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Chamber Music - Released August 20, 2021 | Reference Recordings

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The term stylus phantasticus, or fantastic style, was originated, like so much else, by the polymath Athanasius Kircher, who described it as "the most free and unrestrained method of composing, it is bound to nothing, neither to any words nor to a melodic subject." The style originated in Italy when composers of works for non-keyboard instruments began to emulate the improvisatory style of organ toccatas and the like. It was brought over the Alps to German lands by Johann Jakob Froberger. He is not represented on this collection by Baroque violinist Tekla Cunningham and Pacific MusicWorks, for nothing by him for this combination of instruments has survived. However, there are several works by composers from the German-language sphere where the style reached its greatest development: Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, and best of all, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. In collections of this sort, where there is one "name" composer amid a host of unknowns, listeners may wonder about the degree to which that composer stands out. In this case, there's no question that Biber greatly expanded the dimensions of the style, as evident in the spectacularly imaginative Sonata prima heard here. However, the rest of the program is of considerable interest, for it reveals the way the style developed over the century before Biber came along. The composers range from fairly obscure (Giovanni de Macque) to all-but-unknown, even for people who have studied the early Baroque. Cunningham is a lively and virtuosic player who captures the daring mood and the spirit of experimentation in this radical group of works, and, as concertmaster of Pacific MusicWorks, she is able to surround herself with a continuo group quite attuned to what she is doing. This release marks something of a triumph for early music in the U.S. Pacific Northwest; the U.S. West Coast scene has hitherto been centered on the San Francisco Bay Area. This release will fill holes in many collections and is absorbing in its own right. © TiVo
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Classical - Released May 28, 2021 | Reference Recordings

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Reference Recordings proudly presents a unique album of one movement symphonies composed by Barber, Sibelius and Scriabin, in an outstanding interpretation from Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony. The album was produced by David Frost and recorded by RR’s engineering team. Music Director Michael Stern is in his second decade with the Kansas City Symphony, hailed for its remarkable artistic ascent, original programming, organizational development and stability, as well as the extraordinary growth of its varied audiences since his tenure began. The Kansas City Symphony has a vision to transform hearts, minds and its community through the power of symphonic music. © Reference Recordings
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Classical - Released May 7, 2021 | Reference Recordings

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Conductor and composer José Serebrier is one of the most-recorded classical artists in history. Reference Recordings is proud to present nine works of José Serebrier, including four world premières and the first digital recording of his dramatic Symphony for Percussion, performed by the Gnessin Percussion Ensemble of Moscow. The album features a variety of musical ensembles ranging from solo piano and a percussion ensemble, to full orchestra, tangos, flute concerti and a harp concerto, written throughout the span of Maestro Serebrier's long career. © Reference Recordings
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Classical - Released February 12, 2021 | Reference Recordings

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Conductor Manfred Honeck and his Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra recorded this live reading of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, in 2019. The marketplace was not exactly crying out for a new Beethoven's Ninth, even considering Honeck's strong track record in Classical-era repertory and Reference Recordings' increasingly fine results in Pittsburgh's Heinz Hall. However, it is absolutely worth experiencing Honeck's accomplishment here. The reading is distinctive and justified at length in a booklet essay by Honeck. His reading is fast, blazing, kinetic, with moments of high contrast, such as the ethereal third movement in its entirety, giving the listener breathing space. The first movement is quick, but Honeck relaxes the tempo just slightly as things proceed, making room for the brass to give their stentorian statements. The scherzo is very fast throughout, which has the effect of not stealing the delicate discourse from the slow movement, and the finale, though also fast, is never rushed. There is a certain logic in playing the work this way, inasmuch as the impossible-to-sing passages in the solos become just a bit less impossible at these speeds. Most impressive is that Honeck holds the musicians and the singers together at his blazing speeds; his 22:30 timing for the finale comes in more than two minutes faster than, say, Fritz Reiner's classic Chicago Symphony recording, and Honeck would have been even faster had he not offered a rather deliberate reading of the movement's recitative introduction. The soloists shine, and they deliver in a difficult reading that, at its best, feels like the cry of exultation Beethoven envisioned. The slightly American accent of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh is somehow not a detriment but an inducement here; there is real energy running through the performance and real joy. Reference Recordings has once again produced audiophile-quality sound whose depth and transparency are awesome even on everyday equipment. © TiVo
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Classical - Released November 20, 2020 | Reference Recordings

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Reference Recordings proudly presents two new works from leading American composer Jonathan Leshnoff. Distinguished by The New York Times as “a leader of contemporary American lyricism”, Leshnoff is renowned for his music's striking harmonies, structural complexity, and powerful themes. These world premiere recordings showcase the Kansas City Symphony performing his Third Symphony, inspired by World War I letters home, with texts sung by baritone Stephen Powell. It is coupled with Leshnoff ’s new and exciting Piano Concerto, dedicated to and performed by pianist Joyce Yang. This is the eighth album in Reference Recordings’ series with Kansas City Symphony. © Reference Recordings
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Blues - Released September 25, 2020 | Reference Recordings

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Classical - Released May 22, 2020 | Reference Recordings

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One salutary aspect of the tendency of orchestras, especially American and British ones, to issue their live concerts on recordings is that standout performances tend to be picked. The performance here of the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36, was recorded in 2016, but it clearly stuck in some heads and was identified as a worthwhile moment (the Double Concerto by Jonathan Leshnoff was recorded three years later; this live album doesn't represent a single concert). It is indeed special: the Symphony No. 4 has rarely received such an intense performance. It's not the speed; conductor Manfred Honeck comes in a minute slower than Mariss Jansons on the first movement of his Oslo Philharmonic recording, but there is still a feeling of urgency, amplified by slight changes to the score that Honeck details in his expansive liner notes (available on the Chandos label's website for downloaders and streamers) and by a general high-contrast approach to dynamics. Listeners will have to make their own decisions about these, but it's quite arguable that Honeck does nothing that a conductor of the late 19th or early 20th century might have also considered. The Pittsburgh Symphony is in fine form in the symphony's thrilling brass passages and in the all-pizzicato strings of the third movement. The accompanying Double Concerto for clarinet and bassoon by Leshnoff is also a pleasure: a neo-Romantic work agreeably written and elegantly performed by soloists Michael Rusinek and Nancy Goeres. The live engineering in the acoustically difficult Tchaikovsky, from Pittsburgh's Heinz Hall, is very fine. © TiVo
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Opera - Released April 24, 2020 | Reference Recordings

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Carlisle Floyd (born 1926) is one of the foremost composers and librettists of opera in the world today. Considered the “Father of American Opera”, Floyd’s operas are regularly performed in the United States and Europe. He first achieved national prominence with the premiere of Susannah by the New York City Opera in 1956. His second opera, Wuthering Heights, premiered at Santa Fe Opera in 1958, and continues to have life decades later: a critically-acclaimed recording, released in June 2016 on Reference Recordings, was listed in Opera News’ 10 Best Opera recordings of 2016. During his long career, Floyd has composed 13 operas. His most recent, Prince of Players, which premiered in March 2016 at the Houston Grand Opera, is based on the true story of the Restoration-era actor Edward Kynaston (1640–1706). Remarks about Kynaston in the personal diary of Samuel Pepys inspired a play by Jeffrey Hatcher, Compleat Female Stage Beauty (1999), which was later made into a movie, Stage Beauty (2004). The plot centers on the crisis faced by Kynaston when, by royal decree, he is prohibited from plying the craft that made him famous - playing female roles. With this Milwaukee production, the Florentine Opera gives Prince of Players its world-premiere live recording. © Reference Recordings
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Choral Music (Choirs) - Released April 17, 2020 | Reference Recordings

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The PaTRAM Institute Singers of the Patriarch Tikhon Russian American Music Institute have issued several albums devoted to specific landmarks of Russian Orthodox choral music. This one differs from the others in that instead of focusing on a single composer, the singers cover music from several centuries, almost up to the present day. As such, it may be a good place to start for listeners, not only for those interested in the PaTRAM Institute singers but for anyone drawn by the fascinating sounds of this tradition. There are several examples of the music's trademark basso profundo sound; most of the soloists are of Russian background (the choir is drawn from singers all over North America), but not all, and bass Glenn Miller gives the lie to any supposition that one has to be Russian to sing this stuff. So too does the choir, which has a rich, utterly distinctive sound. Russian Orthodox music, somewhat like the stile antico of Catholicism, is an unbroken tradition whose style has evolved only slowly. The tone of the music is often determined by the text. But one thing that makes Blessed Art Thou Among Women interesting is that multiple settings of the same text are included, allowing listeners to hear the subtle individuality of composers' approaches, even in music with the same overall theme (as the title suggests, all the texts are about the Virgin Mary). Another draw is the presence of Rachmaninov's O Mother of God, much less often recorded than the composer's other sacred works. Composed when Rachmaninov was 20, it's not characteristic of the later composer, yet it outstrips most of the music here. The program is split between well-known Russian composers and those who worked exclusively within the Orthodox tradition. This release earned a 2020 Producer of the Year Grammy nomination for Blanton Alspaugh, who has helmed several earlier PaTRAM Institute Singers releases as well as other choral and instrumental albums. © TiVo
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Choral Music (Choirs) - Released November 1, 2019 | Reference Recordings

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Classical - Released October 25, 2019 | Reference Recordings

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A man of his time, Prokofiev linked his name with Russian cinema. He worked with Eisenstein on the film Alexander Nevski in 1938. The two men inspired each other: some sequences were built around images, others, around music. This was a very singular set-up which made the original soundtrack more than just a dramatic enhancer, but a motor of the action in its own right. Prokofiev wrote a cantata for mezzo, mixed choir and orchestra in seven tableaux for the work. The orchestra, with its clever spacing of the deepest bass tones and the sharpest high notes, forges a space for the choir which is grandiose, and oftentimes unsettling. Prokofiev's musical language makes a modernist harmony of strained dissonances and themes with a folk feel. The musicians, choristers and instrumentalists all perform at a very high level of excellence. Led by Thierry Fisher, no stranger to repertoires that make use of imposing ensembles, they present a very fine version. Never falling into forced grandiloquence, they do justice to the work and all its historical and political resonances. The second, lighter part of this Prokofiev album centres on his first foray into cinema, in 1933. Alexander Feinzimmer's film, Lieutenant Kijé, tells of an imaginary lieutenant, who comes into being as a result of an administrative error. It was never performed, but Prokofiev turned his score into an orchestral suite. With an often- caustic humour, the suite moves between a series of evocative atmospheres. The careful foregrounding of the wind section creates a sonic parade of uniforms, fifes and horns, creating a stylised military world, in particular in the and third movements. The second movement presents a Romance in the form of variations on a theme. Double bass, bassoon, celesta and flute all join together in this nostalgic theme. A tour de force of writing, the finale brings together all the themes of the whole work into a single, poignant tableau, in which the Utah Symphony's ability to create a multiplicity of colours and soundscapes really allows them to shine. © Elsa Siffert/Qobuz
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Classical - Released October 11, 2019 | Reference Recordings

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Reference Recordings proudly presents Holst’s best known and beloved works in a new interpretation from Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony. This release was recorded in the beautiful and acoustically acclaimed Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It was produced by David Frost. The Kansas City Symphony has a vision to transform hearts, minds and its community through the power of symphonic music. Founded in 1982, the Symphony has established itself as a major force in the cultural life of the community. Praised for performances of uncompromising standard, the orchestra is the largest in the region and holds a national reputation under the artistic leadership of Music Director Michael Stern. This is the seventh in Reference Recordings’ series with Kansas City Symphony. © Reference Recordings
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Classical - Released August 23, 2019 | Reference Recordings

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In 2019, Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra released their second Bruckner recording as a hybrid SACD on Reference Recordings, a powerful interpretation of the unfinished Symphony No. 9 in D minor that shows these musicians' remarkable affinity for the composer. In choosing the unfinished, three-movement version of the work, thereby avoiding any controversy over the various completions of Bruckner's intended finale, Honeck adheres to the long-established 1951 edition by Leopold Nowak, so there are no textual surprises. What is somewhat unexpected for a performance of the Ninth is Honeck's careful analysis of the material Bruckner incorporated, such as the "Miserere" from the "Gloria" of his Mass in D minor, the "Annunciation of Death" motive from the Eighth Symphony, and references to the Latin text of the Agnus Dei which influenced the design of the Adagio, among other internal evidence that sheds light on Bruckner's religious motivation in composing this symphony. Many conductors recognize the significance of Bruckner's dedication of the work to God, yet Honeck has identified the particular instances in the symphony that, like the structure of the Fifth Symphony, clearly reveal Bruckner's faith, and that the Ninth is far from being absolute music without programmatic content. This no doubt adds power to the music and clarifies its somewhat mystifying content. The wide-open sound of this audiophile recording goes far in conveying the expressive depth and sweep of the performance, capturing the orchestra in a spacious acoustic that adds true grandeur to Bruckner's most personal paean to God. © TiVo
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Choral Music (Choirs) - Released August 16, 2019 | Reference Recordings

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This unique program is a good way to discover Mason Bates’ latest work. The tireless composer took on a request from the Richmond Symphony for the formation’s 60th birthday. The result is Children of Adam, a cycle based upon texts celebrating the Creation, from American poets or sacred writing by Native Americans. The sheet music is structured into 7 parts, and clearly highlights chorals, while adding some filler. Bates, by all accounts, prefers the orchestra to the choir. In other words, an excellent recording of his Anthology Fantastic Zoology by Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO Resound) is proof to that point.The shining light in this album is the Dona nobis pacem incipit by Vaughan Williams, composed in 1936. The work was rarely recorded and was ordered for the Huddersfield Choral Society’s 100th anniversary. Parallels could be drawn between the former work and the rough, anxiety-inducing Symphony #4, completed two years earlier. The work’s text is based upon an extract from the Agnus Dei  of roman catholic mass, passages from the prophetic books in the Old Testament, a John Bright speech given to the House of Commons during the Crimea War, as well as three striking Walt Whitman poems –one of Vaughan Williams’ favorite authors. This new album is an excellent reevaluation of Vaughan Williams’ significance in 20th century music history, as well as his deeply unique sonic world. © Pierre-Yves Lascar/Qobuz
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Classical - Released June 21, 2019 | Reference Recordings

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Chamber Music - Released June 7, 2019 | Reference Recordings

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Sergei Rachmaninoff composed few chamber pieces, most of which were products of his youth and more often than not discounted as student works, though his two piano trios are reasonably well-established in the repertoire and have been frequently recorded. They were composed in the early 1890s and reflect Rachmaninoff's keen interest in the music of Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky, whose brooding, passionate style strongly influenced the Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor, and became the chief inspiration for the Trio élégiaque No. 2 in D minor, written in memory of Tchaikovsky. In 2019, the Hermitage Piano Trio issued its first super audio album on Reference Recordings, featuring both piano trios and a 1928 transcription of Rachmaninoff's Vocalise by Julius Conus, presented in remarkably clear sound with terrific separation of the parts. This transparency is necessary in order to follow Rachmaninoff 's densely scored music, which often exploits the lower register and employs thick chords, and which in less skilled hands can sound murky and harmonically indistinct. The keyboard part is dominant throughout both trios, but pianist Ilya Kazantsev shows restraint and pulls back enough to give violinist Misha Keylin and cellist Sergey Antonov equal space to breathe. With this close attention to textures and focus on the independence of the players, the performances are well-balanced and finely detailed, and the recorded sound in Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts, is warm and intimate. © TiVo
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Classical - Released May 17, 2019 | Reference Recordings

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Choral Music (Choirs) - Released April 26, 2019 | Reference Recordings

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Classical - Released March 1, 2019 | Reference Recordings

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This release earned a U.S. Grammy award for Best Compendium in 2020. Pianist Nadia Shpachenko, who teaches at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, is a fine, brilliant pianist in the Russian school, but the album's success is probably due more to the originality of its program. Classical piano pieces have been depicting places since the 19th century and even before, but the idea has rarely received a systematic exploration in contemporary terms, as it does here. Several of the pieces have an architectural focus, with two works, by Harold Meltzer and Andrew Norman, depicting structures by Frank Lloyd Wright. Some of the pieces, including Jack Van Zandt’s Sí an Bhrú, include electronics, while Hannah Lash's Give Me Your Songs takes the unusual step of depicting a composer's home, that of Aaron Copland. James Matheson's Alone, in waters shimmering and dark is a three-movement work addressed to the moods of a small upstate New York island house, while Lewis Spratlan's Bangladesh refers to a place writ large, and Nina C. Young's Kolokol is an entirely fresh approach to the depiction of bells, in this case, those at Harvard University. Amy Beth Kirsten's h.o.p.e. is perhaps most distant from the recording's theme (it refers to an art exhibition called "The Big Hope Show"), but it's a fascinating work of heterophony involving a conventional piano, a toy piano, and, briefly, the performer's voice, and it demands to be heard. With strong engineering from Skywalker Sound in California, this is a novel and enjoyable deployment of various contemporary compositional styles across a common theme. © TiVo
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Blues - Released October 19, 2018 | Reference Recordings

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