2017: The Year in Classical Music

Some outstanding concerts, and some changes of leadership in Boulder

By Peter Alexander

With the year drawing to a close, it is time to look back at 2017. It has been a tumultuous year in many realms, including some aspects of Classical music. But before that, it is good to remember the outstanding musical experiences of 2017 here in the Boulder area.

Pro Musica

The year began on an expressive high point when Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra, conductor Cynthia Katsarelis and soloists Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, soprano, and Ashraf Sewailam, bass, presented Shostakovich’s rarely-heard Symphony No. 14.

I wrote at the time: “This somewhat gloomy meditation on death is not often given live, partly because of the difficult assignments facing the soprano and bass soloists, but mostly because of the difficult subject matter. But it is a major statement from a great composer—what Katsarelis calls ‘a piece that needs to be heard’—and so the rare performances are to be treasured.”

The February visit of Deborah (Call Me Debbie) Voigt to Macky Auditorium will be a cherished memory for fans of the classical voice. Voigt Lessons, the superstar soprano’s candid retelling of her struggles with relationships, substances, and weight that clouded her career not only showed some realities of life at the top of the opera world, it also revealed the very human person beneath the superstar image. For both reasons, this was a meaningful event.

Takasce SQ

Takacs Quartet

The Takacs Quartet always provides some of the year’s best performances. It’s hard to chose just one, but for 2017 I would single out their February concert including Beethoven’s Quartet in G major, op. 18 no. 2—performed while the Takacs was in the midst of a full Beethoven cycle at several venues—and CU music faculty Daniel Silver, clarinet, playing the Brahms Quintet in B minor, op. 115. An especially beautiful rendering of this beautiful work had at least one audience member in tears by the end.

March saw the arrival of another superstar in Boulder when Sir James Galway played at Macky Auditorium, and the departure of an important member of Boulder’s classical music community when Evanne Browne gave her farewell concert with Seicento Baroque Ensemble, the organization she founded in 2011.

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Boulder Phil at Kennedy Center

One of the biggest events of the year for Boulder performing arts was the visit in March of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Michael Butterman and Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance Company to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for the first annual Shift Festival of American Orchestras. The Phil repeated a concert they had given in Boulder a few days earlier, including the world premiere of All the Songs that Nature Sings by Stephen Lias and Copland’s Appalachian Spring, performed with Frequent Flyers.

An audience favorite of the festival, the Boulder Phil played to a sold out house. Butterman wrote the next day, “It was a peak experience for me, and, I think, for all of us at the Phil. . . . To be there with our orchestra, with that crowd and with that repertoire—it was something I shall never forget. We had a great sense of pride in representing our hometown.”

Several important changes of personnel were announced for Boulder classical scene in the spring. In April, Jean-Marie Zeitouni announced that he was stepping down as music director of the Colorado Music Festival. He will remain with CMF as principal guest conductor, and conductor/violinist Peter Oundjian will serve as artistic advisor for the 2018 season. Later the same month, James Bailey left his position as music curator of the Dairy Arts Center, to be replaced by Sharon Park.

Elliot Moore at Lake McIntosh - credit - Photography Maestro (1)

Elliott Moore

In May, Seicento Baroque Ensemble announced the appointment of Kevin T. Padworksi as artistic director, succeeding Browne, and the Longmont Symphony announced the appointment of Elliot Moore to succeed long-time music director Robert Olson.

The same month, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra wrapped up its 2016–17 season with its largest performance to date, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony presented in Macky Auditorium. The performance under conductor Bahman Saless was unfortunately the occasion of a protest by the anti-fracking group East Boulder County United. Seven members of EBCU blew whistles, shouted slogans and left flyers before the concert to voice their opposition to the orchestra having accepted a contribution from Extraction Oil & Gas.

Olga Kern

Olga Kern, photographed by Chris Lee at Steinway Hall.

Zeitouni proved to be anything but a lame duck conductor at the Colorado Music Festival. The 2017 season started at the end of June with an all-Russian program featuring exciting performances of Shostakovich’s Festive Overture and Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. On the same concert, one of Boulder’s favorite guest artists, pianist Olga Kern, gave scintillating performances of Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Other high points over the summer included the return of CMF’s founding director Giora Bernstein to lead a concert of Mozart, Zeitouni conducting Beethoven’s Ninth as the CMF centerpiece, and the visit of violinist Gil Shaham at the end of the summer season. Up in the mountains, Central City Opera’s Downton-Abbey-inspired Victorian-era production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte was one of the year’s highlights for opera lovers.

Another delight for the opera crowd came in the fall, with the CU Eklund Opera Program’s serio-comic production of Lehar’s Merry Widow. In November, Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra returned to its core repertoire with a lively concert featuring two youthful works for smaller ensemble: the Concerto for piano, violin and strings by the 14-year-old Mendelssohn, with violinist Zachary Carrettin and pianist Mina Gajić, and Janáček’s Idyll for Strings.

Zachary & Mina

Carrettin and Gajic

Carrettin and Gajić were featured performers in December when the Boulder Bach Festival gave one of its most intriguing and adventurous concerts in its increasingly adventurous schedule. With guest artist Richie Hawley, the program offered insight into the instruments and performance practices of the early 20th century, performed on Hawley’s 1919 Buffet clarinet, Gajić’s 1895 Érard piano, and Carrettin’s violin set up with strings typical of the period.

 

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For the classical music world outside of Boulder, the biggest news was certainly the intrusion of a long-overdue reckoning for sexual misconduct that is going on in our society generally. The first bombshell, not unexpected by people in the business but a bombshell nonetheless, landed Dec. 3 with the suspension of conductor James Levine from the Metropolitan Opera and other organizations, including the Boston Symphony and the Ravinia Festival. Accusations against Charles Dutoit, artistic director and principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, surfaced later in the month.

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James Levine

Both conductors are in the twilight of long careers. Rumors about Levine have been widely known in the classical music world; indeed I first heard them in the 1980s. Every music journalist I know has heard the same stories, but so far as I am aware, no one who experienced Levine’s assaults was previously willing to speak publicly. In the case of Dutoit, I had not heard the rumors, but I do know one of the women who spoke publicly about what happened to her, and I believe her unquestioningly.

As the controversy has swirled about the subject of sexual abuse, harassment and assault in classical music, several critics have written powerfully about the subject: Anne Midgette of the Washington Post, Jennifer Johnson of the Guardian, Andrew Riddles of Classical Ottawa to name three. Singer Susanne Mentzer has written about her personal experiences in the opera world for the Huffington Post, as has Dan Kempson for Medium.

There are certain to be more revelations. One major journalist has more first-hand information, with names including some of the of the most famous classical artists, and is preparing an article. I have no doubt that several men are nervously awaiting that story, or some other revelation that reveals past misdeeds.

Will this tidal wave reach Boulder?

It’s hard to say with certainty. I have spoken with many on the classical scene here, and the only rumor I have heard, from several sources, has been of inappropriate comments and behavior by one person, none of which reached the level of abuse or assault. “He might not have been hired today,” one person speculated, but as so often happens, the people who heard the comments preferred not to make an issue of it.

Another person told me he had never heard any rumor from the College of Music, so Boulder may escape the worst of this necessary but unhappy process. In the meantime, it is my wish for 2018 that society in general and the music world specifically create a safe environment, where powerful men do not feel free to behave like adolescent boys.

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Edited for clarity 12.31.17

Colorado Music Festival Opens 40th anniversary season with “Joy”

Pianist Olga Kern returns to the delight of a sold-out Chautauqua Auditorium

By Peter Alexander

The sign at the corner of the stage said “JOY,” a reference to the theme of the Colorado Music Festival’s 2017 40th-anniversary season: “Find Your Joy.”

Olga Kern

Olga Kern, pianist, photographed by Chris Lee at Steinway Hall

The joy was onstage in more ways than one last night (June 29). Music director Jean-Marie Zeitouni led the Festival Orchestra in their season-opening performance with an ebullience and infectious enjoyment I have not seen before. And there was joy in the audience as well, when the sold-out Chautauqua Auditorium crowd greeted pianist Olga Kern, a Boulder favorite since her 2013 festival performances.

Zeitouni began the concert with Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture,” a brilliant opener and, having been featured in the CMF”s 10th season, a nod the festival’s history at the same time. Never one to shy away from big effects, Zeitouni unleashed the Festival Orchestra brass in the opening fanfares, then took the following section at a breakneck pace that showed off the whole orchestra. From its rustling pianissimos to the thunderous climax, the “Festive Overture” was all that and more.

The apparently tireless Kern played two powerhouse Russian showpieces back-to-back, only taking enough time to catch her breath and change gowns between the Prokofiev First Concerto and the Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. (Soloists’ clothing is not the usual subject of this blog, but in this case Kern’s glittering choices were so eye-catching and perfectly a part of the opening-night vibe that they could only be admired.)

The Prokofiev Concerto is a muscular piece from the composer’s youth that gave Kern every opportunity to show off her strength and technique. She negotiated the mercurial changes of mood with precision, from the powerful chords of the opening, to the romping leaps and glittering passagework that came later, all played with relish and abandon. Only the lyrical solo passages seemed overly careful, perhaps suffering in comparison to the brilliance elsewhere in the concerto.

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CMS Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni

Zeitouni was not inclined to hold the orchestra back, so that at one climax one could see but not hear Kern’s exertions. Nonetheless, the effect was powerful and elicited cheers from the audience.

The Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, which Kern had played as part of her 2013 marathon performance of all the Rachmaninoff concertos in two nights, is a much loved piece. And calling for both power and delicacy, it is one that plays directly to Kern’s obvious strengths.

If anyone thought she was still recovering from the Prokofiev, Kern’s first robust octave entrance in the Rhapsody would have dispelled that notion. From there she went from strength to strength, bringing out all the virtuoso display of the kaleidoscopic variations.

I particularly liked the mysterious moods and emotional depths Kern found in the less showy variations. Everybody’s favorite variation, No. 18, was the essence of loveliness. After returning to a more steely interpretation, Kern ended it all with a delicacy and humor that brought first a chuckle, and then “bravas” from the audience.

Those who would like to hear more of Kern’s playing will have the opportunity at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (July 1) at Chautauqua, when she will play a solo recital of Russian and American music. Tickets are available from the Chautauqua box office.

Keeping to the Russian subject matter, Zeitouni and the Festival Orchestra ended the concert with Rachmaninoff’s lushly Romantic Symphony No. 2 in E minor. From the very first movement, Zeitouni’s interpretation emphasized the orchestra’s richness of sound, while bringing out brass section-passages and solos from the clarinet and other winds.

In the second movement, Zeitouni danced about the podium, beaming his pleasure to the players and bringing out all the exuberant energy of a Russian folk festival. In the third movement, he showed off the flexibility and responsiveness of the orchestra, and the finale was all happy hustle and bustle.

That the Festival Orchestra only occasionally showed signs of having assembled just two days before is a testament to the quality of players that come to Boulder and Chautauqua every summer. After some years of administrative uncertainty and change, last night’s outstanding concert was a reassuring sign that musically, the CMF is in good hands and going strong.

CMF founding director Giora Bernstein and pianist Olga Kern return to Boulder

Opening weekend: “high-profile guests, big orchestral pieces, variety, intensity”

Olga Kern

Olga Kern returns to CMF for the opening concert, June 29. Photo by Chris Lee.

By Peter Alexander

The opening weekend of the Colorado Music Festival’s 40th anniversary season, Thursday, June 29 through Sunday, July 2, will set the pattern for the entire 2017 season.

“It will be a microcosm of the whole festival,” music director Jean-Marie Zeitouni says. “A variety of repertoire, Baroque, Classic, Romantic, 20th-century, high-profile guest soloists, big orchestral pieces, variety, intensity; it sums it all.”

The opening concert will feature pianist Olga Kern playing two Russian concertos: Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Framing Kern’s solo turns will be Shostakovich’s Festival Overture, and Rachmaninoff’s deeply Romantic Symphony No. 2 in E minor.

Kern will also appear in a solo recital of American and Russian music on July 1, featuring Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Balakirev and several pieces by Gershwin. The next day, CMF founding director Giora Bernstein returns to Boulder for the first time in 10 years to conduct the CMF chamber orchestra. 

GIora Bernstein

CMF founding director Giora Bernstein

“The greatest satisfaction is that (CMF) really has established itself,” Bernstein says. “To see it 40 years (after its founding) is just wonderful.”

The first weeks of the festival culminate with performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Thursday and Friday, July 13 and 14. 

“It’s basically right in the middle of the festival so it’s a way to mark a certain apex,” Zeitouni says.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Colorado Music Festival (Classical Concerts through July 14)
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, music director

Opening Night, Festival Orchestra, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor: Olga Kern Plays Rachmaninoff, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 29

Olga Kern solo recital: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 1

Mozart with CMF Founder Giora Bernstein and CMF Chamber Orchestra: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 2

“All-American” concert, Festival Orchestra with conductor Cristian Măcelaru and violinist Elina Vähälä: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 6

Young People’s Concert, directed by Scott Terrell: 10 a.m. Saturday, July 8

Chamber Music: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 8,

Beethoven’s Ninth, Festival Orchestras, Jean-Marie Zeitoun, conductor: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 13

Fresh Fridays – Beethoven’s Ninth: 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 14

Chamber Orchestra with Pianist Stewart Goodyear: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 16

All performances in the Chautauqua Auditorium

Tickets 

Colorado Music Festival announces its 2017 40th-anniversary season

Beethoven’s Ninth, tributes to the festival’s history will be highlights

Guest artists include CMF founder Giora Bernstein, pianist Olga Kern, Time for Three

By Peter Alexander

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CMF Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni

The Colorado Music Festival will celebrate its 40th anniversary this summer, and music director Jean-Marie Zeitouni has been looking at the festival’s history.

His programs for the coming summer recall the Roman god Janus, looking backward and forward at the same time. “If you look at every series, you will see that they have a commemoration of the past, but at the same time they are moving in a new direction,” Zeitouni says. “I think almost every single work on the program has to do with the history of CMF.”

The full 2017 schedule, opening June 29 and closing Aug. 4, was announced to festival patrons last night (Jan. 22). The season includes Thursday Festival Orchestra concerts, Saturday chamber music concerts, and Sunday Chamber Orchestra concerts, as in past years. In one change from recent seasons, all concerts this summer will be in the Chautauqua Auditorium. With a few exceptions that are noted below, all will begin at 7:30 p.m.

Olga Kern

Olga Kern, photographed by Chris Lee at Steinway Hall, 12/9/13.

As part of Zeitouni’s homage to festival history, long-time  CMF patrons will recognize several guest artists who have been here before:

  • Pianist Olga Kern, who played all the Rachmaninoff piano concertos in two nights during the 2013 Festival, will return to perform with Zeitouni and the Festival Orchestra on opening night, June 29. She will also present a solo recital July 1.
  • The festival’s founder, Giora Bernstein, will return to conduct Mozart and Bach July 2.
  • The popular Time for Three string trio will return to collaborate with Steve Hackman, who led the festival’s “Music Mashup” series for two summers, performing on that series’ successor, now called “Happy Hour @Chautauqua,” July 18.

The summer’s Festival Orchestra lineup is dominated by two massive ninth symphonies:

  • A sure audience favorite, Beethoven’s Ninth will be presented July 13. It will come right in the middle of the CMF calendar, as “a way to mark a certain Apex” of the festival, Zeitouni says. Soloists for the performance will be soprano Mary Wilson, mezzo-soprano Michelle De Young, tenor Jason Baldwin and bass-baritone Keith Miller.

On the same program, De Young will perform Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer, and the orchestra will present the North American premiere of A Little Summer Suite by Betsy Jolas.

  • Mahler’s Ninth, the composer’s last completed symphonic work, will form the entire Festival Orchestra program Aug. 3. This concert completes a cycle of Mahler symphonies that was begun by former CMF music director Michael Christie. “The idea is that for the last week of the festival we would do something for the orchestra, and believe me this is a piece that they’ve all been dying to play,” Zeitouni says.

In addition to returning artists listed above, there are a number of notable visiting artists. These include:

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    Elina Vähälä

    Finnish violinist Elina Vähälä playing John Corigliano’s “Red Violin” Concerto July 6;

  • Pianists Christopher O’Riley, the host of NPR’s “From the Top,” and Pablo Ziegler playing tangos on the “Happy Hour@Chautauqua” series July 11;
  • Pianist Stewart Goodyear playing Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1 for piano, trumpet and strings, July 16; and
  • Italian Van Cliburn Competition medalist Benedetto Lupo, playing two Ravel piano concertos July 20. Lupo will be the CMF artist-in-residence for 2017. In addition to the Ravel concertos, he will play a solo/chamber concert with CMF musicians July 22, and a concert with the CMF Chamber Orchestra July 23.
  • Clarinetist Boris Allakhverdyan, a former member of the CMF orchestra and now principal clarinet of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, will perform chamber music with current members of the orchestra July 29, and the Copland Clarinet Concerto on a chamber orchestra concert July 30. The latter, titled “Classically Jazz,” will also feature music by Kurt Weill, Scott Joplin, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin and Darius Milhaud.
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    Gil Shaham

    To round out the summer, superstar violinist Gil Shaham will perform with Zeitouni and the Festival Orchestra for the Festival Finale concert, Aug. 4. One of the most recognized classical artists today, Shaham performs in recital and with orchestras worldwide. In addition to a violin concerto yet to be determined, the program for the Festival Finale will include Beethoven’s joyful and boisterous Seventh Symphony.

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Kern’s performances fit nicely into Zeitouni’s plan of commemorating the old alongside the new. On the Opening Night program June 29, Kern will reprise her 2013 performances of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, but that will be paired with a completely new work for the festival, Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto.

olga-kern

Olga Kern

The two concertos are part of an all-Russian program, opening with Shostakovich’s brash and colorful Festive Overture and ending with Rachmaninoff’s lushly Romantic Symphony No. 2 in E minor. Both works are part of the festival’s history, but neither has been heard at CMF since the 1990s.

Another example of joining commemoration with new directions will be the CMF’s “mini-festival.” The idea of a series of concerts arranged around a single theme and performed in the same week was started by Christie. Zeitouni brought the model back last year with a Brahms mini-festival. This year, the mini-festival will reflect Zeitouni’s background and specialty: French music.

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Jean-Marie Zeitouni

“I grew up with the Montreal Symphony playing Ravel and Debussy, so I have a special love for it,” Zeitouni says. “It is repertoire with which I have intimate affinities, but it is also repertoire in which the orchestra is allowed to shine.”

The mini-festival of French music comprises three concerts, July 20–23:

  • A Festival Orchestra concert July 20, featuring Debussy’s impressionist scores Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Iberia; Lupo playing Ravel’s Concerto in G and Concerto for the Left hand; and the orchestral showpiece La Valse.
  • A chamber music concert July 22 will feature Lupo playing a half-recital of Debussy’s music for solo piano, followed by Fauré’s Quartet No. 1 for piano and strings with CMF musicians.
  • The July 23 chamber orchestra concert will present some little known works by Fauré, Dukas, Saint-Saëns and Cecile Chaminade, with orchestra members as featured soloists. The concert will end with music from Offenabch’s saucy comic opera Orpheus in the Underworld.

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One new feature of the festival will be “Symphony Sampler” concerts, a series of abridged repeats of Thursday night Festival Orchestra programs presented Fridays at 6:30 p.m. July 14, 21 and 28. These informal concerts will offer only one or two major works from the previous night’s full program, with Zeitouni presenting an introduction to the music for people who might be new to classical performances. The early start time and shortened program leave time for a post-concert dinner, either at the Chautauqua Dining Hall or elsewhere in Boulder.

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Christopher O’Riley

Another modification of past summers appears with the “Happy Hour@Chautauqua” events, Tuesdays July 11, 18 and 25. An outgrowth of previous Music Mashup events, these concerts are designed to bring classical and popular music together. Presented without intermission, each concert will be preceded by a “happy hour” offering complementary food and drinks.

After performances by pianists Christopher O’Riley and Pablo Ziegler July 11, and Time for Three July 18, the series culminates with Hackman conducting an all-new mashup with the orchestra July 25. Unlike Hackman’s previous scores for CMF, this will not feature just one classical work or pop group, but under the title “Classicalapalooza” it will being together music by various artists from both genres.

The 2017 Click Commission winner by composer Julian Wachner will be performed on the Festival Orchestra concert July 27, along with Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy (1908) and The Planets by Gustav Holst (1914–15). There will be little other new music during the summer, however: Corigliano’s Red Violin Concerto from 1997 will be performed on an American program July 6 and Jolas’s Little Summer Suite will precede Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony July 13, but no other works later than the middle of the 20th century are on the schedule.

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This is only a summary of the full 2017 CMF calendar. A complete listing of the summer’s concerts and ticket information can be found on the CMF’s newly redesigned Web page. Tickets will go on sale to the general public March 20, including season subscriptions, ticket packages and single tickets.

Olga Kern and Renée Fleming in New York

By Peter Alexander

Fans of Olga Kern—of which there are many in Boulder—will be interested to read the New York Times review of her performance with superstar soprano Renée Fleming Wednesday (Mar. 9) at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Olga Kern

Olga Kern

Kern has become known in Boulder through her performances at the Colorado Music Festival. Particularly memorable were her performances of all of the Rachmaninoff piano concertos and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in two back-to-back Festival Orchestra concerts—a remarkable feat of pianistic athleticism that was also an outstanding musical accomplishment—July 19 and 21, 2013.

Kern will return to CMF this summer to perform Brahms’s Quintet for piano and strings in F minor on a chamber music concert Saturday, Aug. 6, and the Beethoven “Emperor” Piano Concerto Sunday, Aug 7. Both concerts will be at 7:30 p.m. in the Chautauqua Auditorium.

In a positive review of the Fleming-Kern song recital, James R. Oestreich wrote in the New York Times that Kern, “an established solo artist in her own right, was a strong collaborator throughout, and she had additional moments to shine.” Oestreich called attention to Kern’s solo turns on the program, noting that she “opened the second half, setting the stage brilliantly for the Debussy (song) set with Feu d’Artifices (‘Fireworks’) from the composer’s second book of ‘Préludes.’”

You may read the entire review here.