O Magnum Mysterium (CD review)

Robert Shaw, Robert Shaw Festival Singers and the Robert Chamber Singers. Telarc CD-80531.

Around the time of this 2000 release, Telarc began repackaging quite a lot of their older material and reissuing it under a new name. In the case of O Magnum Mysterium, recorded by the late Robert Shaw (1916-1999) and his singers between 1989 and 1997, the first four items had never been released before. My only regret about this otherwise splendidly sung collection of items for a cappella voice is that it lasts a scant fifty-six minutes. I recall years ago Telarc promising never to produce a disc that didn't have at least an hour of music on it. Oh, well, what we do have is plenty good enough.

The dozen pieces on the program represent the spiritual side of a number of composers from various eras and various parts of the world. It begins with a few selections by Renaissance composers, Thomas Tallis's (1505-1585) "If You Love Me" and "A New Commandment" and Tomas Luis de Victoria's (1549-1611) "O Vos omnes" and the first of three settings for the title number "O Magnum Mysterium."

Robert Shaw
These and most of the rest of the works on the album are sung by Robert Shaw's Festival Singers, the group he organized after his stint as Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony ended and he could go back to what he appeared to love best, choral music. The Festival Singers are, of course, the reincarnation of his old Robert Shaw Chorale of the Fifties and Sixties. They do several twentieth-century pieces, Morten Lauridsen's setting of "O Magnum Mysterium," as well as Francis Poulenc's version, and Henryk Gorecki's "Totus Tuus." In between are excerpts from Rachmaninoff's "Vespers" and Schubert's "Der Entfernten," which, for male chorus, is especially exquisite. A smaller group, the Robert Shaw Chamber Singers, do three American hymns: "Wondrous Love," "Amazing Grace," and "Sometimes I Feel Like a Moanin' Dove."

As always and as expected, the singing is immaculate, every syllable clearly articulated and cleanly rendered. Best of all, Telarc's sound is lucid without being bright or hard, rich without being soft or fuzzy, spacious without being overly reverberant or cavernous. This is a most enjoyable recording with much to recommend it, not least of all Shaw's eloquent direction of unaccompanied voices on a sometimes large scale.


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

2018 New Year's Concert (CD review)

Riccardo Muti, Vienna Philharmonic. Sony Classical 88985477002 (2-disc set).

Usually, I dislike albums recorded live. Too much noise, too much applause and shuffling of feet and rustling of programs, too much coughing and wheezing, too much breathing, and often too closely recorded. But with these yearly New Year's Concerts from the Vienna Philharmonic, the whole business of its being live is, in fact, the point. This year, we have Riccardo Muti back to conduct.

As I'm sure you are aware, the Vienna Philharmonic began its custom of offering a New Year's Concert in 1941, and it hasn't changed much since. EMI, RCA, DG, Decca, and now Sony are among the companies that have recorded the VPO's concerts over the stereo years, and in keeping with the orchestra's tradition of having no permanent conductor, they invite a different maestro to perform the New Year's duties each year. These conductors in recent times have included some of the biggest names in the business, including Herbert von Karajan, Carlos Kleiber, Willi Boskovsky, Claudio Abbado, Lorin Maazel, Seiji Ozawa, Georges Pretre, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Mariss Jansons, Franz Welser-Most, Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, and Gustavo Dudamel. Riccardo Muti had already conducted several New Year's Concerts (1993, 1997, 2000, 2004), so he was no stranger to the 2018 affair.

Maybe Riccardo Muti doesn't quite reach the same incandescence as a Boskovsky or Karajan in his Strauss material. However, he's been doing it long enough that he knows what it's all about. Muti fills 2018's program with mainly numbers from the Strausses (Josef, Johann I, and Johann II), with only a couple of things outside the family from Franz von Suppe ("Boccaccio Overture") and Alfons Czibulka ("Stephanie Gavotte"), both numbers new to the concert series. Otherwise, the selections comprise the familiar ("Myrtle Blossoms Waltz," "Tales from the Vienna Woods," "Roses from the South," etc.) and the maybe not as familiar ("Viennese Frescoes," "Maria Waltz," "Letter to the Editor Polka," etc.). And, needless to say, the program concludes with "The Blue Danube Waltz" and the "Radetzky March," the latter complete with requisite audience participation. Here's the complete lineup of tunes:

Disc 1:
  1. The Gypsy Baron March
  2. Viennese Frescoes Waltz
  3. Bridal Parade Polka
  4. Light of Heart Polka
  5. Maria Waltz
  6. Wilhelm Tell Galopp
  7. Boccaccio Overture
  8. Myrtle Blossoms Waltz
  9. Stephanie-Gavotte

Disc 2:
  1. Magic Bullets Polka
  2. Tales from the Vienna Woods
  3. Festival March
  4. Town and Country Polka
  5. A Masked Ball Quadrille
  6. Roses from the South Waltz
  7. Letter to the Editor Polka
  8. Thunder and Lightning Polka
  9. New Year's Address
10. The Blue Danube Waltz
11. Radetzky March

Riccardo Muti
Of course, there were high points for me: "Viennese Frescoes" sounds lovely after an extended introduction; the "Bridal Parade" Polka is bouncy without being brash or showy; Muti shows his flair for Viennese rhythms in the "Maria Waltz"; the "Myrtle Blossoms Waltz" is sweet and light; an always welcome "Tales from the Vienna Woods," is done up most delicately; and then there's a fragrant "Roses from the South Waltz"; a particularly well-nuanced "Blue Danube Waltz"; and a rousing close with the required "Radetzky March."

The only minor shortcoming I could find was the lack of track timings for any of the selections. It's nice to know how long things are, you know? That and the fact that I wish there were fewer polkas and marches and more waltzes are merely personal biases of mine.

Recording Producer Friedemann Engelbrecht and Balance Engineers Tobias Lehmann and Rene Moller recorded the music live for Teldex Studio Berlin at the Goldener Saal des Wiener Musikvereins on January 1, 2018. The same team has been doing the recording of New Year's concerts for the past half dozen or more years, so we know pretty much what to expect.

Although they recorded the music live, the sound isn't so close-up as to be disturbing, nor is it too very bright or forward. As before, it conveys a pleasant, ambient glow. It also displays a fairly strong dynamic range and impact, noticeable right from the outset. The sound is not the ultimate in audiophile realism, of course, and there's not a lot of depth or air to it, but it is smooth and comfortable. Expect as always, however, a good deal of applause after each number. That, people tell me, is part of the fun.


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

Mahler: Symphony No. 4 (CD review)

Also, Berg: 7 Early Songs. Barbara Bonney, soprano; Riccardo Chailly, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Decca 289 466 720-2.

Do I need to remind you that the Fourth Symphony remains one of Mahler's most popular pieces, maybe the most popular? The first clue is that a new performance of it seems to appear almost every month. This one from Decca, produced in September 1999, is notable in two regards: It is exceptionally well recorded, and the Berg songs make a welcome coupling.

The booklet note justifies Riccardo Chailly's reading by saying it stays closer to Mahler's final intentions than other recordings. That may be, but the realization doesn't always satisfy. Chailly makes the first movement, which should be a sweet introduction to life's journey to the Hereafter, sound ominous and menacing, perhaps in anticipation of a scarier-than-usual "Friend Death" that appears later. Unfortunately, it robs the opening piece of much of its innocence. However, the Scherzo, which should definitely be creepy, "shiveringly spooky" in Mahler's own words, under Chailly sounds rather homespun.

Riccardo Chailly
Chailly keeps the long, slow third movement well in check, gliding gracefully, if somewhat statically, into the Finale. Barbara Bonney does the concluding "Wunderhorn" song in appropriately childlike fashion, but here, too, one misses the lofty magic expected. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra play as gloriously as ever, though, which should also count for something.

It's hard to do any real damage to a piece of music as lovely as this, but for me there are more evocative accounts under George Szell (HDTT or Sony), Bernard Haitink (Philips), Colin Davis (RCA), Otto Klemperer (EMI), Franz Welser-Most (EMI), Lorin Maazel (Sony), Claudio Abbado (DG), and others.

Nothing wrong with the sound Decca obtained for Chailly, however. The overall tone is well balanced, and there is a superbly realistic orchestral depth. Some highlighting of solo instruments mars the otherwise impeccable imaging. One can find almost no glossiness or hardness anywhere, which is a real plus. Among available discs, Chailly's is among the best sounding. It's just the interpretation you'll have to get used to.


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

Elgar: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Also, Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1. Rachel Barton Pine, violin; Andrew Litton, BBC Symphony Orchestra. Avie AV2375.

American violinist Rachel Barton Pine (b. 1974) began her recording career with the Dorian and Cedille labels in the mid 1990's, which is about where I first encountered her. She continued mostly with Cedille, with an occasional detour to Hannsler and Warner Classics before going to Avie Records in the last few years. Whatever the record company, she has continued to produce well poised and sweetly polished performances, with some of the best sound afforded a violinist. The present disc is no exception.

English composer Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) was forever Elgar. His style is unmistakable, whether in his symphonies, his concertos, or his marches. The Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61 is no exception, its opening notes sounding like much else of Elgar's in its aristocratic, ceremonial manner. But then it moves into a slightly melancholy subject that more suits Ms. Barton Pine's music making, a "rich" and "soulful" mood as she describes it. Certainly, rich and soulful are apt descriptors of Ms. Barton Pine's style.

Rachel Barton Pine
More important, I think, is that Barton Pine does little to take our attention away from the music itself. She is not an idiosyncratic performer in any way, and her interpretation, while exceptionally expressive, is not entirely out of the mainstream. What's more, Andrew Litton and the BBC Symphony accompany the soloist as though they had done this sort of thing before. I jest, of course, as they probably have done this sort of thing a hundred times. Incidentally, Sir Neville Marriner was to accompany her but passed away shortly before the time of the recording. In a booklet note, Ms. Barton Pine gives her thanks to him for helping her prepare for and better understand the work.

Anyway, there is much to enjoy in Ms. Barton Pine's recording, including the sensitive way she negotiates the ins and outs, the cogency and mournfulness of the first movement (or as some listeners have suggested, the masculine-feminine dialogue); the ethereal qualities of the central Andante; and the tumultuous poetry of the final movement. Hers is a strong, virtuosic account of a sometimes underrated piece of music. Given the quality of the performance and the sound, this may be the best recording of the Elgar in the catalogue.

Ms. Barton Pine pairs the Elgar with the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 by Max Bruch (1838-1920). This familiar concerto is a work that in many ways imitates, or at least pays tribute, to Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. Bruch premiered a much revised version in 1867, and it soon became a staple of the violin repertoire. Bruch's lush, lofty, lilting melodies seem tailor-made for Ms. Barton Pine's elegantly honed technique so the whole thing comes off as movingly as anybody's.

Producer Andrew Keener and engineer Robert Winter recorded the music at BBC Maida Vale Studio No. 1, Delaware Road, London in January 2017. The sound is full and wide ranging, with the violin well centered, if a trifle close. The depth of image is fine, too, as are the frequency extremes and the dynamic impact. Moreover, there's a pleasant warmth attending the music, along with a touch of hall resonance and an overriding smoothness that compliment Ms. Barton Pine's playing.


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

R. Strauss: Also sprach Zarathushtra (CD review)

Also, Rosenkavalier Suite; Don Juan. Lorin Maazel, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. RCA 09026-68225-2RE.

This disc is one of four RCA releases of orchestral works by German composer and conductor Richard Strauss (1864-1949) conducted by the late Lorin Maazel. RCA recorded the discs between 1995 and 1998, and they have made them available as separate CD's or in a boxed set. Maazel presents the pieces in his usual straightforward manner, always letting the music speak for itself. In this regard he is in the company of Bernard Haitink and Rudolf Kempe (as opposed to Herbert von Karajan and Georg Solti, who impart more of their own personality to the interpretations). However, being in the company of someone is not to say they are equals. Haitink and Kempe seem to me more magisterial, more authoritative, more commanding. What's more, as fine as the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra plays, they cannot quite match the glorious richness of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, or the Staatskapelle Dresden.

