Nine Notes That Shook the World (CD and Blu-ray review)

Ronn McFarlane, Renaissance and Baroque lutes; Mindy Rosenfeld, Renaissance, Baroque, and Celtic flutes, fifes, harp, and bagpipe. Sono Luminus DSL-92169 (CD and Blu-ray)

Lutes and flutes.

Lutes and flutes provide the perfect instruments for this collection of Renaissance and Baroque folk and classical music, presented on a standard CD and a Blu-ray disc.

First, a word about the title, which goes without comment in the booklet and packaging. I can only assume it is a take on American journalist and socialist John Reed's book, Ten Days That Shook the World, about the 1917 October Uprising in Russia. Beyond that, the album's reference is rather vague, but it's a cool title, anyway.

The music derives from the early sixteenth to late-eighteenth centuries. The composers include the familiar: Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), Pietro Locatelli (1695-1764), and John Dowland (1563-1626); the less familiar: John Adson (c.1587-1640), Michael Blavet (1700-1768), Adrian Le Roy (c.1520-1598), James Oswald (c.1711-1769), Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689-1755), Robert Ballard (c.1752--after 1650), Cesare Negri, and Fabritio Caroso da Sermoneta; plus a few traditional and anonymous acknowledgements.

The recording artists are Ronn McFarlane playing Renaissance and Baroque lutes; and Mindy Rosenfeld playing Renaissance, Baroque, and Celtic flutes, fifes, harp, and bagpipe. Ms. Rosenfeld writes that "Ronn and I have been musical colleagues since we met in Baltimore in our early twenties at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, playing together in the Baltimore Consort, and in the trio 'Gut, Wind and Wine" with our friend, Mark Cudek. Performing together as a duo is a more recent incarnation of our musical connection."

Mr. McFarlane is an American lutenist and composer. He was a founding member of the Baltimore Consort; began a touring career in the United States, Canada, and Europe, both with the Baltimore Consort and as a soloist; became noted as an interpreter of Renaissance music; served on the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory teaching lute; received an honorary Doctorate of Music from the Shenandoah Conservatory; and began composing music for the lute and working with a new ensemble called Ayreheart. Ms. Rosenfeld is an American flutist, piper, and harpist who specializes in Renaissance music. She co-founded the Baltimore Consort, in 1989 became a member of San Francisco's Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and is currently the Principal Flutist and soloist with the Symphony of the Redwoods and the Mendocino Music Festival in California.

About the music, Ms. Rosenfeld further writes that "This recording is a gathering of some of our favorites, a musical feast. A wide cross-section of styles both 'folk and fyne,' evocative and expressive of the variety and intensity of human feelings, from sparky, joyful fun to deeper meditative inner reflection, these timeless tunes from past centuries still touch us in ways words cannot, stirring our life energy."

McFarlane and Rosenfeld are consummate artists, and their experience allows them to blend their various instruments in ideal harmony and execution. Most of the tunes they play are soft, sweet, and gentle, yet their choice of songs, dances, and instruments are diverse enough to provide a wide range of moods and emotions. The performers seem keenly aware of one another's style and provide a variety of nuances in their playing, enough to keep even this listener, ordinarily only mildly interested in Renaissance music, entertained.

While I surely enjoyed the folk and traditional melodies they play on the program, I probably got the most pleasure from Handel's Sonata in G Major. McFarlane and Rosenfeld infuse it with wit, charm, serenity, and good cheer. Yet for that matter, their playing of assorted Scottish, Irish, and English airs and dance tunes also delighted me no end. Heck, the whole thing was fun, and the closing bagpipe number is a kick.

The performers fill out the album with over seventy-five minutes of music, very nearly the limit of a CD and certainly good value. A Blu-ray disc, of course, has far more room on it than a compact disc, so because you get to choose among three different BD formats, it offers extra worth.

Producer and editing engineer Dan Mecurio and recording, editing, mixing, and mastering engineer Daniel Shores made the album in October 2012 at the studios of award-winning Sono Luminus in Boyce, Virginia. Audiophiles know Sono Luminus for their "less-is-more" recording philosophy, producing some of the most natural-sounding discs around. Nine Notes That Shook the World is no exception.

The package contains both a standard CD in two-channel stereo and a Blu-ray disc with DTS HD MA 5.1 multichannel (24/192kHz), DTS HD MA 7.1 multichannel (24/96kHz), and LPCM 2.0 stereo (24/192kHz). Although I have a 7.1-channel playback system in my home-theater room, it doesn't use speakers as good as those in my main music-listening room, so I opted to listen mainly to the standard CD.

In any case, here's another of those "reach-out-and-touch-it" affairs that sounds so real you'd think the performers were with you in your listening room. A modest resonance complements the realism of the occasion, the miking putting the players at a distance that appears just beyond the loudspeakers. Clarity, definition, and detail are exemplary, all while maintaining the smooth, warm sound of the instruments.

Just for the heck of it, though, I did spend some time with the Blu-ray disc, where I thought the DTS 5.1 sounded best, providing the better combination of transparency and ambient surround space.


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

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Meet the Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa