Brahms’ First Piano Concerto: Rising to Symphonic Scale

A ferocious, stormy intensity is unleashed in the opening of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor. With an ominous inevitability, the expansive opening theme growls, snarls, and lashes its teeth, rising up like some kind of awesome supernatural power. Immediately, we’re drawn into music which is bold and monumental- a kind of symphony with solo piano. For nearly four years, beginning in 1854, the young Brahms wrestled with the form of …

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New Release: Rachel Barton Pine Plays Elgar and Bruch

Violinist Rachel Barton Pine just released her 36th album in January. It features Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto in B minor alongside the First Violin Concerto of Max Bruch. Barton Pine is accompanied by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, led by Andrew Litton. She talks about the recording in this recent interview with Richmond Public Radio’s Mike Goldberg. Rachel Barton Pine dedicated the album to “the memory of a musical hero and generous friend, Sir Neville …

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Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”: Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony

This may be the newest recording of Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings. It’s part of a Grammy award-winning album released last August by Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony. Recorded live in concert at Heinz Hall, it’s paired on the album with Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, another monumental twentieth century work written at virtually the same time. Adagio for Strings was originally conceived as the second movement of Barber’s 1936 String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11. Shostakovich …

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Five Excerpts from Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra”

The premiere of the first version of Giuseppe Verdi’s three act opera, Simon Boccanegra, took place in Venice on this date (March 12) in 1857. At this first performance, the dark, historical drama, once described by the composer as “too sad and desolate,” was a flop. Verdi returned to the work over twenty years later with an 1881 revision that was more successful. This is the version that is most often heard today. It contains some …

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The 2018 Oscars: Nominees for Best Original Score

The 90th Academy Awards ceremony was held last Sunday. French composer Alexandre Desplat’s music for The Shape of Water was awarded Best Original score. Here are excerpts from the five scores nominated for this category for 2018: “The Shape of Water” (Alexandre Desplat) Arpeggios rise and fall in continuous waves of sound in Desplat’s music for the opening scene of The Shape of Water. The composer discusses the music for this love story between a mute …

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Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”: A Showpiece in Multiple Versions

This week, I’m once again playing the great orchestral showpiece, Pictures at an Exhibition. It’s music which was originally composed by Modest Mussorgsky in 1874 as a suite of ten virtuoso pieces for solo piano, and later transformed into shimmering orchestral technicolor by Maurice Ravel. Listening to this popular orchestral adaptation, we have the sense of two works colliding, spectacularly. The rebellious, inventive harmony and folk-inspired Russian nationalism of Mussorgsky meets the refined, impressionistic color …

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Remembering Jesús López-Cobos

The eminent Spanish conductor, Jesús López Cobos, passed away in Berlin last Friday. He was 78. López Cobos served as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1986 to 2001. As a teenager, I listened to a handful of his numerous recordings with the ensemble on the Telarc label. His Bruckner albums (Symphonies 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9) were especially notable. During his tenure in Cincinnati, the orchestra (the fifth oldest in …

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