Sheer musical intricacy and inspired lunacy in Glyndebourne La Finta Giardiniera

NAXOS has just released a DVD of a charming 2014 Glyndebourne production of Mozart’s 1775 treasure LA FINTA GIARDINIERA.

With a good looking international ensemble made up of European Mozartians, beautifully led by Diego Fasolis at the helm of the Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, playing on period instruments, and performed on the stage of the Milan Opera House where the show was revived in 2018, the results are very nice indeed.

Predating in 1775 the DaPonte comic collaborations of Mozart’s mid-career, LA FINTA GIARDINIERA anticipates in its many enchantingly complex ensembles and singer-friendly arias the greatness of things to come over the next sixteen years of Mozart’s all too-brief life.

The roles in LA FINTA GIARDINIERA are not particularly challenging, demanding simply a good command of the Mozart style and a proper penchant for the Italian language, fleshed out in the libretto attributed to a certain Giuseppe Petrosellini.

In the cast of seven principals everyone gets his or her moment, with a couple arias each. The story is vintage 18th century comedy, with a subtle frisson between the upper and the serving classes, which stage director Frederic Wake-Walker elegantly pinpoints without driving things too bluntly. In fact, his deft staging never goes too far in making things obvious: the upstairs-downstairs divisiveness and the rampant randy goings on are already vividly present in the story and in Mozart’s ever seductive music.

Gems abound: the opening quintet Che lieto giorno is pure musical sunshine, Sandrina’s Geme la tortorella is a plaintive cantilena to melt the heart, and the finales of Act I and Act II foretell the genius creations of the Mozart of Nozze di Figaro in many minutes each of sheer musical intricacy and inspired lunacy.

The buffo bass-baritone role of Nardo has the DNA of the Figaro, Leporello and Guglielmo of years to come, with the aria Con un vezzo all’Italiana among the many moments of sheer musical gold sung to perfection by the superlative Mattia Olivieri.

Each and every one of the seven principals shine in their roles: the silvery-voiced soprano Julie Martin du Theil as Sandrina, the bright-voiced Annett Fritsch as Arminda, the pert soubrette Giulia Semenzato as an ideal Serpetta, and the fine lyric mezzo-soprano Lucia Cirillo in the pants role of Ramiro all four make up the female contingent. The excellent Croatian tenor Kresimir Spicer as Don Anchise, and, in the role of Belfiore the superb lyric tenor Bernard Richter complete the cast.

Antony McDonald designed the elegantly appointed set and the stylish costumes, beautifully lit by Lucy Carter, with Daniela Vismara directing the excellently realized film version.

Rafael de Acha         ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Four Couperin Royal Concerts

Stephen Schultz (Baroque flute), Jory Vinikour (harpsichord), Alexa Haynes-Pilon (viola da gamba), and Mindy Rosenfeld (Baroque flute) are featured in period perfect performances of François Couperin’s four Concerts Royaux.

The lovely Music Arts album (MA-1302) to be released in August includes four concerti which stand among the great compositions of the French master who lived and worked at the height of the golden era of French music during the reign of Louis XIV.

The Premier Concert in G Major, the Second Concert in D Major, the Troisième Concert in A Major and the Quatrième Concert in E Minor are structured in multiple movements that include all sort of dance forms: Allemandes, Courantes, Sarabandes, Rigaudons, Forlanes and a myriad other French Baroque gems. They are given peerless performances by Schultz, Vinikour, Haynes-Pilon and Rosenfeld that emphasize elegance, lightness, and flawless technique.

The album is impeccably produced and engineered at Skywalker Sound by Jack Vad.


A lovely album about music and words

Ever unpredictable, the enterprising label Bright Shiny Things will soon be releasing INK [BSTC-0148], an impressively conceived debut album from the boundary-breaking Merz Trio.

What an interesting concept it is to juxtapose readings of French poetry from the intensely creative intra-war period of 1914 onwards with French music of that time.

Here three extrodinary artists: pianist Lee Dionne, violinist Brigid Coleridge, and cellist Julia Yang share the poetic and journal works of Jean Cocteau, Charles Péguy, Anna de Noailles, Léon-Paul Fargue, Alain-Fournier, Blaise Cendrars, and Guillaume Apollinaire eloquently read by them back to back with movements from Maurice Ravel’s 1914 trio for piano, cello and violin, Lili Boulanger’s D’un vieux jardin, Nadia Boulanger’s Heures terns, Claude Debussy’s La plus que lente, Mélanie Bonis’ Morning, and Zortziko/Fandango, an original composition by the trio’s pianist Lee Dionne.

Not shying away from the world of pop/cabaret music the album includes Sous les ponts de Paris, as an homage to the American chanteuse Josephine Baker, who unbeknownst to many, worked underground in the French resistance during the German occupation of Paris.

Throughout the multiple tracks the trio’s playing is impeccably elegant, earmarked by unmannered musicianship and sui generis stylistic versatility. This listener heartily agrees with the insights put into words in the album’s liner notes:  “INK… is an album about music and words sharing their dark, untidy medium, spilling onto the page as notes and letters, and spoken into the world by voices and instruments… It is about how we put our ear to a distant time and what we might hear there, as well as how we bring these voices into the present…”


An excellent new recording of I Puritani

On August 20, 2021, Delos will release a 3-CD recording (DE 3537) of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera I Puritani.

Not since the 1953 studio recordings of Bellini’s Bel Canto tour de force with deluxe casts: the vintage Cetra with Callas, Di Stefano, Panerai, and Rossi-Lemeni, and the various 1960’s releases with Dame Joan Sutherland leading various casts has there been such a cohesively stylish group of soloists as the one assembled by DELOS for this effort.

With veteran Opera specialist Constantine Orbelian, the newly appointed music director of the New York City Opera, helming Lithuania’s Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra and State Choir the results are nothing short of excellent.

Two Americans: soprano Sarah Coburn as Elvira and tenor Lawrence Brownlee as Arturo are joined by Kazakhstani baritone Azamat Zheltyrguzov as Riccardo, and Lithuanian bass Tadas Girininkas as Sir Giorgio Walton, heading an international cast that includes Liudas Norvaišas, Jovita Vaškevičiūtė and Tomas Pavilionis.

Bellini gifted his four leads with some show-stopping music, none showier than the challenging arias that must be negotiated by the soloists: A te o cara and Credeasi misera (with a high F above high C, no less) both conceived for Rubini, the Italian tenor who, joined by Grisi, Tamburini and Lablache was part of the famed Puritani Quartet.

The soprano who undertakes the role of Elvira must be comfortable singing highly embellished music – Son vergine vezzosa and long-lined cantabile scenes – Qui la voce, and then match the tenor in Vieni fra queste braccia.

The baritone who sings the part of Riccardo has to have suppleness and lyricism for A per sempre and power for the Suoni la tromba duet with the bass, who himself must be able to spin out seamless legato in Cinta di fiori.

The good news is that the silvery voiced Sarah Coburn, the superb Lawrence Brownlee, the very fine lyric baritone Azamat Zheltyrguzov, and the impressive basso cantante  Tadas Girininkas meet the demands of their assignments with elegant vocalism, turning what can often be a competition for the spotlight into an ensemble effort in which the sum of the parts equals great results.

The recording is superbly engineered and nobly produced, something one has come to expect from this enterprising label.

Rafael de Acha        ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

The spirit of Finland in Sibelius music

When asked by his publisher to explain the source of inspiration for his tone poem Tapiola, Sibelius responded thus: Wide-spread they stand, the Northland’s dusky forests/ Ancient, mysterious, brooding savage dreams/ Within them dwells the Forest’s mighty God / And wood-sprites in the gloom weave magic secrets.

The northern spirit of Finland so expressively depicted in the music of that nation’s greatest composer is evident in this symphonic work commissioned and premiered by Walter Damrosch in 1926 with the New York Symphonic Society. So it is with the other works included in this superbly varied CHANDOS (CHSA 5217) release.

Luonnotar is a tone-poem for soprano and orchestra. The 1913 work was dedicated to the Finnish soprano Aino Ackté – Richard Strauss’s “one and only Salomé” – who premiered it in its original form before Sibelius arranged it for voice and piano.

Based on Finnish mythology, the words come from the Kalevala, and they celebrate the Spirit of Nature and Mother of the Seas. Sibelius’ first language was Swedish and most of his earlier settings had been to Swedish texts, except Luonnotar, which is entirely in Finnish.

