The Visit of the Old Lady


Gotfried von Einem’s Der Besuchen der Alten Dame (The Visit of the Old Lady) has been recently reissued by Orfeo Records as part of the Vienna State Opera Live series. It is indeed a live recording of a stage premiere that dates back to May 23 of 1971. The two CD box (C 930 182) comes with a booklet containing an assortment of production photographs, a synopsis and commentary in several languages but, alas, no libretto.

After its 1955 reopening the Vienna State Opera recorded several live performances with its then legendary roster of singers that features in this recording Christa Ludwig in the central roles of Claire Zachanassian, “the richest woman in the world”, and baritone Eberhard Waechter as the oddly-named III.

Others in the cast include Hans Hotter in what amounts to a comprimario role, and some of the finest character singers of the era, including Manfred Juengwirth, Alois Pernerstorfer, Kurt Equiluz, and Heinz Zednik. House maestro Horst Stein conducts.

Gotfried von Einem liked the sources for his operas dark and brooding, giving us prior to this work an operatic version of Georg Buechner’s The Death of Danton and Franz Kafka’s The Trial. Here, in Friedrich Duerrenmatt’s The Visit he delivers a two-fisted dramatic punch with his musical treatment of the sinister story about a wealthy old hag who comes to a down and out backwater somewhere in post WWII Europe to collect on an old debt from the now old man who once seduced and then abandoned her. She makes a hard to refuse offer to the townspeople: a fortune that will save the town from total ruin in exchange for the life of her former lover.

The music is through-composed – a mix of parlando passages and crisscrossing ensembles interspersed with occasional arioso moments. It takes a Christa Ludwig to deliver the kind of fierce performance she gives in this recording. One can only imagine what she must have been like on the stage of the old opera house. The writing for the part of Claire is fiendishly high at times and then pitched at the bottom of the singer’s range at others. Ludwig sails through it all with flying colors.

The other singers are immensely accomplished, but this is clearly Ludwig’s show.

Rafael de Acha

2 composers, 2 orchestras, new music


nan schwartzbrenton broadstocksynchronbratislava

Until Divine Art Recording Group sent a copy of a CD of Nan Schwartz’ music and that of Australian composer Brenton Broadstock, I had never heard of either composer, both of which are featured in a handsomely designed and annotated CD of original works for symphony orchestra.


Nan Schwartz has worked for years as a much in demand arranger of music for film and TV, and her compositions evidence her prowess as an orchestrator. In her own notes on the recording she acknowledges William Walton, Maurice Ravel, and Dmitri Shostakovich – all three composers who, like Ms. Schwartz wrote for film, as favorite influences. Indeed, in the opening bars of Aspirations there are hints of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, and at the turn of the corner there is a tenor sax given a soulful reading by Harry Allen that is unpredictably and simply pure jazz.


In Perspectives, Nan Schwartz briefly flirts with polytonality, creating initially a conversation for Jon Delaney’s guitar and Lee Musiker’s keyboard which then breaks out into an up tempo. In Romanza, the elegant Dimitrie Leivice is featured in a sweeping violin solo. In Angels Among Us, the lengthiest of the four tracks, the composer gives the terrific trumpet player Mat Jodrell a soliloquy against a backdrop of obstinato figures from strings and woodwinds. A juxtaposing of tempi, dynamics, tonality, and the alternating of soloist and ensemble give much of Nan Schwartz’s appealing music a uniquely sui generis sound.




Neither ‘classical’ nor jazz the music of Brenton Broadstock is most intriguing and in no way derivative, even though on first and then a second hearing I kept hearing riffs that reminded me of some of Duke Ellington’s larger works and passages with echoes of some of Max Steiner’s film music. But let me be clear, as evidenced by this album, this composer is a true original who succeeds in this for him rare foray outside the world of the concert hall.


Commissioned by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 2009, Made in Heaven – Concerto for Orchestra shuns the traditional concerto structure opting instead for a tone poem structure that divides the work into four separately-titled movements: So What, Flamenco Sketches, Blue in Green, and All Blues.


The superb Bratislava Studio Symphony Orchestra, magisterially conducted by Kevin Purcell, who also helms the Synchron Stage Orchestra of Vienna in the first four tracks of the CD, plays Broadstock’s and Schwartz’s eminently tonal, richly melodic music with the same care it would give a Beethoven symphony.


Hats off to the composers, the conductor, and the musicians of both orchestras!

Rafael de Acha



sjss_origSeven Words from the Cross, the most recent issue of the ever-surprising Sono Luminus label, traverses several countries, spanning music from 18th century Americana to a recent composition by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, an extraordinarily gifted Icelandic composer previously unknown by this writer. Matthew Guard is the enterprising artistic director, program notes writer, programmer, conductor and general factotum at the helm of the Boston-based Skylark, a world-class chamber choir made up of eighteen voices and one musical soul, back this time with a CD of sacred choral music.

Throughout sixteen tracks, Guard and the impeccable Skylark singers take us on a musically inspired and spiritually inspiring journey that mixes unforeseen discoveries with fortuitous reencounters with the familiar. Skylark delivers neither a ho-hum Were you there? nor a shallow Deep River. Instead conductor Matthew Guard mines for the unpredictable while ever idiomatically serving the music, be they hymns by 18th century American composer William Billings, tried and true spirituals and traditional tunes, a 12th century work by Hildegarde von Bingen, or a portion of a Poulenc motet.

A shout out to finest among the finest, soloists Carrie Cheron, in Were you there? and baritone Dana Whiteside, in Just as I am, who book-end the CD, she with a silvery-voiced soprano and he with a soulful sound, both but two of the eighteen solo-caliber singers who make up this fast rising choral ensemble.

Sono Luminus has released Seven Words from the Cross as a CD/Blue Ray combo. As with all products of this company, the packaging is elegant, the program notes and translations flawless and the engineering first class.

Welcome back, Skylark!



An article by Chris Ladd titled “The Last Jim Crow Generation”  set me thinking about my own journey as a Hispanic in this country. It reminded me that when I came out of Cuba in 1960 and spent a few weeks in Miami before relocating to Minneapolis  and starting college things were tough. In Miami there were signs on houses that had rooms for rent that read: “No colored, no Cubans, no dogs.” Minneapolis was more welcoming.

At the University of Minnesota, where I started college as a Drama major in 1961, there were no Blacks in the department, nor were there any in my Romance Language classes at L.A. City College. Later at Juilliard, in the Opera Department there were five Blacks, a couple of Asians, and one Hispanic: me. At the College-Conservatory of Music, where I studied between 1967 and 1970, there very few Black students and not one Black faculty member that I recall until Sylvia Ogden Lee, the wife of conductor Everett Lee came to teach during my last year there.  At CCM, as it had been at Juilliard and at L.A. City College and at the University of Minnesota  I was the only Hispanic within miles.

Once I married Kimberly, my quintessentially Caucasian wife was bluntly asked more than once how her family felt when she married someone from another race. I too became the target of clueless comments and questions about my pigmentation and my accent. When Kimberly and I went for our graduate degrees at the New England Conservatory of Music, there were no Blacks or Hispanics in our class.  And when right out of college I got a teaching position at Centenary College in Shreveport, LA., there were no Blacks or Hispanics in sight in either the faculty or student body. This was in the 1970’s.

When I later went to work at the New York City Opera, there were no Black or Hispanic members of the conducting staff, the staging staff, the administration, and, to the best of my recollection, the orchestra. Among the principal artists there were a couple of Hispanics (Justino Diaz and Pablo Elvira) and equally few Black artists.

When for several years in the late 70’s and 80’s Kimberly and I worked as a show act duo in supper clubs and cruise ships and in concerts, we never ever once appeared on the same bill with any Black artists, nor did we work with any cross-racially integrated band in America.

When in 1986 Kimberly and I co-founded the award-winning New Theatre in Coral Gables, FL., we made a color-blind casting policy intrinsic to our artistic mission. In the twenty years that followed we gave a stage to Black and Hispanic actors, and the South Florida audience saw artists like James Randolph and Robert Strain and Tara Vodihn and Carlos Orizondo and countless others in roles they would have never dreamed of ever playing before in their careers. We also provided an artistic home to playwrights of color, including Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz, whose play, “Ana in the Tropics” premiered at our theatre in 2002 and brought home the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, making Nilo the first Hispanic playwright to win that award. In simple terms we took the reins in our hands.

There have been quite a few changes along the way, since I came to this country as a seventeen-year old refugee in 1960. Artists of color no longer have to kick the door open to get a seat at the table. In our orchestras, dance ensembles, theatres and opera companies we are gradually seeing black and brown faces, more Asians, more women.

Change is not a finite thing, it morphs with the times. As artists of color we must claim what’s ours and forge opportunities for each other. We – all of us Americans of every ethnicity – must remain vigilant during these troubled times so that we do not regress but continue to keep America as a home for all its artistic children.









Cincinnati’s Young Musical Entrepreneurs

Not all is perfect in our chosen professions in our troubled country in our very troubled times.

Young actors, directors, conductors, instrumentalists, arts administrators, designers and singers have tales to tell that are disturbingly real. But the good news is that instead of agonizing about dashed hopes and wondering why in the world they chose the arts as a career, young graduates from top conservatories, CCM among them are taking control of their fates and becoming grassroots entrepreneurs.

Like Candide and Cunegonde at the end of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, these fellow artist-administrators believe in the need for all of us who have chosen the performing arts as our careers to make our gardens grow.

For each behemoth arts organization that goes belly-up during these tough times, a lean and mean smaller artistic enterprise springs to life. Grassroots enterprises are being born in the oddest of places: bars, libraries, cafes, churches…

The function and value of these rising orchestras, chamber music groups, chamber opera companies, independent film makers, small dance companies and experimental theatres are beyond question. They supply opportunities for early career men and women in the arts to make the transition from conservatory graduates to full-fledged professionals.

Far from being a passing trend, these groups are becoming the future of the performing arts in our country, while many large institutions with their traditional structure and top-heavy administrations and recalcitrant boards are fast becoming a thing of the past.

The time is ripe for us all of us to act as entrepreneurs.

Instrumentalists get gigs in duos or trios or quartets, playing everything from weddings to Bar Mitzvahs to chamber concerts. Here in Cincinnati, Isaac Selya and Samuel Martin – both CCM alumni – to name but two success stories, have created both Queen City Opera and Cincinnati Song Initiative providing countless opportunities for young singers to practice their craft.

There are others, like Rachel Walker’s Soundbox…all about new music and local composers. There’s Jill Jantzen’s Salon 21, a series that focuses on pianists…There are opportunities awaiting those who take career matters in their own hands and run with them. Isaac and Sam and Rachel and Jill have done it.

With no invitations forthcoming to sit and dine at the big table, young artists are simply going ahead and cooking their own dinners. Let audiences know when dinner is ready and they’ll come dine with you. I hope to come too.

Rafael de Acha

Stewart Goodyear FOR GLENN GOULD: a gift from a gifted artist.


I first heard the bright Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear in a memorable recital in Cincinnati a couple of years ago. Since then I have looked forward to hearing him again, either in recording or live.

In a musical homage to a fellow Canadian simply titled Stewart Goodyear FOR GLENN GOULD, recently released by Sono Luminus, Goodyear traverses six centuries during a sixty-six minute journey that never satiates but leaves one thoroughly satisfied with a banquet of music for the keyboard that includes pieces by two High Renaissance/Early Baroque masters: Orlando Gibbons and Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, six compositions by J. S. Bach, two intermezzi of Brahms, an Alban Berg sonata and, at the end of the CD, an aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

In this musical valentine to an artist whom he deeply admires, Goodyear replicates a program he heard as a young aspiring pianist many years ago, writing: “While paying homage to one of the great Canadian legends, I was being transported to childhood memories of growing up in Toronto, studying at the Royal Conservatory, Gould’s home alma mater, and being an artist from Canada, Gould’s country.”

Stewart Goodyear’s playing is nothing short of extraordinary, not only in its chameleonic way of switching technical and musical gears from Gibbons and Sweelinck’s music, conceived as it all was for the gentlest of keyboard instruments, to Brahms’ sweeping romanticism and from there to Alban Berg’s atonal severity.

Goodyear’s profoundly respectful approach to all of this music makes us marvel at the honesty and integrity of this artist: there is neither a hint of selfish grandstanding, nor a shred of showing-off, but total devotion to the composer’s intentions. All of the embellishments are executed just as they should, cleanly and unselfconsciously. When power of attack is to be summoned, Goodyear summons it, and throughout the entire album the Canadian pianist imbues his music-making with an ideally even mix of a cool head and a warm heart.

As is always the case with this enterprising label, the engineering by Daniel Shores is crystalline, and the nicely annotated booklet sheds light on both music and musician.

Stewart Goodyear FOR GLENN GOULD is a gift from a gifted artist.

Rafael de Acha

Leonard Bernstein/Marin Alsop: The Complete Naxos Recordings


A mentor once mentored by Aaron Copland and Sergei Koussevitzky, an inexhaustible creative figure, a prolific composer, a brilliant conductor, an insightful lecturer, and a restless intellectual unceasingly asking the big questions about what music is and why we make music, Leonard Bernstein would have turned 100 years old this year. Living and composing and writing at warp speed, ever overscheduled and running from working vacations in Martha’s Vineyard to concerts in Tel-Aviv, to recordings in Boston, to master classes in London, to rehearsals in New York, and to record yet another Mahler in Vienna, Bernstein worked hard and lived hard and changed the face of Classical music in America in the 20th century.

In a collection of 8 CD’s and 1 DVD, ever-surprising Naxos has just paid homage to Lenny in its recent release Leonard Bernstein Marin Alsop: The Complete Naxos Recordings.

Here are the titles, all splendidly conducted by Marin Alsop: Symphony No. 1, ‘Jeremiah’; Symphony No. 2, ‘The Age of Anxiety’; Missa Brevis; Symphony No. 3, ‘Kaddish’; The Lark; Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium); Facsimile: Choreographic Essay for Orchestra; Divertimento for Orchestra; Mass; Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront; Chichester Psalms; Three Dance Episodes from On the Town; Mambo from West Side Story; Slava! A Political Overture; Suite for Orchestra from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; CBS Music; Times Square Ballet from On the Town; A Bernstein Birthday Bouquet; Overture to Candide; the Ballet Fancy Free; Anniversaries for Orchestra; Overture to Wonderful Town.

The collection is lovingly curated, with liner notes by Marin Alsop, Frank K. DeWald, David Ciucevich, Robert Hilferty, and Sean Hickey. The packaging of the seven CD’s and one DVD is compact and handsome, divided into eight separate single pockets that neatly fit into a small lightweight box. The engineering of the 7 CD’s, some of it going back fifteen years is all top-notch.

Symphony No. 1, ‘Jeremiah’ was written in 1942 and recorded years ago with Bernstein at the podium. Given the fact that Marin Alsop apprenticed at Tanglewood as an aspiring young conductor with Bernstein as her conducting teacher, one might imagine that she leads her Baltimore forces with the spirit of her mentor hovering about, so inspired and inspiring her work is. Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano delivers a strong performance with a creamy lyric mezzo voice uncannily similar to that of the great Jennie Tourel, the mezzo-soprano soloist in the 1944 premiere with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

The first CD is shared between the ‘Jeremiah’ Symphony and the Symphony No. 2, ‘The Age of Anxiety,’ composed in 1949 and later revised by Bernstein in 1949. Both these works and the 1963 Symphony No. 3, ‘Kaddish’, have much in common. All three are narrative works, inspired by literature – whether W. H. Auden or the Hebrew sacred writings, either text-driven and utilizing vocal soloists or, as in the case of The Age of Anxiety employing an instrumental soloist as a protagonist of sorts, in this case the excellent Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

Missa Brevis, a choral work sparsely accompanied by percussion, Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium), and the better-known Chichester Psalms evidence Bernstein’s lifelong preoccupation with matters of the spirit. All are deeply serious works that show both the acquiescently faithful side of the man in their content and the pragmatically questioning side of the artist in their form. Ever searching for new ways to express his musical ideas, and not one to be bound by traditional constraints, Bernstein named these works the way he wanted, attaching to some the label of symphony even though none of them followed the academic definition of that form.

When it comes to “Lenny”, the populist man of music who held us happily captive with his talks on television or to his musical alter ego, Maestro Bernstein, he who shed light in so many unexpected ways on everything under the musical sun, the Naxos collection is generous and evenhanded.

To lighten things up there is the 1965 Symphonic Suite of moody film music from the Hollywood film On the Waterfront. Dance music was close to Bernstein’s heart as witness the terrific Three Dance Episodes from On the Town, and the equally exciting complete ballet Fancy Free, commissioned by the American Ballet Theatre in 1944 and choreographed by Jerome Robbins.

There are arrangements of music from Bernstein’s hit Broadway shows Wonderful Town and West Side Story, and from the ill-fated 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And there is the Overture to Candide, played with spunky American pizzazz by the Brazilians of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra. There is also the playful Anniversaries for Orchestra, a collection of ten musical birthday salutations to friends of the composer, and to his wife, Felicia Montealegre, orchestrated by Garth Edwin Sunderland in 2016.

The Naxos release includes several reissues and several brand new recordings. Throughout the seven CD’s Marin Alsop magisterially commands the three orchestras with which she has had a long and fruitful relationship: the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. There is much love, much craftsmanship, and much fine music-making in this comprehensive collection of Alsop’s conducting of Bernstein’s music.

There is a potent story here told in sound: it is a true-life tale about a giant of American music, along with a stunning survey of the musical arts in America in our time. An unabashed self-promoter of the Lenny brand, a conflicted and flawed and compassionate and driven human being with a larger than life persona and an ego to match it, and a legendary artist with an unquenchable thirst for music-making, whether at the podium or at the piano as soloist or at his desk as composer, Bernstein at age 100 lives on in these recordings.

Rafael de Acha

PS: In my effort to get this review posted as soon as possible I completely neglected to mention the very nice DVD that’s part of the ten-disc box!





Music and poetry just as you like it


It’s nice to see arts organizations working with each other, and Samuel Martin’s Cincinnati Song Initiative is very good at this. His As You Like It: Shakespeare in Song and Word is coming up the very day that daylight saving time begins: Sunday March 11, at 3PM, at the Lutheran Church on 1208 Race Street.

Presented in partnership with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, the collaboration will feature Deborah Lifton, Ricardo Rivera-Soto, Chris Dimaras, Samuel Martin and members of the Shakespeare troupe in songs set to the Bard’s words back-to-back with excerpts of his plays and poetry.

For tickets:


Mozart opera set in modern-day Coney Island

These days anything goes. The MET is trotting out yet another updated production of a standard opera. This time the target is Cosi fan tutte, Mozart’ comedy of mistaken identities and mixed up relationships, whose Italian language title defies translation. Meaning something like: That’s the way they all do it, the opera tells the story of what happens when two couples exchange partners as a result of a wager.

You can bet that the singing will be good even if the funhouse setting has little to do with Mozart’s music. In the youthful cast Tony Award–winner Kelli O’Hara and baritone Christopher Maltman will drive the action, with Amanda Majeski, Serena Malfi, Ben Bliss, and Adam Plachetka providing top-notch singing as the four confused lovers.

Look for your local movie listings with details on the HD presentation on Saturday March 31 at midday.


CCM in March…lots of Leonard Bernstein and more

MUSICAL – March 1-4 – Jesus Christ Superstar
CONCERT – Friday March 2 – Bernstein, Khachaturian, Strauss
JAZZ – Sunday March 4 at 2 PM – CCM Jazz Orchestra: The Music of Benny Goodman
CHORAL – Thursday March 8 at 8 PM – Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms
CHAMBER MUSIC – Thursday March 20 at 8 PM – Ariel Quartet
OPERA – March 22-25 – Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Suor Angelica
ORCHESTRAL – Friday March 30 at 8 PM –  Bernstein, Strauss, Brahms
Tickets and Information: 513 556 4183

GREAT HALL 007Cincinnati Art Museum
Cagnacci: Painting Beauty and Death opens on March 23
Ragnar Kjartansson: The Visitors opens on March 30
Still running: William Kentridge’s More Sweetly Play the Dance
Still running: Marcel Duchamp’s Box in a Valise
Information: 513-721-2787


Music for All Seasons’ FINAL CONCERT of the Season 2017-2018

Music for All Seasons’ FINAL CONCERT of the Season 2017-2018 at Peterloon on April 29 at 2 pm (please note new date!)

Our fourth and final Music for All Seasons concert of our Season 2017-2018 is fast approaching, and we want to make sure that you won’t miss the music being sung and played by a superb group of artists in the welcoming and intimate environment of Cincinnati’s historic Peterloon Estate.

The theme of our upcoming concert is Music for the Home and Stage, and the selection to be heard encompass music from six centuries.


Many of you might remember Tenor Allan Palacios’ sterling voice and artistry from prior appearances in our series, qualities that will perfectly suit the Italian songs of Alessandro Scarlatti that he will sing in the April 29th program, accompanied by the versatile Bill Willits on Baroque string instruments. Bill will also play a solo group of Renaissance dance tunes on the lute.


Appearing for the first time in our series, the lovely Mezzo-soprano Melisa Bonetti will share with our audience arias from Spanish zarzuelas and from Bizet’s Carmen and Saint-Saens’ Samson et Dalila. Melisa and Allan will join their voices in selections from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story

The brilliant South African pianist Eben Wagenstroom returns to Peterloon to collaborate with the other artists in the program and to play a group of 19th century Contradanzas by the Cuban composer Manuel Saumell.

The well respected visual artist James Slouffman will exhibit a group of his works in the rooms of the Peterloon mansion: a continuing feature that will accompany and enhance this and other upcoming concerts with the work of Ohio/Kentucky artists.

We invite you to visit our much enhanced website that features a preview of the program and links to the artists’ websites. Go to and there you can make your reservations.

An informal get-together with the artists, over tea, coffee and pastries will follow the concert.
WHAT and WHERE: Music for All Seasons at Peterloon on February 11 at 2 pm at Peterloon Estate at 8605 Hopewell Road, in the Village of Indian Hill.
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Jo Ann Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra play Kodály


Ask anyone who likes classical music to name a Hungarian composer, and they will pause, think, and then say: “Bartok?” Past that one-name test, ask the same individual to name another Hungarian composer. This time the response will come slower. Give a hint: “Variations on …” No response.

Of course we are talking about the prolific Zoltán Kodály, who has just been given a terrific musical salute by the peripatetic Jo Ann Falletta and her Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra via a new Naxos release.

Comparisons are most often odious, so we’ll refrain from making one in this review. Bartók is Bartók and he is indispensable, and not one season goes by that we don’t get a performance of his Concerto for Orchestra on the radio or in our local concert hall. But Kodály also has a Concerto for Orchestra (which I have to confess to never having heard it), and his Dances of Galánta, Dances of Marosszék, and his Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song, all three provide over an hour of delightful listening in this new CD. And thanks to Naxos and to the Buffalo Philarmonic for reminding us all of the many musical riches of Magyarország.

Very much like his fellow Hungarians Béla Bartók and Ernő Dohnányi, Zoltán Kodály was also a nationalist who championed Hungarian folk music as a source of inspiration. But Kodály is an inexhaustible melodist, a late Romantic at heart, though not averse to using some very new for the time sonorities in his orchestration and many inventive harmonic ideas.

Jo Ann Falletta leads the Buffalo musicians magisterially, mining every moment for color and keeping a tight control of the sudden rhythmic twists and turns and syncopations that give this music a uniquely dance-like feel and gypsy-inflected flavor. The musicians do extraordinary playing, with principal clarinet, Patti Dilutis eliciting sounds out of her instrument uncannily similar to those of the Hungarian tárogató. The entire ensemble in fact plays like a dream, reminding us living in the fly-over Midwest that there’s also great music-making happening in the northern reaches of New York State.

Naxos has us accustomed to nothing but the best, and here the top notch engineering (Tim Handley), classy packaging, and well written notes (Edward Yadzinski) once again live up to our expectations.

Rafael de Acha