Nov 29, 2015

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 (HQCD review)

Also, Piano Sonata No. 22. Sviatoslav Richter, piano; Charles Munch, Boston Symphony Orchestra. HDTT HQCD278.

It was several years ago that I reviewed a remastering of this recording from JVC in their XRCD series of audiophile discs. There, I found the sound, recorded more than half a century ago, rock solid. Not like most of today's classical recordings that to me can appear misty, cloudy, fuzzy, excessively soft, or, even more likely, overly hard. With the exception of a touch of background noise, this older recording from JVC sounded just right, especially the piano, which was strong and steady in an unexaggerated way. The JVC XRCD issues, however, are expensive, no matter how much pleasure they provide. Which is where this HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) release comes in. It's almost identical in sound quality with the JVC product but at a much lower cost.

Anyway, Sviatoslav Richter was a legend in Communist Russia before the Soviet government allowed him to record in the West. When he did begin recording in America, among the companies he worked for was RCA in their "Living Stereo" series, one of the best places for any artist to record at the time. In the present recording, backed by Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Richter brings a robust vitality to this first of Beethoven's five piano concertos. The fact is, I hadn't really thought about Richter's recording much in quite a while until hearing it on the JVC release. It had been many, many years since I had last listened to it, and I hadn't remembered it being so thoroughly Romantic or so thoroughly powerful as it is, nor had I remembered how lovely and embracing the slow movement could be under Richter. He produces a vivacious opening movement, a meltingly beautiful slow movement, and a sparkling conclusion.

Perhaps it's just that Richter brings out the best in the music, I don't know. Going back and listening to relatively newer recordings by pianists Stephen Kovacevich with conductor Colin Davis on Philips and Murray Perahia with Bernard Haitink on Sony, also favorites, I found them good but not so dynamic or persuasive as Richter.

The companion piece on the disc, Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 22, also comes off in a most vigorous and dramatic fashion. Richter's way with the keyboard is both precise and incisive, making each note sound out loudly, clearly, purposefully. As with the Concerto, the Sonata offers a most impressive performance and makes a worthy coupling.

Sviatoslav Richter
Producers Max Wilcox and Peter Dellheim and engineers John Crawford and Lewis Layton recorded the music at Boston Symphony Hall (Concerto) and Webster Hall, NY (Sonata) in November 1960. HDTT transferred the recording to CD from an RCA 4-track tape.

I have sometimes found Munch and the Boston Symphony sounding thin, steely, and hard in their early RCA releases, but not really here. There may be a touch of hardness to the sound but nothing thin or bright about this recording. It is, if anything, darkly aggressive and absolutely stable, well complementing Richter's sturdy, energetic, and wholly realistic piano.

As I mentioned above, I had reviewed this recording several years before, remastered by JVC in their XRCD audiophile line and found the sound excellent in almost every way except for a bit of bass noise and a small degree of hardness. With this HDTT remastering (on an HQCD), there is no bass noise and more warmth than hardness. For comparison purposes, I put both discs into separate players and switched back and forth; to double check, I swapped out the discs and played them in the opposite machines. The bass noise was definitely on the JVC disc, not the HDTT. Of course, it's not possible for me to tell if the noise was in the original master tape and JVC transferred it directly to disc that way; or whether JVC's usually immaculate XRCD mastering introduced the noise; or whether RCA eliminated the noise from the four-track tape HDTT used; or whether HDTT eliminated the noise themselves from this disc transfer. What I do know is that the HDTT is quiet, with no apparent side effects.

In practically every other way, it's difficult to differentiate between the HDTT and JVC products. Maybe the JVC is a touch clearer (the HDTT having a very slight, almost unnoticeable degree of fuzz around the notes), and maybe the HDTT is a tad more dynamic (the impact is certainly strong). The main thing to know is that the HDTT disc costs about half or less (depending on the format you choose) the price of the rather expensive JVC product, making the HDTT clearly the superior bargain.

Anyway, the HDTT sonics are big and full, with plenty of zip and zoom (old audiophile talk), and lots of depth, dimensionality, and natural hall ambience. It's one of HDTT's best-sounding discs, and that's saying quite a lot, given that HDTT has successfully remastered any number of very fine recordings.

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:

Nov 25, 2015

Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 31, 70 & 101 (SACD review)

Robin Ticciati, Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Linn Records CKD 500.

The possible advantages of this disc: First, Maestro Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra play three symphonies by Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1909) from three periods in the man's life: early, middle, and late, giving the listener a useful overview of Haydn's developing output. Second, Linn Records provides another excellent-sounding album.

The possible disadvantages: First, Ticciati chooses to play each of the symphonies in something approaching historical accuracy, yet the orchestra performs on modern instruments. The combination may seem a tad disconcerting for some listeners. Second, Ticciati doesn't appear to display any discernable difference in playing style among the three symphonies even though they span a period of about thirty years. You would think that maybe as Haydn's style evolved, the playing practice might, too.

Anyway, things begin with the Symphony No. 31 in D major, which Haydn wrote in 1765 for his patron Nikolaus Esterházy. It acquired the nickname "Hornsignal" because it provides the horn section a rather large role in the proceedings. I really wasn't familiar with No. 31 (I hadn't heard Dorati's version in decades), but under Ticciati it sounds fresh, chipper, and alive. The Adagio is especially lovely, taken at a steady, enlivening gait that never indulges in sentimentality. And so it goes with a light, lilting flow throughout.

Next is the Symphony No. 70 in D major from 1779, written to commemorate the construction of a new opera house on Prince Esterhazy's property. Although it is not among Haydn's most-memorable symphonies, it does feature the composer's usual complement of pleasing harmonies. No. 70 starts out in a veritable storm of sounds, which Ticciati handles with ease, although the relatively small size of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra rather diminishes the overall effect. Yes, it sounds a tad underpowered compared to other renditions I've heard. Nevertheless, Ticciati again maintains a good forward pulse, and the movements proceed fluidly one to the next. He particularly handles the playful finale with dexterity.

Robin Ticciati
The final piece on the program is the Symphony No. 101 in D major, composed around 1793-94 while Haydn was visiting London for the second time. It got the nickname "The Clock" because the ticking rhythms in the second-movement Andante remind people of the movement of the second hand in a loudly ticking clock. Unfortunately, under Ticciati's direction "The Clock" seems little different from the preceding selections. While one still easily recognizes the music, it appears to me a touch too lightweight. And then comes the famous clock movement. Oh, dear. Ticciati sounds as though he's taking it at double speed; it's faster than any of the half dozen comparisons I had on hand, including one done on period instruments. Not that it doesn't still sound good--exciting, in fact--it's that it doesn't appear to me what Haydn intended: An Andante should be moderately slow, not speedy. Oh, well; at the very least, Ticciati's interpretation makes a solid alternative view.

Producer and engineer Philip Hobbs recorded the symphonies at Usher Hall, Edinburgh, UK in January and February 2015. He made the recording for hybrid SACD playback, so you can listen in multichannel or two-channel SACD if you have an SACD player and regular two-channel stereo if you have only a standard CD player.

In the two-channel SACD mode to which I listened, the sound appears warm and clear, with a good sense of depth and dimensionality. As this is a Linn recording, there is nothing hard, bright, compartmentalized, or close-up about the sonics. It just sounds natural and dynamic, with a sold timpani response and a mild hall resonance providing a realistic ambient bloom.


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

Nov 22, 2015

Debussy: La Mer (HQCD review)

Also, Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2; Berlioz: La Damnation de Faust, Part 2: Ballet des Sylphes. Leopold Stokowski, London Symphony Orchestra. HDTT HQCD.

Leopold Stokowski's Decca recording of Debussy's La Mer with the London Symphony is not the most graceful or poetic interpretation on record. For that, you'll want Martinon (EMI). But Stokowski is close. Stokowski's recording is not the most exciting, either. For that, you'll want Reiner (RCA or HDTT). But Stokowski is close. Stokowski's recording is not the most lush or glamorous you'll find. For that, you'll want Karajan (DG). But Stokowski is close. Stokowski's recording is not the most precise or analytical around. For that, you'll want Boulez (DG). But Stokowski is close. And Stokowski's recording is not the best recorded in the catalogue. For that, you'll want Previn (EMI). But Stokowski is close. In fact, Stokowski's Decca recording is so close in all of the above categories, it qualifies in my mind as the best overall choice in this work of anything available, and HDTT's remaster of it on the HQCD I reviewed makes it even better. It's a hard proposition to refuse.

French impressionist composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) wrote La Mer between 1903 and 1905, and the work has since become one of his most well-known compositions. Certainly, it is one of his greatest and most descriptive pieces. Debussy named it La mer, trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestre (or "The sea, three symphonic sketches for orchestra"), but usually people just call it La Mer.

Debussy said he wanted 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. In this first movement, Stokowski provides a requisite enthusiasm, but he is careful not let this opening music upstage the climactic final movement. So, he reins it in a bit, producing a suggestive, atmospheric, picturesque, and wonderfully rhapsodic portrait of morning on the sea.

The composer intended 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. In reality, the second movement acts as a kind of slowish scherzo, although, to be fair, it isn't actually slow or fast. As its subtitle indicates, it's more playful than anything, with Stokowski delighting in the imaginative nuances of sea and air. This is Stokowski at his more charming: light and lyrical.

Leopold Stokowski
Then comes probably the most well-known segment of the work, the third-movement finale, "Dialogue between wind and waves," in which Debussy provided his biggest splashes of color and which he noted should sound animated and tumultuous. Here, Stokowski infuses the music with immense personality; but not necessarily his own--he infuses it with the composer's personality. The movement's rhythmic rises and falls appear perfectly timed, the cadences beautifully judged, the subtleties of wind and sea well expressed in contrasting dynamic shifts. The result is as pleasing, as relaxed, yet as intense as anything you'll find on record.

The accompanying items--Maurice Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2 and Hector Berlioz's Ballet des Sylphes--are equally appealing. Stokowski's Ravel, especially, sounds magical, rich, and luxuriant. It's the ideal complement to the Debussy. Still, it's the Debussy that steals the show and for which I strongly recommend the disc.

Producer Tony d'Amato and engineer Arthur Lilley recorded the music in June, 1970, at Kingsway Hall, London. HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) remastered and transferred it from a London Phase 4 four-track tape to a variety of formats (I reviewed the HQCD) in 2015.

It's the "Phase 4" business that may concern some audiophiles. According to Decca, "Phase 4 was a special series of recordings from the '60s and '70s which presented music in spectacularly vivid sound." And according to Wikipedia, the Decca sound of the time "was characterised by an aggressive use of the highest and lowest frequencies and a daring use of tape saturation and out-of-phase sound to convey a lively and impactful hall ambiance, plus considerable bar-to-bar rebalancing by the recording staff of orchestral voices, known as 'spotlighting.' In the 1960s and 1970s, the company developed its 'Phase 4' process, which produced even greater sonic impact through even more interventionist engineering techniques." The fact is, Phase 4 sound used multi-miking to the extreme, usually producing a close-up, compartmentalized sound field that dazzled some listeners with its lucidity and detail and infuriated others with its sometimes unnatural perspective. Love it or leave it, HDTT have transferred it to HQCD with their customary excellent results.

Using two separate CD players, I compared the HDTT disc to a London Phase 4 compact disc remastered by Decca in 1997. (If you want the Stokowski Debussy, you'll have to find a used copy of one of the several discs Decca or London issued; buy it in a big Decca box set of miscellaneous Stokowski material; or get this HDTT transfer. I recommend the HDTT.) Anyway, the listener need have no fears about the sound being too close or too analytical because it's not quite as drastic as some of Decca's Phase 4 releases. Here, the sound is reasonably realistic, at least from a near vantage point. More important, the HDTT product displays a touch more smoothness and clarity than my comparison disc. It's also quite clean (although both discs are, for that matter), with almost dead quiet backgrounds. As with many other Phase 4 recordings I've heard, the bass is not quite as deep as I'd like, but it's more than adequate and sounds taut and well controlled. Finally, I thought the HDTT transfer showed a hair more orchestral dimensionality and depth than the London CD. In other words, you will be happy with the HDTT remastering. It does credit to Stokowski's fine performance.

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:

Nov 18, 2015

Chopin: Pianos Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (CD review)

Akiko Ebi, piano (No. 1); Janusz Olejniczak, piano (No. 2); Frans Bruggen, Orchestra of the 18th Century. Frederic Chopin Institute NIFCCD 042.

This disc has a lot going for it: It features a prominent, prizewinning Japanese-French pianist, Akiko Ebi, as the soloist in the First Concerto; and an equally distinguished soloist, the Polish pianist (and actor) Janusz Olejniczak in the Second. The conductor is the late Frans Bruggen, who knew his way around historically informed performances. The band is the Orchestra of the 18th Century, who have been playing on period instruments since their founding in 1981. And the performers use dated scores after the National Edition of the Works of Fryderyk Chopin.

On the other hand, not everything works. The performances have a good deal of competition and despite their "authenticity" seem little more than ordinary in a crowded field. What's more, the live sound, taken from two Chopin festivals, too often betrays its live origins.

First, to the music: Chopin wrote his Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1830, within a year following his Piano Concerto No. 2. However, he published No. 1 first, so if No. 1 seems the more mature of the two, it actually is by several months. Chopin described the second movement of No. 1 as "reviving in one's soul beautiful memories." In Chopin's case, he composed the piece when he was about nineteen or twenty and smitten with a beautiful young student, Constantia Gladkowska, at the Warsaw Conservatory. Even though he barely talked to her and she soon married somebody else, he may have had her in mind when he wrote his piano concertos, as well as a few other things.

Naturally, the piano parts dominate both piano concertos, the better to showcase Chopin's own virtuosity on the instrument. Yet with the Piano Concerto No. 1, the piano doesn't even enter the picture until the end of a fairly lengthy orchestral introduction. Maybe Chopin intended the prolonged preamble to make the piano's entrance all the more grand. It certainly works that way.

Anyhow, Chopin wrote the concerto at a time when he and other pianists were breaking from what we know today as the "brilliant" style in favor of pure Romanticism That is, they were getting a little away from sheer virtuosity and ornamentation and more into lyricism and emotion. So, that's the way Ms. Ebi, Maestro Bruggen, and the Orchestra of the 18th Century appear to play the concerto, with a combination of the "brilliant" and "Romantic" styles.

Akiko Ebi
For those listeners worried that perhaps a period-instrument approach to this music would produce some exceedingly fast tempos, there is no such thing here. Indeed, if anything, both soloist and orchestra take the tempos in rather a leisurely fashion. The opening of the First Concerto seems quite heady, even at a relaxed pace, but then when Ms. Ebi enters, she takes the score in a fairly matter-of-pace manner. There is little misty-eyed Romanticism here, just an apparently note-for-note reading. Indeed, I felt little joy, warmth, or expressiveness in the playing. However, I confess that the performances of pianists like Maurizio Pollini and Martha Argerich may have conditioned me to such an extent that I was not able fully to appreciate what Ms. Ebi was up to.

The slow second movement and the robust final movement go by in what I thought was perfunctory fashion as well. Nothing about the performance actually moved me much; it all sounded too deliberate, which may be entirely the intent, I don't know. Let's just say that Ebi and Bruggen attempt something a bit out of the ordinary, and except for a little spark in the final section it didn't work for me.

The Second Piano Concerto hasn't as much poetic grace as the First Concerto or such an abundance of good melodies, which is probably why it has never become as popular, but it does showcase the piano considerably. On the present recording we find Janusz Olejniczak taking the solo part. I sensed a greater flexibility in his playing than in Ebi's, yet not quite enough for me to recommend this disc over its rivals. The exception, of course, is whether the novelty of the period instruments impresses you. For me, it didn't.

Producer Stanislaw Leszczynski and engineers Lech Dudzik and Gabriela Blicharz recorded the performances live during the "Chopin and his Europe" festivals in 2013 (No. 1) and 2010 (No. 2) in the Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio of Polish Radio and the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall.

The live sound appears a tad warm, congested, and broad, with occasional audience noise (coughs, grunts, and the like). At least it's not too close-up, as many live performances tend to be, but fairly natural in its perspective. Still, the moderate miking distance does no favors to transparency (although, to be fair, it's better in the Second Concerto), and the overall impression is hardly clean. I could also easily have done without the closing applause in both works. Let's just say the sound of this disc is more a memento of a live event than anything you'd want to put on to show off your stereo system.


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

Nov 15, 2015

My Fair Lady (Blu-ray, restored)

Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Alfrid Hyde-White, Gladys Cooper, Jeremy Brett, Theodore Bikel. CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Pictures 3-disc Blu-ray set.

If at first you don't succeed....

In 2011 CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Pictures released My Fair Lady to Blu-ray. They did a horrendous job, one of the worst Blu-ray movie transfers I had ever seen or heard. However, in 2015, thanks perhaps to a multitude of complaints, they rereleased the film to Blu-ray, this time with completely remastered picture and sound for a flawless 50th Anniversary Blu-ray edition. It was a long wait, but it was worth it for one of filmdom's great, classic musicals.

My Fair Lady is, of course, one of the best and most-popular stage musicals of all time. It has what so many other musicals do not have--an intelligent script, great acting, clever dialogue, and an endless stream of memorable tunes. The film won eight Oscars in 1964 for Best Picture (Jack L. Warner), Best Actor (Rex Harrison), Best Director (George Cukor), Best Art Direction (Gene Allen, Cecil Beaton, George James Hopkins), Best Cinematography (Harry Stradling, Sr.), Best Costume Design (Cecil Beaton), Best Music (Andre Previn), and Best Sound (George Groves). Yes, I said it was good.

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe based the story on George Bernard Shaw's popular 1913 stage play Pygmalion, which Shaw in turn had based on the classical myth about the sculptor who fell in with the statue of a maiden he created, brought to life by the goddess Aphrodite. The Lerner and Lowe musical stage play was an instant success on Broadway in 1956, coming to the screen in 1964 under the supervision of producer Jack L. Warner and director George Cukor.

The plot centers on the idea that the way things appear is not always the way they are; or, conversely, if you can change the way things appear, it makes them the way they are. In the story it is phonetics Professor Henry Higgens's proposal that he can take any lower-class citizen off the streets of London and pass him or her off as a cultured lady or gentleman simply by teaching the person to speak properly. Of course, it was Shaw's satiric dig at society that we judge people on how they look and sound, not on who they really are. The object of the professor's interest in this pursuit becomes Eliza Doolittle, a poor, largely uneducated flower girl. Taking her under his wing, the professor makes a bet with his friend and colleague, Col. Hugh Pickering, that he can successfully introduce her into high society within six months. Needless to say, Eliza winds up teaching Professor Higgens as much about life and about himself as he teaches her about how to be a proper lady. The story is endlessly engaging and has as much appeal today as it did when Shaw first conceived it.

Audrey Hepburn
Rex Harrison reprises his stage role as Higgens, the part for which fans will forever remember him.  Harrison was already an established star when he accepted the role in the musical, and it is one he seemed born to play. When the studio initially asked Cary Grant to do the movie role, Grant turned it down, saying if Harrison didn't get the part, he'd never do another film for them. Harrison is so convincing one would think he were the Professor in real life. I rather expect his fans thought he was, too. Shaw's play leaves the final relationship of the Professor and the flower girl ambiguous, but the musical is more romantic and hints at something more serious. It is a tribute to Harrison that audiences hardly notice the age difference between the two characters, although the twenty-one-year span is almost exactly what Shaw had in mind. Higgens's most notable songs are "Why Can't the English?," "I'm an Ordinary Man," "The Rain in Spain," and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face."

The part of Miss Doolittle went to Audry Hepburn, and therein probably lies the movie's major point of contention. Julie Andrews had made the role her own on Broadway and record albums, and for audiences who had seen or heard her, it was inconceivable that anyone else should get the part. But the studio felt otherwise, unconvinced that Ms. Andrews had the necessary drawing power they thought the film needed and also a little wary of Ms. Andrew's photogenic qualities. So they went with what they considered a sure thing in superstar Audry Hepburn, causing not a little bitterness on the part of theatergoers everywhere. Meanwhile, Ms. Andrews went on to do Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music in the next year and half; and while the Academy didn't even nominate Ms. Hepburn for My Fair Lady, they gave Ms. Andrews the Best Actress Oscar for Poppins.

None of which is to suggest that Ms. Hepburn's portrayal of Eliza is anything but delightful and charming. Yet the controversy was not to end there. Despite Ms. Hepburn's insistence that she do her own singing, Warners dubbed her voice by uncredited singer Marni Nixon, who had previously done the singing dubs in the movie versions of West Side Story and The King and I. Again the studio got its way, and again there was a degree of bitterness involved, this time on the part of Ms. Hepburn, whom the studio had apparently assured could do the vocals and for which she had even rehearsed and filmed several. But it's all history now, and we will never know what more Ms. Andrews might have done with the role or, except for two songs mentioned below, what Ms. Hepburn might have done with the rest of the singing. Eliza's most celebrated songs include "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "Just You Wait," "I Could Have Danced All Night," and "Without You," among others.

Red Harrison
The indefatigable Stanley Holloway plays Eliza's father, a role he did on Broadway, and he all but steals the show with his two cockney music-hall numbers, "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church on Time." In other notable parts, fans of English television's Sherlock Holmes will be tickled to see the late Jeremy Brett playing Eliza's young, lovesick, high-society admirer, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, and singing "On the Street Where You Live" (uncredited singing voice courtesy of Bill Shirley). Wilfrid Hyde-White plays Col. Pickering; Gladys Cooper plays the Professor's mother; and Theodore Bikel plays the deliciously unctuous Zoltan Karpathy ("Oozing charm from every pore, He oiled his way around the floor").

The songs, cast, dialogue, direction, costumes, and set designs combine to make My Fair Lady one of the all-time great movie musicals in Hollywood history. The newest Blu-ray does it proud.

The first time around on Blu-ray (in 2011), the CBS/Paramount engineers apparently used the same 1994 restoration that had looked good on DVD, but they made no effort to restore the film any further for BD. Worse, they introduced some ugly artifacts into the BD, including some occasional white flecks and specks and an unconscionable blooming at the edges--maybe exposure issues, fading--in the lower sides of the screen that intensified as the film went on; and by the second half the print looked as though someone were shining a bright light on the image

Fortunately, for this new My Fair Lady 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray edition, CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Pictures asked restoration expert Robert Harris (who had done excellent work twenty years earlier with the restoration of the DVD) to head up the team restoring this new Blu-ray version of the film. The results look splendid. The colors are vivid; the object delineation is well-nigh perfect; the screen is clear and clean. The whole thing is gorgeous.

It was remarkable that the first time around on Blu-ray, the CBS/Paramount audio engineers couldn't correctly transfer the sound of possibly the greatest musical of all time to disc. Through a misplaced enthusiasm in the use of the surrounds, the solo vocals on the older BD often appeared soft and hollow and the orchestral accompaniment too reverberant, sometimes cavernous. What's more, the engineers even cranked up the bass in a few scenes. It was pretty awful, and if you still have that older disc, you might consider making a 100% better upgrade to this newer BD edition if only for its improved audio.

For the current edition, the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio is excellent. That is, it reproduces the sound of the movie pretty much as I'm sure its original creators intended, but with a little more ambient action for a home setup equipped with multichannel sound. Instead of going all crazy with the surrounds and making the musical interludes appear as though the engineers recorded them in a barrel, the engineers perfectly blend the singing and orchestral accompaniment in the front channels where they belong, with a touch of ambient bloom from the surrounds to provide depth and dimension. Voices sound natural, whether in song or dialogue, and the orchestra sounds realistic. The frequency extremes are maybe a little less extended than we find today, but it's hardly an issue.

The extras include a second Blu-ray disc with a ton of extras, plus a third disc containing a DVD version of the movie. But it's the second BD that has most of the bonus items, starting with a 1994 making-of documentary, "More Loverly Than Ever: My Fair Lady Then and Now." Next, there is a series of vintage featurettes, including the 1963 production kickoff dinner; the film's Los Angeles and British premieres; a Rex Harrison radio interview; George Cukor directing the Baroness Rothschild; some production tests; alternate Audrey Hepburn vocals; and comments on the film by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Martin Scorsese.

Following these items are several more things, including "The Story of a Lady," "Design of a Lady," and "The Fairest Fair Lady"; Cecil Beaton sketches, black & white stills; color production stills; documents and publicity; plus seven different trailers, and three awards featurettes.

The disc extras conclude with fifty scene selections; English, German, Spanish, Italian, French, and Japanese spoken languages; English, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Finally, CBS/Paramount have packaged the three discs in a beautiful, glossy, trim-line, foldout case that is among the most attractive I've seen. It is in itself a small work of art.

Parting Thoughts:
As pure entertainment My Fair Lady makes other musicals seem almost crude by comparison, and it deserves to be the standard by which we judge other musicals. Movie fans' concerns about Julie Andrews notwithstanding, the film is absolutely loverly, now with Blu-ray picture and sound to do it justice.


To watch an official trailer for the restored version of "My Fair Lady," click here:

Picture quality:  10
Sound quality:  9
Extras:  9
Entertainment value:  10

Nov 11, 2015

Trumpet Concertos (CD review)

Music of Haydn, Handel, Hummel, Albinoni, Hertel, and Telemann. Maurice Andre, trumpet. Riccardo Muti, Philharmonia Orchestra; Sir Charles Mackerras, English Chamber Orchestra; Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI Classics 7243-5-62947-2-1.

Maurice Andre has been playing and recording the trumpet for about as long as anybody, and his many recordings point up one thing in common: the man's unflagging refinement. The various concertos on this "Great Artists of the Century" CD from EMI confirm the notion.

The star of the show is the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, which Andre has recorded perhaps a half a dozen times. The performance in this collection dates from 1984, with Riccardo Muti and the Philharmonia Orchestra. I'm not sure why EMI chose the Muti when there was an even newer one available, but it suffices. Andre seems poised and relaxed, presenting the music in a most temperate manner, and the result appears the utmost in polish and repose. Not that it doesn't show its high spirits in the final movement, Vivace, but it basically maintains its grace under fire.

Maurice Andre
I would personally not buy Andre's performance of the Haydn as a first choice in this repertory, mind you, but in this collection it does nicely. For stronger recommendations in the Haydn alone, I would go with Hardenberger, Marriner, and the Academy (Philips); Schwarz and the Y CO (Delos); Marsalis, Leppard, and the National Philharmonic (Sony); or, maybe best of all, Berinbaum, Somary, and the English Chamber Orchestra (Vanguard).

The other works on Andre's album are similarly elegant: Trumpet concertos from Albinoni, Handel, and Hertal (with Mackerras and the ECO); and Telemann and Hummel (with Karajan and the BPO). I have to admit that I find some of the material here a little mundane, a little less than scintillating, but there is no questioning the vitality of the Haydn and Hummel, which open and close the collection. Nor is there any question about Andre's dignified way of handling all of it with equal aplomb.

EMI released the present collection in 2005, with most of the recordings remastered in 1999. The overall tonal balance is remarkably similar in the six different recordings, warm and clear, with a touch of reverberation to lend a semblance of reality to the occasion. I did, however, find the position of Andre's trumpet varying a bit, from well left of center to center. I enjoyed the sound of the Berlin Philharmonic best of all for its integration of soloist and orchestra, but one should find pleasure throughout the disc.


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

Nov 8, 2015

Smetana: Ma Vlast (CD review)

Theodore Kuchar, Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra. Brilliant Classics 94853.

Brilliant Classics has been reissuing some real gems over the past few years, often performances that the public regrettably overlooked the first time around. Nevertheless, the Smetana disc under review is not one of their best choices to date.

Not that there is anything at all wrong with Theodore Kuchar's 2007 recording of Smetana's complete Ma Vlast. It's a perfectly respectable interpretation in acceptable sound. No, the trouble is that for the money there are already more colorful, more insightful, more dramatic, and better recorded discs available of this perennial favorite music. However, Kuchar does have one advantage that some of the others don't: His performance of the complete work fits on a single disc, and many other recordings require a couple of discs to accommodate it. Still, there are other, better single-disc recordings, too. So, my concern remains. If you don't already have a favorite CD of this music, some discs other than Kuchar you might explore include Neumann and the Gewandhaus Orchestra (Berlin Classics), Kubelik and the Czech Philharmonic (Supraphon), Dorati and the Concertgebouw O. (Philips or Newton Classics), Berglund and the Dresden Staatskapelle (EMI), Pesek and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (Virgin), and Wit and the Polish National Radio Symphony (Naxos), to name a few.

Still, if you're a collector or if you just want to sample everything out there, Kuchar's recording is certainly one to explore. The price is reasonable, and everything about the performance and sound is at least unobjectionable.

So, Czech composer Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884), an intense nationalist, wrote Ma Vlast ("My Country") between 1874 and 1879. The work comprises six symphonic poems that describe his country, the composer dedicating the cycle to the city of Prague, the first two movements dealing with the sights and sounds of the city.

Things begin with Vysehrad (1874), which Smetana named after the castle of Bohemian kings in Prague. Kuchar paces the movement pretty well, not too fast or too slow. There's a gentle spirit about it, too, the rhythms well judged for maximum lilt and spring, the whole thing culminating in an appropriate climax and fade.

After that is probably the most popular movement of the piece, Vltava (1874), which describes the river called the Moldau in German, and which uses an old Czech folk tune as its principal theme. Smetana's original program notes tell us that the music traces the countryside the river runs through: meadows, forests, even conjuring up water nymphs along the way. Because this music is so famous, though, there are quite a few separate recordings it, my own favorite being one recorded long ago by Leopold Stokowski and available in a collection of rhapsodies (RCA or JVC). Anyway, this Kuchar performance takes it a bit too quickly for my taste. The river is not so much mildly flowing along as it is rushing downhill. The rippling waters seem not so much to relax a listener as to agitate. Moreover, the tempos fluctuate as though the river where ebbing and flowing in spurts.

Theodore Kuchar
Next, we find Sarka (1875), which refers to a female warrior in Czech legend who exacts a bloody revenge on the male sex. This portion of Ma Vlast ties in with the final two sections in describing Bohemia's fierce struggle for independence, and I enjoyed Kuchar's interpretation as well as anyone's. He captures the dramatic tension persuasively and then plays with the contrasts delightfully.

From Bohemia's Woods and Fields (1875) is rather self-explanatory. Here, we're back to the pastoral pleasures of the countryside where we started. This is another well-judged movement from Kuchar, although I didn't quite picture in my mind the trees and grasslands as clearly as I have with the aforementioned conductors, who seem a touch more attuned to the pictorial aspects of the music. Kuchar appears a bit more perfunctory about things.

The two final symphonic poems are Tabor (1878), which introduces us to a Hussite war tune (the Hussites were followers of John Huss, who initiated a nationalistic movement in Bohemia in the late fourteenth century), and Blanik (1879), the mountain where the Hussites retreated before their ultimate fight for liberation. I always think of these final portions of the cycle as the battle sequences. Like other people, I'm sure, however, I have never found these segments as satisfying as Smetana's preceding music; it's a little long and more than a little repetitious. Whatever, maybe Kuchar wanted to be sure to squeeze the entire work onto a single disc or maybe he was just in a hurry to get things over, I don't know; but he seems really to skim over the surface of these final poems rather expeditiously. As a result, they lose some of their theatrical excitement. Still, he doesn't miss the effect completely, and within time he builds up to a fairly thrilling conclusion.

Producer and engineer Jaroslav Stranavsky recorded the music at the Concert Hall, Ostravia, Czech Republic in 2007. Brilliant Classics issued it as a part of a three-disc set of Smetana material several years before the present disc appeared and then reissued the present disc in 2015. For me, the sound is a little too close and one dimensional, but for the most part it seems good enough, nicely detailed and all. There's a sweet ambient bloom, very light, around the instruments that takes most of the effect of brightness or hardness away. In essence, it's an easy-listening album that should offend no one, while not exactly thrilling audiophiles. Kind of like the performances, actually.


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

Nov 6, 2015

Rhapsodies: Music of Liszt, Enesco, and Smetana (XRCD/24 review)

Leopold Stokowski, RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra. JVC JM-XR24019. 

Many years ago I fell in love with Stokowski's vinyl recording of Smetana's "The Moldau" from Ma Vlast. RCA recorded it in 1960, and although I didn't get to know it until the late Sixties, I had forgotten it even existed until it showed up in RCA's "Living Stereo" line of CDs some thirty years later. In fact, I probably walked by the disc a half dozen times in my neighborhood record store before picking it up and noticing that "The Moldau" was even on it. What a revelation it was at the time. Not only is it still the finest "Moldau" I've ever heard, but Smetana's Bartered Bride Overture and the Hungarian and Roumanian Rhapsodies by Liszt and Enesco that accompany it are red-blooded, exciting, romantic, and heart-wrenchingly beautiful by turns. Then, when JVC (Victor Company of Japan) remastered it in their XRCD/24 line of audiophile discs, it was icing on the cake.

Of course, one has to understand that Stokowski took his usual liberties with the scores, pulling and shaping them to his own sometimes eccentric tastes. Purists might take one listen to the various pauses, tempo changes, and dynamic contrasts and begin tearing their hair out. But this was Stokowski; he was his own man to a fault. Yet none of the music on this disc sounds in any way distorted or wrong. Indeed, to my ears, having heard it for so long and then living with it again on the RCA CD reissue, it sounds entirely "right." Stokowski takes the "Moldau," for instance, at a relaxed yet enlivening pace, and while it may not perfectly capture the ebb and flow of the river it describes, it does communicate first and foremost a peaceful ease and then a rapture that transports the listener to an altogether different world than the mere living room. Isn't that what great music is all about?

Leopold Stokowski
Anyway, the occasion for this review is JVC's 2004 remastering of the disc in their XRCD/24 series of audiophile discs. They are expensive, and they offer short measure for the money, but they are unquestionably fine transfers. On RCA's "Living Stereo," the sound came up quite well, with a good stereo spread and a realistic orchestral depth. The top end appeared to me a mite suppressed, perhaps to reduce tape hiss, cutting off some of the music's ambient glow, but I found the effect an acceptable compromise. The JVC disc improves marginally on this situation, but there is a minor rub in my comparison. Since first buying the RCA on silver, I found it on a specially produced RCA gold disc, which was, to my ears, very slightly smoother than the RCA silver disc (and whether it was because of the gold plating or because of more-careful remastering is another question). So I made my comparison of the JVC XRCD to the improved RCA gold disc, and the JVC still came out on top.

The sound, always a bit warm and lush on the RCA, was even smoother in JVC's remastering, with a tad more bass presence and a fuller lower midrange. For this incremental improvement, however, one gives up the RCA's further coupling of Wagner's Tannhauser Overture and Tristan und Isolde Act III Prelude. Plus, you pay about twice the price for the JVC, if you can even find it anymore. Worth it? As always, I can't say because the sonic differences are so small, they would not be worth the money to a majority of listeners. For the connoisseur of such things, though, I'd suppose price is no object, and for me, because I consider this album one of the finest ever recorded, I'm crazy enough to spend almost anything on even presumed improvements.

Incidentally, the folks at RCA have also remastered the album in 3-channel SACD, which I haven't heard; but according to my friend John Sunier at Audiophile Audition, it sounds wider and more dimensional than the two-channel JVC XRCD product. I trust John's ear, so if you have a multichannel SACD system, that might be yet another way to go.


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

Nov 3, 2015

Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf and Jazz! (CD review)

Also, Peter and the Wolf...Continued. David Tennant, narrator; The Amazing Keystone Big Band. Le Chant du Monde 274 2378.

The idea of fusing classical and jazz (or pop) has been around for a long time. For instance, jazz player Jacques Loussier and his group have been doing it quite successfully for over half a century. Whether die-hard classical or jazz fans find the fusion entirely satisfying is another question, but as a once-in-a-while novelty, such fusions sometimes work.

Anyway, what we have here is Peter and the Wolf (1936) by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) adapted for big band, in this case The Amazing Keystone Big Band. Prokofiev's intention was to introduce children to the sounds of a symphony orchestra by telling a children's story with various instruments of the orchestra representing the various animals and humans in the tale. In the present case, the idea is to introduce children to the sounds of a big, eighteen-piece popular band, with jazz instruments taking the place of symphonic ones. And, of course, to help sell any new recording of the Prokofiev classic, you must have a famous actor narrator the proceedings, in this case David Tennant (Doctor Who, Broadchurch, Gracepoint).

Everything comes off as expected, with the big band instruments doing an acceptable job imitating their counterparts in the symphonic orchestra. It's all quite jazzy, and it should please most kids. For adults, I'm not sure it's good jazz or good classical, but it goes down easy.

Tennant makes a cheerful, enthusiastic narrator, and the band plays competently. Although I didn't find any of this material particularly inspiring, there is nothing particularly boring about it, either. As I say, the producers pretty much meant it for children, so I'm sure it will amuse them.

David Tennant
Coupled with the Prokofiev is a series of items that is a sort of continuation of the story with instruments playing various animals, selections that I actually enjoyed more than the main item. There are the "Bird's Tweet," the "Soulful Cat," the "Elegy for a Duck," the "Hunter's Blues," "Beware of the Wolf," "Grandpa's Shuffle," and "Peter's March." Even though they don't match Prokofiev's inspiration, they display perhaps a tad more spark from the orchestra, which may have been playing it too reverentially in the main attraction.

The disc comes packaged in a sturdy Digipak container, with a well-explained and well-illustrated (by Martin Jarrie) booklet.

Executive producer Christian Girardin and engineer-director-editor Alban Moraud recorded the big-band music at the Studio of Theatre Durance, Chateau-Arnoux, France in February 2013 and the narration at Soho Voices, London in January 2015. The sound appears relatively distanced for this type of essentially pop music. The big band has a lot of air and space around it, the venue fairly alive with a healthy resonance. Then, too, the sound is slightly warm and soft, further reinforcing the notion that we are listening a little farther off than usual. The voice seems natural enough, although it, too, seems somewhat soft, even though the engineers recorded it separately and closer up. Still, it's all easy to listen to, just not quite audiophile material.


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

Nov 1, 2015

Jonas Kaufmann: Nessun Dorma - The Puccini Album (CD review)

Jonas Kaufmann, tenor; Kristine Opolais, soprano; Massimo Simeoli, baritone; Antonio Pirozzi, bass; Antonio Pappano, Orchestra e Coro dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Sony 88875092492.

He's relatively young. He's unquestionably handsome. He has a big, powerful voice. Is it any wonder German tenor Jonas Kaufmann is one of the most-popular operatic singers in the world, if not the most popular? And, yes, I know the questions some listeners may have about this 2015 Sony release, Nessun Dorma - The Puccini Album: Does Kaufmann's essentially Germanic voice suit the operatic needs of Italian verismo composer Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), and do we really need another album of Puccini arias when so many good albums already exist in the catalogue.

The answers are pretty simple, of course. Appreciation of the voice (or any music for that matter) is quite a subjective thing; so you either like Kaufmann or you don't. I'm not personally a great fan of Mr. Kaufmann, but then I'm not personally a great fan of opera, so what do I know? He is certainly a fine singer, with, as I say, a big, robust voice, and that is enough to warrant him a place among the best opera singers in today's opera world. Then, does he sing any better than past greats in the field? Again, subjective. Every opera fan will have his or her own favorite opera singers. Older opera fans will no doubt favor older singers, maybe the ones they grew up with; newer opera fans will favor newer singers, and surely Kaufmann fills the bill. New fans could do worse.

Here's the program for the current album:
  1. Manon Lescaut: "Donna non vidi mai"
  2. Manon Lescaut: "Oh, sarò la più bella!... Tu, tu, amore? Tu?"
  3. Manon Lescaut: "Ah! Manon mi tradisce"
  4. Manon Lescaut: "Presto! In fila!... Non v'avvicinate! No, pazzo son!"
  5. Le Villi: "Ei giunge!... Torna ai felici dì"
  6. Edgar: "Orgia, chimera dall'occhio vitreo"
  7. La Bohème: "O soave fanciulla"
  8. Tosca: "Recondita armonia"
  9. Madama Butterfly: "Addio, fiorito asil"
10. La Fanciulla del West: "Una parola sola!... Or son sei mesi"
11. La Fanciulla del West: "Risparmiate lo scherno... Ch'ella mi creda libero"
12. La Rondine: "Parigi! È la città dei desideri"
13. Il Tabarro: "Hai ben ragione"
14. Gianni Schicchi: "Avete torto!... Firenze e come un albero fiorito"
15. Turandot: "Non piangere, Liù!"
16. Turandot: "Nessun dorma"

As you can see, all of the selections are someone's old favorites, although some of the songs may appear more familiar than others. Kaufmann has already issued a number of albums, and he had already included many of Puccini's most-celebrated tunes on them. To avoid any overlap, we get a few things he might not have otherwise chosen. In other words, don't expect this to be a "Puccini's Greatest Hits" collection.

Jonas Kaufmann
One thing nobody can deny: Kaufmann is a passionate singer, and he fills his vocal renditions with dramatic tension and excitement. For myself, though, I find him, if anything, a little too muscular in most of these selections; yet that's a highly arbitrary opinion and obviously not one too many other people share. I wonder if a Di Stefano, Domingo, Del Monaco, Corelli, Bergonzi, or Pavarotti (to name just a few from the stereo age I'm familiar with) didn't have a stronger affinity for the Italian idiom. I dunno. Kaufmann seems to belt out everything as though it were Wagner. Again, maybe it's the fact that's he's German and not Italian or Spanish; again, I don't know.

In any case, I quibble. Kaufmann does a splendid job with most of these songs. The fact that we get a wide variety of items and not the usual core selections helps, too, in keeping our attention. Still and all, if I continue to prefer Puccini's La Boheme above all the things he wrote, you'll have to forgive me; I'm a hopeless romantic. Kaufmann and Kristine Opolais do a wonderfully sensitive "O Soave Fanciulla," and Maestro Antonio Pappano, Orchestra e Coro dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia provide fine accompaniment.

Producers Philipp Nedel and engineers Philip Siney and Giacomo de Caterini recorded the music at the Santa Cecilia Hall, Rome, in September 2014. Kaufmann's voice appears full and round, with only a few traces of brightness, harshness, or hardness in the loudest passages. The miking of the voice is perhaps a trifle too close, but it is not at all distracting as so many close-up pop recordings can seem. The orchestra sounds nicely spread out behind him, somewhat one-dimensionally but never compartmentalized. Although the instruments could probably use a little more bass warmth and hall ambience, it's reasonably lifelike. When the other soloists (Opolais, Simeoli, and Pirozzi) join Kaufmann in various numbers, the sound gets a tad overbearing, the voices appearing to come forward a bit, the dynamics sometimes becoming too strong and wide for comfort. A fifteenth-row seat suddenly becomes a front-row seat, if you know what I mean. Anyway, it's good, modern sound in most ways, and it will not disappoint Mr. Kaufmann's fans.


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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa