Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dvorak: Trio Solisti - Exuberant and entertaining

Trio Solisti: Dvorak
Piano Trio No. 3 in F minor, Op. 65
Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, Op. 90 "Dumky"

These works of repertoire standards, and have been recorded by just about every piano trio worth their salt (as well as few that weren't). So what sets the Trio Solisti's interpretations apart? There's a sense of fun that pervades these performances. To my ears, the trio enthusiastically enjoyed playing these works. And it's an attitude that benefits the music.

Dvorak's Piano Trio No. 3 start out with some very aggressive attacks from the strings. But it's all part of the heightened sense of drama the Trio Solisti brings out in the work. In the slow and lyrical passages, the ensemble plays quite tenderly -- sometimes almost heartbreakingly so. the final movement is full of verve and spirit, and fitting climax to a rollicking good time.

Dvorak based the "Dumky" trio (as the name says) on the dumka, a Slavic epic ballad. Dvorak celebrates his Czech heritage in the work, and the Trio Solisi do, too. Maria Bachmann's violin sometimes sounds like a gypsy fiddle, digging into the notes to wring out every last drop of emotion. I've heard performances where the folk elements are downplayed, making the work sound more traditionally classical -- and those are valid interpretations. The Trio Solisti, however, by celebrating the Czech roots of the "Dumky," make this a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience.

Sonically, this recording strikes just the right balance with me. The instruments are recorded close in, but not so close that there's no ambiance. The individual instruments sound cleanly, but not dry and brittle. And collectively the ensemble is nicely balanced, but not artificially so. It's an intimate, natural sound that gave me the feeling of sitting front and center of a very private concert.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Angele Dubeau -- Game for New Music

Game Music
Angele Dubeau & La Pieta

Are video games art? The Museum of Modern Art seems to think so -- they're assembling a collection of games to display in the hallowed halls of MoMa. What about video game music? The jury may still be out on that one, but Game Music certainly helps make the case for it.

Canadian violinist Angele Dubeau and the chamber orchestra she founded, La Pieta, present a program of current and classic video game themes arranged for the ensemble. It's an enjoyable collection of light classical music that should appeal to both gamers and those that don't know Ms. Pac Man from Master Chief.

Some of the scores have a cinematic feel. Splinter Cell, for example effectively conjures up the atmosphere of a techno-thriller action movie. Music from Heavy Rain and Chrono Trigger are two other selections that sound like movie soundtracks, befitting the serious nature of these games.

The theme to Assassin's Creed has been transformed into an elegiac miniature, with evocative Middle-Eastern touches. Final Fantasy is the most ambitious work on the album, an eleven-minute orchestral piece that would be at home in any concert program.

Not all video games are serious, though, and neither is their music. La Pieta's version of Angry Birds is just as fun as the original. And who knew that the theme from Tetris would lend itself so well to contrapuntal treatment? 

An enjoyable program from start to finish. Game on!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Villa-Lobos: War and Victory Symphonies make a compelling program

Villa-Lobos: Symphony Nos. 3 'War' & 4 'Victory'
Sao Paulo symphony Orchestra
Isaac Karabtchevsky, conductor

This is the second installment of Villa-Lobos symphonic cycle by Karabtchevsky and the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra. The two symphonies on this release are the surviving parts of a triptych commissioned by the Brazilian government to celebrate the end of the First World War. Symphony No. 3 "War," and Symphony No. 4 "Victory" are on this release. Symphony No. 5 "Peace" is lost.

Completed in 1919, these symphonies play against expectations. First, the works have very little of the folk elements Villa-Lobos scores are known for. Second, although commemorating victory, the symphonies avoid bombastic and heroic gestures. And the results are two compelling and attractive works that deserve a wide audience.

Symphony No. 3 "War" has some bugle calls and an excerpt from La Marseillaise. The latter references the French battlefields where Brazilian troop fought and died. But beyond these elements there's nothing overly militaristic about the work. Instead, Villa-Lobos has written a very somber and understated symphony that captures the mood of a nation that discovered there's nothing glorious about war in the trenches. The programmatic names of the four movements frame the story the music effectively conveys; Life and Labour, Intrigues and Rumors, Suffering, and The Battle.

Symphony No. 4 "Victory" is a big, expansive work that isn't as dark as the third symphony. But this isn't a celebration as much as a reflection on the cost of victory. Villa-Lobos uses the resources of his enlarged orchestra effectively, creating broad thematic gestures that slowly unfold. Symphony No. 4 is more elegiac than triumphant.

The Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra is well-recorded, and under Isaac Karabtchevsky's direction delivers sympathetic and committed performances. I look forward to the next installment of this cycle.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ann Shaffer - 30 Years of "A Time for Singing"

Ann Shaffer  listens to a special
message from Jessye Norman
at her surprise reception.
Ann Shaffer, host of A Time for Singing marked her 30th anniversary as a WTJU volunteer announcer March 30, 2013. Her love of opera comes through with every broadcast, both in the music she selects, and the information she shares from her encyclopedic knowledge of the genre.

This past Sunday her fellow volunteer classical department announcers gathered at the station to give her a surprise reception during the Sunday Opera Matinee. After the first act of Tannhäuser Ann and her many well-wishers gathered in the WTJU studios.

Tim Snider, her co-host for the Sunday Opera Matinee delivered a heart-felt tribute over the air, and the broadcast a special surprise -- a personal message from Jessye Norman! A fitting tribute for a remarkable person.

30 years of broadcasting is a major achievement -- even in the field of professional broadcasting. And to maintain a high quality of programming throughout even more so.

If you love opera, or the great operatic singers, then you should be well-acquainted with Ann Shaffer. If not, then you should make it a point to listen. Opera and vocal music tends to get the short shrift on most classical radio stations. Not so at WTJU. We celebrate it -- and Ann Shaffer continues to lead that celebration, as she has for 30 years.

Ann Shaffer and her husband, Hugh - their
marriage has run even longer than
"A Time for Singing!
Hear Ann's Anniversary Tribute


On the radio:
WTJU 91.1 FM in Charlottesville, VA

A Time for Singing, - Ann Shafer, host - Tuesday evening from 6-8 PM
Past programs can be replayed online at
Playlist Archive

 The Sunday Opera Matinee - Ann Shaffer and Tim Snider, hosts - Sunday afternoon, 2-6 PM
Sunday Opera Matinee Schedule
Past programs can be replayed online at
Playlist Archive