Jul 30, 2015

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:

Jul 28, 2015

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:

Jul 26, 2015

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:

Jul 23, 2015

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:

Jul 21, 2015

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:

Jul 19, 2015

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:

Jul 16, 2015

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:

Jul 14, 2015

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:

Jul 12, 2015

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:

Jul 9, 2015

Piazzolla: Tangazo (CD review)

Charles Dutoit, Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Decca 289 468 528-2.

It appears that composer, arranger, and bandoneon player Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), born in Argentina and raised in America when his family emigrated to New York in 1924, continues to be both admired and scorned for his work in the field of tango music. In the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties, he almost single-handedly resurrected the moribund genre, yet he did so by infusing the traditional melancholy tango with fresh inputs of jazz and classical influences and even by broadening its approach to the full orchestral field. It's here that Maestro Charles Dutoit and his old, ultrasophisticated Montreal Symphony Orchestra take us on this 2001 Decca release. The program is, perhaps, different from the one we might expect, different for these musicians and different for the tango, but it's an admirable and highly listenable collection of music in any case.

There are seven short pieces for orchestra represented on the program, all of them sounding like popular classical music tinged with hints of tango, so it's not exactly for fans of traditional tango unless they have an open mind. The album begins with possibly Piazzolla's most popular piece, "Adios Nonino," which combines a big, robust sound with the more sensuous and heavyhearted aspects of conventional tango. It is also representative of the music on the disc as a whole. Dutoit and company play with conviction.

Charles Dutoit
Following this are the more lyrical numbers: "Milonga del angel," which doesn't sound "tango" at all, and the Double Concerto for bandoneon and guitar, which is perhaps the most haunting of all the selections and the one I fell in love with. Inspired playing by Daniel Binelli on the accordian-like bandoneon and Eduardo Isaac on guitar contribute to a most-enjoyable three-movement exploration of moods.

"Oblivion" takes us again to the slow, heartbreaking atmosphere of "Milonga del angel." Then we get "Tres movimientos tanguisticos portenos," the biggest of the orchestral showpieces, starting leisurely but building up a good head of steam by its fiery "Vivace"conclusion. The last two items, "Danza criolla" and "Tangazo" are the most impressionist pieces in their shadings and temper swings and maybe the most modern sounding in their reduction of orthodox tango harmonies. Together, the music offers an extended and diverse look at a musical form more complex than we sometimes give it credit.

Maestro Dutoit may not seem ideally suited for this kind of thing, but under his leadership the music takes on a dignity and status that is no doubt commensurate with its actual importance. Put another way, this music may not sound as graceful or dignified under some other conductors, so I suppose it's a good thing we have someone like the suave Dutoit performing it. Of course, there will always be listeners who prefer a more orthodox tango approach, and for them there are any number of other good tango recordings. This one takes Piazzolla more into the orchestral concert world.

Decca's sound, as always with this Montreal ensemble, is big and bold, with a decent amount of lifelike orchestral depth and plenty of natural warmth and detail. It's true the bandoneon and other solos appear too closely miked for ultimate realism, yet they display an impact and definition that are still commendable. Although the disc may be well over a decade old, it is still something well worth investigating.


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

Jul 7, 2015

Saint-Saens: Cello Concerto in A minor (CD review)

Also, Lalo: Cello Concerto in D minor; Faure: Elegy in C minor. Kim Cook, cello; Valeri Vatchev and Grigor Palikarov, Philharmonica Bulgarica. MSR MS 1512.

It's not like the saxophone or trumpet or bass drum where there is a definite lack of concerto material out there. Not that the cellist has a surplus of cello concertos to play, either. The poor cello, a descendent of the bass violin, didn't find a serious place for itself until well into the Baroque period, and even then it held a limited position. Bach wrote his six cello suites, of course; later Haydn wrote a couple of cello concertos and Beethoven a few cello sonatas. But it wasn't until the later Romantic period that the cello came into its own, with concertos for it by Schumann, Dvorak, and Brahms. Then, the twentieth century saw a greater flourishing of material for the instrument. Anyway, the cello concertos by Frenchmen Saint-Saens and Lalo heard here from cellist Kim Cook came somewhat late in the Romantic era, 1872 and 1876 respectively. By that time the cello had firmly established itself as a commonly accepted part of the orchestral picture.

I suppose the question with all of the cello work on the album is how Ms. Cook's playing compares to acknowledged leaders in the cello field, how she holds up to the likes of Rostropovich, Starker, du Pre, Gendron, Ma, Bailey, and such. The answer is that she holds her own, but in a different sort of way. Her style appears sweeter, more lyrical, more singing than most cellists.

We might expect lyricism from the instrument, though. Of all the instruments of the orchestra, the cello is the one that seems best able to convey the feeling and spirit of the human voice. So, yes, Ms. Cook makes the cello speak and sing. Hers is a lovely technique.

First up on Ms. Cook's program is the Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 33, by French composer Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921). In the Saint-Saens, Ms. Cook and Maestro Valeri Vatchev give the music a grand sweep, while at the same time Cook provides a clear voice. Saint-Saens's work may not be the most memorable in the catalogue, but Cook invests it with such charm that it's hard not to like it as it trips merrily and affably along.

Kim Cook
Next, we get a brief interlude between the concertos, the little Elegy in C minor, Op. 24, by French composer Gabriel Faure (1845-1924), written in 1897. Faure's piece is a fairly melancholy affair, as its name implies. Ms. Cook's cello contribution fills the music with the grief of the situation, a kind of grave lament and reflection on parting. It makes an appropriately restrained interlude between the two more-outgoing cello concertos.

The program concludes with the Cello Concerto in D minor by French composer Edouard Lalo (1823-1892). It is probably the most well-known item on the program, big and ambitious and communicative. Cook plays it that way as well, with a strong conviction in her performance, which is both dramatic and imaginatively poetic. Frankly, though, I rather enjoyed the quiet moments more than the exuberant ones, but that is not so much a criticism of Ms. Cook as it is of Lalo. The Intermezzo appears especially well crafted and affective, and Maestro Grigor Palikarov and the Philharmonica Bulgarica give her ample support. Finally, Cook shows off her virtuosity in the Allegro Vivace, where she negotiates the complexities of the score with consummate ease.

Product manager Robert LaPorta, recording engineer Christo Pavlov, and digital master engineer Richard Price made the album at the Bulgarian Radio Studio, Sofia, Bulgaria in November 2011 and September 2012. They created one of the better new recordings I've heard in a while. The sound is very dynamic, with a strong impact. What's more, it's a well-defined impact, with a fairly transparent midrange response. I do wish it weren't quite so close-up, however. The cello so dominates the orchestra that you sometimes forget there's even an orchestra involved. There's not much depth to the orchestra, either, which is more the pity with such good sonic characteristics elsewhere. Still, these are minor reservations when we hear such splendid sounds from the cello.


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

Jul 5, 2015

Saint-Saens: Symphony No. 3 "Organ" (CD review)

Also, Symphony in A major; Le rouet d'Omphale. Carl Adam Landstrom, organ; Marc Soustrot, Malmo Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.573139.

Here's one that sees a lot of action: The Saint-Saens "Organ Symphony" again. It seems as though we see a new recording of it every month, and so far none of the newcomers have challenged my old favorites: Fremaux with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (EMI or Klavier), Charles Munch with the Boston Symphony (RCA or JVC), and Jean Martinon with the Orchestre National de l'ORTF (EMI or Brilliant Classics). Still, it's always good to hear what different conductors do with it, and certainly the Malmo Symphony under its principal conductor, Marc Soustrout, give it a good workout.

As you recall, the Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 "Organ" by French composer Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) is a colorful, sometimes bombastic, and thoroughly enjoyable piece of music. Although audiences recognize the piece by its nickname, the "Organ Symphony," the organ really only has a part in the second-movement Adagio and the later half of the Finale. Saint-Saëns called the work a symphony with organ, and said of it, "I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again." It appears he knew what he was talking about (or he was too contrary to go back on his words) because even though he lived another thirty-five years, he never wrote another symphony, organ or otherwise.

Here, Carl Adam Landstrom takes the organ part and for this recording plays a Hoffrichter console with, as the booklet note explains, "the 'Hauptwerk' virtual pipeorgan software by Milandigitalaudio and a sample set produced by Sonusparadisi based on the complete sampling of the Cavaille-Coll organ of the Saint-Etienne Abbaye in Caen (France). That famous instrument was built in 1885, the same year Saint-Saens wrote his Symphony No. 3." It seems a pity the recording didn't use a real pipe organ for the occasion, but at least we get a feeling for the sound of an instrument that Saint-Saens himself probably heard playing his music.

Maestro Soustrot takes a relatively relaxed approach to much of the first movement, his time for it clocking in slower than any of the conductors I had on hand: Fremaux, Munch, Martinon, Stern, and Simon. Nevertheless, Soustrot maintains a rather flexible rubato, so his contrasts in tempo help to keep our attention.

The second-movement also goes by at a rather slow pace, even for a Poco adagio (a little slow). Nor does the organ flow over us like a huge but gentle wave as it should; it's more of small, gentle current. Nevertheless, there's nothing wrong with the sweetly mild effect Soustrot creates in this movement, and it is wonderfully serene, just as Saint-Saens must have intended.

Marc Soustrot
Then, with the Scherzo, Soustrot finally lets his hair down, still just a fraction slower than the aforementioned conductors but in the ballpark with a rousing conclusion. It comes off in both dramatic and ambitious fashion, with the organ pounding out a strong contribution.

The couplings on the disc are the Symphony in A major, which Saint-Saens wrote while in his teens, and the symphonic poem Le rouet d'Omphale ("The Spinning Wheel of Omphale"), which he wrote in 1871. The little Symphony in A is not in the same league as its big brother, a bit more old fashioned in its classical feeling and design. Yet even in his youth we can see Saint-Saens wearing his emotions on his sleeve. Soustrot makes it sound like a typical early Romantic piece of music, with huge crescendos and light lyricism in a classical form. The tone poem, on the other hand, is all picturesqueness, mood, and atmosphere, which Soustrot captures nicely.

Producer, engineer, and editor Sean Lewis made the recording at Malmo Concert Hall, Malmo, Sweden in August 2013. The sound appears very big and open, with reasonably good depth to the image, a modest room resonance, and a round, warm midrange response, which tend to make listening smooth and easy. There is a slight forwardness to the upper strings, not much, and maybe a slight constriction in the dynamics. For the most part, though, the orchestral sound is fairly natural. Although the console organ is not really as deep, rich, or taut as I might have liked, I doubt that many listeners would be able to tell it from a full, regulation pipe organ.


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

Jul 2, 2015

Previn Conducts Korngold (CD review)

Suites from film scores. Andre Previn, London Symphony Orchestra. DG 289 471 347-2.

Movie music owes much of its being to Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The latter is responsible for most of what we now consider to be "symphonic" themes and accompaniment, sometimes mistakenly associated with Hollywood blockbusters. Without Korngold, in other words, there wouldn't have been a John Williams and his ilk as we know them today.

The present disc, released by DG in 2001, contains four Korngold suites from the Errol Flynn movies Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, and The Prince and the Pauper, with conductor, composer, pianist Andre Previn leading the London Symphony Orchestra. It was good to hear him back at the helm of his old orchestra and doing music that comes so naturally to him.

Anyway, Austro-Hungarian composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) came to the movie industry in 1934 after a flourishing career as a classical composer for the European orchestra and opera stage, so it's understandable why his films' musical scores sound so luxuriant, so rich, so thematically complex. Starting in 1935 with his first important film score (and for which he went uncredited), Captain Blood, his music has thrilled audiences as much as the swashbuckling daring-do of the films' heroes; but, of course, he wasn't just a composer of big-scale, heroic material, as the four suites on this disc demonstrate.

Andre Previn
Previn's album begins with one of the greatest and most memorable of all action-adventure movie scores, The Sea Hawk. No matter how many times I listen to it, it impresses me with its splendor and eloquence. Think Star Wars here, and you'll understand where Williams got his inspiration. The second and third suites, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and Captain Blood, are almost if not quite as stirring; and the concluding suite, The Prince and the Pauper, shows the lighter side of the composer. There are echoes of Liszt and Rossini in all of Korngold's music, which is a compliment, indeed.

The question of how well Andre Previn interprets this material is hardly of consequence. Previn grew up in Hollywood (he graduated from Beverly Hills High School) and knows how to handle a Hollywood score as well as anyone. He does so with consummate skill, swashing a buckle or conjuring up a tender moment with equal zest and grace. The question of The Sea Hawk, however, is how well it holds up compared to the celebrated performance by Charles Gerhardt on RCA. The answer is, pretty well, actually, helped by the fact that Previn was back in front of an orchestra he knew as intimately as anyone could know an orchestra.

But, then, there is the matter of DG's sound. Although the RCA recording is much older than Previn's, it has the clearer, more robust sonics. DG engineers, on the other hand, opt for a softer, more resonant, more one-dimensional sound. Switching to the RCA is like wiping away a thin haze from the surface of the sonic picture. However, other than The Sea Hawk the two discs contain entirely different Korngold companion music, so perhaps both discs are essential to one's film-music library in any case.


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

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

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 for 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 Nehring, Editor and Contributor

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, NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I occasionally do some listening through pair of Sennheiser 560S headphones. I miss the excellent ELS Studio sound system in our 2016 Acura RDX (now my wife's daily driver) on which I had ripped more than a hundred favorite CDs to the hard drive, so now when driving my 2022 Accord EX-L Hybrid I stream music from my phone through its adequate but not outstanding factory system. 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 tolerably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom II 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.

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

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 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. Most recently I’ve moved to my “ultimate system” consisting of a BlueSound Node streamer, an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a CD transport, Legacy Wavelet II DAC/preamp/crossover, dual Legacy PowerBloc2 amps, and Legacy Signature SE speakers (biamped), all connected with decently made, no-frills cables. With the arrival of CD and higher resolution streaming, that is now the source for most of my listening.

Ryan Ross, Contributor

I started listening to and studying classical music in earnest nearly three decades ago. This interest grew naturally out of my training as a pianist. I am now a musicologist by profession, specializing in British and other symphonic music of the 19th and 20th centuries. My scholarly work has been published in major music journals, as well as in other outlets. Current research focuses include twentieth-century symphonic historiography, and the music of Jean Sibelius, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Malcolm Arnold.

I am honored to contribute writings to Classical Candor. In an age where the classical recording industry is being subjected to such profound pressures and changes, it is more important than ever for those of us steeped in this cultural tradition to continue to foster its love and exposure. I hope that my readers can find value, no matter how modest, in what I offer here.

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

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@gmail.com

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