By Lawrence Budmen

A new series of cd releases recalls wonderful memories of recent music seasons and brings a glimpse of the bold new season to come. A wonderful group of young artists provides exciting music making and renewed hope for the art form.

Florida Grand Opera opened its 2003-2004 season with an uneven production of Verdi's "La Traviata." A new recording of this Verdi masterpiece ( brings one of the most compelling versions of this repertoire staple. The role of Violetta - with its combination of coloratura and lyrico-spinto singing - has long been a formidable challenge for soprano divas. The American soprano Cheryl Evans is simply extraordinary! Every bar and phrase is imbued with tremendous passion and emotional intensity. Her coloratura singing is stunning! She brings a cascade of vocal colors to the role's musico-dramatic riches. Ms.Evans's beautiful voice and dramatic fervor are what operatic legends are all about. Great bel canto and intensely riveting music-drama! Miami's own Raul Melo sings a beautifully phrased, lyrical Alfredo. His duets with Ms. Evans are truly beautiful. Baritone Andrew Krikawa is light of voice as Germont but sings with musicality and fervor. Conductor Daniel Kleinknecht leads a fiery performance. Every lover of the vocal art should hear this release. Ms. Evans is a superbly talented rising star! 

Conductor Paavo Jarvi gave a stunning concert last season in Miami with the touring Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Jarvi returns to conduct the New World Symphony on April 15, 16, and 17, 2005 in symphonies by Mozart and Carl Nielsen (the enigmatic 6th Symphony). On a new Telarc release ( Jarvi directs his Cincinnati ensemble in sensuous performances of music by Maurice Ravel. "Pavane for A Dead Princess" and the "Daphnis and Chloe" Suite No.2 have rarely sounded so intoxicating. The balletic lilt and color of "Ma Mere l'Oye" really soars and the impressionistic mist of "La Valse" glows with orchestral coloration. 

Swedish pianist Per Tengstrand - half of the duo piano team of Shan-Shan Sun and Per Tengstrand who won the top prize in the 2004 Murray Dranoff International Two Piano Competition in Miami - plays translucent versions of piano music by Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936) on a new ProPiano release ( (Sun and Tengstrand will perform a duo recital on May 22, 2005 for the Sunday Afternoons of Music series.) Felix Blumenfeld's sparkling transcription of the "Concert Waltz No.1 in D Major," Opus 47 receives lithe treatment from Tengstrand. He is equally commanding in Glazunov's own piano version of his extravagant ballet score "The Seasons." 

The most entrancing concerto performance of last season was Dvorak's warmly lyrical, unjustly neglected "Violin Concerto in A Minor," Opus 53, scintillatingly played by Akiko Suwani with Andrey Boreyko and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra - an ensemble that should know their Dvorak. An equally brilliant and idiomatic performance is offered by French violin virtuoso Philippe Graffin on a new Avie recording ( The elegance of Graffin's playing is wonderfully Gallic in the best sense of the word. Graffin offers a terrific companion work - the "Violin Concerto in G Minor," Opus 80 by the British-African composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912). Taylor's score is a well of enchanting melodies. Written for the great American violin virtuoso Maud Powell, the work requires the utmost in technical brilliance. Graffin provides that and much more - an intensely personal, fervent rendition. The Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra under British conductor Michael Hankinson provides dynamic support in both works. A stunning feast of virtuosity! (The recording is dedicated to the 10th anniversary of democracy in South Africa.) Another French violinist Gilles Apap gave a sizzling performance of Romanian composer Georges Enesco's folk inflected Sonata, Opus 25 - "In the Popular Romanian Style" - at a South Florida recital last season. That technically daunting score is featured on an all Enesco cd on the Canadian Marquis Classics label ( The Orfeo Duo (the brother-sister team of violinist Vita Wallace and pianist Ishmael Wallace) gives an incendiary rendition of this Gypsy tinged score. Ms. Wallace plays with perfumed elegance in "Aubade" - Enesco's insouciant tribute to the Parisian salon. This gifted duo is even more impressive on a disk of sonatas by Robert Schumann on the Ibermusica label ( This recording features these all too rarely heard Schumann gems played on period instruments. Playing on a Florentine violin (with gut strings) made in 1765 and with a French bow made in 1900, Vita Wallace unleashes a rich, vibrant rubato and combustible fervor in the grand Romantic manner. In both the yearning melodies of the first sonata and the more austere, yet masterful second and third sonatas, Ms. Wallace gives sumptuous, gleaming performances. On an 1846 J.B. Streicher fortepiano, Ishmael Wallace (a pupil of Richard Goode) plays with illuminating artistry and bracing fervor. A great recording! 

The Russian born conductor Semyon Bychkov (now an American citizen) is well remembered for his Miami appearances with the Orchestra de Paris and the London Philharmonic (in a sweeping performance of Mahler's First Symphony). Now music director of the Cologne Radio Symphony, Bychkov is featured on two new Avie releases with that orchestra. An all Richard Strauss cd features Bychkov leading the Cologne strings in a riveting, emotionally draining performance of the powerful "Metamorphosen," Strauss's vision of post World War 2 devastation. With the full ensemble Bychkov offers a broad, deeply eloquent account of "Ein Heldenleben" with a glowing, virtuosic violin solo by Kyoko Shikata. Bychkov is a natural interpreter of the music of Dimitri Shostakovich. A new recording of that master's "Symphony No.7" - "Leningrad" (1942) is simply magnificent. Bychkov's masterful conducting and the orchestra's brilliant playing produces a searing performance. All the pain, suffering, and triumph of Leningrad's resistance to the German siege (in the Second World War) are vividly evoked in this supercharged interpretation. Idiomatic Shostakovich and great music making by an underrated conductor! Memorable music making - a retrospective of the past and a preview of the future! 


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