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:

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Meet the Staff

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

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

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

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

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

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

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

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa