trio-sax-piano-duo-2Aside from the beauty of the music and the high quality of the performance of works by Max Bruch, Leo Délibes, Jun Nagao, and Guillaume Connesson, played in this CD by the Jamnaji Trio, it is unusual to listen to such good chamber music made by the rare combination of two saxophones and a piano.

But then there is no rule that says that saxophonists James Bunte and Nathan Nabb could not team up with their pianist, Hyun Ji Oh and make music together. And, if there is not much music (if any) conceived or available for that rare combination, there is always a composer or arranger out there to take a commission from the artists and create suitable works to be played.

Paganini Lost, a 2008 mano-a-mano for two alto saxophones by Japanese composer Jun Nagao is a flashy and clever composition that riffs on the Italian violinist’s 24th Caprice, providing a sit-up-and-listen opening to the album in a terrific performance by the trio.

Max Bruch wrote his Eight Pieces for Viola and Clarinet in 1909. A work that turned its back on the then new-fangled free-Atonality that Schoenberg was beginning to explore, Bruch’s eight pieces are lovely, lyrical and elegant to begin with, and remain so in the idiomatically apt arrangement by Japanese composer Masahito Sugihara. Nabb’s alto saxophone and Bunte’s tenor saxophone blend to provide a finely tuned performance

Nathan Nabb and James Bunte next elicit a singing tone from two soprano saxophones in the familiar “Flower Duet” from Leo Délibes’ Lakmé in an arrangement by Nicholas Bissen, playing with seamless legato.

The album gets a tongue-in-cheek, warp-speed finish with both Bunte and Nabb on soprano saxophones in Guillaume Connesson’s Techno-Parade.

Kim Pensyl produced and engineered this album, available through CD Baby.

Three fine artists, four composers, all under one name in an unusual and welcome CD.

Rafael de Acha



As I looked through violist Melia Watras’ impressive list of credits: solo viola player, chamber musician, educator, and composer, my eye was also drawn to the names of the contemporary composers whose work this artist has played and recorded.

The better known names: Berio…Corigliano…Ligeti…Penderecki… hinted at a preference on the part of this artist for new music that turns its back on post-Romanticism and instead explores the unexplored, either skirting or fully embracing Atonality and or Serialism.

Yet an argument could be made for this artist’s eclecticism: she has also made some recordings of Romantic pieces by Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps, and in the case of the Planet M Records CD Melia Watras Schumann Resonances (PMR – 001) she includes Robert Schumann’s rarely heard Märchenbilder (Pictures from Fairyland), op. 113, combining it with several works, some of her own.

The album is interesting on several levels. First, there is the off-the-beaten path aspect of it: an entire CD dedicated to music for viola and instruments. Although I hasten to add that for savvier collectors this album might not be so out of the ordinary, I must confess that for this listener this is a first.

The album is also a sampler of the use of the much underused viola as a partner with various instruments: piano, trumpet, percussion, violin, human voice, in compositions by Watras herself, and by Richard Karpen and Cuong Vu.

Belying the reputation of the viola as an instrument of limited musical means, Watras puts all doubts at rest by playing with dazzling agility and extracting a luscious, singing tone from her instrument. She plays the quintessentially Romantic Schumann miniatures with heart and utter clarity, and later brings a cerebral understanding of the intricacies of her own compositions and those of her composer colleagues to several of the tracks on the CD.

Judith Sherman produced, Dmitriy Lipay engineered and Ms. Watras annotated this elegant new album of mostly new music for the viola.

Rafael de Acha

Here’s a taste of RESONANCES: https://youtu.be/kYA6i-8uZgA




Jakub Hrůša

The Bamberger Symphoniker (Bamberg Symphony) is a German orchestra that was formed in 1946 after musicians who had previously been members of the German Philharmonic Orchestra of Prague returned home. In 1993 the additional name of Bayerische Staatsphilharmonie (Bavarian State Philharmonic) was adopted by this fine ensemble, which now makes its home in the City of Bamberg.

The young Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša leads it, imprinting into his music-making a decidedly robust and energetic sound that, paraphrasing the orchestra’s own marketing words, bears a Bohemian undercurrent that evidences strongly disciplined playing from the ensemble and a leadership both pliant and decisive from Maestro Hrůša.

Johannes Brahms’ Symphony no. 4 in E minor, opus 98 occupies one of the two compact disks that are part of the recent 2018 TUDOR recording co-produced with BR KLASSIK.

Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony no. 9, in E Minor, opus 95, “From the New World” takes up the entire second CD.

The recordings were produced by Pauline Heister and Wladek Glowacz, engineered by Sebastian Braun and Markus Spatz, mastered by Christoph Stickel, and elegantly packaged with excellent linear notes in German, French, and English, and an insightful interview with Jakub Hrůša.

Recorded in 2017 in the orchestra’s home, the Bamberg Concert Hall, the quality of the sound is crystal clear and limpid, giving equal value to the high frequencies of the upper strings and woodwinds in the Dvořák, and faithful attention to the brass and lower strings in the Brahms, and altogether beautifully balanced throughout.

Most important of all, the music making of this notable ensemble is of the highest order. Impassioned yet disciplined in the Dvořák, controlled and sober yet emotionally charged in the Brahms, the Bamberg musicians and their conductor travel comfortably from the quintessentially German Brahms Fourth to the pan-nationalistic Dvořák, with its folklore-inspired Americanisms of the “Goin’ Home” movement.

The pairing of the music of these two indispensable composers in one album is both felicitous and moving, for these two mutual admirers were also good friends.

This listener enthusiastically salutes the work of the Bamberger Symphoniker, recommends this double CD, and looks forward to future releases from TUDOR and BR Klassik.

Rafael de Acha




There are, Heaven knows. many recordings of Verdi’s Manzoni Requiem. But many is not too many.

When I put this double CD to play on my player I resist the temptation to compare this superb version to others in my library. Most of the artists in all of the Verdi Requiems in my possession are long gone or retired, and this DELOS issue is freshly minted and sung by a fresh-voiced quartet of young singers at the top of their game.

It is, in short, a splendid addition to the library of any serious collector of recordings of vocal music.

Too bad that some of Verdi’s favorite singers did not live into the era of acoustical recordings. Had Austrian mezzo-soprano Margherita Waldman not retired in her early thirties, we can just imagine what Verdi’s favorite Amneris must have sounded like, even in an old one-sided 78 shellac of Libera me.

In the case of Teresa Stolz, the Bohemian-born Verdi go-to soprano who created both the Forza del destino Leonora and the first Italian Aida, and who first sang the Requiem, she died years before the advent of recorded sound.

Also a great loss.

All of the above goes by way of saying that we can only speculate as to what kind of sound the Master expected from his quartet when he finally decided to complete on his own what had originally been a group effort to honor Rossini. In 1874, Verdi finished writing his Messa da Requiem to honor the Italian patriot and poet Alessandro Manzoni. And a good thing he decided to go it alone because we all know that a dromedary can often simply be a horse designed by committee.

The first solo utterance in the Requiem is given to the mezzo-soprano: here, the superb Olesya Petrova, possessor of a fine dramatic sound capable of descending below the staff with a sensational chest voice, and of then rising to full-voiced phrases in her upper range, as in the Liber Scriptus. She later holds her own in all the quartets and in the touching Quid sum miser trio.

The Azerbaijani star Dinara Alieva is the soprano soloist. She excels throughout with the kind of rock-solid vocalism that relies on cutting power and lyric brilliance rather than heft. A Bolshoi favorite, her luscious sound is reminiscent of the great Italian Spinto sopranos of the past century, rather than that of some of her Slavic  peers.

As regards the bass and the tenor parts in the Requiem it is easier to guess what Verdi wanted. The tenor soloist has almost everything riding on his Ingemisco. Francesco Meli brings a plangent Italianate sound to his assignment, with an easy top and plenty of squillo for the big moments. He can also pull back to a gorgeous mezza voce in the Offertorium.

I think Verdi would have been pleased with Meli and with the bass in this recording.

The Russian bass Dmitri Belosselsky is familiar to us from his recent appearances as Zaccaria in the MET Nabucco. Not a Russian profundo but more of a basso cantante, he excels in the Confutatis maledictus, with an outpouring of vocal fire and brimstone. Later his singing is bone chilling in his use of mezza voce in Mors stupevit

The quartet of Alieva, Petrova, Meli and Belosselsky is remarkable as an ensemble of equals at the service of the music. When piani and pianissimi are called for they deliver. Cut offs, diminuendi, and crescendi are executed by these four superb artists with precision and utter sensitivity, and with never a hint of vocal competitiveness.

The Requiem is first and foremost a choral-orchestral work and maestro Yuri Temirkanov crafts an expansive musical landscape commanding the marvelous Bolshoi Theatre Chorus and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and eliciting sterling work by the musical forces at his disposal.

The DELOS double CD (DE3563) was recorded live in concert at St. Petersburg Philharmonia on December 19, 2017. The production-engineering team of Elchin Muradov, Fedor Naumov, and the CD design of Oksana Morgunova and Alexander Kolganov, all under the aegis of Delos Executive Producer Carol Rosenberger delivers exemplary work in this worthy project.

The Requiem has been called a Sacred Opera because of its setting of a text that deals with matters of Faith and Life and Death – perfect for the genius of a man who grappled in one way or another with these very subjects in each and every one of his three dozen operas as well as in his personal life.

How appropriate and moving that this praise-worthy recording is dedicated to the memory of the great Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. He too would have been proud of his colleagues and happy with the results.

Rafael de Acha




4_byron_janis_mockup_lpWhen confronted with the challenge of writing a review about the work of pianist Byron Janis, the old saw about bringing coals to Newcastle popped into my mind, and an inner voice quietly whispered: “How can you possibly bring any fresh insight, any yet unheard or unread accolade to the table of one of the greatest pianists of our time? Get real!”

But I forged ahead not out of hubris but eager to share with my music-loving reader-friends the news of the release of BYRON JANIS LIVE ON TOUR, a two-vinyl LP edition, autographed by the artist, also available in CD form from http://byronjanis.com.

First and in the spirit of full disclosure: I am basing my enthusiastic response on my listening today to this giant for the first time in my life live. Alright, an LP is not a live concert but this LP is all tracks of live appearances.

I should qualify that above. I did listen many times to Byron Janis playing his unique and beloved Chopin on the radio (thanks to WQXR in NYC and WGUC in Cincinnati) and always admired his art, but again never live.

When I grew up in Cuba listening to some great classical artists, Byron Janis was just beginning his career. When he played in Havana in 1999 I had already moved to the United States. I missed him live then.

Then living in various cities and pursuing my own career I kept missing his live appearances in recital and in concert. All that is just to say that sitting down to listen to this revelatory collection of excerpts from Byron Janis concerts in Paris, New York, Madrid, Brussels and various other cities is a great first time visit with this artist, live or not.

Let me cut to the chase by informing our readers of what he plays here: three movements from three different Haydn sonatas: his playing quintessentially classical; three waltzes, a Mazurka, a nocturne, and the Largo from the B Minor Sonata – all six by Chopin, all exquisite.

That’s the first of two LP’s.

In the second LP, Janis takes on the 104th Pace non trovo from the Petrarch Sonnets and the Rigoletto paraphrase, both by Liszt without breaking a sweat. He then lightens up and coolly riffs with the great Cy Coleman in By and Cy and then wins our hearts with three nifty label-less songs of his (which I will not call Pop but they are not Art Songs either): You Are More; David’s Star – A Son for Israel; and Like Any Man.

The album is a family undertaking, beautifully self-produced, insightfully annotated by Janis himself, with striking cover art by wife Maria Janis, and movingly dedicated to son Stefan Janis, who died tragically just months ago.

The remastering by Bill Lacey and the editing by Arthur Fierro are top notch.

But most movingly, this is not a last but one more hurrah by a restless, inquisitive, intellectually keen, musically gifted giant artist and human being who refuses to stop doing the many things he loves to do and we love for him to do. This from a man in his mid-80’s who has waged a long battle with a pernicious and debilitating form of Arthritis and has triumphed over tragedy.

I guess I have brought some coals to Newcastle but I hope the Maestro doesn’t mind.

Rafael de Acha



SONO LUMINUS will soon be releasing CITIZEN, an intriguing CD of piano works featuring world premiere recordings of music by American composers Nolan Gasser, David T. Little, Augusta Gross, C. Price Walden, and William Grant Still.

The mix of compositions both contemporary and Romantic, American and European, old and new featured in this recording is brilliantly played, amply justified, and insightfully annotated in straightforward prose by the ever questing Bruce Levingston, the artist/curator in this recording, whose idiomatically perfect reading of three Chopin mazurkas is given the same care by him as the lovely playing of William Grant Still’s elegantly bucolic SUMMERLAND.

Nolan Gasser’s AMERICAN CITIZEN opens the CD. It is a substantially developed piano composition, sui generis in structure, tonal in its melodies, and subtly evocative of things American in its fleetingly adopted snippets of blues and folk gestures.

Inspired by a painting by Marie Atkinson Hull of sharecropper John Wesley Washington, an American born into slavery, AMERICAN CITIZEN is a work both emotionally compelling in its recalling of tragedies and celebratory in its commemoration of libertarian victories.

Minimalist in its restraint and economy of means, David T. Little’s ACCUMULATION OF PURPOSE, is a remarkable six-part work with each of its movements assigned a subsidiary title.

The six miniatures bring to mind the piano works of Anton Webern, not through their freely atonal ambience but through their hauntingly beautiful use of compositional devices like a left hand perpetuum mobile figuration in counterpoint with an ostinato sounding of a single note in the highest reaches of the keyboard in the concluding Nocturne.

Augusta Gross contributes LOCATIONS IN TIME, a three-part cycle of pieces titled Other, Elegy, and Toward Night. Her composition inhabits a world of vague tonal centers, emotionally-charged changes of dynamics, blurred contours, and seeming stasis with a strong undercurrent flowing through. Gross’ quietly powerful music is achingly resigned in its sadness but questioning thereof.

C.Price Walden’s SACRED SPACES occupies two of the last three tracks of CITIZEN, both its Prelude and Chaconne (track 15) and its Hymn (The world is my home) on track 16, providing moments both climactic and sobering in their traditionally tonal and anthem-like music of celebration and joy.

This CD’s gathering of voices that celebrate the civility and brotherly love quintessential to what is American or more simply put, what it means to be a member of the human race, is a noble undertaking underpinned by the artistic excellence and commitment of its curator and pianist, Bruce Levingston, a notable artist who brings the album to an end with a profoundly touching AMAZING GRACE.

Dan Merceurio and Daniel Shores lend world class engineering to this well-packaged album, soon available from SONO LUMINUS (www.sonoluminus.com)

Rafael de Acha



During 2018 we posted 136 posts about music on our blog: http://www.Rafael’sMusicNotes.com

We helped get the word out about many of our wonderful arts organizations, among them: CCM, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Opera, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, and our own Music for All Seasons.

We reviewed the work of many artists through their recordings, many of which made Best of 2018 lists on various websites and publications.

With the goodwill of fellow bloggers who specialize in Music we shared many of our on-line reviews with the viewership of:


Our posts were seen

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the United Kingdom…Canada…Germany…Australia…Italy…Switzerland…the Czech Republic…Spain…the Netherlands…Poland…Brazil…France…Russia…Ireland…Sweden…Japan…South Africa…Austria…Romania…Mexico…Greece…Israel…Mongolia…Finland…South Korea…Argentina…Puerto Rico…Norway…India…Singapore…the Philippines…New Zealand…Hungary…Portugal…Serbia…China…the Virgin Islands…Croatia…Belgium…Taiwan…Denmark…Thailand…Ukraine…Slovakia…Bulgaria…Armenia… Chile…Colombia…Lithuania…Slovenia…Estonia…Georgia…Malta…The UAE…Vietnam… Peru…Cuba…Latvia…Venezuela…Turkey…The Dominican Republic…Kenya…Indonesia…The Aland Islands…Nepal… Uruguay…Algeria…Kazakhstan…Nigeria…Syria…Pakistan…Lebanon…Malaysia… Bosnia&Herzegovina…Luxembourg…Nicaragua…Iceland…Kyrgyzstan…Ecuador…Macedonia…Tunisia… Cambodia…Costa Rica…Sri Lanka…Swaziland…Albania…Panama…Qatar…Sierra Leone…Jamaica…


A GREAT 2019!

Rafael de Acha




After an overzealous blogger recently chastised me by blocking me and or one of my posts for being an “anti-Regie-Opera” zealot, I have begun to weigh my words when posting casual commentary on either my blog or my Facebook Group Page.

When it comes to a proper review, there I draw the line and let my readers know that I am sharing my views in the spirit of civilized discourse.

So, in that very spirit here I share some opinions and some basic information on the subject of Opera on the small screen, in the hope that it will provide some guidance given the wealth of options available to those of us who listen to and watch as much Opera on our computers and laptops as we do in the Opera House or at the Cinema.


The pluses are many. At $19.95 you get unlimited access to over 1,800 operas, concerts, ballets, films and documentaries about music, available in HD and watchable on any home screen.

Some of the offerings are impressive: Salzburg Festival operas with top-notch casts and conductors… Recitals by Ashkenazy or Barenboim…

The minuses are occasional transmission glitches that kick in at the worst possible times, and having to endure productions like Peter Sellars abysmally ugly La Clemenza di Tito for Salzburg along with some strange casting which I fail to comprehend.

Try it: https://www.medici.tv


What’s not to like when it’s free? Recently I watched a very interesting Macbeth from Venice, a well-sung Lucia from Madrid’s Teatro Real, and an impressive gala concert from the Lithuanian National Opera. Check it out at: https://operavision.eu


I have never tested the HD presentations of the Vienna State Opera, but you certainly can.

They have an entire RING coming up at $15.95 per opera, which makes it more pricey than most on line Opera. I find it somewhat limiting that one has to catch the transmission on their terms, with little flexibility and a limited run of a few days.(www.staatsoperlive.com)


Many of us who could not afford to buy the complete Opera sets on LP available before the advent of the compact disc, had to depend on pirated copies of secretly recorded concerts and operas sold for a fraction of the price of the real thing. It wasn’t legal for the seller or probably for the buyer but we all did it so we could listen to Callas’ Venice Lady Macbeth or her Mexico City Aida.

And so, there is the touch and go You Tube with all those annoying commercials and often mediocre sound and visuals but with things that one will not easily find elsewhere and certainly not for free.

Happy watching!

Rafael de Acha



Peter Schaaf

At first I set aside Peter Schaaf’s CD of Schubert/Brahms/Dvořák/Ravel waltzes in order to give some quality time to family and the holidays.

But now, saturated with Christmas Carols and presents and parties and too many treats, I long for the simpler joys of listening to the purity of Peter Schaaf’s elegant playing of 44 Waltzes on 88 keys, a CD featuring Franz Schubert’s Valses Nobles, D 969; Johannes Brahms’ Waltzes, Op. 39; Antonin Dvořák’s Waltzes, Op. 54; and Maurice Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales.

By the time of the writing of his Valses Nobles, D 969, and after completing the emotionally-depleting composition of Winterreise in or around 1827, the year before his untimely death, the composer was whooping it up in Vienna, playing in salons and parties and Schubertiades and for just about any venue that could bring in some much-needed income to supplement the underpaid residuals he got for the published versions of his compositions.

With Schubert himself at the keyboard, these waltzes, whether noble or sentimental were just the ticket at social gatherings where dancing and drinking and smoking and running upstairs or going home with a young lady one had just met was absolutely acceptable.

Schubert’s waltzes were meant for dancing and carousing, not for the stiffness of the concert hall, and Peter Schaaf treats them with care for their value as perfect salon pieces and with unfettered energy.

Brahms’ waltzes, were cleverly dedicated by the composer to Edward Hanslick, the Austrian critic who could make or break a composer’s career with a stroke of his pen.

Already an eminence grise in his mid-thirties, Brahms could write a set of waltzes, hear them played by Clara Schumann the next day, and see them published by Simrock a month later.

There was no struggle, no angst, no wondering when the next gig or fee would be coming. And the music of Brahms’ opus 39 reflects this carefree Lebensfreude from start to finish, which Peter Schaaf mines it for all its worth.

Unlike Schubert’ and Brahms’ less-than-one-minute-long waltzes, Antonin Dvořák’s Waltzes, Op. 54 shun the Ländler roots of most if not all Viennese and German waltz and expand the form into more substantial musical episodes, two, three and four minutes in length.

They do reveal strong Bohemian folk roots, boldly going off-tempo and defying anyone who dares dance to them to keep up with the ever lively accelerando and capricious ritardando changes. Dvořák’s waltzes are high in charm and verve, and Peter Schaaf plays them with a lovely mix of sentiment and lightness.

Seventy-two minutes of music in ¾ time could tax the patience of the best of listeners. Luckily Peter Schaaf’s apposite programming permits one to put on hold the last eight tracks of this CD or, even better, to pour oneself a nice glass of French wine and cleanse one’s musical palate by continuing one’s listening session with the 20th century brittleness and vibrancy of Maurice Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales played to the hilt by our pianist.

After having listened to and reviewed another CD by the superb pianist Peter Schaaf, I now find myself listening to a second album of his over and over again.

Rafael de Acha


44 Waltzes on 88 keys is available from www/peterschaaf.com,




All of the music of Edvard Grieg comes straight from his romantic Norwegian soul, but it inhabits two worlds. One, the world of the Piano Concerto and the incidental music for Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is the public world of the large compositions – a world of a pragmatic artist who knew he had to make a living as a performing musician and deliver the big works in order to support his family.

The other world of Edvard Grieg is the very private world of his piano works.

It luckily was a world with enormous potential for financial gain, and Grieg was fortunate to live at a moment in Scandinavia where the growing music publishing and piano manufacturing industries were rapidly expanding thanks to a growing demand for music for the home.

When inclement winter weather and limited finances made it difficult or nearly impossible for a growing middle-class family to attend a public concert it was always possible for mother to sit at the piano and accompany the fine amateur baritone whom she had married in one of the easier songs of Edvard Grieg, the sheet music for which she had purchased in a Peters edition at a reasonable price.

And if father could not carry a tune, well then there was always that piano reduction of a Grieg song that she had worked on long and hard to master at the piano she had brought as part of her dowry.

Salon music, these days scoffed at by snobs and critics thrived in both the humbler homes and the mansions of the wealthy Norwegians in Oslo and Bergen and Christiania, and Edvard Grieg became a favored guest in the musical salons of his native land and in those of Copenhagen and Stockholm and Leipzig, side by side with Wagnerian transcriptions by Liszt and ditties by Rossini played by other artists.

But not for an instant should Grieg be labeled a salon figure! He was nothing of the sort but an immensely gifted musical miniaturist and poet with the uncanny ability to get to the very core of a poetic text, as the formidable Norwegian pianist Ingunn Adland so perceptively points out in her insightful liner notes to the CD Songs Without Words.

In eighteen vignettes from opus 41, opus 52 and the early opus 3, “Poetiske tonebilder” Ingunn Adland takes the listener through the grief of Vuggesang, the impassioned declaration of love in Jeg elsker dig, the doleful Modersong, and the joyful, the rapturous,  and the reflective.

She does so with impeccable technique, immense musicality, accurate musicianship, and great poetic sensibility.

On a recent visit to Grieg’s Troldhaugen in Bergen we were treated to a recital by Ms. Adland played on the very piano that the composer played when he lived out the rest of his life in the company of his beloved Nina.

It is a memory that we will carry for the rest of our life and that is replicated in this gorgeous CD with spot-on engineering by Arne Wilhelmsen, in the hands and soul of Ingunn Adland, a great pianist and artist.

Rafael de Acha

For more information visit http://www.troldhaugen.com and or http://www.troldvenner.no