Anyway, I found the accompanying Rosenkavalier Suite most attractive of all and the Don Juan tone poem adequate, if slightly underpowered. Maazel's Zarathushtra, though, seemed a little wanting in animation. It appears to me that as Strauss was one of the last of the great Romantics, his works ought to be played with a bit more fervor. Still, if more foursquare playing is your bent, Maazel is your man.

Lorin Maazel
RCA recorded the sound at Herkulessaal Der Münchner Residenz, Munich, Germany in February 1995. They did so in Dolby Pro Logic, and the best one can say for it is that it doesn't interfere much with regular two-channel stereo playback. I did find my ears unaccountably plugging up on occasion, but I cannot attest to its being a result of anything in the playback.

By and large, the sound is wide and full, somewhat congested in loudest passages and spotlighted like mad. Instruments will suddenly loom up out of nowhere, which makes for a striking effect but is not too realistic. I suspect that as more and more people buy surround-sound systems, which is obviously the direction the industry has been heading for quite some time, we will see more and more recordings made expressly for the medium. Of course, most people are buying surround sound to enhance their movie-watching experience, not necessarily to listen to music. As a number of readers indicated to me some years ago, not many of them sit down in the sweet spot to listen only to music for longer than a few minutes. So I'm not sure what effect all of this will have on the future of audiophile recordings.

For those of us who still treasure good, old-fashioned two-channel stereo, however, there is more reason than ever to appreciate the bargain and mid-price reissues that most companies continue to produce. In the matter of Richard Strauss, for instance, one can find the composer's complete orchestral music available on three sets of discs from Rudoph Kempe (EMI), and in bits and pieces on discs from Fritz Reiner (RCA) and Bernard Haitink (Philips), none of which will set you back too many coins.


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

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 "Pathetique" (CD review)

David Bernard, Park Avenue Chamber Symphony. Recursive Classics RC2059912.

The last time I listened to Maestro David Bernard and his merry band of semiprofessional musicians, the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, they were engaged in the unlikely task of playing the Beethoven Ninth Symphony. They did a very good with it, too, if a little underpowered in the orchestral department, and I might say the same for this latest venture, their recording of the Tchaikovsky Sixth.

Anyway, you probably know about the Park Avenue ensemble. It includes mainly players who do other things for a living (like hedge-fund managers, philanthropists, CEO's, UN officials, and so on). They're not exactly amateurs, but they're not full-time, paid musicians, either. Fortunately, their playing dispels any lingering skepticism about the quality of their work; everyone involved with the orchestra deserves praise. Nor is the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony a particularly small group. It's about the size of a full symphony orchestra.

So, you probably also know that Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) wrote his Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 "Pathetique" in the last year of his life, and it was his final composition before he died. The ensuing century brought it growing fame, and today one can hardly doubt its value as one of the late-Romantic period's most-popular works. The title "Pathetique" in Russian means "passionate" or "emotional," which is how most conductors play it--big, bold, and red-blooded. But Maestro Bernard has a different agenda in mind. The folks at Recursive Classics call it a "fresh look," and here's how Maestro Bernard describes it:

"The Pathetique's mythology can be a strong influence to see each and every phrase as an opportunity to express mournful longing. I don't find this especially helpful to the work, as repetitive rubato and excessively slow tempi dilute its intense narrative. And when considering the work as a whole, the 'suicide note' theory that is used as the basis for this thinking is somewhat questionable. The Pathetique's immense scale and relentless passion demands a life force in the composer that simply could not exist inside a person resigned to take his own life."

David Bernard
Instead, say Recursive Classics, "Bernard sees the Pathetique as Tchaikovsky's reimagining of his earlier works in a new-found artistic voice." Bernard says, "You hear Tchaikovsky reimagining his life's work through a more mature and effective lens." Therefore, is Bernard's vision of the symphony so different from all that have come before? Not really, but it's an interesting and largely effective vision, nonetheless.

The work begins with a fairly lengthy introduction, building in agitated fashion before culminating in the music's famous central theme. Maestro Bernard tells us the movement's narrative shape is "unmistakably linked to his 'Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.'" So Bernard's reading is one more of beauty and elegance than purely of tragedy, pathos, or suffering. Fair enough, although I didn't hear the grand sweep this music usually evokes. It's more subdued than that, perhaps odd given that I am more used to Bernard being so very energetic. Of course, he becomes more animated in the middle theme, although even here his relatively smaller forces don't make as much of an impact as most bigger ensembles do.

The second movement is another of the composer's famous waltzes, which Bernard says should glide "the listener from beginning to end." Certainly, the conductor accomplishes this with ease, the music flowing sweetly and gently along, if at a quicker pace than we sometimes hear.

The third movement is a zippy scherzo. And under Bernard's leadership, zip it does. Bernard says it "requires an unceasing energy that drives relentlessly to an ending that is as inevitable as it is exciting." Well, yeah. Still, I don't see that Bernard accomplishes this end any better than many other conductors. So we'll give him kudos for being at least as good as everyone else, and the last few minutes of the movement are as thrilling as they come.

The symphony ends in a mournful Finale. However, says Bernard again, this is no "suicide note." It's Tchaikovsky coming to terms with his own mortality. I'm not sure what that means, but this movement is certainly the high point of Maestro Bernard's realization of things. Here, the music appears neither tragic nor sorrowful, just longing, wistful, meditative. Although some listeners may miss more of the composer's power and emotion, the conductor makes up for it in feelings of contemplation and reflection.

The orchestras responds to Maestro Bernard's guidance admirably, and one would never know these players weren't all professional, full-time musicians. The ensemble's performance is commendably precise, the contrasts in softer and louder passages especially telling in their nuanced delivery. Still, is there any pressing need for a new Sixth Symphony in one's library? Personal taste, of course, and it is fun hearing the music done up in such clear, clean sound and in such a clean, clear interpretation. As always, try to listen before buying.

Audio engineers Joseph Patrych and Antonio Oliart recorded the symphony at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, New York City, in May 2017. As we might expect from an ensemble a bit smaller than a full symphony orchestra, the sound is fairly transparent, with good depth of field and a realistic stereo spread. Dynamic impact is strong, frequency response wide, and instrument separation lifelike. I liked the sound a lot.


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

Honegger: Pacific 231 (CD review)

Also, Symphony No. 2; Mouvement Symphonique Nos. 2 and 3; et al. David Zinman, Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich. Decca 455 352-2.

This disc brings together some of the best-known orchestral works of Swiss composer Arthur Honegger (1892–1955), and conductor David Zinman and the Decca Record Company provide them with some of the best interpretations and best sound the music has ever enjoyed. Honegger was one of those modernists of the first half of the twentieth century who nonetheless clung to the last vestiges of Romanticism. We get visions both of emotional power and impressionism.

His three famous Mouvements symphonique are here, with its most-popular movement, "Pacific 231." Honegger openly admitted to naming it after a particular type of locomotive, yet he denied it was a point-for-point musical rendering of the big engine, insisting instead that it was "...the impression of a mathematical acceleration of rhythm, while the movement itself slowed." Be that as it may, it has since taken on a life of its own as a highly programmatic tone poem. Zinman gets it going enthusiastically.

David Zinman
The Second Mouvement symphonique is subtitled "Rugby" and provides an image of the cadences and colors of a rugby match. The Third Mouvement symphonique has no subtitle at all and, consequently, said Honegger, was overlooked by the public and critics. Apparently, people tend to pay more attention to works with colorful or descriptive titles ("Eroica," "Military," "Surprise," "Jupiter," "Resurrection") than those without. Whatever, Zinman again gives the music plenty of life and color.

In addition to the Mouvements, there are Honegger's ambitious Symphony No. 2, his Monopartia, and his lovely and atmospheric little Pastorale d'ete. As always, Zinman approaches them with respectful energy, much in the way he approached his performances of the Beethoven symphonies on Arte Nova a few years earlier.

Decca's sound, recorded in 1996 at Zurich's Tonhalle, Switzerland is a tad bright, hard, and edgy at the top end, but it's hardly anything to complain about and is otherwise nicely detailed, with a realistic sense of bloom and dimension. It's no doubt the best sound I've found in Honegger, even though I haven't heard everything. I'm sure listeners will not be displeased by what they hear.

In all, it's a fine Honegger recording, challenging those by Karajan, Dutoit, Ansermet, and others.


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

Anne Akiko Meyers: Fantasia (CD review)

Music of Rautavaara, Szymanowski, and Ravel. Anne Akiko Meyers, violin; Kristjan Jarvi, Philharmonia Orchestra. Avie Records 2385.

Ever since I first heard violinist Anne Akiko Meyers some twenty years ago (as she was a child prodigy, she was already an established musician by that time), I sensed something special. Her playing radiated a sweet, gentle quality that was extremely calming and reassuring. With this album, Fantasia, she performs music that seems tailor-made for her, in the case of Rautavaara work, literally. And Maestro Kristjan Jarvi and London's Philharmonia Orchestra accompany her with the utmost in ravishing, sympathetic support. The album makes a winning combination.

The first selection on the program is called Fantasia, written on a commission from Ms. Meyers by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016). It was Rautavaara's last completed score, done the year before his death. As this was the music's first recording and he wrote it for Ms. Meyers, we will have to accept it as authoritative; not that I think anyone could do any better with it. It's a sweet, tuneful, Romantically inflected work, reminiscent to me of Ralph Vaughan Williams's "The Lark Ascending." As usual, Ms. Meyers plays with exactly the right touch and nuance to do justice to the score's enchanting beauty.

The second selection is the Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35 by Polish composer and pianist Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937). He wrote it in 1916, right at the start of the modern era of classical music, and it shows, eschewing some but not all of the Romantic overtones of the concertos coming before it and displaying a good deal of French impressionism as well. What's more, and despite its sometimes going against the grain of the age, it remains one of Szymanowski's most-popular pieces.

Anne Akiko Meyers
The opening passage of the concerto reflects its delicacy, conjuring up poetic images of the line that inspired it: "fireflies kiss the wild rose." It's a lovely piece of music, with evidence of Debussy and Ravel, making it the perfect vehicle to display Ms. Meyers's intricate and expressive technique. I also hear hints of the exoticism of Rimsky-Korsakov in the second and third movements, too, and the charming lilt and dance of Mendelssohn. To say Ms. Meyers does the music justice is an understatement.

The final piece on the program is probably the most well known: "Tzigane" by French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), a work Ravel premiered in 1924. Like Rautavaara's Fantasia, "Tzigane" is a brief, rhapsodic piece, although, as "Tzigane" means "gypsy," the latter has a more gypsy-like character to it. Ms. Meyers captures the mood of the piece, although she doesn't impress with it quite as much as she does in the preceding works, perhaps because the Ravel music is more commonly recorded. Repetition kind of dulls one's appreciation for a new rendering; however, rest assured that Ms. Meyers does it as well as anyone. Ravel, after all, meant the score as a virtuosic showpiece, and Ms. Meyers plays it in her own sensitively virtuosic style.

Producer Anne Akiko Meyers and engineer Silas Brown recorded the music at London Air Studios in May 2016. The sound is most realistic, especially in the placement of the violin just slightly in front of the orchestra but not in our face. This soloist-orchestral integration is further enhanced by the mildly pleasant ambience of the studio setting, which just slightly reflects some reverberant bloom. The frequency response is neutral, the dynamics more than adequate for the occasion, and the instrumental detailing about what one would expect to hear from a tenth-row center seat in a real concert hall. It's all quite pleasant.


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

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