Jun 16, 2024

Important Announcement

by Karl Nehring

Starting in August, Classical Candor will no longer publish reviews on a regular schedule as we have done for so many years. Bill Heck and I, who have been running the site since the retirement late last year of the site’s founder, John Puccio, have decided the time has finally come to step back from our current level of commitment. 

However, we are not completely abandoning Classical Candor. Although we will no longer be committed to publishing on a regular schedule of two posts per week, we will still be posting reviews, but on an irregular, occasional basis. Our love for music is as strong as ever – maybe stronger – and when we come across recordings that we really enjoy, we’d love to tell you about them.

 

In addition, we plan to continue to update the list of Recommended Classical Recordings. We will post sections of the list on a rotating basis So there are plenty of good reasons to continue to follow Classical Candor far into the future.

Jun 12, 2024

Between Two Worlds (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Prokofiev: Overture on Hebrew Themes Op. 34 (for clarinet, string quartet, and piano); Joel Engel: The Dybbuk Suite Op. 35 (for clarinet, strings, and percussion); Paul Ben-Haim: Quintet Op. 31a (for clarinet and string quartet). Guy Yehuda, clarinet; Dmitri Berlinsky, violin; Yvonne Lam, violin; Eric Nowlin, viola; Suren Bagratuni, cello; Kevin Brown, bass; John Weber, percussion; Eric Zuber, piano. Reference Recordings FR-754 

 

It is always fun and uplifting to run across recordings of unfamiliar music performed by unfamiliar artists and find the experience a musical and sonic delight. Of course, when the release is from the Reference Recordings label, you can be awfully darn confident that the sound quality will be first-class, so it was easy enough to just sit back and listen to the music without even thinking about the sound – just the music, which is as it should be. In the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention that I am by nature predisposed to enjoy music that features the clarinet, my instrument. Oh, I haven’t seriously played the clarinet since high school, where I played both B-flat and bass clarinet (and was better on the latter, but mediocre at best on both, to be honest). To this day, I love the sound of the clarinet, which melts my heart and seduces my ear. Oh, my goodness…


Where was I? Oh yes, writing of this new recording, on which clarinetist Guy Yehuda and friends deliver a program comprising three twentieth century works that reflect Jewish cultural influences. Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes was inspired when Prokofiev, who was not Jewish, encountered a group of Russian Jewish musicians known as the Zimro Ensemble. This group, which was led by a celebrated clarinetist Simeon Bellison, gave a celebrated concert in Carnegie Hall when Prokofiev was living in New York, met Prokofiev, gave him a notebook of Jewish melodies, and requested that the composer write a piece for them. The end result is the delightful composition that opens this disc.

Joel Engel (1868-1827) was born in Russia but worked in Berlin and Jerusalem, He recorded folk music from small Jewish villages and published many of the melodies, which meant that he influenced many later composers who came to incorporate some of these Jewish melodies and themes into their music, e.g., Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and Bernstein, For a time, Engels’s own music was largely forgotten, but is now being brought back to life, as in the recording. This colorful music, expressive and lively; it makes you want to hear more by this composer.

 

The late Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984) should be more familiar to most readers. Ben-Haim was born in Munich and for a time served as an assistant conductor to Bruno Walter and Hans Knappertsbusch before becoming conductor at the Augsburg opera. He fled Germany for Israel (then British Mandate Palestine) in 1933) to flee Nazi rule. His Quintet is in three movements that are captivating from start to finish, especially the second movement Capriccio that crackles with wit and energy. The final movement is in theme and variations form, with an enigmatic ending, thoughtful and spare. It’s a beautifully thought-out composition.

 

Finally, I must make mention of the CD booklet, which is exemplary. Not only does it provide useful information about the music, the composers, the musicians, but it is also adorned with photographs and entertaining artwork. All in all, Between Two Worlds is truly a world-class release.

Jun 9, 2024

Rachmaninoff for Two (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

(CD1) Symphony No. 2 in E minor op. 27: 3. Adagio (Transcr. for 2 pianos by Daniil Trifonov)Suite No.2 for 2 Pianos op. 17; (CD2) Suite No. 1 for 2 Pianos “Fantaisie (Tableaux)” op. 5Symphonic Dances op. 45 (Version for 2 pianos). Sergei Babayan, piano; Daniil Trifonov, piano. Deutsche Grammophon 486 4805

I think we sometimes tend to forget just how talented a musician the Russian-born Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) really was. Not only was he one of the all-time-great piano virtuosos, but he also excelled as a composer and even as a conductor, having been appointed at the age of 31 to the conducting staff of the prestigious Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. While at the Bolshoi, the young Rachmaninoff was in charge of presenting major Russian ballets, operas, and orchestral works. What is particularly compelling about this new album from the Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov (b. 1991) and Armenian-American pianist Sergei Babayan (b. 1961) is that we get to hear arrangements of two of Rachmaninoff’s best-loved orchestral works, offering us new insights into their structure while enchanting us with pianistic virtuosity and color.

 

A closer look at the cover photo leads to the observation that the two pianos being played by the two pianists are not identical. As it turns out, Babayan plays a Steinway, while Trifonov plays a Bösendorfer. The program opens with Trifonov’s arrangement of the famous Adagio from Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2. For those familiar with the lushly scored orchestral original, this version offers a whole new way to enjoy the music. Next up are two suites written explicitly for two pianos. Suite No. 1 was inspired by and dedicated to Tchaikovsky, who unfortunately succumbed to cholera before the work’s premiere. The Suite No. 2, which Rachmaninoff composed concurrently with his Piano Concerto No. 2, is a lively work suffused with dance rhythms. Trifonov and Babayan really sparkle in these two works, bringing energy and enthusiasm that really brings out the dance-like elements. 

 

Only in the Symphonic Dances did I at times find myself missing the color, weight, and heft of the orchestra. The arrangement, by the way, is by Rachmaninoff himself. Still, despite my reservations, it is interesting to hear – it is just that the Trifonov transcription that opens the program strikes these ears as more convincing. Overall, though, Rachmaninoff for Two is an entertaining release, well worth an audition.

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