I get the BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE every month. It always comes with a CD that’s part of the subscription that I have had for a few years. The CD’s have augmented the collection on my shelves to the point that I have had to make presents of boxes of CD’s to many musician friends. I hope they are as happy with my gifts as I have been listening to them.

This month I got volume 27, number 9 of the BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE COLLECTION. It features the Atos Trio in two trios: Clara Schumann’s Piano Trio in G minor, opus 17 and Fanny Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor, op.11 interspersed by Robert Schumann’s Fantasie in C, Op. 17.

The playing is lovely, elegant, sensitive to a fault, and technically flawless. But what made me sit up and listen were the contents of this disc: two works by women composers! Is this a complete rarity? Not really, but nevertheless in this case a welcome and respectful nod to two women composers that I would not hesitate to call sadly neglected.

I cannot recall in recent years of concert-going when the last time was that a work by either Clara Schumann or Fanny Mendelssohn was heard here in our musically-rich Cincinnati.

How about Pauline Viardot…Nadia Boulanger…Germaine Taillefere…Teresa Carreño…Agathe Backer Grøndahl…Ruth Crawford Seeger…Florence Price…Amy Beach…? Those are names to begin with. Contemporary women composers is yet another dry oasis left abandoned and unexplored these days by many a concert series, quite a few symphony orchestras, and even college recital programs – both those of faculty and students.

This is not a blanket indictment from my soapbox but a call to action to our fellow musicians. Go outside the all-male box and dig out the music of some of these wonderful composers!

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




evans mirageas
Evans Mirageas

Evans Mirageas casts the best of the best. He must have a sizeable Rolodex, lots of sky miles, and many professional contacts all over the world. Witness what happens in the upcoming Cincinnati Opera production of Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos with dramatic tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven in the killer role of Bacchus, mezzo-soprano Olivia Vote, singing the pants off the pants role of the Composer, coloratura soprano Liv Redpath dispensing high E’s and F’s by the dozen, and the Mexican baritone Luis Alejandro Orozco summersaulting his way as Harlequin. These are all four red-hot talents, they  are young, good looking, and they are making their mark as singers-to- watch.

Getting ready for the opening of the Cincinnati Opera’s 99th season, which kicks off next week with Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, I am looking at the names of the singers starring in Mozart’s masterpiece and of those featured in the upcoming Romeo et Juliette, and in The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess just around the corner… Again I am again reminded of what an uncanny knack Evans Mirageas has for discovering new talent, and for tapping into wonderful veteran artists.

The Cincinnati Opera’s Artistic Director has pleased quite a few other opera fans of my acquaintance again and again by bringing back to Cincinnati seasoned artists the likes of fast rising bass Morris Robinson and the silvery voiced soprano Nicole Cabell, nurturing them into Cincinnati favorites. That process takes time – just ask Robinson, who began singing here a few years ago as the Watchman keeping time for Wagner’s sleeping Meistersingers. This year the booming basso stars in the title male role in Porgy and Bess.

In the recent past we have celebrated rising young talents like the wonderful lyric baritone Joseph Lattanzi, one of the leads in last year’s Fellow Travelers and now starring as Count Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro. In 2015, Andrea Mastroni, a young Italian bass impressed everyone within earshot in his both Cincinnati and American debut in the key role of Timur in Puccini’s Turandot. Within a year Mastroni was checking off in his calendar debuts at the MET and all over the map of Europe…

Cincinnati beats everyone to the punch time and again, as when it gave soprano Aileen Perez the starring role of Violetta in La Traviata before her warp-speed rise to international stardom at the MET and in Europe.

Evans Mirageas is also loyal to veteran artists who reside in Cincinnati. Witness his casting of the versatile bass-baritone Kenneth Shaw, a professor of voice at CCM, a busy singer, and a creative stage director, in the important part of Friar Laurence in Romeo et Juliette. Also note if you will the appearance of the multi-faceted bass-baritone Tom Hammons in the speaking role of the Majordomo in Ariadne auf Naxos. That’s a casting coup!

This mix of generations enriches the artistic product that is a hallmark of the Cincinnati Opera, something that Evans Mirageas does season after season by casting his artistic nets far and wide for his and our beloved Cincinnati Opera.

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


Producer: Dan Merceruio                  Engineer: Daniel Shores
The Jasper String Quartet: J. Freivogel, violin    Sae Chonabayashi, violin                                     Sam Quintal, viola    Rachel Henderson Freivogel, cello

Aaron Jay Kernis – String Quartet #3 (“River”) (2015)
1. Source
2. Flow/Surge
3. Mirrored Surface – Flux – Reflections
4. Cavatina
5. Mouth/Estuary

“This new quartet looks at change, flow and flux of musical materials and information rather than the constancy of harmony, rhythmic and formal structures that my earlier quartets embrace.” Aaron Jay Kernis

Claude Debussy – String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10 (1893)
1. Animé et très décidé
2. Assez vif et bien rythmé
3. Andantino, doucement expressif
4. Très modéré – En animant peu à peu – Très mouvementé et avec passion

Any sounds in any combination and in any succession are henceforth free to be used in a musical continuity.” – Claude Debussy

Written one hundred and twenty-two years apart, Aaron Jay Kernis’ “The River” (String Quartet #3 ) and Claude Debussy’s G Minor quartet – his only one – bear similarities of intent.

Debussy at age 31 was determined to break free from the fetters imposed on him by critics and Academia, and then win the interest a new audience for a new kind of music: sensual, free-flowing, unstructured, passionate, shunning preconceptions, and subject only to the creative impulses of the composer. He succeeded albeit not without a share of critical slights and the indifference of an older audience weaned on Gounod, Massenet and Saint-Saëns.

Like Debussy, Aaron Jay Kernis is also an iconoclast who, oblivious to expectations and shunning labels, writes music sui generis, with no seeming preconceived structure but with a visceral response to literary influences that have made an emotional and intellectual impact on him. This is music that much like the river of its title flows  unceasingly, but with varying currents, now restless, now peaceful to a tranquil musical estuary at the end of the duration of the work.

Kernis has written a challenging work that gives J. Freivogel, violin, Sae Chonabayashi, violin, Sam Quintal, viola, and Rachel Henderson Freivogel, cello, collectively known as the Jasper Quartet, a musical and technical workout.

The heavy lifting does not easy up with Debussy’s 18-minute composition but continues right up to its final movement with all four players extracting every bit of emotion in music marked by its composer to be played  “increasingly faster and with passion.”

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

Anne Sofie von Otter’s simple songs


Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano – A Simple Song (BIS-2327 SACD)
With Bengt Forsberg, organ
Songs by:
Leonard Bernstein – A Simple Song
Aaron Copland – I’ve heard an organ talk sometimes
Arvo Pärt – My heart’s in the Highlands
Richard Rodgers – Climb ev’ry mountain
Richard Strauss – Traum durch die Daemmerung (and) Morgen
Charles E. Ives – Serenity
Maurice Duruflé – Pie Jesu
Franz Liszt – Ave Maria
Gustav Mahler – Es sungen drei Engel (and) Urlicht
Frank Martin – Agnus Dei
Olivier Messiaen – Three songs
Francis Poulenc – Priez pour paix
Produced and engineered by Marion Schwebel

This past November BIS released this charming CD of songs by diverse composers, unified by texts which deal with spirituality and faith, and which has as its main attraction the remarkably fresh-voiced mezzo-soprano, Anne Sofie von Otter.

The Swedish singer, now nearing age 64 can still spin out a seamless legato in Strauss’ iconic Morgen and float high pianissimi as beautifully as she did at the height of her operatic career as one of the great Octavians of our time.

Bengt Forsber is one of Europe’s great organists and he accompanies the singer with utter attentiveness and delicacy.

The packaging includes song translations and nice program notes.

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

80-minutes of sheer fun


“Leave it to DIVINE ART to bring much deserved attention to artists the likes of Anthony Goldstone (1944-2017), the late English pianist who during his life made it both his business and a labor of love to explore the rarely visited and undiscovered outer limits of the pianistic repertory.”

I wrote that some time ago when I heard the divine art release of Goldstone’s Unheard Mozart. I am now listening to The Piano at the Ballet, volume II of The French Collection, which divine art is releasing and dedicating to the memory of their friend “Tony” Goldstone. It provides 80-minutes of sheer fun, while the scholarly though eminently accessible notes by Jeremy Nicolas, and Stephen Sutton’s mastering and design of the CD enhance the listening experience.

The choice of music, as was always the hallmark with Goldstone is vast and informed throughout by a stylish and always tasteful approach to music that is inherently light-hearted, joyful, tongue-in-cheek, but never trivial.

Starting with excerpts from Francis Poulenc’s 1923 ballet Les Biches this listener was transported to the Paris of the 1920’s, where the names of Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Coco Channel, and Sergei Diaghilev, among so many, were familiar to a savvy audience already accustomed to the new sights and sounds of Debussy and Stravinsky, the Impressionists, and the literary forays of Gertrude Stein and her coterie of American expatriate writers.

The music of Henri Sauguet, Henri Françaix, Maurice Thiriet, and Boris Asafiev was not familiar to this listener prior to hearing it on this CD for the first time. Unpretentious, often satirical, unabashedly romantic in its post-Romantic melodic and harmonic languages, the writing of all four of these composers is perfectly suited to the madcap subject matters of their ballets.

Claude Debussy’s early work Printemps is included in this CD. Composed in 1887, the music was submitted to the consideration of the august Académie des Beaux Arts, which pegged on to it the sobriquet of Impressionism, so detested by the composer, who later in need of cash had it played in a vaudeville show in London in the company of jugglers and acrobats, as if to expose the critics’ overreaching pretentiousness.

Debussy’s substantial composition affords Goldstone the opportunity to show his mettle as a solid technician, as do tracks 26 through 28 of the CD, featuring excerpts from Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, which bring the splendid collection of ballet music in the divine art volume two of The French Connection’s  The Piano at the Ballet to a lovely ending.

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

Seven composers on a Near East journey

CP-Quintet-1200x628Divine Art Records’ Metier label is soon releasing an album of instrumental music inspired by the near East titled Jaipur to Cairo (msv28589)

Kevin Bishop: Jaunpuri
Reza Vali: Three Love Songs
Kevin Bishop: Afghan Suite No. 2
Reza Vali: Calligraphies
Sadie Harrison: The Oldest Song in the World
Gilad Cohen: Ten Variations
Mohamed Aly Farag: Rhapsody for piano and strings

The music in the Metier album is performed by five artist-members of the group Cuatro Puntos. The compositions in each of the album’s thirteen tracks comes from a personal creative interaction between Cuatro Puntos’ musicians and composers and  sounds from India, Egypt, Afghanistan, Syria, Armenia and Persia (Iran).

Kevin Bishop, Sadie Harrison, Gilad Cohen, and Mohamed Aly Farag, and Reza Vali are the various composers, and Aaron Packard, violin; Annie Trepanier, violin; Steve Larson, viola; Allan Ballinger, cello; Andrew O’Connor, bass; Charles Huang, oboe, and pianist Mohamed Shams play intermittently throughout the album comfortably embracing a musical language typical of each composer, eliciting all the while fascinating sounds from their  instruments

The oldest known written piece of music, found in Syria and dated to 1400 BCE,  is arranged by Sadie Harrison for two violas with felicitous results, as a perfect  example of respectful reinterpretation that avoids academic reverence.

The playing  throughout is honest to a fault, technically assured, even dazzling at times and it is all done with western instruments played by musicians so sophisticated that one would think they were natives of India, Egypt, Afghanistan, Ancient Syria, Armenia and Iran, trained in music far different from most European trends.

The engineering of Justin Kurtz is flawless, and the accompanying booklet thoroughly informative, delivering another excellent Metier release, a production of Kevin Bishop.

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



Next season’s Matinee Musicale Cincinnati artists include trumpet virtuosa Ashley Hall, pianist Albert Cano Smit, the Dover Quartet, soprano Nicole Cabell, violinist Christina Nam, and tenor Pene Pati.

We just got back from the Awards Luncheon of Matinee Musicale Cincinnati, a musical organization which has been making miracles happen by presenting, for the past ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE YEARS, an annual series of concerts.

Along with introducing to Cincinnati the likes of singers Beverly Sills, Sherrill Milnes, Marian Anderson, Nadine Sierra, and Jamie Barton, as well as instrumentalists Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Arthur Rubinstein and Van Cliburn in the early stages of their careers, the good people at Matinee Musicale Cincinnati have been giving thousands of dollars year after year from the endowment Louise Dieterle Nippert left to Matinee Musicale Cincinnati to aid young and promising pianists, cellists, violinists, oboists, trumpet players and other instrumentalists and to singers of every voice type.

In today’s line up of first and second prize winners we heard a remarkably gifted group of hopefuls and, among them, some who made one sit up and listen. Via video we heard soprano Elena Villalon who has been accumulating honors of recent, including being chosen as one of the national finalists for the MET Opera auditions.

Violinist Gabby Sewell, a young girl barely out of her teens, elicited the biggest ovation of the morning with a formidable performance of Pablo de Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, a technical hurdle-course that would give pause to many a violinist twice her age. In the fall she enters CCM as a freshman on a violin performance program with professor Kurt Sassmannshaus. We’ll be watching.

All the youngsters in attendance went home with a nice check and a full tummy after lunch with the audience. We went home contented to know that there are many good hearted music lovers in Cincinnati who are not merely satisfied with the enjoyment of music but that through volunteer work, a modest annual membership and the purchase of an unreasonably low-priced subscription ticket are making a difference with the future of music.

For further information on Matinee Musicale Cincinnati call 859 781 0801 OR 513 231 0964 and/or go to http://www.MatineeMusicaleCincinnati.org

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


untitled.pngOut of the blue I found in my mailbox a lovely surprise, sent by Music & Arts Programs of America, Inc.

The unexpected gift came courtesy of The Boston Camerata, whose leader, Anne Azéma has for over ten years led this one-of-a-kind ensemble as its artistic director, all the while exploring, unearthing, and deciphering ancient printed and handwritten music, transforming it into modern music notation, and bringing it to life in authentic performances of compositions from the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque eras.

I waited until late in the evening when everything at home was quiet to listen to the two dozen miniatures that comprise Treasures of Devotion, an intriguing CD of Renaissance music.

Some as brief as 53 second in length, the substance of nearly each and every one of these some monodic, some polyphonic pieces resides in the perfect marriage of text to melody one finds in many of them and in the uncomplicated way in which the composers set forth their musical ideas.

The names of the composers featured in Treasures of Devotion range from the somewhat familiar to the obscure, though none deserving of being relegated to footnotes in a music history book. The significant Heinrich Isaac, the indispensable Alexander Agricola, the extraordinary Josquin Desprez, and the lesser known but important Jacob Clemens non Papa share the recording’s 25 tracks with the names and music of composers whom this listener encountered for the first time.

In her insightful liner notes, Anne Azéma the group’s Artistic Director sheds light on the choice of music by taking the year 1500 as its point of departure. With France and Flanders leading the musical charge and Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral as its artistic fulcrum, and Europe on the verge of a veritable explosion in the arts, composer-performers craftily began to explore the secular in music after enduring centuries of restrictions from the hierarchy of the Church as to what could and could not be written and played.

Thus we get the plaintive De tous bien pleine est ma maitresse and the lovely Tant que vivray, both popular ballads that do double duty as either vocal or instrumental, fervently devotional or ardently lovesick, all simply depending on the occasion.

These are little compositions that easily passed from composer to composer in the days when the concept of author’s rights was nonexistent. The four-part Chantons Noël is another example of multiple-use music to be enjoyed as a simple carol, unfettered by the strictures of the Church. The music in this CD exits out the front gates of the church and quietly enters the privacy of the home.

The performers: Michael Barrett, Daniel Hershey, Joel Frederiksen, Andrew Arceci, Shira Kammen, Carol Lewis, Fabio Accurso, and Anne Azéma are nothing short of extraordinary. The vocalists turn on a dime and play the lute. The instrumentalists play the lute, the harp, the vieille, and the viola da gamba. Everybody in the ensemble manages to sing and or play with no trace of vibrato or portamento, the approach being direct, honest, true to historical practice, and perfectly suited to the music.

The Boston Camerata is a formidable player in the ever growing Early Music scene and we look forward to more treasures from them.

The recording was made in the Abbey Church Saint Pierre et Saint Paul in Ferrières-en-Gâtinais and it is engineered to perfection by David Griesinger and very elegantly packaged.

Treasures of Devotion (CD-1296) is available from http://www.musicandarts.com

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