Haydn, Webern and Schoenberg played with cool brains and warm hearts


Immaculata Chamber Players                                                                                                              Violins: Kanako Shimasaki, Mariko Shimasaki, George Millsap, Zhe Deng,                       Violas: Cristian Diaz, Martin Hintz, Cellos: Jonathan Lee, Lucas Song                                        Immaculata Church, Cincinnati January 26, 2020

Haydn, String Quartet in E-flat Op. 33 No. 2 “The Joke”
Webern, Fünf Sätze für Streichquartett, Op. 5 (Five pieces for String Quartet)
Schoenberg, Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), Op. 4

Inspired in both spirit and craftsmanship, and part of the late-career opus 33, which Haydn had published in 1781, the “Joke Quartet” earned its sobriquet for more than one of its implied puns. Maybe Haydn thought of Austrian humor as potentially pleasing to its Russian dedicatee, the Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna. Whoever the butt of the joke may be, the Sunday afternoon audience took it well according the audience’s warm-hearted applause.

The Immaculata Chamber Players included in their January 26 concert at their home base in Mt. Adams as good a reading of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Quartet no.2, aka The Joke, as this listener remembers. First up in the opening Allegro all was Classical elegance. But as they took the listener into the second movement for which Haydn calls for schmaltz by way of soupy glissandi and heavy-handed accents that evoke a down-home Austrian foot-stomping dance, the players had a ball. The third movement Adagio returned to Classical sobriety. The joke awaited the listeners at the end of the will-it-end-now, tongue-in-cheek Finale with its series of faux-finishes, which the Immaculati immaculately delivered.

It takes more than just a little courage to program Anton Webern’s impenetrable Five Pieces for String Quartet in between Haydn and Schoenberg in what will be the second program of the Immaculata Chamber Players current lineup for 2020. The audaciously daring group has weaned its audience on Mendelssohn and Bach, and has never yet made an incursion into the 20th century, not that I remember. But in spite of its safe repertory choices the group’s identity thus far remains that of a valiant assemblage of young musicians ready for their DeMille musical close up.

Are they ready? Unbelievers would wonder, but not those of us who have been carefully following their journey. The young players took on Webern’s emphatically atonal set of miniatures playing them with respect and precision.

After intermission the Immaculata musicians took us into a renewed acquaintance with Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night, here given in its original chamber orchestration for a string sextet. The German’s serialist was here at his earliest, melodious best, closer in spirit and compositional technique to Wagner than to his dodecaphonic cohorts of later years.

In its cohesive six-part tone poem Schoenberg finds ways to potently express elation, sorrow, intense love, regret, remorse and redemption in music that not only foretells great things to come from its composer but delivers great music right here and now.

Throughout the entire program the eight participating musicians played with technical prowess and intense commitment to the music, embracing it with a cool brain and a warm heart, just the way Haydn, Webern, and Schoenberg would have wanted.

Rafael de Acha                                                                                                                                         WWW.RAFAELMUSICNOTES.COM


GIOACCHINO ROSSINI – ZELMIRA                                                                                                     NAXOS RELEASE OF TRIPLE CD SWR 8.660468-70

Stendhal loved Rossini, as did Metternich. So did the German and Austrian critics who showered Zelmira with praises when Rossini decided to take it and its original cast abroad after the opera’s initial Naples run.

It was a good move for Rossini to break free from the Neapolitan impresario Barbaja’s hold on the 30- year old composer whose entire career had thus far been limited to premieres in Naples’ San Carlo theatre. 1822 marked a turning point in the young composer’s career and life. So was 1823, when he made the operatic soprano Isabella Colbran his lawful wife.

For Colbran he wrote Elisabetta, Semiramide, Armida La donna del lago, Zoraide, Ermione, and the soprano leads in Otello and Maometto II, in addition to the part of Zelmira in the opera of the same title, all roles that call for the sort of voice that by all accounts Mrs. Rossini must have had: a freakish three octave range from F below the staff to F above high C, a contralto-like low range and easy high notes above the staff. Add to that ease with all sorts of fioriture and skills in declamatory passages many of which lie well below the comfort zone of most sopranos. No wonder that even the mighty Joan Sutherland passed on this role.

