BEETHOVEN – Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major  Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major Rondo WoO6 –

Boris Giltburg, Piano Royal Liverpool Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko NAXOS 8.574151                Recorded in Germany, 2019 Buy / Stream:

Beethoven’s first two piano concertos are both given blazing performances by Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg, with playing consistently distinguished by clarity, energy and elegance. Also included and ravishingly played by Giltburg and the ensemble is the Rondo, WoO 6, once meant by Beethoven to be the finale of his Concerto No. 2.

The finely tuned Royal Liverpool musicians and their conductor, Vasily Petrenko play like-mindedly and provide superb support to the soloist. The engineering, as is always the case with any and all Naxos releases is a first class.

**** Outstanding


InReviewComiqueOrpheehdl118Gluck’s 1762 opera Orphée et Eurydice was rearranged in 1859 by Hector Berlioz for the mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot. It is in that version that, the Opéra Comique opened its 2019 season with a new production directed by Aurélien Bory, with Raphaël Pichon conducting his Ensemble Pygmalion.

The splendid results can be enjoyed in the recently released and now available NAXOS DVD.

The production is elegantly realized, imaginatively designed, well acted, perfectly conducted, and exquisitely sung by a three-person cast led by the formidably gifted French mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa. The 32 year old singing actress dazzles in her air de bravura Amour, viens rendre à mon âme, and later melts the heart with her Quel nouveau ciel and her lament J’ai perdu mon Eurydice.

Dressed in a men’s suit as Orpheus the young mezzo is alone during the first half hour of the opera until her entrance into Hades, when she is repulsed by the members of the chorus of Ensemble Pygmalion portraying the spirits of the damned whose anger will soon be allayed by the sound of her voice.

Soprano Hélène Guilmette is an enchanting Eurydice for whom anyone would gladly go to hell and back, and mezzo-soprano Lea Desandre is a charmer as Amour, the chorus is superb. But in this version of Gluck’s Era of Enlightenment masterpiece the heavy lifting belongs to the young Marianne Crebassa, a mezzo-soprano to be watched closely as she readies herself for a MET debut later this season.

Rafael de Acha           



As early as 1843 Richard Wagner had set out to be both composer and librettist of his operas, gradually becoming both regisseur and scenic designer of his works, and acting as complete creator of his Gesammtkunstwerke.

In the first page of the score of Der fliegende Holländer, Wagner offers the following detailed description of what he envisioned as the scenic picture for the opening of his opera:

“Steep rocky shore…The sea occupies most of the stage…The rocks in the foreground form gorges on both sides… severe storm… Daland’s ship has just anchored close to the shore… the crew is busy… Daland has gone ashore… climbs on a rock and looks inland to see the area…The ship of the Flying Dutchman, with black masts and blood-red sails, shows itself in the distance, and approaches the coast with great speed. It docks on the opposite side of the Norwegian ship. With a terrible noise, the anchor on the chain sinks… The Dutchman goes ashore.”

Sparing the reader most of the inexplicably capricious details added by stage director Oliver Py’s to his 2015 staging for Vienna, I will single out just a few: a large bit of graffiti spelling the word Erlösung (Redemption) on the side of a wall… a male ballet dancer listed as “Satan” dressed in leotards, bare-chested, wearing a mask, prancing around the stage heralding and hounding the Dutchman, huge skulls and dancing skeletons, as in a Mexican Dia de los Muertos festivity.

There are no spinning wheels for Senta and her girl friends, who are first encountered as the sopranos and altos of the local glee club rehearsing for an upcoming concert.

Absent are Wagner’s requested sea, rocks, storm, ships… Absent too are the costumes that would be worn by weather-beaten Norwegian sailors. Instead, Daland and his crew, the Dutchman and his looking like employees of a provincial bank, are dressed in a variety of trench coats, bowler hats, and business attire.

And the female chorus, Senta, and Mary are clad in basic black.

Erwartung (Expectation) is shown as graffiti on a wall at the end of this masquerade – a good thing to hang on to, with our earnest expectation that in the future Naxos does not waste its resources on this awful a production.

The singers survive to tell, with baritone Samuel Youn leading the cast as a sonorous Dutchman, Ingela Brimberg an impressive Senta, Lars Woldt a solid Daland, and tenors Bernard Richter and Manuel Gunther both effective in their supporting roles. Marc Minkowski conducts with authority Les Musiciens du Louvre.

Rafael de Acha




Ruth Lomon & Iris Graffman Wenglin, piano
Piano music by Clara Schumann, Germaine Tailleferre, Louise Talma, Miriam Gideon, Barbara Penland, Thea Musgrave, Ruth Lomon, Jacqueline Fontyn, Marta Ptaszyńska, Shulamit Ran.

An interesting compilation of mostly 20th century music for the keyboard nicely packaged as a two-CD album. There is both one piano and duo piano music ranging from Five Caprices by Clara Schumann to a couple of charming collection of vignettes by Shulamit Ran and Thea Mugrave.

**** – Very good

Neave Trio
Music for piano trio by Louise Farrenc, Amy Beach and Rebecca Clarke

Three 19th century obscure Romantic gems by three lesser-known yet highly gifted female composers flawlessly and feelingly played by Anna Wiliams, violin, Mikhail Veselov, cello and Eri Nakamura, piano. The accompanying booklet is excellent as is the limpid engineering.

**** – Very good

Kansas City Symphony Orchestra Michael Stern, conductor
Gustav Holst – The Planets              Ballet music from The Perfect Fool

A hybrid Super-audio CD that offers top quality sound supporting a superb performance by Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra, pulling all the stops in each of seven visits to the then known planets: Mars is given a massively bellicose sound and is then followed by a transparently crystalline Venus and on through a fleeting Mercury, a hyper-active Jupiter, a sulking Saturn, a mystical Uranus and a riveting Neptune that fades off into eerie infinity. The accompanying Perfect Fool ballet music is vintage Edwardian fluff – charming though it is.

***** – Outstanding

Rafael de Acha


dror biran

Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich, Prokofiev: Dror Biran (piano), University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music’s Philharmonia Orchestra, Mark Gibson (Conductor), Corbett Auditorium, Cincinnati, OH. October 4, 2019.

The CCM Philharmonia returned in fine form two weeks after its opening concert on September 20th with an all-Russian concert featuring the Israeli pianist Dror Biran as soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major by Dimitri Shostakovich.

Overtures belong at the beginning of concerts, I know, but once in a while it would be nice to liven up the ending of an all-Russian concert in which the line between happy and sad is so often blurry, with a rousing rendition of Rimsky Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture. That happened to be the opener of this complex concert that mixed sorrow and joy in equal parts, with students playing like professionals and a great conductor at the helm.

Maestro Gibson ceded the podium to a gifted conducting student, the young Madeline Tsai who vigorously conducted the orchestra in the quintessentially Slavic Russian Easter Overture.

One would not expect a lively composition in an upbeat tempo and in a major key to be the product of the chain-smoking, hard drinking, perennially moody, partially crippled, thrice unhappily married, politically victimized Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich. But wonder of wonders here’s the jolly Bb major concerto that the older Shostakovich wrote for his son Maxim.

It has a bouncy opening Allegro that will keep your toes tapping, which is then followed by a decidedly sentimental second movement, which then seamlessly links up to yet another straight-ahead allegro that could have been conceived by Khachaturian or Kabalevsky on steroids. But no, this is just Shostakovich on a good day.

The whole thing lasts under 18 minutes, each one of which calls for heavy lifting from everyone involved. The piano part is virtuosic and percussive, the percussion section is put on red alert, the woodwinds are led by a hyperactive flute (here the very fine Youbeen Cho), the conductor – the protean Mark Gibson – as agile as you can imagine tapped into the music’s sheer joy and its slightly demonic undercurrents, and pianist Dror Biran gave it a technically dazzling, superbly sardonic rendition with whatever the Russian equivalent of joie de vivre might be.

Joy though is not what Sergei Prokofiev had in mind as war raged in 1944 and artillery fire was heard just outside the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory with the composer himself leading the USSR Symphony Orchestra in the premiere of his Fifth Symphony. Over a dozen years had elapsed since the composer had premiered his fourth symphony, and political circumstances and practicality had made it more viable for Prokofiev to focus on smaller-scale works than on larger orchestral works, what with so many players in the front.

And still, with the Fifth Symphony Prokofiev wrote expansively, not for a moment subservient to Soviet-approved compositional rules. The work is as loosely polytonal and as harmonically uncertain as the fate of Russia at the time. Classically structured in four movements: a stately opening Andante, a frantic Scherzo in the tempo of a Hopak that interrupts itself with short sections played by the oboe and clarinet at a slower tempo, then a broad and moody Adagio with lovely writing for the woodwinds, and finally an Allegro giocoso with more mordant bite than joy in its jagged contours.

Mark Gibson and his young musicians gave the Prokofiev work a heartily muscular and impassioned reading not slighting the music’s important lyrical moments.

Next up, Gibson’s orchestra gets spooky with a horrifying (that’s a compliment) Halloween concert on Friday November 1st featuring Liszt’s Dance of Death as its centerpiece.

Rafael de Acha