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Monday, January 28, 2008

The Baltimore Consort Performs in Fort Worth

Fort Worth’s First Presbyterian Church, with its long and proud Scottish heritage and tradition was a most appropriate setting for the Baltimore Consort’s January 26th performance of Adew Dundee, Early and Traditional Music of Scotland. The six musicians of the consort provided one of this season’s most satisfying concerts. The group has made a career of exploring the more obscure nooks and crannies of the repertoire. In a program that spanned the emotional gamut from the heartbreak of lost love to the ecstasy of Catholic spirituality to some low-down, toe tapping pub tunes, the music moved and inspired the sizeable audience, making even the most staid of Presbyterians sway in their pews.

The consort’s five instrumentalists performed on at least a dozen instruments, infusing their virtuosity with an element of joy and fun that was palpable and infectious. They were augmented with a guest performer, Danielle Svonavec, whose light and effortless soprano added the perfect seasoning to a hearty soup of colorful instrumental sonorities.

In an evening that was full of delights and surprises, there were a few absolute standouts. Ms. Svonavec’s haunting and unaccompanied One yeir begins, was a tour de force of vocal virtuosity. Her effortless transport from tenor g to the upper portions of her range was to die for. Gypsen Davy, a work imported to the new world was deliciously funny. In addition, Ronn McFarlane played a number of elegantly executed solo lute pieces, and Larry Lipkis and Mindy Rosenfeld provided some delightful banter in a number of works featuring dueling flutes and crumhorns. Mark Cudek made a virtual jazz rhythm section with his cittern, and provided a bit of sixteenth century bee bop by turning his viola da gamba on its side and playing it like a bass guitar. Mary Ann Ballard deftly switched from instrument to instrument as she provided one tuneful obbligato after another on her various viols.

The ensemble was slightly and tastefully amplified, a necessary evil given the soft sounds that these early instruments produce. Couple the quiet instruments with the enormous space, the electronic enhancement was needed, but never detracted from the enjoyment of the music. If one were to criticize anything, it would be the concert series’ policy not to provide printed programs. The practice first caused the performers to have to speak at length from the stage, and while the information was really necessary, it lengthened the program by nearly fifteen minutes, and caught the performers off guard just enough to make them sound a tad under-rehearsed as they spoke. More serious though, was depriving the audience of the song texts, whose dialectical and complex poetry would have been well served by our having been able to read along.

Given however, that there was no admission charge, and that the performance was truly world class, this can only be seen as a mild flaw. In short, this was inspiring music played with peerless musicianship. Truly a delightful evening.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Radio Helios

Hello All,

I have been upgrading our programs on Radio Helios, and am in the process of developing a whole new playlist. I am also adding voice tracks to introduce the pieces as well.

I am working on getting some interviews and other fun features up and running soon as well.

You can help support Radio Helios by becoming a premium member, by clicking on the links to artists' work on our homepage, and by buying cds from the links provided.

Thanks for your continued support of the station, and if you care to submit music to be played, please do so by contacting me at

You may send CDS to me at Radio Helios, 10661 Steppington Drive Suite 2113, Dallas, TX 75230.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Review for Monday

Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel (1714-1788)

Sonata in d minor, H. 128 [11:01]
Sonata in f sharp minor, H. 37 [11:45]
Sonata in A major, H. 186 [13:24]
Rondo in d minor, H.290 [4:07]
Sonata in C major, H. 248 [7:53]
Rondo in B flat major, H. 267 [4:52]
Sonata in E major, H. 83 [7:30]
Cantabile in b minor, from Sonata, H. 245 [3:04]

Christopher Hinterhuber, piano

Recorded at the Phoenix Studio, Budapest from 27 February to 1 March 2004.

NAXOS 8.557450 [63:46]

Second son of Johann Sebastian Bach, court harpsichordist to Fredrick the Great and godson of Georg Philipp Telemann; Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was destined for greatness. Although he began his career in law school, it was as a keyboard virtuoso and composer that the arguably most successful of the after-Sebastian generation of Bachs was to make his fame and fortune. The most broadly educated and intellectual of all of Sebastian’s children, Carl Philipp would gain great respect as a learned man, teacher and author. His Essay on the True Art of Clavier Playing was held in high esteem. His influence on the work of Franz Josef Haydn is unquestionable and blatantly obvious. Upon his death he was mourned by his colleagues as a more significant and important composer than his father.

It would be easy enough on first glance to dismiss the younger Bach as a composer of Rococo fluff, and frankly, having just now become acquainted with his music in anything other than name, I expected nothing less. My surprise and delight was enormous then when I popped this disc into the player to discover music of energetic and complex rhythmic vitality and startlingly original and adventuresome harmonic language. Bach’s preference for the newer clavichord over the more traditional plucked harpsichord is obvious from the start. This music employs a new kind of virtuosity, one that plays up its emotional and dramatic content, and is far more reliant on melody than counterpoint, which by the time of these works, was considered passé and academic.

The sonatas are as a rule cast in the fast-slow-fast three movement form that would dominate the genre until Beethoven. The outer movements are full of technical display, and yet never stray from their overall focus on melody. They are full of exciting and unexpected twists and turns, and Bach uses the entire range and scope of the instrument to express himself. Often we find long melodies beginning in the upper register, only to be completed by a two or three octave drop to the bass. The inner movements are lovely in their aria like treatment.

The Rondos, although dismissed at their publication by some critics as needless filler and unworthy of inclusion with the more sophisticated sonatas, are brimming as well with interesting and exciting music. Brief and without wasted notes, they are little virtuoso showpieces that delight the ear.

Christopher Hinterhuber, performing here on a modern grand, is a pianist of formidable technique, able to handle fast passage work with ease and aplomb. He plays just fast enough to give us the whirlwind spirit of the music with out obliterating lines. His cantabile playing is admirable as well. I did find that particularly in the upper registers, the playing gets a bit shrill and clanky. I would have wished for more subtlety, warmth and nuance of tone in the upper end of the piano. Nonetheless this is a small detraction, and I am thrilled that this splendidly crafted and colorful music has seen a bit more sunlight.

A definite must own for lovers of fine keyboard music. Highly recommended.

Kevin Sutton

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Some Remarkable Beethoven

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

String quartet in E flat major, Op. 127 [33:43]
String quartet in a minor, Op. 132 [41:16]

The Hagen Quartet
Lukas Hagen and Rainer Schmidt, violins; Veronika Hagen, viola and Clemens Hagen, cello.

Recorded in the Schloss Mondsee in November 2003 and in Wiesloch, Palatin, Minnesängersall in March 2004.

DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 5705 [75:07]

When Beethoven was commissioned by Prince Galitzin in November of 1822 to compose a new set of string quartets, he was in the enviable position of having complete artistic freedom and the a clout to demand any price he wished for the completed works. He accepted the commission for the then whopping fee of fifty ducats per quartet and promised the first quartet to be delivered in March of the following year. The patron would have to wait far longer, as the completion of the ninth symphony and the Missa Solemnis took priority, and the quartets were not delivered until 1825. The result, however was spectacular, and the late quartets were to become the Beethoven’s crowning achievement; music for the ages with little or no regard to tradition, nor with any concern about audience reaction to these most remarkable, unusual and heretofore unheard of structures and sounds.

Central to both of these works are their slow movements. Longer in both cases by nearly double the lengths of their surrounding movements, Beethoven relies far more on the conveyance of a specific set of thoughts or ideas as opposed to any real dependence on form. This is especially true of the poignant Convalescent’s Holy Song of Tthanksgiving to the Deity, a sincere expression of gratitude from the composer upon his recovery from a long and painful stomach disorder. The serenity and sheer beauty of this single movement is overwhelming, and to hear this fine performance would be worth the cost of the entire disc.

The Hagens have been on the scene for some years now, making a fairly good sized collection of recordings. I have found it interesting however how heavily they rely on the standard repertoire in their programming, with sojourns outside the established canon being fairly rare occurrences. That aside, these are performances of supreme dedication and finesse. Given that the late Beethoven quartets are notorious for their difficulty, one would never know it to hear them played by the Hagens.

Intonation and ensemble are first rate, as one would come to expect from such a seasoned group. What I found to be most refreshing was the pacing of the works. They are never allowed to bog down in syrupy romanticism, even in the sublime Convalescent’s Thanksgiving, which could easily give way to self-indulgence. The Hagens do indulge, however in a bit of extraneous sniffing and snorting, a habit of which my extreme distaste is well known. It is however not enough to detract from this beautifully paced, flawlessly executed performance.

A highly commendable release, worth some pride of place in any collection.

Kevin Sutton

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Interesting Cello Music

Jacques ROY

(The composer’s/artist’s dates are not listed in the program booklet)

Music for cellos, as performed by Claude Lamothe.

Día a Día [8:12]
La Cathédrale de Bourges [3:50]
L’île aux Monuments [1:51]
V Comme Dans Bach [4:30]
Eine Walzer [4:01]
L’île des Vents [2:44]
Traversées [7:43]
L’île au Printemps [7:36]
See you…[5:15]

Dates of compositions are not listed.
Recorded at Studio Roy, Montreal, June and July 2005.

ANALEKTA AN 2 9808 [45:50]

Cellist Claude Lamothe began his career as a double bassist performing for some years with I Musici de Montreal until he discovered the wonders of the cello. Like his colleagues Matt Haimowitz and Yo Yo Ma, he seems to take great delight in exploring and creating non-traditional repertoire for his instrument, and this disc which has a rather refreshing combination of styles and moods for the most part succeeds quite handily in finding a more populist idiom for the cello.

This disc would not be possible without the aid of studio tricks, overdubbing being the main fare here, as Lamothe performs all the parts himself. Some of the music owes a nod to Astor Piazolla with its tango-esque rhythmic gestures and its Latin harmonies. Other works are distinctly patterned after the free jazz styles of say, Pat Metheny, and there is even the hint of Karl Jenkins present here and there.

Even though some of the music borders on being new agey, Lamothe and his sometimes co-composer and producer Jacques Roy have come up with a brief but arresting collection of pieces that showcase their broad range of tastes, ideas and influences. If you are looking for music that plumbs the depths of emotion or sends you on flights of ecstasy, you aren’t likely to find it here. What you will find is a refreshing three-quarter hour’s worth of interesting and engaging music, sure to entertain if not transform you.

In other cases, I might complain that there is not enough music on this full-priced disc, but I think that at just under 46’ we get just what we need; a pleasant diversion, worthy and well crafted music, and a program that goes right up to the line of gimmick, but thankfully does not jump over.

I have no qualms at all about endorsing this disc, and would wager that many serious listeners would find the lightheartedness of the works here to be a very pleasant side road down which to travel. Recommended.

Kevin Sutton

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Music of an Italian Outlaw

Alfonso FERRABOSCO (1543-1588)

Dolci ire (madrigal a 5) [6:55]
Auprès de vous (chanson a 5) [2:49]
In Nomine I [2:38]
Pecantem me quotidie (motet a 5) [3:32]
Psalmus CIII [32:32]
Bruna sei tu, ma bella (madrigal a 5) [2:45]
Domine, non secundum peccata nostra (motet a 6) [4:35]
Quel sempre acerbo (madrigal a 6) [4:14]

The Huelgas Ensemble
Paul Van Nevel, conductor

Recorded September 2004 at the Chapel of the Franciscans, Lille

HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 901874 [60:40]

Alfonso Ferrabosco, known as “Il Padre” to distinguish him from his son who also became a composer, lived a life of intrigue and turmoil, ferrying back and forth between his Italian homeland and England, where to the great consternation of the Pope, served in the Anglican court of Queen Elizabeth I. Born in 1543, he worked with Palestrina in the Papal Chapel until the ascendance of Paul IV in 1555, when all married men were summarily dismissed from the Vatican’s service. (Palestrina was to suffer the same fate.) After a series of run-ins with official Rome, he landed in England where he worked for Queen Elizabeth I, later running afoul of her good graces, only to be reinstated, and removed again. Thought by some to be a spy and double agent, he was valued by Elizabeth not only for his musical ability, but also for his in-depth knowledge of the goings on in Rome. Political machinations aside, he was a unique and original composer, often eschewing the day’s harmonic conventions. As a madrigalist, he was a harbinger of things to come, greatly influencing the future English madrigal school that was to come to its apex in the works of Morely, Weelkes, Wilbye &c. As a composer of sacred works, he never betrayed his Catholic upbringing, setting mainly Psalm texts that were universal to both faiths.

Paul van Nevel’s Huelgas ensemble is the perfect choice for this harmonically ripe music. Not having seen the actual scores, I was at first quite fascinated by the part make up of the choir. With only one alto listed in the personnel roster, one wonders just how the composer achieves the textures he does with apparently uneven scoring. I will leave that subject hence alone, as it is difficult to comment without the score in front of me.

