsky. Surrounded by the lovely Gilda of Nadine Sierra, tenor Francesco Demuro, the impressive bass Andrea Mastroni, and mezzo-soprano Oksana Volkova, this is still the baritone’s show, and the silver-haired Russian walks away with it in what sadly turned out to be his last recording

Richard Narroway

In a boldly self-asserting move, the young Australian cellist Richard Narroway has recorded all six of the Johann Sebastian Bach Cello Suites. The double CD (SLE-70010) by Sono Luminus is not merely another one among dozens of recordings of these works, but a very fine debut by an immensely gifted young musician soon fit to keep company with some of the greats that preceded him.


Pasión is the right title for the debut CD of Cuban-Canadian pianist Beatriz Boizán, a young keyboard artist who plays with genuine passion and utmost musical intelligence seventeen compositions by Spanish and Latin American composers. Self-produced, and available directly from the artist at http://www.beatrizboizan.com this is a sampler of classical and crossover music, ranging from Lecuona, Soler, Ginastera, and Albeniz to the underepresented 19th century Cuban virtuoso Ignacio Cervantes.


Yuri Liberzon, a Russian-born, American guitarist does not sit on his laurels: less than a year after another release, he is out with his fresh off the press ¡Acentuado!, an in-depth look at the music of Astor Piazzolla, the Argentine Nuevo Tango master whose creations must be played with “duende”- the Spanish term for playing with fire in the belly, which Liberzon certainly does. As a teaser, check out his website: https://www.yuriguitar.com. There you will find links to a couple of this album’s tracks and, what’s better, you’ll be able to order either an MP3 download of it or a hard copy.

alfonso soldano

Italian pianist Alfonso Soldano has dedicated years to researching, studying and performing the extraordinarily varied piano music of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. The results of his labors can be enjoyed in Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Piano Works. Nicely packaged by Divine Art, splendidly engineered by Christian Ugenti, intelligently annotated by Attilio Cantore and, most important, played to perfection by Soldano on a Steinway concert grand piano, the album is a winner.

night at the opera

Were it not for the life-long musical efforts of Scottish pianist Andrew Wright, The Operatic Pianist’ (A Night at the Opera) would have not been made. But love is not only what is at play in this Divine Art CD but, rather, the pianistic prowess and large scale musicianship of Wright. In an age in which the “intellectualization” of concert programs (Wright’s choice of words) has subjected the concertgoer to many hours of numbing sameness, these arrangements of operatic music of Liszt, Meyerbeer and Bellini will provide superb entertainment to both Opera lovers and those who  think of it as a guilty  pleasure.


In Stewart Goodyear Ravel, a CD from Orchid Classics the pianist Stewart Goodyear takes the listener on a 68 minute journey that spans Jeux d’eau, Sonatine, Miroirs, Gaspard de la Nuit and Pavane pour une Infante defuncte. Stewart keeps us enthralled with his technical wizardry, worldly elegance, and his uncanny ability to color sound in a myriad ways. All the while one senses that this artist is ever at the service of the composer, not as an obliging servant but as a knowing collaborator who understands in this instance the quirky unpredictability of Ravel’s music.


Just on the outside chance that you may have never heard of François-André Philidor, Michel Blavet, or Jean Pierre Guignon, allow the superb group of Baroque specialists that call themselves Les Délices (www.lesdelices.org ) to introduce you to the delectable music of these three French masters in Age of Indulgence. Let me entreat you to seek out this treasure and purchase it from http://www.NavonaRecords.com, whether digitally or in hard copy. You’ll thank me for it.

Jmes Meade

Throughout the album Canción, the young Cincinnati guitarist James Meade amply demonstrates impeccable musicianship, profound musicality and a complete technical command of his instrument. Those qualities, married to the straightforward engineering and lovely packaging of Canción, augur well for the future career of this exceptional guitarist. The album may be purchased directly from the artist at http://www.JamesMeadeGuitar.com


Last January and out of the proverbial blue, I received on the mail Fantasias, a CD available from http://www.LittleMysteryRecords.com, featuring Rupert Boyd, a young Australian-born, New York-based guitarist in a varied recital of music by Piazzolla, Falla, Villalobos, and several other composers. I put it on to play, and it was well past midnight that, after twice listening to the album’s 19 tracks, I wrote, as I do now encouraging all lovers of guitar music to buy a copy of this gem of an album by a fast rising young  artist.

Rafael de Acha 12/8/2017