“This disease will be the end of many of us but not nearly all, and the dead WILL BE COMMEMORATED AND WIL STRUGGLE ON WITH THE LIVING. And we are not going away. We won’t die secret deaths. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. You are fabulous creatures, and I bless you: MORE LIFE. THE GREAT WORK BEGINS. Prior Walter’s final words in Tony Kushner’s ANGELS IN AMERICA.

Dame Ethel Smyth’s The Prison

Henry Bennett Brewster wrote The Prison: A Dialogue in 1891, and Dame Ethel Smyth in her 1930 similarly-titled choral work, The Prison based its sung text on Brewster’s philosophical-poetic treatise. CHANDOS is releasing a recording of Dame Ethel Smyth’s final work and the results are very good indeed.

Dame Ethel Smyth, a fierce feminist, a passionate suffragist, and above all an immensely-gifted composer, endured neglect and patronizing sexism during her life, in spite of having the friendship and support of the likes of Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Bruno Walter, Sir Thomas Beecham and Donald Tovey.

In spite of many challenges and by dint of an unrelenting work ethic, Dame Ethel became the first woman composer to be given the title of Dame and the first one of her sex to have a production at the Metropolitan Opera – The Forest in 1903.

Structured in two parts and sixteen movements The Prison, here in its world premiere recording, is a fascinating composition that notwithstanding the sui generis quality of Smyth’s music, has its musical roots in the massive orchestrations, sweeping melodic lines and harmonic expansiveness of Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler.

The work’s part-narrative, part-meditative text tells of a man imprisoned in a cell of the mind who – through a process of communing with his soul and through it with the universe – achieves an elevated state of enlightenment as he joyfully journeys towards a worldly death and a spiritual rebirth beyond the end of life.        

Here the silvery-voiced soprano Sarah Brailey and the impressive bass-baritone Dashon Burton deliver perfect performances, both equally earmarked by flawless vocalism, intelligent restraint, and utmost elegance. James Blachly who leads the superb Experiential Orchestra and Chorus with balance and clarity must also be given credit for the resurrection of this work in its revised edition. The young maestro elicits a wonderful performance from all the forces he helms in a one-of-a-kind addition to the recorded repertoire available on various platforms.

For more information contact Simon Astridge:

Rafael de Acha

Delos gives us three musical gifts at year’s end

In Soli Deo Gloria, a lovely two-disc set released by Delos perhaps never better than in time for the holiday season, thirty-five selections that include various sonatas and several of the nearly four-dozen chorale preludes (BWV 599-644) contained in the Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) conceived by J.S. Bach during his tenure as organist and music director at Leipzig’s Thomas Kirche are brought to vibrant life by trumpeter Andrew Balio and organist Bruce Bengtson.

The genius of the composer shines through in these modest, small-scale gems felicitously transcribed by Andrew Balio for the trumpet. The title of the two-CD set comes from Bach’s own words which he wrote at the end of each of his compositions: Soli Deo GloriaOnly for the Glory of God.

The music of Bach as played by Balio and Bengtson transcends earthly bounds and touches and stimulates the brain and the heart of the listener with the composer’s mastery of counterpoint and the soulfulness of his art.


In another timely release by Delos, the chamber choir Conspirare is alternately joined by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, the Texas Guitar Guartet, and the Austin Guitar Quartet in The Singing Guitar.

The album features several compositions: Nico Muhly’s How Little You Are – a compelling work that tells of the struggles of American pioneer women, Kile Smith’s The Dawn’ Early Light – a reflection on the meaning of our National Anthem by Sarah Winnemuca Hopkins, a 19th century native American Paiute activist, Reena Esmail’s hauntingly beautiful When the Guitar, and Craig Hella Johnson’s The Song That I Came To Sing.

The ensemble work by the unusually combined forces of each of the three guitar quartets and the chamber choir Conspirare yields excellent results in this most charming collection of works by American composers.


Marcellus in the opening scene of Shakespeare’s Hamlet speaks these words: Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes/ Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated/The bird of dawning singeth all night long/And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad/The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike/No fairy takes nor witch hath power to charm/So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

And in So hallow’d the time a release of music by Brian Galante and Stephen Paulus, the Taylor Festival Chorus impeccably sings works by these two American composers that honor the Christmas Season as eloquently as the Bard’s words do. The music of Galante’s five-movement So hallow’d the time and that of the shorter How far is it to Bethlehem? is both melodic, straightforwardly tonal, and honest as it touchingly depicts the wonderment of the birth of Christ.

In Stephen Paulus’ Christmas Dances and in his Pilgrim’s Hymn the mood is celebratory and joyous, with a sound evocative of pastoral, folk melodies.

The titles of Galante’s sections in his So Hallow’d the Time are: Wisdom, Peace, Love, Light and Love. This listener cannot think of sentiments more needed in the troubled time in which we now live.

Rafael de Acha

Thomas Hammons

Thomas Hammons sadly left us yesterday.

My wife, Kimberly and I became friends with Tom and his wife, Veronique sometime after we moved to Cincinnati. We shared many good times together.

I reviewed Tom on my blog three times, both in performances with the Dayton Opera and with the Cincinnati Opera. In all cases I was impressed by his terrific acting chops and his excellent vocalism in roles that often go to comprimarios with little or no voice left.

Tom had an excellent bass-baritone voice that allowed him to sing roles that would never go to a buffo singer. He was a peerless Benoit/Alcindoro in La Bohème and a touching and amusingly grumpy Mr. Kofner in Menotti’s The Consul. And in the Cincinnati Opera’s Ariadne auf Naxos he stole every scene he was in, as the boss’s officious manservant.

Tom created important roles in John Adams’ Nixon in China and in The Death of Klinghoffer which he went on to perform in Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, Brussels, Lyons, Vienna, and throughout Canada and the United States. He made his début at the Metropolitan Opera as the Sacristan in Tosca during the 1996–1997 season, and then returned every season thereafter in performances of Andrea Chénier, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Billy Budd, La Bohème, Dialogues des Carmélites, Die Fledermaus, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, The Merry Widow and Le Nozze di Figaro.

The old cliché goes ”There are no small parts… only small actors” and I could not think of anyone who better exemplifies this bit of theatrical philosophy than my dear friend, Tom Hammons: a huge talent in any of the scores of roles – large or small – he played with the same amount of detail and humanity.

Rafael de Acha


Not quite December yet, here’s our BEST OF YEAR list, culled from hundreds of DVD’s and CD’s sent to us for reviewing starting in January. Should more outstanding new recordings reach us between now and January 1st 2021, they will be taken into consideration and added to our list. One more thing: the recordings in our BEST OF YEAR are listed here in random order, neither preferentially nor chronologically.

  • Mozart y Mambo released by ALPHA joins our list as one of the best albums of the year. It defies categorization merely inviting the listeners to set aside preconceptions and listen to a cool mix of the Austrian (Mozart) and the Cuban (Perez Prado, Ibrahim Ferrer) played with a mixed combination of Cuban sabor and classical elegance by horn player Sarah Willis, saxophonist Yuniet Lombida, trumpeter Harold Madrigal, pianist Jorge Aragón, and the enormously versatile Havana Lyceum Orchestra led by José Antonio Méndez. Full review:
  • The release IF THE NIGHT GROWS DARK by BRIGHT SHINY THINGS [BSTC-0140, CD] is a treasure trove of Spanish songs arranged for guitar and voice by Graciano Tarragó, and exquisitely performed by soprano Camille Zamora and guitarist Cem Duruöz. With their easy back and forth musical dialogue, with Zamora‘s perfect diction in Castilian, Catalan, Gallego and Basque, and a sublime voice perfectly suited to this music, and with Duruöz’s elegantly idiomatic playing, the two artists deliver musical gold throughout the entire duration of the album. FULL REVIEW:
  • SOMM Recordings released a fascinating album featuring two late-19th-century Romantic Piano Concertos: the Fifth Piano Concerto in F major, “Egyptian” by Camille Saint-Saëns, and the unfamiliar and enormously impressive Piano Concerto, Op.10 by the Brazilian Henrique Oswald, both replete with mind-boggling technical hurdles which the formidable Brazilian pianist Clélia Iruzun elegantly tosses off in a stunning performance that also boasts the solid support of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra superbly led by Dutch maestro Jac Van Steen. FULL REVIEW:
  • Commissioned and premiered by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and beautifully conducted by Manfred Honeck, Jonathan Leshnoff’s Double Concerto for Clarinet and Bassoon on REFERENCE RECORDS affords two of the orchestra’s principals: Michael Rusinek (clarinet) and Nancy Goeres (bassoon) the opportunity to shine as soloists in this gorgeous composition. We enjoyed in addition a boldly exhilarating performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 4 in F minor included in this CD. FULL REVIEW:
  • The Jupiter String Quartet delivered in a MARQUIS CLASSICS release a noble performance of György Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1 and Métamorphoses Nocturnes filled with gravitas that never lapsed into self-importance. Ligeti’s music calls for muscular playing and chameleonic changes of attack, tonality and mood, and the Jupiter String Quartet astonished with its virtuosic playing and its meticulous musicianship in one of the finest albums of the year. FULL REVIEW:
  • SIMONE DINNERSTEIN: A CHARACTER OF QUIET released by Orange Mountain Music, featured Dinnerstein’s playing of three of Philip Glass’s Etudes revealing the seemingly simple beauty of these miniatures with utmost clarity, and comfortably embracing the at times deceivingly static nature of these delicate gems. By contrast Dinnerstein’s rendition of Schubert Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960 – his last –  is deeply Romantic, affectingly portraying the music of an ailing young man holding on for dear life to life while continuing to make music. FULL REVIEW:
  • There are times when music can provide healing, induce calm, soothe our troubled hearts, allay our fears, and for a moment dispel our cares. As I sat late one night, and let this music so exquisitely played and shared with me by five formidable artists create its magic, time stopped and all that mattered in that moment was the clarinet quintets of Mozart and Brahms magically played by the Alexander String Quartet and Eli Eban in a  Foghorn Records CD. FULL REVIEW:
  • During the two and a half hours musical-dramatic journey that the protean Stuart Skelton shares with a marvelous cast led by the superb English conductor Edward Gardner the splendid Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus shine in the several interludes that depict the ever changing surrounding seas that mirror the equally fluctuating human emotions that permeate Britten’s Peter Grimes – a harrowing story about an odd man out given a superbly engineered production in a new CD by CHANDOS. Full review:
  • Jonas Kaufmann – at the age of 51 a dramatic tenor at the top of his game – is an artist of uncommon sensitivity with the vocal equipment to surmount the perils in Verdi’s Otello a score chockfull of them. Carlos Alvarez is a superb Iago, Federica Lombardi a marvelous Desdemona, possessing a crystalline voice ideal for the role of the guiltless young wife. Antonio Pappano is the ideal Verdi interpreter, summoning fire and brimstone from his Santa Cecilia forces when needed and at other times eliciting delicate, shimmering playing in the Sony Classical CD. FULL REVIEW:
  • In DESIRE, her Sony Classical release of operatic arias Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak delivers a gorgeous lyric sound, pinpoint accuracy, intensity, and the sort of respectfulness for the written note that includes observing repeats and executing what’s written rather than what comes to the singer’s whim. Add to that flawless diction in Italian, French, Polish, Czech and Russian, and one quickly concludes that this artist has come into her own with complete artistic-vocal equipment. FULL REVIEW:
  • ORCHID CLASSICS (ORC100127) 3 CD release of all five of Beethoven’s concertos for piano and orchestra features Stewart Goodyear in command of immensely challenging music with never a hint of self-aggrandizement or posturing. With Andrew Constantine superbly helming the BBC Orchestra of Wales, Goodyear lets us know that he is a past master of both the grand gesture and the delicate and intimate, playing with the nobility and intense musicality listeners have come to expect of him. FULL REVIEW:

From Buenos Aires’ Teatro Colon some archival treasures

From Buenos Aires’ Teatro Colon some archival treasures:

Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri (July, 1970) – Teresa Berganza… Wladimiro Ganzarolli…Renato Cesari…Renzo Cassellatto

Verdi Otello (April, 1999) – Placido Domingo, Veronica Villaroel, Alexandru Agache

Narciso Yepes 1962 – Mudarra, Carlevano, Giuliani, Bach, Tansman, Gombau, Albeniz, Pipo

Birgit Nilsson concert 1967

Ah, perfido!…Liebestod… La luce langue… Pace, pace… In questa reggia

Donizetti – Lucia 1972

Sills, Kraus, Mastromei

Aida 1971

Arroyo, King, Cossotto, Mastromei, VincoDonizetti – La Favorita 1967

Kraus, Cossoto, Bruscantini, Vinco

E Pluribus Unum

The motto of our nation is E pluribus Unum – Latin for “of many, one” – and I believe that, in spite of all political view points, we can coexist and work together for a better nation for us and for future generations. God bless all of us and God bless America.

Songs of comfort and hope

Songs of comfort and hope is the title of a new CD being released by Sony. The album offers a welcome musical balm for our spirits in these troubled times. The CD includes beloved familiar songs arranged for cellist Yo Yo Ma and pianist Kathryn Stott.

Ranging from traditional, folk, and American show tunes to world music and classical songs by Bloch, Grieg and Rachmaninoff, the list of gems includes Amazing Grace…Shenandoah, Ol’ Man River Goin’ Home…Jewish Song…Zdes’ khorosho…Moscow Nights…Over the RainbowRain Falling from the RoofSong Without Words…Waltzing MatildaScarborough Fair…Solveig’s SongLes Chemins de l’Amour…Marietta’s LiedThula BabaThe Last Rose of SummerDanny BoyGracias a la VidaWe’ll Meet Again.

As we have come to expect from the duo of YoYoMa and Kathryn Stott, the playing is honestly straightforward and totally devoid of any sentimentalizing, with no condescension towards the humble origins of Scarborough Fair or Danny Boy and with the same respect and musicality given in equal amounts to Jerome Kern and to Felix Mendelssohn.

We were hard put to label this album. It is not strictly classical in its selections, even though the playing is idiomatically that of two concert artists to whom the label crossover would be offensive. Throughout his wide ranging explorations of everything from Bach to Tango, Yo Yo Ma has proven time and again that music is either good or bad regardless of its origins, and all together the music in this gem of a CD is good music.

Rafael de Acha