Saturday, February 28, 2015

Met - La Donna del Lago - 02/28/15

Composer: Gioachino Rossini
Conductor: Michele Mariotti
Elena: Joyce DiDonato
Giacomo/Uberto: Juan Diego Florez
Malcolm: Daniela Barcellona
Rodrigo: John Osborn
Douglas: Oren Gradus

Few singers have the power to have operas produced for them, and one of the lucky few is the outstanding mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who has rightfully taken advantage of it by putting in a special request for Rossini's La Donna del Lago. Maybe it was for the pretty melodies she'd get to sing, or for the guilty indulgence of being ardently courted by no fewer than three young men, one of them being no less than the King in disguise, or maybe just for the satisfaction of seeing this pleasant but little known opera enjoy its moment in the spotlight.
Whatever her motives were, the public has followed in droves, and for La Donna del Lago's first run there ever, the Met's opera house was packed to the brim this afternoon with, I may add, what had to be the widest range of age I had ever seen there. A heart-warming sight for a heart-warming opera.

Based on a poem by Sir Walter Scott, La Donna del Lago is a fairly standard operatic cocktail of political turmoil and love entanglements, although this one takes place in Scotland during the first half of the 16th century. But as it is often the case in the bel canto repertoire, the plot is nothing more than an excuse for the composer to let his creative juices freely flow. When the composer is bel canto master Giaochino Rossini, even if one goes for story, chances are one will stay for the music.
Hearing Joyce DiDonato sing live is a priceless treat that will not be turned down by any opera buffs. And when hearing her sing Helena, AKA La Donna del Lago, it is impossible not to come to the conclusion that she is smart artist as well as the young conflicting woman is an ideal part for her to showcase her incredible range, from melting sweetness to sparkling fireworks and everything in between. Moreover, beside her famed coloratura, she is also blessed with fine acting skills, which enabled her to generously give her character, who may not have been that exciting to begin with, a fully realized presence. To top it all off, her "Tanti affetti" was eagerly awaited and magisterially demonstrated why she is unquestionably one of today's top opera singers.
The other big name in the cast, tenor Juan Diego Florez, also happens to be a frequent stage partner of Joyce DiDonato's, a fact that has probably significantly contributed to the palpably high level of comfort between them. But if their chemistry made for some dazzling singing together, he also superbly stood on his own, in particular during the show-stopping aria of Act 2 "Oh fiamma soave". With a technique as astounding as ever and charisma galore, he probably made his dashing King a nicer guy than he deserved, which in turn of course made you wonder why Elena just did not run off with him.
Rodrigo, the heroic chief of the rebellious highlanders who has decided to make Elena his bride was impersonated by John Osborn, who handled the opera's other challenging tenor part with bravura and commitment. Malcolm, the young man who stole Elena's much in demand heart was actually mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona. A trouser role regular, she made the most of her frumpy look and sang with nuance and conviction. The last, but definitely not least, man in Elena's life was her father, Douglas, to whom bass Oren Gradus equally imparted fierce patriotism, deep fatherly love and natural gruff.
All the splendid singing made the three hours go fast, but they would have gone even faster if the production had been of the same level. Unfortunately, the earthy-tone sets and costumes were really minimalist, which probably worked well in Santa Fé since they could benefit from glorious desert vistas at sunset in the background, but in the Met's cavernous opera house, they looked mostly drab, except for the last scene, in which the sumptuous costumes of the courtiers were all in refined shades of yellow.
The richly lyrical music is of course the main reason to attend La Donna del Lago. From virtuosic arias to dazzling ensembles, the score keeps on coming up with stunning melodies, which not only powerfully express high-voltage human emotions but also winningly convey the mysterious beauty of faraway Scotland. This afternoon, conductor Michele Mariotti drew a genuinely inspired performance from the always excellent orchestra, and the chorus did its usual impeccable job. I had come for the music, and I stayed for the music.

Mahler Chamber Orchestra & Leif Ove Andsnes - All-Beethoven - 02/25/15

Leader: Leif Ove Andsnes
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73, "Emperor"

Forty-five hours and counting after I had left Carnegie Hall completely dazzled by the first concert of Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra's "Beethoven Journey" on Monday, I was ravenously back for Part 2, namely his Piano Concertos No. 1 and No. 5. Fact is, even if one had not known that the mighty "Emperor" was on the program, it would have been easy to guess just by looking at the balcony as Monday's sparsely filled top rows were now brimming with all kinds of people and the whole Stern Auditorium was buzzing with the kind of anticipation that is reserved for big nights. And so the journey resumed.

Beethoven's first official piano concerto, even though it was actually his second - but what the master wants, the master gets - is certainly the flashier of the two, and makes a powerful case to justify its first place in the composer's heart and, incidentally, music history. Boasting special ingredients such as a hypnotic clarinet in the sublime Largo and a cheeky surprise ending, the No. 1 provides an early glimpse in the ground-breaking works that were to follow. Leif Ove Andsnes and the orchestra beautifully emphasized the opulent richness of the composition with plenty of brilliance, thoughtfulness and dynamism.
Then came the big one, the one that most people were probably in the concert hall for, and who could blame them? When it comes to "take no prisoners" endeavors, it is hard to beat the assertively marching "Emperor". At that point, there was no stopping the on-going momentum and the No. 5 received the grand performance it inherently calls for, but never at the expense of the highly prized intimate moments, the musicians being always mindful to preserve the perfect virtuosic balance between impervious force and exquisite delicacy. I really can't imagine it could get better than that one.

And so the journey ended, but not without, you've guessed it, more Beethoven, with his Bagatelle in E-flat Major, Op. 126, No. 3 as well as two festive German Dances, the No. 11 in G Major and the No. 10 in D Major from 12 German Dances, the last one even featuring Leif Ove Andsnes heartily playing... the tambourine for a memorable light-hearted finale.

Mahler Chamber Orchestra & Leif Ove Andsnes - All-Beethoven - 02/23/15

Leader: Leif Ove Andsnes
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58

Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes has been uniformly praised, increasingly popular, and therefore extremely busy for a long time now, but apparently he is still not inclined to rest on his many prestigious laurels. A case in point would be his latest venture, "The Beethoven Journey", during which he performs all five piano concerts by Beethoven with the international Mahler Chamber Orchestra during the course of two concerts. The tour has been scheduled to last 4 years, span 108 cities in 27 countries, and present more than 230 concerts. A remarkable feat that would give pause to even the most hardened globe-trotting artists.
His New York stop was at Carnegie Hall earlier this week, starting with the piano concertos No. 2, 3 and 4. It was an impressive trio to perform in a single concert, but who was I to stop him? So on Monday, after spending an exciting afternoon in Carnegie Hall's Resnick Wing for a master class with the fabulous Joyce DiDonato, I took a quick trip home and came right back down to spend a no less exciting evening in Carnegie Hall's Stern Auditorium with no less fabulous Leif Ove Andsnes. Some days are simply more memorable than others.

The concert started with a bit of irony as Beethoven's official Piano Concerto No. 2 is actually the first one he ever composed, so technically we started the journey at Square 1. But since the opinionated composer never really liked it and it was published two years after his actual second piano concerto, he decided to have the latter recognized as his first. Regardless of this bit of trivia, the Piano Concerto No. 2 is a lovely effort, if endearingly green is some aspects. The orchestra was obviously in fine form and their leader/soloist kept constantly busy, either playing at the topless piano or conducting sans sheet music, seating or standing, his back turned to the audience. The totally engaging performance set a promising tone for the adventure and proved once and for all that the No. 2 is nothing to be dismissed.
Written as Beethoven was experiencing the first symptoms of his coming deafness, the Piano Concerto No. 3 is nevertheless generally lively, occasionally mysterious, often unpredictable and definitely more confident. Leif Ove Andsnes and the orchestra effortlessly kept the momentum going, the delicate dreamliness of the Largo, the only movement not conducted at all among all the concertos, beautifully standing out between the grandly Romantic Allegro and the refreshingly exuberant Rondo.
After the intermission, we moved on to even richer and bolder sounds, to which Leif Ove Andsnes added its trademark touch of natural elegance and thoughtfulness, with the Piano Concerto No. 4. From the quietly lyrical opening to the dizzily brisk finale, the journey remained resolutely spontaneous, insightful, and fun.

It had been a long, challenging and magnificent concert, and I would have forgiven the performers for calling it a night, but the rapturous ovations they received from the surprisingly not quite full house were eventually heeded and rewarded by, well, more Beethoven, of course, with his Bagatelle in C Major, Op. 119, No. 8 and Bagatelle in A-flat Major, Op. 33, No. 7, both of which were decidedly no trifles. To be continued...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

New York Classical Players - Vaughan Williams, Bark & Schubert - 02/22/15

Conductor: Dongmin Kim
Vaughan Williams: Charterhouse Suite for Strings
Bark: Let all the earth rejoice! for flute and string orchestra - Carol Wincenc
Schubert: Quartet in D Minor Death and the Maiden (Mahler transcription)

After a memorable Saturday night in more ways than one, a more subdued concert was unquestionably in order, and fortunately the New York Classical Players came to the rescue on Sunday afternoon on the Upper East Side. The main attraction of the program was of course the version of Schubert's dazzling "Death and the Maiden" that Mahler had written for a small orchestra, the kind of exciting adventure that the consistently excellent ensemble likes and can flawlessly handle. Add to that a curiosity by Ralph Vaughan Williams and a NYCP-commissioned world premiere by Elliot Bark, who made the trip to introduce it, and you could say that a decidedly satisfying musical afternoon seemed to be just waiting to happen.
Moreover, the weather had cleared, the temperature had risen and the sun was shining, so it was high time to take a somewhat mushy but nevertheless extremely enjoyable walk across the Park and take a seat among an increasingly large and eclectic crowd in the grand Church of the Heavenly Rest, where I would eventually be joined by my friend Angie, an Upper East Side local, after she had eventually managed to get out of her obligations just in the nick of time for not-to-be-missed Schubert.

British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was as versatile as they come, and it is always a pleasure to discover more works of his. And sure enough, while his Charterhouse Suite for Strings, which had been skillfully arranged from his original Suite for Six Short pieces for Piano by musicologist James Brown, may not be a ground-breaking masterpiece, it is an attractive set of six nuggets that offer a wide range of moods. In the expert hands of the NYCP, this little trifle turned into a lovely stroll in the bucolic English countryside.
From early 20th century Albion we then jumped right ahead to the present time with Elliott Bark's brightly optimistic "Let all the earth rejoice! for flute and string orchestra", a work that cleverly combines all kinds of musical influences, some of them involving singing or dancing traditions, from around the world and throughout the ages. Although this evidently is an ambitious concept, the end result is immediately accessible and downright appealing, especially when performed by the NYCP's vibrant strings and special guest Carol Wincenc's high-flying flute.
Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" needs no introduction and has remained one of my favorite strings quartets ever. So I was particularly curious to hear a larger scale version of it, all the more so as this one was coming courtesy of Gustav Mahler, who knew a thing or two about orchestral arrangements, and the NYCP ensemble, who know a thing or two about string playing. Inspired by Matthias Claudius' poem by the same name, the original "Death and the Maiden" quartet is famous for its dark overtones and infectious melodies. Mahler's transcription remains essentially faithful to the original, but shifted a few things around and added more texture and colors. Under the precise baton of their insightful conductor Dongmin Kim, the musicians jumped right in it and delivered a beautifully polished and powerfully alive performance of it, just as Schubert and Mahler would have liked it.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Trinity Wall Street - Ives & Ginestera - 02/21/15

Orchestra: NOVUS NY
Conductor: Julian Wachner
Ives: Symphony No. 4
Distant Choir Conductor: Scott Allen Jarrett
Ginestera: Turbae ad passionem gregorianam
The Choir of Trinity Wall Street
The Trinity Youth Chorus
The Washington Chorus
The Boy and Girl Choristers of Washington National Cathedral Choir
Scott Allen Jarrett: Jesus
Thomas McCargar: Evangelist
Geoffrey Silver: Judas

After a festive Carnival Day with Ballet Hispanico and Matuto at El Museo del Barrio in East Harlem on Saturday afternoon, the only place I wanted to be on Saturday night was home, especially since the snow that had started falling earlier in the day was visibly not tapering off any time soon. But that was not meant to  be as I had one more item of my schedule, and not a minor one, so I made sure not to get too comfortable during my quick stop in my apartment before heading back out, all the way to Carnegie Hall this time.
As someone increasingly on the look-out for new and rarely performed works, I simply could not resist the perspective of hearing four major choirs and an expanded orchestra, for a grand total of 300 musicians and singers, as well as two conductors, tackle two formidable 20th century pieces, an American melting pot symphony and an Argentinean modern-day Passion. So I expectantly joined a not huge but clearly committed audience in the Stern Auditorium for what had to be - Better be! - an exciting evening.

Upon stepping up on stage, Julian Wachner, the fearless director of music and the arts at Trinity Wall Street and music director of The Washington Chorus, immediately made a well-taken point of thanking the audience for braving 1) the raging elements outside and 2) the difficult program inside. Then, after a few words of explanation about the concert, he took a seat at the piano and had most people in the audience sing along a few American hymns, which were unsurprisingly totally foreign to me, in order to introduce Ives' Symphony No. 4. His humorous and insightful comments effortlessly lightened up the atmosphere and congenially prepared us for what was coming up next.
Notorious for its endless complexity, some of which requiring two conductors, Ives' fourth and final symphony is a work that is filled with references to American music such as folk songs, marching band tunes and - here they are - religious hymns in a solidly transcendentalist tradition. To say it is very dense would not even begin to describe it, but this kind of hunt for Americana's musical treasures can be a lot of fun too. On Saturday night, it did not take long for well-defined ideas, fleeting melodies and quieter moments to emerge from time to time and prove that there had to be some sort of method to the on-going madness. Moreover, the purposeful energy with which the numerous components of the piece were handled by the excellent orchestra was to be savored, especially when channeled by the resolutely unflappable and deeply involved Julian Wachner.
After a well-deserved intermission, we moved down from North America to South America to become acquainted with the anchor of the program, Alberto Ginestera's little-known and seldom performed Turbae ad passionem gregorianam. Writing a contemporary score for the Passion using a wide range of compositional techniques for choir and orchestra, the equally ambitious and talented Argentine came up with an extended, dauntingly complex, intensely dramatic and downright fascinating oratorio, which manages to convey the concrete brutality of the story with underlying spirituality. On Saturday it certainly sounded like we had all the right personnel in the house to meet the challenge as the combined choirs kept on delivering consistently powerful, occasionally stunning, choral parts, the sheer number of singers offering many thrilling possibilities, the poised Gregorian chanting by the three highly capable soloists kept the action moving smoothly, the fired-up orchestra played with much precision and assurance, all under the tight control of one hell of a multi-tasking conductor. After hearing it, one can understand how the difficulty and scale of the work prevent it from being presented more often, and one can only be grateful to Trinity Wall Street for tempting the impossible and succeeding so resoundingly, even if it meant that we eventually had to go back to the real world and face yet another dreadful cold mushy mess.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Danish National Symphony Orchestra - Sibelius & Nielsen - 02/11/15

Conductor: Cristian Macelaru
Sibelius: Valse triste, Op. 44, No. 1
Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47 - Anne-Sophie Mutter
Nielsen: Symphony No. 4, Op. 29, "The Inextinguishable"

When curious and eager to learn friends of mine ask for some guidance on how to approach the vast, complex and treasure-filled realm of classical music, a few works and names automatically spring to my mind. Sibelius' extraordinary violin concerto is one of them, the long-time queen of the violin Anne-Sophie Mutter is another. And if you get the latter to perform the former, you will likely be as close to music nirvana as you can get.
As luck would have it, Carnegie Hall made all the necessary arrangements to make it happen last week as part of an almost fully Nordic evening - The odd element out being Romanian-born conductor Cristian Macelaru - with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Finnish Jean Sibelius' "Valse triste" and Danish Carl Nielsen's "Inextinguishable" symphony, two early 20th century composers who have not reached the wide name recognition they deserve, possibly because of their unique, not easily categorizable vision. That may also explain why my friend Christine and I gleefully took our seats among a particularly international crowd in a not quite full Stern Auditorium.

A short and exquisite crash course in Sibelius' trademark darkness, elegance and emotional power, "Valse triste" was the perfect titillating appetizer before the sizzling main course.
As Carnegie Hall's current Perspective Artist, Anne-Sophie Mutter is scheduled to appear multiple times on the prestigious stage this season. On Wednesday night, clad in one of her signature mermaid dresses that only she can really pull off, her looks were as naturally regal as her playing. Her gripping understated opening eventually gave way to the subtly yet viscerally expressive concerto, which superbly accomplished the difficult feat of being uncommonly virtuosic without being unnecessarily flashy. Accordingly, Mutter brilliantly succeeded in bringing the icy melancholy, somber elegance, stern grandeur and carefree rhythms of the composition to dazzling life, always keeping everything under control but also exuding freshness and spontaneity. Efficiently conducted by Cristian Macelaru, the excellent orchestra provided a rock-solid background to the rightfully spotlight-stealing soloist.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Anne-Sophie Mutter came back for a starkly beautiful Sarabande from unaccompanied Partita No. 2 by Bach, a most fitting tribute to maestro Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, the music director of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra who died last year. If there is a Heaven, he had to be there smiling.
After intermission we moved from Finland to Denmark for Nielsen and his "Inextinguishable" symphony. Written during World War I, it is first and foremost a vibrant tribute to music and to life whose every quiet moment is dexterously counter-balanced by another big climax. From its chaotic opening to its resounding grand finale, including an outstanding number by duelist timpanists, the orchestra swept us all on an eventful, uninterrupted journey while making sure not to let the life-affirming force that is music falter even so slightly. Having premiered it in the same hall in 1952, they had a sentimental interest in showing us how it's done, and they sure did.
We parted with the overture to Nielsen's opera Maskarade, a fun party favor that had us leave the hall smiling. On Wednesday night at least, the fire kept on burning.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Music Mondays - Claremont Trio - All-Shostakovich - 02/09/15

Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 8
Shostakovich: Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok, Op. 127 – Jennifer Zetlan (Soprano)
Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 67

Since there's nothing like kicking off yet another week with a little bit of challenging music, the always exciting Music Mondays series had programmed an all-Shostakovich concert for last Monday evening. So there. To make the event even more irresistible, it was going to be performed by the three remarkable ladies of the Claremont Trio accompanied by equally remarkable soprano Jennifer Zetlan. So there again. For all those reasons, my friend Angie and I decided to take advantage of the offer and joined the capacity crowd in the cozy little space of the Upper West Side’s Advent Lutheran Church, like the two adventurous, music-loving uptown girls that we are.

The first piece, the Piano Trio No. 1, which was composed by Shostakovich when he was 17 and later completed by a student of his, was relatively short, surprisingly Romantic and would probably qualify as easy listening when compared to the rest of his œuvre. The Claremont Trio played it gentle and warm, opening the concert with a nice introduction.
The mood changed radically with the next number though, as if to get right to the heart of the matter. "Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok" is a vocal-instrumental suite that spans a wide range of sounds, from a troop of loud soldiers and a raging storm to some sweet memories of love and the mystery of secret signs. For this work, the instrumental trio was joined by steadily-rising soprano Jennifer Zetlan, who definitely seems to have a robust knack for selecting and mastering highly demanding projects. Thankfully not attempting to tone down the often disturbing scores, she made excellent use of her starkly expressive voice and handled violent drama as easily as haunting dreaminess. The last vignette, in particular, "Music", turned out to be a little marvel in itself. Bringing all the performers together, it deftly evoked the many facets of the art form with a beautifully serene opening, which suddenly morphed into a powerful crescendo half-way through, before slowly ending in a delicate whisper.
The evening concluded with the most popular piece on the program by far, the Piano Trio No. 2, which Shostakovich wrote in the middle of his life, right after the death of a dear friend of his. Boasting dissonant sounds, dark melodies, macabre images, an unapologetically acerbic tone and an insistent staccato that just won't go away, this trio is fascinating for its complexity and uniqueness. The Claremont Trio delivered a clear and poised performance of it, unafraid of the work's potentially unattractive aspects and well aware of its unusually riveting qualities. And really, what's a little virtuosic spookiness on a cold winter Monday night?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Opera Feroce - Candlemas - 02/07/15

Bach: Duet for Flute and Violin, H 598, Wq 140 - Andante
Britten: A Hymn to the Virgin
Britten: A Ceremony of Carols
Telemann: Duet in G Major for Flute and Violin, TWV 40:111
Stradella: Opening trio from La Circe
Stradella: Three arias from Otia si tollas periere Cupidinis Arcus
Bach: Duet for Flute and Violin, H 598, Wq 140 - Allegro
Porpora: Duet from Deos qui salvasti
Porpora: Trio from Act III of Temistocle
Pacini: Trio Finale from Act I of Il contestabile di Chester  also known as I fidanzati

As winter is apparently not ending anytime soon (Damn that groundhog!) I have been happily hunkered down, not really looking forward for a good reason to go out, especially in the evening. That was until I serendipitously came across an intriguing announcement about a donation-based BYOB concert featuring Baroque music, Britten and more that would be presented by the tiny but ambitious Opera Feroce company in the candlelit chapel of a former convent located within walking distance of my apartment. Some offers are just too good to pass.
A an added bonus, the walls of the staircase of the Ascension School’s building turned out to be covered with murals by no less than Keith Haring, which provided a surprise treat for the eyes on my way to the "sacred and profane celebration for mid-winter with music of four centuries". Once inside, the opera company was facing the good problem of having to deal with an unexpected surge of people in the miniature chapel, where 50 warm bodies are more than enough to form an impressive crowd, but extra chairs were found, wine was poured, lights were dimmed, and the musical feast finally began.

The concert opened with a graceful Andante of the duet for Flute and Violin by Bach, setting a tone that was both dignified and festive. We then jumped ahead to 20th century Benjamin Britten with "A Hymn to the Virgin" and A Ceremony of Carols. Although the latter was written for a treble chorus, solo voices and a harp, there was a lot to enjoy in this pared-down version involving an actress, three singers and a harpsichord. Among other things, it made it easier to focus on the artless beauty of the text as each carol was first read, then sung.
The overall feel of the whole affair being definitely closer to a casual get-together than a formal occasion, the intermission included drinks and snacks, among which stood out some mercilessly addictive brownies, and more music with a lively duet for flute and violin by Telemann, a nice tribute to 18th century German Baroque music.
The second piece programmed for the intermission was from 17th century Italian Baroque composer Alessandro Stradella. "Bei ruscelli cristallini", the opening trio from his opera La Circe, was the singers' first foray of the evening into Baroque music and immediately showed their natural inclination, deep knowledge and remarkable skills for it. In fact, the vibrant bucolic scene was so powerfully expressive that we all forgot that this was still intermission and gave the performance our complete and undivided attention.
The official program resumed with three arias from Stradella's cantata morale Otia si tollas periere Cupidinis Arcus, during which mezzo-soprano Hayden De Witt playfully impersonated a fearless Apollo brandishing his sword, countertenor Alan Dornak a mighty Mars flinging his flail and soprano Beth Anne Hatton a fired-up Diana armed with her bow and arrow, all rambling on and on against poor little Cupid. The goofiness of the accessories, the light-hearted delivery and the unflappable exactness of the singing made each aria an unquestionable stand-out in its own way, neatly backed up by the small but fierce orchestra. Cupid, beware!
Things cooled off a bit with the spirited Allegro from the duet for Flute and Violin by Bach, then took another Italian turn with 18th century Neapolitan composer Nicola Porpora through a duet from his sacred cantata Deos qui salvasti and a trio from his opera Temistocle, during which two highly distressed children are begging their starkly determined father not to go to war. A note-worthy particularity of this number was having the mezzo sing the girl part and the soprano the boy part, which they did with equal gusto and aplomb.
The same theme was also found in the last work of the evening, the final trio from Act I of Giovanni Pacini's opera Il contestabile di Chester. A famous and prolific opera composer back in the 19th century, Pacini is hardly a household name these days, even to Italian opera aficionados, and the substantial excerpt we heard performed by the three singers and a solo piano clearly demonstrated that it is a real shame. The plot may not have been much, but the solid musicality of the piece was undeniable, all the way to the resounding finale. Baroque music has rarely been so uplifting.