Bartok: Music for strings, percussion and celeste (CD review)

Also, Divertimento for String Orchestra; Kodaly: Dances of Galanta. Sir Charles Mackerras, Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Linn Records Echo BKD 234.

For me at least, the name of Australian conductor Sir Charles Mackerras (1925-2010) doesn't usually conjure up thoughts of Hungarian music (Czech, maybe, but not Hungarian), yet in 2004 this album of Mackerras conducting Hungarian composers Bartok and Kodaly appears to have been such a hit with the public that Linn Records decided to rerelease it in 2015. It is understandable why they did so: The album is quite appealing for both its performances and its sound.

Mackerras begins the program with Dances of Galanta by Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967), which the composer wrote in 1933 for the 80th anniversary of the Budapest Philharmonic Society. He based the piece on the folk music of a small town called Galanta, where he had lived for a few years. Maestro Mackerras brings out the gypsy inflections in lively enough fashion, yet he adds a note of grace to the proceedings as well. These are not just helter-skelter interpretations by a conductor trying to impress upon his listeners the bustle and excitement of the music; Mackerras genuinely sees this material as having serious worth, and he provides a finely accentuated, fluidly rhythmic rendering of the dances.

Next up is the centerpiece of the album, the Music for strings, percussion and celeste by Bela Bartok (1881-1945), which he wrote in 1936 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the chamber orchestra Basler Kammerorchester. It has since become one of the composers most well-known pieces of music. It is, of course, somewhat odd and eerie, with several of my favorite recordings of it coming from fairly different approaches: Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (EMI) is most eloquent; Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony (Decca) is more brazen and robust; and Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony (RCA) is probably the best all-around. But then we have Mackerras, who adds a greater element of lyricism to the mix.

Mackerras's way with the music is very atmospheric, very imaginative, and poetic, too. The string arrangement is such that the piece takes on an added quality of three-dimensionality, which sounds quite effective here in Linn's recording, even if the Scottish Chamber Orchestra is smaller than Bartok probably envisioned. Mackerras maintains the rhythmic thrust of the piece without sacrificing any balance or poise. Although he never rushes things, the tempos appear well judged, with none of the movements too frenetic or too slack.

Sir Charles Mackerras
Mackerras closes the show with Bartok's Divertimento for String Orchestra, written in 1939 on commission from the founder of the Basler Kammerorchester. The conductor continues here his policy of musical refinement, keeping its diverse mood swings fully compatible with one another. The transitions are so smooth, we no longer have any fear that the three movements are going to come from entirely different places. Mackerras apparently sees the piece as an organic whole and treats it as such. All the thrills and passion are here, along with the anguish and compassion.

Additionally, I'd like to add a shout-out to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. They seem to me as good as any chamber orchestra in the world, with a crisp attack, a warm articulation, and a rich overall tone. They sound at least as refined as the English Chamber Orchestra, and that's high praise, indeed.

Producer Tim Oldham and engineers Philip Hobbs and Calum Malcolm recorded the music at Usher Hall, Edinburgh, UK in February and March 2004, Linn Records issuing it the same year. Linn rereleased the disc in 2015 under their "Echo" label. The sound is spacious without being hollow or cavernous, full and natural without being bright or dull. It sounds perfectly natural and appropriately dimensional, pretty much the live sound of a chamber orchestra I chanced to hear the night before I listened to this disc. The midrange is not super-analytical but provides a good deal of inner detail; the frequency extremes are about where they should be, with good extension, especially in the highs; and the dynamics are wide, strong, and solid. This is impressively lifelike sound, the kind we have come to expect from Linn.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 20 & 23 (XRCD24 review)

Daniel Barenboim, soloist and conductor; English Chamber Orchestra. Hi-Q Records HIQXRCD44.

Argentine pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim (b. 1942) made his piano debut in 1950, and he's been going strong ever since. However, he first came to my attention as a conductor through his 1966-71 EMI recordings of the late Mozart symphonies with the English Chamber Orchestra. They impressed me at the time with their lively spirit, and they continue to be among my favorite interpretations even today. However, it would be a few more years after I discovered his Mozart symphony recordings that I heard his several albums of Mozart piano concertos with the same orchestra, which he recorded for EMI at about the same time. Unfortunately for me, when the CD age rolled around, I never replaced the piano concertos as I did the symphonies. Thus, this new Hi-Q audiophile release was my first return to Barenboim's ECO Mozart concertos in decades. It was a welcome return, as not only had I forgotten how good the performances were, I had forgotten how good the sound was, especially as so carefully remastered by JVC for distribution by Hi-Q Records.

Mozart wrote his Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466, in 1785, and Beethoven much admired it. Young Barenboim offers up a performance of supreme delicacy and refinement that one could hardly criticize without appearing a somewhat petty. Yet there are occasions in the first movement when the pianist seems a tad impetuous. I couldn't help but put an obvious comparison disc on, that of Clifford Curzon with the same orchestra and recorded at about the same time. Curzon seems a touch more mature to me, Barenboim a fraction faster. But, as I say, these are minor concerns at best. Barenboim's playing sparkles throughout, and in the slow second movement he is almost as lyrical and poignant as Curzon. (Curzon may have an edge here because it's his performance we hear at the end of the movie Amadeus, and it's hard for me to shake that.) The concluding movement has Barenboim again in his element, providing a wonderfully light, lively, airy, bubbly ending to the concerto.

A year after No. 20, 1786, Mozart wrote the Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488. Here, Barenboim is just as energetic yet just as sensitive as he was in No. 20, making this disc combination an easy recommendation. It's perhaps all the more surprising when you consider that this disc was the first in Barenboim's series of Mozart concertos, so it was clearly a good start. In addition, he does a fine job directing the ECO from the piano, the orchestra players making their contribution felt in their exacting and highly sympathetic accompaniment.

As always, the folks at Hi-Q package the disc in a glossy, hardcover, foldout Digipak-type case, the disc fastened to the inside back cover, with text notes on the inside. It's a class act all the way.

Daniel Barenboim
Producer Suvi Raj Grubb and engineers Robert Gooch and Neville Boyling originally recorded the concertos at Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London in January 1967. Engineer Tohru Kotetsu remastered the recording for Hi-Q Records at the JVC (Victor Company of Japan) Mastering Center, using XRCD24 technology. XRCD24 processing is among the most-demanding in the industry, and among the most expensive, and it yields impressive results.

In any case, I did not have the regular CD of these concertos with which to compare the Hi-Q. Nevertheless, I did have the EMI (now Warner) CD's of Barenboim's Mozart symphonies, which he recorded at about the same time, so they had to suffice for my comparison. The two most obvious areas of improvement in the Hi-Q vs. regular EMI sound are those of smoothness and clarity. The remastered edition is very slightly smoother and more detailed. It's maybe a hair less bright and forward, too, although a listener would probably only notice these differences upon direct A-B comparison. The piano appears well integrated with the orchestra, sounding lifelike in its placement and sonorities, with the ECO providing clean, transparent textures that come up well in the remastering. Orchestral depth is modest, stereo spread realistic, studio warmth pleasantly mild, and frequency extremes generally unnecessary.

Let's just say that the Hi-Q product is a fine-sounding disc; whether it's worth an expensive upgrade from the EMI/Warner product is a matter of personal taste and pocketbook. If you really, really like these performances and want them in the best possible sound, you might want to go for the Hi-Q. Those with only a mild interest or a simple curiosity might want to stick with the basic EMI product.

Among the places you'll find this recording is Elusive Disc:


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

Classical Music News of the Week, October 4, 2015

Stefan Jackiw to Tour All Four of Charles Ives's Violin Sonatas with Jeremy Denk This Fall

This November, violinist Stefan Jackiw will tour Charles Ives's rarely-performed violin sonatas, in collaboration with pianist Jeremy Denk. The tour will include stops at Ridgewood, New Jersey with the Parlance Chamber Concerts series (November 15), Bowdoin College in Maine (November 18) and Philadelphia's Kimmel Center with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society (November 19), before finishing at New York City's 92nd Street Y (November 21). The NYC and Philadelphia performances will also feature guest vocal groups interspersing the performance with the American songs and hymns which inspired Ives' music writing, and quotations of which can be found throughout the sonatas.

Says Jackiw of the rarely-performed sonatas: "At first listen, the four Ives violin & piano sonatas are most striking for their dense, thorny textures and complex rhythmic and tonal properties. But, I think that to focus on the complexity of the music is ultimately to miss what is most magical about these pieces. At their core, I think these sonatas are about nostalgia, wistful longing, and the quiet beauty that sometimes sneaks, often unnoticed, into the chaos of our lives."

Jackiw continues: "In each of the four sonatas, Ives incorporates snippets of hymns, folk tunes, nursery rhymes, and other American folk music. In some cases, these quotations are preceded by a passage of increasing complexity and intensity, and so the arrival of the hymn, sometimes played together in simple unison between the two instruments, comes as a breathtaking shock of beauty that wipes out the preceding chaos. Other times, Ives weaves the folk melody into the fabric of the music, sometimes so deftly that it takes some doing to tease out the hymn or tune. For me, this is even more profoundly beautiful. It serves as a musical reminder than even in the commotion of our lives, there are often germs of beauty and comfort hidden in our midst."

For more information, visit

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Piatigorsky International Cello Festival Tickets on Sale
Friday, May 13 - Sunday, May 22, 2016, Los Angeles, California

Ticket packages are now on sale for the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival through the University of Southern California Ticket Office ( or by calling 213-740-4672. Individual tickets will go on sale in early 2016. Tickets to festival events with the LA Phil may be purchased separately through the Walt Disney Concert Hall Box Office (

In honor of the legendary cellist, Gregor Piatigorsky, the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival, presented by the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music and the LA Phil in partnership with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, brings together masters of the cello and young cellists from around the world for an unparalleled celebration of the cello, its music and its musicians. The Festival takes place in Los Angeles, California from May 13-22, 2016 showcasing 26 international artists representing 15 countries and 4 continents, and unveiling several premieres during the course of this outstanding 10-day event. The Festival's roster includes some of the world's most celebrated cellists – Yo-Yo Ma, Mischa Maisky, Truls Mørk, Jean-Guihen Queyras, David Geringas, Frans Helmerson, Colin Carr, Sol Gabetta, Giovanni Sollima, Raphael Wallfisch and Artistic Director Ralph Kirshbaum,  among others - some of whom directly studied under Gregor Piatigorsky.

Bringing together three prestigious Los Angeles musical organizations—USC Thornton School of Music, the LA Phil and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra—the 2016 Piatigorsky International Cello Festival aims to highlight the cello against the backdrop of one of the most culturally innovative metropolitan areas in the United States.

For more information, visit

--Kirshbaum Associates

Andre Rieu in Over 200 U.S. Cinemas Nationwide - October 20
CinemaLive, in cooperation with André Rieu Productions, Fathom Events and Universal Music Enterprises, is proud to present André Rieu's 2015 Maastricht Concert, a spectacular cinematic music event with the world's leading pop classical artist.

Set amongst the breathtaking setting of Rieu's hometown of Maastricht in The Netherlands, this magical concert event provides an unforgettable evening full of humor, grand emotion, and glorious music for every age. The 2015 Maastricht Concert, which has already broken box office records in the UK, The Netherlands, Denmark and Australia, will be screened in more than 200 cinemas across the U.S. for one night on Tuesday, October 20 at 7 p.m. (local time).

The concert features André Rieu's famous 60-piece Johann Strauss Orchestra, his sopranos, tenors, and some very special guests. Highlights include Australian soprano Mirusia Louwerse, whom André calls the 'Angel of Australia,' powerful trio The Platin Tenors, and enchanting music, including Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,"  the stirring "This Land is Mine" from Exodus, and, of course, André's signature waltz, The Blue Danube. Also seen on screen are Rieu's legions of fans, who have gathered from around the world to experience the concert in person.

The event boasts extra features specifically for cinema audiences including an exclusive interview with André moments after he steps off stage, conducted by British TV presenter and CinemaLive host Charlotte Hawkins.

To view the official trailer, click here:

Tickets on sale now. For participating cinemas and to book tickets, visit

--Shira Gilbert PR

Young People's Chorus and VisionintoArt Present Epiphany: The Cycle of Life
Epiphany: The Cycle of Life, a co-production of the Young People's Chorus of New York City and VisionIntoArt (VIA), is a multidisciplinary and immersive performance experience created by filmmaker and "visual poet" Ali Hossaini to be presented by BAM during the 2015 Next Wave Festival.  Based on Mr. Hossaini's original video installations "Epiphany" and "Ouroboros," Epiphany: The Cycle of Life comprises world premiere choral compositions by Paola Prestini, Zimbabwe's Netsayi, and Sarah Kirkland Snider; librettos by Niloufar Talebi and Nathaniel Bellow; theatrical concepts and stage direction by Michael McQuilken; scenic and lighting design by Maruti Evans; projection design by Brad Peterson; and costume design by Nicholas K.

Epiphany will premiere in four one-hour performances, taking place from Wednesday, November 4 through Saturday, November 7 at 7:30 p.m. in the Fishman Space inside BAM Fisher at 321 Ashland Place in Brooklyn, NY. Remaining tickets are $25 and available online at or by calling (718) 636-4100.

--Schumann Associates News

Mirror Visions Ensemble 2015-16 Season
Music provides a new dimension to poetry and prose with the Mirror Visions Ensemble's 2015-2016 season performances and projects, led by Artistic Director Tobé Malawista. This season's schedule is an ideal example of the mission of Mirror Visions Ensemble: the commissioning, performing and recording of vocal chamber music. What began as programs built around individual poets and a fascination with multiple settings of the same text -- a "mirror vision" -- has expanded to include the commissioning of over 80 works from 24 composers. Ms. Malawista, along with the musicians, curates each concert; composers, poets and historical figures are illustrated through music and explored not only through their published works, but also through correspondence and other anecdotes.

The ensemble showcases two new programs this season: Flights of Fantasy and Holidays Around the Globe with Mirror Visions.

Flights of Fantasy: January 23, 24 & 30, 2016
Journeys: October 9 & 11, 2015; March 18, 2016
Holdays Around the Globe with Mirror Visions: December 19, 2015

For more information, visit

--Katharine Boone, Kirshbaum Associates

California Symphony Musicians, Donato Cabrera Sign New Three-Year Contracts
The California Symphony Orchestra and Musicians Union Local 6 of the American Federation of Musicians have announced the ratification of a new, three-year musicians' contract. California Symphony Music Director Donato Cabrera has also signed a new three-year contract with the orchestra. Both agreements are retroactive to August 1, 2015 and run through July 31, 2018.

The musicians' agreement calls for a wage freeze in the 2015-16 season, a 1.4 percent increase in the musicians' base wages beginning in the 2016-17 season, and no increase in the 2017-18 season.

"I'm grateful to the Players' Committee for their willingness to have honest conversations about both the history and present state of the organization," said California Symphony Executive Director Aubrey Bergauer. "Together, we were able to work toward the right decisions necessary to continue delivering incredibly high quality music while also appropriately planning for current budget needs."

"I've been through a number of contract negotiations for several different orchestras, and this was probably the most collaborative and friendly one that I have ever been involved with. I really feel like we're all heading in the same direction and have a good agreement," said Robert Hoexter, cellist with the orchestra and chair of the Players' Committee. "I think Aubrey has brought some fresh air into our orchestra by opening new doors for us, and I'm looking forward to where we can go from here with her combination of enthusiastic and yet responsible management. I think it's just what we need right now."

For more information, visit

--Jean Shirk Media

Nicholas McGegan: 30 Years and Counting with Philharmonia Baroque
Thirty years ago, the founder of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, early music crusader and harpsichordist Laurette Goldberg tapped Nicholas McGegan to become Philharmonia's music director. Under "Nic's" leadership, a five-year-old ensemble previously run by four ensemble musicians who conducted orchestra business in a spare bedroom in the back of soprano Judith Nelson's house was transformed into one of the world's most captivating period ensembles.

Now, in addition to local concerts, Philharmonia also frequently tours here and abroad. And when the group is not performing and/or recording, McGegan travels the globe teaching, studying, and conducting major orchestras.

The challenge when interviewing Nic about his 30-year tenure is that he's so witty, so enjoyable, and so filled with delicious, occasionally naughty insights into everything under the sun that it's quite possible to lose one's critical perspective entirely, hand him the reins, and go along for the ride. That, of course, is what so many of us do when we attend Philharmonia concerts and find ourselves lost in the splendid melodies, vivid colors, and multi-dimensional explorations that Nic and the orchestra eagerly share with us.

For more information on Nic McGegan, visit

--Jason Victor Serinus, via Schwalbe and Partners

More Philharmonia Baroque News
Prelude Lectures
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is pleased to present Prelude Lectures. These informal discussions take place forty-five minutes before each concert performance. They are free to all ticket-holders and are designed to enrich the concert experience with thoughtful insights from Nic McGegan, guest artists, musicians, scholars and speakers from the world of classical music. We invite all ticket-holders to join us for our Prelude Lectures throughout the season.

Join us at our upcoming season opener, Scarlatti's "The Glory of Spring":

October 4, 6:45 pm
First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Musicologist and Alessandro Scarlatti scholar Benedikt Poensgen will join Philharmonia Board President Ross Armstrong on stage to discuss his discovery of "The Glory of Spring" and the challenges and rewards involved in presenting this masterwork today.

October 7, 6:45 pm
Bing Concert Hall, Palo Alto
Rachael Myrow, KQED Silicon Valley correspondent, will speak with Nic about his 30th anniversary and the significance of performing "The Glory of Spring" during this milestone in his career.

October 9, 7:15 pm
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco
Bill Lueth, president of listener-supported KDFC radio, will talk with Nic McGegan about his 30 year career at the Philharmonia podium, the return to Herbst Theater and the historic debut of "The Glory of Spring."

October 10, 7:15 pm
First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Bruce Lamott, Philharmonia Chorale Director and Scholar-in-Residence, will share insights about the history of Scarlatti's lost masterpiece, why it was written and how it was forgotten - until today.

--Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

Mahler Chamber Orchestra Newsletter
Michael Adick new Managing Director: As of 1st October 2015, Michael Adick (pictured) takes up the role of Managing Director of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Outgoing Chief Executive Ole Bækhøj is leaving the MCO to take on a new position in Berlin.

Feel the Music in Macao: As part of the tour to Asia with Esa-Pekka Salonen, the MCO brings the education project Feel the Music to Macao. Feel the Music invites deaf children to discover the world of music with all their senses.

Latest tour diaries: Violinist Henja Semmler reports on the Musikfest Berlin 2015, bassoonist Chiara Santi writes about open air chamber music in the Dolomites, and violinist Kirsty Hilton reflects on the "Written on Skin" performances at the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York.

British filmmaker Phil Grabsky accompanied Leif Ove Andsnes and the MCO on their Beethoven Journey 2012–2015. Listen here to an excerpt from Grabsky's "Concerto – A Beethoven Journey":

For full information, visit

--Sonja Koller, Mahler Chamber Orchestra

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa