HUNGARIAN FEAST

DE3558cover-1024x1024In the DELOS just-released BRAHMS HUNGARIAN DANCES (DE 3558) German violinist Sabrina-Vivian Höpcker and Italian pianist Fabio Bidini compellingly make a case with their playing for the erasing of any and all national boundaries.

The duo lovingly makes this minor miracle happen by playing this category-defying music with equal quantities of Hungarian szenvedély and szomorú spiced with a nice dose of Italian passione, further tempered by impeccable musicianship and flawless technique.

The resulting musical feast should be enjoyed by anyone who loves Brahms and or violin and or Roma music.

I have a challenge ahead of me, though a negligible one: Do I file this in my CD library as Classical or as World Music? Yes, I know, Brahms laid claims to these 21 miniature gems by publishing them as “set by J. Brahms.”

Mind you, he neither used the German words for “arranged by” nor “adapted by”, and were I to program them in a concert of my imagination with me playing the violin I cannot begin to play for real, I would list them in the program as Hungarian Dances arranged by Joseph Joachim.

Neither here nor there, you would say, but, for me, these mini-fests of melody are as much verbunkos ideally played by Roma musicians in Budapest cafés as they are long-hair music for the concert hall. 19th century crossover, in other words…

But, thank Heaven for the enterprising and immensely gifted Sabrina-Vivian Höpcker, who lets her classical hair down and grabs this music and does not let go until she has drawn every ounce of passion out of it.

The music is familiar, no doubt, having been played and recorded by many a symphony orchestra. But hearing these tunes played with the capriciousness and flair that Ms. Höpcker and maestro Bidini bring to their playing will elicit not only admiration but curiosity on the part of the alert listener.

Originally conceived by Brahms for piano-4 hands, then some for orchestra, these 21 dances were arranged by the composer’s friend, violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim for violin and piano. I am glad Herr Joachim made these arrangements, more than elated than the Höpcker-Bidini duo made the decision to record them, and immensely grateful to DELOS for the production of this nicely-packaged and perfectly engineered CD.

Rafael de Acha                                                                                 WWW.RAFAELMUSICNOTES.COM

DECEMBER 9TH AT PETERLOON


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SAVE THE DATE: DECEMBER 9TH AT 2 PM AT PETERLOON ESTATE

MUSIC FOR ALL SEASONS IN CINCINNATI

PRESENTS ITS ANNUAL HOLIDAY CONCERT AND SILENT AUCTION TO BENEFIT CCM’S SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM FOR TALENTED MUSICIANS.

INFO & TKTS: musicseasons@zoomtown.com

THE PERFORMERS
Aria Braswell, Vocalist; James Bunte, Jazz Saxophonist; Thomas Hammons, Baritone; Cindy Beatrice Candelaria, Mezzo Soprano; Matthew Copley, Vocalist; Kimberly Daniel de Acha, Vocalist/Narrator; Dale Hodges, Actress; Yaoyue Huang, Pianist; Sam Krausz, Singer/Pianist; Fred Martens, Clarinetist and his Wind Ensemble; James Meade, Guitarist; Jenny Mollet, Vocalist; Pamela Myers, Vocalist; Joseph Rebman, Harpist; Mary Southworth-Schaffer, Soprano; Scott Sherman, Pianist; Miriam K. Smith, Cellist; Alex Stone, Vocalist; Mary Stucky, Mezzo-soprano; Rodney Stucky, Guitarist…

SILENT AUCTION

Wearable Art by Anita Ellis and Linda Ellis… Autographed Books by Laurinda Dixon and  Anita Ellis… CD’s by Miriam K. Smith and James Meade… Private Performances by several of our participating artists… Artwork by Johannes Bjorner, Virginia Cox, James SlouffmanGallerie VeroniqueAnna Van Matre… Tickets from Chamber Music Cincinnati….Cincinnati Art Museum…Cincinnati Ballet…Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra Summermusik…Cincinnati Opera…Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park…Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra…Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati…Taft Museum of Art…University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music…Gift package from Cincinnati Nature Center…

DEATH IN VENICE

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Death in Venice is Britten’s last work for the stage. The composer based it on Thomas Mann’s 1912 short novel of the same title, negotiating with his go-to librettist, Myfanwy Piper to create a distinctly different dramatic landscape from that of the original German language narrative of the same title, until the opera eventually saw its world premiere in 1973.

Given the vast body of works for the stage that Britten created it would be unfair to label Death in Venice Britten’s best opera, although it would be fair to say that it is a significant stage work. Through-composed and largely devoid of set pieces, and neither entirely operatic nor balletic, the work features a group of dancers to portray the family of the Polish boy, Tadzio, a fourteen-year old Adonis that becomes the source of the infatuation that inflames the older writer Aschenbach and that eventually leads him to a tragic end. The themes of the conflict between the lofty Apollonian and the earthly Dionysian impulses, and the obsession of an older man with a younger one recur in this opera, treated perhaps much less obliquely than Britten had in his earlier Turn of the Screw.

The music fluctuates between passages of accompanied recitative and moments of lyricism, especially compelling during the scene changes and the extended dance sequences. The vocal writing, above all that of Aschenbach, a role originally created for Peter Pears, is demanding and replete of melismas. Gone are Britten’s earlier attempts to incorporate 12-tone techniques into his music: instead he stays in a largely melodic, tonal idiom truer to him and his aesthetic.

English tenor, John Daszak does a very fine job in a role long associated with its creator: his singing is potent, and his acting unfussy and ultimately moving. Baritone Leigh Melrose is enormously versatile and vocally impressive in half a dozen roles. Dancer Tomasz Borczyk is a perfect Tadzio, and the quartet of dancers that surround him, portraying the boy’s family is faultless, as is the small ensemble of singing actors that play the appropriately tacky band of players.

Willy Deker staged the handsome production for Madrid’s Teatro Real in 2014 with lovely sets and costumes by Wolfgang Gussmann and Suzana Mendoza. This fine NAXOS DVD was filmed live, with Alejo Perez conducting exemplarily the orchestra and chorus of the theatre.

Rafael de Acha

MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS OF 2018

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“Best of” lists will be popping up at every turn over the next few weeks. Here is, admittedly early, my list of musical favorites for 2018, listed in random order. Some of the artists on this list are well known names, some are up and coming individuals. Some are groups that often go unnoticed due to the vagaries of marketing and the sheer number of musical events in our communities. Each and every one of these artists deserves for all of us music lovers to sit up and listen.

OPERA: AS ONE

In the Cincinnati Opera’s As One, an intriguing chamber work about the perilous journey of a transgender person, composer Laura Kaminsky and librettists Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed, made theatrical and musical magic within the span of ninety minutes. A first-tier string quartet, led by Gene Chang provided the instrumental portion. Matthew Worth, an impressive singing actor, played Hannah before her transition, and Amber Frasquelle, a superb mezzo-soprano, played Hannah after. The director, Robin Guarino handled the material sensitively and intelligently, helping to craft a straightforward and elegant production. Kudos to Evans Mirageas for going out on a limb and programming new work, proving that in Cincinnati there is an audience for contemporary opera.

OPERA: LA TRAVIATA

In the Cincinnati Opera Traviata, Norah Amsellem, a stunning French soprano, would have made Verdi very happy. Her film star looks and her dramatic gifts made her utterly convincing as the high-class toast of tout Paris. Father and son were sung by tenor Ji-Min Park and baritone Youngjoo An, both artists overflowing with conviction in their assignments. A cast of young artists excelled in supporting roles under the firm directorial hand of Linda Brovsky, among them baritone Simon Barrad, who made his Marquis d’Obigny an important dramatic element in the elegant production designed by Desmond Heeley. In the pit, Renato Balsadonna helmed the orchestra with Italianate panache

CONCERT SOLOIST: COLEMAN ITZKOFF

The rapidly-rising, young cello virtuoso Coleman Itzkoff mined Elgar’s intimately personal score of the Cello Concerto with utmost intensity, yet never allowing his take on this music to wallow in sentimentality, that notwithstanding the profound sadness of Elgar’s musical meditation. Eckart Preu provided his ever top-notch leadership at the helm of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra which continues to surprise with its daring programming, its risk-taking in its choice of soloists, and its ever more cohesive sound.

NEW WORK: ENRICO CHAPELA’S RADIOAXIAL

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra gave the world premiere of Mexican composer Enrico Chapela’s Radioaxial. Massively scored, Chapela’s work alternates moments of aural density with occasional pockets of streamlined lyricism and crystal clarity. Chapela’s intriguingly inventive composition received an enthusiastic ovation from the sometimes staid Cincinnati audience. Now here’s hoping for more rep choices outside the Beethoven-Brahms- Schumann-Mozart box from the CSO.

RECITALS: DANIEL WEEKS AND DONNA LOEWY

The Art of Song is alive and well in Cincinnati. Daniel Weeks and Donna Loewy proved that to be true as they made musical magic happen on the stage of CCM’s Werner Recital Hall in a recital of songs in German, Spanish and English. The two artists did this not pull this off through sleight of hand but through musicality, technique and artistry. But what made this recital extra-special was the way in which it mercifully broke free of the tired and quite often dull formality of the concert platform and spiced up the evening with some inspired humor and theatricality.

CHAMBER MUSIC: A GROUP IN SEARCH OF A NAME

The Immaculata Church in Mt. Adams opened its inaugural Chamber Music Series with string players Christina Nam, Holly Nelson, Kanako Shimasaki, Yu-Ting Huang, Hojoon Choi, and Jonathan Lee assembled into what we hope will be a permanent ensemble playing a concert that included a vigorously vibrant Octet by Mendelssohn. In a city rich in chamber music offerings, it is difficult for an ensemble of young players to establish an identity and make a mark. All the more remarkable then that this musically ad-hoc group that cries out for a name should begin its young journey so auspiciously.

MUSICAL THEATRE: GUYS AND DOLLS

CCM celebrated the fiftieth Anniversary of its impressively successful Musical Theatre program, led by Aubrey Berg, with a superb production of Frank Loesser’s GUYS AND DOLLS. Helmed by choreographer-director Diane Lala and musical director Roger Grodsky, the show blurred the dividing line between professional and college. A cast made up of Broadway hopefuls (who most likely will be working professionally in a matter of months) stopped the show time and again, leaving no doubt that this CCM program offers the top training for triple threats on their way to Broadway in the nation.

ORCHESTRAL: CCM CONCERT ORCHESTRA and AIK KHAI PUNG

The youthful, robust, cohesive, disciplined, committed results that the CCM Concert Orchestra consistently delivers in a city chock full of musical surprises is a thing of wonder. In a concert that paid homage to Leonard Bernstein and several of his friends, the orchestra opened with the single-movement Sinfonia India, by Carlos Chavez, a Mexican ground-breaking composer who explored in his music the native sounds of Mexican folklore. Led by its young maestro, Aik Khai Pung, the orchestra gave an inspired reading of the 12-minute work, ending with a jarabe tapatio dance taken at warp speed that all but raised the roof of Corbett Auditorium.

ORCHESTRAL: SUMMERMUSIK

The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra’s Summermusik lineup of four main-stage concerts, weekday evening pub crawls, and Sunday matinees, now in its third year under the leadership of Eckart Preu has become the best musical antidote to the dog days of summer in the Queen City, with its innovative themed programs and its featuring up and coming soloists in programs of new music in nifty pairings to warhorses from the bread-and-butter orchestral repertoire.

SUSTAINED ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSICAL TRAINING: MARK GIBSON

At the helm of the CCM Philharmonia, Mark Gibson’s work in Opera (Verdi’s Don Carlos…Strauss’ Salome…), in the symphonic repertoire, and in nearly all idioms and styles and periods is a force to be reckoned with: meticulous, impassioned, insightful, and revelatory. Beyond all that, he’s been on the podium and in the rehearsal studio for four decades, as a maestro to future maestros up ‘til now and, we hope for years to come.

Rafael de Acha