Mesmerizing Music from Buenos Aires

daniedl tarrab

Composer, Bass Player, Conductor Daniel Tarrab and I recently became friends on Facebook and the likelihood of us remaining Facebook friends for as long as we both walk the earth is pretty good. Daniel lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina and I live smack in the center of the USA, so it is more than likely that we will never meet in person.

But that does not sadden me: I can get all the sadness, or, better, melancholy by listening to Daniel’s music again and again.

His is quintessentially Argentine music, or even more specifically: Buenos Aires music. Tangos of the sort I used to hear sung by Carlos Gardel on the radio growing up in Cuba.

But there’s been a lot of tango music flowing on the waters of the River Plate since Gardel went to the place where all the great music-makers go and where I hope to meet up with Daniel Tarrab some day, if I get lucky and I am admitted.

But meanwhile I have Tarrab’s music that I am playing on my Bose as I write this. The eight tracks on Tarrab’s CD Otra Mirada (Another Glance) could be danced to, I suppose.

Certainly La Lamparita (The Little Lantern) lacks the steadily syncopated one/ two/ three/ AND rhythm of many of the good danceable tangos, but it has plenty of melody to linger in the memory. Others, like Encuentro (Encounter) begin with preludes that portend passionately rhythmic outbursts ahead.

Still others, like El Quinto, Entrelineas and En la Cornisa have titles that even in Spanish do not give away what the mood of the music might be, not until Tarrab’s string orchestra and its spectacular soloists cut loose.

The music with which Tarrab mesmerizes the listener straddles genres, a DNA which this listener welcomes, as hints of jazzy riffs, classical cadenzas, and improvisatory flights of fancy bounce off each other seamlessly.

One hesitates to single out players in such company but I succumb to temptation and name Nestor Marconi one of the best bandoneon players I have ever heard. Violinist Pablo Agri brilliantly leads the strings and solos throughout, doing much of the melodic heavy-lifting on the CD.

And then there’s Daniel Tarrab on the piano, Daniel Tarrab on the string bass, Daniel Tarrab revealing his soul in every bar of every tango of every track of this memorable CD.

Otra Mirada is available from Silva Screen Records and Times Square Records.

Rafael de Acha

Strauss’ Salome and Salzburg’s Salami

hires-04_salome_2018_asmikgrigorian_c_sf_ruthwalzThe first stage direction we encounter in the libretto of Richard Strauss’ mercifully brief one act opera Salome is succinct: “A large terrace in the Palace of Herod, which sits by a banquet hall. Some soldiers lean over a parapet. On the right, an imposing staircase, on the left in the background an old cistern with a green bronze frame. The moon shines very brightly.”

Later Salome says to Herod: “I’m ready, Tetrarch” and the stage direction says: “Salome dances”

… and later… “A huge black executioner’s arm, stretches out of the cistern, holding the head of Jochanaan on a silver shield. Salome seizes it …”

And still later, at the very end of the opera, there’s a crucial stage direction implied in Herod’s last line screamed at his guards: “Kill this woman”

Follow those four key stage directions and you get a roadmap for staging Richard Strauss’ Salome, which the German composer arranged after Oscar Wilde’s same-titled play.

But in Romeo Castellucci’s train-wreck of a production for the 2018 Salzburg Festival, now available on DVD from UNITEL we get neither much of a palace nor a Dance of the Seven Veils nor the cathartic killing of the monstrous Salome. Not a chance.

Instead we get a creepy mono-chromatic set much resembling the basement of a mortuary establishment where the voice of John the Baptist seems to come from a gigantic hole in the ground. Later out of it comes the Prophet’s hairy naked body minus his missing head seated on a chair all set for Salome to do some kinky washing of his lower extremities.

We get no dance, just Salome doing nothing in a fetal pose next to a black stone. And at the end, Salome sinks into the hole in the ground like a crocodile before anyone can get to her. All this courtesy of director Castellucci.

The staging, if one can call it that, is horrendous but neither it nor the so-so singing of Strauss-Lite Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian deters the well-heeled 1% of Salzburg clad in tuxes and gowns from giving the show a self-congratulatory ovation celebrating High Kulture. Oh for the days of Teresa Stratas or Karita Mattila!

Others in the large cast are OK in their small supporting roles but the off-the-rack suits the men wear look like the remnants of a close out sale at Barney’s. The hapless singer of the role of Herodias is clad in a 1910 full length gown and hat belonging to yet another part of the come as you are costume design by none other the director Castellucci, who for some inexplicable reason has everyone but Salome sporting red or black make up that covers the face from the nose down.

Among the principals in the cast Hungarian bass-baritone Gabor Bretz delivers a stentorian Jochanaan, Julian Prégardien presents a nicely sung Narraboth, and John Daszak and AnnaMaria Chiuri scream their heads off as Herod and Herodias.

But too bad they could not hire another director so we could get Strauss’ Salome, not Castellucci’s Salami.

Rafael de Acha



A friend sent me links to two recent productions: the Covent Garden/Barry Kosky Carmen catastrophe and the Aix-en-Provence Tosca travesty with Catherine Malfitano…

Here’s what I sent my friend by email and below it the links so that you can judge for yourselves:

Thank you for sending the opera package, which I would like to say I enjoyed but did not. Instead I sat in front of my computer screen thinking about a modified version of a great one-liner “After this, the deluge!”

Never a fan of Eurotrash opera I remain an unchanging traditionalist that loathes all the claptrap that passes for new ideas in the staging of opera. Watching the acting in both the Covent Garden Carmen and the Aix-en-Provence Tosca does nothing to dispel my conviction that most opera singers can’t act their way out of a paper bag. And this kind of directing does nothing to help the singing actor.

All the directorial idiocies in the world are no substitute for disciplined and intellectually grounded dramaturgical homework, and in both these cases we get a mishmash of superficial ideas and plain bad taste that betrays the intent of both composer and librettist.

Barry Kosky, the director of the Covent Garden Carmen reveals his trendy aesthetic when, in an interview part of the video he says (and I paraphrase) his Carmen uses a bit of Paris 1930’s, a bit of Weimar decadence, and so on…

Listening to and watching both these productions (partially I admit) reveals one recurring symptom of this kind of opera production: the singers are not all that good because the really good Carmens and Don Josés and Escamillos and Toscas and Cavaradossis and Scarpias in the business would not be caught dead singing in this kind of staging.

Tosca Complete Video

Rafael de Acha


Protected by International CopyrightIn Southbound of the Circle (SONO LUMINUS 92232), a superb string quartet takes the listener on a journey into the far reaches of Icelandic music by award-winning composers Daniel Bjarnason, Una Sveinbjarnardóttir, Valgeir Sigurðsson, Mamiko Dís Ragnarsdóttir, and Haukur Tómasson.

Una Sveinbjarnardóttir, Helga Dóra Björgvinsdóttir, Þórunn Ósk Marinósdóttir, and Sigurdur Bjarki Gunarsson are the members of the Siggi String Quartet. Each and every one of them virtuoso soloists on their own, here they place their precise, focused, quintessentially honest, elegant, intensely emotional, and intellectually compelling playing to the service of the music.

In Daniel Bjarnason’s Stillshot the music begrudgingly stands still but for a moment to capture in sound one instance of stasis out of many fragments of reality depicted in restless snippets of melody that appear and evanesce like memories that leave no trace behind.

The quartet’s uncanny ability to flesh out in sound the ineffable is present in Una Sveinbjarnardóttir’s Opacity a four-movement string quartet that juxtaposes different soli for each of the quartet’s members allowing them only towards the end to just barely intertwine.

Valgeir Sigurðsson offers in his Nebraska a commentary on the similarity between his birthplace’s isolation and geographical vastness and Nebraska’s similar physical characteristics, utilizing sweeping, long lined melodic statements from the cello against ostinato broken chords in the upper strings that evoke aspects of nature, some rugged and unforgiving, some beneficent.

Mamiko Dís Ragnarsdóttir bucolic Fair Flowers celebrates the starkness of Iceland’s Tröllaskagi peninsula and the improbable survival and resiliency of its multicolored flora in a miniature polytonal tone poem.

Haukur Tómasson Serimonia is a study in motion in which pizzicato strings alternate with sforzando attacks that create a landscape of tonal and rhythmic uncertainty that does not go away but simply and gradually does a decrescendo that gently fades away .

SONO LUMINUS has created an excellent sampler of music far off the beaten path lovingly engineered by Daniel Shores and flawlessly produced by Dan Merceruio. To each and every one involved in this worthy project here is a hearty Icelandic Hamingjuóskir!

Rafael de Acha



Most of us are fairly familiar with the large-scale overtures of Carl Maria von Weber – Oberon, Euryanthe, Der Freischütz… – and barely acquainted with most of his chamber music. So here, with the release of the lovely DELOS 3561 CD CLARINET CLASSICS AT RIVERDALE, we get acquainted with Weber’s technically challenging and melodically satisfying Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B flat Major.

In the process we gladly encounter the superb clarinetist Robert DiLutis and the equally accomplished Mellifera Quartet

We also get to hear the polytonal Sonatina for Clarinet, op. 27 by Miklós Rózsa – not the film music Rózsa mind you but the concert music Rózsa – vaguely atonal, with hints of Debussy here and there and plenty of opportunities for both the clarinet and the quartet to shine.

With Alexander Glazunov’s Rêverie Orientale we get intoxicating exoticism and the superb clarinetist Robert DiLutis dazzling us again with his filigreed work.

Tracks 8 and 9 are given to the Swedish composer Erland von Koch’s Monolog 3 for solo clarinet, a bipartite composition both colorful and accessible.

Heinrich Joseph Baermann’s Adagio for Clarinet and Strings is a short and compellingly meditative piece for the prince of woodwind instruments.

Wilson Osborne’s quietly melodic Rhapsody for Clarinet concludes the CD in a quiet mood.

With a total playing time of sixty minutes, the DELOS CD provides an hour of musical enchantment with off-the-beaten-path music played by five superb artists, recorded at Riverdale House Museum in Riverdale, Maryland, perfectly engineered by Christian Amonson, and elegantly produced by Robert DiLutis himself.

Rafael de Acha



The largest presenter/producer of performing arts in Ohio, UC’s CCM (University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music) (CCM) has just announced its lineup of events for Season 2019-2020, including operas, musicals, plays, dance programs, symphony concerts, jazz evenings, chamber music concerts, and recitals by faculty and students.

$99 Orchestra concerts subscription packages with attractive discounts off single ticket prices can be purchased online at, over the phone at 513-556-4183, or in person at the CCM Box Office in the Atrium of UC’s Corbett Center for the Performing Arts

ORCHESTRAL CONCERTS WITH CCM Philharmonia, Mark Gibson, music director

7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20
DVOŘÁK: Slavonic Dance in C Major, Op. 46, No. 1 DVOŘÁK: Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53, with Giora Schmidt, violin BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Russian Easter Overture SHOSTAKOVICH: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 102, with Dror Biran, piano PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op. 100

7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1
LISZT: Totentanz SAINT-SAËNS: Carnival of the Animals BRITTEN: Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31
BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 81a, “Les Adieux” MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 in D Major

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15
DEBUSSY: Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune RAVEL: Piano Concerto BERLIOZ: Symphonie Fantastique
Louis Langrée, guest conductor

Rafael de Acha



The largest presenter/producer of performing arts in Ohio, UC’s CCM (University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music) has just announced its lineup of events for Season 2019-2020.

Three operas, in addition to four musicals, four plays and three dance programs will be presented, along with dozens of symphony concerts, jazz evenings, chamber music concerts, recitals by faculty and students will be on tap, starting this September.

Subscription packages with attractive discounts off single ticket prices can be purchased online at, over the phone at 513-556-4183, or in person at the CCM Box Office in the Atrium of UC’s Corbett Center for the Performing Arts. Three-Opera Package: $89


November 21-24 – Bedřich Smetana’s romantic comedy THE BARTERED BRIDE tells the story of Marie whose parents have pledged her to the son of a rich landowner. But she is in love with Hans, and the young lovers eventually win the day.

February 20-23, 2020 – Four rival suitors vie for Queen Partenope’s affections in Handel’s comic PARTENOPE all to the tune of show-off arias for cross-dressing singers.

April 2 – 5 – Mozart’s THE MAGIC FLUTE contrasts the serious story of a hero and heroine’s quest for wisdom against the tale of a buffoonish bird catcher, singing flutes, magic bells, and forest creatures, accompanied by some of the most beautiful music ever written.

Rafael de Acha

Matinée Musicale Cincinnati around longer than any of us


Matinée Musicale Cincinnati has been around longer than any of us have – since 1912, in fact. And here it is about to begin its 2019-2020 season. After a few years of doing things the same way it had for goodness knows how long, Matinée Musicale Cincinnati changed one fundamental thing in order to keep up with the times: their concerts are no longer on weekday mornings but on Sunday afternoons, or in one instance on a Friday evening. For many of us who don’t like to drive on I71 or I 75 at almost any time during the week, that is a welcome change.

But other than that change of times and a move from the out-of-the-way (for many of us) Anderson Center and its relocating to Memorial Hall in OTR, the main business of Matinée Musicale Cincinnati remains the same: to find rising musical artists that may not yet be household words and present them to the concert-going audience in Cincinnati.

This year’s lineup begins on Sunday September 22, 2019 at 3 pm with a solo recital by Ashley Hall, trumpet soloist. If your reaction might be a not-so-sure about that one then you just might miss out on the playing of an exceptional musician. Blessed with an uncanny ability to elicit a sweet and mellow sound from the born-to-be-loud trumpet, Ashley Hall is a world-class artist who endows her playing with musicality and dazzling technique.

Here she is, playing the Georg Phillip Telemann short Trumpet Concerto in D with the North Carolina Chamber Orchestra. If you are not able to catch her at Memorial Hall then you may just have to wait another spell until she returns next year as first trumpet of Summermusik.


Five other concerts follow Ashley Hall’s. On Sunday October 20, 2019 at the Anderson Center, pianist Albert Cano Smit makes his local debut with Matinée Musicale Cincinnati.

Here he is playing a bit of Bach from the Art of the Fugue:

The Dover Quartet heard here ( ) playing the Nocturne from Alexander Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2 steps on stage at Memorial Hall on Sunday November 17, 2019 at 3 pm.

Not up and coming but simply rising at warp speed, lyric soprano Nicole Cabell whom many of us have heard and loved in starring roles with the Cincinnati Opera, returns to the Queen City to sing for Matinée Musicale Cincinnati at Memorial Hall on Friday March 27, 2020 at 7:30 pm.

She sings here Juliette’s waltz from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette with the London Philharmonic conducted by Sir Andrew Davis:

Listen to violinist Christina Nam play the first movement from Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major and see if you don’t agree with me in calling this local treasure an extraordinary talent:

She appears on Sunday April 19, 2020 at 3 pm at Memorial Hall.

After a debut with Matinée Musicale Cincinnati last year tenor Pene Pati was invited back by popular demand. He does a 7 pm solo recital on Sunday May 3, 2020, in which he just might sing Donizetti’s Una furtiva lagrima as beautifully as he does here:

I hope that you are convinced by now that Matinée Musicale Cincinnati offers one of the most interesting recital series in Cincinnati. If six recitals for $84 or $108 or a single seat for $25 sounds right, pick up the phone now and call 513 977 8838 for further information, subscriptions, and reservations.

Rafael de Acha


Marie Ythier

Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother in 1880 about his feeling of confinement: “… and men are frequently not able to do much, caged up as they are and unable to say what it’s like to be imprisoned…walled… buried… behind bars…gates…walls…”

In the Song of Songs 4:12 the wise and randy King Solomon wrote – “You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.”

Both these texts from opposite ends of the emotional human compass are given musical life in the various compositions by Tristan Murail featured in Une rencontre (msv 28590) a fascinating release by métier where one reencounters the familiar and the new, and the two intertwined as in a felicitous marriage.

Schumann’s 1849 Four Pieces in a Folk Vein, opus 102 and, from the same year, three of his Fantastical Pieces, opus 73 are juxtaposed to 20th century works in an album that climaxes in Schumann’s Childhood Scenes, opus 15 from 1838 in a surprisingly effective setting for cello, piano and flute arranged by Tristan Murail, the prolific French composer who authored fifteen of the album’ tracks.

The title Attracteurs étranges alludes to a mathematical term beyond the limited scope of a review. The music comes from 1992, having premiered in a concert that year honoring Iannis Xenakis’ 70th birthday. Redolent of the Greek composer’s cutting edge sound, and hewing close in its dissonant asperities and its intellectually severe aesthetic to music created within the French Centre for Mathematical and Automatic Musical Studies, Murail’s composition is immensely challenging.

Elsewhere in A Letter from Vincent and in the intriguingly titled You are a secret garden, my sister, my betrothed, you are a not yet flowing spring, a sealed fountain… the composer is heard in a gentler mode, inspired in one case by a friend’s wedding, and in another by a childhood memory of a gift of a book with reproductions of Van Gogh paintings and some of the letters the Dutch master wrote to his brother Theo during his time in France. In both these compositions Murail’s writing gives the impression of being closer to the heart than to the brain, gentler, shunning as the composer himself expresses in his liner notes, “the avatars of serialism.”

Schumann’s Fantastical Pieces and his Four Pieces in a Folk Vein both were written in 1849 at the end of a period of feverish creativity by Schumann though not long before the onset of the recurring symptoms of “neurasthenia” that would eventually lead to his untimely death at the age of 46. The composer’s life-long inner struggle with the primal impulses of his two alter egos, Sebastian and Florestan is barely hinted at in the folksy tunefulness of his Op. 102, though vestiges of it are perceived in Fantastical Pieces, the earlier opus from the same year.

The protean playing of French cellist Marie Ythier evidences utter comfort with the technical challenges of Murail’s Serialism. The young cellist has an uncanny way of switching musical gears in order to inhabit the Ur-Romantic world of Robert Schumann and the contemporary sounds of Murail. Her technique is flawless, her interpretive gifts non-pareil, and her partners, pianist Marie Vermeulin and flautist Samuel Bricault are faultless associates in the ensemble’s chameleonic transitions from Schumann to Murail and on to Murail’s re-conceived Schumann-Murail conflation of Kinderszenen.

Rafael de Acha

Eckart Preu leads the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra in opening night 2019


The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra opened its 2019 Summermusik season at the SCPA’s Corbett Theater with Visions of Da Vinci. The program included music by Torelli, Vivaldi and Handel, and either world or Cincinnati premieres of compositions by Michael Nyman, Ludovico Enaudi, Hans-Peter Preu, and Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic.

Addressing the audience at one point during the evening, conductor Eckart Preu alluded to how difficult it had been to program this concert. The parameters were to assemble a two hour-plus program honoring the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death and to find one or more pieces to showcase the talents of Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic, the featured solo percussionist.

The concert opened with the Concerto Grosso in G Minor, opus 8, no. 6 by Giuseppe Torelli familiar to some as the Christmas Concerto. While images of Leonardo’s The Adoration of the Magi showed on three screens, the members of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra played the concerto’s three movements (listed in the program as four) without pause. Confusing but not consequential.

The next composition in the concert gave two movements from the Concerto Suite from Prospero’s Books, the 1991 film starring John Gielgud. Titled Cornfield and Miranda, the selections gave an idea of Michael Nyman’s compositional style: a kind of European minimalist version of the hyper-American Adams-Glass-Reich styles. The composition called for sustained playing primarily from the strings and the orchestra responded with powerful playing.

Next, and again in a similar minimalist vein, a Cincinnati premiere by Ludovico Enaudi titled Experience once more called for relentless energy from the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra musicians, who played enthusiastically

Fourth in the program, A Mysterious Message, a work commissioned from Hans-Peter Preu, the maestro’s brother, had for its premise the deciphering of a hidden musical phrase hidden in Leonardo’s The Last Supper.

Liquid Video Solutions created the large-scale projections of canvases by Da Vinci, that included, in addition to The Last Supper, The Mona Lisa, and The Adoration of the Magi, a painting of the young Christ, and a couple of drawings with mirror-writing by the Master.

Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for Piccolo in C Major arranged by Dame Evelyn Glennie for marimba brought on stage Serbian percussionist Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic. The three-movement gem from Vivaldi’s Il Giardino Armonico is a test in dexterity for any woodwind player: for a percussionist translating Vivaldi’s intricacies into music that uses four mallets and a set of wood blocks to make its point is just about miraculous.

In the second half, the guest soloist returned to play on the xylophone the Cincinnati premiere of his own Rondo da Vinci for marimba and orchestra. Zivkovic dazzled the audience with his virtuosity yet never lapsed into antics, but merely played with focus and commitment as simply one more member of the ensemble.

George Friederic Handel’s Water Music is a set of three suites for orchestra. Eckart Preu programmed the F Major and the D Major Suites, from which he chose five selections from the first one and the entire second one. This was a wise choice to end the evening, with Handel providing joyful, celebratory music that gives the various sections of the orchestra plenty of opportunities to stand out, and the section leaders some nice solo work. Concertmaster Celeste Golden Boyer set the tone for the entire string section with all the Baroque must haves: controlled vibrato, razor sharp attacks, precise double-dotting, and clear embellishments.

Throughout the concert orchestra members enjoyed some wonderful solo moments. Second Violin section leader Manami White did gorgeous work in the opening Torelli concerto. Cellist Patrick Binford had a stunning solo earlier in the evening. Mark Ostoich created haunting oboe sounds in the Water Music. And, at the end, the arrival of Brooke Ten Napel and Melvin Jackson’s horns and Ashley Hall and Wesley Woolard’s trumpets added the right quotient of Handel brilliance to the ending Bourée.

Keeping the evening from stylistically wandering to and fro was challenging, given the unconventional nature of the program. But Eckart Preu kept things ebbing and flowing with his genial but firm command of his forces. The young maestro moves comfortably from the film music of Nyman and the New Age sounds of Enaudi to the atonalism of Zivkovic and on to the Baroque elegance of Vivaldi, Torelli and Handel. That alone qualifies him in most books and certainly in mine as a conductor to take notice of. Cincinnati has noticed and embraced him.

Rafael de Acha