May 30, 2016

Elgar: Symphony No. 1 (CD review)

Daniel Barenboim, Staatskapelle Berlin. Decca 478 9353.

Although Argentine-Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim has been playing the piano professionally since the early 1950's, it was really not until the late 1960's that I became aware of his talents, particularly in his admirable recordings of late Mozart symphonies and piano concertos. Since then, the few things I've heard from him have ranged from scintillating to ho-hum. Nor have I ever thought of him as an interpreter or English music. So it was with an open and unsuspecting mind that I listened to this recording of the Elgar First Symphony.

Now, what you have to understand is that Elgar hardly fit the mold of the English pastoral composers of his day. Elgar was much more extrovert than that, wherein lies the dilemma for a conductor. Does one conduct Elgar all-out for glitzy excitement, or does one show more restraint and rein in some of the pageantry and thrills? Certainly, there is enough of everything in Elgar's music to satisfy any conductor's ambitions, yet even though Barenboim sometimes goes all out, I kept wondering if a bit more passionate reserve wasn't in order.

Who knows? Maybe I'm just too used to older, more conventional readings of the First Symphony by conductors like Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic (EMI) and Sir John Barbirolli and the Philharmonia Orchestra (EMI); or the more volatile rendering by Sir Georg Solti with the London Philharmonic (Decca). Then, too, there are later recordings to consider from Richard Hickox, Vernon Handley, Mark Elder, and Vasily Petrenko, among others. There is a lot of competition out there for Baremboim to deal with, and a variety of interpretive angles for the listener to explore.

Anyway, Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) was one of England's most-important and most-famous composers. He wrote his Symphony No. 1 in A flat, Op. 55, in 1908, just a few years after he completed the first four of his Pomp and Circumstance Marches, apparently thinking he had plenty of pomp and circumstance left over for the symphony. In describing the music, Elgar said "There is no programme beyond a wide experience of human life with a great charity (love) and a massive hope in the future." So, yes, it is an optimistic work, full of noble ambition.

Daniel Barenboim
The symphony's first movement alternates from the noble and processional to the simple and straightforward. Barenboim takes the opening Andante at a leisurely gait, a bit like the Barbirolli cited above, and then moves into the Allegro section with a gently flowing transition, building nicely the melodic central themes. If there is a "however," it's the same one I felt throughout the performance, namely that the conductor never seems to project an emotional grasp of the music. That is, Barenboim appears to master the technicalities of the score (especially the peculiarities of the tonal keys) but not the heart or soul. He left me admiring the starts and stops, the contrasts, but not the feeling of Elgar's music. In other words, the conductor didn't exactly move me.

For a symphony that boasts a strong internal unity, under Barenboim it sounds slightly disjointed, a string of ups and downs without a center. Whatever, the second-movement Allegro, which acts as a scherzo, shows the conductor at his most energetic, which, if anything, may be a little too exuberant for the lovely tunes the faster parts encompass.

The third-movement Adagio is similar to the preceding music but at a slower pace, returning us to the unhurried mood of the beginning, with Barenboim producing some lovely moments of quiet, deeply felt solitude and serenity. For me, this was the conductor's strongest section.

Then, the closing Lento-Allegro returns to Elgar's alternating slow-fast-slow-fast design. It recaps the first movement, starting slowly and building to one of the grandest displays of orchestral exposition one could imagine. Unfortunately, Barenboim seems to think that sheer excitement can substitute for genuine human attachment. Again, I found myself admiring the conductor's strict interpretation of the score while never hearing much that grabbed my attention and held it.

Oddly, with only about fifty minutes of music on the disc, Decca offer no coupling, no fill-up. Not that it matters, as most people will probably only want the symphony, but there is a good half hour-plus left unused on the CD, and most rival discs provide one or two shorter Elgar works as pairings.

Producer Andrew Keener and engineer Sebastian Nattkemper recorded the album at the Philharmonie, Berlin in September 2015. The sound is clear and natural, smooth and well balanced. It places easily among the best work Decca engineers have done. Big crescendos come across with ease, with a wide dynamic range and plenty of impact. Ultimate transparency is bit lacking, but the realism is evident in every note. There is also a good stage width, at least a modicum of depth, and a solid, satisfying bass response.


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

May 25, 2016

Copland: Orchestral Works I (SACD review)

Fanfare for the Common Man, El Salon Mexico, and Suites from Billy the Kid, Appalachian Spring, and Rodeo. John Wilson, BBC Philharmonic. Chandos CHSA 5164.

So many Copland albums seem to be coming my way, I had to stop and look at this latest disc to see if it was the composer’s birthday or anniversary or something. Nope, just coincidence, I guess. In any case, this one from conductor John Wilson and the BBC Philharmonic contains just about every familiar thing Copland wrote, if often in small chunks (suites). It’s all quite pleasant and nicely recorded, if perhaps a bit redundant.

The first item on the agenda is Fanfare for the Common Man, an appropriate place to start for a composer who wrote about common folks. Copland wrote it in 1942, inspired by a speech by then Vice President Henry Wallace and urged on by conductor Eugene Goosens. The music makes a good concert opener, a sort of overture for the rest of the program. Wilson takes the Fanfare at a rather slower gait than I’m used to hearing, having listened to Copland’s own recording with the LSO for many years. For me, therefore, Wilson’s take on the subject seemed a bit ponderous.

Next we get El Salon Mexico, which the composer wrote between 1933 and 1936 after visiting a spirited nightclub in Mexico called “El Salon Mexico.” Copland fills the work with an abundant variety of tunes derived from Mexican folk music. Here, Maestro Wilson lights things a bit brighter, starting slowly and building up a fine, colorful atmosphere by the music’s end.

John Wilson
After that is an eight-movement suite from the ballet Billy the Kid (1938), which Copland wrote for the American Ballet Caravan (the predecessor of the New York City Ballet). Even though the Brooklyn-born composer had little interest in what he thought of as “cowboy music,” he studied a book of cowboy songs and off he went. Most important for us today, the tunes gave Copland the inspiration to write the simple, straightforward music he had been previously seeking. Again, Wilson provides a nicely crafted, thoroughly persuasive account of the music, increasing incrementally in intensity and creating a believable sensation of time and place. While I suppose some listeners might find a slight dissatisfaction that Wilson doesn’t produce a livelier, more-exciting mood at times, I never found the music wanting for vividness or character. What’s more, throughout all of the music, the BBC Philharmonic play with a sonorous authority.

Then we find a seven-movement suite from Appalachian Spring (1943), the ballet Copland wrote for the choreographer and dancer Martha Graham. The plot, as it is, involves the celebration of American pioneers after building a new farmhouse in Pennsylvania. Some of the main characters include a bride and groom, a preacher and his flock, and a pioneer woman. Of all the music Wilson gives us on the program, he’s probably at his best in Appalachian Spring. He not only captures the joy of the festivities but the passion and tenderness of the participants. The familiar “Simple Gifts” melody never sounded lovelier.

The program concludes with four dance episodes from Rodeo, a kind of follow-up ballet to Billy the Kid. If anything, Rodeo became even better known and better loved than Billy, but I would guess most of us enjoy them equally. In any case, Rodeo makes an appropriate bookend to the opening Fanfare, offering picturesqueness, enthusiasm, and a good, old-fashioned Western country air. Wilson makes the most of it.

Producers Ralph Couzens, Mike George, and Brian Pidgeon and engineer Stephen Rinker recorded the album at MediaCityUK, Salford, in June and July 2015. They made the disc in hybrid SACD so it will play two-channel and multichannel from the SACD layer and regular two-channel stereo from the CD layer. I listened in two-channel SACD.

There is a pleasantly realistic ambient bloom to the sound, evident even in the two-channel mode. Combined with a good sense of depth as well as width, the effect is quite lifelike. Loudest notes appeared a mite congested to me, even a tad harsh, but it is of minor note. Dynamics and frequency range also appear extended, so there is really little to complain about in the area of sonics.


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

May 18, 2016

Mahler: Symphony No. 9 (CD review)

Also, Lieder from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn." Jessye Norman, John Shirley-Quirk; Bernard Haitink, Concertgebouw Orchestra. Philips 289 464 714-2 (2-disc set).

Some years ago, around 1999, I wrote about Philips's repackaging of Bernard Haitink's Mahler Ninth with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in a Philips Duo set, coupled with Das Lied von der Erde. I said at the time that Haitink's 1969 recording of the Symphony No. 9 never sounded better. Then, a couple of years later, Philips remastered it yet again, this time using 96kHz, 24-bit technology and with a different coupling, the Wunderhorn lieder. The results were better than ever, and even though Philips is gone, the set is still available (see below).

On the plus side, the new issue really does sound slightly smoother to me than the older Philips CD, with a smidgen more depth to the orchestral field. On the minus side (or plus depending on your point of view), Philips spread the symphony over two discs, the fourth movement occupying the first track of the second disc. Maybe in spreading it out, Philips felt they were better able to accommodate the work's length without sacrificing any degradation of sound, but I'm not sure that's the main reason for the new issue sounding better. The other minus is that I miss Haitink's Das Lied von der Erde, even if it did sound a mite fierce sonically. Anyway, Jessye Norman and John Shirley-Quirk's singing on the Wunderhorn lieder, recorded in 1976, sounds beautiful, and Philips warmly recorded it. I'd say if one does not already have the superb Schwarzkopf, Fischer-Dieskau, Szell set on EMI, which seems to me performed with an even more pungent bite, this Philips version is a good alternative.

Bernard Haitink
Let me repeat one other thing: Mahler's final completed symphony was the crowning jewel in his symphonic cycle, gorgeous and sublime. But its meaning has always been a bit ambiguous. Some listeners have interpreted its somewhat expressionistic content as an optimistic journey into the light, ending in sweet and everlasting repose, which is the way Haitink presents it; yet others see the symphony as a pessimistic look into the world's future where degeneration and decay may be our lot. There is something, I suppose, one can say for this latter view. At the time he was writing the piece, Mahler was aware of his own illness and his possibly imminent demise, and he might have foreseen in 1909 the coming of the First World War and the end of civilization as his generation had known it. Nevertheless, under Haitink's direction there is little sign of this latter view.

Haitink's handling of the opening movement sounds relaxed, building to a grand, lyrical climax; the second movement appears evenly paced; the third movement is surprisingly outgoing for a conductor of Haitink's refined and contained temperament; and the finale comes across as beautifully controlled, the music diminishing gradually and evenly into eternal silence. It is a performance that deserves a ranking among the very best on record, maybe the very best on record, especially after Philips remastered it.

The catch: as I alluded earlier, Philips has long been out of business and finding copies of this particular set could be tricky (and expensive if you're not careful). Still, there are new copies available at low prices and even more economical used ones if you look carefully enough. The Amazon link below should make a good starting point.


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

May 16, 2016

Rachmaninov: Variations (CD review)

Daniil Trifonov, piano; Yannick Nezet-Seguin, Philadelphia Orchestra. DG 00289 479 4970.

While I have no idea if young Russian pianist and composer Daniil Trifonov (b. 1991) will eventually become one of the world's greatest living musicians, I do know that as of today he is surely among the best we have. Since 2010 he has won numerous awards and recorded over half a dozen albums, all to a well-deserved acclaim. In this current recording, he offers a tribute to his "musical idol," Sergei Rachmaninov, with the piano-and-orchestra Paganini Variations, the solo piano Chopin and Corelli Variations, and the pianist's own solo-piano composition, Rachmaniana. They give us a pretty good idea of the man's skills at the keyboard.

Trifonov begins the program with the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 43, the concertante Rachmaninov wrote in 1934. It seems only appropriate that the Philadelphia Orchestra (under the direction of its current musical director Yannick Nezet-Seguin) accompany the pianist, as the Philadelphia had premiered the work and made the first recording of it (both with the composer himself at the keyboard and under the direction of Leopold Stokowski). Rachmaninov based the score of his Variations on the twenty-fourth of Niccolò Paganini's solo violin Caprices.

Trifonov shows a good deal of flexibility in the variations, handling the faster sections with a dazzling virtuosity. If I have any reservation at all, it's that he doesn't always give the slower sections their due; this is one of the quickest set of variations I've yet to hear. Not that Trifonov doesn't usually infuse the music with a wonderful spark and sparkle; it's just that I wished he were as lyrical throughout the set as he is in, say, Variations 11, 12, and the famous No. 18, where he glides through the notes as gracefully as anyone.

Daniil Trifonov
Whatever, my concerns are short lived when Trifonov produces such fine results in most of the music, effects ranging from heroic to rhapsodic to exciting to downright thrilling. Needless to say, too, the Philadelphia Orchestra and Maestro Nezet-Seguin provide Trifonov with excellent support. The Philadelphia has not always sounded as good as it can sound in too many recordings, but here it is lush and full and wonderfully rich. The ensemble create a near-perfect setting for Rachmaninov's lush, full, rich music.

Next, we find three works for solo piano. The first of these is Rachmaninov's Variations on a Theme of Chopin, Op. 22, written in 1902-03. After that is Trifonov's own short, five-movement suite, Rachmaniana, which the composer-pianist wrote when he was eighteen. Finally, we get Rachmaninov's Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42, written in 1932. The latter score comprises twenty-variations, the theme, an intermezzo, and a coda-finale. Interestingly, it appears that Corelli didn't actually write the theme on which Rachmaninov based his work but borrowed it himself for a set of his own variations. Although Trifonov has, for me, a rather heavy hand in the Chopin, he seems to know his own work very well, indeed, and it flows freely and easily. In terms of playing and interpretation, the Corelli appears somewhere in between the other solo pieces. It's quite satisfying.

Producers Misha Aster and Sid McLauchlan and engineers Tim Martyn and Charles Gagnon recorded the music at the Academy of Arts & Letters, New York City, and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Verizon Hall, Philadelphia, in March 2015. The resultant sound is quite good, with a warm, realistic presence, a wide dynamic range, and very strong bass impact. In the piano-and-orchestra selections, the piano appears well balanced with the other instruments, not too far out in front and not lost among the other players. As usual with DG recordings, the piano sounds very natural while retaining a good deal of clarity and bloom. The whole affair is still a bit closely miked, though, and a little thick, with a somewhat restricted depth of image. Still, there is a pleasant, lifelike quality to most of the sound.


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

May 11, 2016

Piano Espanol (CD review)

Jorge Federico Osorio, piano. Cedille Records CDR 90000 075.

As many of you are aware, for over twenty-five years the once-small, Chicago-based company Cedille Records has been quietly producing some of the best-sounding discs around, mostly of solo and small-ensemble artists. Add this 2004 release to their large and ever-growing collection of recordings you may want to pursue. It's a collection of Spanish piano music played by Mexican pianist Jorge Federico Osorio, and like most of Cedille's productions, ace engineer Bill Maylone recorded it.

Jorge Federico Osorio
Osorio is a most-refined pianist whose best work comes in the more expressively lyrical passages of these numbers. The highlight of the set is Spanish pianist and composer Isaac Albeniz's Suite Espanola, which has some absolutely gorgeous stretches of music in it, beginning with the "Granada" segment that starts things off.

Of course, there is always the definitive interpretation of Albeniz's score by Alicia de Larrocha (Decca) to consider, but not even she is any more passionately graceful than Osorio in this piece. Natually, this is not to suggest that Osorio isn't up to the big, explosive passages, too. He displays fine, gymnastic drive in the famous "Asturias" movement, for instance. It's just that his forte appears to be the articulation of the composition's inner beauty.

The other music on the disc is almost equally distinguished, Manuel de Falla's Piezas Espanolas, Enrique Granados's Danzas Espanolas, and four piano sonatas by Padre Antonio Soler. But for me it was the Albeniz that stood out; that and Cedille's sound for the piano. It's sweet, lush, and well defined, with a rich, golden glow around each note. It's really quite lovely and well complements Osorio's musical style.


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

May 8, 2016

Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (SACD review)

Also, The Firebird Suite. Andres Orozco-Estrada, Frankfurt Radio Symphony. Pentatone PTC 5186 556.

It seems as though every other disc I receive anymore contains music of Stravinsky or Copland. Well, it couldn't happen to better composers. It's gratifying to see they are at least as popular today as they were in their own time.

Whatever, the present disc offers not only Stravinsky's complete Rite of Spring but his 1919 Firebird Suite as well, both works performed by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony lead by its principal conductor since 2014, Andres Orazco-Estrada. What's more, Pentatone Music recorded the disc for hybrid SACD/CD for multichannel and two-channel stereo playback, so the package provides the listener quite a lot of entertainment value for the money, even though it finds itself in a very competitive field.

First on the program is The Rite of Spring, which Russian composer, pianist, and conductor Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) wrote in 1913 for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. The music proved so different and so revolutionary that at its Paris premiere, it (and, to be fair, the choreography) so shocked audiences that many of them booed and headed for the doors. It's no less revolutionary today, yet unlike some even more-modern classical music, the Rite is melodic enough and rhythmic enough to appeal to almost everybody.

The first half of the ballet, "The Adoration of the Earth," establishes the scene of some past primeval era. Stravinsky intended it to be evocative and atmospheric, and it is in these areas that Orozco-Estrada does his best work. He maintains a strong, always forward, yet generally unhurried pace, the action graduated in fairly well-judged increments, culminating in a well-calculated Part I finale.

Andres Orozco-Estrada
It's in the second part that the conductor tends to let down a bit. Not that the thrills aren't in place; they just don't come in quite the same degree of intensity as in some other recordings. For instance, the present interpretation hasn't quite the electricity of Leonard Bernstein's performance (Sony), the savage brutality of Riccardo Muti's (EMI/Warner) or Georg Solti's (Decca/JVC) versions, or the analytic precision of Pierre Boulez's (Sony) rendition. Still, Orozco-Estrada has a good sense for Stravinsky's rhythms, and it's hard to argue that anything in the performance is actually amiss.

Because The Rite of Spring is relatively brief, there is plenty of room on the disc for the accompanying Firebird Suite, one of three suites (1911, 1919, 1945) the composer arranged from the complete 1910 ballet. The 1919 suite we get here is probably the most familiar to audiences from so many recordings of it over the years.

In the Firebird, the conductor seems a bit more into the music, providing it with all the mood, color, and intensity one could ask for. It is a very impressive, very entertaining rendering of what is perhaps an overly familiar score.

Producers Michael Traub and Philipp Knop and engineers Andreas Heynold and Robin Bos recorded the music at the Alte Oper Frankfurt and the Hessischer Rundfunk, hr-Sendesaal in June and August 2015. They recorded the disc in hybrid SACD/CD, as I said earlier, meaning that if you have an SACD player, you can play the disc in multichannel or two-channel, and if you have only a regular CD player, you can play it back in two-channel stereo. I listened to the disc's two-channel SACD layer.

In The Rite of Spring there is a pleasant warmth to the sound that helps establish the ambience of the presentation, with a reasonably wide stereo spread. The depth of image is a tad flat, though, slightly spoiling the illusion. Frequency response and dynamics are up to the task as well, with a solid deep bass, conveying most of the theatrics and excitement of the music. I enjoyed the sound marginally better in the Firebird Suite, the environmental concerns of the venue a little better addressed. Still, both recordings seemed a trifle too closely miked for me.


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

May 4, 2016

Bridge: The Music of Frank Bridge (CD review)

Carol Rosenberger, piano; Constantine Orbelian, Moscow Chamber Orchestra. Delos DE 3263.

For the last quarter century, one of my favorite albums for pure relaxation has been EMI's recording of English composer, conductor, and violinist Frank Bridge's The Sea, among other short works with Sir Charles Groves and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. I mention this at the start because it may represent a lot people's introduction to Bridge's pastoral music. For more of the same, this 2001 Delos album with Constantine Orbelian and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra offers three lesser-known pieces by the composer. Although they are not in the same league as the works on the EMI disc, they do demonstrate the innate sweetness of Bridge's touch.

The highlight of this Delos disc is a suite of four short pieces arranged for string orchestra called, appropriately, Four Pieces for String Orchestra. Bridge originally wrote the pieces as separate items, and Paul Hindmarsh assembled them for the suite we have here. The music makes for a wonderfully entertaining and soothing combination of sounds. The central Waltz is slightly macabre in tone but has a lovely lilt, and the closing Scherzo is vibrant and amusing.

Constantine Orbelian
On either side of the Four Pieces we find the lovely Chamber Concerto for piano and orchestra (arranged by Orbelian) and Three Idylls. Bridge reworked the concerto from several of his other chamber compositions and published it in various forms from 1904 to 1912, presumably the final version as performed here. It hasn't quite the energy or the originality of the Four Pieces but still makes for easy, casual listening. The Three Idylls are altogether more somber but eventually blossom into a stirring climax.

Maestro Orbelian leads with a light, fluid touch; the Moscow players give him a comfortable, almost cushy response; and Ms. Rosenberger plays with an accomplished grace. The whole affair sounds very much in the English pastoral style despite the ensemble itself not being English.

Delos engineer John Eargle did up the audio in a process the company called VR, Virtual Reality, meaning the listener can play it back in the surround mode with subtle rear-channel effects added. However, in ordinary two-channel stereo it sounds just fine, if a bit thick around the middle. Interestingly, I found the larger orchestra on the aforementioned EMI disc more transparent than this smaller chamber group. But I suppose the added warmth afforded by the VR environment does contribute to the amiable mood of the music.

I wish someone would have told Delos to do something about their clunky art design, though. Their front cover and rear print layout here are unappealing, and for those of us who like to linger over the artwork, they do little to complement the comfortable atmosphere created by the music.


May 1, 2016

Krenek: Piano Concertos Nos. 1-3 (CD review)

Mikhail Korzhev, piano; Kenneth Woods, English Symphony Orchestra. Toccata Classics TOCC 0323.

Here's another composer you may not know. Or maybe you do because the Austrian-born American composer and writer Ernst Krenek (1900-1991) does have several dozen albums to his credit. However, even more than his music, he may have been famous for his short-lived marriage to Anna Mahler, the daughter of Gustav Mahler; who knows. He earned a living largely by teaching, lecturing, and completing the unfinished material of other composers, despite his writing over 240 of his own works. Whatever, the conductor and cellist Kenneth Woods has taken up Krenek's cause, and perhaps he will help revitalize the composer's name as he did with his recordings of Austrian-British composer Hans Gal several years earlier. This time, Maestro Woods is working with pianist Mikhail Korzhev and the English Symphony Orchestra, of which Woods has been Principal Conductor since 2013.

Throughout his career, Ernst Krenek adopted a variety of compositional forms, from late-Romantic to modern atonality, from neoclassicism to experimental jazz, and from modal counterpoint to twelve-tone writing, serial techniques, and electronic music, making him truly a man for all seasons. I wonder, however, if he had settled down to one particular style, if people would have better appreciated his music today? Again, who knows. As an example of how little audiences know Krenek's concertos, the first two of the concertos on the present disc receive their premiere recordings.

Anyway, the album offers what the folks at Toccata Classics say are the "complete piano concertos," Nos. 1-3, written between 1923 and 1946, even though most of the on-line references I consulted list a fourth concerto as well. Apparently, the fourth of the concertos will appear on a second volume. Whatever, the program presents the first three concertos in chronological order, starting with the Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp major, Op. 18 (1923). It's the most conventional in style, a sort of quasi-Romantic piece.

The opening movement is securely in the late-Romantic tradition, with traces of a Debussy-like dreaminess about it. The second movement is more rhythmic, more pulsating, more radiant. By the third movement, the piece is back to a sweet, comforting mode, and then the finale provides a fairly rollicking, easily communicative close.

Mikhail Korzhev
I'm not sure how one should perform the music, my never having heard it before, but I can't imagine anyone doing it any better than this. Korzhev's piano playing is scintillating, Woods's direction is warmly encouraging, and the orchestra is uniformly precise, together giving the score all the interpretive support it could ask for. It's hard to imagine any other pianist, conductor, or orchestra doing anything more for Krenek's work.

Next is the Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 81 (1937), in which Krenek employed a twelve-tone technique. The result is a darker, more dissonant piece, one that pianist Korzhev says contains both "nostalgic longing for the 'old world'" (Krenek wrote it just before he fled Austria for America) and "dreadful premonitions" (presumably of World War II and its catastrophic effects on the world). After that, we get the little Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 107 (1946), which sounds the most rambunctious, the most overtly flamboyant of the lot, with the piano waging more obvious contests with the various sections of the orchestra.

The Second and Third Concertos are distinctly different from the First, yet Korzhev, Woods, and company present them in an easily accessible manner. This is modern music for people who don't usually like the dissonances and peculiarities of much modern music. The extravagance of the Third Concerto sounds particularly appealing in contrast to the relative serenity of the First. The diversity of the three works goes a long way toward illustrating the composer's musical evolution.

Producer Michael Haas and engineer Ben Connellan recorded the music at Wyastone Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, Wales in September 2015. From the quiet opening notes to the loudest crescendos, the sound appears smooth, well focused, dynamic, broad, and well extended. The sense of the hall around the orchestra and piano is especially welcome, as the hall's warm, mildly reverberant acoustic contributes strongly to the disc's overall realistic effect. The engineer always keeps the piano well integrated with the orchestra, too: just slightly forward of the other players but not in your face. What's more, there is a genuine sense of depth to the ensemble, giving the whole affair a most-natural perspective.


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

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