Maestro Classics’ Nutcracker Recording Is A Triple Threat Recording

Courtesy: Maestro Classics

Courtesy: Maestro Classics

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is one of the most prolific composers in the music world’s rich history.  He is the man behind beloved works such as ‘Opus 15 Festival Overture in D on the Danish National Anthem,’ ‘Cappricio Italien in A For Orchestra,’ and ‘Opus 36 Symphony No. 4 in F Minor’ just to name a few works.  He is also the driving force behind the Nutcracker Ballet, Swan Lake, and of course the world-renowned ‘1812 Overture’ just to name a few more.  In all, Tchaikovsky composed nearly one hundred works over the span of his life.  So there are far too many to name in one sitting.  Now thanks to children’s classical label Maestro Classics, young listeners now get to learn about just one of that mass of compositions, The Nutcracker in the new release Maestro Classics: The Nutcracker.  The song remains one of Tchaikovsky’s most talked about works more than two hundred years after it debuted at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia.  It remains so well-known because of the long-held belief about Tchaikovsky’s own view of the song.  The belief in question is that Tchaikovsky held a certain distaste for the song even having been the one that composed the work.  The truth of the matter is that he in fact probably didn’t dislike the composition as much as believed but was instead surprised by its success.  In fact it remains one of the one of the most beloved of Tchaikovsky’s compositions the world over to this day.  It can be heard at performances of The Nutcracker Ballet around the world every year during the holidays.  So it is fitting that Maestro Classics released the centuries-old standard this past October just in time to properly get listeners into the holiday spirit.  With its new release via Maestro Classics it’s certain to become even more of a favorite.  The main reason for that is its overall presentation.  That will be discussed at more length later.  The narration by Jim Weiss adds even more enjoyment to the composition.  That will be discussed at more length later.  Last but hardly least worth noting of this recording is its companion booklet.  The recording’s companion booklet offers a thorough background on the history of The Nutcracker  and even offers up a few extras that music educators at every level will appreciate.  Together with the composition’s narration and its overall presentation, the recording in whole proves to be a presentation that not only will children appreciate but adults as well.  This being the case, it makes itself one more of this year’s best new musical holiday offerings and one of the year’s best new children’s albums.

Maestro Classics’ new presentation of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’ is one of the best of this year’s musical holiday offerings and one of the year’s best new children’s offerings overall, too.  The main reason for this is the overall presentation of the centuries old composition.  For those that don’t know, ‘The Nutcracker’ is a roughly hour-long musical composition composed of two separate acts that are themselves separated into multiple movements along the way.  The movements are not short either.  Luckily for those that might be less familiar with The Nutcracker Suite, Maestro Classics has broken the  whole thing down into twenty-one separate tracks in its new presentation.  The longest of those tracks comes in at nearly seven minutes.  The shortest–‘Chinese Dance’–comes in at just over a minute in length.  This clear separation of the suite’s movements into even smaller subsections is a major positive for the recording.  That is because it ensures even more that listeners will remain engaged.  Had the composition been presented in its original format here, odds are the length of the movements would not have been able to keep listeners’ ears.  So to have broken it down in the fashion presented here is very much a good thing.  
The separation of ‘The Nutcracker’s’ movements into even smaller segments in its presentation here is good in that it ensures audiences’ engagement.  That is just one positive of the recording’s overall presentation of the composition in this platform.  Having it so decisively segmented plays a secondary purpose.  That purpose is to help educators in teaching their students not only about the composition within itself but certain mechanics of music theory, too.  It is yet another way in which the recording’s overall presentation proves so important to its enjoyment.    Both the manifest and latent function of ‘The Nutcracker’s’ overall presentation prove in their own fashion why said presentation style is so important to the recording.  It’s just one part of the recording that makes this recording so enjoyable.  The narration on the part of Jim Weiss is yet another important part of the recording that makes it enjoyable. 
The general presentation of ‘The Nutcracker’ in this recording is the foundation of its success.  The foundation alone does not make a solid, singular structure, though.  Keeping this in mind, Maestro Classics builds on the foundation established by ‘The Nutcracker’s’ overall presentation by including narration by none Jim Weiss.  Weiss’ narration completely envelops listeners in both the musical and literary story presented in this recording.  That is thanks in large part to his delivery style.  There is a certain gentility in his delivery that makes suspension of disbelief so simple.  In the same breath, it also paints such a vivid picture for viewers as he narrates each scene whether listeners are enjoying the story at home or in the car.  It makes listeners feel as if he is sitting right next to them, telling the story as it progresses.  His narration couples with the separation of the song’s movements to make the record’s overall listening experience all the more enjoyable, proving even more why this recording is one of the year’s best new musical holiday offerings as well as one of the year’s best new children’s musical offerings.  Both elements play their own important roles in the overall presentation of ‘The Nutcracker’ from Maestro Classics.  They are not all that makes this presentation of the beloved classical composition is so impressive.  The companion booklet that comes with the recording rounds out its most notable elements.
The segmentation of ‘The Nutcracker’ into multiple tracks in Maestro Classics’ new presentation of the classic composition is a key factor in its enjoyment in its presentation here.  The additional narration on the part of Jim Weiss makes the recording all the more enjoyable for listeners.  While both elements are unquestionably important in their own right to the overall listening experience of ‘The Nutcracker’ they are collectively only a portion of what makes this latest release from Maestro Classics so enjoyable.  The recording’s companion booklet rounds out the recording’s positives.  It includes a brief but concise history on both ‘The Nutcracker’ and on Tchaikovsky.  There is also some basic music theory material mixed into the booklet that is directly connected to ‘The Nutcracker.’  It is such a great addition to ‘The Nutcracker’s’ overall presentation in that it serves to make the recording one that can be enjoyed any time of the year despite being a story that takes place around Christmas.  What’s more it serves to make this recording one that listeners of any age any time of the year.  Considering  this alongside the previously noted elements of the recording’s general presentation and its narration, the recording in whole shows without question again why it is one of the year’s best new musical holiday offerings and one of the year’s best new children’s albums.  In full consideration, one could even argue it to be one of the year’s best new classical releases since classical reaches not just children but listeners of all ages.
Maestro Classics’ new recording of ‘The Nutcracker’ is a triple threat of a recording.  It is one of the year’s best new musical holiday offerings, one of the year’s best new children’s albums and even one of the year’s best new classical releases.  The main reason for that is the wide separation of the song’s movements.  Such separation ensures even more listeners’ engagement regardless of their ages.  The additional narration by Jim Weiss adds even more enjoyment to the recording.  The companion booklet that comes with the recording rounds out its presentation showing once and for all exactly why listeners of all ages, not just children, will enjoy this recording.  The booklet includes a brief but concise history of ‘The Nutcracker’ and an equally short but concise bio on Tchaikovsky.  There’s even some music theory material that could serve as the starting point for classroom lessons.  Each element shows in its own right to be greatly important to the whole of this recording.  Collectively, they make Maestro Classics’ presentation of ‘The Nutcracker’ a recording that audiences will enjoy listening to not only during the holidays but throughout the year.  It is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct via Maestro Classics’ official online store at  More information on this and other titles from Maestro Classics is available online now at:
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Defiant Requiem One Of The Most Powerful, Deeply Moving WWII Stories Ever Told

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Defiant Requiem is one of PBS’ best documentaries of 2013 and one of the best documentaries of 2013, period.  If ever there was a work that proved the importance of supporting PBS, this documentary is it.  The near ninety-minute program tells the story of a group of Jewish captives that used music as a means to tell the world of their mistreatment at the hands of the Nazis.  It is a piece that will appeal not only to those with a love and respect for classical music, but also for anyone that has ever had or has any interest in the history of World War II.  It is so deeply moving that it must be seen to understand and appreciate this.

As a bit of background for viewers, Verdi’s Requiem is one of the most beautiful yet intense works in the history of classical music.  What makes this musical masterpiece by itself so interesting is that it was considered sacred music, despite the fact that Verdi himself was supposedly an agnostic.  Its ten-part “Dies irae (Day of Wrath)” segment incorporates themes of mortality and judgment.  These themes definitely are in contrast to Verdi’s own alleged beliefs.  Put into the context used by the Jewish prisoners of the Terezin concentration camp, these themes take on a whole new meaning as they were sung towards the very individuals who treated them as less than humans.  This was absolutely brilliant of fellow prisoner and composer Rafael Schachter to do.  As audiences will learn through the course of the program, it was because of Schachter’s efforts that the Jewish prisoners at the camp were able to use their rehearsals and performance of the music as a source of strength both personally and as a people.  It allowed the prisoners to confront their captors in the presence of the Red Cross without fear of retribution.  This alone is deeply emotional.  Whether one is an expert in music history, war history, or history in general, it will still leave any viewer deeply moved on a number of levels.

The music of Verdi’s Requiem is itself extremely moving and powerful.  Once one understands the extent of its emotional influence, it makes the story told by the Terezin survivors that much more moving.  The program features interviews with the survivors, and shows their reactions to the Requiem being performed for them and their families’ decades later at the very sight of the pain that took so many lives.  The symbolism of the performance left barely a dry eye in the house during the performance.  The sight of the survivors’ emotions will bring about certain emotions among viewers at home, too.  The inclusion of archived pictures ties directly into the stories shared by the survivors.  It brings everything into crystal clear view, expertly illustrating the horrors experienced by Jewish prisoners at Terezin.

Along with stories from the survivors of Terezin, Defiant Requiem also features re-enactments by professional actors.  The re-enactments on the part of the actors in Defiant Requiem are on par with another of PBS’ major documentaries from earlier in 2013, The Abolitionists.  It’s something that is being seen less and less frequently on certain other networks by comparison, making this documentary that much more impressive and necessary both inside and outside the classroom.  It also makes PBS that much more important for those searching for educational programming, and that much more worth financially supporting with viewer contributions.  If the archived pictures from Terezin made the story crystal clear, the re-enactments made them crystal clear at an Ultra High Def level, for lack of better comparison.  As painful as it is to learn of what happened, these re-enactments, archived pictures, and performance of the Requiem help bring history alive.  They help viewers of any age understand what happened within the walls of Terezin.  All assembled together, everything included in this new documentary makes it one that crosses interests and in turn makes it one of the best documentaries of 2013.  It will be available Tuesday, July 23rd and can be ordered online from PBS’ online store at

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Young Avenue Kids A Fun Introduction to Classical Music For Kids

Courtesy: Ilana Melmed/Naxos

Courtesy: Ilana Melmed/Naxos

Young Avenue Kids, the brainchild of South African born Ilana Melmed, has released what is one of the year’s best children’s albums.  It is a compilation of classical pieces written by great composers such as Rossini, Strauss, Hayden and others.  The album came about as a result of Ilana’s lifelong passion for classical music and opera.  Given, most of the songs included on this album are not the full works that most classical music aficionados know.  But they do make for a suitable introduction to a whole new world of music for young listeners who would otherwise likely not give classical music a chance.  A prime example of this is the compilation’s opener, ‘Blast Off With Suppe.’  This piece provides only a little over ninety seconds of what is in reality a roughly seven minute-plus work.  So no one involved in cutting its length down can be criticized for that, especially considering the length of younger listeners’ attention span.  The inclusion of lyrics and young people singing said lyrics makes the song clips chosen for this record all the more relatable for younger audiences.

The music itself is just one part of what parents and kids alike will enjoy about this record.  While it is in essence one more way to introduce young audiences to the joys of classical music, the record also boasts a pair of songs that not only are classical pieces, but also are songs that promote positive lifestyles.  One uses a classical backing to encourage young people to clean up their messes.  The other does much the same.  Only this time, instead of promoting cleanliness, cleanliness in terms of personal oral hygiene is promoted.  To say that this is smart would be an understatement.

The use of classical music to promote both itself and healthy lifestyles is very smart when presenting this genre of music to audiences who would otherwise be more interested in the next big pop sensation.  So this record already has two positives to its reputation.  It has one more positive that should be noted.  That positive is the album’s sequencing.  The same songs used in the first half of the album are brought back again for the album’s second half only with a minor tweak.  That tweak is that they are presented sans children singing and with an introduction on each composer by the children instead.  Yet again, this maintains the album’s ability to relate to young listeners and vice versa.  Again, not all of the songs are presented as they might be on one’s public radio station.  But they are still just enough to hopefully grab the interest of the album’s key audience and keep them turned on to classical music.  And that is what is most important.  It is the goal of the album.  Given the opportunity by parents, it will achieve that goal, too.  Whatever I Want To Be will be available May 28th.  Kids and their parents can check out pieces of the songs on this compilation now online at  Parents and kids can also find out all the latest on this CD and more from Ilana Melmed on the official Young Kids Avenue website,

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Lord’s “Concerto” Is A Modern Musical Work Of Art

Courtesy: Thompson Music/Eagle Rock Entertainment/Eagle Records

Jon Lord’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra is a modern musical work of art.  One part classical and one part rock concert, this opus proves more than ever that music truly is the universal language.  It’s a modern classical work that could so easily put modern masters the likes of Hans Zimmer and John Williams to shame.  The way that the musicians so perfectly complement each other throughout each movement makes it sound just as much a movie soundtrack as a general modern classical opus.

The style and dynamic contrasts of this three movement piece will pull in audiences from both sides of the fence.  And the addition of a top notch group of musicians on both ends to bring it all to life makes it that much more of a joy to hear.  Steve Morse, Joe Bonamassa, and Darin Vasilev all join in on guitars, with Vasilev heading things in the first movement.  Bonamassa comes in on movement two, while Morse finishes things off in movement three.  Brett Morgan and Guy Pratt add their own touch to the work’s rock based sections.  On the other side, the control of the orchestra (especially the strings) throughout what would seem to be the “B” section of the first movement.  That section repeats later near the end of the movement, too.  Classical fans will also recognize what is a reference to Gusatv Holst’s The Planets.  As noted in the liner notes, there is a reference in the first movement to “Jupiter.”  But it’s a bit of a surprise that there’s no mention that the final moments are equally similar to the final moments of “Mars.”

The immediate contrast of the brashness from the first movement into the second movement adds so much more emotion to the overall piece.  It’s a total mood change.  The way that it the second movement changes moods so much from one section to the next makes for even more discussion and enjoyment.

The intensity from the concerto’s first movement returns in its third movement full force, with the orchestra’s percussion and low brass holding court first.  The woodwinds come in next, followed by the strings, and then even Hammond organ.  It all comes together for what is without a doubt the entire concerto’s finest moment.  While the entire movement is nearly eleven minutes long, it’s nearly eleven minutes well spent as even rockers who have never been fully introduced into the world of classical music will find themselves listening intently to the musicianship of this group, along with the rock elements.  When it’s all said and done, it will leave audiences soundly appeased yet wanting more.  That is the sign of a good recording.

Concerto for Group and Orchestra offers so much for both fans of classical and rock.  One can only hope that it will serve its purpose and bring both sides together, perhaps making for new fans of the other side all the way around.  This is a standout album, all the way around.  It is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct via Eagle Rock Entertainment’s website,

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