To make matters even more challenging, the scores calls for two tenors, one of whom should be able to replicate the heroic vocal antics of Giovanni David, the creator of the role of Ilo and sing passages calling for utmost agility, as is also demanded from the singer of Antenor, the other tenor role, one originally created by Andrea Nozzari, Rossini’s go-to tenore di grazia.

And that is not all, as not one but three Rossinian bassos are needed too. Why even the comprimaria role of Emma demands a pretty good mezzo-soprano who not only gets her very own aria and cabaletta but participates in many of the ensembles.

So the effort to produce and record this Rossinian rarity as part of the 2017 ROSSINI IN WILDBAD should be given praise. The lead soprano Silvia Dalla Benetta is very good, equipped with a lovely spinto sound, agility, a nice way with words, and the capability to make her presence felt both vocally and dramatically in the many ensembles. Of the men, the American tenor Joshua Stewart stands out with his virile sound and rock solid high range, proving to be a rising talent to watch.

Rafael de Acha


Review of New World Symphony Miami concert


Rousing Pictures crowns an evening in Miami

What a shame that we do not get to hear Hector Berlioz’s opera Benvenuto Cellini more often. But its richly orchestrated overture appears relatively often, to remind us of the composer’s inspired craftsmanship. For the first time in many years, the invaluable New World Symphony — under the baton of the young Chad Goodman — plunged headlong into Berlioz’s quirky rhythmic changes and ever-vanishing melodic snippets.

For an evening of French and Russian music, the Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center proved acoustically bright and pleasing. French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet was the soloist in Saint-Saëns’s Fifth Piano Concerto, nicknamed ‘Egyptian’ because of its exotic 1896 brushes with what passed in Paris as Near Eastern music.

No one except Saint-Saëns could get by with this strange yet enticingly romantic mélange, which recounted impressions of one of his many trips to Egypt, including frogs, birds, the motor of a seagoing vessel, and a Nubian folk song. But the results are splendid: a plethora of melodic ideas, unusual harmonies, and the massive orchestration for which the composer was unequaled.

With Juanjo Mena as the perfect partner, Thibaudet immersed himself in the luxurious concerto, with nonpareil Gallic elegance and dazzling virtuosity, and eliciting a well-earned ovation. He was brought back for an encore: Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte, in which the pianist found enchanting delicacy.

For the second half, Mena offered Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (in Ravel’s 1922 orchestration) accompanied by the New World Symphony’s own commissioned animated film — now humorous, now naïve, now macabre — which reflects how Mussorgsky was inspired by the paintings of his friend, Viktor Hartmann. The NWS strings delivered perfect sweet-tart Slavic moments when called upon, the woodwinds whimsically excelled in ‘Tuilleries’ and ‘Ballet of the Chicks’, and the brass produced an unabashedly bright tone that was ideal.

All along the young-yet-insightful members of the orchestra, guided yet again by the protean Mena, gave a gutsy, rousingly energetic reading that both Mussorgsky (and Ravel) would have loved.

Rafael de Acha

United States Berlioz, Saint-Saëns, Mussorgsky: Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano), New World Symphony / Chad Goodman and Juanjo Mena (conductors). Knight Concert Hall, Miami, 11.1.2020. (RDA)
Berlioz – Overture to Benvenuto Cellini
Saint-Saëns – Piano Concerto No.5, ‘Egyptian’
Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel)link to SeenandHeard-International – https://seenandheard-international.com/2020/01/rousing-pictures-crowns-an-evening-in-miami/#more-92648






PRODUCED BY RICHARD PACE                                                                                  RECORDED, EDITED, MIXED AND MASTERED                                                                          BY LESZEK WOJCIK AND JOSEPH BRANCIFORTE

In SANCTUARY ROAD, composer Paul Moravec and librettist Mark Campbell compact a world of stories about American slaves seeking freedom at any cost in 19th century North America by way of the Underground Railroad. The peripatetic accounts are given life in Moravec’s stirring music and Campbell’s potent lyric prose, inspired by William Grant Still’s detailed writings, and by a superb cast of singing actors led by Kent Tritle and supported by the Oratorio Society of New York’s orchestra and chorus.

Moment after moment leads to epic climaxes, most memorably the finale in which all soloists, chorus and orchestra join forces in a paean to justice and freedom. The solo passages crafted as a series of narrative arias and ensembles range from the harrowing: The Same Train (Ellen Craft), sung by the powerhouse mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis, to the comic-dramatic: This Side Up (Henry “Box” Brown), performed with bravura by the clarion-voiced tenor Joshua Blue, to straightforward narratives that allow the characters to vividly bring to life events that range from the all but impossible to the quotidian.

All the soloists, including the lovely soprano Laquita Mitchell, the sonorous bass-baritone Dashon Burton and the heavy-lifting narrator, the superb baritone Malcolm J. Merriweather do sterling work with the unstinting support of maestro Tritle and his orchestra and chorus.

This writer voices an earnest hope that this indispensable work will come to the attention of the Cincinnati May Festival, along with other oratorio societies around the country, for it bears messages in need to repeatedly be told.

Rafael de Acha



FIL04734The Italian guitarist Emanuele Segre’s recording of Italian concerti for guitar has instantly become a favorite in my collection of CD’s thanks to this artist’s gifts for bringing to new life the familiar – Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in D Major and Mauro Giuliani’s Gran Quintetto  – and introducing the unfamiliar – Antonio Vivaldi’s Aria for Guitar and String Orchestra, Giovanni Solima’s The Back Owl and Carlo Boccadoro’s Dulcis Memoria II, both in world premiere recordings – and making it all instantly compelling.

Segre’s dazzling technical gifts never take center stage to overwhelm the music itself with facile tricks, but rather serve the demands of the compositions he takes on, allowing for the music itself to be the main event, not the playing of it. But play he does with a mix of bravura and delicacy, sobriety and passion, as called for by the various moments in the music. Listening to how this protean artist summons a seamless cantabile legato in the Aria for Guitar and String Orchestra from what is at its core a strumming, plucking instrument is a thing of wonder.

Carlo Boccadoro’s hypnotic Dulcis Memoria II elicits from both soloist and the superb Orchestra I Pomeriggi Musicali a soulful reading in which even moments of seeming stasis reverberate with intensity. A master who can summon a panoply of colors from his instrument, Segre’s Vivaldi selections are Baroque at the core and replete with perfect articulation and elegant embellishments, Mauro Giuliani’s Gran Quintetto is quintessentially classical, and in Sollima’s intriguing Black Owl and Boccadoro’s Dulcis Memoria II the playing is gritty and razor sharp contemporary.

Equal partners in the superb music-making, Carlo Boccadoro and the Orchestra I Pomeriggi Musicali, and in the  Vivaldi harpsichordist Angela Lazzaroni alternately provide ever-supportive accompaniment, rock solid continuo and moments of solo virtuosity.

The engineering of this 2018 recording by Renato Campajola and Mario Bertodo is flawless, and the booklet notes by David Brin are insightful, making this DELOS release yet another collector’s must have.

Rafael de Acha

American Rapture

American Rapture, a new album by AZICA RECORDS features three works by American composers of three generations.

Jennifer Higdon’s Harp Concerto, commissioned by and written for the protean Yolanda Kondonassis affords the soloist innumerable opportunities to shine while holding her own against the massive sound of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra by the use of a sound-enhancing device that allows the harp to play not merely as a purveyor of delicate sounds but as a potent, rhythmically active member of the ensemble.

Crafted in four movements, compelling in its diversity of melodic and rhythmic uses of the harp, the work exemplifies Higdon’s gift for instrumental inventiveness and melodic lyricism. Kondonassis shines in this performance, once more establishing herself as the foremost harpist in the concert world of today.

Samuel Barber’s Symphony no. 1 dates back to 1939, when the 29-year old composer was making himself known as a gifted young man to be taken notice of. The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and its gifted maestro Ward Stare deliver an assured, committed reading of this remarkable work.

Patrick Harlin’s remarkably interesting short sonic poem Rapture was inspired by James Tabor’s book Blind Descent, an account of the 2007 descent by a team of speleologists and scientists into the deepest cave on earth in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

The composer depicts through moments of stasis followed by obstinately rhythmic passages and descending scales the impact on circadian rhythms that living for extended periods of time can bring about: a mixture of elation (rapture) and disorientation and depression. The work, authoritatively helmed by Ward Stare builds to a deafening climax that brings itself and the album to a felicitous ending.

Rafael de Acha

Letter from South Florida

Returning to South Florida after ten years for a brief visit with family and friends, I was stunned by the many positive changes and signs of growth in the arts, and beyond that by the improved quality of life that our old stamping grounds have undergone.

Yes, it can be hot and humid during eight or more months out of the year, but if you visit at the right time, as we did, the climate is just about perfect, as long as you leave all your woolies behind and dig out of the closet some loose fitting cotton and linen.

Driving in Miami is still maniacally frantic, and a few of the drivers are passively careless or just plain rude. Honking to signal “move on, you slowpoke” is common, as is the raised middle finger so rarely seen in other parts of the country. Parking is a challenge everywhere, and more people are now taking advantage of the Metromover that connects the far reaches of Dade County in the South with the lower portions of North Miami and Downtown, a distance that used to take 20 to 25 minutes in normally heavy traffic and that will now take you half that time by rail.

What used to be not so much of a melting pot but more of a side-by-side ethnically separate but mutually tolerant arrangement has of late morphed into a loosely-knit community in which upwardly-mobile Cubans who came to these shores with only the shirt on their backs and oil-rich Venezuelans who arrived in recent times with worthless currency in their pockets have bounced back and up and moved into Coral Gables and Coconut Grove properties they could barely afford years ago.

They and fellow exiles and expats and immigrants from Central and South America are now living next door to WASP and Jewish snowbird transplants from New England and the Midwest, of which those who cannot stand all that rapid-fire Spanish and spicy cuisine aromas wafting from the kitchen next door are moving to Naples and Ft. Myers on the West Coast or up the coast to Broward and Palm Beach counties to retire happily ever after in monolithically unified villages built around golf courses.

But where greater Miami was in its infancy when it came to the arts ten years ago the whole of South Florida from the Keys to Dade County to Broward County to Palm Beach County is now filled with interesting galleries and museums of all kinds, theatres performing everything from Sondheim to Latino playwrights, art cinemas, and music activities for all tastes.

Not-for-profits still have it tough, as so much of South Florida is populated with folks from up north who do all their giving at home, South Florida being just the place where they hang their hats four months out of the year.

Where in Cincinnati we have a number of family and corporate donors who have for years sustained arts organizations large and small, South Floridians continue to give the impression of being at the beginning of the learning curve when it comes to support of the arts. Yes, the New World Symphony and the Perez Miami Art Museum have attracted the large private and foundation donors with deep pockets, but the mid-sized and small arts organizations continue to struggle on a day-by-day basis, most of them unable to build up endowments that would ensure their survival through lean times.

But persevere they do, led by new and long-term visionaries, among them Gables Stage’s Joseph Adler, playwright-director Nilo Cruz – who gave a book presentation at Books and Books while we were there – and Teatro Avante’s Mario Ernesto Sanchez, all of whom have parlayed personal earthly comforts and security for the intangible rewards that making art can bring.

While here in the chilly regions of the Midwest the emphasis in our museums seems to be on collecting and showcasing the treasures of the past, most South Florida museums, born as they were in the last few decades of the 20th century have opted to be primarily presenting institutions, leaving the collecting to individuals, thus bypassing the responsibilities of safely housing huge art collections.

4-pamm_teresita_fernandez_m3a0898-editIn Miami itself, a visit to the architecturally compelling Perez Miami Art Museum with its location by the bay allowed one to see barely a portion of its growing permanent collection and an impressive exhibit of the large-scale works of Miami artist Teresita Fernández.

17-Homenaje-a-Nicolas-de-Cusa-60X50-1994The American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora, housed in an elegantly laid-out facility featured a stunning exhibit of the paintings of Cuban artist Rafael Soriano.

zoetic stage Zoetic Stage’s production of Christopher Demos-Brown “American Son” at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts was one of the highlights of our visit to Miami. Brought to vivid life by a Miami playwright and a top-notch cast and director, the play and production defined the work of company founders Stuart Melzer, Michael McKeever, and Christopher Demos-Brown as world class.

On the same week we attended a fabulous concert of the New World Symphony, which I have reviewed for Seen and Heard-International.

Miami got to be at one point in its checkered history a punch-line (“Miami where the rules are different”… Death Valley South…) and now, through years of growing pains, the City has developed into an estimable place for the visual, stage and musical arts to grow and prosper.

Rafael de Acha

Musical events to look forward to in 2020

Two concerts are coming up at CCM, one on January 31st when the CCM PHILHARMONIA tackles Gustav Mahler’s huge Ninth Symphony with Mark Gibson conducting. Alban Berg said of it that ”it expresses an extraordinary love of the earth, for Nature. The longing to live on it in peace, to enjoy it completely, to the very heart of one’s being…”

The other event will be an all-French program at CCM (Debussy, Ravel, Berlioz) with guest conductor Louis Langrée helming the same superb ensemble of rising orchestral players on February 15th.

Two Handel operas – both rarities – are coming our way: Partenope at CCM opens on February 20 for a short 4-performance run, and Agrippina gets an HD screening of the new MET production on February 29 with Handel’s tale of political intrigue updated to the present time starring mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as the power-hungry mum from hell.

Music for All Seasons at Peterloon pays homage to women composers on Sunday March 8th with music by Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, Teresa Carreño, Nadia Boulanger, Agathe Backer Grøndahl, and Florence B. Price, with Yaoyue Huang, Ariadne Antipa, Miriam K. Smith, Kanako Shimasali and Amber R. Monroe bringing the music to life.

In March two sopranos visit our area: in Dayton, Angel Blue sings a concert with the Dayton Philharmonic on Sunday March 22, and on Friday March 27, Nicole Cabell gives a recital for Matinee Musicale Cincinnati.

CCM fills its calendar in April during the same weekend of Thursday 2 through Sunday 5 with the musical Bright Star and the Mozart opera The Magic Flute.

Elsewhere an on that same month and on the weekend of April 17, the CSO plays a Russian concert of favorites by Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff, and the spectacularly talented violinist Christina Nam takes on a solo recital for Matinee Musicale Cincinnati.

Still later that month the CSO essays a new concept on April 22: an intimate and informal concert of world music – Cuban in this case – with the audience seated on stage with the musicians. Two days later on April 24 CCM’s Dance Department brings on stage Igor Stravinsky once-scandalous, still sexy The Rite of Spring.

In May the untiring Matinee Musicale Cincinnati brings the fast-rising tenor Pene Patti back to the Queen City for a return engagement on May 3. If you have not heard him go! If you have already you will more likely be there.

2020 being the 250th Anniversary of Beethoven’s birth expect several performances honoring him.

The CSO will host a two-part marathon all-Beethoven concert on Sunday March 1.

Music for All Seasons at Peterloon pays homage to the giant of classical music on May 10th with a recital featuring some of his most beloved instrumental and vocal music, with cellist Jonathan Lee, pianist Marie-France Lefevbre, violinist Kanako Shimasaki, and tenor Daniel Weeks.

In May the Cincinnati May Festival will present a concert with excerpts from Fidelio in conjunction with his Ninth Symphony, and Isaac Selya’s Queen City Opera has yet to announce the exact date for its staging of Fidelio.

With five music-filled months ahead before we catch our collective breath in June in time for the Cincinnati Opera season, our calendars will be full of terrific options.