AN OPERATIC RARITY FROM THE PEN OF ERICH KORNGOLD

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Erich Wolfgang Korngold became one of the busiest film composers of all time, once he moved to the United States one step ahead of the Nazis, who immediately declared his music Enterte (contaminated) because of Korngold’s Jewish blood.

But prior to that hasty escape from Germany Korngold was a respected composer, whose opera, Das Wunder der Heliane (The Miracle of Heliane) was first performed in Hamburg in 1927. Before its premiere in 1927 Korngold proclaimed that this would be his masterwork. But the critics thought otherwise, finding the music much too melodic and not dissonant enough for their taste. Too bad, for had the critical reception be different Das Wunder der Heliane could have enjoyed a much different stage life – its music being writ large and the large-scale writing just perfect for European singers weaned on Wagner and R. Strauss. Lotte Lenya called the title role of this opera, her favorite, and the Bulgarian Wagnerian Anna Tomowa-Simtow performed it in her prime.

Neither Korngold nor his librettist, Hans Mueller give proper names to the male characters, naming them instead: The Ruler, The Stranger and so forth, which tends to make them cipher-like rather than flesh and blood beings. The plot is fantastical, full of supernatural events, twists and turns, and the kind of symbolism much in vogue in the Germany of the first quarter of the twentieth century, including a last minute rise from the dead that affords both the tenor and soprano to ascend to the heavens for an eternal union.

Aris Argiris is a true-blue Heldenbariton with the endurance of a thoroughbred and a stentorian sound. Soprano, Annemaria Kremer sings a lovely Heliane, frequently spinning out ethereal sounds when needed. Tenor, Ian Storey delivers a convincing performance as The Stranger, holding up just fine in a part that sounds at times as if it were written for a Heldentenor. The supporting cast of mostly male singers satisfactorily fulfills its duties.

But it is the Philharmonic Orchestra Freiburg, the massive choral forces and Fabrice Bollon, their conductor who are the heart and soul of this three-CD Naxos release. The score is huge, densely orchestrated and replete with climactic moments. Maestro Bolton leads a nicely-paced reading, beautifully balancing all the artists at his command in a most satisfying performance worthy of a place in the libraries of opera connoisseurs.

Rafael de Acha

UPSTANDING CELLIST PLAYS STAND UP CELLO

Jeffrey Zeigler Presents: Mike Block Solo Show

His name is Mike Block and he plays the cello that hangs from his neck while he is standing up. He plays with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble and he plays by himself in concert.

In his CD MIKE BLOCK ECHOES OF BACH recently issued by Bright Shiny Things Block establishes from the get go that he is a musician to the core, playing the G Major Prelude from the Cello Suite No. 1 of J.S. Bach with assurance and sober emotion.

Over the next eleven tracks Block travels back and forth between Gabrielli’s 17th century and Bach’s 18th century and on to the current one, felicitously juxtaposing with their Baroque predecessors pieces by the late Austrian composer György Ligeti, the 20th century Turkish composer Ahmet Adnan Saygun, and the contemporary Italian Giovanni Sollima.

Seven of the tracks feature Preludes, Allemandes, Courantes, Sarabandes, Gigues and Bourrées that can test the mettle and technique of lesser players, but here allow Block to establish himself as a flawless technician.

But Bach to show off dexterity is soulless Bach, and Block injects into his playing of these test pieces the same intensity of feeling and unceasing energy that he brings to his reading of the fourth movement of Saygun’s Eastern-inflected Partita for solo Cello and to Giovanni Solima’s percussively dance-like Citarruni, from The Taranta Project.

Engineered by Dan Cardinal, this outside-of-the standard-repertory box CD is a delight. Would Bright Shiny Things please consider more Block?

Rafael de Acha

A SUPERB WAGNER RECORDING

 

In the theatre the connecting tissue between set piece and set piece in an opera is indispensable, as it serves to keep the audience focused on the dramatic action. In a recording of an opera the same connecting tissue keeps the listener on track while waiting for the next “big moment” to come.

Listening to the superb reading of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung by the Hong Kong Philharmonic led by Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden and just recently released by NAXOS in a four CD set just recorded live this past January this listener found himself not waiting for the next familiar moment, but wanting to linger at every minute of the 3 ½ hour musical journey.

The sound, engineered by Phil Rowlands, James Clark and Roy Cheung is crystalline at both extremes of the dynamic range, and evenhandedly faithful to Wagner’s massive orchestration. The insightfully and succinctly written accompanying booklet annotated by Keith Anderson is perfect as well.

And then there is the Bamberg Symphony Chorus and the Latvian State Choir, both doing sterling work in key moments: Hagen’s call to the vassals being one of the many goose-bump inducing ones.

The soloists form a wonderful mix of veteran Wagnerians and up-and-coming stars integrated, thanks to Van Zweden into as good an ensemble as ever heard in a Wagner opera by this listener – every leading and supporting role is flawlessly cast.

The three Norns that open the Prologue: Sarah Castle, Stephanie Houtzeel, Jenufa Gleich, and the three Rhine Maidens that bring the opera to its close: Eri Nakamura, Aurthelia Varak, and Hermine Haselböck are cast with first-tier singers, several of them young Wagnerians on the rise.

Gun-Brit Barkmin is a sensational Brunhilde, an expressive singer endowed with unending energy and a ringing top voice that never turns shrill. The American tenor Daniel Brenna holds his own in this cast, impressively singing the impossibly demanding part of Siegfried.

The young American soprano Amanda Majeski delivers a sensitively sung Gutrune, and Michelle De Young brings her ample dramatic mezzo-soprano to the part of Waltraute with great success. The basses and bass-baritones are exemplary: Chinese bass-baritone Shenyang makes his mark as Gunther. Eric Halfvarson is riveting as Hagen, pouring out a torrent of pitch-black sound in the iconic Watch and earlier in the scene with the sinister Alberich of Peter Kálmán, a Hungarian bass who matches his colleague decibel for decibel.

There are plenty of recordings of both the Ring cycle and its components, but with Wagner and the Ring it’s never too many. Recorded live with no room for retakes and mistakes, this is a superb addition to the collection of any opera fan, whether Wagnerian or not.

Rafael de Acha

BARBER AND COPLAND PLAYED TO PERFECTION

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DELOS has just released a nicely assembled collection of Barber and Copland piano pieces impeccably played with fierce commitment and intensity by the American pianist Sean Kennard.

Titled American Classics Barber and Copland the Delos release (DE 3554) is good to look at and pleasurable to the ear. Kennard is an impressive technician, fleet and agile, yet capable of obtaining massive climaxes from his instrument with steely gravitas.

The choice of repertory is interesting, avoiding the tried and true, and revealing a darker aspect of Samuel Barber as shown in the composer’s Sonata for Piano, Op.26, written in 1949 by the then mature Barber and given its world premiere by Vladinir Horowitz, no less, who asked for a flashy fourth movement and got it. The Sonata for Piano and the 1977 Ballade are both complex works that open up to the musical language of dodecaphony.

With both those two works, written three decades apart their composer turned the corner into a world of dissonance where he remained well into the latter part of his career. With his earlier opus, Excursions Barber seems to be more at ease in a distinctly laid-back and utterly charming American musical landscape.

Copland’s Piano Variations dates back to 1930 and clearly show the influence of Paris-based composers whom Nadia Boulanger encouraged Copland not to imitate but study, which the composer proceeded to do with a vengeance. Massive cluster chords and a martellato use of the lower and upper registers alternate with moments of delicate lyricism in this composition.

The Four Piano Blues are miniatures dedicated to or else inspired by friends of the composer are brought to life with their bluesy, jazzy, vaporous sound by Sean Kennard’s at times delicate at others commandingly sonorous playing.

Typical of DELOS, the engineering is spot on, the accompanying notes succinct and insightful and the packaging simple and well designed.

Rafael de Acha

NOVEMBER’S MUSIC IN CINCINNATI

MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS: NOVEMBER
These are just a few of the many musical events that crowd the month of November right up to Thanksgiving week. Why so early with this post? Tickets go fast!
CCM remains the largest presenter of performing arts events in the State of Ohio as will be evident by the number of CCM events highlighted here. Many of these concerts, musicals and recitals are free, and those that are not are reasonably priced.
Let this serve as a guide for you to go and explore further… Visit the websites of these organizations… bone up on the music ahead of time… Whatever you do, please enjoy all the music that the City of Cincinnati has to offer.

NOVEMBER 1, THURSDAY, 8 PM – CCM – BERNSTEIN FESTIVAL – PIANOPALOOZA
MEMBERS OF THE CCM PIANO AND CONDUCTING FACULTY JOIN FORCES TO HONOR LENNY’S 100TH BY PLAYING HIS DANCES FROM WEST SIDE STORY AND HIS ARRANGEMENT OF AARON COPLAND’S EL SALON MEXICO, ALONG WITH OTHER WORKS.
TKTS: $15 CCM’S BOX OFFICE – 513 556 4183

NOVEMBER 2, FRIDAY – CCM – BERNSTEIN FESTIVAL – ORCHESTRA
BERNSTEIN’S SONGFEST JOINS HIS FANCY FREE IN ALL-LENNY PROGRAM, WITH MARK GIBSON LEADING THE CCM PHILHARMONIA AND VOCAL SOLOISTS.
TKTS: $15 CCM’S BOX OFFICE – 513 556 4183

NOVEMBER 3, SATURDAY AT 8 PMCORO VOLANTE
A NEW CHORAL ENSEMBLE GIVES MEANING TO ITS WINGED NAME BY TAKING FLIGHT WITH THE LOCAL PREMIERE OF THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL PASSION. THE HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN STORY SET TO MUSIC BY PULITZER-PRIZE WINNER DAVID LANG WILL ALIGHT AT THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF THE REDEEMER ON EERIE AVENUE IN HYDE PARK.
FREE AND OPEN WITH NO NEED FOR RESERVATIONS.

NOVEMBER 4, SUNDAY – CCM PRESTIGE SERIES – BERNSTEIN FESTIVAL AT CCM
THE CCM JAZZ ORCHESTRA IN CORBETT AUDITORIUM WITH A JAZZED UP WEST SIDE STORY, PRECEDED BY A TALK WITH STAN KENTON SCHOLAR AND CONDUCTOR VAUGHN WIESTER.
TKTS: $20 CCM’S BOX OFFICE – 513 513 556 4183

NOVEMBER 4 AND 5, SUNDAY AND MONDAYBLACK ANGELS
concert:nova GIVES THE LOCAL PREMIERE OF GEORGE CRUMB’S 1970 MUSICAL COMMENTARY ABOUT A WORLD AT WAR.
CHECK OUT TIMES AND LOCATION BY PHONE (513 – 739 6682)

NOVEMBER 8-10, THURSDAY THROUGH SATURDAY – CCM – GODSPELL
THE 1971 OFF-BROADWAY HIT IS ON STAGE IN THE INTIMATE COHEN FAMILY STUDIO THEATRE AT 8 PM THIS WEEKEND WITH AN ADDITIONAL 2 PM MATINEE ON SATURDAY. TKTS ARE FREE.
PHONE CCM’S BOX OFFICE ON MONDAY NOVEMBER 5 AT 12:30 PM – 513 513 556 4183

NOVEMBER 11, AT 3 PM AT WYOMING’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH – THE AGE OF WAGNER
CINCINNATI SONG INITIATIVE AND WAGNER SOCIETY OF CINCINNATI JOINTLY PRESENT SOPRANO LATOYA LAIN AND TENOR DANIEL WEEKS WITH PIANISTS DONNA LOEWY AND CASEY ROBARDS, IN A PROGRAM OF LIEDER BY LISZT, MAHLER, WOLF AND, OF COURSE, WAGNER.
TKTS: $20 (www.cincinnatisonginitiative.org)

NOVEMBER 11 AT 4 PM AND NOVEMBER 12 AT 7:30 PM – LINTON MUSIC
ANNA POLONSKY, ILYA FINKELSTEIN, STEFANI COLLINS MATSUO, CHRISTIAN COLBERG, DWIGHT PARRY, AND WILLIAM WINSTEAD PLAY POULENC, MOZART AND DVORAK.
TKTS AND INFO: 513 381 6868

NOVEMBER 15-18, CCM – THURSDAY THROUGH SUNDAY AT 8 PM, SUNDAY AT 2 PM ONLY – THE TURN OF THE SCREW
BENJAMIN BRITTEN’S CHAMBER OPERA ABOUT CHILDREN HAUNTED BY GHOSTS IN AN ENGLISH ESTATE IS STAGED FOR CCM AT THE PATRICIA CORBETT THEATRE BY VINCE DE GEORGE, WITH AIK KHAI PUNG LEADING THE ORCHESTRA.
TKTS: $32-$36 CCM’S BOX OFFICE – 513 556 4183

NOVEMBER 18, A CCM PRESENTATION IN THE WILKS STUDIO AT MUSIC HALL, SUNDAY AT 7 PM
COMPOSER MATTHEW AUCOIN AND SARAH RUHL, HIS LIBRETIST, TEST THE OPERATIC WATERS WITH A WORKSHOP READING OF THEIR EURYDICE, WITH UP AND COMING SINGERS FROM THE RANKS OF CCM LED BY ROBIN GUARINO.
TKTS ARE FREE BY PHONING 513 – 241 2742 ON MONDAY NOVEMBER 5 AFTER 10:00 AM

NOVEMBER 20, TUESDAY AT 8 PM – THE CCM CONCERT ORCHESTRA AT CCM
AIK KHAI PUNG LEADS THE ENSEMBLE IN HAYDN’S “CLOCK” SYMPHONY, LISZT’S LES PRELUDES AND SCRIABIN’S THE POEM OF ECSTASY.
FREE ADMISSION

NOVEMBER 30, FRIDAY AT 8 PM – THE CCM PHILHARMONIA AT CCM
WITH MARK GIBSON AT THE HELM THE CCM PHILHARMONIA OPENS THEIR CONCERT WITH A VERDI OVERTURE FROM I VESPRI SICILIANI, FOLLOWS IT WITH BRITTEN’S SINFONIA DA REQUIEM AND WRAPS IT ALL UP WITH RACHMANINOFF’S SYMPHONIC DANCES.
TKTS: $15 CCM’S BOX OFFICE – 513 556 4183

HAPPY LISTENING!

THE NEW MET SEASON

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The MET has just announced its 2018-2019 Season and I am, frankly, puzzled by the safe choices of repertory and underwhelmed by some of the selection of casts and directors. Old wine in new bottles or vice-versa?

One would imagine that the sudden removal of James Levine from his position as Music Director helped create a crisis of artistic planning, but it is common knowledge that the MET lines up its roster of artists and choices of repertory years in advance. Thus we have to look at the current MET season as a brainchild of one man: Peter Gelb.

But to give everyone his or her due, there’s a production of Boito’s Mefistofele, an opera not seen in NYC since 2000, and that’s great news. In the central title role, the fast-rising American bass-baritone Christian Van Horn is stepping into the bass role of all bass roles and in so doing following the steps of Samuel Ramey and Norman Treigle, both of whom are fondly remembered by those of us old enough to have heard them.

The casting of Bel Canto specialist Angela Meade in the essentially spinto role of Margerita is surprising at best, as is the choice of lyric tenor Michael Fabiano for the hefty part of Faust. But time will tell and hopefully prove my doubts and concerns unfounded.

Anna Netrebko as Aida? Maybe, but I am not so sure of a singer whose ravishing sound has so perfectly suited her Tatiana in Eugene Onegin and some of the lighter Verdi roles should be taking on the Egyptian Princess. Listen to her “O Patria Mia”, easily available on You Tube and see what you think.

