Matthew Gurewitsch
Matthew Gurewitsch
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Pundicity: Informed Opinion and Review

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From the archives: Jorma Hynninen, Voice of a Nation
Inside Finland's new opera boom

April 4, 2017  •  Connoisseur (June 1985)

The history of opera can be summarized easily: Orfeo, The Marriage of Figaro, Fidelio, The Barber of Seville, Tristan und Isolde, Aida, Boris Godunov, Carmen, La Boheme—then what? Plenty of music lovers (plenty of musicians, too) would add Der Rosenkavalier and close the book. But they are wrong. Right now, a surprising new chapter is being written in an unexpected country: in Finland, on the farthest fringe of the musical map.

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Comparisons are enlightening
Recap of Catch of the Day #12

April 4, 2017

From home base on Cape Cod, the ecumenical Gloriae Dei Cantores circle the globe sharing the sacred choral music of many schools. On their latest CD, dedicated to the All-Night Vigil, op. 37 of Sergei Rachmaninoff (GDCD 063), there's reinforcement from specialists in the Russian Orthodox tradition. Was the intent to spike the mix with "authenticity"? If so, that didn't happen: there's none of the savage grit characteristic of the low voices in native Russian choruses (even when strictly in tune), nor of the knife-edge projection of the high voices. Instead, we hear timbres that blend immaculately from top to bottom. That's no cause for complaint. On its own terms, I imagine the radiance will come through to listeners of virtually any persuasion, spiritual, doctrinal, musicological, or esthetic.

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Northward, Ho!
A recap of Catch of the Day # 11

March 29, 2017

Poul Ruders, of Denmark, is a hard man to pigeonhole. Largely self-taught, he has explored a bewildering variety of musical styles and techniques over his long career. By most accounts, his opera The Handmaid's Tale, after Margaret Atwood's dystopian international bestseller, ranks as his most significant achievement. The Copenhagen premiere in 2000, when Ruders was 50, attracted a small army of international music critics, who went forth all fired up with good news. A modest flurry of international performances soon followed and subsided. Despite lobbying by the New York Times, the Metropolitan Opera didn't bite. So now, The Handmaid's Tale is mostly a memory. Happily for those who weren't there, the Copenhagen version survives on CD.

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Bloody murder
Jessye Norman's landmark recording of Schubert's "Der Zwerg"

March 10, 2017

I trace my obsession with the Gothic shocker "Der Zwerg" (The Dwarf) to a Schubert anthology by Jessye Norman, released on the Philips label in 1984, featuring Phillip Moll at the piano. It was one of the first three or four CD's I ever owned.

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Horror stories, old American masters, and more
A recap of "Catch of the Day," episode 10

March 10, 2017

On March 5, our first haul was Gods & Monsters, an anthology of German art songs that tell stories, by composers from Schubert to Mahler. Of the 18 tracks, we played three: "Der Zwerg," (The Dwarf), Schubert's Gothic shocker of murder on the high seas; Hugo Wolf's stinging character sketch "Der Rattenfänger" (The Pied Piper); and "Aus Goethe's Faust," Beethoven's mock Lutheran treatment of the grotesque "The Song of the Flea," sung in Goethe's Faust by the devil Mephistopheles. In the spotlight, the versatile lyric tenor Nicholas Phan will not put you over the moon with the sheer sensuality of his instrument. Working in grayscale rather than than in the spectrum of the rainbow, he thinks nothing of throwing caution to the winds to make a dramatic point, at times at steep cost. I can't see arena concerts in his future, but connoisseurs of the art song will appreciate the intelligence, individuality, and commitment he puts in the service of the music. His latest album benefits hugely from the presence of the pianist Myra Huang, his frequent recital partner, who can conjure up a scene in a chord or merry hell in a trill.

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Books by Matthew Gurewitsch

Cover of Rafal Olbinski Women Cover of When Stars Blow Out

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