Jul 10, 2024

Micah Thomas: Reveal (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Little Doctor (take 2)Look at the BirdsLightningErosSacred MemoryLittle Doctor (take 1)StarsTroubled MindDenardirn. Micah Thomas, piano; Dean Torrey, bass; Kayvon Gordon, drums. Artwork Records ARTR004CD

 

Those who have been following Classical Candor for a while know that I periodically throw in a review of a jazz album along with a brief explanation of why I believe jazz ought to be taken seriously as a form of chamber music. In this particular case, we have music by a piano trio: a jazz piano trio consisting of piano, bass, and drums, as opposed to a classical piano trio, which would consist of piano, violin, and cello. A famous example of the latter was the so-called “Million-Dollar Trio” of pianist Arthur Rubinstein, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and violinist Jascha Heifetz. They were given the nickname by a critic; unfortunately, Rubinstein hated the name so much that he couldn’t wait to leave the group, so their career was a brief one. A much more enduring example was the fames Beaux Arts Trio, which was anchored by its founding pianist Menahem Pressler throughout its 53-year career. 

 

Notable jazz piano trios of the past have included the Bill Evans Trio, Keith Jarrett’s “Standards” Trio, and the Esbjörn Svensson Trio; current leading jazz piano trios include The Brad Mehldau Trio, the Bobo Stenson Trio, GoGo Penguin, and the Vijay Iyer Trio. Now we have another young pianist leading a trio – and Micah Thomas, who was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1997, is clearly ready to enter the upper echelon. His musical life started young, picking out tunes on the keyboard at 2, playing concerts with as a high schooler with jazz violinist Christian Howes, earning a scholarship to Juilliard, going on to play with jazz luminaries such as Lage Lund, Immanuel Wilkins, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Billy Drummond. 

 

On Reveal, he works with bassist Torrey and drummer Gordon to bring us nine tracks that they recorded in one seven-hour session. What is especially interesting is that Thomas reveals that they “recorded it in the same room without isolation booths and with only minimal buffering, and while that set-up came with its own challenges (mainly, not being able to hear everything everybody was playing with crystal clarity through headphones), I think that we all benefitted from a powerful sense of relaxed creativity, and the actual experience of creating one unified sound.” The three musicians combine to produce music that swings, sparkles, and stimulates. Thomas can play with speed and power, yet he never seems to be playing an extra unneeded note. The music is clean, it’s tight, and it’s easy to recommend.

Jul 7, 2024

Silvestrov: Orchestral Works (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Symphony for Violin and Orchestra “Widmung” (“Dedication”)Postludium for Piano and Orchestra. Janusz Wawroski, violin; Jurgis Karnavičius, piano; Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra; Christopher Lyndon-Gee, conductor. NAXOS 8.574413

The Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov was born in Kyiv in 1937. In March of 2022, at the age of 84, he left his home city with his daughter, granddaughter, and a suitcase full of manuscripts to undertake the difficult three-day journey to Berlin. He found himself and his family refugees, victims of the invasion of their home country ordered by Russian leader Vladimir Putin. His music is like no other. At times it floats serenely, but at other times can suddenly shout as though having a terrifying dream or disturbing memory. But much of it seems to allude rather than refer, suggest rather than imply, playing with memories of melodies, suggestions of sounds, reminders of rhythms. We have enjoyed numerous albums Silvestrov albums over the years and have reviewed a few, which you can read here (a release from pianist Helene Grimaud that also features some music by Mozart), here (choral music), and not quite a review – merely a recommendation – that you can read here.

Christopher Lyndon-Gee
But here we have orchestral music by Silvestrov, music that displays in full measure the unique sound world that Silvestrov inhabits. There are composers who just have a sound. Sibelius, for example, even though his symphonies vary in style, has an orchestral sound that is easy to hear. So it is with Silvestrov. When I first listened to the Symphony for Violin and Orchestra that opens this album, my mind was immediately drawn back to the first Silvestrov compositions I had ever encountered. Three decades ago, violinist Gidon Kremer headlined a CD release on the Teldec label that included this very composition – “Dedication” – coupled with a work titled Post Scriptum for violin and piano. It struck me at the time as an amazing work, like nothing I had never heard before. I could only think that had Mahler lived maybe five or ten years longer, he may have written something along these lines. Maybe… 

According to the NAXOS booklet, “when Gidon Kremer first heard his own recording of the work he spontaneously shouted out, ‘Death in Venice!’ And, after a moment, then closer to the truth, ‘Death in Kyiv!’... This music is like a Mass for everything that exists that is desirable, unattainable, or only to be arrived at in one’s imagination.”  Kremer’s reaction takes me back more than 50 years, back to my discovery of the music of Gustav Mahler, when as a young G.I. stationed in Germany I took a chance on a Deutsche Grammophon LP I found on sale for $1.25 in a PX in Stuttgart: the soundtrack to Visconti’s film Death in Venice, which featured several movements from Mahler symphonies. One listen and I was hooked for life. It was the same with Silvestrov ever since I first heard Dedication. This new release has meant reconnecting with something precious.

Postludium maintains a similar sound world, but of course with the piano rather than the violin as the featured instrument. Note that neither of these two pieces is described as a concerto; indeed, neither features a soloist showing off virtuoso chops to orchestral accompaniment. From the liner notes: “Malcolm MacDonald has said of Silvestrov’s music, that he ‘seems to compose, not the lament itself, but the lingering memory of it, the mood of sadness that it leaves behind’.” It is music like no other; it deserves to be heard. Highly recommended.

Jul 3, 2024

Wagner: Preludes and Overtures (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring 

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Act I – Prelude; Rienzi: Overture; Lohengrin: Act I – Prelude; Lohengrin: Act III: - Prelude; Parsifal: Act III – Karffreitagszauber (“Good Friday Music”); Die Walküre: Act III – Ritt der Walküren (“Ride of the Valkeries”). St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; Jerzy Semkow, conductor. VOX-NX-3044CD

 

It’s always gratifying to see more recordings from the Vox vaults being given new life thanks to the good folks at NAXOS, who have begun digging out some of the old analog master tapes that had been recorded by Elite Recordings back in the 1970s and preparing new digital masters using state-of-the-art 192 kHz/24-bit technology. As the note on the back cover proclaims, “The Elite Recordings for Vox by legendary producers Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz are considered by audiophiles to be amongst the finest sounding examples of orchestra recordings.” We have reviewed several of the previous Vox “Audiophile Edition” releases (e.g., Mozart piano concertos and a Rachmaninov symphony here and Rachmaninov piano concertos here). Those recordings featured the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Slatkin, who was the SLSO’s music director from 1979 to 1996.

 

Jerzy Semkow
This Wagner album finds the orchestra conducted by Slatkin’s immediate predecessor, the Polish-born Jerzy Semkow (1928-2014), who served as SLSO music director from 1975 to 1979. The notes do not specify the recording dates, mentioning only that the original LP was released in 1978. To be honest, there are so many Wagner orchestral “Overtures & Preludes” albums to choose from on the market that this new Vox release faces some stiff competition. Its virtues include the excellent Elite Recordings sound that NAXOS has so carefully transferred from the original analog master tapes to contemporary digital format plus the straightforward, no-nonsense approach Semkow brings to Wagner’s music. These scores are colorful and expressive enough without a conductor having to add his own fits of frenzy. The liner notes by the late music critic Richard Freed (1928-2022) are a model of content and clarity, making this release especially recommendable to those just beginning their acquaintance with the music of Richard Wagner. 

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

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 Jon 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 for 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.

Karl Nehring, Editor and Contributor

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to both its equipment and recordings review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me — point out recordings that they think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I occasionally do some listening through pair of Sennheiser 560S headphones. I miss the excellent ELS Studio sound system in our 2016 Acura RDX (now my wife's daily driver) on which I had ripped more than a hundred favorite CDs to the hard drive, so now when driving my 2022 Accord EX-L Hybrid I stream music from my phone through its adequate but not outstanding factory system. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has tolerably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom II Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can’t imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Most recently I’ve moved to my “ultimate system” consisting of a BlueSound Node streamer, an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a CD transport, Legacy Wavelet II DAC/preamp/crossover, dual Legacy PowerBloc2 amps, and Legacy Signature SE speakers (biamped), all connected with decently made, no-frills cables. With the arrival of CD and higher resolution streaming, that is now the source for most of my listening.

Ryan Ross, Contributor

I started listening to and studying classical music in earnest nearly three decades ago. This interest grew naturally out of my training as a pianist. I am now a musicologist by profession, specializing in British and other symphonic music of the 19th and 20th centuries. My scholarly work has been published in major music journals, as well as in other outlets. Current research focuses include twentieth-century symphonic historiography, and the music of Jean Sibelius, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Malcolm Arnold.

I am honored to contribute writings to Classical Candor. In an age where the classical recording industry is being subjected to such profound pressures and changes, it is more important than ever for those of us steeped in this cultural tradition to continue to foster its love and exposure. I hope that my readers can find value, no matter how modest, in what I offer here.


Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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. --John J. Puccio

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@gmail.com

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

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa