Steiner: Adventures of Don Juan (CD review)

Also, Arsenic and Old Lace. William Stromberg, Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Tribute Film Classics TFC-1009 (2-disc set).

Austrian Max Steiner (1888-1971) wasn’t always the great movie-score composer he became; it took him a while to become known as the “father of film music.” He worked on Broadway for years as a musical arranger, orchestrator, and conductor before coming to Hollywood in 1929 and registering his first big hit with King Kong (1933), which thanks to Steiner became one of the first films to use an extensive, original, scene-specific musical score. After that, Steiner went on to do practically every big picture Warner Bros. and MGM made in the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties--movies like The Informer, Now Voyager, Jezebel, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Casablanca, The Searchers, and Gone with the Wind--finally winding down his career in the early Sixties.

In this 2-disc set Steiner wrote the main selection, Adventures of Don Juan, for Errol Flynn’s 1948 tongue-in-cheek swashbuckler. The album’s producers--Anna Bonn, John Morgan, and William Stromberg--have reassembled the complete score for the film and present it in thirty-three tracks in another meticulous release from Tribute Film Classics. They even provide a bonus trailer track. Movie fans, film-music fans, as well as classical music fans in general will all enjoy the results.

It had been a full decade since star Errol Flynn made “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” and by 1948 due to hard drinking and riotous living the actor’s health and career had fallen into decline. Still, thanks to a cheeky screenplay by George Oppenheimer and Harry Kurnitz from a story by Herbert Dalmas (with uncredited assistance from Robert Florey and William Faulkner of all people) and fairly lively direction by Vincent Sherman, the movie made a welcome throwback to Flynn’s earlier swaggering movie roles.

Appropriate to a film about the legendary Spanish nobleman famous for his uninhibited lifestyle and many seductions, Steiner wrote a score that takes full advantage of situation. The music is dashing, heroic, Romantic, exciting, sentimental, suspenseful, and serene by turns. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Steiner’s godfather was, literally, Richard Strauss, whose Ein Heldenleben, Till Eulenspiegel, Don Quixote, and, especially, Don Juan probably inspired the younger composer.

Co-producer John Morgan reconstructed and orchestrated a number of musical cues that hadn’t survived the sixty-odd years since Steiner first wrote them, so we welcome them. What’s more, the “London Processional” track sounds especially appealing, and audiophiles might want to single it out for demo purposes

When I first heard William Stromberg leading the Moscow Symphony Orchestra in movie music back in the days when they recorded for Marco Polo and Naxos, I was a little suspicious. How would a Russian orchestra do playing Hollywood movie scores? It didn’t take me long to realize they handled the music splendidly, and the conductor and orchestra have only gotten better with time. The Moscow forces play with a style and flair worthy of any Hollywood studio orchestra, but they add further polish, resonance, and richness to the equation.

In addition to Adventures of Don Juan, the set includes Steiner’s complete score for the 1944 Cary Grant black comedy Arsenic and Old Lace (eleven tracks). Here, almost all of the musicians’ prepared parts survived the years. Needless to say, the music is delightful. Then, too, we also get an additional alternate track, “Baseball a la Brooklyn,” a trailer track, and even a trailer for WB’s 1953 horror movie “The House of Wax.”

Recorded in 96kHZ/24-bit audio at Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, Russia, in 2010, the Tribute sound is every bit as good as you would hope for this music. It’s extremely clear, clean, and dynamic, with a strong, audiophile-quality impact. It’s a tad forward, true, but it adds to the midrange clarity. Stereo spread is wide, occasionally seeming to extend beyond the boundaries of the speakers. Miking is fairly close, so orchestral depth suffers a bit, but, again, it helps the overall transparency. Highs are particularly sparkling and sound wonderful. In the last analysis, while the audio is not quite the ultimate in realism, it is quite spectacular, the way we expect movies to sound.

A lavishly illustrated, seventy-page booklet of pictures, text, notes, synopses, biographies, and such caps off a terrific CD presentation. You can find Tribute Film Classic products available at most retail outlets, or you can find out more about them by going directly to their Web site:

To hear a brief excerpt from this set, click here:


Classical Music News of the Week, December 30, 2012

Music Institute Announces 2012-2013 Academy Fellows and Special Merit Scholars

The Music Institute of Chicago, established as one of the most respected pre-collegiate conservatory programs in the United States, announces its second year of distinguished Academy scholarships to recognize extraordinarily talented musicians. This year there are two categories of recognition: Fellows and Special Merit Scholars.

“Every student accepted into the Academy program is among a group of the very best young musicians in the country,” said Music Institute President and CEO Mark George. “A small number of students achieve an unusually elevated level of proficiency and musicianship: Academy Special Merit Scholars. Another group of students achieves an even more extraordinary level of technical proficiency and musical maturity: Academy Fellows. The Music Institute awards each group maximum tuition support in recognition of their hard work and profound dedication.”

The Fellowships and Scholarships are named for the generous benefactors who are underwriting the program:

2012–13 Sage Foundation Fellow: Rebecca Benjamin, 18, Warsaw, Indiana violin student of Roland and Almita Vamos
2012–13 Bev and Warren Hayford Fellow: Andrew Guo, 14, Chicago piano student of Alan Chow
2012–13 Susan and Richard Kiphart Fellow: Gallia Kastner, 15, Arlington Heights violin student of Roland and Almita Vamos
2012–13 Susan and Richard Kiphart Fellow: Nathan Walhout, 15, Wheatoncello student of Gilda Barston
2012–13 Betsey and John Puth Fellow: Williams, 15, Chicago violin student of Roland and Almita Vamos
2012–13 Susan and Richard Kiphart Scholar: Serena Harnack, 14, Glen Ellyn violin student of Almita Vamos and Hye-Sun Lee
2012–13 Geraldi-Norton Foundation Scholar: Giancarlo Latta, 17, Ann Arbor, Michigan violin student of Almita Vamos

Chosen from a field of 17 young students who auditioned before a distinguished panel of internationally recognized music educators and performers, each Academy Fellow and Special Merit Scholar is receiving a scholarship covering 95 percent of tuition for a year of study in the Academy and exclusive opportunities to perform and coach with an array of world-class guest artists. Fellows also receive a stipend for professional recording and piano accompanist services for competitions and conservatory auditions.

The Music Institute of Chicago established the Academy Fellowship program to serve pre-collegiate students of the absolute highest talent level, offering them the tools and opportunities to pursue and fulfill their professional aspirations. The Academy Fellows and Special Merit Scholars have a promising chance at professional solo, chamber music, or orchestral careers; they must exhibit an uncommon level of dedication and work on the most advanced repertoire.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Cal Performances’ Third Annual Ojai North! Features World Premier of New Mark Morris Choreograpy for Rite of Spring
Ojai North!, a collaboration with the Ojai Music Festival, runs Thursday-Saturday, June 13-15, at Hertz Hall, Berkeley, CA, and features nine concerts with works by Lou Harrison, John Cage, Henry Cowell, Charles Ives, and John Luther Adams, employing Ethan Iverson, Colin Fowler, and the American String Quartet. Free outdoor performances, artist talks and film screenings are planned.

Cal Performances’ third annual Ojai North!, a multi-year partnership with the esteemed Ojai Music Festival, opens with the world premiere of new choreography to Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring by the 2013 Ojai Music Director and choreographer Mark Morris on June 13-15, 2013. Set to The Bad Plus’s rescoring of the explosive masterpiece for piano, bass and drums, Rite of Spring will be performed by the jazz trio and the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG). Highlighted by works that Morris champions, the festival programming also includes compositions by Lou Harrison, John Cage, Henry Cowell, Charles Ives and John Luther Adams. Joining Morris in Berkeley will be his MMDG Music Ensemble as well as long-time collaborators Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus, recognized by Rolling Stone magazine as “about as badass as highbrow can get,” pianist/organist Colin Fowler, the American String Quartet, percussion ensemble red fish blue fish and Gamelan Sari Raras from the University of California, Berkeley. All performances will be at Hertz Hall unless otherwise noted.

Each summer the Ojai Music Festival (June 6-9, 2013), explores the musical interests of its Music Director, a position that is held for the first time this year by a choreographer. “The Bay Area understands the genius of Mark Morris and his talents as a dancer, choregrapher and musician, perhaps better than anywhere else in the world,” said Cal Performances’ Director Matías Tarnopolsky. “We are proud to support Mark as Music Director of Ojai North! and introduce his fans here to this new endeavor.” Morris, who considers Cal Performances his West Coast home, has partnered with the institution since 1987, presenting numerous world, United States and West Coast premieres. A series of education and community events to compliment Ojai North! programming, including film screenings and talks with the artists, are being planned, and will be announce at a later date.

This season’s Ojai North! marks the third year of a residency partnership between Cal Performances and the Ojai Music Festival; the Festival will continue in Berkeley at the end of every annual music festival in Ojai Valley. This collaborative effort makes possible annual reprises of Ojai concerts in Berkeley, as well as co-commissions and co-productions. More than just a sharing of resources, Ojai North! represents a joining of artistic ideals and aspirations. The combined efforts of Ojai’s legacy of artistic innovation and Cal Performances’ tradition of groundbreaking productions create a joint force that allows artists to achieve more than would be possible by each organization separately.

The Program:
Ojai North! kicks off on Thursday, June 13 at 5:00 p.m. with an outdoor performance of John Luther Adams’s A Strange and Sacred Noise with red fish blue fish; this free and open to the public event will be held on the Faculty Glade. At 8:00 p.m., the world premiere takes place of Mark Morris’s newest work Rite of Spring, set to Stravinsky’s masterwork, reinterpreted and performed by The Bad Plus and danced by MMDG. His company will also dance Mosaic and United (1993) set to Henry Cowell’s Quartets No. 3 and No. 4, performed by the American String Quartet. Closing out the day is a late night jam session with The Bad Plus at 10:00 p.m.

Two concerts on Friday, June 14 at 5:00 p.m. and at 8:00 p.m. showcase Lou Harrison’s work and those inspired by the legendary American maverick composer. At 5:00 p. m. Gamelan Sari Raras from UC Berkeley will perform Lou Harrison’s Music for Gamelan and Solo Instruments. That evening at 8:00 p.m. members of the MMDG Music Ensemble will perform Harrison’s Suite for Symphonic Strings under the baton of Joshua Gersen, conducting assistant to Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony. The American String Quartet along with pianists Colin Fowler and Yegor Shevtsov will counter with John Luther Adams’s haunting work For Lou Harrison. Day two concludes at 10:00 p.m. with a second John Luther Adams work, staged outdoors, titled Songbirdsongs with red fish blue fish.

Saturday, June 15, is a full day of adventurous repertoire starting at noon with John Cage’s Four Walls, which will be performed by pianist Ethan Iverson and soprano Yulia Van Doren. At 2:00 p.m., the American String Quartet will offer Charles Ives’s String Quartet No. 2 followed by a selection of songs by Ruth Crawford Seeger, Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison and John Cage with Doren, Jamie Van Eyck, mezzo-soprano and Douglas Williams, baritone performing. The audience joins in with the performers for the final song, Carl Ruggles’ great hymn, Exaltation, conducted by Mark Morris.

At 7:30 p.m., Joshua Gersen conducts Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Organ and Percussion with Colin Fowler and red fish blue fish. The final concert of Ojai North! at 9:00 p.m. begins with a pair of works by Henry Cowell performed by MMDG Music Ensemble: Heroic Dance, written for Martha Graham, and his cantata Atlantis with vocalists Doren, Van Eyck and Williams. The short Fugue for Percussion by Lou Harrison, one of his most fiendishly difficult pieces, and his Concerto for Piano and Gamelan with Colin Fowler and Gamelan Sari Raras round out the concert.

Mark Morris:
Morris is noted for his musicality and has been described as “undeviating in his devotion to music.” He has conducted performances for the MMDG since 2006. He has worked extensively in opera, directing and choreographing productions for the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Gotham Chamber Opera, English National Opera, The Royal Opera and Covent Garden.  In 1991, he was named a Fellow of the MacArthur Foundation.  He has received eleven honorary doctorates to date.  In 2006, Morris received the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Mayor’s Award for Arts & Culture and a WQXR Gramophone Special Recognition Award “for being an American ambassador for classical music at home and abroad.”  He is the subject of a biography, Mark Morris, by Joan Acocella (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) and Marlowe & Company published a volume of photographs and critical essays entitled Mark Morris’ L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato:A Celebration. Morris is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.  In recent years, he has received the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement (2007), the Leonard Bernstein Lifetime Achievement Award for the Elevation of Music in Society (2010) and the Benjamin Franklin Laureate Prize for Creativity (2012).

Ojai Music Festifal:
The Ojai Music Festival is an annual four-day immersion experience of concerts, symposia and auxiliary events set in the picturesque Ojai Valley, just north of Los Angeles.  Founded in 1947 by John Bauer, the Festival receives a constant stream of innovative programming and fresh ideas as the Music Director changes each year.  Administratively, Thomas W. Morris celebrates his ninth year with the Festival that turns 66 this season.  Acclaimed conductors, composers and artists who have led the Festival in the past include Aaron Copland, Igor Stravinsky, Ingolf Dahl, Pierre Boulez, Robert Craft, Michael Tilson Thomas, Calvin Simmons, Kent Nagano and John Adams, among many others. Pianist Jeremy Denk assumes the leadership for the 2014 season. For further information go to

Ticket Information:
Tickets for Ojai North!, Thursday-Saturday, June 13-15, at Zellerbach Playhouse range from $20.00-$110.00 and are subject to change; single tickets will go on sale February 1, 2013. Tickets are available through the Cal Performances’ Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall; at (510) 642-9988; at; and at the door.  Half-price tickets are available for purchase by UC Berkeley students. UC faculty and staff, senior citizens, other students and UC Alumni Association members receive a $5.00 discount (Special Events excluded). For select performances, Cal Performances offers UCB student, faculty and staff, senior, and community rush tickets.  Rush tickets are announced three hours prior to a performance on Cal Performances’ Facebook page and at 510-642-9988 and are available in person only at the Ticket Office beginning one hour before the performance; one ticket per person; all sales are cash only. For more information, call Cal Performances at (510) 642-9988, or visit

--Joe Yang, Cal Performances

The National Philharmonic Awarded NEA Challenge Grant
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Rocco Landesman recently announced that The National Philharmonic is one of 153 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Challenge America Fast-Track grant.  The National Philharmonic is recommended for a $10,000 grant to support its March 2, 2013 American Virtuoso Violin concert and associated outreach initiatives.

The National Philharmonic is honored that the NEA Challenge Grant will support The American Virtuoso Violin concert, featuring contemporary classical music of the late Andreas Makris and Russell Peck, a world premiere of Steven Gerber’s Two Lyric Pieces and accompanying outreach programs.  The concert will showcase the preeminent violinist Elena Urioste, who will also conduct a lecture-demonstration and peer session for an underserved Washington, D.C. urban school, the William E Doar Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts. In addition, Mr. Gerber and Ms. Urioste will participate in a panel discussion at Strathmore, immediately following the concert. An art exhibit inspired by contemporary American art, created by Doar school students, will complement the concert performance.

In this FY 2013 funding round, the NEA received 393 eligible Challenge America Fast-Track applications, requesting a total of $3,930,000.  The NEA will award 153 Challenge America Fast-Track grants totaling $1.53 million awarded to organizations in 41 states, Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Challenge America Fast-Track category offers support primarily to small and mid-sized organizations for projects that extend the reach of the arts to populations whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability.

“We are delighted that the NEA is as excited about this project as we are.  It highlights modern music and outstanding youthful artists, whether it be a professional musician like Ms. Urioste or our aspiring musicians at the Doar School,” said Kenneth A. Oldham Jr., President of The National Philharmonic . "The NEA was founded on the principle that the arts belong to all the people of the United States," said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. "We're proud that Challenge America Fast-Track grants bring more opportunities for arts engagement to underserved communities."  See the complete listing of projects recommended for Challenge America Fast-Track grant support at

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

New Philharmonic Cancels February and March 2013 Concerts
New Philharmonic (NP) announced today they will be canceling the concert staging of “Cosi fan tutte," originally scheduled for Feb. 16 - 17 at The Lund Auditorium at Dominican University Performing Arts Center in River Forest, Il; and "Great Russian Classics" with guest artist Alexander Toradze, originally scheduled for March 15, at Wheaton College's Edman Memorial Chapel, Il.

“The closing of the McAninch Arts Center for renovation through the spring of 2014 has proven challenging,” says Stephen Cummins, Director of the McAninch Arts Center. “Unfortunately the alternate venues secured for NP’s 2012-2013 season have not been embraced by patrons as we had hoped, making it financially imprudent to present the full season.”

New Philharmonic’s December 2012 and January 2013 concerts will go on as scheduled. These include “Viennese Pops with a French Twist,” Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, 7 p.m. at The Lund Auditorium at Dominican University Performing Arts Center in River Forest; and "New Philharmonic: Mahler," Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 8 p.m. at Wheaton College's Edman Memorial Chapel.

Patrons holding subscriptions or single tickets to the February and March concerts may call the box office at 630-942-4000 to exchange their tickets for seats for remaining New Philharmonic, MAC, or Buffalo Theatre Ensemble events scheduled during the remainder of the 2013 season performances, request a refund, or donate those monies to the McAninch Arts Center.

For more information about New Philharmonic call 630-942-4000 or visit:

--Ann Fink, New Philharmonic

Music Institute of Chicago Announces Deadlines and Competition Dates for Emilio Del Rosario Piano Competition
Application deadlines and competition dates:

Young Artist Division:
Early Application Deadline: January 12, 2013
Late Application Deadline ($20 late fee applies): January 26, 2013

Preliminary Competition Round: February 10, 2013
Final Competition Round: February 17, 2013

General Division:
Early Application Deadline: March 1, 2013
Late Application Deadline ($20 late fee applies): March 15, 2013

Preliminary Competition Round: March 30, 2013
Final Competition Round: May 12, 2013

Established in 2010, the Emilio del Rosario Piano Concerto Competition honors the late master piano teacher Emilio del Rosario, who dedicated his life to the art of teaching and nurturing pianists to the highest standards. Many of his students have gone on to noteworthy careers in music and have achieved great success largely due to his guidance and aim for perfection.

The Music Institute of Chicago established a Young Artist Division of the Emilio del Rosario Piano Concerto Competition in 2012. Pre-college pianists, younger than 20, will compete for the opportunity to perform a complete concerto with the Lake Forest Symphony, a professional orchestra directed by Alan Heatherington, March 15 and 16, 2013. Additional cash and scholarship prizes also will be available.

The Young Artist Division competition is open to pre-college pianists from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A preliminary round will take place Sunday, February 10 at the Music Institute’s Winnetka Campus, 300 Green Bay Road, Il. Three finalists will compete Sunday, February 17 at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, Il. Information regarding applications and repertoire requirements is available at The early application deadline is January 12, 2013.

The Young Artist Division is part of the larger Emilio del Rosario Piano Concerto Competition, which takes place in the spring of 2013 at Harper College. Competition Director and Music Institute faculty member Brenda Huang said, “The Young Artist Division is an important addition to our competition. Emilio del Rosario dedicated his life to the art of teaching and nurturing pianists to the highest of standards. We hope to continue his legacy of excellence by providing the next generation of pianists an opportunity to perform with a professional orchestra and help them realize their musical potential.”

For further information, click on: or

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Passion & Resurrection (SACD review)

Music inspired by Holy Week. Stile Antico. Harmonia Mundi HMU 807555.

Stile Antico (“ancient style”) is an early-music vocal ensemble of British singers who formed in 2001 and specialize in music of the Renaissance and early Baroque. They have already recorded half a dozen albums for Harmonia Mundi, and this latest one, Passion & Resurrection, offers a series of thirteen selections based on texts inspired by Holy Week and Easter. It presents a cross-section of composers from England and the European continent that take the listener from Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday through His Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, the Crucifixion on Good Friday, and the resurrection on Easter day.

The composers range in date from the fifteenth to twentieth centuries, some of them famous, some of them not so much. They include William Cornysh (1465-1523), Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585), Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594), Cristobal de Morales (c. 1500-1553), Tomas Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611), John McCabe (b. 1939), John Taverner (c. 1490-1545), Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599), William Byrd (1540-1623), Jean Lheritier (c. 1480-1551), and Thomas Crecquillon (c. 1505-1557).

The program begins with William Cornysh’s “Woefully Arrayed,” a poem given fresh musical fittings from John McCabe over four centuries (and five tracks on the disc) later. McCabe’s version is a little secular sounding but still reverent. Did I have any favorites among the selections? Certainly, Thomas Tallis’s “O sacrum convivium” encapsulates everything good about this early musical genius. It’s beautiful in its harmonic structure and sung to perfection by Stile Antico.

There is an especially intent devotional quality to Cristobal de Morales’s “O crux, ave” that is hard to resist. And Thomas Crecquillon’s “Congratulamini mihi” is lovely in the extreme, while exuding a feeling of joyfulness, exultation, and inspiration. But to pick favorites among so many engaging tunes is fruitless. Take your pick; they’re all a joy.

The singing is the special pleasure of Stile Antico, though. Although there are only about fifteen persons involved in this particular production, they sound almost like a full choir, their voices blending so well, their harmonies so exacting, their tone and timber so precise, so lilting, lyrical, and soaring. I think I could listen to them sing anything. For the record, they are Helen Ashby, Kate Ashby, Rebecca Hickey, and Alison Hill, sopranos; Emma Ashby, Eleanor Harries, Carris Jones, and Martha McLorinan, altos; Jim Clements, Andrew Griffiths, and Benedict Hymas, tenors; and James Arthur, Will Dawes, Oliver Hunt, and Matthew O’Donovan, basses. You’d swear there were two or three times their number singing.

Recorded in exemplary fashion by Harmonia Mundi at All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London in 2012, the sound is most pleasing on the ear. HM recorded it in stereo and multichannel on this SACD hybrid disc, so depending on your playback equipment, you can listen to it either way; I listened in stereo on an SACD player, and it sounded splendid. There’s a sweet ambient glow around the voices, making them sound very much in a large, mildly reverberant church acoustic. However, the resonance is not so great as to cloud, veil, or diminish the vocals in any way. It simply makes them appear richer and fuller. The ensemble sound entirely natural in this setting, the voices miked at a moderate distance to provide a realistic presentation, the singers sounding warm, smooth, and lifelike, never bright or edgy. Each section of the choir--indeed, each individual member--comes across clearly and distinctly.

The foldout Digibook packaging contains an extensive, forty-five page booklet of notes, pictures, and texts. Moreover, a healthy seventy-one minute running time contributes to the album’s appeal. It’s all very impressive.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Elgar: Orchestral Works (CD review)

Jacqueline du Pre, Janet Baker; Allegri String Quartet; Sir John Barbirolli, Philharmonia Orchestra, Halle Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonia of London. EMI 3 67918 2 (5-disc set)

There is no doubt that Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970) was one of the grand masters among Elgar interpreters. There is also no doubt that it’s good to have all of this conductor’s EMI stereo recordings collected together in a single place. The folks at EMI have provided all of Barbirolli’s Elgar material from six separate discs in a low-priced, five-disc box set, which is a remarkable bargain.

The recordings include Sir Edward Elgar’s (1857-1934) Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2, Introduction and Allegro, Elegy, Sospiri, Falstaff, Cockaigne, Froissart, Enigma Variations, Pomp & Circumstance Marches Nos. 1-5, Serenade in E minor, Sea Pictures, and Cello Concerto. Yes, it is a quite a collection.

Now, given that each of the works has probably never seen a more authoritative performance and that the playing is practically flawless, you can see the value of the set. Personally, I find the string music with the Sinfonia of London, the Sea Pictures with Janet Baker, and the Cello Concerto with Jacqueline du Pre topping the charts, but I would not want to be without the other renditions as well. Barbirolli conducts the two big symphonies rather broadly, but you can hear his affection for the pieces in every note.

No one has really ever topped the 1965 performance of the Cello Concerto by young cellist Jacqueline du Pre and Sir John, though. A booklet note suggests that people initially criticized Ms. du Pre for having too much spirit, too much energy, in her interpretation, but Sir John, one of the world’s première Elgarians, defended her, saying that such exuberance was necessary in the young; besides, Elgar himself once remarked years earlier that he preferred vigorous readings of his works because “I am not an austere man.”

The first and forth movements of the Concerto seem particularly noteworthy for their wistful, nostalgic look back at a calmer, more tranquil world before the Great War, and it is here that no one can accuse du Pre of being too spirited; she is, in fact, quite at peace with the world in a heartfelt performance that commands one’s respect from start to finish. Then, the Sea Pictures, sung by Janet Baker, are more like the Elgar of old, having been written over twenty years earlier, sounding in part, like “Sabbath Morning at Sea,” similar in mood to his pomp-and-ceremony days. The addition of Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture in this set is icing on the cake, a wonderfully evocative, colorful, and affectionate orchestral description of Victorian London.

It’s true that several other conductors, notably Sir Adrian Boult (EMI) and Vernon Handley (EMI), have also recorded excellent performances of many of these works, yet it is Barbirolli who holds sway on so many of them that to have his recordings together in one box is priceless.

The sound, recorded between 1962 and 1966 with the three orchestral ensembles listed above, varies only slightly, from a tad heavy to a tad thin. But most of it comes off quite realistically, revealing some of EMI’s best sound from one of the company’s best recording periods (the Sixties and Seventies were good years for EMI audio engineers). The set is a no-brainer, and I hold it in my highest regard.

To hear a brief excerpt from this set, click here:


Horns for the Holidays (HDCD review)

Jerry Junkin, Dallas Wind Symphony. Reference Recordings RR-126.

Over the past thirty-odd years, the name Reference Recordings has become synonymous with excellent performances and audiophile-quality sound. Their 2012 release Horns for the Holidays is no exception and affords another excellent example of how good recorded music can be.

The concert that Maestro Jerry Junkin and the Dallas Wind Symphony perform combines popular Christmas songs with traditional and classical Christmas numbers for a most-joyous occasion. The program begins with John Wasson’s “Festive Fanfare,” a mélange of tunes that shows off the trumpets especially well. You might have to wonder how well a wind band can bring off these sometimes delicate selections, the answer being, very well, indeed. The Dallas ensemble performs like a precision instrument, all the players apparently virtuosos in their own right. As a group they sound as a single note, a single unit, and they bring with them all the nuance of a virtuoso force.

For the second selection, we get Leroy Anderson’s familiar “Sleigh Ride,” a song I grew up with and thought had been around forever. You’ll recognize it immediately and probably figure the same thing I did. But Anderson wrote it in 1948, a truly instant classic, here played with gusto by the Dallas Winds.

Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” gets a lovely concert-band arrangement that exemplifies the nuanced approach I mentioned above. Then, for a change of pace, we get David Lovreien’s “Minor Alterations: Christmas Through the Looking Glass,” in which we find any number of well-known tunes hiding out in other guises. It’s charming.

And so it goes. You’ll enjoy “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “The Christmas Song” (“chestnuts roasting by an open fire”), “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “Deck the Halls.” Moreover, Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival” will no doubt delight you, and it will shake your rafters with its vibrant audio response; and John Wasson’s “Jingle Bells Fantasy” takes an innovative look at the old Christmas war-horse done up in new trapings.

The program draws to an end with the longest track on the disc, Alfred Reed’s “Russian Christmas Music,” based on Russian folk music; followed by “Christmas and Sousa Forever,” a clever interweaving of Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” and various Christmas favorites. It will make you smile and provides a befitting finale to a collection of joyful, festive tunes.

Producers Tamblyn Henderson and Donald McKinney and engineer Keith Johnson recorded the music at Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas, Texas, in 2011. As always, Reference Recordings goes for ultimate realism with this HDCD, resulting in a well-balanced, extended frequency range recording that offers plenty of impact. Bass is particularly lifelike, showing a strong, deep punch that makes you feel you’re in the hall with the players. A light, warm, natural hall resonance complements the sound, supplying an added verisimilitude to the recording. For a tour-de-force of winds, try the “Minor Alterations” track.

You can find Reference Recordings products at almost any retailer, and you can find more information about them at their Web site:

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Classical Music News of the Week, December 23, 2012

Kristine Opolais Makes Her Metropolitan Opera and U.S. Debut in Puccini’s La Rondine on January 11, 2013

Soprano Kristine Opolais makes her Metropolitan Opera and U.S. debut this January (11, 14, 18, 22, 26) as Magda in Puccini’s La Rondine. She has been hailed as one of the most promising young up-and-comers in the opera world, though she has already established herself in the eminent operas houses in Europe.

Ms. Opolais will make her Met debut in La Rondine along side Giusseppe Filianoti, Anna Christy, Dwayne Croft and Marius Brenciu, among others. Ion Marin will conduct. This breakout performance is not to be missed, and it is without a doubt that Kristi-ne Opolais’ tremendous talent will be appreciated by Met Opera audiences for years to come.

Kristine Opolais says of her debut as Magda, “I am very happy that I am making my Met and US debut with a Puccini opera, as he is one of my favorite composers! I discovered La Rondine from a different side when I started to prepare for this role…it’s not as light and naive a story as I thought before. This opera is full of passion and suffering and there are a lot of tragic moments, so I would like to explore the character of Magda from a different side.”

Born in Latvia, Ms. Opolais has impressed audiences around the world with her vocal and dramatic skill. Her breakout season was 2011-2012 when she starred in Rusalka at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, as Nedda in Pagliacci at La Scala, and as Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly for her debut at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden.

She became the darling of the opera houses when she stepped in at the last minute and took on the lead roles in Rusalka and Madama Butterfly. Rising to the occasion is an understatement. She performed both roles with the intensity of a seasoned diva and was catapulted to fame seemingly overnight. As Cio-Cio-San, her performance was, according to Seen and Heard International, “…something that I will file along with some of the other greatest moments from my time watching opera.”

Kristine Opolais floats her voice through the rafters, yet brings the audience closer to her by exploring the inner depths of her characters. The Times, London said of Ms. Opolais, “She delivered a tour de force. Here is, for once, a Butterfly who can be naive girl, stubbornly loyal bride and abandoned, properly tragic heroine in one evening. Opolais did that by finding an inner steel beneath the silk kimono…”

Kristine Opolais’ recent appearances include the title role in Janácek’s Jenufa at Zurich Opera, in a season-opening new production conducted by Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi and directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov; the title role in Dvorák’s Rusalka at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich; Cio-Cio-San in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème at the Vienna State Opera and the Latvian National Opera; the title role in Puccini’s Tosca; and Nedda in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci at La Scala. Later this season, she will sing Tosca at Covent Garden and Mimì at Vienna State Opera. This season she will be performing several solo concerts, including a performance in Vienna where she will sing a concert version of Simon Boccanegra with Thomas Hampson and Joseph Calleja, to be recorded and released with Decca. She has recently released an album of Puccini’s Suor Angelica on Orfeo.

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Music Institute Students Selected for Chicago Youth in Muisc Festival
Festival orchestra appears onstage at Orchestra Hall Jan. 14–Feb. 4, 2013.

The Music Institute of Chicago is proud to announce that seven of its students have been selected to participate in the Chicago Youth in Music Festival, a biennial celebration of the achievements of young classical musicians from across Chicago and the world for an incredible journey of music-making and learning. The 2013 Festival takes place January 14-February 4.

Music Institute students Tess Krope* (Chicago), violin student of Marko Dreher; Nathan Walhout* (Wheaton), cello student of Gilda Barston; Richard Li* (Bolingbrook), cello student of Gilda Barston and Hans Jorgen Jensen; and Aaron Kollasch (Naperville), cello student of David Cunliffe, were chosen after a selective audition process. Kitsho Hosotani (Wilmette), violin student of Paul Vanderewerf, and Mira Williams* (Chicago), viola student of Marko Dreher, have also been selected to participate in the Festival Orchestra. (The * indicates students in the Music Institute’s prestigious Academy for extraordinarily gifted pre-college musicians.) Tess Krope also will serve as Assistant Concertmaster.

The Music Institute students are among the approximately 65 Chicago area high school students in grades 9–12 who make up the Festival Orchestra, as well as select members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. Joined by a dedicated group of mentors from the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and the Youth Orchestra of the Americas (YOA), the Festival’s international guest youth ensemble, these young musicians will participate in a series of intensive rehearsals and workshops in preparation for appearances onstage at Orchestra Hall and in neighborhood locations around the city and suburbs.

In addition, Music Institute student March Saper (Chicago), flute student of Meret Bitticks, was named a Student Ambassador. Ambassadors play an important role in welcoming YOA members, participate in a workshop with YOA and the Civic Orchestra about citizen musicianship, assist with production of community-based events January 30–February 2, and attend the Festival’s culminating event February 4 at Orchestra Hall.

CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti, YOA Music Director Carlos Miguel Prieto, and Civic Orchestra Principal Conductor Cliff Colnot are serving as the artistic leadership of the 2013 Festival. Students will gain valuable orchestral experience and develop an understanding of the values expressed by the CSO’s Citizen Musician initiative through workshop sessions.

To launch the 2013 Festival, the Orchestra will rehearse with Civic Orchestra Principal Conductor Cliff Colnot to prepare for an open rehearsal led by CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti on Monday, January 14, 2013. Repertoire will include select movements of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and Verdi’s Overture to The Sicilian Vespers. On Wednesday, January 30, the Orchestra will join YOA members for a public reading session of standard orchestral works led by Guest Conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto. Both events take place at Orchestra Hall and are free and open to the public.

On Saturday, February 2, 11 a.m.–12:15 p.m., the Music Institute hosts a Festival-related community event, free and open to the public, at its Highland Park campus, the Highland Park Community House Ballroom, 1991 Sheridan Road. Music Institute Academy strings students and YOA musicians will perform side by side in a chamber orchestra reading session conducted by Academy Director James Setapen. Following the session, YOA and community leaders will engage in a panel discussion about how young people can forge paths as Citizen Musicians and cultural entrepreneurs in their own communities.

The Festival culminates with “A Celebration of Youth in Music,” a free public concert conducted by Carlos Miguel Prieto Monday, February 4 at 8 p.m. at Orchestra Hall. The program will include Copland’s El salón Mexico and Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40.

The Chicago Youth in Music Festival is a collaboration between the Institute for Learning, Access and Training at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chicago’s leading organizations in music education, including the Music Institute of Chicago.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Brooklyn Public Library Presents Annual Free Kwanzaa Program, featuring AOP I Hear America Singing and Nkeiru Okoyes’s Folk Opera on Harriet Tubman
Additional Performances at Brownsville, Brooklyn's Rosetta Gaston Senior Center.
AOP (American Opera Projects) in partnership with The Walt Whitman Project will be participating in the Brooklyn Public Library's annual free Kwanzaa program on Thursday, December 27 at 3pm at the S. Stevan Dweck Auditorium at the Central Library, Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn Public Library, 10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY 11238. On Friday, December 28 at 2pm the program will be repeated at the Rosetta Gaston Senior Center in Brownsville, 460 Dumont Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11212. Both performances are free and open to the public. Reservations are not necessary, but seating is first come, first served.

AOP I Hear America Singing will be presenting excerpts of Nkeiru Okoye's folk opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom, performed by soprano Sumayya Ali (B'way's Porgy and Bess, Ragtime!), mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter with AOP Resident Music Director Mila Henry on piano. Direction is by Beth Greenberg (New York City Opera). The opera is currently in development at AOP.

Created by American Opera Projects and The Walt Whitman Project (Artistic Director, Greg Trupiano) in 2009, I Hear America Singing, inspired by the poem of Walt Whitman, seeks to express the varied thoughts, feelings, and stories of the people of our nation into a communal voice that will resonate for all. Previous performances of I Hear America Singing include works by AOP composers Gilda Lyons (Songs from the A Train and Songs from the F Train) and Nkeiru Okoye (Brooklyn Cinderella), based on poetry written by Brooklyn children.

2012 marks the 8th year of the Kwanzaa program at the Brooklyn Public Library. Poet Angeli Rasbury will return to curate the free celebration honoring universal African-American heritage and culture with music performances, readings, and reflections. In addition to the music by AOP, storytelling will be provided by Elders Share the Arts' Pearls of Wisdom.

Over the years, the event has enjoyed the participation of diverse performers including CASYM Steel Pan Orchestra, the Restoration Youth Arts Academy, and features the works of composers and librettists currently working in Brooklyn as well as new creations of young writers.

--American Opera Projects

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the New Century Chamber Orchestra Embark on an Eight-State National Tour January 18-February 2, 2013
They will present the tour programs in two special kick-off concerts January 13, San Francisco, and January 15, Atherton. An “Evening Serenade” gala benefits New Century’s Education and Artistic Programs January 13.

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, in her fifth season as Music Director of New Century Chamber Orchestra, leads the ensemble on their largest national tour to-date with nine performances in eight states, January 13 – February 2, 2013. Two special tour kick-off concerts will be presented in the Bay Area showcasing tour repertoire on January 13 at Herbst Theater, San Francisco and January 15 at the Center for Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton High School, Atherton. The 2013 National Tour includes debut performances in Danville, KY; Sewanee, TN; Greenville, SC; Greenville and Durham, NC; Winchester, VA; Bethesda, MD; and return engagements in Evanston, IL and Ann Arbor, MI.

New Century’s 2013 National Tour follows the resounding success of their 20th Anniversary 2011 East Coast Tour. Designed to showcase the ensemble’s acclaimed virtuosity, vitality and passion, the tour repertoire features a selection of works including Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen for 23 Solo Strings, which appears on New Century’s acclaimed 2010 CD recording, LIVE: Barber, Strauss, Mahler and William Bolcom’s Romanza for Solo Violin and String Orchestra, a work that was given its world premiere by New Century during his residency as the orchestra’s 2009-10 Featured Composer. Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg is the featured soloist for this piece. Speaking in a review of New Century’s debut New York performance during the 2011 East Coast Tour, James Oestreich of the New York Times said “Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg traced these wildly varied moods (of Bolcom’s Romanza) with consummate skills and panache.” Completing the program is Felix Mendelssohn’s String Symphony No. 10 and the Aria from Bachianas Brazilieras No. 5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos.

The National Tour Kick-Off Gala: An Evening Serenade immediately follows the January 13 performance upstairs in the Green Room and is sponsored for the second year in a row by City National Bank. An estimated 180 guests will be joined by Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the musicians of the Orchestra for a live auction, Fund-A-Need, and an elegant sit-down dinner, with proceeds benefitting the ensemble’s education and artistic programs. Auction items include a luxury vacation with a choice of four destinations and a wine country package featuring a private tour and lunch at Iron Horse Vineyards. Financial advisor, author, and television host Suze Orman serves as the Honorary Gala Chair.

About the Program:
One of America’s pre-eminent composers, William Bolcom has been recognized as 2007 Composer of the Year by Musical America, honored with numerous Grammy Awards and is the recipient of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Twelve New Etudes for piano. Romanza for Solo Violin and String Orchestra was written in 2009 as part of New Century’s Featured Composer program and given its world premiere that same year. The composer intended this work to be “shamelessly Romantic” and inspired by Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn. Stylistically, the work still displays his delightful, effortless eclecticism for which Bolcom has long been celebrated.

A leading champion of music education in Brazil and the first South American composer to achieve world-wide renown, Heitor Villa-Lobos absorbed many different forms of Brazilian music with influences from new European music. His Bachianas Brasileiras was written between 1930 and 1945, and comprises of nine works for different instrumental forces, of which No.5 is perhaps the most widely known movement. A great admirer of J.S Bach, the composer stated the he wanted to write “the kind of music the Leipzig master might have written had he been born a twentieth-century Brazilian composer.”

By the time he was 15 years old, Mendelssohn had written no fewer than four concertos and twelve symphonies, in addition to a large number of solo, chamber and vocal works. The string symphonies were suppressed by Mendelssohn upon reaching adulthood, regarding them as student works unworthy of public performance. Their existence remained largely unknown except to scholars, until 1959 when they were first published on the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen was written in 1945, with the end of World War II in Europe imminent. The work is written in similar fashion to other nostalgic, late Romantic style works, perhaps in response to his mourning of the great German cities where had spent his life and the great opera houses that had seen his triumphs. The piece is written as a study for 23 solo string instruments, meaning that no two players have the exactly the same part.

--Karen Ames Communications

New Philharmonic Presents “Viennese Pops New Year’s Eve with a Twist” at the Lund Auditorium in River Forest, Illinois, Monday, December 31 at 7 p.m.
Oo la la! Champagne corks will pop when the New Philharmonic (NP) and Music Director and Conductor Kirk Muspratt provide a special way to ring out the old with “Viennese Pops New Year's Eve with a French Twist at the Lund Auditorium at Dominican University Performing Arts Center, 7900 W. Division Street in River Forest, Illinois, Monday, Dec. 31 at 7 p.m.

The evening will feature traditional Viennese musical selections from Strauss and Stolz as well as ornate French orchestral pieces and arias…plus a few surprises. Award-winning soprano Kiri Deonarine of the Lyric Opera of Chicago-Ryan Opera Center will join the acclaimed New Philharmonic Orchestra to ring in the New Year. A listing of the full program can be found at the end of this release.

Performance tickets are $65 adult/$63 senior/$55 youth. For advance ticket purchases, contact the MAC box office: (630) 942-4000, or visit: Tickets are also available the day of the performance at the Dominican University Performing Arts Center box office. For more information call 708-488-5000 or visit Free parking is available.

To add to the celebratory nature of the evening, New Philharmonic and the MAC are creating add-on dining packages and bus transportation to and from the Lund Auditorium in River Forest. For more information call the MAC box office at 942-4000.

New Philharmonic is a fully-professional, 80-member orchestra that has inspired classical music enthusiasts in Chicago and the suburbs for three decades. Under the direction of Conductor and Music Director Kirk Muspratt, named a 2006 Chicagoan of the Year by the Chicago Tribune, the group gives innovative treatment to both classic compositions and modern works and strives to make the music accessible to new audiences and youth through a variety of educational efforts. New Philharmonic is the resident orchestra of the McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill., and performs a complete season annually.

Dominican University Performing Arts Center, located in the Fine Arts Building at 7900 West Division Street in River Forest, Ill. is an accessible, comfortable home for the creative spirit, located just 10 miles west of Chicago's Loop. New Philharmonic's Oct. 13, Dec. 31 and Feb. 16-17 performances will be held in the Lund Auditorium which has a seating capacity of just under 1,200 seats. This venue offers superb acoustics, ideal sight lines and ample, free parking. For more information call 708-488-5000 or visit For more information call 708-488-5000 or visit

--Ann Fink, New Philharmonic

Mozart: Piano Concertos 17 and 22 (CD review)

Also, Rondo in A major. Kristian Bezuidenhout, piano; Petra Mullejans, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. Harmonia Mundi HMC 902147.

Listeners by now have come to expect great sound from the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra on Harmonia Mundi recordings, whether they fully appreciate the performances or not. With this album of Mozart piano concertos with pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout and the Freiburg ensemble, they get both. They get refined yet lively performances in some of the best possible recorded sound. It’s a pretty good deal.

Now, here’s the thing: You probably already have these piano concertos on disc. But do you have them performed on period instruments? Not only does the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra under Petra Mullejans sound different because of the period instruments, they play in a period style. And Bezuidenhout not only plays in a refined though spirited manner, he does so on a replica of an 1805 Anton Walter & Sohn fortepiano. These Harmonia Mundi recordings provide vivacious, nontraditional renditions of old favorites, done up in the fine audio I mentioned above.

The set begins with the Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K.453, which Mozart wrote in 1781 along with five others. The Concerto is lyrical and playful, with a much lighter feel than its companion piece on the disc, No. 22, written just the next year but sounding far weightier and more dramatic. Anyway, on the fortepiano, a less rich, less mellow, less robust instrument than today’s grand piano, No. 17 sounds wonderfully airy, poetic, and delightful.

Bezuidenhout’s playing is sprightly yet always cultured, even in so frolicsome a piece as this. While it’s true the second-movement Andante has a mildly melancholic air to it, Bezuidenhout plays it sweetly, never sentimentalizing it. Mozart himself was quite fond of the finale, so fond of it, in fact, he taught his pet starling to sing it. The pianist offers up a charming rendition of it, and one can almost hear the bird whistling along. Fine accompaniment from the Freiburg band under conductor Petra Mullejans make a good thing even better.

Next is the little Rondo in A major, K.386, which the composer wrote in 1782. It’s one of many Mozart fragments found scattered around the world. Although it is considerably less formidable than the concertos that surround it on the disc, it provides its own pleasures, being tranquil and serene in a rustic sort of way. Still, Bezuidenhout and company give it the respect it deserves.

The program concludes with the Piano Concerto No. 22 in E flat major, K. 482, one of three piano concertos Mozart wrote in 1785. Because of the weightier tone of the first two movements compared to No. 17, I couldn’t help wondering at first if a modern piano might not have suited the music better. After hearing the fortepiano, however, sounding so clear, so transparent, and so intimate, I again had second thoughts.

The Freiburg ensemble may choose tempos that are on the fleet-footed side, but they never sound too fast or too rushed. They are almost always rhythmically gentle and flowing, carrying the music and the listener along effortlessly. A strong, pounding opening sequence in No. 22 gives way to much more delicate passagework interspersed along the way, carried out with virtuosic intent by Bezuidenhout and company. The central Andante projects a vaguely sorrowful mood, and the finale creates an appropriately zesty atmosphere with its famous hunting theme. I can’t say I’ve heard any of this music done any better.

Harmonia Mundi recorded the music in 2012 at the Freiburg Ensemble House, Freiburg, Germany. It is among the best-sounding discs the folks at HM have made. The sound is beautifully clear, revealing a wealth of inner detail. What’s more, one hears a very wide dynamic range and plenty of punch throughout. Indeed, the impact is sometimes so great, you’d think you were listening to a rock band. An extensive frequency response features good, clean highs and taut bass; and a mildly reverberant hall acoustic complements the piano and the band, producing a modest glow around the music, which along with the miking contributes, no doubt, to the realistic space and depth we hear on the recording.

To top off a terrific issue, Harmonia Mundi supply the jewel box with a light-cardboard slipcover. Overall, it’s one of my favorite releases of the year.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 (XRCD24 review)

Also, Piano Sonata No. 22. Sviatoslav Richter, piano; Charles Munch, Boston Symphony Orchestra. JVC JM-XR24018.

Ever since I first started listening to things like JVC’s XRCD audiophile remasters, I’ve become rather spoiled by them. Take, for instance, this Beethoven First Piano Concerto recorded more than half a century ago. The sound is rock solid. Not like most of today’s classical recordings that to me can appear misty, cloudy, fuzzy, excessively soft, or overly hard. With the exception of a touch of background noise (and, especially, a discernible bass hum), this older recording from JVC sounds just right, especially the piano, which is strong and steady in an unexaggerated way. The JVC XRCD issues may be expensive, but they provide great pleasure.

Sviatoslav Richter was a legend in Soviet Russia before being allowed to record in the West. When he did begin recording in America, among the companies he worked for was RCA in their “Living Stereo” series, one of the best places for any artist to record. Here, backed by Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Richter brings a robust vitality to this first of Beethoven’s five piano concertos. The fact is, I hadn’t really thought about Richter’s recording much in quite a while until hearing it on this JVC release. It had been many, many years since I had first heard it, and I hadn’t remembered it being so thoroughly Romantic or so thoroughly powerful as it is, nor had I remembered how lovely and embracing the slow movement could be under Richter. Perhaps it’s just that Richter brings out the best in the music, I don’t know. Going back and listening to relatively newer recordings by pianist Stephen Kovacevich with conductor Colin Davis on Philips and Murray Perahia with Bernard Haitink on Sony, also favorites, I found them good but not nearly so dynamic or persuasive as Richter.

I have sometimes found Munch and the Boston Symphony sounding thin, steely, and hard in their early RCA releases, but not quite here. There may be a touch of hardness to the sound but nothing thin or bright about this recording, made at Boston’s Symphony Hall in 1960. It is, if anything, darkly aggressive and absolutely stable, well complementing Richter’s sturdy, energetic, and wholly realistic piano.

The companion piece on the disc, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 22, also comes off in a most vigorous and dramatic fashion. Richter’s way with the keyboard is both precise and incisive, making each note sound out loudly, clearly, purposefully. As with the Concerto, the Sonata offers a most impressive performance and a worthy coupling.

Naturally, for about a third the cost you can get Richter’s performance of the Piano Concerto and two sonatas on a mid-priced RCA release, but you wouldn’t get the sonic impact of the JVC. I cannot recommend any of JVC’s XRCD audiophile discs unconditionally, given their cost, but I can say that if you want the best, you pay the price.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Franck: Symphony in D minor (CD review)

Also, Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne; Hulda, Ballet allegorique. Christian Arming, Liege Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Fuga Libera FUG596.

The idea of the coupling on this album was to bring together a big, popular work with several other, less well-known pieces by the same composer. This is hardly a new concept, and numerous other record companies and musicians have already done it. It does, however, present two problems: First, it is not exactly conducive to selling a ton of discs to have unfamiliar titles on it. Second, the lesser-known works may simply demonstrate to listeners how much better the more-favored work is. There is a reason, after all, for certain pieces of art being more popular than others; they are usually better. Nevertheless, for most classical-music fans, the little ballet suite and symphonic poem that accompany Franck’s Symphony in D are welcome additions.

The big, popular work, the Symphony in D minor by French (Belgian-born) composer, pianist, and organist Cesar Franck (1822-1890), opens the show. Franck wrote it, his only symphony, in 1888, premiering it in Paris the next year, shortly before his death. It received a poor reception at the time, thanks largely to the musical politics of the day (leading French musicians disliked Franck’s blend of German and French musical traditions), but has obviously since become a mainstay of the classical repertoire.

One of the unusual features of the Symphony is that Franck wrote it in only three movements. The first movement, marked Lento - Allegro ma non troppo, begins, as Franck notes, slowly and builds momentum, though never too fast. Leading the Liege Royal Philharmonic, Maestro Christian Arming takes his time developing the themes in this movement, increasing the pace methodically and never making any sudden tempo changes. Instead, he makes Franck’s many shifts of key and tempo seem entirely normal and expected, he integrates them so smoothly. Indeed, if one were to be highly critical at all, one might say Arming was a little too refined, that Franck requires more gusto, more bravura. I don’t know; what we hear is persuasive enough, with adequate power when needed.

The second movement, an Allegretto, contains Franck’s famously fetching French horn melody. Franck himself described this section as resembling “an ancient procession,” and listeners through the years seem to have agreed. That’s the way Arming plays it, as a long, slow march, with a more enlivening theme developing toward the middle. Yet Arming makes it appear as a logical extension of the processional design.

The final movement, marked Allegro non troppo, takes us back in spirit to the start of the piece and sounds generally cheerful and exultant. Because Franck used a typically French cyclic style for the themes, we hear variants of the opening motif reoccurring throughout the work. Arming supplies plenty of energy here, without sounding frenzied or exaggerated. His interpretation stands up as cultured and well tempered to the end.

My preferred recordings for the Franck Symphony remain those of Sir Thomas Beecham (EMI), Pierre Monteux (RCA), Charles Dutoit (Decca), and Marek Janowski (Telarc). However, Maestro Arming makes a good showing of it, and one should not discount his recording in any way.

The first coupling on the disc, Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne (“What one hears on the mountains”) is an atmospheric tone poem, creating a mood rather than depicting any specific scenes. It is quite a lovely piece of music, portraying a lonely, isolated place somewhere high up in the mountains. Arming draws out this Man vs. Nature motif nicely, providing a quiet sense of desolation without letting the music become morbid or depressing.

The second coupling, Hulda, Ballet allegorique, is something we almost never hear on record or in the concert hall. It’s a little five-movement ballet suite from Franck’s long-forgotten opera Hulda, and the music comes as a treat. Under Arming, it is alternately lyrical and exciting, and always charming. The question is why more conductors haven’t recorded it.

A generous eighty-one minutes of playing time caps off a fine release.

Fuga Libera (meaning “free flight”), a label of Outhere Music, recorded the album at Salle Philharmonique, Liege, Belgium, in 2012. The sound in the Symphony is a model of natural audio reproduction. The orchestra stands before us at a moderate distance, the listener appearing to be perhaps twelve rows or so back. One still hears a wide stereo spread yet with a modicum of orchestral depth and good tonal balance. Bass is only modest, the highest notes seem a bit muted, and played too loudly there is a touch of forwardness in the lower treble. Midrange transparency also suffers slightly, while remaining realistic from this perspective. The overall effect is warm and lifelike, making a most pleasant listening experience. For whatever reason, maybe a change in miking, the accompanying items sound a tad more open and dynamic.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Chicago Moves (CD review)

Music of Woodward, Cheetham, Baxter, Garrop, Deemer, Sampson, and Tower. Gaudete Brass. Cedille CDR 900000 136.

If you’ve never heard anything from the Gaudete Brass quintet before, you probably aren’t alone. They formed in 2004, and this Cedille album, Chicago Moves, is I believe only their third CD release. However, judging by the quality of their music, I should think it will be far from their last. The group’s goal is to present “serious brass chamber music at the highest level of excellence” and to encourage a “worldwide appreciation of the art of brass chamber music through live performances, recordings, education, and the creation of new works.” The present album contains six new pieces written expressly for the Gaudete Brass ensemble, all in world-premiere recordings, plus one slightly older work.

The program begins with the brief tune Gaudete by James Woodward (b. 1978). “Gaudete” means “rejoice” in Latin, so that’s what this opening music is all about. It sounds a cheerful, sometimes cheeky note, with some entertaining little harmonies bouncing around in it.

Next is the Sonata for Brass Quintet, a work in three movements by John Chetham (b. 1939). The first movement is sprightly, the second lyrical, and the third big and energetic. This is probably a better piece for demonstrating the prowess of the Gaudete Brass, their playing smooth, sophisticated, spontaneous, enthusiastic, and highly accomplished. The five members of the Gaudete Brass--Bill Baxtresser and Ryan Berndt, trumpets; Julia Filson, horn; Paul Von Hoff, trombone; and Scott Tegge, tuba--seem genuinely to be having fun playing this music together, and their joy is infectious.

After that is A Great Commercial City by Brian Baxter (b. 1985), the title referring, of course, to Chicago, the Gaudete Brass’s home port. Baxter based the piece loosely on the folk song “El-a-noy.” It may remind some listeners of Carl Sandburg’s famous ode to Chicago in spirit if not in tone: “Strong, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders.”

Then, there’s Helios by Stacy Garrop (b. 1969). Helios was the Greek god of the sun, and the music describes his chariot ride across the sky. It begins with a fast and fiery sunrise and ends in a serene, sunset mood. Of all the music on the disc, this one is so well played, it stood out as one of my favorites.

Following that is the simply titled Brass, a three-movement piece by Rob Deemer (b. 1970). It explores the various sounds and textures of the brass instruments, a sort of “Young Person’s Guide to the Brass Quintet.” It’s the most-colorful music on the program, and the Gaudete ensemble make the most of it, offering up a joyous celebration of their own group. The movement “Slide” is particularly playful.

The final premiere is the title tune, Chicago Moves, a four-movement work by David Sampson (b. 1951). This one is also about the city of Chicago, going into more detail describing aspects of the place and its landmarks. Each movement is a kind of individual tone poem.

The album concludes with Copperwave, a Latin American-inspired piece by Joan Tower (b. 1938), which she wrote in 2006. It’s also a first of sorts, though, using a tuba rather than a bass trombone. Ms. Tower writes about it that “copper is a heavy but flexible mineral...and most brass instruments are made of copper. The ideas in this piece move in waves, sometimes heavy ones and at other times lighter--also in circles, turning around on the same notes.” It, too, is playful music, which brings out all the dramatic unity and immaculate playing technique of the Gaudete Brass.

Cedille’s topflight engineer Bill Maylone recorded the Gaudete Brass at Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana in 2012. He miked it at a moderate distance, the sound obtained quite realistic. The stereo spread does not extend across the room, nor should it. Rather, we hear the sound of a well-integrated group of musicians playing in a mildly reverberant acoustic, with a good separation of instruments and no compartmentalization. The various members of the group sound as one, instead of a collection of separate players, which is all for the good. It’s the way any ensemble would sound in a real life, round and resonant. While midrange transparency is not as absolutely pristine as one might find on an audiophile disc, there is more than adequate air and depth to the sound, further promoting the feeling of actually being in the hall at a modest distance from the group.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Classical Music News of the Week, December 16, 2012

San Francisco-based Opera Parallele’s Production of The Great Gatsby Wins First Prize in National Opera Association’s Professional Division of the 2012 Opera Production Competition

Opera Parallèle’s 2012 production of John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby was awarded First Prize in the Professional Division of the Opera Production Competition by The National Opera Association.  The award will be presented at the Gala Banquet at National Opera Association's National Convention on January 5, 2013 in Portland, Oregon.

Opera Parallèle’s Artistic Director Nicole Paiement again collaborated with Stage Director and Concept Designer Brian Staufenbiel to create their most ambitious project to date, joining with the Aspen Music Festival to commission Jacques Desjardins’ new chamber orchestration of John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby. A critical success, Patrick Vaz, writing for The Reverberate Hills, states… “Not surprisingly, given Opera Parallèle’s track record, it was a success both musically and dramatically, much more so in fact, than the Met production…This is, I should say, a very rich and fascinating score, that I think will only deepen the more one hears it, the orchestra under Opera Parallèle’s Artistic Director Nicole Paiement made the music sound as powerful as my memory of the Met’s performance.”

Based on the famed novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby was originally commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and premiered in 1999 with subsequent performances at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. Opera Parallèle’s world premiere presentation of the chamber orchestration of The Great Gatsby marked the first time in ten years that the literary masterpiece was given a musical life onstage.

Opera Parallèle continues to produce ambitious projects and has expanded its offering from one opera to a full season. The Bay Area premiere of Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar kicks off the season on February 15, 16 and 17, 2013 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. On April 26, 27 and 28, the company presents the San Francisco premiere of Garth Sunderland’s re-orchestration of Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti in a double bill with Samuel Barber’s A Hand of Bridge at ZSpace. And the season closes June 7 at San Francisco Conservatory of Music when Opera Parallèle presents a public workshop reading of the company’s first commission, Dante De Silva’s Gesualdo, Prince of Madness.

Opera Parallèle is a professional opera company-in-residence at San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the only organization in the Bay Area that presents contemporary opera exclusively. In collaboration with SFMOMA, the company presented the critically acclaimed production of the rarely performed Four Saints in Three Acts by composer Virgil Thompson and librettist Gertrude Stein and the world premiere of Luciano Chessa’s A Heavenly Act. In spring 2011 the group produced the Bay Area premiere of Philip Glass’ Orphée and in 2010, the chamber version of Alban Berg’s 20th century masterpiece Wozzeck. In February 2007, Opera Parallèle presented the world premiere of Lou Harrison’s opera Young Caesar in conjunction with what would have been the late composer’s 90th birthday. In prior years, with its mission more broadly focused on contemporary music, Opera Parallèle presented 125 performances including 28 world premieres, released 12 recordings and commissioned 19 new works.

As a non-profit 501(c)(3) arts institution, Opera Parallèle must raise support and funds throughout the year to be able to present contemporary opera to a wide audience at affordable prices. This year, for the second time, Opera Parallèle is among the noteworthy arts organizations that receive funding from San Francisco’s Grants for the Arts. Other foundational support comes from the Phyllis C. Wattis, Columbia, Zellerbach and Fleishhacker Foundations. Additional information is available at

Don’t miss this opportunity to experience Opera Parallèle’s next presentation, Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar on February 15, 16 and 17, 2013 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Lam Research Theater. Tickets priced from $35 to $85 are available for purchase in person at the YBCA's box office located inside the Galleries and Forum Building, 701 Mission Street at Third, over the phone at (415) 978-ARTS (2787) or online at

--Karen Ames Communications

Sitar Legend Ravi Shankar Dies at 92
His music transcended trends and cultural barriers. Pandit Ravi Shankar's life, which traversed nearly a century, ended December 11, 2012.

The legendary sitar player, who taught Beatle George Harrison how to play the stringed instrument and brought Indian music to the West, passed away at age 92 in the early evening in San Diego, near his home, according to his wife, Sukanya, and daughter Anoushka Shankar, who were by his side. Shankar was the father of jazz singer Norah Jones as well. He is also survived by three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, according to his record label, East Meets West Music.

His health had suffered over the past year, according to a statement from his record label, and he underwent heart valve replacement surgery last Thursday. "Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the surgeons and doctors taking care of him, his body was not able to withstand the strain of the surgery," his wife and daughter said.

In the 1960s, he took Eastern music mainstream in the West. He lent ethereal, spiritual sounds to the Fab Four through his friendship with Harrison, who recorded them on the "Sgt. Pepper's" album in the song "Within You Without You." Virtuoso performances at Monterey in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969 helped cement Shankar's place in Western musical history as an ambassador of Eastern wisdom to a generation looking for new values. "Ravi was a great loss musically, spiritually and physically. God bless to Ravi's family. Peace & Love," Beatle Ringo Starr said in a statement released through a representative. Singer Peter Gabriel hailed Shankar as an inspiration who "opened the door to non-western music for millions of people around the world."

Shankar's musical career had a long life before and after the '60s. He was born on April 7, 1920, and when he and Harrison met, he was already 46 and famous in India as a classical musician, according to his record label biography. His classical career outlived his counterculture fame, but he continued to meld East with West and composed concertos, which harmonized his sitar with orchestras. He played duos with American classical violin maestro Yehudi Menuhin and composed with American minimalist Philip Glass. He also wrote film music for the Hollywood movie "Gandhi."
Shankar kept homes in the United States and India.

Despite ill health, he shared a stage with his daughter Anoushka, also a sitar virtuoso, in early November. It was his last public performance.

--Ben Brumfield, CNN

Cause for Celebration!
The Foundation to Assist Young Musicians ("FAYM") celebrates its fifth anniversary this month! To date, $173,985.92 has been raised for scholarships and the "Violins for Kids" project which provides lessons and instruments to inner city youngsters at no charge. Additionally, through FAYM's efforts, over $350,000 in scholarship aid from music schools has been procured for talented students.

As we are proud to point out, all administrative functions are performed by volunteers and all essential services (legal, accounting, office space, etc.) are provided "pro bono." Funds received are carefully allocated and wisely managed to fulfill FAYM's mission.

Exciting plans are in store for increasing FAYM's activities and influence. We ask that you join in celebrating FAYM's 5-year milestone by making a year-end, tax-deductible contribution. Your support is gratefully appreciated.

For more information, visit
To donate, visit

--Hal Weller, Founder/Trustee

Music Institute Relocates Headquarters, Institute for Therapy Through the Arts, Musical Theater, World Music to Downtown Evanston
 The Music Institute of Chicago is moving several of its signature programs to downtown Evanston. The Music Institute’s administrative headquarters, the Institute for Therapy through the Arts, Musical Theater and World Music programs will relocate to the Evanston Galleria building at 1702 Sherman Avenue. The new space, expected to be ready for occupancy in July 2013, will replace facilities on Green Bay Road in Wilmette and Dempster Street in Evanston. With design services provided by the Evanston-based architectural firm Behles & Behles, the Sherman Avenue facility will include a black box theater with flexible seating for 150 as well as creative arts therapy studios and administrative offices.

Music Institute President and CEO Mark George stated, “The Music Institute is very pleased to expand its presence in Evanston, especially during the 150th anniversary celebration of the city’s founding. Our new space, near the corner of Sherman Avenue and Church Street, will render our programming more accessible to many more people.” Evanston is already home to Nichols Concert Hall, an award-winning Music Institute performance and education center at 1490 Chicago Avenue that reaches more than 15,000 people each year.

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl commented, “The Music Institute of Chicago and its renowned music education programs are a tremendous asset to our citizens. We are pleased to welcome them to downtown Evanston.”

George added, “Evanston is an arts-friendly city. I am truly appreciative of the assistance we received from the City of Evanston’s Economic Development Division. The Music Institute of Chicago plans to be in Evanston for a very long time.”

Carolyn Dellutri, executive director of the marketing and services organization Downtown Evanston, echoed these positive sentiments: “The Music Institute is a terrific addition to the downtown Evanston community. I look forward to a long and prosperous partnership.”

Institute for Therapy through the Arts”
Founded in 1975, the Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA) is one of the few comprehensive community-based arts therapy programs in the United States to offer all four creative arts treatment modalities: Music Therapy, Drama Therapy, Art Therapy, and Dance/Movement Therapy. ITA is nationally recognized and has distinguished itself in the use of integrated arts approaches to help children, adults, and families to improve functioning related to psychological, developmental, physical and cognitive factors.

Musical Theater:
Led by veteran educators and working industry professionals, the Music Institute’s Musical Theater program serves students ages five through 18. The program focuses on developing young talent and creating original work that celebrates the strengths of each ensemble cast. Students are active participants in writing new shows, re-imagining classic favorites, and producing musicals that reflect their interests, talents, and unique personalities. The program includes fall and spring productions as well as summer camp opportunities.

World Music:
The Music Institute offers percussion and dance classes through Evanston Escola de Samba (EEDS), which reaches across ethnic, generational, and social lines to bring the joy and spirit of Brazilian music to more than 1,000 individuals of all ages each year. The group performs frequently at events like the Evanston 4th of July Parade, Skokie Festival of Cultures, and neighborhood and city festivals throughout Chicagoland.

Music Institute of Chicago:
The Music Institute of Chicago, founded in a Winnetka farmhouse in 1931, has grown to become one of the three largest and most respected community music schools in the nation and is a member of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts and accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music. The school offers music instruction and classes to students of all ages and every level of experience and each year, the Music Institute’s world-class music teachers and arts therapists reach more than 10,000 students and clients at campuses in Evanston, Winnetka, Highland Park, Lincolnshire, Lake Forest and Downers Grove, and through its longstanding partnership with the Chicago Public Schools.

For more information about new programs in downtown Evanston, contact the Music Institute of Chicago at 847.905.1500 or visit

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Pianist and Bach star Evan Shinners Performs at White House Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
The wildly talented and irreverent classical pianist Evan Shinners performed at the White House Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, on Thursday, December 6.

Shinners opened the proceedings at 4:30pm with his original Bach-ian medley of holiday tunes including “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Carol of the Bells,” and “Silent Night.” He joined a starry line-up of artists for the ceremony, which was hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, including James Taylor, American Idol Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips, and other great performers. The ceremony was live-streamed and broadcast on public television and will be repeated throughout the month of December.

The 2010 Juilliard graduate made waves in the classical music world with his brilliant debut recording @bach, a compilation of two live, unedited performances recorded at Juilliard and Rockefeller University. Bursting with raw musicality and ebullient energy, Shinners connects with today’s audiences in a way that has seldom been seen for a classical artist. “This is one hell of a debut, not only for the quality, but the ambition and attitude,” said The Big City, with The Huffington Post calling the recording “Essential … one of the brattiest Bach recordings to come along since Glenn Gould himself.”

Shinners latest foray into the music of Bach is Evan Plays Seven, a fresh traversal of Bach’s seven early Toccatas. The new recording will be available on iTunes on December 12, 2012.

Originally from Denver, Colorado, Evan began playing piano at age 9 and gave his orchestral debut with the Utah Symphony at age twelve. He completed his undergrad and masters degrees at Juilliard in the studio of Jerome Lowenthal, also participating in Juilliard’s Scholastic Distinction program, where he wrote his thesis on James Joyce.  In the past few seasons, Evan has appeared at Carnegie Hall, Steinway Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, Jordan Hall (Boston), and at the Kimmel Center (Philadelphia), along with tours of Ireland, Germany, parts of Asia and Canada. When he is not playing Bach, Evan can be found writing poetry and a novel, or playing rock in Brooklyn warehouses with his Julliard colleagues.  Last year Shinners was seen and heard by over 10,000 Museum of Modern Art attendees during his residency in the Performance Exhibition Series at MoMA: Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on Ode to Joy for a Prepared Piano. The New York Times declared: "Evan Shinners attacked the score with a bravura that might have pleased Liszt."

For more news, upcoming dates, and information on his new album on iTunes, see:

--Shira Gilbert PR

Galina Vishnevskaya, Soprano and Dissident, Dies at 86
Galina Vishnevskaya, an electrifying soprano of the postwar Soviet Union and later one of its most prominent political dissidents, died on Monday in Moscow. She was 86.

Her death was confirmed by a spokesman for the Vishnevskaya Opera Center in Moscow.

Ms. Vishnevskaya, the wife of the celebrated cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, was renowned both as an emotional singer with a polished technique and as a charismatic actress. She had performed in operettas and music hall revues before joining the Bolshoi Theater of Russia, the country’s premier opera company.

In 2002 Ms. Vishnevskaya opened the Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Center to promote young Russian singers. But she had become conservative in her opera tastes.

A half-century earlier she had fought the conservative Soviet cultural establishment in arguing for a fresh version of Eugene Onegin. But now a new production of the opera at the Bolshoi in 2006 angered her--so much so that she canceled her 80th-birthday celebration there and moved it to the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow. “I’ll never enter this theater again,” she vowed.

The following year her husband, Mistislav Rostropovich, died in Moscow at 80.  Besides her daughters, Ms. Vishnevskaya’s survivors include six grandchildren.

--Jonathan Kandell, New York Times

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 ( 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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa