Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 (SACD review)

Also, Swan Lake suite. Christian Lindberg, Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra. BIS-2018.

My favorite Tchaikovsky symphony. Not necessarily my favorite recording of it, but my absolute favorite Tchaikovsky. Oh, there are parts of the composer’s first three symphonies that are evocative and descriptive, the final movements of the Fourth are rousing, and the opening of the Sixth is achingly beautiful. Yet the Fifth Symphony charms me all the way through, despite the initially negative reaction of critics (and Tchaikovsky himself counting it a failure).

Favorite recordings of the Fifth? Of course. I love Maris Jansons and the Oslo Philharmonic (Chandos) for its combination of delicacy, despondency, and power; Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Philips) for its sumptuous sound; and various runners-up like Riccardo Muti and the Philharmonia Orchestra (EMI), Leopold Stokowski and the New Philharmonia Orchestra (Decca), and Valery Gergiev and the Vienna Philharmonic (Decca). Then there are others that I simply admire, and I must now add Christian Lindberg’s new BIS recording with the Arctic Philharmonic among these “others.” Although I admire Lindberg’s recording, I don’t love it.

Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) conducted the première of his Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 in 1888, the same year he wrote it. A related theme reappears in assorted guise in all four of the work’s movements, a theme the composer said was "a complete resignation before fate, which is the same as the inscrutable predestination of fate." Fortunately, the music is not as dark as the composer makes it out to be, and before too long the mood shifts. As the piece goes on, the thematic character becomes more positive, as though Tchaikovsky were expressing an increased optimism toward fate, the music appearing to become more optimistic as it goes along. It’s hard to tell, however, whether Tchaikovsky intended to end the symphony on an entirely affirmative note, and critics as well as listeners have been arguing the point for years.

Anyway, Lindberg begins by taking Tchaikovsky at his word, opening with a zippy reading of the Andante--Scherzo: Allegro con anima. Well, at least the composer indicated taking the Scherzo part with a spirited, animated fashion. But Lindberg goes it one better by taking the Andante at a faster clip than most conductors, too. I found it a little disconcerting but only by comparison. On its own, it sounds right and proper, if a tad less well characterized than I’ve heard it. So Lindberg gives us a zesty first movement, if a touch too straightforward for my taste, lacking slightly in dramatic contrast but making up for it in sheer exuberance.

The composer marks the second movement Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza, meaning a slow, even tempo (a walking pace) taken in a lyrical, songlike manner, with some freedom. Like the first and third movements, the second opens very slowly and quietly, which Lindberg handles well. It's somber without being entirely gloomy and then opens up agreeably to a more-positive tone. While it perhaps misses some of the overtly Romantic, poignant emotions of my aforementioned favorites, it comes close, and Lindberg offers a sweet and tender interpretation.

The third movement is a Valse: Allegro moderato, a waltz that Tchaikovsky meant be taken at a moderate tempo. Oddly, it is in the concluding two movements that Lindberg tends to slow down more than many other conductors, at least at the start. In doing so, he loses some of the dynamism he built up earlier and has to race to catch up. Nevertheless, by the end of the waltz, he's got things moving at a stirring pace heading into the Finale.

The Finale begins with a tempo of Andante maestoso (a stately, moderately slow section), moves into Allegro Vivace (a brisk, vivacious section), and ends in Moderato Assai e molto maestoso (very moderate time and very stately). By now, Tchaikovsky has established his theme through its repetition in all the movements, and Lindberg emphasizes it powerfully in the opening moments of the final movement. Then the conductor opens up all guns, and even though he doesn't go full bore as some other conductors do, he provides enough enthusiasm and the Arctic Philharmonic respond with enough gusto and bravura to get one’s blood racing. Along with the excellent BIS audio engineering, this makes for spirited account of the symphony.

Coupled with the Fifth Symphony we find a twenty-five-minute selection of items from Swan Lake, a suite originally compiled in 1900. Here, I found Lindberg much to my taste, his seeming to have a natural affinity for the rhythmic pulse of ballet. The performance is intense and colorful.

Producer Ingo Petry and engineer Matthias Spitzbarth recorded the music for BIS Records at Harstand Kulturhus, Norway in February 2013. It's one of the best-sounding Tchaikovsky Fifths you'll find, reproduced in both stereo and multichannel on a hybrid SACD. In the stereo format to which I listened, the all-important midrange is clear and well defined yet radiates a soft, warm, ambient glow, well emulating the concert hall without the distractions of a live audience. When dynamics come into play, they do so with a fury, the range wide and impactful, the bass taut. Sometimes one gets the feeling that the miking is a bit too close, especially on some individual instruments, and then at other times everything seems right and natural.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Vittorio Grigolo: Ave Maria (CD review)

Vittorio Grigolo, tenor; Fabio Cerroni, Orchestra Roma Sinfonietta. Sony 88883786372.

Another relatively young Italian operatic tenor I’ve never heard of. That’s not saying much, though, because I know little about the current state of Italian opera. In any case, Ave Maria is Vittorio Grigolo’s fourth solo album, most of them devoted to pop and pop-opera tunes rather than full-length operas. No matter; audiences seem to love him.

Grigolo grew up in Rome and was singing by the time he was four. He was nine when he started singing his own version of "Ave Maria," at which point his father had him audition for the Sistine Chapel Choir. There, Gigolo become a soloist with the choir, also studying for several years at the Chapel’s Schola Puerorum. By his early teens he was singing at Rome's opera house; and at eighteen he joined the Vienna Opera Company, at age twenty-three becoming the youngest man to perform in Milan's La Scala.

Today, he’s in his mid thirties and a heartthrob the world over. Or so people tell me. He devotes the current album to various renditions of the “Hail Mary” theme: four “Ave Maria’s” and an assortment of other Mary and New Testament tributes: “Maria, che dolce nome,” “Panis angelicus,” “O celeste verginella,” etc. Grigolo tells us, “I didn’t want to make an album of sacred pieces just because that’s what everyone in the classical world does. I want to let people know where I come from and to share something of my history with them--and to share some music which many people will never have heard before.” Fair enough.

But how does he fare in this material, especially compared to the numerous other tenors who have recorded it? That depends. He certainly has a fine voice, even though he is not so thrilling, so robust, so smooth, nor so dependable as others in the field. He also has a most-expressive voice, which might annoy some listeners, since he doesn’t shy away from sometimes using it in a most-theatrical manner, the inflections wide, the dynamic contrasts sometimes exaggerated, and the tremolo often evident. While Grigolo’s style may appeal to a broad audience and endear him to them, judging from what I listened to here it may just as soon turn off some dedicated opera fans who would rather he not be quite so obviously sentimental and flamboyant.

I might add, too, that the orchestra that accompanies him on most of the songs, the Orchestra Roma Sinfonietta, sounds somewhat small and shallow. In the final number, however, the City of Prague Orchestra plays behind him, and it sounds fuller, richer, and more impressive. Still, the smaller Sinfonietta does provide a sweetly transparent sound.

Anyway, Grigolo begins the program with Padre Giovanni Maria Catena’s “Ave Maria” on which Grigolo's voice soars majestically, and one can almost feel that he's holding back his true power most of the time in order to communicate a more intimate tone. It's not bad.

On the next selection, "Fermarono i cieli," he likewise keeps his voice in check so as not to upstage the children's choir singing behind him. It's a lovely rendering of the tune, with Grigolo only occasionally bursting forth full power, which can be a tad disconcerting but no doubt exciting.

And so it goes. It isn't until the third and fourth numbers, Campetti's "Maria, che dolce nome" and Franck's "Panis angelicus," that Grigolo lets his voice soar, and these songs come across with great force and conviction. From this point on, it's pretty much Grigolo letting loose the full power and scope of his voice in dynamic contrasts that can't help make an impression for good or bad, depending on your attitude toward how a singer should handle these items.

Favorites? Well, they're all lovely, but I did take a particular fancy to Catena's "O celeste verginella" for the tender attitude Grigolo expresses in it. Then there's Mozart's "Ave verum corpus," with Grigolo producing a hushed sensitivity without blowing down the house. The traditional "Voglio chiamar Maria" sounds good with its deep organ accompaniment. A final number, Adam's "O Holy Night," sung with Jackie Evancho and the City of Prague Orchestra, is quite poignant. And, of course, it's hard not to appreciate Schubert's "Ave Maria" no matter who's singing it.

Without question, the album will satisfy Grigolo's fans, and it may even pick up a few new fans in the process.

Producers Chris Alder and Nick Patrick and engineer Neil Hutchinson recorded the music in a variety of locations, including Forum Music Village, Rome; Wathen Hall, London; and Smecky Studio, Prague in 2012-13. As I mentioned above, the chamber orchestra that accompanies Grigolo on most of the numbers is fairly small, and thus it produces a fairly transparent sound. Grigolo’s voice sounds well integrated on most numbers, not too forward but still front and center. The voice itself sounds well defined, robust when necessary, and the engineers captured it pretty well. There is a touch of shrillness occasionally in the highest notes and a bit of edge to the upper strings, but these things shouldn't be of much concern to most listeners.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Classical Music News of the Week, December 29, 2013

DCINY Proudly Announces Its 2014 Season

Distinguished Concerts International New York proudly unveils its 2014 season of joyful, inspiring and moving music, featuring numerous world and US premieres, world-class musicians at New York’s most prestigious venues, and singers from across America and the globe. A unique success story in a challenging arts and economic environment, DCINY, now entering its 7th season, is commissioning new works, mentoring young conductors, and breaking new ground—including a tour to Turkey this past spring—and giving talented artists the opportunity to realize their dreams. Founded by Iris Derke (General Director) and Jonathan Griffith (Artistic Director and Principal Conductor), DCINY continues to be driven by passion and unwavering commitment to create unforgettable audience and performer experiences.

Since its inception, DCINY has had a special relationship with Welsh composer Karl Jenkins, the most performed living composer in the world today. Having already presented several U.S. premieres of Jenkins’ works—including The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace, most recently on the 10th anniversary of September 11th and with several hundred musicians—DCINY honors Jenkins on the occasion of his 70th birthday with an all-Jenkins program on Monday, January 20th at 7:00 PM at Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, conducted by Jonathan Griffith. The concert, which takes place on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, will feature the U.S. premiere of The Bards of Wales and stars eminent Welsh tenor Rhys Meirion in his Carnegie Hall debut. Also on the program are Jenkins’ Stabat Mater and “Benedictus” from The Armed Man, with the composer in attendance.

The season will officially open one day earlier on Sunday, January 19 at 2:00 PM with Of Life and Liberty, also at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium, featuring a world premiere by Mark Hayes, commissioned by DCINY’s Premiere Project initiative. Initiated in 2009, DCINY’s Premiere Project encourages debuts, premieres, and other firsts by composers, conductors, soloists, instrumental, and choral ensembles. The concert also features the New York premiere of Dan Forrest’s Requiem for the Living, conducted by James Meaders.

DCINY continues its hugely popular annual collaboration with Eric Whitacre, known to millions worldwide through his Grammy-winning, best-selling recordings and groundbreaking Virtual Choir. This year DCINY is thrilled to present a special collaboration with multi Grammy and Oscar-winning Broadway and film composer Stephen Schwartz. Whitacre conducts over 250 voices in Defying Gravity: The Music of Stephen Schwartz and Eric Whitacre at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center on Sunday, March 30 at 2:00 PM.

Also in March, DCINY welcomes eminent conductor Vance George for the earth-shaking choral masterpiece, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, reprising his Grammy-award winning recording of the dramatic work. The concert on Monday, March 10 at 7:00 PM at Avery Fisher Hall will also feature music for women's voices, in celebration of International Women’s Day, led by conductor Hilary Apfelstadt.

Another certain highlight of the season is the return of vibrant young composer and video game music rock star Christopher Tin for The Drop of Dawn, a fusion of orchestral and world music by Tin featuring over 200 voices on Sunday, April 13 at 8:30 PM at Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall. The concert will include a reprise of last season’s thrilling performance of Tin’s Grammy-winning world music song cycle, Calling All Dawns, and the world premiere of The Drop That Contained the Sea.

Celebration and Reflection will be a two-concert series at Lincoln Center, featuring the New York premiere of Brad Ellingboe’s Star Song, with Mozart’s Coronation Mass on Sunday, May 25 at 7:00 PM at Avery Fisher Hall, followed by the world premiere (commissioned through the DCINY Premiere Project) of Festival Te Deum by Grammy-award winning composer René Clausen at Alice Tully Hall.

The season will close on a high note with the return of the popular Bluegrass Mass by Carol Barnett, which combines the solemnity of a classical choir-based Mass with the sparkling down home sound of banjo, mandolin and fiddle. This year’s guest artists, who will also perform their own music on Sunday, June 8 at 2:00 PM at Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, are the multi-award winning bluegrass band Dailey & Vincent.

--Shira Gilbert, DCINY

Cleveland International Piano Competition Increases First Prize Winnings
The winner of the next Cleveland International Piano Competition, which will be held in 2016, will be presented with a cash award of $75,000, up from $50,000, thanks to the generosity of prize donors Mal and Barbara Mixon.  The Mixons, who have donated the First Prize cash award of $50,000 since 2003, felt the time was right to up the ante.

“The CIPC attracts the highest caliber contestants, and is in the very top echelon of piano competitions worldwide,” Mr. Mixon said. “It is entirely appropriate that the First Prize cash award reflects the winner’s level of skill, as well as the international stature of this competition.”

The commitment extends through the 2022 Cleveland International Piano Competition.

The 2016 winner also will receive three years of professional concert management services and engagements, a New York recital debut, and a CD recording.

About the CIPC
The triennial Cleveland International Piano Competition is held over nearly two weeks at the Cleveland Museum of Art and Severance Hall.  By attracting the world’s best young concert pianists, presenting a diversely-programmed festival, and showcasing the skills of the finalists with the incomparable Cleveland Orchestra, it has become recognized worldwide as one of the most innovative and rewarding competition experiences for both pianists and audiences.

--Ashlyn Damm, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Parker Monroe to Step Down as Executive Director of New Century Chamber Orchestra
After 18 years as executive director of New Century Chamber Orchestra, Parker Monroe announced to the orchestra and board leadership that he will step down from his position effective March 31, 2014 at the conclusion of the ensemble’s 2013-2014 subscription season.

“For the past 18 years, Parker Monroe has been an outstanding leader for the New Century Chamber Orchestra succeeding in his work under three music directors and both presidents,” said President Mark Salkind. “Whether through touring, recording, new partnerships, innovative education programs or commissioning programs, Parker Monroe’s stalwart leadership put New Century on the musical map, first here in the Bay Area and then beyond into the national musical community. He will be greatly missed. At the start of the new year, we will come together and begin the search process for a new leader.”

“It has been an enormous honor to work with the incredible musicians and board of directors of the New Century Chamber Orchestra and, of course, with the inspiring Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg,” said Mr. Monroe. “After nearly two decades with this wonderful organization, I’m ready for some new challenges and the Master’s Program at Stanford that I began in September will surely provide them. I am also looking forward to travelling with my wife, Teresa Darragh,  and to being more available to help care for my parents on the East Coast. I will never be far from this amazing ensemble and can now spend more time in the audience instead of the office.”

Mr. Monroe joined New Century Chamber Orchestra in 1996, the ensemble’s fourth season. Under his leadership, New Century Chamber Orchestra has embarked on six national tours under the leadership of all three music directors; commissioned and premiered fourteen new works; released five recordings with an additional sixth planned for May of 2014; developed a strong national radio presence with more than thirty-five broadcasts on 260 radio stations across the country; and developed “String Quartet Encounters,” a unique education program offered at no cost to more than 1,500 third through fifth grade students in Marin County.

“As I’ve said many times, the incredible vitality, energy and enthusiasm of the New Century musicians just took my breath away and made my decision to come to San Francisco an easy one,” said Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.  “But I also found great confidence in Parker Monroe’s calm executive presence and his vast knowledge of music. These days it is harder and harder to find people who are willing to go the distance and I do think a great deal of New Century’s phenomenal success must be attributed to the stability of Parker’s long term leadership. We will miss him and we wish him the best.”

--Karen Ames Communications

The Dallas Opera Presents Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers
The Dallas Opera launches an unparalleled new initiative combining opera and technology with the first-ever global interactive simulcast of an opera. Death and the Powers, written by acclaimed American composer, inventor and professor at the MIT Media Lab, Tod Machover, receives its Dallas Opera premiere performances in the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center on February 12, 14, 15 and 16. On Sunday, February 16th at 2:00 pm Central Time, the opera will be simulcast to ten locations in the U.S. and abroad.

Death and the Powers received its world premiere September 24, 2010 at L’Opéra de Monte-Carlo – Salle Garnier; its United States premiere March 18, 2011 with Harvard’s American Repertory Theater and Opera Boston; and its Midwest premiere April 2, 2011 at Chicago Opera Theater. The work was named a 2012 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Music for both its score and the innovative technology created by Machover and his Opera of the Future Group at the MIT Media Lab.

Described by The Wall Street Journal as having “Passionate intensity, full-bodied arias in a post-organic world,” Death and the Powers blends Machover’s artistic and technological expertise to create an inventive score filled with arching melodic lines, richly nuanced textures and propulsive rhythms. Characterized by Opera magazine as, “A grand, rich, deeply serious new opera,” Death and the Powers tells the story of Simon Powers, a successful and powerful business man, who wishes to perpetuate his existence beyond the decay of his natural being. Nearing the end of his life, Powers seizes his one chance for immortality by downloading his consciousness into his environment, creating a living version of his mind and spirit, called “The System.” His family, friends and associates must decide what this means, whether or not Simon is actually alive, how it affects them and—most importantly—whether they, too, should follow.

Single tickets and subscriptions for The Dallas Opera’s 2013-2014 Season are available by visiting or by calling 214-443-1000.

--Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Young People’s Chorus of New York City Presents January 6 Gala
Monday, January 6 LIVE at 4 p.m. ET, YPC begins the countdown to its March Gala at New York Stock Exchange.

YPC begins the 55-day countdown to YPC's March 3 gala benefit at Jazz at Lincoln Center by ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Many thanks to Duncan Niederauer, the chief executive officer of NYSE Euronext and a vice-chair of YPC's gala, who invited YPC to take part on this grand occasion.

Watch YPC ring the closing bell live on Monday, January 6, by clicking here:

--Katherine Gibson, YPC

Leopold Mozart: Toy Symphony (CD review)

Also, Peasant Wedding; Musical Sleigh Ride; W.A. Mozart: A Musical Joke. Helmut Koch, Kammerorchester Berlin; Otmar Suitner, Staatskapelle Dresden. Brilliant Classics 94692.

The younger Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, usually so overshadowed his father, Leopold, that one hardly remembers that the elder Mozart also wrote music. Unless, of course, you saw the movie Amadeus, in which case you picture the older man as a rather stern-faced fellow with little or no sense of humor. Then we listen to a few of the more-famous works attributed to Leopold, and we have to reassess his attitude. I say “attributed” to him, by the way, because Leopold spent some time copying other people’s manuscripts, and he may have passed off more than a few of them as his own.

First up on the program is the Cassation in G for toys, 2 oboes 2 horns, string and continuo, best known as the “Toy Symphony,” whose original attribution went to Joseph Haydn before scholars decided maybe Leopold Mozart wrote it (and even then they aren’t sure). A cassation, incidentally, is a musical suite similar to a divertimento or serenade, so not only may Leopold Mozart not have written it, it really isn’t a symphony, either. None of which matters; it’s a delightful little piece of music.

Helmut Koch’s way with the piece is graceful and refined, but in taking such a serious approach he rather misses out on some of the music’s joy. I have no idea what Koch’s intent was in giving us so cultured an interpretation. Perhaps he wanted to show people that the work could be more than simple children’s fare played on toy instruments. Certainly the elegant playing of the Berlin Chamber Orchestra supports the theory. Perhaps he wanted to point up the work’s inherent humor by playing it more somberly than usual, allowing the subtlety of his performance to act as a contrast to the levity of the instrumentation. Or perhaps he just forgot that the music’s greatest appeal is in its sense of humor. Compare Paillard (Erato), Marriner (Philips), or Goodman (on period instruments, Nimbus) and you’ll find they appear to be having more fun with the piece. So, if you’re thinking of a one and only recording of the “Toy Symphony,” I couldn’t really recommend Maestro Koch’s rendering. However, as there are many other recordings available, Koch would make a fine alternative reading to set off the others.

With Leopold Mozart’s “Peasant Wedding” and Divertimento in F “Musical Sleigh Ride” Maestro Koch is on firmer ground. Here, Koch seems more exuberant, his style livelier and filled with greater pleasure than in the “Toy Symphony.” The conductor seems to understand that a peasant wedding is going to be a jubilant event, filled with rustic charm, which is how the music comes off. While it's still a tad more rigid than I would have preferred, it is nevertheless a pleasing interpretation, with the bagpipes and rattles highlights of the affair.

In the "Musical Sleigh Ride" we again get a tasteful rendition, maybe not so energetic or outgoing as I might have liked, yet there's no questioning the descriptive qualities of the third-movement Allegretto and others with their whiplashes and harness bells. Koch takes these sections at a moderately leisurely trot, as he does all of the ensuing movements with their sometimes incongruous marches, dances, and ornamental flourishes. Everything comes off in a most dignified manner, if that's how you see the music.

With W.A. Mozart's "A Musical Joke" (also known as the Sextet in F for Small Town Band), the son appears to be having a dig at some of his fellow composers for their clumsy writing. Apparently Mozart meant it as a parody, but the way Otmar Suitner and members of the Staatskapelle Dresden play it, you could hardly tell. They seem to suck much of the life out of the piece by presenting it with such gravity. Again, like Koch, Suitner may have been trying to make the music all the more amusing by giving it more weight. If so, he failed with this listener; the music's gawkiness just sounds awkward to me, not funny--not even its flat, out-of-tune moments. One may find more satisfaction from the aforementioned Paillard and Marriner as well as from a dozen other recordings.

Brilliant Classics licensed the recordings in 2013 from Edel Germany, the Leopold Mozart pieces recorded in 1976 and the W.A. Mozart piece in 1960. They last appeared on disc in 2005 from Berlin Classics, an album I did not hear to compare, but I can attest to their sounding pretty good in their current incarnation. The sound in the three Leopold Mozart pieces is clean and clear, almost ideal for the small-scale works involved. The stage extends from speaker to speaker with no hole in the middle; moreover, the midrange is nicely transparent, with a fine recreation of depth, air, and space around the instruments. The various bird calls show up especially well. These are, in fact, among the best recordings I've heard of the music. The W.A. Mozart Musical Joke, recorded a decade and a half earlier, sounds smooth and warm; it's not quite as transparent as the later recordings but still quite easy on the ear.

The bottom line for me on this rerelease is that the glass is only half full: The playing is excellent and the sound is good, but the performances are so-so. 

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Bach: Complete Keyboard Concertos (CD review)

Also, Bach-Vivaldi: Two concertos. Julia Zilberquit, piano; Saulius Sondeckis, Moscow Virtuosi. Warner Classics 2564 63686-9 (2-disc set).

First, a word about Bach’s “complete” keyboard concertos. The “complete” business isn’t quite true, as Bach actually wrote not only the seven harpsichord concertos we hear on the present set but three more concertos for two harpsichords, two concertos for three harpsichords, and another concerto for four harpsichords. Additionally, he wrote miscellaneous other concertos in which the harpsichord plays a supporting role. All the same, this Warner set contains the seven Bach concertos for solo harpsichord, which we now know as the “keyboard” concertos because even though Bach originally wrote them for harpsichord, performers for years have also been playing them on the organ, fortepiano, and, as performed here, piano.

Next, a word about the solo artist, Julia Zilberquit, a Russian-born American who has won acclaim as an orchestral soloist, recitalist, chamber musician, and recording artist. The New York Times hailed her as “an outstanding soloist” following a 2012 Carnegie Hall concert with the American Symphony Orchestra. She has recorded several albums that have also garnered good reviews and performed worldwide with the Moscow Virtuosi, among other leading ensembles. She graduated from the Moscow Gnessin School of Music and Juilliard School and currently lives in New York with her husband and two children.

Finally, a word about the recording and its record company. As you know, in 2013 Warner Classics bought EMI Classics and are now starting to reissue some of EMI’s older recordings. But this isn’t one of them. The Zilberquit set derives from a recording session in 2001, the discs released the next year by American Heritage Society. The folks at Warner Classics reissued the set in 2013 on their own label. Don’t ask.

To complicate things further, the set begins and ends not with any of Bach’s seven original keyboard concertos but with a pair of works he transcribed for organ and orchestra from originals for two violins, cello, and orchestra written by his inspiration in concerto matters, Antonio Vivaldi. Ms. Zilberquit further arranges the two pieces for keyboard (in this case piano) and orchestra. In between the Bach-Vivaldi-Zilberquit arrangements, we get the seven purely Bach keyboard concertos. Almost, except, as I say, that Ms. Zilberquit plays them on a modern piano, and the accompanying Moscow Virtuosi perform them on modern instruments. Close enough; it’s still enjoyable music, well played.

On disc one of this two-disc set you’ll the aforementioned Bach-Vivaldi Concerto in D minor, BWV 593, for keyboard and chamber orchestra, transcribed by Ms. Zilberquit. Following that are Bach’s own Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052; Concerto in E major, BWV 1053; and Concerto in D major, BWV 1054. On disc two we find Concerto in A major, BWV 1055; Concerto in F minor, BWV 1056; Concerto in F major, BWV 1057; Concerto in G minor, BWV 1058; closing with the Bach-Vivaldi Concerto in A minor, BWV 596.

Probably the most popular item in the collection is the first one, BWV 1052, which Bach may have based on a now-lost violin concerto he wrote previously. Bach and his contemporaries often reused their own material and that of others. There were no copyright laws back then, and people considered imitation a high form of flattery. Note, for instance, that Shakespeare and his pals a century or more earlier based almost all of their plays on stories and histories already well known. It was sort of a custom of the times, whereas today we value originality above all. Anyway, Ms. Zilberquit approaches BWV 1052, as she does the others, with a dramatic flair that makes the music perhaps even more serious than it really is. Her manner displays a robust tension and release and exudes both a thoughtful intent and a feeling of playfulness at the same time. These are, in fact, qualities she exhibits throughout the set, and I found them most attractive. All nine concertos resonant with lively good will and, in the case of the slow middle movements, a keen sense of poignancy, tranquility, and reflection.

The Moscow Virtuosi under the direction of Maestro Saulius Sondeckis provide Ms. Zilberquit a precise and sympathetic accompaniment, the soloist and orchestra sharing almost equally in their musical duties but with Ms. Zilberquit coming out perhaps a nose ahead. It is her playing, after all, that you will remember most when you've finished listening, and you'll find it quite accomplished.

Incidentally, if you recognize much of this keyboard music, especially BWV 1057, from Bach's Brandenburg Concertos among other things, remember that he and his friends were fond of reusing their own material. Waste not, want not, I suppose.

The packaging is a simple fold-over cardboard case with the discs slipping into the front and back sleeves. Unfortunately, this doesn’t provide any place for the booklet notes, written by Ms. Zilberquit, except in one of the sleeves with a disc. This makes getting the notes or the disc a little difficult to get out without dropping one or the other or scratching the disc. A minor concern in any case.

Producer Vadim Ivanov and engineer Vitaly Ivanov recorded the music at The Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, Moscow in September 2001. Everything is a little close, yet it's also warm and smooth so it's still comfortable on the ear. The piano is front and center, of course, but not really in our face, and when the full ensemble comes in, Ms. Zilberquit sounds nicely integrated into the group. Depth of field appears moderate, dynamics are adequate, object definition is a tad soft, and frequency extensions meet the occasion. It's good, though not audiophile, sound.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Round-Up (UltraHD CD review)

Frankie Laine, vocals; Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. FIM LIM UHD 062 LE.

Of the approximately 17,586,312.47 recordings Erich Kunzel made in his lifetime, mostly for the Telarc label, Round-Up, an album of Western music, was among his better efforts. Maestro Kunzel and his Cincinnati Pops Orchestra present a series of tunes mostly made famous in Western movies and television, with a few traditional Western ballads and a supply of Western sound effects (cattle, coyotes, guns) thrown in for good measure. It’s really quite a lot of fun, especially when remastered in such exemplary fashion by the folks at LIM (Lasting Impression Music, a subsidiary of FIM, First Impression Music).

And then there’s the presence to consider of singer Frankie Laine on the album as well, doing up a few of the songs for which we knew him so well. When Telarc first released this album I couldn’t help remembering the time Mel Brooks was looking for somebody “like Frankie Laine” to sing the title song for Blazing Saddles, and somebody said, Why not Frankie Laine? Laine answered the call, not knowing at the time that Brooks’s movie was a parody. Anyway, Laine, famous in the Forties and Fifties for hits like “Mule Train,” “Cool Water,” “High Noon,” “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” “3:10 to Yuma,” “Rawhide,” and “Blazing Saddles,” recreates some of them here. He was in his seventies by the time he did the album but still in pretty good form. After all, his career spanned some seventy-five years, starting about 1930 and continuing until a final performance in 2005. I heard him in concert around the time of this album, and he was still a belter.

Round-Up contains twenty tracks, starting with a few Western sound effects and segueing into Rossini’s galop from William Tell so familiar to fans of The Lone Ranger. As usual, Kunzl handles the music with competence though not with any particular vividness. The William Tell is not a performance for the ages and does not generate the kind of excitement that, say, Muti, Gamba, Maag, Reiner, or even Norrington do.

But then it's on to more-conventional Western material with things like The Magnificent Seven, which fare better. Here, Kunzel seems more at home, and the piece comes off with great bravado.

Among my favorite items on the program is an all-too-brief anthology of TV Western themes that includes "Bonanza," "Rawhide" (with Laine, naturally), "Wagon Train," and "The Rifleman."  Another memorable selection is from How the West Was Won, in which Kunzel makes the most of the music's epic sweep.

Other notable tracks include a "Hoedown" of familiar Western dance tunes, the main theme from The Big Country, a suite from The Furies, and a choral-orchestral medley of "Ti Yi Yippee Ay," "Shenandoah," "Red River Valley," "Home on the Range," and "The Streets of Laredo."

Finally, Laine reprises a couple of his megahits, "High Noon" and "Gunfight at the OK Corral," always welcome; and Kunzel does good work with highlights from the underrated Silverado.

Be aware, however, that some of this music takes a moment to get used to, played as it is by a big symphony orchestra. We may recall most of these songs done with smaller studio orchestras or in any case much less weighty accompaniment. But I think anyone already used to Kunzel's way around a Hollywood tune will find most of delightful. And if some of these simple melodies sound too overblown for your taste, well, at least I’ve forewarned you.

Telarc producer and engineer Robert Woods made the album at Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio in September 1986. LIM producer Winston Ma and engineer Michael Bishop remastered the recording using UltraHD 32-bit processing in June 2013. The Telarc sound was already pretty good, and the LIM remaster and transfer take it a step further. In a comparison with the original Telarc disc, the LIM sonics appear marginally crisper, better defined, with a slightly greater sense of hall ambience, air, space, resonance, depth, tautness, and overall transparency. The dynamics seem to have a tad more punch as well, but that may be because of the aforementioned characteristics. Naturally, there is a strong, deep bass and a glistening, extended treble.

Incidentally, there are some gunshots on the disc that might not do your speakers any favors if you play them too loudly. Just saying'.

Of course, all of this audiophile improvement comes at a hefty price, but understand that your money also buys you a handsome, glossy foldout case, bound notes, and an inner sleeve with a static-proof liner.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Classical Music News of the Week, December 22, 2013

The King’s Singers Fall in Love with the Great American Songbook at New York City’s SubCulture

It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely.… The King’s Singers perform the Great American Songbook at SubCulture (45 Bleecker Street, Downstairs, New York, NY 10012) on January 29th, 2014 at 7pm.

On the heels of their sold out Carnegie Hall performance earlier this year, The King’s Singers will launch the North American tour of Great American Songbook at the innovative SubCulture, situated in downtown NYC. Seating just 150 people, SubCulture is an ideal setting for the a cappella arrangements of New York-inspired melodies from a bygone era such as "My Funny Valentine," "I’ve Got The World On A String," and "Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye." Ticket prices range from $50-$60; call 212-533-5470 for the box office or click here for more information.

The January 29th performance at SubCulture marks the start of The King’s Singers North American tour of this phenomenal program, which was first heard at Royal Albert Hall in London. By the end of 2014, the Great American Songbook will have echoed in the halls of some of the greatest venues in the world. Regularly performing to large-scale crowds, The King’s Singers are looking forward to sharing this new program with an intimate audience at SubCulture.

The program offers up sunny, sophisticated versions of their favorite tunes by Rodgers & Hart, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, arranged by the fast rising British jazz composer and bassist Alexander L’Estrange.. Derived from their brand new record of the same name (released on Signum Records earlier this fall), the tunes bring back the golden days of New York City at its finest.

This new program, derived from their brand new record of the same name (released on Signum Records earlier this fall), is sure to capture the hearts of New York audiences. These tunes bring back the golden days of New York City at its finest, and SubCulture creates an intimate space to hear stunning arrangements of “My Funny Valentine,” “Cry Me A River,” and more.

The Grammy Award-winning King’s Singers are one of the world’s most beloved choral ensembles, famous for their top-notch musicianship, impressive diversity of repertoire, innovative arrangements and utterly charming stage presence. They have appeared in top concert halls across the world, as well as major televised events such as the 2008 Winter Olympics and the BBC Proms. No strangers to the recording studio, they have released an impressive 150 albums.

For more information, click

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

 21-City U.S. Tour with David Garrett Kicks Off January 10th in St. Louis
A recent graduate of London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Music, 22-year-old Martynas brings the accordion to fresh life with a self-titled debut album, out January 7, 2014 on Decca/Universal Music Classics. “Yes, I want to change the image of the accordion,” Martynas explains, “but I’m also trying to show all the different possibilities I have as a performer. All the arrangements are brand new and the pieces have never been played this way before. It’s exciting for me to be breaking some rules.” The accordion holds a signature sound associated with so many cultures - South American tangos, Eastern European gypsy music, German folk and French street music to name a few. On his debut album, Martynas bridges these worlds together for one cohesive exploration of everything the accordion has to offer.

Martynas will join violinist David Garrett for an extensive, 21-city U.S. tour, kicking off January 10th in St. Louis, with additional dates running through January and again in March.

Martynas was three when he first picked up the accordion and hasn’t stopped playing since. As a child, he was infatuated with the piano, but with his family unable to afford buying him one, he turned to the accordion instead and never looked back.  At age eight, he was enrolled in formal lessons, and years later went on to win awards in various competitions around Europe and later the U.S., including 2009’s top prize at the American Accordionist Association Competition in Memphis and 2010’s second prize at the Gala-Rini International Competition in California. In 2010 while studying at the Royal Academy of Music, Martynas won “Lithuania’s Got Talent” in his native country, becoming a household name there.  He officially signed his first record deal with Universal Music Group’s Decca label earlier this year, making headlines in the UK for being the first accordion player to ever top their classical album chart.

1/10 – St. Louis, MO – Fox Theater
1/12 – Kansas City, MO – The Midland
1/14 – Dallas, TX – AT&T PAC – Winspear Opera House
1/15 – Houston, TX – Wortham Center – Cullen Theater
1/18 – Portland, OR – Aladdin Theater
1/19 – Seattle, WA – Paramount Theater
1/21 – San Jose, CA – San Jose Civic Auditorium
1/22 – Sacramento, CA – Crest Theater
1/23 – Anaheim, CA – City National Grove
1/26 – San Diego, CA – Balboa Theatre
1/28 – Mexico City -  Auditorio Nacional
3/12 – Minneapolis, MN – State Theater
3/14 – Milwaukee, WI – Riverside Theater
3/15 – Chicago, IL – Chicago Theater (2 shows at 3:00pm & 8:00pm)
3/18 & 3/19 – New York, NY – Best Buy Theater
3/21 – Pittsburgh, PA – Benedum Center
3/22 – Wallingford, CT – Oakdale Teatre
3/23 – Worcester, MA – Hanover Theatre
3/27 – Atlanta, GA – Woodruff Arts Center –Symphony Hall
3/28 – St Petersburg, FL – Palladium Theater
3/30 – Coral Springs, FL – Coral Springs Center for the Arts

--Olga Makrias, Universal Music

Opera Parallele Awarded National Endowment for the Arts Grant to Support June 2014 North American Premiere of Adam Gorb’s Anya17
Opera Parallèle announced that the company has received a National Endowment for the Arts Art Works grant of $15,000 in support of the company’s June 2014 North American premiere of Adam Gorb’s Anya17.

“This is a significant milestone for the company,” said the opera company’s Executive Director Tod Brody. “Marking the first time that the National Endowment for the Arts has supported our groundbreaking work, it shows that not only are Opera Parallèle’s past accomplishments noteworthy, but that we are recognized as a company on the rise.”

Acting Chairman Shigekawa said, “The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support these exciting and diverse arts projects that will take place throughout the United States. Whether it is through a focus on education, engagement, or innovation, these projects all contribute to vibrant communities and memorable experiences for the public to engage with the arts.”

Gorb’s Anya17 is a bold work addressing the brutal realities of modern slavery and human trafficking. The award-winning partnership of composer Adam Gorb and his brilliant librettist Ben Kaye is rooted in operas about extreme conditions and Anya17 is the latest in a series of highly socially-conscious operas. “Opera Parallèle continues to push the definition of contemporary opera by making it relevant to 21st century issues, and we feel it is imperative to explore opera as a vehicle for social change,” said Artistic Director, Nicole Paiement.

Opera Parallèle is one of 895 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive a National Endowment of the Arts Art Works grant. Art Works grants support the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence: public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts and enhancing the livability of communities through the arts. The National Endowment of the Arts received 1,528 eligible Art Works applications, requesting more than $75 million in funding. Of those applications, 895 are recommended for grants for a total of $23.4 million.

For a complete listing of projects recommended for Art Works grant support, please visit the National Endowment of the Arts website at

--Karen Ames Communications

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra 2014 U.S. Tour
Music Director Zubiin Mehta and Principal Guest Conductor Gianandrea Noseda bring the IPO to 14 cities in 2014.

The New York Gala will honor the life and memory of Marvin Hamlisch. The Gala at Carnegie Hall and West Palm Beach feature violinist Pinchas Zukerman and cellist Amanda Forsyth.

Bringing its historic message of peace through music, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, joined by Music Director for Life Zubin Mehta, and Principal Guest Conductor Gianandrea Noseda, returns to the United States in March 2014 traveling to fourteen cities, a significant increase in previous US itineraries. The IPO acts as Cultural Ambassador for the State of Israel during this tour to the United States. New locations include the cities of Chapel Hill, Virginia Beach and Louisville, KY. The IPO also returns to Chicago, Boston, Miami, Naples, Houston, Newark, Greenvale, NY, Ann Arbor and Washington, DC, along with gala benefits presented by the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (AFIPO) at New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra returns to Carnegie Hall on Thursday, March 20 and West Palm Beach Monday, March 24 with Maestro Zubin Mehta leading special guest artists violinist Pinchas Zukerman and cellist Amanda Forsyth for benefit performances including Partos’s Concertino for String Orchestra, Brahms’s Double Concerto for Violin & Cello, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Zubin Mehta leads concerts in Ann Arbor (March 15), Chicago (March 17), Boston (March 19), Greenvale, NY (March 22) and Miami (March 23), which feature Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C minor (1890 version). March 23 in Miami marks Mehta's conducting debut at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Gianandrea Noseda leads the IPO for seven performances in the cities of Naples (March 25), Houston (March 27), Newark (March 29), Washington, DC (March 30), Louisville, Kentucky (April 1), Virginia Beach (April 2), and Chapel Hill, North Carolina (April 3) for a program consisting of Faure’s Pelléas et Mélisande: Suite, Op. 80, Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose) Suite, Daphnis et Chloé: Suite No. 2 and Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.

The 2014 tour comes during the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's 78th season which has been both rich in collaboration and new beginnings with performances in the newly renovated Charles Bronfman Auditorium. Due to the efforts of the AFIPO and the generous support of donors worldwide, this state-of-the-art hall was unveiled in Tel Aviv in May 2013. Esteemed conductors Christoph von Dohnanyi, Valerie Gergiev, Omer Meir Wellber, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos and Kent Nagano lead artists such as Anne-Sophie Mutter, András Schiff, Julian Rachlin, and Rudolph Buchbinder during the hall’s inaugural year.

For more informaton, click here:

--Ashlyn Damm, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

American Composers Orchestra Celebrates 10th Anniversary of Orchestra Underground by releasing First Digital Video Album Orchestra Underground: A-V
Groundbreaking multimedia works by Margaret Brouwer & Kasumi, Sebastian Currier & Pawel Wojtasik, Michael Gandolfi & Ean White
Release Date: December 18, 2013
Read the Complete Liner Notes:
For more information:

American Composers Orchestra (ACO) announces the release of its fourth digital album, an all music-video release entitled Orchestra Underground: A-V, streaming free of charge on Vimeo at This new album (the A-V stands for “audio-visual”) is the first of its kind for ACO, and features the orchestra in multimedia works by some of today’s leading composers and film artists – Margaret Brouwer with Kasumi in Breakdown (2008); Sebastian Currier with Pawel Wojtasik in Next Atlantis (2009); and Michael Gandolfi with Ean White in As Above (2005).

Orchestra Underground: A-V is released in celebration of the tenth anniversary of Orchestra Underground, ACO’s exploration of the orchestra as an elastic ensemble that can respond to composers’ unhindered creativity. For a decade, Orchestra Underground has challenged notions about what an orchestra is, embracing new technology, eclectic instruments and influences, altered spatial orientation, new experiments in concert format, and the kind of interdisciplinary collaborations seen and heard on this album. Since the opening of Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall’s subterranean state-of-the-art auditorium after which the series is named, Orchestra Underground has played to sold-out audiences, bringing to life nearly 100 world premieres and newly commissioned works. The works here represent the many new video/orchestra pairings born of Orchestra Underground in its first decade.

As unified as the works are individually, the collection is stunning in the range of themes, sounds, and aesthetics it offers. Each work on this album is an integrated whole – the impact of the audio-visual experience being much more than the sum of its parts.

--Christina Jensen PR

Benedictines of Mary Named Billboard’s Top Traditional Classical Album Artist of 2013 for the Second Consecutive Year
Advent at Ephesus and Angels and Saints at Ephesus are #2 & #3 Top Traditional Classical Albums respectively of 2013. Their new album, Lent at Ephesus, comes out February 2014 on Decca/De Montfort Music.

The Benedictines of Mary reaffirm their stature in the classical recording arena, and are named Billboard’s Top Traditional Classical Album Artist of 2013, for the second year in a row following the same honor in 2012. Their chart-topping albums Advent at Ephesus and Angels and Saints At Ephesus also were the #2 and #3 Top Traditional Classical Albums for 2013, while Decca, De Montfort Music, and the Benedictines of Mary accounted for three of the Top 5 Traditional Classical Album Imprints of the year.

The Sisters will once again share their gimmick-free and genuine music-making with the world in 2014 when they release Lent At Ephesus on February 11, 2014. The forthcoming recording includes poignant chants, intricate harmonies and rousing hymns of glory and redemption. The album captures the vibrancy and purity of the music suited for the reflective season of Lent.

Founded in 1995, The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, are a young, monastic order of Sisters.  Hailing from Missouri, the sisters are young, contemplative and extremely musical.  They do not set foot beyond their Northwest rolling farmland, focusing solely on living an austere, yet joyful life set apart from the world.  Working on their farm and mostly living off the land, they sing together eight times a day as part of their daily monastic schedule, lifting their hearts to God through music.

--Olga Makrias, Universal Music

Free Chamber Music Concerts
The Music Institute of Chicago is offering free lunchtime concerts and conversation one Wednesday per month. Lunch is available for purchase from the Pret A Manger Kiosk, and free coffee will be served.

The January program features Music Institute President and CEO Dr. Mark George and acclaimed faculty member Almita Vamos performing Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80.

Where: Music Institute of Chicago
Performance: Free Faculty Lunchtime Concerts
Dr. Mark George, piano, and Almita Vamos, violin
Day/Date/Time: Wednesday, January 22, 12:15–1 p.m.
Location: Music Institute of Chicago Black Box Theater, 1702 Sherman Ave., Evanston, IL
Admission: FREE
Information: or 847.905.1500

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (XRCD24 review)

Itzhak Perlman, London Philharmonic Orchestra. Hi-Q HIQXRCD25.

Another Four Seasons? Well, yes, but not exactly. It’s an old favorite EMI recording by violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman and the London Philharmonic done up in fancy new audiophile trappings from the combo of Hi-Q, Resonance Recordings, and JVC. If you’ve always liked the Perlman performance, it now sounds better than ever. Although it comes at a price.

Since recordings of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons appear so regularly, there’s little point in my describing them. There must be a hundred discs currently available, most of them sounding pretty good, so the choice is wide open. You probably have your own favorite recording of the piece, anyway, but in the event you don’t, here is some gratuitous advice from one who has seen most of the last hundred recordings of the work go through his living room.

First, be aware that the standard recordings of the four violin concertos comprising the Four Seasons fall into three broad categories, depending upon ensemble: chamber groups using period instruments, chamber groups using modern instruments, and full orchestras (or pared-down orchestras) using modern instruments. For period groups (which I tend to favor) I love The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO Records) and La Petite Bande (Sony) for their lively, small-scale interpretations and transparent sound; and the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble (BIS) for their unique style, creative playing, and equally outstanding sound. Other good period-instruments recordings include the English Concert (DG Archiv), straightforward, fresh, and closely miked, but well recorded; and Tafelmusik (Sony), one of the best all-around renditions you’ll find. Among chamber ensembles using modern instruments, I like Marriner and the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields (Decca) for their almost surrealistic approach to the score; I Musici’s second recording with Roberto Michelucci (Philips) for their subtlety and grace; and Solisti Italiani (Denon) and Janine Jansen and her Ensemble (Decca) for their no-nonsense presentations.

Which brings us in a rather long-winded fashion to the big-scale accounts using modern instruments and the disc under consideration, Itzhak Perlman’s analogue LPO rendering from the mid Seventies. It is in a class of its own, and for years I have enjoyed it more than any other full-orchestral account. Now, understand, when I say full orchestra, I don’t mean to suggest that the entire London Philharmonic was in on the project. The booklet insert does not say how many members of the orchestra participated, but I suspect they reduced the numbers quite a lot, making the sound a touch leaner than it might have been otherwise. On the other hand, the accompaniment appears a tad fuller than on any of the chamber recordings, so I’m counting this as a full-orchestral account.

Perlman is the solo violinist and the conductor in the performance, and the whole affair is as satisfying today as when I first heard it over thirty-five years ago. I’ve owned it on LP and on several previous CDs, and it continues to impress me. The interpretation may not be as vigorous as some of its smaller-ensemble rivals, but there’s an elegance and serenity about it that’s hard to resist. It is a smooth, relaxed, unforced, effortless reading that goes a long way toward negating any criticism of the work.

Perlman shows us he has always been a world-class violist with his smooth, supremely confident reading. Although this may not be the most-demanding material ever written for the violin, Perlman handles it with eloquence, grace, and refinement, all the while maintaining a lively, yet never hurried pace. His mastery of the violin is remarkable to hear, especially as it all seems to flow so easily and naturally. Perlman never indulges in extroverted mannerisms or flashy finger work for its own sake; he simply plays the music in a thoughtful, caring, and wholly engaging style that is captivating. Interestingly, it's his execution of the slow middle movements that are the most-charming parts of the playing and second to none on record.

What’s more, EMI’s analogue audio (recorded in 1976, digitally remastered in 1987, reissued by EMI in 2010, and remastered by HI-Q and JVC in 2013) is vintage EMI, among the best you will find in this piece. Producer Suvi Raj Grubbe and engineer Stuart Eltham recorded the music in May 1976 in Abbey Studio’s celebrated Studio No. 1. Admittedly, there isn’t a lot of deep bass or extreme sonic impact, but there doesn’t need to be; nor is there an abundance of depth to the sound stage, but, again, there doesn’t need to be. The violin appears well integrated into the acoustic field, in front of the orchestra but not sitting in our laps, and the violin tone is pure and natural. It’s clean, clear, warm sound that does nothing but contribute to one’s enjoyment of the music.

In the JVC/Hi-Q remastering and transfer, the sound is marginally tighter and more transparent than in the regular-issue EMI, with a more-realistic luster to the strings and a bit more-prominent decay time. The sound had better be improved, of course, given the higher price involved, yet there is no doubting the Hi-Q's greater transparency; if you have the right playback equipment, the differences will be worthwhile. Certainly, a performance as fluid and praiseworthy as this one deserves the best-possible sound.

However, this new release does bring up one obvious comparison: LIM’s remastered Four Seasons from Joseph Silverstein, Seiji Ozawa, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, originally recorded by Telarc in 1981. Both the Hi-Q and LIM discs will give your pocketbook a workout, and both of them sound better than their equivalent standard-issue products. The Hi-Q has the marginally smoother, more lively performance; the LIM has the slightly more dimensional sound. I suppose owning them both is the best choice, but it’s a costly one. If I had to choose just one? I dunno. It’s not a choice I have to make. It’s a weaselly answer, I know, but if you already have a favorite between the two performances, I’d go with the interpretation I liked best.

Be aware, too, that you can get the same Perlman performance on the low-cost EMI release I alluded to earlier, along with three companion pieces--the Violin Concertos RV 199, 347, and 356--made digitally a few years later (1982-83) with the Israel Philharmonic. It makes a fine, bargain issue, but it isn’t up to the audiophile standards of the current Hi-Q. Nor does it compare to the Hi-Q’s snazzy new packaging, which includes a glossy, hardcover Digipak-type case with bound notes, the disc fastening to the inside back cover.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Mahler: Symphony No. 3 (CD review)

Lilli Paasikivi, mezzo-soprano; Ladies of the London Philharmonic Choir; Tiffin Boys' Choir; Benjamin Zander, Philharmonia Orchestra. Telarc 3CD-80599 (3-disc set).

This is about as enjoyable a performance of Mahler’s Third, his “Nature” symphony, as any I’ve heard in a long time, and the engineers at Telarc have recorded it as realistically as any around. In a package that offers three discs for the price of one, it’s a hard deal to beat.

I have to admit, though, that beyond the first movement here, I don’t find Mahler’s inspiration as compelling as a lot of other people do. Anyway, the first thing I did after listening to this massive symphony--all six movements and over 100 minutes of it, one of Mahler’s longest works--was to compare it to my one of my favorite interpretations, that of Jascha Horenstein and the London Symphony Orchestra on Unicorn, recorded some thirty years earlier.

Two things struck me: One, the older recording still sounded good. Not as good as the new Telarc, mind you, but well in the ballpark. The Horenstein seemed a tad brighter, slightly less well detailed, and lighter in the bass. The Zander seemed more naturally balanced, with slightly greater depth and impact, and, of course, that famous Telarc low end. But there were times when the top end of the Telarc appeared jarringly out of place, whereas in the same sections the Unicorn was smoother. Still and all, I’d go with the Telarc for ultimate sonic realism.

Second, the Zander reading is nearly the same length as the Horenstein in most of the movements, yet overall it seems marginally slower and in a few sections blander. I suspect this is because to my ears Horenstein puts a fraction more intensity into every phrase and every note. The exception is Zander’s handling of the second movement, which seems more animated than the rest of the performance. The result is just that much more involving than with other conductors. The other exceptions of concern are the huge first movement, which tends to amble along, and the fourth movement, marked Misterioso, which Zander takes considerably slower than Horenstein. As a consequence, Zander’s readings of these sections seem a tad less gripping than they should be, even though he does add perhaps a touch more atmosphere to things.

Nevertheless, these are minor issues in a rendition that is otherwise well structured, with a strong command of Mahler’s dynamic and emotional contrasts. As important, the singing is first-rate and that alone should sell the interpretation as much as anything else. Otherwise, some listeners may find Zander’s overall approach subtle and expressive while others may see it as somewhat deliberate.

The huge first movement, almost thirty-four minutes long, takes up the first disc; movements two through six are on the second disc; and Zander’s usual commentary is on the third disc. I didn’t have time to listen to the entirety of the Zander’s comments, but as expected in the part I did listen to the conductor is erudite and informative, and his lecture fascinating to hear. As I say, the whole thing is a hard bargain to overlook.

To hear a moment from each of the movements, click here:


The Great Fantasy Adventure Album (UltraHD CD review)

Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. LIM UHD 069.

Here’s Erich Kunzel (1935-2009) and his Cincinnati Pops Orchestra doing what they did best, presenting an album of short clips from famous fantasy and adventure movies. Kunzel sold a ton of this stuff, making him one of the best-selling conductors of all time. Telarc originally issued the disc in the early Nineties and the audiophile label LIM (Lasting Impression Music, a subsidiary of FIM, First Impression Music) remastered and released it in 2013. For the kind of thing it is, it’s pretty good.

Maestro Kunzel knew exactly what his listeners wanted and gave it to them, producing over ninety albums of short classical, jazz, and pop-orchestral material for Telarc Records alone. One wonders how he might have fared had he applied himself more often to longer classical works, but we have what we have. In the case of the present album, its presumably tongue-in-cheek title tells it all: The Great Fantasy Adventure Album. Well, maybe not quite all because a lot of what audiences might have considered “great” in 1993-94 we hardly remember today. For instance, can you even recall much about Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves, let alone its theme music? And although I consider myself a fairly well-informed movie and TV guy, I had trouble placing a short-lived television show called Wizards and Warriors. Nevertheless, there are a few choice items on the program that make the project worthwhile, Kunzel throws himself into the music with enthusiasm (if not always with the best results), and there’s no denying the fine quality of FIM’s remastered Telarc sound.

While much of the music is bombastic and, frankly, noisy, we probably wouldn't want our movie music any other way. The first few things on the program, for instance, are rather blustery affairs: Miklos Rozsa's El Cid "Fanfare and Entry of the Nobles," James Horner's Willow, Lawrence Rosenthal's Clash of the Titans, and John Williams's main themes for Hook seem equally inflated. Yet there are truly inspiring moments on the disc as well, Williams's music for Jurassic Park being one of the best scores he wrote.

And so it goes through twenty-one selections, a few of them purely sound effects, like a dinosaur tromping around and cyber technology ("T-Rex," "Jurassic Lunch," "Cybergenesis"). Among my favorite musical items: selections from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Henry V, The Rocketeer, Beetlejuice, The Princess Bride, The Hunt for Red October, and The Terminator.

Whether you find yourself attuned to Maestro Kunzel's handling of the themes is another story, though. He's certainly more than competent, but inspired? I dunno. Like you, I vividly recall that moment in Jurassic Park when we first saw those amazing CGI dinosaurs on the big screen, Williams's music soaring in the background in glorious Dolby Surround. Today, we take such matters for granted, but back then it was all quite astounding. Maybe it’s the passage of time that has blunted Kunzel's rendition; it doesn't seem to have the same impact I remember from Williams's own interpretation.

Telarc producer Robert Woods and audio engineers Jack Renner and Michael Bishop recorded the album in 1993-94 at Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, and LIM producer Winston Ma and mastering engineer Michael Bishop remastered the tapes in 2013. Yes, Mr. Bishop had the chance to do up his own project utilizing even better mastering methods and equipment and rereleasing the disc using even better transfer technology. The sound is big and bold, like the music, so everything works out well. Telarc's famous bass drum gets an expected workout, and the dynamic range shows off the various special aural effects pretty well. However, even remastered with meticulous care using FIM's UltraHD 32-bit "PureFlection" processing, there's a small degree of upper midrange forwardness I noticed in some tracks, as well as a small degree of thickness around the middle. Still, it's negligible, and I don't think anyone will care. Best of all for me was the newly minted high end, which sparkles, shimmers, and shines.

As always, LIM provide packaging worthy of the product (and its dear price): a glossy, hard-cardboard, Digipak-type folding case; an inner sleeve for the disc, with a static-proof liner; and a bound booklet of notes on the music and its production.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Dvorak: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Also, Romance for Violin and Orchestra; Mazurek for Violin and Orchestra; Humoresque.  Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin; Manfred Honeck, Berlin Philharmonic. DG B0019303-02.

Although Dvorak’s Violin Concerto long ago took its place in the basic classical repertoire, it has never quite caught on with the public the way those from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Paganini, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and the rest have caught on. The Dvorak hasn’t quite the soaring lines, memorable melodies, and grand Romantic gestures we find in other popular concertos. Still, it offers its fair share of pleasures, and certainly this new recording from violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Berlin Philharmonic makes the most of them.

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) wrote his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A minor, Op. 53 in 1879, premiering it in 1883. The famous Hungarian violinist, conductor, composer and teacher Joseph Joachim inspired Dvorak to write the piece, and the composer intended for Joachim to play it. As it turned out, Joachim didn’t much care for the finished work and never did perform it. Despite the violinist’s skepticism, Dvorak released the piece, and the rest is history, as they say. I dunno, though. Maybe Joachim had something; the music has never impressed me as much as the other staple items above have, even in the capable hands of Ms. Mutter. Indeed, the back cover announces that the Dvorak is “the last of the great Romantic concertos to enter Ms. Mutter’s discography,” and I wonder if there isn’t a reason for that.

Anyway, Dvorak begins the concerto with an Allegro ma non troppo (fast, but not too much), the "ma non troppo" marking used in all three movements. The violin enters almost immediately, and Ms. Mutter caresses the opening passages most tenderly, while still imparting a desired grandeur to the music. Joachim may have felt that the orchestra dominated the score, but Dvorak made some revisions before premiering it, and certainly in this interpretation, Maestro Honeck and his Berlin players share the spotlight equally with the violinist, never overwhelming her. If anything, it is Ms. Mutter's commanding execution of the music that tends to control the reading. The performance is tender, lilting, singing, rhapsodic, and a touch melancholic in every phrase.

The slow central movement, the Adagio ma non troppo, is the emotional heart of the work. Again, Dvorak's marking indicates he didn't want the soloist or orchestra to take things too slowly, possibly not to make the music too sentimental. Nevertheless, while Ms. Mutter does tend to stretch it out a bit more than usual, she never loses sight of the music's emotional grip. Even at a marginally slower pace than some other violinists have approached it, she is well able to communicate the movement's pensive yearning.

In the Finale Dvorak returns to the radiant, dance-like tunes of the opening movement, and Ms. Mutter shines accordingly. She has a good feel for Dvorak's Bohemian roots, and her violin skips along merrily. It's a delight, and along with Perlman (EMI) we must now count it among the best recorded performances of the work available.

Coupled to the concerto are the Romance for Violin and Orchestra in F minor, Op. 11 and the Mazurek for Violin and Orchestra in E-minor, Op. 49. The former is a tuneful cantabile, the latter a more carefree folk dance. In both instances, the soloist and orchestra are at one and execute the music with precision and joy.

The combination of one of the world's leading violinists with one of the world's greatest orchestras results in a world-class set of performances that one can hardly fault. Both Ms. Mutter and the Berlin Philharmonic play gloriously.

The program concludes with a brief piece for violin and piano accompaniment, the familiar Humoresque, Op. 101, No. 7. Ms. Mutter's inflections provide it with a memorable scope, making it a fitting ending to a noteworthy album.

Producer Arend Prohmann and engineer Stephan Flock recorded the album at the Philharmonie (Concerto, Romance, Mazurek) and Meistersaal (Humoresque), Berlin in June 2013. It's amazing how good an orchestra can sound when it's freed from the constraints of a live recording. The Berlin Philharmonic is a magnificent ensemble, but too often producers have felt it necessary to record them live, with all the consequent shortcomings that technique implies. Here, we get a big, full, warm sound, slightly close up but not overbearingly so. With an enormous dynamic range, a strong impact, and a wide frequency response, the resultant sound is very impressive, rather like being in the sixth or seventh row of the concert hall itself. The violin also sounds good, with a most-realistic string tone. It's good to hear the Berliners in all their glory again, especially when the recording engineer so well integrated the soloist into the occasion.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Classical Music News of the Week, December 15, 2013

Pianist Richard Goode Returns to Cal Performances in a Program of Schubert, Debussy, and Janacek, Sunday, January 19, at 3:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA

Hailed by critics and audiences as a musician of profound insight and intellect, pianist Richard Goode returns to Zellerbach Hall on Sunday, January 19 at 3:00 p.m. Goode brings his “selfless artistry” (The Times, UK) to selections from An Overgrown Path by Leoš Janácek, the Sonata in A major, D. 95, by Franz Schubert, and Préludes, Book 1, by Claude Debussy. The immensely popular Goode will take the audience on a journey to the heart of every work, highlighting the music's expressive power with a sensitivity that brings a new and enlightening perspective to even the most familiar masterworks.

A pre-performance talk will be held on Sunday, January 19 at 2:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA. Talks are free to ticketholders. Further details to be announced.

New York native Richard Goode immersed himself in the study of the piano at an early age. At Mannes College of Music, he studied with Elvira Szigeti, Claude Frank, and Nadia Reisenberg, and at the Curtis Institute with Mieczyslaw Horszowski and Rudolf Serkin, who invited him to participate in the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont. Early in his career, Goode earned numerous accolades, including the Young Concert Artists International Auditions (1961) and First Prize in the Clara Haskill Competition (1973). Goode won a 1983 Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance for his collaboration with clarinetist Richard Stoltzman on their recording of the Brahms clarinet sonatas. He was the first American-born pianist to record the complete Beethoven sonatas, which garnered a Grammy Award nomination and brought Goode to the attention of a wider audience. His other awards include the Avery Fisher Prize (1980) and the first-ever Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance (2006). In addition, Goode teaches at Mannes College and serves as Artistic Director at the Marlboro Music School and Festival alongside Mitsuko Uchida, who performs in Berkeley on March 25. Goode’s latest recording of the Beethoven concerti with Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra was released in 2009 and hailed as “landmark recording of the Beethoven concertos” (Financial Times).

Ticket information:
Ticket prices for Richard Goode on Sunday, January 19 at 3:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall range from $30.00 to $75.00. 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. For more information about discounts, go to

--Rusty Barnes, Cal Performances

Violinist Nurit Bar-Josef to Perform Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 with National Philharmonic at Strathmore
Violinist Nurit Bar-Josef will perform  Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 with the National Philharmonic, under the direction of Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski, on Saturday, January 4, 2012 at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, January 5 at 3 p.m. at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD  20852. The concert will also feature Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 and Dvorák’s Serenade for Strings.

Performed by Ms. Bar-Josef, concertmaster of the National Symphony Orchestra, Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, often referred to by the nickname Turkish, is full of energetic and lively melodies.  Mozart wrote this concerto and four others between April and December 1775. The concerto begins with a short Allegro movement that is followed by a slow Adagio second movement. The third and final movement is a rondo whose frenzied contrasting section gives the concerto its nickname.

One of Mozart’s early symphonies, Symphony No. 29 is a very personal work that combines the intimacy of chamber music with a turbulent and impetuous style. Written in April 1774, it adheres to the typical fast-slow-fast musical structure of the Classical period. The leading British musicologist Stanley Sadie characterized it as "a landmark ... personal in tone, indeed perhaps more individual in its combination of an intimate, chamber music style with a still fiery and impulsive manner."

The Serenade for Strings in E Major, Op. 22 by Antonin Dvorák, the great Czech nationalist composer, is laden with rich sonorities and hauntingly beautiful melodies suffused with the spirit of Czech folk music. The Serenade, composed in just two weeks in May 1875, remains one of the composer's more popular orchestral works to this day. It was written during a happy period of the Dvorák’s life. He was married with a newborn baby and for the first time in his life, was being recognized as a composer.

A free pre-concert lecture will be offered at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday, January 4 and at 1:45 p.m. on Sunday, January 5 in the Concert Hall at the Music Center at Strathmore. To purchase tickets to the January 4 and 5 concerts, please visit or call the Strathmore box office at (301) 581-5100. Tickets are $28-$84; kids 7-17 are FREE through the ALL KIDS, ALL FREE, ALL THE TIME program (sponsored by The Gazette). ALL KIDS tickets must be purchased in person or by phone.

--Deborah Birnbaum, National Philharmonic

Evanston Celebrates Nelson Mandela
Music Institute of Chicago presents a celebration of singing, music, prayer, and reflection on the extraordinary life of Nelson Mandela. The event is sponsored by the city of Evanston, Evanston Community Foundation, Second Baptist Church of Evanston, and Northwestern University.

Tuesday, December 17, 5:30–6:30 p.m.
Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston, IL

Admission: FREE

Invocation: Reverend Robert H. Oldershaw, Pastor Emeritus, St. Nicholas Church, Evanston
Speakers: Thoughts and reflections on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela
String Quartet, Op. 74 in E-flat Major by Ludwig van Beethoven
Music Institute of Chicago String Faculty:
Sang Mee Lee and Ellen McSweeney, violins;
Aimee Biasiello, viola; David Cunliffe, cello
Choral Selections
Prayer for Mandela (1988) by Timothy Geller
Chelsea French, trombone

Further information: or 847.905.1500

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Orion String Quartet Returns to Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
Mozart & Haydn: Tuesday, January 21, 2014, 7:30 pm
Schumann: Sunday, April 27, 2014, 5:00 pm

The Orion String Quartet returns to the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Tuesday, January 21, 2014 for a concert highlighting a selection of quartets by Mozart and Haydn.

On Sunday, April 27, the Quartet joins a host of friends of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center to take part in a concert pairing selected works by Robert and Clara Schumann. Featuring Schumann’s Quartet in A minor, Op. 41, No. 1, this concert brings a number of exceptional guest artists including violinist Ani Kavafian, clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois and pianist Inon Barnatan.

Over the past 25 seasons the Orion String Quartet has been consistently praised for the fresh perspective and individuality it brings to performances. With over fifty performances each year, the members of the Orion String Quartet—violinists Daniel Phillips and Todd Phillips (brothers who share the first violin chair equally), violist Steven Tenenbom and cellist Timothy Eddy—have worked closely with such legendary figures as Pablo Casals, Rudolf Serkin, Isaac Stern, Pinchas Zukerman, Peter Serkin, members of TASHI and the Beaux Arts Trio, as well as the Budapest, Végh, Galimir and Guarneri String Quartets.

Violinist Daniel Phillips remarks, "As a teenager, my brother and I began performing for our parents' annual New Year's Eve parties where there was always chamber music until the wee hours. We took delight in discovering the constant surprises in the quartets of Haydn and Mozart and the way in which Haydn wrote with a greater sense of humor than the other, more celebrated Classical-era composers. Of course, after Mozart discovered Haydn's quartets, he took it as a personal challenge to come up to the standard. The minuet movement of Haydn's G minor quartet bears a striking resemblance to the minuet of Mozart's G minor viola quintet, written years later. While playing Mozart's remarkably beautiful and effective early C major quartet, I like to picture Mozart in his teens playing this with his father, perhaps at their New Year's Eve party. The masterful F major quartet measures up very nicely, emulating the equal contribution of the four voices, good sense of humor and perfection of composition that Haydn had well established. Due to the efforts of these two composers, the genre of the string quartet was born.”

Tuesday, January 21, 7:30 pm
Alice Tully Hall
Mozart: Quartet in C major, K. 157
Mozart: Quartet in F major, K. 590
Haydn: Quartet in G minor, Op. 20, No. 3
Haydn: Quartet in D major, Op. 76, No. 5
Tickets starting at $30

Sunday, April 27, 5:00 pm
Alice Tully Hall
Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Op. 73
Schumann: Quartet in A minor, Op. 41, No. 1
Schumann: Selections from Fantasiestücke, Op. 12
C. Schumann: Three Romances, Op. 22
Schumann: Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105
Tickets starting at $37

--Ashlyn Damm, Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

Meet the Staff

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

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

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

Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to 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, Goldpoint SA4 “passive preamp,” Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura’s hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can’t imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

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

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

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

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

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

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

Contact Information

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa