Arizona Public Media
AZPM on Facebook AZPM on Twitter AZPM on YouTube AZPM on Google+ AZPM on Instagram

Cue Sheet


My life does not go into suspension when I'm off the air, although occasionally I wish it did. Here's the lowdown on a course I'll be teaching for Arizona Senior Academy over the next five Wednesdays.



Pianist Yuja Wang provoked a lot of silly controversy recently when she soloed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl in a short, tight orange dress and stiletto heels. The more conservative observers were shocked that she would dare to appear in an outfit resembling what the majority of today's fit young women in L.A. wear for special occasions. Here's a fairly level-headed analysis of the non-situation.

Classical Music,


On three newscasts this morning, I've heard two different people say "small in size." Well, yes ... the concept of size is built into the word "small," so all they need to say is "small." People have a natural tendency, it seems, to inflate every possible element of language. I'm finding this especially tiresome in the print copy that I edit. One writer I work with is particularly fond of stating that something was begun, say, in 1885, and completed "two years later, in 1887." That's redundant. If you've established that the first year is 1885, everybody with basic math skills knows that 1887 is two years later, and it's unnecessary to burden them with both elements. One thing that's really driving me nuts these days is punctuation inflation; many writers I edit use colons when they need semicolons, semicolons when they need commas, commas when they need nothing at all. I suppose people think they seem more serious if they beef up their sentences with as much punctuation and verbiage as possible. To me, they just seem either pompous, or inattentive to the elements of a lean and limber style.



A review I wrote some time ago for Fanfare:

CORELLI Concerto Grosso in D, op. 6/4. TELEMANN Suite in D for Gamba and Strings, TWV 55:D6. Concerto in a for Flute, Gamba, and Strings, TWV 52:a1. Suite in e for 2 Flutes and Strings, TWV 55:e1. RAMEAU Les Indes galantes: Suite  Jordi Savall, vdg (cond); Concert des Nations  ALIA VOX AVSA 9877 (SACD: 78:29)

Most classical-music lovers know Le Concert Spirituel if for nothing else as the oddly named concert series for which Mozart and Haydn wrote their “Paris” symphonies. On this new SACD, Jordi Savall and his chamber orchestra Le Concert des Nations (one of several Savall ensembles with somewhat overlapping personnel) explore Le Concert Spirituel via works of some of the most notable composers presented earlier in the series’ existence, whose fortunes rose and fell from 1725 to 1790. The series was a scheme to present concerts during Lent and other religious periods when opera and theater performances were banned. The “spiritual” element of the concerts varied from performance to performance; often there were motets or other sacred works on the program, but usually instrumental pieces also infiltrated the proceedings. The early years focused on French music, but Italians and Germans eventually made some headway. On this disc, Savall presents music by one significant representative of each major nationality.

The extensive notes in the accompanying, well-illustrated booklet (a typical Alia Vox touch) state, “The repertoire of the present project is inspired in the instrumental works for orchestra by some of the favourite composers of the organizers of the Concert Spirituel during the reign of Louis XVI (1722–74), and especially from 1728 to 1768.” The notes never, however, come right out and claim that these particular works ever figured in any particular concerts. No matter; a Corelli concerto grosso (the “Christmas” Concerto) was featured in the very first concert; Telemann’s music is documented as present in 1738, 1745, and 1751; and Rameau was an almost constant presence between 1728 and 1768.

Savall has long been known not only for his smart thematic programming but more importantly for his emphasis on sensual tone while giving free rein to a score’s dance rhythms. Take the Corelli, with its highly lyrical, Italianate opening passage succeeded by the quick, nimble interplay of the concertino violins. In the Telemann Suite for Gamba and Strings, even the ouverture feels like part of a dance suite rather than a pompous introduction set apart from than dances that follow, and Savall is a rollicking soloist. And so on all the way through to the end of the Rameau suite, which enjoys a particularly vibrant performance. Overall, Savall and company provide intricate ornamentation and their customary Mediterranean warmth and vivacity without resorting to the mania increasingly common among Italian and some French ensembles.

This generously filled disc, in the label’s typically gorgeous high-resolution audio, is a perfect introduction to Baroque orchestral music beyond Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi, and a highly desirable acquisition for more seasoned collectors. After hearing this, many music lovers will surely call for Savall to record all the Corelli concerti, and make a more comprehensive survey of Rameau’s opera-ballet suites. And who knows what further Telemann treasures they could turn up? James Reel

Classical Music,


The head of PBS is apparently considering moving underwriting announcements away from the interval between programs, on the theory that if the transition from one show to another is seamless, people won't tune out. But where else could underwriting announcements go? Into the middle of a program, just like on commercial TV. Escaping mid-show commercials is one thing people have always liked about PBS, so if they have to endure underwriting spots in the middle of Nova, that's just one more reason viewers will see little difference between PBS and all the other stuff on the tube. And if they see little difference, they'll be less inclined to fork over their own money to support the service. I'm beginning to think that one of the job requirements for running PBS is getting a lobotomy.

At least over here on KUAT-FM you will not have to put up with underwriting announcements between the movements of a symphony. We have standards.



A review I wrote for Fanfare:

POULENC Chansons françaises; Chanson à boire; 7 Chansons; Petites voix; Un Soir de neige; Figure humaine • Jörg Straube, cond; N German Figuralchor • MDG 947 1595-6 (SACD: 65:19 )

Put aside your preconceptions about Germans performing French music, for this is a very fine survey from North Germany of all of Francis Poulenc’s a cappella secular choral works. (Of course, because this collection ignores the sacred works, Poulenc’s greatest choral hits must be sought elsewhere.) The booklet photo shows this group, founded in 1981 by its present conductor, Jörg Straube, to consist of approcimately 40 members, which is about the maximum for this music; more voices could overwhelm the light textures and clear part-writing, which periodically blends into lush harmonies. The very clear surround recording does not quite expose individual voices, but gives the impression of a highly unified chamber choir, singing with both sensitivity and gusto.

The selections range from the witty little Chanson à boire (Drinking Song) of 1922 through the childhood scenes of Petites voix (Little Voices, 1936, sung here by adult women rather than children) and very sensitive settings of Paul Éluard poem in the Sept Chansons of 1936, to the masterly Figure humaine of 1945, a 19-minute cantata of wartime resistance again using Éluard texts. In general, Poulenc’s choral writing here may be less seductive than in his more voluptuous religious works, but it is entirely characteristic of this composer, a man who was hardly the trivial boulevardier his lighthearted instrumental pieces have led some people to believe. James Reel

Classical Music,

About Cue Sheet

James Reel's cranky consideration of the fine arts and public radio in Tucson and beyond.