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Forbes Classical CD of the Week

…The latter is very late-period Smetana, where mental trouble, probably due to syphilis, was already rearing its ugly head. It was written just a year before Smetana—long deaf by then—died in Prague’s Kateřinky Lunatic Asylum. The torn quality can remind, if faintly, of late Schumann—but the language firmly retains its Central European accent. The Talich Quartet’s warm, direct sound and rich acoustic add much to the immediacy of the music. The feeding frenzy of the third movement Allegro opening in that Second Quartet, for example, is an amazing witness to this,…

-> Classical CD of the Week: Classical CD Of The Week: Czech Please

CD Review: Office of San Minias

Charles T. Downey, CD reviews: Early music on the cutting edge
Washington Post, September 15

available at Amazon
Officium Sancti Miniatis (Florence, Arcivescovado, s.c.), Coro Viri Galilaei, Ensemble San Felice

(released on July 8, 2016)
Bongiovanni GB5193-2 | 107'03"
[CD booklet]
The music we call Gregorian chant was not a monolithic, unified repertory. Melodies and texts varied widely from place to place, century to century. The only way to appreciate this is to study medieval manuscripts, where individual differences are manifested, especially in the feasts of local saints. This beautiful new recording on the Bongiovanni label offers one such unusual selection, a rare set of chants for the Divine Office in honor of St. Minias, a third-century martyr whose relics are venerated at the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte overlooking Florence. For those seeking to lower their blood pressure during an overheated election season, this calming music is a balm.

Giovanni Alpigiano edited the musical source, a 12th-century antiphoner used in Florence Cathedral and now in the collection of the city’s archiepiscopal archive. I happen to be familiar with it because of research conducted for the CANTUS Project during my graduate school studies, a manuscript containing several rare or unique offices for unusual Italian saints. This recording by two Florentine chant choirs, the Coro Viri Galilaei and Ensemble San Felice, does not attempt to re-create these medieval prayer services in their complete form. Although lessons drawn from the saint’s vita are inserted between the matins responsories, minor prayers and versicles are omitted, as are all but the first couple of verses of psalms and canticles. The focus is on the chants found in the manuscript, although the recording does not include some of them, such as the alternate invitatory and a string of extra antiphons at the end of Lauds.

The Coro Viri Galilaei sings most of the pieces, and the women, who sing the chants of the first nocturn of Matins, have an especially pretty, meditative sound. The smaller Ensemble San Felice sings the third nocturn, with a tone slightly more refined than the men of the Coro Viri Galilaei, greater in number, who sing the second nocturn. In any case, with this sort of liturgical music, some roughness around the edges of the voices only adds to the appeal, as in some of the solo contributions. The two directors, Enzo Ventroni and Federico Bardazzi, prefer a free-flowing style of chant performance rather than trying to retrofit later metric patterns onto this music notated without rhythmic durations. The sound, recorded in a place called the Villa Calloria, has a long acoustic ring similar to what you would hear in a church of stone.
Keith Glaeske, Charles Downey, and Lila Collamore, Firenze (Florence), Arcivescovado - Biblioteca, s.c. (Index of chants, CANTUS Database)

This unusual manuscript also has an alternate Office for Nativity of Mary, with texts drawn from Song of Songs, not found in any other sources and so apparently unique to Florence Cathedral. It also includes special offices for Saint Zenobius, the first bishop of Florence; Saint Vitus, one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers; Saint Apollinaris of Ravenna; Saint Donatus of Arezzo; and Saint Syrus, first bishop of Pavia.


At TCR: The Weekly Stream

Get your Internet streaming music fix for the week:

Charles T. Downey, The Weekly Stream (The Classical Review, September 21)


Latest on Forbes: World Premiere of A. Schreier's Hamlet at Theater-an-der-Wien

The Shakespeare Quadricentennial is upon us, hard, and Shakespeare music content is sprouting up wherever we look. If it is just rehashing the regularly played Verdi operas, then that is not much. Better to have something unknown revived, like the Bregenz Festival did with Amleto by Franco Faccio and with a libretto by Arrigo Boito (REVIEW) or commission a new work altogether. That is what the Theater-an-der-Wien did, with Hamlet, set to music by Arno Schreier and Thomas Jonigk writing an almost Shakespeare-free libretto to it. The result, premiered last week, was good, even if good (or OK) is not good enough, for an opera to leave a notable mark. In addition I briefly recap some of the performances that I have seen at the Theater-an-der-Wien in the last two years, which were not always satisfying but never made me waver in my admiration for this little stagione house that could; that bright spot on the cultural scene in Vienna. Full review here:

To Succeed Or Not To Succeed: Theater-An-Der-Wien World Premiere Of "Hamlet"


At Washington Classical Review

Charles T. Downey, Washington Concert Opera marks 30 years with a bel canto feast (Washington Classical Review, September 19)

---, Critic’s Choice for 2016-17 season (Washington Classical Review, September 13)

In the Post: Dancing to the Gran Partita

available at Amazon
Mozart, Serenade in B-flat Major ("Gran Partita"), Orchestre des Champs-Élysées, P. Herreweghe
(Harmonia Mundi, 1995)
Charles T. Downey, PostClassical Ensemble presents Mozart through a different lens (Washington Post, September 19)
PostClassical Ensemble likes to refract familiar music through a different lens. For its season opener, heard on Saturday evening at Sidney Harman Hall, the piece of music was Mozart’s “Serenade in B-flat Major,” K. 361/370a. Executive director Joseph Horowitz created a three-part, rather fanciful production involving drama and dance.

When Mozart settled in Vienna he cast about looking for any kind of sustainable work. This serenade for eight woodwinds, four horns and double bass was one of several pieces likely intended for virtuoso wind players at the Imperial Court. Its performance, the evening’s main attraction, was less raucous, more polite than the one given on historical instruments by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Library of Congress a decade ago, for example.

Fatma Daglar produced a limpid sound, as if buoyed on a cloud, in the famous opening oboe phrase of the Adagio. The basset horn parts, played on modern versions of the instrument, were shaky at times and sometimes rushed. The bassoons were solid on the bass lines, including Truman Harris, a late, uncredited substitution on first bassoon. Conductor Angel Gil-Ordóñez probably got in the way of the musicians more than helped them, and the persistent squeak of his shoes on the stage’s shiny floor distracted the ears.

In the evening’s first part, Philip Hosford played the character of Salieri, extended from Peter Shaffer’s play “Amadeus.” Three student musicians played two Mozart pieces, not listed in the program, revealing nervousness in breath support and intonation. At the end of the evening, the musicians repeated three movements from the serenade, to accompany the Washington Ballet Studio Company in a beautiful new choreography by Igal Perry. Of all the possible intentions for this music, dance is not one of them, but it was at least encouraging to see this company’s dancers moving to the sounds of live music again.
This was Igal Perry's debut with Washington Ballet. With his Peridance Contemporary Dance Company, he made a choreography for PostClassical Ensemble's performance of Falla's El Amor Brujo in 2011. For that his choreography missed the mark, at least for me, but here he made something quite beautiful. It would be interesting to see what he did with the entire serenade. Twelve dancers in unisex gray shorts and sleeveless tops formed male-female pairs, with the basic number of four pairs sometimes contracted, sometimes enlarged. The famous opening of the Adagio, the first number in the choreography, was realized in movement as the dancers slowly walked around the space to the "squeezebox" chordal patterns that open the piece. The soaring long-note melody was matched by graceful lifts of women with their legs splayed apart.

The triple meter of the second menuet movement began with three dancers, one woman and two men, and elements of French courtly dance seem to have played in Perry's imagination. Another couple was added for the trio, while the largest number of dancers appeared in the bubbling, active choreography that went with the Finale movement.

Charles T. Downey, Boulez Pairs Mozart with Berg (Ionarts, August 27, 2009)

---, OAE @ LOC (Ionarts, December 9, 2006)

Forbes Classical CD of the Week

…What La Voce Strumentale and their do-it-all leader Dmitry Sinkovsky deliver is truly rock’n’roll-baroque. Just when you think that the race towards expressive extremes in baroque must surely have come to an end or enter the realm of the ridiculous, another band shows that the envelope can still be pushed and excite.…

-> Classical CD of the Week: Classical CD Of The Week: The Vivaldi Vanity Package