Notable Women (CD review)

Music by Auerbach, Garrop, Higdon, Schwendinger, Thomas, and Tower. Lincoln Trio.  Cedille Records CDR 900000 126.

When I first read the title of this album, I'm afraid my regrettable male-chauvinist bias surfaced, and I looked forward to listening to it with about as much enthusiasm as watching a movie on the Lifetime Channel. However, after glancing at the contents, I noticed one of the composers was Jennifer Higdon, an artist I admired, so it gave me encouragement to proceed.

The album contains works by six female composers, all of the pieces brief, the longest one lasting about nineteen minutes, and played by the Lincoln Trio (Desiree Ruhstrat, violin; David Cunliffe, cello; and Marta Aznavoorian, piano).

Things begin with the world-premiere recording of the Trio for violin, cello and piano (1992/1996) by Lera Auerbach. The brief Prelude is rather mysterious and a little disturbing in its eerie strains.  The Andante that follows is sweetly melancholic and oddly comforting, the opposite of the first movement. The concluding Presto changes the mood entirely in its heavily accented, pulsating rhythms. Here, the middle section recalls the opening movement, returning us briefly to the same enigmatic mood that started the work. It gradually intensifies again and ends triumphantly. Although the work is short at under a dozen minutes, it makes a good curtain raiser, especially as the Lincoln Trio play it, with appropriate enthusiasm.

The next selection, also a world-premiere recording, is Seven (1997-98), a collection of seven interconnected segments by Stacy Garrop. The composer says the Borg of the TV series Star Trek Voyager partially inspired her, so you can sort of guess at the tone of the music. I would have thought there was at least a touch of David Fincher's mystery thriller Se7en in there, too, given the music's mood and the kid of unusual aural effects Ms. Garrop's strives to achieve. The Lincoln Trio appear to be having fun with its often bizarre contents, and folks who enjoy modern music are sure to enjoy it.

From the only name with which I was familiar, Jennifer Higdon, comes the two-movement Piano Trio (2003). Compared to the first couple of compositions on the disc, Ms. Higdon's music seems positively old-fashioned and Romantic, which, by the way, I count as a good thing. In "Pale Yellow" and "Fiery Red" she attempts to characterize colors in music, with the results we might expect: one segment buttery smooth, the other brilliantly flashy. Again, the Lincoln Trio get a chance to display their virtuosity.

After that is another world-premiere recording, C'e la Luna Questa Sera? ("Is There a Moon Tonight?" 1998-2006), by Laura Elise Schwendinger. I confess it did not move me in any particular way, despite the rhapsodic manner in which it unfolds. Ms. Schwendinger intended the work to reflect the moonlight on Lake Como, surely a beautiful sight, but for how long might one continue enthralled by it in music? She gives it a pretty good shot, though.

Augusta Read Thomas provides the next selection, Moon Jig (2005), another piece of music inspired by the moon but this one more rhythmically intense than Ms. Schwendinger's. I'm afraid, however, that it, too, left me somewhat underwhelmed, notwithstanding its enthusiastic presentation.

The program ends with the world-premiere recording of Joan Tower's Trio Cavany (2007). She named the work after the home states of the people who commissioned it: the La Jolla Music Society in California, the Virginia Arts Festival, and the Chamber Music Society of New York. Talk about esoteric. What it does best is provide each of the three players in the Lincoln Trio a chance to shine in the spotlight, and each of them glows radiantly.

The question with most new music is how often one anticipates going back to it. Certainly, while I'm glad to have heard all the music on the disc, I can't say I'm too eager for a return listen anytime soon. It's music on which one must concentrate, and I'm not sure I'm ready for it just yet.

The sound, which Cedille engineer Bill Maylone recorded at Bennett-Gordon Hall at Ravina, Highland Park, Illinois, in 2010 and 2011, is realistic in its capturing a natural room resonance. The sonics come across refined and lifelike, with a soft, warm, ambient bloom around each instrument.


No comments:

Post a Comment

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine 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 simpleminded, 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 Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, 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.
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.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

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 that 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. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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

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