Samson et Dalila in a new production gives us a surprisingly smoldering Dalila from the ever-cool Elīna Garanča and a light-weight Samson from Roberto Alagna. It will be interesting to see and hear what kind of heat the pairing of Anita Rashhvelishvili and Aleksandrs Antonenko can bring to this work.

I salute the commitment of the MET to contemporary opera and refrain from commenting until Nico Muhly’s Marnie is seen LIVE IN HD on November 10th. Two wonderful singing actors: Isabel Leonard and Christopher Maltman make the project sound very promising.

A new Michael Mayer production of La Traviata with Diana Damrau as Violetta, Juan Diego Florez as Alfredo, and Quinn Kelsey as Germont will replace the controversial old one with the unisex chorus in rented tuxes and all the clocks.

Another new production, tAdriana Lecouvreur featuring Anna Netrebko in the title role and Piotr Beczala as Maurizio sounds like a winner. If you miss it at the MET you might be able to catch it in London, in Barcelona, in Vienna, in Paris, or stateside in San Francisco, as the opera companies of each one of those cities are named as co-producers of this revival of Cilea’s melodrama.

From the French world there’s a revival of Pélleas et Mélisande with the lovely Isabel Leonard as the lost princess and Paul Appleby as her secret love. There’s another revival of the Richard Eyre’s production of Carmen with French mezzo-soprano Clementine Margaine as the Gypsy enchantress and Roberto Alagna as Don José.

Pretty Yende, Javier Camarena and Mariusz Kwiecien are the love triangle at the center of Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles. There’s also the old Dialogue des Carmelites production by John Dexter that will close the season with the ubiquitous Isabel Leonard, in her third leading role this season as Blanche, and the formidable Karita Mattila as Madame de Croisy, with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting.

La Fille du Régiment, not a French opera but a Donizetti opera in French will allow Javier Camarena to unpack his bag of high C’s and Pretty Yende to clown around and sing prettily as Marie.

The entire Ring Cycle is brought back in the multi-million Robert Lepage production, featuring “The Machine” and starring Wagnerians Greer Grimsley as Wotan, Christine Goerke as Brunhilde, Jamie Barton as Fricka, Eva-Maria Westbrock as Sieglinde, Stuart Skelton as Siegmund, Tomasz Konieczny as Alberich, and Phillipe Jordan helming the MET orchestra.

From the pens of Verdi and Puccini, the MET will bring us the Robert Carsen 1950’ish Falstaff, Tosca with Jennifer Rowley, Joseph Calleja and Wolfgang Koch, a Trittico with Placido Domingo as Gianni Schichi, Otello with Sony Yoncheva, Stuart Skelton and Željko Lučić in the key roles and Gustavo Dudamel making his MET debut at the podium.

La Fanciulla del West with I-hope-he-won’t-cancel Jonas Kaufmann as the unfortunately-named Dick Johnson and Eva-Maria Westbrock as Minnie, is slated for a LIVE IN HD October 27 offering and a December 22 radio broadcast. Keep your fingers crossed.

A Mozart semi-rarity: La Clemenza di Tito will come late in the season with Matthew Polenzani in the title role and Joyce Di Donato as Sesto, in the old but still gorgeous Jean Pierre Ponnelle production. Don Giovanni will see a great Leporello: Luca Pisaroni switching from servant to master in the title role.

Time will tell how Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Met’s Music Director creates an imprint on the repertory and how much say he will have on the subject of casting and choice of creative teams, in addition to the selection of guest conductors. For now we wait and hope for the best.

Rafael de Acha

A Lost World of Schubert rarities

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Out of Schubert’s 1500 compositions, 600 are Lieder (songs) for solo voices. There are a handful of duets, trios, quartets and choral numbers of various levels of quality. But, by and large, if one is mining for gold one better dig into the Schubert treasure trove of song cycles and his many stand-alone songs.

That said, the Delos CD A Lost World is a welcome gift culled from the Schubert mother lode and a nice item to have in one’s collection of vocal rarities.

Neither Ganymede nor perhaps Elysium are all that rare. They are sung here with delicacy and limpidity by soprano Susanna Phillips with the ever flexible and supportive Brian Zeger at the piano, providing  a welcome relief from the ponderousness and unremittingly somber moods of most of the other selections on the CD, even when sung impressively by bass-baritone Shenyang.

Odious as comparisons can be, I unhesitatingly place Ms. Phillips rendition of these two Schubert songs in the company of the similarly-voiced Ely Ameling and Barbara Bonney. Phillips’ honestly uncomplicated vocalism brings the poetry of Schiller and Goethe to life in flawless German.

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Shenyang, a young bass-baritone impresses this listener with his committed delivery of An die Dioskuren, in which he succeeds in scaling down his massive sound to the intimacy of a sailor’s prayer to the stars. Elsewhere, he unleashes a torrent of sound in the grimly descriptive Gruppe aus dem Tartarus and follows it with the equally infernal Fahrt zum Hades. Shenyang delivers Grenzen dee Menscheit with gravitas, dipping assuredly and repeatedly into his lower range.

Both singers sing to rather than with each other in two songs with operatic ambitions: Hektor’s Abschied and Antigone und Oedip. More like operatic scenes than duets, these two pieces sadly never allow for the soprano and bass-baritone in this CD to unite their voices in song.

It would have been nice to hear Phillips and Shenyang to undertake Schubert’s setting of Goethe’s Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt. The forgiven omission will hopefully allow for many of us to have these two fast-rising artists back in an album of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Schumann duets. If only Delos cooperates…

Rafael de Acha

AGRIPPINA

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Handel was a young 24-year old aspiring opera composer when in 1709 he penned and premiered Agrippina, his sixth stage work, just in for the Carnival Season in Venice. He had thirty-nine operas left to write mostly for his glory days in London as a composer-impresario.

Naxos has just released a double-CD issue of this Handel rarity. It was filmed in 2016 over two performances at the intimate Theater an der Wien in Vienna, with a cast led by Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon in the title role, soprano Danielle de Niese as Poppea, and an ensemble of European singers some of which are associated with the Baroque repertory. The production was staged by Robert Carsen, and the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble was led by Thomas Engelbrock.

It is old news that all of Handel’s operas are built on a set formula that worked wonders for the composer but taxes the endurance of contemporary audiences accustomed to expeditious realism on stage. Handel gives us arias that follow arias only interrupted by recitatives that move forward the action provided one can follow the convoluted plots. It would all make better sense if a copy of the libretto could accompany this CD.

The arias in Agrippina are by and large standard issue Handel, and the occasional choral interludes come off as formulaic. Absent the glorious music of many of his more mature operas, Agrippina leaves the listener longing for more but better Handel.

The singers in this release could help matters were they better interpreters of Baroque music, but sadly and save for the ever-reliable Danielle de Niese, the cast fails to set off any vocal fireworks.

The acting, as directed by Robert Carsen, consists of striking poses and sustaining attitudes for long stretches of time. The director seems to have encouraged his cast to take a ham-fisted approach to a couple of simulated sex scenes that would not rate in the worst of soft porn sites. This reaches the nadir of tackiness early in Act I when the viewer is subjected to two back-to-back squirm-inducing quickies on top of Agrippina’s high tech desk in her oh-so-today office.

Too bad that such a rarity as this opera does not get a better production and cast. Handel certainly deserves better.

Rafael de Acha

The Art of Song: Alive and Well

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The Art of Song is Alive and Well in Cincinnati. Daniel Weeks and Donna Loewy proved that to be true as they made musical magic happen on the stage of CCM’s Werner Recital Hall last night. The two artists did this not through sleight of hand but through musicality, technique and artistry. It was a recital that uncompromisingly avoided well-worn repertory choices and tidy groupings in chronological patterns. And, at the end it was a theatrical event that broke free of the formality of the concert platform.

The evening opened with Drei Lieder aus Wilhelm Tell – three songs by Franz Liszt, with Schiller texts from William Tell. The words for these songs, culled by the playwright-poet from his epic play about the Swiss struggle for Independence, deal with the bucolic rather than the dramatic. That said, there is vivid drama in the way Liszt’s music depicts first a gentle shepherd boy’s tale, then a young man’s journey from town to countryside, and lastly an account of a mature man in awe of nature high in the Alps.

As can be expected, Liszt’s pianistic writing is daunting, and Ms. Loewy handled the accompaniments with impassioned abandon. The texts are set in a consistently high tessitura for the voice that Weeks rode with ease, displaying a vibrant lyric tenor sound and utter comfort with the German language.

Ich möchte hingehn, another rarity was given a stand-alone position rather than appended to the Liszt group. A somber meditation on Death that approaches the scope of an operatic soliloquy, it was given an intensely moving performance by Weeks, with Ms. Loewy ever the sensitively supportive partner remarkably handling the frequent colla voce instances and the many tempo changes in the musically complex song.

From the dark hues of the Middle-European Romanticism of Liszt, the artists moved to the sunny songs of Antón Garcia Abril. The octogenarian Spanish composer writes in a lush tonal idiom that,  along with a frequent use of Moorish-Aragonese musical filigree places him in the company of Turina, Granados, de Falla and Rodrigo. The texts of Canciones de Noche y Estrellas (Songs of Night and the Stars) and Canciones del Recuerdo (Songs of Remembrance) are set by the composer in a vocally-friendly manner, and Daniel Weeks sang them in flawless Spanish and with plenty of Iberian flair, while Ms. Loewy provided sensitive partnering throughout.

The Land of Nod is the title of a four-song cycle by Tom Cipullo, with surrealist texts about dreams and nightmares by the late American poet Alice Wirth Gray. The first of the songs, The Land of Nod sustains a wistful, yearning, pensive tone. A Death in the Family abruptly courts dissonance and moments of declamation. Deer in Mist and Almonds returns to near-stasis and a meditation on loss. On a Nineteenth Century Color Lithograph of Red Riding Hood by the Artist J. H. is a comic tour de force for both singer and pianist. It brought the evening to a theatrically humorous ending that allowed Ms. Loewy plenty of soloist fun and Weeks to show the audience the accomplished singing actor he is.

It was a memorable song recital by two great artists and it reminded us of what a treasure we have in the teaching-performing faculty of CCM.

Rafael de Acha

THERE IS NOTHING MORE DIFFICULT THAN TALKING ABOUT MUSIC

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“There is nothing more difficult than talking about music” is supposedly what Camille Saint-Saëns said over a century ago. I would add that there’s nothing more difficult than to endure the vindictive invective heaped on the composer by so many lesser lights than the grey-bearded eminence who gave us the three piano concertos featured in a Chandos CD with the BBC Philharmonic helmed by Edward Gardner backing up the protean Louis Lortie at the keyboard and taking on the piano concertos one, two and four.

Even when insults are spared, the tone of much criticism about Saint-Saens is patronizing. True, the old codger had some of it coming, for he gave as good as he got as often as he could, fighting for what he believed was true French music and, famously against Debussy and Stravinsky and Les Six.

In a perfect world none of this would have taken place, Saint-Saëns would not have had to compete for prizes half-way through his career, and he and the society in which he lived would have openly accepted his closeted homosexuality.

But no, the world of the arts in fin de siècle Paris sported a mine field of fractious factions endlessly skirmishing among themselves, and Saint-Saëns often got caught in the crossfire. Too bad, but by the time of his death at age 86, Camille Saint-Saëns had grabbed the brass ring, composed up a storm and died in peace, frankly not giving a hoot any more about all the negativity.

The Lortie/Gardner CD is a musical act of love. I settled down to listen to it from tracks one through ten several times and was won over. Gorgeously engineered by Mike George and Brian Pidgeon, classily produced by Ralph Couzens, annotated with scholarly authority by Roger Nichols, and, above all, given inspired performances of concertos number 1, 2 and 4 by the Lortie-Gardner-BBC Philharmonic team, the 2018 Chandos 20031 release provides a revisit to us long term members of the Camille Saint-Saens fan club.

Rafael de Acha