Schubert: Unfinished and Great Symphonies (SACD review)

Rene Jacobs, B’Rock Orchestra. Pentatone PTC 5186 894.

By John J. Puccio

First, you may ask, How can it be that the combined total of these two performances add up to over eighty-seven minutes, yet a single disc accommodates them? Usually, a conventional CD can only hold about seventy-five or so minutes of content. But this is no conventional CD. It’s an SACD, a Super Audio CD that allows for longer playing times. Moreover, the performances come in two-channel stereo, not in multichannel, so there’s that.

Next, you may wonder why we are getting yet another coupling of both the Eighth and Ninth Symphonies of Franz Schubert. After all, Herbert Blomstedt released the same coupling on DG at about the time Pentatone issued this album. The answer, I suppose, is coincidence. Third, do we need both the Jacobs and Blomstedt versions at all? Probably not if you already have favorite recordings of the two symphonies, but understand that the Jacobs and Blomstedt renditions are not at all alike. Blomstedt uses a big, modern ensemble, the Gewandhaus Orchestra, while Jacobs leads a smaller, leaner, period-instrument group, the B’Rock Orchestra. So, we would expect them to sound different. However, things are not always as they appear.

Whatever, Jacobs begins his album, for reasons unclear, with the Ninth Symphony and then when he gets around to the Eighth he interrupts it with two text recitations. That’s different, too. But about the Ninth. You’ll remember that the symphony’s configuration is fairly traditional: I. Andante – Allegro ma non troppo; II. Andante con moto; III. Scherzo Allegro vivace; and IV. Finale: Allegro vivace. Nevertheless, its length was quite long by the standards of Schubert’s day, especially when the conductor takes all of the repeats as Jacobs does (and as Blomstedt did). Although Robert Schumann referred to the Ninth’s duration as a “heavenly length,” early musicians found it difficult to play because of its extended string and woodwind parts.

Interestingly, even though Jacobs’s Ninth is a historically informed interpretation done on period instruments, it seems not entirely different from many modern performances and modern bands. Because the SACD affords the music an ample dynamic range, we do get some pretty strong sonic contrasts throughout the symphony, and that’s certainly helpful in setting the Jacobs rendition apart from some of the others. However, there isn’t quite the loving, Romantic tone of Herbert Blomstedt’s version, which DG released around the same time as the Jacobs disc. Meaning that Jacobs sounds more straightforward to me than Blomstedt does, and his rather unvarying pace doesn’t help. Yet I don’t mean that to imply that one reading is any better than the other; they are simply different from each other.

Anyway, Jacobs zips along fairly quickly through the second-movement Andante, and even with all of the repeats it seems shorter than usual. There is certainly nothing slack or anemic about the tempo, just kind of routinely quick. Appropriately, the Scherzo also proceeds with a spirited flair. If maybe Jacobs doesn’t convey quite the convivial air of, say, a Josef Krips, he does catch the dash and bounce of the movement. About the final movement, though: While Jacobs moves it along at a healthy clip, or perhaps because he does move it along so quickly, it seems to lose some of its grandeur in the process. Nevertheless, Jacobs clearly observes the Vivace marking and dashes forward with abandon. What the reading may lose in radiance and splendor, it makes up for in zesty spark.

For a period-instrument performance of the Schubert Ninth, some listeners may prefer the greater elegance and refinement of Charles Mackerras and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (Virgin). Although Jacobs’s vision may not convey the same degree of charm as Mackerras’s approach, it has a rustic, rough-hewn delight of it own. Unless, of course, you simply hate period-instrument bands and historically informed performances out of hand, in which case it’s useless to argue.

Then it’s on to the Eighth, which Schubert began in 1822 but left unfinished after two movements. Discussion about why he left it unfinished continue to this day, with some musical scholars arguing that Schubert did it on purpose. Maybe, but I doubt it. What we have, in any case, is one of the most lyrical, tuneful pieces of music in the whole of the classical catalogue. So why disrupt it with two narrations (“My Dream,” Parts 1 and 2, read by Austrian actor Tobias Moretti)? Schubert wrote the two texts in 1822, around the same time he wrote the Eighth Symphony, so he probably had the music of the Eighth in mind while he wrote them, and they express some lovely sentiments about his life and work. Still, why not let the music express itself, maybe appending the recitations on at the end? Regardless, it’s hard to go wrong with any interpretation of the Eighth, and Jacobs’s version is fine.

Extensive booklet notes accompany the recordings, too. Very useful.

Producers Renaud Loranger and Erdo Groot and engineers Carl Schuurbiers Erdo Groot recorded the music at De Singel, Antwerp, Belgium in December 2020. The sound is done up on a Super Audio CD, which, as I said, provides room for both symphonies on a single disc by presenting them in two-channel stereo rather than multichannel. The sonics may appear slightly thinner in this music than we might be accustomed to, not because of the SACD but mainly because of the smallish size of the ensemble (some forty-odd players). Count that as an advantage in that it’s quite transparent, which when added to the huge dynamic range the SACD produces creates a convincingly realistic presentation. This is music we can not only listen to but listen into. That is, with the relatively small ensemble and the clear, clean sound the SACD affords, we can differentiate the instruments quite easily, with plenty of air and space around them. This is some of the best sound I’ve heard from a Schubert symphony.

JJP

Classical Music News of the Week, September 24, 2022

LA Master Chorale Adds Messiah Sing-Along 2022-23 Season

The Los Angeles Master Chorale’s perennial holiday favorite, the annual “Messiah Sing-Along,” returns to an in-person event at Walt Disney Concert Hall December 19, 2022 at 7:30 p.m. after a two-year absence due to COVID-19. The audience becomes the chorus for this joyous holiday tradition, joining the Master Chorale singers and soloists Graycen Gardner, soprano, Lindsay Patterson Abdou, mezzo-soprano, Casey Breves, tenor and David Dong-Geun Kim, bass. The Los Angeles Master Chorale’s regular performance of Handel’s Messiah takes place on Sun, Dec 18, 2022.

Also on December 19, 2022, prior to the “Messiah Sing-Along,” Carols on the Plaza, a free outdoor sing-along, will take place on the Jerry Moss Plaza at The Music Center at 6 p.m. Grant Gershon, Kiki & David Gindler Artistic Director will lead 20 Master Chorale singers and the assembled carolers in a 30-minute program that will include holiday favorites such as “Deck the Halls,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Joy to the World,” “Silver Bells,” and “White Christmas,” and many more. A carol book will be provided onsite.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale begins its 2022-23 season with Haydn’s grand oratorio The Creation on October 8 & 9, 2022.

For details, visit https://www.lamasterchorale.org/holidays

--Lisa Bellamore, Crescent Communications

New York Festival of Song Presents NYFOS Next Festival
New York Festival of Song (NYFOS) continues its 2022-23 season with the 12th rendition of its NYFOS Next Festival on October 16, 2022 at 3:00pm and October 23, 2022 at 3:00pm at the Rubin Museum of Art’s Theater, NYC. Curated by pianist Nathaniel LaNasa, the two programs highlight contemporary composers.

The first concert, “Songs of Errollyn Wallen,” features mezzo-sopranos Lucia Bradford and Leah Wool, alongside Mr. LaNasa at the piano. The Belize-born British composer’s prolific body of work includes 22 operas and an extensive catalog of orchestral and vocal works. Coming from a composer who is known for her large ensemble pieces, Wallen’s songs – many of which she performs herself – demonstrate an intimate side of her compositions. The lyrics, also by Wallen, examine our quickly changing world, using mythology, mystery, and even a modern household appliance to communicate both soulful and humorous bafflement about how we manage, and also fail to connect. When curating this program, Mr. LaNasa aimed to explore “that sweet sparkly spot between composer and performer,” and Wallen’s invitation for performers to improvise and “imbue their performances of this music with their own creative spirit.” In addition to the published works on the program, Wallen has transcribed two unpublished songs specifically for this concert.

The second program, “The Threefold Terror of Love,” stars soprano Robin Steitz and baritone Dominik Belavy, joined by Mr. LaNasa at the piano, and features music by Matthew Ricketts, Thomas Adès, Katie Balch, Caroline Shaw, Shawn Jaeger, Tonia Ko, and others. The title of the program, taken from one of Matthew Ricketts’ pieces, inspired Mr. LaNasa to explore intimacy’s push and pull with this concert’s programming. Asserting vulnerability as a superpower, Mr. LaNasa notes that this is a time when many have had to learn how to be closer to one another again, saying, “it's amazing how sweetly tender life feels when we are open to the possibility of pain.”

For complete information, visit https://nyfos.org.

--Katlyn Morahan, Morahan Arts and Media

Bach Week Festival’s ‘Bachanalia’ Is Back
Evanston-based Bach Week Festival's fall Bachanalia, its signature fundraiser featuring pairings of live classical music with specially selected wines, will take place 5:30-8:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 8, 2022, at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston, Illinois.

Proceeds from the Bachanalia, hosted by the festival board and open to the public, will support the 50th annual Bach Week Festival, to be held in April and May 2023, with concerts in Evanston and Chicago, and the festival’s golden anniversary season in 2024.

Bach Week’s Bachanalia returns to its full, original format of live music, wine pourings, hearty hors d’oeuvres, and desserts for the first time since the onset of the pandemic. Richard Webster, Bach Week’s longtime music director and emcee for the Bachanalia, says, “With a beautiful Baroque program accompanied by carefully curated wines, this enchanted evening is bound to whet everyone’s appetite for Bach Week’s historic 50th festival this spring.”

Webster has led Bach Week since 1975 and performed in and helped organize the 1974 inaugural festival in Evanston under the direction of festival founder Karel Paukert. Webster recently retired as director of music and organist at Boston's historic Trinity Church on Copley Square.

For details, visit https://bachweek.org/bachanalia2022

--Nathan J. Silverman Co. PR

The Chelsea Symphony Presents “Movement”
The Chelsea Symphony (TCS) presents the second series of its 2022-23 season, “Near & Far,” on October 29 & 30. The weekend program, “Movement,” dives into the power of movement in both physical form and as a means to change.

Led by conductor Reuben Blundell, both evenings open with the New York premiere of Sam Wu’s Wind Map, a musical exploration of the Van-Gogh-esque charts that map the movement of air. Originally scheduled as part of TCS’s 2019-20 season, the work received its world premiere with the Minnesota Orchestra in May of this year.

For more information, visit https://chelseasymphony.org/?mc_cid=a9100192c0

--Tamika Gorski, Chelsea Symphony

SF Girls Chorus Announces 2022-2023 Season
The San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) today announced its 2022-2023 season. Led by Artistic Director Valérie Sainte-Agathe, SFGC will present four self-produced programs featuring its acclaimed Premier Ensemble in venues throughout the Bay Area as well as numerous appearances in collaboration with leading arts organizations and artists.

Continuing its commitment to the music of today, SFGC will present five world premieres this season: an SFGC co-commission with Chanticleer by GRAMMY-nominated composer Ayanna Woods that will be premiered as part of a joint production; Matthew Welch’s choral-opera Tomorrow’s Memories: A Little Manila Diary, an SFGC commission based on the diary of Filipina-American author Angeles Monrayo that features stage director Sean San José; an SFGC commissioned work by Susie Ibarra (2020-2021 Chorus School Composer in Residence) entitled Dreaming Horizons as part of SFGC’s popular annual December concert tradition at Davies Symphony Hall that also features soprano Christabel Nunoo; and the world premiere of I See You, I Hear You, I Believe You by Ursula Kwong-Brown, featured on the ensemble’s season opening performance alongside the world premiere of Kamala’s Hope by Candace Forest rescored for chorus with soprano Shawnette Sulker, cellist Emil Miland, and pianist Jerome Lenk.

For complete information, visit https://www.sfgirlschorus.org/

--Brenden Guy, Public Relations

The Kostabi Piano Series: Urs Hager - Piano
On October 18th at 7pm Composers Concordance presents the first event of its “Kostabi Piano Series.” Great pianists in a salon setting performing on a beautiful Steinway D piano. The first event in the series features German pianist/composer Urs Hager performing his own works as well as works by New York based composers Gene Pritsker, Harvie S, Dan Cooper and Skyler Floe. Joining Urs is bassist Harvie S, drummer Tommy Campbell, trumpeter Skyler Floe and guitarist Gene Pritsker.

Please join us for this limited seating event at the intimate Kostabi World Kostabi World,
225 W 22nd St, NYC.

For more information about Urs Hager, visit https://www.urshager.com/

--Composers Concordance

Matthew Halls Appointed Chief Conductor of the Tampere Philharmonic
Matthew Halls has been announced as the next Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of Finland’s Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra. His three-year contract begins autumn 2023 when he will succeed Santtu-Matias Rouvali in the role.

Matthew made his Tampere Philharmonic debut just seven months ago--the orchestra immediately reinvited him to conduct Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony this October. The Brit will be the orchestra’s twelfth Chief Conductor and the third non-Finn in the role.

Commenting on the appointment, Matthew said: “I am humbled and thrilled to accept this position. Within minutes of our first rehearsal, I was captivated by the orchestra’s extraordinary musicianship, their inspiring work ethic and energising desire to explore.”

For more about Matthew Halls, visit https://schwalbeandpartners.com/matthew-halls-conductor

--Schwalbe & Partners

“Great Performances at the Met: Lucia di Lammermoor” on PBS
Next month, soprano Nadine Sierra returns to the stage as the haunted heroine Lucia di Lammermoor in a production with new staging by Australian theater and film director Simon Stone. Conducted by Riccardo Frizza, tenor Javier Camarena portrays Lucia’s beloved, Edgardo, with baritone Artur Rucinski as her overbearing brother Enrico and bass Christian Van Horn as her tutor Raimondo. Opera star Anthony Roth Costanzo hosts the broadcast.

“Great Performances at the Met: Lucia Di Lammermoor” premieres beginning Sunday, October 2 on PBS (check local listings). The New York metro area premiere is Sunday, October 9 at 12 p.m. on THIRTEEN. The broadcast is part of Season 16 of “Great Performances at the Met.”

--Elizabeth Boone, WNET

New York Festival of Song Presents NYFOS Next Festival
New York Festival of Song (NYFOS) continues its 2022-23 season with the 12th rendition of its NYFOS Next Festival on October 16, 2022 at 3:00pm and October 23, 2022 at 3:00pm at the Rubin Museum of Art’s Theater. Curated by pianist Nathaniel LaNasa, the two programs highlight contemporary composers.

The first concert, “Songs of Errollyn Wallen,” features mezzo-sopranos Lucia Bradford and Leah Wool, alongside Mr. LaNasa at the piano. The Belize-born British composer’s prolific body of work includes 22 operas and an extensive catalog of orchestral and vocal works. Coming from a composer who is known for her large ensemble pieces, Wallen’s songs – many of which she performs herself – demonstrate an intimate side of her compositions. The lyrics, also by Wallen, examine our quickly changing world, using mythology, mystery, and even a modern household appliance to communicate both soulful and humorous bafflement about how we manage, and also fail to connect. When curating this program, Mr. LaNasa aimed to explore “that sweet sparkly spot between composer and performer,” and Wallen’s invitation for performers to improvise and “imbue their performances of this music with their own creative spirit.” In addition to the published works on the program, Wallen has transcribed two unpublished songs specifically for this concert.

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

--Katlyn Morahan, Morahan Arts and Media

Derek Bermel Concludes Tenure as Artistic Director of ACO
American Composers Orchestra and Derek Bermel announce that after ten years as Artistic Director (2013-2022) and four years as Creative Advisor (2009-2013), Bermel will step down at the end of 2022 due to the increasing demands of his composition career. He will remain on ACO’s Board of Directors. ACO President and CEO Melissa Ngan and the Board of Directors are leading a search for Bermel’s successor. Bermel’s final concert as Artistic Director of American Composers Orchestra will be The Natural Order at Carnegie Hall on October 20, 2022.

For more information, visit https://americancomposers.org/

--Christina Jensen, Jensen Artists

Composer/Violist Jessica Meyer Announces Fall Season
With playing that is “fierce and lyrical” and works that are “other-worldly” (The Strad) and “evocative” (The New York Times), Jessica Meyer is a GRAMMY-nominated violist and composer whose passionate musicianship radiates accessibility and emotional clarity.

Her fall season is filled with world and regional premieres, including a northeast U.S. tour of her Press On (2022) by “The President's Own" United States Marine Band, including a New York premiere at Carnegie Hall; the world premiere of A Passage between Earth and Sky (2022), performed by Meyer on viola with the Hausmann Quartet at San Diego’s Maritime Museum; and the U.S. premiere of The dappled light just beyond her skin (2016) by TURNmusic. Her compositions can be heard on two new albums and their NYC release concerts this season: Claire Bryant’s Whole Heart (Bright Shiny Things, September 2022), which features Meyer’s Delta Sunrise (2017), and Lara St. John’s She/Her/Hers (Ancalagon, September 2022), which includes her Confronting the Sky (2015). Meyer will also perform this season in Considering Matthew Shepard at Trinity Wall Street, with NOVUS NY at Carnegie Hall and Trinity Wall Street, and with the Saratoga Chamber Players.

For a complete schedule, visit https://jessicameyermusic.com/

--Katy Salomon, Primo Artists

Katia Makdissi-Warren Wins Orchestras Canada’s Betty Webster Award
Orchestras Canada (OC) presented the 2022 Betty Webster Award to Katia Makdissi-Warren, composer and Artistic Director of Oktoecho, at its Annual General Meeting to celebrate her longstanding contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion in the Canadian music community.

The Betty Webster Award was established in 2002 to honour Orchestras Canada's founding Executive Director. Past winners include distinguished musicians, volunteers, educators, ensembles, and arts managers: a tribute to Mrs. Webster's inclusive vision for Canadian orchestras. In 2022, the jury focused on the caliber and impact of the nominees' contributions to inclusion of one or more Canadian orchestras.

For more information, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tqij9J7kNnk

--France Gaignard, PR

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Family Program
On Saturday, October 22 at 1:00 PM, Princeton University Concerts (“PUC”) welcomes back The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for the first family program on the series since the start of the pandemic — “Meet the Music: Can Music Tell a Story?”, an interactive program curated for kids ages 6-12. This first of two “All in the Family” events in PUC’s 2022-23 season will take place at Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall. Composer Bruce Adolphe will host the event as Inspector Pulse, the world’s greatest and only private ear, investigating a musical mystery with music performed by professional musicians from The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Tickets for Princeton University Concerts’ family programs go quickly and are only $5 for children and $10 for adults. Tickets and further information are available by phone at 609-258-2800 (Mon-Fri, 11AM-4PM) or at https://concerts.princeton.edu/.

--Alexis Branagan, Princeton University Concerts

Stewart Goodyear Piano Recital
Sunday, November 6 at 2:00 PM
Miossi Hall, Performing Arts Center San Luis Obispo, CA

Proclaimed "a phenomenon" by the Los Angeles Times and "one of the best pianists of his generation" by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Stewart Goodyear is an accomplished concert pianist, improviser and composer. He has performed with, and has been commissioned by, many of the major orchestras and chamber music organizations around the world.

See him tackle the notoriously difficult and virtuosic Diabelli Variations by Beethoven, as well as works by Bach, French composer Bologne, and one of his own original compositions.

For more information, visit https://www.festivalmozaic.org/goodyear

--Festival Mozaic

New Releases, No. 34 (CD reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Mosaic
Debussy: Beau Soir (transcr. J. Heifitz); Première Rhapsodie; Tárrega: Recuerdo de la Alhambra (transcr. R. Ricci); Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte (transcr. V. Borisovsky); Vocalise-étude en forme de Habanera; Fauré: Élégie in C Minor, Op. 24; Papillon, Op. 77; Berceuse, Op. 16 (transcr. T. Butorac); Après un rêve, Op. 7, No. 1 (transcr. P. Cassals); Albéniz: Tango in D Major, Op. 165, No. 2; Akira Nishimura: Fantasia on Song of the Birds; Pablo Casals: El Cant dels Ocells (Song of the Birds); de Falla: Siete canciones populares españolas (transcr. E. Cólon) - I. El Paño Moruno; II. Seguidilla Murciana; III. Asturiana; IV. Jota; V. Nana; VI. Canción; VII. Polo. Wenting Kang, viola; Sergei Kvitko, piano. Blue Griffin BGR 609.

It's always exciting to get a new release and discover a composer you’ve never heard before. This new release, Mosaic, brought that same feeling of delightful discovery, but this time not because of a new composer, but rather because of a performer. Granted, many of the new releases that I audition feature performers whose names are new to me; however, there just seems to be something special about the Chinese-born violist Wenting Kang (b. 1987), who has pulled together a captivatingly colorful and lively program of music that she has chosen to play so expressively on the viola, not the instrument for which they were originally written. As you can see from a glance through the titles above, the bulk of her program comes from French and Spanish composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who, as she points out in her liner note essay, “not only had a strong impact on each other’s work, but they were also very connected in their personal lives. Some of them were professor and student, such as Faure and Ravel. Others were close friends and colleagues, such as Fauré and Albeniz, Ravel and Falla, Tarrega and Casals and Falla, and more. As I enjoyed discovering these connections between the works and composers, I also found the modern composition of Akira Nishimura – ‘Fantasia on Song of the Birds,’ which was inspired by the Catalan folk song ‘El Cant dels Ocells’ – and I felt it ought to be included as a beautifully expressive reflection in the more contemporary musical language, and would be a wonderful counterpart to Casals’ piece with the same title.”

From start to finish, Kang and Kvitko – who, in addition to playing the piano, also served as recording engineer and producer for this release, an impressively talented individual to be sure! – bring heartfelt expression to this lyrical collection, with the rich tone of the viola sounding “just right” for these pieces. Please understand what I mean when I say that Mosaic is not just another violin recital, which it obviously isn’t. What it is is something very special indeed.  

L'Aurore
Hildegard von Bingen: Spiritus sanctus vivificans vita; Enescu: Fantaisie concertante; Benjamin: Three Miniatures; Ysaÿe: Sonata No. 5 in G major op. 27; Bach: Partita No. 2 in D minor BWV 1004. Carolin Widmann, violin. ECM New Series 2709 485 6803.

German violinist Carolin Widmann (b. 1976) has primarily been known as a specialist in modern music, but in her new album for the ECM New Series label she begins with music from long ago, music not originally written for the violin. The liner booklet contains an interview in which she answers question about the compositions that appear on that album, and of the opening piece attributed to the twelfth-century nun, Hildegard von Bingen, Widmann responds: “I wanted to show what the violin is capable of with this compilation of works, and in order to do so I went all the way back to the beginnings. Where does our music come from, where does the musical language come from? To me, Hildegard seemed the earliest thing that could be played on the violin, and I find her music to be very touching. I was particularly taken with this antiphon. During the recordings, we discovered that I play it differently each time. That’s why the piece appears twice, like a kind of ritual. It is played at the beginning and then before Bach’s Partita, which rounds everything off.”  Following the Bingen is a work by Enescu from 1932, a much more modern-sounding piece that really allows Widmann to show what her violin is capable of doing – but do not fear, it is not dissonant or shrill, it is rather a marvel of intense musical expression. Following the Enescu are three short miniatures by George Benjamin that he composed in 2002, each lasting less than three minutes, each allowing Widmann to demonstrate a different aspect of her technique. The Ysaÿe sonata is, as might be expected from that virtuoso violinist/composer, more of a virtuoso piece, but as Widmann points out, does not include a “virtuoso fast movement” as do some of his other sonatas. There are two movements here, complex enough to allow Widmann to highlight her technique without ever resorting to sheer breakneck speed. Then after a reprise of Hildegard’s music, Widmann closes with Bach: “It was a great concern of mine to finally record this Partita. I waited and waited with it and worked on it for years. Now I felt: the time is ripe and I have enough experience with the piece. Maybe in five years I’ll play it differently again, but in its present form it’s a mirror of my current life and artistic experiences.”

As I listened to her performance of the Bach, there seemed to be a certain lightness to her touch, a purity to her tone, and an extra measure of joy coming through her interpretation. Yes, this is an entirely subjective judgment on my part; perhaps others might feel differently, although it would be hard for me to imagine that anyone would find her playing heavy-handed or her interpretation dour. For those with a love for the violin, this recording is well worth seeking out both for its sound and its musical merits. It is an unalloyed delight in both respects.

Philip Glass: Symphony No. 12 “Lodger”
(from lyrics by David Bowie and Brian Eno). Angélique Kidjo, voice; Christian Schmitt, organ; Dennis Russell Davies, Filharmonie Brno. Orange Mountain Music OMM 0159.

Long-time fans of Philip Glass might be aware that this is not the first time that he has based a symphony on an album by the late English rock icon David Bowie. As conductor Dennis Russell Davies tells the story, “Philip was in his early fifties when we began discussing the idea of composing a symphony… Most of his instrumental music to date, with elements of improvisation, were created for the Philip Glass Ensemble, but I was eager to win Philip’s growing young audience for classical symphonic concerts. Around this time an idea was developing to have Philip write a piece based on music by David Bowie and Brian Eno, which Philp then transformed in to a three-movement symphony, his first, called “Low.” Of course he later returned to his special collaboration with Bowie and Eno with his fourth symphony “Heroes.”  Low, Heroes, and Lodger were albums that Bowie recorded in Berlin in the late 1970s with the help of Brian Eno and are known to Bowie fans as the “Berlin albums.”

Although Glass’s first two symphonies based on Bowie’s Berlin albums are purely orchestral, his Symphony No. 12 is a vocal symphony consisting of seven movements. The first is a brief (2:42) movement for the orchestra and organ, while the remaining six all feature singing by Benin-born world music singer Angélique Kidjo with orchestral accompaniment. The sound of the organ intertwined with the orchestra – and sometimes playing on its own – makes for some interesting sonic textures; Glass has moved beyond simple minimalism to produce some genuinely colorful and involving music. Kidjo’s voice, on the other hand, is at once shouty and flat-sounding. She sounds neither like a rock singer nor an opera singer. The lyrics, which are printed in the CD booklet, are of course clearly intended to be sung by a man; hearing them sung by a woman is a bit, well, I’ll just leave it at that. (As a side note, there are a couple of photos in the CD booklet apparently taken at a concert performance of this symphony – the liner notes state that the recording was made in the studio between a pair of live performances – in which Ms. Kidjo is singing into a microphone, which seems a bit surprising.)

To be honest, it is just not clear who this release is aimed at. Classical music lovers who were open-minded enough to enjoy Glass’s first two Bowie-derived symphonies are most likely going to be put off by the vocals, and it is hard to imagine very many fans of the late Thin White Duke suddenly deciding they want to hear this symphonic release. But, hey, I’ve been wrong before…

KWN

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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 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.

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.

Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

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 also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura’s hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. 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 remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 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.
The reader will find Classical Candor's Mission Statement, Staff Profiles, and contact information (classicalcandor@gmail.com) toward the bottom of each page.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Writer

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. 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 DAC/preamp/crossover, Tandberg 2016A and 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.

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