3/8/20 Music by Women Composers

March 8, 2020, 2 pm Music by Women Composers

Music for All Seasons at Peterloon In Celebration of International Women’s Day
Ariadne Antipa, piano Yaoyue Huang, piano
Jacob Miller, piano Amber R. Monroe, soprano
Kanako Shimasaki, violin Miriam K. Smith, cello

Fanny Mendelssohn Adagio for Violin and Piano
Clara Schumann Three Romances for Violin and Piano
Teresa Carreño Three Waltzes
Nadia Boulanger Three Pieces for Cello and Piano
Agathe Grøndahl Klaverstykker   Florence B. Price Songs

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5 Concerts that you will not want to miss

Five Concerts that you will not want to miss are coming up right after the holidays.

Friday January 10 at 8 pm and Saturday January 11 at 7 p.m. at Music Hall
Renee Fleming brings her glorious soprano voice to two programs with slightly different selections. On Friday she joins the CSO to perform Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs. On Saturday she sings three Strauss songs with orchestral accompaniment and a group of Broadway songs. Also in both programs the rarely heard Of a Spring Morning by Lili Boulanger, and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov.
TKTS: 513 381 3300

Saturday January 18 at 8 pm and Sunday January 19 at 2 pm at Music Hall
Louis Langrée leads the CSO in a pair of concerts celebrating the orchestra’s 125TH anniversary with music that in one way or another connects with the history of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, including compositions by Duke Wellington, George Gershwin and other 20th century masters.
TKTS: 513 381 3300

Tuesday January 21 at 7:30 pm at CCM’s Werner Recital Hall
World class playing by the superb Ariel Quartet and guest artist Alexander Fiterstein will feature a Beethoven String Quartet, a Mozart Quintet, and a world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis’ Clarinet Quintet.
TKTS: 513 556 2100

Sunday January 26 at 4 pm at Immaculata Church in Mt. Adams
Come to hear a two-year old ensemble of brilliant young musicians led by co-artistic directors Kanako Shimasaki and Jonathan Lee play, on a lighter note Haydn’s Joke String Quartet, and on a heftier note Anton Webern’s Op. 5 quartet and Arnold Schoenberg’s seminal Transfigured Night.
TKTS ARE FREE but please make a contribution.

Friday January 31 at 7:30 pm at CCM’ Corbett Auditorium.
The CCM Philharmonia presents Mahler’s massive masterpiece Symphony No. 9 in D Major, his last completed orchestral work. Whether you subscribe to the theory that this was the composer’s farewell to this world or its opposite: a celebration of life and all living things, you will be moved by music of enormous beauty and emotional depth conducted by the ever impressive Mark Gibson and played by a band of young people who play like old souls.
TKTS: 513 556 2100

Rafael de Acha     http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

A WREATH OF SONGS

Robert Schumann wrote close to 140 songs, of which 26 are comprised in Myrthen, a grouping of lyric miniatures partially chronicling his marriage to Clara Wieck.

Myrthen, the German word for a wreath of evergreens and white flowers is also the title of the recently released SONY CLASSICAL CD that features the perfect trio for this music: the soprano Camilla Tilling, the baritone Christian Gerhaher, and the pianist Gerold Huber.

Camilla Tilling’s lyric soprano is ravishingly beautiful and ideally suited to several of the best known and most beloved amongst the 26 songs in the recording, among them Widmung, Die Nussbaum, Lied der Suleika and Die Lotusbluhme. Ever spinning a seamless legato line, her singing embodies emotional vulnerability and intellectual acuity.

Christian Gerhaher contributes his bright high baritone to the project, excelling in the declamatory, narrative and dramatic songs contained in the four books that make up Myrthen. His voice is tenor-like in  timbre in the upper range, darker as it descxends the scale, his diction impeccable, his approach to this music always sober and elegant

Gerold Huber is the unfailingly sensitive accompanist throughout.

The engineering, the copious annotations and translations by Gerhaher himself raise the bar for any similar future endeavors.

Bravo to all those involved in this labor of love!

Rafael de Acha      http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Three Wonderful Violinists play Bach

75462482_373182526739469_3406567011768074240_oBy age 35 the recently-widowed J.S. Bach had mastered the art of orchestration and the playing of and writing for the keyboard instruments that helped put food on the table for his ever growing family. He played and wrote for the Church, he played gigs in local cafes, and all along he mastered the ins and outs of the violin, an instrument that he had played quite well since young.

For the violin he composed six solo pieces, three sonatas and three partitas, the first three formally-structured compositions within which the Baroque master continued to explore the art of counterpoint, no small feat for an instrument thus far used to play single-note melodies.

When it came to the partitas Bach cut loose and sort of re-imagined the Partita form, as simply a collection of tunes elevated to the status of concert music by virtue of craft and genius. Within the livelier framework of a suite of Baroque dances, Bach put to use the allemandes, courantes, gigues and sarabandes that both court and country had danced to, dressing them up in Baroque finery, and without fettering them or their player, adding technical intricacies that came to define the rules of violin playing for centuries to come.

And yet, throughout that music there is the composer’s emotional turmoil, something that we have been repeatedly told is not what the disciplined, church-going, sober, family man from Leipzig was all about, reflected now and then in the sudden harmonic forays the music takes.  Musical lore has it that Bach’s grammatically incorrect “Sei solo”, meaning Sei (“you are”) solo (“alone”) which he attached to the score of the three violin sonatas and the three partitas, which in Italian should be Sei Soli (with the letter i at the end of the word) meaning six solos was meant to express Bach’s emotional state in a sort of code.

In the Inmaculata concert of Sunday November 24, three formidable violinists took turns playing the three partitas.

Jack Bogard opened the afternoon with an elegant rendition of the Partita No. 1 in B Minor, BWV 1002, playing its four movements with dexterous agility and impeccable musicality .

The Japanese-American Mariko Shimasaki took on the iconic Partita No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006 brilliantly delivering with a singing tone a technically flawless performance.

The stunningly talented Christina Nam brought the afternoon to a serene ending with  her fierce commitment and emotionally charged interpretation of the Partita number 2, the longest in duration of the three and one chockfull of every imaginable technical complexity, ending with the monumental Chaconne, a test of endurance for even the most mature of violinists, and one that Yehudi Menuhin called  “the greatest structure for solo violin that exists.”

The end of the concert was first followed by awed silence and then by grateful applause for Nam and her colleagues. As I stood up to applaud I did so for all three of these wonderful young musicians, thinking as well about the long ago departed but still spiritually alive Johann Sebastian Bach, the humble genius who gave us all this complex, joyful, sorrowful, tuneful, mind-boggling, astonishing music.

Immaculata Chamber Music Series continues in 2020. Follow them on Facebook.

Rafael de Acha      http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

The Bartered Bride and the CCM Philharmonia both in one night

75380078_10162513221510253_7604046577442750464_oThis was one of those evenings when I had to divide myself in two in order to catch The Bartered Bride at the Patricia Corbett Theatre and the second half of the CCM Philharmonia Concert in Corbett Auditorium.

Inevitably I had to miss the second half of the opera and the first half of the orchestral concert.

To the best of my knowledge Bedřich Smetana’s opera The Bartered Bride has not had a major American production since the MET revived the 1978 John Dexter production in 1996 for Teresa Stratas as Mařenka and Nicolai Gedda as Jeník.

Why may we ask should this comic gem by the composer of the familiar Die Moldau be treated as an operatic stepchild? Many concertgoers are familiar with its Overture, a lively opener for any orchestral concert. But that’s how it goes with so many neglected operatic works that fall outside the canon of the Twenty Most Popular Operas.

If someone alleges it is the mouth-filling Czech language with its consonant-filled syllables that which keeps singers and producers at bay with The Bartered Bride, why not do it in English then. CCM does it here with an intelligent and intelligible English translation by Kathleen Kelly sprinkled now and then with a bit of Czech for the sake of color.

Smetana’s Bride is married to a lighthearted libretto by the Czech writer Karel Sabina. It tells the story of a secret but innocent love between two locals, Mařenka and Jeník. She is the only daughter of two well-to-do and well-meaning but overreaching ranchers, Krušina and Ludmilla.

Janik’ father, the widower Micha, now married to second wife Háta wants the best for Vašek, who happens to be his younger and homelier offspring from his previous marriage. “The best” happens to be Mařenka, the most eligible girl in the county, whose parents want to marry her to Vašek at all costs. That will include the costly marriage brokerage fees payable to Kecal, who stands to get a nice fat fee from the parents of homely Vašek, who happens to be challenged in more ways than one.

Well, complicated as these country relationships can be, true love triumphs at the end as it does in all comic operas.

The CCM production is faithful to the original intentions and style of Smetana’s folk tale told in lively music and well-spoken dialogue (English here), and the young singing actors in the bright cast do well by Smetana’s gentle writing for younger voices.

Lyric soprano Brittany Olivia Logan as Mařenka is vocally impressive. Jordan Lloyd as Jeník has an engaging tenor voice, and both he and Logan make a charming couple. Mishael Eusebio, delivers a hilarious performance as the shy and bespectacled Vašek. Ryan Wolfe sings the important bass role of Kecal with dry humor and a lyrical approach that served both him and Smetana’s music well.

Most gratifying of all this was to see CCM at its best: idiomatic and rock solid playing by the young players in the orchestra authoritatively and flexibly led by Levi Hammer, and a gifted and large cast of budding singing actors with acting, dancing, and musical talents.

The light-touch stage direction by Audrey Chait set the action in a closer-to-us 1948 Texas ranch community peopled by Czech émigrés, mercifully avoiding conceptual impositions and cowboy clichés. The imaginative production design by Joshua E. Gallagher (sets) and Blaine Shepherd, (costumes) completed the perfect picture.

With an overall integrity that served both the audience and the participating artist-students CCM again delivered with the quality we have all come to expect of its opera productions.

At the other end of the CCM village, the Philharmonia Orchestra played in the second half of its concert a lovely Symphony in C, of Bizet, a youthful work by the French composer that showcased both the rank and file of the players, the exceptional oboist Leonardo de la Cruz, and the excellent student conductor John Murton.

Rafael de Acha      http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Dayton Opera’s La boheme

La-Boheme-Set-Photo-Photo-Credit-Duane-Tinkey-Des-Moines-Metro-Opera-website-version-1024x514Seeing the Dayton Opera La boheme today reminded me of how Puccini at age 37 succeeded in crafting a nearly perfect work of lyric drama after his first three flawed efforts: Le Villi, Edgar, and Manon Lescaut.

By age 37 Verdi had penned 16 of his three dozen operas. Mozart died at age 35 and by the time of his death he had given the world no less than five operatic masterpieces. But Puccini was painfully slow at composing, and inspiration came to him sporadically, but when it did… Well judge for yourself as you sit through yet one more La boheme. I, for one, could see that unabashedly sentimental musical yarn many times over.

That brings me to director Gary Briggle’s La boheme, which I saw and admired today. The veteran director had good help from Thomas Bankston, the Artistic Director of the Dayton Opera, who provided Briggle, first of all, with a handsome co-production designed by Robert Little, which delivered 100% on authenticity and practicality.

The cast was good, with the four bohemians young and sonorous, a pretty Mimi, a pert Musetta, and the marvelous Thomas Hammons in the double buffo assignment of Benoit/Alcindoro.

All seven principals responded to Briggle’s minute attention to details, which reminded me of Puccini’s fastidious love of le piccole cose (the little things). Mimi, for example, arrived in the bohemian’s attic and, after the initial ritual of flirtation involving the lost key and the candles – which both Rodolfo and Mimi slyly put out – she sat down to tell Rodolfo about herself.

In Giacosa and Illica’s Italian she says that people call her Mimi but her name is Lucia, that her story is brief, and that she embroiders at home and at work. At that point the Dayton Mimi, the lovely Kasia Borowiec, proffered her new acquaintance a little kerchief most likely embroidered by her. Great directorial touch that one! And, that little prop, hardly made a big deal of, returns in the subsequent acts to remind us of the bond of love it represents.

Briggle got his young cast members to react as well as act, to stay alive 100% of the time especially when not singing, and to use the silences between notes to carry meaningfulness.

Matthew Vickers was hands down the best singing actor in the cast, portraying a largely uncomplicated poet and singing with a bright lyric voice and clarion high notes. His Mimi, Kasia Borowiec sang with a full-bodied soprano voice, partnering her Rodolfo to perfection.

Of the other three bohemians, baritone Kenneth Stavert was a rock solid Marcello, bass Vincent Grana, an earnest, well sung Colline, and De’Ron McDaniel a lively Schaunard.  Zulimar Lopez-Hernandez was a pretty Musetta.

Patrick Reynolds conducted an orchestra largely peopled by musicians from the Dayton Philharmonic, keeping things under control and bringing stray singers back into the fold whenever they strayed. The Dayton Opera Chorus sang and acted well, once more helping to maintain the reputation of the Dayton Opera as a worthy professional enterprise in the always-busy Southern Ohio music scene.

Rafael de Acha    http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Photo: Duane Tinkey/Des Moines Metro Opera

Strehler’s Abduction from the Seraglio

qcco_-_mozartThe recent Cmajor/Rai Com/Teatro alla Scala release of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail as a double DVD is a welcome addition to any opera collector’s library. The reasons are many, among them that this is a faithful reenactment of the note-perfect 1965 staging by the master director Giorgio Strehler, created then for the Salzburg Festival. Secondly, the conductor: Zubin Mehta brought back on board to lead the superb La Scala orchestra and a cast of rising young Mozart.

The visual aspects of the production are exquisite as well, starting with the impeccably designed and period-perfect costumes of Sybille Ulsamer. The chiaroscuro lighting of Marco Filibeck does wonders for the settings of Carla Ceravolo, and the revival of Strehler’s original production is faithfully brought back to life by stage director Mattia Testi.

Mauro Peter sings elegantly as Belmonte and behaves on stage as if to the manner born. Bass Tobias Kehrer is a competent singer with more weight in the middle voice than in the bottom range so essential to the role of Osmin. The Pedrillo is sung by Maximilian Schmitt with more voice than what is usually brought by singers of this role. And he is a good comic.

Dutch soprano Lenneke Ruiten has both the vocal heft and the agility demanded by all her arias and the essential dignity and noble bearing demanded by the role of Constanze. French soprano Sabine Devielhe is a splendid spitfire Blonde, good to look at and listen to. Cornelius Obonya acts with dignity as Pasha Selim.

Maestro Mehta conducts with Mozartian clarity and accompanies the singers never once overbearing them. Most significantly, Strehler’s production provides a lesson in operatic stage direction which this writer wishes that all stage directors hell-bent on improving and updating the great work of the 18th and 19th century would assimilate.

Rafael de Acha          http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

FOUR SUPERB SINGING COMICS

un-mari-a-la-porte-florence-2019Jacques Offenbach wrote and produced close to one hundred little comic operettas for his tiny three-hundred-seat Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens in the two decades during part of which France and Austria on and off waged war on each other.

The French public satiated with the grand operas of Meyerbeer and Gounod and the tragic news that filled the front pages of the Paris newspapers could find a refreshing change of pace in a couple of hours of light-hearted entertainment that unfailingly featured young and good-looking signing actors costumed and clad in the finest silks and velvets, singing the music of Offenbach, Lecocq, Délibes, Bizet, and Chabrier in one-act lyric comedies in which spoken dialogue, dancing, and antics kept everyone happy.

A Dynamic DVD in a bright-new production from the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, is helmed by maestro Valerio Galli brilliantly conducting the festival’s equally superb orchestra.

The team of stage directors Luigi Di Gangi and Ugo Giacomazzi keep the action going at warp speed and never running out of inventive ideas.

The whole thing is an insanely comic romp featuring a quartet of gifted comedians endowed with major vocal chops. Soprano Francesca Benitez is a bundle of Latin charm, equipped as well with a terrific upper range, sexy looks, and comic timing.

Mezzo-soprano Marina Ogii is fully committed to the inspired silliness of the production, singing beautifully and looking like a pretty bird in an over-the-top ruffled costume – one of four created by the immensely gifted Agnese Rabatti.

The set, by the way, is a celebration of bourgeois bad-taste tastefully created by the designer Federica Parolini.

The men are both good singing clowns. As Florestan (!) tenor Matteo Mezzaro turns out a vocally and physically athletic performance. Last to join the action as the stupid cuckolded husband-at-the-door is baritone Patrizio La Placa, yet another first rate singing actor in a cast of equals.

I have two requests, one of which I usually append to my reviews of operas on CD and DVD: please include a libretto!

The other request..? More Offenbach, please, if possible with this cast!

Rafael de Acha     http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

HAMLET LITE

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If one settles down to watch Ambroise Thomas’ lite version of the familiar story about the brooding melancholy Dane expecting a faithful adherence to the Shakespeare original the viewer is in for a major disappointment. I was.

Expect instead a light-weright take on the original, dressed in this erratic production in come as you are contemporary garb, a show plagued with many fussy directorial touches that bring no fresh insights into the telling of the story.

Some of the “big moments”, like the first appearance of the ghost of Hamlet’s father come off more chilly than chilling. The entrance of the tuxedo-clad members of the superb choral ensemble Les élements down the aisles of the theatre looks silly and robs the scene of its inherent power. And like that, many more moments… Hanky-panky in Ophélie’s bedroom between the Prince and the presumably virginal young woman interrupted by brother Laertes…

Are you serious?

The characters in the original, as sketchily sketched by Barbier and Carré fare from fair to middling, much of the their dramatic effectiveness squarely depending on the acting chops of the members of this largely French cast, at the top of which stands baritone Stéphane Degout, an intense singing actor and a valuable artist with the sort of voice they name Baryton Martin in his country and which we plainly call lyric baritone, meaning a male singer with a ringing, easy top voice that allows the artist to handle the high tessitura of the role with elegant ease.

On the debit side, this viewer found that the costuming given Degout does neither him, nor Claudius, nor the Ghost, nor Gertrude any favors. Video is implacable in the way it reveals budgetary shortcuts in fabrics and tailoring.

But I digress.

Coloratura soprano Sabine Devielhe is one of the finest interpreters of the role of Ophélie I have ever encountered. Pretty as a picture, formidable top notes, technically flawless, stunning Mad Scene. Is the MET listening?

Others in the cast vary. I found Sylvie Brunet- Grupposo a vocally effective Gertrude, but Laurent Alvaro as Claudius and Jerome Vernier as the Ghost both sonorously undernourished. Tenor Julien Behr cuts a handsome figure and sounds good as Laertes. Through no fault of theirs but Thomas’ doing the Marcellus, Horatio, and Polonius are relegated to second-tier walk-ons.

The Orchestre des Champs-Élysées, led by Louis Langrée plays beautifully and idiomatically. Now, Naxos, if we could just get that libretto included…

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotesa.com

Clean up, dress nice and play!

Before you get angry and start to sharpen the daggers you reserve for snarky music reviewers… take a deep breath and have a look. Pictures can paint a thousand words, and here you have a cross-section of orchestral  conductors and players of all ages and ethnicities, European, South American, American… When they go to work, most of these musicians take the time and trouble to clean up good.

A symphony concert is not an informal, come-as-you-are event. These days many conductors well into or well-past their middle-age and heavy in girth try to look hip and cool as they step up to the podium in loose-fitting black shirts worn outside their either baggy or way-too-slim for their age pants.

Most of them don’t have the build for that kind of outfit and, beyond that, they are up there on that stage for the duration of a two hour gig, with their backs to us, while we, the audience, have no alternative but to look at them waving their arms and wrinkling the badly-ironed shirt they came in wearing, as it rides way too high above their butts.

Come on guys, with your high-five or six-figure salaries (and up) you could certainly spring for a nice custom-made tux or, even better, tails! And if you perspire a lot, then bring an extra shirt to change into at intermission. That and ask the management to crank up the air conditioning.

In many cases the orchestra’s male personnel looks no better, dressed in various shades of black, no jackets, no ties, rubber-soled, unpolished shoes. The ladies 99% of the time look great, by the way. The truth is that most male musicians are visually-oriented beings for whom how one looks is nowhere as important as how one sounds.

But, for most of us out there who shelled out a few hard-earned dollars for tickets and/or parking to come to see as well as hear your concert, it would be good to have something nice to look at during your hour-long Mahler symphony.


Here are some nice outfits you can pick up on sale on Amazon.com… You’ll look good and even sound better.

 

Rafael de Acha     http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com