Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4 (CD review)

Myung-Whun Chung, Philadelphia Orchestra. DG 447 759-2.

Ten minutes into Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony I remembered why the Soviet government, that is, Stalin and his censors, weren't too keen on the composer's music and why, completed in 1936, it didn't see its first public performance until 1961. "Chaos instead of music" is how the government characterized such works. But it didn't take much more than those first few minutes to revalidate the symphony's worth, its strength, and its oddly immediate accessibility. It is one of Shostakovich's biggest and most frenetic compositions, to be sure, but it has a grand dignity and refinement about it despite its seeming turmoil, especially in the hands of Maestro Myung-Whun Chung.

Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) divided the Fourth Symphony's five movements into two enormous opening and closing sections filled with endless eruptions of loud rhythms and sensations, book ending three inner movements of relative solitude and repose. I've read that Shostakovich revered Mahler, and in the Fourth his homage to the older composer is more than evident. The symphony's size for one thing, over an hour; the juxtaposition of flaming outbursts and beauteous tranquility another; the waltz-like interior themes and the parodic, sardonic phrases, and you get the idea. It all adds up to a work in which Shostakovich repeats nothing, yet everything seems to spring naturally in variation from everything else.

Myung-Whun Chung
Best of all, the conductor, Myung-Whun Chung, appears both at ease in the music and able to communicate its diverse temperaments with almost casual simplicity, with the Philadelphia Orchestra playing splendidly. This may not be Shostakovich's most popular piece of music--the Fifth, the Eighth, and the Tenth Symphonies probably take that honor--but for me it deserves a place in every classical library and a listen by every music lover of every persuasion.

DG's sound is almost as imposing as the score. However, like the Symphony itself, the recording had to wait to see daylight. The folks at DG recorded the album in 1994 and waited eight years before releasing it. I have no idea why; its sound is a nifty bit of engineering. The Philadelphia Orchestra has always been rather a tricky outfit to record; the CBS (now Sony) and EMI recordings in Philadelphia often sounded hard, edgy, or overly bright. DG have recorded the orchestra somewhat closely, and the sonics are still a tad on the hard, forward side; still, overall, the disc is wonderfully clear, clean, and dynamic, with a deep bass that sets off the composer's more momentous occasions with undoubted authority. At the time of this writing, I was more than willing to put it on my list of ten best classical recordings of the year.


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

Brahms: Serenades 1 and 2 (CD review)

Also, Academic Festival Overture; Tragic Overture; Haydn Variations. Heinz Bongartz, Dresden Philharmonic; Gunter Herbig, Berlin Symphony Orchestra; Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, London Symphony Orchestra. Brilliant Classics 95073 (2-CD set).

You could say Heinz Bongartz and the Dresden Philharmonic take the long view of Brahms's two Serenades. Such a long view, in fact, that the music requires two separate CD's to accommodate them. I mention this because many other recordings manage to fit both serenades onto a single disc. Well, at least we get some good fill-up material in the Academic Festival Overture, Tragic Overture, and Haydn Variations. The question is whether buyers will want to cough up the price of two discs for reissued recordings that are now some fifty years old and were never exactly classic performances in the first place.

Disc one contains only the first serenade. It's a little over fifty-two minutes long. To give you some idea how slow that is, the three comparison versions I had on hand were some ten to fifteen minutes shorter than that. Now, if Maestro Bongartz had taken his time in order to expand upon the poetry of the work, I could understand his leisurely approach. But to my ears, Bongartz's performance doesn't sound particularly poetic. Just slow. Although the word "uncommitted" might be a good choice to describe Bongartz's interpretation, I'm not sure that would be fair. I don't believe any musician sets out purposely to produce a boring or substandard performance. So I'm sure Bongartz had something in mind when he took the approach he did; I'm just not sure what it was.

Anyway, we might start with a bit of history. As many of you know, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) didn't complete his first symphony until he was in his early forties, supposedly because of the intimidating shadow of Beethoven. In the meantime, the closest he came was contenting himself with writing two Serenades in the late 1850's while he was still a young man. No matter; his Serenade No. 1 is pretty close to a symphony, and it's almost the match of most of the composer's later orchestral material, even if it did predate the première of his actual symphonic output by nearly twenty years.

Brahms wrote the Serenade No. 1 in D, Op. 11, between 1857 and 1859. Its six movements should sound gentle, warm, lyrical, and always cheerful, in essence a youthful work, the composer stringing together a seemingly never-ending series of charming melodies. Wikipedia notes that "serenades are typically calm, light music," and certainly that would describe Maestro Bongartz's reading if only the performance sounded more lyrical instead of being quite so leaden.

After a fairly slow start, Bongartz does enliven the spirit of the piece a bit, but even then it seems more than a little mechanical, as though he and the orchestra were merely going through the motions without much actual enthusiasm for the project. Even the Scherzo, which should be vibrant and alive, seems relatively subdued, almost sedate. Needless to say, the Adagio appears practically moribund. For me, the best parts of Bongartz's performance come at the end, where he seems to have warmed up to the enterprise.

Heinz Bongartz
Brahms wrote the Serenade No. 2 in A, Op. 16, in 1859, scoring it for chamber orchestra. It is briefer than his first serenade, and Maestro Bongartz renders it with a dash more enthusiasm than he mustered for the first serenade. Perhaps Bongartz became better attuned to the elements, except in the opening movement, where he still lags as he did in the first serenade. Or perhaps it just took the conductor a while to get started. From the second movement to the end, Bongartz hits his stride and maintains a good, animated rhythm.

I mostly like the reissues Brilliant Classics produces. The folks there usually choose truly classic performances in above-average sound. Here, not so much. Whatever, there are better recordings than Bongartz's of the Brahms Serenades available from Kertesz (Decca), Haitink (Philips), Chailly (Decca), McGegan (PHP, on period instruments). And, what's more, they fit both works on a single disc.

So, that leaves the couplings: Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos leading the London Symphony Orchestra in a fairly lively and entertaining performance of the Academic Festival Overture; and Gunter Herbig leading the Berlin Symphony Orchestra in acceptably invigorating and often endearing renderings of the Tragic Overture and the Haydn Variations. Whether these fill-ups are enough to sell someone on the whole package, I couldn't say.

The music derives from recordings made in 1962 (Serenades), 1978 (Tragic Overture), 1979 (Haydn Variations), and 1989 (Academic Festival Overture). Licensed from Phoenix Music Ltd., Brilliant Classics reissued the music in 2015. The sound comes across as very broad, well spread across the sound stage, with an especially wide dynamic range. There is also an excellent midrange response, quite transparent. Unfortunately, this clarity comes at the expense of a rather forward, bright high end and a somewhat overly lean bass, especially in the serenades (but not as much in the overtures and variations). So, even here, you won't find the absolute best you can get in this repertoire.


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

Mendelssohn & Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos (SACD review)

Arabella Steinbacher, violin; Charles Dutoit, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Pentatone PTC 5186 504.

For those of you not yet acquainted with the German-Japanese violinist Arabella Steinbacher, she has won several important international prizes, recorded over a dozen albums, and received an Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation scholarship. To give you an idea of people's respect for her talent, Ms. Steinbacher currently plays the Booth Stradivarius (1716) provided by the Nippon Music Foundation.

Having already recorded concertos by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Dvorak, Bruch, Bartók, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Milhaud, Khachaturian, and Korngold, here she gives us an album of possibly the two most-famous violin concertos of them all, the Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky. If you are already familiar with Ms. Steinbacher's work, you'll like what you hear. With her fluid tone, incisive insight, and emotive style, she does excellent work in both pieces. And it's invariably a pleasure to have the suave Charles Dutoit leading any orchestra.

Ms. Steinbacher opens the program with the Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, which German composer and musician Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847) premiered in 1845, his last big orchestral work. Ms. Steinbacher adopts tempos that appear energetic but never rushed. The performance sounds just as one might hope, never lagging, never sentimentalized, never hurried. She invests it with a wealth of humanity as well, making Mendelssohn sparkle in the process. Mendelssohn should above all dance and shine, which Ms. Steinbacher accomplishes with a refined ease. The interpretation is both elegant and vivacious, a pleasing combination.

The second movement, which Ms. Steinbacher takes at a little slower, more-dreamy pace than many other soloists, nevertheless sounds perfectly judged. It has a timeless beauty about it that is hard to resist. Then she moves into the final movement with a animated charm, ending the piece with a wonderfully bubbly exuberance.

Arabella Steinbacher
The second item on Ms. Steinbacher's agenda is the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major, Op. 35, by Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). The composer wrote it in 1878 but premiered it several years later because the person he originally wanted to perform it deemed it unplayable. Anyway, here things are a little different, and some listeners may balk at Ms. Steinbacher's somewhat leisurely approach to the first movement. Although she seems to take things a little too slowly at times, her interpretation is sensuous to say the least. Indeed, it is one of the most intensely placid performances of this piece I think I've heard, still passionate if in a quieter way. It's moody, atmospheric, serene, yet explosive when necessary.

The question one always has to ask of any new recording of old warhorses, though, is whether the new effort is in any way better than what is already available from dozens of other commendable discs. In this case, I'm not sure Ms. Steinbacher's album would be my first choice in this repertoire. However, the disc will not disappoint her fans, and there is no denying her virtuosic playing.

Pentatone package the disc in an SACD case, further enclosed by a light-cardboard slipcover.

Producer Job Maarse and engineer Roger de Schot recorded the concertos at the Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland in September 2014. They made the recording for hybrid SACD playback, so there is not only a regular two-channel CD layer playable on any standard CD player, there is also a two-channel and multichannel SACD layer playable only on an SACD player. I listened to the two-channel SACD stereo layer using a Sony SACD player.

There is usually something one notices first about the sound of an album, and in this case it was the clarity of the violin: sweet and natural and ultraclean. The next thing I noticed was the dynamic range and impact of the transients. Again, these characteristics produce a very lifelike reproduction of the solo instrument and orchestra. The recording's stereo spread also appears quite realistic, stretching between the speakers but not much beyond; and orchestral depth, while modest, appears real enough. The whole affair is warm and smooth, making an appealing proposition.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, July 26, 2015

ABS Festival - Versailles & The Parisian Baroque

August 7 - 16, 2015 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music ~ 50 Oak Street, San Francisco, CA.

The ABS Festival opens with a trio of stunning orchestral works by three French masters. Jean-Féry Rebel's imaginative and vivid work for orchestra, Les élémens, depicts the creation of the world from chaos using motifs associated with earth, air, fire, and water.

As first violinist at the Paris Opéra, Jacques Aubert had an ear for music that would be suitable for drama and dance. His D Major Concert de Symphonie, an early incarnation of what would become the French symphony, is a delightful, foot-tapping tour of dance forms.

The high-minded musical ideals and splendor of the era are fully evident in the Ouverture & Suite of dances from Jean-Philippe Rameau's opera Naïs. Here beauty and grandeur are enhanced by a third trait: velocity!

Join us for a 10-day immersive experience that celebrates Bach's French contemporaries and the splendid music of the extravagant court at Versailles.

For complete information, visit

--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

Historical Piano Concerts Presents Pianist Yuan Sheng
Historical Piano Concerts, built on the Frederick Collection of Historical Grand Pianos, presents pianist Yuan Sheng in two concerts of works by the young Chopin, ages seven through nineteen. These works, many of them unfamiliar to concert audiences, will be heard in chronological order, spread over the August 4th and 5th evening recitals at Ashburnham Community Church, 84 Main Street (Rte. 12), Ashburnham, MA 01430.

This will be the fourth summer Prof. Sheng has donated performances for the benefit of the Frederick Collection--two dozen grand pianos, all in playing condition, by important, mostly European makers from c.1790 to 1928. The collection is housed in Ashburnham's former public library, a handsome 1890 building. Proceeds from the concerts will help support running expenses and maintenance of the building, rent, utilities, insurance, and repairs.

Each concert will be professionally recorded, and a two-CD album of the two concerts will be given as a "thank-you" to each donor of $100.00 or more to the nonprofit organization, Historical Piano Concerts, Inc. Donations are fully tax-deductible, since the IRS classifies CDs in the same category as calendars, note cards and such, given away by other organizations.

Admission to the 7:30 PM concerts is $25.00 for either event, $35.00 if both are attended. Students and children may attend one concert for $10.00, or both, for $15.00. No advance reservations needed.

Beijing native Yuan Sheng received his music degrees as a scholarship student at the Manhattan School of Music, New York, and is a professor of piano at the Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing.  For these concerts, he will be playing the Bosendorfer piano of c.1828-1832 from the Frederick Collection, one of the very earliest known pianos by that maker. Yuan Sheng has recorded a three-disc album of Chopin's works on the 1845 Pleyel piano from the Frederick Collection for the Piano Classics label.

The church is wheelchair accessible. Entrance to the sanctuary is at the rear of the building. For further information, please visit the Web site at or e-mail concert manager Patricia Frederick at

Historical Piano Concerts, Inc.
15 Water Street
Ashburnham, MA 01430

--Patricia Frederick, the Frederick Collection

Edward Parks, 31, USA, Wins Third Prize in Plácido Domingo's 2015 Operalia
Winner annouced:
First Prizes of $30,000 – Ioan Hotea, Romania/Lise Davidsen, Norway
Second Prizes of $20,000 – Darren Pene Pati, New Zealand/Hye Sang Park, South Korea
Third Prizes of $10,000 – Edward Parks, USA/Noluvuyiso Mpofu, South Africa
Birgit Nilsson Prize of $15,000 – Lise Davidsen, Norway
The Pepita Embil Domingo Prize of Zarzuela of $10,000 – Hye Sang Park, South Korea
The Don Plácido Domingo, Sr., Prize of Zarzuela of $10,000 – Ioan Hotea, Romania
Audience Prizes, Rolex Wristwatches – Darren Pene Pati, New Zealand/Lise Davidsen, Norway
The Culturarte Prize of $ 10,000 – Kiandra Howarth, Australia

Ioan Hotea and Lisa Davidsen have just been announced as First Prize winners of the 2015 edition of Operalia, Plácido Domingo's international singing competition, hosted in London by the Royal Opera House for the first time in its 22 year history. Hotea also received The Don Plácido Domingo, Sr., Prize of Zarzuela, and Davidsen also received both the Birgit Nilsson Prize and the Rolex Audience Prize. The public final, during which the 11 finalists competed, took place as a Gala Concert on Covent Garden's main stage accompanied by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Plácido Domingo. Live streamed by Medici TV, the Gala Concert was followed by an awards ceremony during which Plácido Domingo presented prizes from the competition's seven award categories. French tenor Julien Behr, South African bass-baritone Bongani Justice Kubheka, American soprano Andrea Carroll and American baritone Tobias Greenhalgh were all also finalists in this year's edition of Operalia.

--Ginny Macbeth Media Relations

Nelarusky: Official Lollapalooza After Show Adds John Splithoff
Nelarusky (formerly known as McFest) is an annual benefit concert for Special Olympics Illinois that takes place at Metro in Chicago. Nelarusky became an Official Lollapalooza after show in 2010. The event is organized by Lauren McClusky and a team of young entrepreneurs. It has collectively raised over $200,000 for the organization over a course of nine years. Not only does Nelarusky showcase new and upcoming Chicago talent, but it has also expanded to bring artists from other cities and states. The event also includes raffle items, silent auctions, merchandise and giveaways.                

Mission Statement: To raise money and awareness for Special Olympics, as well as showcase upcoming talent, through an annual benefit concert at Metro in Chicago. It also provides young entrepreneurs an incredible learning opportunity to organize and plan an event, while performing community service.

Chicago musician John Splithoff joins Nelarusky at the Metro with Toro Y Moi and Young Buffalo. Sol Cat will no longer be performing at the Official Lollapalooza After Show.

You may still purchase tickets in advance online for $25. The event is set to take place at the Metro Chicago, 3730 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL on Wednesday, July 29th, 2015. Doors open at 7 P.M.

For more information, visit

--Lauren Widor, Cramer PR

Brooklyn's AOP Awards Fellowships to Ten Composer and Librettists for Free Training in Opera Composition
AOP (American Opera Projects) has selected six composers and four librettists to receive fellowships for its upcoming eighth season of Composers & the Voice. Chosen by Composers & the Voice Artistic Director Steven Osgood, the 2015-2017 season will train and present works from composers Matthew Barnson, Carlos R. Carrillo, Nell Shaw Cohen, Marc LeMay, Cecilia Livingston, and Sky Macklay and librettists Edward Einhorn, Duncan McFarlane, Emily Roller, and Mark Sonnenblick. The primary focus of Composers & the Voice is to give emerging composers and librettists experience working collaboratively with singers on writing for the voice and contemporary opera stage.

The two-year fellowships, made possible through a generous grant by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, include a year of working with the company's Resident Ensemble of Singers and Artistic Team at AOP's home base in Fort Greene, Brooklyn followed by a year of continued promotion and development through AOP and its strategic partnerships.

Comprised of one each of the basic operatic/vocal categories, the singers for the upcoming C&V season will be coloratura soprano Tookah Sapper, lyric soprano Jennifer Goode Cooper, mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert, tenor Blake Friedman, baritone Michael Weyandt and bass Jonathan Woody. The Resident Ensemble will be joined by returning Music Directors Mila Henry, Kelly Horsted, and Charity Wicks to collaborate on creating new material by the composer and librettist fellows.