Rakastava (The Lover) is an orchestral suite inspired by a collection of Finnish folk poetry – a literary cousin to the Kalevala. Vårsång (Spring Song) is a single-movement tone poem written in 1894. In both these early career works Sibelius evidences complete mastery of orchestration and an unpredictable gift for harmonic and melodic inventiveness.

Sibelius created Debussy-influenced incidental music for Maurice Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande in 1905. It was first performed in 1905, three years after the Paris premiere of the opera of the same title and conducted by the composer. The eight brief excerpts included in this CD reveal a lyrical strain not often heard in the often muscular music of Sibelius.

Throughout the CD Edward Gardner magisterially leads the Bergen Philharmonic drawing all kinds of nuance from Sibelius’ familiar Tapiola and from the less familiar and most impressive Rakastava, Luonnotar, Vårsång and Pelléas och Mélisande.

Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen is luminous in her singing of the challenging Luonnotar and in the brief Song of the Three Blind Women from Pelléas och Mélisande.



The superb players of the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra led by Marek Janowski shine in a new recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio (PENTATONE PTC5186880)

Janowski proves himself once more the ideal conductor of German opera, opening with a movingly eloquent reading of Beethoven’s Leonore Overture, and then drawing out a performance from his cast, chorus and orchestra rich in colors and attentive to textual details.

The cast features the plush voiced Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen as Leonore, who sings Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin? with unflappable aplomb, balancing lyricism and dramatic heft.

The resonant Christian Elsner as Florestan, the object of Lonore’s heroic search, rides with rock solid assurance the implacably difficult tessitura of his assignments in act II leading up to the reunion duet with his wife.

The other roles are filled to perfection by basses Georg Zeppenfeld, an impressive Rocco and Günther Groissböck, a noble Don Fernando.

Baritone Johannes Martin Kränzle is a menacing and well sung Don Pizzarro. The supple voiced Soprano Christina Landshamer as Marzelline and the ringing tenor Cornel Frey as Jaquino round out the cast.

Fidelio is the iconic rescue opera, celebrating love and courage in a fight against tyranny and injustice. PENTATONE’s release of Beethoven’s masterpiece was recorded in two studio sessions, with two superb choirs: the Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden, and the MDR Leipzig Radio Choir. Both shine in the two great choral moments of this opera: the finale and the prisoner’s chorus.

The engineering and all the production details of this recording are uniformly excellent.

Rafael de Acha       ALL ABOUT THE ARTS



CARMEN – Music by Georges Bizet   JULY 17, 22, 26 & 30, 2021 at 8:30 P.M.
Sung in French with projected English translation
Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission  

In the cast: J’Nai Bridges, Janai Brugger, Stephen Costello, Christian Pursell

Conductor Ramón Tebar      Stage Director Omer Ben Seadia

TOSCA – Music by Giacomo Puccini JULY 23, 27 & 31, 2021 | 8:30 P.M.
Sung in Italian with projected English translation
Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission

In the cast: Ana Maria Martinez, Russell Thomas, Quinn Kelsey   

Conductor  Xian Zhang     Stage Director Jose Maria Condemi

THE BARBER OF SEVILLE – Music by Gioachino RossinI JULY 24 & 29, 2021 | 8:30 P.M.
Sung in Italian with projected English translation
Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission

In the cast: Rihab Chaieb, Aaron Blake, Chris Kenney, Reginald Smith Jr., Burak Bilgili,

Conductor  Renato Balsadonna    Stage Director Joshua R. Horowitz

All tickets will be sold individually in seating pods. Each of our 10-by-10-foot pods seats between one and six guests. You will not be asked to share your pod with anyone outside of your party, and pods are separated by six feet on all sides from the nearest pod. Tickets are priced at $15, $25, or $50 each. The $50 tickets include chairs.  

(513) 241-2742
Monday-Friday, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

Music for violin and piano from Brazil

Turbulent emotions are given restless, anguished music from a composer in search of a voice all his own in the one-movement Sonata No.1 for violin and piano Desesperança – Sonata Fantastica e Capricciosa no. 1 composed by the 28-year old Heitor Villa-Lobos in 1915.

Two more sonatas followed, both in a classically-structured, three-movement format, both longer in duration than the Sonata No.1.

The Sonata No. 2, named “Fantasia” by its composer boasts plenty of melodic ideas in a first movement Allegro that is followed by a stately Largo and capped by a lively Rondo.

The violin part soars, dips and ascends in musical flights of fancy throughout all three movements in a Neo-Romantic idiom that owes more in its freely tonal construct to what was being composed in Paris during the first two decades of the twentieth century than to what Latin American composers may have sought to imitate. That said, the sound one hears is authentically that of a composer sure of what his musical identity to be, perhaps not yet intrinsically Brazilian, but definitely no longer pseudo-European.

Even though Villa-Lobos did not get to hear his 1917 tone poem Amazonas performed until 1929 and his extraordinary Uirapuru from the same year until quite a bit later, his musical identity was solidly in place as he set out to write his Third Sonata for Violin and Piano, a vibrant work in which an opening Adagio vaguely atonal at times is followed by a straight ahead Allegro and an even quicker Finale – all three movements owing something to Debussy’s late career works.

The pairing of Paolo Rossi’s technically unimpeachable, solidly supportive pianistic gifts, to Emmanuele Baldini’s boldly Romantic approach to this music makes for a felicitous result in this remarkable Naxos CD that features two formidable Brazilian artists at the top of their game in music by their great compatriot Heitor Villa-Lobos.

Rafael de Acha      ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Duo Praxedis makes musical magic with Piazzolla’s New Tangos

Praxedis Hug-Rütti, harp and Praxedis Geneviève Hug, piano are the Praxedis Duo, and in their double CD PIAZZOLLA (ARS38592) for ARS PRODUKTION they bring to vivid life seventeen pieces by Astor Piazzolla that range from the large scale Le Grand Tango to the multi-faceted Tangata which seems to salute Debussy from the shores of the River Plate before kicking up its heels.

A casual look at what recorded music by Piazzolla is available and who plays it will reveal that cellists, pianists, violinists, chamber orchestras and, of course, Piazzolla himself on the Bandoneón have embraced this vibrantly varied music from the southernmost country in the Americas. But a duo made up of harp and piano playing Piazzolla’s angular, muscular New Tango? Not that I can recall… So it is with complete delight that I report that the results of this initiative are wonderful.

Hug-Rütti’s plays with consummate technique, summoning from what is, essentially a lyrical, melodic instrument all the necessary colors, dynamics and rhythmic drive of a one-person orchestra. Geneviève Hug has full command of her instrument, providing percussiveness when needed, melody when essential, contrapuntal tension and release at times, and harmonic underpinning throughout. Together the two accomplished artists create musical magic in this indispensable album.

Praxedis Hug-Rütti, harp Praxedis Geneviève Hug, piano play Astor Piazzolla’s Revirado… Introducción al Ángel… Muerte del Ángel… Milonga del Ángel…Violentango Undertango…Michelangelo…Tangata…Decarísimo…Adios Nonino…Suite Porteña de Balle…Libertango…Buenos Aires Hora Cero…Verano Porteño…Fuga y misterio…Oblivion…


Two violinists and one pianist

Violinist Ilya Gringolts embraces contemporary music side by side with the standard concert repertoire. He has also cultivated the study of historical performance practice, focusing on this instance on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. In this impeccably programmed BIS album, titled Ciaccona [BIS-2525 SACE] Bach’s Chaconne keeps company with similar works in the contemporary idioms of European composers Roberto Gerhard and Brice Pauset, including a diminutive Ciacconina composed by Heinz Holliger for Isabelle Faust.

French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard has recorded for PENTATONE before. This time he returns with a rendering of Beethoven’s monumentally challenging Hammerklavier Sonata. On the same CD, Aimard delivers a take on the Eroica Variations, a pianistic minefield in which Beethoven revisited the key melody from the finale of his Third Symphony, one which he also recaptured for his ballet The Creatures of Prometheus.  

NAXOS will soon release the latest installment in its Music of Brazil series: Heitor Villa-Lobos Complete Violin Sonatas. Featuring violinist Emmanuele Baldini and pianist Pablo Rossi, each sonata shares some influence from 20th century French music. While all three are early works, the first’s title, Désespérance (“Despair”) with its Brazilian saudade, the intensity of the second, and the complexity of the third foretell Villa-Lobos’ growth as a composer for the very instrument that he himself played and loved. The two Brazilian artists in this recording should excel in their understanding of the music of their country’s greatest composer.