A perfect Rossini and a perfect cast.

InReviewPesaroRicciardohdl1018.jpgDuring his rather short career Rossini wrote over three dozen-plus operas, many of which have fallen into unjust neglect, among them RICCIARDO E ZORAIDE.

Now in a new release of this Rossinian rarity by Cmajor, the double DVD features a terrific cast led by Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez and South African soprano Pretty Yende in the title roles.

Originally sung by the legendary Andrea Nozzari in the quasi villainous role of Agorante, and Isabella Colbran as Zoraide, and with both leading a cast of Rossini regulars that included the contralto Benedetta Pisaroni and the tenor Giovanni Davide (respectively the first Malcolm and the first King James in La donna del Lago), the 1818 opera calls for a cast of prime voices capable of dispatching daredevil fioriture and easily encompass wide ranges in all the vocal categories.

The 2018 live Pesaro Festival recording measures up to the highest of standards, boasting a superb line up of Rossini specialists. In the important roles surrounding the two leads, tenor Sergey Romanovsky (Agorante) and mezzo-soprano Victoria Yarovaya (Zomira) are both spectacular: Romanovsky a full-voiced lyric-spinto with impeccable agility and killer high notes, and Yarovaya, a stunning Rossini mezzo with a three octave range and suppleness to spare. Kudos also go to the fast-rising Basque leggiero tenor Xabier Anduaga in the role of Ernesto, and the impressive bass-baritone Nicola Ulivieri as Ircano

Rossini was not lucky in his choice of librettists, and this one by Francesco Berio di Salsa is vintage early Romantic operatic nonsense. In spite of the libretto’s inexplicabilities stage director Marshall Pynkoski creates a plausible dramatic reality mercifully sparing the viewer any conceptual indulgences. Jointly aided by set designer Gerard Gauci, costume designer Michael Gianfrancesco, lighting designer Michelle Ramsay, and choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, Pynkoski crafts a visually delightful production. The entrance of Ricciardo on a boat pulled over a sea of waving silk by male dancers in sailor out fits is sheer whimsical fun and one of many such moments.

In the tile roles Juan Diego Florez and Pretty Yende are flawless. Florez, now a good twenty plus years into a spectacular career, is in rare form, no longer a tenore di grazia but a bel canto heroic roles specialist, portending future forays into the roles of Arnold in Guilhaume Tell and Raoul in Les Huguenots.

Pretty Yende (begging forgiveness for the overused pun) is pretty as a picture, poised as a prima donna, dramatically believable, and superb vocally, with an instrument ideally suited to the big-voiced Rossini roles like this one, Armida and Semiramide.

Rossini is the hero at the center of this wonderful discovery, creating memorable music for some unusual combinations of voices, as in the “confusa, smarita” finale that combines three tenors, two sopranos and a mezzo in a formidable finish to Act One. Topping that, the testosterone filled dueling duet for Ricciardo and Agorante at the top of Act Two will set any opera stage on fire, if sung as brilliantly as it is here by Florez and Romanovsky.

The national symphony orchestra of the Italian Radio is led in this recording with assurance and a keen understanding of the Rossini style by the very fine young maestro Giacomo Sagripanti . The chorus of the Ventidio Basso Theatre is tops, the corps de ballet good looking and accomplished, the double DVD well recorded visually and aurally and simply packaged, only wanting more extensive background notes and a translation of the libretto.

But neither nothing nor nobody is exempt from double negatives, except the perfect Rossini and his perfectly spectacular cast.

Rafael de Acha

20th century music


This is a list of links to You Tube. Every week I will be posting a list of the selections we listened to in my course on 20th century music. Enjoy!

9/26/19 – THE END AND THE BEGINNING – Serialism, 12-tone music, Dissonance…

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) – Five Orchestral Pieces (1909)https://youtu.be/s-axba7wwfw – Vienna Philharmonic, Bernard Haiting, live: 1977

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) – Symphony no. 4 in D minor (1901)https://youtu.be/YnfhInZLmUQ – Magdalena Kožená, mezzo-soprano; Lucerne Festival Orchestra; Claudio Abbado, conductor, live: 2009

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) – Petrouchka (1913) – https://youtu.be/esD90diWZds Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Andris Nelsons, live: 2011

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) – Feste Romane (Roman Festivities) (1928) – https://youtu.be/9u1oT7QtQp4 / National Youth Symphony of Great Britain / Vassily Petrenko, live: 2013

20th century works also by the above composers:

Schoenberg – Transfigured Night

Mahler – Symphony No. 8 in E-flat major (Symphony of a Thousand)

Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring

Respighi – The Pines of Rome

Happy Listening!

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



In TRASATLANTIC a third CD release by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, with Louis Langrée conducting, the selections are wide ranging stylistically, but nautically sailing steadily towards the United States.

With Gershwin, whose two versions of An American in Paris occupy two of the tracks on this double CD, its Americanness still permeates the Paris setting of the composition. With Edgar Varése, his first shot at an American composition, its flavor is spiced with the European seasoning of an avant-garde French-born composer newly arrived in the New York of the early 1920’s. In both cases it is music about a world getting smaller.

And finally, in Stravinsky’s Symphony in C we hear the work of a brainy composer of pure music writing during a time in which he lost three members of his immediate family, suffered a near-fatal stroke, and barely managed to get out of Europe on the brink of WWII. Again here we are listening to European music commissioned by an American – music that remains a bridge between to worlds.

Two European émigrés, and musical rube-made-good barely out of Tin Pan Alley all three of which do not walk into a bar, but instead take a transatlantic journey vividly fleshed out by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in tip-top form with a maestro who knows his way in and out of a thousand styles.

The results promise to be richly rewarding in this Fanfare double CD (FC 016) if you come on board. I did and it was smooth sailing.

Rafael de Acha

**** Very   good indeed!


1565009402_PTC5186815OLD SOULS – Beethoven… Wolf…. Kreisler… – Gili Schwarzman, flute…Guy Braunstein, violin…Susanna Yoko Henkel, violin…Amilhai Grosz, viola… Alisa Weilerstein, cello – PENTATONE (PTC 5186 815) Recording Producer, Editing and Mastering, Justus Beyer

Husband Guy Braunstein and wife Gili Schwarzman have played recitals together as a duo and separately since they were married. They recently set out to explore ways of integrating the flute into the string quartet, serenade, sonata or quintet formats, thus making it a fifth member of the traditional two violins, viola, and cello structure for which so much good Romantic literature exists.

By inviting the flute that normally inhabits the world of the Baroque into the terra incognita of Beethoven, Hugo Wolf, Fritz Kreisler, and Antonin Dvořák, the pair and their colleagues Susanna Yoko Henkel, Amilhai Grosz, and Alisa Weilerstein collectively achieved a cohesive sound perfectly suited both to the severity of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 4 in A Minor, and the Italianate sound of Wolf’s Serenade on G Major, the Viennese Gemütlichkeit of Fritz Kreisler’s piéce d’occasion Syncopation, and the  American dance rhythms of Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 12.

In each of Braunstein’s arrangements Schwarzman takes the spotlight with a chameleonic capacity to change colors, from the silvery brightness of her Wolf to the darker hues of her Beethoven.

The five old souls in the quintet are nothing short of perfect as an ensemble in accuracy, musicality and flair, delivering felicitous results throughout the CD’s nine tracks and making its 52 minute playing time fleetly fly by.

Just listen: https://youtu.be/woz6kvEng9E

***** Excellent

Rafael de Acha



• PROGRAMS WITH NO TRANSLATIONS OR NOTES ABOUT THE MUSIC: On this subject we will not mention any culprits but instead salute the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for consistency and quality in this area.
• SLOPPY DRESS (ON AND OFF-STAGE): In the audience of opening nights in Cincinnati’s Music Hall and in just about any number of occasions all over town one can always spot middle-aged males (and older) in outfits better suited to running errands on the weekend than to evening concert going – inexcusable especially when the ladies they accompany look great. And, worse, some of our maestros, who should know better and try to look their age, instead lead their ensembles in trendy designer shirts worn outside the pants, while the rank and file of the players in the orchestra look uniformly snappy. What gives?
• THE KNEE-JERK STANDING OVATION: Often undeserved and thoughtlessly given, this kind of praise is better left for the fans in the ballpark when their team hits a home run. Applaud always either for the very good or for thank goodness it’s over. Rise for the national anthem and for the truly great.
• THE “IT’S OVER NOW, WHERE DID I PARK?” RUDE EXIT: This is an equal-opportunity ill-mannered behavior recently seen by us at the end of a concert on the part of oldsters, youngsters, and the merely clueless. And if you think it’s OK to leave the moment the music has ended you are oh so wrong. Your car will be still there if you just give five minutes of thanks to the artists on stage who have just played and or sung their hearts out.
• THE I DON’T CARE IF I’M LATE I WANT TO GET TO MY SEAT ARRIVAL: In a better universe latecomers should be politely asked to listen to and watch the performance via closed-circuit TV. Music Hall, are you listening?

Music in October in Cincinnati


October marks the official start of autumn and the continuation of the in-progress music season. Here’s an overview of music in Cincinnati in October, a few days before the end of September (which we already previewed on our http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com)

At CCM (Tickets: 513 556-4183)
October 3, 7:30 p.m. in Corbett Auditorium – Pride of Russia: Rimsky Korsakov – Russian Easter Overture; Shostakovich – Piano Concerto No. 2 (soloist Dror Biran); Prokofiev – Symphony No. 5 / CCM Philharmonia, Mark Gibson, conductor.
Chamber Music
October 22, 7:30 p.m. in Werner Recital Hall – The Fugue: Mozart – Adagio and Fugue in C Minor; Bartók – String Quartet in A Minor; Beethoven – String Quartet No. 134 in B-flat Major – Ariel Quartet.
Musical Theater
Oct. 24, 25, 26, 27 – evenings at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. in Corbett Auditorium – 42ndStreet – Warren, Dubin, Stewart and Bramble, directed and choreographed by Diane Lala.

Faculty Recitals with free admission – Visit CCM’s website at http://www.ccmonstage.universitytickets.com

Music for All Seasons (Tickets: Email musicseasons@zoomtown.com)
Some Americans – Sunday October 6 at 2 p.m. at Peterloon Estate, 8605 Hopewell Road, Indian Hill – Music by Gershwin, Copland, Bernstein, Barber and Gottschalk with Roman Rudnytsky, Pianist, Amber R. Monroe, Soprano, and Bin Yu Sanford, pianist

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (Tickets: 513 381 3300)
October 18, 11 a.m. and October 19, 8 p.m. – Music by Ravel, Rouse, and Lalo with Guy Braunstein, violin and Louis Langrée, conductor
October 25 and 26, 8 p.m. – Music by Falla, Coll and Dvořák with Javier Perianes, piano and Gustavo Gimeno, conductor

Later on look on our blog for a preview of upcoming  concerts in some of the churches around Cincinnati

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



Listening to Soirée: Magdalena Kožená & Friends, a handsome new album from Pentatone I was struck by how youthful and fresh-voiced the 56-year old Czech mezzo-soprano sounds in this entertaining collection of songs by Chausson, Ravel, Stravinsky, Brahms, Strauss and her Czech compatriots Antonín Dvořák and Leoš Janáček.

The silvery lyric mezzo is very much there, as is Kožená’s gift for spinning a phrase with flawles legato. It goes without saying that she is at her very best in the folk-rooted songs of Dvořák and Janáček, several of them new to this listener, although that is not to say that her renditions of Chanson perpétuelle and Chansons Madécasses are nothing but lovely and idiomatically French.

A very fine ensemble that includes Sir Simon Rattle at the piano accompanies Lady Rattle in all but one of the songs, Richard Strauss’ Morgen, which brings the album to a peaceful, heartfelt ending.

**** Excellent


With top of the line recordings by heavyweight violinists Sara Chang, Maxim Vengerov, Hillary Hahn, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Gil Shaham, and Pinchas Zukerman, and with Oistrahk’s and Heifetz’ vintage LP’s casting their long shadows on this unreasonably difficult masterpiece, it is no wonder that every fiddler worth his resin will succumb to the temptation to take on Sibelius’ one and only violin concerto.

A Mount Everest of a composition, it took several failed attempts to deliver a satisfying premiere of Sibelius’ violin concerto in D Minor, Opus 47. So it is not surprising that the formidable Christian Tetzlaff took up the challenge, pairing it with the Beethoven violin concerto in D Major, Op. 61. He recorded it with the Deutsche Symphonie Orchester Berlin for the Ondine label, with the meteorically-rising Robin Ticciati at the helm.

The splendid results evidence careful attention to Sibelius’ precisely annotated and fluctuating tempo markings and time signatures. Beyond all that, depth of feeling and keen intellectual insight separate this recording of both the often heard Beethoven and the somewhat rare Sibelius from many in the pack.

**** Excellent

We received an intriguing CD – New York Rising. It features the New Hudson Saxophone Quartet in a recital of music by American and English composers Joseph Trapanese, Aaron Copland, Robert Sirota, Percy Grainger and David Noon.

Four formidable musicians: Paul Cohen, Avi Goldrosen, David Demsey, and Tim Ruedeman respectively on soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones play as one with extraordinary blending, flawless precision, and elegant musicality, with guest players Christopher Brellochs and Ulrich Krieger in works that range from the evocative New York Rising by Joseph Trapanese, to Copland’s moving and deeply American Suite from Our Town, to Robert Sirota’s whimsical, jazzy and hunger-inducing Diners, to Percy Grainger’s fado-like Lisbon, to David Noon’s intricately compelling Saxophone Quartet #1, to an exquisite rendition of Copland’s Simple Gifts.

The CD is available directly from Paul Cohen (paulcohen.saxo@gmail.com)

**** Excellent

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

Two Brazilian Melodists

There has been and continues to be a whole world of music being written and performed in South America’s largest nation, and NAXOS jointly with the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has committed to recording a series of CD’s featuring the music of Brazilian composers.

The enormously ambitious initiative began with a recording of the music of Alberto Nepomuceno, reviewed in our blog last year:


It now continues with a CD (8 574118) of music for violin and piano featuring sonatas by two Brazilian composers: Glauco Velásquez (1884-1914) and Leopoldo Miguez (1850-1902).

Velásquez authored two of the three sonatas featured in this recording at a moment in his tragically short life when he had attained full musical maturity. His style is reminiscent of the French masters writing at the turn of the century but also redolent of the Brazilian salon music of the time: deeply melodic and harmonically unfettered.

Velásquez was thoroughly committed to employing the piano as an important partner in the two sonatas: number one, composed in 1909 and number two, composed in 1911. Both are traditionally structured: Allegro/Adagio or Largo/ Finale at a fast tempo.

Miguez by contrast enjoyed a better life than his younger colleague even though he came of age during his country’s challenging transition from Empire to constitutional democracy. His musical training, and career encompassed mentoring in Europe, earning a national conservatory seat as a composition professor, and the honor of being selected as winner of a competition to author Brazil’s national anthem.

His music: sober, well-structured, contrapuntally complex is yin to Velazquez’ yang.

Violinist Emmanuele Baldini and pianist Karin Fernandes master all three compositions, playing throughout with panache and faultless technical command. Ulrich Schneider is the fine producer and engineer for this worthy project.

*** Very Good

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