PORGY, PRELUDES & PARIS is cause for celebration


Robert and Linda Ang Stoodley play together by the French nickname of Piano à Deux. She is Singapore-born, Robert is as English as you can get, and together since they met on line and then married just a few years ago they make beautiful all-American music in this all-Gershwin CD, with several albums already in stock and more to come. Their website: http://www.pianoadeux.com

Their latest CD (dda25183) for Divine Art Recordings Group is cause for celebration. Terrific playing, of course, paired to smart program notes by Iain Sneddon, impeccable engineering by Oli Whitworth, Stephen Sutton’s album design.

The sheer delight that PORGY, PRELUDES & PARIS produces after not one but many hearings comes from a very idiomatic, very American, very cool, very laid-back, very down-to-earth, very unpretentious, very…Gershwin way of playing Gershwin.

There’s no grandstanding on the part of the Stoodleys when the big finishes loom around the corner, there’s no pretentiousness, nor is there any preciousness in their playing of the tunes of that most American of all American composers. They play with sheer joy and unabashed exuberance. When they need ersatz Viennese Schmaltz for By Strauss they can lay it on, and when the sweeping melodies of Porgy and Bess call for operatic opulence the Stoodley’s deliver in spades.

Gershwin had one foot planted on the Great White Way and the other on the big building at the corner of 57th and 7th in NYC. His music making evidenced this happy dichotomy made whole by his genius and the wisdom of Ravel who told the American fellow with big ideas to go back home with whatever he had learned and be himself. Which, in a way is what he did and what it is needed to play his music.

You cannot swing nor play stride piano unless you can counterbalance precision and meticulousness with an utterly relaxed approach to the keyboard. The Stoodleys have it all and Divine Art has a winning ticket with these two artists.

More please!

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Vyacheslav Artyomov’s Star Wind


In a recent review of a CD of Vyacheslav Artyomov’s music this past November I wrote: “… (his) music is mystical, Russian at the core… a master of orchestral writing and of unusual instrumentation… his melodies have their roots in old Slavonic chant…”

As I listened to the CD (dda25176) Star Wind, a compilation of Artyomov’s music just released by Divine Art Recordings Group (www.divineartsrecords.com) I was once again intrigued by the versatility of the Russian composer’s genre-defying music.

Artyomov’s music is widely performed in Europe and inexplicably by and large ignored in America. I hope against hope this Russian artist’s long overdue recognition happens soon in these parts. By no means derivative, the music of this Russian master is all encompassing in the way in which it embraces Serial techniques here, Romanticism there, often finding inspiration in folklores of foreign lands, yet severely disciplined and anchored in a rigorously Russian Classicism.

Star Wind is both the title of Artyomov’s CD and that of the work that occupies its first track: a tone poem for violin, cello, flute, French horn, piano and glockenspiel. Tonally ambiguous but never harsh in its use of dissonances and sudden outbursts of tone clusters the composition is strikingly original.

Not surprisingly, the chameleonic Artyomov next moves into a dodecaphonic construct in Variations: Nestling Antsali for flute and piano, a set of variations that playfully imitate the fidgeting behavior of the young of a small bird species from the isle of Madagascar.

Moonlight Dreams is a hauntingly evocative cantata for soprano and a chamber ensemble made up of alto flute, cello and piano, with texts culled from the words of four seventh century Chinese poems: In Bamboo Solitude, Autumn Moon, Village at the River, and Quietly Peaceful Night Thoughts in an English translation by David Cheetham of the poetry of Wan Wan, Li Po and Ssü K’ung Shu. Nelly Lee is the pure-voiced soprano soloist.

Romantic Capriccio for French horn, piano and String Quartet is, as its title implies a bold work that embraces a more tonally and melodically traditional sound than the other works in this CD.

Mattinate is actually the title of two charmingly Italianate vocalizes for soprano, with violin, guitar and flute accompaniment, here beautifully sung by soprano Iana Besiadinkaya.

Artyomov wrote for film and for dance, but upon his leaving the Soviet Union, The Moscow Fantasy, the movie ballet for which he composed a score was banned by Soviet cultural apparatchiks. Fortunately the jazzy, sassy, at times rhapsodic, at others sardonic music is extant and is here given a vibrantly rousing performance of seven of its scenes by a top-notch ensemble: Mikhail Tsinman, violin; Igor Abramov, clarinet; Nikolai Gorbunov, bass; Anatoly Sheludiakov, piano; Aleksander Suverov and Valerly Polivanov, percussionists, with Murad Annamamedov conducting.

As usual with anything divine art issues, STAR WIND (dda25176) is nicely packaged and provided with Robert Matthew Walker’s excellent commentary. The engineering by various teams (this being a compilation of earlier recordings) is uniformly good.

Rafael de Acha                      http://www.Rafael’sMusicNotes.com

Great music-making at Immaculata

immaculata 1Mozart dedicated his String Quartet No. 16 in Eb Major, K. 428 – one of six – to his mentor, friend and idol Franz Joseph Haydn. As the opening of a Sunday afternoon concert at Immaculata Church by its string ensemble in residence, the surprisingly inventive composition allowed violinists Sophie Pariot and Saeyun Lee, violist Shelby Thompson, and cellist Jonathan Lee to do their impeccable playing, highlighting the piquant touches of dissonance with which Mozart spiced up this quartet.

To follow the Mozart with  the stringency of Leoš Janáček’s String Quartet No. 1 is not only imaginative but daring in the extreme, a hallmark of this vibrant new chamber ensemble’s triumvirate of artistic directors: Jonathan Lee, Hojoon Choi, and Kanako Shimasaki.

The 69 year old Czech master finished his work in less than two weeks in 1923, titling it Kreutzer Sonata and drawing his inspiration from Leo Tolstoy’s Крейцерова соната (Kreitzerova Sonata), a harrowing novella of jealousy and murder to which Janáček gives voice in restlessly unquiet music that rivets, disturbs, and ultimately provides a much needed catharsis.

Largely tonal and not lacking in modal, folk-inspired melody, the four movement composition runs its quick and violent course over roughly 18 minutes of dramatic outbursts. Janáček breaks many rules and calls upon the players to summon all their technical skills into play.

The first violin – here the formidable Kanako Shimasaki – must deliver extended sul ponticello passages of aggressively rapid tremolando bowing. On Sunday the young violinist shared the heavy lifting on the Janáček in a no-holds-barred performance with her worthy colleagues Christina Nam and Martin Hintz, and with the rock solid cellist Hojoon Choi.

The Brahms Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36 came after intermission, with Nam, Shimasaki, Hintz, Thompson, Choi and cellist Lee doubling up on violins, violas and celli. The work, with its generous outpouring of melody provided a very pleasing, at times bucolic, at other times energetic ending to an afternoon made special by great music-making.

As we drove out of Mount Adams we  could see a great view of the city at night. We thought how lucky we are to have music-making of the caliber we heard this afternoon throughout the year in Cincinnati

The group next plays next month two Bach to Bach evenings of violin sonatas and cello sonatas, and under their other name of Music Seasons String Players it takes on Mendelssohn and Mozart in April at Peterloon.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Powerhouse pianist Peter Seivewright plays Galuppi


Baldassare Galuppi, “Il Buranello” (1706 -1784) wrote operas, sacred works, chamber music, and keyboard pieces for the harpsichord and for the then newfangled fortepiano.

A contemporary of Mozart and Gluck he was unfairly overshadowed by composers of the German and Austrian bent, so much so that after his death many of his both published and unpublished works disappeared, some never to be found again.

But those compositions of Galuppi that have managed to survive the passing of time on dusty library shelves or in the hands of care-giving curators have in recent times come to the attention of scholarly performers.

One such artist is the indispensable musical sleuth and powerhouse pianist Peter Seivewright, who has just added a fourth volume of Galuppi works for the keyboard, appending a lovely concerto a cinque for string quartet and keyboard as the album’s closing number, with the undying  support of divine art records

Aside from the sheer delight that Seivewright’s playing brings to the soul of this listener, we are stunned by the rich variety and charm of Galuppi’s music.

No longer stile gallant nor quite severely Classical nor, Heavens knows, Early Romantic in conception or harmonic structure, Galuppi’s sui generis oeuvre spans a transitional moment in music, taking something from here and something else from there, all along not sounding like Gluck or Mozart or anyone else other than Galuppi and that’s a very good thing.

The eight sonatas included in this invaluable CD are delightfully quirky one, two and three movement conceptions, surprisingly as brief as a couple of minutes, or as fully drawn as ten minutes in length. Galuppi preferred the happiness of major keys and out of the 19 tracks only 2 are in no doom, no gloom minor keys.

Overall Italianate in style, unfussy in harmony, uncomplicated in contrapuntal structure, relying instead on a sunny sound culled from the few days of sunshine and the ongoing openhearted disposition of the denizens of the northern city of Venice, along with quintessentially Italian melodies that make them hold our attention from start to finish, Galuppi’s creations for the keyboard are, along with Peter Seivenwright’s labor of love, as endearing as, we hope, enduring.

The CD is handsome in design, brilliantly annotated by Seivewright, who himself helmed the project as producer. With the help of Andrew Graeme as recording engineer, the album delivers an uncomplicated, faithfully-recorded sound devoid of the claustrophobic over-immediacy of many CD’s these days.

Under fifty minutes in running time, Peter Seivewright’s fourth volume will undergo a severe test in my home study by being subjected to repeated replays, so much do I enjoy it.

Steve Sutton, the visionary friend of so many artists and divine art should be saluted for keeping Seivewright busy with past and future projects.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Anthony Goldstone plays unheard Mozart


Leave it to DIVINE ART to bring much deserved attention to artists the likes of Anthony Goldstone (1944-2017), the late English pianist who during his life made it both his business and a labor of love to explore the rarely visited and undiscovered outer limits of the pianistic repertory.

Once more I sat down to quietly and with undivided attention listen to Goldstone unearth yet another treasure trove from the dustbin of musical history.

In the DIVINE ART 2007 release CD UNHEARD MOZART (dda25051) Anthony Goldstone set out to fully realize or altogether complete nine Mozart works left unfinished by the Austrian master.

Naysayers will most likely question the necessity or validity of this mission, yet I for one salute it with the conviction that more Mozart is never too much Mozart.

And while on the subject of convictions I state clearly that Goldstone was one of the finest pianists I heard in over a half century of concert-going. His playing in this CD is assured to a fault yet pliant and impassioned, accurate yet never pedantic, elegant but not in the least fussy or mannered.

Just in the Mozart realm I was personally and passionately involved in the staging of Mozart’s incomplete L’Oca del Cairo. We used the faultless Virgilio Mortari edition which made it all but impossible to tell where Mozart ended and Mortari picked up. Same here, so seamless is Goldstone bespoke work

And then there’s Puccini’s Turandot. Must we continue to apologize for the use of the tagged-on Alfano ending or just be content with the truncated Puccini? And so forth.

Kudos to Stephen Sutton and divine art for this little gem, to the learned Julian Rushton for his enlightening program notes and, above all to Anthony Goldstone for his Mozartian gift

Rafael de Acha http://www.Rafael’MusicNotes.com

Jan Jirasek: Music of the Soul


Between February and June of 2015 Czech composer Jan Jirásek brought together the combined forces of the Bonifantes Boys Choir and the Czech Soloist Consort in the acoustically resonant Municipal Music Hall in the Czech Republic’s city of Hradec Králové there to record for Navona Records three of his works for choral ensemble: Missa propria, Mondi Paralleli, and Tam, kde sláva neprestává.

Under the title of When the Soul Speaks, the results are impressive.

Rather than adhering to a traditional format of the Catholic Mass, all three of these works embrace a free form both in text and musical structure.

Missa propria (Proper Mass) is made up of Kyrie, Gloria, Miserere, Credo and Agnus Dei and then divided up into three sections. The haunting music is given a lovely rendition by both the Bonifantes Boys Choir and the Czech Soloist Consort under conductor Jan Míšek.

With Mondi Paralleli our composer seeks spiritual commonality between Judaism and Christianity by simultaneously incorporating into his music Hebrew and Latin texts on several occasions. The juxtaposition of texts and choral groupings in counterpoint is nothing short of brilliant.

Tam, kde sláva neprestává (Unending Glory) is made up of three sections: Hospodine, pomiluj (God’s Love), Svatý Václave (Saint Wenceslas), and the martial Ktož jsú boží bojovníci (Jesus Warriors), the latter one using some percussion as accompaniment.

Here, as in the two previous compositions one can hear hints of medieval and early Renaissance Chant, underpinning Cantus Firmus, Conductus structures, and Motet-like choral forms.

At this point I have to sound off my one negative comment about this otherwise beautiful album: Nowhere in sight is there a program note about the music or a single translation of the texts. With great difficulty, since I neither read and write nor speak Czech I managed by dint of searching to come up with a few probably poor translations of the titles. That and no credit given to the sound engineer (s) keeps this otherwise amazing album from giving a flawless impression.

Made piquant by occasional dissonances and nods to monodic writing, Jirasek’s music offers a wondrously eclectic mix of post-Romantic melodic impulses and severe compositional adherence to solid counterpoint. His is the work of a master composer with a deep spiritual current running through his being, and that is one of the many saving graces of this album, along with the gorgeous singing of its boys and men.

Rafael de Acha              http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Icelandic music played by Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir

vernacularcover+(1)Icelandic-American cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir has recorded VERNACULAR (DSL-92229) on the Sono Luminus label. The intriguing album, soon to be available from a number of sources, features music for solo cello by Icelandic composers.

Páll Ragnar Pálsson’s quietly meditative Afterquake opens the album. The composer finds his inspiration in the poetry of fellow Icelander Auður Jónsdóttir’s The Big Quake, echoing its description of a barren yet beautiful landscape in a series of musical gestures ranging from glissandi, trills, and double string playing to sul ponticello bowing.

48 Images of the Moon by Þuríður Jónsdóttir engages the attention through the use of a nighttime field recording by Magnus Bergsson made close to the Önundarfjörður fjord. The combination of the nocturnal sounds of nature juxtaposed to Thorsteinsdóttir’s sometimes serene sometimes energetic responses to the enveloping soundscape is mesmerizing.

Halldór Smárason’s O explores in music the poetic connotations of light and darkness. Its three movements: Ljós, Minni and Slokkna evoke a world enveloped in darkness for a good part of the year. In that world, the lighting up of a fire, even one as small and modest as that of a candle takes on a special significance for those who inhabit it. Its three sections blur their starting and stopping points creating a continuum of sounds- some nervous, some serene, some haunting, all of them fascinating

Solitaire brings the album to a close. Hafliði Hallgrímsson’s composition is divided into five sections; Oration is rhapsodic and impassioned, calling for sweeping bowing, Serenade adopts a playful pizzicato approach, Nocturne is meditative and gentle, yet suddenly interrupted by fierce glissandi, Dirge and Jig, elicit a diversity of unpredictable sounds from the cello of Thorsteinsdóttir.

Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir has lovingly brought to life a project that merits attention from listeners open to new music from all parts of the world, Iceland in this case, from which we hear little and about which we know hardly anything. The cellist has accompanied the beautifully designed and packaged album with candid notes about her musical journey with these compositions, and she has surrounded herself with the Sono Luminus “A team”, headed by the superb Dan Merceruio and Daniel Shores as engineer.

Rafael de Acha http://www.Rafael’sMusicNotes.com

Gernot Wolfgang’s Vienna and the West


Listening to Road Signs, an intriguing etude for bassoon and piano by Gernot Wolfgang in the Albany CD Vienna and the West (TROY 1760) I am reminded of how much I enjoyed Wolfgang’s work in the past, and of how unpredictable the young Austrian composer’s music can be. Here’s a lovely compilation of minimalist compositions written between 2002 and 2017.

Playing music conceived for the unjustly ignored lowest member of the woodwinds family and using all the technical bells and whistles at the disposal of a virtuoso, bassoonist Judith Farmer elicits a plangent and haunting sound from her instrument in a composition by Wolfgang that musically evokes the sparse vividness of a Georgia O’Keefe canvas.

Wolfgang next turns on a dime to juxtapose in a bold move his Passage to Vienna to the American West landscape of the prior track. Oh but wait, while the violin of Tereza Stanislav and the cello of Ben Hong court playfully, pianist Joanne Pearce Martin  provides a rhythmic underpinning redolent of Latin America.

As I said, Gernot Wolfgang is unpredictable to a fault. In both these compositions Gernot Wolfgang creates an homage to the Dodecaphonists without slavish adherence to a fixed tone row, and even while avoiding a clearly established tonal center, the Austrian-American composer writes sweeping melodic turns here assigned to the violin here, the bassoon there.

This, in a few words, is music that defies pigeonholing, as it embraces the rigorous conservatory training of its creator while at the same time giving more than a passing nod to the improvisatory feel of jazz.

Route 33 affords a solo turn to Gloria Cheng, a superb pianist utterly comfortable in the unclassifiable music of Wofgang.

The 2014 Windows gives clarinetist Edgar David Lopez a chance to shine in tandem with bassoonist Judith Farmer.

Impressions dates back sixteen years, giving us a glimpse at the right out of the gate accomplishments of its composer in three dreamscapes titled Carnival in Venice, Dream, and Country Road. Lopez’ clarinet, Farmer’s bassoon, and Stanislav’s violin, come together with horn player Amy Jo Rhine, violist Robert Brophy, cellist Charles Tyler, and bassist Steve Dress in a richly executed performance.

The CD’s final track features violinist Maia Jasper White who adds her playing to that of violist Robert Brophy, cellist Charles Tyler, and pianist Robert Thies in From Vienna with Love, a lovely Valentine from Gernot Wolfgang to the capital of his birth-country,.

Unpredictable, surely, but I will choose surprise any day over a musical déjà vu.

Rafael de Acha            http://www.Rafael’sMusicNotes.com




De sa dent soudaine et vorace, Comme un chien l’amour m’a mordu... (Suddenly and voraciously Love has bitten me like a dog) sings Bonnières’ text for Henri Duparc’s Le Manoir de Rosamonde, and the fine Italian basso Andrea Mastroni snarls out the phrase in one of many daring choices in his interpretation of all sixteen mélodies of the French master.

In the narrative, ballad-like songs like Au pays où se fait la guerre, La vague et la cloche, and Le galop Mastroni summons an impressive basso cantante voice coupled to a keen dramatic sense.

Not one to overwhelm the delicate gems that make up the bulk of Duparc’s song output – 16 in all – Andrea Mastroni adopts a dark-hued mezza-voce that allows him to spin out long legato phrases without any difficulty.

Mastroni, an impressive singing actor whom I have seen live on stage more than once, is willing to show true vulnerability in confessional utterances like Testament and La vie antérieure, songs in which the absence of artifice, and true intimacy are of the utmost importance. His French diction is unimpeachable and the style right on point.

Mattia Ometto is the superb collaborative pianist and ostensibly a scholar who provides insightful line notes.

Giovanni Caruso is the engineer in this gem of a CD issued by Brilliant Classics in 2015 which by happenchance just reached my hands just days ago. What luck!

Rafael de Acha      http://www.Rafael’sMusicNotes.com




American baritone John Chest and Brazilian collaborative pianist Marcelo Amaral have both forged important individual careers in Europe, often collaborating on song recitals when their busy schedules permit it.

Luckily they were able to come together in Paris in May of last year to record this CD in the acoustically-friendly recesses of Temple Saint Marcel.

The multi-tasking producer Franck Jaffrès also took care of the mastering and editing of this lovely album, equipped with insightful liner notes and sensible translations of the songs.

All in all this is an elegantly realized project that thanks to the musicianship of both its interpreters delivers a faithful rendition of Brahms’ telling of the story of the beautiful medieval princess Magelone and the chivalrous Count Peter.

John Chest sings with utmost sensitivity in impeccable German and in a supple lyric baritone voice that serves excellently  both the delicacy of Ruhe, Süssliebchen and the heroic Verzweiflung.

Pianist Marcelo Amaral is the perfect partner for this project, commanding great pianistic technique and pliability in his work with Chest.

Rafael de Acha  http://www.Rafael’sMusicNotes.com