Nov 12

ClarkCornet
Cornet Soloist of the Sousa Band Herbert L. Clarke ★★★★
Herbert Clarke was among the first few generations of trumpet players with a modern three-valved trumpet, and he helped define the nature of virtuosity in trumpet playing. HL Clarke has written many of the trumpet lesson books that exist, and several of which I use on a regular basis. This is a very old historic recording, and the sound is horrid on many of the tracks. The producer admits that they did their best to clean up the recordings and to remove record scratchiness, but it is still a fairly prominent part of the background noise. Even still, it is a delight to hear an early master of the trumpet. While virtuosity today has well exceeded what Clarke demonstrates in these recordings, the Clarke recordings still demonstrate a great mastery of the instrument achieved by few even today.

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Nov 12

Handel
Händel Edition; produced by Brilliant Classics ★★★★★
This was a budget compilation of many of the works of Georg Fredrick Händel, produced by Brilliant Classics. Many of the Brilliant Classics productions are substandard, but this production was not. Most of the pieces included in this collection were excellent performances with excellent recording technique. Though the 65 discs in this offering were quite budget in price, they were anything but budget in quality, and compete adequately with productions by other recording studios. Particularly, many of the vocal pieces were superbly performed, as well as the organ concertos. The Messiah production by Steven Cleobury competes with the other 10-15 recordings of the Messiah in my collection. It is at times a touch rushed, but I find that consistent with British recordings of the Messiah.
So, a few words on Händel. First, I find it incomprehensible that his name is spelled Handel or Haendel, and not Händel, which was his birth name spelling. OK, the Brits don’t have umlauts, but the British be damned, regardless of Händel’s tolerance for the British misspelling of his name. My exposure to Händel has up to now been limited. I’ve had a smattering of his most popular pieces, but there is not much out there with Händel that’s affordable. I’ve watched a number of his operas (in DVD video format), which are very tedious, and a strain on the sentiments of a modern opera lover.
Händel was born about 30 miles from where JS Bach was born in this same year of Bach’s birth. Though Händel became the wealthy internationally acclaimed composer, his works are brilliant but lacking the absolute genius of Bach, even when considering his Messiah. There is a sense of tediousness in working through Händel that is never found in Bach. Both composers borrowed heavily from other compositions that they or others composed, but Bach had a flair for instilling a brilliance to the new use of the music that is lacking with Händel. This is not to say that Händel was not an accomplished composer, and this collection by Brilliant has done a nice job of pointing out to me many of the lesser recognized works of Händel that are absolutely delightful, but rarely ever performed. Hopefully, some day we will see a COMPLETE Händel Edition with high quality performances. Until then, this collection of Händel is a very reasonable and inexpensive alternative.

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Aug 28

Faust
Gounod’s Faust, with Angela Gheorghiu (Margeurite), Roberto Alagna (Faust), Bryn Terfel (Méphistophélès), and the Royal Opera House★★★★★
Though Gounod wrote several operas and much other music, the opera Faust remains among the best and most compelling works. It is a wonderful liberal adaptation of Goethe’s Faust to the opera house. Unfortunately, it is not so commonly performed. Betsy and I saw it in Chicago at the Lyric Opera house many moons ago, with Samuel Ramey playing Méphistophélès (i.e., the devil). Yet, the music is most delightful, and the storyline modestly faithful to the Goethe story and thus far more interesting than the standard Italian tragic opera. In this production, it was staged in 1800’s Paris, which isn’t exactly where Goethe scripted his Faust story, but fitting for a French Gounod adaptation. Most the scenes were well done, though a few were a bit outlandish and distracting, such as the bleeding statue of Christ in the first act, and Méphistophélès cross-dressed as a lady in the last act. Having Alagna and Gheorghiu fulfill the Faust/Marguerite rolls was quite fitting, especially when they were singing the love scenes, since they were (at least at the time of this opera production) a married couple. Both were superb actors as well as top class singers, and Terfel was equally capable, though sometimes criticized for not acting devilish enough. I have another production of Faust which tends to put one asleep after the first act, this production doing the opposite. It is a worthy opera to watch, and would be enjoyed, even by those who dislike opera.

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Aug 26

PhilSmithCollection
The Philip Smith Collection ★★★★★
Philip Smith was chair of the trumpet section for the NY Philharmonic Orchestra for many years, starting in 1978, and only retiring recently. He also taught at the Julliard School (which suggests that he had a huge, possibly direct influence, on Wynton Marsalis), where he also studied music. Much of his early trumpet education was from his father, playing in Salvation Army bands. Smith’s style of performance is distinctive and being quite melodious, and singsongy. His technical capabilities are at the top of the realm of virtuosity. What was most notable to me was his ability to blend in with an orchestra without standing out: it was more like an orchestra with a trumpet, rather than a trumpet with an orchestra. The resulting sound was most outstanding. In this collection of three CDs (two of which needed to be downloaded from iTunes), Smith performs both baroque/classical as well as modern pieces, some of which were written specifically for Smith. It is a most worthy collection to have of an outstanding trumpeter.
ArtOfTrumpet
The Art of the Trumpet, Håkan Hardenberger ★★★★★
Håkan Hardenberger, a Swedish trumpet player, makes distinction for having a very fluid, crisp style. He performs a combination of the traditional baroque/classical pieces as well as contemporary. His technical expertise, especially with tonguing, produces a very crisp sound that few trumpeters possess. He  never sounds brassy, but keeps a pleasant tone to his playing. Certainly he stands as one of the contemporary trumpet greats.
NakariaiovTrumpetPianoNakariakovTrumpetORchestraSergei Nakariakov: Trumpet & Piano, Trumpet & Orchestra ★★★★★
This set (of actually two separate albums) are a collection of single CD’s which have been previously published. Nakariakov made his first CD (in the Trumpet & Piano album) when he was only 15 years old, and even then he has a wonderful virtuosic sound. His performances are a mix of the standard baroque/classical trumpet repertoire as well as modern stuff. He plays a combination of instruments, including a flugelhorn. His technical brilliance is unprecedented, save for a few giants like Maurice Andre. Oddly, he doesn’t do Bach’s 2nd Brandenburg Concerto, which is probably one of the most demanding pieces in the whole trumpet repertoire to perform well. Owing to his young age, we can expect many more years of the most superb trumpet music from Sergei, and perhaps even hear more from Bach.
 

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Mar 05

AndreTrumpetSound
Maurice André – The Trumpet Shall Sound – 2 CDs
Of the greatest trumpet players of my life time, the three that stand out are Rafael Mendez, Maurice André, and Marsalis Wynton. Mendez was probably the technically greatest player of the bunch, overcoming enormous obstacles and endless practice to achieve a status on the trumpet similar to Paganini on the violin — he completely re-defined the media for both classical and jazz players. Maurice André wins the prize of overall excellence in the classical sphere. He had the most extensive repertoire, even converting solos for other instruments like the bassoon or oboe or flute into trumpet solos. His technical fluency is most remarkable. He is best known for his command of the piccolo trumpet, though there isn’t a trumpet piece on either the regular or piccolo trumpet that doesn’t sing in his hands. Common to all three players is the endless practice schedule from dawn to dusk to maintain the extraordinary proficiency on the instrument that they possessed. Playing the trumpet may look easy, but it is as challenging as any other musical instrument, if not more.
This album of two CDs is a smattering of André’s performances, mostly in the baroque realm. It is a total delight. His playing never grates or irritates the listener. His command of the instrument is both smooth and majestic. This album is a wonderful showcase of a man who has truly mastered the instrument of the trumpet.

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Nov 30

HuntersBrideThe Hunter’s Bride (Der Freischütz) by Carl Maria von Weber ★★★★★
The Hunter’s Bride (Jägersbraut) was the original title to the opera Der Freischütz, changed to it’s current name by a producer in Berlin to assist in marketing. This film is an example film opera, where the film in performed in realistic settings like the outdoors and in various mansions, but the sound is recorded in the studio to assist in the highest quality. The producer Neubert took many liberties in interpretation. While the traditional seeting of the Freischütz is in medieval Germany, Jens Neubert chose to make the setting of this opera contemporary to von Weber in the early 1800’s in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. This modification from traditional settings actually works quite well.
Von Weber lived in the early 1800’s and followed Beethoven in the musical timeline. He was highly innovative, and served as the transition into Romantic opera, of which Verdi, and even more so, Wagner, owe their original ideas. This is a very German opera and distinctly NOT Italian or French. There is little schmaltz. The story is a battle between good and evil, God and the devil, and the struggle of the characters for moral purity and virtue, of fall and redemption. This opera fits all of the above. It’s a wonderful, though somewhat hokey story. Max needs to perform well in a shooting contest on the day of his wedding to Agathe in order to win Agathe’s hand in marriage. His recent bad luck in shooting contests causes Max to become quite desperate, seeking enchanted bullets to succeed in the shooting contest (Freischütz). The outcome remains for you to watch and see.
This production is quite delightful. The music is superb, and soloists are superb, both in their voice and in their acting. There were only two areas that I would change. The first is a very brief episode of nudity with Agathe, something that did not complement the opera. The second was the bizarre design of Semiel (the devil) in the Wolfschlauch scene. All in all, this was a 5 star production, and well worth watching.
 

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Jan 25

BroadwayInBox
Broadway in a Box
I offer two sets of reviews for this set. There is a reason for this. I often post reviews to Amazon.com, and when I post positive reviews, the responding commentator (of my review)  will usually identify the review as helpful. If I post a negative review, I will receive generally an “unhelpful” ranking. Negative reviews from me often receive feedback that comment on my stupidity. It would be like being called an idiot for preferring chocolate by a vanilla aficionado.  This current review has two sections so that my review  may be received differently based on where one lives. Desperately desiring only favorable feedback on my reviews, I decided to write two reviews. The first review should only be read by those who live in New York City, would like to live in New York City, or who do not live in NYC but have an “I ♥︎ NYC” bumper sticker; if you fit this category, do NOT read the second review. If you do not fit this description, don’t waste your time on the first review and read only the second review.
First Review with New Yorker sentiments ★★★★★
The Broadway musical is a reflection of New York at its best, with the glamour, delight, and gaiety that exemplifies New York. In this most delightful collection of musicals reflecting Broadway plays from most the 1960’s and 1970’s, we see the charm that has brought such acclaim to Broadway. These recordings are a delightful collection of the best of the best that Broadway had to offer in those years, and are the original recordings of each of the musicals contained there-in.  A visit to New York gives one the electric excitement of a dynamic city. It is to this city that we owe much of the cultural innovation of the last century, and from Broadway that a true gift is given to the rest of America. A amalgam of Vaudeville, Tin-Pan Alley, and Big Band Jazz styles in contemporary settings offer a musical feast for the ears. To New York we owe our culture. They tell us what to buy (Madison Avenue), how to save (Wall Street), how to think about current events (NY Times), what to eat, how to live, and what to enjoy in music. And to Broadway we owe a perfect reflection of Americana, music that is truly American. The only thing missing in this box is the video, which would have been nice to go along with the sound track. It is a bargain and well worth the enjoyment of listening to many times over.
Second Review with Rest of the US sentiments ★
The Broadway musical is a reflection of absolutely the worst in American music, including its obscenity, its triteness, and its failure to resurrect the listener from the slums of abject boredom. Its theme of boy-girl love (or sometimes boy-boy/girl-girl love) dominates nearly every musical.  The music itself could have been written by a trisomic Mongoloid—if one simply writes a nonsense talking script and then generates a singsongy tune to accompany it, you have most of what is found on these CDs. Very little reflects true creative genius. But this is so typical of New York—vacuous glamour with a presumption of greatness. There was very little in the vocal performances to be admired. The frequent use of singing children does not provide rivalry to the vocal greatness of the Wiener Knabenchor or die Thomanerchor. Adult voices were not pleasant, especially female voices which were raspy and quite irritating. How any group of people, let alone a whole megalopolis of people, could tolerate this rubbish defies imagination. Some musicals, like “Chicago” were just plain obscene. Others, like “Hair”, attempted to make light of the radical Hippy movements of the late 1960’s through a love fest to the Hare-Krishna New-Age Jesus amalgamated religion. Certain musicals would probably have never made popularity if they weren’t “fixed” by Hollywood — this is especially true of the Rogers and Hammerstein musicals. The contents of this box with brief comments are as follows…
Disc 1: Annie (Original Broadway Cast) – raspy little kid sings “they’ll love me tomorrow”, but what about today?
Disc 2: Anything Goes (1987 Lincoln Center Theater Cast) – ho-hum. Obviously, anything does go in NYC.
Disc 3: Cabaret (Original Broadway Cast) – NY envious of Berlin pre-war decadence. Jolly right, ole’ chum
Disc 4: Camelot (Original Broadway Cast) – Came little. Ho-hum
Disc 5: Carousel (1965 Music Theater of Lincoln Center Cast) – June is busting out all over!
Disc 6: Chicago (Original Broadway Cast) – Sewage, not fit for Chicago
Disc 7: A Chorus Line (Original Broadway Cast) – ho-hum
Disc 8: Company (Original Broadway Cast) – super ho-hum
Disc 9: Fiddler on the Roof (Original Broadway Cast) – yea, ok, the Jews all left Russia and moved to NYC, wishing to be rich men. We know that already.
Disc 10: Guys and Dolls (1992 Broadway Cast) – c’est ennui. Can’t anybody in NYC compose an interesting story line script?
Disc 11: Gypsy (Original Broadway Cast) – hyper ho-hum
Disc 12: Hair – I didn’t realize that Krishna was hairy. Looks like the age of Aquarius is already over. With global warming, NYC will have the age of Aquarium.
Disc 13: Hello, Dolly! (Original Broadway Cast) – desperately needs Satchmo
Disc 14: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Original Broadway Cast)- deserves an Oscar for the worst script ever
Disc 15: Into the Woods (Original Broadway Cast) – a failed attempt to improve on die Gebrüder Grimm
Disc 16: The King & I (1964 Music Theater of Lincoln Center Cast) Not sure why Yul Brynner and Hollywood decided to tackle this one.
Disc 17: Man of La Mancha (2002 Broadway Cast) – it is no wonder that Hollywood didn’t tackle this one, it’s an impossible dream.
Disc 18: My Fair Lady (Original Broadway Cast) “super-sexist” and would never be tolerated by today’s standards. Read Pygmalion instead.
Disc 19: Oklahoma! (1979 Broadway Cast) – Jed Clampett also had a beautiful morning once in Oklahoma, but immediately left it for Beverly Hills
Disc 20: Oliver! (Original Broadway Cast) – Little orphan Oliver! Male version of Annie
Disc 21: Show Boat (1966 Music Theater of Lincoln Center Cast) – Broadway subtly engaged in self-adulation
Disc 22: The Sound of Music – The hills may be alive with the sound of music, but Broadway is definitely NOT in the hills. Still trying to solve the problem of Maria
Disc 23: South Pacific (Original Broadway Cast) – New York’s method of making a bloody war romantically beautiful, n’est pas? Nous aimons les guerres!
Disc 24: Sweeney Todd (Highlights) (Original Broadway Cast) – Sweeney Who? This musical actually has highlights?
Disc 25: West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast) – Why couldn’t Leonard Bernstein just stick to conducting the NY Philharmonic? Amazing that somebody that sells themselves as the great professor and philosopher of music and adorer of Noam Chomsky could deliver something so trite. Bad music, bad script. The Beatles did better; the musical “Yellow submarine” far exceeds anything in this show. Compare Bernstein’s “America” with Rammstein’s “Amerika” and Rammstein will win handsomely.
First, Bernie attempts a half-hearted mess “everything is free in America” are some of the first words… spoken like a true liberal on welfare

Now, Rammstein will tell you what Amerika is really all about…

The late 20th century has produced exemplary music. Unfortunately, it has mostly come from eastern Europe. The West in their godless decadence has lost any ability for true creativity. Once entertainment is stripped of meaning, it becomes nothing more than a hedonistic bacchanalia that  fails to offer to an audience anything of lasting value. Comparable musicals that show more class include a) the Strauss musicals, including Die Fledermaus, in spite of the falsetto of Prince Orlofsky, the music and story line are funny and memorable  b) the Gilbert and Sullivan musicals, which had horrid story lines and scripts, made up for by reasonably good music. Even such mushy schmalzy musicals (operettas) such as those of Lehar (Land des Lächelns, e.g.)  has minimally very impressive music in them. The only thing that the Broadway musical does well is to truly reflect contemporary Western culture. To that, the listener should hear and weep. I gave away this series to a good friend so that he could also do a little weeping. He’ll probably sing along to the recordings while in the shower.
If you’ve read this far and you are of the group that lives, loves, or belongs in New York, then clearly you’ve read too far. Shame on you. I suppose you read other people’s mail. You probably even support the NSA (and Obama) reading everybody’s mail. But, I’ll give you some advice that you can take to your friends on Broadway. Try a merger of Broadway with Hollywood. Here’s an example: merge a war musical and a war film. You can take South Pacific and The Sands of Iwo Jima. Once you have John Wayne hunkered down on the beach the first night on Iwo Jima, as evening sets in, have him suddenly stand up and start singing “Some Enchanted Evening”. The Japs can come out to provide the orchestral background, and the wounded soldiers beside John can sit up on their stretchers and offer the oohs and aahs. Once the soldiers reach the summit of Mt. Suribachi and they get ready to raise the flag, the John Wayne is joined by Jane Fonda (in her Barbarella outfit, but military green to match the Duke) and they sing Bali Hai with all the same words, but substituting “Iwo Jeem” for “Bali Hai”. For another merger idea, one can merge two Broadway musicals. Take the West Side Story. . . in the middle of the song “Maria”, some nuns can come out and start singing “How do you solve a problem like Maria” from the Sound of Music. Later, during the duet “Tonight, tonight, tonight may be the night”, Annie comes out singing “Tomorrow, tomorrow, just wait ’til tomorrow”.  Mel Brooks could have a feast on Broadway shows.

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Jan 22

Paganini means “little pagan” in English. Some of his compositions are impossibly hard to play. Here is a tune that you’ll recognize, played by a single person.

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Jan 20

GoreckiStringQuartGórecki String Quartets, performed by the Royal String Quartet ★★★★★
If you prefer to listen to pop/rock music, you will truly detest these pieces, as they are not easily accessible. The music is complex, challenging, and multi-layered. It is not 12-tone music, but definitely does not hold to a given key as your typical tonal composition. Unlike much 20th century music, which is nothing but noise, Górecki succeeds in accomplishing a convincing piece of music. The quartets fit the style of Shostakovich, though definitely having the personal sound unique to Górecki. The performance is very well done, and the recording comes across as sharp. This is not music for everybody, but seems to suit my taste quite well.
 

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Jan 19

NielsonViolinConcNielsen Violin, Clarinet, and Flute Concerti, with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, directed by Kees Bakels ★★★★
Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) was a Danish composer best known for his symphonies and violin concerto. These lesser pieces certainly are no less great than Nielsens’ symphonies, even if less performed. These concerti all use the solo instruments in a unique way, that doesn’t overwhelm one with the solo piece. None of the solos seem to be demanding virtuosic pieces, but are pleasant insertions into a well-fitting orchestral accompaniment. I am not a Nielsen fan, though I find that these pieces were quite pleasing to get to know. Naxos offers superb recordings, and for the price are quite worth it.
 

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