United Strings of Europe’s Renewal

Renewal (BIS-2549) is United Strings of Europe’s second release – soon to be out in January of 2022- is the first I have ever had the pleasure of hearing.     

The title of this BIS album by the London-based ensemble implies on one level that all but one of the works it includes are arranged by Julian Azkoul, first violinist and director of the group. But renewal can also be taken to mean a process of refreshing rediscovery, which this recording is.

In Winter’s House by Joanna Marsh and Caroline Shaw’s and the swallow are both originally choral works while Shaw’s Entr’acte, was written for string quartet, but is here heard in the composer’s own version for string orchestra.

Joanna Marsh’s In Winter’s House is set to mysterious, somewhat arcane, lyrical, modal-inflected, amply melodic music that often evokes sounds from centuries ago.

Caroline Shaw’s and the swallow and Entr’acte are both written in an enticingly melodic language that does not restrict the composer from occasional forays into spicy dissonance and minimalistic passages.

Mendelssohn’s F minor String Quartet, one of the composer’s final works, written in reaction to the unexpected death of his beloved sister Fanny, and three months before his own passing is here adapted for string orchestra and heard in an emotionally compelling performance that brings out the composer’s distraught response to the inevitability of death.

Osvaldo Golijov’s Three Songs, are also heard here for the first time with string orchestra accompaniment.

They are sung here by the wonderful soprano Ruby Hughes, an artist with an endless assortment of vocal colors and a flawlessly instrumental technique.

Night of the Flying Horses starts as an unaccompanied lullaby that soon develops into a Romani Doina that in turn builds into agitated music that depicts the flight of fantastical winged horses.

In Rosalia de Castro’s poem Lúa descolorida (Discolored Moon), written in the language of the Galician people, a desolate soul addresses the moon to haunting music by Golijov: If you know where Death has its dark dwelling, tell her to carry me body and soul as one to the place where no one will ever remember neither this world where I am nor the one above me.

How slow the wind a gentle poem by Emily Dickinson brings a felicitous closure to this incomparable, inky-dark song group.

Rafael de Acha      ALL ABOUT THE ARTS






From Jewish Life, B. 54 (1924)

Two Pieces, B. 82 (1951)

Suite Hebraique, B. 83 (1951)

Suite, B. 41 (1919)

All works transcribed by Yevgeny Dokshansky

Engineered, recorded, edited, mixed, and mastered by Scott Hannenberg

Producer: Benjamin Wyatt

Ernest Bloch (1880-1959), Swiss-born, naturalized American, fertile composer, scholarly academic and revered teacher, gifted amateur photographer, devoted family man, and fervently faithful Jew is the author of the music selected by Belorussian clarinetist Yevgeny Dokshansky for the album FROM JEWISH LIFE – MUSIC OF ERNEST BLOCH.

Dokshansky, a superb clarinetist has faithfully adapted Bloch’s From Jewish Life; Two Pieces, B. 82; Suite Hebraique; and his Suite, B. 41 to be played on his clarinet with idiomatic success. Bloch’s music in this album ranges from mid-career works dating back to 1919 to fully mature works composed while the composer was in his sixties.

Throughout all four of these compositions one can hear the composer’s fascination with Ashkenazy music both sacred and secular, some clearly modal in its use of exotic scales, some flirting with atonality, some lyrical, some intensely dramatic, all of it uniquely original and compelling.

In collaboration with his pianist, the formidable Richard Masters, Dokshansky summons dulcet sounds from his sympathetic instrument, both artists quickly convincing the listener that this is the best way that this music should be played.

Scott Hannenberg has engineered Benjamin Wyatt’s elegantly produced album with amplitude and clarity.

Rafael de Acha       ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Two Sensational Debuts with the CSO: Conductor Roderick Cox and Pianist Conrad Tao

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

Music Hall

Cincinnati. Ohio

November 26, 2021, 8:00 PM

Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun

Ravel: Piano Concerto in G Major

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3, Scottish

Roderick Cox, conductor
Conrad Tao, piano

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune  (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) was composed and first performed in Paris in 1894, inspired by a poem of Stéphane Mallarmé that describes the amorous adventures of a mythological creature: a half-human/half-goat faun.

Neither a prelude nor a tone poem, as it has been erroneously described, but a stand-alone work originally intended to be quite a bit longer than in its present form, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun signaled in this performance the impressive Cincinnati debut of conductor Roderick Cox.

Mallarmé at first was discontent with a poem of his being turned into a musical composition, but upon hearing it, he wrote to Debussy expressing his enthusiastic approval. Once Debussy had completed this succinct and evocative composition he felt that it contained all the music it needed. At first the work proved too modern for the ears of the recalcitrant 1894 Paris public, although eventually it became a keystone of 20th century music.

Randolph Bowman flawlessly played the famous flute solo that begins the work and sets the mood for what’s to follow, gradually sharing the moment with Gillian Benet Sella’s harp, Dwight Parry’s oboe, and Christopher Pell’s clarinet.

Brief in length like the Debussy work that preceded it by almost four decades, Ravel’s 1932 Piano Concerto in G Major is, in the words of its composer “…a genuine concerto… a brilliant work… without seeking to show profundity…” Ravel chose to incorporate into his Piano Concerto in G Major a handful of jazzy instrumental tricks of the trade, among them wah-wah effects shared by several of the brass players.

In addition to these sometimes sardonic, sometimes just plain funny moments, several Basque folk songs from the composer’s mother’s birthplace give the work a lyrical yet earthy tone that in the second movement of this performance engaged the extraordinary Christopher Philpotts on English horn with Conrad Tao at the piano in a haunting dialogue.

In point of fact, profundity or not, Ravel’s G major concerto is indeed a genuine and brilliant creation, from its initial whip crack to its elegiac second movement, to its riotous finale – all three movements a pianistic minefield to most keyboard artists, though not to the chameleonic Conrad Tao who took on Ravel’s work and brought out with sheer audacity all of its aspects: the lyrical, the zany, the mind-bending technical hurdles in a performance that brought the audience to its feet.  

Tao returned for several bows, the last one microphone in hand. Once settled down he shared with the audience the sad news of the passing of Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, himself an admirer of Maurice Ravel. Tao then movingly played Sunday, from Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George

Amazingly it took Ravel over twenty-five years to finally put pen to paper and bring this work from idea to life on a concert stage. It took Mendelssohn less than Ravel, but still over twelve years to finish his Symphony No. 3 due to the composer’s other commitments. Once he had finished this composition in 1842, he revealed to those close to him as the source of his inspiration a visit to the roofless, ruined, decaying chapel of Holyrood Palace on a trip to Scotland which also inspired the composer’s Hebrides Overture.

On listening to this music there is something particularly Scottish about it, especially in the second movement that uses the dotted rhythms of a dance. But beyond the musical characteristics of the work, there are the broadly Romantic, stormy, alternatively lyrical and dramatic emotions which inspired it. It would not be far-fetched to describe them as quintessentially Scottish characteristics of the inhabitants of the northernmost regions of the British Isles.

In his auspicious debut with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Roderick Cox arrived largely unknown to a Cincinnati audience still in the midst of pandemic restrictions. Within a few moments after the start of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun it was clear to many of us that we were in the presence of a major talent: a young but fully matured maestro with the lightness of touch to bring out the delicacy and the myriad colors of the Debussy work.

As he moved into the ever changing Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major we became even more impressed by the precision with which Cox balanced attention to the soloist and keeping a firm hand leading the orchestra through the now percussive, now rhapsodic score.

In the second half of the program Cox mastered the subtle balance in Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, Scottish, a work in which the tempestuous eventually gives way to a calming peace that was then interrupted by a rapturous ovation accorded the maestro.

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS



NOVEMBER 21, 2021, 3:00 PM



The young, gifted, and promising pianist Albert Cano Smit opened his recital for Matinee Musicale Cincinnati before an intimate group of music devotees with Robert Schumann’s Kreisleriana, a work that the German composer considered his best creation for the keyboard.

The young Schumann was 28 when he penned this complex work, and he could not have found a better fictional soul mate than the half-mad, or maybe just plain eccentric Kapellmeister Kreisler from one of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s inky-dark tales.

Kreisler, a mad musical genius plagued by extreme neurotic vulnerability was not that far removed from the composer’s budding Florestan/Eusebius split personality. In Kreisleriana this duality is given musical life in a work in which nearly each one of the movements is characterized by sudden, even blunt changes from the hauntingly lyrical to the jaggedly dramatic.

What an interesting coincidence that the English Suite No. 1 by J. S. Bach dates to the year 1723, when the composer was 28 years old, just as young Schumann was when in 1838 he composed Kreisleriana, over a century later!

While much, even if not all of the emphasis Schumann put into his work is one of youthful impetuousness and virtuosic speed, with many of the sections marked fast, faster, and fastest, Bach’s creation – brought to life at the same age as Schumann’s – is by contrast all mature serenity and stately moderation throughout its ten sections, even those characterized by lively dance tempi.

Cano Smit’s playing of the Bach opus following Schumann’s provided a peaceful respite after the Romantic turmoil of the Kreisleriana.

Elsewhere in the program an elegant Polonaise by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, the eldest son of Johann Sebastian Bach signaled a move away from strict Baroque formality and towards the beginnings of a Classicism with roots in Nationalistic music.

At the end of the enormously varied program Albert Cano Smit surprised the listeners with an unusual choice: three Danzas Argentinas by the Argentinian Alberto Ginastera, yet another youthful work (opus 2) written by an immensely promising composer aged 27 (another near coincidence) and one with a proclivity for spicy dissonances and immensely challenging technical hurdles for the pianist.

The group of three folk-inspired dances encompasses a chacarera titled Danza del viejo boyero (“Dance of the Old Herdsman”), an intriguingly poly-tonal piece in which the left hand does curlicues on the black keys while the right hand remains busy on the whites.

The gorgeously melancholy Danza de la moza donosa (“Dance of the Donosa Girl”) followed, reminding one of how Ginastera, when he put his mind to it, could spin a haunting melody.

The for-men-only Danza del gaucho matrero (“Dance of the Outlaw Cowboy”), a raucous malambo, gave the recital a wildly energetic ending.

Cano Smit impressed with his technical ability, although at times one hoped for a gentler approach to some of the music. Perhaps with growing maturity this energetic young artist will find a way to settle into easier tempi when needed and a wider range of dynamics, both of which would allow the music he plays more breathing room, and most importantly, for the audience, a deeper emotional connection to it.

One caveat for our Matinee Musicale Cincinnati friends: you need to provide program notes. Having a “q and a” session with the artist(s) after the fact is no substitute for a little introduction to the music being played in your programs.

Matinee Musicale Cincinnati’s next recital will feature the lovely soprano Nicole Cabell on Sunday January 30, 2022 at 3 PM in a program that will include songs by Maurice Ravel, Ricky Ian Gordon, Maurice Delage, and Fernando Obradors, with Donna Loewy at the piano.

Further information: www.matineemusicalecincinnati.org


Mutual Dance Theatre

Mutual Dance Theatre


Variations in a Brainstorm

November 19th, 2021 at 8pm

Mutual Arts Center

Cincinnati, OH 45216

The Company:

Jeanne Mam-Luft, Artistic and Executive Director and Poducer

Steven P. Evans, Company Director

Rowan Salem, Choreographer for Pulp

Hannah Williamson, Choreographer for Variations in a Brainstorm

Claire Dieringer, Kirsten Edwards, Anna Hart, Stevie Lamblin, Caroline Nymberg, Emma Raney, Courtney Ziegelmeyer

Lighting Design: Larry Csernik

Starting a new season in their very own space – a flexible black box in which the audience sits just a few feet from the performers, Mutual Dance Theatre (an artistic marriage of the Jefferson James Contemporary Dance Theatre and MamLuft&Co.Dance) is the recently renamed brain-child of artistic director Jeanne Mam-Luft.

The company has just premiered two works: Pulpand Variations in a Brainstorm.

In Pulp, the audience surrounds six female performers in the intimate Mutual Arts Center’s black box studio. The dancers, dressed in loose-fitting blue dance gear first begin by getting the audience to help to choose a unique sequence of events that will never again be performed in that same order. They do so by taking numbers 1 through 11 out of a box.

The six dancers then proceed to move through a series of sequences involving mostly free-flowing modern dance vocabulary with an occasional balletic move. They have for props several baskets with oranges that become throughout Pulp their only props.

In Variations in a Brainstorm, sheets of paper containing writings of different kinds and a writing desk with a lamp help provide the audience with some clues about the various emotional states of the six dancers. This time they are casually clad in beiges and blacks, as if ready for a rehearsal.

I had not had an opportunity to catch a performance of these two new works by this amazing dance company until this Friday, November 19th, 2021 at 8pm. But that is not to say that I had never seen them before, because I actually did see and grew to admire their cutting edge work over the past several years, every time becoming more of a fan of theirs.

If you try to ascribe a narrative meaning to this most American of dance forms you are barking up the wrong kinetic tree, for Modern Dance is a close relative of performance art, where the unspoken and the poetic suffice unto themselves with no need for us to ask what it all means.

The juxtaposing of apparently contradictory elements in these two intriguing works – a stream of consciousness spoken narrative in Variations in a Brainstorm, the mixing up of Schubert with Baroque music with Country, with Freddy Quinn, and with you name it in Pulp serves to underpin the fact that in this kind of theatrical dancing the medium, as Marshall McLuhan said, is the message.

I encourage you to see Mutual Dance Theatre in action. There is one final performance of Pulp and Variations in a Brainstorm on Saturday, November 20th, 2021 at 8pm. If you are not able to see Mutual Dance Theatre this week then make sure to visit their website. There you will get a glimpse of what the company has in store for Modern Dance fans – and that’s not just their own work.

As presenters they will bring to Cincinnati two noted dance ensembles: PHILADANCO (1/21& 22/22), and SIDRA BELL DANCE NEW YORK (3-25&26-22). The company offers several subscription deals starting at the ridiculously low price of $17.

Most of their performances are at Mutual Arts Center Hartwell, 8222 Monon Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45216. Some will be at the Aronoff’s smaller of their two theatres.

Information at www.mutualdance.org  

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

The Marriage of Figaro at CCM

Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), a comic opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with a libretto by Lorenzo DaPonte, based on the 1784 comedy La folle journee, ou le Mariage de Figaro by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais.

Thursday November 18, 2021 at the College Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati, Ohio

Director: Robin Guarino

Conductor: Brian McCann

Scenic Design: Tom Umfrid

Costume Design: Meredith Buckley


John Siarris – Figaro

Emma Marhefka – Susanna

Ryan Wolfe – Count

Heidi Miller – Countess

Georgia Jacobson – Cherubino

Kendra Beasley – Marcellina

Atticus Rego – Bartolo

Arieh Sacke – Basilio/Curzio

Su Hyeon Park – Barbarina

Erik Nordstrom – Antonio

Beaumarchais’s play La Folle Journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro was at first banned in Vienna because of its subject matter, but Mozart managed to get official approval for his operatic version, which was given by the Emperor, Joseph II, before any music was written for it. And that was Vienna, mind you, in Paris that subject matter would have earned the creators a few years of forced labor.

The opera premiered in Vienna on May 1, 1786, with Mozart conducting. The production received eight more performances, which, for the time, was a nice long run. The Emperor was concerned by the length of the performance, and directed his aides to “…prevent the excessive duration of operas…that no piece be repeated…therefore cause some posters to this effect to be printed.”

In a brilliant bit of marketing, Mozart and Da Ponte posted a reply to the Emperor’s edict: “… the opera will not be one of the shortest to have appeared on our stage…in our desire to offer as it were a new kind of spectacle to a public of so refined a taste and understanding.” Well, Mozart and Da Ponte were right: it is not one of the shortest ever, clocking in at well over three hours even with the cutting of a couple of Act IV arias. The opera was then produced in Prague in December 1786. Uncut.

The plot deals with the impending marriage of Figaro (John Siarris) and Susanna (Emma Marhefka) and the efforts made by Count Almaviva (Ryan Wolfe) to thwart their wedding until his Excellency has exercised the ancient Droit du Seigneur, a prerogative of a master to bed any female servant of his choosing before her wedding night.

As regards beds, the philandering Count has been notably absent from that of his wife, Countess Almaviva (Heidi Miller), while the flirtatious page boy Cherubino (Georgia Jacobson) yearns to occupy his master’s place next to the Countess, but eventually settles for the much closer to his age Barbarina (Su Hyeon Park), the niece of the perpetually inebriated Antonio, the castle’s gardener (the very funny Erik Nordstrom). Then there is the older couple of Dr. Bartolo (Atticus Rego) and Marcellina (Kendra Beasley) who turn out to be more closely related to Figaro than anyone could have imagined.

At the end of the final act in which mistaken identities under the cover of night threaten to wreck the day’s festivities, the Count meets his comeuppance and the ten reconciled principal characters sing:

“All of us will be happy now that this day filled with torments and willful madness ends with love, contentment and joy. Spouses and friends: let us go to the ball and play and set fireworks and run to celebrate to the tune of a joyful march!”

The charming CCM production is blessed with imaginative stage direction by Robin Guarino, an elegantly chameleonic set by Tom Umfrid, pretty costumes by CCM design student Meredith Buckley, and the conducting of the gifted young student Brian McCann – a last minute replacement to lead the very nice student orchestra.

And then, of course, there is the cast of ten principals each filled with immense promise as singing actors, among whom the young lyric soprano Emma Marhefka shines both vocally and dramatically in the central role of Susanna, a part which Mozart conceived for the English soprano Nancy Storace as the heart and soul of the opera, which here Ms. Marhefka is hands down.

There are three more performances this weekend.

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

THE MAGIC FLUTE from The Royal Opera

Sung play in two acts with music by Wolfgang A. Mozart and a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder

In a production by the Royal Opera

Director: David McVicar

Conductor: Colin Davis

Designer: John Macfarlane


Tamino: William Hartmann

Pamina: Dorothea Roschmann

Papageno: Simon Keenlyside

Sarastro: Franz Joseph Selig

Queen of the Night: Diana Damrau

Speaker: Thomas Allen

Papagena: Ailish Tynan

Monostatos: Adrian Thompson

Three Ladies: Gillian Webster, Christine Rice, Yvonne Howard

Two Priests: Mathew Beale, Richard Van Allan

Two Men in Armor: Alan Oke, Graeme Broadbent

Three Spirits: Zico Shaker, Tom Chapman, John Holland-Avery

The Royal Opera production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute mines the fantastical aspects of the story while preserving the humanity of the characters, especially the “working class” ones. Even Gillian Webster, Christine Rice, and Yvonne Howard, the three ladies who serve the Queen of the Night become in the guiding hands of director David Mc Vicar three delightfully manipulative, randy gossips. The Papageno of Simon Keenlyside is common man personified: a wily as a fox yet vulnerable survivor, and he can sing with the very best of them.

William Hartmann’s Tamino is beset by rough patches in the high tessitura of the Bildniss aria, at best vocally in the heroic moments. Dorothea Roschmann, in her youthful prime is the perfect Mozart soprano is fresh voiced and honest in her acting. The Queen of the Night of Diana Damrau is evil incarnate, her singing faultless and often exciting. The Sarastro of Franz Joseph Selig is nobly sung, the Speaker of Thomas Allen perfect in all aspects.

The production design is superbly realized with 18th century costumes worn against a multi-colored background, the use of animal puppets sheer delight.

Colin Davis conducts with complete mastery of the Mozart score, allowing his soloists plenty of flexibility.

This, in short, is yet another immensely satisfying offering in the Royal Opera Collection.

This DVD is part of the Royal Opera Collection (  OA1337BD / OABD7291BD).    

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Royal Opera Carmen

The 2006 Royal Opera production of Georges Bizet’s CARMEN is as good as any in our memory.

First of all there is the beautifully sung and compellingly acted Don José of Jonas Kaufmann. Then there is the Carmen of Anna Caterina Antonacci, a Spinto soprano with plenty of chest range and vast vocal reserves, voluptuous dramatically and vocally faultless. The Micaela is sung by Nora Ansellem, pretty as a picture and elegant of voice. The Escamillo is the fine bass-baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, one more member of the best-looking, best-sounding Carmen casts in memory.

Much commends this terrific production, beginning with Francesca Zambello’s straight to the point, no nonsense staging, beginning with the opening scene in which the American director sets the stage for what will follow, bathing everything in local color and Southern Spanish chiaroscuro morning light (the wonderful lighting is by Paule Constable). Zambello works attentively with every member of the supporting cast, every adult and every child in the choruses, fine-tuning every bit of business, with no detail ever escaping her watchful eye.  The sets and costumes by Tanya McCallin unequivocally set in 19th century Spain are accurate and vividly colorful.

Antonio Pappano conducts this quintessential French opera as commandingly as he leads just about any work in the wide ranging repertoire of the Royal Opera. Many of the tacked-on Guiraud recitatives of the Vienna revival are mercifully dispensed with in this production, spoken dialogue taking their place and well handled by all of the cast.

The excellent supporting players are all deserving of kudos: Jacques Imbrailo’s charming Morales,  Mathew Rose’s appropriately gruff Zuniga, and the lively quartet of smugglers – Elena Xanthoudakis, Victoria Vizin, Jean-Sebastien Bou, and Jean-Paul Fouchecourt.

We began this review by claiming “The Royal Opera production of Georges Bizet’s CARMEN is as good as any in our memory.” Let us correct that: The Royal Opera production of Georges Bizet’s CARMEN is the best in our memory.

This DVD is part of the Royal Opera Collection (  OA1337BD / OABD7291BD).    

Rafael de Acha       ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Don Giovanni from the Royal Opera


OPERA IN TWO ACTS BY Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte

Directed by Kasper Holten

Set design by Es Devlin

Costume design by Anja Van Kragh

Video design by Luke Halls

The Royal Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Nicola Luisotti

Don Giovanni – Mariusz Kwiecien

Leporello – Alex Esposito

Donna Anna – Malin Bystrom

Donna Elvira – Veronique Gens

Zerlina – Elizabeth Watts

Don Ottavio – Antonio Poli

Masetto – Dawid Kimberg

Commendattore – Alexander Tsymbalyuk

Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni translates literally as Don Giovanni, the Punished Dissolute. Based on the legend of Don Juan, a fictional character who seduced hundreds of women in several European countries, the original play written by Tirso de Molina inspired many playwrights and novelists to spin their own stories about this iconic cad, most famously Lorenzo Da Ponte, the librettist for Mozart’s opera.

The casting requirements – based on Mozart’s own wishes for the premiere are clear. The title role was conceived for Luigi Bassi, a baritone who also sang the part of Count Almaviva in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Francesco Benucci, Mozart’s favorite bass-baritone was the Leporello. The Donna Anna and the Donna Elvira were cast with similar sopranos in the premiere and in the Prague revival, and one can surmise that Aloysia Weber and Caterina Cavalieri fared well in roles that required agility – Donna Anna’s ‘Non mi dir’ and Donna Elvira’s ‘Mi tradi’, in addition to dramatic cutting power.

When it comes to the women in the Royal Opera cast, the choice of Malin Byström for Donna Anna and Veronique Gens for Donna Elvira works well. Both these fine artists take on the challenges of their several arias unfazed, both have flexible, full-bodied instruments and idiomatic command of the text. Elizabeth Watts is a fine Zerlina.

The men’s roles are well assigned as well: Mariusz Kwiecien in the title part – a lyric baritone with enough vocal heft and dramatic skills to make the final confrontation with the Commendattore work, and bass-baritone Alex Esposito, a Leporello light and flexible of voice, very funny in his handling of the Catalogue aria, and vocally solid in all the ensembles in which he carries the bass line. And both Esposito and Kwiecien are terrific actors. Don Ottavio is well sung by Bruno Poli and Dawid Kimberg delivers an effective Masetto.

When it comes to the staging and design one struggles to find words of praise. Director Kasper Holten, set designer Es Devlin, costume designer Anja Van Kragh, and video designer by Luke Halls seem all four bent together in imposing a drab, post-modern look on the production. That visual concept fails to bring to life the fantastical element of the story and, what is worse dehumanizes the behavior of the characters.

Nicola Luisoti conducts with a solid command of the score as well as stylishly playing the recitatives.

This DVD is part of the Royal Opera Collection (  OA1337BD / OABD7291BD).    

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS


Throughout 2021 we received more than 300 CD’s and DVD’s for reviewing. There were over 12,000 visitors to our blog ALL ABOUT THE ARTS, coming from 105 countries: from Albania to Zimbabwe, Their response to those reviews was unfailingly positive, and it helped us choose the best CD’s, DVD’s and on-line performances in two categories: vocal music and instrumental music.


The Garsington Opera Der Rosenkavalier is set in a mid-century Vienna that could as easily be any major city where Christian Dior’s fashions ruled. The concept works and is enthusiastically embraced by director Bruno Ravella, who works wonders with his four principals and with a large cast of your artists and seasoned comprimarios. Jordan de Souza’s mastery of the score is remarkable. Swedish soprano Miah Persson stands out as a superb Marschallin. She sings as gloriously as any Marschallin in memory, and is in excellent company, with Polish mezzo-soprano Hannah Hipp an exciting, boyish Octavian, American soprano Madison Leonard an enchanting Sophie, and Derrick Ballard a bass-baritone who sings rather than barks Baron Ochs’ notes and is very funny to boot.

Dedicated to the victims of Covid 19 in Italy and to all the volunteers who tended to their needs, and given in a socially distanced setting with its participating artists and audience, the Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini and the chorus of Parma’s Teatro Regio led by Roberto Abbado delivered a powerhouse performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s 1874 Manzoni Requiem on the Dynamic label.

It is rare to find these days a great voice and a great artist in the person of the same singer: Anita Rachvelishvili is that rare individual. The SONY CLASSICAL INTERNATIONAL recording of Russian art songs is perfectly engineered and elegantly produced, providing yet another calling card to one of the great mezzo-sopranos of today.

In the Bridge Records CD Visca l’amor, Mexican-American tenor Isai Jess Muñoz is featured in a recital of Catalan songs by Toldrà and Mompou, among others. Muñoz, a singing artist of the highest caliber, bestows his expressive voice, sensitive musicianship, and refined way with words on an unjustly ignored segment of the art song literature, with pianist Oksana Glouchko the ideal partner in this one-of-a-kind recital.


Every time I hear Stewart Goodyear play I am reminded of what an extraordinary pianist he is. That just happened when I received a copy of his CD Phoenix from the enterprising label Bright Shiny Things. Flawlesly engineered, mixed, and mastered by Daniel Shores, elegantly produced by Dan Mercurio and Louis Levitt, and nicely packaged and designed by Marian C. Holmes and Julia-Buz, the CD was recorded back in February of this year and just released. It features an intriguing selection of contemporary music by Jennifer HigdonAnthony Davis, and Stewart Goodyear himself.

The extraordinary Korean-American cellist Jonah Kim opens up new vistas onto music by Zoltán Kodály, Mark Abel and Edvard Grieg in the recently-recorded Delos CD APPROACHING AUTUMN, in which he dazzles with his fierce playing and technical prowess, partnered by the excellent pianist Robert Koenig.

In his album ENTRE DOS ALMAS for Outhere Music Stefano Maiorana, an immensely accomplished Renaissance and Baroque specialist brings solid technique, keen musicality and intense temperament to the guitar music of Santiago de Murcia and Arcangelo Corelli: two kindred souls enriching one another by way of Maiorana’s exquisite artistry.NEW MUSIC

In Supertrain Records’ AN AMERICAN MOSAIC Simone Dinnerstein gives Richard Danielpour’s delicate, economical of means, sometimes restless, most often tranquil music for the piano a noble, straightforward, sensitive reading that renders this treasure of an album of new music an essential one.

Unfinished Earth by Douglas Knehans depicts with organized sound much of what is randomly disorganized in nature and in human beings, Knehans’ Tempest offers music at times jittery, at others elegiac, elegantly played by flutist Gareth Davies, as soloist with the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra helmed by Mikel Toms, in a performance as brilliant as Knehans’ music itself.

Orlando Jacinto García’s music spins continuously while minute changes of texture and tone happen imperceptibly in a METIER release to which one must listen attentively, the rewards then to be derived being immense. The Amernet Quartet plays this music with unflagging discipline and sensitivity. One hopes that METIER will continue to record the fascinating music of this pioneering artist.

Gemma Peacocke’s Amygdala in the BRIGHT SHINY THINGS’ CD LAVENA in your hands is one of several compositions featuring cellist Lavena Johanson performing works byJesse Montgomery, Carolyn Shaw, Ted Hearne, Bryce Dessner and Judah Adashi ina fascinating sampler of new music played by a gifted musician.

Yalil Guerra’s Sonata No. 1, Siglo XXI reveals a fertile musical mind in a work in search of a tonal and harmonic center set upon by uncertainty and emotional upheavals, giving expression in highly rhythmic sections that threaten to vanquish frequent moments of exquisite lyricism. The recording with the indispensable pianist Marcos Madrigal is available on several platforms, including You Tube.