Aug 30, 2015

Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez (SACD review)

Also, Fantasia para un gentilhombre; Concierto madrigal for two Guitars and Orchestra. Narciso Yepes, guitar; Godelieve Monden, guitar; Garcia Navarro, Philharmonia Orchestra and English Chamber Orchestra. Pentatone PTC 5186 209.

Spanish guitarist Narciso Yepes (1927-1997) practically made a career of performing and recording (mostly for Decca and DG) Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. I'm familiar with several of these recordings firsthand: the HDTT remastering of his excellent 1957 Decca rendition with Ataulfo Argenta and the Spanish National Orchestra; his less-than-scintillating 1970 DG account with Odon Alonso and Spanish Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra; and the popular 1977 DG recording with Garcia Navarro and the Philharmonia Orchestra reviewed here, remastered by Pentatone for hybrid SACD.

Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999) wrote the Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra in 1939, and it eventually established Rodrigo's reputation as a leading composer for the classical guitar. I say "eventually" because it wasn't until Yepes and Argenta recorded it in monaural in the late Forties that it really took off worldwide.

The composer described the first movement Allegro con spirito as "animated by a rhythmic spirit and vigour without either of the two themes interrupting its relentless pace." A couple of things you notice right away about Yepes's performance, and it's indicative of his general style: First, it appears extremely well articulated, every note clearly and sharply delineated; second, he takes it at a fairly leisurely pace. The first movement, for instance, is rather more relaxed than the "con spirito" notation might suggest, so it may not exhibit quite the lively spirit some listeners would like to hear. The result, however, is a performance that is probably everything Yepes's fans love and his detractors dislike: It's a clean, well-executed interpretation, with the easygoing approach mitigated somewhat by the precision of its execution. Still, the performance may appear slightly distanced and colorless compared to other guitarists' renditions.

Rodrigo said that the second movement "represents a dialogue between guitar and solo instruments" (cor anglais, bassoon, oboe, horn, etc.). What he didn't say was how utterly beautiful it was, something audiences have been saying for close to eighty years. Certainly, it's in this second movement that Yepes scores over most of his rivals. His reading is passionate, lovely, and gracious, the mood always tranquil and fragrant.

Then there's that perky little closing tune, the one Rodrigo said "recalls a courtly dance in which the combination of double and triple time maintains a taut tempo right to the closing bar." Yepes emphasizes its delightful dance-like qualities, and, again, although Yepes and company take it at a moderately slow speed, they help it come sweetly together.

Narciso Yepes
Pentatone fill out the disc with Rodrigo's Fantasia para un gentilhombre for Guitar and Small Orchestra, Navarro again conducting but this time leading the smaller English Chamber Orchestra; and the Concierto madrigal for 2 Guitars and Orchestra, with Navarro back with the Philharmonia and the second guitar played by Godelieve Monden. It's really here that the program shines, especially in the work for two guitars, which sounds radiantly alive, Monden a first-rate partner in the piece. Together, Yepes and Monden bring the various little songs brilliantly to life, and it's a charmer, to be sure. Also of note, the Fantasia might use a smaller orchestra but it actually sounds lusher and richer than the Concierto. Go figure.

In all three works the Philharmonia and English Chamber Orchestras accompany Yepes splendidly, lending plenty of polished zip and sparkle to the proceedings.

The folks at Pentatone fill out the disc generously with almost seventy-six minutes of music, and they enclose the SACD case in a light-cardboard sleeve.

Producer Rudolf Werner and engineers Volker Martin and Joachim Niss recorded the music for Deutsche Grammophon at the Watford Town Hall and the Henry Wood Hall, London in April 1979 and June 1977. Polyhymnia International/Pentatone remastered DG's original multichannel tapes for hybrid SACD playback in 2015. You can listen to the music in SACD two-channel stereo or SACD multichannel if you have an SACD player, or you can listen to two-channel stereo using any regular CD player.

I listened in SACD two-channel stereo, where I found the guitar a tad close but nicely integrated into the orchestral framework without being too large or too far out in front. The sound has a pleasantly natural quality about it, never overly bright or dull, forward or recessed. The frequency response sounds well balanced with an especially well extended high end. The imaging places the soloist(s) and ensemble in a realistic perspective, with a moderate amount of depth and ambient warmth to give everything a lifelike feel.


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

Aug 27, 2015

Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (CD review)

Also, The Firebird, Petrushka, Orpheus. Sir Colin Davis, Concertgebouw Orchestra and LSO. Philips 289-464-744-2 (two-disc set).

The late Sir Colin Davis's 1978 Concertgebouw recording of Stravinsky's complete Firebird ballet was the very first compact disc I ever bought, way back in the early Eighties when Philips and Sony introduced CDs to America. I remember I had a grand selection of about a dozen classical releases total to choose from at my local Tower Records store back then, and I played the Stravinsky disc on one of those early Magnavox top-loading players. Interestingly, I soon sold the player to a friend who is using it to this day; the thing was built like a brick. Anyway, back to the topic, a lot people, myself included, complain about today's exorbitant CD prices, but I must point out that this 2002 rerelease two-disc set under review costs today about the same as I paid for the single disc over thirty years ago, and the two-disc set includes three more full-length Stravinsky ballets. Understandably, you may find it difficult to find a new copy of it, since Philips has been out of business for many years, but you should be able to find it used at a genuinely bargain price.

Philips remastered the recording in their 96 kHz, 24-bit Superbit transfer series, but I can't honestly say the sound of The Firebird is much better than it was on the old disc. It doesn't matter, though, because the sonics were always outstanding, just as the performance has held up after all these years. Both the sound and interpretation are first-rate--refined, and elegant. This is a magical "Firebird," with all the subtle orchestral colors neatly traced out in delicate pastels, and all the overt drama underscored in great swathes of thunder. The Concertgebouw ensemble is just the orchestra to convey these wide extremes of music and sound, too. Perhaps some listeners would opt for a closer, more clinical aural picture, but I prefer the strong, resonant quality of the hall reinforcing the performance. This remains one of my favorite Firebirds on record (although, to be fair, Dorati's recording for Mercury does surpasses it in my view), and it's also good to have it properly indexed at last. Yes, that early CD had exactly one track on it; this newer edition has fifteen.

