GOOD SONGS WELL SUNG

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Gabriel Fauré’s music, its vocal line so perfectly bonded to Paul Verlaine’s poetry and its piano accompaniments so exquisitely expressive of the underlying emotions that lie just below the surface of the words, make each of the nine songs in La Bonne Chanson nothing short of perfect, the poet and his composer perfectly marrying their intentions.

Thomas Meglioranza’s voice is ideally suited to French music. With Bernac and Souzay long gone I would challenge those who love French mélodie to find a baritone with a voice as supple, as clear, as beautiful singing this repertoire.

Beyond the mere technical requirements necessary to sing this music, Meglioranza brings to his work an uncanny ability to change the color of his voice while maintaining at all times a well-phonated vocal emission.

Reiko Uchida not merely accompanies but perfectly partners Meglioranza providing superb support with enormous sensitivity. Playing on an 1890 Pleyel that Fauré himself would have contentedly played on, Uchida proves one more time to be an ideal accompanist: attentive, independent when needed, in total technical command at all times.

These two artists convey a huge range of emotions as they wend their way through Fauré’s songs, later still giving life to Verlaine’s poetry in Debussy’ second set of Fétes Galantes, infusing those three songs with a darker pianistic and vocal coloration.

All of this seemingly happens spontaneously, never evidencing any manipulation, any changing of gears, nor any superimposing of interpretive superficiality on the music.

Poulenc’s Chansons gaillardes can tax a baritone not equipped with pristine diction and up and down the range comfort. Meglioranza has both, and he makes the most of Poulenc’s naughty musical humor and the often randy texts of the songs.

Maurice Ravel’s densely chromatic Déux epigrammes calls for unflagging legato and accuracy, again two assets our singer brings to the music.

Meglioranza opts for a whimsical ending rather than a big finish by programming Francis Poulenc’s Le Bestiaire to close his CD of French song. Guillaume Apollinaire’s six minimalistic gems make their point by inference and irony, rather than emphasis on the brittle vignettes about fauna. Thomas Meglioranza sings his Poulenc and his Ravel and his Fauré and his Debussy with plenty of panache, beaucoup style and sheer vocal beauty.

Unlike the great German song cycles, Fauré’s La Bonne Chanson and much of Ravel and Poulenc’s mélodies are all about the redemptive joys of love and its beatific accompaniments: sunlight, moonlight, spring, nighttime, trust, and safety. What a gift it is to have so much of that in THE GOOD SONG.

Judith Sherman engineered this CD, assisted by Jeanne Velonis, with excellent results.
The album is available from CD Baby as a physical CD as well as a download.
https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/thomasmeglioranza3 It’s also on iTunes and in most of the streaming services.

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

NADIA SHPACHENKO’s POETRY OF PLACES

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The Poetry of Places, Nadia Shpachenko’s CD recorded in 2017 and just now released by Reference Recordings is a celebration of new music featuring a formidable pianist in the company of top practitioners in the field.

Andrew Norman’s Frank’s House opens the CD with an ironic musical commentary on the use of contemporary construction materials overlaid upon a 1920’s bungalow  transformed by architect Frank Gehry in 1977 into a residence for his family.

The composer expresses the spirit of Gehry’s work through the juxtaposing of sentimental tunes played by pianists Nadia Shpachenko and Joanne Pearce Martin against the skills of two agile percussionists, Nick Terry and Cory Hills, interrupting the proceedings with the metallic scraping and banging of a building in progress. Poetically, Norman conveys in musical terms the improbable yet possible marriage of the traditional and the unconventional.

Throughout The Poetry of Places, Nadia Shpachenko valiantly navigates the now tranquil, now tumultuous waters of eight new works, six of them commissioned by and dedicated to her.

Set aside for a moment the technique and musicianship it takes to learn and then master Harold Meltzer’s In Full Sail, an intriguing study in musical pointillism. Meltzer’s work tackles a pianistic description of Frank Gehry’s IAC building in New York’s Chelsea. Then simply focus on the poetic sensibility and musicality required to play Meltzer’s music, and you will begin to get an idea of the accomplishments of Nadia Shpachenko.

Jack Van Zandt’s intense depiction of the massive Neolithic monument Sí an Bhrú and Shpachenko’s now muscular now delicate response to each of its six sections is transfixing, with composer and interpreter joining forces with splendid results.

Hannah Lash wrote Give Me Your Songs inspired by a visit to Aaron Copland’s former home, now a National Historic Landmark and a creative center for American musicians in Cortland Manor, NY. Her composition is a loving tribute to the tranquil environment of Copland’s bucolic refuge, here given a lyrical performance by Shpachenko.

Amy Beth Kirsten composed h.o.p.e, inspired by the transformative power of the 2015 art exhibit The Big Hope Show in The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Her work is childlike in its unpretentiousness, and both humorous and moving: a composition for toy piano and one female vocalist, which Shpachenko plays with the necessary light touch.

Alone, in waters shimmering and dark is composer James Matheson’s musical response to a sighting of a house on an island in the middle of a lake in Pine Plains, NY. Reminiscent in its first movement of Debussy’s La Cathédral engloutie with its massive cluster chords in the bass allowed by the pianist to linger on by the use of the sustaining pedal, the intriguing three-part tocattina moves on to a syncopated scherzo in Capillary Waves, and on to a brief final movement embodying the peace of static quietude.

Lewis Spratlan embraces a mix of mysticism and modernity in Bangladesh appositely evoking the strides made by the Asian nation’s proud people before and after the building of Louis Kahn’s National Assembly in Dhaka.

The five movement, fifteen-minute long composition never overstays its welcome by repeating itself, taking instead an eclectic compositional path that incorporates raga-like riffs and motifs, ostinato figures, and the use of pitches that become symbols of the various phases of construction of the project. Spratlan’s work is as sizeable and ambitious as the building it portrays, and is given a formidable performance by Shpachenko.

The CD comes to a close with Nina C. Young’s Kolokol, for which Joanne Pearce Martin is again called upon as second pianist. The two pianists bring to life the sounds of Russian Orthodox church bells, which the composer skillfully replicates and then manipulates all the while retaining the actual ringing of the replicas of the seventeen 13th century Danilov Bells that hang in a tower in the campus of Harvard University.

Mixing and remixing the bell sounds with multiple virtual pianos, the resulting collage defies traditional concepts of harmony, melody and counterpoint, and creates in their place a sonic tapestry that brings Nadia Shpachenko’s The Poetry of Places to a jubilant ending.

This is the trailer for The Poetry of Places: https://youtu.be/IXCyzyV0Ewc

The CD is available from http://www.ReferenceRecordings.com

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

RUPERT BOYD THE GUITAR

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Rupert Boyd makes his guitar sing.

He swings comfortably with the laid back syncopations of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Felicidade and Estrada Branca, squeezing every bit of Brazilian saudade out of the Jobim song about unattainable happiness, and making us old enough to have binged on repeated viewings of Orfeu Negro back in 1959 get… melancholy.

The Australian born Boyd must have been alive in a prior incarnation among the brown men who write choros about the possibility of perfect love and, in another life, hung out with Bach in a Leipzig café.

He plays the Suite in E Major, BWV 1006 with classical clarity, artful articulation and eloquence, and follows that with a perfect Introduction and Variation on a Theme of Mozart by Fernando Sor.

I had forgotten what a significant voice that of my compatriot Leo Brouwer is. Boyd’s playing of the Cuban master’s Estudios Sencillos one trough ten is impeccable: a brace of miniatures chock-full of technical hurdles some whimsically labeled by the composer: fast…very fast…as fast as possible…are surmounted by Boyd’s dexterity. Throughout Brouwer’s sensual melodies are lovingly brought out.

Astor Piazzolla’s Milonga del Angel and La Muerte del Angel are played by Boyd just right and by just right I mean with total flexibility, and a mix of River Plate sadness and Argentine bravura.

The SONO LUMINUS CD (DSL 92231) also includes a lovely piece by Boyd’s fellow Australian Graeme Koehne, and Julia, a John Lennon/Paul McCartney gem.

In his insightful liner notes Rupert Boyd writes about his chosen instrument’s capability of playing a variety of styles of music. This album, the third of Boyd’s in my CD library, once more reinforces that belief, as it extends to both Boyd’s precious guitar and his sensitive playing of music from Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Spain, and Cuba

The familiar and ever reliable team of Producer Dan Merceruio and Engineer Daniel Shores again prove themselves the best among the best.

The CD is widely available on several platforms come April 26.

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

WHERE ARE THE FEMALE CONDUCTORS AND THE MUSICIANS OF COLOR?

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Look at the program book of the symphony concert you are attending. Then look again at the musicians on stage. Then have a third look at the conductor just entering the stage. Take one more look to one side of you and then the other, and then glance in the direction of those sitting in the rows in front of yours. Once you’re done looking at all this tell me in a few words what you see.

Let me tell you what I see and hear at most of the dozens of concerts I attend and review on a regular basis. Let me add, if I may, my similar take on the hundreds of CD’s I review and write about on my blog. Let me tell you in a few words what I have been seeing and hearing for most of the sixty-plus years I have been going to the opera, the symphony, the ballet, chamber music concerts, conservatory recitals, and watching Live from Lincoln Center on PBS and Ed Sullivan on Sunday evenings before then.

I have been enjoying the music-making of a large number of mostly Caucasian, middle-aged men – marvelous musicians one and all – and wondering why they are always playing the same old pieces by the same old early 20th and 19th and 18th century composers mostly with Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic names, depicted in the program books with impressive portraits or vintage photographs of faces that look like nobody in my family.

As for those seated round and next to me at the concerts, I would describe them succinctly as a vast sea of white-haired, white, mostly female faces. Same goes for those up on the stage, except the majority of them are males and also white-haired and white.

Now in my mid-seventies I still remember back in the early years of this century when the first pioneering women conductors took on major podiums and rocked the music establishment. I was not around when Antonia Brico guest conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in 1930, but outside a gig here and another there, she had to go it alone and found her own orchestra in 1937, which at first had an all-female contingent. After that, years of unemployment for women conductors…

Gallons and gallons of water flowed under the bridges of the musical establishment until we finally saw Marin Alsop come on board to helm the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2007, years after JoAnn Falletta took up the baton in Buffalo in 1999. The classical music world moves at a snail’s pace.

Conductors of color… May I count them with the fingers of one hand? Singers of color… Many females in my time, few males, now a little better than my memories of Julliard and the old MET in the 1960’s but still a ways to go… Look at the current MET roster. Look at the casts of most of their productions this season. I don’t know what you see but all I look at is another sea of white faces.

For us to build a future for classical music in our country we better have a good look around and see where we need to go from here, so that our grandchildren will be able to enjoy the wonder of classical music written and performed by people of all races and all ages and all sexes that look and sound like those seated in the darkened auditorium that make it possible for the music to go on and for the players to get paid.

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

WHAT MADE ME LOVE MUSIC: ODALINE DE LA MARTINEZ

As a little girl we lived in Jovellanos, a small town next to the Carretera Central. Jovellanos had a large black population because at one time there were several sugar refineries in the area.

One of the most wonderful things about living there was going to sleep listening to the wonderful Afro-Cuban music of the bembes and waking up when the drumming stopped. 

Once or twice I had a chance to take a peek during one of these rituals and was fascinated by the music and the dancing.

These memories have made such an imprint in my imagination, that to this day, the music I compose is full of rhythm and dancing.

Odaline de la Martinez, composer, conductor

Here’s a link to Odaline’s Canciones for percussion and voice: https://youtu.be/jc6wGB5lsG0