Best of the Year 2013

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on December 28, 2013 by Craig Zeichner

NY Polyphony
One of the advantages of not having to regularly write reviews – like I did for my Ariama job or Early Music America magazine — is having the freedom to listen to whatever I want to. But these three are by artists/ensembles who I would listen to any time/all the time. So the gold, silver and bronze medals go to:

New York Polyphony
Times Go By Turns

Times Go By Turns is a masterpiece, a superb album of English classics by Byrd, Tallis, Plummer and contemporary composers. The music by the contemporaries — Richard Rodney Bennett, Andrew Smith, and my personal favorite, Gabriel Jackson complements the early music perfectly. For me, Times Go By Turns achieves the near impossible; it takes familiar works — Masses for four voices by Byrd and Tallis — and makes you hear them in new ways. Times Go By Turns has been nominated for a Grammy, if there is any justice in this wicked world, New York Polyphony wins. I play this  one endlessly, easily the best album of the year.

Profeti Della Quinta
Il Montavano Hebreo

Profeti
Centuries ago I worked for a record label that produced recordings of music by the Mantuan Jewish composer Salomone Rossi. The best recordings of Rossi’s music that I’ve heard are by the Galilee-based vocal ensemble Profeti della Quinta. Their new album on the sonically stunning Linn Records label is Il Montavano Hebreo, a collection of Rossi’s instrumental music — the guy invented the trio sonata — devotional music and Italian madrigals. The group is coming to New York in January. If you are New Yorkers, don’t miss them!

Stile Antico
The Phoenix Rising
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Stile Antico keeps rolling along. It’s pretty rare when an ensemble just knocks out one mind-bending album after another, especially in the rarefied world of Renaissance polyphony. Not since the early days of the Tallis Scholars have I heard Tudor church music sung with such warmth and precision. Stile Antico, like New York Polyphony, are superb programmers too. Their program is drawn from Oxford University Press’s classic Tudor Church Music collection, but programmed with a careful ear. The Phoenix Rising features Byrd’s magnificent Mass for five voices with motets and anthems by Gibbons, Morley, Tallis, Taverner, and White placed between movements of the mass.

Green Mountain Project 2013

Posted in News with tags , , , on December 21, 2012 by Craig Zeichner

promo-2

How many live performances of Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 have you attended? Let me rephrase the question, how often have you heard the Vespers performed by critically acclaimed singers and instrumentalists (including strings, cornetti and sackbuts) in a marvelous venue (Church of St. Mary the Virgin in NYC and St. Paul’s Church in Cambridge, MA)?

If you live in either city or just love this music and want to promote it, I urge you to contribute to the Green Mountain Project 2013’s Kickstarter campaign in support of their performances of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610. Here’s some of what you will hear:

I first learned about the Green Mountain Project back in 2010 when I was researching an Early Music America Magazine story about the Vespers. I interviewed soprano Jolle Greenleaf (the project’s co-artistic director) and was struck by her love and passion for the piece. I missed the New York performance that year (miserable flu laid me low), but have attended every performance since and was so impressed with TENET (Ms. Greenleaf’s vocal ensemble that forms the core of Green Mountain Project), I joined their board of directors. Here’s what I had to say about their recording of the 1610 Vespers.

You can contribute to the Kickstarter campaign here and, depending on how much you pledge, get premium seats and CDs of performances of the 1610 and 1640 Vespers.  The Green Mountain Project Vespers typically sell out, so by pledging $30 or more, you guarantee yourself a seat.

Why take the word of a board member? Read what Allan Kozinn of the New York Times had to say about last year’s 1640 Vespers. 

You can learn more about the Green Mountain Project here.

1640 Vespers

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , on January 1, 2012 by Craig Zeichner

In 17th-century Italy, vespers (the chief evening service of  the Office, the daily cycle of prayer) were celebrated with lavish music on special feasts. A vespers service contains an introit, five psalms that are framed by chant antiphons, a hymn and the Magnificat. Those are the basics. What composers have done with those psalms, hymns and Magnificat has resulted in some of the most thrilling music of the period.

Perhaps the most famous of all Vespers settings is the Vespro della Beata Vergine of Claudio Monteverdi. The Green Mountain Project’s 2010 concert commemorating the 400th anniversary of the publication of Monteverdi’s Vespers was one of the finest performances of the work I’ve ever heard. The Green Mountain Project is a consortium of some of the finest performers on the early music scene and is anchored by Tenet, the excellent New York-based vocal ensemble. Last January the group again presented the 1610 Vespers and released a recording of the 2010 performance. You can buy this marvelous recording at the Tenet website. Here’s what I wrote about it last year.

The 1610 Vespers are on hiatus this year, but on January 3rd, 4th (NY) and 7th (MA)  the Green Mountain Project will present A Grand Festive Vespers in Venice, c. 1640. As much as I adore the 1610 Vespers, this new program has me very excited. Music Director Scott Metcalfe and Artistic Director Jolle Greenleaf have created a Marian Vespers for the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin, based on the 1610 model. Monteverdi won’t be left by the wayside though, music from his spectacular collection of sacred works Selva morale e spirituale (published 1640/41) will be featured. Fans of the 1610 Vespers will also get to hear his setting of the hymn Ave maris stella. I’m also very excited about the other music on the program too. The Venetian master Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1555 – 1612) and Milanese composer-nun Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602 – c.1676) will also be featured.

I heard Gabrieli here

The inclusion of Gabrieli and Cozzolani is particularly thrilling for me. One of my greatest musical memories was hearing Gabrieli’s music at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice. Surrounded by Tintoretto paintings we were bathed in Gabrieli’s brilliant polychoral writing. Cozzolani may be the hidden treasure on the program. Her story is remarkable and her music sublime (Robert Kendrick’s excellent essay is a good place to learn more about her). For years I’ve been grabbing any Cozzolani recordings I could find and, thankfully her discography has grown over the years. Who knows? Maybe there’s a Cozzolani Vespers yet to happen. Monteverdi, Gabrieli, Cozzolani and the Green Mountain Project. This one is going to be a winner.

Tickets for all the Green Mountain Project concerts are available on their website.

Here are some highlights of the 2011 performance of the 1610 Vespro della Beata Vergine.

Come to the River

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2011 by Craig Zeichner

I’m delighted that early American music continues to enjoy popularity. Definitive recordings by the Boston Camerata and Anonymous 4 put the music on the map and Rose of Sharon, a spectacular 2011 recording by Joel Frederiksen and Ensemble Phoenix Munich, honors it as true American art music. There have also been high-minded and brilliantly performed crossover records like Appalachian Waltz (with the dream team of Yo-Yo Ma, Mark O’Connor and Edgar Meyer), which stressed folk and bluegrass-rooted Americana. Both approaches are valid and welcome. Come to the River by Apollo’s Fire, a period instrument ensemble, weighs in with a decidedly crossover album that will delight fans of that genre and probably put off listeners who are more purist.

The album features a number of New England and Appalachian tunes, Southern spirituals and other traditional tunes in arrangements by Sorrell, ensemble member Paul Shipper and even one by Custer LaRue (a member of the Baltimore Consort, a group who scored big hits with just this kind of crossover). The Apollo’s Fire vocalists all possess polished voices and the instrumentalists perform well. But the spontaneous loose improvisatory style that’s the album’s chief selling point just come across as stiff and corny. I’ve no problem with creative arrangements of old tunes, but ensemble director Jeannette Sorrell’s take on “Nobody But the Baby,” speaks more of the Manhattan Transfer than anything remotely folksy. This is fun, unbuttoned music but the bluesy growls in “Hold on” sound contrived,  and the animal sounds in “Willie, Prithee Goe to Bed” are just embarrassing. When the tone is elevated in a set of Southern spirituals the arrangements don’t work for me. Listen to the studied prettiness of Apollo’s Fire’s  “Wondrous Love” and compare it with versions sung by Anonymous 4 (on Gloryland) or Lydia Brotherton and Ensemble Phoenix Munich (on Rose of Sharon).

There are positives. The purely instrumental pieces have a nice bounce and while they never really push the envelope they are some of the most satisfying performances on the album. Sorrell’s turn at the harpsichord of a set of Dances from New England and Ireland are very nice and made me wish that she played more of them. Some of the Sacred Harp tunes come off quite well too, especially “Return Again/Savior, Visit Thy Plantation.”

At times the concept seems to be at odds with itself though. In the liner notes there’s a half page of text that explains the ensemble has “developed a unique ensemble of crossover artists who specialize in traditional repertoire from early America…they approach the music with the lively freedom of folk performers.” Okay, a looser approach can work. But then there’s the erudite three paragraph discussion of shape-note hymnody where Sorrell seems to snipe at a famous women’s quartet, (who shall remain anonymous) and says, “Performance of shape-note hymns by an all-female quartet is therefore not historical.” Why bring it up? I thought this was supposed to be about “lively freedom?”

How do you actually get to Carnegie Hall?

Posted in News with tags , , on July 28, 2011 by Craig Zeichner

One of the many things I love about my job is working with such clever colleagues. Here’s one of the gems one of them just completed. So, how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Would love to hear from some of you musicians out there.

The life of a classical musician

Yale in New York: Stylus Fantasticus

Posted in News with tags , , , , on April 18, 2011 by Craig Zeichner

I’ve been greatly impressed by the Yale Baroque Ensemble, an outstanding group of young performers in an intensive one-year postgraduate program for string players dedicated to the study and performance of baroque music. The omnipresent (he’s just back from a touring Boston Early Music Festival production, and is performing as concertmaster in New York’s Trinity Baroque Orchestra and Choir’s complete Bach Cantata series) baroque violinist Robert Mealy is the man heading the program and Mealy and company are coming to Zankel Hall on April 25th as part of the eclectic Yale In New York series when they present a program called Stylus Fantasticus.

The program is super juicy:

Dario Castello (fl. early 17c): Sonata decimaquarta (two violins, two cellos, harpsichord from Sonate Concertate in Stil Moderno, Libro II, Venice 1629)

Giovanni Paolo Cima (c. 1570–1622): Sonata a tre (two violins, cello, harpsichord from Concerti Ecclesiastici, Milan, 1610)

Castello: Sonata quarta (two violins, harpsichord)

Giovanni Battista Fontana: (c. 1589–1630): Sonata seconda (violin, harpsichord from Sonate… per il violino, Venice 1641)

Michelangelo Rossi (1602–1656): Toccata settima (harpsichord)

Castello: Sonata decima two violins, cello, harpsichord

Tarquinio Merula (1594–1665): Ballo detto Eccardo & Ciaconna (violins, cello, harpsichord from Canzoni ovvero Sonate Concertate, Libro III, Venice 1637)

Johann Rosenmüller (1619–1684): Sonata quarta (two violins, cello, harpsichord
from Sonate a 2, 3, 4, 5 stromenti d’arco, Nuremburg 1682)

Intermission

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644–1704): Battalia (full ensemble)

Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: (1620–1680): Sonata a tre violini (three violins, continuo)

Johann Jakob Froberger (1616–1667): Toccata (harpsichord)

Schmelzer: Sonata quarta (violin, harpsichord from Sonate unarum fidium, Vienna 1664)

Henry Purcell (1659¬–1695): Three Parts upon a Ground (full ensemble)

Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713): Concerto Grosso in D major, Op. 6, No. 4 (full ensemble)

Tickets are available at the Carnegie Hall website and at the box office.

Victoria

Posted in News with tags , , , , , on March 2, 2011 by Craig Zeichner

There should be more of a hubbub about the Victoria anniversary year. As a matter of fact, you might not have even known that 2011 is the 400th anniversary of the death of Tomás Luis da Victoria, the finest of all Spanish composers.

It’s an interesting coincidence that Victoria (1548 – 1611) was born in Ávila, the hometown of St. Teresa (1515 – 1582), the great Christian mystic. Victoria’s music has a spiritual intensity that puts him in a unique place and to my mind only Bach, Messiaen and John Coltrane achieve similar results. For me, Victoria sits comfortably in the company of St. Teresa.

Bernini's "The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa"

And with El Greco too. A contemporary of Victoria (El Greco’s dates are 1541 – 1614), his paintings capture in oils and canvas what Victoria’s does with music.

El Greco's "Assumption of the Virgin"

I hear Victoria’s Marian music with its bright, heaven-bound, lighter-than-air qualities and my brain references El Greco’s work. Both masters have a straight-to-the-heart, take-no-prisoners appeal that leaves no middle ground. Listen to the Victoria Requiem or Tenebrae Responses and El Greco’s dark, pained skies and suffering Saints come to mind.

El Greco's "Christ Carrying the Cross"

I first heard Victoria during a Good Friday service at St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church in NY about 20 years ago. The choir was singing his Popule meus during the veneration of the cross. It’s one of the pieces Victoria included it in a massive publication called Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae which includes nine Lessons from the Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet, hymns, settings of the Passion and other music. Published in Rome in 1585, it is the most complete collection of music for Holy Week ever created.

Victoria’s Lamentations of Jeremiah for Maundy Thursday are going to be sung by TENET, the superb vocal ensemble on March 19th at that very St. Ignatius of Antioch Church where I had my Victoria epiphany. This is going to be an outstanding program because in addition to Victoria, TENET is singing works by Cristobal de Morales (c. 1500 –1553), Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) and a selection from the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat (13th c.). If you don’t know the music of the Spanish Siglos de Oro, you are in for a revelation. Morales was the most important Spanish composer before Victoria and Guerrero always surprises, a composer skilled in both sacred and secular music.

Tickets are available from TENET and can also be purchased the night of the concert. Past experience with TENET concerts means you would do well to order now, St. Ignatius fills up rather quickly.

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