A memorable album from an exceptional pianist

Sono Luminus will soon release The Sound of Black & White (DSL-92249)

This recording of solo piano works by Aram Khachaturian, Oscar Levant, Earl Wild, and George Gershwin features the superb Armenian-American pianist Raffi Besalyan’s here in his second album for Sono Luminus.

The recording includes Oscar Levant’s Sonatina for Piano, selections of Khachaturian’s concert, ballet, and incidental music, Gershwin’s Three Preludes, variations on several of his show tunes, Rhapsody in Blue, and Earl Wild’s Virtuoso Etudes after Gershwin

Listen to Besalyan’s handling of the Cuban-inflected “clave” rhythms and the choo-choo train humor that Gershwin so inventively injected into his Rhapsody in Blue. Check out Besalyan’s dazzling agility in I got Rhythm, his laid back, leisurely stride of the left hand in the Three Etudes, and his rippling arpeggios in Embraceable You and in the Debussy-influenced The Man I Love.

The protean technique of this formidable pianist is put to use in all of the music heard in this album, as he commands all the intricacies of Khachaturian’s concert, incidental, and dance music, and the awesome challenges of Earl Wild’s Virtuoso Etudes after Gershwin.

Besalyan’s interpretive gifts comfortably encompass the classical and the salon worlds in a truly memorable album soon available from Sono Luminus.

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Saint-Saëns gave as good as he got

As his life-long battle with anything remotely smelling of new proved again and again Camille Saint-Saëns gave as good as he got. He labeled Stravinsky, Debussy, and several members of Les Six candidates for the nuthouse. Considering that he was born and musically educated in an era in which Adam, Auber, Rossini, Berlioz, Franck, Bizet, Gounod, and Halévy dominated the Parisian music scene during several decades, he must be forgiven for his frequent bouts of grumpiness.

Further acknowledging that he lived for 85 years through the rise of Fauré, Liszt, and Wagner (all of whom he enthusiastically admired) and into the third decade of the 20th century, it is nothing short of admirable that Saint-Saëns slowly earned the reputation of grey eminence in the cut-throat world of classical music throughout the changing times in which he composed.

NAXOS has released a splendidly packaged, annotated and engineered three-CD box set that includes all five symphonies of Saint-Saëns along with the symphonic poems Le rouet d’Ompahle, La jeunesse d’Hercule, and Phaéton – all three richly orchestrated compositions inspired by Greek myths, and the ever present Danse Macabre.

Of the five symphonies included in the set, the youthful work Symphony No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 2 keeps company with the Symphony No. 2 in A minor, Op. 55 – a work written but seven years after already evidencing a mature technique and style.

By the time the massively-orchestrated 1886 “Organ” Symphony came around the composer was in full command of his art and craft, influenced by but not imitative of Wagner. The lesser-known 1856 Urbs Roma and the equally off-the-beaten path 1850 A major Symphony both show all the earmarks of the Saint-Saëns many love and admire, including a knack for the dramatic gesture that reminds listeners of his uncanny gifts as a gifted composer for the lyric stage.

Marc Soustrot leads the impeccably accomplished musicians of the Malmö Symphony Orchestra with an elegant balance of panache and rigorous attention to balance and detail, partnering to perfection the very fine organist Carl Adam Landström in the final movement of the C minor symphony and violinist Marika Faltskogh, dazzling in the Danse Macabre.

Rafael de Acha      ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

An 18th century gift

Towards the end of 1790 a major live event awaited Franz Joseph Haydn.

The scion of the family that had for long so generously feathered the composer’s nest was trimming the family budget and giving walking papers to the members of the 15-strong chamber orchestra that had week after week played the composer’s works for the entertainment and cultural edification of the Esterhazy family and their friends.

No stranger to the vicissitudes of life as a composer-conductor, the 58 year old Father of the Symphony was ready to pack his bags and seek greener grass elsewhere. Fate provided the opportunity to obtain gainful employment and London awaited.

Here Haydn had an all expenses paid though admittedly arduous journey by carriage and once out of land-locked Austria by sailing vessel to take him to London, where an orchestra three-times the size of the one for which he had been writing for the past three decades would be at his command.

That marked the first of two visits to the English capital, where the public fell in love with the Austrian maestro and where he readily reciprocated.

The twelve symphonies magisterially conducted by Sir Roger Norrington at the helm of the invaluable Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra in live performances in front of an audience all date from the years 1791 to 1795, and therein one can enjoy all the earmarks of the Haydn style brought out by Sir Roger and his musicians: the humor, the nobility of utterance, the crispness of rhythm, the elegance, the unpredictability, the superb harmonic construct, the classic contrapuntal scheme.

Where Mozart created by a kind of mystical inspiration Haydn delivered symphony after symphony by sheer perspiration. But any old working stiff would not have transcended the limits of the commonplace, whereas eccentric Haydn, buffoonish Haydn, unpredictable yet disciplined Haydn pushed on as he had since landing on his feet at age 17 in the streets of Vienna as a free-lance musical jack of all trades singing for his supper in the homes of the Austrian aristocracy.

The superbly engineered, elegantly packaged 4-disc set includes among twelve gems the nick-named Clock, Drum roll, Surprise, Military, Miracle and London symphonies; an 18th century gift made available by SWR Music.

Heartfelt thanks!

Rafael de Acha     All About the Arts

A sui generis Lieder composer

Swiss poet Conrad Ferdinand Meyer provided the quintessentially Romanic texts for the two-dozen plu poems set to music by fellow Swiss Othmar Schoeck in his Geheimnis und Gleichnis, for which I offer the English translation Secrets and Similarities.

Mentored by Max Reger and an avowed admirer of both Hugo Wolf and Ferruccio Busoni, Schoeck developed a vast compositional output primarily focused on vocal music. At first decidedly post-Romantic in sensibility, Schoeck’s music gradually abandoned obeisance to tonality without fully following the dictates of the Second Viennese School, ultimately developing a sui generis style much admired by enterprising recitalists.  

Sung to perfection by the rich-voiced mezzo-soprano Clara O’Brien and superbly partnered by pianist James Douglass in the Ablaze Records (ar-00063) release, the artists chose all 28 selections, some as brief as the 57-second- long In Harmesnächten, some as extended in duration as the 5-minute-long Reisephantasie.

Ranging in tone from the lyrical simplicity of the wedding song Hochzeitsleid to the dramatic sweep of the paean to the majesty of the ocean Der Gesang des Meeres the collection of Schoeck Lieder never overstays its welcome thanks to the composer’s compositional gifts, the perfect marriage of text to music, and the protean interpretive gifts or the artists.

The neatly packaged, clearly annotated and cleanly engineered recording is available from www.ablazerecords.net

Rafael de Acha     All About the Arts

ANITA RACHVELISHVILI IN SONG

There are very many good voices. There are even some great voices around, although those do not abound. What is rare to find these days is a great voice in the body of a great singing artist. Those are a few in a thousand, if that many. Anita Rachvelishvili is that rare individual: a great voice and a great artist both in a perfect combination.

Since the Georgian mezzo-soprano sings a good number of the selections in this album in Russian, the English titles are given here for ease of identification.

Elégie, includes the familiar How fair this spot and None but the lonely heart, the declamatory, quasi operatic Night, O do not mourn me, and Reconciliation, and the lyrical Child you are beautiful as a flower, Sing to me, my beauty, I fell in love, and How fair this spot – all Tchaikovsky Romances that call for a full palette of vocal colors fully at the disposal of the artistically and vocally inexhaustible Anita Rachvelishvili. Here she is accompanied by the superb pianist Vincenzo Scalera, who proves to be the ideal musical partner in this recording.

There is a hauntingly beautiful song exquisitely sung by Ms. Rachvelishvili in her native Georgian: Otar Taktakihvili’s Mzeo Tiabatvis (Sun  of Haying Month). There are Manuel de Falla’s Siete Canciones Populares delivered in idiomatic Castilian Spanish, there are three Tosti songs elevated by the singer from salon evergreens to art songs, including the beloved Ideale. There are three French mélodies: Chanson Triste, La Vie Antérieure, and Elégie sung with Gallic flair and impeccable diction.

In any idiom Ms. Rachvelishvili imbues her singing of this recital repertoire with restraint and elegance, never for a moment betraying the delicacy of the genre with any larger than life operatic grandstanding – this all the more remarkable since we are dealing here with a large, voluptuous, dramatic mezzo-soprano utterly comfortable in any of the major Verdi roles which she so comfortably inhabits.

The SONY CLASSICAL INTERNATIONAL recording is perfectly engineered and elegantly produced, providing yet another superb calling card to one of the greatest singers currently working today.

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT  THE ARTS

Good news for music lovers: Summermusik is back

Good news for music lovers: after a pandemic silence of nearly two years, Summermusik –  the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra’s brainchild is back.

An interesting lineup of concerts has been announced in its website (www.ccocincinnati.org) and Cincinnati music lovers are encouraged to visit it or call 513 723 1182 (x2) during business hours to learn the what, where, when of it all.

Most notably the indispensable ensemble, led by Eckart Preu is moving its events outdoors – a prudently cautious and innovative change from the much admired organization.

Here are just a few highlights of their summer of 2021 activities:

  • August 6, 8 pm – The young cellist Sujari Britt solos with the full CCO orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme. The musical lineup also includes the Cincinnati premiere of George Walker’s Lyric for Strings. The 90-minute, no intermission program is rounded out with Beethoven’s light-hearted Fourth Symphony.
  • August 20, 8 pm – Violinist Caroline Goulding is the featured soloist in Mozart’s “Turkish” violin concerto in the same program with three premieres by women composers: Jessie Montgomery’s Starburst, Reena Esmail’s Teen Murti, and Gabriella Smith’s Brandenburg interstices.

In addition to the opening and closing full orchestra concerts, the CCO will feature several of its musicians playing everything from the Beatles to Bach in various intimate performances. Under the omnibus titles Chamber Crawls and A Little Afternoon Musik, the out-of-doors festival will feature concerts at the Cincinnati Zoo, at the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park, and at Coney Island.

It sounds like a prescription for a healthy and fun out of doors celebration of music.

Rafael de Acha ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Pene Pati and Ronny Michel Greenberg give a great recital in Cincinnati

Tenor Pene Pati returned to Cincinnati on Friday to sing again for Matinee Musicale, the ever young 108 year old musical treasure that continues to bring to the Queen City the best and brightest musical stars after a much needed year long hiatus.

The New Zealander tenor was partnered by the superb pianist Ronny Michael Greenberg, and together the two men presented one of the finest song recitals in recent memory.

Pene Pati is a fast rising lyric tenor no longer on the brink but in the midst of a major career. More often than not opera singers tend to deliver song recitals that come off more like strings of opera’ hits instead of purposeful explorations of the riches of song literature. In the case of the spectacularly gifted Pene Pati and the sterling Ronny Michael Greenberg the pair focused on selections of three melodies of Henri Duparc, and two songs of Sergei Rachmaninoff, balancing the seriousness of Duparc and Rachmaninoff with Gioacchino Rossini‘s La Danza and three Italian evergreens: Leoncavallo’s Matinata, and Tosti’s La Serenata and ‘A vucchella.

There was a Mozart rarity from Mitridate, re di Ponto, which would have come at the end of a vocally challenging, hour long program. It was prudently excised and substituted tongue-in-cheek with a Maori song that ends with a grimace that calls for the singer’s tongue to be stuck out. Throughout the program the artists’ seriousness of purpose was tempered with a warm casualness that won over the audience from the very start of the concert.

Two arias amply demonstrated the why and wherefore of Pati’s meteoric ascent to the top of his profession: Des Grieux’s Dream aria from Massenet’s Manon and Lensky’s soliloquy from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. In both Pati sang with plangent tone and a great command of the mezza-voce called for, only sparingly opening up into a full-out forte.

Pati is at the top of his game, equipped with a sizeable voice that rises easily above the staff with no sign of strain. His technique, musicianship and musicality are impeccable and so is his command of French, Italian and Russian.

Ronny Michael Greenberg is the ideal collaborative pianist, flexible and yet able to  state his musical viewpoints in the important introductions and interludes of the repertory that was heard this afternoon.

The Cincinnati audience loved the work of these two fine artists and let them know with a rousing ovation at the end.

The program will be repeated on Sunday at 3:00 pm.

Rafael de Acha All About the Arts        

Pene Pati and Ronny Michael Greenberg in one of the finest song recitals in recent memory.

Tenor Pene Pati returned to Cincinnati on Friday to sing again for Matinee Musicale, the ever young 108 year old musical treasure that continues to bring to the Queen City the best and brightest musical stars after a much needed year long hiatus.

The New Zealander tenor was partnered by the superb pianist Ronny Michael Greenberg, and together the two men presented one of the finest song recitals in recent memory.

Pene Pati is a fast rising lyric tenor no longer on the brink but in the midst of a major career. More often than not opera singers tend to deliver song recitals that come off more like strings of opera’ hits instead of purposeful explorations of the riches of song literature. In the case of the spectacularly gifted Pene Pati and the sterling Ronny Michael Greenberg the pair focused on selections of three melodies of Henri Duparc, and two songs of Sergei Rachmaninoff, balancing the seriousness of Duparc and Rachmaninoff with Gioacchino Rossini‘s La Danza and three Italian evergreens: Leoncavallo’s Matinata, and Tosti’s La Serenata and ‘A vucchella.

There was a Mozart rarity from Mitridate, re di Ponto, which would have come at the end of a vocally challenging, hour long program. It was prudently excised and substituted tongue-in-cheek with a Maori song that ends with a grimace that calls for the singer’s tongue to be stuck out. Throughout the program the artists’ seriousness of purpose was tempered with a warm casualness that won over the audience from the very start of the concert.

Two arias amply demonstrated the why and wherefore of Pati’s meteoric ascent to the top of his profession: Des Grieux’s Dream aria from Massenet’s Manon and Lensky’s soliloquy from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. In both Pati sang with plangent tone and a great command of the mezza-voce called for, only sparingly opening up into a full-out forte.

Pati is at the top of his game, equipped with a sizeable voice that rises easily above the staff with no sign of strain. His technique, musicianship and musicality are impeccable and so is his command of French, Italian and Russian.

Ronny Michael Greenberg is the ideal collaborative pianist, flexible and yet able to  state his musical viewpoints in the important introductions and interludes of the repertory that was heard this afternoon.

The Cincinnati audience loved the work of these two fine artists and let them know with a rousing ovation at the end.

The program will be repeated on Sunday at 3:00 pm.

Rafael de Acha All About the Arts