BEST OF YEAR

Not quite October yet, but given both some personal circumstances and the upcoming political turmoil that will most likely surround the final weeks of 2020, here’s our BEST OF YEAR list, culled from hundreds of DVD’s and CD’s sent to us for reviewing starting in January. Should more outstanding new recordings should reach us between now and January 1st 2021, they will be taken into consideration and added to our list. One more thing: the recordings in our BEST OF YEAR are listed here in random order, neither preferentially nor chronologically.

  • Mozart y Mambo released by ALPHA joins our list as one of the best albums of the year. It defies categorization merely inviting the listeners to set aside preconceptions and listen to a cool mix of the Austrian (Mozart) and the Cuban (Perez Prado, Ibrahim Ferrer) played with a mixed combination of Cuban sabor and classical elegance by horn player Sarah Willis, saxophonist Yuniet Lombida, trumpeter Harold Madrigal, pianist Jorge Aragón, and the enormously versatile Havana Lyceum Orchestra led by José Antonio Méndez. Full review: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/07/22/cuban-sabor-and-classical-elegance-by-sarah-willis/
  • The release IF THE NIGHT GROWS DARK by BRIGHT SHINY THINGS [BSTC-0140, CD] is a treasure trove of Spanish songs arranged for guitar and voice by Graciano Tarragó, and exquisitely performed by soprano Camille Zamora and guitarist Cem Duruöz. With their easy back and forth musical dialogue, with Zamora‘s perfect diction in Castilian, Catalan, Gallego and Basque, and a sublime voice perfectly suited to this music, and with Duruöz’s elegantly idiomatic playing, the two artists deliver musical gold throughout the entire duration of the album. FULL REVIEW: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/05/14/treasure-trove-of-spanish-song/
  • SOMM Recordings released a fascinating album featuring two late-19th-century Romantic Piano Concertos: the Fifth Piano Concerto in F major, “Egyptian” by Camille Saint-Saëns, and the unfamiliar and enormously impressive Piano Concerto, Op.10 by the Brazilian Henrique Oswald, both replete with mind-boggling technical hurdles which the formidable Brazilian pianist Clélia Iruzun elegantly tosses off in a stunning performance that also boasts the solid support of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra superbly led by Dutch maestro Jac Van Steen. FULL REVIEW: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/07/14/brazilian-pianist-clelia-iruzun-in-a-stunning-performance/
  • Commissioned and premiered by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and beautifully conducted by Manfred Honeck, Jonathan Leshnoff’s Double Concerto for Clarinet and Bassoon on REFERENCE RECORDS affords two of the orchestra’s principals: Michael Rusinek (clarinet) and Nancy Goeres (bassoon) the opportunity to shine as soloists in this gorgeous composition. We enjoyed in addition a boldly exhilarating performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 4 in F minor included in this CD. FULL REVIEW: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/06/26/an-intriguing-21st-century-composition/
  • The Jupiter String Quartet delivered in a MARQUIS CLASSICS release a noble performance of György Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1 and Métamorphoses Nocturnes filled with gravitas that never lapsed into self-importance. Ligeti’s music calls for muscular playing and chameleonic changes of attack, tonality and mood, and the Jupiter String Quartet astonished with its virtuosic playing and its meticulous musicianship in one of the finest albums of the year. FULL REVIEW: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/05/30/the-jupiter-string-quartet-magically-plays-beethoven-and-ligeti/
  • SIMONE DINNERSTEIN: A CHARACTER OF QUIET released by Orange Mountain Music, featured Dinnerstein’s playing of three of Philip Glass’s Etudes revealing the seemingly simple beauty of these miniatures with utmost clarity, and comfortably embracing the at times deceivingly static nature of these delicate gems. By contrast Dinnerstein’s rendition of Schubert Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960 – his last –  is deeply Romantic, affectingly portraying the music of an ailing young man holding on for dear life to life while continuing to make music. FULL REVIEW: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/08/05/two-pianists/
  • There are times when music can provide healing, induce calm, soothe our troubled hearts, allay our fears, and for a moment dispel our cares. As I sat late one night, and let this music so exquisitely played and shared with me by five formidable artists create its magic, time stopped and all that mattered in that moment was the clarinet quintets of Mozart and Brahms magically played by the Alexander String Quartet and Eli Eban in a  Foghorn Records CD. FULL REVIEW: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/08/09/alexander-string-quartet-and-clarinetist-eli-eban-play-mozart-and-brahms/
  • During the two and a half hours musical-dramatic journey that the protean Stuart Skelton shares with a marvelous cast led by the superb English conductor Edward Gardner the splendid Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus shine in the several interludes that depict the ever changing surrounding seas that mirror the equally fluctuating human emotions that permeate Britten’s Peter Grimes – a harrowing story about an odd man out given a superbly engineered production in a new CD by CHANDOS. Full review: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/09/01/stuart-skelton-peter-grimess/
  • Jonas Kaufmann – at the age of 51 a dramatic tenor at the top of his game – is an artist of uncommon sensitivity with the vocal equipment to surmount the perils in Verdi’s Otello a score chockfull of them. Carlos Alvarez is a superb Iago, Federica Lombardi a marvelous Desdemona, possessing a crystalline voice ideal for the role of the guiltless young wife. Antonio Pappano is the ideal Verdi interpreter, summoning fire and brimstone from his Santa Cecilia forces when needed and at other times eliciting delicate, shimmering playing in the Sony Classical CD. FULL REVIEW: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/05/20/jonas-kaufman-as-otello/
  • In DESIRE, her Sony Classical release of operatic arias Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak delivers a gorgeous lyric sound, pinpoint accuracy, intensity, and the sort of respectfulness for the written note that includes observing repeats and executing what’s written rather than what comes to the singer’s whim. Add to that flawless diction in Italian, French, Polish, Czech and Russian, and one quickly concludes that this artist has come into her own with complete artistic-vocal equipment. FULL REVIEW: https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/05/07/polish-soprano-aleksandra-kurzak/
  • ORCHID CLASSICS (ORC100127) 3 CD release of all five of Beethoven’s concertos for piano and orchestra features Stewart Goodyear in command of immensely challenging music with never a hint of self-aggrandizement or posturing. With Andrew Constantine superbly helming the BBC Orchestra of Wales, Goodyear lets us know that he is a past master of both the grand gesture and the delicate and intimate, playing with the nobility and intense musicality listeners have come to expect of him. FULL REVIEW:
  • https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2020/04/14/stewart-goodyears-5-beethoven-concerti/

STUART SKELTON=PETER GRIMES BEST OF 2020

Stuart Skelton is the best Peter Grimes I have ever heard.

Comparisons are odious, so that I will spare the reader that annoyance. I will merely mention the name of Peter Pears, the original Peter Grimes, flawless in diction, his odd vocal production an acquired taste, but his earnest acting (which can be viewed on You Tube) one of his many assets, with an essentially lyric voice rising up to the Olympian challenges of the role by sheer willpower.

But the role of Peter Grimes, the tormented English fisherman, when taken up by any tenor, even a great dramatic-heroic tenor like Stuart Skelton, is a different kettle of fish. The part lies oddly, often sitting right on the tricky area of the passage from upper middle to high voice, as in the scene with Ellen Orford – the wonderful soprano Erin Wall – in which Britten asks the singer of Grimes to stay forever and a day on the E at the top of the treble staff and sing from piano to forte without competing with or obliterating the work of his partner.

Skelton, who could easily throw caution to the winds and open up at a middle-of-the-road mezzo forte all the time maintains instead a beautiful tone at whatever dynamic level is required. At moments he summons a baritone timbre that he has displayed to advantage in his recently heard Tristan, but at no time there is any evidence of his inflating the sound. In his arioso – In dreams I’ve built and in his soliloquy about the stars above in the pub scene Skelton establishes himself as the finest heroic tenor of his generation: one capable of singing with a true mezza voce and next thunder at full throttle.

And so it goes throughout the two and a half hours musical-dramatic journey that the protean Stuart Skelton shares with a marvelous cast in which baritone Roderick Williams is a rock solid Balstrode. Led by the superb English conductor Edward Gardner the splendid Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus shine in the several interludes that depict the ever changing surrounding seas that mirror the equally fluctuating human emotions that permeate this harrowing story about an odd man out.

This CHANDOS recording of Benjamin Britten’s operatic masterpiece is a treasure and now available to all lovers of great Opera.

First Interlude: https://youtu.be/Q_bI37AZIrE

Rafael de Acha

MOZART IN HAVANA BEST OF 2020

First and upfront let me state this is not going to be a true review. It cannot be on because I cannot provide an objective evaluation of Simone Dinnerstein’s 2017 exquisite recording of two Mozart concerti with the Havana Lyceum Orchestra, led by its brilliant young maestro: José Antonio Méndez Padrón.

Were it not for the fact that I am Cuban by birth and Cuban to the core I could possibly turn out an adequate account of what I listened to. But the experience I am trying to describe is intense and not conducive to objectivity.

Hearing one of my favorite concert pianists in the company of some three dozen young and immensely talented Cuban musicians playing Mozart, unarguably my favorite composer, and further, hearing unpredictably fresh, elegant, impassioned performances of the Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major and the Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major perfectly produced by Tessa Fanelsa and edited, mixed and mastered by Adam Abeshouse, and recorded in Havana’s acoustically perfect 17th century Oratorio San Felipe Neri… well, it all sort of obliterated for the moment my critical acumen.

I know that after repeated listening I will get back on my critical seat and perhaps be able to shed some light on what I heard. What I think is more important than whatever my opinion might be is to get the word out about this recording and its implications about what is happening musically in my birth country.

This music making knows no political barriers. Mozart flawlessly played by an ensemble of young, multi-racial Cuban musicians in a tropical island 90 miles from our shores belies any preconceived misconceptions about Cuba and its culture.

For Simone Dinnerstein making this recording was, as her heartfelt notes so nicely express, among other things a way to reconnect spiritually with her earliest musical mentor: Solomon Mikowsky, a Cuban Jew of Polish descent. For me, listening to this recording has been an intensely emotional way to celebrate part of the culture with which I grew up.

Five years ago my wife and I visited Havana, me for the first time in fifty-seven years, she for the first time ever. While there we heard music played and sung everywhere: Pop music, Cuban jazz, Afro-Cuban music, Classical music. We long to go back once our government will make travel to Cuba legal.

Meanwhile we have a taste of music in Havana thanks to Mozart in Havana, for which a huge Muchas Gracias  goes from my Cuban heart to Sony Records and to Simone Dinnerstein.

Trailer: https://youtu.be/hIHmF4czr0c

Rafael de Acha

ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET AND CLARINETIST ELI EBAN PLAY MOZART AND BRAHMS BEST OF 2020

During the summer of 1789, Mozart, aged 33, composed his Clarinet Quintet essentially because he wanted to. There was no deadline, no commission, Le nozze di Figaro was behind him and a great success at that, and for the first time in quite a while he was financially stable. Mozart just wanted to write some music for longtime friend Anton Stadler, virtuoso of the then go-to basset clarinet – the grumpy-sounding first cousin to today’s clarinet, with its rumbling four notes below the bottom range of some of the clarinets that came after its time.

Then there was Brahms, who at age 57 felt he was done composing. Just ike Mozart he had no deadline or commission pressing him. His great instrumental works were completed. Success and a comfortable living he had finally achieved after years of hard compositional labor that had earned him the unalienable rights to a happy old age (57 of age was “old” in 1891) and the free and lively pursuit of a dolce far niente in his golden years.

But then Brahms goes to an all-Brahms concert of the sort back then when they mixed the chamber and symphonic repertoires on the same evening and he hears Richard Mühlfeld, principal clarinetist of the Meiningen Philharmonic play two tours de force for his instrument: Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet and Weber’s Clarinet Concerto.  Brahms decides right there and then to put retirement on hold and pen to paper and write not one but four works for his new musical idol, with whom he develops a long-distance musical friendship.

Among those works there’s the Quintet in B Minor for Clarinet and Strings, Opus 115, now recorded by the Alexander String Quartet with clarinetist Eli Eban on a CD that also features Mozart’s Quintet in A Major for Clarinet and Strings, K.581 being released by Foghorn Classics.

There are times – either times of day or times in which we live – when music can provide healing, induce calm, soothe our troubled hearts, allay our fears, and for a moment dispel our cares. As I sat late one night, and let this music so exquisitely played and shared with us by five formidable artists create its magic, time stopped and all that mattered in that moment was Mozart and Brahms and the Alexander String Quartet and Eli Eban.  

Let me let the insightful liner notes by Eric Bromberger provide all the musicological background needed to accompany this music and let my message of gratitude go to Foghorn Classics, to the Alexander String Quartet, and to clarinetist Eli Eban for providing the healing and soothing and calm this listener was in need of in the midst of the turmoil of this troubled year.

Rafael de Acha

Trailer: https://youtu.be/rKLM3bw_AQ4

PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST: AMY JOHNSON

In PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST, a newly released MSR Classics CD, soprano Amy Johnson sings nine selections by eight composers. Ranging from Massenet and Wagner to a surprising sampling of 20th century operatic arias, they span the familiar: the Final Scene from Richard Strauss’ Salome, along with several revelatory excerpts from works by Stephen Schwartz, Anton Coppola, Thea Musgrave, and Robert Livingston Aldridge. There are also a scene from Káťa Kabanová by Leos Janáček, and Arabella’s Mein Elemer from Strauss’ Arabella.

Amy Johnson’s peripatetic career has spanned appearances in European and American Opera houses in a repertoire so wide-ranging that it defies any possible pigeonholing of this fine artist. On the evidence of this recording, Amy Johnson demonstrates her enormous versatility, a gift that allows her to handle both the lyrical, high lying lines of Myra in Stephen Schwartz’ Séance on a Wet Afternoon and the jagged utterances of Manuela in Thea Musgrave’s Simon Bolivar.

With an assured handling of the Spanish of Musgrave’s historical opera, to the Czech of Janáček, to the idiomatic French in her impeccably-vocalized Mirror aria from Massenet’s Thais, to the clearly articulated English of several of the selections, to the German of the selections by Wagner and Strauss, Johnson is at all times in complete command of the text.

Add to her language skills, and to what appears to be a limitless top voice that allows her to climax the Thais aria with a bell-like high D, a rock solid technique earmarked by complete flexibility, steadiness of vocal emission, and a keen instinct for never pushing past the sensible in intensity and volume, and you get a complete singing artist: one that can straddle the lush line of Massenet and the schizophrenic writing Strauss assigned to his bad girl soprano, Salome. And therefore we find cause for celebration.

Steven Mercurio superbly leads the MAV SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA with a gift for the give-and-take that accompanying an opera singer requires. Vernon Hartman contributed his sturdy baritone and his organizational skills to the production of this excellently engineered CD.

SIMONE DINNERSTEIN: A CHARACTER OF QUIET BEST OF 2020

The American pianist Simone Dinnerstein has just completed an album recorded in the quiet of her living room, with producer and friend Adam Abeshouse in control of the controls, and Dinnerstein in control of the music-making: three Philip Glass Etudes and Schubert’s rapturous Sonata in B Flat Major, his last, completed in the final year of his all-too-brief life.

Thorough her playing of three of Philip Glass’s Etudes she reveals the seemingly simple beauty of these miniatures with utmost clarity, comfortably embracing the at times deceivingly static nature of these delicate gems. Her Schubert is deeply Romantic, affecting, portraying the music of an ailing young man holding on for dear life to life and trying to continue to make music. To be able to achieve this kind of emotional depth in the playing of a piece of music is awe-inspiring.

This recording reminds me of what I thought LOVE meant after I grew up and life happened: Dinnerstein playing is a loving act of music-making that reminds us all that music is a tool for healing troubled hearts.

Simone Dinnerstein has been keeping quiet. I get it. Many of us have been in desperate need of the sort of quietude that brings about contemplative reflection. But she has been missed. Her return to us is cause for celebration.

Rafael de Acha

trailer: https://youtu.be/YoGfcYE_uZM

SELIGE STUNDE JONAS KAUFMANN

At age 51 German tenor Jonas Kaufmann ought to be at the top of his game. By that I mean he should be singing better than ever before. He has survived the rigors of every Wagnerian Heldentenor role and has lived to tell. His repertoire encompasses tenor roles from the lyric to the heroic with mostly good results. His past vocal troubles have caused him to rethink his approach to singing, and on the evidence of his last forays here and abroad he appears to have surmounted them and sung on. But even the sturdiest of voices, even the most successful vocalists must at some point in their careers take stock, rethink, reassess how they want to continue and how long they will carry on.

Now Kaufmann is out with Selige Stunde a new SONY CD containing over two dozen Lieder by Schubert, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Schumann, Strauss, Brahms… mostly the best known ones from the German 18th, 19th, and early 20th century songbooks. There are also a few rarities by Silcher, Carl Bohm, Zemlinsky…standards by Grieg, Dvořák, Tschaikovsky (sic) in German all of them. There’s even a stab at Mahler’s Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen – a song that ought to remain the sole property of mezzo-sopranos or at least singers of any gender with an uncanny gift for floating the voice. And if you don’t know what that means have a listen at any male or female Lieder singer of your choice delivering this extraordinary song.

In tackling this repertory, the usually reliable, often exciting Jonas Kaufmann comes up short. First and foremost, lesser voices have achieved success singing the intimate, narrative miniatures of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, and Strauss by virtue of the one and essential gift that Jonas Kauffman seems to lack on the evidence of this album: the ability to interpret and bring to life the drama inherent in the words of the poets set to music by these composers. There is but sameness in vocal color, intent and inflexion that track after track of 29 early on grows numbing. Pianist Helmut Deutsch is the stalwart companion through this musical journey.

And then there’s the vocalism itself. Kauffman appears to be tentative in his handling of his large operatic voice and uncertain as to how to approach the ever tricky passage from the middle to the high voice. At times the tenor applies full volume to phrases that should caress, not impress – an example being his handling of the climactic moments in Adelaide. At other times he arbitrarily slides into an easy croon rather than engaging a true mezza voce up and down from start to finish – an example being his Verschwiegene Liebe, Eichendorff’s rapturous elegy to silent love whose silence is broken by Kaufmann’s blunt approach.

The riches of the Lieder repertory should by no means be off-limits to stentorian voices like Kaufmann’s and there is plenty of evidence that other heroic voices have successfully sung and recorded this repertoire. Christa Ludwig comes to mind. Hans Hotter comes to mind. Jon Vickers comes to mind.

The riches of the Lieder repertory should by no means be off-limits to stentorian voices like Kaufmann’s and there is plenty of evidence that other heroic voices have successfully sung and recorded this repertoire. Christa Ludwig comes to mind. Hans Hotter comes to mind. Jon Vickers comes to mind. But 51-year old Kaufman should heed the old Spanish saying “Zapatero a tus zapatos” (“Cobbler stick to your shoes”) and leave this repertory alone.

Selige Stunde: https://youtu.be/X3dkkWe7aow

Rafael de Acha

CONCERT MUSIC IS ALIVE AND WELL IN TODAY’S CUBA – PART ONE IN A SERIES

Having just recently come into contact with a number of Cuban musicians I am becoming more and more impressed by the number of extraordinarily gifted instrumentalists, conductors, and singers I have met on line.

Camerata Romeu

We have all admired for many years the glories of Cuban popular music. I, for one, have been listening to Cuban pop singers going all the way back to Maria Teresa Vera and Benny Moré and the Trio Matamoros of my grandfather’s era… But what reminds me every time I encounter one of these young Cuban talents of today is that the field of music in today’s Cuba is rich and diversified, with quite a number of orchestras, chamber music groups, Early Music ensembles, choral groups, and lyric theatres operating in Havana and throughout the island, affording a number of these young artists the opportunity to practice their craft.

Let me share with you the following four samples.

Bryan Lopez Gonzalez, a superb lyric tenor with a terrific top voice and enormous musicality was trained in  Cuba and took his first steps in his birth country, rising up to star status through his frequent appearances in operatic productions fresh out of  conservatory. He is now in Europe, waiting to kick-start his young career while still in the limbo brought about by the current pandemic. Young and good looking and earmarked for the big time, here he is, delivering a very elegant Un aura amorosa from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte in performance at the Festival della Valle D’itria 2016 in Martina Franca, Italy.

Camerata Romeu is an all- women string orchestra considered by many to be the first and the best of its kind in Latin America. Founded in Havana in 1993 by its director Zenaida Romeu, its style is accessible and easy, with its rank and file made up of pretty young women perfectly coiffed and dressed to the ninths. But it is the musicianship, the technique and the artistic finesse this talented group and their leader exhibit and the polish they bring to the playing Cuban and Latin American music that ranks it world class. Here they are in an undulating version of a soulful Cuban guaguanco: https://youtu.be/d11NGffLcYU

Ars Longa is a terrific Early Music group that features five singers, among them Yunié  Gainza a superb countertenor and seven instrumentalists. Listen to them in a New York appearance performing the 18th century Cuban composer Esteban Salas’ “Vayan unas especies” https://youtu.be/_hFGxvWhKzM

Another Early Music group is the Villa Clara-based Conjunto de Música Antigua Ars Nova here playing a composition by another Classical Cuban composer, the 19th century-born Cratilio Guerra Sardá, during the Tenth Festival de Música Antigua de La Habana

Ars Longa

LA MÚSICA DE CONCIERTO ESTÁ VIVA Y BIEN EN LA CUBA DE HOY: PRIMERA PARTE DE UNA SERIE

Después de haber entrado recientemente en contacto con varios músicos cubanos, estoy quedando cada vez más impresionado por el número de extraordinariamente dotados instrumentistas, directores de orquesta y cantantes que he conocido.
Muchos de nosoros hemos admirado durante muchos años las glorias de la música popular cubana. Yo, por mi parte, he estado escuchando a cantantes cubanos de música popular algunos de los cuales se remontan a la época de mi abuelo tales como la gran María Teresa Vera y el inolvidable Trío Matamoros y otros mas cercanos a mi tiempo, tal como Beny Moré .

Pero lo que me maravilla cada vez que me encuentro con uno de estos jóvenes talentos cubanos de hoy es que el campo de la música en la Cuba actual es rico y diversificado, con un buen número de orquestas, grupos de música de cámara, conjuntos de música antigua, grupos corales, y teatros líricos que operan en La Habana y en toda la isla, ofreciendo a varios de estos jóvenes artistas la oportunidad de practicar su arte.

Permítanme compartir los cuatro ejemplos siguientes:

Bryan López González, un excelente tenor, con una voz aguda sin limites y dotado de enorme musicalidad se formó en Cuba y dio sus primeros pasos allí, ascendiendo a la categoría de estrella recién salido del conservatorio a través de sus frecuentes apariciones en producciones operísticas.

Ahora está en Europa, esperando poder poner en marcha su joven carrera mientras todavía permanece  en el limbo provocado por la actual pandemia. Joven y guapo y destinado para un gran carrera, aquí se le escucha cantando una muy elegante Un’ aura amorosa de Cosi fan tutte en el Festival della Valle D’itria 2016, en Martina Franca, Italia.
https://youtu.be/6-G5N3nmxFA

Camerata Romeu es una orquesta de cuerdas totalmente integrada por jovenes mujeres y considerada por muchos como la primera y la mejor de su tipo en América Latina. Fundada en La Habana en 1993 por Zenaida Romeu, su estilo es accesible y fácil, formado por jóvenes perfectamente peinadas y vestidas con gran estilo. Pero es la música, la técnica y la finura artística que este talentoso grupo y su líder traen a la música cubana y latinoamericana lo que clasifican a esta notable orquesta en primera clase.Aquí están en una ondulante versión de un guaguancó cubano: https://youtu.be/d11NGffLcYU

Ars Longa es un excelente grupo de Música Antigua del Barroco que cuenta con cinco cantantes, entre ellos Yunié  Gainza, un excelente contratenor, y siete instrumentistas. Escúchenlos en una aparición neoyorquina interpretando del compositor cubano del siglo XVIII Esteban Salas’ “Vayan unas especies” https://youtu.be/_hFGxvWhKzM

Otro notable grupo que se especializa en  Música Antigua es el Conjunto de Música Antigua Ars Nova, con sede en Villa Clara. Los encontamos durante el Décimo Festival de Música de La Habana interpretando una obra de otro compositor cubano clásico: Cratilio Guerra Sardá, nacido en Santiago de Cuba en el siglo XIX.

MOZART Y MAMBO CUBAN SABOR AND MOZARTIAN ELEGANCE BEST OF 2020 Sarah Willis with the Havana Lyceum Orchestra

Sarah Willis, a horn player with the Berlin Philharmoniker, arrived in Cuba some years ago to teach some master classes to young musicians.

Enamored with the warmth of the people of the island she has since gone back there to visit and make music with fellow artists. Combining the music of Mozart with the popular music that is alive and well and thriving in the Caribbean nation, MOZART Y MAMBO has just been released by ALPHA.

Sample: https://youtu.be/XeQKXjONFKA

It is a result of an unpredictably successful collaboration between Sarah Willis and the superb Havana Lyceum Orchestra and its magisterial young conductor Pepe Méndez.

The CD includes alongside Cuban music of the 50’s though the 90’s, Mozart’s Concerto no.3 and the Rondo for Horn, K371 alongside the whimsically titled Rondo alla Mambo, Sarahnade Mambo, and a Cuban Eine kleine Nachtmusik all three familiar Mozartian tunes injected with a good dose of spicy Cuban salsa.

What could have turned into a mere gimmick has instead produced felicitous results thanks to the excellence of the participating musicians and the straightforwardly honest approach to the music at hand.

This gem of an album joins my list of BEST OF 2020, as it defies categorization merely inviting the listeners to set aside preconceptions and listen to a cool mix of the Austrian and the Cuban, and swivel their hips to hot, sensually sinuous tunes by Perez Prado, Ibrahim Ferrer, and other Cuban old time icons played with a mixed combination of Cuban sabor and classical elegance by Sarah Willis, saxophonist Yuniel Lombida, trumpeter Harold Madrigal, pianist Jorge Aragon, and the enormously versatile Havana Lyceum Orchestra led by Maestro Méndez.

Rafael de Acha

https://youtu.be/XeQKXjONFKA

UNEXPLORED BRAZILIAN MUSIC

Seresta (Portuguese for forest), a rhapsody for piano and orchestra in three movements by Brazilian composer Camargo Guarnieri features the excellent pianist Olga Kopylova, with the Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo led by Isaac Karabtchevsky.

In three compact movements: Decidido (decisively), Sorumbático (somber), and Gingando (swaying), the composer achieves a multitude of colors in a densely-orchestrated work rich in unpredictable multi-tonal twists and turns, surprisingly inventive harmony, and, in the first and last of its sections unrelentingly-driving rhythmic pulsation.

A work by Guarnieri a largely unheralded composer outside his native Brazil, this composition and the others in this album provide an entrance into the world of a 20th century Latin American master. Guarnieri’s Paulista (São Paulo) roots define him aesthetically as Brazilian in his soul, yet European in intellect, his music deeply influenced by some of the French masters with whom he studied at the beginning of his career.

The two-movement Chôro (Portuguese for “cry”) for Bassoon and Orchestra affords Alexandre Silvério an opportunity to deftly shine as soloist in a composition that begins with a slow Calmo (calmly) and then breaks out into a rhythmically intricate Allegro that is immediately followed by the lengthier Chôro for Flute and Chamber Orchestra, a work-within–work in which the peerlessly musical flautist Cláudio Nascimento shares the musical heavy-lifting with his bassoonist colleague Silvério in a hauntingly moody composition evocative of an otherworldly Brazilian musical landscape.

Throughout these quintessentially Brazilian chôros the Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo, led by maestro Isaac Karabtchevsky proves the ideal partner, claiming stage center at moments, self-effacingly supportive at others.

Violinist Gavi Graton excels in the tri-partite Chôro for Violin and Orchestra, ostensibly the most concerto-like of all three of the works in the album. In the first and second movements the soloist asserts his presence from the very onset with his handling of Guarnieri’s expansively melodic lines, against which the chamber orchestra provides passages of quiet support often alternating with massive fortissimo outbursts. Graton then engages in an intricately rhythmic dialogue with the ensemble that leads the final movement of the work to a riotously concluding finale.

Naxos must again be saluted for its enterprising venture in the largely unexplored yet fertile field of Brazilian concert music.

Sample: https://youtu.be/ygRvvq78Iok

Rafael de Acha