Mar 31, 2016

Mozert: Concertina in Absentia non Grata (HSALTPTR review)

Grover Cleveland Alexander, mezzo-soprano; Lft. Sir Cedric Noel Vivian Barnstable III, Botloe's Green-Durbridge Redmarley Municipal Philharmonic Orchestra and Choral Society. Glyptograph Records of East Angelia Township GREAT-112233.

Astrobiologist, composer, and chocolatier Lillian Arlene Leonardo de Capistrano Mozert, the Lesser (1738-1744), affectionately known as "Lenni" to his friends, more or less made a career of writing concertinas, ocarinas, and bandoneóns, so it's no wonder Glyptograph Records remastered one of his best compositions: the Concertina in Absentia non Grata, Op. 1, WPA1934, BMWM3, recorded in 1737 by the noted Sumerian conductor Lft. Sir Cedric Noel Vivian Barnstable III leading the beloved Botloe's Green-Durbridge Redmarley Municipal Philharmonic and Choral Society. It was about time this classic recording got a classy new remastering.

Young Mozert wrote the Concertina in 1732, and it became his single biggest hit. The fact that it was his only hit and that no one outside his family ever heard it is beside the point. Upon its completion, Mozert gave up the music business entirely and became an attic salesman. When asked "Why attics," Mozert replied, "Because I've always believed in starting at the top."

In any case, while busying himself with the dialects of ancient Greek attics, Mozert still found time to write several notable tunes, like the familiar cult favorites we all know: "Sam and Janet Evening," "She Rolled Her Big Blue Eyes at Me, So I Picked Them Up and Rolled Them Back to Her," and the theme music for the off-Broadway production of The Iceman Cometh, "I Only Have Ice for You." Nevertheless, he found no joy in popular songwriting and continued his work upstairs.

The Concertina certainly needs no introduction. Folks have been playing it, humming it, strumming it, and gumming it for well-nigh a generation, and Maestro Barnstable's interpretation couldn't have come sooner. The piece begins with an extended arpeggio de gramma, a chord lesson so protracted it rolls over the listener like a splashy ocean wave, here played by Atlantean pianist Austin Tayschious with such gay abandon it must have soaked the first nine rows. That's followed by a brief vocal interlude, Tempo Fugit, sung by counter-soprano Gay Abandon, who momentarily stays the onslaught of undulating roil.

Lft. Sir Cedric Etc. Etc.
It's really quite a magnificent performance, highlighted by Maestro Barnstable's magisterial management of the second-movement Orchestral Manoeuvres, which the conductor takes at a leisurely lentus poco allongo, with clarinetist Nino Nontroppo barely keeping stride. The entire work makes for an enjoyable two and a half minutes of entertainment.

Coupled with the Concertina is the midnight contrario for contrary voices and pennywhistle Longinus en Dies Carpe ("Longevity in the Day of the Carp") by Antarctican native, composer, and explorer Archibald Pate (b. 2003). Unfortunately, the length of the piece precluded its inclusion on the disc itself, so the folks at Glyptograph Records make it available on a second disc, sold separately. I did not get to hear it.

Finally, as a bonus item, the producers offer the complete, uncut 1939 radio broadcast of Gone with the Wind ("Perit cum Ventus"), starring Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Thomas Mitchell, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen, Victor Jory, and, of course, the incomparable George Reeves. I understand that same year MGM released a movie version of Margaret Mitchell's popular novel, but I'm not sure how many people actually saw it before it blew away in the wind. In any case, the movie could not possibly have equalled the opulent splendor of the radio show.

Producer Phil E. Minyon and former Audio magazine chief engineer Dr. Lirpa Loof remastered the 1843 recording for playback via HSALTPTR technology (Heterogeneous Superordinate Audiophile Long-Playing Telephonic Phonographic Tectonic Record). Moreover, Glyptograph technicians pressed the disc on 99 and 44/100% pure, organic, vegan vinyl for the best possible sound reproduction. As you no doubt know, HSALPPR discs are capable of holding up to 132 tracks of information (most of it text) for not only front, back, and side speakers but floor, ceiling, and places in-between as well. I listened in the single-channel monaural mode.

The sonics obtained at the extreme high end (above 50K Hz) sound creamy smooth; the lower-to-mid highs (8K to 49.99K Hz) display a more peaches-and-yogurt texture; the middle-to-upper highs (2K to 7.99K Hz) a rather coarse, caramel impression; the lower midrange (501 to 1.99K Hz) a definite soufflé-like element; the upper bass (75.3 to 500 Hz) an earthy, chocolatey flavor; and the lower bass (0 to 75.2 Hz) a crisp, hearty, high-ho-Silver sensation of oatmeal on a cold winter's morning. In fact, the listener will doubtless find the recording better tasting than sounding.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

Mar 30, 2016

Verdi: Requiem (CD review)

Angela Gheorghiu, Daniela Barcellona, Roberto Alagna, and Julian Konstantinov, soloists; Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Warner Classics 5571682 (2-disc set).

This recording, originally released by EMI and now available from Warner Classics, was, I believe, Abbado's third rendering of Verdi's Requiem Mass on disc, and I suppose the third time's the charm. His previous two efforts were on DG and with different orchestras, but as memory serves me they are very much of a kind.

Abbado appears to see the work as just what it is, a Celebration Mass for the dead, and as such he fills it not only with the powerful Wrath of God but with gentle and comforting words of mercy and forgiveness, too. It is in these quieter, calmer moments of repose that I found Abbado's vision especially moving, a sweeter, slower-paced, more contemplative reading than those of some of his rivals, yet just as gripping. You might say he follows the advice of many critics by not making the piece sound too much like a large-scale grand opera.

Claudio Abbado
There is no questioning the glory and grandeur of the Berlin Philharmonic or the choirs involved, who do complete justice to the glory and grandeur of Verdi's score. Nor do Abbado's soloists let us down: Angela Gheorghiu, Daniela Barcellona, Roberto Alagna, and Julian Konstantinov sing well, although here the listener may have his or her own favorites and find this quartet a tad underpowered.

Of course, there are still a couple of good alternative accounts to contend with. One is Carlo Maria Giulini's classic version with the Philharmonia (EMI), imbued as it is with just the kind of operatic overtones that Verdi didn't particularly want conductors to impose on the work. Personally, I like Giulini's rendition for that very reason. Another is John Eliot Gardiner's more highly charged realization with his period-instrument band, the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, on Philips. This latter interpretation may bring with it a tad too much dynamic power and intensity, but it also remains among my favorites.

Back to Abbado's account: the sonics, recorded live over two nights in January 2001, with the maestro's imposing Berlin forces, sound at once clean and clear, yet sometimes at the expense of being almost too fierce in the treble. The soloists also seem a bit too forward at times, and deepest bass can occasionally seem lacking. Nevertheless, as I've already said, the singers are splendid, the orchestra is as glorious as ever, and the lucidity of the sound is generally impressive, so no one should really fear buying the set on aural grounds just because it's live. What's more, the audience is relatively silent throughout the proceedings, so there is another worry assuaged

 I quite enjoyed this release.


To listen to a couple of brief excerpts from this album, click on the forward arrow:

Mar 27, 2016

Young: The Uninvited (CD review)

Also, The Greatest Show on Earth; Gulliver's Travels; Bright Leaf. William Stromberg, Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Naxos 8.573368.

During the 1990's Naxos recorded a number of film scores with William Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, packaging them under their full-price Marco Polo label. More recently, now that they discontinued the Marco Polo line, the folks at Naxos have been re-releasing the material under their own lower-price label. In the case of the present disc, Naxos originally coupled Victor Young's score for the 1944 ghost movie The Uninvited with several other horror-movie scores by different composers under the title "Murder and Mayhem." Now, they have repackaged The Uninvited with three other pieces of music by Victor Young--The Greatest Show on EarthGulliver's Travels and Bright Leaf--making it all-Young album. Whatever, then as now, it's the score to The Uninvited that steals the show.

The Uninvited holds the distinction of being one of the first, maybe the first, serious ghost story the movies ever saw. Up until 1944 movies about ghosts were usually relegated to the area of comedy; so The Uninvited was something of a novelty at the time. More important, it continues to hold up as one of the best ghost stories ever made. Starring Ray Milland as a music composer, Ruth Hussey as his sister, and Gail Russell as a young woman the composer falls in love with, the movie relates the story of the brother and sister buying an old house on the coast of Cornwall, England, that comes complete with a nightly wailing ghost. No monsters, no blood, no gore, just tension and suspense as things unseen become more terrifying for the parties involved. Adding to the film's creepy, gothic atmosphere is Victor Young's equally forbidding yet hauntingly beautiful film score, here reconstructed by John Morgan (who has since gone on to form his own company, Tribute Film Classics).

Victory Young (1900-1956) was one of a handful of early film composers who helped shape the Hollywood music scene. Among his other credits you might recognize are Artists and Models, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Paleface, Samson and Delilah, The Quiet Man, Shane, The Country Girl, and The Conqueror. In all, the Academy nominated Young for twenty-two Oscars, winning for Around the World in Eighty Days. Of all of them, The Uninvited remains my favorite.

William Stromberg
Of course, Young's score for The Uninvited is vividly expressive and picturesque, and the suite Morgan prepared gives you an idea of the program: "Prelude," "Squirrel Chase," "The Village," "The Sobbing Ghost," "Sunday Morning--Stella's Emotions," "The Cliff," "Grandfather and the Cliff," and "End of Ghost--Finale." However, the real star of the show is the serenade theme music "Stella by Starlight." Although it appears several times in the movie (and here in the suite) in a purely orchestral arrangement, it acquired lyrics (by Ned Washington) after the release of the film and became a hit tune (the Web site ranking it as the tenth most-popular ballad of all time, with recordings of it by everyone from Harry James and Frank Sinatra to Charlie Parker, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nat King Cole).

"The Prelude" sets the tone of the film and introduces us to the main theme. "The Squirrel Chase" is lively; "The Village" depicts the sleepy little town not far from the house; "The Sobbing Ghost" effectively introduces a dose of melodrama into the proceedings; "Sunday Morning" is aptly romantic and again provides the "Stella" theme; "The Cliff" is where the composer fully fleshes out the "Stella" music; "Grandfather and the Cliff" continues the story's plot and action; and the "End of Ghost" sequence is the most overtly "ghostly" music of the score, although the mood doesn't last long.

So, how does the score to The Uninvited hold up in Morgan's arrangement and under Stromberg's guidance? Very well, indeed. For those listeners worried that perhaps a Russian orchestra would not capture the spirit and idioms of movie music, I can assure you the opposite is true. They play with a delicacy and feel for the intricacies of the score as well as one could want. And the ensemble sound wonderfully smooth and accomplished, lush and luxuriant, with Stromberg keeping the action moving at a healthy clip.

The three accompanying scores aren't bad, either. Things begin with the Prelude (March) to what was probably the most undeserved Best-Picture winner in the history of the Academy Awards, The Greatest Show on Earth. The music sounds appropriately gaudy and garish. After that is the centerpiece reviewed above, followed by a five-movement suite from Gulliver's Travels (1939), reconstructed by John Morgan. Under Stromberg's direction, it's cheerful and animated. The program concludes with an eight-movement suite from Bright Leaf (1950), with orchestration by Leo Shuken and Sidney Cutner, the music measured and thoughtful. Stromberg brings all of this off about as well as one could expect, although, to be honest, the music is not particularly great and not nearly as memorable, colorful, or melodic as that from The Uninvited.

The current disc joins several others in the Naxos line of movie music from Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony, all of them including extensive booklet notes (although in a rather tiny type font that may strain some eyes; I know it did mine).

Producer Betta International and engineers Edvard Shakhnazarian and Vitaly Ivano recorded the music at the Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, in April 1997. Previously issued on the Marco Polo label, Naxos reissued the material in 2016. The sound is typical of this source, big and robust, if a little close. The stereo spread is notably wide, with dynamics consistent with an orchestra maybe a bit farther away. Instruments appear well defined without being bright or forward. The piano sections sound well integrated with the orchestra. In all, it's a warm, moderately resonant, and reasonably well detailed recording that is quite pleasing.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

Mar 23, 2016

To Download, or Not to Download: That Is the Question

Reviewers these days face the same question most listeners do: Should we download music for listening and review or stick to the physical disc?

For me, I will choose the physical disc, and I plan to do so into the foreseeable future. Let me explain why.

Certainly, the way people acquire, store, and listen to music has changed dramatically over the past few decades. We would not be having this discussion at the moment if it weren't for the Internet, and public access to the Internet is a relatively recent development. I read just the other day that over a third of computer bandwidth worldwide is devoted to downloading files (and a lot of it pirated). More important, most of this downloading involves music and videos. Not that I'm suggesting that many classical-music listeners are pirating music; I know that classical listeners are more ethical than that. But if the young people I talk to are any indication, the idea of downloading files via torrent sites is so commonplace anymore, few people even think of it as unethical. Nevertheless, I digress; let's confine this topic to the legal downloading of music for sale from reputable sites.

Now, to my point. The way I see it, classical-music listeners who download material legitimately do it for one or more of several reasons: (1) They see it as a more economical way of obtaining the music they love, since record companies have wisely decided to give listeners a price break for downloads. (2) They see it as a more convenient way of storing their music; that is, putting it all on a hard disc, a memory card, a CD in a slim-line case, etc. Or, (3), they see it as a way of obtaining an even higher-quality recording than CD's, SACD's, or Blu-ray discs currently can afford them; for example, there are companies like HDTT--High Definition Tape Transfers--that offer FLAC downloads, among other formats, that may come closer to the sound of a master tape than even the best CD's can achieve.

Be that as it may, there are several drawbacks to downloading that I have yet to overcome. First, for me, economics do not play a part in the picture. If I want a piece of music badly enough and don't want to fork over the full asking price, I might look for it used on physical disc.

Second, the assumed convenience of downloading is not a factor for me, either; indeed, it's something of a disadvantage. In order for me to store music digitally, I would have to set up some sort of computer system either in my living room with my stereo equipment or in my upstairs computer room connected to my living room. Neither of these alternatives interests me: the first method is too costly and the second is too awkward. Besides, I really do want to own the physical product. I want to hold the disc and the case in my hand and know they are safe from computer crashes or accidental deletion. I want to have a booklet to read and track titles and timings at my fingertips, not on a computer screen, if at all.

Of course, I could always legitimately download music and burn it myself to a CD. Then I could find and print up the artwork, track information, and booklet. But, frankly, that sounds like too much bother, and the results would be nowhere near the professional quality the record companies produce.

Third, there just aren't enough record companies offering better-than-CD quality sound in their downloads. It would not be worth my while nor worth the hit on my pocketbook to invest in new equipment simply to acquire a meager few audiophile recordings.

People have also asked me if I intend to digitize my record collection, that is, to copy and transfer every album I own to a hard drive. I tell them no; not only do I have no desire to do so for the reasons stated above, but I have thousands of record albums, and I do not propose to spend the rest of my life working on so massive and unrewarding a project.

OK, I hear some readers say, he's just old-fashioned and behind the times. He'll probably have to give in eventually because record companies may not always be offering physical product. A fair-enough assessment, I admit. However, I own two desktop computers, two Galaxy smartphones, an iPad, the aforementioned above-average stereo system, and a separate 7.1-channel surround-sound home theater. Plus, I subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime, MHz Choice, HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax, and I use an LG washing machine and dryer with more lights, dials, buttons, and knobs on them than the cockpit of a 747. So it's not as though I'm completely tech-challenged or averse to modernity.

Yet I can also understand the point of view of the record companies. They see a huge chunk of their profits siphoned off by pirating, so they're trying to make do as best they can by offering their product at a cheaper price through downloads. I can also understand their wanting reviewers to download and review their material rather than sending out physical discs because it's more cost effective for them.

Still, I will resist this new direction the record industry is taking until I cannot do so any longer. At that point, I may have to close down Classical Candor. Until then, though, let's all continue our happy listening, whatever our inclinations on the matter may be.


Mar 20, 2016

Beethoven: Triple Concerto (CD review)

Also, The Creatures of Prometheus Overture, Egmont Overture, Coriolan Overture. Giuliano Carmignola, violin; Sol Gabetta, cello; Dejan Lazic, piano. Giovanni Antonini, Kammerorchester Basil. Sony Classical 88883763622.

For years, critics have been putting down Beethoven's Concerto for Violin, Cello, Piano, and Orchestra in C Major, Op. 56 "Triple Concerto" as being lightweight fluff, and for as many years audiences have been loving the work. Of course, it takes a talented group of musicians to pull it off successfully, and on this 2016 Sony release we get some of the best musicians in the business with Giuliano Carmignola, violin; Sol Gabetta, cello; and Dejan Lazic, piano; with Maestro Giovanni Antonini leading the Basil Chamber Orchestra.

Although Beethoven's Triple Concerto (1804) never impressed critics as much as his violin and piano concertos did, concertgoers have long enjoyed it for its delicious melodies and memorable tunes, especially its soaring first movement and its sweet Largo. The music, as you probably know, is a kind of orchestrated chamber trio, a sinfonia concertante where the several instruments oppose the orchestra and each other, a style that had passed out of vogue by Beethoven's time but one into which Beethoven injected new life.

As I say, it takes three really accomplished players to set any new recording of the Triple Concerto apart, and Carmignola, Gabetta, and Lazic accomplish this with their easy demeanor. Their rendition is expressive and happy without being in the least bit over driven, fast, or rushed. Indeed, their performance styles seem perfectly matched to produce optimal results, the suave, subtle nuances of their playing effectively setting off each performer from the others.

Giuliano Carmignola
Would I suggest that the current trio outpace the justly famous partnership of David Oistrakh, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Sviatoslav Richter on EMI/Warner? No, certainly not; that recording may be a touchstone for decades to come. Nor can the fine work of Maestro Antonini and the Basil Chamber Orchestra match Herbert von Karajan and the mighty Berlin Philharmonic. But, if anything, this newer entry is a more intimate, more affectionately communicative effort.

With Carmignola, Gabetta, and Lazic we get a greater sense of a chamber group, with the orchestra almost an afterthought. The performance and sound frequently reminded me of the chamber music of Schubert: friendly, good-natured, playful, and melodic.

While it perhaps doesn't have the authoritative, magisterial stamp of Oistrakh, Rostropovich, and Richter, the present rendition is surely as listenable, as pleasurable, and as carefree in its own way.

Now, since the Triple Concerto is not a very long work, the album's producers have filled out the disc with three other things, Beethoven overtures, which bookend the concerto. The Creatures of Prometheus, the Egmont, and the Coriolan Overtures sound elegant, polished, and heroic. They make lively accompaniment to the main show.

Andreas Neubronner and Markus Heiland of Tritonus Musikproduktion produced, mastered, and edited the album, recording it at the Philharmonie, Luxembourg in June 2013. The sound is reasonably dynamic, both in its range from softest to loudest notes and in its impact. Yet it doesn't give up much in the way of a natural response, either; it provides a warm, smooth sonic impression, set in a modestly resonant acoustic. The instruments appear well balanced with one another and with the orchestra, not too close or too highlighted, so the whole production is lifelike, even if it never achieves an ultimate transparency.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

Mar 17, 2016

Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme (CD review)

Also, Faure: Elegie; Saint-Saens and Lalo: Cello Concertos. Paul Tortelier, cello; Herbert Menges, Philharmonia Orchestra; Louis Fremaux, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. EMI Classics 7243 4 76868-2.

As you no doubt know, before Warner Classics acquired EMI's catalogue of music, EMI had repackaged a lot of their older material into mid-priced sets under the banners "Great Recordings of the Century" and "Great Artists of the Century." It's was as good a way as any of getting people's attention. In the case of this disc, the "Great Artist" is cellist Paul Tortelier (1914-1990), and he certainly seems worthy of the praise.

EMI made most of Tortelier's recordings from the 1950's onward, so the company had a good back catalogue of things to choose from. On this album, the cellist plays Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme; Faure's Elegie in C minor; Saint-Saens's Cello Concerto and Allegro appassionato; and Lalo's Cello Concerto. The performances are, as we would expect, uniformly excellent, displaying the musician's ability to produce strong, sleek, outgoing passages as well as quiet, introspective ones. Moreover, Maestros Herbert Menges and Louis Fremaux admirably accompany him with the Philharmonia and City of Birmingham Orchestras respectively.

Paul Tortelier
The controversial part of the disc, however, may be its sound. Understandably, there are going to be some differences from track to track, given that the recordings range in date from 1955 to 1975. The earliest ones, with the Philharmonia, are in both in mono (the Saint-Saens Concerto and the Faure) and stereo (the Saint-Saens Allegro and the Tchaikovsky). The most-recent recording, with the City of Birmingham Symphony, naturally is in stereo (the Lalo).

Yet it appears that the EMI engineers made a conscious effort to ensure that they all sounded as much alike as possible. Namely, they all seem a touch bright and lean. Now, understand, this is how most of EMI's Fifties' stereo sounded, but it is not necessarily how the Birmingham Symphony recordings sounded. Here's the interesting part: I have the same Lalo Concerto as here on an early EMI Studio CD, and comparing the older mastering to this new remaster, the old disc sounds slightly warmer, richer, and less bright. Did EMI intentionally brighten up the Lalo to make it fit in with the sound of the rest of selections this time out? I don't know. The other minor problem is that the early stereo in the Tchaikovsky piece tends slightly to favor the left side of the sound stage.

In any case, the sonics are never a distraction, and with playing of such distinction, I doubt anyone will care if they are. Even the mono sounds pretty good, fuller and better tonally balanced than most of the stereo on the disc; so, as I say, I can't imagine too many listeners complaining, especially if said listeners are already Tortelier fans.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

Mar 13, 2016

Manhattan Intermezzo (CD review)

Music of Sedaka, Emerson, Ellington, and Gershwin. Jeffrey Biegel, piano; Paul Phillips, Brown University Orchestra. Naxos 8.573490.

I'll bet when a lot of folks hear the words "new music" in the classical field, they think about something avant-garde, experimental, maybe atonal, devoid of melody, harmony, or any other signs of popular entertainment. Not so with the new music on the present disc, Manhattan Intermezzo. The program runs the gamut from relatively new, somewhat sentimental, and probably unfamiliar tunes to an old and well-loved warhorse. More important, it's all highly enjoyable.

The album brings together the works of four twentieth and twenty-first century musician/composers who describe various aspects of downtown New York City. It seems the program concept was the brainchild of American pianist Jeffrey Biegel, who had wanted for some time to bring the music together. Certainly, it could not have fallen into more capable hands. Biegel is a smart, sophisticated musician, and conductor Paul Phillips and the Brown University Orchestra ably accompany his vision.

The opening work on the disc, the title tune Manhattan Intermezzo, comes to us via the first of two perhaps surprising sources: Neil Sedaka. Yes, that Neil Sedaka, the one whose pop music we all grew up with. He wrote the Intermezzo in 2008 (with orchestration by Lee Holdridge) as "a journey through the musical diversity of Manhattan." I mentioned above the "sentimental" part of the program. This is it: very melodic, lush, and rhapsodic. It reminded me of a score for a possible Nicholas Sparks movie. Biegel plays the music with a careful abandon, a measured but enthusiastic approach that keeps Sedaka's tunes from becoming too romanticized. While it's undoubtedly lightweight, perhaps sounding fluffy to some ears, it is undeniably relaxing and enjoyable, too.

The next piece is from another surprising source: the late Keith Emerson. Yes, that Keith Emerson, cofounder of the British rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer. His contribution is the Piano Concerto No. 1, a three-movement work he wrote in 1976 (co-orchestrated by John Mayer). Emerson recorded it with the London Philharmonic a year later, and Jeffrey Biegel took it under his wing in 2001, playing it as often as possible since then. Even though I'm not entirely sure what the music has to do specifically with Manhattan, it's fascinating and entertaining, nonetheless.

Jeffrey Biegel
Emerson's music sounds distinctly more "modern" than Sedaka's, yet it always maintains an eye toward the everyday audience. Its tone can be a touch harsh at times, its varying contrasts a tad disconcerting to the casual listener. Still, if one is a fan of Emerson's pop roots, one will appreciate what he does in this more-serious genre. Biegel plays the music with a straightforward eagerness, emphasizing its expressive vigor, cheery middle, and concluding fury. Moreover, the Brown University players accompany the pianist with their own eager pleasure.

After that is New World a-Coming' by Duke Ellington, written in 1943 and based on journalist Roi Ottley's book of the same name about his vision of "improved conditions for blacks in postwar America." Ellington said he "visualized this new world as a place in the distant future, where there would be no war, no greed, no categorization, no non-believers, where love was unconditional, and no pronoun was good enough for God." Here, Biegel and company show their skills as interpreters of something jazzier than the previous selections, and the work becomes a perfect lead-in for the Gershwin piece that follows.

The final item on the agenda is George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which needs no introduction. The special thing here, besides the virtuosic piano playing and the orchestra's youthful zeal, is that Biegel plays the piano part as closely as possible to the way Gershwin intended it, without all the cuts made to it later. The result is a tad longer than most recordings of the piece but sparkling and fresh.

Producers Paul Phillips, Jeffrey Biegel, and Joseph Patrych and engineer and editor James LeGrand made the recording at Sayles Hall, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island in October and November 2014. The piano appears particularly well integrated with the orchestra, out in front, certainly, but not too far in front, with the rest of the instruments realistically distributed behind it. The piano sound is also realistic, clear and clean yet with a hint of room resonance. The orchestra itself sounds nicely balanced, with perhaps a slight emphasis on the upper midrange and with a wide stereo expanse and reasonable stage depth.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

Mar 9, 2016

Marches in Hi-Fi (XRCD review)

Arthur Fiedler, Boston Pops Orchestra. JVC JM-XR24020.

I read once that Arthur Fiedler had sold more classical albums than any conductor who ever lived. I can easily believe that, considering the man lead the Boston Pops Orchestra for something like a half a century. Nevertheless, music critics always seemed to consider Fiedler something of a lightweight when it came to classical conducting, despite his enormous experience and popularity. I suppose it was the nature of the repertoire he worked with, mostly well-loved light classics like this collection of marches for orchestra.

Fiedler recorded the present album in 1958, and it has remained a perennial favorite with music listeners ever since. In fact, among the drawbacks of the JVC audiophile remastering reviewed here is that it costs well over two or three times as much as RCA's regular "Living Stereo" issue, and it does not include an additional four marches that RCA added to their mid-price CD.

Arthur Fiedler
Another drawback is that not all of the performances on the disc seem very persuasive to me. Fiedler seems at times to be rushing through them at anything but a march tempo, as though he were in a hurry to get along with yet another project and be home in time for dinner. Among the interpretations that fared pretty well for me are those of Verdi's "Grand March" from Aida, Victor Herbert's "March of the Toys" from Babes in Toyland, Sousa's "Semper Fidelis," Robert Morse's "Up the Street," and Kenneth Alford's enduring "Colonel Bogey," featured in the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai.

The conductor's rather prosaic readings of a few other items, though, didn't charm me as much: "Yankee Doodle Dandy," Meredith Wilson's "76 Trombones" from The Music Man, Morton Gould's "American Salute," and George and Ira Gershwin's "Strike Up the Band," for instance.

The JVC engineers probably brought the sound up to its best possible specs through the meticulous care they lavished in their XRCD remastering process, and when it's at its best the sound is, indeed, pretty good. Bass appears solid, highs extended, and dynamics wide. But, oddly, there doesn't seem to be a lot of depth to the orchestral field, individual instruments sometimes get spotlighted and miked too close up, with a touch of congestion crowding some of the loudest passages.

In all, the whole package--the performances and the sound--comes up a somewhat mixed bag, maybe showing its weaknesses more so than some other recordings from the era.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

Mar 6, 2016

Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night's Dream (SACD review)

Also, The Hebrides Overture; The Fair Melusine Overture. Camilla Tilling, soprano; Magdalena Risberg, soprano; Swedish Radio Choir (women's voices); Thomas Dausgaard, Swedish Chamber Orchestra. BIS-2166 SACD.

As you no doubt know, German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) began work on his music for William Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream as a teenager, composing the Overture in 1826 when he was only seventeen. Then he stopped, completing the work some sixteen years later in 1841 while employed by the Prussian court. It was here that King Frederick William IV suggested he compose some complete incidental music for a new production of the Shakespeare play, and Mendelssohn complied since he had already written the opening tune.

For me, any new recording of the music has the formidable job of living up to the airy, mercurial, and magical performances of Otto Klemperer and Andre Previn (both on EMI), the latter giving us pretty much all of the music Mendelssohn wrote for the play, including little interconnecting pieces. On the present disc, Maestro Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra give us most of the music, too, at least the parts most listeners probably want. The music itself, of course, is highly programmatic, representing Shakespeare's major plot ideas and characters, most notably Puck, Bottom, the Duke, and the fairies.

Having a smallish chamber orchestra helps Dausgaard, as the music can sound sweet and transparent performed on an intimate scale. Anyway, Dausgaard maintains some fairly quick tempos throughout the performance, starting right out with a fast-paced Overture. However, while it can appear to inject some new life into an old warhorse, it also tends to detract a bit from the music's lighthearted, fairy-tale charm. When the conductor does slow down within a movement, it can come more as a disconcerting contrast than an imaginative nuance.

I have to admit, though, that Dausgaard does project some lively and entertaining rhythms in the piece, and the Scherzo sounds especially buoyant and responsive. The chorus and soloist make a sweet contribution in "Ye Spotted Snakes"; yet the familiar Nocturne seems more perfunctory than it should be.

In the "Wedding March" Dausgaard's penchant for a swift gait works best, I think. This actually sounds like a fairy-tale wedding to me--enchanting and solemn at the same time.

Thomas Dausgaard
In all, I can't see Maestro Dausgaard displacing Klemperer or Previn in my own pantheon of Mendelssohn performances. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of life in this performance, and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra play enthusiastically.

Now, in terms of the couplings, I liked what the conductor did with the two overtures, particularly The Hebrides, which closes the program. He strikes a fine, delicate balance between the fury of the coastal waters and the eternal beauty of the sea.

I can't say I'm too keen on the darkness of the album cover, by the way. When did record companies give up providing covers to match the tone of the music? I dunno.

Producer Marion Schwebel and engineer Thore Brinkmann of Take 5 Music Production recorded the album at the Concert Hall of the School of Music, Theatre and Art, Orebro, Sweden in September 2014. They made the disc for hybrid SACD playback, so with SACD equipment one can play it back in two-channel stereo or multichannel, and with a regular CD player one can play it in two-channel stereo. I listened in two-channel stereo SACD.

BIS's sound from this smallish chamber orchestra is excellent: clear, clean, warm, smooth, dimensional, airy, you name it. There is a spacious feeling present without any undue highlighting of instruments. One will also find the dynamic range impressive and the transient quickness and overall impact quite natural. Voices, too, show up realistically, with no brightness or edge. It's among the better-sounding new recordings I've heard in a while.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

Mar 2, 2016

Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 (CD review)

Also, Schumann: Introduction and Allegro appasionato. Idil Biret, piano; Antoni Wit, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (Katowice). Naxos 8.554089.

If at first you don't succeed.... After the initial failure of his First Piano Concerto, German composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) waited almost twenty years before attempting his second one. These days, most classical-music fans view both concertos as cornerstones of Romantic classical music, even if I find them sometimes a tad ponderous.

Whatever, the Second Piano Concerto begins in somewhat massive fashion, an echo of the First perhaps, with a long opening movement containing stretches of purely orchestral impressions. The second movement is lighter and zippier, although not by a lot. The leisurely third movement Andante arrives just in time to save the piece from collapsing under its own weight, and the frolicsome finale further saves the day by elevating the music to memorability. The Second is a touch more lyrical than the craggier First, and it has found much favor in the process.

Idil Biret
Turkish concert pianist Idil Biret's playing seems a little perfunctory in the opening sections, but it becomes most able in the final movements. Compared to my two favored pianists in this work, Emil Gilels (DG) and Stephan Kovacevich (Philips), Ms. Biret appears slightly mechanical, never quite expressing either the grandness of the opening movement or the poetry of the slow movement. Nevertheless, she does play forcefully throughout the piece and especially charmingly in the closing part. Overall, her playing appears virtuosic, expansive, and outgoing, certainly well within keeping, given the Romantic tradition, and her straightforward style may appeal to many listeners.

The orchestral accompaniment of Maestro Antoni Wit and the Polish National Radio Symphony can range from burdensomely obscure to warmly, moodily transparent, depending, I suppose, on the mood of the engineers. Some of the sound Naxos provides is excellent, particularly the piano tone; at other times the sonics seem to lapse into something a bit more undefined.

I found the disc's coupling, Robert Schumann's Introduction and Allegro appasionato, more to my liking, being more concisely treated as well as striking a better balance between orchestra and soloist.

At a relatively low Naxos price, this Brahms issue may seem a bargain, but if one remembers that the Gilels and Kovacevich recordings cost really about the same as the Naxos, they can look like more and more like absolute treasures.


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