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: http://www.referencerecordings.com/

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


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa