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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Good Things from Transfiguration

As many of you know, I am an Episcopalian. You know, Catholic lite, all the ritual half the guilt.I am very fortunate to belong to a wonderful parish here in Dallas, The Church of the Transfiguration. It's the kind of place where you don't have to check your brain at the door, you know? We have wonderful clergy, dozens of active groups and a great music program, complete with a brand spanking new Richards and Fowkes organ that will blow your socks off!

What's best though about this wonderful church is not that we have great facilites or world class music or gorgeous art work in the building. Rather, what makes this place stand out from all of the other churches that I have served or been a part of (and as a professional church musician, there've been a lot of them) is the way that the people of the parish take very seriously their duty to serve Christ in the church, the community and the world at large. They don't do it with much fanfare either. Rather, the obey Jesus' command to keep their prayers private and not to demonstrate on the street corners as the hypocrites do.

Last night, at our weekly compline service, a group of about fifteen of us gathered to pray, sing and end the day in a spirit of peace and repose. Before the service, a class had met, and there were leftover refreshments. Any Anglican reading this will know what I mean by that, and the compline folk were invited to hang out and finish them off.

Ours is a church where not only can you have the best worship and music and liturgy, but you can also find the best parties as well. It's not at all uncommon to find us hanging around the church well after midnight enjoying each other's company and friendship after an evening service.

Anyway, for some time now I have been struggling a bit through a tough personal situation, and because of the financial stress it's put on me, I have had to be away from "the fig" as we call it, more than I care to in order to sing in other churches for pay. I have felt a bit out of touch with my friends and church family. Last night, by really doing nothing other than what this wonderful group of peolpe does naturally, I felt an overwhelming sense of community, of the presense of the God the Spirit, and of love, understanding and acceptance.

I am normally not the type to preach from the rooftops, but last night was really special, and Iwanted to share it. I invite anyone who lives in the Dallas area to join us for one or more of the many services at Transfiguration. Visit our website at If you are seeking a spiritual place to call home, I think you might just find what you need with us!

Crowding In Los Angeles

A report yesterday on NPR's All Things Considered explained how many jail inmates in Los Angeles are being released after serving only ten per cent of their sentences due to drastic budget shortfalls and overcrowding in jails. Perhaps this situation should lead us to rethink our sentencing guidelines and to reevaluate just what infractions deserve jail time.

I propose that only violent offenses be punishable by incarceration. Only those people who are a real and present danger to society should be locked away. Other offenses, such as white collar crime, non-violent theft, fraud, forgery, and especially recreational use drugs offenses, should be punished by requiring the offender to restore to society what he took.

For example, if you steal from your company, you should be required to work for that company with only subsistence wages until you have repaid in time and productivity, the value, plus damages of what you stole. If you forge a check, then you should be required to perform such community service that would both enhance the public good (repair a dilapidated school, for example) and suitably atone for your crime.

The fact that the most advanced civilization in the world has more than ten per cent of its population in cages is obscene. Add to that that a hugely disproportionate amount of those locked up are black or Hispanic, and we have an even bigger inequity that needs must be addressed. Let's start by looking at the practical ways that we can reduce the prison population while at the same time repairing and restoring our crumbling infrastructure. I believe that a work release program for non violent, non repeat offenders is an excellent way to start. The streets around my house need repair.....just a thought.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Three Hours of Slow and Pretty

Complete Tranquility
Disc One

Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782)
Concerto in c minor for cello and orchestra (Adagio molto espressivo) [7:04]
Count Unico Wilhelm van WASSENAER (1692-1766)
(formerly attributed to Pergolesi)
Concerto armonico No. 3 in A (Largo, andante) [3:55]
Concerto armonico No. 4 in f (Largo) [4:19]
Concerto armonico No. 1 in G (Grave, staccato) [4:57]
Concerto armonico No. 5 in B flat (Largo, andante) [4:25]
Concerto armonico No. 4 in f (Adagio) [2:50]
Concerto armonico No. 2 in G (Largo affetuoso) [4:35]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto in C for Recorder and Orchestra, RV444 (Largo) [4:14]
Concerto in C for Oboe and Orchestra, RV449 (Largo) [2:44]
Concerto in A for Strings, RV158 (Largo) [3:24]
Concerto in g for Two Cellos and Orchestra RV531 (Largo) [3:31]
Concerto in F for Flute and Orchestra RV433 (Largo) [2:14]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Concerto in D for strings (Arioso) [2:35]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Concerto No. 2 in F for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 102 (Andante) [6:01]
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Concerto in B-flat for Cello and Orchestra, G482 (Adagio non troppo) [6:34]

Disc Two

Giuseppi TARTINI (1692-1770)
Concerto in D for Cello and Strings (arr. Louis Delune) (Grave espressivo) [6:17]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto in F for Violin, Organ and Strings RV542 (Adagio) [3:39]
Concerto in D for Two Violins, Cello and Strings, RV565 (Largo e spiccato) [4:11]
Concerto in G for Two Violins, Two Cellos and Strings, RV575 (Largo) [2:56]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Divertimento in B flat, KV 137 (Andante) [4:09]
Church Sonata in F, KV224 [4:24]
Divertimento in F, KV 138 (Andante) [5:56]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Minuet No. 3 in d, D89 [5:40]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10 (Romance) [1:37]
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Concerto grosso in a, Op. 6, No. 3 (Larghetto affetuoso) [2:33]
Concerto grosso in e, Op. 6, No. 3 (Larghetto) [1:31]
Concerto grosso in B flat, Op. 6, No. 7 (Largo e piano) [2:43]
Concerto grosso in c, Op. 6, No. 8 (Adagio) [1:27]
Concerto grosso in b, Op. 6, No. 12 (Largo) [1:12]
Rodion Konstantinovich SHCHEDRIN (b. 1932)
Carmen Suite (Second Intermezzo) [1:59]
Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Serenade in E-flat for Strings, Op. 6 (Andante con moto) [6:10]
Camille SAINT- SAËNS (1835-1921)
Carnival of the Animals (The Swan) [3:31]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Album for the Young (The Old Nanny’s Tale) [2:54]
Franz Josef HAYDN (1732-1809)
Divertimento in D for Cello and Strings (arr. Gregor Piatigorski) (Adagio) [5:23]

Disc Three

Antonin DVORAK (1841-1904)
Serenade in E for Strings, Op. 22 (Moderato) [4:54]
Waltz No. 1 in A, Op. 54 [4:46]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Serenade in G for Strings RV525 (Eine kleine Nachtmusik) (Romanze, Andante) [5:44]
Marc-Olivier DUPIN (b. 1954)
Fantasia on Arias from La Traviata (Allegretto, Andantino, Allegro Brillante) [11:22]
Franz Josef HAYDN (1732-1809)
Twelve German Dances, H. IX: 12 [8:32]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Liebeslieder Waltzer, Op. 52 (Arranged for strings by Friedrich Hermann) (No. 6, No. 1 and No. 9) [4:43]
Alexander Porfir’yevich BORODIN (1833-1887)
String Quartet No. 2 in D (Notturno, Andante) (arranged for String Orchestra by Lucas Drew) [9:09]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Adagio for Strings [10:17]

Yuli Turovsky (cello)
Timothy Hutchins (sopranino recorder, flute)
Theodore Baskin (oboe)
Alain Aubut (cello)
Dmitri Shostakovich, Jr. (piano)
Elenora Turovsky (violin)
Geneviève Soly (organ)
Edvard Skerjanc (violin)
Christian Prèvost (violin)
Lucia Hall (violin)
Benoit Hurtuboise (cello)
David Owen Norris (piano)
Gregory Shaverdian (piano)
Alexander Trostiansky (violin)

Ensemble Repercussion
I musici de Montreal

Yuli Turovsky
Maxim Shostakovich

Recording locations and dates are not given.

CHANDOS 10565(3) Three Compact Discs [64:32] [73:05] [60:03]

Cellist Yuli Turovsky founded I musici de Montreal in 1983 and since that time has turned the fifteen member chamber orchestra into the Canadian version of Britain’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, racking up more than forty recordings and presenting more than one hundred concerts each season throughout the world. In this collection of sedate slow movements, the orchestra has compiled more than three hours of down-tempo excerpts sure to be a hit in doctors’ offices all over the globe.

There is a great deal in these full discs to enjoy. In particular, Turovsky’s amber toned cello playing, featured in a number of concerto movements is worth the price of admission. There is quite a lot of Baroque music featured, some of it adapted for modern forces by various skilled arrangers. I musici de Montreal is a modern instrument band, and although they perform with great sensitivity and taste, there is a good deal more vibrato in the string playing than is allowed by the period folk. Frankly, this richness of sound is rather refreshing to these ears and I am reminded of the great body of recordings made by Sir Neville Marriner and the ASMF, Jean Francois Paillard and his chamber orchestra, and the Italian ensemble, also known as I musici.

Other fine solos are delivered by Timothy Hutchins, particularly in the gorgeous Largo from Vivaldi’s Concerto in C for Sopranino recorder. Theodore Baskin also turns in some luscious playing in another Vivaldi work, this one an Oboe concerto, also in C. We get a goodly chunk of van Wassenaer’s Concerti armonico, works that for years were attributed to Italian boy genius Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, whose brilliant reputation led to all kinds of misleading publications after his tragic death and the tender age of twenty-six. These are lovely concertos, brimming with melody and rich harmonic suspensions, and the slow movements presented here are lovingly phrased.

Disc two is an interesting hodgepodge of old and new(er) music with items from the baroque sharing the stage with classical period, romantic and even a piece or two by more or less contemporary composers. Each selection, however is geared toward the theme of tranquility, and after a couple of hours of straight listening, I found myself going a bit numb from all the pretty slowness. With many of the excerpts coming in at under two minutes, I found that I barely had time to enjoy the music before it was over. Perhaps fewer works of somewhat more substantial length would have been a bit more engaging, but then again, that is a rather minor quibble.

Other highlights include a beautiful rendition of the Andante from Josef Suk’s E-flat serenade for strings. Suk is a composer that deserves to be heard more often in the concert hall, and this lovely excerpt is proof of that assertion. Borodin’s gorgeous Notturno from his second string quartet, here arranged by Lucas Drew for string orchestra receives a fine reading as does Samuel Barber’s ubiquitous Adagio, in a performance that spares us the gushy hyper-emotionalism of Leonard Bernstein’s lugubrious old recording.

Serious music buffs will likely thumb their noses at this compilation that is obviously designed to appeal to the “pretty music” set. But, for a long evening of peace and quiet, an elegant dinner party or a romantic encounter with one’s significant other, this attractively packaged set contains a lifetime’s worth of mood music, performed by a superb ensemble in top form. One can hope, however that the buyer will be inspired to explore the complete works from which these excerpts are taken. Slow and pretty is all fine and good, but the composers put forth complete sets of ideas in the works represented, and they are deserving of a full hearing.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

MTT Brings Shostakovich to Life

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 5 in d minor, Op. 47 (1937)

Documentary and performance by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Michael Tilson Thomas

Recorded at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco and the Royal Albert Hall, London, 2007 as part of the SFSO’s “Keeping Score” series, an in depth look at works from the classical repertoire.

SFS MEDIA 8 21936 0026 9 8 [1:49:08]

In 1936, Josef Stalin, the repressive dictator of the Soviet Union, went to see a performance of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, an opera by the golden boy of Soviet Music, Dmitri Shostakovich. The young composer rushed to the theatre, hoping to bask in the glory of Stalin’s approval, only to discover to his horror that the communist leader had left in disgust after the first act. The next day, the now infamous Pravda editorial entitled Muddle instead of Music, which denounced Shostakovich as a composer of confusing, jarring noise appeared. The composer went immediately from socialist darling to a man in danger for his very life. Some believe that the only reason he was spared the gulags was because Stalin was in love with a patriotic song that Shostakovich had composed for a propaganda film some years earlier.

In a captivating hour of discussion, Michael Tilson Thomas plays heir to the legendary Leonard Bernstein as he teaches a fascinating lesson in musical analysis, political intrigue and biography. He dissects Shostakovich’s complicated score, exposing the composer’s protest, cleverly disguised as an apology. Did he compose a great patriotic score, or did he use every ounce of his genius to speak for a people oppressed and living in constant terror?

Tilson Thomas makes a strong case for the latter by pointing out the many subtle twists and turns of motif and harmony, revealing places where had Shostakovich chosen something as minute as a single different note, the outcome would have been completely different. In a well paced hour of discussion and musical examples, Thomas not only presents an intelligent analysis of the score, but he gives us a good look into the complex and tragic life of one of the twentieth century’s most significant musical figures.

Following the documentary, MTT leads the San Franciscans in a taut, well paced reading of the symphony from a 2007 appearance at the BBC Proms Concerts. There is no shortage of drama in the boldly dissonant opening movement, yet Thomas never resorts to the sort of extroverted emotionalism that was characteristic of Bernstein’s later readings. The brief scherzo is delivered with appropriate sarcasm, and then Thomas lowers the boom in this exquisite reading of the hauntingly personal third movement. Thomas places just enough hurt into the music to make the bitterly ironic final movement come across as the nose thumbing that it really is.

Production values are outstanding throughout, but I was disappointed that there was no documentation whatever in the booklet. Granted, Thomas tells you everything you need to know in the hour long documentary, but it would have been nice to have had some sort of outline to follow. This series would be a great aid to teachers teaching entry level music appreciation classes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bravo Royal Lane!

Congratulations to Royal Lane Baptist Church for having the guts to do what's right! In an article in the Metro section of yesterday's Dallas Morning News, Royal Lane went very public in their conviction to welcome any and all into the family of Christ, regardless of their gender, race, age, or sexual orientation.

Of course, the fundies are having a field day condemning RLBC for including such a sinful lifestyle as homosexuality in the church. Heaven's to Betsy, Jesus must be breaking dishes in heaven!

It speaks volumes as to the compassion and love that have always been hallmarks of Royal Lane to see them take such a public and, in Baptist circles, controversial stance.

Bless you RLBC, and may you long live and prosper to spread the love and acceptance (not hate and fear) that is message of Jesus Christ!

Some Nice Discoveries from the Baroque!

Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783)
Cantatas, Volume I

Come l’ape di fiore in fiore [4:28]
Il nome [15:21]
Sonata a tre in e minor for two flutes and basso continuo, Op. 3, No. 2 [8:49]
Chieggio ai gigli ed alle rose [10:03]
Sonata a tre in D, Op. 3 for two flutes and basso continuo, No. 3 [7:38]
E ver, mia Fille, e vero [12:46]
Muta e l’imago dell’idolo amato [4:48]

Lia Serafini (soprano)
Gabriella Martellacci (contralto)
Accademia del Ricercare
Pietro Busca

Recorded at Ex Salone Comunale, Verolergo, Italy, 17, 18 & 24 February, 2008.


Johann Adolf Hasse, although German born, spent the bulk of his career in Italy, studied with the renowned Alessandro Scarlatti, spoke only Italian and composed vocal music exclusively in his adopted language, or in the case of sacred music, Latin. Although relegated to the sidelines in modern days, he was greatly respected in his day. Mozart held him in the same lofty company as Handel, and aspired to be himself remembered in such as league as Hasse.

Much of the vocal music presented on this elegant program has never been recorded before, and we have the Accademia del Ricercare to thank for bringing such engaging music back to life. Two fine soloists, soprano Lia Serafini and contralto Gabriella Martellacci alternate to present rich performances of arias and cantatas meant to entertain and impress guests in small intimate gatherings in the home. How lovely it is to hear a female contralto sing these lovely melodies instead of having to endure yet another failed baritone in the guise of a countertenor. (Note to conductors: unless you can get a Mark Crayton or a David Daniels, use girls!)

Hasse favored flutes as accompanying instruments but in keeping with common Baroque practice, any handy melodic instrument could be substituted, and we get superb playing from some outstanding Italian instrumentalists in both the wind and string sections. Of particular merit are the two dreamily charming trio sonatas from Op, 3, which are delivered with both serene airiness and sprightly rhythmic vitality.

Both vocal soloists deliver superb performances. Ms. Serafini’s light and radiant soprano is beautifully contrasted by Ms. Martellacci’s warm yet ever-clear contralto. Both ladies sing with distinct enunciation making the texts easy to understand. Both use ornamentation with ease, employing just enough to make things interesting without it getting in the way of the composer’s lilting melodies.

Kudos go to Brilliant Classics for joining Naxos and Arte Nova in bringing forth fascinating recordings at such a budget price. Program notes are informative and of just enough length to avoid being too academic or tiresome. Texts are provided, but sadly are presented only in the original language. If Brilliant can afford to translate the program note into three languages, why not the texts? Ahem!