HOWARD SKEMPTON’S WEIRD MUSIC

OIP

On top of my desk I have a book: Ben Yagoda’s WHEN YOU CATCH AN ADJECTIVE, KILL IT! It has become a sort of writer’s bible for me. So, when I sat down to listen to the métier (msv28580) release of The Man Hurdy Gurdy & me with music by Howard Skempton, I was struck by the work of this English iconoclast, and following that by my utter inability to come up with words to describe my reaction.

I needed not dig for negatives. I got hooked from track 1 through track 14, waiting to hear what this musical maverick next had up his wizardly sleeve. I mean the man plays with sound the way a kid plays with favorite toys, assembling the unlikeliest of instrumental companions in unpredictable groupings. Forget traditional structures – there are none in this music. Harmony..? Yes, actually. Very consonant. Contrapuntal rigidity..? Nope. Melody..? Well, yes, but not your recognizable kind. When he pairs the marvelously malleable soprano Sara Stowe with a gamelan ensemble one quickly comes to understand Debussy’s reaction to the Balinese orchestra he heard back in the day at the time of the Paris World Fair of 1889.

But for Goodness’ sake do not for a minute think of Skempton as being another musical prankster along the lines of John Cage. No. This is seriously fun music, as entertaining as it is complex in its sonorities and its devil-may-care approach to instrumentation. I mean would you EVER pair a hurdy-gurdy with percussion, oboe, flute and keyboard? Some chamber music!

The multi-lingual liner notes shun reverence and musicological gobbledygook in three languages, focusing instead on the facts. The ensemble in charge of these giddy proceedings is named Sirinu (www.sirinu.org) and they take on their multi-instrumental tasks with enthusiasm and accuracy.

If I were you I’d check them out just to hear what’s happening with new music on the other side of the pond and outside of Academia. You just might enjoy it as much as I did: https://youtu.be/oXoJ3Tw3XlY

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

A MULTILINGUAL MESSAGE TO ALL OUR MUSICIAN FRIENDS WORLDWIDE


music-world

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Incluso cuando nuestras salas de conciertos y teatros están cerrados, nuestros corazones, mentes y oídos permanecen abiertos a la paz y al consuelo que trae la música. ¡Nosotros en Music for All Seasons y RafaelMusicNotes.com le deseamos a usted y a su familia tanto como a sus colegas y a su público mucha salud, seguridad, paz y buenas artes!
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Anche quando le nostre sale da concerto e teatri sono chiusi, i nostri cuori, le nostre menti e le nostre orecchie rimangono aperti alla pace e al conforto che la musica porta. Noi di Music for All Seasons e RafaelMusicNotes.com auguriamo a voi tutti e alle vostre famiglie, colleghi e al vostro pubblico salute, sicurezza, pace e belle arti!
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Même lorsque nos salles de concert et nos théâtres sont fermés, nos cœurs, nos esprits et nos oreilles restent ouverts à la paix et au réconfort que la musique apporte. Chez Music for All Seasons et RafaelMusicNotes.com nous vous souhaitons, à vous, ainsi qu’à vos familles, à vos collègues et à votre auditoire bonne santé, sécurité, paix et belles arts!
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Chiar și atunci când sălile noastre de concerte și teatre sunt închise, inimile noastre și mințile și urechile rămân deschise la pace și consolare că muzica aduce. Noi cei de la Music for All Seasons și RafaelMusicNotes.com vă dorim dumneavoastră și familiilor dumneavoastră și colegilor dumneavoastră și publicului sănătate, siguranță, pace și arte bune!                                                                                                                                                     Deutsch
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Nawet wtedy, gdy nasze sale koncertowe i teatry są zamknięte, nasze serca, umysły i uszy pozostają otwarte na spokój i pocieszenie, jakie przynosi muzyka. My w Music for All Seasons i RafaelMusicNotes.com życzymy Tobie i Twoim rodzinom i twoim kolegom i publiczności dobrego zdrowia, bezpieczeństwa, pokoju i dobrej sztuki
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Pat tad, kad mūsu koncertzāles un teātri ir slēgti, mūsu sirdis un prātus un ausis paliek atvērtas miera un mierinājums, ka mūzika rada. Mēs Music for All Seasons un RafaelMusicNotes.com vēlu jums un jūsu ģimenēm un jūsu kolēģiem un jūsu auditorijai labu veselību, drošību, mieru un labu mākslu!
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English (American)
Even when our concert halls and theatres are closed, our hearts and minds and ears remain open to the peace and solace that music brings. We at Music for All Seasons and RafaelMusicNotes.com wish you and your families and your colleagues and your audience good health, safety, peace, and good arts!

BOUNDLESS- Schubert Sonatinas with violinist Zachary Carrettin and pianist Mina Gajic BEST OF 2020

BOUNDLESS, the recent Sono Luminus release (DSL 92240) is a source of joy in our often joyless times: https://youtu.be/_sWZHZXczMk

If Franz Schubert could join me in expressing delight at this execution of his music he most certainly would. The album features three Schubert sonatinas from Opus 137: D.384 in D major, D 385 in A minor, and a dozen works later, D 408 in G minor.

The two artists who bring these gems to vivid life are violinist Zachary Carrettin and pianist Mina Gajic. The instrument that Carrettin plays with a bow made by John Dow around 1800 is a gut-strung jewel built after the Second World War by Luthier Franz Kinsberg. The piano is an Sébastien Érard 1835 treasure recently brought back to life by the Dutch piano builder Frits Janmmat.

The playing of these two invaluable artists: gentle, elegant, utterly Romantic and romantically intimate is perfect for these works of the young Schubert, conceived as they were for the salon, not for the concert hall.

There is not an iota of grandstanding or self-serving flashiness obstructing the connection between the players and the music at any moment during the 56 minutes of sheer delight that BOUNDLESS brings to the listener.

Recorded in an intimate, acoustically-perfect hall in Colorado, exquisitely produced by Erica Brenner, engineered from a to z by the ever flawless Daniel Shores and given an impeccable packaging by Sono Luminus, this one is already at the top of my Best of 2020 list.

Rafael de Acha RafaelMusicNotes.com

ISABEL BAYRAKDARIAN AS CLEOPATRA

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THE OTHER CLEOPATRA: QUEEN OF ARMENIA
IL TIGRANE ARIAS
ISABEL BAYRAKDARIAN, SOPRANO
CONSTANTINE ORBELIAN – KAUNAS CITY SYMPHONY
DELOS (DE 3591) RECORDED SEPTEMBER 2019
ARIAS BY JOHANN ADOLPH HASSE (1699-1783), ANTONIO VIVALDI (1678-1741), CHRISTOPH WILLIBALD GLUCK (1754-1787)

In this intriguing DELOS release the Armenian-Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian explores the story of Cleopatra of Egypt, Queen Consort of King Tigranes II of Armenia in the operatic music of Hasse, Vivaldi and Gluck, all three of whom wrote operas about the Armenian King.

Much of this music is sober and stately and not yet given to the vocal pyrotechnics that Handel (younger than both Hasse and Gluck) gave to the greatest singers of his time. True, both the rival prima donnas Bordoni and Cuzzoni graced the stages of Europe in stagings of works by Hasse, but by the time Gluck began to have his operas mounted in Italy and Austria, Handel’s opera serias were becoming old fashioned and the text-driven French operas, especially those of Rameau were setting different standards for singers.

Isabel Bayrakdarian does a superb job of bringing to life the multi-faceted character of Cleopatra in music that ranges from the poised to the extravagant. The lyrical sound she must have brought to the Mozartian roles she extensively sang during the first years of her career has developed into that of a spinto soprano, complete with an unabashed use of the chest range, so much so that at times she summons the plumy sound of a mezzo-soprano.

Constantine Orbelian authoritatively conducts the Kaunas Symphony Orchestra, eliciting a lean sound perfectly suited to the High Baroque style of Hasse and Vivaldi as well as to the transitional Early Classical leanings of the young Gluck.

The project is given scholarly annotations by the soprano in the CD’s accompanying booklet and the overall project – production and engineering – is first class in sound and looks.

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

STUART SKELTON SHINES AS SIGMUND

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Let us first establish a couple of ground rules before we move on to reviewing the OPUS ARTE 2018 video recording of Wagner’s Die Walkure: one – no sarcasm or snark, two – no soft pedaling or pulling punches.

Now, with video recording the first thing I do is look at the cover of the DVD, the photographs that are used, how the whole thing entices me as a consumer and reviewer to tear off the shrink wrap and open up the package. In so doing I was not visually pleased by what I saw, starting with the ungainly wigs and costumes by Marie-Jeanne Lecca that do the singers no favors and fail to distinguish the mortal plebeians from the royal gods.

Once the music that opens Act One began to play I became totally enthralled by the sound of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, which led by Antonio Pappano plays superbly through the opera’s four hours. So swept up was I by the sound of the ensemble and by the heroic vocalism of Stuart Skelton, arguably the finest Heldentenor in today’s Opera business that I forgot that I was supposed to be watching a video.

But I soldiered on.

By the time Siegfried/Skelton got to his Welse, Welse outburst I was hooked and oblivious to the puzzling set of scenic designer Stefanos Lazaridis and most of the directorial capriciousness of Keith Warner.

Emily Magee is a spectacular Sieglinde, whose vocalism is a thing of wonder. When she opens up with Der Männer Sippe she forces me to turn down the volume on my CD player. Skelton’s impeccably sung Wintersturme is immediately followed by Sieglinde’s Du bist der Lenz, both Wagnerian tours de force that call for a panoply of vocal colors from Skelton and Magee both of whom generously deliver with a perfect balance of lyricism and stentorian singing.

The superb black-voiced bass Ain Anger is all contained evil as Hunding.

Act two begins with a brief scene for Wotan (the excellent John Lundgren), Nina Stemme, who valiantly makes her precarious entrance down a long metal stepladder and Sarah Connolly – most effective as a visually elegant Fricka. But somehow I keep waiting for Skelton to come back. He does for a few moments until he gets dispatched to Walhalla by the wife-deprived Hunding.

The rest of the opera is at 2 hours to go a bit of a slug for this listener, which puzzles me, as I never experience this with opera, other than Wagner with his endless moments of conversation.

The sound and visuals of the video are top notch. But get those singers some decent costumes.

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

THE SECRET GARDEN at CCM

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The Musical Theatre Department of the College-Conservatory of Music at UC pulled off yet another stunning production. This time it is a top-notch mounting of Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman’s magical musical The Secret Garden.

Other than the superb guest director and choreographer Connor Gallagher, the imaginative set designer Joshua E. Gallagher, and the unfailingly great costume designer Dean Mogle, everyone else in this superb production on and off stage is a student. That in and of itself is pretty close to a miracle, considering that what the capacity audience witnessed tonight on the Corbett Auditorium stage was a show on the level of a Broadway hit production.

Jeremy Robin Lyons in the pit led the sizeable orchestra in a musically flawless performance, drawing out terrific turns from a large cast headlined by Zoe Mezoff as Mary Lennox, Delaney Guyer as Lily, Madison Hagler as Archibald Craven, and Sam Pickart as Dr. Neville Craven. In significant supporting roles Anna Chase Lanier as Martha, Kurtis Bradley Brown as Dickon, and Jenna Bienvenue as Colin stood out in a cast of two dozen uniformly gifted singing, dancing, acting talents.

To get to the punch line I would encourage those readers still not holding tickets for this show to cancel whatever else you have planned for this weekend and give the box office at CCM a call at 513-556-4183 and try and see if there are any tickets left for any of the remaining three shows this weekend. You will not regret it.

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

HUSH! with Papagena, a group of five women singing a cappella

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HUSH! Is the title of the debut CD of Papagena, a group of five women singing a cappella every imaginable kind of music, from Pop to Medieval to Folk to Slavonic to you name it.

They handle Russian, Hebrew, Romanian, Georgian, Sephardic, Greek, Latin, Italian, Bulgarian, Celtic, and perfectly enunciated English with aplomb. Their musicianship is unimpeachable and their cohesive sound a thing of wonder. They sing idiomatically and when Romantic vibrato is undesirable they are able to pull back into a straight-toned approach that suits the music of Hildegard von Bingen and Scarlatti to perfection.

They are sopranos Elizabeth Drury, Abbi Temple, Suzzie Vango, and altos Suzie Purkis and Sarah Tenant Flowers, all-five superb singers and marvelous musicians.

You can visit Papagena at http://www.papagena.co.uk and order a copy of this nifty gift of gentle music, guaranteed to keep all the noise out there at bay.

LISTEN AND WATCH THEM IN REHEARSAL: https://youtu.be/KisMtqfL-74

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

BEETHOVEN AKADEMIE CONCERT IN CINCINNATI

United States: Inon Barnatan (piano), Dorothea Röschmann (soprano), May Festival Chorus, Robert Porco, director, Soloists, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra / Louis Langrée (conductor). Cincinnati Music Hall, 03/01/2020 (RDA)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 6, Pastoral
Beethoven: Ah! Perfido
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5
Beethoven: Selections from the Mass in C
Beethoven: Choral Fantasy

On December 22 of 1808, the management of the Theater-an-der-Wien in Vienna condescended after much dilly-dallying to let the 38 year old Beethoven have the theater for one night so that he could have a benefit concert three days before Christmas, just as the Viennese got ready for the biggest holiday of the Austrian calendar.

With Beethoven’s friend and sponsor, Prince Von Lofkowitz in a theater box and a sprinkling of Vienna’s aristocracy in attendance, the concert got off to a rocky start when the already partially deaf Beethoven insisted in conducting the four-hour long marathon.

The maestro had barely had the ink dry on some of the parts he had hastily handed out to the orchestra for a reading at first sight of the premiere of some of his most difficult music.

When things went awry at one point Beethoven stopped the orchestra and asked them to repeat the passage and to get it right this time. The offended musicians, a ragged pick-up group of Vienna’s free-lancers acquiesced, but bad blood permeated the remainder of the night and Beethoven’s days in Vienna.

The soprano who was to sing the concert aria Ah! Perfido cancelled at the last minute, and the young beginner who took her place was a bundle of nerves who sang off-pitch, to add insult to injury.

The audience members who had shelled out two guilders (a workman’s monthly salary) for admission to the four-hour long event sat on uncomfortable seats in the unheated theatre, wearing their coats and scarves.

It was altogether a wretched situation rescued from the brink of disaster by the sheer glory of some of Beethoven’s gems, including both the symphonies nos. 5 and 6, the piano concerto no. 4, excerpts from the C major Mass, and various and sundry bits and pieces from the Beethoven bucket list.

Beethoven took home a good portion of the box office intake and he never looked back

Over two hundred years have gone by, and this year being the one when we celebrate Beethoven’s 250th Happy Birthday, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has stepped up to honor the Master with a two-part, two-day Beethoven Fest.

I am happy to report that without a hint of any sort of Viennese disaster, the CSO’s event was a smashing success.

With four hours of music to account for, space constraints limit one’s evaluation of this event, but I will say that during both halves: the two and one half hours part one in the afternoon and the one and one half hour part two in the evening the audience never grew weary.

The CSO gave as an opening an exquisite rendition of the Pastoral Symphony, which was followed by Dorothea Röschmann’s memorably extraordinary singing of Beethoven’s concert aria Ah! Perfido, a perfect vehicle for the noted German soprano’s stylishly classical delivery, and her signature dramatic sound, alternating steely invective and melting forgiveness in her plea to one who deserted the female character of Beethoven’s powerful scena.

This long-overdue Cincinnati debut merits a return in an upcoming season.

Pianist Inon Barnatan gave a noble reading of the Piano Concerto no. 4 before the Beethoven-saturated audience and artists took a break. He would come back in the second half to do an imaginative improvisation on themes by Beethoven.

In between the two halves of the concert the ballroom of Music Hall functioned as Beer Garden, where a Viennese buffet was served and bit of Beethoven mixed with bits of Beergarten um-pah-pah permeated the atmosphere.

At the top of the second half Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5 received yet another A+ delivery from the CSO musicians, led by the indefatigable Louis Langrée, providing such a musical climax that one thought it impossible to follow with anything other than good night and safe home.

But the concert continued well into the early evening with the May Festival Chorus clamoring to the Heavens in a shattering delivery of the Sanctus from the Mass in C, with the peerless soprano Janai Brugger, the impressive mezzo-soprano Joyner Horn, the sterling tenor Thomas Cooley, and the very fine bass-baritone Nicholas Brownlee up front doing superb solo and ensemble work.

The finale was, as in 1808, Beethoven’s seed for what would eventually become the final movement of his Ninth: the Choral Fantasy, with all the evening soloists and the May Festival Chorus playing up a storm and singing for all their worth the words of the work’s unknown poet: “Welcome the gift of Art, all you blessed souls! When love and strength combine the grace of God is yours to have!”

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