Jun 27, 2018

Beethoven: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Also, Bernstein: Serenade. Hilary Hahn, violin; David Zinman, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Sony SK 60584.

The first question one must ask of any release of an oft-recorded work like the Beethoven Violin Concerto is why? What can a new performance, especially one from an artist as young as Ms. Hahn was at the time of the recording, say that hasn't already been said by seasoned performers like Heifetz, Perlman, Kremer, Szeryng, and the rest? Or, for the audiophile, what can Sony's sound do to improve upon the catalogue's previous recordings? The answers in the case of this album are because, a little, and not a lot. 

This isn't to say I disliked the disc. The Beethoven is sweet, and the companion piece, the  Serenade for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion by Leonard Bernstein, is charming. In fact, it is the Serenade that works best, which is surprising considering that Ms. Hahn apparently just recently learned it before recording it here in the late Nineties, while the Beethoven has long been a staple of her repertoire (well, not too long; she wasn't very old at the time).

Hilary Hahn
Anyway, about the Beethoven, Ms. Hahn takes a fairly tenderhearted approach to the Beethoven, caressing the work in poetic fashion while perhaps missing the bravura elements slightly when compared to several of her elders mentioned above. She is not nearly so incisive, so electrifying, as Heifetz (RCA), for example, nor so direct yet grandiose as Szerying (Philips). She is amply supported by David Zinman, the Baltimore Symphony, and the Sony engineers as waves of big, warm, dynamic, natural orchestral sound come pouring down around her. True, she is sometimes in danger of being washed away by the sound, but she manages to hold her own. One goes away from the Beethoven with a feeling that one has heard it anew--a kinder, gentler Beethoven than one may be used to, an interpretation that is more congenial than usual. 

Still, it is not a disc I would recommend to first-time buyers.  I would suggest one stick with the others I've mentioned, instead. On the other hand, if you really love the composer's work and are collecting different approaches to it, by all means you should go ahead. You won't be disappointed.

Now, about Sony's packaging: The fold-out booklet is about as easy to manage as a road map in the wind. It unfolds to about three feet long, drooping over one's arms as one tries to read it. Thanks, Sony. For those listeners interested in what Ms. Hahn looks like, Sony has also included eight separate photographs of her: on the front cover, the back cover, and within the booklet itself. There's everything here but a poster of the lady. Maybe next time.


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

Jun 24, 2018

Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra (SACD review)

Also, Kodaly: Concerto for Orchestra. Jakub Hrusa, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin. Pentatone PTC 5186 626.

The last time I heard a recording by Czech conductor Jakub Hrusa, he was doing Dvorak tone poems. I said at the time that I thought he was a little conservative for my taste. This time out, he is doing two concertos for orchestra by the Hungarian composers Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly, both pieces requiring a red-blooded approach. While Maestro Hrusa still seems to favor a fairly cautious reading of the scores, his interpretations are undoubtedly appealing in their own way.

Bela Bartok (1881-1945) wrote his five-movement Concerto for Orchestra in 1943, during the height of the Second World War. The composer was near the end of his career, and the work has since become one of his most-popular and most-accessible compositions, so he went out in style. However, the title of the piece is something of a misnomer because the music's form doesn't really resemble a traditional concerto. Bartok's Concerto is in five movements instead of the conventional three, and it involves no solo instruments. He said he called it a "concerto" because of the way the score treats each section of instruments in "a soloistic and virtuosic way." Fair enough.

Bartok's concerto begins with some soft, light "night music," giving way to more robust themes as things move along. The second movement, titled "Game of Pairs," has a different pair of instruments playing together in five sections. The middle movement is a slow elegy, also of the "night music" variety, a sorrowful lament. The fourth movement is an Allegretto, a smoothly flowing affair, which includes much folk music as well as a reference to Lehar's Merry Widow (although the composer claimed never to have heard the operetta, only Shostakovich's play on it). The work concludes with another big movement, labeled Finale - Pisante (heavy or ponderous), which most conductors nevertheless take at a moderately quick, high-spirited pace.

Jakub Hrusa
I like the way Hrusa opens the concerto; it's appropriately mysterious, even eerie. Then he takes an almost lyrical approach to the big melodies, which is pleasantly refreshing if slightly unexpected. Tempos throughout are leisurely, relaxed, though not sluggish. I was hoping for more bite, but it never materialized. There is an agreeably sedate playfulness about Hrusa's "Pairs" that seems in tune with the occasion. Next, Hrusa's third-movement elegy is in part haunting and in part dragging. It's actually a hard act to pull off, so I'd give him credit for trying. I liked Hrusa's treatment of the fourth movement; perhaps it's the conductor's own love of folk music that carries the day. The orchestra, too, responds splendidly to the light rhythms. In the finale, Hrusa lets go a bit more, even if he's still somewhat tame compared to some other conductors.

I know that a lot of readers would prefer that I not compare recordings to one another at all, that I should judge each new disc on its own merits alone. But I've never been able to do that. Other, favored recordings always come to mind as I'm listening to something new. So, for me the question arises, Is Hrusa's performance (and Pentatone's sound) any better or worse than my old standbys in the Bartok: Fritz Reiner's interpretation (RCA or JVC remasters) or either of Georg Solti's renditions (Decca)? I'd say Hrusa's reading is smoother, softer, gentler than either of my comparisons. Reiner is more acute, more incisive, and Solti is bolder and more brusque. I suppose it's just a matter of how you like your Bartok; personally, I still prefer the older recordings.

Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967), a friend, contemporary, and fellow countryman of Bartok, wrote his own Concerto for Orchestra in 1939-40, a few years earlier than Bartok's concerto. Kodaly's work has never attained the level of popularity that Bartok's has, and it is much shorter, a single movement divided into five brief segments. That said, it does have its charms. As Jorg Peter Urbach writes in a booklet note, it's "a captivating combination of Baroque 'architecture' and Hungarian folk music." Hrusa gives it his full attention, and like his realization of the fourth movement of the Bartok, the performance displays a brisk bounce and sensitivity.

Producer Job Maarse and engineers Jean-Marie Geijsen and Erdo Groot recorded the concertos at Haus des Rundfunks, Berlin in June 2017. They produced it for playback via hybrid SACD, so one can play it in multichannel or two-channel SACD on an SACD player or in two-channel stereo on a regular CD player. As usual, I listened in two-channel SACD, using a Sony SACD player.

The sound is typical of Pentatone in that it's warm and luxuriant, with a nice sense of ambient bloom that doesn't overshadow all of the music's detail. Orchestral perspective and depth of field are reasonably good, as are the dynamic range and frequency response. In other words, the sound may not be entirely what audiophiles expect, but it is acceptably realistic and easy on the ear.


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

Jun 20, 2018

The Only Operetta Album You'll Ever Need! (CD review)

Various soloists, conductors, and orchestras. RCA 74321 72916 2.

Chalk one up for the truth in advertising laws (if they exist). RCA's compilation disc, "The Only Operetta Album You'll Ever Need!," probably really is the only operetta album most casual listeners will ever need. Culled from RCA's back catalogue of operettas from the p
ast sixty-plus years, the collection contains practically every major number even the dedicated operetta buff could list off the top of his head.

The program, which, by the way, is arranged like a mini operetta in itself, begins with the overture to Strauss's Die Fledermaus, played by old-hand Robert Stolz with the Vienna Symphony. It zips along with grace and exuberance, properly setting the stage for the songs to come. There are nineteen selections all told, and among them are Strauss's "Als flotter Geist" sung by Fritz Wunderlich, Lehar's "Lippen schweigen" sung by Montserrat Caballe, Flotow's "M'appari" sung by Placido Domingo, Strauss's "Komm in die Gondel" sung by Ruolf Schock, Lehar's "Vilja-Lied" sung by Margit Schramm, Offenbach's "Dites-Lui" sung by Frederica von Stade, and Lehar's "Wolgalied" sung by Jerry Hadley.

Robert Stolz
You're probably getting the picture. The operettas represented are things like Strauss's Der Zigeunerbaron ("The Gypsy Baron") and Eine Nacht in Venedig ("A Night in Venice"); Flowtow's Martha; Offenbach's La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein ("The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein") and Orphee aux Enfers ("Orpheus in the Underworld"); Lehar's Das Land des Lacheins ("The Land of Smiles") and, of course, Die lustige Witwe ("The Merry Widow"). Then in the middle of the program, there is a second purely orchestral interlude, this time of ballet music from Strauss's Die Fledermaus, also conducted by Robert Stolz.

