Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 31, 70 & 101 (SACD review)

Robin Ticciati, Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Linn Records CKD 500.

The possible advantages of this disc: First, Maestro Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra play three symphonies by Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1909) from three periods in the man's life: early, middle, and late, giving the listener a useful overview of Haydn's developing output. Second, Linn Records provides another excellent-sounding album.

The possible disadvantages: First, Ticciati chooses to play each of the symphonies in something approaching historical accuracy, yet the orchestra performs on modern instruments. The combination may seem a tad disconcerting for some listeners. Second, Ticciati doesn't appear to display any discernable difference in playing style among the three symphonies even though they span a period of about thirty years. You would think that maybe as Haydn's style evolved, the playing practice might, too.

Anyway, things begin with the Symphony No. 31 in D major, which Haydn wrote in 1765 for his patron Nikolaus Esterházy. It acquired the nickname "Hornsignal" because it provides the horn section a rather large role in the proceedings. I really wasn't familiar with No. 31 (I hadn't heard Dorati's version in decades), but under Ticciati it sounds fresh, chipper, and alive. The Adagio is especially lovely, taken at a steady, enlivening gait that never indulges in sentimentality. And so it goes with a light, lilting flow throughout.

Next is the Symphony No. 70 in D major from 1779, written to commemorate the construction of a new opera house on Prince Esterhazy's property. Although it is not among Haydn's most-memorable symphonies, it does feature the composer's usual complement of pleasing harmonies. No. 70 starts out in a veritable storm of sounds, which Ticciati handles with ease, although the relatively small size of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra rather diminishes the overall effect. Yes, it sounds a tad underpowered compared to other renditions I've heard. Nevertheless, Ticciati again maintains a good forward pulse, and the movements proceed fluidly one to the next. He particularly handles the playful finale with dexterity.

Robin Ticciati
The final piece on the program is the Symphony No. 101 in D major, composed around 1793-94 while Haydn was visiting London for the second time. It got the nickname "The Clock" because the ticking rhythms in the second-movement Andante remind people of the movement of the second hand in a loudly ticking clock. Unfortunately, under Ticciati's direction "The Clock" seems little different from the preceding selections. While one still easily recognizes the music, it appears to me a touch too lightweight. And then comes the famous clock movement. Oh, dear. Ticciati sounds as though he's taking it at double speed; it's faster than any of the half dozen comparisons I had on hand, including one done on period instruments. Not that it doesn't still sound good--exciting, in fact--it's that it doesn't appear to me what Haydn intended: An Andante should be moderately slow, not speedy. Oh, well; at the very least, Ticciati's interpretation makes a solid alternative view.

Producer and engineer Philip Hobbs recorded the symphonies at Usher Hall, Edinburgh, UK in January and February 2015. He made the recording for hybrid SACD playback, so you can listen in multichannel or two-channel SACD if you have an SACD player and regular two-channel stereo if you have only a standard CD player.

In the two-channel SACD mode to which I listened, the sound appears warm and clear, with a good sense of depth and dimensionality. As this is a Linn recording, there is nothing hard, bright, compartmentalized, or close-up about the sonics. It just sounds natural and dynamic, with a sold timpani response and a mild hall resonance providing a realistic ambient bloom.


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

Debussy: La Mer (HQCD review)

Also, Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2; Berlioz: La Damnation de Faust, Part 2: Ballet des Sylphes. Leopold Stokowski, London Symphony Orchestra. HDTT HQCD.

Leopold Stokowski's Decca recording of Debussy's La Mer with the London Symphony is not the most graceful or poetic interpretation on record. For that, you'll want Martinon (EMI). But Stokowski is close. Stokowski's recording is not the most exciting, either. For that, you'll want Reiner (RCA or HDTT). But Stokowski is close. Stokowski's recording is not the most lush or glamorous you'll find. For that, you'll want Karajan (DG). But Stokowski is close. Stokowski's recording is not the most precise or analytical around. For that, you'll want Boulez (DG). But Stokowski is close. And Stokowski's recording is not the best recorded in the catalogue. For that, you'll want Previn (EMI). But Stokowski is close. In fact, Stokowski's Decca recording is so close in all of the above categories, it qualifies in my mind as the best overall choice in this work of anything available, and HDTT's remaster of it on the HQCD I reviewed makes it even better. It's a hard proposition to refuse.

French impressionist composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) wrote La Mer between 1903 and 1905, and the work has since become one of his most well-known compositions. Certainly, it is one of his greatest and most descriptive pieces. Debussy named it La mer, trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestre (or "The sea, three symphonic sketches for orchestra"), but usually people just call it La Mer.

Debussy said he wanted the first movement, "From dawn till noon on the sea," to be a little less showy than the other movements and added that the conductor should take it slowly and animate it little by little. It begins with a warmly atmospheric introduction and then opens up about halfway through to a rapturous melody. In this first movement, Stokowski provides a requisite enthusiasm, but he is careful not let this opening music upstage the climactic final movement. So, he reins it in a bit, producing a suggestive, atmospheric, picturesque, and wonderfully rhapsodic portrait of morning on the sea.

The composer intended the second movement, "Play of the waves," to sound light and carefree, the dancing waters luminescent and magical. He indicated it should be an allegro (a brisk, lively tempo), animated with a versatile rhythm. In reality, the second movement acts as a kind of slowish scherzo, although, to be fair, it isn't actually slow or fast. As its subtitle indicates, it's more playful than anything, with Stokowski delighting in the imaginative nuances of sea and air. This is Stokowski at his more charming: light and lyrical.

Leopold Stokowski
Then comes probably the most well-known segment of the work, the third-movement finale, "Dialogue between wind and waves," in which Debussy provided his biggest splashes of color and which he noted should sound animated and tumultuous. Here, Stokowski infuses the music with immense personality; but not necessarily his own--he infuses it with the composer's personality. The movement's rhythmic rises and falls appear perfectly timed, the cadences beautifully judged, the subtleties of wind and sea well expressed in contrasting dynamic shifts. The result is as pleasing, as relaxed, yet as intense as anything you'll find on record.

The accompanying items--Maurice Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2 and Hector Berlioz's Ballet des Sylphes--are equally appealing. Stokowski's Ravel, especially, sounds magical, rich, and luxuriant. It's the ideal complement to the Debussy. Still, it's the Debussy that steals the show and for which I strongly recommend the disc.

Producer Tony d'Amato and engineer Arthur Lilley recorded the music in June, 1970, at Kingsway Hall, London. HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) remastered and transferred it from a London Phase 4 four-track tape to a variety of formats (I reviewed the HQCD) in 2015.

It's the "Phase 4" business that may concern some audiophiles. According to Decca, "Phase 4 was a special series of recordings from the '60s and '70s which presented music in spectacularly vivid sound." And according to Wikipedia, the Decca sound of the time "was characterised by an aggressive use of the highest and lowest frequencies and a daring use of tape saturation and out-of-phase sound to convey a lively and impactful hall ambiance, plus considerable bar-to-bar rebalancing by the recording staff of orchestral voices, known as 'spotlighting.' In the 1960s and 1970s, the company developed its 'Phase 4' process, which produced even greater sonic impact through even more interventionist engineering techniques." The fact is, Phase 4 sound used multi-miking to the extreme, usually producing a close-up, compartmentalized sound field that dazzled some listeners with its lucidity and detail and infuriated others with its sometimes unnatural perspective. Love it or leave it, HDTT have transferred it to HQCD with their customary excellent results.

Using two separate CD players, I compared the HDTT disc to a London Phase 4 compact disc remastered by Decca in 1997. (If you want the Stokowski Debussy, you'll have to find a used copy of one of the several discs Decca or London issued; buy it in a big Decca box set of miscellaneous Stokowski material; or get this HDTT transfer. I recommend the HDTT.) Anyway, the listener need have no fears about the sound being too close or too analytical because it's not quite as drastic as some of Decca's Phase 4 releases. Here, the sound is reasonably realistic, at least from a near vantage point. More important, the HDTT product displays a touch more smoothness and clarity than my comparison disc. It's also quite clean (although both discs are, for that matter), with almost dead quiet backgrounds. As with many other Phase 4 recordings I've heard, the bass is not quite as deep as I'd like, but it's more than adequate and sounds taut and well controlled. Finally, I thought the HDTT transfer showed a hair more orchestral dimensionality and depth than the London CD. In other words, you will be happy with the HDTT remastering. It does credit to Stokowski's fine performance.

For further information on HDTT products, prices, discs, and downloads in a variety of formats, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, November 21, 2015

AME Performs "Moon Music," with Special Guest Claremont Trio, 12/3

American Modern Ensemble
Humankind has always held a certain fascination with the moon. For centuries astronomers have gazed upon it from afar. Astronauts have walked on its delicate surface. Writers and poets have sought inspiration from its barren, foreboding mountains and valleys. And, many composers have drawn upon the moon for musical enlightenment.  

Known for its presentation of cutting-edge American music and innovative thematic programming, American Modern Ensemble (AME) presents "Moon Music," an evening of contemporary music celebrating all things lunar. "The Moon Music" program includes:

Claude Baker: Tableaux Funèbres
Judith Shatin: Spring Tides
Daniel Strong Godfrey: Luna Rugosa
George Tsontakis: Eclipse
Robert Paterson: Moon Trio
AME announces a new partnership with Brooklyn's brand-new National Sawdust, with their first appearance at this venue on Thursday, December 3, 2015, at 7pm. All of the pieces will be performed by American Modern Ensemble, with the exception of Moon Trio, which will be performed by special guests the Claremont Trio (Emily Bruskin, violin; Julia Bruskin, cello; Andrea Lamb, piano).

Thursday, December 3, 2015, at 7:00pm at National Sawdust (80 N 6th St, Brooklyn, NY)

Tickets may be purchased by calling 646.779.8455 or by visiting http://nationalsawdust.org/event/american-modern-ensemble-presents-moon-music/

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

West Edge Opera Announces 2016 Opera Medium Rare Series
West Edge Opera is pleased to announce Opera Medium Rare 2016. Titled "The Doppelgänger Season," it features two well-known opera titles by less well-known composers, performed in concert format.

Opening the series on Sunday, February 7, 2016 at 3 pm at the Lisser Theater at Mills College, Oakland, CA, is Paisello's The Barber of Seville, with a repeat performance on Tuesday, February 9, 8 pm at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, CA. Leoncavallo's La bohème is Sunday, March 20, 3 pm at Mills College and Tuesday, March 22, 8pm at Freight and Salvage. English supertitles also include stage directions to set the scenes.

Lisser Theater, a 250-seat proscenium theater, is on the Mills College campus and Freight and Salvage is at 2020 Addison Street in downtown Berkeley's arts district. Tickets are $22 for general seating with a $20 senior discount price. Premium seats are $40.00. Tickets for all performances are available online at www.westedgeopera.org. Lisser Theater tickets can be purchased by phone on the West Edge Ticketline, 510-841-1903, and Freight and Salvage tickets by phone are purchased by calling 510-644-2020 extension120. For more information, go to West Edge Opera's Web site at www.westedgeopera.org

--Marian Kohlstedt, West Edge Opera

The King's Singers Announce First-Ever U.S. Summer School in 2017
Double Grammy award-winning vocal ensemble The King's Singers will once again host their extremely popular biennial Summer School in 2017. In addition to the traditional setting of Royal Holloway at the University of London, the group will offer its first ever U.S.-based Summer School at Indiana's DePauw University. The thriving music department at DePauw is deeply committed to reshaping modern music education, which is reflected in the facilities it offers. One of the first Schools of Music in the United States, in June 2015 the campus was host to the first-ever Global Musician Workshop, led by the phenomenal cellist Yo Yo Ma and members of his renowned Silk Road Ensemble.

"We are thrilled to partner with one of the world's best and most-loved musical groups for this unforgettable, life-changing experience," said DePauw University School of Music Dean Mark McCoy. "If you love singing, this is the place to be!"

The King's Singers 2017 Summer Schools:
Dates: 13 – 19 June 2017
Venue: DePauw University, Indiana

Dates: 17 – 22 July 2017
Venue: Royal Holloway, University of London

For more information, visit www.kssummerschool.com

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

National Philharmonic Present's Handel's Messiah at Strathmore
Hear the genius of Handel as the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale perform his most beloved oratorio, the Messiah, on Saturday, December 19 at 8pm and Sunday, December 20 at 3pm at the Music Center at Strathmore. Led by Artistic Director Stan Engebretson, the concert will feature the National Philharmonic's nearly 200 voice all-volunteer Chorale, as well as soloists Danielle Talamantes (soprano); Margaret Mezzacappa (mezzo-soprano); Matthew Smith (tenor); and Christòpheren Nomura (baritone).

Handel's Messiah, among the most popular works in Western choral literature, was first performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742. The composer's most famous work is divided into three parts that address specific events in the life of Christ. Part one is primarily concerned with the Advent and Christmas stories; part two chronicles Christ's passion, resurrection, ascension and commitment to spreading the Christian message; and part three is based primarily upon the events chronicled in the Revelation of St. John. The National Philharmonic and Chorale, in addition to a stellar cast of soloists, will perform the complete work, which includes such favorites as "The Trumpet Shall Sound," "And the Glory of the Lord," and, of course, the famous "Hallelujah Chorus."

A free pre-concert lecture will be offered at 6:45 pm on December 19 and at 1:45 pm on December 20 in the concert hall at the Music Center at Strathmore. To purchase tickets to National Philharmonic's Messiah concerts on December 19 and 20, please visit nationalphilharmonic.org or call the box office at (301) 581-5100. Tickets start from $28. Kids 7-17 are FREE through the ALL KIDS, ALL FREE, ALL THE TIME program (sponsored by The Gazette).  ALL KIDS tickets must be purchased in person or by phone.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Hopkinson Smith Performs Elizabethan Repertoire for Lute
Compositions by John Dowland (1563-1626), Anthony Holborne (died in 1602), John Johnson (died in 1594), and William Byrd (1542-1623).

Date: Thursday, December 10th 2015
Time: 8:00pm
Location: The Abigail Adams Smith Auditorium, 417 East 61st Street between First and York Avenues, NYC
Tickets: $25 seniors, students / $35 general / $50 / $100 front row series supporter (tax deductible)
To purchase tickets: Call 1 888 718 4253 or visit http://www.salonsanctuary.org

--Salon/Sanctuary Concerts

92Y December Concerts
Monday, December 7, 2015 at 8:30pm
"Bridge to Beethoven," Part II
Jennifer Koh, violin
Shai Wosner, piano
Buttenwieser Hall, NYC

Wednesday, December 9, 2015 at 7:30pm
Pacifica Quartet (92Y debut)
"Last Words"
Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC

Saturday, December 12, 2015 at 8pm
Pepe Romero, guitar
Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC

For tickets and information, call 212-415-5500 or visit www.92Y.org/Concerts.

--Katharine Boone, Kirshbaum Associates

Maya Beiser Named as One of United States Artists (USA) Fellows for 2015
Maya Beiser was announced as one of United States Artists (USA) Fellows for 2015. As a Distinguished Fellow in Music, she receives an award of $50,000, given by USA to support practice and professional development, opening up exciting creative possibilities through the transformative power of unrestricted financial support.

The 37 recipients of this year's awards were selected from over 400 nominated artists living in the United States and US Territories and were chosen by panels of expert peers in each artistic discipline. "USA Fellowships are awarded to innovative artists of all ages and at all stages of their careers, who are nominated for their commitment to excellence and the enduring potential of their work," said United States Artists CEO Carolina García Jayaram. "We are honored to present this year's Fellows, a group of artists who were selected through a rigorous, highly competitive process. What continues to set the USA Fellowship apart is the unrestricted nature of our award. USA's mission is to put artists first as they are the core of our organization. This is shown by the inherent trust we place in them to know how to use the money to further their practice and pursue unrealized opportunities."

Cellist Maya Beiser defies categories. Passionately forging a career path through uncharted territories, she has captivated audiences worldwide with her virtuosity, eclectic repertoire, and relentless quest to redefine her instrument's boundaries. The Boston Globe declares, "With virtuoso chops, rock-star charisma, and an appetite for pushing her instrument to the edge of avant-garde adventurousness, Maya Beiser is the post-modern diva of the cello."

For more information, visit www.unitedstatesartists.org/fellows/2015/maya-beiser

--Christina Jensen PR

Peter Oundjian Appointed Principal Conductor of Yale Philharmonia
The Yale School of Music is pleased to announce that conductor Peter Oundjian has been named the principal conductor of the Yale Philharmonia, continuing his nearly 35-year affiliation with the School. Mr. Oundjian will conduct three concerts every year with the Yale Philharmonia and will help shape the artistic identity of the orchestra, including close involvement with the selection of guest conductors and repertoire.

Maestro Oundjian will be a major addition to the orchestral conducting program at the School. This program, which will admit one conductor this year, includes performances with the Yale Philharmonia and New Music New Haven in Sprague and Woolsey Halls, as well as opportunities to work with Maestro Oundjian and the guest conductors of the Yale Philharmonia, which in recent years have included Valery Gergiev, Yu Long, Hu Yongyan, Jahja Ling, and James Conlon, among many others. Maestro Oundjian will join colleagues in the admissions process and collaborate in providing a comprehensive curriculum for the conducting program.

A dynamic presence in the conducting world, Toronto-born conductor Peter Oundjian is renowned for his probing musicality, collaborative spirit, and engaging personality. Oundjian's appointment as Music Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 2004 reinvigorated the orchestra with numerous recordings, tours, and acclaimed innovative programming as well as extensive audience growth, thereby significantly strengthening the ensemble's presence in the world.

In 2012 Oundjian was appointed Music Director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Under his baton, the orchestra has enjoyed several successful tours including one to China, and has continued its relationship with Chandos Records. Previously, he served as Principal Guest Conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra from 2006 to 2010 and Artistic Director at the Caramoor International Music Festival in New York between 1997 and 2007.

--Yale School of Music

American Bach Soloist News
A new ABS concert season is nearly upon us. Are you ready? With a focus on the music of Bach and Handel, ABS will present multiple opportunities in 2015-16 to explore the musical richness and beauty achieved by these masters. Few get to experience each of J.S. Bach's three oratorios in live performance, but ABS will present this trio of exuberant works during the same season ("Christmas Oratorio" on December 12; "Easter Oratorio" and "Ascension Oratorio" in April 2016)! Another great oratorio, by Bach's contemporary George Frideric Handel, will be performed in Grace Cathedral on three evenings in December (Messiah, December 16-18). There will also be cantatas and works for violin by Bach in January, a wonderful Handel program featuring his great choral ode, Alexander's Feast, in February, an organ recital by Jonathan Dimmock to celebrate Bach's Birthday in March, and Easter and Feast of the Ascension works by Buxtehude and Kuhnau to complement the Bach oratorios for those occasions in April.

With so much great music to come, we compiled a list of new, recent, and recommended resources for you to enjoy before the season gets rolling. If you have Bach or Handel books that you would like to recommend, please let us know on Facebook or on Twitter.

For more information, visit http://americanbach.org/

--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

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 (moviemet.com, 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 pucciojj@gmail.com.

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