Julian Bream’s Guitar

In the pantheon of the great guitarists of the 20th century, the late English-born Julian Bream stands side by side with Andrés Segovia, Narciso Yepes, John Williams, and Pepe Romero.

An artist of magisterial musicianship and impressive technique, Bream’s extensive recorded legacy has become a victim to the vagaries of the recording industry’s ups and downs. So it is with gratitude that we welcome the recently released Alto CD of music by Fernando Sor, Joaquin Turina, Manuel de Falla and Claude Debussy in a felicitous mix with a Chaconne, a Prelude, a Suite and a Partita by J. S. Bach all played by Bream with impeccable musicality, sober restraint, idiomatic elegance, and an absence of any fussy mannerisms.

Half of the music featured on this CD straddles the early 18th and early 19th centuries: areas of the guitar repertoire that the formidable Julian Bream dominates with his mastery of the music of Bach and the Spanish Fernando Sor.

Bream then turns to the music of Claude Debussy for a perfect rendition of Le Tombeau de Couperin. Yet it is in Joaquin Turina’s Homenaje a Tárrega and in the same composer’s Sonata in D minor that Bream finds a true soul mate, digging into the Flamenco-inspired Garrotín with soulful duende, then following it with a superb Soleares, an evanescent Fandango, a magical rendition of the D minor Sonata, and a haunting Rafaga.

This listener looks forward to more re-mastered, reissued treasures by great soloists from the past century.

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

Russian Liturgical Music

Long-time admirers of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s music have been acquainted with several of his liturgical works. Both the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrisothom and the All-Night Vigil have at one time or another been given partial or complete concert performances outside the Russian Orthodox Church, affording the devotees of the Russian composer’s work the rare opportunity to hear and admire a unique genre of music.

With roots that go back to the penetration by the Byzantine Empire of Russian culture that accompanied the 988 conversion to Christianity of the inhabitants of several of the regions that today comprise the Russian Federation and its neighboring nations, the Russian Orthodox liturgical repertoire is vast and enriched by the contributions of important composers, some perhaps less familiar than Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Works by Rachmaninoff along compositions by Gretchaninoff, Tcherepnin, and several other musical artists that lived and worked in the past two or more centuries enrich the CD Blessed Art Thou Among Women, a wonderfully varied collection of devotional texts in praise of the Virgin Mary set to choral music and superbly sung by the Patram Institute Singers, led by Peter Jermihov,

The music in this CD is varied but anchored in a tradition that observes a set a set of compositional guidelines. On first listening one discerns the four-square structure typical of much of Russian music in and outside of the liturgy. The melodies are sweeping, at times impassioned, at others ethereally tranquil and anchored in sound traditional harmony.

The contrapuntal settings of several of these works are not immensely complex but rather giving breathing space for the kind of sober text-driven polyphony that can be heard in familiar moments of choral singing in Russian operas, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov among others.

The singing of the Patram Institute Singers is musically and vocally magnificent, with the solo work of soprano Fotina Naumenko infusing Ledkovsky’s The Angel Cried Out with an exquisite sound. Then there is the rock-solid underpinning contributed by the inky sound of the basses whose profundo voices lend a sound seemingly emanating from a source outside vocal human bounds.

Over seventy-nine minutes of listening one was entranced by this Reference Recordings FR-737 CD, lovingly brought to life by Alexis and Katherine Lukianov, dedicated to the memory of their father Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov.

With support from the Tikhon Russian-American Music Institute and recorded in the acoustically-perfect Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky, in Howel, NJ, produced by Blanton Alspaugh, and engineered by John Newton, this is an invaluable collection of aural comfort for the soul, providing music rarely heard and much needed especially now during these days of earthly troubles.

Rafael de Acha        www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Hildegard’ s Power of Eternity

Vespers from the Abbey of St. Hildegard “O vis Aeternitatis”                Sung by the Bendictine Nuns of St. Hildegard, Bingen, led by J. Berchmans Göschl Engineering and editing: Christoph Martin Frommen Originally issued by Ars Musici © Mastered for Alto Records by Paul Arden-Taylor

Hildegard (1098-1179) was born in Germany in 1098, the tenth child of noble parents who promised her to convent life in 1106.  She took her vows in 1115, and in 1136 became the leader of her spiritual community. The Hildegard Abbey was consecrated in 1935, where this recording was made.

Hildegard regarded herself as “a mere vessel of God” through whom the complexities of scripture and language became clear through visions that she described as “extremely strong, sparkling, fiery lights” and that eventually were written down in a collection of poetry, in 400 letters, in theological discussions, and in works on medicine and natural healing.

The music of Hildegarde comprises settings mostly in plainchant of a mix of Antiphons, Responsorial Chant, and Sequences that utilize texts from the Book of Revelations, the Psalms and the Common of the Mass. The overall quality of the work is plain and pure, as is the singing, and both unencumbered by any compositional devices. It is music that comes from a time when the dividing line between the formality of composed music and music spontaneously sung, seemingly improvised, and preserved in the cloister by means of verbal instruction was tenuous at best.

The listener is induced into a stage of calm, non-judgmental listening made all the more hypnotic by the ethereal beauty of the soulful singing of the Bendictine Nuns of St. Hildegard, Bingen.

Rafael de Acha                  www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Shostakovich rescued!

Born in 2006 with a mission to rescue and reissue recordings lost in the disappearance or downsizing of labels (Olympia, Melodiya, Unicorn, Vanguard) as well as early recordings of still-with-us Decca, EMI, Deutsche Graophon and Sony/CBS, Alto makes good on its word with a series of recorded treasures being released this month.