Understandably, the sound varies slightly from one track to another, yet the whole set is remarkably uniform in overall quietness and sheen. About the only tune that stands out sorely is Wunderlich's second number, "Ach, wie so herrlich zu schauen," which tends to be louder, especially in the vocal, than the other pieces. Every item but one, Mario Lanza singing Lehar's "Yours is My Heart Alone," is in stereo. But even the Lanza mono sounds good. If you don't already own these works, or if you just long for the convenience of having them on a single disc, this is as good a way as any to get them.


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

Jun 17, 2018

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

Also, Wagner: Lohengrin Prelude. Andris Nelsons, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. DG 479 7577.

Begin rant:
I may be the only the person left on the planet who is not 100% enamoured of live recordings. I keep reading reviews of live recorded performances that say how wonderful the sound is, how the audio engineers should be nominated for Grammys, and so forth. Sorry; I don't hear it. Even when a live recording is done well, as this one is with the applause edited out, I often find the microphones too close, the sound too mechanical and flat, and audience presence still too noticeable, especially during quiet moments. Yes, I understand the economic needs for recording live, and I respect a conductor's desire to capture the spontaneity of a live performance; but it doesn't mean I have to like the sound, which in almost every case would have been better if done in a studio.
End rant.

Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons is, as of 2018, the Music Director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, one of the oldest and most prestigious orchestras in the world. In 2017 Maestro Nelsons embarked on a Bruckner symphony cycle with the Gewandhaus players, and the current Fourth Symphony is the third such effort (following the Third and Seventh Symphonies). Critics received his previous releases favorably, and I see no reason why they wouldn't do the same here. It's a mature account of what is possibly Bruckner most-popular music.

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), Austrian composer and organist, wrote the Symphony No. 4 in E flat major "Romantic" in 1874, revising it several times before his death. (Maestro Nelsons uses the familiar 1878-80 revision edited by Leopold Nowak in 1953). No doubt, audiences like the work's abundance of Romantic, programmatic qualities. Bruckner was a deeply spiritual man, and his symphonies illustrate the point. The composer goes further by telling us what each of the symphony's movements 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.

Andris Nelsons
Still, the real question about any new recording is whether the conductor brings to the 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. To my mind and ear, we already have fine performances by Otto Klemperer (EMI), Karl Bohm (Decca), Eugen Jochum (DG and EMI), Gunther Wand (RCA), Herbert von Karajan (DG), and Georg Tintner (Naxos), among others. So, does Nelsons compare? Maybe.

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, according to the composer, "...after a full night's sleep the day is announced by the horn." Other authorities have argued that the composer wanted us to see a morning breaking, the mists giving way to dawn around a medieval castle, and an army of knights bursting out from the castle gates in a blaze of glory. Whatever, Nelsons does a good job establishing the atmosphere and maintaining the mystery of the score, accenting the mystical side of the music rather than the purely programmatic.

The second-movement Andante is a serenade, sometimes described as representing a young lad's amorous but ultimately hopeless longings and expressions. Nelsons, however, says that "This movement is like a song or a prayer" and it reveals "a genuine, intimate connection with God." Fair enough. I've always thought it sounded elegiac, halfway between a nocturne and a funeral march, the composer indicating he wanted something between a moderately slow but still comfortably forward pace (Andante quasi Allegretto). Nelsons, in an apparent effort to accommodate his own view of things, adopts a very slow tempo for it, more like an adagio. Where most conductors take about thirteen or fourteen minutes to cover the movement, Nelsons goes over seventeen. The listener may either appreciate the added beauty or find the length interminable. I can't say I preferred it over more traditional readings, but, then, I may simply have to get used to it.

The lively third-movement Scherzo Bruckner teasingly called "a rabbit hunt," and it should build a proper momentum as it goes forward. I thought Nelsons was at his best here. The music rollicks.

The Finale opens with a heroic theme, then works its way into a more idyllic second subject, eventually reworking both themes into a closing statement. This movement begins rather ominously, with dark clouds overhead, leading to a thunderstorm; however, the storm soon breaks and gives way to variations on the symphony's heroic opening music and a summation of all the parts. If you're wondering what it means, not even Bruckner was sure. He said, "...even I myself can't say what I was thinking about at the time."

Nelsons tells us that "The music is like a glimpse of heaven," which may explain why he takes the final movement so deliberately. As with the second movement, the listener may enjoy the conductor's pace or find it too fragmented or sluggish. I would have liked a bit smoother forward progress and a bit more resolute determination.