For more information about American Opera Projects, visit

--Matthew Gray, AOP

YPC Wins Five Gold Medals in 10th Golden Gate International Choral Competition
The Young People's Chorus of New York City won five gold medals in the 10th Golden Gate International Children's and Youth Choral Festival, which took place in Oakland, California, from July 12 to 18. Two choral divisions from YPC—Cantare and Chorale—participated, conducted by Artistic Director/Founder Francisco J. Núñez and Associate Conductor Elizabeth Núñez. The two divisions received top prizes in all categories:  Historical, Folk, Contemporary, and a new category in the competition, Gospel/Spiritual. A total of 30 choirs from around the world applied to participate, with 21 invited to attend. Countries represented included the U.S., Canada, Estonia, Austria, China, Poland, Indonesia, and Finland.

The Young People's Chorus of New York City was founded in 1988 by Artistic Director Francisco J. Núñez, a MacArthur "genius" Fellow on a mission of diversity and artistic excellence. The program harnesses the power of music to fulfill the potential of children of any cultural or economic background, while heightening an awareness of the ability of young people to rise to unforeseen levels of artistry. Each year almost 1,400 children ages 7 to 18 benefit musically, academically, and socially through their participation in YPC's after-school and in-school programs.

For more information, visit

--Schuman Associates PR

Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf (CD review)

Also, Leopold Mozart: The Toy Symphony; Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite. Boris Karloff, narrator; Mario Rossi, Vienna State Opera Orchestra; Antonio Janigro, I Solisti di Zagreb; Maurice Abravanel, Utah Symphony Orchestra. Vanguard SVC-150.

Russian composer and conductor Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) wrote Peter and the Wolf in 1936 on a commission from the Central Children's Theatre in Moscow. The work did not get a very enthusiastic reception at the time of its premiere but, of course, eventually became a mainstay of the classical field to the delight of children and adults everywhere. The story comprises a narrator and orchestral accompaniment, the various instruments of the orchestra portraying the characters, human and animal, in the tale. Soviet censors of the day didn't quite know what to make of it, most of them accepting it as a simple fairy tale, others viewing it as a political allegory for the state of affairs in the Soviet Union. Whatever, it's still fun.

Over the years, there have been a slew of Peter and the Wolf recordings worth recommending, almost all of them featuring celebrated narrators. The ones I've been living with longest are those by Sir Ralph Richardson, Sean Connery, and Sir John Gielgud, but I've also heard ones narrated by Andre Previn, Michael Flanders, Bob Keeshan ("Captain Kangaroo"), David Attenborough, Ben Kingsley, Patrick Stewart, Sophia Loren, Christopher Lee, Peter Ustinov, Beatrice Lillie, Alec Guinness, Basil Rathbone, even Arthur Godfrey. But this recording was the first time I had heard Boris Karloff doing the storytelling, and I didn't know quite what to expect. The Frankenstein monster, I suppose. Vanguard had recorded it back in 1957, a few years before Karloff started hosting his TV series Thriller. I should have remembered how good a speaking voice he had because when he starts to tell us about the various musical instruments and then Peter's story, he fascinated and then mesmerized me.

Boris Karloff
Karloff provides as dramatic reading as probably any other narrator I've heard, shading and embellishing every word and syllable to create a tale that's genuinely interesting to follow no matter how many times you've heard it before. And his voice doesn't just sound menacing, as you might expect. It's gentle, kindly, and persuasive. The whole thing is a positive delight.

The sound of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra is also quite good, maybe not so clean as the Telarc recording for Previn but open and full, with a good sense of high-end presence and a reasonably quiet background. Maestro Mario Rossi's interpretation of the music matches Karloff's narrative charm, the orchestral parts being very broad and theatrical. I had a good time, and would hope that most listeners would have as good a time with the piece as Karloff and the musicians appeared to be having performing it.

But that's not all. Vanguard rounded out the disc with two equally impressive old war horses: Leopold Mozart's delightfully juvenile joke, The Toy Symphony, sometimes still referred to as "Haydn's Toy Symphony" since people originally thought Haydn had written it. Now we know better. Antonio Janigro and his I Solisti de Zagreb compatriots play it with zesty enthusiasm, and the 1958 stereo sound comes up sparkling.

Concluding the program we get Maurice Abravanel and his Utah Symphony in a few excerpts from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, also sparkling, although the 1961 sound here is a bit brighter and thinner than that of the previous two selections. In all, however, a fine collection at a reasonable price.


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

Jazz Suite for Bassoon (CD review)

Daniel Smith, bassoon; The Caravaggio Ensemble; various musicians. Summit Records DCD 656.

According to Daniel Smith's Web site, "with his many critically acclaimed award-winning recordings and live performances, Daniel Smith is the most recorded bassoon soloist in the world, with a repertoire spanning music from jazz to classical and crossover. As the only bassoonist performing and recording in both jazz and classical, his unique career has been profiled in numerous publications; described as the 'Gerry Mulligan of the Bassoon' in the world of jazz, and the 'Rampal of the Bassoon' in classical music."

Smith tells us that in the mid Nineties, French jazz pianist Jacques Loussier, well known for his jazz arrangements of classical music, inspired his own pianist, Bruce Boardman, and him to try their own hand at redoing a few Baroque pieces for bassoon and jazz band. The success of these numbers led to several other selections on the present album, recorded some twenty years ago and remastered here. So the idea for the arrangements was neither new nor novel for Smith; the execution of the idea, however, is quite fetching, which is why, I suppose, we are getting the present disc in better-than-ever sound.

First up is Boardman and Smith's initial concept, Baroque Adaptations for Bassoon and Jazz Trio, featuring Smith on bassoon, Boardman on piano, Terry Davis on bass, and Martin Drew on drums. The adaptations include the Allegro from Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto in B-flat; William Byrd's Pavan: The Earl of Salisbury; Henry Purcell's Air on a Ground Bass; Vivaldi's Largo from the Concerto for Bassoon and Strings in C major; and J.S. Bach's Badinerie from the Orchestral Suite No. 2.

Next up, we get a surprise. Having just presented Baroque music from a modern jazz ensemble, Smith gives us a few Scott Joplin rags from a Baroque ensemble, The Caravaggio. The musicians here are Smith on bassoon; Jonathan Still, piano; Paul Manley, violin; Boguslaw Kosice, violin; Kate Musker, viola; Justin Pearson, cello; and Michael Brittain, double bass. The Joplin numbers include "The Chrysanthemum," "The Easy Winners," and "Original Rags."

The final item on the program the Jazz Suite for Bassoon, an original composition in three movements by Steve Gray. It combines the flavors of both old and new, classical and modern. The musicians here are Smith, bassoon; Steve Gray, piano; Mitch Dalton, guitar; Jim Lawless, vibraphone; Roy Babbington, bass; and Mike Smith, drums. Gray has titled the movements "Allegro," Ballade," and "Finale."

Daniel Smith
One can easily understand why fans love Smith's bassoon playing. The emotional impact alone should convince any listener of the man's talent, whether it's classical or pop tunes he's playing. The only drawback might be that this kind of crossover material may not appeal to diehard classical or jazz fans, both of whom could reject it as not being "pure" enough. I dunno. For me, it just sounded enjoyably laid-back, no matter what one calls it.

I've always thought of the bassoon as being to the reeds what the cello is to the strings. That is, it has a wonderfully mellow tone and can easily convey the nuances of the human voice. Therefore, the instrument sings most naturally and pleasantly, and Mr. Smith exploits these qualities throughout his playing.

The opening suite of Baroque tunes offers mostly relaxed, atmospheric interpretations that go a long way to soothe the soul. Oddly, I found the Joplin numbers a bit more disconcerting played by a classical ensemble than I did the Baroque material played by a jazz group. Be that as it may, after making a few mental adjustments, the listener should be able to enjoy the music, which again sounds easy and comfortable rather than fast or shrill. The closing jazz suite is really the only thing on the program approaching actual jazz, again laid-back, easygoing, and agreeable.

My only real complaint: The album's too short. At just over forty minutes it hardly gets started than it's over. I know we're looking at quality over quantity here, but still, for a program that makes some gestures toward the classical field, the classical listener probably expects more.

Daniel Smith produced the album in 1995-97 in London and engineer Tom Lazarus remastered it at StadiumRed Studios, New York City in 2015. I can see why the producers wanted to remaster the album; the sound is quite good. It's somewhat close-up, though, in a typically pop-recording style. But it's nicely defined, especially the low end, which has a crisp bite and taut definition, and the high end, which shows good extension. The bassoon rings out mellifluously, and the other instruments appear well defined as well, in a smooth, round manner. While the ensembles do sound close, as I say, there is plenty of air and space around them, with a warm ambience and a nice spacing for depth. The recording shouldn't disappoint anyone.


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

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1-6 (SACD review)

Pinchas Zukerman, Members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Pentatone PTC 5186 205 (2-CD set).

Thank goodness for Pentatone, who for a number of years now have been going back into the catalogs of various record companies (in this case, DG) and finding recordings originally made in multichannel but only released in two-channel, recordings that SACD now allows us to hear in their original multichannel format (in this case, Quadraphonic). Thank goodness, too, the performances in this two-disc set of Bach's complete Brandenburg Concertos with Pinchas Zukerman and members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic are good enough to warrant their remastering.

Anyway, you'll recall that Bach's six Brandenburgs sound different from one another because the composer never meant them to be a single, unified group. In 1719 Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg commissioned Bach to write several musical works for him, and what he got several years later was a collection of concertos for various-sized ensembles and various solo instruments that Bach had probably written earlier for sundry other occasions.

The Concerto No. 1 is among the longest of the concertos, and Bach arranged it for the biggest number of players. The opening of No. 1 sets the tone for most of the rest of Zukerman's performances: smooth and relaxed. There is no hustle or bustle to Zukerman's interpretations, no fast-paced Allegros or hurried Adagios. If you're looking for more lively, more spirited, more high-powered renditions, you might want to stick to the various period-instrument recordings out there from Pinnock, Hogwood, and the like. Zukerman follows a slightly more old-fashioned approach, preferring to take things at a stately, elegant gait, with little pyrotechnics in the rubato department.

Concerto No. 2 is among the most popular of the concertos and highlights the oboe, recorder, violin, and trumpet, the latter getting the lion's share of attention. In No. 2 Zukerman's reading is a bit more animated than in the first concerto, with the trumpet adding a spirited contribution. The Andante sounds particularly refined, and the finale brings the concerto to a relatively rousing close.

Doubtless, Concerto No. 3 is as popular as No. 2, maybe even more so; therefore, it's equally probable that listeners have certain expectations for it. If one has heard many of the recordings of No. 3 in the past twenty years, Zukerman's rendition may seem rather sedate. Still, it possesses an agreeable charm and flows along with an easy manner. In its final movement, though, Zukerman steps it up considerably and goes out in buoyant style.

For me, Concerto No. 4 is the most playful piece in the set, with the soloists darting in and out of the work's structure. For some reason, it always reminds me of children's music, like Leopold Mozart's Toy Symphony or something. Whatever, the recorders are the stars of the show. As Zukerman does in the other concertos, he prefers grace over energy for its own sake. The music sounds fluid and effortless.

Pinchas Zukerman
I count Concerto No. 5 as another of my favorites, highlighting as it does solos from the violin, flute, and harpsichord. Also, because it involves a relatively small ensemble, it ensures a greater clarity of sound than the other concertos. What's more, here, maybe for the first time ever, the harpsichord gets its day in the sun, not merely accompanying the other instruments but playing an equal part in the proceedings. I enjoyed Zukerman's handling of No. 5 best of all because it seems to me he created an ideal compromise between traditional and period practices, with all three movements well judged in terms of tempos and contrasts.

When we get to the final piece, Concerto No. 6, we find it uses the smallest ensemble, yet it never seems to feel small. Its only real drawback is its melodic similarity to Concerto No. 3 and its consequent lack of real distinctiveness. Nevertheless, it's hard for one seriously to dislike it. With the sixth concerto Zukerman seems to lag a bit, making the work appear more lackadaisical than usual. On the other hand, some listeners may enjoy this approach as does offer a thoroughly free and easy account of the music. It's enjoyable in its own leisurely way.

The members of the L.A. Philharmonic play beautifully for Zukerman, rendering both solo and ensemble work precisely and enthusiastically.

Now, for reasons known only to Pentatone, they chose to present the six concertos as follows: Nos. 1, 3 and 4 on the first disc and Nos. 5, 6 and 2 on the second disc. It doesn't matter to authenticity, of course, since Bach specified no specific order for the pieces. I suppose Pentatone found this was the way the original LP's offered the music (a matter of space at the time, I suspect), so they simply duplicated that arrangement. It certainly isn't a matter of space on the CD's, though, and it annoys me because it means one has to refer to the track listings to know what concerto is on what disc.

Pentatone have packaged the two discs in a dual-SACD case, further enclosed by a thin-cardboard slipcase.

In 1977 DG recorded these concertos in four-channel Quadraphonic but only released them back then in two-channel stereo. In 2014 Pentatone remastered the original multichannel tapes and in 2015 rereleased the music in this hybrid SACD set. If you have an SACD player, you'll be able to play the discs either in two-channel or multichannel SACD; if you have a regular CD player, you'll be able to play the standard two-channel CD layers. I listened in two-channel SACD using a Sony SACD player.

The sound appears nicely spread out across the speakers, with a modest sense of depth and breadth to the ensemble. The instruments remain well differentiated, with a warm, lightly resonant midrange and decent bass and treble response. In other words, the sound is comfortable, matching the performances.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, July 19, 2015

Orion Ensemble's 23rd Season Offers Fantasies and Enchantments

The 2015-16 season opens with a world premiere, and includes four programs in downtown Chicago, Evanston, and Geneva, Illinois.

The Orion Ensemble, winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, announces its 23rd season, Fantasies and Enchantments, welcoming guest artists and featuring a range of compositions from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

Orion performs each of its four concert programs at venues spanning the Chicagoland area, including the PianoForte Studios in downtown Chicago, the First Baptist Church of Geneva and the Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston, Il.

The season opens with "French and German Tapestries," with guest violist Stephen Boe, considered one of the finest chamber musicians in Chicago. The program includes a world premiere by prolific composer and longtime Mannheim Steamroller keyboardist Jackson Berkey, Homage to Percy Bysshe Shelley for Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano. The program also includes three works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Divertimento in E-flat Major for String Trio, K. 563; Fantasy in C Minor for Piano, K. 396; and Trio (Kegelstatt) in E-flat Major for Clarinet, Viola and Piano, K. 498-and Gabriel Fauré's Quartet in C Minor for Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano, Op. 15. Performances take place September 20 (Geneva), October 4 (Evanston) and October 7 (Chicago).

In a program of 20th century music, "Harp Fantasy" features the Orion debut of guest harp virtuoso Ben Melsky, a member of the highly acclaimed Ensemble Dal Niente and principal harpist for the Joffrey Ballet and Ann Arbor Symphony. The program includes Jacques Ibert's Trio for Violin, Cello and Harp (1944); Camille Saint-Saëns's Fantaisie in A Major for Violin and Harp, Op. 124 (1907); Ralph Vaughan Williams's Six Studies in English Folksong for Clarinet and Harp (1923); John Ireland's Fantasy Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (1945); and Frank Bridge's Phantasie Trio in C Minor for Violin, Cello and Piano (1908). Performances are November 22 (Geneva), November 29 (Evanston) and December 2 (Chicago).

The Ensemble's third concert program of the season, "American Landscape," showcases the Orion musicians. Repertoire includes Jackson Berkey's Earth Voices for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano (1994); Rick Sowash's Anecdotes and Reflections for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano (1988); and Antonín Dvorák's Trio (Dumky) in E Minor for Violin, Cello and Piano, Op. 90. Performances are March 13 (Geneva), March 20 (Evanston) and March 23 (Chicago).

The season concludes with "Musical Enchantments," welcoming back guest violinist Mathias Tacke, former second violinist of the Vermeer Quartet, and violist Stephen Boe. They join Orion for Antonín Dvorák's Miniatures for Two Violins and Viola, Op. 75a; Amy Beach's Quintet in F-sharp Minor for String Quartet and Piano, Op. 67 (1908); and Johannes Brahms's Quintet in B Minor for Clarinet and Strings, Op. 115. Performances are May 29 (Geneva), June 1 (Chicago) and June 5 (Evanston).

For more information, visit

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

FWOpera Returns to the "Camelot Era" with the 2015 Presidential Gala
Fort Worth Opera (FWOpera) invites area arts lovers to return to the "Camelot Era" during its 55th annual Fort Worth Opera Ball, taking place Saturday, September 19, 2015 at 6:30pm at The Worthington Renaissance Hotel in downtown Fort Worth, TX. Recalling the glamor and elegance of the Kennedy White House of the early 1960s, FWOpera's Presidential Gala will inaugurate the company's 70th anniversary year and 10th Festival season, while celebrating the long-awaited and highly-anticipated world premiere commissioned opera JFK, by renowned creative duo David T. Little and Royce Vavrek. FWOpera's annual ball is the company's most financially impactful fundraiser of the year, with all proceeds going directly toward funding the company's state-wide arts outreach program, as well as, the annual Fort Worth Opera Festival.

This memorable, themed black-tie soiree will certainly be a night to remember as guests enjoy specially-crafted cocktails inspired by the early 60s while mingling with cigarette girls and secret servicemen. Following the cocktail hour, attendees will partake in a chef-created three course dinner with wine pairings, reminiscent of a Kennedy-era State dinner. After dinner, guests can enjoy a high-energy dance party featuring the music of IN10CITY, casino gaming, and a spirited raffle featuring several high-dollar prizes. The evening will also honor special guest Cornelia "Corky" Friedman – wife of the late former Mayor Bayard Friedman – and will also feature FWOpera's own "Jack and Jackie," baritone Matthew Worth and soprano Daniella Mack, who will perform a selection from the upcoming world premiere opera.

At 9:00pm, the Presidential Gala will welcome the city's most in-the-know young professionals as part of an exclusive after party called "The Cellar" – a nod to Fort Worth's wildest nightclub of the era. Tickets for "The Cellar" after party are just $75 a piece and include cocktails, gaming, and dancing.

Individual tickets for this once-a-year experience are $375 a piece. Tables and sponsorships are available upon request. For more information and to purchase tickets to the Presidential Gala or "The Cellar" after party, visit or contact Emily Weir at or by phone at 817-288-1214.

For more information about the Gala or the opera, visit

--Christina Allen, FWOpera

Wizard of Oz Film with Live Music from California Symphony Aug. 21 at Concord Pavilion
The California Symphony presents the beloved classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, and performs the complete, live orchestral accompaniment as the movie is shown on a giant screen at the Concord Pavilion in Concord, Friday, August 21 at 8:30 pm.

Conductor Sarah Hicks leads the orchestra in some of the best-loved movie songs and music of all time, including Harold Arlen and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg's "Over the Rainbow," "We're Off to See the Wizard," "If I Only Had a Brain," "Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead," "The Merry Old Land of Oz," and many more, as well as the underscore by composer Herbert Stothart. Judy Garland and the other actors' original vocal performances are preserved and enhanced, so they can be fully heard and enjoyed as the orchestra plays. The film's restored images are accompanied by the orchestra playing entirely new transcriptions of Harold Arlen's brilliant lost scores. The production is by Emmy Award-winning producer John Goberman (Live from Lincoln Center). Tickets for The Wizard of Oz are $25 to $75 for adults and $10 for students 18 years old and younger, and are on sale now at

--Jean Shirk Media

2015 PARMA Music Festival
Friday, August 14 – Sunday, August 16, 2015
Portsmouth, NH & Kittery, ME

Classical music.
Contemporary music.
Local and international acts.
8 concerts. 7 venues. 3 days.
Breaking barriers. Bridging genres.

For complete information, visit

--Janet Giovanniello, PARMA Music Festival

Ettore Stratta, Conductor, Producer, Pianist, Composer: 1933-2015
Ettore Stratta, Renaissance music man, "Pioneer of Crossover," passed away July 9 at 82.

As "The Pioneer of Crossover", he created "Switched on Bach" (for CBS) and then went out on his own and produced historic crossover recordings which he also conducted:  "Symphonic Tango," "Symphonic Bossa Nova," "Symphonic Boleros" (Teldec) with The Royal Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, arrangements by Jorge Callandrelli, who he discovered. Top artists such as Al Jarreau, Dori Caymmi, Hubert Laws, Paquito  D'Rivera, were included in these recordings , part of his signature of 'crossover'. He was a master when it came to repertoire for such recordings. Maestro Stratta also conducted for the London Symphony, Melbourne Symphony, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, St Lukes Symphony Orchestra, L' Orchestra de Lille in France, and many more.

Other masterpieces were with Placido Domingo, Jose Cura (Bway with orchestra), Sumi Jo (Bway with orchestra) which sold over a millions copies, Eddie Daniels's "Breakthrough" (GRP), Emmanuel Ax  with Pablo Ziegler (Sony), Yo-Yo Ma and Stephane Grappelli (Yo-Yo's first outside venture… Classical to Jazz - Sony). Other greats were Chanticleer with orchestra, Justino Diaz singing Mozart Arias with English Chamber Orchestra, The Four Seasons Vivaldi, and so many more. He also fought for the Classical Crossover category for the Grammy's of which he was a Trustee and Governor for many years and succeeded.

Ettore Stratta was a class act all the way, a beloved  man by his peers for his integrity, charm, warm personality, humor, was humble  and talented.  In his loving family,  he leaves behind his wife Pat Philips Stratta, his sons Paul and Luca, stepsons Brad and Evan, three daughter-in-laws Carla, Radia, and Ashley, and five grandchildren: Manuka, Isabella, Sophie, Rianne, and Luke.

--Jim Eigo, Jazz Promo Services

Noteworthy Musicians Join Music Institute Faculty
The Music Institute of Chicago reaffirms its role as one of the most respected community music schools in the country with the addition of key faculty in its Voice, String, and Piano Departments.

Voice: Philip Kraus
Philip Kraus has performed with the Lyric Opera of Chicago since 1990, including creating the role of the southern Senator John Calhoun in the world premiere of Anthony Davies' Amistad. He also has performed with the Minnesota Opera, Cleveland Opera, Los Angeles Opera, and more. He holds a doctor of music degree from Northwestern University, has taught at DePaul University, and headed the Opera Department at Roosevelt University. He also founded Light Opera Works in 1980 and served as its artistic director for 19 seasons.

String/Violin: Jasmine Lin
Jasmine Lin is a founding member of the Formosa Quartet, which won first prize in the 10th London International String Quartet Competition. A Chicago native, she has performed as a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and symphony orchestras in Singapore, Taiwan, Uruguay, Brazil, and more. A graduate of Curtis Institute of Music, she also is a member of Trio Voce and Chicago Chamber Musicians.

Piano: Keiko Alexander
Keiko Alexander recently served on the piano faculty of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music. A graduate of the Juilliard School, she toured with members of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and served as chair of the Piano Department at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. She has performed as a soloist and chamber musician in the United States, Canada, and Japan.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Enter to Win a $300 Gift Card!
Green Music Center, Sonoma State University.

No purchase necessary to enter or win. "Enter to Win" is open to U.S. legal residents only.

Participation constitutes entrant's full and unconditional agreement to and acceptance of these Official Rules. The "Enter to Win" sweepstakes began at 10:00 A.M. PST on Tuesday, July 14, 2015 and ends at 11:59 P.M. PST on Friday, July 31, 2015. "Enter to Win" is sponsored by Sonoma State University's Green Music Center, 1801 E. Cotati Avenue, Rohnert Park, CA, 94928.

For complete information and rules, visit or

--Green Music Center, Sonoma State University

Three U.S. Singers Through to Finals of Plácido Domingo's 2015 Operalia
For the first time in its 22 year history, Operalia, Plácido Domingo's international singing competition, is being held in London, hosted by the Royal Opera House.  Earlier this week, the 40 contestants drawn from 21 countries took part in three days of preliminary rounds performing in front of the competition's international jury.

The Gala Concert, which sees the 11 remaining finalists compete, will be held on Covent Garden's main stage at 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 19, accompanied by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Plácido Domingo. Live streamed by Medici TV, the Gala Concert will be followed by an awards ceremony during which Plácido Domingo presents prizes from the competition's seven award categories: First, Second, Third, Birgit Nilsson, Zarzuela, Audience and Culturarte.

Founded in 1993 with the aim of discovering and helping launch the careers of today's most promising young opera singers, Operalia is open to singers of all voice types between the ages of 18 and 32.  Amongst the winners from the last 22 years are artists of the calibre of Angel Blue, Joseph Calleja, José Cura, Joyce DiDonato, Carmen Giannattasio, Ana María Martínez, Ailyn Pérez, Erwin Schrott, Nina Stemme, Rolando Villazón and Sonya Yoncheva.

Kiandra Howarth, soprano, 25*

Julien Behr, tenor, 32

New Zealand
Darren Pene Pati, tenor, 27*

Lise Davidsen, soprano, 28

Ioan Hotea, tenor, 25

South Africa
Bongani Justice Kubheka, bass-baritone, 24
Noluvuyiso Mpofu, soprano, 26

South Korea
Hye Sang Park, soprano, 26

Andrea Carroll, soprano, 25
Tobias Greenhalgh, baritone, 26
Edward Parks, baritone, 31

--Macbeth Media Relations

Live Broadcast: McGegan at Caramoor, July 19
Join us on Sunday, July 19 at 4:30 pm for a live broadcast from the Caramoor Festival in Katonah, New York. Nicholas McGegan conducts the Orchestra of St Luke's in a program of pieces by Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven. American violinist Jennifer Koh is the soloist.

All three works on this program have Austrian roots, starting with Mozart's "Little G minor" symphony, his first symphony in a minor key and written when he was still a teenager. Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony, despite having just two movements completed, remains his most popular orchestral work; while Beethoven's Violin Concerto stands out as a lyrical and expressive middle-period masterpiece.

The Orchestra of St. of Luke's began as a chamber ensemble in a Greenwich Village church and returns to its summer Caramoor residency as it celebrates its 40th season.

Jennifer Koh is a high-octave violinist noted for her performance of repertoire ranging from traditional to contemporary. Koh's special interest in Bach is shown in her three part Bach and Beyond series that explores solo violin repertoire from Bach's Sonatas and Partitas as well modern day composers.

British conductor Nicholas McGegan, music director of the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, is best-known as a Baroque music authority, though he has also branched out into Classical, Romantic, 20th and 21st century repertoire. Among his many notable releases is the world premiere recording of Handel's Susanna, earning him both a Gramophone Award and a Grammy nomination.

For more information, visit!/story/jennifer-koh-orchestra-st-lukes-caramoor-festival/

--Schwalbe and Partners

American Bach Soloists News
Alliance Francais ABS Collaboration
ABS collaboration with Alliance Française begins July 21

ABS will collaborate with Alliance Française de San Francisco in three exciting French-themed programs this month, leading up to this summer's ABS Festival & Academy, "Versailles & The Parisian Baroque" (August 7-16). We hope to see you at the Alliance Française (1345 Bush Street, San Francisco) for this pre-Festival celebration of French culture, cinema, and music. Save the dates and arrive early to get a good seat!

"Baroque Marathon" opens second week of ABS Festival & Academy
This year, the Academy-In-Action Series, which traditionally opens the second week of Festival activities, will undergo an exciting metamorphosis into a "Baroque Marathon." Featuring instrumental and vocal soloists from the ABS Academy, the Marathon will include three sessions: two on August 10 (3:00 p.m. & 8:00 p.m.) and a concluding one on August 11 (8:00 p.m.). The August 11 session will include a complete performance of Bach's Cantata 131 conducted by ABS Music Director Jeffrey Thomas.

Festival Primer: Versailles, The Parisian Baroque, and Bach!
The upcoming ABS Festival & Academy, "Versailles & The Parisian Baroque," will take place at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music from August 7-16. While the concerts, lectures, and public colloquium will emphasize the French composers who established a style and tradition all their own, the great J.S. Bach will also get his due during the two-week festival. We provide some listening, viewing, and reading recommendations to get you in the spirit before this two-week immersion in the Parisian Baroque begins.

For more information, visit

--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

Reger & Romanticism (CD review)

Leon Botstein, London Philharmonic Orchestra. Telarc CD-80589.

There was a time when the folks at Telarc were releasing so many discs in hybrid SACD, it actually became a pleasure listening to an album they had only made in straight two-channel stereo. But, more than that, it was particularly nice to hear from the late nineteenth, early twentieth-century German composer Max Reger, who doesn't get recorded much these days. He was extremely popular in his lifetime, 1873-1916, but he fell out of favor in subsequent years. He's worth a listen on this 2002 issue with Leon Botstein and the London Philharmonic.

I have to admit, however, that my only real knowledge of Reger before this disc had come by way of his Variations and Fugue (Naxos) and his Piano Concerto (RCA). So this collection of brief tone poems, all written in a Romantic vein late in his short life, came as a delight, especially as Botstein appeared to have a natural affinity for Reger's music and the LPO responded so well to him.

Leon Botstein
First up on the program, there's a set of works based on the paintings of Swiss artist Arnold Bocklin. These pieces are self-evident with titles like "Hermit Playing the Violin," "In the Play of the Waves," "The Isle of the Dead," and "Bacchanal." Each lasts from four to eight minutes, and together they represent the composer's many and varied moods. Not quite Pictures at an Exhibition but close. "Hermit Playing the Violin" couldn't help reminding me of the famous blind-violinist scene from The Bride of Frankenstein, but I also found "In the Play of Waves" particularly playful and descriptive, with Botstein gently caressing the notes.

Next is a single work called "To Hope" that is done with a vocal by mezzo-soprano Catherine Wyn-Rogers, and it's quite lovely, both the singing and Botstein's warm accompaniment. Finally, there is another set of tone poems, three of them this time, called "A Romantic Suite After J.F. Eichendorff." They are actual poems the composer set to music but without the words. These pieces are probably the most descriptive of anything else in the album, and they place Reger in the category of a minor-league Richard Strauss (with whom he was a direct contemporary) or maybe Dvorak. Reger's Romantic tone poems may also safely take their place alongside the pastoral works of Arnold Bax, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Frank Bridge for their lovely, flowing melodies.

What more, Telarc's sound does the music justice. It is quite revealing, with a natural tonal balance and a realistic sense of ambiance. Depth perception is more than adequate, as are dynamics and frequency range, although in this music the latter qualities are not of paramount importance. Overall transparency is also good, and that is the thing that matters most. Even after more than a decade since its release, I find this disc a recommendable item.


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

Mozart: Opera Arias & Overtures (SACD review)

Elizabeth Watts, soprano; Christian Baldini, Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Linn Records CKD 460.

As we have come to expect from Linn Records, every new release is a welcome pleasure. This album of Mozart arias and overtures is no exception, especially as the performers do so well and the recording sounds so good.

However, most recordings these days seem to need something beyond good performances and good sound, so the added attraction here is the choice of material. Not content with merely providing an arbitrary selection of Mozart arias and overtures, Maestro Christian Baldini, soprano Elizabeth Watts, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra have chosen to give us one or two arias and the overture from each of six Mozart operas. Thus, the program gives us a better idea of the flavor of the operas represented than just some random assortment of things.

Here's a rundown of the program:
  1. Le nozze di Figaro: Overture
  2. "Giunse alfin - Deh vieni non tardar"
  3. Idomeneo: Overture
  4. "Quanti mi siete intorno - Padre, germani, addio!"
  5. Don Giovanni: Overture
  6. "Batti, batti"
  7. "Vedrai, carino"
  8. La clemenza di Tito: Overture
  9. "S'altro che lacrime"
10. La finta giardiniera: Overture
11. "Appena mi vedon"
12. Così fan tutte: Overture
13. "Ei parte - Per pietà"

There is plenty of zest, spunk, in Maestro Baldini's overture readings, although I'm not he captures all of Mozart's charm or drama along the way. Things seem to zip along merrily enough yet without quite the expansiveness that might have made the music even more delightful (or in the case of Don Giovanni, more melodramatic). Moreover, Baldini appears to get quicker as he moves from one overture to the next, the final selections a touch more taxing than they are exuberant. Still, these are quite exciting interpretations, and one cannot deny the conductor's energy and enthusiasm.

Elizabeth Watts
On the other hand, Baldini and soprano Elizabeth Watts handle the arias exquisitely. Ms. Watts possesses a fine, expressive voice, and she isn't shy about using it to its fullest extent, from softest and gentlest to loudest and most-explosive expressions.

I also loved the precision and poise of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, who never fail to impress me with their devotion to the music. They appear to respond to conductor Baldini's every direction.

Producer and recording engineer Philip Hobbs made the album at Usher Hall, Edinburgh, UK in June 2013. He recorded it for hybrid SACD playback, meaning that if you own an SACD player, you can listen either in SACD multichannel or SACD two-channel, and if you have a regular CD player, you can listen in standard two-channel stereo. I listened in two-channel SACD stereo using a Sony SACD player.

There is a good sense of depth to the sound, noticeable from the opening bell. There's also a strong dynamic range and punch to the music, which lend to the album's overall lifelike quality. But you knew that going in, given that it's a Linn recording. The midrange sounds nicely detailed without being bright or hard; the highs show a reasonable sparkle; and the lows are commendably solid. A small degree of hall ambience adds to the illusion of reality.


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

Handel: Water Music (CD review)

Ton Koopman, The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. Erato 0825646138517.

The first thing you should know about Ton Koopman's rerelease of Handel's Water Music is that the Handel piece is the only thing on the disc. Most newer recordings of the Water Music come coupled with Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks or some other shorter Handel work. The Fireworks Music doesn't usually last more than twenty minutes, and this particular Erato album lasts only fifty-six minutes, so there was plenty of space for more than the one item. But that's no doubt the way Erato originally issued it, so that's what we get in this reissue.

The second thing you should know is that Koopman leads a period-instrument ensemble probably about half the size of the one observers of the day said Handel used. Supposedly, Handel had about fifty players floating down the river entertaining the king, and it seems as though Koopman's number is about half or less of that. Naturally, Handel and others of his era played the music in various arrangements thereafter, so the twenty-odd performers in Koopman's Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra would not seem entirely out of line with historical practice. Besides, the smaller forces result in clearer orchestral textures, more-transparent sound.

The third thing you should know is that Koopman plays the music in the three traditional suites that most of us have come to recognize and appreciate, and he uses a limited timpani section. The fact is, Handel never seems to have organized the music into suites, and he didn't seem to use any timpani at all, maybe not even a harpsichord while floating down the Thames on a barge; so, again, Koopman's rendition does not break any taboos here, either.

I suppose more to the point is how Koopman compares with other highly regarded period-instrument accounts of the Water Music, like those from my favorites: Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (Harmonia Mundi), Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert (DG Archiv), Jeanne Lamon and Tafelmusik (Sony), Jordi Savall and Les Concert des Nations (Astree), and Martin Pearlman and Boston Baroque (Telarc). The answer here, of course, is pretty subjective, but for the most part Koopman compares favorably (if differently). I wouldn't place his interpretation or Erato's sound at the top of the pile, but it's in the mix.

Ton Koopman
Anyway, the German composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was living in England when he wrote the Water Music at the request of King George I, who ordered up music for a festive river party. In a letter to the King of Prussia, the ambassador Friedrich Bonet described the occasion this way: "Along side the King's barge was that of the musicians, fifty of them, who played all sorts of instruments, to wit trumpets, hunting horns, oboes, bassoons, German flutes, French flutes, violins and basses; but there were no singers. This concert was composed expressly by the famous Handel, a native of Halle and first composer of the King's Music. His Majesty so approved of it that he had it repeated three times, even though it lasted an hour on each occasion: twice before and once after supper."

Koopman's fifty-six minutes is pretty close to the hour described by Bonet, although Koopman's rendition seems at times a lot slower because of his tempo changes. His pacing ranges from very leisurely to reasonably quick within the moment, which keeps the music ever changing and the listener ever on his toes.

Listeners interested in a fast-paced, high-octane, ultra-exciting performance need to look elsewhere because Koopman keeps everything rather sensible and even sedate for a period-instrument interpretation. This is not to suggest, however, that Koopman's rendition is anything like dull or slow or stuffy. Nothing of the sort; it does, in fact, sound vibrant, alert, and alive. Yet the whole thing, all three suites, comes off with a regal and stately air, appropriate for music for a king.

Moreover, the Amsterdam players sound as polished and mellifluous as ever, with certainly nothing Raggedy Annie about their performance as sometimes happens with historically informed groups. The Amsterdam band perform with a splendid and justly famous richness and roundness. They are a pleasure to hear.

Producer Tini Mathot and engineer Adriaan Verstijnen recorded the music at Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam, Netherlands in June-July 1992, and Erato rereleased the disc in 2015. The small number of players provide for a reasonably clean, transparent sound. At the same time, the acoustic allows for a pleasantly mild resonance to help the music sound warm and natural. I missed only the smallest degree of sparkle at the high end and maybe a tad more dynamic contrast. Still, the engineers miked the ensemble at a moderate distance, further enhancing the illusion of reality with the presentation's space and depth, thus making the recording among the better ones for this work.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, July 12, 2015

Itzhak Perlman's Complete Warner Recordings, Coming in September

Warner Classics honors Itzhak Perlman's 70th birthday with Itzhak Perlman: The Complete Warner Recordings, a 77-CD deluxe box set that reunites Perlman's EMI and Teldec recordings made over a period of more than thirty years.

Itzhak Perlman, born in 1945, is the supreme violinist of his time. Warner Classics salutes him in his 70th birthday year with Itzhak Perlman: The Complete Warner Recordings, 59 albums on 77 CDs, released in September 2015. Presenting his art in all its warmth, generosity and brilliance, this comprehensive edition unites the recordings Perlman made for both EMI and Teldec over a total period of more than 30 years.

Available as a magnificent deluxe box set, or as 59 separate releases, Itzhak Perlman: The Complete Warner Recordings embraces every aspect of Perlman's art. It contains concertos (the 'essential' concertos, of course, but also more rarely-heard works, including Perlman's own commissions from living composers); other pieces for violin and orchestra; chamber music; recital and crossover repertoire (including jazz, ragtime and klezmer), and even a disc that focuses on Perlman as narrator and (briefly) opera singer. The recordings document his collaborations with the world's greatest orchestras and an array of superlative fellow-soloists and conductors, including Martha Argerich, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Daniel Barenboim, Plácido Domingo, Carlo Maria Giulini, Bernard Haitink, Lynn Harrell, Yo Yo Ma, Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa, André Previn and Pinchas Zukerman.

Itzhak Perlman: The Complete Warner Recordings has been assembled with the greatest care. The recordings from the analogue era have been carefully remastered in 24-bit/96kHz sound at Abbey Road Studios, ensuring MfiT quality for the digital version on iTunes and HD quality for HD platforms. The format and presentation of each album is true to the original LP release: the couplings of musical works have been retained and the design reflects the original jacket. New notes on the music and the performances have been written by an internationally respected expert on violinists and violin-playing, Jean-Michel Molkhou.

The box set also contains a beautifully produced hardback book, featuring a wealth of photographs, many of them from private collections and never before published. Running to more than 100 pages, it contains a new interview with Itzhak Perlman (written by Jean-Michel Molkhou), an essay on his life and career and personal tributes from distinguished and varied fellow musicians, including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Daniel Barenboim, Renaud Capuçon, Ivry Gitlis, Gidon Kremer, Yo Yo Ma, Vadim Repin and Maxim Vengerov.

Complementing Itzhak Perlman: The Complete Warner Recordings is a 3-CD box called The Perlman Sound, released in September 2015. This features a selection of the most popular works and recordings from the complete edition and eloquently summarises just why Itzhak Perlman is regarded as the supreme violinist of his time.

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Conductor With "A Constellation of Qualities"
On Artistic Director, Patrick Dupré Quigley, Seraphic Fire, the Miami Herald wrote:
"A musician with a constellation of qualities rarely found in a single conductor: an enthusiastic and audience-friendly personal style, a scholar's instinct for rooting out obscure but worthy music, a scrupulous and historically informed approach to works that span a wide range of musical periods, an ability to bring out the best in his talented platoon...and a showman's canny sense of how to appeal to audiences."

Fall appearances:
Schubert: Mass in G
Jake Runestad: World premiere commission
Seraphic Fire
October 14, 16, 17, 18
Miami, Coral Gables, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami Beach, FL

Handel: Coronation Anthems
Charpentier: Te Deum
Seraphic Fire
November 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12
Ft. Lauderdale & Miami, FL; Washington, D.C.; New York City; Philadelphia, PA

Handel: Messiah
Seraphic Fire
December 9, 11, 12, 13
Miami, Coral Gables, Miami Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

--Schwalbe and Partners

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Embarks on 2015 U.S. Tour in November
Bringing its historic message of peace through music, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, joined by Music Director for Life Zubin Mehta, returns to the United States in November 2015 for an eight-city tour. Each year, the IPO performs around the world as cultural ambassadors, contributing to the global reputation of the State of Israel and promoting cultural diplomacy. Concerts will take place in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Dallas, Cleveland and Palm Desert, CA. The American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (AFIPO) will present gala benefits in five of these cities, as they celebrate their 35th Anniversary supporting and broadening the Orchestra's activities and artistic vision.

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra returns to Carnegie Hall on Thursday, November 5 with Maestro Zubin Mehta leading a benefit performance of Mahler's epic Symphony No. 2 in C minor ("Resurrection") with soprano Kristin Lewis, mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung and The Collegiate Chorale. The program for the tour features Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major ("Eroica"), Dvorák's Symphony No. 9 in E minor ("From the New World"), Ravel's La valse, poème chorégraphique, and contemporary Georgian composer Josef Bardanashvili's A Journey to the End of the Millenium.

For more information, visit

--Katharine Boone, Kirshbaum Associates

Music Institute of Chicago Announces 2015-16 Nichols Concert Hall Season
Highlights Include Dee Dee Bridgewater, Anat Cohen, Rachel Barton Pine, and Matthew Lipman.

The Music Institute of Chicago announces the 2015–16 season of its Faculty and Guest Artist Series, showcasing women in jazz, illustrious alumni, and the 10th anniversary of its Academy for training gifted pre-college musicians. All concerts take place at the historic Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in the heart of downtown Evanston, Il.

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 online or 847.905.1500 ext. 108. All programming is subject to change.

For more information, visit

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Curious Flights Announces 2015-2016 Season
Curious Flights, a concert series dedicated to presenting new and rarely performed works for solo, chamber, orchestra and other large forces, announced today the lineup for its 2015-2016 season. Now in its second season, the San Francisco concert series expands to four concerts and will highlight lesser-known works from the United Kingdom and United States including the West Coast Premiere of Marc Blitzstein's The Airborne Symphony led by Marin Symphony Music Director Alasdair Neale; a solo recital by internationally renowned British violinist Madeleine Mitchell as part of her U.S. tour; a weeklong residency by award winning British composer Simon Dobson featuring a World Premiere commission for clarinet and electronics; and a World Premiere commission by Bay Area composer Noah Luna in collaboration with the San Francisco Wind Ensemble. Curious Flights is the brainchild of British clarinetist Brenden Guy and was launched in 2013.

Tickets to all Curious Flights concerts are on sale now. Single tickets range in price from $20-$50 and can be purchased online or at the door.

For further information on Curious Flights, please visit or email

For complete information, visit

--Brenden Guy, Curious Flights

Dr. David Ake Appointed Professor and Chair of the Department of Musicology at the U. of Miami
The Phillip and Patricia Frost School of Music at the University of Miami announces the selection of Dr. David Ake as professor of musicology and chair of the Department of Musicology beginning August 15, 2015.

He joins a distinguished musicology faculty that includes Dr. Deborah Schwartz-Kates, who previously served as department chair for eight years and is a two-time National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship recipient and an expert in contemporary Latin American music; Dr. Karen Henson, whose research focuses on 19th-century opera, singers and opera performance; and Aleysia K, Witmore, a visiting professor of ethnomusicology.

David Ake is an award-winning scholar and educator in the fields of jazz and popular music. His publications include the books Jazz Cultures; Jazz Matters: Sound, Place, and Time since Bebop; and the collection Jazz/Not Jazz: The Music and Its Boundaries (co-edited with Charles Hiroshi Garrett and Daniel Goldmark), all for the University of California Press, as well as chapters or articles in the Cambridge Companion to Jazz, American Music, Jazz Perspectives, and other publications. Also active as a jazz pianist and composer, his most recent recordings as a leader are Bridges, which appeared on multiple Best-of-2013 lists, and Lake Effect (2015), both for the Posi-Tone label.

For more information, visit

--Megan Ondrizek, University of Miami

Merola Opera Program Artists Perform Donizetti's Don Pasquale Aug. 6 and 8
The Merola Opera Program presents Donizetti's Don Pasquale, led by conductor Warren Jones and director Nic Muni, in two performances Thursday, August 6 at 7:30pm and Saturday, August 8 at 2pm at the Cowell Theater in San Francisco.

The cast of Don Pasquale features Merola 2015 artists bass-baritone James Ioelu as Don Pasquale, baritone Alex DeSocio as Dr. Malatesta, tenor Soonchan Kwon as Ernesto, soprano Amina Edris as Norina, and tenor Alasdair Kent as Notary.

Old and feeble though plentifully rich, Don Pasquale feels the vigor of youth return to him when he decides to marry. Little does Pasquale know that his seemingly perfect bride "Sofronia" is actually Norina, the beloved of his nephew Ernesto. The couple concocts a whimsical plan with the clever Dr. Malatesta to set Don Pasquale in his place, and so unfolds an opera full of comedy and errors.

For more information about the Merola Opera Program, please visit or call (415) 936-2324.

--Jean Shirk Media

West Edge Opera Offers Talks by As One Creators
West Edge Opera's 2015 Festival presents the West Coast premiere of As One at a Sunday, July 26, 2 p.m. matinee, with the three co-creators of the opera – composer Laura Kaminsky and co-librettists Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed – present to discuss the work's creation at a pre-performance talk at 1:15. The performance takes place at The Oakland Metro, 522 2nd Street at Washington, near Oakland, California's Jack London Square.

They will also present a free program in the Community Room at the Berkeley Public Library at noon on Thursday, July 23, discussing the creation of the opera and playing recorded excerpts.

Kaminsky, Campbell and Reed arrive in the Bay Area on July 21st and will be available for interviews prior to the opening. For more information, visit

--Marian Kohlstedt, West Edge Opera

Long Beach Gospel Fest Announces Star-Studded Lineup
The Fifth Annual Long Beach Gospel Fest, founded by Pastor Wayne Chaney, Jr. and wife Myesha of the Antioch Church of Long Beach, just added Grammy-nominated star of WEtv's hit series Mary Mary, Tina Campbell to this year's star-studded lineup for the highly anticipated citywide worship event. Showcasing some of the best gospel artists in music today, Campbell joins previously announced multi-award winning performers Tasha Cobbs, Deitrick Haddon, Kierra Sheard, Jonathan Nelson, Myron Butler, Jessica Reedy, Brian Courtney Wilson and more. The free, open-to-the-public event takes place on Sunday, July 19, 2015 at Marina Green Park.

Inspiring fans on the shores of Long Beach since its inception in 2009, the successful annual event is one of the city's premier summer festivals. Anticipating more than 20,000 attendees, the Festival experience includes a monumental morning worship service led by Pastor Chaney, followed by the afternoon concert with gospel's top performers. A special tribute with clergy and performing talent honoring the victims of the Charleston Emanuel AME Church mass shooting is planned.

In addition to the worship service and concert, a vibrant marketplace with vendors for food, merchandise, and fun family-friendly activities is accessible to festival goers throughout the day.

The Gold Experience ($50) is also available to attendees who prefer to enhance their Festival experience through priority check-in, reserved seating, vendor concierge service and artist meet and greets. Tickets are available online at

The Fifth Annual Gospel Fest will take place on Sunday, July 19, 2015 at Marina Green Park, 386 E. Shoreline Dr., Long Beach, CA 90802. The worship service will begin at 10:30 a.m., followed by the concert at 12:30 p.m.  Red carpet arrivals begin at 3:00 p.m.

--Tosha Whitten Griggs, FrontPage Firm

CIPC Young Artists Winners To Make NYC Debut
The first prize winners from the 2015 Cleveland International Piano Competition Young Artists Competition, 18-year-old Yuanfan Yang (Senior Division) and 15-year-old Jae Hong Park (Junior Division), will share a recital of solo piano music at The Frick Collection on Thursday, August 13 at 7:30 pm. Mr. Yang, from the UK, and Mr. Park, from South Korea, are each making their New York debut.

The concert is presented by the Cleveland International Piano Competition (CIPC), organizers of the CIPC Young Artists Competition, as part of the first prize package for both age groups. In addition to the recital debut, Mr. Yang received a cash award of $25,000 (presented by Zoya Reyzis) and Mr. Park received a cash award of $10,000 (presented by the Payne Fund). Generous support for the New York debut was provided by Michael Horvitz.

"One of the key goals of the CIPC Young Artists Competition is to support young pianists in the pursuit of their careers," said CIPC President and CEO Pierre van der Westhuizen. "Thanks to the generosity of our patrons we are able to provide significant financial support, as well as a New York concert debut, for two extremely dedicated, talented, and deserving individuals."

For more information, visit

--Katharine Boone, Kirshbaum Associates

McGegan at Caramoor
Sunday, July 19  4:30pm
Jennifer Koh, Nicholas McGegan and Orchestra of St. Luke's presnts  chamber, classical, symphonic music in the Venetian Theater.
$15, $25, $37, $49, $61, $73, Garden Listening available (formerly Al Fresco).

Caramoor Center for Music & the Arts, Inc.
149 Girdle Ridge Road
PO Box 816
Katonah, NY 10536

For more information, visit

--Schwalbe and Partners

Seattle Symphony's Ludovic Morlot Extends Contract Through 2019
The Seattle Symphony announced that Ludovic Morlot's contract as Music Director has been extended for two additional years, through August 2019. Morlot's original six-year agreement was from September 2011 through August 2017.

President and CEO Simon Woods commented, "Under Ludovic Morlot's leadership, this organization has experienced an extraordinary transformation. The music making on stage has been electrifying and inspirational, but what has further distinguished the Morlot era to date is a commitment to expanding the repertoire, challenging traditional programming boundaries and opening up Benaroya Hall to our community. We are proud to have a music director who so deeply and personally embraces the forward-looking values for which the Seattle region is known."

"This orchestra and Seattle itself have become an integral part of my life," Morlot said. "I feel privileged to work with such an inspired and dynamic group of musicians; together we've made tremendous strides. I look forward to deepening my relationship with them further, building on our successes, and to working in tandem with the Symphony's fine leadership and administrative team to welcome one and all to Benaroya Hall."

For more information, visit

--Katharine Boone, Kirshbaum Associates

Meet the Staff

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

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

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

Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

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

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, Goldpoint SA4 “passive preamp,” Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura’s hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can’t imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

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

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

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

Contact Information

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