Aug 28, 2016

Haydn: Opera Overtures (CD review)

Michael Halasz, Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice. Naxos 8.573488.

Maybe you think of Haydn as I do, as a composer of about 800 symphonies and chamber pieces. No, no, no. He also wrote a slew of operas, most of which we never hear anymore, even though people seemed to love them in their day. Anymore, about all we hear from his operas are the overtures, the present album containing some fourteen of them, ably performed by Michael Halasz and the ambitiously named Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice.

The smallish orchestra, comprised of about thirty or so players, is just the right size for Haydn. We get an intimate, fairly transparent presentation from this size an ensemble. Not so small that that it diminishes the weight Haydn's work but small enough to capture the zest and vigor of his music. Maestro Halasz does a good job keeping them on their toes and ensuring the scores get just treatment.

Anyway, as I say, there are a number of items on the disc--overtures, prologues, introductions, and sinfonias--and for those interested I've listed them below:

Lo Speziale (The Apothecary) (1768)
Acide e Galatea (Acts and Galatea) (1762)
Le pescatrici (The Fisherwomen) (1770)
L'Infedeltà delusa (Infidelity Outwitted) (1773)
Philemon und Baucis (1773)
Der Götterrath (The Diliberations of the Gods) (1773)
L'Incontro improvviso (The Unexpected Encounter) (1775)
Il Mondo della Luna (Life on the Moon) (1777)
L'Isola disabitata (The Uninhabited Island) (1779)
La vera costanza (True Constancy) (1778)
La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded) (1781)
Orlando Paladino (Orlando the Paladin) (1782)
Armida (1784)
L'Anima del filosofo, ossia Orfeo ed Euridice (The Soul of the Philosopher, or Orpheus and Eurydice) (1791)

Michael Halasz
I've always suspected it's hard for any conductor to go too far wrong in the scores of Haydn or Mozart or Schubert. The music is simply too delightful. Nevertheless, Maestro Halasz does an extra-special job with it. Although he never takes anything at a breakneck speed, he and his crew do provide a zesty, frothy mixture of notes. The works are lightweight, to be sure, and the listener will probably have a hard time telling one from the other; still, Halasz does his best to differentiate them so it doesn't all sound the same.

Among my own favorites from the album were The Fisherwomen for its vitality; Infidelity Outwitted for echoes of Handel; The Deliberations of the Gods for its relative gravitas; Life on the Moon, just because it's fun; and Orlando the Paladin because of its high spirited nobility. But not to like any of it is to quibble. It's a hearty enjoyment.

Producer Jiri Stilec and engineers Vaclav Roubal and Karel Soukenik recorded the album at The House of Music, Pardubice, Czech Republic in January 2015. If played too loudly, the sound has a tendency to appear rather close; played at a normal (or more realistic) level, however, it's really quite good. There's a nice stereo spread, with uncommonly good depth, and a pleasantly warm, ambient glow. Because there aren't a lot of players involved, the sound is clearer, more lucid, than you might get from a full orchestra, yet the hall's natural bloom prevents the sound from becoming harsh or bright. It's all very natural and welcome.


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

Aug 24, 2016

Andrea Bocelli: Sentimento (CD review)

Lorin Maazel, violin. London Symphony Orchestra. Philips 289 470 400-2.

Esteemed conductor and violinist Lorin Maazel tells us in the booklet note that his father was an ardent admirer of the early twentieth-century violin-tenor duets of Fritz Kreisler and John McCormack and that he collected many of their popular recordings. So when the opportunity came for Maazel to record such material with Italian classical tenor Andrea Bocelli, he jumped at it. The result in this 2001 release is more than a series of popular Italian songs, however, as the compositions involved include not only familiar works by Tosti and Martini but pieces by Rodrigo, Leoncavallo, Offenbach, and Rossini as well. The result is an entirely satisfying collection of familiar, if still lightweight fare.

The listener may not mistake Mr. Bocelli's voice for the mellifluous timbres of Domingo nor the electrifying highs of Pavarotti, but it sounds surprisingly flexible and flowing, with a sturdy tone and a wide range. I confess my own previous acquaintance with the artist had been in bits and pieces of PBS specials on TV, hardly a fair way to judge the man's vocal qualities. I was delightfully surprised, therefore, when I heard him on disc, although I was not as overwhelmed by his talents as many people are.

Andrea Bocelli
The term "Sentimento" for the album derives from the fact that all of the chosen songs are connected to strong personal feelings and emotions, the selections largely ballads or romantic repertoire. In addition to the popular songs of Tosti, there is a vocal rendition of the second movement of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, Offenbach's "Barcarolle" from Le Contes d'Hofmann, Liszt's Liebestraum No. 3, and others. It's incorrect to say these are purely duets, however, as the two men (Bocelli and Maazel) are discreetly accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra.

The Philips recording of Bocelli's voice sounds superb, ringing loudly and clearly but not too forwardly, with the violin well balanced by his side. The orchestra, however, is another matter, which may please some listeners and bemuse others. At first one hardly notices the orchestra, probably a plus as the ensemble should not draw attention to itself. Later, one notices the instruments do not appear as well focused as they should, and they don't just spread out behind the soloists but practically envelop them. It's not an unpleasant sonic experience, but an oddly different one.


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

Aug 21, 2016

Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker, suite (XRCD24 review)

Efrem Kurtz, Philharmonia Orchestra. Hi-Q Records HIQXRCD51.

Conductor Efrem Kurtz (1900-1995) recorded the present suite from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker in 1958, about the same time as he recorded highlights from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, which I reviewed a few weeks earlier. The performance under review is a typically good, lively account of the score from this conductor, although it doesn't quite have all the enthusiasm and ebullience I found in his interpretation of Swan Lake. Nevertheless, the biggest question is probably whether the audiophile remastering from Hi-Q Records is worth the extra money you'll pay for it in terms of performance and sound. There are, after, a huge number of recordings of the work already out there at a fraction of the cost. The answer to the question of worth is yes...and no. Let's consider it.

As I'm sure you know, the Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) adapted his two-act ballet The Nutcracker from E.T.A. Hoffman's story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," and he premiered it in 1892. However, he didn't like it. Indeed, friends said he hated it, especially compared to his previous ballet, The Sleeping Beauty. It's ironic, then, that in our own time The Nutcracker has become possibly Tchaikovsky's most-popular, nay most-beloved, work and maybe the most-popular ballet of any kind ever written. Certainly, it has a little something in it to make everybody happy, particularly at Christmas time.

The suite that Kurtz gives us offers most the ballet's most well-known music, and Kurtz does an admirable job making it all sound familiar and comfortable. That may be his downfall, too, in that the performance, as delightful as it is, doesn't really do much more than most other performances do. Everything sounds letter-perfect without being particularly distinguished.

What is distinguished, though, is the playing of the Philharmonia. The orchestra sounds as rich and elegant as any orchestra has ever sounded. The result is an orchestral presentation as naturally buoyant, articulate, and precise as any you'll find.

Anyway, it's hard to fault anything Kurtz does here. The music dances all bouncy and cheerfully throughout. When it needs a healthy dose of adrenaline, Kurtz provides it. In other words, everything is as you would want it, with a nice balletic lilt to the big tunes. But so it goes with a dozen other conductors in the piece. No, the joy of the Kurtz recording is its sound, which is quite good.

Efrem Kurtz
My only minor concerns are the same ones I had with Hi-Q's Swan Lake release: While there are track listings, they are rather ambiguous, and there are no timings for any of them. (To set matter straight, there are sixteen tracks, totaling about forty-two minutes). Furthermore, I had a really hard time getting the disc loose from its center spindle. As I say, minor issues, but slightly frustrating.

The Hi-Q packaging, as always, is immaculate: A glossy, hardcover Digipak-type design; liner notes bound to the inside; the disc fastened to the inside back.

Producer Peter Andry and engineer Neville Boyling recorded the music at Kingsway Hall, London, in March 1958 for EMI (now Warner Music Group). The Victor Company of Japan (JVC) remastered and manufactured the present disc using XRCD24 and K2 technology.

The sound, as expected, is much like that of Hi-Q's Swan Lake, if anything a little warmer. The high mark is its midrange transparency. It is very clear, very detailed, and very clean. There is also a realistic stereo spread, a fine sense of orchestral depth, and a sparkling top end. The dynamic range, impact, and lowest bass impress one a little less. Not that there is anything seriously wrong with them, but they seem more ordinary than the rest of the sound. As I said about the previous Kurtz recording, too, the overall balance tends to favor the upper mids and lower treble a bit more than the bass end of the spectrum. So, if your system is at all bright, the recording might sound a tad forward. Still, that wonderful midrange clarity should more than compensate for any small shortcomings.

You can find Hi-Q products at any number of on-line marketplaces, but you'll find some of the best prices at Elusive Disc:


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

Aug 16, 2016

Gershwin: An American in Paris (CD review)

Also, Concerto in F; Three Preludes; Overture to Of Thee I Sing. Lincoln Mayorga, piano; Steven Richman, Harmonie Ensemble/New York. Harmonia Mundi HMU 907658.

It's always good to see another recording of music by American composer and pianist George Gershwin (1898-1937). His fusion of popular and classical music will probably live on for as long as music exists. It's also especially good to hear his music presented in arrangements as close to Gershwin's original intentions as possible, as we find on the present album. Arranger, conductor, composer, and pianist Lincoln Mayorga handles the solo duties in the Concerto in F, while Steven Richman and the Harmonie Ensemble/New York handle the orchestral duties. It's a well-performed and well-recorded program, deserving one's attention.

First up is the little Overture to "Of Thee I Sing," presented in its 1934 radio version. It gets things off to a rousing start, even if there is not much to it. Richman and his ensemble appear in good form and seem to be enjoying themselves, conditions carried over throughout the rest of the album.

Next is the Concerto in F (1925), featuring Mr. Mayorga on piano and ably supported by Maestro Richman and the Harmonie Ensemble. This piece is a bit unusual in that the piano never quite dominates the music the way you might expect in a concerto. An Allegro opens the work in a big, robust, sweeping fashion, supposedly Gershwin's way of saying he could write a "proper" concerto after the popular success of Rhapsody in Blue a year before. The fact is, the Concerto is not as melodic as the Rhapsody, which is probably why it is not quite as memorable, yet the two works bear a marked resemblance to one another. Mayorga seems well suited to the temperament of the music and well conveys both the classical and jazz-inflected elements of the piece.

Steven Richman
The second-movement Adagio evokes the languorous, soulful mood of a nocturne, especially in the bluesy segment for trumpet and cornet and then in a more breezy, buoyant section when the piano enters. As Gershwin was a fan of Chopin, who wrote so many nocturnes, the similarities would seem appropriate. Mayorga's contribution is as jazzy as it can be while still maintaining a hold on the classical ingredients. His playing has a jaunty, airy feeling to it, with perhaps more of it leaning to the pop side of big, orchestral jazz than to Chopin, but who cares. It's ebullient and fun.

Then the finale takes up where the first movement left off, big and bold. Here, Mayorga and Richman really catch fire and bring the show to an exhilarating close. I quite enjoyed the whole thing.

Next on the program we find Three Preludes (1926) in first-ever recordings of their 1930s' arrangements by composer and pianist Roy Bargy. The pieces sound typically Gershwin, tiny miniatures of his bigger works, working together in a fast-slow-fast layout. Richman and his players take advantage of the music's conciseness, emphasizing the relationships with the music preceding it on the disc.

Finally, we get the real star of the show, An American in Paris, with Richman and company again working from Gershwin's own manuscripts (and restoring the original saxophone parts). The work is, of course, a descriptive tone poem portraying an American visitor to Paris in the 1920's, strolling about and taking in the sights and sounds of the city. The colorful nature of the score never appears undermined by the leaner, more unsentimental nature of Gershwin's own goals.

Richman takes the piece at a brisk pace; maybe our American visitor was on a tight schedule and needed to see as much of Paris in as short a period of time as possible. In any case, it does no harm, and it was maybe Gershwin's intention all along (since he reportedly hated the slow tempos of the world premiere performance in 1928). When the more leisurely sections come around, they sound all the more poignant in contrast. It's an enjoyable interpretation, if not quite capturing all the electric pulse of the work I've felt in the old Bernstein recording, and there's no questioning the impressive musicianship of the Harmonie Ensemble/New York.

Producers Adam Abeshouse and Steven Richman and engineer Adam Abeshouse recorded the music at The DiMenna Center for Classical Music, New York City, in June 2014. The recording sounds particularly good in regard to clarity and dimensionally. There is a fair amount of transparency throughout the midrange, too, and the orchestral depth sounds realistically fulfilling. The piano in the second number sounds pretty well balanced, if a tad forward. Although an ultimate dynamic response and impact seem a little missing, I doubt many listeners will even notice, the rest of the audio is so good.


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

Aug 7, 2016

Brahms: Symphony No. 4 (CD review)

Fritz Reiner, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. HDTT remastered.

The Hungarian-born conductor Fritz Reiner (1888-1963) enjoyed a prominent career, especially working in Europe with Richard Strauss, and then in America, to which country he emigrated in 1922. For most of us, though, he probably did his most notable work with the Chicago Symphony and RCA in the early days of stereo from 1954-1963. However, during those last years, he didn't record exclusively with Chicago, as this disc demonstrates. He recorded the Brahms Fourth with the Royal Philharmonic at the very end of his life, making it as a part of a Reader's Digest series of LP's and tapes. In fact, he had apparently committed to yet another recording with them, but ill health prevented it, and he died shortly thereafter. In any case, what we have here is a remastering from HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) of that early Sixties performance, and at its price and availability, it is welcome, indeed.

German composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) premiered his Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98 in 1885, the symphony the last of four he wrote and possibly his most wholly satisfying. The opening movement begins gracefully and builds in dramatic tension using some of the composer's most memorable tunes. It is only here that Reiner displays a degree of idiosyncrasy, and I hope it doesn't put off too many listeners. The fact is, Reiner is quicker through the first movement than almost any conductor in my experience. Now, it was not unusual for Reiner to create a strong forward momentum in his recordings. His Beethoven Fifth with Chicago moves at practically a breakneck speed, yet it is one of the most thrilling experiences on record. Here, however, the accelerated gait seems to rush what should have been a more-peaceful tone. In any case, it prepares us appropriately for the Andante that follows.

The second-movement Andante moderato is placid and serene, wearing its heart on its sleeve, accompanied by a plush orchestral arrangement. The Royal Philharmonic sounds its finest in this movement, with Reiner never pushing it or the score. In fact, Reiner, who most always stuck to the letter of the composer's intentions, articulates the music in soft, glowing terms, his timing a bit slower than most other conductors in order to more fully explore the tranquil mood.

Fritz Reiner
The third movement Scherzo is cheerful, festive, and exuberant, providing the symphony a sudden note of excitement and happiness. Reiner conveys this exuberance with alacrity, and it's a high point of the interpretation.

The Finale is powerful and relatively serious, the composer noting that the conductor should play it with energy and passion ("energico e passionato"). This is exactly what Maestro Reiner does, although it is no headlong rush; it is a sensible and reasoned account, with the Royal Philharmonic responding in kind. Reiner's recording must be considered among the most worthy in the catalogue, and one should not count any minor misgivings against it. For most listeners, Reiner's way with the music will be a heaven-sent answer to other more-bland renderings of the work.

RCA producer Charles Gerhardt and Decca engineer Kenneth Wilkinson recorded the symphony in the early 1960's for the Reader's Digest series, with RCA rereleasing it in 1966. HDTT transferred the recording in 2016 from a 15ips 2-track tape studio duplication using Dolby NR.

Because this was a different orchestra and a different venue for Reiner from his usual Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the sound is a little different, too. It's not quite as wide in its stereo spread and not quite as transparent as the RCA Living Stereo presentations. Yet it's just as lifelke, perhaps even more so for being miked a tad more distantly. There's a wonderful sense of space and depth to the ensemble, with a mild ambient bloom to make everything appear quite natural. More to the point, HDTT's transfer of the recording to CD appears letter-perfect. Highs are a tad forward, yet they don't seem out of sync with the rest of the reproduction, which is realistically well balanced. Clarity, which may not be quite that of Chicago, is, nevertheless, quite good. Overall, it's another fine issue from a company that reminds us just how good early stereo recordings were.

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 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