Jun 28, 2017

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (CD review)

Also, Schoenberg: A Survivor from Warsaw. Jane Marsh, Josephine Veasey, Placido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes; Chorus Pro Musica, New England Conservatory Chorus; Erich Leinsdorf, Boston Symphony Orchestra. RCA "High Performance" 09026-63682-2.

How can this be? The two recordings represented on the disc were made in 1969, yet not only had I never heard the particular recordings before, I had never even heard of their existence before. I mean, it's not as though they are obscure pieces of music done by obscure musicians. The Beethoven Ninth is one of the staples of the core repertoire, Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony have been leading names in the classical domain, and Domingo and Milnes are top singers in their field. In fact, RCA thought so much of the recordings they included them in this "High Performance" remastering series. Had I been asleep at the wheel all these years?

Anyway, the program starts with Schoenberg's A Survivor from Warsaw, a brief orchestral work with narration by Sherrill Milnes. It is a grim but inspirational comment on the subject of World War II death camps. A survivor tells the story of a group of Jews who just as the Nazis were about to deport them to camps burst into singing the prayer "Shema Yisroel." Schoenberg wrote it in 1947, having apparently heard the tale from an actual Warsaw survivor. It is severe, as it must be, but with great flourish and color, ending in a kind of spiritual exaltation. It makes an oddly appropriate introduction to the Ninth Symphony that follows.

Erich Leinsdorf
At a little under sixty-six minutes, Leinsdorf's Beethoven Ninth must be among the fastest and most exciting on record. Of the almost one dozen or so versions I had on hand (Schmidt-Isserstedt, Bohm, Solti, Jochum, Norrington, Karajan, Szell, Mackerras, Zinman, Wand, Karajan, etc.), only Norrington's period-instrument account was marginally quicker.

Leinsdorf's rendering is a star-studded performance where everything appears to fit together perfectly, the conductor leading his orchestra and the listener in disciplined, straightforward, military cadences that at times can actually stir the blood. Yet, at the same time, I couldn't help feeling that in the process of stimulating our passions, Maestro Leinsdorf had also drained some of the humanity out of the piece, that he had lessened the poetic lyricism to a larger degree than I would have liked.

I can still appreciate Leinsdorf's recording, to be sure, and it does make a pleasant contrast to the more solemn and ceremonial interpretations that have come down to us through the years. Still, it wouldn't be my first choice in this material by any means.

The sound is a bit top heavy and bottom shy, providing good detail at the expense of a natural concert-hall realism. Although there is not a lot of depth to the orchestra or chorus, there is plenty of left-to-right stereo spread and good dynamic shading. The merest touch of background noise reminds one of the recording date.

Altogether, this seems a reasonable choice for remastering in RCA's "High Performance" audiophile line, if not, as I've said an absolute first recommendation for a Beethoven Ninth.


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

Jun 25, 2017

Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 (SACD review)

Lance Friedel, London Symphony Orchestra. MSR Classics MS 1600.

I've said this before, but it bears repeating: listening to a Bruckner symphony can take patience. A lot of this has to do with the fact that Austrian organist and composer Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) wrote long, often massive symphonies. His musical output came in the middle of the nineteenth century, a little after Beethoven's time and overlapping early Mahler. We see Bruckner building on the longer works of Beethoven, especially the Ninth Symphony, and the more epic proportions of Wagner. Later, we would see Mahler adopting some of Bruckner's lengthier concepts.

And there's another part of the equation: Beyond hewing to the conventional four-movement structures of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Bruckner ventured into new harmonic, even dissonant styles. There are times when the listener must sit and wait almost in vain for a major thematic element to present itself, and then wait even longer for Bruckner to develop it. Nevertheless, when performed by the right people, Bruckner's music can be quite satisfying, reaching heights of spiritual ecstasy seldom attempted by other composers. Among the conductors who have brought me a personal measure of joy with their Bruckner recordings are Eugen Jochum, Otto Klemperer, Herbert von Karajan, Karl Bohm, Bruno Walter, Gunter Wand, Herbert Blomstedt, Bernard Haitink, and Sir Roger Norrington, among others.

Enter Lance Friedel. The first and only other time I had heard a recording by Maestro Friedel was on an album entitled Great Comedy Overtures, which I quite liked. While Friedel might not have been facing such demanding material in the overtures as he is on the present disc, he invested a good deal of enthusiasm in the project and offered up a frothy collection of lightweight tunes.

Here, Maestro Friedel tackles the formidable Symphony No. 5, which Bruckner wrote between 1875 and 1876, but which he never heard performed in his lifetime by an orchestra. (A non-authenticated version premiered in 1894, but Bruckner was too ill to attend.) The work didn't even get a complete commercial recording until 1937, when Karl Bohm did it with the Dresden Staatskapelle. All of this may seem surprising when you consider that the Fifth followed upon the success of his Fourth Symphony, but it's possible the composer never felt satisfied with the Fifth, leaving it uncompleted at his death. Various musical scholars edited it later, with Maestro Friedel using the version by Leopold Nowak from 1951. As time went on, people came to know the piece as the "Tragic," "Church of Faith," or the "Pizzicato" symphony.

Lance Friedel
Anyway, the work begins with a very slow, very soft introduction, so soft that on the present recording you may wonder when it's ever going to begin. But the slow pizzicato strings soon give way to an abrupt eruption fortissimo and then on through a series of harmonious passages to a heady Allegro, all of which Friedel handles smoothly, gracefully, and without undue fuss. In fact, this is among the more-lyrical interpretations you'll find, even though Friedel retains the music's stately, august outlines and ends the segment most nobly. What's more, the London Symphony is up to its usual high standards, even if they don't quite sound as lush or rich as the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan.

Next, we have an Adagio: Sehr langsam, or a slow movement Bruckner expects the performers to take "very slowly," indeed. Interestingly, Bruckner uses the same basic themes for both the slow movement and the third-movement Scherzo, as well as alternating themes throughout the movement, and the juxtapositions make a fascinating experience, particularly as Friedel manages them. The following Scherzo itself moves along at a steadily contrasting pace under his direction, the tempos continually changing but effortlessly so. I have no doubt this section of the symphony must have inspired something in Mahler.

Like the first movement, Bruckner's finale begins slowly and softly, again with pizzicato strings soon permitting a moderate Allegro to develop. This has always been my favorite part of the symphony, and Maestro Friedel does it justice. While it dances and sparkles under Friedel's guidance on the one hand, it retains its regal grandeur throughout.

Even though the Fifth is a long symphony (Bruckner's second longest), Friedel's brisk but pleasurable handling of things brings it in at a little over seventy-three minutes, one of the quickest I've heard. Yet it never sounds particularly rushed or hurried. Although it may not convey all the spacious majesty of Klemperer's interpretation; the burnished glow of Karajan's realization; the mystery and atmosphere of Walter's, Wand's, or Blomstedt's versions; or the clean, direct lines of Haitink's reading, there is a fine sense of urgency about Friedel's account, captured in cogent, insistent, well-controlled rhythms and dynamics. It is definitely a disc I'll be returning to from time to time and one well worth a Bruckner fan's consideration.

Producer Tim Handley and engineer Phil Rowlands recorded the album at All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London in January 2014. They engineered it for hybrid SACD/CD playback, so one can listen to it in two-channel stereo or multichannel using an SACD player or two-channel stereo using a regular CD player. I listened in the SACD 2-channel mode.

My only quibble with the sound is minor: it's that occasionally it can appear a touch hard or edgy in the upper midrange. That said, it's mostly exemplary, with good detail, just the right amount of lower midrange warm, a decent but not over-pronounced stereo spread, a sweet hall ambience, a fine depth of image, respectably strong impact, and a healthy degree of overall transparency. It's among the better-recorded Bruckner Fifths I've heard.


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

Jun 21, 2017

Mozart: The Four Horn Concerti (CD review)

Albert Linder, horn; Hans Swarowsky, Vienna State Opera Orchestra. Vanguard/Amadeus AMD 7012.

Can we really have too many recordings of Mozart's four horn concerti? Probably not, at least not when musicians play them so well as they do here. I must admit I fell in love with these sweet, leisurely renditions from Albert Linder the first time I heard them, which was some years after he recorded them in 1961 with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. Of course, nothing has yet to top Dennis Brain's performances from a little more than a half dozen years earlier, but Brain's recording is in monaural, and I can understand people today wanting only stereo. This one seems to me as good as any.

The agenda begins with No. 3, the most poetically lyrical of the lot. It is also the most profound and, in its way, perhaps the most mature. Certainly, it is the most complex. I suppose the album producer chose it to lead off the program because it demonstrates Linder's relaxed, conservative style better than the others. Not that Linder's pace sounds slow; it just sounds right. Even the closing Allegro, normally a robust hunting motif, sounds easygoing in Linder's hands. No. 4 follows, also in the restful style of an earlier age. These interpretations are in marked contrast to many more modern ones that go at the music with wildly unrestrained tempos.

Albert Linder
The program continues in reverse order with No. 2 second to last and No. 1 bringing up the rear. There is no particular reason why one needs to place the First Horn Concerto first; Mozart wrote the concertos several years apart and probably never expected orchestras to play them in sequence, if, indeed, anyone played them all together in the first place. Anyway, No. 1 is the simplest, most straightforward of the bunch, and in many ways the most charming. In spite of Linder's seemingly languid pace, it, too, comes off effortlessly. The entire enterprise has a most appealing attitude of repose about it that can draw one in whether one likes it or not.

The disc is in Vanguard's Amadeus line, meaning it was a favorite recording of its producer (and Vanguard co-founder), Seymour Solomon. The high-definition 24-bit transfer makes the audio appear much newer than it is, the orchestra sounding clean and fresh, if a little bright and hard, the horn sounding even more round and dulcet than usual by comparison. There is almost no background noise to intrude on the proceedings.

Overall, this is an issue that every Mozart fan might want to investigate.


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

Jun 18, 2017

R. Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra (CD review)

Also, Till Eulenspiegel. Herbert von Karajan, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. HDTT remastered.

No, you're not experiencing deja vu.

It was only a few weeks before writing this HDTT review of Herbert von Karajan's 1959  Zarathustra recording that I posted a review of Decca's own remastering of the classic. So, it was informative for me to compare the two versions: Decca's "Legends" release from 2000, supposedly using the original master tape, and the newer release from HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers), transferred from a 2-track 15-ips tape.

But first, a note about the recording, which is, indeed, a classic. German composer Richard Strauss wrote his lengthy tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra in 1896, inspired by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's novel. But it was probably director Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey that really made it famous more than anything else. Well, at least it made the Prelude famous, which Kubrick employed several times in the film. It gained instant recognition, and it was Karajan's '59 recording that Kubrick used. In fact, the tone poem became so famous thanks to Kubrick that a joke arose about how you can always tell an audiophile because he only plays the Zarathustra Prelude.

Anyway, the performance is pure Karajan: grand, imposing, sensual, romantic, luxuriant, with the playing of Vienna Philharmonic always full and rich. Of course, everyone has personal preferences, and of the conductor's three stereo versions of Zarathustra, the second (DG) seems to me more luminous than this earlier one, if not, as I say, better known. Anyway, this is the one most people probably know, so it's good enough reason to find it remastered again.

Incidentally, the MGM soundtrack from Kubrick's movie caused a bit of a stir about which recording the director actually used. As recounted on IMDb, the Internet Movie Database, here's the explanation the recording's producer, John Culshaw, gave to help clear up the controversy:

Herbert von Karajan
"The end music credits do not list a conductor and orchestra for Also Sprach Zarathustra. Stanley Kubrick wanted the Herbert von Karajan/Vienna Philharmonic version on English Decca for the film's soundtrack, but Decca executives did not want their recording 'cheapened' by association with the movie, and so gave permission on the condition that the conductor and orchestra were not named. After the movie's successful release, Decca tried to rectify its blunder by rereleasing the recording with an 'As Heard in 2001' flag printed on the album cover. In the meantime, MGM released the 'official soundtrack' LP with Karl Bohm's Berlin Philharmonic Also Sprach Zarathustra discreetly substituting for von Karajan's version."

John Culshaw and engineer James Brown made the Zarathustra recording in the Sofiensaal, Vienna. They framed the sound as carefully as always, Culshaw making the Karajan disc just after he had done the same for Georg Solti's Wagner Ring cycle. The producer brought the same meticulous expertise to the production as always, creating an expansive sonic picture that for quite a while remained an audiophile demo piece.

While I had always found the sound a bit hard in its vinyl and early CD forms, Decca's 2000 "Legends" remaster came off more comfortably than before. The sound was smoother and slightly warmer, with a little softer an image, yet one that contrasted more than ever with its discernibly rough, noisy background. I still did not find it entirely satisfactory in another way, too, because it seemed to lack the life and dynamism I remembered from the earlier vinyl and CD editions.

Now, the folks at HDTT have remastered it (2017), and we have something much closer to my recollection of the original LP. In the HDTT product we find most of my objections to the Decca remastering largely improved. The HDTT aural picture is not quite so smooth as Decca's, but it sounds wider, deeper, and more detailed, with even greater dynamic impact. What's more, it appears quieter, too. In short, if you prefer Karajan's 1959 version of the music to those by Reiner, Haitink, Mehta, Kempe, and others, this HDTT transfer is no doubt the best you'll find it on compact disc.

