Viennafest (CD review)

Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. Telarc CD-80547.

It had been a while since I last heard the late Erich Kunzel and his Cincinnati Pops doing a record for Telarc, so it was fun renewing an old friendship. Having remembered Kunzel's work with Telarc's Straussfest discs, I prepared myself for something a bit unusual in the way of waltzes and polkas, and that's exactly what Kunzel delivers. However, I didn't find it always in a good way.

In Viennafest we get a mixture of the traditional and the novel, all of it done up in reasonably good taste. The disc starts with an appropriately rousing curtain raiser, the "Radetzky March" by Strauss, Sr., and done in loud, boisterous, if somewhat mechanical fashion, followed by the overture from The Gypsy Baron. Then we have a polka, "The Huntsman," with a horse whinnying for effect.

Here are a few more selections, including one of the more controversial items on the program, the "Voices of Spring" waltz with a vocal part sung by soprano Tracy Dahl that you'll either love or hate, depending on what you're used to. A couple more novelty polkas come next, "At the Double" and Eduard Strauss's "At Full Steam," both featuring suitable sound effects. After those are Franz Lehar with the "Gold and Silver" waltzes and the "Siren of the Dance" waltzes from The Merry Widow.

Josef Lanner's "Court Ball" waltz is particularly nice, Robert Stolz's "Two Hearts in Three-Quarter Time" is delightful, and Strauss, Jr.'s overture to Die Fledermaus is as charming as ever. The proceedings come to a close with a fairly schmaltzy rendition of Rudolf Sieczynski's "Vienna, City of My Dreams," but what are you going to do: It is what it is.

Erich Kunzel
Although Erich Kunzel may have sold probably more albums than almost anyone, he was never among my favorite conductors, generally taking things a little too matter of factly for my taste. This is especially noticeable in the aforementioned "Radetsky March" and also in the Lehar numbers, even if he is certainly felicitous enough in "Voices of Spring." Still, I prefer Willi Boskovsky, Herbert von Karajan, Lorin Maazel, Andre Reiu, and others in Strauss material to Kunzel's more relatively straight-arrow, largely uninspiring approach.

Telarc recorded the album using Super Bit Mapping Direct Stream Digital at the Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio in February 2000. The resultant sound is very smooth, as we have come to expect from this company, the bass drum always at the fore, with decent stage imaging, and a wide dynamic range. Nevertheless, the sound also appears to me a little thin in the midrange while at the same time a bit shy on the sparkle I had expected, as though Telarc had recorded things a tad more distantly than normal for them.

Anyway, the collection will please most of Kunzel's fans, even though I'm not sure any of the old Strauss family themselves would have usually had so large an orchestra at their command. Whatever, the current Johann Strauss Orchestra under Andre Reiu with its considerably fewer players (about two dozen or so) produces a more lustrous and transparent sound, and for a big, full ensemble it's still hard to beat the Vienna or Berlin Philharmonics.


To listen to a few brief excerpts from this album, click below:

The Deer's Cry (CD review)

Music of Arvo Part, William Byrd, and Thomas Tallis. Harry Christophers, The Sixteen. CORO COR16140.

The juxtaposition of works on this album by modern Estonian composer Arvo Part (b. 1935) and Renaissance English composers William Byrd (c. 1540-1623) and Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585) may at first blush seem odd. Yet the combination works surprisingly well.

As almost everyone knows by now, The Sixteen and its founder and conductor Harry Christophers are a vocal and period-instrument ensemble founded by Mr. Christophers in 1977. They deal largely in Renaissance, Baroque, and early Classical repertoire but have obviously here expanded their scope to include modern music. With over 130 recordings and numerous awards to their credit, one can understand their critical and popular success.

Here are the track listings for the present album:
1. Byrd: Diliges Dominum
2. Byrd: Christe qui lux es et dies
3. Part: The Deer's Cry
4. Byrd: Emendemus in melius
5. Part: The Woman with the Alabaster Box
6. Byrd: Miserere mihi, Domine
7. Byrd: Ad Dominum cum tribularer
8. Tallis/Byrd: Miserere nostri
9. Tallis: When Jesus went
10. Byrd: O lux beata Trinitas
11. Part: Nunc dimittis
12. Byrd: Laetentur coeli
13. Byrd: Tribue, Domine

The total timing for the album runs very nearly sixty-seven minutes.

Harry Christophers
So, why include the music of Arvo Part among that of Byrd and Tallis? Well, although both Byrd and Tallis wrote some secular music, the bulk of their output was sacred. Byrd, for instance, wrote sacred music for use in Anglican and Catholic services, and Tallis (Byrd's teacher, by the way) worked at a Benedictine priory, Waltham Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral, and the Chapel Royal, among other places. And of Part? He, too, writes both classical and religious music. In fact, he is one of the most important and certainly one of the most prominent of today's composers of spiritual music. Yes, as I said, the combination of composers on the album works.

As always, The Sixteen sing in a heavenly manner, and their voices sound rich and full in harmony, their intonation flawless, and their commitment to the music as emotionally vibrant as ever. What we've got as a result is beautiful music, beautifully performed.

Now, what did I like best? That's hard to answer because everything about the music and the singing is so letter-perfect. Of course, the Byrd and Tallis pieces go without saying. Their music has stood the test of time and been enjoyed by and inspirational to people for centuries. However, Part's music in particular impressed me, starting with the album's title tune, The Deer's Cry. Like the other two of the composer's selections, it's partly new, partly old; partly modern, partly ancient. Obviously, Part is a man of many parts. Sorry. The Deer's Cry is an updated setting of an incantation written in the fifth century. It's appropriately solemn yet wonderfully uplifting. The Woman with the Alabaster Box sets a narrative from Matthew 26:6-13. But equally impressive is Nunc dimittis, written in Part's tintinnabular or bell-like style; it's beautiful, and as with the rest of the album the singers do it full justice.

Producer Mark Brown and engineer Mike Hatch recorded the album at the Church of St. Augustine, Kilburn, London in October 2015. Here is the only minor fly in the ointment: The venue is highly reverberant, and, consequently, voices sometimes appear to have a touch too much bloom and echo to them. Still, the ambient glow makes the choir sound more "heavenly," even it doesn't do as much to clarify the album's transparency as it could. There is also a slight upper midrange brightness to the sound, which doesn't hurt and probably actually helps make the voices appear more distinct. There is much to like here, so I'm not really complaining.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, August 12, 2017

Orion Opens 25th Season with Schubert's Trout Quintet, Mozart, Prokofiev

The Orion Ensemble, winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, opens its 25th anniversary season with "A Beautiful Oboe and
Friends," welcoming three guest artists who have joined them in previous seasons: violist Stephen Boe, oboist Alex Klein and bass player Robert Kassinger.

For these concerts, Orion revives two works the ensemble performed with Klein in 2002. Mozart composed his Quartet in A Major for oboe, violin, viola and cello, K. 370/368b, for Friedrich Ramm (1744-1813), a brilliant oboist whose artistic connections Mozart was anxious to renew. Hailed as a concerto within the intimate genre of chamber music, the piece's towering first movement leads to the heart-rending Adagio, one of Mozart's finest. The concluding Rondeau is famous for the ingenious passage in which the oboe plays in common time against the energetic 6/8 accompaniment.

Prokofiev's Quintet in G minor for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and bass, the second piece Orion and Klein performed together previously, is a wonderfully imaginative work with colorful scoring that accentuates the composer at his original best. While Prokofiev was visiting Paris in 1924, a traveling dance company commissioned him to write a chamber ballet. As there were only five players to accompany the dancers, Prokofiev created a quintet of wondrous beauty using the instruments available to him.

Thaddaus von Durnitz, a talented amateur bassoonist, commissioned Mozart's delightfully charming Sonata in B-flat Major, here adapted for bass, oboe and cello, K. 292/196c, in 1775. The piece offers each musician opportunities for highly lyrical expression.

In 1819, the 22-year-old Schubert was on vacation in the mountains. Relaxing in the most congenial of surroundings, he met Sylvester Paumgartner, a wealthy amateur cellist. Paumgartner commissioned Schubert to compose a work for his group, which consisted of piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass, and the result was the famous "Trout" Quintet in A Major. The work takes its name from the fourth movement's theme and variations, which use the melody from Schubert's earlier art song "Die Forelle" (The Trout). The wavering ascending accompaniment accentuates the irresistible straightforwardness of the melody.

The concert program takes place Sunday, September 24 at 7 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Geneva-Chapelstreet Church, 2300 South Street in Geneva; Wednesday, September 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the PianoForte Studios, 1335 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago; and Sunday, October 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston, IL. Single tickets are $26, $23 for seniors and $10 for students; admission is free for children 12 and younger. A four-ticket flexible subscription provides a 10 percent savings on full-priced tickets. For tickets or more information, call 630-628-9591 or visit

--Jill Chukerman, The Orion Ensemble

Kenneth Woods and English Symphony Orchestra Announce 2017-18 Season
Kenneth Woods embarks on his fifth season as Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the English Symphony Orchestra (ESO), building on a fruitful conductor-orchestra partnership that continues to go from strength to strength. The 2017-18 season reflects Woods' wide-ranging talents, including Classical and Romantic perennials, popular evergreens, commissions and world-premieres, and multi-media presentations.

With decades-old roots established throughout the Midlands, Woods and the ESO continue to cultivate their associations throughout Elgar Country and the surrounding region with an increased number of performances in over a half dozen venues. Further afield, Woods and the ESO return to two cherished London venues and debut in Bristol. Outside of the traditional concert hall, the ESO continues its valuable work with young musicians through its Orchestra Courses, and performances for the elderly in care homes and hospices.

The 2017-18 season marks the ESO's second as Orchestra-in-Residence of Worcester Live, the city's leading live events presenter. Four performances in Worcester's premiere venues Huntingdon Hall and the Swan Theatre range from family-friendly events to world-premieres and unique theatrical stagings.

The Worcestershire-based English Symphony Orchestra, the "International Orchestra of Elgar Country," is an ensemble that has become synonymous with artistic excellence, innovative and visionary programming, distinctive commissioning, ground-breaking recording, a welcoming and immersive concert experience, transformative youth programmes and service to the community.

With the appointment of Kenneth Woods as Principal Conductor and Artistic Director in 2013, the orchestra has become a major force in British musical life.

The season gets under way on 26 August 2017, the season running through May 2018. For complete concert information, please visit

--Melanne Mueller, MusicCo International

A New Opera in the American Museum of Natural History's Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs
On Site Opera will present the World Premiere of Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt, a new opera by John Musto with libretto by Eric Einhorn, at the American Museum of Natural History's Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs this Fall. Performances of the family-friendly opera - which will run approximately 20 minutes - will be free with museum admission, and will take place September 23, 24, 29, 30, October 1, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15 (Fridays at 11:30am; Saturdays and Sundays at 12:00 & 2:30).

Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt is based on the real-life experiences of Rhoda Knight Kalt (soprano Jennifer Zetlan) and her trips to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) with her grandfather Charles R. Knight (baritone Robert Orth), the famous naturalist artist who was commissioned by Dr. Henry Fairfield Osborn (tenor Patrick Cook), paleontologist and president of the AMNH, to create paintings and sculptures of prehistoric creatures – many still on display at the AMNH today. During the performances, audiences will join Rhoda as she goes on a hunt for missing fossils around the hall, while learning about the interconnectedness of creativity and science.

Dates & Location:
Sept 23, 24, 29, 30
Oct 1, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15
*Fridays at 11:30am; Saturdays and Sundays at 12:00 & 2:30.*
Central Park West & 79th St, New York, NY 10024

For information, visit

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

LA Master Chorale Tickets on Sale
Single tickets for the Los Angeles Master Chorale's 2017/18 season are now on sale. The season opens on September 23 and continues through to June 2018 in Walt Disney Concert Hall with nine concert programs presented over this time.

Tickets start at $29 and are available to purchase online from, by phone from 213-972-7282, or in person from the box office at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center, of which the Master Chorale is a resident company. It will be the Los Angeles Master Chorale's 54th concert season and Grant Gershon's 17th season as the Kiki and David Gindler Artistic Director.

The new season includes the solo Disney Hall conducting debut of Jenny Wong whose title has been elevated from Assistant Conductor to Associate Conductor. Wong will conduct the December 10 concert of Bach's six motets.

Tickets and information for all concerts are available now:
Phone: 213-972-7282
Tickets can also be purchased in-person at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Box Office Monday – Saturday, 10 AM – 6 PM.

--Jennifer Scott, LA Master Chorale

Green Music Center 2017–18 Season – Single Ticket Announcement
Nestled in the picturesque foothills of Northern California's esteemed wine country, the Green Music Center (GMC) is a focal point for arts in the Northern San Francisco Bay Area, presenting year-round programming of premiere classical, contemporary, jazz, chamber, and world music artists in concert. The GMC campus includes the 1,400-seat Weill Hall, the intimate 240-seat Schroeder Hall, as well as the highly unique summertime concert-going experience of Weill Hall + Lawn.

Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, 1801 East Cotati Avenue, Rohnert Part, CA 94928. Phone 1.866.955.6040.

For a complete listing of all of the season's offerings, visit

--Green Music Center

River Oaks Chamber Orchestra Announces Its 2017-18 Season
ROCO (also known as The River Oaks Chamber Orchestra) of Houston, Texas is excited to announce its 2017–18 season, themed "Cultivate Curiosity." Featuring a staggering nine world premiere commissions (to add to their already-impressive 58) inspired by everything from JFK and nursery rhymes, to punk rock and Disney, the inventive programming also includes concerts that pair chocolates with strings, beer with brass, and lullabies with epitaphs.

Spread out across 16 different venues, ROCO performances will take audiences trick or treating at Houston's Heritage Society (with a musical performer in each historical building), celebrate the Day of the Dead in a gallery surrounded by retablos and altars, and honor the local philanthropists the Mastersons at their magnificent home Rienzi, which they donated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Alecia Lawyer, ROCO's founder, artistic director and principal oboist, said of the season: "In our 13th season, ROCO celebrates all the ways that we embrace innovation, and we encourage audiences at home and in the concert hall to dig deeper into what links their personal experiences to the musicians and the music that brings us together."

ROCO's In Concert series, which features the full 40-person orchestra and live videostreamed performances, kicks off September 22 & 23.

For complete information, visit

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

The Making of The Judas Passion
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is making history with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) in London. Never before have two of the world's greatest period-instrument orchestras commissioned a new work together, and in October, you'll experience the U.S. premieres in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sitting across the kitchen table a few years ago, Nicholas McGegan and composer and friend Sally Beamish (his neighbor in Scotland) talked about creating a new work for period instruments. Sally was fascinated by the story of Judas Iscariot and sought to create a work that would present Judas in a new light. Sally joined forces with librettist David Harsent to bring Judas to life and now The Judas Passion is ready for its world premieres in the United Kingdom.
The UK performances will take place on Sunday, September 24 at Saffron Hall in Essex and on Monday, September 25 at St. John's Smith Square in London. These performances are accompanied by All Words of Forgiveness, a literary project exploring the role of forgiveness in contemporary society. If you're in London in September, let us know since PBO Executive Director Courtney Beck will be there.

For more information, visit

Following the performances in London and Essex, Nic will conduct the American premieres of The Judas Passion with PBO in October, featuring the same world class cast from the UK.

For more information, visit

--Marketing, Philharmonia Baroque

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