As for the music itself, it is typical of the time, excepting that it is far less “safe” in its use of jarring shifts of tonal center. In the Psalm setting, some movements begin in E major only to end in F-sharp major, other passages shift from B-flat into B major, all amazingly seamlessly and naturally. At least in these selections, there is very little variation in tempo, most works moving along in the standard late renaissance pace of about sixty half notes per minute, a standard of tempo derived from the average adult male’s pulse. What is particularly noteworthy is the utter transparency of line and the careful attention that Ferrabosco pays to the clarity of the text. Each word, even in the more complex passages is quite distinguishable, which is due in part of course to this choir’s scrupulous attention to balance and enunciation.

Although the singing of the Huelgas ensemble is flawless in tone quality and their tuning is perfect, I would have appreciated a bit more dynamic variety. What I perceived was beauty for beauty’s sake, and it would have been somewhat refreshing to hear a little more Italian angst, especially in the madrigals with their more adventuresome and emotion packed texts. That is a taste issue with me, however, and my personal whims in no way kept me from thoroughly enjoying this beautifully recorded disc of glorious music, heretofore unknown to me.

Excellent, entertaining and informative program notes by Maestro Van Nevel cap off a first rate recording, up to Harmonia mundi’s customary high standards. No lover of vocal polyphony will want to be without this lovely recording.

Kevin Sutton

Monday, January 14, 2008

Monday's Review

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat, K. 271 [30:26]
Piano Concerto No. 19 in F. K. 459 [26:13]
Nine Variations on a Menuet by Duport K. 573[10:38]

Clara Haskil, (piano)
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra
Otto Ackermann (K. 271)
Ferenc Fricsay (K. 459)

Recorded at the Funkhaus Sall, WDR Cologne, 11 June 1954 (K. 271) and 30 May 1952(K. 459), and at the Besançon Festival, 7 September 1956 (K. 573).

MEDICI ARTS MM004-2 [67:58]

Charles Chaplin declared that he had met only three geniuses in his life: Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and Clara Haskil. Practically worshipped in her later years, Ms. Haskil suffered for most of her life from everything to a painful spinal condition to a crippling self-doubt. Her fellow Rumanian Dinu Lipatti was her ardent champion. His early death left Haskil grief stricken (she was secretly in love with him) and without a mentor. In spite of all these negative circumstances, Clara Haskil would go down in history as a goddess amongst pianists, a woman capable of a musical passion and elegance practically unequalled by her peers, and a classicist of the highest refinement.

Such plaudits are well in evidence in these 1950s vintage recordings of Mozart. This is playing of such pristine clarity that in spite of the somewhat muddy monaural sound, the listener is instantly drawn in and held captive. Passage work is perfect, each note a pearl on a strand. Phrases are nuanced to marble smoothness.

Neither is Haskil afraid of a little drama. More turbulent passages are played with flare. Ms. Haskil always has the reigns well in hand though, never letting emotion get the better of a firm sense of classical order and discipline. Slow movements are played lovingly and tenderly, but there is never the slightest hint of overt romanticism. Each melody evokes the rising of the sun in the morning, each cadence is perfectly placed. It is as though she composed each phrase herself, first sketching her thoughts, then carefully revising and refining her ideas, and then committing them to the page only when they were perfected.

Both Otto Ackermann and Ferenc Fricsay provide well balanced and sensitive accompaniments, but it is in the sound of the orchestra that the inferior sound quality becomes most obvious. Textures are blurred by the less that clear sound and at times the boxiness becomes a bit tiring. Nonetheless, these are performances of such grace and beauty from the soloist that I have found myself returning to this performance again and again, not only for enjoyment, but also for instruction.

This is a series that seems to be more about the performers than the music itself, and as such the booklet note by the always able Bryce Morrison is somewhat skimpy on information about the works at hand. No matter, really. His compassionate yet honest assessment of Haskil as a person and artist is insightful and lends even more enjoyment to her nearly flawless playing.

There are really not enough superlatives for this recording. Any music lover at any level should find something in which to marvel here.

-Kevin Sutton

-flawless, perfectly expressive…even the inferior sound does little to damage this priceless pianism.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Some Saturday Listening

Although I won't be publishing reviews on the weekends, I will treat you to a little list of things that you might want to sit down with a glass of wine and listen to.

Here are this weekend's recommendations:

A Sacred Romance. Music of Franck, Widor, Vierne, Tournemire, Messiaen and Couperin. Kevin M. Clarke at the Noack organ of the Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, TX. Pro Organo CD 7217.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 8 (Symphony of a Thousand). Soloists, Choirs and the Staatskappelle Berlin, Pierre Boulez. Deutscher Grammophon 4776597.

