GUITAR MUSIC FROM SPAIN, MEXICO and CHINA

The Concierto de Aranjuez is the opening work in this lovely album about to be released by NAXOS. The familiar work by Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo is exquisitely played by virtuoso Junhong Kuang

When Brazilian composer Heitor Villalobos met in 1920’s Paris his Mexican counterpart composer Manuel Ponce – both then young men in their thirties – he expressed strong feelings of commonality in both their efforts to mine the folklore of their individual birth countries. Much of Ponce’s music is that and more: a joyous celebration of all that is Mexican in music, elevated to the status of concert compositions.

Ponce’s 1941 Concierto del Sur (Southern Concert) takes a different artistic route by paying homage to the music of Spain – Asturias specifically – in a richly melodic work originally created for Andrés Segovia, masterly played here by Junhong Kuang.

The traditional three-movement concerto structure is brilliantly put to work by the composer, opening with a stately Allegro, followed by a straightforward Andante, and concluding with a filigreed filled Allegro Festivo that gives the work a celebratory ending.

Hong Kong-born composer Gerald Garcia’s China Sings expressly composed for Junhong Kuang is a brief two-movement rhapsody that, like its companion compositions in this CD taps into folkloric roots – Chinese in this case – with splendid results.

Junhong Kuang creates a variety of colors in his playing of the opening Dark Sky, Silver Clouds and in the second movement, Silver Clouds across the Moon, at times making his instrument sound like a Chinese Pipa.

The Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice led by Darrell Ang provides perfect partnership to the soloist throughout this remarkable NAXOS release.

sample: https://youtu.be/6ke_ugLEkp8

Rafael de Acha

ELGAR FROM AMERICA

SOMM announces Elgar from America, Volume II featuring three historic performances from the 1940’s by violinist Yehudi Menuhin and conductors Malcolm Sargent and Arturo Toscanini at the helm of the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

Menuhin is heard here in a 1945 performance of Elgar’s Violin Concerto conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent, followed by Elgar’s Cockaigne Concert-Overture.

Toscanini leads the Introduction and Allegro for Strings joined here by NBC Symphony Orchestra principal violinists Mischa Mischakoff and Edwin Bachmann, violist Carlton Cooley, and cellist Frank Miller.

Elgar’s music is that of a steadfast Romantic holdout, structurally traditional, with – to the ears of this listener – no hint of any kind of influence from whatever many other composers of his time were writing. But his gift for melody is great, and he regaled the interpreters of his compositions with accessible, often tuneful, and showy music that would inevitably elicit ovations from the listeners and reward its players for their hard work.

Menuhin delivers an impassioned performance with a remarkable full sound undoubtedly enhanced by the limpid re-mastering by audio restoration engineer Lani Spahr. The playing in the violin concerto and in the other two compositions that fill the album is sweepingly grand, boldly broad, and typical of the style that was the trademark of both the NBC Symphony Orchestra and of the 29 year old Yehudi Menuhin, a masterful violinist already at the peak of his powers.

Rafael de Acha

BRAZILIAN PIANIST CLELIA IRUZUN IN A STUNNING PERFORMANCE BEST OF 2020

SOMM Recordings is releasing a fascinating album (SOMMCXD76) featuring two late-19th-century Romantic Piano Concertos: the familiar Fifth Piano Concerto in F major, “Egyptian” by Camille Saint-Saëns, and the unfamiliar yet enormously impressive G minor Piano Concerto, Op.10 by Saint-Saëns contemporary, virtuoso pianist, composer, and personal friend, the Brazilian Henrique Oswald, whose Piano Concerto was composed before Saint-Saëns’ Fifth.

Both concerti are replete with mind-boggling technical hurdles which the formidable Brazilian pianist Clélia Iruzun elegantly tosses off and then balances with passages of exquisite lyricism in a stunning performance that also boasts the solid support of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra superbly led by Dutch maestro Jac Van Steen. The production and engineering are both vintage SOMM.

A rare treat – Brazilian composer Alberto Nepomuceno’ four-movement Suite Antiga is included in the album, affording the listener the opportunity to enjoy a 19th century Brazilian take on an 18th Century European Baroque construct played with utmost delicacy by a major pianistic talent.

Rafael de Acha

DIVINE LITURGY

From DELOS, a new release: Divine Liturgy by the composer Komitas, offers a rare sampling of the liturgical music of the Armenian people.

The hour-long work – performed in this recording by the superb Latvian Radio Choir conducted by Sigvards Klava – introduces the listener to the hauntingly exotic music of the 19th century priest and multi-talented musician Soghomon Soghomonian, known in his country by his given priestly name of Vardapet Komitas.

Widely regarded as a pillar of Armenian music and revered by his people as a national hero, Komitas survived the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire only to tragically die in a Paris mental hospital.

Komitas composed music imbued with Eastern melody, intriguing harmonies, and complex counterpoint. His uncanny gift for exploring how choral singing can induce a state of deep spiritual calm eventually conducive to reflection and religious ecstasy is present in this one of a kind album, beautifully produced, engineered and annotated by DELOS.

Originally created for an all-male choir, this recording arranged for a mixed choir will deservedly begin to divulge the glories of this music from the remote Republic of Armenia to a wider audience than the congregation of faithful for which it was originally conceived.

Rafael de Acha

MUSIC FOR VIOLIN AND VIOLA – Davide Alogna & José Adolfo Alejo

Available online for purchase or streaming on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music, Deezer, and Google Play) and for physical purchase from  www.brilliantclassics.com MUSIC FOR VIOLIN AND VIOLA features two singularly talented artists.

Playing the music of Spohr, Halvorsen, Bruch, Manuel María Ponce, and Mozart, Italian violinist Davide Alogna and Mexican violist José Adolfo Alejo are joined by the Mexican ensemble Camerata de Coahuila, led by Ramón Shade.

This album brings together two superb instrumentalists who set out to investigate the abundant yet rarely explored duo repertoire for their instruments.

The results are splendid.

Seven works, among them Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, Louis Spohr’s Grand Duo, Max Bruch’s Double Concerto, and Halvorsen’s Passacaglia on a theme by Handel occupy multiple tracks, each worthy of attention.

Davide Alogna and José Adolfo Alejo together mine for musical gold throughout the entire program, playing elegantly, stylishly eliciting multiple colors from music written over two centuries, and all the while negotiating technical hurdles without any trouble.

The Mexican ensemble Camerata de Coahuila, led by Ramón Shade provides the two soloists peerless support in the grandly Romantic Double Concerto of Max Bruch.

The recording is perfectly engineered by Brilliant Classics.  

We look forward to more from these two artists.

MUSIC BY CHRISTOPHER ROUSE PLAYED BY NASHVILLE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

When I first heard a work by the late American composer Christopher Rouse – a performance of his symphony no. 6, his last – I wrote “… the now somber, now nervous, now agitated, now elegiac tone says with rare profoundness what mere words cannot begin to convey. In four movements, the sections of Rouse’s slow-fast-fast-slow structure segue into each other episodically — moments of reflective stasis contrast with blunt agitation, evoking life’s vicissitudes. Massive tone clusters from the large brass section, augmented by startling percussive outbursts, are suddenly juxtaposed with passages of eerie near stillness underpinned by jittery activity in the lower strings. Cantabile passages and peaceful soli for woodwinds alternate with massive statements from the amassed orchestra.”

Heaven forbid I should be taken to imply that Rouse repeats himself as I repeat my year-old words in the context of this review. On the contrary, this composer’s gift for finding unpredictable sounds from instruments often taken for granted thanks to his uncanny genius for orchestrating is more than ever before present in this remarkable performance of three works, including the impressive Symphony No. 5 by Christopher Rouse with the enormously gifted Giancarlo Guerrero leading the superb Nashville Symphony Orchestra issued by Naxos.

Supplica, an inspired composition brief in duration, serenely beautiful, leaning towards tonality while not altogether abandoning the freedom that Rouse’s free-wheeling use of atonality and polytonality provides the composer, gives the listener a welcome oasis of tranquility before the Concerto for Orchestra, where once more the composer demonstrates his ability to fearlessly take the listener from restlessness in tempo and melody lines to pockets of mysterious quiet.

This listener can think of no other composer in our time who can so enticingly transport us into music of such other sonic worlds.

Rafael de Acha

A GORGEOUS 20th CENTURY COMPOSITION BEST OF 2020

Commissioned and premiered by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Manfred Honeck, the ensemble’s superb Music Director, Jonathan Leshnoff’s  beautiful Double Concerto for Clarinet and Bassoon affords PSO principals Michael Rusinek (clarinet) and Nancy Goeres (bassoon) the opportunity to shine as soloists in this gorgeous 20-minute-long, three-movement composition.

Leshnoff’s music is unabashedly accessible. From the onset of the composition the composer establishes a bucolic, dreamy tonal landscape that at once engages the listener with the ebb and flow of its melancholy utterances.

First the bassoon then the clarinet, alternate in a quiet dialogue built on a short melodic motif that is gradually echoed by the orchestra. It is a haunting entrance into the world of this concerto and its composer.

But soon and early in the movement the tranquility of the beginning is briefly interrupted by a climactic outburst from the orchestra, only to soon return to the opening mood of the movement.

Less-than-three minutes in duration the humorous second movement is set to a waltz tempo. The music is elegant, at all times playful, capitalizing on the bassoon’s grumpy lower range, with the clarinet reminding its fellow woodwind brother to stop grumbling, which it does abruptly.

The third movement is all agility and syncopation, giving the soloists a workout in its rapid ascents and descents alone and in tandem. Suddenly the mood changes into a brief cantabile passage for the clarinet to give it center stage. Then the up and down antics of the two solo instruments resume their good-natured competition.

Now it is the bassoon that commands the attention, the way the clarinet did earlier in the movement. The activity increases as does the technical demands on both players, the entire affair careening towards an unpredictably blunt ending.

I am tempted to name this work as one of the most intriguing 21st century compositions this listener has ever encountered, for which huge gratitude is due to Reference Records, to Maestro Manfred Honeck and his Pittsburgh players, to the two superlative soloists – clarinetist Michael Rusinek and bassoonist Nancy Goeres, and most of all to the immensely gifted Jonathan Leshnoff, from whom we beg for more gems like this one.

We entreat the reader to get hold of this wonderful issue, either as a CD or as a download so as to enjoy in addition to the Leshnoff Double Concerto, a noble, bold, exhilarating performance of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky Symphony no. 4 in F minor, opus 36.

Honeck drives the impulsiveness of the Russian master’s cri de coeur composition with an uncanny mix of fury and heartbreak, profound pathos and ultimately with a glimmer of the hope that allowed the composer to live through the innumerable vicissitudes that plagued his personal and professional lives.

This recording is already in my short list of BEST OF 2020.

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

A TREASURE TROVE OF BAROQUE DELIGHTS with Swedish clarinetist Martin Fröst

Would Vivaldi have written more music for the clarinet if the instrument at his disposal had had all the bells and whistles of a modern one?

Swedish clarinetist Martin Fröst tackles the answer to that question in the wonderful new Sony release Vivaldi, by playing three clarinet concertos using music from Vivaldi’s operas L’Olimpiade, Ottone in villa, La fida ninfa, Il Giustino, and the oratorio Juditha triumphans.

The results are splendid.

Performing on the chalumeau – the predecessor of the modern clarinet – as well as on a modern clarinet Fröst meets all the challenges an instrumentalist is likely to encounter when playing music conceived for the virtuoso vocalists of Vivaldi’s day.

The Swedish virtuoso displays dazzling technique, impeccable musicality, and an elegant way with the seamless legato required by the music.

The album is complemented with two Sinfonias and La Tortora, a charming air for chalumeau

Vivaldi, a treasure trove of Baroque delights recorded with the peerless baroque ensemble Concerto Köln is available as either download or CD.

Rafael de Acha

A BEETHOVEN FOR OUR TIMES – Greek conductor Teodor Currentzis

A BEETHOVEN FOR OUR TIMES.

Undoubtedly Classical Music is undergoing tremendous changes, now more than ever in the era of Covid 19 and social distancing. Conductors and soloists are coming in newer, hipper models. Cool is no longer frowned upon. But neither is poor musicianship acceptable. Impostors are exposed. Routine music making is no longer tolerated.

Take Greek conductor Teodor Currentzis. With his European Indie film actor rugged looks, disheveled brown hair, basic-black wardrobe, leather jacket, and biker boots you’d think you were looking at a 1960’s nouvelle vague film idol rather than the much admired conductor of the Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra.

But looks aside, this intriguing maestro throws tradition aside and, casting caution to the winds, sails through all four movements of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5 at top speed, drawing from his musicians a performance in which fast and faster tempi, extreme dynamic contrasts between piano and pianissimo, and forte and fortissimo, and overall drive are the hallmarks.

From the iconic triplet da-da-da-duhm that signals to even the neophyte that we must sit up and listen, to a defiantly fast final movement, Currentzis hits the mark time and again. This is  an angry, defiant Beethoven for our troubled times.

The Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra is a finely tuned ensemble totally attuned to their conductor’s uniquely off the beaten path Beethoven. If you are looking for a solemnly Germanic approach, look elsewhere. If you are looking for fresh air in the hallowed halls of the Classical repertory Currentzis is your man in this top-notch SONY release.

Rafael de Acha

AMOUR ETERNELLE French and Italian arias featuring EKATERINA SIURINA

DELOS will be releasing on June 19th AMOUR ETERNELLE, an album of French and Italian arias featuring the spectacular EKATERINA SIURINA accompanied by the ever supportive Constantine Orbelian, leading the Kaunas Symphony Orchestra.

I had a chance to listen to a media download of this recording and I highly recommend it.

Ekaterina Siurina is a marvelous singer. Blessed with an angelically pure soprano voice, the ascending Russian star opens her album with a stunning rendition of Depuis le jour, from Carpentier’s Louise. She rises with ease to the climactic moment here and elsewhere  in a perfect Je veux vivre from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, which she then follows with a poignantly sung though less familiar Roméo! Qu’as-tu donc?, and a flawless Me voilà seule dans la nuit from Les pêcheurs de perles plus a superb aria of Micaela from Bizet’s Carmen.

Perfectly suited to the French lyric soprano repertory, the young soprano moves easily into the slightly heavier Puccini territory of La rondine, La boheme, Turandot (Liu), and an ethereal Salce from Verdi’ Otello, with stellar partnering by her husband Charles Castronovo.

The album is engineered to the usual perfection of Delos.