Archive for the Uncategorized Category

A few new recordings

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

Some interesting August and September releases

Contemporary music with muscle

Contemporary music with muscle

Michael Daugherty
Fire & Blood

Recently, I was reading an article in the Finnish Music Quarterly about composer Kalevi Aho. In the article Aho mentions a criticism that was made of his music by an Austrian journalist who accused Aho’s music of being “not dehumanized enough.” My complaint about much contemporary music is the opposite, it’s too dehumanized. I shun the over-intellectualization of music, loathe works that sound like they were composed with an abacus and notated in battery acid. Thankfully the three works on this fantastic recording of music by Michael Daugherty are filled with passion, wit and drama to spare.

 Fire and Blood is a full-blooded, knock your socks off violin concerto that makes pressing technical demands of the soloist but never descends to the level of an empty-headed violin showpiece. The work draws its inspiration from the Detroit Industry murals by the great Mexican artist Diego Rivera and the color and energy that Rivera brought to his art is reflected in the music. Violinist Ida Kavafian plays this music with muscle aplenty and the Detroit Symphony under conductor Neeme Järvi is nothing short of spectacular.

 The other works on the recording, Motor City Triptych and Raise the Roof, are also superb. Motor City Triptych is a brilliantly jaunty evocative piece which pays tribute to the Motown sound, Michigan Avenue in Detroit and Rosa Parks. This seems like something of an odd mix but Daugherty’s vivid orchestration and rhythmic skill make each movement a memorable tone poem. Brass lovers take note, there’s plenty of interesting work for trumpet and trombone throughout. Raise the Roof is a concerto for timpani and orchestra and was inspired by such grand architectural wonders as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Empire State Building. The work offers the timpanist an opportunity to play some melody and even stretch out with a showpiece cadenza. Once again Daugherty pushes hard and the effect is thrilling. This is an essential recording for anybody who cares about the current state of American music – it’s very encouraging indeed.

Revolutionary or revolting?

Revolutionary or revolting?

Sergei Prokofiev
Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution

It’s been nearly thirty years since I first encountered this very weird work by Prokofiev. I remember buying a recording on the Melodiya label that featured a worker-hero and his girl in full party (Communist, that is) regalia on the cover (he was also toting what looked like a 9mm Parabellum pistol). I was struck by the energy and color of the work but I also remember that I didn’t like it nearly as much as the other Prokofiev works I was enjoying with youthful enthusiasm: The Gambler (an opera I saw when the Bolshoi company came to New York in the 70s), Alexander Nevsky, Scythian Suite and the Piano concertos. Thirty years later and my opinion has not  changed, this is not top-notch Prokofiev, but there is enough to hold your interest and this 1992 recording (Chandos is re-releasing lots of their Prokofiev recordings) is quite good.

This Soviet patriotic cantata was written in 1936 and is based on texts by Marx, Lenin and Stalin. The work wasn’t premiered until 1966 and by then the texts by the disgraced Stalin were removed. As you would have suspected, none of these gentlemen were Soviet versions of Lorenzo Da Ponte so such lyrical phrases as “No class now stands on both sides of the barricades” must have presented problems to Prokofiev. All kidding aside, Prokofiev rose to the wretched occasion and wrote a wacky and frequently exciting piece that features chorus, orchestra, military band, accordion band and a speaker shouting speeches by Lenin through a megaphone. In a delicious bit of cameo  casting, the great Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky gets to shout the Lenin bits.

If you can get over the fact that the people who demanded the work were monsters and the philosophy that inspired it was miserable, there is plenty to like. As a matter of fact, if you are a fan of film music you will be in heaven. The kaleidoscopic Revolution movement features chorus colliding with orchestra and bellowing Lenin speeches, it’s like the Battle on the Ice from Nevsky on amphetamines. The Oath, another big choral number, brings in the accordion band and the purely orchestral Symphony movement offers the energetic, at times frenzied Prokofiev in full flight. Neeme Järvi leads a superb performance and the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus are brilliant. It’s all weird fun and very much worth a listen.

A German Romantic you need to know

A German Romantic you need to know

Joseph Rheinberger
(Ars Musici)
The first sentence of the liner notes sums up the story of Joseph Rheinberger pretty well, “[Rheinberger] shares the fate of many German composers of the second half of the 19th century, that of the “forgotten masters.” True that. I’ve always been a fan of Rheinberger’s music. My first exposure to his music was a recording the organist E. Power Biggs made of the composer’s organ concertos. Over the years I’ve become more familiar with his many solo pieces for organ and a work that my church choir regularly sings, the Cantus Missae, Op. 109.

 This recording by the Regensburger Domspatzen (a choir of men and boys) is especially welcome for its mix of sacred and secular repertoire. The centerpiece of the recording is the a cappella Missa Sanctissimae Trinitatis, Op. 117.  The Mass impresses with its simplicity and gentle lyricism. The opening Kyrie is a hushed plea that is moving and marvelously understated. The Gloria is a straightforward song of praise that eschews bombast. The Credo displays Rheinberger’s fine contrapuntal gifts and showcases the pure vocal tonal quality of the excellent chorus. The hymn-like Benedictus sets up the gorgeous Agnus Dei that closes the work.

 The same soaring melodies and skilled choral writing that make the Mass so special are found in the motets and hymns that open the recording. Rheinberger knew his old music too, and the these pieces have their share of contrapuntal flights of fancy, as well as some interesting chromatic turns that would have been heard in the Baroque. Special note most be made of the Salve Regina, Adoramus te and Ave vivens which have a marvelous melodic sweep that is unforgettable.

 The recording closes with the Waldblumen, Op. 124, a set of nature pieces look back to the earlier Romantic period and are filled with folk-like melodies and occasional flashes of drama.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2009 by Craig Zeichner


Aho: Symphony No.1; Hiljaisuus; Violin Concerto
Manfred Grasbeck, violin
Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Osmo Vänskä






Berg: Wozzeck
Fischer-Dieskau, Lear, Stolze
Chor und Orchester der Deutschen Oper, Berlin
Karl Böhm





Remembrance, Music of Schoenberg, Bernstein, Bloch and Zeisl
Sharon Bezaly, flute
Vadim Gluzman, violin
São Paolo Symphony Choir and Orchestra
John Neschling




Schoenberg: Gurrelieder
Andersen, Isokoski, Groop
Philharmonia Voices
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen
(Signum Classics)





Great Big Sea: Play
(WEA Canada)







One of my favorite tributes to the Second Viennese school:

Closing with one of my favorite Alexander von Zemlinsky works:

Roots, Feast of San Gennaro 2009

Posted in Food and drink, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2009 by Craig Zeichner


Despite my Germanic last name, culturally I connect most with my Italian roots. My mother’s family is Italian (roots in Naples) and I grew up with Italian food and drink and the dismal Italian-American alteration of the Italian language. After studying Italian and becoming relatively fluent, I always wince  at some of the pronunciations. For example, some food and drink names:

Campari  became “Gambar.”

Prosciutto is made to sound  like “Brojzoot.”

Capicolla has been turned into the frightening “Gabaghoul” a meat best eaten at Halloween I guess. (Nobody pronounced “Gabaghoul” better than James Galdofini on The Sopranos. I loved when he would stick his head in the fridge and call out, “Carm, where’s the Gabaghoul?”)

Waiting for "Gabaghoul"

Waiting for "Gabaghoul"

Since once of my cats is named Cannoli, I can’t help but flinch at how it is pronounced by my mother and her generation: “Ganawl.”  For a crash course in Italian-American food pronunciation, I invite you to the superb Court Street Bakery in Brooklyn during Christmas or Easter for a lesson in Italian pastry pronunciation.

How about a delicious "Ganawl?"

How about a delicious "Ganawl?"

Yes, the gorgeous vowels of Italy seem to have been tossed away when my ancestors settled into New York after arriving at Ellis Island. On the other hand, I love the way sausage is pronounced “Sauseege.”

"Sauseege," I want the kind he had.

"Sauseege," I want the kind he had.

The Feast of San Gennaro

 If you are a New Yorker you know about the Feast. For a week in September what is left of Little Italy is filled with outdoor stands offering sausages and peppers, zeppole, brasciol, clams, over-priced daiquiris and other tasty bits. Games of chance abound, and for a dollar you can attempt to throw what feels like a small cannon ball into a basket to win an iPod – the stakes have been raised, because when I was growing up the prizes weren’t nearly as nice.

You can also buy lots of souvenirs at the Feast. Here’s where I am going to go off on a bit of rant. Italian culture is not what the souvenir stands are about. Yes, you can buy an Italian soccer team jersey, an Italian flag or a statue of Saint Anthony – “Saint Antnee” where I grew up. But you can also buy some real gems like a shirt with Don Corleone, Tony Soprano and Tony Montana on it, stenciled on like some unholy trinity. If you are paying attention you will have rightfully pointed out that Tony Montana shouldn’t have been on the shirt since he was Cuban. Fear not, there were also shirts with John Gotti’s beatific gaze on them.

One size fits all

One size fits all

How did we come to this? Now I know a Tony Soprano t-shirt is a lot more fun for some than, let’s say, a t-shirt with Dante’s picture on it – I mean Dante the poet, not Silvio Dante the Soprano’s consigliare. I fear a couple of things are happening. I’m not going to get all weepy because the Feast of San Gennaro was never a celebration of great Italian culture. Paperbacks of Petrarch, Mirandola and Machiavelli never were sold at the various street stands. CDs of Verdi and Puccini do not outsell Jimmy Roselli CDs. Fair enough.

But did we have to actively promote TV and movie mobsters as the sole representatives of Italian culture? What concerns me is what the tourists think. There are probably more tourists from Europe and exotic places like Iowa at the Feast than people of Italian heritage.  I know what my culture is really about and I can overcome the stereotyping. But I don’t like the fact that some grandmother in a tasteless sweatshirt and fanny pack visiting from Indianapolis goes home thinking she has experienced real Italian culture.















All that being said, I love the Feast. I ate sauseege, flipped through the Vic Damone and Jerry Vale CDs and spent time trying to win that iPod. But I also put things in perspective and went home to read some Tasso while eating zeppole. Tasso and zeppole, Cannoli approved.



French Organ Music for the Strong of Heart, Demessieux and Escaich

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2009 by Craig Zeichner
Wondrous machine, the Cavaillé-Coll organ at St. Sulpice

Wondrous machine, the Cavaillé-Coll organ at St. Sulpice

French organ music is my favorite drug. Give me a recording of music by Vierne, Dupré, Touremire or  Messiaen played on a big Cavaillé-Coll organ and I don’t need dessert.  Probably don’t need dinner either. Messiaen’s organ music seduced me years ago and there’s still nothing in all the world that stirs me as much.  Christmas music? Give me La nativité du seigneur above all else. Need a thrill? Play the Sortie from the Messe de la pentecôte loud, real loud. More than Buxtehude and even more than Bach, Messiaen’s organ music hits me right between the eyes.

The world's greatest scarf and Olivier Messiaen

The world's greatest scarf and Olivier Messiaen


What’s there to listen to after Messiaen? The two French composers who have impressed me most are Jeanne Demessieux (1921-1968) and Thierry Escaich (b. 1965).


Jeanne Demessieux



A private student of the great Marcel Dupré, Demessieux was an award-winning organist and composer. She was a virtuoso of astounding talent and a prolific recording artist (although you wouldn’t know that by the paltry number of her recordings that are still in print) who was far too young when she died. Her music has an intensity that is matched by its sheer difficulty. This has to be terrifying music to play.  A recording by the organist Maurizio Ciampi on the Stradivarius label has become a great favorite of mine. Ciampi is up to the technical challenges – his  pedal work kills – and makes me want to hear him play more of Demessieux’s music, or anything else for that matter. Speaking of pedal work, apparently Demessieux dazzled North American audiences by her quicksilver pedal-playing in high heels.



Ciampi's championing Demessieux

Ciampi champions Demessieux


Here’s Demessieux’s Octaves from her Six  Etudes performed by Maxime Patel. The playing isn’t as technically secure as Ciampi’s but its fun to see the pedal work.


Thierry Escaich

Escaich, he gives you so many reasons to like the music of your century!

He gives you so many reasons to like the music of your century!


“Thierry Escaich: one of the composers of today who gives you so many reasons to like the music of your century!”  That’s the greeting from Escaich’s homepage and it’s true, he makes me like music of my century! Escaich’s music is as intense as Messiaen  and Demessieux’s  and, like Messiaen, has  that whiff of the delicious perfume of the ecstatic that I find so compelling. Escaich is also a virtuoso organist; he is the successor to Maurice Duruflé as organist at the church of St. Etienne du Mont in Paris.

I’ve been reveling in Escaich’s recording of his own works on the Calliope label. He plays the Cavaillé-Coll organ at St. Etienne du Mont in a program that features some solo works that give Demessieux’s murderous Octaves a run for its money. I also recommend the terrific recording on the Accord label (with Olivier Latry at the organ console) of his Organ Concerto. If you get really hooked, try his oratorio  Le Dernier Èvangile on the Hortus label.




 The master should have the last word though,  here’s Naji Hakim playing Messiaen’s  Dieu parmi nous from La nativité du seigneur.




Posted in Uncategorized on August 22, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

Szymanowski: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2
Polish State Philharmonic Orchestra
Karol Stryja, conductor







Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Robert Merrill, Roberta Peters, Cesare Valletti
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
Erich Leinsdorf, conductor








J.S. Bach: Concertos, Vol. III
Cafe Zimmermann
(Alpha Productions)

Cafe Zimmermann







Power Tools: Strange Meeting
Bill Frisell, Melvin Gibbs, Ronald Shannon Jackson








Nordic Roots, Volume III
(Northside Records)

Nordic roots 3







Power Tools live:

In our age of tin, a voice from a golden age passes…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 21, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

hildegard_behrens04I’m coming in a bit late with a tribute to the soprano Hildegard Behrens who died Tuesday. In the 80s I was blessed to see her at the Met as Leonore in Fidelio with Jon Vickers as Florestan and Klaus Tennstedt conducting.  Behrens was also  centerstage for one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in an opera house: Elektra in Munich.  It was an astounding performance and Behrens brought a touch of vulnerability to the character along with the requisite skin-crawling weirdness. Behrens went all out in every role and left nothing on the table.

She didn’t make nearly enough recordings. I have some private recordings of her in Met broadcasts and on DVD singing  Brünnhilde in the Met Ring Cycle. Her Salome with von Karajan conducting is her landmark recorded performance and one of my favorite recordings of the opera.


Here’s the electrifying Behrens in Elektra

More from Elektra

Final scene


Posted in Uncategorized on August 12, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

Boismortier:  Daphnis et Chloé
Le Concert Spirituel
Hervé Niquet, director








Sacred Garland, Devotional Chamber Music in the Age of Monteverdi
The Gonzaga Band

Sacred Garland







 J.S. Bach: Orchestral Suites for a Young Prince
Ensemble Sonnerie
Monica Huggett, violin and director








Moby: Wait for Me








The Big Gundown – John Zorn Plays the Music of Ennio Morricone








and the maestro himself…



Cornetto madness

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2009 by Craig Zeichner


“As to the quality of sound it produces, it resembles a bright ray of sunlight appearing in shadows or darkness when one hears it among the voices in churches, cathedrals or chapels.”
–Marin Mersenne (Paris, 1636)


“A wooden, lip-vibrated wind instrument with finger-holes and a cup-shaped mouthpiece. It was mainly used from the end of the 15th century to the end of the 17th, but continued in use, mostly by town musicians, until the late 18th century and occasionally even into the 19th.”
–Grove Music Online


Two descriptions of a rather non-descript looking instrument. If you are an early music aficionado you are familiar with the sound and would probably agree with Mersenne’s poetic take on things. The great John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins album “Tenor Madness” inspired the post’s title, but what about the music?

First thing to remember is that if you pondering which cornetto album to buy, get anything with Bruce Dickey and his ensemble Concerto Palatino. Dickey is the Eric Clapton of the cornetto and he appears on dozens of recordings of baroque music. His ensemble Concerto Palatino has made some stunning albums for a number of record labels and some of the best appear on the Accent label.

To get a feel for the sound of massed cornetti and trombones, start with:








Il Concerto Palatino di Bologna, North Italian Music for Cornetts and Trombones, 1580-1650 (Accent ACC 8861D)


Want to experience the “bright ray of sunlight”  Mersenne speaks of?  One of my desert island discs:


Venetian Music for Double Choir (Accent ACC 93101D)


You can never go wrong with music by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672):








Symphoniae Sacrae I (1629) (Accent ACC 30078)


There are other cornetto virtuosi and William Dongois is a name you’ll need to know. There’s a marvelous 3 CD set called L’Âge D’Or Du Cornet A Bouquin on the K617 label. It’s tough to find – I recommend Amazon’s French affiliate—but a real treasure. Dongois and an ensmble of cornetti, organ, harpsichord and soprano Julie Hassler explore music by Italian and German composers of the early baroque:



L’Âge D’Or Du Cornet A Bouquin (K617 187/3)

Jean Tubéry a French cornettist, is a student of Dickey, who leads Ensemble La Fenice and has a pretty extensive discography. I really like the many recordings he’s made with soprano Maria Cristina Kiehr for the Ricercar label. The series is called The Heritage of Monteverdi and my favorite album in the series is a beautiful Christmas album:








Per il Santissimo Natale (Ricercar)

There’s lots more out there, go get them. And while we’re talking about great music for winds, don’t forget:






Posted in Uncategorized on August 2, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

George Crumb: Music for a Summer Evening (Nonesuch)

Enrico Rava: New York Days (ECM)

John Adams: Doctor Atomic Symphony (Nonesuch)

Stefano Bollani: I Visionari (Label Bleu)

Alessandro Scarlatt: Il Martirio di Santa Ceclia (CPO)

I hated the job but loved the music

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

One of the worst jobs I ever had led me to some of the greatest music I ever heard. I worked for a notable publisher affiliated with a revered English university whose music division specialized in choral music. The publisher was over 600 years old and most of their business practices dated from about the same period. Petty factions stabbed at each other like Yorkists and Lancastrians and none of those involved were as entertaining as Richard III. What did I gain from my four year term with the company? The best thing was being introduced to the music of Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988), William Mathias (1934-1992) and Gabriel Jackson (b. 1962).

If you worship in an Anglican church with a good music program you might know Leighton and Mathias’s choral music. Leighton’s Easter Sequence is frequently performed and Mathias’s “A Babe is Born” pops up on many Christmas Lessons and Carols services. Both composers excelled in every genre. Leighton’s Suite ‘Veris Gratia’ for oboe, cello and strings is a neglected masterpiece whose absence from the concert hall is criminal. He also left a great collection of solo instrumental music and superb choral works. Outside of the church, Mathias has suffered the same neglect. He is best remembered for his sacred choral music but also wrote three excellent symphonies, an excellent Harp Concerto and some of the finest organ music of his day.

Jackson is one of the most exciting voices of our day. His choral music embraces the great Anglican tradition but there are also whispers of Stravinsky, Poulenc and Tavener that make for a very compelling sound. Jackson says, “I try to write music that is clean and clear in line, texture and structure; my pieces are made of simple melodies, chords, drones and ostinatos. They are not about conflict and resolution; even when animated, they are essentially contemplative. I like repetition and ‘ritualized’ structures. Much of my work reflects an interest in Medieval techniques and ideas—I am particularly drawn to the ecstatic, panconsonant music of the early Tudor period. For me, music is the most powerful medium for transcendence, and in several pieces I have attempted a spiritual response to the great technological miracle of our time—powered flight.”

The choral music of these three composers can be heard on three must-have new recordings on the Hyperion Records label:



Kenneth Leighton
The World’s Desire
Wells Cathedral Choir
Matthew Owens, conductor
Hyperion CDA67641


One of England’s very best cathedral choirs in a program that includes three premiere recordings.




William Mathias
Choral Music
Wells Cathedral Choir
Matthew Owens, conductor
Hyperion CDA67740



Another winner from the Wells Cathedral Choir, includes the premiere recording of “In Excelsis Gloria.”




Gabriel Jackson
Not no Faceless Angel
Stephen Layton, conductor
Hyperion CDA67708



Polyphony, the finest choir on the scene, sing Jackson’s mesmerizing music. Jump right to the third track, “Cecilia Virgo” and you will understand why there is such a buzz about Jackson.



The “What I Gained From My Lousy Job” Playlist


Suite ‘Veris Gratia’ [Chandos]

Organ Concerto [Chandos]

Complete Organ Music [Priory]



Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2 [Nimbus]

Lux Aeterna [Chandos]

Organ Music [Nimbus]



Sacred Choral Music [Delphian]