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Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Russian Easter Overture”: Music for the “Bright Holiday”

In Russia, Easter is known as the “Bright Holiday.” Appropriately, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, completed in 1888, springs to life with bright, glistening sounds. You can almost sense nature’s springtime renewal in the fresh, joyful vitality of this music. For example, listen to this shimmering passage near the beginning of the piece. Vibrant colors and instrumental personas are […]

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Bach’s “Erbarme dich, mein Gott”

This week we’ll explore music inspired by Good Friday and Easter, both sacred and secular. We’ll start in one of the most sublime and powerful corners of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion: the alto aria, Erbarme dich, mein Gott (“Have mercy Lord, My God, for the sake of my tears”). In the drama, this aria reflects Peter’s solitary […]

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Benjamin Appl

Benjamin Appl: Schubert at Wigmore Hall

As a followup to Wednesday’s post, here are three excerpts from an album of Schubert songs released last year by German baritone Benjamin Appl. The album was recorded live at London’s Wigmore Hall with pianist Graham Johnson accompanying. Am Bach im Fruhling In the 1816 song, Am Bach I’m frühling, D. 361 (“By the Brook in the […]

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Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony: Haunting, Mysterious, Groundbreaking

Take a moment, hook in your best pair of headphones, maybe even close your eyes, and listen to the first haunting bars of Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished” Eighth Symphony. It begins with a single, hushed melodic line in the low strings which quickly gives way to shivering violins and darkly pulsating bass pizzicati. Then, a lamenting […]

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New Release: Rafal Blechacz Plays Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach is the simple but fitting title of a new album by 31-year-old Polish pianist Rafał Blechacz. The recording, released in February, features Bach’s Italian Concerto, Partita Nos. 1 and 3, Fantasia and Fugue In A Minor BWV 944, and the seldom-heard Four Duets BWV 802-805. (Blechacz offers this description of the Duets). British pianist Myra Hess’ arrangement of Jesus, Joy Of Man’s […]

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Puccini’s Turandot: Five Key Moments

In Wednesday’s post, we heard a few examples of Puccini’s flirtations with impressionism. Puccini’s final opera, Turandot is filled with colorful orchestration and adventurous harmony which evokes the exotic atmosphere of the mythic story: Princess Turandot, determined to never marry, takes revenge on her suitors through a series of riddles. Failure to answer correctly results in the suitor’s execution. Here […]

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Puccini the Impressionist

Longtime readers of The Listeners’ Club may recall that this is the time of year when the Richmond Symphony often travels throughout the state as the pit orchestra for Virginia Opera. This year, we’ve been playing Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot. With lush, soaringly romantic melodies, Puccini’s operas are some of the most rewarding to play, from the perspective of a string […]

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Isabelle Faust
Photo: Marco Borggreve

Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata: Isabelle Faust

A continuous vibrato is one of the key elements of modern violin playing. So it’s easy to forget that there was a time when vibrato was used much more sparingly as an ornament. Listen to German violinist Joseph Joachim’s 1903 recordings of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 1 and No 2 and you’ll hear this older approach to sound. In a […]

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New Release: Jennifer Higdon’s Musical Postcard, “All Things Majestic”

An awe-inspiring slice of Wyoming landscape inspired American composer Jennifer Higdon’s All Things Majestic. The four-movement orchestral suite was commissioned in 2011 by the Grand Teton Music Festival in celebration of its 50th anniversary. Music Director Donald Runnicles and the Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra gave the premiere in August, 2011. Here is the composer’s description of the piece: […]

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NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17:  Stephen Sondheim attends the New York premiere of 'Merrily We Roll Along' at Regal Union Square Theatre, Stadium 14 on October 17, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Rommel Demano/Getty Images)

Happy Birthday, Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim, the American composer and lyricist, celebrates his 87th birthday today. Last summer, there were rumors that a new Sondheim show, currently in the “workshop” phase, would open this year, off-Broadway. With or without a new work, Sondheim’s contribution to American musical theater is undeniable. With Sondheim, the modern, plot-driven musical (a genre which […]

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