Carlo Gesualdo: Quinto libro dei Madrigali. The Consort of Musicke, Anthony Rooley. Decca/L'Oiseau Lyre, 4759110.

Samuel Barber, William Walton and Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Violin Concertos. James Ehnes, violin, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Bramwell Tovey. CBC SMCD 5241.

Eyvind Alnaes, Christian Singding: Piano Concertos. Piers Lane, piano. Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra: Andrew Litton. Hyperion CDA 67555.

As usual, there are some off the beaten path works here, but that's why it's interesting to know me, right?

Happy Listening and have a great weekend.


The Daily Review

Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Prelude to Act IV from Khovanschina [4:19]
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 5 in e minor, Op. 64. [44:20]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde [16:02]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun [11:07]

Radio Symphony Orchestra of Stuttgart (1-3)
Radio Symphony Orchestra of Frankfurt (4)
Leopold Stokowski

Recorded live at the Straβenbahner-Waldheim, Stuttgart, 20 May 1955 (1-3) and at the Sendesaal des HR, Frankfurt, 31 May 1955.

GUILD GHCD 2329 [76:50]

From our twenty-first century vantage point, it is easy to conclude that Leopold Stokowski was an old school conductor dedicated to the repertoire that we know today as the core. But it is pertinent to remember that at the time of Stokowski’s birth in 1882, all but one of the composers on this recording were still very much alive. Tchaikovsky had yet to compose his fifth symphony, Wagner was putting the finishing touches on Parsifal, and Debussy’s landmark Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun was still ten years in the future.

Indeed Leopold Stokowski was very much a child of his time, and more importantly, he was a visionary. He leapt at technology and was fascinated with recording, constantly experimenting with orchestral seating, microphone placement and he even tweaked the orchestration of classics for what he perceived to be a better effect. This latter practice, while to our now well-established sense of so-called authenticity seems sacrilegious, was a common practice of the day with composers and conductors from Mahler to Toscanini mucking with works that we now consider to be religious relics. Stokowski had a great respect for the past, and through his transcriptions and even completions of works by composers such as Mussorgsky, left us with a vast treasure that might have otherwise been lost. Taken on their face value, his “paraphrases” for orchestra of music from grand operas are delightful and most worthy works of art for their own sakes.

In this remarkable collection, Guild have assembled music from two 1955 Broadcast concerts from Stuttgart and Frankfurt respectively. Not only is this remarkable music making, but it is a major plus to have recordings of a British conductor in Germany at a time when such collaborations were rare. Opening with music that through the efforts first of Rimsky-Korsakov and later Stokowski himself would be known as the Prelude to Act IV of Khovanschina, we are treated to the kind of rich and colorful sound that was a Stokowski calling card. His timeless reputation for being able to mold an orchestra into a glorious sound machine in record time is borne out in this supple performance.

Next comes the Fifth Symphony of Tchaikovsky, a work which was composed during the conductor’s lifetime, and which became a staple of his concerts and his commercial recordings. There is no shortage of drama in this performance, and Stokie doesn’t allow maudlin sentimentality to overtake the score. His tempos are brisk and his sense of forward motion is palpable and exciting. The only flaw here might be some over blowing in the brass section, which usually sounds very out of tune in the blazing triple fortes. It’s exciting, but at the same time, a bit ugly.

The Wagner Prelude and Liebestod is a Stokowski arrangement, and would become one of his most popular concert and recorded works. It receives loving and passionate treatment here, with a string sound that is glorious even in a recording that is a bit compromised by its age. Again the brass sounds over heated and out of tune, but I am beginning to wonder by this point if that is more of a problem with the sound source than with the playing itself.

Debussy’s famous Prelude is given some pretty aggressive treatment in this rendition. No tender petting zoo creature here. Rather Stokowski coaxes some pretty solid and colorful playing from the Frankfurt Radio Symphony. What it lacks in subtlety, it more than regains in the breathtaking sweep of the phrases.

I never cease to be amazed at the treasures that the Guild Company continues to find for our enjoyment. They are to be commended for their finely re-mastered sound and even for the wonderful nostalgia trip that they induce with these gems. Robert Matthew-Walker has written an excellent biographical essay of the conductor that is made all the more noteworthy by its careful attention to placing these recordings in a proper historical context. One could however wish for the same careful attention to detail in the cover art, which through a careless lack of proofing tells us that the three nineteenth century composers on the program all died in the late 1900s. That’s a brand of sloppiness that drives this consumer mad.

Kevin Sutton

-splendid, arduous and muscular readings of these masterworks from one of history’s greatest sound painters.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Excellent performances of Telemann

Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)

Concerto in d minor for two horns, strings and continuo, TWV 52:D2 [8:01]
Concerto in e minor for transverse flute, recorder, strings and continuo, TWV 52:e1 [13:47}
Concerto in d minor for oboe, strings and continuo, TWV 51:d1 [8:03]
Concerto in g minor for recorder, two violins and continuo, TWV 43:g3 [12:53]
Concerto in E major for transverse flute, strings and continuo, TWV 51:E1 [12:17]

Ulrich Hübner and Jörg Schulteß (horns)
Michael Schneider, (recorder)

Karl Kaiser (transverse flute)

Luise Baumgartl (oboe)

La Stagione Frankfurt
Camerata Köln
Michael Schneider

Recorded in the Deutschlandrundfunk Kammermusiksaal, 2005-2006.

CPO 777032 [55:24]

In the day when trained musicians were expected to master a number of instruments, Georg Philipp Telemann exceeded expectations by not only mastering three (the harpsichord, recorder and violin) but by also becoming proficient on most of the other instruments in common use at the time. As a result of this vast skill set, he was able to compose concertos for a wide array of solo instruments and combinations thereof. The hallmark of his music is a respect for the idiom of each individual instrument that renders each work not only aurally pleasing, but also of immense satisfaction to the performer.

In an attempt to get away from the pervasive Italian style, Telemann adopted a four movement form that often followed the pattern of slow-fast-slow-fast. These slow openings drew the listener’s attention to the melodic line and away from the sheer displays of virtuosity that were the stock and trade of the Italian concerto. Telemann also preferred a more moderate display of the soloist’s technical skill, never allowing the intricacies of the solo line to overshadow the elegance and purpose of the music.

Michael Schneider leads his two ensembles in a perfectly elegant set of concertos for diverse instrumental combinations in this disc that brims with grace and charm. Beginning with an uplifting but never overwhelming work for two horns, Mssrs. Hübner and Schulteß bring off some of the finest valve-less horn playing to meet these ears in some time. Granted, more perfection can be achieved with these cantankerous instruments in the studio setting than in a live concert. But, this is playing of rarely heard skill and refinement.

The other standout is Luise Baumgartl’s sweet tone and graceful articulation in the concerto for oboe. She produces a light and unforced sound and has a fine knack for spinning out a long arched phrase. Mssrs. Schneider and Kaiser also turn in fine performances of works for recorder, flute and the combination thereof. The two ensembles both play most collegially, and balance, intonation and ensemble are of the first order.

There’s a work for every taste here and no lover of baroque music will be disappointed. Marked “Volume I” one can only salivate a bit for more if this fine disc is a harbinger of the entire series.

-Kevin Sutton

- refined elegance…well balanced playing by musicians who are obviously enjoying themselves.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Review of the New CD by the Capucons

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra in a minor, Op. 102 (1887) [34:25]

Clarinet Quintet in b minor, Op. 115 (1891) [37:10]

Renaud Capuçon (violin)

Gautier Capuçon (cello)

Paul Meyer (clarinet)

Aki Saulière, violin

Béatrice Muthelet, viola

Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester

Myung-Whun Chung

Double concerto recorded from 8-10 April, 2007 at the Vienne Musikverein. Clarinet Quintet recorded from 9-10 July 2007 in the Eglise du bon Secours, Paris.

VIRGIN CLASSICS 946 395147 2 [72:21]

Brahms composed his “double” concerto as a token of reconciliation between his longtime friend and mentor Joseph Joachim. The two had not spoken for years after Brahms sided with Joachim’s wife in a divorce dispute. The gesture worked, as this, Brahms’ last orchestral work not only healed the rift, but left to the world a composition of profound beauty and structural perfection. As oft recorded as it is, it takes some special musicians to bring it to life in any remarkable way. Such musicians are the brothers Capuçon, whom I had already held in high regard before hearing this performance, but now that I have heard it, am able and willing to declare that these two siblings are two of the finest, most technically refined and most emotionally inspired performers on the planet.

Over the years, I have collected a couple of dozen recordings of this work. In particular, the second movement with its plaintive yet uplifting theme is music that has always haunted me. I was hooked by the end of the first movement, which the Capuçons play with white hot intensity. But when the second movement ended I nearly had to pick myself up off the floor. I have never in thirty years of serious music listening heard more expressive, passionate yet thoroughly controlled playing. These brothers play so fluidly, so eloquently that any listener that doesn’t ache when they’ve finished should have his blood pressure checked.

Adding to the luster of the soloist’s work is a young orchestra that plays with the kind of condensed abandon that can only come from the combined joy of great accomplishment and a first experience with greatness. This is a truly fine band, molded and beautifully fine tuned by Myung-Whun Chung.

The concerto alone would be worth the price of admission, but we are also given a sublime performance of one of Brahms’ most serenely melodic works, the Clarinet Quintet from 1891. Written during his final years in Meiningen, the quintet was dedicated to Richard Mühlfeld, a virtuoso whom the composer much admired, and for whom he composed a number of his last works. The music is almost exclusively inward looking, calm and collected and carried out with the confidence of a man at peace with himself and the world.

The performance here is perfection, indeed flawless. Paul Meyer literally sings with his instrument, producing a full throated yet never piercing tone that weaves itself in and out of textures with just the right nuance, often a soloist, but never a diva. This is one of the finest recordings of the year, truly a must have regardless of how many times this repertoire is duplicated in your collection. You will finish these performances with no recollection of having breathed through the whole seventy-two minutes.

-Kevin Sutton

-there is but one word to describe this kind of music making: perfect.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Krzystof PENDERECKI (b. 1933)

The Devils of Loudon (1969) [108:00]

An Opera in Three Acts based on John Whiting’s dramatization of Aldous Huxley’s “The Devils of Loudon” in the German translation by Erich Fried.

Father Rangier HANS SOTIN
Guilleaume de Cerisay ROLF MAMERO

Directed for Television by Joachim Hess
Artistic Director: Rolf Liebermann
General Artistic Director: Krzysztof Penderecki

The Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra
The Chorus of the Hamburg State Opera
Conducted by Marek Janowski

Produced by Polyphon Film und Fernsehgesellschaft for NDR Polyphon, 1969.

ARTHAUS MUSIC 101279 [108:00]

Urbain Grandier was a Roman Catholic priest who was burned at the stake on August 18, 1634 after having been convicted of conspiring with Satan to corrupt an order of Ursuline nuns. While Grandier had forsaken his vows of chastity and celibacy, and was known as a bit of a cad, the whole demonic affair was the fabrication of Jeanne des Anges, prioress of the Ursuline convent whose own sexual obsession with the wayward priest led her to invent the entire possession story. Grandier’s case was further complicated by his clash with the powerful and corrupt Cardinal Richelieu, who needed the meddlesome priest to be out of the way in order to further his political agenda.

The story is famous and has been recounted in a number of modern works including the so-called “historical study” by Aldous Huxley in 1952, a story by Polish author Jaroslaw Iwaskiewicz, a film based on that story by Jerzy Kawalerowicz in 1960, a successful British adaptation for the stage by Robert Whiting and a highly controversial film from 1970 by maverick film maker Ken Russell.

The story first came to Penderecki’s attention in 1964, while he was completing his monumental St. Luke Passion. The composer’s deep compassion for the victims of the Holocaust made this story of religious intolerance coupled with political intrigue and the persecution of innocents all but irresistible, and thus was born his first opera, which opened to considerable criticism at the International Society for New Music’s 43rd festival in Hamburg in 1969. Many of the problems were the result of Konrad Swinarski’s over-reliance on historical accuracy and authenticity which in effect obliterated Penderecki’s desire to present a piece of history as an allegory for modern times and events.

Almost immediately after the premiere, the work was taken into the studio and filmed for television, one of the earliest such projects filmed in color. With the camera’s ability to focus the viewer on specific scenes and characters, undistracted by peripheral action, Swinarski’s vision was far better able to be portrayed, and it is clear that this filmed version of the opera serves it better than a stage production could.

Why then, has this work, which even at a distance of some forty years is still chillingly captivating laid dormant? A number of issues could be at play. First, the music itself is characteristic of a certain time, and although perfectly suited for this story and for its visual telling, requires a great deal of work on the part of the listener to comprehend. Penderecki was at this period in his work using techniques such as the creation of “sound bands” or large swaths of aural color that were created by random repetition of rhythmic gestures and often approximated pitches. This effect works well with crowd scenes and it successfully depicts confusion, rage, and mass hysteria. Where it does not work as well is in the presentation of dialogue between individual characters. Penderecki’s disjunct and angular vocal writing leaves the listener tired after a time, and one’s thoughts start to wander away from the drama and more toward sympathy for the singers who had to learn and memorize this challenging score. The composer’s signature techniques are most effective in the orchestral writing, where they sound as “normal” as any modern suspense film score.

This production finds its greatest success in its visuals. Period costumes, dark in hue set against a bleak stone background immediately foreshadow the ominous and terrifying events to come. The setting is joyless, treacherous, lecherous and foreboding. Swinarski is also quite adept at portraying the subtleties of hidden drama. One is struck by such devices as the manipulation of the ignorant and uneducated masses to achieve the political ends of the more powerful main characters. He also uses the power of religious dogma to stunning effect in the way that the Ursuline sisters are whipped up into a manic frenzy, fully believing that they are possessed with evil spirits, and who willingly submit to repeated exorcisms, staged for show by the priests in power.

The work is also well served by its remarkable and well chosen cast. The late lamented Tatiana Troyanos as Jeanne and baritone Andrezej Hiolski as Grandier turn in brilliant and believable performances. In spite of the overtly emotional nature of the roles, both characters inspire a strange combination of reactions including disdain, repulsion and sympathy. Bernard Ladysz and Hans Sotin aptly play the priest exorcists, duped into service by men they believe to be righteous and used as pawns in an evil scheme. Also noteworthy are the performances of Kurt Marschner and Heinz Blankenburg, a surgeon and a chemist whose personal vendetta against Grandier is played out with sinister abandon. One could hardly ask for a stronger cast, with each member performing admirably as both singer and actor.

This is not for the faint of heart. Konrad Swinarski spares little and the scenes of nudity and torture are undisguised, which is a bit surprising for 1969. But then again, it was made for German television, and the Germans have never been prudes. Whether one could call this opera a masterpiece is open for discussion. That it is an impressive period piece, and a fine example of its genre and style goes without saying, and for that historical perspective alone, it is worthy of one’s time.

Kevin Sutton

- a stark and bleak drama. Dark and yet surprisingly beautiful in its overt portrayal of intrigue, religious zeal and man’s cruelty to his fellow man.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Some Thoughts on Joshua Tree

January 1, 2008

The sky was more than azure. Indeed it glowed like sapphires, gently brushed with the brightest white clouds I have ever seen. Mile upon mile lay before me under the brilliant yet almost heatless sun and a gentle wind breathed life into a landscape that was perfection in its solitude. The desert sand was a clutter of Joshua Trees, cacti and enormous formations of granite rocks; stones as big as buildings stacked neatly into structures that could have been mistaken for the work of children were they not so huge.

Such is the landscape of the Mojave desert, preserved in nearly immaculate condition in the Joshua Tree National Park in California. This is a place of folklore and myth. It is the birthplace of rock and roll's greatest legend and one of its greatest musical masterpieces. But it is neither the image of Gram Parsons' ashes mingled with the sand nor the subliminal U2 soundtrack that relentlessly runs through your brain that makes this place memorable.

Rather, it is the overwhelming feeling that you are a guest in a world that has never nor will never belong to you. It is the silent voice of the desert that says "Welcome friend, be kind to me and dwell with me in peace." It is the exclusion of all things made by humans, the inability of the outside world to disturb the serenity of the rocks, the sands and the plants. It is the mystery of the glyphs in the caves, left behind by a people rendered sadly nameless by the passage of time.

Standing beside Cap Rock, one of the larger and more famous formations in the park, I was drawn for some time from the enormity of the granite by a solitary spirit. Soaring high above the rocks was a lone, majestic bird, floating effortlessly on the wind, hovering, hardly moving except to occasionally tilt a wing one way or the other to stay on course. For what seemed like hours he glided above me, wings spread wide, silently surveying the land and the people below. It was as if time had been destroyed.

How powerful it was to be at one with that creature even if only for a fleeting moment. How remarkable it was to forget about the human tainted world and to experience the perfection of creation. What a gift to stand in so vast a space, to be so blissfully alone and to inhale the very breath of God.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Welcome to 2008

Greetings all. Yes, I know it's been a year since I have posted, but stay tuned for a report from my recent trip to Joshua Tree National Park in California. I hope everyone had a great holiday season, and for those of you who actually read this blog, I promise to post more soon.