The Austrians call it Schlager Musik a term for which there is no good translation other than “hit” music. I call it light classical music and leave it at that.

Jonas Kaufmann is running out of repertory after having completed the entire Wagner Heldentenor canon and then moved on to Puccini, Verdi, Mahler, et al. His is basically a hefty instrument with a clarion top, a baritone timbre in the middle voice, and, heaven knows, plenty of power, so that to tackle the rep featured in the SONY CD WIEN the German tenor has had to pull way back on the stentorian and lay on thickly the saccharine sound and schmaltzy delivery that back in the day made maidens swoon to the sound of that quintessential operetta tenor, the great Richard Tauber.

But that is like asking an ATV to drive in the cobblestoned alleyways of Alte Wien. From me Herr Kaufmann gets an E for effort if not for effortlessness: his handling of the ditties of Stolz, Sieczynsky, May, Johann Strauss, Lehar, Kalman, Zeller, Weinberger, Leopoldi, Benatzky, Kreuder, and Kreisler –all toll nineteen in this album – is vocally faultless at the mezzo-forte to forte levels. But when he goes for a mezza-voce top note that then turns into a breathy croon and good vocalism vanishes. And there are lots of top notes in this album: either the multi-decibel kind or the Dean Martin/Perry Como kind.

Elsewhere Kauffman phrases elegantly, but no matter how noble his intentions the outcome is not what some of us weaned on the recorded sounds of Peter Anders, Joseph Schmidt, Rudolf Schock, Fritz Wunderlich and, yes, Richard Tauber have come to expect from an interpreter of this charming and unabashedly sentimental music. This is a Siegfried in white tie and tails and decidedly not a good fit.

The accompaniment by the Vienna Philharmonic, no less, is deluxe, the conductor, Adam Fischer a moonlighting heavyweight, the brief participation of Rachel-Willis-Sorenson quite pretty, the accompanying booklet complete, the engineering professional, the singing good, but… lighten up Jonas.

*** E for EFFORT

Rafael de Acha



In a superb cd (sommcd0604) finely engineered by Gianni Ruggiero and Lello De Luca, SOMM has recently released a collection of works for guitar by the 18th century Catalan guitarist and composer Fernando Sor. The Italian virtuoso Gianluigi Giglio is the sole and superb soloist playing ten gems that chart the artistic progress of the composer.

Born in 1778 still under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church’s approved musical rules and regulations, it was a while before the Barcelona-born master came into his own. By 1822 and living in exile in Paris he is able to write expansively and authentically his utterly charming Les folies d’Espagne.

By 1836 , just three years before his untimely death at the age of 61, Sor proves himself not only a resourceful master of his instrument but an accomplished composer, with a full mastery of harmony and contrapuntal writing for an instrument that had for centuries been relegated to the strumming of amateurs in the bar and the café.

Sor elevated the guitar to its noble and rightfully earned place in the concert hall, paving the way for the Turinas and Granados and Fallas and Rodrigos and interpreters of generations still to come. In his 24 Progressive Lessons for Beginners Sor established the ABC of guitar playing.

And as for Gianluigi Giglio, last but not least, the music and the recording are blessed by a masterfully accomplished artist. Musically elegant, technically awesome, Giglio uncannily extracts a singing tone from an instrument long associated with chords, strumming, and plucking.

The spirit of Sor must have been gazing down from Parnassus casting a beneficent gaze on this worthy project.

***** Extraordinary

Rafael de Acha – Music Notes (

NO LABELS BEST 2019 London Myriad, a wind ensemble

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The mere idea of attaching labels to the music of certain composers is a 20th century malaise. But in order to read up on Eugène Bozza, Frank Bridge, Jean Françaix, Richard Rodney-Bennett, Jacques Ibert, and Claude Arrieu, I had to do a Google search and endure a barrage of pseudo-musicological claptrap which led me nowhere.

I then closed up the search and settled down to listen to the absolutely charming métier release FOUR ( msv28587) with the superb London Myriad, a wind ensemble featuring here Julie Groves on flute, oboist Fiona Joyce Myall, the clarinetist Nadia Wilson, and Ashley Myall on bassoon.

The four in FOUR are formidable musicians, impeccable technicians, young of age but mature as players of music that is now lyrical, now outrageously humorous, and in the case of each of both the British and the Gallic composers in this lot, blessedly unpretentious.

The métier CD introduced this listener to Eugène Bozza and Claude Arrieu. Both are new discoveries, both utterly delightful, both resolutely defiant of any labeling, both writing in an idiom that responded to the strict teaching of the Conservatoire by mocking it. Jacques Ibert also was a bit of a rebel and his Deux Mouvements evidence creative flair and solid compositional know-how.

It was very nice to revisit the rarely played music of the English Edwardian iconoclast (sorry about those two labels!) who was accepted by what he first wrote and ignored about what he wrote much later in his long career. Here his four Divertimenti are sheer delight.

The other Brit Richard Rodney Bennett (talk about a crossover artist!) has always been a favorite of ours whether as a jazzman or a cabaret artist or in white tie and tails.

As with so very many releases by métier both engineering and packaging are of the first order.

***** Out of this world!

Rafael de Acha  



Casting Carl Maria von Weber’s 1821 warhorse Der Freischütz can be tricky. If you have a true lyric-dramatic soprano (the Italians call it Soprano Spinto) available to sing Agathe you have one third of your casting challenge solved. If she happens to be a really good singer, one capable of spinning out a nice legato line for both Wie nahte mir der Schlummer…Leise, leise and Und ob die Wolke and later the strength to ride the climactic moments that abound in the music of Agathe then that is your lucky day.

In the Pentatone recording, the cast is enhanced by the extraordinary Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, whose lyric-dramatic gifts are put to work by the immensely gifted 32 year old artist in a memorably sung performance.

Oh but then, who are you going to cast as the deeply troubled Romaic hero Max? If you have the soprano you just hired as Agathe, then you want a bit more sound from your Max than a garden variety full-voiced tenor. Max has a nice trio in act two in which he has to vocally stand up to his stage partner and her little companion Ännchen and subsequently move on to the spookiest part of the opera: the Wolf Glenn’s scene.

This listener was taken aback by the sad condition of tenor Andreas Schager’s voice, plagued as it is by a troublesome wobble that causes him to go astray in the lower and middle voice in which most of the role is written, as is the case with Durch die Wälder. The role of Max has at various times been sung by voices as lyrical as Francisco Araiza, Peter Schreier and Nicolai Gedda, and it seems as if Andreas Schager’s voice, which has been punished by too many Siegfrieds and Tristans is not the ideal one for the role of the haunted hunter.

And there’s Caspar, neither a lovable wise man nor a friendly ghost but a wicked ghostly presence with a couple of very difficult arias to dispatch in Act One, one chockfull of F sharps, the other with nearly two octaves of vocal hurdles.

If you don’t know who Gottlob Frick is, check him out sometime on You Tube singing Kaspar’s Hier im ird’schen Jammerthal and Schweig! damit dich Niemand warnt and you will hear rock solid, inky-black bass singing much needed by the singer who takes on this role. Alright, so Frick is gone, but out there in the cold cruel world that the Opera business can be, there must be a bass-baritone capable of dispatching Caspar’s killer arias without much trouble. In this recording, the estimable American bass-baritone Alan Held now nearing the end of a fine career sounds dry and tired, barking out the highest notes in the part, and lacking the vocal heft needed for it.

The rest of the musical personnel is fine, with soprano Sofia Formina utterly charming as the Ännchen, the Leipzig Radio Chorus outstanding especially in Was gleicht wohl auf Erden, and Marek Janowski beautifully leading the Frankfurt Radio Symphony in which the folkloric and the deadly serious perfectly balance.

*** Quite good

Rafael de Acha 


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• MESSIAEN – Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich Paavo Järvi – L’Ascension… Le Tombeau Resplendissant…Les Offfrandes Oubliées… Un Sourire… Alpha Classics

In Inga Mai Groote’s extensively researched notes on Olivier Messiaen accompanying this Alpha Classics, the writer notes how in 1985 Messiaen himself pointed out several “difficulties” (his word) that listeners to his music might find off-putting: his preoccupation with rhythm, his ideas about the intrinsic property of certain colors, his love and use of birdsong, and the Catholic mysticism with which he infuses so many of his works.

In listening to the symphonic meditations (Messiaen’s term) this listener failed to hear any birdsong. Likewise there was no music particularly rhythmic in nature though many slow tempi in use by the composer to express alternatively ecstasy or horror in the presence of the Cross, Sin, the Eucharist, and Christ.

Messiaen’s music is a taste some of us have not acquired, therefore let us leave well enough alone other than to praise the impressive sound of the Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich with Paavo Järvi at the podium

*** Interesting


John McCabe piano Domenico Scarlatti Muzio Clementi Keyboard Sonatas               divine art (dda21231)

Hats off to the singularly supportive and ever enterprising Stephen Sutton of divine art for securing the rights to a re-release of this collection of Baroque and Classical gems for the keyboard, simply titled Domenico Scarlatti Muzio Clementi Keyboard Sonatas on a double-CD that will assuredly provide nearly two hours of exquisite playing by the late British keyboard master John McCabe.

Scarlatti wrote his twelve sonatas for keyboard with the harpsichord in mind. Playing them on a piano, as McCabe does on this occasion requires crystal clear articulation, gentle touch, and a vey judicious use of pedals. McCabe makes this seem as easy as child’s play. He then spins around and imbues the music of the Italian in nationality yet Mozartian in spirit Muzio Clementi with quintessential elegance and restraint, saving the dazzling passagework and show-stopping agility for the final movements of three of the neglected Italian master’s sonatas.

***** Extraordinary



Antônio Carlos Gomes took the novel O Schiavo (The Slave) and Italianized it for an 1899 premiere in the then capital of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro.

Recorded by Dynamic earlier this year and advertised as the world premiere on video, Lo Schiavo (in Italian) is a flawed work by a Brazilian composer who sought to pioneer authentically Brazilian concert and operatic music that dealt with national themes, in this case the oppression and enslavement of natives by the European colonizers.

Noble intentions not always lead to artistically satisfying results, in this case music that is by and large derivatively European and a libretto plagued by dramatic inconsistencies.

The Brazilian-Italian co-production is adequately respectful, blessed by authentic costumes for the Europeans and compromisingly discreet outfits for the natives who in real life would go around with little other than exposed skin and tattoos on their bodies.

Stage director Davide Garrattini Raimondi mercifully refrains from any Regietheater clichés and keeps things straight and clear in spite of a cast plagued by bad actors.

Musically the production of Gomes Lo Schiavo by the Cagliari Lyric Theatre is uneven. Soprano Svetla Vassileva manages a good performance of the tricky role of Itara, especially in the second act, and tenor Massimiliano Pisapia sings on pitch at lower dynamic levels but comes to grief when at full throttle. He does earn a well-deserved hand though after his act two aria Quando nascesti tu. The other cast members hardly rise to the standards of Italian provincial theatres. John Neschling conducts the orchestra, chorus and principals with a firm hand.

** Fair

Rafael de Acha


th Chamber Music Northwest is headed by Clarinetist David Shifrin. Its most recent release (DE 3576) available through DELOS is titled Clarinet Quintets for Our Time and it is a testimony to the riches of American chamber music.

The album features three selections each averaging 18 minutes in length, each distinctive in its compositional style, two impeccably played by the Dover Quartet, one equally well executed by the Harlem Quartet, all featuring David Shifrin bringing now lyrical, now sharply piquant clarinet sound to the music of three different composers.

David Schiff’s arrangement of three Duke Ellington tunes here given the title of Ducal Suite is faithful to the jazz idiom in which the original tunes were written, one in 1936, another in 1946, another as early as 1931, and yet another of 1958 provenance. The tunes range from the soulful Clarinet Lament to the pleasantly jittery Rockin’ in Rhythm. The chameleonic Dover Quartet keeps things swinging while playing elegantly with a cool jazz vibe throughout.

David Shifrin remains up front and center for the duration of the walk down memory lane. This listener found the music of Chris Rogerson’s three-partite Thirty Thousand Days hauntingly beautiful in its subtly evocative depiction of a lifetime journey.

Valerie Coleman’s Shotgun Houses pays musical homage to the late Muhammed Ali, depicting three memories of the legendary boxer’s life with music both emotionally charged and elsewhere compellingly rhythmic. The superb Harlem Quartet plays like a dream, with Shifrin comfortably integrating himself into the proceedings.

Shifrin, Rogerson and Ms. Coleman self-produced the three segments of the CD and Rod Evenson and Ben Taylor shard the successful engineering results.

This CD is sure to please the eclectic collector.

***** Terrific




Sidsel Walstad, harp         Norwegian Radio Orchestra  Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) Harp Concerto. Op. 25       Variaciones Concertantes, Op. 23

The music of the Argentine master Alberto Ginastera never ceases to surprise. It did me when I first sat down to listen to the superb LAWO recording of the Harp Concerto and the Variaciones Concertantes vividly brought to life by the Peruvian maestro Miguel Harth-Bedoya.

In this new release Harth-Bedoya leads the Norwegian Radio Orchestra with the harpist Sidsel Walstad as soloist in Ginastera’s Harp Concerto.

Having first become acquainted with Ginastera’s music in the seventies when both his operas Don Rodrigo and Beatrix Cenci received their American premieres at the New York City Opera, I was expecting more of the dodecaphonic Ginastera I first learned to like and later understand a little but with some difficulty.

There was something impenetrable to the music of the Argentine maverick. And yet it fascinated many of us.

Now fifty years later, we encounter two mid-career works, with opus numbers near each other and both with music that, especially in the harp concerto, premiered after a long gestation period in 1965 and later revised by the late harpist Nicanor Zaableta is evocative of Gaucho folklore, infused as it is in its first movement with the dance rhythms of the denizens of the Pampas.

Through and through sui generis, Ginastera’s harp concerto mixes the use of exotic scales reminiscent of Debussy and Ravel with the exhilaratingly driving rhythms of the Argentine malambo.

The work asks much of the soloist: rhythmic tapping on the instrument, intricate pizzicato patterns in the upper range of the instrument, insanely difficult pedaling, the use of both nails and fingertips on the strings of the instrument, glissandi played against alternate figurations on the opposite hand. All this occurs against a background that alternates restlessly active moments with the utter quiet of the second movement.

Norwegian harpist Sidsel Walstad is technically and musically a force of nature, holding her own against the massive orchestration of the harp concerto, and protean in her ability to spin a long legato line with an instrument notoriously hard to master. But master she does delivering a memorable performance that will surely become a standard against which to judge future attempts at this musical minefield.

The fifteen variations that make up the Variaciones Concertantes are a superbly effective tour de force for the cello, the string section, the flute, the clarinet, the viola, the oboe and bassoon together, the trumpet and trombone as a pair, the violin, the French horn, the woodwind section, the bass, and, as a finale the amassed rank and file tutti.

Throughout Walstad provides accompaniment and mano a mano partnering, with Harth-Bedoya keeping the extraordinarily gifted members of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra coherently musical as both soloists and ensemble players throughout an intricately scored work. Throughout we hear a unifying theme and infinite variations in a variety of tempi that range from moments of stasis that Ginastera turns into virtue to a full-steam ahead rondo finale.

Aside from praising the mere value of representing the genius of Alberto Ginastera in this perfectly engineered compact disc, perfectly played, perfectly produced, perfectly packaged (and annotated by Jan Hedrick Hayerdahl) we salute the LAWO label for its enterprise and hope that the future will bring more interesting releases.

***** Extraordinary

Rafael de Acha


thJ1BZR73U If back in the days of LP’s someone dropped the needle of a phonograph on a disc and asked the listener to name the very famous Korngold tune being played, most opera lovers would have quickly responded with “Marietta’s Song” from Erich Korngold’s 1920 opera The Dead City.

But that was then, and now few classical music fans will be able to quickly identify, let alone embrace the music of the Austrian-born, adoptive American composer. Too bad, for Korngold’s prolific output of orchestral music and operas far and beyond his many film scores qualifies him in our view as one of the 20th century’s most interesting composers.

But not all in life is fair and in the business of music – high or middle brow – much less so, subject as composers and performers are to the slings and arrows of opinionated critics. Leonard Bernstein was known to have said: “I’ve been all over the world and I’ve never seen a statue of a critic.” And Erich Korngold, hugely successful as a creator of film scores was never celebrated by the statue-less snobbish music critics of Europe and later by those of his adopted America as the truly gifted composer he was, black-marked first by the Nazis as a Jew who composed entartete Kunst and later dismissed by critics as a tunesmith who wrote trash for Hollywood flicks.

Hats off then to the fast-rising British conductor John Wilson, to the superb Sinfonia of London, and to the CHANDOS label for bringing out KORNGOLD (CHSA 5220), a 2019 super audio CD nicely produced by Brian Pidgeon, and impeccably engineered by Ralph Couzens. The insightful liner notes by Brendan G. Carroll provide both valuable biographical information on Korngold and in-depth musicological analysis of the three pieces included in the recording.

The Symphony in F sharp, op. 40 is a huge, massively orchestrated work, 45 minutes in length. The indication of its tonality as F sharp but its home key remains very fluid and polytonal, as the music travels both in tonality and in its peculiarly changing tempo markings in each of its four movements.

Korngold emphatically denied that his source of inspiration was “…the terror and horrors of the years 1933-1945…” calling this work pure music. Yet the somber, elegiac mood of the Adagio and the jagged harmonic and rhythmic contours of the first two movements bespeak emotional upheavals that are not allayed until the redemptive finale of this masterful work, here given a gripping, emotion-laden performance by John Wilson and his orchestra:

The album also features a Theme and Variations and a Straussiana for Orchestra, both 1953 late works, both lushly Romantic, both delightful, both flawlessly played by the protean Sinfonia of London with Wilson at its helm.

The album, pun intended is pure Korngold gold and fully deserves: ***** as an outstanding contribution to the libraries of serious collectors.

Rafael de Acha  



PROKOFIEV – Alexander Nevsky, Cantata for orchestra, chorus and mezzo-soprano Lieutenant Kijé Suite

Utah Symphony, Thierry Fischer, music director Alisa Kolosova, mezzo-soprano


Reference Recordings’ continues to live up to its ambitious mission through its Fresh! program, which includes promoting the work of American orchestras from cities all over the map, in this case the superb Utah Symphony.

Augmenting its chorus by the addition of two fine choral ensembles from the University of Utah, the orchestra, led by Thierry Fischer delivers a powerful performance of two Prokofiev compositions originally created for the screen.

The score of Alexander Nevsky, created for the classic 1938 Einsenstein film and later reshaped by Prokofiev into a dramatic cantata, here gets an enthralling performance by Maestro Thierry and his forces, with the exceptional mezzo-soprano Alisa Kolosova contributing her glistening sound and idiomatic handling of the Russian text.

The Suite from the music for the film Lieutenant Kijé provides a total contrast to the heroic sound of the Alexander Nevsky score, and Soundmirror‘s excellent engineering enhances the hybrid super audio sound of the neatly packaged album.

A caveat for the future: please add to the excellent liner notes by Paul Griffiths an English translation of the text of any composition with lyrics in a foreign language.

**** Outstanding