Oct 29, 2015

Mahler: Symphony No. 4 (CD review)

Camilla Tilling, soprano; Benjamin Zander, Philharmonia Orchestra. Telarc 2CD-80555 (2-CD set).

As with his other recordings of Mahler for Telarc, like the Fifth and the Ninth Symphonies, especially, Benjamin Zander's interpretation of the Fourth is probably as close to the score and to Mahler's intentions as the conductor says he could get. This doesn't necessarily make for the most ravishing, insightful, or engaging performance on record, but it does help clarify some of Mahler's mood swings, and it does produce a reasonably good recording.

Listeners have generally found the Fourth among Mahler's most accessible symphonies, and the composer intended it so. For one thing, it's short. In Mahlerian terms that means a little under an hour. More important, it maintains a positive, often cheerful, ultimately spiritual mood throughout. No funeral dirges here. Oddly, the booklet note by Michael Steinberg points out it wasn't always so. The first audiences to hear the Fourth Symphony found it disappointing, thinking it passive and undemanding. They expected more of a storm from the composer. Well, times change and people now love the Fourth as I'm sure Mahler expected them to.

Benjamin Zander
Maestro Zander's performance does sound a bit underwhelming compared to others I had on hand, however, like those from Szell (Sony or HDTT), Klemperer (EMI/Warner), and even the usually reserved Haitink (Philips). Still and all, the Zander reading appears to do everything it should, particularly in the enchanting third movement Adagio, one of Mahler's most serenely beautiful pieces of music, made ever more charming under the conductor's watchful guidance.

Nevertheless, here's the thing: For me, Camilla Tilling's singing in the final movement sounds a bit earthbound. It's adequate, to be sure, just not quite the innocent and heavenly entrance into heaven we have heard before.

Anyway, that minor interpretive quibble aside, Telarc's sound is also excellent, a good combination of hall ambiance and inner detail. It is, in fact, one of Telarc's best: very dynamic, with a really solid low end. By comparison, though, the old Szell recording on Sony sounds good, and remastered by HDTT it sounds terrific. What's more, Haitink's second Concertgebouw recording on Philips is positively radiant. The Klemperer sounded a bit thin and bright alongside the Telarc release, but it was not at all unpleasant. Be that as it may, with the Philharmonia Orchestra playing so well and sounding so luxurious, it's hard not to like the Telarc offering.

As with Telarc's other Mahler recordings with Zander, the company provides a second disc accompanying the symphony whereon Zander takes us step by step through the four movements, explaining why he interpreted things the way he did. He uses additional recorded material from other labels by way of illustrating his points, a concept I liked. It reminded me of the audio commentaries on so many DVD and Blu-ray movies where the filmmakers discuss each scene. Zander tends to appear a tad pompous at times with his overly precise diction, but his ideas make sense, and he seems to be a remarkably knowledgeable individual. In any case, the second disc is a freebie, so take it or leave it.


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

Oct 27, 2015

Serenade: The Love Album (CD review)

Anne Akiko Meyers, violin; Keith Lockhart, London Symphony Orchestra. eOne EOM-CD 7792.

Having already reviewed three of American concert violinist Anne Akiko Meyers's numerous record albums helped prepare me for what she gives us here. Certainly, two of the most salient features of Ms. Meyers's playing are her sensitivity and delicacy of touch, so it came as no surprise when she released the present program of romantic tunes, aptly labeled Serenade: The Love Album. It is as lovely as you would expect it to be.

According to my Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music, a serenade in the 18th century was "originally a vocal or instrumental piece performed outdoors in the evening for the benefit of some particular listener. As a title for instrumental works of the period, the term was closely related to cassation, notturno, and divertimento. It may apply to lighter multi-movement works in a variety of scorings, including mixed strings and winds, often intended for soloistic as opposed to orchestral performance."

Ms. Meyers's album concentrates on twentieth-century serenades, starting with the five-movement work titled Serenade by Leonard Bernstein, followed by a number of other pieces newly arranged for the violinist and orchestra. On the present recording, Ms. Meyers plays the 1741 "Ex-Vieuxtemps" Guarneri del Gesu violin, considered one of the finest-sounding violins in the world, with Maestro Keith Lockhart and the London Symphony most ably accompanying her.

The album contains sixteen tracks as follows:
  1. Leonard Bernstein: Serenade: I. Phaedrus; Pausanias (Lento; Allegro marcato)
  2. Leonard Bernstein: Serenade: II. II. Aristophanes (Allegretto)
  3. Leonard Bernstein: Serenade: III. III. Eryximachus (Presto)
  4. Leonard Bernstein: Serenade: IV. IV. Agathon (Adagio)
  5. Leonard Bernstein: Serenade: V. V. Socrates; Alcibiades (Molto tenuto; Allegro molto vivace)
  6. Ennio Morricone and Andrea Morricone: "Love Theme: from Cinema Paradiso
  7. David Raksin: "Laura"
  8. George Gershwin: "Someone to Watch Over Me"
  9. George Gershwin: "Summertime"
10. Ennio Morricone: "Gabriel's Oboe" from The Mission
11. Michel Colombier: "Emmanuel"
12. Jacob Gade: "Jalousie"
13. Astor Piazzolla: "Oblivion"
14. Leigh Harline: "Wish Upon a Star"
15. Sammy Fain: "I'll Be Seeing You"
16. Leonard Bernstein: "Somewhere" from West Side Story

Anne Akiko Meyers
Bernstein based Symposium on Plato's work of the same name, where seven ancient Greek philosophers debate the meaning of love. It's typically Bernstein with one foot in the classical world and the other firmly on Broadway. Under Ms. Meyer's responsive control it sounds alternately tender, lyrical, and dramatic. I'm still not too keen on all of the music, but Ms. Meyers gives it full measure, her obvious virtuosity, meticulous attention to detail, and scrupulous subtlety winning the day.

The popular tunes (in their new, world-premiere arrangements) worked best for me, probably because I'm a Philistine, I don't know. Ms. Meyers shows a wonderful affinity for each of the melodies, gracing each line with joy and love. What's more, Maestro Lockhart and the LSO provide her with as sweet an accompaniment as one could hope for.

The entire album comes across as a single love song, the selections gently flowing into one another as a unified whole. If I had to make a choice of favorites, though, I'd probably pick the two Gershwin numbers for their maturity, strength, and innovation. Nevertheless, it would be hard to make such a choice, and who could not like "I'll Be Seeing You"?

Drawbacks? Well, I suppose some listeners might find the whole thing a bit too sentimental for their taste. They wouldn't be wrong, of course; love songs can be--indeed, one can make the argument that they should be--sentimental. My reaction to such criticism would be, So what? These tunes are what they are, frankly emotional, and that's the way Ms. Meyers plays them, although not in an hokey fashion. Really, it's a lovely program.

Producer Susan Napodano DelGiorno and engineer Silas Brown recorded the music for Entertainment One at LSO St. Luke's, London, in February 2015. The soloist sounds well placed, not too far forward, the violin tone warm yet detailed. The orchestral accompaniment is likewise natural and dimensional, with a realistic sense of air and depth. The sound is lifelike and easy on the ear.


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

Oct 25, 2015

Ravel: Piano Concerto in G (CD review)

Also, Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 4. Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, piano; Ettore Gracis, Philharmonia Orchestra. Warner Classics 0724356723825.

Face it: Italian concert pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995) must have had a hard time finding material that sounded as good as his name. Seriously, for one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century, he left behind relatively few recordings. This was not, however, for lack of trying. It's just that the man was a perfectionist and didn't approve the release of many of the recordings he made. No matter: The ones he did leave us are enough to ensure that Michelangeli's name will live on for a very long time.

No doubt, one of the best things Michelangeli ever did was this recording of Ravel's and Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos. Especially the Ravel. In my mind and having heard a whole lot of them, Michelangeli's Ravel interpretation reigns supreme.

It was 1931 when French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) wrote the Piano Concerto in G major, a clear result of George Gershwin's music having persuaded him to inject some American jazz into his music. This connection is evident early on in the concerto, but, as we might have expected, Ravel added his own suggestions of dreamy, Romantic impressionism to the mix. It's certainly one of Ravel's most-imaginative works, full of jazzy bustle one moment and the tenderest grace the next, and unless the pianist is careful, the piece can appear as merely a series of clamorous rants and dreamy allusions. In Michelangeli's hands, the music is magical.

Yes, as I say, under Michelangeli, everything seems just right. He rushes nothing, a common failing in too many other performances of this work, instead gracing each note with a perfect timing. The result is almost mystical, the jazz elements present, to be sure, yet never with any overemphasis. What can seem merely hustle and bustle in some interpretations here sound exactly right, the transitions so effortless that the whole piece appears as one. Michelangeli never grandstands, every note unforced and effortlessly effective. And yet those long solo passages seem to grow organically from the ground up, the performer creating excitement in a fluid, flowing manner.

With Michelangeli, the Adagio is practically hypnotic and casts a haunting spell over the entire piece. It's meltingly beautiful. Then we get a finale that sounds every bit as insightful and daring as the movements that went before it, filled with extreme but still graceful intensity and virtuosic playing.

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli
Russian composer, pianist, and conductor Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) wrote his Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor in 1926, but it would be a couple of more years before he felt it ready for publication. While today it rather takes a backseat to the more popular Second and Third Concertos, it still exhibits its own merits. In fact, if the overt Romanticism of those previous concertos bother you, the Fourth may be just down your alley. Like the Ravel work, the Rachmaninov piece displays some influences of Gershwin-like jazz, just not quite as much.

Although the Rachmaninov concerto sounds more dramatically inclined that the Ravel, Michelangeli plays up its more-lyrical side with equal agility, letting the eagerness of the moment take care of itself. It's a kind of self-effacing performance from the pianist, one in which he fades into the music itself instead of standing out as its supreme commander. Then, as the icing on this most-delectable cake, the orchestra blends into the proceedings almost subliminally. Pianist and orchestra are so at one you can hardly tell these works are concertos at all. Meaning Maestro Gracis is with Michelangeli all the way, from the most-hushed interludes to the biggest crescendos.

This is, indeed, an album for the ages.

Producer Peter Andry and engineer Christopher Parker recorded the two concertos at Studio No. 1, Abbey Road, London in March 1957. The Warner Music Group reissued it in 2015, but if you were expecting a new remaster, it didn't happen. This is the same mastering EMI made in 2000 for their "Great Recordings of the Century" series. If you already own that one, you have no need for this one. On the other hand, if you don't already have this recording, the sound holds up extremely well, and you'll not find better performances.

The sound, in fact, is very transparent, with a wonderful sense of dimensionality and air. What's more, there is a wide dynamic range involved, with reasonably good impact on the stronger transients. The instruments blend well, yet individual instruments stand out as well, without appearing too multi-miked. The piano itself feels well placed, slightly ahead of the orchestra but not too far. It also sounds clear and natural, with just a touch of realistic room ambience to heighten the illusion of being there. Maybe because the orchestration in the Rachmaninov is a bit more lavish, the sound there is a tad warmer.


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

Oct 22, 2015

Hadley: Symphony No. 4 (CD review)

Also, The Oceans; The Culprit Fay. John McLaughlin Williams, National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. Naxos 8.559064.

According to a Naxos booklet note, in 1933 the Musical Courier called American Romantic composer John Kimball Hadley (1871-1937), "probably the most important composer in the contemporary American musical scene." Hadley wrote five symphonies, numerous choral, piano, and operatic works, toured the world with various orchestras, and founded the Berkshire Music Festival. Such is the fleeting nature of fame, however, that by 2001 the folks at Naxos were about the only ones left to revive his music in their "American Classics" series of low-cost recordings.

The opening piece on the album is a tone poem called "The Ocean," written in 1920. It jumps right into the fray with a long, tempestuous passage expressive of a raging sea. The waters finally calm to a ripple, only to explode later into greater fury and then settle down once more. The musical expression here is reminiscent partly of the evocations of Claude Debussy and partly of English composer Arnold Bax; "Tintagel" comes to mind. The second piece on the disc is another tone poem, this one called "The Culprit Fay," 1908, based on a popular nineteenth-century poem. The music is about a fairy who loves a mortal maid, and the author apparently wrote it to celebrate the Hudson River. So, that's what Hadley's music does, too. This selection is more playful than "The Ocean," a little silly, to be sure, yet its shimmering luminosity can sometimes sound beguiling. Still, it's not the most formidable of music.

John McLaughlin Williams
The main work on the disc is the Symphony No. 4, first performed in 1911, and representing with its four movements four moods, suggestive of the frozen North, the East, Southern ragtime, and the spirit of the West Coast. The beginning of "North" reminded me to a small extent of Ralph Vaughan Williams's Sinfonia Antarctica; the "East," to be a tad cynical, reminded me somewhat of the way Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov might have treated The Song of Hiawatha; the section titled "South" is very Scott Joplin-like; and "West" sounds like something later Hollywood cinema might have adopted. Program notes by Hadley himself complement the arrangements, although they may not help much to make a person appreciate the music, which seems to me too derivative of other, better things.

The performances of Grammy award-winning conductor John McLaughlin Williams and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine probably do as much justice to the music as one might expect. As I had never heard the works before and had no comparisons to make, I can only say that Maestro Williams seems to communicate what the music demands of him and his players, making it as appropriately colorful and fun as possible. At the same time, it's hard to tell with music as undemanding as this.

The sonics Naxos provided for Williams and the Ukraine Orchestra are not exactly what I'd call transparent, but they do sound warmly detailed and reproduce a reasonably good stage depth, a solid dynamic impact, and a fairly wide frequency range. It's pretty nondescript sound, actually, not bad but not great, either.

In all, this is a reasonably enjoyable collection of highly accessible though probably justifiably forgotten orchestral music that listeners can hear for themselves for relatively little cost.


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

Oct 20, 2015

Vivaldi: The Complete Viola d'Amore Concertos (CD review)

Rachel Barton Pine, viola d'amore; Ars Antigua. Cedille CDR 90000 159.

The viola d'amore is an odd instrument. It's an odd instrument today and it was an odd instrument in Vivaldi's day. But Vivaldi was apparently so enamored of the instrument that he wrote eight concertos for it, all of which Rachel Barton Pine plays on the present recording, accompanied by Ars Antigua.

How unusual is the viola d'amore? Usually, it's a special twelve-string viola, played under the chin in the same way as a violin, the performer utilizing six of the strings while the other six, located just below the first six, resonant sympathetically. The instrument produces a rich sound with, as the accompanying booklet tells us, "a shimmering, halo-like tone." Ms. Pine tells us that when she was a teenager the instrument fascinated her, but she really fell in love with it when she had the opportunity to acquire an original-condition, 1774 Nicola Gagliano twelve-string viola d'amore, coincidentally, the top of which she says "was made from the very same tree as the top of my original-condition 1770 Nicola Gagliano violin."

Ms. Pine plays the eight Vivaldi Concerti d'Amore on the aforementioned historical viola, and Ars Antigua ("Ancient Art") attend her on period instruments. On the final concerto (Concerto in D minor, RV540), Hopkinson Smith joins Ms. Pine and the ensemble on lute. Now, if the sound and playing style of a period band concern you, have no fear. They may play in a lively vein with historical accuracy in the forefront, yet they are not a helter-skelter, hell-bent-for-leather group determined to produce the fastest-paced Vivaldi on record. These are charming performances, with musical enjoyment always the primary focus.

No, there is no worry about Ms. Pine or Ars Antigua running through the concertos too fast. If you are one of Ms. Pine's fans, you know that her manner of playing is always warm and smiling. Yet she is never lax; the outer movements are usually allegros, and she ensures that they sound full of energy and excitement. Just not at a breathless pace.

Rachel Barton Pine
Moreover, Ms. Pine and company imbue the concertos with enough nuance that they seldom sound the same one to another, which with Vivaldi can be an accomplishment. OK, I admit that I probably wouldn't be able to identify any of these pieces by number the next time I heard them; still, while a person is listening to them, they all take on an admirably different character, thanks mostly to variations in the way Ms. Pine plays them.

Anyway, the real question is whether you would be able to tell the difference in the sound of the viola d'amore and a period violin. I think most listeners familiar with a violin could tell. The viola d'amore has a slightly richer, more resonant, more airy sound than a violin. So, what we get here is a virtuoso violinist playing an instrument that more than ever shows off her talents. The player and instrument make beautiful music together.

The Concerto in F major, RV 97 is the sole work in the set that begins slowly, with a wind accompaniment, the full ensemble returning for the finale. It's unusual, to be sure, and quite delightful. The Concerto in A minor, RV 397 is the only work that has the feeling of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, so the listener need have little worry about that matter.

On the final concerto, RV 540, Hopkinson Smith accompanies Ms. Pine on lute. The lute adds a lovely, sensitive contribution to the program, the set going out on a real high note, musically.

Each concerto is around ten minutes long, so because there are eight of them, Cedille have filled out the disc almost to the limit with over seventy-nine minutes of material. You can't say you're not getting your money's worth with so much music, so well played, and so well recorded.

Cedille producer James Ginsburg and ace engineer Bill Maylone recorded the concertos at Nichols Hall at the Music Institute of Chicago in November 2011 and July-August 2014. The sound is remarkably transparent: coherent as an ensemble yet with almost every instrument clearly defined. A light ambient glow highlights the proceedings as well, giving the recording an extremely lifelike feel. The soloist appears well placed among the other players, never too far forward, and the ensemble has a strong dimensional feel without being too wide or too narrow across the sound stage. The frequency response seems quite wide as well, with a welcome sparkle at the high end; and dynamics seem equally wide, so the whole thing comes off like a live performance in your living room.


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

Oct 18, 2015

Brahms: Symphony No. 4 (CD review)

Bruno Walter, Columbia Symphony Orchestra. HDTT (remastered).

The German-born conductor, pianist, and composer Bruno Walter made most of his late-career stereo recordings for Columbia Records and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. It was not the best orchestra in the country because despite its membership consisting mainly of freelance musicians and members of the New York or Los Angeles Philharmonic (depending on where Columbia was recording them), it really only played together for recording purposes. Nevertheless, Walter made some of his best music with them, including the Brahms symphonies, Beethoven, Bruckner, Mahler, Mozart, and Wagner. This Brahms Fourth Symphony, which Walter recorded in 1959, concluded his Brahms cycle on a high note, and HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) do a fine job remastering it.

Interestingly, the composers I mentioned above were also among those that one of Walter's contemporaries, conductor Otto Klemperer, also excelled at doing. I've often wondered if it was just because both men were born in Germany around the same time and so had an affinity for the work of German and Austrian composers, or whether it was because both men in their younger days worked closely with composer Gustav Mahler. Maybe a little of both? Whatever the case, Walter and Klemperer produced excellent sets of Brahms recordings.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) premiered his Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98 in 1885, and it is one of the most wholly satisfying symphonies of his four. The opening movement begins gracefully and builds in dramatic tension using some of the composer's most memorable tunes. How a listener reacts to Walter's approach to the symphony will probably come quickly into the opening movement. A booklet note tells us that he had also recorded the Brahms cycle about a decade earlier (in monaural, of course) in performances that had "a lean, crisp sound." This time it's a little different. If you're looking for a big, dramatic reading, you're probably better off with conductors such as Klemperer, Bernstein, Kleiber, and the like. Walter, on the other hand, is relatively light and lyrical. He isn't slow by any means, just gentle and flowing and always with an unerring forward momentum. Nor does Walter's performance lack in weightiness or authority. It's simply a lovely, rich, sort of autumnal interpretation.

Bruno Walter
The second movement is placid, serene, wearing its heart on its sleeve, so to speak, accompanied by a plush orchestral arrangement. Walter takes this slow movement at a relaxed pace, making it among the most-peaceful renderings ever recorded. It's a perfect follow-up to the calm, unhurried tack he took in the first movement.

The third movement Scherzo is cheerful, festive, and exuberant. It provides the symphony a sudden note of excitement and happiness, and Walter uses it to advantage to help balance the more tranquil moments.

The Finale is powerful and relatively serious. Here, you'll find Walter concluding on a strong note, emphasizing the powerful architecture of the symphony. There is nothing showy or extroverted about the performance, yet the positive thrust of the music is always paramount.

Yes, you'll find more excitement in other recordings of this symphony. However, you'll not find more heart or soul than with Walter. This is as loving an interpretation as any you'll hear.

Producer John McClure made the recording for Columbia Records (CBS, Sony) in Los Angeles, February 1959, and HDTT remastered and transferred it to compact disc from a Columbia 4-track tape. The sound is some of the best Columbia provided in the Fifties and Sixties, and it comes up well in HDTT's transfer. It's very clean and clear, with a nice sense of dimensionality, left-to-right stereo spread and front-to-back depth. There is a hint of hard forwardness to the upper midrange, it's true, but it tends to reinforce the recording's transparency and should not be at all bothersome except perhaps to the most finicky of audiophiles. There is also a reasonably good dynamic range and a modest degree of hall resonance. This is not your old-time Columbia sound.

For further information on HDTT products, prices, discs, and downloads in a variety of formats, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.


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

Oct 15, 2015

Wind Concertos (CD review)

Music by Cimarosa, Molique, and Moscheles. Mathieu Dufour, flute; Alex Klein, Oboe; Paul Freeman, Czech National Symphony Orchestra. Cedille Records CDR 90000 080.

Three highlights of this 2004 Cedille release are (1) the enthusiastic playing of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of its Music Director and Chief Conductor at the time, the late American conductor Paul Freeman (1936-2015), and his two soloists, Mathieu Dufour and Alex Klein; (2) the fascinating combination of pieces for wind solos and ensembles that Cedille include; and (3) the excellence of the Cedille recording.

The booklet note says that this is the eighth Cedille recording with Freeman and the Czech orchestra, and one can understand why the conductor appears to like them so much. They play with a genuine flair and affection for the music.

Paul Freeman
Said music would be a late Classical era Concerto for 2 flutes & orchestra  by Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801), here played on flute and oboe; two early Romantic concertos by Wilhelm Bernhard Molique (1802-1869), one for flute solo and one for oboe solo; and an early Romantic period Concerto for Flute and Oboe by Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870). Just listening to the Classical work next to the Romantic works is a lesson in music history in itself, the orchestra opening up, expanding in the latter pieces, becoming not only bigger with added instruments but warmer, the music less formal this way and more smoothly flowing. I'm not suggesting one is better than the other, incidentally, just different.

The accompanying booklet note is more informative than most, and Cedille's choice of a cover painting is quite attractive. Sometimes, it's the little touches that add to one's enjoyment of an album.
Cedille Record's Bill Maylone, one of my favorite audio engineers, recorded the four pieces, and Cedille released the album in 2004. Maylone manages to capture the Classical work with a wonderful clarity, while also capturing all the warmth and charm of the Romantic pieces without losing much of that initial lucidity. The sound is natural, lifelike, vibrant, perhaps a tad bass shy (although the pieces don't require much bass), enveloping, and refreshingly entertaining.


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

Oct 13, 2015

Dvorak: Cello Concerto (XRCD24 review)

Also, Faure: Elgie for Cello and Orchestra. Janos Starker, cello; Walter Susskind, Philharmonia Orchestra. Hi-Q Records HQXRCD45.

Hungarian-born American cellist Janos Starker (1924-2013) made the Dvorak Cello Concerto something of a signature piece. It's understandable as it was the work he played when he made his concert debut at the age of fourteen. His 1956 performance offered here in an audiophile remaster from Hi-Q Records has the distinction of being among the first-ever stereo recordings of the music.

Starker would record the piece several times, including a 1962 performance with Antal Dorati on the Mercury label. Of the two, I favor the latter one, particularly for its sound, although now that Hi-Q has made this earlier recording available remastered, it becomes more of a toss-up. Certainly, Starker takes a masculine approach to the work in any case, a tack that works well in the outer movements, if not especially well in the second-movement Adagio. Still, it's an interpretation worth investigating.

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) wrote the Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 relatively late in his career, 1895, and it has since become one of the most-popular cello concertos in the field. One can hardly discount its late-Romantic qualities, its copious melodies, and its lusty emotions.

The concerto begins with a long, imposing orchestral introduction before the cello enters, an intro that alludes to both of the work's two upcoming themes, and Maestro Walter Susskind and the Philharmonia Orchestra in its prime manage this preliminatry music as well as anyone. Then when Starker's cello joins the proceedings, he pretty much takes over.

As I said earlier, Starker follows a fairly muscular, aggressive course in the opening movement. In his later Mercury recording, he seemed a little more relaxed, a little less intense, and some listeners may prefer this. His is a highly Romantic vision of the music, to be sure, yet perhaps filtered through a more twentieth-century sensibility.

Janos Starker
After the strong start is the Adagio I mentioned, which should glide sweetly along like a slow-moving stream, wistfully, with a touch of sadness. Maybe it was the illness and eventual death of Dvorak's sister-in-law, with whom he had once been in love, that inspired some of the movement's melancholy, I don't know. Whatever, it's here that Starker seems a bit too perfunctory to me, as though he just wants to get the movement over with to get on with the thrills of the finale. So, in other words, the music loses a bit of something in terms of sheer poetry. Nevertheless, he makes up for it with a passionately dramatic middle section of the movement.

Then we get the finale, seething with energy and concluding with another touch of melancholy in a climactic love duet before the work's heroic close. Starker and Susskind take a strict view of this last movement, with absolutely no softening or glamorizing of the melodies and a rigid execution of the marchlike rhythms. It may be a tad too stern for some ears, or it may be just right for others. I guess over the years Starker's exacting musical interpretations have grown on me, so it sounds fine to my ears.

Coupled with the concerto is Elegie by French composer Gabriel Faure (1845-1924). Faure may have written this sorrowful lament for a lost love; at least that's the contention. Originally the composer wrote it for cello and piano, but later arranged the orchestral accompaniment we find here. It's certainly a passionate affair, filled with an anguished sadness, and apparently that's how Starker sees it, too. It's a brief piece, hardly over five minutes, yet Starker brings out its longings in a reasonably heartfelt fashion, the cello crying in pain. Still, there is something in Starker's handling of it that seems perhaps too demanding, too calculated, as though he can't quite let his emotions flow entirely freely. But I quibble. It's a lovely work and lovely performance.

As always, the folks at Hi-Q package the disc in a glossy, hardcover, foldout Digipak-type case, the disc fasten to the inside back cover and text notes to the inside.

Producer Walter Legge and engineers Robert Gooch and Michael Grafton-Green recorded both works at Kingsway Hall, London in July 1956. Tohru Kotetsu remastered the recording at the JVC Mastering Center, Japan, using XRCD24 technology, and Hi-Q Records released the disc in September 2015.

The sound is remarkable for its age; indeed, it's remarkable for any age. It's very clean, extremely clear, highly dynamic, and well extended in both bass and treble, the hall adding a sweet and lifelike decay time. The cello appears well represented; quite natural in tone if a bit forward in its perspective; and the orchestra comes across in a realistic width and depth, with plenty of air around the instruments. Is everything, therefore, perfect? Not quite. A couple of minor qualms involve a few extraneous bass clunks toward the beginning (no idea what they were but I replayed them several times just to be sure it wasn't something outside my playback system); a slightly hard upper midrange; and a touch of background noise noticeable when played loudly. These are quibbles are hardly worth mentioning, though, given that the bulk of the sound is as good as or better than most recordings you'll hear today.

Among the lowest prices you'll find for this recording is at Elusive Disc: http://www.elusivedisc.com/


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

Oct 11, 2015

Four Centuries (CD review)

Susan Merdinger, piano; David Yonan, violin. Sheridan Music Studio.

Among my favorite pianists is Steinway artist Susan Merdinger. On the present album, Four Centuries, she teams up with violinist David Yonan for a program of music that takes us from the 1700's to the present. They do pieces by Mozart, Schumann, Bloch, and Levinson, and they do them exceptionally well. In fact, Ms. Merdinger and Mr. Yonan make some exceedingly beautiful music together.

The juxtaposition of old and new music works well and makes for some fascinating listening. What's more, the duo of Merdinger and Yonan brings with it a much-appreciated warmth and enthusiasm. While both performers are capable of and often display virtuosic playing, neither of them tries to get too fancy or upstage the other. They work as one player instead of two, the results quite satisfying.

The first work on the agenda is the Sonata No. 13 for Piano and Violin in B-flat major, K. 454 by Austrian composer and pianist Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Written in 1784, Mozart intended it as a piece he would play together with violin virtuoso Regina Strinasacci at a concert in Vienna. With Merdinger and Yonan, the Mozart is both lively and relaxed as the occasion demands. They give the outer movements the spark they need, and they apply a sweet, gentle touch to the Andante.

The next work is the Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105 by German composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856). He wrote it late in life, 1851, and premiered it in 1852 with Ferdinand David on violin and the composer's wife Clara on piano. In contrast to the high good spirits of the Mozart, the Schumann piece is more solemn, especially the first movement. The second movement sounds richly melodic, particularly as Merdinger and Yonan handle it. Then we get a somewhat agitated final movement, in which the performers emphasize the distress and conflict to passionate effect.

Susan Merdinger
After that we hear a piece from the twentieth century, the Suite Hebraique for Violin and Piano by Swiss-born composer Ernest Bloch (1880-1959). Bloch wrote the music in 1950 for the Covenant Club of Chicago, which had just sponsored a festival of his music. Merdinger and Yonan bring out Bloch's clearly though not always obvious Hebraic influences. The violin was not Bloch's first choice for the work; originally, he wrote it for cello, a more somber instrument, and later he adapted it for violin. Still, it works out well for Yonan's violin, which supplies a demonstrative voice to the proceedings.

The final work on the album is Elegy: Crossing the Bridge, for Violin and Piano, written in 2011 by Russian-born composer Ilya Levinson (b. 1958) and dedicated to David Yonan, who performed its world debut. Merdinger and Yonan's rendering of the piece is its official world-premiere recording. Levinson's work is the shortest on the disc at a single movement of about nine minutes. As with so much modern music, it has multiple meanings, the business of "crossing the bridge" referring to the actual playing technique as well as "getting in touch with the reality outside of commonly known human senses," as Lawrence Block writes in the booklet notes. Fair enough, and certainly it presents the listener with a variety of mood changes from "elegiac to tragic" and on to the other side of the bridge and a glimpse of "the Great Beyond." So, it's not only an interesting piece of music, it's rather ambitious as well. Whatever, Yonan and Merdinger infuse it with a rich, intense, sinuous longing that is quite moving.

Recording and mastering engineer James Auwarter and producer Susan Merdinger made the album at the Anne and Howard Gottlieb Hall at the Merit School of Music, Chicago, Illinois in July 2015. Played back at a realistic level, the disc offers among the best sound you'll find in any solo or duet album. The relative positioning of the violin and piano seems as perfect as it can be, with a lifelike balance in both tone and space. Clarity is outstanding, too, without being forward, bright, or brittle. The instruments simply sound natural, with a hint of room ambience to give them an even more accurate presence. It's quite a beautiful disc to hear, actually.

Among the places you can find the album is Ms. Merdinger's own Web site: http://www.susanmerdingerpianist.com/store


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

Oct 8, 2015

Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique (CD review)

Also "Love Scene" from Romeo et Juliette. Paavo Jarvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Telarc CD-80578.

One thing is clear: This is one the best-sounding Symphonie Fantastique you're going to find around. Whether you will take to the middle-of-the-road interpretation is another story. Paavo Jarvi was the Musical Director of the Cincinnati Symphony when he made this recording in October, 2000, and it marked his first appearance for Telarc Records. They recorded the work about a year prior to his officially taking over the orchestra, by the way. In any case, he brought a rich European tradition and a fresh new outlook to the orchestra, if not to the Berlioz.

As you probably know, French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) wrote his Symphonie fantastique in 1830, and it quickly became one of the most influential pieces of music of all time. Combining the programmatic elements of predecessors like Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony and utilizing an enormous orchestral arrangement for well over a hundred players (Berlioz employed about 130 musicians for the première), the result was extraordinary for its time period. I suspect if the composer had had a wind machine, electronic instruments, and a light show available to him, he would have used them, too. Yet the music remains extraordinary for our own time as well, even though people have repeated and imitated it at length.

In the work's five movements, the young Berlioz (at the time in his mid twenties) wrote autobiographically of the hopeless love of a young man for a woman, the young man falling into a drug-induced dream, which the composer describes in his music. The woman reappears throughout the Symphonie in the form of an idée fixe, a "fixed idea" the young man cannot shake. The fourth and fifth movements in particular are tours de force of imagination and orchestral exuberance. The hero envisions that the court has convicted him of murdering his loved one, and his jailors are leading him to the scaffold for hanging. Then, in the finale, the "Witches' Sabbath," the fates seem to have committed the young lover to some kind of purgatory or hell for his crime of passion, where he sees his beloved among the witches.

Paavo Jarvi
Maestro Jarvi handles all of this in a gentler, more poetic manner than many of his competitors, and perhaps that is why calling his performance "middle-of-the-road," as I did above, is being somewhat unfair. It is a pretty good realization of the work, full of excitement and passion of varying degrees. It's just that it doesn't quite open up Berlioz's bizarre fantasies as well as the four comparison discs I had on hand, which are better examples of the inventiveness this work needs. Jarvi tends to pale somewhat in their shadow. The four comparisons I used were Sir Colin Davis's second Concertgebouw reading (Philips), a remarkably mature performance; Leonard Bernstein's Orchestre National de France disc (EMI or Hi-Q), a fiery performance; John Eliot Gardiner's original instruments rendition with the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique (Philips), also an animated reading; and, my favorite, Sir Thomas Beecham's French Radio National Orchestra recording (EMI), noted for its colorful interpretation. Next to these chaps, Jarvi comes off as rather straightforward--lyrical, to be sure, but also a bit matter-of-fact and to the point. Which is not at all bad, just maybe not a first choice in this repertoire. The coupling is pleasant, too.

Nevertheless, where the two-channel stereo Telarc disc scores over its rivals is in the audio department. Particularly when Jarvi reaches the final two show-stopping, stereo-spectacular movements, "The March to the Scaffold" and "The Witches' Sabbath." In these sections we can hear the effects of the extra-wide dynamic range of the Telarc release, the strong dynamic impact, the spacious dimensionality, and, of course, the famous Telarc bass drum. That said, I must admit that the Gardiner recording came close sonically, Gardiner always favoring a wide dynamic range in his recordings, anyway. Still and all, the Davis disc held its own, too, in everything but the final moments, and the Beecham sounded good as well; but the Bernstein seemed a little thin, comparatively, even in its Hi-Q audiophile realization. Perhaps people will purchase this Telarc recording primarily as a demonstration piece; whatever, it's one that can provide ample musical entertainment as well.


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

Oct 6, 2015

Bartok: Music for strings, percussion and celeste (CD review)

Also, Divertimento for String Orchestra; Kodaly: Dances of Galanta. Sir Charles Mackerras, Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Linn Records Echo BKD 234.

For me at least, the name of Australian conductor Sir Charles Mackerras (1925-2010) doesn't usually conjure up thoughts of Hungarian music (Czech, maybe, but not Hungarian), yet in 2004 this album of Mackerras conducting Hungarian composers Bartok and Kodaly appears to have been such a hit with the public that Linn Records decided to rerelease it in 2015. It is understandable why they did so: The album is quite appealing for both its performances and its sound.

Mackerras begins the program with Dances of Galanta by Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967), which the composer wrote in 1933 for the 80th anniversary of the Budapest Philharmonic Society. He based the piece on the folk music of a small town called Galanta, where he had lived for a few years. Maestro Mackerras brings out the gypsy inflections in lively enough fashion, yet he adds a note of grace to the proceedings as well. These are not just helter-skelter interpretations by a conductor trying to impress upon his listeners the bustle and excitement of the music; Mackerras genuinely sees this material as having serious worth, and he provides a finely accentuated, fluidly rhythmic rendering of the dances.

Next up is the centerpiece of the album, the Music for strings, percussion and celeste by Bela Bartok (1881-1945), which he wrote in 1936 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the chamber orchestra Basler Kammerorchester. It has since become one of the composers most well-known pieces of music. It is, of course, somewhat odd and eerie, with several of my favorite recordings of it coming from fairly different approaches: Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (EMI) is most eloquent; Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony (Decca) is more brazen and robust; and Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony (RCA) is probably the best all-around. But then we have Mackerras, who adds a greater element of lyricism to the mix.

Mackerras's way with the music is very atmospheric, very imaginative, and poetic, too. The string arrangement is such that the piece takes on an added quality of three-dimensionality, which sounds quite effective here in Linn's recording, even if the Scottish Chamber Orchestra is smaller than Bartok probably envisioned. Mackerras maintains the rhythmic thrust of the piece without sacrificing any balance or poise. Although he never rushes things, the tempos appear well judged, with none of the movements too frenetic or too slack.

Sir Charles Mackerras
Mackerras closes the show with Bartok's Divertimento for String Orchestra, written in 1939 on commission from the founder of the Basler Kammerorchester. The conductor continues here his policy of musical refinement, keeping its diverse mood swings fully compatible with one another. The transitions are so smooth, we no longer have any fear that the three movements are going to come from entirely different places. Mackerras apparently sees the piece as an organic whole and treats it as such. All the thrills and passion are here, along with the anguish and compassion.

Additionally, I'd like to add a shout-out to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. They seem to me as good as any chamber orchestra in the world, with a crisp attack, a warm articulation, and a rich overall tone. They sound at least as refined as the English Chamber Orchestra, and that's high praise, indeed.

Producer Tim Oldham and engineers Philip Hobbs and Calum Malcolm recorded the music at Usher Hall, Edinburgh, UK in February and March 2004, Linn Records issuing it the same year. Linn rereleased the disc in 2015 under their "Echo" label. The sound is spacious without being hollow or cavernous, full and natural without being bright or dull. It sounds perfectly natural and appropriately dimensional, pretty much the live sound of a chamber orchestra I chanced to hear the night before I listened to this disc. The midrange is not super-analytical but provides a good deal of inner detail; the frequency extremes are about where they should be, with good extension, especially in the highs; and the dynamics are wide, strong, and solid. This is impressively lifelike sound, the kind we have come to expect from Linn.


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

Oct 4, 2015

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 20 & 23 (XRCD24 review)

Daniel Barenboim, soloist and conductor; English Chamber Orchestra. Hi-Q Records HIQXRCD44.

Argentine pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim (b. 1942) made his piano debut in 1950, and he's been going strong ever since. However, he first came to my attention as a conductor through his 1966-71 EMI recordings of the late Mozart symphonies with the English Chamber Orchestra. They impressed me at the time with their lively spirit, and they continue to be among my favorite interpretations even today. However, it would be a few more years after I discovered his Mozart symphony recordings that I heard his several albums of Mozart piano concertos with the same orchestra, which he recorded for EMI at about the same time. Unfortunately for me, when the CD age rolled around, I never replaced the piano concertos as I did the symphonies. Thus, this new Hi-Q audiophile release was my first return to Barenboim's ECO Mozart concertos in decades. It was a welcome return, as not only had I forgotten how good the performances were, I had forgotten how good the sound was, especially as so carefully remastered by JVC for distribution by Hi-Q Records.

Mozart wrote his Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466, in 1785, and Beethoven much admired it. Young Barenboim offers up a performance of supreme delicacy and refinement that one could hardly criticize without appearing a somewhat petty. Yet there are occasions in the first movement when the pianist seems a tad impetuous. I couldn't help but put an obvious comparison disc on, that of Clifford Curzon with the same orchestra and recorded at about the same time. Curzon seems a touch more mature to me, Barenboim a fraction faster. But, as I say, these are minor concerns at best. Barenboim's playing sparkles throughout, and in the slow second movement he is almost as lyrical and poignant as Curzon. (Curzon may have an edge here because it's his performance we hear at the end of the movie Amadeus, and it's hard for me to shake that.) The concluding movement has Barenboim again in his element, providing a wonderfully light, lively, airy, bubbly ending to the concerto.

A year after No. 20, 1786, Mozart wrote the Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488. Here, Barenboim is just as energetic yet just as sensitive as he was in No. 20, making this disc combination an easy recommendation. It's perhaps all the more surprising when you consider that this disc was the first in Barenboim's series of Mozart concertos, so it was clearly a good start. In addition, he does a fine job directing the ECO from the piano, the orchestra players making their contribution felt in their exacting and highly sympathetic accompaniment.

As always, the folks at Hi-Q package the disc in a glossy, hardcover, foldout Digipak-type case, the disc fastened to the inside back cover, with text notes on the inside. It's a class act all the way.

Daniel Barenboim
Producer Suvi Raj Grubb and engineers Robert Gooch and Neville Boyling originally recorded the concertos at Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London in January 1967. Engineer Tohru Kotetsu remastered the recording for Hi-Q Records at the JVC (Victor Company of Japan) Mastering Center, using XRCD24 technology. XRCD24 processing is among the most-demanding in the industry, and among the most expensive, and it yields impressive results.

In any case, I did not have the regular CD of these concertos with which to compare the Hi-Q. Nevertheless, I did have the EMI (now Warner) CD's of Barenboim's Mozart symphonies, which he recorded at about the same time, so they had to suffice for my comparison. The two most obvious areas of improvement in the Hi-Q vs. regular EMI sound are those of smoothness and clarity. The remastered edition is very slightly smoother and more detailed. It's maybe a hair less bright and forward, too, although a listener would probably only notice these differences upon direct A-B comparison. The piano appears well integrated with the orchestra, sounding lifelike in its placement and sonorities, with the ECO providing clean, transparent textures that come up well in the remastering. Orchestral depth is modest, stereo spread realistic, studio warmth pleasantly mild, and frequency extremes generally unnecessary.

Let's just say that the Hi-Q product is a fine-sounding disc; whether it's worth an expensive upgrade from the EMI/Warner product is a matter of personal taste and pocketbook. If you really, really like these performances and want them in the best possible sound, you might want to go for the Hi-Q. Those with only a mild interest or a simple curiosity might want to stick with the basic EMI product.

Among the places you'll find this recording is Elusive Disc: http://www.elusivedisc.com/


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

Oct 1, 2015

Haydn: String Quartets "The Haydn Project" (CD review)

Emerson String Quartet. DG 289 471 327-2 (3-disc set).

Was there any composer more cosmopolitan yet so light and bucolic as the prolific Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)? Was there any musician who so thoroughly encapsulated the eighteenth-century, the "Age of Reason," while at the same time infused so much Romantic joy and enthusiasm into his work? The string quartets, of which he wrote a multitude, are as good an example as any of the man's delightful spirit.

The Emerson String Quartet, which with this release in 2001 celebrated their twenty-fifth year together and which they named after the American transcendental poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, continued their quest to record all of the composer's string output, the present collection referred to as "The Haydn Project." In this particular collection, they perform the Quartet in F minor, Op. 20, No. 5; E flat major, Op. 33, No. 2 "The Joke"; G major, Op. 54, No. 1; D major, Op. 64, No. 5 "The Lark"; G minor, Op. 74, No. 3 "The Rider"; D minor, Op. 76, No. 2 "Fifths"; and G major, Op. 77, No. 1.

What's more, the set contains a third, bonus disc that contains an assortment of recordings from the Emerson's previous fourteen years with DG. This extra disc includes short works or excerpts from Mozart, Shostakovich, Dvorak, Ives, Webern, Schubert, Bartók, and Beethoven. It serves as kind of the icing on the cake.

Another nice thing about this particular set is that the players have chosen quartets from among Haydn's earliest to latest groupings. Among my two favorite quartets in the set are the F minor, which leads off the album, and the D major "The Lark." To me, they represent both the humor and the passion of the composer; and, of course, the members of the Emerson Quartet play all of the music eloquently. They may not be the world's greatest string quartet in terms of absolute color and drama, but they make up for it in their obvious earnestness, impeccable execution, and love of the music.

DG's sound is good for this kind of thing, too, nicely detailed through the midrange but slightly laid back, reticent, a little soft at the high end by some standards. It makes for easy listening, but I'm afraid audiophiles may find the treble a tad too rounded off for their taste, preferring perhaps a bit more sparkle, or should I say zing, to the strings. The stereo spread also seems a bit wide for the sonic distance DG provide for the group, but these minor caveats fade into insignificance if one enjoys the Emerson String Quartet's music making.


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