A String Quartet Christmas (CD review)

Arturo Delmoni and friends. ArkivMusic Listen LSTN 50001 (3-disc set).

Ho, ho, ho. It's that time of year again to love your neighbor, spread good cheer, and buy another Christmas album. I've never understood the latter concept. Each and every Christmas, every record company on earth releases one or more new albums of seasonal music, and all of it seems to sell. Do people go out and buy Christmas music to play once or twice during the holiday season and then lose or throw away that they have to go out and buy even more such discs the next year? I mean, over time people must collect hundreds of Christmas albums, which they tuck away somewhere around the house, never to play again. Seems a waste, particularly if it's music you know people are only going to listen to at certain times of the year.

Anyway, if you must have a new Christmas album, it might as well be one you can hang onto year after year, playing again and again. Or one you can enjoy all year 'round. My wife, for instance, is partial to A Charlie Brown Christmas, which she plays just about any time. With this in mind, you could do worse than A String Quartet Christmas, a three-CD set that producer John Marks originally released on his own label as three separate albums in the late Nineties.

The quartet of the title varies in instrumentation, with two violins, viola, and cello on the first volume, and violins, viola, cello, harp, and organ rotating in and out on the second and third volumes. The idea is to remind listeners of the old, largely nineteenth-century tradition of friends and family gathering together and playing Christmas tunes on whatever instruments they had at hand, with everyone joining in on the vocals. Well, there are no vocals here, but there's nothing stopping you from singing along.

Violinist Arturo Delmoni leads the players in a well-rounded collection of favorite Christmas music: popular, secular, spiritual, and classical. Volume one contains twenty-four selections, mostly of the popular variety--"Joy to the World," "The First Noel," "Deck the Halls," that kind of thing; volume two, with twenty-two selections, is more esoteric and classical--"The Shepherd's Farewell," "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," "Cherry Tree Carol"; and volume three, with twenty-two selections, is more ecclesiastical--"While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks," "Angels' Carol," "Sleep of the Infant Jesus." The performers include Delmoni on violin; Alexander Romanul, violin; Nina Bodnar, violin; Danielle Maddon, violin; Katherine Murdock, viola; Natasha Lipkina, viola; Ellen DePasquale, viola; Nathaniel Rosen, cello; Rafael Figueroa, cello; Emily Mitchell, harp; and Timothy Smith, organ.

Delmoni's playing style is lively yet warm. In the slower melodies, like "The First Noel" and "Away in a Manger," the performers display an affectionate sensitivity for the music, which seldom strays too far into sentimentality. The additions of a harp in some selections in volumes two and three and an organ in volume three bring an added note of harmony and fullness to the proceedings. Then, too, an unaccompanied harp in six selections on volume three is most affecting.

The sound is fairly close and favors the violin in the first volume especially. The rest of the instruments spread out nicely across the speakers, and the sonics project a broad, smooth response. Although the sound is a tad too soft and plush for my taste, it's well suited to this type of music and probably exactly what most listeners want. The third volume seems to me the best recorded, with an extra dash of transparency to the sound.


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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 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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical 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 I 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 an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. 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 LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. 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.
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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa