Seven composers on a Near East journey

CP-Quintet-1200x628Divine Art Records’ Metier label is soon releasing an album of instrumental music inspired by the near East titled Jaipur to Cairo (msv28589)

Works
Kevin Bishop: Jaunpuri
Reza Vali: Three Love Songs
Kevin Bishop: Afghan Suite No. 2
Reza Vali: Calligraphies
Sadie Harrison: The Oldest Song in the World
Gilad Cohen: Ten Variations
Mohamed Aly Farag: Rhapsody for piano and strings

The music in the Metier album is performed by five artist-members of the group Cuatro Puntos. The compositions in each of the album’s thirteen tracks comes from a personal creative interaction between Cuatro Puntos’ musicians and composers and  sounds from India, Egypt, Afghanistan, Syria, Armenia and Persia (Iran).

Kevin Bishop, Sadie Harrison, Gilad Cohen, and Mohamed Aly Farag, and Reza Vali are the various composers, and Aaron Packard, violin; Annie Trepanier, violin; Steve Larson, viola; Allan Ballinger, cello; Andrew O’Connor, bass; Charles Huang, oboe, and pianist Mohamed Shams play intermittently throughout the album comfortably embracing a musical language typical of each composer, eliciting all the while fascinating sounds from their  instruments

The oldest known written piece of music, found in Syria and dated to 1400 BCE,  is arranged by Sadie Harrison for two violas with felicitous results, as a perfect  example of respectful reinterpretation that avoids academic reverence.

The playing  throughout is honest to a fault, technically assured, even dazzling at times and it is all done with western instruments played by musicians so sophisticated that one would think they were natives of India, Egypt, Afghanistan, Ancient Syria, Armenia and Iran, trained in music far different from most European trends.

The engineering of Justin Kurtz is flawless, and the accompanying booklet thoroughly informative, delivering another excellent Metier release, a production of Kevin Bishop.

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

ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE YEARS

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Next season’s Matinee Musicale Cincinnati artists include trumpet virtuosa Ashley Hall, pianist Albert Cano Smit, the Dover Quartet, soprano Nicole Cabell, violinist Christina Nam, and tenor Pene Pati.

We just got back from the Awards Luncheon of Matinee Musicale Cincinnati, a musical organization which has been making miracles happen by presenting, for the past ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE YEARS, an annual series of concerts.

Along with introducing to Cincinnati the likes of singers Beverly Sills, Sherrill Milnes, Marian Anderson, Nadine Sierra, and Jamie Barton, as well as instrumentalists Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Arthur Rubinstein and Van Cliburn in the early stages of their careers, the good people at Matinee Musicale Cincinnati have been giving thousands of dollars year after year from the endowment Louise Dieterle Nippert left to Matinee Musicale Cincinnati to aid young and promising pianists, cellists, violinists, oboists, trumpet players and other instrumentalists and to singers of every voice type.

In today’s line up of first and second prize winners we heard a remarkably gifted group of hopefuls and, among them, some who made one sit up and listen. Via video we heard soprano Elena Villalon who has been accumulating honors of recent, including being chosen as one of the national finalists for the MET Opera auditions.

Violinist Gabby Sewell, a young girl barely out of her teens, elicited the biggest ovation of the morning with a formidable performance of Pablo de Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, a technical hurdle-course that would give pause to many a violinist twice her age. In the fall she enters CCM as a freshman on a violin performance program with professor Kurt Sassmannshaus. We’ll be watching.

All the youngsters in attendance went home with a nice check and a full tummy after lunch with the audience. We went home contented to know that there are many good hearted music lovers in Cincinnati who are not merely satisfied with the enjoyment of music but that through volunteer work, a modest annual membership and the purchase of an unreasonably low-priced subscription ticket are making a difference with the future of music.

For further information on Matinee Musicale Cincinnati call 859 781 0801 OR 513 231 0964 and/or go to http://www.MatineeMusicaleCincinnati.org

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

TREASURES OF DEVOTION

untitled.pngOut of the blue I found in my mailbox a lovely surprise, sent by Music & Arts Programs of America, Inc.

The unexpected gift came courtesy of The Boston Camerata, whose leader, Anne Azéma has for over ten years led this one-of-a-kind ensemble as its artistic director, all the while exploring, unearthing, and deciphering ancient printed and handwritten music, transforming it into modern music notation, and bringing it to life in authentic performances of compositions from the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque eras.

I waited until late in the evening when everything at home was quiet to listen to the two dozen miniatures that comprise Treasures of Devotion, an intriguing CD of Renaissance music.

Some as brief as 53 second in length, the substance of nearly each and every one of these some monodic, some polyphonic pieces resides in the perfect marriage of text to melody one finds in many of them and in the uncomplicated way in which the composers set forth their musical ideas.

The names of the composers featured in Treasures of Devotion range from the somewhat familiar to the obscure, though none deserving of being relegated to footnotes in a music history book. The significant Heinrich Isaac, the indispensable Alexander Agricola, the extraordinary Josquin Desprez, and the lesser known but important Jacob Clemens non Papa share the recording’s 25 tracks with the names and music of composers whom this listener encountered for the first time.

In her insightful liner notes, Anne Azéma the group’s Artistic Director sheds light on the choice of music by taking the year 1500 as its point of departure. With France and Flanders leading the musical charge and Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral as its artistic fulcrum, and Europe on the verge of a veritable explosion in the arts, composer-performers craftily began to explore the secular in music after enduring centuries of restrictions from the hierarchy of the Church as to what could and could not be written and played.

Thus we get the plaintive De tous bien pleine est ma maitresse and the lovely Tant que vivray, both popular ballads that do double duty as either vocal or instrumental, fervently devotional or ardently lovesick, all simply depending on the occasion.

These are little compositions that easily passed from composer to composer in the days when the concept of author’s rights was nonexistent. The four-part Chantons Noël is another example of multiple-use music to be enjoyed as a simple carol, unfettered by the strictures of the Church. The music in this CD exits out the front gates of the church and quietly enters the privacy of the home.

The performers: Michael Barrett, Daniel Hershey, Joel Frederiksen, Andrew Arceci, Shira Kammen, Carol Lewis, Fabio Accurso, and Anne Azéma are nothing short of extraordinary. The vocalists turn on a dime and play the lute. The instrumentalists play the lute, the harp, the vieille, and the viola da gamba. Everybody in the ensemble manages to sing and or play with no trace of vibrato or portamento, the approach being direct, honest, true to historical practice, and perfectly suited to the music.

The Boston Camerata is a formidable player in the ever growing Early Music scene and we look forward to more treasures from them.

The recording was made in the Abbey Church Saint Pierre et Saint Paul in Ferrières-en-Gâtinais and it is engineered to perfection by David Griesinger and very elegantly packaged.

Treasures of Devotion (CD-1296) is available from http://www.musicandarts.com

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

‘AS ONE’ IS A BRIGHT SHINY THING

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As One is a chamber work for two voices and string quartet by composer Laura Kaminsky and librettists Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed in which theatrical and musical magic are made within the span of ninety minutes. The Fry Street Quartet provides the instrumental accompaniment to the voices of mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke and baritone Kelly Markgraf in a new CD (BSTC-0127) soon to be released by Bright Shiny Things.

The story of Hannah, formerly a male and now transgender, is told in a series of vignettes tracing her journey from a young boy, through college to early adulthood. There is no plot in the conventional sense, but instead a strong narrative that reveals Hannah’s innermost thoughts and emotions.

Kelly Margraff, an impressive singing actor with a rich baritone, plays Hannah Before (i.e., before her transition), and Sasha Cooke, a fast-rising and creamy-voiced mezzo-soprano, plays Hannah After. Both gifted young singers tell the story of a transgender person in the process of first finding—and then reinventing—whatever is left of the outward trappings of her former self.

Admittedly not a subject matter familiar or perhaps even not palatable to some of the opera-going public, As One was inspired by the real-life story of librettist Kimberly Reed.
The creative team responsible for this welcome release handles the material sensitively and intelligently. American Opera Projects provided the infrastructure that saw this work from idea to reality. Judith Sherman, Louis Levitt, Matt Gray, Laura Kaminsky were the CD producers, Jamey Lamar the engineer.