Along with the symphony is the piece that opens the program, Richard Wagner's Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin, premiered in 1850. Nelsons, of course, wants us to see (hear) for ourselves the influence of Wagner's music on Bruckner, particularly the ethereal, religious elements, so, given his approach to the symphony, it's not a bad way to begin things. He handles it well.

Executive producer Sid McLauchlan and recording producer and engineer Everett Porter recorded the music live at the Gewandhaus Leipzig in May 2017. As I said at the start, one can take or leave a live recording. My own prejudice is to leave it, even when done as well as here. Like most other live recordings, in this one the microphones are a little close, resulting on the positive side in a reasonably detailed response with very wide dynamics and on the negative side a somewhat forward sound picture with an emphasis on the upper midrange and some odd instrumental relationships. Take the opening of the symphony, for instance. The horn solo appears admirably well focused, while one can barely hear the orchestral accompaniment. Otherwise, the sound is fairly warm (if a tad hard, edgy, and pinched in louder passages), ambient, and realistic. Still, it doesn't quite capture the Gewandhaus's characteristically dark, golden glow as well as I've heard it in many studio productions.


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

Jun 13, 2018

Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 (CD review)

Also, The Tempest, Suite No. 1. Petri Sakari, Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.554266.

What, you say you don't want to lay out thirty bucks for the Barbirolli gold disc of the Sibelius Second on Chesky? OK, how about considerably less money for this pleasant little Naxos release? It isn't the ultimate in refinement or interpretive flair, but it is a good, solid performer.

The Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) is perhaps the man's most popular work, outside of the ubiquitous "Finlandia," and there are many fine recordings of the symphony available. If you already own a favorite (the aforementioned Barbirolli disc for me), you may stop reading now and continue on with the next review. If, on the other hand, you are new to Sibelius or you are exploring alternative readings, this medium-priced issue seems a good investment.

Petri Sakari
Maestro Petri Sakari and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra handle the first movement especially well, conveying a proper, shivery introduction leading up to a probing major subject. If there is any minor disappointment, it is in the heroic final theme, which sounds a bit too homogenized for my taste. For an unfair comparison here, try Herbert von Karajan, the master of the grand gesture, on EMI, and Sakari will seem positively staid. But it isn't so bad in context and should not distract one from a possible purchase.

In sum, Sakari and his forces provide an ardent and colorful journey through Sibelius's characteristic landscape. Plus, the inclusion of the first suite of tunes from Sibelius's incidental music to Shakespeare's The Tempest makes a good companion piece. Sakari's interpretation brings out much of the music's imagination and color.

The sound likewise is pretty good, although not in the absolute top class. There is a pleasing concert hall ambience present that enriches verisimilitude while doing relatively little harm to detail clarity. It's rich, smooth, and resonant. And the music for The Tempest sounds equally fine.

This disc may not carry the mark of authority manifest by conductors like Sir John Barbirolli, Herbert von Karajan, Sir Colin Davis, or Vladimir Ashkenazy, but it is fair value for the dollar.


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

Jun 10, 2018

Schubert: Oktett (CD review)

Also, Funf Menuette mit sechs Trios. Isabelle Faust et al. Harmonia Mundi HM 902263.

As I've rhetorically asked before, Was there ever a writer of more charming, more thoroughly delightful music than Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828)? Whether it's his symphonies, his songs, his chamber music, his church music, his incidental music, or his stage pieces, it's all so enjoyable it's a wonder he wrote so much of it in so short a time (he died at age thirty-one). And it's an even greater shame that so few people in the composer's lifetime got the chance to hear his work. Still, the years since his death have proved his worth, and the invention of the phonograph further cemented his place in musical history.

On the present album, we have one of his crowning achievements, the Octet in F major D.803, for clarinet, horn, bassoon, two violins, viola, cello, and double bass, which Schubert wrote in 1824 on commission from clarinetist Ferdinand Troyer. The fact that Troyer asked for a piece patterned after Beethoven's Septet, Op. 20 and that Schubert delivered an octet instead (adding a second violin) probably just proves how creative and resolute Schubert could be.

In order to get to the heart of the work, the renowned German violinist Isabelle Faust here interprets the Octet in a presentation featuring period instruments (she herself plays the Stradivarius "Sleeping Beauty," 1704). Her ensemble includes Anne Katharina Schreiber, violin; Danusha Waskiewicz, viola; Kristin von der Goltz, cello; James Munro, double bass; Lorenzo Coppola, clarinets; Teunis van der Zwart, horn; and Javier Zafra, bassoon.

Isabelle Faust
Anyway, Schubert divided the Octet into six movements, the first one based on a theme from his song "Der Wanderer" and the fourth movement variations on a theme from his Singspiel "Die Freunde von Salamanka." Ms. Faust and company provide a loving and enthusiastic interpretation that well captures the joy of Schubert's music. The two slow sections--the Adagio and Andante--are poignant, and I especially liked the sweetness of the variations in the latter movement (so similar in spirit to those of the "Trout" quintet). The ensemble plays the scherzo in appropriately playful fashion, and they ensure the finale is as big and dramatic as it should be without overshadowing its good cheer.

As a historical performance, Ms. Faust's recording comes into direct competition and comparison with one of my longtime favorites, that by Hausmusik (EMI), recorded in 1990. In the opening movements, Hausmusik are marginally more lively and spontaneous, but by the last movements Mr. Faust and her company appear almost equally felicitous. Sonically, the earlier disc is a bit more transparent, but certainly the warmer acoustic of the Harmonia Mundi disc flatters the music in its own way.

To accompany the Octet Ms. Faust and her friends offer two of Schubert's Five Minuets D.89, from 1813, arranged for octet by Ms. Faust's friend, the composer, conductor, and pianist Oscar Strasnoy. These are hardly trifling pieces, and the present group help them attain what one might call at least a measure of apt nobility.

Artistic Director Martin Sauer and engineer Tobias Lehmann of Teldex Studio Berlin recorded the music at Mediapole Saint-Cesaire, Arles, France in July 2017. The sound, as I mentioned above, displays a warm, ambient glow that nicely complements the warmth of Schubert's music. It's a tad close for my liking but captures instrumental color well enough. There is also a moderate sense of depth to the ensemble as well as space around the instruments. If played back at a realistic level, the recording sounds most enjoyable.


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

Jun 6, 2018

Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 6 (CD review)

Also, In the Fen Country; On Wenlock Edge. Ian Bostridge, tenor; Bernard Haitink, London Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI 7243-5-56762-2.

Bernard Haitink's 1999 release of Vaughan Williams's Symphony No. 6 (EMI, now Warner Classics) is a good illustration of why record reviewing can sometimes be frustrating, especially if a reference disc is not handy. On its own, Haitink's interpretation appears competently together, well focused, unified, and, as always, straightforward. As Haitink does in most of his performances, he allows the music to speak for itself, seldom straying from the letter of the score.

Then I put on a favorite old recording of the Sixth, in this case the one by Sir Adrian Boult (also on EMI), recorded exactly thirty years earlier. Why Boult? He premiered the work in 1948, so one supposes he knows a little something about it. Under Boult, the music has more warmth than under Haitink, not just sonically but interpretively, a broader, more loving gait, a sense of real communication between conductor and audience. This is nothing that one can adequately explain in words. It is a feeling one has to experience, and a direct comparison is the easiest way to hear it. Otherwise, one has only a vague notion that "something" is missing somewhere in the Haitink account, as good as it is.

Bernard Haitink
Make no mistake, however. Haitink does offer up a fine performance. It's one that most fans of Vaughan Williams will enjoy. And because of Haitink's usual precision and sharpness of focus, it's a performance that belongs at or near the top of any list of recommendations. The thing is, though, that it's also hard to dismiss Boult, not that most listeners have to make the choice.

Sound has a lot to do with it, too. The newer, digital EMI/Warner Classics is marginally cleaner and clearer than the older, analogue Boult recording, yet at the same time the newer disc appears colder, harder, and less inviting. The older recording is richer and provides more bloom, which may affect one's judgment of the two discs, as it did mine.

How much did the warmer, softer, older recording of Boult's slower-paced performance influence my appreciation of it over the newer one? I'd guess enough. What if the newer reading had had the older sound? Who knows.

In any event, Haitink's companion works on the disc, the tone poem "In the Fen Country" and the song cycle "On Wenlock Edge" (based on poems by A.E. Housman), are more readily up my alley and display a sweetness of spirit and a bent for the color of the Vaughan Williams countryside that I found slightly wanting in the symphony. So, if it's the shorter pieces one is looking for, yes. If it's the symphony, maybe not as much. Stick with either Haitink or Boult, though, and you can't go wrong.


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

Jun 3, 2018

Debussy: La Mer (CD review)

Also, Images. Emmanuel Krivine, Orchestre national de France. Erato 0190295687045.

The last time I heard a recording from French conductor Emmanuel Krivine, it was Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade with the Philharmonia Orchestra on Denon, a performance I found beautifully lyrical and engaging. But that was over a quarter century ago. Although Maestro Krivine has continued with a distinguished career in the concert hall and recording studio, he hasn't quite been front and center in the general public's eye. Nevertheless, he currently holds the position of Music Director of the Orchestre National de France, with which he recorded the current Erato disc of Debussy's La Mer and Images. It was good to reacquaint myself with him.

French impressionist composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) wrote La Mer between 1903 and 1905, and the work has since become one of his most well-known pieces. Certainly, it is one of his greatest and most descriptive pieces. Debussy named it La mer, trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestre (or "The sea, three symphonic sketches for orchestra"), but usually people just call it La Mer. He made it clear that even though the movements have descriptive titles, he didn't consider the work program music. As an impressionist, Debussy was conjuring up just that--musical impressions, in this case of the sea.

Debussy said he wanted the first movement, "From dawn till noon on the sea," to be a little less showy than the other movements and added that the conductor should take it slowly and animate it little by little. It begins with a warmly atmospheric introduction and then opens up about halfway through to a rapturous melody. In this first movement, Krivine takes the composer at his word, and it is quite gentle until opening up to the big melodies. In this regard, it reminded me of Jean Martinon's rendering of the work, sweet and lyrical.

Emmanuel Krivine
The composer intended the second movement, "Play of the waves," to sound light and carefree, the dancing waters luminescent and magical. He indicated it should be an allegro (a brisk, lively tempo), animated with a versatile rhythm. In reality, the second movement acts as a kind of slowish scherzo, although, to be fair, it isn't actually slow or fast. As its subtitle indicates, it's more playful than anything else, and again Krivine does well by it. His approach is perhaps not so frothy or enchanting as Martinon's, Previn's, or Reiner's readings, but it is charming nonetheless.

Then comes probably the most well-known segment of the work, the third-movement finale, "Dialogue between wind and waves," in which Debussy provided his biggest splashes of color and which he noted should sound animated and tumultuous. It is only here that Krivine is possibly a little too lightweight, choosing to caress the waves rather than picturing them as particularly turbulent. Krivine's is a legitimately poetic realization of the score, which will please some listeners and maybe not others. (If you're looking for ultimate power, try Stokowski's reading with the LSO on Decca or, especially, HDTT.)

Accompanying La Mer is Debussy's Images pour orchestre, which he wrote between 1905-1912, originally designing it as a two-piano sequel to his Images for Solo Piano. As he did in La Mer, Debussy divided the work into three sections, three movements, each inspired by a country or a song.

In the first section, "Gigues," Debussy used his recollections of England as his inspiration for the music. Krivine does a fine job conveying both the light and serious moods of the music, with an effective varying of contrasts, tempos, dynamics, and the like.

In the second, longest, and probably most-familiar section, "Iberia," Debussy used his memories of Spain as inspiration. He further divided this section into three more parts: "Par les rues et par les chemins" ("Through the streets and the paths"); "Les parfums de la nuit" ("The fragrance of the night"); and "Le matin d'un jour de fête" ("The morning of a festival day"). Here, Krivine is in his element, with pleasantly flowing rhythms. Although his account of things is perhaps not as lively as Argenta's performance or as well recorded as Haitink's, it does capture much of the music's color and joy.

In the closing section, "Rondes de printemps ("Round dances of spring"), Debussy relied for inspiration on a pair of songs. Krivine does a splendid job with this section, finishing up the piece by tying it to, if anything, La Mer, with its frolicsome play of tunes, phrases, and tonalities. I'm sure Krivine didn't emphasize these similarities by accident, and it provides an appropriate way to end the program.

Finally, as a bonus track, we get an excerpt from Debussy's original 1905 version of the third movement of La Mer, which contains a brief fanfare in bars 237-144 that the composer later decided was inappropriate and cut.

Producer Daniel Zalay and engineers Maiwenn Legehan and Philippe Thibaut recorded the music at the Auditorium Radio France in March 2017. The sound they obtained is clear and natural, with a fairly good orchestral perspective, depth and width, slightly warm yet fairly transparent. There is nothing spectacular about it; it's not as up-close as Stokowski's recording or quite as detailed as Previn's. It is realistic and engaging, with a decent frequency response (again, not heavy on the bass or treble) and a moderate dynamic range and impact.


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