Decca included several couplings on their "Legends" disc, but HDTT include only Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks. Producer Erik Smith and engineer James Brown recorded it a year after Zarathustra with the same orchestra and location. Karajan and the VPO have fun with the merry prankster, and the sound is much the same as the recording of the year before: full, wide, dynamic, and detailed.

For further information on HDTT products, prices, discs, and downloads in a variety of formats, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.


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

Jun 14, 2017

Bax: Symphony No. 5 (CD review)

Also, "The Tale the Pine-Trees Knew." David Lloyd-Jones, Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Naxos 8.554509.

I used to have a favorite recording of the Bax Fifth Symphony in the old LP days, one by Raymond Leppard on Lyrita as I recall, long since gone, a casualty of the CD era. It's been some time since I last heard the work, and, frankly, I didn't remember much of it after thirty-odd years. But I knew after listening to David Lloyd-Jones's rendition on this modestly priced Naxos issue that I still like it, especially in its newer and more dramatic aural setting.

Arnold Bax (1883-1953) was a contemporary of Vaughan Williams, and the public considered both men natural successors to Edward Elgar as deans of twentieth-century British music. Bax took an early liking to the poetry of W.B. Yeats and Celtic mythology, and much of Bax's music reflects the imagery and atmosphere of Celtic legend. However, his Fifth Symphony, often considered the best (and, surely, the most popular) of the seven symphonies he completed, is a little different in that he said his biggest influence was the Nordic moods of Sibelius. Bax premiered the Fifth in 1934 under the baton of one of Sibelius's champions, Sir Thomas Beecham, but David Lloyd-Jones does an admirably fine job bringing out the music's color as well.

David Lloyd-Jones
Sibelius or no, I continue to hear more of the craggy ruggedness and brooding echoes of Tintagel and the coast of Cornwall in the piece than any specific Norse themes. Bax wrote the symphony in three movements rather than four, and none of the movements is particularly poetic or lyrical. The work starts on a typically mysterious note--a soft, pulsing beat that builds into shattering waves and then walls of sound. The whole work has a power and scope that remind one of the aptly chosen cover picture of the Scottish highlands. Or the Cornish coast. Fanfares and glimmering violins continue the second movement, which turns more solemn as it goes along. The finale moves along with a strong forward impulse and ends in a grand burst of orchestral color. It's all very dramatic and intense under Lloyd-Jones's direction and a workout for one's audio system.

Coupled with the Fifth is one of Bax's many tone poems, a sixteen-minute composition with the inconvenient title, "The Tale the Pine-Trees Knew." Inconvenient because it tends to make the piece seem like a children's story, which it most pointedly is not. It is, in fact, a miniature of the Fifth Symphony, with the same kind of craggy rhythms, rugged harmonies, and moody reflections.

Done up as sympathetically as it is by Maestro Lloyd-Jones, whose Scottish forces must have this music in their blood, the entire album is hard to resist. Then there's Naxos's sound, which is equally big and dramatic, with plenty of weight, and you get more than a measure of your money's worth. If you like the music of Bax, this disc is well worth considering.


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

Jun 11, 2017

Mozart in Havana (CD review)

Piano Concertos Nos. 21 & 23. Simone Dinnerstein, piano; Jose Antonio Mendez Padron, Havana Lyceum Orchestra. Sony Classical 88985382442.

There are probably any number of reasons American classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein chose to record this album, Mozart in Havana. Certainly, she has a deep and abiding love of Mozart and probably welcomed any opportunity to record the man's music. In addition, with the thawing of political relations between the U.S. and Cuba, she no doubt saw the album as a chance to help the political situation regardless of whether Cuba remained a Communist state. Third, she had performed at a music festival in Havana a few years earlier and surely welcomed the occasion of playing there again. But maybe the main reason is that her first piano teacher, Solomon Mikowsky, was a Cuban Jew of Polish descent who had grown up in Havana and told her stories of Cuba's many musical influences there. I'm sure there are other reasons she made the record, but let it suffice that the album is here and we have it for our enjoyment.

Ms. Dinnerstein (b. 1972) you likely already know. She burst onto the musical scene in 2007 with a well-received account of Bach's Goldberg Variations and has been going strong touring and recording ever since. Accompanying Ms. Dinnerstein on the present disc is conductor Jose Antonio Mendez Padron, the musical director of the Havana Lyceum Orchestra. Padron founded the ensemble in 2009, as the booklet note explains, "in collaboration with the Mozart Lyceum of Havana, "an institution co-sponsored by the Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation in Austria. It brings together students, recent graduates and professors from the University of the Arts, the National School of Music and the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory." Moreover, "the orchestra has quickly established itself as a central element of Cuba's musical life."

Simone Dinnerstein
The two Mozart concertos Ms. Dinnerstein chose to perform on the program are among the composer's most famous. He wrote the Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467 in 1785, and the 1967 Swedish film Elvira Madigan probably did as much as anything to popularize it, making the second-movement Andante familiar to almost everyone. Ms. Dinnerstein plays the piece with a refined grace, yet with a considerable amount of verve and vitality, making everything sound just right, especially in the opening movement. If the second movement sounds a little quicker yet a little dreamier than usual, too, well, that's part of the pianist's style as well. She makes the music her own without distorting it in any way, and Maestro Padron and his Havana Lyceum Orchestra accompany her with a smooth, flowing elegance.

Mozart completed the Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488 in 1786. It is slightly more operatic in tone than No. 21, possibly because Mozart wrote it around the same time as The Marriage of Figaro. In any case, it has more surprises in it than does No. 21 yet remains as melodic as anything the man conceived. Although Ms. Dinnerstein adds her own dramatic touches, she remains above all sensitive and responsive in the music. The result is an energetic realization of the score, with a haunting and intriguing Adagio, followed by a joyful finale.

These are lovely interpretations that should displease no one. More important, perhaps, they should absolutely delight those fans who already appreciate Ms. Dinnerstein's music making.

Adam Abeshouse produced, engineered, mixed, and mastered the album, recording it at Oratorio San Filipe Neri, Havana, Cuba in June 2016. The first thing one notices about the sound is the hall ambience, with plenty of bloom around the instruments and a fair amount of resonance. However, it is not obtrusive but rather flattering to the music. The orchestra is modestly distant, the soloist perhaps a shade too close, the piano spreading out a little too much in from the other players. Detail and definition are on the soft side, while sounding natural and comfortable. Dynamics are also quite wide, providing an overall realistic listening experience.


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

Jun 7, 2017

Mozart: Serenata notturna (CD review)

Also, Notturno in D major; Overture to Lucio Silla; Four interludes from Thamos; Symphony No. 32; Six German Dances. Peter Maag, London Symphony Orchestra. Decca Legends 289 466 500-2.

Tighten your belts because this one will charm your pants off.

Decca Legends give us a Mozart collection from 1959 to delight any music fan. The disc starts with the Notturno in D major for four orchestras, the effects of the four small groups showing up nicely in stereo. The first movement is especially appealing with the various sections of instruments presenting a convincing echo effect. However, the Serenata notturna in D major that follows is the highlight of the disc. It is at once elegant and refined, joyous and frothy.

Peter Maag bubbles over with the spirit of Sir Thomas Beecham at his best. We can almost see the boyish scamp Mozart gleefully leading the ensemble, and the London Symphony respond to him splendidly.

Peter Maag
Following the two nocturnes, which in Mozart's day were light works intended for performance in the evening, the Overture to Lucio Sill and the four Interludes from Thamos, King of Egypt, are quite a change of pace, much heavier and more intense. The Symphony No. 32 is one of Mozart's shortest symphonies, maybe the shortest at little more than ten minutes. It comprises a single, three-part movement, much more like an overture than a true symphony. The album concludes with six German Dances, all of them festive, exuberant affairs, the most famous of which is the familiar "Sleigh Ride." Like all the pieces on the agenda, Maestro Maag performed the dances sweetly and exquisitely.

Decca recorded the first items in Walthamstow Assembly Hall, and they have a smooth, mellow sound, with a flattering ambiance. They recorded the last two items, the Symphony and German Dances, in Kingsway Hall, and these items offer a sharper, more detailed image. I would have liked a combination of the best elements of both acoustic styles, but they make an attractively contrasting pair. This is especially the case as Decca remastered them in their 96Hz/24-bit technology, and there is minimal background noise throughout the program.

One final note: the Decca engineers manage to squeeze an amazing eighty minutes and forty-eight seconds of stereo music onto the CD, one of the longest I have ever reviewed. At mid-price (or used), one cannot argue with the disc's value.


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

Jun 4, 2017

Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 53, 64 & 96 (SACD review)

Carlos Kalmar, the Oregon Symphony. Pentatone PTC 5186 612.

First, the good news: The album provides three Haydn symphonies, one of them fairly well known and two lesser known; and the Oregon Symphony under the direction of its longtime Music Director, Carlos Kalmar perform them competently and professionally.

Now, the bad news. Pentatone chose to record the album live, albeit, thankfully, without applause.

Interestingly, the Oregon Symphony, one of the oldest ensembles in the United States, performed a Haydn symphony on their very first program in 1896. So, one could say they have Haydn in their blood. Certainly, they execute the present three symphonies with polish and poise. If you are a fan of Haydn, a fan of Carlos Kalmar and the Oregon Symphony, a fan of SACD recordings, or a fan in need of the particular works offered on the disc, you could do worse.

With 106 symphonies to his credit, Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) became known as the "Father of the Symphony." Here, we find three of those 106, two of them from his middle period and one from his later period. It's a good combination to show us his versatility.

Haydn wrote the Symphony No. 53 in D Major "The Imperial" in 1777, with at least four different versions of the final movement (only two of which Haydn probably wrote himself). The finale we hear by Kalmar is one reconstructed by Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins. The work was, in its day, among Haydn's most-popular and oft-performed symphonies, and one can see why. It projects a largely cheerful, if somewhat tempestuous feeling, and Maestro Kalmar and his forces provide a lively, lyrical, sunny performance.

The composer finished his Symphony No. 64 in A Major "Tempora Mutantur" by 1775, so it predates No. 53, but given the numbering system, who knows. Haydn gave it its nickname, "Times change," himself. The dating places both Nos. 53 and 64 at the end of the "Sturm and Drang" ("storm and drive," "storm and stress") period, so expect dramatic changes in temperament throughout. But it's the second-movement Largo that probably stands out for its sheer eccentricity. Yet Kalmar does not exaggerate any of the movement's oddities and keeps it moving at a gentle pace, alternating a light, sweet tone with a heavier, more serious one.

Carlos Kalmar
Haydn composed Symphony No. 96 in D Major "The Miracle" (1791) as a part of a set of symphonies he wrote during his first visit to London; thus, we think of it today as one his "London Symphonies." The work supposedly got its nickname when during its premiere a chandelier fell from the ceiling of the concert hall but hurt no one; however, while most of the story is undoubtedly true, it seems to have actually referred to a later symphony. Again, who knows. One can hear that No. 96 is a more complex, more mature work, and Maestro Kalmar continues to offer up a reasoned, expert interpretation in which one can hardly find fault.

The only question I would have with the album is exactly who might want or need it. I suggested in the beginning that fans of Haydn, Kalmar, the Oregon Symphony, or SACD recordings in general might enjoy the disc. But competition in Haydn is intense. Years ago Antal Dorati recorded all of the Haydn symphonies for Decca, and the company has made many of them available separately. What's more, for the sheer joy and delight of Haydn, it's still hard to beat Sir Thomas Beecham (EMI); for energy and fleetness, I enjoy Eugene Jochum (DG), although I believe he did mostly late Haydn; for ultimate grace and refinement, I like Otto Klemperer (EMI); and for a period-instrument approach, La Petite Bande (DHM) is hard to beat. Still and all, there continues room for one more, and Kalmar and his players provide good, solid, straightforward performances. For added pleasure, if you want your Haydn in multichannel, the Pentatone may be one of your few choices.

As with most Pentatone releases, the disc comes in an SACD jewel case, further enclosed in a light-cardboard slipcover. I wish the cover had something on it more elegant than a photo of the conductor, but I suppose we can't have everything.

Producers Job Maarse and Blanton Alspaugh, recording engineer John Newton, and mixing and mastering editor Mark Donahue made the album in 2013 and 2016 live at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, Oregon. They recorded and mixed it for hybrid SACD multichannel and two-channel playback via an SACD player and two-channel stereo via a regular CD player. I listened in the two-channel SACD mode.

There's no questioning the clarity and immediacy of the recording: It sounds close up and quite transparent. Some orchestral depth appears lost in the process, though. Nor is there much sense of the surrounding hall; that is, little ambiance. Nevertheless, multichannel playback may ameliorate this latter condition, I don't know. In any case, the sound is good enough: clear, clean, wide, and full ranging, with no hardness or undue brightness. It should satisfy even the most discerning listeners.

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 classicalcandor@gmail.com

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