Mancini: Music for Peter Gunn (CD review)

Steven Richman, Harmonie Ensemble New York. Harmonia Mundi HMU 907624.

If you're old enough, you may remember a Blake Edwards TV show from the late Fifties called Peter Gunn. The thing is, if you do remember it, I'd be willing to bet you remember the show's theme music better than you do the show itself. Much like the show's main character (a private eye played by Craig Stevens), the music was laid-back and cool.

Henry Mancini (1924-1994), one of Hollywood's most popular and prolific television and movie composers, wrote the music, which went on to win two Grammys and an Emmy award. In fact, Peter Gunn (1958-61) pretty much put Mancini on the map after he had toiled in relative obscurity in the movie industry for half a dozen years previously. From then on, though, it was all a rise to the top with one hit after another: Mr. Lucky, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Days of Wine and Roses, Charade, The Pink Panther series, The Great Race, 10, and hundreds more.

But here's another thing: I'd also be willing to bet that it's only the familiar Peter Gunn theme you remember and not all of the other background music Mancini wrote for the show. It's both the theme and associated music you get on this album: a modern recording of sixteen tracks, over fifty minutes, of music performed by the prestigious Harmonie Ensemble New York lead by conductor Steven Richman.

Of course, the music on the album is not entirely complete. For that you'd have to find the two-disc CD set containing all four of the LP's Mancini released of music from and inspired by Peter Gunn. But it wouldn't sound as good as the present album, and a lot of it might begin seeming a bit repetitious. Anyway, whether you're interested in the Peter Gunn music for purely nostalgic, sentimental reasons or because you like its West Coast Cool style of jazz, Richman's interpretations of the score and Harmonia Mundi's recording of it should fill the order.

While the main theme is every bit as jazzy and cool as we remember it, the other tracks are almost as engrossing. The Harmonie Ensemble use essentially the same orchestrations and instrumentations but have a style all their own. The ensemble's players are all virtuoso jazz or classical players in their own right, and many audiophiles will recognize the pianist, Lincoln Mayorga, for his celebrated Sheffield Lab direct-to-disc recordings. Make no mistake: This group knows what it's about and plays with a precision that most jazz bands only dream about.

OK, I know that one criticism from some jazz fans is going to be that the Harmonie Ensemble actually play too precisely, too articulately, that with their slick sophistication they lose a little something in the way of spontaneity and improvisation, a staple of most jazz. Yet for these arrangements of TV music, they sound just right, adding inflections and nuances to create atmosphere and moods that practically having us seeing the old show in our mind's eye.

Favorites? Yes, I loved "Sorta Blue," with its obviously bluesy tone; "Session at Pete's Pad," with its carefree nonchalance; "Slow and Easy," with its quietly passionate airs; "Brief and Easy," with its Sinatra-like manner; "Blue Steel," with its aggressive rhythms; and an equally forceful closing rendition of the main theme. Fun stuff, all the way around.

To complete the package, Harmonia Mundi provide a light-cardboard slipcover for the CD jewel case. Again, I'm not sure why, but it classes up the joint.

Recording and mastering engineer Adam Abeshouse and producer Robina G. Young made the album in June 2012 at The DiMenna Center for Classical Music, New York City. Sonically, you couldn't ask for more in this genre. The sound is wide-ranging and transparent; the highs shimmer and glisten; the lows have punch; the dynamics are commendable; and the midrange clarity is exemplary. What's more (and somewhat unexpected), there's a nice sense of depth to the ensemble and air around the instruments. The sound engineers handle it all quite realistically.


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

Lalo: Symphonie espagnole (CD review)

Also, Ravel: Tzigane; Saint-Saens: Havanaise; Sarasate: Carmen Fantasy. Howard Zhang, violin; Takuo Yuasa, Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia. Naxos 8.555093.

The composers are French and Spanish. The violinist was born in China. The conductor is Japanese. The orchestra is Hungarian. Naxos pressed the disc in Canada. And Naxos originated as a German-based operation, pressing most of its discs in Germany. They don't call Naxos an international company for nothing.

Anyway, you could do a lot worse than spending what Naxos or a secondhand vendor asks for this splendid reissued disc of French and Spanish music. The young violinist, Howard Zhang, was born in Shanghai in 1984, and moved to the U.S. in 1989. He is dynamic and virtuosic; the accompaniment from the Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia under the direction of Tajuo Yuasa appears fairly refined and accommodating; and, best of all, the sound is among the best Naxos has done.

The Symphonie espagnole is especially engrossing, not only because it doesn't get recorded nearly as often as it should but because Mr. Zhang plays it so enthusiastically. Despite its title, the so-called "symphonie" is actually a concerto for violin, and as such it amply displays the violinist's prowess with his instrument. Zhang is quite brilliant, and if his fervor sometimes overrides his subtlety, well, it's the spirit that counts. The performance is full of energy and verve, directly and simply communicated.

The Ravel, Saint-Saens, and Sarasate pieces show Zhang's less passionate side as well, yet still display a good deal of showmanship. While there are already many fine recordings of the Tzigane, Havanaise, and Carmen Fantasy in the catalogue, Zhang's interpretations are at least as persuasive as most of them.

Naxos's sound is wide ranging and reasonably natural. It was only when I put on an old disc of the Symphonie with Tortelier, Fremaux, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (EMI, 1976) that I noticed the extra clarity, definition, and bite in the older recording. But given that the older disc, issued on EMI's Studio label, no longer seems available and is probably hard to find, I have no hesitation recommending this Naxos issue at an affordable price.


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

Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos. 3, 4 & 5 (SACD review)

Arabella Steinbacher, violin; Daniel Dodds, Festival Strings Lucerne. PentaTone PTC 5186 479. 

The last time I visited the German classical violinist Arabella Steinbacher, she was doing the Bruch Violin Concerto for PentaTone. Now she's back with the last three of Mozart's five violin concertos, this time accompanied by Daniel Dodds and the Festival Strings Lucerne. For those of you not acquainted with Ms. Steinbacher, she has won several important international violin prizes, she has recorded over half a dozen albums, and she was a recipient of an Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation scholarship.

Ms. Steinbacher tells us in a booklet note that "It was finally time for Mozart. These concertos have been with me since early childhood, forming an important leitmotiv throughout my career. Since I associate many memories with them, I feel they are very close to my heart." Fair enough. But understand she is up against formidable competition in these pieces, particularly from Anne-Sophie Mutter (DG), Lara St. John (Ancalagon), David Oistrakh (EMI), and Arthur Grumiaux (Philips), among many others. Still, if one is looking for an especially warmhearted, elegant, and graceful account of these concertos, done up in quite good SACD sound, Ms. Steinbacher neatly fills the bill.

There are some pluses to the album right off the bat. First, Ms. Steinbacher provides three of the violin concertos on the program whereas most other discs offer but two. As Shakespeare's Friar Laurence would say, "There art thou happy." Second, Ms. Steinbacher performs with the Festival Strings Lucerne, one of Europe's finest chamber orchestras, lean enough in size to offer a zesty and fairly transparent accompaniment. "There art thou happy." And third, PentaTone's engineers deliver the sound in both stereo and multichannel, depending on your playback equipment and your personal preference. "There are thou happy."

But most of all, I think people will be happiest with Ms. Steinbacher's performances, which are perhaps not as passionate as some but certainly as heartfelt. She begins the program with the Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216, which Mozart wrote along with all five of his violin concertos in Salzburg in 1775 when he was only nineteen years old. Mozart was more of a piano guy, so he didn't take the violin concerto very far before he died. Nevertheless, because he died relatively young, who knows what he may have done with the genre had he lived another thirty or forty years. In any case, No. 3 is fairly typical of the form, with an Allegro, an Adagio, and a closing Rondeau Allegro. It is not particularly adventurous, but it is Mozart, which means it's always charming.

Ms. Steinbacher's way with the Third Concerto is very much in the manner of Anne-Sophie Mutter's famous recording with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. This is no surprise, I suppose, given Ms. Steinbacher's past association with Ms. Mutter's Foundation. In any case, her playing is lively and attentive but sweetly flowing as well, with a nice balance in the outer movements between being too fast and furious and too slow and sentimental. In the quiet Adagio her violin tone is wonderfully lyrical and singing, reminding us of the work's strong connections to the theater.

Next up, we find the Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218. Despite its similarity in classical structure to the Third, the Fourth Concerto is a bit more romantic and sinuous than the Third. The Fourth may also be more familiar than the Third to some listeners, which means listeners may have more predetermined conceptions about it. Whatever, Ms. Steinbacher's violin tone is always sparkling, the rhythms resilient and alive, the slow movements heavenly. She handles the closing movement of No. 4 in a particularly delightful manner, making it one of the lightest, most sprightly you'll find.

Finally, we get the Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219, sometimes called the "Turkish" concerto. Mozart claimed No. 5 his personal favorite. According to the composer's wishes, Ms. Steinbacher alternates an energetic mood with a dreamier, more gentle atmosphere. People of Mozart's day tended to think of the concluding Rondeau as being in a "Turkish" style, but if anything it sounds more Gypsy-like, and Ms. Steinbacher plays it that way.

Ms. Steinbacher's performances will not disappoint her fans nor fans of Mozart in general. And the jewel case comes packaged in a light-cardboard slipcover.

Producers Job Maarse and Hans-Christoph Mauruschat and engineers Erdo Groot and Roger de Schot recorded the album at Kirche Oberstrass, Zurich, Switzerland in September 2013, and PentaTone released it on the present hybrid two-channel/multichannel SACD in 2014. Remember that hybrid SACD's contain a regular two-channel layer playable on any standard CD player, an SACD two-channel layer playable on an SACD player (the mode to which I listened), and a multichannel SACD layer playable on an SACD player and, preferably, three-to-five or more speakers.

One of the first things that strikes the listener about the sound is the room ambience, a light but pleasant resonant bloom that sets off the sound of the relatively small ensemble. It provides a golden glow to the occasion that is quite fetching. Otherwise, the sound is somewhat close and big, warm, ultrasmooth, a little lacking in overall depth but wide across the stage and easy on the ear. The violin placement puts the soloist front and center but not too much so, and the instrument feels well integrated into the rest of the ensemble without making it the absolute center of attention.


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

Bach & Vasks: Violin Concertos (CD review)

Bach: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2, BWV 1041 and 1042; Vasks: Violin Concerto "Distant Light." Renaud Capucon, violin and direction; Celine Frisch, continuo; Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Erato 08256 463232 2 7.

Right off, you have to ask the question, Why would French violinist Renaud Capucon choose to pair Baroque composer J.S. Bach's two solo violin concertos with a violin concerto by modern composer Peteris Vasks (b. 1946)? I mean, any potential buyer of the album familiar enough with classical music to want the Vasks piece would surely already own multiple favored copies of the Bach works. And the price of the disc seems awfully high for the Vasks concerto alone.

So, let's allow Mr. Capucon to tell us in his own words why he chose the coupling he did: "A gap of almost three centuries lies between these two composers. One was born in Germany in 1685 and the other in Latvia in 1946. Their music is very different. But in both cases the music has: purity of line, apparent simplicity, celestial harmony. Little remains to be said about Bach, but a great deal remains to be said about Vasks. Bringing them together on the same album seemed natural to me. Like an echo: one responding to the other. These works have in them a search for the absolute as well as moments of Grace. This is music which brings calm, which revitalizes, which gives hope. And the most striking thing of all is the humility of these two composers in the service of beauty." Fair enough.

Anyway, Capucon begins with the familiar: Bach's Violin Concerto No. 2 BWV 1042 and the Violin Concerto No. 1 BWV 1041. Capucon takes the outer movements at what I would describe as elegantly quick tempos, with an emphasis on consistently gentle rhythms. No breakneck speeds here nor any unnecessary lallygagging. The effect is radiant and sweetly glowing, at the same time vibrant and alive. The slow inner movements are abundantly expressive, too, while occasionally lacking in the lyrical grace I've heard from a few other performers. Nevertheless, these are fine interpretations, always reminding us of Capucon's poignancy and virtuosity. If it was purity and simplicity the violinist was after, I'd say he succeeded.

One of the other delights of the program is the work of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Established in 1981 and based in London, they have quickly become one of the finest small ensembles in the world. What's more, with over 250 recordings to their credit, they have become one of the most well-known chamber orchestras around. The ensemble seems always to be at one with the soloist, whether they're actually playing along with him or not. Their accuracy and control are remarkable, their understanding of the music and its atmospheric shadings always in evidence.

Then we get the companion piece, Vasks's Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra "Distant Light," composed in 2003. We learn from a booklet note that Vasks and his family suffered a great deal because of the Nazi and Soviet occupations of his country, and that his music often reflects that experience. We also learn that fellow Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer greatly influenced him, and Vasks dedicated "Distant Light" to him. The work should evoke and underline distant memories, some of them pleasant, many of them melancholy if not downright grave.

I'm sure more educated ears than mine could hear the similarities between the Vasks and Bach concertos, but, alas, I could not. This isn't to say, however, that I didn't enjoy the Vasks concerto a good deal. With a commanding performance from Capucon, the music alternates between mostly quiet, contemplative, introspective moods and more nervous, sometimes folk-inflected states.

Producers Alain Lanceron and Michael Fine and engineer Jin Choi recorded the album at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory, Aix en Provence, France in December 2013. With this recording you get clarity above all. The ensemble is small, so it shows up with excellent definition and detail, and the violin, while a tad forward, sounds well integrated with the group. In other words, the soloist is clearly in charge sonically but not dominating. There is a modest degree of room resonance, plus a reasonable sense of depth that also help the music to appear lifelike. Overall, the sound is smooth, moderately warm, and only a trifle bright.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, July 27, 2014

Mahler Chamber Orchestra Newletter

The Mahler Chamber Orchestra at Lucerne Festival
In August, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra features in a total of eight concerts at Lucerne Festival, whose theme this year is "Psyche." As the core of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, the MCO performs under Andris Nelsons on 15th, 16th, 22th and 24th August. The MCO itself can be heard with Daniel Harding on 19th August and with Daniele Gatti on 25th August. In addition, there is a Late Night concert with soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan on 16th August. The Mahler Chamber Soloists give a chamber music concert on 23rd August.

Farewell to Claudio Abbado
A memorial concert from the Dresden Frauenkirche will show on The French online classical music station recorded the memorial concert for the Mahler Chamber Orchestra's founding mentor Claudio Abbado at the Dresden Music Festival on 9th June. The concert, conducted by Daniele Gatti with Waltraud Meier and René Pape as soloists, can be streamed at no cost until 5th September (works by Mahler, Wagner and Schumann).

--Mahler Chamber Orchestra

The Final Opera in West Edge Opera's Summer Festival is Jake Heggie's The End of the Affair, Opening August 3
The third and final production of West Edge Opera's new Summer Festival, Jake Heggie's The End of the Affair opens on Sunday, August 3 at 3 pm with repeat performances on Thursday, August 7 and Saturday, August 9, both at 8 pm.

Mark Streshinsky directs and Jonathan Khuner conducts. Soprano Carrie Hennessey is featured as Sarah Miles, with baritone Keith Phares, replacing the originally-announced Philip Cutlip, as Maurice Bendrix. Others in the cast are mezzo-soprano Donna Olson, baritone Philip Skinner, tenor Mark Hernandez, Michael Jankovsky and Ben Miller. All performances take place in the atrium of the Ed Roberts Campus, 3075 Adeline St, Berkeley, an internationally recognized facility dedicated to services for persons with disabilities. The building is a model of the new movement of universal architecture and is just an elevator ride from the Ashby BART Station beneath. All performances are preceded by a lecture beginning 45 minutes prior to curtain.

Singers from this production and from the production of La bohème will appear in a free noon hour program at the Berkeley Main Library this coming Thursday, July 17.

Jake Heggie's opera, The End of the Affair, is based on Graham Greene's 1951 novel of the same name. The story is set in London in 1944 and 1946 and focuses on Maurice and Sarah, who are having an affair, which she vows to end if his life is spared in a bombing. His survival leads to Sarah's religious conversion and Maurice's railing against God for it. Time and space overlap as the story is told in flashbacks. The libretto is by Heather McDonald and was revised by her, Leonard Foglia, and Jake Heggie after the Houston Grand Opera premiered in 2004. It has since been produced by Madison Opera, Seattle Opera and the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.

The Festival opened on Saturday, July 26 at 8 pm with an "immersive" production of Puccini's of La bohème, followed by Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg's Hydrogen Jukebox, opening on Sunday, July 27 at 5 pm. Repeat performances of La bohème are on August 1st at 8 pm and August 10th at 3 pm. and repeat performances of Hydrogen Jukebox are Saturday, August 2 and Friday, August 8, both at 8 pm.

Both subscriptions and single tickets are now on sale at or by calling (510) 841-1903. Seating is general admission.

--Marian Kohlstedt, West Edge Opera

Nicholas McGegan Will Continue Artistic Leadership of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra 
Through 2020
Nicholas McGegan, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's popular and much-lauded music director of the past 29 years, has renewed his contract through 2020, the Orchestra is pleased to announce. McGegan has been widely hailed by critics for his mastery of Baroque and Classical style. As one of the foremost figures in early music, he and Philharmonia have brought this extraordinary repertoire to life for audiences in the Bay Area and beyond.

"Working with the musicians of Philharmonia has been a central part of my career," said Nicholas McGegan, "and I'm delighted to continue my collaboration with this exceptional ensemble.  I look forward to many more seasons of splendid music-making together."

As Music Director, McGegan will continue to play a central role in planning the Orchestra's future, from its season in the Bay Area to recordings, collaboration, tours, and all areas related to the Orchestra's artistic vision. Several long-term projects are set to be announced in the coming months.

"Since its origins in 1981, Philharmonia has grown from a passionate group of early music pioneers into one of the most accomplished period-instrument orchestras in the world," added Ross Armstrong, president of the Orchestra's board. "Nic's leadership, erudition and thrilling energy have all been key in propelling Philharmonia to the first rank of period-instrument performance movement."

"We are fortunate to have Nic at the helm of Philharmonia's artistic direction," said executive director Michael Costa. "His compelling artistic vision keeps Philharmonia at the forefront of period instrument performance in North America and around the world."

This summer, Philharmonia embarks on a tour of East Coast music festivals. From August 7-9, the Orchestra will perform Handel's Acis and Galatea with the Mark Morris Dance Group at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival. On August 14, it revives its acclaimed production of Handel's Teseo at Tanglewood, and on August 15 it performs at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. On August 17, it returns to Lincoln Center for a final Teseo performance.

The 34th season opens on October 8th, 2014 with a concert featuring violoncellist Steven Isserlis performing concertos by C.P.E. Bach and Boccherini alongside two Haydn symphonies.

For more information about Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, visit

--Ben Casement-Stoll, Philharmonia Baroque

Merola Opera Program Summer Festival Presents The Merola Grand Finale
Presented at the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA on August 16.

The Merola Opera Program's Summer Festival concludes with the popular Merola Grand Finale at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 16, at the War Memorial Opera House. Conductor Ari Pelto will lead the orchestra and 2014 Merola Apprentice Stage Director Omer Ben-Seadia will stage this varied musical program featuring works by Boito, Donizetti, Handel, Leoncavallo, Mascagni, Mozart, Offenbach, Poulenc, Rossini, Strauss, Stravinsky and Verdi.

"It is an honor for me to be working with this year's extraordinary group of singers and pianists on the Merola Grand Finale. Together we'll be presenting a vital evening of opera and relishing in a tremendous program that features various styles and forms for us and the audience to enjoy." said 2014 Merola Apprentice Stage Director Omer Ben-Seadia. "We can't wait to share with the audience the culmination of an extraordinary journey we have taken together this summer, refining our crafts and leading the path into thrilling new worlds."

Conductor Ari Pelto is Artistic Advisor of Opera Colorado and Principal Guest Conductor of Opera Memphis. With performances that have been called poetic, earthy, vigorous and highly individual, he is in demand at elite opera houses, ballets, symphonies and conservatories throughout the United States. Recent highlights and upcoming opera house engagements include La bohème with the Opera Theatre of St. Louis and the St. Louis Symphony, The Cunning Little Vixen at Chautauqua, Rusalka and La bohème at Boston Lyric Opera, Romeo et Juliet at Minnesota Opera, and The Magic Flute, Figaro, and Hansel and Gretel at Portland Opera. He has also been a regular guest conductor of the Atlanta Ballet. Commenting on a performance of Prokofiev's Cinderella, the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote, "Under Ari Pelto's baton, the orchestra has never sounded better, nor the chemistry between pit and stage been quite so palpable." In 2012, he collaborated with Twyla Tharp on the premiere of her new ballet, The Princess and the Goblin.

Merola Opera Program Presents Merola Grand Finale and Reception, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, August 16.
Tickets: $45 Grand Tier & Orchestra Prime/$35 Orchestra/$25 Dress Circle. Reception begins at 10 p.m. in the Opera House Café.
*Reception tickets are an additional $50 each

Tickets for the August 17 Merola Grand Finale are $25, $35 and $45. Reception tickets are $50. Tickets for the performance may be purchased by calling San Francisco Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330 open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday or online at

For more information about Merola, please visit or phone (415) 551-6299.

--Karen Ames Communications

Davis: Sketches of Spain Revisited (CD review)

Orbert Davis, Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. 3Sixteen Records CD31607.

In 1959-60 jazz great Miles Davis and arranger/composer Gil Evans made an unusual album for the day titled Sketches of Spain. Combining jazz, classical, and world music, the album confused some of Davis's fans, with many critics of the time claiming it wasn't jazz at all. Yet the recording went on to become one of the best-selling "jazz" albums of all time. Davis merely said, "It's music, and I like it." In 1995 composer Bill Russo asked contemporary trumpeter, bandleader, and currently Associate Professor of Music at the University of Illinois Orbert Davis (no relation to Miles as far as I can tell) to perform the solo part in Sketches at Chicago's Park West, something the latter Mr. Davis found a formidable challenge, especially as the earlier Mr. Davis had performed it in so commanding and semi-improvisational manner. The new sessions went well, and they inspired Orbert Davis to base Sketches of Spain Revisited on the classic original, newly adapted and orchestrated for 2014.

Miles Davis's original Sketches included five movements, of which Orbert Davis's new arrangement retains the first and the last. In between, the newer version contains three new pieces written especially for the "Revisited" Sketches. Things begin with "Concierto de Aranjuez," which Miles based on the third movement of Joaquin Rodrigo's famous guitar concerto. Rodrigo himself apparently did not care for what Miles did with his music, and, indeed, compared to the original the Miles Davis rendition does not quite measure up. For one thing, a trumpet is not a guitar and cannot convey the same moods as a guitar. However, the point is not in any comparison. What Miles did should stand on its own, which it does quite nicely. More important, what Orbert Davis does with Miles's work is equally nice. Davis's trumpet sounds out regally yet somewhat plaintively, providing an effective counterpoint to the background support. Although, as I said, a trumpet is not a guitar and does not evoke the Spanish flavor of the Rodrigo original, it does offer compensating musical nuances and shadings of its own. Fans of trumpet solos, jazz or not, should enjoy it.

Accompanying Orbert Davis on the new disc is the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, comprising about twenty musicians on flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, piccolo, trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba, flugelhorn, violin, viola, cello, piano, bass, and percussion, the arrangement of instrumentation varying with the movements.

After the "Concierto de Aranjuez" we have two movements especially composed for the Sketches Revisited. The first of these new pieces is "Muerte del Matador" and the second is "El Moreno." In "Muerte" it seems as though the musicians most explicitly touch upon a characteristic Spanish style, perhaps its extensive use of guitar helping set the tone. "El Moreno" is the most dramatic selection on the program, with its driving, forward beat quite infectious in a Spanish-Moorish manner.

Following those items is another new addition, "El Albaicin," originally written by Spanish composer and pianist Isaac Albeniz as a piano piece. Of all the music on the disc I enjoyed "El Albaicin" the most, perhaps because--no offense to Davis's fine trumpet work--it highlights the talents of a string quartet. "El Albaicin" is also the most classical-sounding of the numbers, albeit in a modern vein. It supplies a contrast with the trumpet items that make up the rest of the album.

Sketches of Spain Revisited ends with "Solea," a rhythmically catchy piece. In "Solea" Davis tells us he introduced elements of Spanish, African, and Middle Eastern percussion instruments, and the result is quite attractive. It makes a fitting and most easily accessible conclusion to a fascinating new alternative pop-classical jazz set.

Producers Orbert Davis and Mark Ingram, recording engineer and mixer Roger Heiss, and mastering engineer Trevor Sadler recorded the music at Tone Zone Recording, Chicago, Il; and 3Sixteen Records and Orbark Productions released the disc in 2014. There's a fairly good depth of image present and a reasonably clear midrange, too, with a minimal amount of fuzz around the edges. A wide stereo spread feels welcome, as does the clean trumpet sound. The sonics are most transparent when the ensemble is smallest, as one might expect.


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

Grieg: Piano Concerto (CD review)

Also, Schumann: Piano Concerto. Leif Ove Andsnes; Maris Jansons, Berlin Philharmonic. Warner Classics 0724355756220.

EMI originally released this album in 2003, and now that Warner Classics have taken over the EMI catalogue you'll also find it under the Warner label. Whichever label you buy, these are fine performances, done up in fairly good, albeit live, sound.

