Mackerras’ Mussorgsky

Mackerras’ Mussorgsky

When Modest Mussorgsky’s friend, Victor Hartman died in 1873 his drawings and pastels were posthumously exhibited in a St. Petersburg gallery. Mussorgsky payed his friend a musical tribute by writing a suite for piano titled Pictures at an Exhibition. It was later orchestrated by Maurice Ravel, an idea suggested to him by the conductor Serge Koussevitzky.

There are ten musical episodes in Pictures at an Exhibition, separated by “promenades,” with a recurring theme. The various sections range from the playful Gnomes to the noble The Old Castle to the delicate Jardin des Tuileries to the grotesquerie of Bydlo and Baba-Yaga to the folkloric Samuil Goldenberg and Limoges, to the grandly solemn Roman Catacombs.

Mussorgsky’s second opera, Khovanshchina, depicts the time when the powerful Streltzy, came into conflict with the future Peter the Great.

Mussorgsky died in 1881 at the age of forty-two, leaving the score of Khovanshchina unfinished. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov took on the challenge of completing and orchestrating it. The introduction to the opera is a symphonic poem in miniature, vividly depicting the dawn on the river Moskva.

A recording of Mussorgsky music with the late Sir Charles Mackerras leading the New Philharmonia Orchestra is again available through VANGUARD CLASSICS. The performance, the insightful liner notes by Nicholas Slominsky, and the engineering make this CD release most desirable.

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Martino Tirimo plays Rachmaninov

Yoel Levi and Martino Tirimo excel in two Rachmaninov works.

The critically-skewered premiere of Rachmaninov’s First Symphony drove the 24-year old composer to despair. The critic and second-tier composer Cesar Cui led the charge. It was not until 1900 that Sergei Rachmaninov again ventured into composing after a three-year silence during which he had made a modest living as a conductor. That year the premiere of his Second Piano Concerto brought the young composer the success that had evaded him three years before.

Seventeen years later the 1917 Bolshevik revolution caused Rachmaninov to leave for ever his beloved Russia. He first settled in Switzerland, and eventually moved to the United States, where the demands of a new career as concert pianist precluded him from doing much composing, even though his Third and Fourth Piano Concertos provided him with lucrative opportunities to solo as virtuoso pianist.

In 1934, Rachmaninov penned the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 43, a set of variations on a theme from Paganini’s Caprice for violin in A minor, a melody already pilfered by Johannes Brahms, in addition to a bit of the medieval chant Dies Irae.

In this Alto re-mastered release of a 1982 recording, Cyprus-born pianist Martino Tirimo excels in an impassionedly muscular and immaculately precise performance of both works, perfectly supported by the idiomatically elegant conducting of Yoel Levi at the helm of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Russian rarities by Rimsky-Korsakov, Ippolitov-Ivanov, Gliere, and Khachaturian

Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Antar was first performed in 1869, conducted by Mili Balakirev. Rimsky-Korsakov then made changes to his work before conducting it in 1876. When published, in 1880, it was titled ‘Second Symphony’, but then when a new edition was published in 1903, its title had been changed to ‘Symphonic Suite’, even though Rimsky-Korsakov was not able to make all the musical changes he still wanted. After the composer’s death in 1913, Antar was described by its publisher as a symphonic suite, in concordance with the composer’s wishes.

Maurice Abravanel leads the Utah Symphony Orchestra in this nicely engineered ALTO/MUSICAL CONCEPTS recording (ALC1450) about the adventures of Antarah ibn Shaddad al-Absi, a knight whose life and adventures inspired much poetry in the Arab world, bringing out all of the melodic and harmonic exoticism and oriental color of a story that depicts through music fantasy, adventure and love.

Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, who spent seven years in Georgia, experiencing the beauty of the region and incorporating into his music the chiming of bell, the sounds of the Zurna, the Tar, the Duduk, and the call to prayer of the Muezzin. These exotic sounds are vividly present in Ippolitov-Ivanov’s four-sections Caucasian Sketches, yet another neglected piece from the vast Russian orchestral repertoire, given a bravura reading by Maestro Abravanel and the Utah musicians.

The album also includes Reinhold Glière’s The Red Poppy (1927) and Aram Khachaturian Gayeneh (1942), both ballets from the Soviet era, both nicely played, the first by Maurice Abravanel and the Utah musicians, the other by Vladimir Golschmann and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra.

Rafael de Acha   ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Gil Shaham and Nicholas McGegan in all five of Mozart’s violin concertos.

Mozart’s five violin concertos were all five written in his late teens. Endlessly melodic, inventive, each typically structured in three movements: fast/slow/fast, with the final movement often in Rondo form, they are among the most perfect works from the Mozart catalogue.

Nicholas McGegan beautifully leads the SWR Baden-Baden Freiburg Symphony Orchestra in this double CD recording on the orchestra’s own SWR label.  The American violinist Gil Shaham is the peerlessly elegant soloist, masterfully handling the quick paced movements in all five works with playfulness and grace, and elsewhere spinning out long-lined cantabile adagios in the K. 207 and K. 216.

In addition to the five concertos, the Rondo in C Major, K. 373 is included in this offering from the SWR label.


Music that achieves greatness by dealing with greatness.

Jimmy López Bellido’s mysteriously evocative composition Aurora, here in its world premiere, is a bold three-movement symphonic poem inspired by the Peruvian composer’s experience of seeing Finland’s northern lights during his students days in that country.

The richly-orchestrated score gives the superlative violinist Leticia Moreno a virtuosic turn in a composition created for her and for the ever-enterprising Houston Symphony and its peerless music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada, in a CD now issued by Pentatone.

Ad Astra (Latin for To the Stars), is a five-part composition dedicated to the accomplishments of the people of NASA. The work has evocative titles for each of its movements: Voyager, Apollo, Hubble, Challenger, and Revelation, and in each the composer does not stint on melody and novel harmonies.

Above all, López Bellido has an impressively varied command of orchestration, which he summons in Ad Astra to create effects that often sound as if they came from electronic sources, rather than from the acoustic instruments of the musicians of the Houston Symphony.

Never ever imitative in his work, López Bellido creates a stunning sonic landscape that alternates tutti outbursts from the percussion and brass with delicate filigree work from the strings and surprising twists and turns from the woodwinds, beyond the never exhaustive use of orchestration.

López Bellido’s music is imbued with deep emotional intensity and keen narrative through-line that uses a purely musical language to brilliantly convey the valiant investigations of the universe by humankind, ranging from the pioneering journey into deep space of Voyager through the success of Apollo, to the inquisitive explorations of the Hubble telescope, to Challenger’ tragic explosion, and on to the unknown in Revelation.

In sum, this is music that in an extraordinary performance by the Houston Symphony led by music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada, achieves greatness by dealing with greatness.

Rafael de Acha           


The Unique Voice of Algirdas Martinaitis

In the ONDINE album Seasons and Serenades – Works for String Orchestra (ODE 1398-2) we were introduced to the music of the Lithuanian composer Algirdas Martinaitis.

The artists featured – all Lithuanian – are nicely led by Modestas Barkauskas at the podium of the St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra with violinist Ruta Lipinaityte and harpsichordist Daumantas Slipkus doing some musical heavy lifting throughout.

The compositions range from the orchestral suites The Three M‘art Comedy Seasons, Altizarra, Serenada panelei Europai, Rojaus paukščiai , and two French language songs exquisitely sung by soprano Asta Krikšciunaite. Throughout the album, the unique voice of Algirdas Martinaitis is present, now comedic in tone, now lyrical, at times tonally anchored, at others defiantly dissonant, quite often rhythmically hyperkinetic, never at rest, always vibrantly intriguing.

If I assume correctly, the music of this respected artist is often heard in Europe but rarely performed in our country. What a shame, for this iconoclastic composer’s works would certainly enrich the repertory of our often timid musical institutions.

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Unpretentious Entertainment and Artistic Delight

Paul Schoenfeld’s dance-inspired Four Souvenirs opens the Chandos album From Brighton to Brooklyn
(CHAN 20248). It is a perfect choice to bring the listener into a world of salon pieces comfortably inhabited and brilliantly played by violinist Elena Urioste and pianist Tom Poster ( and  

Elena Urioste and pianist-composer Tom Poster in their The Juke Box Album demonstrated their flawlessly idiomatic handling of all kinds of music. Now, in the Chandos album From Brighton to Brooklyn they travel musically from the Edwardian England of Frank Bridge, whose delicacy gives Elena Urioste’s singing violin the opportunity to enchant in Romanze, Cradle Song, and the album closing Heart’s Ease, to the America of Florence Price’s playful Elfentanz.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s large-scale and longer in duration Ballade in C minor, Op. 73 is nicely integrated into the album. Its Afro-English composer had a life filled with vicissitude that ended at age 37 when he notwithstanding his prolific output was nearly destitute. It is given a nobly impassioned performance by Elena Urioste and Tom Poster.

Adding one source of musical enjoyment to another and yet another, From Brighton to Brooklyn includes England’s Benjamin Britten’s Three Pieces from Suite, Op. 6 and America’s Amy Beach’s Three Compositions, Op. 40, and Aaron Copland’s Two Pieces.

From Brighton to Brooklyn offers a lineup of mostly small-scale compositions played with lots of heart and elegance by two superbly gifted artists that provide unpretentious entertainment and artistic delight.

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

A delicious musical buffet

Tyler Kline, composer

Mijung An, Ariadne Antipa, Brandon Baltodano, Logan Barrett, Sarah Abigail Del Monte, Ann DuHarnet, Megan Honggokusuma, Grace Huang, Eunmi Ko, Ying Long, Christy Sallee, E-Na Song, Jescelyn Wijaya, Agnieszka Zick, pianists

A plentiful crop of fifty musical miniatures titled ORCHARD has been recently released by the NEUMA label ( in an engagingly packaged double CD.

The creative product of American composer Tyler Kline, the charm of ORCHARD lies principally in its disarmingly unassuming character and in its refusal to have a one-fits-all label affixed to it.

As varied as the fifty fruits and spices musically portrayed in multiple ways, the many styles and concepts featured in ORCHARD variously evoke at times the folk primitivism of Bartók, at others the aleatory approach of John Cage, now the pioneering minimalism of Terry Riley, and elsewhere the sparseness of Anton Webern.

There are instances when one discerns the influence of the mockingly Gallic style of Poulenc. At one moment one is briefly deceived into thinking one is hearing the music of Debussy or maybe that of one his avant-garde predecessors. Eric Satie maybe? No, this is all Tyler Kline, a defiantly original maverick out to prove nothing other than the fact that music – contemporary new music at that – is meant to be played and listened to with no strings attached and for once enjoyed, for heavens’ sakes.

Kline’s creation gives fourteen young and gifted pianists a chance to play new music by an equally young and extremely gifted young composer. Some of the young artists get to give us tastes of exoteric produce that bears names unfamiliar to many of us: yuzu, mangosteen, datil, granadilla, horned melon, durian, sandcherry, bael, paw paw… Throughout 82 minutes of listening we feast on a mostly tropical fruit buffet rich in taste and variety – the creation of Tyler Kline ( ), composer, music producer, classical radio station announcer, and the author of one of the most delicious musical buffets this listener has ever tasted.

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS


In OMBRES, the new BIS release, the French lyric soprano Laetitia Grimaldi teams up with the Israeli-South African pianist Ammiel Bushakevitz to bring out of obscure neglect twenty-two mélodies by nine French female composers.

The songs range from the quintessentially Romantic cantilena of all five of the songs of Mélanie Bonis that begin the album, to the lively-in-tempo Villanelle of Cécile Chaminade, to the exoticism of settings by Pauline Viardot-Garcia of texts of several Russian poets.

Among the composers featured in this recording, Pauline Viardot-Garcia and Cécile Chaminade are fairly familiar to those who love French salon music, while the names of Armande de Polignac, Marguerite Beclard d’Harcourt, Mélanie Bonis, Hélène-Frédérique de Faye-Jozin, Juliette Folville, Gabrielle Ferrari and Augusta Holmès are most surprising discoveries. The lyricists – French poets for the most part- are as unfamiliar as the composers save for the name of Victor Hugo.

In lesser hands, this assemblage of esoteric pièces d’occasion conceived for the artistic salons of 19th century Paris during the days of the Belle Époque could wear thin after one too many songs permeated with the same perfumed laid-back languor.  Yet here, with a voice that could melt the hardest of hearts, an absolute command of the French style, flawless idiomatic pronunciation, and immense musicality, the results that Laetitia Grimaldi serves up in good company with Ammiel Bushakevitz, her perfect partnering pianist are simply extraordinary.

Rafael de Acha            ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Ever-challenging, ever-surprising Douglas Knehans.

Douglas Knehans’ lovely composition for solo violin and orchestra Mist Waves (2019) is in the words of its composer “…about land-based cloud and how this forms in waves, sometimes thick and predictable and at other times lightening up and revealing more to us… a metaphor for me of a type of human consciousness and how things are known and unknown to us in mixtures of known and ungraspable.”

The work was given its premiere in the original version for violin and piano by violinist Madeleine Mitchell and pianist Michael Delfin. The current orchestral version was prepared for the ABLAZE CD that features a superb rendition by the Brno Philharmonic, led by Mikel Tom with violin soloist Pavel Wallinger.

The album’s longest work is Cloud Ossuary, a three-part symphony, whose third movement features a haunting poetic text by Katarina Knehans, lovingly sung by soprano Judith Weusten.

As much of Knehans’ work, Cloud Ossuary is at first seemingly atonal though not lacking in melodic sweep, even in its most dramatic moments, like in Breathe Clouded the work’s second movement in which the strings are at first summoned to create a seamless, ethereal sound by mining the uppermost reaches of their range, at times sounding less like acoustic instruments and more like electronic devices.

A kind of perpetual motion melody rises from the lower strings to then combine with an assembly of woodwinds and muted brass in, again, a sound that mimics electronics, but one that is at once softened and made more lyrical.

Bones and All is the title of the third movement. In it the composer proves himself once more a past master of writing for the voice, setting the complex text by Katarina Knehans with perfect command of the genre. The 26-minute-long movement – the longest in the work – is filled with musical turmoil that effectively echoes the ranging emotions expressed in the text.

It is not until the very final moments of the final movement that a hard-earned peace reigns, with the words “… we sit together eating tropical fruits, shrouded by sunlight, a greenish-golden glow bouncing off my skin and refracting off their exposed bones. They cannot be touched here, things are clean, soft. We are loved by the sun, bones and all.”

Those words give closure to an impressive work by Douglas Knehans, an ever-challenging, ever-surprising musical artist.