Operas of this theatrical and musical quality are injecting new blood into a centuries-old repertory—not to supplant it but to infuse it with a 21st-century sensibility that rings bells of recognition for an audience that the opera world is hoping to attract. With Kaminsky’s inventive score serving the text 100% of the time, and Campbell and Reed’s libretto in full partnership with her, As One is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Rafael de Acha

SCHUBERT’S SOUL ON A FINAL JOURNEY

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The German poet Wilhelm Müller provided the texts for Franz Schubert’s 1828 song cycle Die Winterreise. Müller had died at age 32 of a heart attack, five years before Schubert, who succumbed to a venereal disease, like Müller did at 32 years of age.

Both Müller, poet of words and Schubert, poet of music created what is arguably the greatest song cycle of all time. Well over an hour in length, Die Winterreise (The Winter Journey), completed during the last few months of the composer’s life portrays a harrowing descent from heartbreak to a final existential embrace of an long awaited end.

Schubert’s friends expressed concern over the horrific nature of two dozen interlinked songs that take both the interpreters and the listener on an unrelenting chilling journey of darkness and despondency. But the composer insisted that songs that even his closest of friends did not like or understand would eventually be recognized among the greatest creations of the Romantic Era. No wonder that the German composer’s greatest composition for voice and piano reminds some of us of other monumental works that chart a human soul’s journey from the unhappiness of the living to the quietude of the grave: Shakespeare’s King Lear, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, some of Pablo Neruda’s Sonnets…

The requirements for the singer who dares to take on Die Winterreise call for a protean being with brains and brawn, vocal beauty, musicianship, musicality, and soulfulness. Simon Barrad, an enormously gifted artist measured up on every count as he rose to the immense challenge that Schubert’s final work presents.

On the opening night of The Art of the Piano Festival at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Simon Barrad held the audience emotionally captive in the intimate Werner Recital Hall for the length of the performance. The possessor of a chameleonic, multi-colored voice, now bright, now dark hued, one that easily rises to the top of the lyric baritone range for climactic moments only to then comfortably descend to the bass depths, the young singer gave a performance for the books.

Schubert’s legendary genius for tone painting is present in the piano accompaniments of Die Winterreise: an unceasingly spinning weathervane in Die Wetterfahne, the melting of ice and the flowing water in Wasserflut, the gallop of a postman’s horse in Die Post, the overhead fluttering of a bird of omen in Die Krähe, all and more of which must be brought to life by the pianist. Sensitive and pliable at all times, bold and assertive when called for, never prone to antics or mannerisms, Awadagin Pratt, a consummate master of the keyboard, proved to be the perfect partner for the singer, summoning a multitude of dynamics and colors from his instrument.

Simon Barrad singing barely above a whisper and Awadagin Pratt hardly touching the keyboard brought the evening to a chilling musical close with the eerie stasis of Die Leiermann, the Death-like Hurdy-Gurdy player who brings to a final end Schubert’s Die Winterreise.

Barrad’s and Pratt’s Die Winterreise was a journey of the soul that for the length of an unforgettable evening we took as awed companions of two superlative artists.

Rafael de Acha

Bohuslav Martinů SONGS

Among Czech composers, Bohuslav Martinů stands tall as a 20th century example of survival against all odds. In spite of many vicissitudes that challenged his mental and physical well-being, Martinů soldiered on, composing nearly four hundred works – symphonies, concerti, ballets, chamber music, and a treasure trove of songs for voice and piano.

Supraphon has released an exquisitely produced, perfectly packaged, and elegantly engineered album of Martinů’s music simply titled Bohuslav Martinů SONGS. It features two singers worth sitting up for and listening to: soprano Martina Janková and baritone Tomáš Král both accompanied by Ivo Kahánek

The album beautifully designed by Tomas Coufál and illustrated with art photography by several Czech visual artists is proof palpable that it often takes village to create great work. The song texts are given in three languages, with the English translation by Mark Newkirk of both the lyrics and the insightful notes by Ales Brezina greatly contributing to the enjoyment of this collection of songs.

For those of us not neither familiar with Martinů’s songs nor all that knowledgeable about Czech art song this Supraphon SU-4235-2 release is nothing short of a welcome gift of discoveries.

Four song cycles are included: Songs On One Page, Songs On Two Pages, New Slovak Songs, and New Chapbook. Except for the lengthier New Slovak Songs, written in 1920, the other three works approximately run from eight to eleven minutes, each containing seven to eight miniatures, some as brief as 28 seconds, none longer than three minutes. Three of the four cycles were written in the early 1940’s.

The texts of all fifty-two songs in this album speak of bucolic landscapes, love requited and unrequited, carnal love, spiritual love, family, beautiful girls, handsome lads, and happy endings. At no time repetitive or monotonous or formulaic, the music for these songs is deeply rooted in Czech and Bohemian folk song, and it bespeaks inspiration and craftsmanship in a perfect union.

There are plenty of pleasant surprises: lively patter ditties, irregular rhythms, modality, unpredictable harmonic resolutions, plaintive lullabies, recitatives… The music and the euphonious sound of the Czech language are ideally married by Martinů’s protean gifts.

Martina Janková’s lyric soprano is simply ravishing. Crystal-clear, with a firmly controlled technique, she succeeds in breaking through the language barrier, fully expressing the myriad sentiments contained in these songs.

The young lyric baritone Tomáš Král affirms his credentials as an immensely gifted recitalist, singing in a creamy voice with authority and sensitivity as a solo singer or as an elegant duo partner. The solidly supportive pianist Ivo Kahánek makes his participation not merely that of an accompanist but one of an equal partner of the two singers.

We will look forward to future releases by Supraphon after this superb recording.

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

Tenore di Forza

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Tenore di Forza is the title of the debut DELOS (DE 3571) recording of Lithuanian tenor Kristian Benedikt.

It is also the name of a rare vocal category, better known in these parts as dramatic tenor – a rare voice type that belongs to a sparsely populated group of vocally endowed male singers whose exclusive domain encompasses Verdi’s Otello, Wagner’s heroes, and some of the Verismo repertory including Pagliacci, Cavalleria Rusticana, and Turandot, in addition to a handful of French rarities such as Eleazar in La Juive and the male title roles in Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila and Massenet’s Le Cid.

But of course, what defines a singer is not what he sings but how he sings it, and that includes not only the basic vocal equipment but the capacity to meet the demands of the vocal writing: endurance, range, volume, and cutting power. Add to that the musicianship, the ear for languages, and the stylistic flair expected from all vocal types and the bar goes up several notches. Oh, by the way, vocal beauty – that subjective “thing” also plays a role in one’s predilection for this and not that voice. Here, unarguably I dare say, we have a dramatic tenor that does not bellow but emits a very warm and pleasing sound. In short, Kristian Benedikt is the possessor of  a very beautiful voice.

We are happy to report that Kristian Benedikt meets all the demands of the varied repertory he takes on in his debut album. Judging from the sound he produces with no tell-tale symptoms of fatigue or vocal strain, it would be safe to say that this fine Lithuanian artist is now ready to move on to the forefront of today’s go-to male singers that specialize in this difficult repertory.

His Otello, represented here by the outburst that leads to his soliloquy Dio mi potevi scagliar is effectively delivered in a suffocated parlando that opens up at the last minute into a clarion Bb. By contrast Benedikt can spin out a seamless legato in both Nessun dorma and in a feelingly sung Rachel quand du Seigneur.

Benedikt transitions comfortably from Siegfried’s stentorian narrative with the famous long-held Wälse! Wälse! Wo ist dein Schwer (which happily matches just about any in this writer’s memory) to an elegantly sung O Souverain, ô Juge, ô Père. He adds for good measure arias in Russian and Lithuanian, and, intermingled with the to-be-expected tenor warhorses, some rarities, such as an aria from Ponchielli’ I Lituani. His languages all sound good and idiomatic with no crimes committed to the tricky French vowels.

Modestas Pitrenas nobly helms the very fine Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra and the excellent Lithuanian National Opera Chorus. The CD is nicely accompanied by a booklet with the texts of the arias in both the original and English. The engineering by Dainius Versulis is thoughtfully geared to keeping the oversized voice of Benedikt, the large orchestra, and the chorus in balance and at a realistic distance replicating the actual aural circumstance of an opera performance.

Kristian Benedikt is starting to be more present on this side of the pond with return engagements at the MET. For us poor flyovers in the Midwest it would be a welcome gift to see the young Lithuanian pop in for a guest gig at the Chicago Lyric or at the Cincinnati Opera. One can only hope.

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