Anyway, the perennial pairing of the Grieg and Schumann Piano Concertos will always bring joy to the hearts of music lovers, as will the thought of hearing them performed by so estimable a combination as pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, conductor Maris Jansons, and the mighty Berlin Philharmonic. The result in both concertos is quite satisfying, if not quite reaching the pinnacles of glory enjoyed by Kovacevich/Davis (Philips), Lupu/Previn (Decca), Perrahia/Davis (Sony), or Curzon/Fjeldstad (Decca). Still, close enough.

Andsnes reveals in the Grieg a performance much like the one he recorded for Virgin some years earlier, a performance more lyrical than showy. This is fine, but it tends to make the Grieg a little less bravura, a little less grand a statement than the recordings mentioned above. Nevertheless, the pianist makes up for it with the creativity and incisiveness of his playing. He is a virtuosic pianist, and the Berlin Philharmonic under Jansons is as magnificent as ever.

I found Andsnes a tad more playful in the Schumann, rendering that earlier work a bit more fun than usual. Regardless, there's no denying the power of both works in such capable hands, and, as I say, with the excellent support of the Berlin players and some highly sympathetic conducting by Jansons, Andsnes's quick, light, rhapsodic visions come across lovingly.

EMI's sound is also rather good, some of the best these pieces have enjoyed, full and detailed, if a trifle close live. Note, too, that the bass could be stronger, especially in the Schumann, and that the piano in both works appears somewhat larger than life across the sound stage. Still, these are not big issues; if you're a connoisseur of these two piano favorites, and you haven't heard Andsnes's Berlin performance, you might want to do so.

Bottom line: If you're new to these works, you may want to consider Kovacevich as a first choice, remastered on a Philips mid-priced line of classics.


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

Strauss: An Alpine Symphony (CD review)

Also, Four Symphonic Interludes from Intermezzo. Franz Welser-Most, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. BR Klassik 900124.

Oh, my. Financial constraints weigh so heavy on most big European and American orchestras these days that they often depend upon live recordings if they are to record at all. At the time of this writing I had received two such live recordings for review on the same day, this one from Franz Welser-Most and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra on BR Klassik and another from Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on Reference Recordings Fresh! Not that there is anything particularly wrong with the sound of these recordings; it's just that I can't help thinking how much better they would have been without the presence of a breathing, wheezing, shuffling audience. Nevertheless, such are the economics of today's recordings, where it's simply too expensive to pay large groups of musicians for studio time when the ticket-buying public can essentially underwrite the productions themselves. But enough grousing; let's look at the music.

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) began writing An Alpine Symphony in 1911 and completed it several years later. It would be the last of his big-scale, symphonic tone poems. He went on to spend the final thirty-odd years of his life composing other kinds of music, songs, and, of course, opera. Supposedly, the composer came to write his Alpine Symphony after viewing the Bavarian mountains behind his home, the mountains he used to climb and enjoy in his youth.

An Alpine Symphony is among the composer's most controversial works; you either love it or you hate it. Critics for years have written it off as nothing more than picture-postcard music, lightweight fluff, hammy and melodramatic and unworthy to set alongside the master's greater work. However, I wonder if these critics aren't letting their estimate of the subject matter cloud their judgment. I mean, for some people the mere description of mountains, peaks, and pastures can't seem to measure up against things with such imposing titles as Death and Transfiguration and Also Sprach Zarathustra. Be that as it may, I find An Alpine Symphony immensely entertaining, and I believe the glories of Nature are every bit as sublime and profound as anything written by Nietzsche.

Still, that's neither here nor there. If you like the music, the question is which recording you want to hear in your living room, and there's a surplus of great ones already out there with which this new one from Welser-Most must contend. For example, there are excellent accounts from Rudolf Kempe and Dresden State Orchestra (EMI), Andre Previn and Vienna Philharmonic (Telarc), Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Philips and Newton Classics), Herbert Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony (Decca), Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic (DG), and even Georg Solti conducting the same orchestra represented here, the Bavarian Radio Symphony (Decca), among many other fine renditions. Indeed, Welser-Most himself recorded this work only several years earlier with the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra. So, yes, he's up against heady competition, including himself.

Anyway, An Alpine Symphony is actually not a symphony at all in the strictest sense but a long symphonic poem, describing in almost photographic detail the climb up and back down an Alpine mountain, with the titles of the movements telling the story. To give you the idea, here are a few movements: "Night," "Sunrise," "The Ascent," "Entry into the Forest," "Wandering by the Brook," "By the Waterfall," "On Flowering Meadows," "An Alpine Pasture," "On the Glacier," "Dangerous Moments," "On the Summit," "Calm Before the Storm," "Thunderstorm," "Sunset," and a return to "Night." Strauss graphically represents all of these events, and while there may be one climax too many along the way, it is all vivid enough to give one the sense of being on the mountain with the climbers and experiencing the grandeur and mysticism of the moment.

Welser-Most's way with the music is to take it rather briskly, quicker even than I remember Solti doing it. Not that this is a bad thing; Welser-Most is shaping the music to conform to his own vision of the ascent and descent and clearly sees it as a faster journey than many other conductors do. The problem is that for me this tends to rob the score of some of its grandeur and beauty.

That said, Welser-Most points up the contrasts quite well and emphasizes the work's drama nicely, so there is no end of outright thrills in the piece. "On the Summit," "Vision," and "A Thunderstorm" work out pretty well. Yet thrills can't always make up for the sheer pleasure of seeing in the mind's eye the forest, the stream, the waterfall, and the flowery meadows; and for me Welser-Most's haste in the journey took a little something away from the imagery.

One cannot say that anything is missing from the playing of the Bavarian RSO, however. They play this music as lushly, as lavishly, as richly as any orchestra around. To hear them is to get one's money's worth from the disc all by itself.

In addition to the symphonic poem, the disc offers the coupling of Strauss's Four Symphonic Interludes from the two-act opera Intermezzo, which premiered in 1924. Because Welser-Most gets through the Alpine symphonic poem a good five or six minutes quicker than most other conductors, he has plenty of room for another longer piece, the four interludes accounting for over twenty more minutes of music. Whatever, I enjoyed the conductor's approach here more than I did in the main selection, with good thrust and parry in his delivery. The sightly lighter orchestration also allows for a greater transparency, always welcome.

As I said earlier, BR Klassik recorded the music live, both selections at the Herkulessaal der Residenz, Munich in 2010 (Alpine Symphony) and 2013 (Interludes). Despite the live audience, the engineers have obtained a decent sound, miking the orchestra at a moderate distance so it's not quite as in-your-face as some live recordings. What this means, though, is that you'll notice more audience noise than usual; nothing really distracting but you'll feel their presence whenever the music turns soft, which in these pieces is actually quite often. Otherwise, the sound is fairly warm and smooth, with a reasonable degree of realism in the room ambience, bloom, air, clarity, depth, and dynamics. Although in the symphony I would have liked a little more bass response, especially from the organ, and a little less room resonance, at least the engineers have edited out any final applause.

To wrap up the package, the folks at BR Klassik provide a glossy, light-cardboard slipcover for the CD jewel case. I'm not sure why they do, but it's a nice touch.


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

Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 (SACD review)

Also, Janacek: Symphonic Suite from Jenufa. Manfred Honeck, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Reference Recordings Fresh! FR-710SACD.

Of Dvorak's nine symphonies, it's the last three that have always been the most popular with audiences, with the final symphony, "From the New World," getting the most attention. That's probably the way it should be; people know what they like and generally pick winners. But my own favorites have long been both No. 8 and No. 9, so I always welcome new recordings of them, if only to see how they stack up against my previous favorites. This new rendering of No. 8 by Manfred Honeck and his Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on a live Reference Recordings Fresh! hybrid SACD stacks up pretty well.

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) wrote his Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88 in 1889, and Maestro Honeck considers it the "most Czech" of all his symphonies. That is, the piece sounds cheerful and poetic, the composer keeping its style and structure in the Czech-romantic tradition and drawing his inspiration from the Bohemian folk tunes of his native country.

Honeck doesn't go at a breakneck pace through the first-movement Allegro con brio but instead varies his tempo considerably to create a fairly lively, even thrilling account of the score. There is great exuberance in the conductor's handling of the various themes, while the sounds of nature, like the birdsong of the flute, create a truly sweet atmosphere.

Dvorak marked the second movement an Adagio (in slow, leisurely time), but hardly any conductor plays it too slowly. Indeed, most conductors in my experience take it a moderate, even heady pace. But Honeck takes the composer at his word and plays most of the section at a reasonably slow speed. Not that this has any deleterious effect on the outcome, however, because he continues to introduce enough changes of tempo and dynamics within this slow structure to keep our attention from flagging. For example, Honeck lowers the volume to such an extent along about the middle of the movement that you'd think your speakers had just gone dead, which only serves to heighten the excitement when the music comes back full force.

In the third-movement Allegretto grazioso we get a kind of dumka (a Slavic folk ballad alternating between sadness and gaiety), here rendered as a vaguely melancholic waltz, which Honeck handles brilliantly. The music sounds charming and bucolic, lyric, lilting, and folksy, with a wonderfully delicate, rhythmic motion.

Finally, we get a fourth-movement Allegro con non troppo in which Honeck exercises his usual bent for flexible tempos more than ever. As he points out in a booklet note, Slavic dances tend to speed up at the end, so he slows and quickens his pace accordingly, even if the composer didn't specifically indicate such. Again, it creates an enthralling effect and makes Honeck's interpretation a little different from those we usually hear.

Still, the question remains: Does Honeck displace other contenders in this repertoire? For my taste, I continue to favor more traditional yet delightful renditions from Sir John Barbirolli (EMI), Libor Pesek (Virgin), Sir Colin Davis (Philips), Istvan Kertesz (Decca), Rafael Kubelik (DG), and a few others. However, for your own taste Honeck may be just the antidote for a score that has grown stale from hearing it so much.

Because Dvorak's Eighth Symphony is relatively short, there is time for a reasonably lengthy coupling. Here we find a symphonic suite from the opera Jenufa by Dvorak's fellow Czech composer Leos Janacek (1854-1928). The suite comprises a twenty-two minute set of selections chosen by Maestro Honeck to represent the most-important moments of the opera. Since the opera is rather grim, expect some sorrow, gloom, and melodrama. Nevertheless, it is also quite colorful music, filled with a bit of swirling boisterousness, too, and under Honeck it makes an especially entertaining piece of music. Love that xylophone.

The production team of Soundmirror, Boston--Dirk Sobatka, Mark Donahue, John Newton, and Harold Chambers--recorded the music live at Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in October 2013, and Reference Recordings Live! released it on a hybrid stereo/multichannel SACD in 2014. Soundmirror, with over eighty Grammy nominations and awards to their credit, obviously know a thing or two about fine recordings, and insofar as live recordings go, this one is quite good. While it is fairly close up in the manner of most live recordings, it seldom sounds bright or edgy. In fact, in the two-channel stereo mode to which I listened, it's mostly rather smooth and warm, with plenty of midrange transparency. If one didn't sense the presence of an audience through their breathing and occasional wheezing, one might think this were a studio recording. An absence of closing applause helps as well.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, July 20, 2014

Music Institute of Chicago Announces 2014-15 Nichols Concert Hall Season

Celebrating 85 years, the Music Institute of Chicago announces the 2014–15 season of its popular Faculty and Guest Artist Series. All concerts take place at the historic Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in the heart of downtown Evanston, Illinois.

85th Anniversary Opening Concert, Saturday, September 20, 7:30 p.m.:
The Music Institute of Chicago's stellar faculty is more than 150 strong. The season opens with a celebration of the Music Institute's 85th anniversary and features an impressive roster of faculty artists performing compositions associated with the number 85, including C.S. Lang's Fanfare, Op. 85 for organ; selections from Schumann's 12 Character Pieces for Small and Big Children, Op. 85 for four-hand piano; Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words for piano, Op. 85; Ravel's String Quartet, L. 85; Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Capricho Diabolico, Op. 85; and Stravinsky's Octet.

Jazz Festival: Celebrating the Music of Charlie Parker
The Music Institute of Chicago's fifth annual Jazz Festival celebrates the incredible career and influence of jazz icon Charlie Parker.

Friday, November 7, 7:30 p.m.:
The festival opens with a rare performance of music from the legendary Bird with Strings recordings with jazz veteran Charles McPherson as saxophone soloist. Also on the program is a newly commissioned work by Jazz at Lincoln Center and Northwestern University mainstay Victor Goines, composed for jazz quartet and strings.

Saturday, November 8, 3 p.m.:
The festival continues with a lecture by acclaimed cultural critic and author Stanley Crouch, who discusses his recent book Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker. WBEZ's Richard Steele serves as moderator.

Saturday, November 8, 7:30 p.m.:
The closing concert is a bebop extravaganza, featuring Charles McPherson and the Music Institute jazz faculty quintet, with Victor Garcia, Ernie Adams, Jeremy Kahn and Stewart Miller performing Charlie Parker classics, such as "Confirmation," "Moose the Mooch" and "Ornithology."

A special jazz invitational invites high school student jazz ensembles to perform and receive coaching from Charles McPherson and Music Institute jazz faculty.

Community Music Festival, Sunday, April 19–Sunday, May 3, 2015:
Two weeks of concerts, master classes, collaborative score-readings and talks mix music lovers and musicians of all ages and levels with some of the greatest professionals. During the festival, Music Institute students perform 100 concerts in local communities at community centers, libraries, senior centers and other grassroots venues.

Cavani Quartet:
Sunday, April 19, 3 p.m.
The highly regarded Cavani Quartet, ensemble in residence at the Cleveland Institute of Music celebrates its 30th anniversary at Nichols Concert Hall. The program includes the Mendelssohn Octet, also featuring students from the Music Institute's Academy for gifted pre-college musicians.

Ying Quartet:
Saturday, May 2, 7:30 p.m.
The Grammy Award-winning Ying Quartet has established itself as an ensemble of the highest musical order. Quartet-in-residence at the Eastman School of Music, this distinguished Music Institute alumni group performs classic repertoire along with works the quartet has commissioned

All concerts take place at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston. Tickets, except where noted, are $30 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for students, available at 847.905.1500 ext. 108 or on-line at

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

West Edge Opera Summer Festival continues July 27th with Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg's Hydrogen Jukebox
The second production of West Edge Opera's new Summer Festival, Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg's Hydrogen Jukebox opens on Sunday, July 27 at 5 pm (Please note: non-standard start time) at Berkeley's Ed Roberts Campus. Repeat performances are Saturday, August 2 and Friday, August 8, both at 8 pm. Elkhanah Pulitzer directs and David Möschler conducts. The ensemble cast is comprised of soprano Sara Duchovnay, soprano Molly Mahoney, mezzo-soprano Nicole Takesono, tenor Jonathan Blalock, baritone Efraín Solís, and bass Kenneth Kellogg. The Narrator is actor Howard Swain. All performances take place in the atrium of the Ed Roberts Campus, 3075 Adeline St, Berkeley, an internationally recognized facility dedicated to services for persons with disabilities. The building is a model of the new movement of universal architecture and is just an elevator ride from the Ashby BART Station beneath. All performances are preceded by a lecture beginning 45 minutes prior to curtain.

Allen Ginsberg's notes on Hydrogen Jukebox explain that "the title comes from a verse in the poem Howl: '...listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox...' It signifies a state of hypertrophic high-tech, a psychological state in which people are at the limit of their sensory input with civilization's military jukebox, a loud industrial roar, or a music that begins to shake the bones and penetrate the nervous system as a hydrogen bomb may do someday, reminder of apocalypse.

"Ultimately, the motif of Hydrogen Jukebox, the underpinning, the secret message, secret activity, is to relieve human suffering by communicating some kind of enlightened awareness of various themes, topics, obsessions, neuroses, difficulties, problems, perplexities that we encounter as we end the millennium."

Drawing upon Ginsberg's poetry, this piece is a portrait of America that covers the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, as seen by the collaborators Glass, Ginsberg and designer Jerome Sirlin. Its content ranges from highly personal poems of Ginsberg to his reflection on social issues: the anti-war movement, the sexual revolution, drugs, eastern philosophy, environmental awareness. The six vocal parts represent six archetypal American characters – a waitress, a policeman, a businessman, a cheerleader, a priest, and a mechanic.

"Hydrogen Jukebox is like a patchwork quilt," says stage director Elkhanah Pulitzer. "It uses Parataxis (the placing of clauses or phrases one after another without coordinating or subordinating connectives) to build connections in the eye of the beholder, to access the watcher's imagination. Even though it covers the 50s through the 80s, it is relevant today with our consumerism/materialism and struggles with war and the environment."

Both subscriptions and single tickets are now on sale at or by calling (510) 841-1903. Seating is general admission.

--Marian Kohlstedt, West Edge Opera

Merola Opera Program Summer Festival Presents Mozart's Don Giovanni July 31 and August 2
The Merola Opera Program presents W.A. Mozart's opera, Don Giovanni, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 31, and 2 p.m. Saturday, August 2, at Everett Auditorium, 450 Church Street in San Francisco, CA.

The cast features baritone Edward Nelson as Don Giovanni; bass-baritone Szymon Wach as Leporello; bass Scott Russell as Il Commendatore; Soprano Amanda Woodbury as Donna Anna; tenor Benjamin Werley as Don Ottavio; soprano Karen Chia-Ling Ho as Donna Elvira; bass-baritone Rhys Lloyd Talbot as Masetto; and soprano Yujin Kim as Zerlina. Stage director James Darrah and conductor Martin Katz lead the production.

Based on the legends of Don Juan, the story spans the last twenty-four hours of Don Giovanni's life. With more than 2,000 romantic conquests, Don Giovanni lives life in the fast lane until a mysterious meeting with a statue begins his downward spiral. When he refuses to change his philandering ways, the unrepentant libertine is sentenced to hell by the ghost of the man he killed.

James Darrah, co-founder and director of a new Los Angeles production company, Studio Chromatic, was most recently director and production designer of San Francisco Symphony's production of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes. He has been described by the Chicago Tribune as "a gifted young American director delivering fresh and stimulating productions".

Conductor Martin Katz, dubbed "the gold standard of accompanists" by the New York Times is currently a Professor of Collaborative Piano at the University of Michigan. He has collaborated with the world's most celebrated singers in recital and recording, including Marilyn Horne, Frederica von Stade, Kathleen Battle, David Daniels, Karita Mattila and José Carreras. He previously conducted Michigan Opera's production of Die Zauberflöte and Merola Opera Program's productions of Il barbiere di Siviglia, La Cenerentola and L'elisir d'amore. He is the author of The Complete Collaborator, published by the Oxford University Press.

For information on how to become a Merola member, please call (415) 565-6427 or visit

Tickets for all performances may be purchased by calling San Francisco Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330 open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

--Karen Ames Communications

Listen! Radio Radiance Podcasts Now on Young People's Chorus of NYC Website and iTunes!
Young People's Chorus of New York City's premiere performances of the most recent Radio Radiance compositions are now available on the YPC website and on iTunes.  Visit the website now for not only the podcasts, complete with composer and chorister interviews, but also a step-by-step listening guide.

Hosted by WWFM's Marjorie Herman with interviews by WNYC's John Schaefer, hear how Tom Cabaniss creates "vocal fire" in "Celestial Fire" and how Susie Ibarra takes the listener back to stardust in "The City."  Can you recognize the word Kevin James inserts in the music to describe "Colors"?  And why did Toby Twining decide to write a musical composition about nuclear false alarm in WICBM?

For more information, visit

--Katharine Gibson, NPC

Kuyper: Violin Concerto in B minor (CD review)

Also, Sonata for Piano and Violin. Aleksandra Maslovaric, violin; Tamara Rumiantsev, piano; Mikel Toms, Brno Philharmonic. Feminae Records CD1401.

Serbian violinist Aleksandra Maslovaric continues her recordings of classical works by female composers, and again the decision comes as a welcome change of pace for the record industry, which seems predominately populated by male composers. Certainly, the main reason for so many males in the recording marketplace is that male composers dominate the classical repertoire; and perhaps another reason is that I've read males tend to buy more classical recordings than females. Nevertheless, Ms. Maslovaric's recordings make a welcome addition to the classical music catalogue, especially when they are recordings of composers who seldom get much attention.

Having never heard anything from the Dutch Romantic composer and conductor Elisabeth Kuyper (1877-1953) before, I wasn't sure what to expect from the concerto and sonata on the program. I'm happy to say they live up to the high standards of composer's Kuyper's professional career and violinist Maslovaric's prodigious talents.

In 1901 Kuyper was the first woman to study composition at the Meisterschule für Komposition, led by Max Bruch, where she proved quite a productive composer. In 1905 she became the first woman composer awarded the Mendelssohn Prize, after which she composed what is probably her best-known work, the Violin Concerto in B Minor we hear on the present disc. In 1908 she became the first woman appointed as a professor of Composition and Theory at the Hochschule für Musik. Unfortunately, in those days there was very little opportunity for women musicians, so she made her own way. In 1908 she formed a women's choir at the Lyceum Club, and in 1910 she formed and conducted the Berlin Women Musicians' Orchestra. In 1923, she founded the London Women's Symphony Orchestra, and in 1924 she founded the American Women's Symphony Orchestra in New York.

The album begins with the Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 1 from 1902, Ms. Kuyper's very first published work. Like the concerto that follows, the sonata is clearly in the late-Romantic mold, filled with lovely melodies and sweet harmonies. The sonata comprises four movements: Allegro ma no troppo, Bolero, Andante con espressione, and Allegro energico e con fuoco. These descriptions are pretty self-explanatory, and Ms. Maslovaric plays them with great expression. She clearly has strong feelings about the music and isn't afraid to reveal them through her performance. It seems odd that people should neglect Kuyper's music these days, but I suppose her style, coming as it did at the very doorstep of the modern era, even early on sounded quaintly old-fashioned to a lot of ears. To my ears, however, the music appears attractively refreshing in its purity, simplicity, and innocence. Or maybe that's just the way Ms. Maslovaric plays it; in any case, it's quite charming.

The program continues with the Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 10, premiered in 1908. The concerto comes from the big, grand tradition of piano concertos by Bruch and Saint-Saens, yet it, too, finds little but neglect, lost perhaps in a musical world of transition. Nevertheless, powerful, personal musical statements never fully go out of style, and maybe Romanticism is making a comeback after all. (Not that it's ever been out of favor with the general public, the music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries still dominating the record-sales charts.)

Anyway, the concerto follows the traditional concerto form of fast-slow-fast movements, in this case an Allegro con fuoco, Adagio, and Prestissimo. While there is little that is absolutely memorable about the concerto, the writing is so felicitous and Ms. Maslovaric's musicianship so enthusiastic, it's easy to like, even when the score seems more than a little derivative. The broad sweep of the first movement, the touching melancholy of the second movement, and the cheerful jauntiness of the final movement seem to me hard to resist.

Jakko van der Heijden recorded the sonata at Zeeuwse Concertzaal, Middelburg, the Netherlands; Jaroslav Zouhar recorded the concerto at Besedni Dum, Brno, Czech Republic; and Scott Levitin mastered the album at Warner Elektra Atlantic Studios, Burbank, CA. Feminae Records released the disc in June 2014. The sound is big and warm, in the sonata the violin and piano occupying mostly the same space, one just ahead of the other. The concerto is actually a touch more transparent, the orchestra revealing a pleasant breadth, air, openness, and depth of field, the violin placed in front of but not too far in front of the orchestra in a most-realistic manner.


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

Lehar: Overtures and Waltzes (CD review)

Michael Jurowski, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. CPO 999 891-2.

Apart from the operetta The Merry Widow, you don't hear much of the music of Franz Lehar (1870-1948) anymore. I suppose his brand of slightly schmaltzy romanticism has long since become passé. And when an album like this one of the man's orchestral music does come along, some people no doubt compare it to Willi Boskovsky's sprightly, mid-Eighties recording for EMI. Fortunately, most of the material on conductor Michael Jurowski's 2003 release with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra is different from that included on the Boskovsky disc, so Jurowski's program makes an attractive complement to the older recording.

The only partial duplication is the music from The Merry Widow, as we might expect, with Boskovsky giving us a briefer synopsis and Jurowski the longer, more complete overture. While I still prefer Boskovsky's lighter, bouncier way with things, certainly Jurowski provides plenty of energy and enthusiasm.

In addition, Jurowski gives us the waltzes Altwiener Liebeswalzer ("Old Viennese Love Waltz"), Wilde Rosen ("Wild Roses Waltz"), Adria Walzer ("Adriatic Waltz"), and the Grutzner Waltz, plus the overtures to Clo-Clo and Der Gottergatte ("Divine Spouses"). The conductor plays each of these pieces with sparkle and wit, with an orchestra that apparently knows the music well and is not ashamed to share it with the world.

CPO's big, lush sound, combined with the relatively large size of Jurowski's orchestra, appeared to me a bit overwhelming in the opening Merry Widow music, especially compared to the slightly smaller ensemble Boskovsky uses. Nevertheless, the ear adjusts. The sonics seem decently spread out across the sound stage, and they project a good deal of warmth and resonance, if rather modest depth of field. The result is reasonably natural and realistic to the concert hall, but it may not win over a lot of audiophile admirers.


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

Lopes-Graca: Complete Works for Violin and Piano (CD review)

Bruno Monteiro, violin; Joao Paulo Santos, piano. Naxos 9.70177.

Fernando Lopes-Graca is not exactly a household name. At least not in America. But in his native Portugal, it is a little different, where people know the composer, conductor and musicologist a little better. Still, if violinist Bruno Monteiro has anything to say about it, and if the magic of sound recordings continues to spread Lopes-Graca's music throughout the world (I count sixteen albums of his material at Amazon), maybe he will someday indeed become a household name.

According to his biography, Lopes-Graca (1906-1994) "initiated his music career at the age of fourteen as a pianist at the Cine-Teatro, Tomar. He attended the Lisbon National Conservatory, where he studied with Adriano Meira and Vianna da Motta (piano) and Tomás Borba and Luís de Freitas Branco (composition and musical science). He concluded higher studies in music composition in 1931, with the highest possible score. As a result of opposing the regime (of Portugal's ultraconservative, dictatorial, and repressive Estada Novo), he was arrested, banished to Alpiarça and denied the right to use the scholarship he had been awarded to move to and study in Paris. Nonetheless, he departed at his own expense, furthering his knowledge with Koechlin. Being the author of a vast literary work on Portuguese music, he was a pioneer in the study and research of Portuguese folk music."

Much of Lopes-Graca's music is already on disc, and now fellow Portuguese musician Bruno Monteiro brings us the composer's complete works for violin and solo piano on this Naxos CD. Monteiro himself is one of Portugal's leading violinists, performing as a recitalist, concerto soloist, and chamber musician in all the major musical centers of the country and internationally, including the U.S. (Carnegie Hall). With a number of recordings to his credit, Monteiro brings his considerable talents to bear in these violin and piano pieces, which well illustrate the composer's dedication to traditional Portuguese folk music as well as his independent spirit and his desire to promote contemporary music.

There are nine works on the disc, spanning a significant amount of time in Lopes-Graca's life, from the early Sonatinos of the 1930's to the Adagio Doloroso e Fantasia of 1988. The program gives us a pretty good idea of what the composer was up to in his musical lifetime, and both violinist Monteiro and piano accompanist Joao Paulo Santos show the composer an appropriate degree of enthusiasm.

Let me just provide a few examples of my reactions to the disc's works, starting with the early music, to give you the idea of what it's all about.

Starting the agenda is the Sonatina No. 1, Op. 10, which Lopes-Graca wrote in 1931 but didn't premiere until 1947. Maybe its conciseness (four very brief movements) and unforgiving objectivity were a bit too much for many listeners to accept, or maybe the rigidity of the conservative government's restraints put a damper on things. In any case, the piece begins with a Moderato movement that presents two contrasting themes, both a touch melancholy. The Lento non troppo that follows carries on this mood, with the violin and piano embroidering the parts. The third-movement Scherzando displays a lyrical grace, with some attractively resilient rhythms. Then, the piece ends with a moderately paced Allegro non troppo, the piano and violin exchanging pleasantries in a final, clever dialogue. Although I had never heard it before, Monteiro and Santos play it so affectionately, so enchantingly, I look forward to hearing them play it again.

Another work I look forward to listening to again is the Preludio, Capricho e Galope, Op. 33, whose title also names its three movements. As the names suggest, the music comprises a number of lilting, folk-dance melodies, though filtered through a twentieth-century sensibility (Lopes-Graca composed it in 1941). The rhythmic thrust is everywhere evident, and Monteiro's technical skills on the violin sound impressive. The closing Galope will seem particularly familiar, yet the composer and soloist invest it with a freshness all their own.

Possibly the most openly beautiful and accessible musical works on the disc are the Trois Pieces for violin and piano, Op. 118, from 1959. These are the most songlike pieces we find on the program, especially the first movement, with the violin singing the primary role. By its conclusion the melodies have gone from fairly conventional to a bit more adventurous, but the risks are worth the listen. Monteiro and Santos take us on a sensuous yet heady expedition into a kind of Romantic modernism.

The last item on the program is Lopes-Graca's Adagio doloroso e Fantasia, Op. 242, from 1988. As its title implies, it's a work expressive of great sorrow, with Monteiro's violin crying out in mournful lamentation, the piano giving support and consolation. The concluding Fantasia section is more complex, more thrusting, more contrasting, yet unexpectedly comforting, too.

Music entirely new to me doesn't always hold great appeal for me, and I often understand after hearing it just why I had never heard it or wanted to hear it before. Yet with Lopes-Graca in the capable hands of Monteiro and Santos, I found myself captivated throughout most of the album. Even if I thought some of the music a bit too repetitive or static for my taste, the exploration was well worth the trip.

Bruno Monteiro produced and Jose Fortes engineered and edited the album, recording it at Igreja da Cartuxa, Caxias, Portugal in November 2012. The instruments ring out loud and clear, the two soloists in good balance, if a tad close. The sound is always smooth and natural, never hard or edgy, thanks not only to the miking but to the very slight, warm resonant bloom imparted no doubt by the recording venue.


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

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 18 & 22 (SACD review)

Ronald Brautigam, fortepiano; Michael Alexander Willens, Die Kolner Akademe. BIS 2044.

After reviewing as many familiar, basic-repertoire items as I have from a variety of great artists over the course of some forty-odd years, it's hard to tell one from another anymore. Any new recording has to have something very special to offer in the way of performance or sound in order to make me sit up and take notice. This new album from pianist Ronald Brautigam with Maestro Alexander Willens and the Cologne Academy made me sit up and take notice.

Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigam (b. 1954) is probably best known for his performances of Beethoven pieces on fortepiano. Here he's working with piano concertos by W.A. Mozart (1756-1791), but it's close enough, and again he's performing on the fortepiano, forerunner of the modern grand piano and a sort of evolution up from the harpsichord. It hasn't quite the rich sonority of a modern grand piano but isn't as clinky-clangy as a harpsichord. Above all, the fortepiano provides a good, clear piano sound; besides which, Mozart himself probably played the instrument, the fortepiano being used throughout most of the eighteenth century. Accompanying Mr. Brautigam is the Cologne Academy, a small ensemble of several dozen or so musicians dedicated to music of the seventeenth to twenty-first centuries and playing on both period and modern instruments, depending on the material.

Audiences are pretty familiar with both concertos on the disc. First up is the Piano Concerto No. 18 in B flat major, K. 456, which Mozart wrote in 1784. It's a fairly joyful work, and Brautigam plays it that way, with enthusiasm and quiet passion. Brautigam shows a light touch throughout the concerto, yet it's a lively lightness, full of sparkle and energy. He and Maestro Willens always seem to pick the right tempos, never going overboard to prove their historical accuracy yet keeping the pace vigorous at all times. Everything about the performance, in fact, appears just right.

The coupling is Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22 in E flat major, K. 482, written in 1785. Although only a year separates the two concertos on the program, No. 22 sounds the more mature and certainly the more weighty. No. 22 seems more inventive than No. 18 as well, with Mozart varying the overall texture of the sound more than usual. Indeed, even the soloist's entrance into the proceedings seems to have little to do with the introduction, the composer varying things so much. It's both enterprising and refreshing. More important is that neither Brautigam nor Willens tries to overemphasize Mozart's intentions, keeping everything on a even keel. Still, they preserve all of Mozart's character and color in the piece.

Mozart's father remarked that at the première of No. 22 the audience demanded a repeat of the second-movement Andante. One can understand their appreciation for the music's pathos and passion, although Brautigam never strives for any overt sentimentality here. The finale goes as expected, full of boundless good cheer as it bounces merrily along, Brautigam lending the affair a delicate virtuosity.

Producer Ingo Petry and engineer Thore Brinkmann recorded the concertos at the Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne, Germany in December 2012. I listened to the two-channel SACD stereo layer of this hybrid, two-channel/multichannel SACD and thought the sound was excellent. As usual with a BIS recording, there is plenty of room resonance to provide a realistic setting, yet not so much that it clouds the transparency of the music. The orchestra appears well spread across the sound stage, with good depth and air to the instruments. When the fortepiano enters, it shows a firm presence and a well-integrated position relative to the ensemble, not too close to the listener or too distant. Some people might prefer a sharper, more-detailed sound, but this is more reminiscent of what a person would hear live, so I'm all for it (especially when at the same time we don't have to put up with the noise of a live audience).


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

Classical Music News of the Week, July 13, 2014

Orion Ensemble Celebrates Chicago Composers for 22nd Season

The Orion Ensemble, winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, announces its 22nd season: "A Taste of Chicago, A World of Romance," spotlighting Chicago composers Jim Gailloreto, Sebastian Huydts, Stacy Garrop and Marc Mellits.

The 2014-15 season includes four concert programs in downtown Chicago, Evanston, and Geneva. Orion will perform each of its four concert programs at venues spanning the Chicagoland area, including two in downtown Chicago--the PianoForte Studios and Sherwood, the Community Music School at Columbia College Chicago--as well as the First Baptist Church of Geneva and the Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston, IL.

The season opens with "Stepping Out," welcoming three guest musicians: bassist Robert Kassinger, a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and an avid chamber and jazz musician; pianist Sebastian Huydts, director of keyboard studies at the Music Center of Columbia College Chicago, concert pianist and chamber musician; and violinist/violist  Stephen Boe, a sought-after chamber musician who teaches at the Music Institute of Chicago. The program includes Jim Gailloreto's Jazz Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Cello (2014); John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" arranged for Clarinet, Violin, Viola and Cello by Gailloreto (2014); Morton Gould's "Benny's Gig" for Clarinet and String Bass (1962); Dvorak's Selected Slavonic Dances for Piano, Four Hands, Op. 72; and Franz Schubert's "Trout" Quintet in A Major, Op. 114, D. 667. Performances take place September 28 (Geneva), October 1 (Sherwood/Chicago) and October 5 (Evanston).

Orion's second concert program, "Rhapsody," also welcomes guest violinist and violist Stephen Boe. The program features the world premiere of Sebastian Huydts's Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano; Sergei Prokofiev's Sonata for Two Violins, Op. 56; Sergei Rachmaninov's Vocalise for Cello and Piano, Op. 34, No. 14; Iwan Müller's Quartet No. 1 in B-flat Major for Clarinet, Violin, Viola and Cello; and George Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody Op. 11, No. 1, arranged for Orion by Ilya Levinson and Peter Labella. Performances are November 23 (Evanston), November 30 (Geneva) and December 3 (Sherwood/Chicago).

As the title work for its third concert program, Orion performs Stacy Garrop's "Jubilation" for Violin, Cello and Piano (2011); Emil Hartmann's Serenade for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op. 24; and Ludwig van Beethoven's "Archduke" Trio in B-flat Major for Violin, Cello and Piano, Op. 97. Performances are March 8 (Geneva), March 15 (Evanston) and March 18 (PianoForte/Chicago).

The season concludes with "Celebration," with violist Stephen Boe joining Orion for Marc Mellits's "Tapas" for Violin, Viola and Cello (2007); Rezsö Kókai's Quartettino for Clarinet, Violin, Viola and Cello (1952); and Johannes Brahms's Quartet in A Major for Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano, Op. 26. Also on the program is Paquito D'Rivera's "Vals Venezolano" (1990) and "Contradanza" (1991) for Clarinet and Piano, arranged by Marco Rizo. Performances are May 24 (Geneva), May 27 (PianoForte/Chicago) and May 31 (Evanston).

 Also during the season, Orion appears on the broadcast series "Live from WFMT" March 23 and June 1, 2015. Orion also tours, performing in chamber music series across the country. Its most recent CD is Twilight of the Romantics.

Ticket information:
The Orion Ensemble performs its 2014-15 concert programs at four Chicago-area venues: the Recital Hall at Sherwood, The Community Music School of Columbia College Chicago, 1312 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago on Wednesdays, October 1 and December 3 at 7:30 p.m.; the PianoForte Studios, 1335 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago on Wednesdays, March 18 and May 27 at 7:30 p.m.; the Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston on Sundays, October 5, November 23, March 15 and May 31 at 7:30 p.m.; and First Baptist Church of Geneva, 2300 South Street in Geneva on Sundays, September 28, November 30, March 8 and May 24 at 7 p.m. Single tickets are $26, $23 for seniors and $10 for students; children 12 and younger are free. A four-ticket flexible subscription provides a 10 percent savings on full-priced tickets. For tickets or more information, call 630-628-9591 or visit

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Pacific Boychoir Touring Southeast Asia July 8-21
The Grammy Award-winning Pacific Boychoir Academy (PBA) is traveling to Vietnam and Singapore to perform at notable venues and institutions such as the HCMC Conservatory Concert Hall, the Worker Theater in Hanoi, and the Singapore Botanical Gardens. In addition, PBA will participate in an outreach performance, organized by the United States Embassy, at a local orphanage, the Vinh Phuc Social Services Center outside Hanoi. Vietnam Television (VTV4 International), will also follow PBA in Hanoi and feature them on Talk Vietnam.

Known for its rich sound, the boychoir is preparing a diverse and exciting repertoire that ranges from Mendelssohn's Laudate Pueri and Handel's Hallelujah Chorus to the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" and Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Also known for their approach to African-American spirituals and American classics, the choir will be singing George Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" and the favorites "Ol' Time Religion" and "When the Saints Go Marching In." The choir will also sing two traditional Vietnamese songs, which will both be featured with the locally renowned Sol Art Choir of Hanoi.

Founded in 1998, the Grammy-winning Pacific Boychoir Academy of California has over 175 boys in seven choirs. In its short history, Pacific Boychoir Academy has become known as one of the top boys choirs in the world, known for its rich sound, musicianship, phrasing, and talented soloists. The boys sing everything from Mozart to Cole Porter, from Bach Cantatas to American spirituals. Graduates of the treble program join the sopranos and altos to sing SATB repertoire.

With the addition of a day school, PBA has become home to the only choir school in the Western USA. The choir school integrates a full academic program with daily music instruction for boys in grades 4-8 who love to sing. Boys in the school get 15 hours of music training every week. PBA's music staff is composed of experienced professionals committed to diverse repertoire and the pursuit of excellence.

PBA appears frequently with the San Francisco Symphony, having performed under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas, Kurt Masur, Robert Spano, Charles Dutoit, Herbert Blomstedt, James Conlon, Semyon Bychkov, David Robertson, Don Davis, Donato Cabrera, and Vance George. The PBA recorded Mahler's Third Symphony with the SFS, which was awarded the Grammy for Best Classical Album in February 2004. PBA has appeared with SFS to perform works by Mahler, Orff, Berlioz, Liszt, Britten, Wagner, and Mendelssohn. In August 2009, the San Francisco Symphony released a new SACD recording of Mahler's Eighth Symphony that includes the Pacific Boychoir. In January 2010, this recording won three Grammy awards: Best Classical Performance, Best Choral Performance, and Best Classical Engineering. PBA has also performed under the direction of maestros Gustavo Dudamel, Jeffrey Thomas, Richard Cock, Roberto Tibiriça, and Vytautas Miskinis.

Some highlights of recent PBA performances include America's Got Talent, Kronos Quartet's 40th birthday party, Nelson Mandela's memorial service in Washington DC, Russian music with Dmitri Hvorostovsky and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, the first performances of Rachmaninoff's Vespers by an American boys choir, music of Duke Ellington with the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra, and a cappella pop singles from PBA's "Continuum" group. On tour, Pacific Boychoir Academy has been heard across North America, South America, the South Pacific, Africa, Asia, and Europe.

For more information on Pacific Boychoir Academy, visit

--Kevin Fox, Pacific Boychoir Academy

West Edge Opera Opens Its Summer Festival with an "Immersive" Production of Puccini's La Boheme
West Edge Opera's new Summer Festival opens the company's 35th season on Saturday, July 26 at 8 p.m. with an "immersive" production of Puccini's La bohème. Repeat performances are on Friday, August 1 at 8 pm and Sunday, August 10 at 3 pm. All performances take place in the atrium of the Ed Roberts Campus, 3075 Adeline St, Berkeley, CA at the Ashby BART Station. All performances are preceded by a lecture beginning 45 minutes prior to curtain.

West Edge Opera General Director Mark Streshinsky directs La bohème and Music Director Jonathan Khuner conducts. The cast features Alexandra Sessler as Mimi, Christine Capsuto as Musetta, James Callon as Rodolfo, and V. Savoy McIlwain as Marcello. Jordan Eldredge is Schaunard and Brandon Keith Biggs is Colline. Jason Sarten sings the dual roles of Benoit & Alcindoro. The West Edge Opera Chorus is directed by Daniel Alley and the children's chorus is made up of members of the Piedmont Choirs, led by Naomi Braun.

Both subscriptions and single tickets are now on sale at or by calling (510) 841-1903. Seating is general admission.

--Marian Kohlstedt, West End Opera

Festival del Sole - Tuesday, July 15, 6:30 P.M.
All tickets now just $35.

Napa Valley's Festival del Sole returns to Weill Hall with an all-star classical lineup, including the Sonoma County debut of the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Alondra de la Parra.

Also featuring acclaimed violinist Pinchas Zukerman performing the Bruch Violin Concerto, and celebrated tenor James Valenti in a program of Italian and French opera arias.

Bizet: Carmen Overture; "La Fleur" from Carmen
Puccini: "E lucevan le stelle" from Tosca
Mascagni: Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana
Cardillo: Core 'ngrato
Tosti: Ideale
Lehar: "Dein ist mein ganzes herz"
Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26
Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88

For further information, visit

--Weill Hall

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

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa