Dec 26, 2016

Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (CD review)

Also, Debussy: Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. Evgeny Mravinsky, Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. HDTT remastered.

Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is something of an odd duck, and it's one that many movie buffs may recognize from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Hungarian composer Bela Bartok (1881-1945) wrote it in 1936 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the chamber orchestra Basler Kammerorchester, and it has since become one of the composers most well-known works. It is a somewhat strange, curious, even eerie piece of music, at least the way most conductors have approached it. I always think of it as atmospheric, with several of my favorite recordings of it coming at it from distinctly different directions: Leonard Bernstein (Sony) gave it an energetic reading; Herbert von Karajan (DG) provided a cushier, more glamorous setting; Pierre Boulez (Sony and DG) was more precise and exacting; Eugene Ormandy (EMI) was most eloquent; Sir Georg Solti (Decca) was a bit more brazen and robust; Sir Charles Mackerras (Linn) added a greater element of lyricism to the mix; and, for me, Fritz Reiner (RCA) delivered probably the best, most authoritative all-around interpretation.

Then there's the Russian conductor Evgeny Mravinsky (1903-1988) who gave us this 1965 recording, now remastered by HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers). Mravinsky's version doesn't really fit any of the traditional categories, and listeners may either love it or hate it for its almost diabolical intensity. What's more, listeners may either love or hate the live sound, too, which the folks at HDTT have remastered quite well. But it's still live, with all its attendant charms and problems, depending on one's point of view.

Whatever, the first movement is like a slow fugue, its tempos changing up repeatedly. It starts out with extremely subdued strings and becomes louder and thicker as more instruments join the mix. After a quickened climax, the music eventually settles back into quietness. While Mravinsky doesn't necessarily take any of this quicker than other conductors, he does seem to intensify it more. There is little of the moody, atmospheric tone one usually hears, the aura replaced by more of an aggressive dynamism. Still, it's not entirely out of the mainstream, and if it weren't for the distracting audience noises throughout the quieter passages, it would be quite thrilling.

Evgeny Mravinsky
The second movement is fairly fast, distinguished by syncopated piano and percussion tones, a swirling dance subject, a lengthy pizzicato segment, and a vigorous conclusion. I found this section most effective under Mravinsky, the tension mounting appropriately, the contrasts nicely projected, the excitement well articulated.

The third, slow-movement Adagio is Bartók's "Night Music." It showcases a gliding effect for timpani, including a prominent part for xylophone. For me, Mravinsky's melodramatic take on it is more Halloween spooky than mysterious, expressionistic, or unearthly. That said, it remains a fascinating piece of writing, and the conductor does seem to be having fun voicing it, even if it appears to be more Mravinsky's voice than Bartok's.

The final movement begins with timpani and strummed pizzicato string chords and quickly moves into the lively flavor of a Hungarian folk dance. Here, I loved Mravinsky's vigorous attack on the music and its swirling rhythms. So, all's well that ends well.

The other selection on the album is Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune ("Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun"), a brief tone poem for orchestra premiered in 1894 by French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918). Even if Debussy disliked the term "impressionist" applied to his work, there can hardly be a better word to describe the Prelude. My Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines musical impressionism as a "style of composition in which lush harmonies, subtle rhythms, and unusual tonal colors are used to evoke moods and impressions."

Debussy wrote of the Prelude that it "is a very free illustration of Mallarmé's beautiful poem. By no means does it claim to be a synthesis of it. Rather there is a succession of scenes through which pass the desires and dreams of the faun in the heat of the afternoon. Then, tired of pursuing the timorous flight of nymphs and naiads, he succumbs to intoxicating sleep, in which he can finally realize his dreams of possession in universal Nature."

So, how sensuous or sensual is Mravinsky's faun and his daydreams? Put it this way: Don't expect the lavish textures of a Karajan here. Do expect a precise, well-chiseled account of the score, maybe not as sinuous or sexy as it could be but well outlined in any case.

The Russian record label Melodiya recorded the music live at the Grand Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic in March 1965. HDTT transferred it from a 15ips tape to DSD256 in 2016, and they make it available in a variety of formats: DSD256, DSD128, DSD64, DXD PCM, and PCM Flac digital downloads; DVD Audio; and compact disc.

Anyway, it is live, and one always knows it. If you don't mind the sound of the audience--coughs, shuffling, breathing, wheezing, gagging, and, as if you couldn't guess, plenty of applause--it shouldn't bother you. It did me. But if the audience noises don't annoy you, the sound is clean and detailed, if somewhat thin and hard. Dynamics are wide, impact moderately good, highs sparkling, and orchestral depth rewardingly realistic.

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:

Dec 21, 2016

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos (CD review)

Also, Harpsichord Concertos; Violin Concertos. Reinhard Goebel, Musica Antiqua Koln; Simon Standage, violin, with Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert. DG Panorama 289 469 103-2 (2-disc set).

This two-disc set is a part of DG's series of important classical works culled from their back catalog. It features the six Brandenburg Concertos, the two Harpsichord Concertos, and the two Violin Concertos, all done on period instruments. The concept is fine, but I have to question DG's choice of representative recordings.

The centerpiece of the collection is, of course, the group of Brandenburgs, and here lies the main problem. Why did DG choose violinist and conductor Reinhard Goebel's 1987 performances, when they had Trevor Pinnock's superb realizations at hand? Goebel's interpretations are among those that put breakneck speed above everything else. They're mostly hell-bent-for-leather affairs, attempts to show off the band's virtuosity at the expense of presenting anything worth listening to. I frankly doubt that in Bach's time many orchestras would have played the pieces at such reckless tempos. For one thing, the eighteenth century was the Age of Reason, the Age of Enlightenment, and I doubt that listeners would have countenanced such hectic, almost foolhardy playing; for another, there probably weren't many house bands in Germany masterly enough to have accomplished the deed. So what's the point of "authenticity" if the interpretations probably bear little relation to reality?

Reinhard Goebel
Anyway, I recognize that a lot of people will find Goebel's Brandenburg readings invigorating and fun. However, I found them almost totally devoid of the charm, zest, delight, and refinement I hear in so many other period performances, like those from Trevor Pinnock and either the European Brandenburg Ensemble (Avie) or English Concert (DG Archiv), Jeanne Lamon and the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra (Tafelmusik or Sony), Jeannette Sorrell and Apollo's Fire (Avie), Jordi Savall and Les Concert des Nations (Astree), or the Leonhardt Ensemble (Sony), among others.

Fortunately, the accompanying Harpsichord and Violin Concertos are excellent, particularly the latter, featuring Simon Standage as violinist with Pinnock and his English Concert in accompiment. Pinnock and company play the works with appropriate zeal, yet they never sound anything but cultured and comfortable.

The early Eighties sound in the Violin Concertos is also quite fetching--cleaner, smoother, and more natural than in the other pieces on the discs. At a modest price, this DG set may seem inviting, but, overall, I'd stick with recommended individual accounts, even if the asking price is higher.


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

Dec 18, 2016

Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 "Romantic" (CD review)

Valery Gergiev, Munich Philharmonic. Munchner Philharmoniker MPHL0002.

The album's booklet notes begin with German composer Hans Pfitzner's now-famous remark that Bruckner wrote only one symphony but wrote it nine times in all. That may not be entirely true as one could say the same thing about any number of composers, like most of Wagner and Vivaldi and the early symphonies of Haydn and Mozart. Nonetheless, I suppose, there is a point to the remark, namely that Bruckner did have a uniquely personal, spiritually Romantic musical style that he repeated in most of his symphonies. If that is the case, then there was probably no better example of it than his Fourth Symphony, possibly his most-popular work.

Austrian composer and organist Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) wrote his Symphony No. 4 in E flat major "Romantic" in 1874, revising it several times before his death. (Here, conductor Valery Gergiev uses the 1878-80 revision edited by Leopold Nowak in 1953). The work's popularity no doubt stems largely from its abundance of Romantic, programmatic qualities, which Maestro Gergiev plays with a melodramatic fullness. Bruckner was a profoundly spiritual man, and his symphonies illustrate the point. Plus, you may recall that the composer tells us what each of the movements in the symphony represents, from knights riding out of a medieval castle through the mists of dawn to the sounds of the forest and birds, to a funeral, then a hunt, complete with horn calls, and finally a brilliant culminating summation.

The question, though, is not if or why people like the Fourth Symphony nor what the symphony is "about." The question is whether Maestro Gergiev brings to his performance anything new, anything we haven't heard before, anything that might set it apart from the many fine recordings that have come before it. After all, we already have performances by Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra (EMI), Karl Bohm and Vienna Philharmonic (Decca), Eugen Jochum with both the Berlin Philharmonic (DG) and the Dresden State Orchestra (EMI), Gunther Wand and the Berlin Philharmonic (RCA), Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic (DG), and Georg Tintner and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Naxos), to name a few.

My answer to the above question about Gergiev is, well, maybe not. Let's take a look.

In the first movement Bruckner offers us a vision of Nature, and the composer's several scenic landscapes should remind us of how much Bruckner admired Beethoven and Wagner. Here, composer wants us to see a morning breaking, the mists around a medieval castle giving way to dawn, whereupon an army of knights bursts forth from the castle gates in a blaze of glory. In this first section, Gergiev does what he does best: he gives us a highly theatrical reading. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of the spiritual majesty Bruckner seems to have intended, either, just the theatrics of the programmatic music.

Valery Gergiev
The second-movement Andante is a serenade--night music that represents in this instance a young lad's amorous but ultimately hopeless longings and expressions. I've always thought it sounded elegiac, halfway between a nocturne and a funeral march, the composer indicating he wanted a slow but comfortably moderate pace (quasi Allegretto). Here's the thing, though: I'm not sure Gergiev really gives us a "comfortably moderate pace." It's more like a slow dirge, and it appears to represent not so much a lad's hopeless amorous longings as it does his total defeat at the hands of his would-be lover.

Bruckner teasingly called the lively third-movement Scherzo "a rabbit hunt," and it should build a proper momentum as it goes forward. It's in this faster section that I found Gergiev most at home, perhaps the livelier spirits inspiring him. It moves along with high good cheer, and the Munich players seem to delight in it.

The Finale, which like the Scherzo opens with a heroic theme, works its way into a more-idyllic second subject and then reworks them both into a closing statement. This movement begins rather ominously, with dark clouds overhead, leading before long to a thunderstorm; however, the storm eventually breaks and gives way to variations on the symphony's heroic opening theme and a summation of all the parts. If you're wondering what it means, even Bruckner himself was at something of a loss when asked. He said, "...even I myself can't say what I was thinking about at the time." Whatever, Gergiev handles it about as he did the first movement, emphasizing the dramatic contrasts at the expense of any refined, high-flown ethereal qualities. It's a fairly direct reading, then, mostly serious, leaning to the sullen side, slightly slow and calculated, and highly theatrical. If that's the way you view Bruckner, Gergiev is your man.

Producer Johannes Muller and engineer Gerald Junge recorded the music at the Gasteig Culture Center, Munich in September 2015. The first thing one notices about the recording is that it displays an enormous dynamic range. It will start very softly and build to huge climaxes. This is good; it's what happens in live music, even though it annoys some home listeners. So, when it begins, avoid the temptation to turn it up, or the volume may knock you out of your seat. Also good are the sound of the hall itself, a mild ambient bloom, and the stereo spread and depth.

Not so good, however, is that the sound isn't exactly the most transparent. In fact, there's a slight veil over the proceedings, and detailing that we might want to hear is not always present. There are some odd pre-echoes, too, as well as a small degree of fuzziness in the upper frequencies. So, you get a big, wide, somewhat dark, soft, shrouded sound that makes the recording seem as though you were listening from a farther distance away from the orchestra than you might like.


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

Dec 14, 2016

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 6 and 7 (CD review)

Also, The Tempest, Suite No. 2. Petri Sakari, Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.554387.

In order for any performance of a work by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) to reach a level of excellence, it must display equal measures of boreal iciness and dreamy northern vistas. It helps, I suppose, that a Finnish conductor, Petri Sakari, and an Icelandic orchestra play the music on the present Naxos disc.

The cold is probably in their bones, and it's especially evident in the opening movement of the Sixth Symphony, the star of the set. There is an air of chill in the soft winds, leading to a gentle but coolly illuminated second movement, a fairly active scherzo, and a strong finale, wanting only in a touch of mystery.

Petri Sakari
The Seventh Symphony is somewhat different from the Sixth. It is quite brief at little over twenty minutes in length, and while demonstrating the traditional four-movement layout, we usually hear it as a single, uninterrupted unit. Still, the Seventh appears more massive and more substantial than the Sixth, a kind of synthesis, perhaps, of all that the composer had done before it. Sibelius seems to have condensed the essence of his bucolic wintry spirit into the work, and Maestro Sakari understands the importance of keeping the piece together and not letting it flake off into separate icy splinters. He maintains the work's cohesion and conveys its solemnity and triumph quite well.

Three of my comparison discs in these works were from Sir Colin Davis (RCA and Philips) and Sir John Barbirolli (EMI), the latter of whom has long been a favorite of mine. Unfortunately, making comparisons with well-established favorites may come out unfairly biased, so it's maybe no wonder I preferred them. Nevertheless, it is a measure of Sakari's skill that he more than holds his own with the other conductors, if never with quite the same characterful personality to his music-making.

Sound is another matter, and the Naxos engineers have served up a distinctive recording. It is a bit more rounded and more natural than the much older EMI recording, while not so transparent or robust as the RCA (or even the Philips). Still, this 2000 Naxos release has good range, good breadth, and good imaging, although I felt the cellos and first violins sounded a bit too close.

Overall, for its modest price, to get both the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies and a fascinating filler in Sibelius's incidental music to Shakespeare's The Tempest seems a pretty good deal.


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

Dec 11, 2016

Schulhoff: Complete Music for Violin and Piano (CD review)

Bruno Monteiro, violin; Joao Paulo Santos, piano. Brilliant Classics 95324.

First, who is Erwin Schulhoff? According to Wikipedia, "Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942) was a Czech composer and pianist. He was one of the figures in the generation of European musicians whose successful careers were prematurely terminated by the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany and whose works have been rarely noted or performed. Antonín Dvorak encouraged Schulhoff's earliest musical studies, which began at the Prague Conservatory when he was ten years old. He studied composition and piano there and later in Vienna, Leipzig, and Cologne, where his teachers included Claude Debussy, Max Reger, Fritz Steinbach, and Willi Thern.

"He won the Mendelssohn Prize twice, for piano in 1913 and for composition in 1918. He served on the Russian front in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I. He was wounded and was in an Italian prisoner-of-war camp when the war ended. He lived in Germany after the war until returning to Prague in 1923 where he joined the faculty of the conservatory in 1929. He was one of the first generation of classical composers to find inspiration in the rhythms of jazz music. Schulhoff also embraced the avant-garde influence of Dadaism in his performances and compositions after World War I. When organizing concerts of avant-garde music in 1919, he included this manifesto: 'Absolute art is revolution, it requires additional facets for development, leads to overthrow (coups) in order to open new paths...and is the most powerful in music....'" Unfortunately, because of his Jewish heritage, this fine musician and composer died in a Nazi concentration camp.

Second, who are Bruno Monteiro and Joao Paulo Santos? According to his biography, Portuguese violinist Bruno Monteiro is "heralded by the daily Publico as 'one of Portugal's premier violinists' and by the weekly Expresso as 'one of today's most renowned Portuguese musicians.' Bruno Monteiro is internationally recognized as a distinguished violinist of his generation. Fanfare describes him as having a 'burnished golden tone' and Strad states that his 'generous vibrato produces radiant colors.' Music Web International refers to interpretations that have a 'vitality and an imagination that are looking unequivocally to the future' and that reach an 'almost ideal balance between the expressive and the intellectual.' Gramophone praises his 'unfailing assurance and eloquence' and Strings Magazine summarises that he is 'a young chamber musician of extraordinary sensitivity.'"

Bruno Monteiro
Spanish pianist Joao Paulo Santos is a graduate of the Lisbon National Conservatory, and with a sponsorship from the Gulbenkian Foundation, he completed his piano studies in Paris with Aldo Ciccolini. For the past forty years he has worked with the Teatro Nacional de S. Carlos, the Lisbon Opera House, first as Chief Chorus Conductor and more recently as Director of Musical and Stage Studies. He has also distinguished himself as an opera conductor, concert pianist, and researcher of less-known and forgotten Portuguese composers.

In an earlier review of Monteiro and Santos performing the music of Portuguese composer Fernando Lopes-Graca, I said of them that they play "so affectionately, so enchantingly, I look forward to hearing them again." Now, I've gotten that chance, and I am no less impressed.

The program contains four works: one suite for violin and piano, two sonatas for violin and piano, and one sonata for solo violin. The thing you have to remember, though, is that Schulhoff began composing at about the time the modern era of music began, and while he is clearly avant-garde, innovative, and experimental for his day, he also has one foot firmly planted in the melodies and harmonies of the older Romantic generation. So his music is a kind of fascinating amalgam of the old and the new.

Anyway, Monteiro has arranged the order of the program in chronological order, starting with the five-movement suite, dating from 1911. It has a generally positive and happy outlook, with the violinist delighting in its almost-classical demeanor. Monteiro's tone is always clean, golden, and vibrant, qualities he maintains throughout the program. The interior minuet and waltz segments appear most adventurous, yet they never become objectionable in their eccentricities. The final movement ends the piece with something originally titled "Dance of the Little Devils," and it's charming in its impish delights, at least the way Monteiro and Santos play it.

The next three items are more overtly "modern," being somewhat less harmonious or melodic. The first sonata has more starts and stops to it, with more contrasting sections and a more emphatic rhythmic drive. Nevertheless, for all of its oddities it comes over with an appealingly pensive mood under the guidance of Monteiro and Santos.

In the solo violin work Monteiro not only gets to show off his more virtuosic talents, he gets to display his knowledge and feeling for the jazz idioms Schulhoff adopted. Finally, in the second sonata we hear a more dance-like feeling from the composer, probably from his embracing more of the native folk elements of his country. Don't expect Dvorak, but you get the idea. It begins briskly, energetically, followed by a highly expressive slow movement and returning in the final segments to some of the same themes with which the music started. Again, Monteiro and Santos make a splendid team, keeping the drama of the piece moving forward with a pulsating, scintillating enchantment.

Producer Bruno Monteiro and engineer and editor Jose Fortes recorded the album at Igreja da Cartuxa, Caxias, Portugal in April 2016. The church makes an excellent setting for the musicians, the sound taking on a touch of hall resonance without in any way affecting the overall transparency of the instruments. We get clarity and dynamic impact aplenty, plus a realistic separation of players, making the listening both pleasurable and lifelike.


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

Dec 7, 2016

Rimsky-Korsakov: The Maid of Pskov Suite (CD review)

Also, The Legend of the Invisible City Suite; Fairy Tale; Fantasia on Serbian Themes. Igor Golovchin, Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.553513.

The music for The Maid of Pskov is incidental to the play on which Rimsky-Korsakov based his troubled opera (1872). The suite, frankly, left me a little bored. Perhaps I was expecting Scheherazade or the Russian Easter Festival Overture. In any event, most of the five movements are Entr'actes, meant to set various scenes rather than elaborate upon them. Maestro Igor Golovchin and the Moscow Symphony players do the best they can with it, I'm sure, the orchestra sounding finely polished.

The second work, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, from 1903, is much more evocative and has an especially elaborate and fanciful finale that is, in fact, reminiscent of the composer's earlier Scheherazade. Here, however, Golovchin seems a little understated when more color might have helped.