Sir Colin Davis
Davis's Rite of Spring sounds equally well recorded, but I find his performance here somewhat underwhelming, to say the least. As an add-on to The Firebird, it's useful to have, but I wouldn't recommend it as a first choice. You will find more color and excitement in the Rites of Bernstein, Solti, Muti, Boulez, and Stravinsky himself, among others.

Davis's Petrushka, on the other hand, is quite good, very much the picturesque and sometimes eerie showpiece it has always been; and it comes in sound that is, if anything, even more vivid than in the other two ballets.

Bringing up the rear is Davis's rendition of Orpheus, which he recorded in 1964 with the London Symphony Orchestra. I can't say I care much for the performance or the sound, but that may be a reaction based largely on my not caring overmuch for the 1947 composition itself. The sonics here seem softer, slightly harsher, and more recessed than in the other recordings. However, it again makes a good filler, especially to get a taste of the composer's later work.

Anyway, buy the set for The Firebird and Petrushka, among the better performances you'll find, with The Rite of Spring and Orpheus marking time for the curious.


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

Aug 25, 2015

Vivaldi: Pan Flute Concertos (CD review)

Hanspeter Oggier, pan flute; Ensemble Fratres. Brilliant Classics 95078.

We all know that Italian composer, violinist, teacher, and priest Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) wrote hundreds of concertos for various instruments, along with almost countless other compositions. What's more, in the twentieth century, especially, people began transcribing many of his works for other instruments. As a result, you can find Vivaldi's music played on practically every instrument imaginable. Not that there wasn't precedence for this kind of thing in Vivaldi's own Baroque era, where composers themselves would often rewrite their own works for other instruments. I mention all this in preface to the present disc in which pan flutist Hanspeter Oggier performs eight of Vivaldi's concertos (most of them originally written for flute) on the pan flute, with able support from the period-instrument Ensemble Fratres. It makes for unusual and fairly interesting listening.

The pan flute--sometimes referred to as the panflute, the panpipe, panpipes, or Pan's pipes--consists of a row of hollow, closed tubes of varying length, which produce tones by being blown across their upper ends. The pan flute has been around seemingly forever and shows up in one form or another in almost every culture.

According to his bio, "Hanspeter Oggier began studying the panpipes in his home town and in 1996 commenced taking lessons from master panflutist Simion Stanciu 'Syrinx' in Geneva. From 2002, Hanspeter Oggier continued his education in Geneva and Zurich at the Society Suisse de Pedagogie Musicale, and obtained a teaching degree in 2006. A laureate of the Kiefer Hablitzel Foundation in 2007, he acquired an Artist Diploma in Music Performance the following year, and released his first record with Musica nobilis, entitled Arpeggione, in collaboration with Marielle Oggier (flute) and Mathias Clausen (piano). He completed his musical training at the Hochschule Luzern-Musik with a Master of Arts mit Major Performance Klassic Panflote (2010) with flautist Janne Thomsen." Since then he has built a career as a chamber musician and soloist, participating in concerts all over the world.

Hanspeter Oggier
A fascinating part of his bio informs us that "Like the Ensemble Fratres, Hanspeter Oggier is dedicated to integrating as much as possible the characteristics of the common language into the musical language. He derives his inspiration from the commitment of the musicians of the Renaissance and Baroque era to imitate the human voice."

Mr. Oggier's program consists of the Concerto La notte in G minor Op.10/2 for flute, strings and basso continuo; the Concerto in A minor Op. 3/8 for two violins, strings and basso continuo; the Concerto in G major Op. 10/4 for flute, strings and basso continuo; the Concerto in D minor Op. 3/11 for two violins, cello, strings and basso continue; the Concerto Il gardellino in D major Op. 10/3 for flute, strings and basso continuo; the Concerto in A minor for flute, strings and basso continuo; the Sinfonia al Santo Sepolcro for strings; and an extract from Nisi Dominus, the Andante for flute, strings and basso continuo.

Yes, much of it sounds alike. That's what you get from Vivaldi; anybody who produced the prodigious body of work he did is bound to include some repetition. If you're not fond of Vivaldi, you might not appreciate so much of his work in one place. However, if you do like Vivaldi, Oggier's handling of it on the pan flute makes for an intriguing diversion, particularly as the panpipe sounds breathier and more open than a conventional flute.

The performances are lively, spirited, without sounding too rushed or frenetic. There's a nice, even flow to the music, a comfortable if somewhat varied rubato, and a sweet spirit all the way around. These may be historical performances, yet neither Oggier nor Ensemble Fratres sound in any way stiff or scholarly. The performers are virtuosic in the animation of their playing and, in essence, create a good deal of fun, which no doubt Vivaldi intended.

My only hesitation in fully liking the album is the sound of the pan flute itself. Its breathiness doesn't project the warmth or richness of either a Baroque or modern flute. It is, in fact, a rather coarse sound in comparison to the flute. Still, the ear adjusts, and, besides, pipes do not feature prominently in all of the music, so we do get a couple of breaks in the agenda, which gives the program variety. Then, too, the place in the proceedings the pan flute probably works best is in the concerto Il gardellino, where the instrument delightfully mimics the sound of a goldfinch. It's quite charming and worth the price of the entire album.

For the Vivaldi fan who has everything, Oggier's disc should provide a pleasant diversion from the usual fare. And there isn't a Season in sight.

Recording engineer Jean-Daniel Noir made the album at the Academia Montis Regalis Onlus, Oratorio di Santa, Croce, Mondovi, Italy in August 2015. The recordist has certainly captured a wide dynamic range, with good impact and a quick transient response. Along with an airy, modestly resonant acoustic that never interferes with the reproduction's transparency, the results sound, if fairly close, impressively realistic.


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

Aug 23, 2015

Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 and No. 2 (CD review)

Sviatoslav Richter, piano; Kiril Kondrashin, London Symphony Orchestra. HDTT.

Very few discs can lay claim to being definitive recordings of particular classical works. Carlos Kleiber's DG rendering of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony comes to mind as definitive; maybe Reiner's Bartók Concerto for Orchestra and Pollini's Chopin Piano Concerto. And for the purposes of the present review, it's Sviatoslav Richter's 1961 LSO accounts for Philips of the two Liszt Piano Concertos, here remastered by HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers).

For over half a century Richter's recordings of the Liszt Piano Concertos have remained the benchmarks by which other recorded performances have stood or fallen; Richter's are interpretations of volatile beauty, excitement, and poetry. Yes, especially the poetry. No one quite captured the lyrical pleasures of these concertos as Richter did, all the time conveying the big moments with an equally virtuosic skill. That's not to say I've always liked Richter in everything he's done; he sometimes appeared to me a bit too cold, too distant; but here in the Liszt he captures the bravura of Liszt, the color, and the introspection.

What's more, Maestro Kiril Kondrashin matches Richter's intensity, and the London Symphony plays with consummate skill. In fact, no one involved with this project was less than excellent. The performance is a classic, to be sure.

Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart Fine of Mercury Records recorded the two concertos for Philips in 1961 on 35mm film, and HDTT transferred the music to disc from a Philips 4-track tape in 2014. The first CD version of these 1961 recordings appeared some thirty years ago in what I thought sounded like carelessly overbright transfers, with an alarmingly higher-than-usual tape hiss. Then Ms. Cozart Fine remastered them for a Philips Solo disc in 1995 and rectified most of the first CD's shortcomings. Now we have the HDTT remastering, and it's as good as or better than ever.

Sviatoslav Richter
Comparing the HDTT and Philips Solo discs side by side, I found the HDTT product overall a tad richer, warmer, and fuller, and the Philips disc a touch clearer, more transparent. At least that was my initial impression during the opening movement of the first concerto. As I kept switching back and forth between the two, however, I realized things were not quite so simple. On occasion, the Philips disc sounded warmer and the HDTT clearer. Go figure. By the time I had finished listening to the sound of both concertos, I was ready to throw up my hands in despair of picking a sonic winner. Which is probably saying a lot for the work HDTT did, given that Ms. Cozart Fine had the master tapes to play with, whereas HDTT had only the commercial tape.

Advantages and disadvantages? First and foremost, there could have been more material on the HDTT disc. The fact is, the two concertos are under twenty minutes apiece, leaving close to forty minutes of free space on the disc. The Philips Solo disc couples the concertos with Liszt's Sonata in B minor, also with Richter, making it a better bargain for its playing time and added attractions. On the other hand, the HDTT disc is easier to find (see below), while Philips, being out of business for many years, last produced their disc over two decades ago, and it may prove difficult to find new copies. Moreover, HDTT make their remastering available in a wide variety of disc formats, digital downloads, and price points, which could prove attractive to a lot of potential buyers.

For further information on HDTT products, prices, discs, and downloads in a variety of formats, you can visit their Web site at


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

Aug 20, 2015

Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique (CD review)

Yoav Talmi, San Diego Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.553597.

A little over a decade ago while the rest of the classical recording industry was in decline, Naxos persisted in releasing a multitude of new discs every month. This 2002 release of the Symphonie fantastique with Yoav Talmi and the San Diego Symphony is a good example of why they were able to do this when everyone around them seemed to be falling apart. The orchestra is not world renowned, but it is quite capable. The conductor is not world renowned, but he is quite competent. The sound is not earthshaking, but it is better than many of the albums the bigger studios were producing at the time. And lest we forget, the price of Naxos discs has always been more than right.

French composer Hector Berlioz (1802-1869) wrote his semi-autobiographical Symphonie fantastique in 1830 with a much-augmented ensemble for the day and in orchestral tones only hinted at by previous composers. It took audiences by surprise back then and has been delighting folks ever since. Of course, after hearing so many different conductors and orchestras performing it over the years, it's hard truly to surprise most ears anymore. Talmi is no exception. His interpretation seems to me capable but not a little perfunctory. He carries out the waltz in "Un Bal," for example, with a nice lilt, but the "Marche to the Scaffold" appears too deadpan and the "Witch's Sabbath" not nearly as menacing as it could be.

Yoav Talmi
For comparison purposes, I listened again to Sir Thomas Beecham's account (EMI), Leonard Bernstein's (Hi-Q), Sir Colin Davis's (Pentatone, or any of the three he did and the second one with the Concertgebouw in particular), and John Eliot Gardiner (Philips, with period instruments). Under these better-known conductors this old warhorse offers a lot more color and excitement than Talmi brings to it. What's more, you'll also find that the orchestras involved in the comparisons produce a bigger, richer, more well-balanced sound than the San Diego group do.

On the other hand, Talmi's performance is more than adequate for anyone who has never heard the work before and is looking for a good, fairly inexpensive digital starting place.

The sound Naxos engineers provide is close to first-rate. I say "close" because I found that it too often highlights too many instruments. It begins to sound artificial as first one and then another section of the orchestra comes to the forefront in volume. Other than that, the sound is clean and dynamic, with especially good, solid bass. Audiophiles sometimes use the Symphonie fantastique as demo material, especially the last two movements, and almost anyone would understand why after listening to this recording. Even though the miking is a little close and compartmentalized, the sound makes a good impact.

This would not be my first choice in this work, but the buyer could hardly go too wrong with it, either.


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

Aug 18, 2015

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 10 (CD review)

Also, Passacaglia. Andris Nelsons, Boston Symphony Orchestra. DG 479 5059.

The subtitle for this album is "Under Stalin's Shadow." That's because the Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) premiered his Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93 in 1953, just a few months after the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. As it was for many Soviet composers, trying to write music that conformed to the Soviet censorship rules of the 1920's through 50's was not easy. Stalin and his followers tended to take a dim view of modern music, describing Shostakovich's 1934 opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk as "coarse, primitive, and vulgar," and an article appearing in the official Communist newspaper Pravda calling such material "Muddle instead of music." The opera soon after disappeared from the Soviet stage. With Stalin's death came a general liberation of the arts in the Soviet Union and a somewhat greater flexibility in what Soviet composers could write.

Shostakovich was tight-lipped about the Tenth. He said he wanted his listeners to come away from it with a meaning of their own, apart from any prescribed program. What we know about the symphony is that Shostakovich wrote it more than eight years after his Ninth Symphony, and he apparently intended the Tenth as a personal reaction against the old Stalinist restrictions on modern music, as well as an affirmation of the loosening bonds on artistic expression.

In his Deutsche Grammophon debut album with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Latvia-born Andris Nelsons (who began his duties as Boston's Music Director for the 2014-2015 season) conducts the work. As a person born under the Soviet regime and who later saw his country's independence, Nelsons seems well prepared to lead Shostakovich's music. Moreover, he does so with energy, incisiveness, and commitment.

Educated guesses suggest that the lengthy darkness of the opening movement probably echos the long, dreary years of Soviet repression. Maestro Nelsons takes a generally broader view of this movement than many other conductors, emphasizing its dark, gloomy aspects. However, the intensity almost never flags, and although this first movement is pretty stark, under Nelsons it is also rather enjoyable. He doesn't exactly soften the music's impact with slower speeds; rather, he uses a flexible tempo to emphasize various points in the score, so we get not just an unpleasantly severe landscape but a sad, pensive one as well. If I still have a preference for Karajan's slightly more concentrated approach, well, perhaps it's because I've lived with it longer. Give me a few more years with Nelsons and maybe it will grow on me further.

In the second movement, a scherzo, Shostakovich tried creating an unflattering portrait of the former dictator. Nelsons could have handled this movement even more brutally, particularly if one views it as a portrait of Stalin. Still, the conductor injects a modest dose of savagery into proceedings, enough certainly to keep our interest.

Andris Nelsons
In the third movement Allegretto we detect what is perhaps a glimmer of hope for renewed aesthetic individualism. Here, Nelsons seems a touch leisurely to me, but again that's likely an unfair comparison to Karajan, Mravinsky, Previn, Jarvi, and others with whom I have been more familiar over the years.

It's in the big closing movement we encounter an exultation, possibly a private victory, albeit a dark victory, and it's here that Nelsons seems at his best. He begins the music as quietly, peacefully, as one would want, then gradually adds the good cheer, building optimism as he proceeds. Finally, the piece culminates in the triumphant outbursts from timpani and orchestra we expect.

Maestro Nelsons has said of the symphony, "You never knew what could happen next. And even though Stalin has died, that fear remains. There is no immediate sense of joy or relief. With the frantic repetition of D-S-C-H, I hear Shostakovich saying to Stalin, with sarcasm and irony: 'You are dead but I am still alive! I'm still here!' After the Tenth Symphony, Shostakovich was finally free to explore other questions."

Coupled with the symphony, we get the Passacaglia from Act II of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, the work that began all the fuss about Shostakovich. Nelson's interpretation of the music makes it as mysterious and brooding as any you'll find, though maybe not as menacing as possible. Still, it's a fine, atmospheric reading, with delicate gradations of color.

Producer and engineer Shawn Murphy and engineer Nick Squire recorded the album live at Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts in April 2015. I have to begin by saying what I've said many times before: No matter how good the live recording, and this one is quite good, I've heard only a few that I thought sounded as good as ones without an audience.

Anyway, as we have come to expect from live recordings, the sound is fairly close up; yet it isn't quite in-your-face close, and, in fact, there is some moderate orchestral depth involved. The frequency balance is quite natural, giving no undue prominence to any part of the spectrum, except perhaps at the upper-midrange level. I would have liked a bit more lower-end warmth, too, although the deepest bass comes through admirably, strong and taut. As far as concerns clarity, transient response, dynamics, and such, they also sound fine. As I say, for a live performance this recording appears well above average, with almost zero audience noise that I could detect until the very end when an unfortunate eruption of applause spoils one's final contemplation of the music. I just wonder how much better it could have sounded given a bit more distance and with no audience present.


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

Aug 16, 2015

Kazu Suwa: Guitar Recital (CD review)

Kazu Suwa, guitar. KSR001.

What a lovely album.

According to his Web site, "Kazu Suwa is a London-based Japanese classical guitarist. His debut CD album 'Guitar Recital,' received 'Semi-Highest Honour' in the Japanese classical music magazine Record Geijutsu ("Art of Records") in April 2015. This album consists of 22 pieces of Spanish and South American music presented in an enthralling interpretation by Kazu.

Kazu has been described by one of the world's most respected music critics, Mr. Jiro Hamada, as a unique guitarist who 'knows the world of poetic sentiment' – a sentiment able to penetrate the hearts of listeners and move them profoundly.

Kazu studied classical guitar with the renowned classical guitarist Mikio Hoshido at the Nihon University College of Art in Tokyo. After graduation, he moved to Spain where he continued his studies at the Madrid Royal Conservatory as well as attending a number of master classes given by well-known maestri."

On his present, debut album Kazu Suwa plays twenty-two selections, much of it familiar, some of it not as much:

Francisco Tárrega: ¡Adelita! (Mazurka)
Francisco Tárrega: ¡Sueño! (Mazurka  Conchita)
Francisco Tárrega: Preludio (Una Lágrima)
Francisco Tárrega: Gran Vals
Francisco Tárrega: Capricho Árabe
Francisco Tárrega: Preludio (Endecha)
Abel Fleury: Estilo Pampeano
Abel Fleury: Milongueo del Ayer
Abel Fleury: Te Vas Milonga (Milonga)
Dilermando Reis: Se Ela Perguntar
Hector Ayala: Arco Iris (Zamba)
Agustín Barrios Mangoré: Choro da Saudade
Agustín Barrios Mangoré: Aire de Zamba
Garoto (Annibal Angusto Sardinha): Chôro Triste No. 2
Dilermando Reis: Eterna Saudade (Valsa)
Agustín Barrios Mangoré: Vals No. 3
Fernando Sor: Fantasia No. 6 Op. 21 Les Adieux
Frederic Mompou: Cançó i Dansa No. 11 (arr. Kazu Suwa)
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Suite  Populaire  Brésilienne: Mazurka-chôro
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Cinq Préludes: Prélude No. 5 in D major
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Suite Populaire  Brésilienne: Valsa-Chôro
Frederic Mompou: Cançó i Dansa No. 6: Cançó

The thing that strikes one from the outset of the program is not just Kazu's artistic abilities, his virtuosic talents, but his sensitivity. That is, Suwa's playing is passionate not just in the bigger, more-dramatic moments but in the softer passages as well. He is, above all, an artist of quiet contemplation, and you will hear this throughout the recital. This characteristic is evident from the opening Tarrega tracks, where Suwa's delicate touch on the strings is most engaging.

Kazu Suwa
Favorites? Under Suwa's thoughtful guidance, Tarrega's "Gran Vals" has an appealing rhythm to it, the feeling of a Viennese ball in evidence throughout. Then, in Tarrega's "Capricho Arabe" he provides an abundance of sweet, subtle nuances that make the music more enchanting than ever.

For Fleury's "Estilo Pampeano" Suwa employs a variety of techniques--mostly degrees of rubato and contrast--to emphasize the music's assorted moods. In Reis's "Se ela Perguntar" Suwa stresses the music's romantic nature but does so in a manner that never strays into dreamy sentimentality. He makes some welcome compromises here.

Garoto's "Choro Triste No. 2" comes off as both elegantly accessible and seriously meditative, a popular tune in a considered, reflective mode. Fernando Sor (1778-1839), the earliest guitar composer represented in the recital, sounds as modern as the rest of the program, which shows us how advanced Sor's compositions were for the day. Under Suwa, his "Fantasia No. 6 'Les Adieux'" is light and charming on the one hand, polished and sophisticated on the other.

I find the music of Villa-Lobos welcome anytime, but as Suwa plays it, it exhibits an additional touch of color and brilliance, while at the same time fitting into Suwa's generally subdued, intricate delivery.

In all, Kazu Suwa provides a pleasantly relaxing array of guitar tunes, masterfully crafted and expertly performed. As I say, subtlety, nuance, and delicacy are the order of the day in an album of beauty and emotion.

Kazu Suwa produced and engineered the album himself, recording the music at a private concert chamber, Sloane Square, London, in 2015. Unlike some guitar recordings that appear as though the instrument were six inches away and spread out from speaker to speaker, this recording seems quite lifelike. The guitar is still a little close for my taste, but if played back at a realistic level, it sounds warm and natural. A modest room ambiance helps this illusion nicely, as do some good, clean transients.

Among the places you'll find Kazu Suwa's recording is Amazon UK at, Amazon America below, or directly from Kazu Suwa's Web site at


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

Aug 13, 2015

Bach: Goldberg Variations (CD review)

Markus Becker, piano. CPO 999 831.2.

According to J.S. Bach's first biographer, Nikolaus Forkel, Bach wrote the Goldberg Variations in 1742 for a Count Keyserlingk, who requested them for his protégé, Johann Goldberg. Some authorities doubt the story as the young Goldberg was only in his early teens at the time, and the Variations are of undoubted complexity. Whatever the case, the Variations have come down to us in more-or-less nontraditional fashion, seldom even considered played as Bach intended.

How is that? Well, Bach meant the work for harpsichord for one thing (and while there are many fine recordings nowadays on harpsichord, the sheer number of piano renditions far outnumber them). More important, Bach probably meant a musician to play the Variations selectively, not all at once as is the prevailing custom. Put those two considerations aside, and this CPO recording from 2002, while hardly earthshaking in its approach, is as easy to listen to as any currently available release.

Markus Becker
For this recording, classical and jazz pianist Professor Markus Becker elected to play the Variations as complete as possible (nearly eighty minutes, counting all thirty variations and the opening and closing arias) and in a pleasantly integrated fashion. That is, he plays the work as though it were a whole, a completely interconnected set of associated segments, rather than as separate and distinct parts. In matters of tempo and contrast, Becker attempts (and to a large extent succeeds) in making each variation a connective part of the aggregate sum. In other words, each variation flows comfortably, sometimes unnoticeably, into the next. Not the most exciting approach, I admit, but smooth and uncluttered, especially in the slower, dance-like passages.

With Becker's easy, polished piano style, this technique works well for a composition that can sometimes appear as a disparate set of individual show pieces. At the same time, however, the style can seem rather routine (and even a little dreamy and starry-eyed at times) compared to some more distinctive and incisive Bach playing, like that of Glenn Gould, for instance, in his several famous recordings.

Like Becker's playing, CPO's sound seems rather relaxed, too, which doesn't always show off the inner beauty of the slower movements. Soft, warm, and rounded, the tone of Becker's piano is about as diametrically opposed to the sound of a harpsichord as any instrument could be. I would have hoped for a little more definition from the instrument, but if anything the subdued audio presentation works in favor of Becker's integrated approach to the work. Everything flows readily and effortlessly from one variation to the next.


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

Aug 11, 2015

Debussy: La Mer (CD review)

Also, Liszt: Mephisto Waltz. Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra. HDTT.

There are some conductors who, when you've heard a performance by them, you wonder how anybody could possibly do it better, it's so good. Such is the case with Fritz Reiner, who took over the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1953 and did some of his best work there, producing early stereo recordings for RCA that hold up as classics to this day. And such is the case with Reiner's interpretation of La Mer, a rendition that crackles with energy, atmosphere, and color. To have a new remastering of it by HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) is a blessing, indeed.

La Mer, which French impressionist composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) wrote between 1903 and 1905, remains among Debussy's best and most famous compositions, and surely one of his most descriptive. Debussy meant it, of course, as a musical representation of the sea, and Reiner and his Chicago players do a splendid job of just with it.

The composer intended the first movement, "From dawn till noon on the sea," to be a little less showy than the other movements and added that the conductor should take it slowly and animate it little by little. It begins with a warmly atmospheric introduction and then opens up about halfway through to a rapturous melody. Reiner takes the composer at his word, pacing the movement as slowly at first as any conductor I've heard. His timing for the first movement is a tick over ten minutes, the longest running time of any of the half dozen recordings I had on hand for comparison: Stokowski (Decca), Karajan (DG and EMI), Martinon (EMI), Haitink (Philips), Previn (EMI), and Simon (Cala). Yet Reiner's direction never sounds dull, slack, or laggardly. In fact, it sounds just right, building in intensity as it goes along and creating precisely the atmospheric opening I'm sure Debussy had in mind.

Debussy wanted the second movement, "Play of the waves," to sound light and carefree, the dancing waters luminescent and magical. He indicated it should be an allegro (a brisk, lively tempo), animated with a versatile rhythm. Here, Reiner invests the music with the playfulness the music requires, the glimmering waves and foam quite palpable. This is music one does not just hear but feel. Yet Reiner never lets the spirit of the music lose its natural beauty, and we wind up admiring it both for its lively spirit and pleasing aesthetics.

Then comes probably the most well-known segment of the piece, the third-movement finale, "Dialogue between wind and waves," which provides the biggest splashes of color. Debussy noted it should sound animated and tumultuous. In this final segment, Reiner is again as exciting as anyone. His rendition pulsates with strength and vitality.

Fritz Reiner
The coupling, Franz Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No. 1, the first and most popular of four such waltzes the composer wrote. It's another example of programmatic music, telling the story of Mephistopheles (the devil) playing the fiddle at a wedding feast and enticing Faust into a wild dance with a village beauty. Clearly, Liszt wanted the music to sound sensual, seductive, and demonic. It's that demonic quality that Reiner seems to focus on, his interpretation possessed of fury and frenzy aplenty. The whole thing is a good deal of fun, actually.

The only minor shortcoming in the disc is that even with the coupling, the program is not very long, just over thirty-six minutes. Most other recordings of La Mer, including Reiner's on RCA, provide a lengthier second selection. But that's neither here nor there; the main thing is the Debussy piece, and you won't find it sounding any better on disc. So, with this HDTT release, it is quality over quantity to be sure.

Producer Richard Mohr and engineer Lewis Layton recorded the Debussy in 1961 and the Liszt in 1958 at Symphony Hall, Chicago. HDTT transferred the music to disc from an RCA 4-track (Debussy) and 2-track (Liszt) tape. As usual with an old RCA "Living Stereo" recording from Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, the sound in both works is very wide; yet this time there is little indication of a hole-in-the-middle, which could sometimes afflict the "Living Stereo" sonics. Instead, we get an even distribution of sound across and beyond the speakers, with a strongly dynamic and impactful response. Nor do we hear the slightly bright forwardness that some "Living Stereo" records exhibit; the sound here comes up very well balanced and so smooth it appears almost too soft compared to RCA's own transfers. Perhaps the touch of noise reduction HDTT undoubtedly added helped to produce the softer-than-usual effect, losing a bit of sparkle in the process; but, whatever, the sound is still lifelike, very easy on the ears, and highly listenable.

For further information on HDTT discs, prices, and downloads in a variety of formats, you can visit their Web site at


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

Aug 9, 2015

I have set my hert so hy (CD review)

Love & Devotion in Medieval England. William Lyons, The Dufay Collective and Voice Trio. Avie Records AV2286.

The album's packaging tells us that "During the 14th and 15th centuries England witnessed an explosion of written poetic output in the vernacular, the lyrics of which were intimately bound to music. Sadly, only a handful of poems have survived 'intact'; in the spirit of reconstruction, The Dufay Collective join forces with Voice to perform extant songs and instrumental adaptations as well as poetry set to adapted/original melodies by director William Lyons, also including a selection of rare surviving instrumental dances."

So, what we have here is a collection of tunes one might have heard in England during the thirteen and fourteen hundreds. However, also be aware that one can misinterpret medieval music if one thinks of it simply as falling into convenient categories like "religious," "courtly," and "folk." Things are not so easy. Conductor William Lyons tells us that while the songs on the album may sound courtly or even folk, it's a kind of pretense, an artificiality imposed on the music by minstrels. Whatever, the songs do represent the diverse musical styles common to the period, and there is no question that in their present arrangements (mostly by Mr. Lyons), they sound authentic.

As for the performers, one could hardly want better. The Dufay Collective, a small English ensemble led by Lyons, formed in 1987 for historical performances. They have produced a dozen or so albums, including a Grammy nominee. The lineup of players for this disc are William Lyons, director, recorder, double pipes, flute, and whistle; Rebecca Austen-Brown, recorder, vielle, rebec, and gittern; Jon Banks, gittern and harp; and Jacob Heringman, lute and gittern. (A gittern, incidentally, is a medieval stringed instrument resembling a guitar.) The Voice Trio consists of Emily Burn, Victoria Couper, and Clemmie Franks, and they complement the Dufay ensemble nicely.

Here's the program:

  1. Blowe, Northerne Wynd (Lyons)
  2. I Have Set My Hert So Hy (Anon.)
  3. Plus pur l'enoyr (Anon.)
  4. Bryd one brere (Anon., arr. Lyons)
  5. Le grant pleyser (Anon.)
  6. Maiden in the Mor lay (Lyons)
  7. Wel wer hym that wyst (Anon.)
  8. Esperance (Anon.)
  9. Adam lay ibowndyn (Lyons)
10. Danger me hath, unskylfuly (Anon.)
11. Alysoun (Lyons)
12. Ye have so longe kepe schepe (Anon.)
13. With ryth al my herte (Anon.)
14. Nowell, owt of youre sleep aryse (Anon.)
15. I rede that thu be joly and glad (Anon.)
16. I syng of a my den (Anon., arr. Lyons)
17. Hayl Mary ful of grace (Anon.)
18. Ave Maria I say (Anon.)
19. Corpus Christi Carol (Lyons)
20. Gresley Dances (Anon., arr. William Lyons)

William Lyons
The agenda mixes vocal numbers--trio ensembles and solos, a cappella and with accompaniment--with purely instrumental ones, making a good variety in the presentation. Everyone concerned plays with vigor, compassion, and enthusiasm, the women's voices particularly welcome for their sweet, melodious tones. The closing instrumental suite, "Gresley Dances," is the longest track on the disc at a little over nine minutes. The rest of the selections last from about two to four minutes apiece.

The period instruments help to make the selections sound historically accurate. How close the music and its style really are to what a person might have heard five hundred and more years ago is anybody's guess. Yet that's just what these historical renditions are: educated guesses. I suspect they're pretty close, and probably a lot better sung and better played than most such music in medieval times.

Producer and balance engineer Adrian Hunter recorded the songs at St. Michael & All Angels Church, Oxford, England in December 2014. The sound appears very well balanced in terms of frequency response and performer placement. There are no frequencies that stand out among the others, especially important in helping the voices sound realistic. The players appear naturally spread out, too, with both breadth and depth to their arrangement. A warm, light ambient bloom encompasses the instruments and voices, making everything seem quite lifelike.


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

Aug 7, 2015

Schubert: Alfonso und Estrella, arranged for Harmoniemusik (CD review)

Linos-Ensemble. CPO 999 807-2.

Austrian Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was a superb composer of orchestral music, sacred music, instrumental music, chamber music, incidental music, and Lieder, but people have never seemed to appreciate his few attempts at opera. Of course, most of Schubert's works never became famous until after his death, yet even then the public never appeared to take much notice of things like Alfonso und Estrella, Fierrabras, Die Zwillingsbruder, and Die Verschworenen, while they loved his symphonies, chamber works, song cycles, and such. I suppose it's because Schubert never had much feel for the drama, story, or characterizations necessary for big operatic stage productions, but that's only a guess.

In any event, what we have on this 2002 CPO release is an arrangement of his opera Alfonso und Estrella for harmoniemusik, that is, for chamber ensemble--specifically on this disc for wind octet and double bass--that displays the composer's unique sense of charm and playfulness. Performed purely instrumentally, the opera becomes a delightful series of interrelated vignettes, sounding much as one expects of this man--refined, graceful, and elegant, yet with a sprightly air and an always smiling demeanor.

Arranged for winds and bass in 1996 by Andrea N. Tarkmann, this reworking of the opera nicely solves the problem of the words and characterizations by eliminating them entirely. Moreover, the Linos-Ensemble carry out their duties with commendable polish, although not always with as much energy or zeal as I might have liked. Still, their cultured urbanity probably fits the mood of the opera better than I imagine.

If there are any minor drawbacks, I'd say the Linos-Ensemble sounds a tad small for the music, turning the opera into basically a chamber work. You have to get used to that. Also, it's fairly brief, the entire arrangement lasting only a little over fifty-some minutes.

Nevertheless, CPO's sonics are commendable: very fluent, effortless, and clean. The winds--two oboes, two clarinets, two horns, two bassoons--and the double bass integrate smoothly across the sound stage, producing a solid, if not always very dynamic, audio picture.

As a side note, I also enjoyed CPO's cover painting, a reproduction of Manuel Barron y Carrillo's "Fiesta in Sevilla." It not only lends a note of atmosphere to the music, it's far more enjoyable than looking at a portrait of the composer, the face of the conductor, or some art department's idea of contemporary design. This is, overall, an unusual and recommendable disc.


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

Aug 4, 2015

Handel: The Musik for the Royal Fireworks (CD review)

Also, Concertos a due cori Nos. 1-3. Alfredo Bernardini, Zefiro. Outhere Music Arcana A 386.

You know the story: In 1749 the British Crown commissioned George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), German born but by then long a naturalized British subject, to provide music to accompany a big fireworks display commemorating the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. The government held the celebration outdoors on the night of April 21 in Green Park in a huge wooden structure built especially for the occasion. Apparently, the affair was a great success despite some disappointing fireworks and a part of the building burning down. However, historians aren't exactly sure what instruments the band employed for the première performance. The autograph score indicates 24 oboes, 12 bassoons, 9 trumpets, 9 horns, and four sets of timpani. It doesn't say anything about strings, a condition supported by the King's own dictate that there be "no fidles." To complicate matters, though, an observer on the afternoon of rehearsal wrote that he witnessed some 100 musicians in the orchestra. Surely, this would suggest that Handel had added about 40 or so strings, against the King's wishes. Moreover, Handel's own later editions of the score indicate strings.

With no immediate, reliable written witnesses of that first evening's performance, we may never know which of the many recordings of the Royal Fireworks Music comes closest to the historical event. Most recordings either use much-reduced forces--such as here, with Alfredo Bernardini and the period-instrument group Zefiro--or use an ordinary chamber-sized ensemble or in rare cases larger numbers, like Charles Mackerras's versions with full orchestra and military band.

In any case, Bernardini appears to have about thirty players at hand, which isn't quite as large as the original manuscript score would indicate but does make for a clearly textured, transparent sound. Besides, after the premiere event, the bands in Handel's own day probably would have played the Fireworks Music with reduced forces, anyway. So, no, the number of players involved in Bernardini's account isn't controversial these days, thanks to the many recordings available from all-sized groups.

Nor is the difference in Bernardini's realization of the score a matter of tempo speeds. Bernardini chooses some modest pacing throughout the work, never fast or helter-skelter as we sometimes hear. In fact, Bernardini's tempos are quite enlivening without being too severe. It's mostly a matter of Bernardini using a relatively small period ensemble and then striving for an energetic performance rather than a stately or elevated one. What we get as a result is something less sumptuous than, say, Perlman's interpretation with the Boston Baroque, which is actually faster but lusher and more regal in its rendering. Nor is Bernardini as invigorating as either of Pinnock's performances (with and without strings).

Alfredo Bernardini
Some listeners who eschew extreme approaches to music may appreciate Bernardini's reading. It's zippy without being exhausting; it's exhilarating without being hurried; it's dignified without being stuffy. Not a bad combination.

Which brings us to the couplings: the three Concerti a due cori. They were among Handel's last compositions, and he arranged them for instrumental band from existing choruses taken from his oratorios. I liked the diverse textures the ensemble creates in them and the lively spirit Bernardini adopts. These performances alone are well worth the price of the album.

However, I didn't find the Zefiro group entirely to my taste, sounding a little less rich and exacting as my favorite period performers, the Philharmonia Baroque, the Boston Baroque, and the English Concert. But, again, this is a matter of personal taste, and certainly one cannot fault the enthusiasm of the Zefiro players.

Jens Jamin produced, engineered, and edited the album, recording in the cloister of the Jesuit College, Catania, Italy, in August 2006. Deutsche Harmonia Mundi originally released the recording in 2008, and the folks at Outhere/Arcana rereleased it in 2015. The cloister, presumably outdoors (although the definition of "cloister" can be ambiguous on this point) provides an appropriate setting for the Fireworks music since the first performance took place outdoors, albeit with considerably larger forces.

The sound favors the upper frequencies, as we might expect of an outdoor setting, leaving a fairly light, dry low end. The midrange is reasonably clear and detailed, the dynamic range is wide, and transient impact is good. Still, the overall impression is one of forwardness rather than balance, and several times I thought about turning up the bass a few notches to increase the warmth (a temptation I resisted, incidentally). Anyway, we have to remember that playing music outside will have this effect on the sound; there is little or nothing in the way of room reflections, and bass can become a little lost.


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

Aug 2, 2015

LAGQ: New Renaissance (CD review)

Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. LAGQ Records 0315.

The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet explain the album's concept thusly: "When LAGQ first was formed back in 1980, one of the first pieces we played was a suite of Renaissance dances by Praetorius. We were immediately attracted to this music; its emotions ranging from pure joy to deep melancholy, its potential for color and percussion effects, and its equal-voiced polyphonic texture all made it a natural fit for our four guitars. Since then, we've played styles all over the musical map: Classical to Romantic to Contemporary, in addition to jazz, rock and world-music inspired works. But our love for Renaissance music never went away. In this recording, we revisit our enthusiasm for 16th and 17th century music, but inform it with modern sensibilities we've picked up along the way."

The four members of LAGQ are Scott Tennant, playing a 2010 Philip Woodfield spruce-top with Savarez strings; Matthew Greif, playing a 2009 Antonio Muller ceder-top with Savarez strings; John Dearman, playing a 2011 Thomas Fredholm spurce-top with D'Addario strings; and William Kanengiser, playing a 2000 Thomas Humphrey ceder-top with Savarez strings.

First up on the program is "Music from the time of Cervantes," arranged by William Kanengiser. This is a suite of sixteenth-century tunes that the author of Don Quixote might have heard in his lifetime. LAGQ chose the selections from a production ("The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote") they did in collaboration with Monty Python's John Cleese in 2009. This opening suite is among the most entertaining on the program, the sixteen selections lasting from a little over a minute to a little over three minutes each. Most of it is calming, tranquil, relaxing: dances, madrigals, and such, the kind of things that one might have heard in the background at Renaissance banquets or court gatherings. The melodies seem endless, romantic, dark, dramatic, evocative, and the LAGQ play them with their usual finesse.

Los Angeles Guitar Quartet
Next, we have Six Ricercars by Dusan Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic is a modern composer who wrote these pieces in a Renaissance style, which LAGQ found made a perfect blend of old and new for the album. After that is Mon Pere si ma Marie by Francisco Da Milano (1497-1543), arranged by Richard Savino. Then, there's Music in Four Sharps (on Dowland's "Frog Galliard") by the modern composer Ian Krouse. Again, LAGQ mix new with old, while maintaining the Renaissance style. Finally, we get Three French Chansons by Pierre Certon (1510-1572), Pierre Passereau (1509-1547), and Josquin Des Prez (c.1450-1521), arranged by Scott Tennant.

I appreciated the entire program, although I admit I had a slight preference for the actual Renaissance tunes over the newer material. Perhaps this was due to my own romanticized notions of the music, the older tunes conjuring up images of ancient firelit rooms, dancing shadows, and people in colorful attire enjoying a night's revels. However, I also enjoyed the Bogdanovic and Krouse pieces, especially the latter with its enchanting, almost mystical variations.

As for the playing of the LAGQ, I can hardly add to what other listeners have been saying for decades. They play with a precise execution while maintaining a spirited, expressive interplay amongst the guitars. They continue to be a joy.

Rich Breen recorded, edited, mixed, and mastered the album at The Bridge Recording, Glendale, California in July 2014. The sound is a little close, with the four musicians spaced modestly apart across the sound stage. There is a pleasant sense of room ambience, a soft resonance setting off the instruments in a most-natural manner, and a clear-cut separation of the guitars. Although the guitars themselves come across a tad soft, especially for the distance involved, they produce a warm, sweet sound that captures the tenor of the music well, and certainly the strong dynamic impact and quick transient response go a long way toward making the sonic reproduction believable. This is a highly listenable album all the way around.


To listen to a couple of brief excerpts 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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa