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Bernard Holland
The New York Times, September 2005

With a blossoming of women in the orchestral world, reverse-discrimination lawsuits and controversial music-director appointments, the topic of women in American classical music has added to the heat of the summer. So it might be wise to return to one of musical feminism's founding mothers, Ruth Crawford Seeger. Naxos's American Classics series brings a collection of her chamber music, piano pieces and songs.

Crawford Seeger's life reflects both the positive and the negative charges of a woman's life in music. There were burdens of raising a large family; the hovering presence of her husband, the composer Charles Seeger; the Depression; social activism (one of the song settings concerns the Sacco-Vanzetti case); and with it all, a tough-minded modernism and a muscular personality. All the pieces on this CD derive from the years 1924 to 1932, before marriage and its concerns more or less silenced Ms. Seeger's work until the 1950's. (She died in 1953.)

The early piano preludes (here Nos. 1 and 9) bear the fluidity and sensuousness of Scriabin, as Cheryl Seltzer's booklet note suggests. Pieces like the Suite for Five Wind Instruments have an assertive tang and an increasing distance from tonality that put them closer to the industrial-strength harmonic revolutions of the times. To this way of thinking also belongs the Violin Sonata, an original and confident work.

Exercises in spartan combinations include two "Diaphonic Suites," for solo flute and for bassoon and cello. The three Carl Sandburg songs ride on a complex and dense instrumental accompaniment.

The musicians, including the mezzo-soprano Nan Hughes and the violinist Mia Wu, are those of Ms. Seltzer and Joel Sachs's long-honored ensemble, Continuum. Ms. Seltzer is the pianist here. Mr. Sachs conducts where needed.

Chris Pasles
Los Angeles Times, September 2005

THE Naxos record label has joined politicians, talk radio hosts and broadcast evangelists in reaching out to people through podcasts — audio programs that can be pulled off the Internet and downloaded onto an iPod for listening to at one's leisure. The label has five free mini-documentaries on classical music already available, and more are on the way.

"They're not really sales pieces," says Naxos spokesman Raymond Bisha, who writes, narrates and produces the 'casts. "We designed them to help people get involved, learn about and appreciate classical music. It gets kids thinking about classical music too, using a medium that younger people are tuned in to."

Topics include composers William Boyce, Benjamin Britten, Peter Boyer and Thomas Tallis, plus a talk on some little-known timpani concertos. Each podcast lasts about 20 minutes and includes history and music.

"You can download one reasonably quickly, but it's long enough for people to actually hear the music," Bisha says. "It's not like a pop single. You need to give a minute or two for the music to unfold."

Naxos began issuing the segments in July. The plan is to create two a month over the next half a year, then one every week.

"The simple truth is, if they really catch on, we'll just keep doing them," Bisha says. "Considering the breadth of classical music, we're not about to run out of material. There's a pretty big sandbox to play in."

Streaming versions can be accessed by going to and clicking on "podcasts." For downloadable versions, go through the iTunes Music Store.

Joseph McLellan
The Washington Post, September 2005

If you are in London on a summer afternoon and you see groups of men in tuxedos and women in evening gowns carrying picnic baskets and boarding a train in Victoria Station, you are observing lucky owners of hard-to-get tickets to the opera at Glyndebourne. The audience is elegant at these performances, where formal wear is mandatory, but the productions are even more elegant. Two of them have just been issued on Arthaus DVD -- Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress and Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail and the elegance is evident not only in the music but in the sets, costumes and acting as well.

Glyndebourne is one of the places (Salzburg and Vienna are others) where opera is treated with a curious combination of earthy energy and almost religious reverence. Both "The Rake's Progress" and "The Abduction From the Seraglio" take place in a sort of never-never land. Stravinsky's 1951 opera, with a libretto by W.H. Auden, is based on a series of 18th-century cartoons by William Hogarth depicting the descent of a young man into insanity because of his lack of moderation and self-discipline. Hogarth's work attempted a realistic if exaggerated picture of London in his time. Stravinsky and Auden push it into fantasy, with a Devil figure manipulating the plot, a machine that supposedly turns stones into bread, a marriage to a bearded woman and other details. Stravinsky's skillful music is neoclassical, and an all-star cast under the baton of Bernard Haitink gives a very stylish performance.

The 1782 Mozart opera, one of his earliest still regularly performed, is set in an imaginary Middle East, with an impossibly benign Pasha who hopes to win the true love of a slave girl. A cruel overseer (brilliantly sung and acted by Willard White) steals the show. The music is bright and energetic; the small cast (five singers) faces virtuoso singing and acting demands and emerges triumphant. The orchestra is excellent (the London Philharmonic under Gustav Kuhn), and the staging captures precisely the dimensions of this brightly colored fantasy.

Wagner: Götterdämmerung (Opus Arte, 3 DVDs). With this release, Opus Arte completes a recording of the "Ring" cycle, from Barcelona, that is one of the best available in home video. It is staged (in a rather abstract, postmodern style) by Harry Kupfer, one of the world's best opera directors. Conductor Bertrand de Billy paces and accents the cycle tastefully. But the primary asset of this production is the casting, mostly with young performers who find acting as important as singing.

Lully: Persée (Euroarts DVD). Rameau: Les Indes Galantes (Opus Arte, 2 DVDs): Two of the most important French baroque operas receive recordings that look definitive. Early French opera, with its emphasis on dance and visuals, benefits greatly from video, and both are handled well in these productions. The two works contrast sharply. "Persée" (a 1682 tragédie lyrique) is deeply serious and steeped in Greek mythology. "Les Indes Galantes," composed a half-century later, is a frivolous extravaganza that was a wild success at the box office, with exotic scenery (Mount Olympus. Turkey, Peru, Persia and the North American wilderness), a lot of dancing and even a volcanic eruption. Both operas are superbly performed, "Persée" by the Opera Atelier of Toronto with Tafelkmusik in the pit, Hervé Niquet conducting, and "Les Indes Galantes" by Les Arts Florissants under the direction of William Christie.

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