Igor Golovchin
Probably the best piece on the disc, though, is Fairy Tale (1880), a brief, thirteen-minute tone poem for which Rimsky-Korsakov felt forced to suggest a few guidelines to listeners, suggestions like the sounds of the forest, the call of a mythical bird, a water nymph, and the famous witch, Baba Yaga. It holds up pretty well under Golovchin's still somewhat conservative approach.

The program concludes with another short work, the eight-minute Fantasia on Serbian Themes (1887), which again seems better focused and more impressionistic than the Maid music. My only concern in the performance was for conductor Igor Golovchin's rather measured, somewhat foursquare interpretations. I was hoping he would let loose with some real Russian zeal, at least in the closing moments of the piece, but it was not to be.

The sound the Naxos engineers provide for the Moscow Symphony is typically firm and solid for the company. It's a bit warm and soft and doesn't have much sparkle, but it does come across as rock steady, clean, and sturdy. Stereo spread appears quite wide, depth is moderate, dynamics are fine, and bass, particularly from a prominent bass drum, shows up firm and deep. No real complaints here.

With an ample seventy-two minutes of music, the Naxos label again provides one's money's worth in terms of material offered. And at the very least the little Fairy Tale is worth one's time.


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

Dec 4, 2016

Antal Dorati Conducts Albeniz, Kodaly & Prokofiev (CD review)

Antal Dorati, Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra. HDTT remastered.

If you're an audiophile, I don't need to tell you that a lot of folks have prized the mid 1950's to early 1960's recordings from RCA "Living Stereo" and Mercury "Living Presence" as collector's items. So it's always a pleasure to hear another of the latter recordings from this era remastered by HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers), this time with Antal Dorati and the Minneapolis Symphony from 1956-57 and the London Symphony from 1957.

First up are five of the twelve piano "impressions" from Iberia by Spanish composer and pianist Isaac Albeniz (1860–1909), orchestrated by E. Fernandez Arbos. Color and atmosphere fill the music, and those are things Hungarian-born conductor Dorati (1906-1988) did exceptionally well. This is important because Arbos's orchestration is lush and varied, and Dorati does it justice throughout all the sections.

Next is the Hary Janos Suite by Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly (1882–1967). Kodaly extracted the orchestral suite from his comic opera of the same name, which he prefaced saying, "Hary is a peasant, a veteran soldier who day after day sits at the tavern spinning yarns about his heroic exploits. The stories released by his imagination are an inextricable mixture of realism and naivety, of comic humour and pathos." The music begins with an orchestral "sneeze," and from there it gets even more picturesque as it goes along. Dorati gives the piece a fine combination of vigor and excitement, and the Minneapolis players provide him all the zip and polish the work needs.

Antal Dorati
The final item on the program is the six-movement concert suite from the comic opera The Love of Three Oranges by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953). If anything, this work is more outwardly exciting than the others, and again Dorati is up the challenge. What's more, the LSO play with all the zeal the music needs, so we get another triumph from the conductor and orchestra.

If I had to find any fault in the album (which I don't have to but will anyway, because, you know, it's what critics do), it's that the there are only three track points, one for each major item. I would have liked track points for each selection within each suite. Oh, well, a minor quibble.

Producer Wilma Cozart (Fine), editor Harold Lawrence, and engineer C. R. Fine recorded the Kodaly at the Northrop Memorial Auditorium, Minneapolis, Minnesota in November 1956; the Albeniz in April 1957; and the Prokofiev at Watford Town Hall, London, England in July 1957. HDTT transferred the recordings from Mercury two-track tapes.

The recordings from Minneapolis are as vivid as they can be. Highs seem a trifle hard and sharp at times, but, otherwise, the sound is as spectacular as a listener could want. I remember owning these recordings on vinyl many years ago, but I don't remember them sounding as good as they do here. The frequency and dynamic ranges are very wide, with strong impact all through the spectrum and as quick a transient response as you'll find. The midrange sounds beautifully balanced and transparent. The stereo spread is wide without being too close up. The London recording is similarly clear and dynamic, but it adds a touch more roundness and resonance from Watford Town Hall, making it even more lifelike. Really fine listening.

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

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa