Dinu Lipatti, born 1917 might have possibly been the best known Rumanian pianist of his or any other generation had his career not been cut short by his untimely death at the age of 33 as a result of complications from Hodgkin Disease. Radu Lupu, born in 1945 might possibly be the most famous Rumanian pianist of his or any other generation. Tudor Dumitrescu, a pianist who lived from 1957 until his tragic death in an earthquake in his native Bucarest in 1977 was at the time of his passing another Rumanian national musical icon-to-be.


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Now the time is long overdue to make room for another master born to play in the grand manner. His name is Matei Varga and make no mistake, this artist is not yet another dazzling firebrand eagerly ready for his next interview and photo-op combo, but a deeply serious musician well in the midst of a major career.

Perhaps better known in Europe than here Varga’s playing is solid, elegant, of substance, containing gravitas, profound musicality, and rigorous musicianship. Varga’s hour-long CD, Early Departures (Sono Luminus DSL92223) is about to be released on June 29th and available for purchase as either a CD or as a digital download from

This treasure of an album is framed as a sober though not somber homage to three music giants of the 20th century linked together here by virtue of their premature encounters with death. And why J.S. Bach along with them? The brief Adagio from the Concerto in D Minor after Benedetto Marcello provides four and a half meditative minutes of reflection and repose after the four movement suite In the Mists by Leoš Janáček, the neighboring Bohemia’s national composer, who wrote it shortly after the death of his daughter

Tudor Dumitrescu, both concert pianist and composer, wrote 7 Preludes as a very personal, very introspective, heartfelt composition in which intimations of the tragedy that would befall him are palpably evident. In Varga’ splendid notes accompanying the CD, this is mentioned along with touching details about the pianist’s subsequent visits to Dimitrescu’s mother in their Bucarest apartment after her son’s death.

Dinu Lipatti is represented here by three brief pièces d’occasion most probably part of the late pianist arsenal of encores to be used at the end of his legendary recitals, one of which I still remember having attended as a six year old child in my native Havana. Listening to this music challenged one’s objectivity as it brought back a flood of happy memories.

Again, SONO LUMINUS proves to be a pioneer in the recording industry deserving of our thanks, and those thanks are also due and extended to Matei Varga for his musical explorations and his artistry.

Rafael de Acha



It’s damn near impossible to hang a label on George Antheil’s music. Or, for that matter, it’s equally difficult to hang a label on the man himself. He kept changing his artistic and personal identity as often as he (hopefully) changed his underwear.

Do I like his music? More about that later. But Antheil himself did not care for much of it, initially raising Cain to get his work performed at any cost anywhere, then dismissing most of what he had written in the first half of his checkered career as unworthy.

When they first heard Antheil’s music, many critics called it naïve, coarse, boring… But Satie, Milhaud, Copland liked, even celebrated it. Leopold Stokowski and Antal Dorati programmed it. Yet I admit to be baffled by much of Antheil’s musical output, even when all of what is included in this CD is so beautifully played by the Duo Odeon in a neatly produced and packaged debut album.

I find what I just learned today about George Antheil, the man, utterly fascinating. Antheil’s life story reads like a tell-all page turner. But then there is the musician. As a young man he learned music and piano largely all on his own. He was notorious for turning all 88 keys of the average piano that fell under his control into instruments of perniciously percussive attack on the ears of his family, neighbors and, eventually, his audiences. He lusted to have opportunities to cause riots as large as the one that had greeted the premiere of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, and if nothing much happened he’d pout.

In 1923 he and his future wife moved to Paris and immediately fell in with the who’s who of the European Avant-garde, first in France, then in Berlin, then in the late thirties and one step ahead of the Nazis back to NYC, then on to California where Hollywood beckoned.

De Mille and other celluloid kings liked what he wrote, so he got hired to write incidental music for two dozen films. But he was dissatisfied with the low standards of Hollywood music-making so he took his checks and high-tailed it back home to NYC. Again, was life is colorful, varied, with a man ever eager to get all he could out of life. Antheil was the proud possessor of a powerfully-creative mind unfortunately paired up to a fatal flaw Olympian ego that more than once tripped him up

I gave the CD two careful listens. I find much too much of Antheil’s music blunt, derivatively sounding like warmed up Milhaud or Honegger, minus the French flair for wit and melody. There is an attractive muscularity and lots of testosterone-driven rhythms in Antheil’s Alpha Male music, but neither sweeping lyricism, nor much cantilena of the kind one can find by spades in the works of so many of his European contemporaries. All that I  said with one major exception: the salon-flavored waltzes from Specter of the Rose, film music at its best.

For the earnest collector of modern music, this SONO LUMINUS DSL 92222 release is a must have. For the musically curious I recommend acquiring both it and a copy of Antheil’s 1945 auto-biography, The Bad Boy of Music.

And to SONO LUMINUS and the Duo Odeon, a salute for their serious explorations of forgotten corners of the repertory.

Rafael de Acha



What does it take to turn a regional American symphony orchestra into a world-class one? To venture an answer would be a fool’s errand, so suffice for us to direct your attention to the live recording of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition here coupled to a handful of selections from Prokofiev’s 1945 Cinderella, and let you be the judge.

In this CD we hear the FWSO forces led by Peruvian-American conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya in a live recording of a 2018 performance given in front of a capacity audience in Ft. Worth’s Bass Hall. The sound we hear in this recording, helmed by producer/engineer Brad Michel is crystal clear in the upper range, rock solid in the lower register, excellently balanced throughout.

Maestro Bedoya has been at the helm of the 106 year-old FWSO for nearly two decades, and he has lovingly guided his musicians to play flawlessly as one when needed, yet allowing each enjoyment of his or her solo turns when they come, as witness Kyle Sherman’s clarion trumpet opening riff at the top of the first Promenade in the Mussorgsky.


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The FWSO strings deliver a perfect sweet-sour Slavic sound when called upon, the woodwinds whimsically excel at the filigree work in Tuilleries, and later in Ballet of the Chicks, and the brass section produces again and again an unabashedly bright sound just right for this music. All along Bedoya refuses to shy away from the rough and ready Mussorgsky trademarks, eliciting a gutsy, quintessentially Russian sound from his players.

Bedoya and his musicians turn on a dime as they go from Mussorgsky’s 1874 composition to Prokofiev’s 1945 ballet, the latter here given in 35 minutes that clearly and chronologically tell all the loose ends of the tale about the house maid who donned glass slippers and became a princess.

Prokofiev’s neoclassical sound is spiced with mid-20th century harmonies that color his music as more pan-European than post-WWII Soviet. All well and good, since the sweetness of the Perrault fairy tale is best kept from becoming saccharine by the composer’s disciplined aesthetic and further enhanced by the kind of limpid, on your toes sound the Fort Worth forces bathe this music in.

The results are splendidly satisfying and, for this listener, this FWSO release is a keeper.

Rafael de Acha



The first movement of Béla Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2 is marked Allegro non troppo. All well and good, but the sudden changes of speed call for a different tempo marking, or none. This is the bold writing of a mature, 48 year old master at the top of his game requiring an equally mature interpreter, in this instance the impressive Christian Tetzlaff, with Finish maestro Hannu Lintu pacing the Finnish Radio Orchestra in a fiery, flashy, fully-developed reading.

The concerto No. 2 is moody, filled with bold flashes of color and blunt changes of tempo and dynamics. Hungarian to the core, often flirting with Serialism, as evidenced by a quip made by the composer to violinist Yehudi Menuhin when he said that he wanted to show Schoenberg, the deadly serious father of 12-tone music that he (Bartók) “…could use all 12 tones and still remain tonal.”

And tonal the work is but infused with the capriciously varied sound of the verbunkos style characteristic of the big city playing of the roving Romani bands in Bartok’s time. Add to that mix Bartók’s pan-European writing inspired by the folk music of Hungary and Romania and one gets a rich musical experience that never fails to surprise with its unpredictable twists and turns.

The CD’s other treasure is the Violin Concerto No. 1, a youthful yet not immature composition dedicated to and inspired by Hungarian violinist Stefi Geyer. Not a valentine, the concerto is rather a soulful, soul-searching musical confessional to a woman and musician with whom the composer was infatuated but one who never fully reciprocated that love.

From a deeply romantic first movement redolent of Richard Strauss and Zoltán Kodály, both of whom Bartók deeply admired, the composition moves to a tour de force of virtuoso writing in the second movement that expresses both the volatility of the relationship between Bartók and Geyer and the violinist’s protean prowess.

The two-movement concerto ends with a sense of resignation expressed in the music and in the words of Hungarian poet appended to it by the composer: “No two stars are as far apart as two human souls.”

Rafael de Acha

Bartok Violin Concertos Nos 1 and 2 Christian Tetzlaff, violin; Hannu Lintu conducting the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra ONDINE Recording live in Helsinki’s Music Centre in October, 2017. Producers: Reijo Kiilunen and Laura Hinkinheimo. Notes by David Cooper.



This morning, listening to a classical music station the announcer let us know that next up was a viola concerto. The announcement pleased me, the snarky chuckle the announcer gave did not. I find nothing funny about all the tiresome viola jokes that go around in music circles, and I felt downright insulted when the announced composition turned out to be William Walton’s twice-revised Concerto for Viola and Orchestra.

I turned off the radio in a huff and put on the recently released Chandos CD of William Walton’s compositions (WALTON CHSA 5210) that includes the Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, the 1971 Sonata for String Orchestra, and the 1957 Partita for Orchestra.

Edward Gardner paces the BBC Symphony Orchestra in all three of the compositions in a patrician manner, ever attentive to his soloist in the Viola Concerto, and violinist James Ehnes is the superb viola soloist, utterly comfortable with his other instrument.

Listening to this album, some of its contents dating back to 1928, when Walton was a twenty-six year old hopeful still finding his way in the midst of the ever-changing European music scene of those years, pleased immensely and made one ponder the significance of Walton in the context of 20th century music.

And, in a personal way, the varied moods of the viola concerto brought back a memory of my first encounter with Walton’s music, when at age fourteen I was held transfixed by Walton’s score for Laurence Olivier’s 1948 film of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Not the specific musical ideas from the film’s score, but the muscularity, the mercurial changes of tempo, the at times purposely dense, at others crystal-clear orchestration are all there to remind us of what a great composer Walton is.

Walton indicates no less than eight tempo markings in the first movement of the Concerto, that section lasting barely eight minutes. And a good thing it is that he has the indispensable Edward Gardner at the helm of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the formidable James Ehnes on the viola, for no transition ever feels abrupt, and every switch of musical gears is pure quicksilver.

The second movement is marked in Italian: lively and very precisely and with resolve, and in it there are passages in which Walton whimsically employs odd pairings, like a humorous duettino for bassoon and viola, only to follow these moments with deadly serious, jagged patterns that remind us that the composer means business. In the third and final movement of the concerto, Walton tests the mettle of his conductor and orchestra with no less than a dozen changes of pace, each moodily different.

Throughout the three compositions, the writing is tonal (A minor, E minor, A Major in the Concerto) and there are plenty of melodic turns of phrase, even though none call attention to themselves. Never one to flirt with atonality, Walton held fast to an English tradition of tonality that was unselfconsciously embraced by many of his British predecessors and contemporaries. Yet unpredictable twists and turns in the harmony let us know that here was a young fellow with his  ears open to what was happening in the Paris, Berlin and Vienna of the first decades of the 20th century

The Concerto is the main event on this CD, but the inclusion of the Sonata for String Orchestra and the Partita for Orchestra should be noted. Both are admirable works that call for bravura and soloist-level playing, especially from the strings, and in both, concertmaster Igor Yuzepovich makes us wish for a future Chandos CD of English music for violin and orchestra, which hopefully would include Ralph Vaughn Williams’ The Lark Ascending.

Once again Chandos delivers here a world-class product, impeccably packaged, insightfully annotated by Anthony Burton, and perfectly engineered by Brian Pidgeon.

Rafael de Acha