The 1933 Concerto No. 1 in C minor for Piano, Trumpet, and String Orchestra has the composer at his raucous, irreverent best, toying with the unlikely pairing of piano and trumpet as almost-equal partners supported by a string orchestra.

With its plethora of musical puns, off-the-wall quotes and dash-to-the-end tempi the C minor concerto is a hilarious, exhilarating tour de force played for all its worth in this Columbia recording re-issue with Leonard Bernstein leading the NY Philharmonic Orchestra with Andre Previn as the piano soloist.

The single-movement Concertino in A minor for 2 pianos was composed and premiered in 1953 by Shostakovich father and son. It is again a bravura test piece given a terrific reading here by the composer and son, Maxim.

The 1957 Piano Concerto No.2 in F major is one of Shostakovich’s signature works, even if for some inexplicable reason the composer downplayed its merits. Written for his nineteen year old piano prodigy son, the work exudes optimism notwithstanding the presence of sweeping minor mode melancholy utterances from the strings in the middle movement. Here the multi-talented Leonard Bernstein is both soloist and conductor.

The Alto release of a group of Shostakovich works is a harbinger of more good things to come from this enterprising label.

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

The National Orchestra of Sweden

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. This terrific site is another of my favorite sources of musical pleasure right at home.

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1905 and today consists of over 100 musicians.

The orchestra’s home is the Gothenburg Concert Hall. Santtu-Matias Rouvali is the Chief Conductor. In 1997, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra was appointed as the National Orchestra of Sweden.

With a strong commitment and belief in the uniting power of music, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra will be available even more on GSOplay (https://www.gso.se/en/gsoplay/) while the visits in the Concert Hall are limited due to the corona pandemic.

You don’t need an account, just click the concert range and start watching.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone.

As we celebrate the harvest, let us take a moment to reflect on the true meaning of Thanksgiving.  Let us give thanks for what we have—friends, family, health, homes to protect us, food to nourish us, and opportunity.  Let us hope for a peaceful world, where our sameness and our differences are celebrated and respected, and where every person on our bountiful planet will be blessed with the same possibility for, not only a full stomach, but a soul fed with everything our world can provide.    

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone. 

Love to all,

Rafi and Kim


Among the many sources of music widely available on line, the website of Buenos Aires’ Teatro Colón ( WWW.teatrocolon.org ) stands out among its many competitors. Readily available to the curious listener, the archival sound treasures of this illustrious institution go back to the 1940’s.

Sound recordings of recitals by singers Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Birgit Nilsson, José Carreras, Luciano Pavaroti and Régine Crespin are offered on its site side by side with concerts by guitarist Narciso Yepes, pianists Martha Argerich and Claudio Arrau, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, along with full operas featuring the likes of Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, and Teresa Berganza.

Starting with the new century, fully staged operas and ballets featuring a mix of Argentine talents and international stars are available on video along with concerts by the superb Buenos Aires Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Colon Theater of Buenos Aires is one of the most important opera houses of the world. The Teatro Colón functioned from 1857 to 1888 and then reopened on May 25, 1908. The theatre was again closed from October 2006 to May 2010, when it reopened with vast improvements to its technical capabilities to its huge 65 ft. x 65 ft. stage. The theatre’s seating capacity is 2,487 seats with additional standing room for 1,000 and it has just about perfect acoustics.   

Serbian American pianist Ivan Ilić takes on Anton Reicha’s L’Art de varier

In the recent CHANDOS three-volume release of Anton Reicha’s L’Art de varier – a set of an F major theme and 57 variations for piano under the opus number 57, the formidable Serbian American pianist Ivan Ilić takes on the challenge of bringing to life this intriguing work with splendid results.

Anton Reicha(1770-1836), a Czech artist and close friend of Beethoven composed this work between 1801 and 1803, and, in spite of its many merits, L’Art de varier  fell into relative obscurity for well over two centuries, along with most of Reicha’s prolific output. Reicha dedicated this work to Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, who then invited the composer to become his Kapellmeister and teacher, only to be inexplicably turned down by the eccentric composer!

Evenly balancing intellectual acuity, peerless musicality and sober sensitivity pianist Ivan Ilić sustains the interest of the listener throughout the entire set of variations that range from the drily humorous to moments of sheer bravura.

The album is neatly engineered and accompanied by a handsome booklet.

Rafael de Acha     www.RafaelMusicNotes.com  

Matilde di Shabran

Matilde di Shabran was Rossini’s last commission from Rome, where Il barbiere di Siviglia had had its birth. This premiere NAXOS recording revives the original 1821 Rome version, which was conducted at the last minute by Niccolo Paganini, and caused turmoil in the streets of Rome between groups of Rossini’s pros and cons. Rossini was not overly concerned, as he had his sights set on greener pastures: Vienna, London and Paris awaited.

The cast of this NAXOS release of the original version (of three) features a youthful group of gifted singers from the Bad Wildblad Festival : six males and two females. Contralto Victoria Yarovaya and soprano Sara Blanch, both raise the bar for their other colleagues getting the lionesses’ shares of the show stopping arias.

José Miguel Pérez-Sierra brightly helms this performance of this comic rarity conducting the Passionart Orchestra Krakow in this NAXOS CD which is sure to entice Rossini fans with its rarity.

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

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Peace, Health, and the simple joy of cherishing just simply being alive

Noel Coward once quipped in response to the silly platitude “Life is for living!” this response: “It’s difficult to know what else to do with it!” So, in that spirit, we send to all our readers – especially to those who are feeling more than just a bit depressed by the combination of Covid19, isolation, and the relentless piling up of bad news coming our way, a heartfelt salute to Life, which given the alternative is unquestionably more than worth living, no matter all the negativity. We send each and every one of you and yours our heartfelt wishes for Peace, Health, and the simple joy of cherishing just simply being alive.