Noah (CD review)

Noah Stewart, tenor. Various orchestras and conductors. Decca 2775385.

Let me begin, unfairly or not, with a few minor quibbles. First, the American tenor Noah Stewart may have a fine voice, but it seems rather presumptuous of the album’s producers to call this, his very first recording, simply Noah, as though they expected everyone to know exactly who Noah Stewart was and how important he had become. I mean, not even the Beatles released the “White Album” with just their name on the cover until well into their career as a group. Second, while, as I say, Mr. Stewart possesses a fine operatic singing voice, the album doesn’t really give him much of a chance to display it, the album being composed mainly of pop material. Third, the songs seem almost randomly assembled, willy-nilly, from gospel to popular to folk to stage to classical. And, fourth, the fourteen numbers on the disc only amount to some forty-six minutes, about right for a pop album but hardly what we expect from a classical album, even if it is a crossover release. There, now that I’ve gotten that off my mind, I can continue in a more positive vein.

Stewart, born in Harlem, NY, in 1978, attended the Juilliard School before rising to prominence in the 2011 production of Madama Butterfly. According to his biography, in 2012 his album Noah, the one reviewed here, reached number fourteen on the UK Albums Chart and number one on the UK Classical Album Chart. I can understand it’s rise on the pop chart, but I’m not at all sure why it rose so high on the classical chart, as it contains only two selections that could one could even vaguely consider “classical.” Oh, well, it’s the music that counts, and he does a nice job with it.

Stewart possesses a big, strong, firm, well-controlled voice. The opening number, “Without a Song,” demonstrates the clarity of his singing. The traditional “Deep River” shows his versatility as a popular entertainer. Puccini’s “Recondita Armonia” finds him in more vocally gymnastic form, and he negotiates the hurdles pretty well, if perhaps with a few too many trills. Nevertheless, he keeps the thrills intact, despite the reverb the sound engineers apply to the proceedings.

And so it goes. With a number of different orchestras, choruses, and small ensembles accompanying him from one selection to another, we get perhaps a more-varied assortment of material on the program than one can easily digest. It’s almost like a “greatest hits” album, if one could say the man has greatest hits. Among other tunes are “Camps de Oro,” a lovely “Cara Mia,” and effecting renditions of “Hallelujah,” “Nearer My God to Thee,” and Shenandoah.”

The jury is probably still out on Mr. Stewart. It’s hard to find anything seriously to fault, yet he doesn’t give us nearly enough to work with. The closing “Amazing Grace” and “Silent Night” close the show in quiet yet powerful fashion. While it’s all quite pleasant, don’t we have Andrea Bocelli for these kinds of things?

To compound the eccentricity of the disc’s somewhat scattershot collection of tunes, Decca recorded the album all over the place: MG Sound, Vienna; Sarm Studio, London; Germano Studios, NY; The Johann Strauss Hall, Vienna; GOSH! Studios, Vienna; Hit Galaxy Studio 2, Vienna; Air Studios, London, and The Pool Studio, London, the company releasing the product in England in 2012 and in America in 2013. The sonic results vary from one track to the next but sound typically “pop,” meaning the voice is always front and center, with various accompaniments busy in the background. The highest, loudest notes can get a touch bright, fuzzy, and raspy on some tracks, and there is a very wide dynamic range with which to contend, so keep an eye on the volume control. The overall sound is OK but nowhere near what we have come to expect from Decca’s opera recordings over the years.

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